We had a group of four participants for our annual Morocco tour. The group requested that we add a few days to Zeida, Middle Atlas and Tanger at the end as well as extra nights at Sous Massa and Merzouga for a more relaxed pace which gave us the chance to really explore the country and its rich birdlife.
Our tour started in Marrakesh, exploring the middle and high Atlas Mountains at Oukaimeden. Our first stop was near the village of Asni where we quickly found our main target, Levaillant’s Woodpecker. Our interested birds seen here include Moussier’s Redstart, Wren, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Common Chaffinch (African race), Red-rumped Swallow, African Blue Tit, White Stork, Cirl Bunting, Eurasian Blackcap, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Lesser Kestrel. As we started to ascend the Atlas Mountains we found another big target, Tristram’s Warbler and Ring Ouzel a nice bonus.
As we got near the snow line we found Mistle Thrush, Red-billed Though, long-legged Buzzard, Barbary or Peregrine Falcon, Black Wheatear, White-throated Dipper, Black Redstart and Eurasian Coot. At Oukaimeden we saw Rock Sparrow, Horned Lark and our main target and the key reason for doing the trip in March; the African Crimson-winged Finch. What a wonderful start to the tour to pick up 3 of the top birds for Morocco on the first day.
Marrakesh to Agadir
Today we had a long travelling day with a few very important birding stops. Our first stop was at the estuary near Essaouira where we picked up a great selection of waders, shorebirds and a few general birds as well. Some of the species seen here include Western Subalpine Warbler, Greater Flamingo, Great Cormorant, Brown-throated Martin, Common Snipe, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Dunlin, Temminck’s Stint, Ruff, Sanderling, Common Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Garganey, Eurasian Teal, Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, Mallard, Black-headed, Audouin’s, Mediterranean and Yellow-legged Gulls.
From here our anticipation levels started to increase drastically as we approached Tamri where we would hopefully see one of the main reasons birders visit Morocco – Northern Bald Ibis. There are only 3 breeding colonies of this critically endangered bird and we were treated to a spectacular sighting with one individual landing about 20m from us and allowed incredible views for about 30 minutes. By the end of our visit to the area, we had seen 22 individual birds!!
From here we stopped at another estuary near Tamri where we found Kentish Plover, Lesser Black-backed Gull, brilliant views of Audouin’s Gull, Ruddy Shelduck and to our surprise, a Northern Bald Ibis landed in the estuary. Thekla Lark was seen nearby and a quick stop along a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean produced Northern Gannet, Ruddy Turnstone and Cory’s Shearwater. Since everyone in the group have done several pelagic trips we decided to move on and we arrived in Massa in time to enjoy a cold beer and incredible dinner.
Day 3 & 4:
We had two days to explore the birding habitats around the Sous River and needed both days as we ran into a very unseasonable low-pressure system leading to intermittent rain and cold weather. This meant that we did not see as many migrants as we would normally see on this part of the trip but still found European Bee-eater, Western Orphean Warbler, Common Nightingale, Western Subalpine Warbler, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Eurasian Blackcap, Meadow Pipit, Eurasian Hoopoe and Sedge Warbler and Bluethroat.
We also enjoyed views of Sardinian Warbler, Western Black-eared Wheatear, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaff, Moussier’s Redstart, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Eurasian Siskin, European Greenfinch, Little Owl, European Robin, Common House Martin, Little Swift, Corn Bunting, Cirl Bunting, European Serin, Zitting Cisticola, Black-crowned Tchagra and Spanish Sparrow.
We explored the pockets of open water and sandbanks where we found Black-crowned Night-heron, Eurasian Spoonbill, Western Swamphen, Little Egret, Common Kingfisher, Common Moorhen, Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Morocco White Wagtail and Western Yellow Wagtail. With the unpredictable weather we decided to postpone our excursion to a nearby estuary for the morning we would depart to Ouarzazate.
We did a short nocturnal walk and quickly found our two targets – Eurasian Stone-curlew and Red-necked Nightjar. Our hotel was located on the outskirts of the town and we enjoyed listening to the Nightjars calling throughout the night. The French owners did an incredible job of making us feel at home with a lovely Moroccan red wine ready every night with dinner and the food was truly some of the best I have had on any birding trip anywhere in the world.
Massa to Quarzazate
Our first planned stop for the day was at an estuary near Agadir and wow, did this turn out to be a very productive stop for shorebirds! The birds were pretty close offering great views of Eurasian Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit, Red Knot, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Little Stint, Common and Spotted Redshank, Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Ruff, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Grey Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Mediterranean, Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gull. A Bluethroat was a great end to a very productive stop. Today was pretty much a driving day as we made our way through the Anti Atlas to Quarzazate – the gateway to the Sahara. Some of the interesting birds seen en route include Greater Spotted Cuckoo, Peregrine/Barbary Falcon, Cream-coloured Courser, Northern Wheatear, Northern Raven, Black Kite, Short-toed Snake Eagle and Thekla Lark.
We did have time for two more birding stops. The first was halfway down a mountain pass where we saw Desert Lark, Black and White-crowned Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush and Eurasian Crag Martin. Barbary Ground Squirrel was seen as well. We made a last-minute decision to stop at a small river/wetland and the next hour produced a few brilliant birds including Little Crake, Common Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Eurasian Wryneck, European Turtle Dove, Willow Warbler, European Serin and a Bonelli’s Eagle!! Alpine Swift was seen as we stopped at our hotel where we enjoyed a good night’s rest.
