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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Morocco January 15th - 22nd 2013, a short and impressionistic report,
This wasn't especially a birding trip, so the total number of species seen wasn't massive, but it does I think give a good flavour of the kinds of things northerners can expect in the Souss valley between the Haute & Anti Atlas mountains, even when they aren't really trying.
We flew into Agadir, and travelled by taxi to Taroudant, a small walled city about 70 km east of the airport. This is more or less where we stayed for the whole week, apart from a short trip to Souss Massa. We got about by walking, except for the one day when we hired a car, and the day we borrowed bicycles. Rather than a day by day account, I'll describe what we saw in the four main places/habitats we visited.
This is a city, and as such has limited birdlife, buit even here there's things which will interest anybody from the north, especially in January! I saw my first House Bunting on our first day, it was sitting on top of a sack of yellow split-peas in a small shop in the souk; these birds are everywhere, the locals call them the Mosque bird after their willingness to enter buildings. Even in January there are plenty of Little Swifts, which I had expected; much less expected were two definite sightings of Pallid Swift, and the fact that every evening the Little Swifts were joined by small numbers of Plain Swift. Swallows were also much in evidence, in fact we saw swallow everywhere we went except in the Anti-Atlas.
There are the usual urban birds, Common Bulbul sang from the flowering tree in our Riad, Kestrels and Spotless Starlings are common, and we had regular flyovers of Cattle Egret, on one memorable occasion this was in a flock of at least 100 birds, quite a sight. White Storks could be seen soaring to the north of the town on most days, and we had one accipiter flying over, almost certainly a Sparrowhawk (I had left my binocs in the Riad).
On our second day we ventured out to the north of town through some fields, with the Haute Atlas ahead of us. We walked less than a mile from the city, and were out for less than an hour, but there was much to see. Moussier's Redstarts were obvious, and extremely fetching; this is a bird we saw everywhere in small numbers, very bold and very visible. We came across a fair-sized flock of Spanish Sparrows feeding around some goats; these were in the company of a Northern Wheatear (most unexpected), which I didn't see well enough to rule out Seebohm's (or rule it in for that matter). Stonechats topped many of the bamboo flowers, and Zitting Cisticolas whizzed about every so often. Larks were up up and singing, all Crested (or Maghrebi depending on your preference). We also saw Southern Grey Shrike and Long-Legged Buzzard on this short walk, as well as more usual fare such as Greenfinches, Chiffchaff, White Stork and many White Wagtails.
So all in all, pretty good for a busy little city.
We only managed a very short time here as the road-works on the N1 meant that the signs had been taken down and we couldn't find the place! We picked up an excellent guide; Hassan Baitar, who is worth googling before you go. In the two hours we had I wouldn't have been able to pick up what we saw, as he knows where everything is. We didn't see any Ibises (but I didn't want to hare around harassing them anyway), but we did see another Northern Wheatear near the coast, along with two of my target birds on the river. We found a small flock of Marbled Ducks, the first target, on the river, with Teal, Mallard and a female Garganey. We also saw Coot and Sandwich Terns, and heard Cetti's Warblers here. The bushes had small flocks of Sardinian Warblers, as well as Moussier's Redstart and the North African race of Chaffinch, but sadly no Tchagras.
We drove a few miles inland and picked up very good numbers of my second target bird, Brown-Throated Martins feeding with Swallows over the Oued Maasa, and en-route we managed Little Bittern and three Common Cranes. Laughing Doves were flying about (a surprise for me), and we had our only views of African Blue Tit. There was an Acrocephalus warbler singing(!!!) from the reeds, which sounded like a Reed Warbler to me, but Hassan seemed to think it was Moustached, and I am afraid that my experience of the second is nowhere near extensive enough for me to differentiate on brief snatches of song, so it will remain a mystery bird.
We started at a place called Tioute and did a bit of a circuit up to about 1300m. Birds we hadn't already seen included Crag (Pale Rock) Martin, Black Redstart and Black Wheatear. The latter were singing in one or two spots, which I really appreciated, not having heard their song before. Larks here were all Thekla, and many of them were ridiculously tame, running about at our feet apparently unconcerned by our presence. We also had a second Long-Legged Buzzard and good numbers of Kestrels. Clouded Yellows, Painted Ladies and occasional African Monarchs were about, along with many smaller butterflies which were quite new to me. We also saw seom good-sized lizards and a herd of camels with their Touareg owner.
Oued Souss and Argan Savanna
We borrowed bikes from our Riad (the very excellent Riad Tafilag) and set off towards Freija and beyond. Cycling in Morocco is actually less terrifying than it looks, as car drivers mostly will see you and make way, but it isn't for the faint hearted.
En route we came across a Black-Winged Kite, which was the only thing of note until we got to the river valley. In among the stones were a couple of pools, and these were amply stocked with Little-Ringed Plovers and one Green Sandpiper, along with the ubiquitous White Wagtails.
Southern Grey Shrikes popped up every so often, and the roads were lined with small groups of finches and sparrows, including Chaffinch, Serin, Goldfinch and Greenfinch. Flocks of Storks could be seen soaring about, especially near urban areas, and Swallows were agin in evidence.
We parked the bikes and walked into the edge of the huge swathe of common land, a kind of Argan Savannah that makes up most of the valley. We didn't see much new, with the exception of a Lanner soaring just above us, very nice and the first I had seen since Egypt.
This illustrates that even without trying very hard a visit to Morocco in winter is a rewarding experience for the northern birder. It is an underwatched country, and the thing that struck me most was just how many things we saw that aren't 'supposed' to be there in winter; Pallid Swift, Northern Wheatear, White Stork, even Swallow are all absent from the distribution maps for winter in Morocco, but these birds are definitely present, and in the case of the Storks and the Swallows they seem to be in quite good numbers. Also consider that the two Northern Wheatears we saw were 100Km apart, and it seems likely that there must be quite a few around. So interesting, and I think I'll have to go back and do some proper birding; after all, there's the sandgrouse, the larks, the eagles and so much else.'