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A Report from

D.I.Y. Birding Morocco – 3rd December to 10th December 2007.,

Brian & Isabel Eady

With the weather pretty awful at home, we decided to have a week away in the sun where we could chill out, and at the same time, do a bit of birding. After a bit of searching, we finally decided that the weather would be warm enough and the birding good enough in Morocco, N W Africa.

We booked a week long stay with Thompson’s Holidays in Agadir, £235 for half board accommodation in the Hotel Argana, flying out of Gatwick We booked into a car park at Gatwick and arranged insurance with Saga, so all was well, so we thought. Just a few days before we were due to fly, we had a phone call from Thompsons to tell us that the Gatwick flight had been cancelled and switched to Manchester. Now it was all change. We lost our money for the Gatwick parking, Thompson booked us into a hotel with parking at Manchester, but of course we were not looking forward to a four and a half hour drive from Suffolk to Manchester, and of course the return journey after a four hour flight.

On our arrival at the Hotel we were amazed to find that both the hotel and car parking somehow had been cancelled, however after a great deal of bargaining, we eventually managed to get car parking and accommodation sorted.

During the journey to our hotel in Agadir we spotted a Common Kestrel hovering before alighting on a nearby telegraph pole.

We had intended to hire a car for three or four days during the holiday to visit some of the birding areas within easy driving distance, but at the welcome meeting the Rep. strongly advised against it. She said that she had had some difficult experiences with guests who had hired cars in the past, and would not even recommend any car hire places, however we still wanted to go ahead. We spent the afternoon chilling out in the hotel garden and taking a short walk down to the beach. There were quite a few birds about, and we soon spotted our first lifers Spotless Starlings and a couple of House Buntings in an alleyway near to the hotel. The vociferous Common Bulbuls were very common, Eurasian Collared Doves & House Sparrows were everywhere, and we spotted a couple of Eurasian Blackbirds. We also saw the Moroccan equivalent of the White Wagtail (supersonata). Along the beach throngs of Yellow Legged and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were numerous and the odd distant unidentified Tern could be seen diving into the water as the huge Atlantic rollers smashed onto the beach.

For the first full day of our holiday we decided to hire a taxi to go to Oued Sous, just around the corner, about 20 minutes from where we were staying. The price was 200 DH. The currency rate in Morocco about 15.6 DH to the English pound. The exchange rate for changing money is controlled by the government, so it did not matter whether you changed your money at the bank or at hotel reception. It was only when we were on our way to the river we decided that driving a car out there would be horrendous. With four main highways right through the middle of Agadir, and sign posts mainly in Arabic, driving a car would for us, be a nightmare.

On our arrival at Oued Sous we were greeted by a few more lifers, namely the beautiful Moussier’s Redstart and Sardinian Warbler accompanied by the plentiful European Stonechat. Across the water we noted quite a few of the Moroccan race of Great Cormorant ( moroccanus ). We sorted out a number of Audouin’s Gulls and a few Black-headed Gulls from the hundreds of gulls at the river mouth, but disappointingly we could only find one of the tern species, namely the Sandwich Tern.  There were waders by the hundreds, Grey Plovers, Black Winged Stilts, Common Redshanks, Greenshanks, Dunlin, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits, a lot of Grey Heron, and well over 100 Greater Flamingos in the estuary. We were surprised to see a Barn Swallow over the estuary, and a few yards from us a Common Kingfisher alighted on a rotting tree stump where he continued to delight us with a fishing exhibition. There were also quite a few Eurasian Curlews, and the odd Oystercatcher feeding in the shallows. Jangling birdsong alerted us to a tree full of European Serin, another lifer for us, and scoping the sandbar at the end of the lagoon we noted a lone Osprey.

