Morocco 2009

...with Mark Finn

March 11th - 21st

This tour to Southern Morocco was arranged for members of the East Grinstead RSPB Group. A very successful tour of this fascinating country produced the majority of the North African specialities. Many highlights come to mind particularly the long and excellent views of a resting Red-necked Nightjar near Taroudant. Snow in the High Atlas (the largest falls for many years) produced Crimson-winged Finches feeding around restaurant areas a rather unusual site. In the same area Levaillant’s Woodpeckers and Horned Larks were also present. Larks and wheatears were conspicuous this year with Thick-billed Larks and Mourning Wheatears being recorded. In the extreme south we again connected with the declining Houbara Bustard and nomadic Desert Sparrow. Migration was generally slow this year with many birds covering large areas due to high rain fall levels in the Sahara Desert. On the coast waders were again present in good numbers plus a few seabirds offshore. North of Agadir the Northern Bald Ibis population appears to be stable or slightly increasing which is a good sign for the future.

March 11th: Gatwick, Marrakech, Ourika Valley.

Weather: Clear and sunny with light east winds 25 C.

An early start today as we met up at Gatwick South Terminal for the flight down to Marrakech. The flight went smoothly and we departed from the plane in brilliant sunshine with a pair of Pallid Swifts overhead. After passing through passport control we picked up our luggage and met Rachid our local guide and interpreter. In the airport car park we located House Buntings and House Sparrows. The drive into the city centre was rather chaotic with traffic. In and around the main square birds included Common Bulbul, Little Swift and the first White Storks of the tour. Lunch taken and afterwards we headed into the lush Ourika Valley which had seen above normal rainfall this winter. En route a few migrant Barn Swallows, Cattle Egret, White Wagtail and calling Cetti’s Warblers. Our first birding stop was near a carpet factory surrounded by juniper woodland and cliffs. A short walk here produced Cirl Buntings and at least two Moussier’s Redstarts plus Eurasian Kestrels hunting over the forest ridge. Further up the valley we passed through villages packed with people celebrating a national holiday. A quieter area with clear water added White-bellied Dipper. On a steep hillside Barbary Partridge and calling Sardinian Warblers. Above the cliff we noted a Lanner Falcon before heading for base. Checked in and arranged to meet on the terrace at 1700 hours. Good birding for the next hour as Booted Eagle, Levaillant’s Woodpecker and Hawfinch were all seen. An excellent although tiring first day in Morocco had come to an end.

March 12th: Oukaimeden, Ourika Valley.

Weather: Clear and sunny 20 C

At 0730 we assembled on the terrace. Overhead there was a steady passage of Red-rumped Swallows and two Hawfinches perched in the top of a bare tree. In the auberge gardens African Blue Tits, Blackcap and House Buntings. After breakfast our journey took us up towards the ski resort of Oukaimeden stopping opposite a small village built into the cliff face. Stands of walnut trees attracted Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Buntings along the road. Further along the road we stopped again for Black Wheatears, Thekla Lark and Long-legged Buzzard. As we entered Oukaimeden the snow line was much lower than on previous visits. Near the army barracks we encountered the first flocks of Yellow-billed Choughs which allowed a very close approach. In the hotel walls and adjacent derelict buildings higher than average numbers of Rock Petronias and Black Redstarts. I had to change our plans for the day due to the amount of snow. Mohamed drove us up past the old village where several Horned Larks were singing and displaying. At the top we embarked on a short walk above the village with several more Horned Larks and a splendid male Black-eared Wheatear perched on a boulder. Walked back down and at the road junction several Crimson-winged Finches perched in the trees, buildings and telegraph wires. This rather shy and nomadic bird had been forced down to low, open levels by weather conditions. Lunch taken with the company of both chough species feeding nearby. In the afternoon the slow descent back towards the Ourika Valley. First stop at a section of conifer trees. A little searching produced wintering Firecrests and the Atlas race of Coal Tit. Next stop in one of several villages surrounded by walnut trees. This proved to be an excellent area for the North African endemic – Levaillant’s Woodpecker. Down the valley the distinctive call of a migrant Common Cuckoo was heard. The end of the day was spent along the Ourika valley which was less busy than yesterday. Similar birds with the addition of a White-throated Dipper allowing close and prolonged views.