Day 6 & 7:
Quarzazate to Boumalne Dades
Our first stop this morning was at the big reservoir just outside the city of Quarzazate and after assessing the water levels and deciding on the best spot, we started working our way through the huge number of waterbirds that congregate here. Our main target was Marbled Duck and we ended up counting at least 40 birds!! Other water and shorebirds seen include Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Great Crested Grebe, Greater Flamingo, Little Ringed Plover, Ruddy Shelduck, Common Shelduck, Green Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Wood Sandpiper.
A hunting Osprey was new for the trip and a very brief sighting of Pallid Harrier was a surprise. While scanning for waterbirds a flock of more than a hundred migrating Black Storks flew over and a flock of 200 plus White Storks landed near the water. Desert Wheatear, Maghreb Lark, Thekla Lark, Eurasian Crag Martin, Alpine Swift, Greater Short-toed Lark and Spectacled Warbler were seen close to the reservoir while a kettle of 250 Black Kites was an impressive sight.
We arrived in Boumalne Dades in time for some late afternoon birding which was a great introduction to birding the dry steppe slopes. We quickly found a pair of confiding Temminck’s Larks and a nice flock of Greater Short-toed Larks while Sand Martin was seen flying over. Cream-coloured Coursers were plentiful and we ended the day with a great view of a Barbary Falcon/Peregrine Falcon which entertained us with a spectacular high seed dive from its perch on a cellphone tower to try and catch a Rock Dove.
The following day was all about finding the rest of the steppe specials. With the current drought, it was slow going but we did have great views of Greater Hoopoe Lark, Desert Wheatear, Red-rumped Wheatear, Little Owl, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Long-legged Buzzard, Great Grey Shrike, Northern Wheatear and Black Wheatear. A few trees next to a farmhouse produced Wester Yellow Wagtail, Tree Pipet, Linnet, Western Boneli’s Warbler and Willow Warbler while Fat Sand Rat was a new mammal.
We visited a gorge where we saw Lanner Falcon and the highlights of this part of the route were a roosting Pharaoh Eagle-Owl and great views of the sparse Maghreb Wheatear. To top it all off we did a slow sundowner drive through the incredible Boumalne Gorge offering great photographic opportunities. It was time to say goodbye to this special part of Morocco and make our way further south into the Sahara Desert.
Into the Sahara
With great anticipation we set off further south to the Sahara Desert which would be a new desert for the whole group. But first, we had a couple of birding stops to make and we did pick up Desert Lark, Woodchat Shrike, Booted Eagle, Barn Swallow, Great Grey Shrike, Thekla Lark, Cream-coloured Courser, Spectacled Warbler, Greater Short-toed Lark, Greater Hoopoe Lark, Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Common Kestrel.
The main target today was finding Streaked Scrub Warbler and after spreading out and careful searching through the scrub for this skulker, we ended up with incredible views and great photographic opportunities. This is definitely one of the more difficult species to find in Morocco. A confiding Maghreb Lark was a bonus. Our last stop for the day was to find Bar-tailed Lark and we had great views of a displaying bird. We were treated to a beautiful Sahara sunset with spectacular views of the red sand dunes from our hotel.
We had two full days to explore the Erg Chebbi area which is a massive dune belt in southern Morocco and home to very special birds. We had several great views of Brown-necked Raven and we had 4×4 vehicles take us into the dunes where we found Desert Sparrow, Egyptian Nightjar, African Desert Warbler, Crowned and Spotted Sandgrouse. That afternoon we drove to a nearby town where we found Fulvous Babbler.
This is normally a brilliant area for migrating passerines but with the current cold spell still in northern Morocco it was a bit slow. We still picked up Western Boneli’s Warbler, Willow Warbler, Western Subalpine Warbler, Common Nightingale, Common Redstart, Northern Wheatear and Common Chiffchaff. It was time to make our way further north to the Middle area where we were hoping for a few missing species.
Day 11 & 13:
Middle Atlas, Zeida Plains and Tanger extension
It was time to start heading back north again and although the next few days were mostly travelling days, we had a few species to still look for. This part of Morocco is not normally included in our standard Morocco tour, but still missing for some clients and we decided to include this as a post-tour extension. The first stop was the Zeida plains where our main target was Dupont’s Lark. As we stopped to listen we had three birds calling and the search began for one of the toughest birds in the Western Palearctic to get good views on. We slowly made our way towards the calling birds which, true to form, kept running and eluded us until we eventually had brilliant views and a very happy group of birders. Other steppe birds such as Greater and Mediterranean Short-toed Larks, Cream-coloured Courser, Temminck’s Lark, Thekla Lark and Desert Wheatear were around as well.
The next stop was the middle Atlas Mountains. We had brilliant views of Atlas or Seebohm’s Wheatear and Red-knobbed Coot before the Cedar Forest produced Short-toed Treecreeper, Coal Tit, Great Tit, African Blue Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Firecrest and Eurasian Nuthatch. Barbary Macaque was a new mammal for the group.
The final stop was a wetland near Tanger where we hoped to see White-headed Duck and we ended up with more than 50 birds present. Marbled Duck and Red-crested Pochard was a nice bonus with Western Jackdaw and Helmeted Guineafowl.
We ended up back in Marrakesh after a wonderful tour picking up the desired Morocco targets. Morocco is a very safe country with very friendly people, good infrastructure and excellent food. Looking forward to our next Morocco trip!!