Bedouin, Children and Goats Sahara Desert, Morocco Black-crowned Tchagra, Oued Massa, Morocco Boat, Ouzazarte Reservoir, Morocco Cream-coloured Courser, Tagdilt Track, Boumalne, Morocco Gateway to the Sahara, Rissani, Morocco Group, Atlas, Morocco Plates, Agadir, Morocco Spotted-Sandgrouse (m), Sahara Desert, Morocco
  • Bedouin, Children and Goats Sahara Desert, Morocco
  • Black-crowned Tchagra, Oued Massa, Morocco
  • Boat, Ouzazarte Reservoir, Morocco
  • Cream-coloured Courser, Tagdilt Track, Boumalne, Morocco
  • Gateway to the Sahara, Rissani, Morocco
  • Group, Atlas, Morocco
  • Plates, Agadir, Morocco
  • Spotted-Sandgrouse (m), Sahara Desert, Morocco

 

Trip Report


A Morocco Diary

March 12-24, 2017

 

Black-crowned Tchagra, Oued Massa, Morocco

 

    March 12: Terry and I arrived in Marrakech late morning while Bob and Bridget had arrived 3 days earlier to enjoy the history and culture of the city. Our hotel, the Chems is situated near the famous Khatoubia Minaret, which at 70m is the highest building in Marrakech.  The garden of the hotel is small, but often has some birding activity, be it nesting White Storks, European Greenfinches and loads of Common Bulbuls.

 

    March 13: We started the day with a quick walk around the property. It was a little quiet, although we did see a lovely male Common Redstart and 2 Sardinian Warblers, probably one of the most abundant Sylvia warblers in this part of the world. Brahim and Hamed picked us up after breakfast and off we went towards Oukaimeden – the Atlas ski resort at over 7500'. A roadside stop in the agricultural fields was pleasant with our first Southern Gray and Woodchat Shrikes, the gorgeous Moussier's Redstart and a good migration of Black Kites heading north towards Spain. The only other raptor picked out of the crowd was a single Osprey that was moving north with the kites.
Cloudy weather greeted us as we drove the road higher towards Oukaimeden, but we were lucky enough to have a couple of hours of sunshine before the clouds and fog rolled in and the temperature plummeted to 2C. Thankfully we had seen all of our target birds before the weather closed in, with good views of Crimson-winged Finch, "Atlas" Horned Lark, Rock Sparrow and both Alpine (Yellow-billed) and Red-billed Choughs. We all had our first delicious Tajine meal of the trip washed down with some piping hot mint tea. The windy back road had us at our hotel near Asni in time for a cold Casablanca beer and a brief walk in the garden before dinner.

 

March 14: It was a cold walk around the garden of La Bergerie and as a result, the birds took some time to wake up.Cream-coloured Courser, Tagdilt Track, Boumalne, Morocco It took us quite a while to find both African Blue and Great Tits, with the highlight being a very cooperative Common Cuckoo that must have just arrived from its southern African winter grounds.  Breakfast of hot coffee, tea and a delicious Berber Egg Tajine was enjoyed before we left to hit a nearby target bird – the Levaillant's Green Woodpecker. This was easy as within 5 minutes of arriving we were watching a pair of this distinctive bird feeding high in the huge roadside birches. A quick walk down to the river produced both Gray Wagtail and the distinctive Moroccan race of the White Wagtail. Lunch was at the base of Tichka Pass where road works had seriously impacted the river and as a consequence few birds were present. A visit to the local women's cooperative to buy some argan oil was most enjoyable

It was then time to head east and towards Ouzazarte and the semi-deserts.  A stop near the small town of Amerzegane was very successful as we tramped over the desert to get great views of Desert, Black, White-crowned and the rare Maghreb Wheatear. A fairly cooperative Tristram's Warbler was a nice surprise.  We arrived at the Kasbah Boumalne de Dades just after dark and enjoyed a soup and couscous dinner (accompanied by some very loud drum music) before heading to bed.