We decided to have a taxi to Oued Massa the second day, and negotiated a fee of 600 DH, which included the trip to and from the reserve, plus a wait of four hours whilst we were there. In round figures that was just under £40, which seemed reasonable. On the road to Oued Massa we were pleased to see quite a few of the Moroccan species of Eurasian Magpie (mauritanica). On entering the reserve we were met by the Warden who jumped into the taxi which proceeded to an area where there were a trees and buildings giving the driver some shade whilst he was waiting. The temperature was once again in the low 80s and not a cloud in the sky. We were quite gob smacked when the warden asked for 400DH to take us round the reserve. We both considered his offer as we had no idea where to go, (that’s the problem when you visit another country for the first time), and finally knocked him down to 200DH. We could see the lagoon mentioned in the reports that I had downloaded from the W.W.W., and could see quite a bit of life on the water. Our first sighting was of a Great Egret down by the waters edge, and when we were guided through a maze of undergrowth to the shoreline of the lake we had close up views of some of the waterfowl, a few Mallard, hundreds of Pochard, thousands of Eurasian Coot, but very few waders. By the waters edge were picked up Common Sandpiper, a distant Common Moorhen, and a noisy chattering of birdsong in the reeds and bushes gave us close up views of about thirty European Serin, yet another lifer for us. Back up in the sand dunes we spotted a number of Crested Larks and a few Thekla Larks, another lifer for us. Further up the lake we were able to identify Northern Shoveller, and a few Eurasian Teal, Northern Pintail, and a number of Eurasian Spoonbill. Surprisingly there were only a half a dozen Greater Flamingos on the water, completely out of character we felt, but we were fortunate to find a pair, and a couple of single Marbled Duck which once again were lifers. We were amazed by the number of Little Grebe on the lake, at home we are lucky to see them in ones or twos, but to see so many together was quite amazing. Going with the warden was a big mistake, not only did he go at ninety miles an hour, but he new very little about the smaller birds, and he didn’t show us anything which we could not have identified ourselves. There were quite a large number of smaller birds in the bushes behaving very much like Flycatchers. The warden said that they were Semi-Collared Flycatchers, but no way, they looked to us like Chiffchaffs, anyway you don’t get the former in Morocco. On our way back to where the taxi was parked, we spotted a Western Marsh Harrier hunting over the lake, and the warden could hear the song of the Black Crowned Tchagra, a bird that many birders are anxious to get a sighting of. It was located in some bushes behind some cultivated gardens, and showed itself well when it flew across and sat on a wall. We had seen the Tchagra in the Gambia on a number of occasions, but in Morocco it was quite difficult to find. Plain Martins were the only hirundines in the sky, but once again they were first timers for us. On the way out of Oued Massa we were confronted by a lorry which seemed to be coming straight for us. Abdul the taxi driver pulled over to the edge of the road, but the lorry still hit us, tearing the wheel-arch away from the vehicle. Much waving of arms and loud shouting continued for the next ten minutes, and after both drivers exchanged paperwork, we were on our way. Thank goodness it wasn’t me. We arranged for a second visit to Oued Sous the next day with the same driver, hoping this time we would have an uneventful trip.

We had fallen in love with Oued Sous (by the way Oued means river), there were two large concrete viewing platforms, and there were quite a good range of birds available to study. Nearer to the sand-bar by the beach we found a group of Common Ringed Plovers and a single Wood Sandpiper and Red Knot was found feeding in the shallows. Walking back from the river mouth Isabel saw movement in one of the large trees bordering the track, and it turned out to be a Blue Tit of the African race (ultramarinus) much more blue on the back that the European species and a candidate for being recognised as a full species. Further along the road we came across what we thought was a Collared Dove perched high in a tree, but using the scope we identified the bird as a Lesser Kestrel, another lifer. Relaxing in the gardens after lunch we noted a female Blackcap feeding together with other birds on the ripe fruit of the palm trees. The next day we had arranged an excursion with Thompson’s to visit the Atlas Mountains, where there was a distinct possibility that we may be able to find some of the mountain birds which are not found at the lower levels. Imagine our surprise when we returned from an evening walk for find a note under the door telling us that because of lack of support, the trip was cancelled. We hurriedly found Abdul and arranged to go up to Tamri the next day with a hope of finding the highly endangered Bald Ibis, and a few more species to add to our list which now stood at 65. Tamri was quite a bit further than some of the other sites so the price went up to 700DH.