March 13th: Ourika Valley, Tawha Forest, Toufihte, Tickaa Pass, Dades Valley.

Weather: Overcast with afternoon rain showers, south-easterly winds 15 C/20 C.

Before breakfast a final check of the hotel grounds for birds. Similar species with the addition of two Sardinian Warblers and a Levaillant’s Woodpecker feeding in walnut trees. Above the gardens brief views of Eurasian Sparrowhawk and European Turtle Dove. Checked out of the auberge when a Hawfinch gave close views in a bare tree. Our journey took us towards the regional town of Ouarzazate passing through fields of cereals and wild flowers. Crested Larks and migrating Barn Swallows were fairly common whilst bushes and telephone wires held Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrikes. A stop at the Tawha Forest was next on the agenda but strong winds made birding quiet difficult. Booted Eagle and Long-legged Buzzard were the only species of note. Next were the pine woods of Toufihte where Common Crossbill, Coal Tit, Hawfinch and Cirl Bunting were present. Our journey took us through valleys of walnut trees and snow-melt rivers towards the high pass of Tichkaa. On the lower southern side we encountered Black Wheatears and wheeling flocks of Red-billed Choughs. Lunch taken in a rather ‘local’ cafe and then onto Ouarzazate with many White-tailed Wheatears along the route. Picked up supplies in the city and headed towards the large reservoir on the eastern edge. Open waters here held Great Crested Grebes, Great Cormorants, Mallard and a single drake Garganey. Small islands within the lake attracted Grey Herons and a single Osprey. As the light started to fade Bonelli’s Eagle and a male Marsh Harrier were recorded. On the road to Boulmane Dades we met up with Mohamed Zaki and exchanged information. Checked in at a hotel adjacent to the bird-rich Plateau d'Anved our main area of interest tomorrow.

March 14th: Plateau d’Anved, Boumalne du Dades.

Weather: Sunny with afternoon rain showers light south east winds 20 C.

The hotel gardens and the River Dades produced the usual birds and several Eurasian Hoopoes on older buildings. Our main interest today was the Plateau d’Anved a large stony plain dotted with isolated farms, wells and buildings plus roaming sheep and goat herds. We started by turning down one of the few tarmac roads to explore this vast natural expanse. The road junction provided us with the first of several Desert Wheatears perching on low boulders and road signs. Further down the road we stopped again and embarked on the first walk into the desert. Temminck’s Larks were singing and displaying everywhere and establishing territories for the breeding season. A circular walk provided us with sightings of Red-rumped Wheatears and a perched Long-legged Buzzard. Back in the bus again for a short distance before stopping for displaying Greater Hoopoe Larks. All of us were amazed by this extraordinary bird as it perched on bushes before starting its aerial display. In the same area Greater and Lesser Short-toed Larks singing and displaying. Next on the agenda was a road leading to a small farm used for low maintenance cereal and vegetable production. A flock of Black-bellied Sandgrouse were recorded flying over the area. In and around the farm Northern, White-tailed and a single Mourning Wheatear the latter is rather scarce in Morocco. Rachid obtained permission from the farm manager to walk around the compound. This proved to be a good move as Thick-billed Lark and Cream-coloured Coursers were observed. Back to Boumalne for lunch on an elevated terrace. Afterwards we walked around the oasis adding a few migrants notably Common Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Tree Pipit. Along the river Cattle Egrets and wintering Grey Wagtails. At 1600 hours we returned to the desert and farm area. Weather conditions had become poor being overcast with a strong cool breeze. This had an effect on raptors with Bonelli’s Eagle, Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers, Lanner Falcon, Eurasian Kestrels all being affected. Before leaving the farm a party of Yellow Wagtails dropped in to feed on insects. Returned to base under darkening skies for an evening meal and drinks.

March 15th: Boumalne du Dades, Todra Gorge, Erfoud, Mgouna.