 

Bedouin, Children and Goats Sahara Desert, Morocco

    March 15: It was another chilly start to the day when we headed out along the famous Tagdilt Track immediately after breakfast. Watching birds in the middle of a garbage dump is hardly the most scenic, but this is where the birds come to catch insects. It was a desert birding bonanza with Thekla, Greater Short-toed and Thick-billed Larks, great views of Temminck's Lark, Red-rumped and Northern Wheatears and a somewhat out of habitat Little Ringed Plover. It's always fun to have a picnic in the desert and after our successful trek down the gorge for the awesome Pharaoh Eagle-Owl; we sat down to a delicious field lunch prepared by Hamed, our very efficient and capable driver. Lots of yummy fresh veggies and delicious locally-made bread – washed down with hot mint tea.
A desert walk to a small oasis produced very little due to the lack of standing water, but a Common Buzzard was an early and rare migrant. We finished the day with a walk along the Oued Dades (River) just below the hotel. Any migrant bird moving through the area could not fail to be attracted to this river of riparian vegetation. Despite the noisy attention of a group of small boys, we managed great looks at a singing Nightingale, 2 Cetti's Warblers and all three species of wagtail – all visible together in the same view. We walked about 8.5 miles today in the desert and along the river and saw an excellent selection of the area's birds – happily tired at the end of the day.

 

March 16: After a 7 AM breakfast we loaded up and left Boumalne for the spectacular Toudra Gorge. Surrounded by bevy of hotels and guest houses, this popular attraction attracts thousands of tourists every year. Thankfully we were there ahead of the crowd so almost had the place to ourselves. Aside from lots of Rock Pigeons (the genuine article, I assume), the highlight was a pair of Bonelli's Eagles that were circling above the cliffs. One bird suddenly dived down and caught a Rock Pigeon in mid-air – stunning! We continued driving north on the road less-travelled, through somewhat forgotten villages until a splendid lunch at Auberge Amellago – an oasis in the middle of nowhere.  The scenery was spectacular the whole way and a brief stop at the very windy Talghamt Pass produced a couple of somewhat jumpy Tristram's Warblers, but still very nice to see them again. The wind showed no sign of abating upon our walk through the tussock grass desert on our first attempt for the shy and elusive Dupont's Lark. Alas, we didn't find one, but added Black-eared Wheatear; our last expected bird from this delightful family. Maybe tomorrow! After a brief stop at one hotel and a glass of hot tea and a long Wi-Fi password we quickly found our correct lodging, and yes, another glass of tea was forthcoming, along with some delicious snacks. Soup, chicken Tajine and a cold beer ended another fascinating day.

 

March 17: It was our earliest day of the tour so far when we met Brahim and Hamed at 5:45 AM. We needed to drive for about 30 minutes to be in place on the Zaida Plain as the sun came up. With the temperature at 3C it was cold and even gloves didn't keep our hands and fingers warm. A Desert Wheatear was the first bird to sing, followed by several Lesser Short-toed Larks. A somewhat musical slurred double note announced our target bird for the morning; the shy Dupont's Lark. At least three were singing but none were in view at all. This very hard-to-see bird sings a few phrases from atop a short bush before dropping onto the ground and sprinting away. It wasn't until the sun came up that we managed to glimpse one atop its singing bush and after that we were all treated to scope views of this elusive lark. What a relief for all concerned. It was then back to the guest house for a big breakfast prior to heading south to the Sahara Desert. It was an all-day drive punctuated by stops for Short-toed Eagles, coffee near a new and very active mosque (apparently donated by Saudi Arabia!) and a delicious field lunch of Berber omelet, fries and fresh bread. This was a well-chosen spot as we watched 2 very endearing Scrub Warblers and a Bar-tailed Lark very close to the van. Another brief stop produced the sandy-colored African Desert Warbler before we supped more mint tea at our desert hotel for the night overlooking a range of large red sand dunes – awesome!