On the way up to Tamri, we were more than surprised to find a great deal of desert each side of the road, a very desolate place. We noted a single Common Raven drifting over the rocky outcrop, but little else. We asked Abdul to stop off at Cap Rhir, the most westerly point of Morocco, an ideal sea watching place during migration, unfortunately this was the wrong time of the year. We stopped by the lighthouse and ventured down the rocky slope towards some buildings lower down. There were Crested Larks all over the place, and it was not long before we added another couple of lifers to our list – namely the beautifully marked Rock Bunting, and  both male and female Black Redstarts. We also found a superb Southern Grey Shrike perched high on a bush not far away. It was quite surprising how many of the Moussier’s Redstarts we were seeing, almost every time we go out we were finding them, making them quite common. We carried on to Tamri, a busy small village with streets lined with local traders, mainly selling miniature bananas grown in the fields near to the village. Abdul asked one of the locals about the Bald Ibis, and was directed into the hilly area north of the village. When we arrived we were greeted by sand dunes with a track running towards the sea. We searched all over but were disappointed. We returned to the village where Abdul parked, and he left us to our own means; we hadn’t a clue where to go. We made our way, as we thought, towards the river, and on our way spotted our first European Robin and the African species of our Chaffinch (africana). At the river there were no birds at all, so we hastily made our way back to the taxi to continue on our return to Agadir. It was such a shame, but, without directions we were completely lost. We had tried to purchase the Gosney book on finding birds in Southern Morocco before we left, but it was out of print. It was a long way to go for next to nothing, but there seemed to be no alternative. We pulled in at Cap Rhir on the way back, but apart from a good quantity of House Buntings, Crested Larks, a lone Lesser Kestrel, and a European Greenfinch, there was nothing new to see. On our arrival back at the hotel we once again tried to book an alternative trip to the mountains but again without any luck. We contacted our taxi driver Abdul with a view to going back to Oued Massa for a second visit but this time we wanted to do the birding on our own. We found another of the drivers who spoke English and asked him to explain to Abdul our request, no problem.

It appeared that the curse of Oued Massa was to strike again, when, heading out of Agadir, the taxi was pulled over by the police, and the driver received a ticket for 200DH for crossing a double white line whilst overtaking. We have never seen so many police as we had here, it is a great shame we don’t have the same attentiveness in England as the do in Morocco.

We arrived at Oued Massa and once again it was wall to wall sunshine. Luckily the warden was not about so our request was granted. On the way to the parking area we noted our first Cattle Egret which flew upwards from a group of goats. Our first sighting on the lake was a single Tufted Duck. Further along the track we found a large flock of Eurasian Linnet, intermixed with Serin. This time our birding was at a much more relaxed pace which was much more enjoyable. As we were studying wildfowl and waders on the lake a couple of Moroccans approached us. Believe it or not they were registered bird guides, and they were the real thing. They soon confirmed the birds we had noticed on our first visit were, as we thought, Common Chiffchaff, despite their flycatcher-like behaviour. They asked us how we were getting on, and reeled off a string of different birds that we were struggling to find including the star birds, the Bald Ibis and Cream Coloured Courser. They said that at this time of the year the Bald Ibis were not at Tamri, but were feeding just 10 kilometres away, and if we wanted to see them, about 60 plus birds, they would quite happily take us there. Unfortunately time was now getting on, so we had to decline the kind offer, as it would most probably upset our taxi driver. They also asked if we had located Barbary Partridge, we said no, so, no further than 50 yards away, they found a group of three. As we were chatting to them a group of four Glossy Ibis flew past heading for the beach. It was a great pity that we had not located these two guides on our first visit to Oued Massa, I am sure we would have increased our totals by about 20 or 30 new birds. As the old saying goes “you wait for one then three come together”. We arrived back at the taxi, and believe it or not there was another registered guide asking for a lift back to his village.

For anyone that may be visiting Southern Morocco in the future, the information on the guides is as follows:-

Lessen ??????   Tel 0218 70126851 ( between flamingo and 290 is _ )
Radoin Ahuilat      Tel 00212  71507581
Hassan Baitar     Tel 00212 66533336 or 00212 74679436

Before we left home, knowing that our birding would be limited to the coastal regions, we had set ourselves a target of 80 species and 10 lifers, and having had a count-up that evening, we found that we needed just 2 more species to achieve out target. To try to achieve our target, we decided to have one last visit to Oued Sous, where we found Spotted Redshank and Northern Lapwing.

Conclusions on our holiday.

The weather was perfect, 80 degrees F during the day, cloudless skies, although much cooler in the early morning and once the sun had gone down, which was about 5:30 pm.

Birding was good but limited due to not driving into the mountains. There was nowhere to walk around Agadir to do birding, unlike places like Goa or The Gambia. Just hiring a taxi was difficult due to not knowing where to go.

Bird guides would have made the birding part of the holiday much easier. The guides we met, (the first two on the above list) said that they had accommodation in Sidi-Rbat, just around the corner from Oued Massa. They also said that they would be prepared to pick up from the airport if anyone wished to just get just a flight to Agadir. (Approx £100 for the flight). They also said that they could hire taxis for the entire day for just 150DH, much cheaper than in the towns, and would take clients into to mountains for other species e.g. Golden Eagle.

In total we had a count of 80 birds for our Morocco list, which included 15 lifers and 5 sub species.

Brian & Isabel Eady        E Mail   Tel 01787 375738


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