Weather: Sunny and hot in the south 29 C

Checked out of Boumalne for the long drive south to Erfoud. We passed the birding area of yesterday and stopped a further ten kilometres up the road. A passage of raptors was taking place as several Black Kites were noted on the ground. Also present were Marsh Harrier, Long-legged Buzzard and Temminck’s Larks in song and display mode. We headed south and east to visit the dramatic Todra Gorge. From a high viewpoint we looked into the old city and fields used for vegetable production. Common species observed along with first Laughing Doves of the trip. Further up the gorge we encountered nesting Eurasian Crag Martins, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting and a singing Common Nightingale. Back to the main route picking up supplies for lunch in a rather dusty and busy town. After lunch the habitat started to become more arid and sandy. The next two stops produced excellent views of Northern and Black-eared Wheatears and a singing Spectacled Warbler. Near a water pump we added Trumpeter Finches to the list. As we crossed a bridge with water running another stop was in order. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers was present plus Yellow and White Wagtails. Travelled through Erfoud to our base in the desert for two nights. We ended the day watching a dark phase Booted Eagle consuming prey at close range in a tree. Other new birds added were at least two Common Redstarts and a Western Bonelli’s Warbler.

March 16th: Sahara Desert, Merzouga Oasis and Lake.

Weather: Hot and sunny 35 C

An earlier start today as we headed south into the vast stony Sahara Desert. This year was unusual as the desert was in bloom after spring rains. Within the first few kilometres we recorded a male Montagu’s Harrier, Cream-coloured Coursers and White-tailed Wheatears. After driving around fr a while, a displaying Houbara Bustard was located on a ridge. Long and extensive views were obtained of this highly endangered species. We headed off again in search of birds towards Cafe Yasmina. The older buildings attracted two pairs of Desert Sparrows. In front of the cafe flood waters attracted Kentish and Ringed Plovers. From an elevated position we recorded Common Coot and Common Moorhen both uncommon species in the desert. After a short break we returned to the desert stopping at suitable points searching for migrants. Acacia trees attracted a wide range of warblers including Subalpine, Western Bonelli’s, Western Olivaceous and Spectacled. Further out into the desert another stop in an area of small bushes and plants attracted migrant Willow Warblers, Common Whitethroat and a singing Trumpeter Finch. We then walked among sand dunes and scrub recording Northern, Black-eared and Desert Wheatears, Tawny Pipit and a single African Desert Warbler. Lunch was taken in Mergouza followed by a walk in the oasis. Bird life was quiet here with Common Lake a large, seasonal saline expanse. From an elevated position we found Greater Flamingos, Ruddy Shelduck and Little Stints. Further on in a corner of the lake several species of ducks notably Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Teal, Garganey, Common Pochard, Eurasian Wigeon and two drake Ferruginous Pochards. In the distance Gull-billed Terns and hunting Marsh Harriers. Back to base a tired and dusty group of birders.

March 17th: Merzouga, Rissini, Alnif, Ouarzazate.

Weather: Warm and sunny 29 C.

Today was mainly a travel day back towards Ouarzazate with a few birding stops on the way. Our first stop was outside the town of Rissini where we located a flock of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters perched on roadside wires. Nearby a pair of Fulvous Babblers were found collecting nesting material from a palm tree. At 0930 we met up with a local guide and set off to an old water system deep in the desert. On arrival Desert Eagle Owls perched on the cliff face giving excellent views. Also present were Desert Larks and Subalpine Warblers looking for insects in leafy trees. Back to the main road to search for Brown-necked Raven. Luck was with us as one bird was found adding sticks to a rather large and untidy cliff nest. The journey to the town of Alnif went smoothly with large numbers of Southern Grey Shrikes and White-tailed Wheatears along the way. At Alnif a short walk into the oasis with a few migrant birds present in Willow Warbler and Common Chiffchaff. Lunch taken at a campsite twenty kilometres down the road in a secluded location. Birds were few with the exception of a Western Olivaceous Warbler feeding in a fig tree. The road runs along the Draa River creating a rather lush environment in a stark surround. A few birds on the river including Little Ringed Plovers and a lone Greenshank. Ouarzazate was soon reached by driving across a section of the Atlas Mountains. On the descent White Storks using the late afternoon thermals. Checked in at the old quarter of the city for a night stop.

March 18th: Ouarzazate, Iriri Valley, Sous Valley, Taroudant.

Weather: Warm and sunny with east winds 24 C.