 

Plates, Agadir, Morocco

         March 18: After a cool and windy exploration of the nearby dunes before breakfast we planned on spending the morning east of the dunes at the edge of the Sahara Desert.  According to Brahim, the wind was cold due to snow in the Algerian mountains. Our first stop was a small seepage in the desert where a pipe had "broken". Crowned and Spotted Sandgrouse come in to drink every morning and we were not disappointed as we had incredible views of both species. Desert Sparrow was our next target bird so we went to visit a Bedouin camp, watched and learned how the family lives, drank some hot mint tea in one of their tents and yes, got great views of this delightful sparrow. The Fulvous Chatterer (Babbler) was next on the list preceded by yet another cup of mint tea and it was then off deeper into the desert for a date with the bizarre Egyptian Nightjar. We picked up a Bedouin lady who took us straight to the bird – this was getting too easy, but who's complaining, especially when we had some delicious home-made bread to enjoy! Lunch was a Brahim's family shop in Rissani, the largest town in the area. The agenda was Berber pizza, more hot tea, some shopping, followed by a walk to find the recently-split Maghreb Lark. Got that at well! Our last stop of the day was for Blue-cheeked Bee-eater at the town sewage lagoon (we had to get to one eventually!). Here a small group of this exquisite bird was perched on the wires, allowing us great photo opportunities. A brief walk in the desert back at the hotel gave us several races of Yellow wagtail, a male Greater Whitethroat, Western Bonelli's Warbler plus a sunset that turned the dunes orange = a perfect end to a fascinating day filled with birds, scenery and local culture.

 

March 19: An early walk to the "wetlands" near the hotel produced a similar crop of birds to the previous night; some had left, but the majority had remained. Even the Italian race of Yellow Wagtail was still around, although the male Greater Whitethroat had moved on overnight.  It was then time to drive west across the dramatic and rocky Ante-Atlas Mountains and into Ouzazarte. We made several stops along the way, including a somewhat dry henna field where we had our first Western Olivaceous Warbler (now called Isabelline Warbler). The Draa River was running fast and red – obviously from heavy rain up in the mountains during the past 24 hours. Lunch (along with a very obliging Laughing Dove) was at a very pleasant restaurant in N'Kob where the view across the oasis was spectacular- they certainly needed more rain as everything looked very dry indeed. Our last stop of the day was outside our hotel and we walked down to the shores of the reservoir. A huge flock of White Storks greeted us, along with several Greater Flamingoes and a small group of Eurasian Spoonbills. Marbled Duck, Northern Shoveler and Ruddy Shelduck swam out in the lake and the shoreline was covered with Yellow and White Wagtails.
The new Eco-Lodge was a lovely hotel set on the shores of the lake, and we certainly enjoyed the very quiet and picturesque setting away from town. Dinner was washed down with a bottle of Kasbah Rouge – not bad at all.

 

March 20: Nobody needed an alarm clock as the peacocks were up and calling way before dawn. We knew we had a long drive today, but we had to take the walk down to the shore of the lake before breakfast. Most of the same birds were still there, but we added a drake Garganey, several Greenshank and a delightful flock of Collared Pratincole that must have flown overnight to arrive early this morning. Breakfast was outside with delicious cinnamon-flavored coffee where once again the peacocks added the morning entertainment with their incredible displays culminating in some impressive mating!

Our drive across the Ante-Atlas Mountains was long, but spectacular. The snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas stretched away into the distance. The amount of snow was certainly a result of the last few days of cloudy weather. Lunch was at the Souss River, where we played hide and seek with newly-arrived Sedge and Reed Warblers. Thankfully we eventually managed to get decent views of both of these skulking birds. Last year we had great views of Spotted Crake along this stretch of river so I was looking forward to seeing more of these very hard-to-see birds. Terry and I glimpsed a crake in the reeds, but it dashed back inside before we could see much detail. In the next half an hour we had incredible views of a very close crake, with views of an additional male plus a female across the river. And what was even more surprising was that we had no Spotted Crakes at all; they were all Little Crakes – very uncommon at best. We got to Agadir around 7 PM, made a brief stop for some beer and wine from the grocery store before driving south to our evening's accommodation. Not a hotel tonight, but individual apartments in a holiday village – plenty of space to spread out. Dinner was next door and yes, as we were at the coast, we had fish Tajine washed down with Spanish wine.