After leaving Ouarzazate the first birding stop was the river and agricultural land in the Iriri Valley. Always a productive area with the river holding Common and Green Sandpipers, Little Ringed Plovers and White Wagtails. Overhead raptors were in evidence with Lanner Falcon, Long-legged Buzzard and Marsh Harrier Next on the agenda was a small lake nestling in the arid surrounds of low hills. On the lake Little Grebes, Greater Flamingos, Northern Shoveler and Ruddy Shelducks. Stopped for lunch at a farm used for peach production and obtained permission walk around the tracks. Usual birds present with the addition of Eurasian Linnet and a calling Song Thrush. Shortly afterwards we entered the Sousse Valley which is dotted with agen trees. Woodchat Shrikes were particularly numerous here. A short walk produced Common Quail, Chaffinch, Great Tit and Corn Buntings and a singing Western Olivaceous Warbler. Further up the road a single tree attracted Thekla Lark, Sardinian Warbler and Yellow Wagtail. Last stop was a rocky hillside with a panoramic view over the surrounding countryside. Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, Common Swift and Eurasian Kestrel all seen. Back to the main road and the hotel at Taroudant where on arrival Pallid Swifts hawked for insects.

March 19th: Sous Valley, Tamri, Agadir (Sous River).

Weather: Warm and sunny with south west winds 26 C.

The hotel grounds at Taroudant held the commoner birds including large numbers of Pallid Swifts. Our first major birding stop was at a hillside dotted with olive trees and scrub. Along the road our first views of Eurasian Magpies of the north-west African race. Overhead migration was in full swing with flocks of Black Kites, House Martins, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows. As we walked slowly uphill a Eurasian Thick-knee was from cover. Best of all was a Red-necked Nightjar flushed from cover and landing in the open for great views. It was time to head towards Agadir and northwards to Tamir. The dock area had large numbers of Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls. Up the coast another stop added Audouin’s Gulls and north bound Northern Gannets and Sandwich Terns. Tamri was reached a shallow coastal lagoon next to dry cliffs and old villages. On the lagoon Ruddy Shelduck, Common Coot and Grey Herons. Eventually Northern Bald Ibis located on a hillside feeding in a large roaming group (close views obtained). It was starting to get hot as we headed back to the Sous River in Agadir. An excellent region for water birds including Black-headed and Slender-billed Gulls, Osprey, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Grey, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Common Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Knot, Eurasian Curlew and Greater Flamingos. Time was getting on as we travelled back into Agadir for the last two nights in Morocco.

March 20th: Oued Massa.

Weather: Warm and sunny 30 C

A later start this morning as we travelled south to Oued Massa an enclosed river system with reeds, muddy fringes and surrounding agricultural land. Our first stop was next to a section of stone walls where Little Owls and Northern Wheatears were located along with a male Blue Rock Thrush. A pair of Eurasian Hoopoes flew past and overhead a migrant Meadow Pipit. Beyond the last village we embarked on a walk overlooking Oued Massa. In the river Little Grebe and a fly-by of Glossy Ibis, a bonus came in the form of a single Squacco Heron. In the riverside vegetation, a male Eurasian Sparrowhawk, European Turtle Doves and singing Eurasian Reed Warblers. Close by in nearby fields calling Common Quails whilst roadside bushes attracted several Moussier’s Redstarts. On arrival at the reserve car park Woodpigeon and European Turtle Doves collecting nesting material – a rather odd site in hot conditions. We started the walk alongside the lagoon stopping opposite an island holding Great Cormorants, Eurasian Spoonbills, Mallard, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler and Marbled Ducks. A few waders were present including Black-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank, Greenshank and Black-winged Stilts. Scrub and bushes attracted several species with a Eurasian Wryneck perched in a small tree. Overhead two male Montagu’s Harriers started to climb in altitude on the warm thermals. Near the hide Sandwich Terns, Little Stint, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Kentish and Ringed Plovers, Spotted Redshank and a summer-plumaged Sanderling. From the hide the distinctive song of a Black-crowned Tchagra which duly obliged showing from an exposed perch. Back to the shade of the car park for an extended lunch break before setting off for the coast. At the latter several Northern Gannets offshore, single Cory’s Shearwater and a party of Balearic Shearwaters. We decided to head back to Agadir in order to prepare for tomorrows journey back to England.

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