 

Spotted Sandgrouse (m), Sahara Desert, Morocco

    

     March 21: The Atlantic coast of Morocco is rugged with mudstone cliffs crumbling into the sea and breakers constantly crashing ashore. A walk along the beach before breakfast produced our first Whimbrel and Sanderling of the tour and it was pleasant to feel the sea air- despite the pack of dogs that followed us down the beach. Unfortunately the whole village was without power this morning, so we were not able to jump-start our day with some coffee. Our first order of the day was to find the highly endangered Northern Bald Ibis. Morocco is the world headquarters of this localized bird, but because of its size and habit of feeding in the short shrubby fields, it's not that difficult to see. We eventually found a flock of about 60 feeding alongside some sheep near a small village; excellent stuff! The rest of the day was spent in various locations around the Oued Massa and the riverside vegetation. Highlights included great views of Black-crowned Tchagra, a somewhat cooperative European Robin and a solo Pied Avocet in the river. Another highlight had to be the delicious lunch at the Oued Massa Restaurant with vegetable and chicken Tajine, followed by dessert of sweet couscous slathered with a nut and Argan oil sauce – yum!

 

March 22: Another walk this morning along the rocky coastline but birding quiet with just a few Gannets moving offshore. Both locals and tourists were surf fishing but with different techniques; the locals fishing from the cliff-tops, while the visitors waded into the surf in their waders. Thankfully there was electricity this morning so we started the day with 2 cups of strong coffee before driving down to the agricultural fields along the Oued Massa. There were plenty of small passerines in the fields, including Chiffchaff, Stonechat, Moussier's Redstart and another very obliging Black-crowned Tchagra. European Bee-Eaters must have come in this morning as the air was full of them as they fed on their way slowly north. Lunch was again in the town of Massa, which seemed very quiet despite the schools letting out around lunchtime. We decided to walk back to our lodging with Brahim's suggestion to walk across the coastal scrub in the National Park rather than along the road. What a lovely walk this turned out to be with carpets of wildflowers, plenty of butterflies and a chorus of lark songs all the way back to the hotel. It was a cathartic experience which culminated in excellent views of at least 65 Bald Ibis which fed in the grassland at the edge of Oued Massa National Park. Dinner was again very good at the local restaurant, but this time we enjoyed a bottle of Moroccan wine with our meal; a very good end to a lovely day.

 

March 23:  No walk before breakfast this morning so we had a little time to catch up with sleep and repack before returning to Marrakech this afternoon. A stop along the way was a fascinating visit to a local pottery specializing in all manner of plates, bowls and pots; highly decorated or left natural.  The Souss River in Agadir was our main birding site this morning and is a great spot for wading birds. Larger waders included four Greater Flamingos, a single Spoonbill and greater numbers of Grey Heron and Little Egret. An Osprey kept putting all of the gulls, terns and shorebirds to flight, but we did get the chance to go through the flocks. Common Redshank, Greenshank and Grey (Black-bellied) Plover were the most abundant, but we did find both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Ringed-Plover and Dunlin – a very nice selection indeed. It was then time for lunch along the way before taking the motorway back to Marrakech. Goat Tajine all around except for Simon, who had another Berber Omelet! The new road to Marrakech was excellent and we got back at the hotel around 7PM or so.

 

We finished the tour with around 175 species of birds, including most of the Moroccan specialties. Highlights included superb views of Spotted and Crowned Sandgrouse coming to drink; a superbly-camouflaged Egyptian Nightjar and good numbers of northbound migrants throughout the country. We also had wonderful opportunities to enjoy a lot of Morocco's culture, meet people and enjoy the diverse scenery. It's a great country for almost any aspect of enjoying the natural world.

 

Simon Thompson    

 

 

Birds and other wildlife seen or heard on our Venture to Morocco

March 12-24, 2017

 

Ruddy Shelduck
Gadwall
Mallard
Northern Shoveler
Garganey
Green-winged Teal
Marbled Teal
Tufted Duck
Common Quail (H)
Barbary Partridge
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Greater Flamingo
White Stork
Northern Gannet
Great Cormorant
Gray Heron
Little Egret
Cattle Egret
Squacco Heron
Glossy Ibis
Northern Bald Ibis
Eurasian Spoonbill
Osprey
Short-toed Snake-Eagle
Booted Eagle
Bonelli's Eagle
Eurasian Marsh-Harrier
Montagu's Harrier
Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Black Kite
Common Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Little Crake
Eurasian Moorhen
Eurasian Coot
Eurasian Thick-knee
Black-winged Stilt
Pied Avocet
Black-bellied Plover
Northern Lapwing
Kentish Plover
Common Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Whimbrel
Black-tailed Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit
Ruff
Curlew Sandpiper
Sanderling
Dunlin
Little Stint
Common Snipe
Common Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Common Greenshank
Common Redshank
Cream-colored Courser
Collared Pratincole

 

Slender-billed Gull
Black-headed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Audouin's Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Sandwich Tern
Spotted Sandgrouse
Black-bellied Sandgrouse
Crowned Sandgrouse
Rock Pigeon
Common Wood-Pigeon
European Turtle-Dove
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Laughing Dove
Common Cuckoo
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Pharoah Eagle-Owl
Little Owl
Egyptian Nightjar
Common Swift
Pallid Swift
Little Swift
Eurasian Hoopoe
Common Kingfisher
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
European Bee-eater
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Levaillant's Green Woodpecker
Eurasian Kestrel
Lanner Falcon
Black-crowned Tchagra
Southern Gray Shrike
Woodchat Shrike
Eurasian Magpie
Red-billed Chough
Yellow-billed Chough
Brown-necked Raven
Common Raven
Greater Hoopoe-Lark
Thick-billed Lark
Bar-tailed Lark
Desert Lark
Horned Lark
Temminck's Lark
Dupont's Lark
Greater Short-toed Lark
Lesser Short-toed Lark
Crested Lark
Thekla Lark
Maghreb Lark
Plain Martin
Bank Swallow
Eurasian Crag-Martin
Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Common House-Martin
African Blue Tit

 

Great Tit
Eurasian Wren
Common Bulbul
Scrub Warbler
Cetti's Warbler
Common Chiffchaff
Iberian Chiffchaff
Western Bonelli's Warbler
Western Olivaceous Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Eurasian Reed-Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Eurasian Blackcap
African Desert Warbler
Tristram's Warbler
Subalpine Warbler
Sardinian Warbler
Greater Whitethroat
Spectacled Warbler
Fulvous Chatterer
European Robin
Common Nightingale
Moussier's Redstart
Common Redstart
Black Redstart
Blue Rock-Thrush
European Stonechat
White-crowned Wheatear
Black Wheatear
Mourning "Maghreb" Wheatear
Northern Wheatear
Northern "Seebohm's" Wheatear
Red-rumped Wheatear
Black-eared Wheatear
Desert Wheatear
Eurasian Blackbird
Mistle Thrush
Spotless Starling
Western Yellow Wagtail
Gray Wagtail
White Wagtail
Tawny Pipit
Meadow Pipit
Tree Pipit
Cirl Bunting
Rock Bunting
House Bunting
Corn Bunting
Common Chaffinch
Crimson-winged Finch
Trumpeter Finch
European Greenfinch
European Goldfinch
Eurasian Linnet
European Serin
House Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow
Desert Sparrow
Rock Petronia

 

 

Mammals, Reptiles & Amphibians:

Barbary Ground-Squirrel
Gerbil sp. ("Sand Rat")

Red Fox – dead!

Rock Lizard

Spanish Pond Turtle

 

Others:

Large crickets

Scorpion

 

Butterflies:

Small White
Clouded Yellow
Painted Lady
Greenish Black-Tip
Common Blue
European Swallowtail
Scarce Swallowtail
Large White
Small White
Wall Brown
False Mallow Skipper

Checkered White sp.