Morocco

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AT A GLANCE
The Kingdom of Morocco, also known as “the place the sun sets”, or the “western Kingdom” is a country rich in history and culture, located in the far west of North Africa. It overlooks the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west, bordered to the east by Algeria and to the south by Mauritania. Morocco is a member of the Arab League, the Union for the Mediterranean and the African Union. It has the fifth largest economy of Africa. Amongst other things, it is famous for its cuisine, its ancient cities, its literature and its love for football.
The geography of Morocco spans from the 2000 miles of Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea coastlines, to mountainous areas including the Atlas mountains, to the vast Sahara desert in the south.
This scenically spectacular country has a decidedly undeveloped feel and, for those who like travelling somewhere distinctly ‘different’, a visit to Morocco will be a memorable journey through a land where many regions seem outwardly little changed in centuries. The combination of dramatic desert and mountain scenery, superb desert oases, strikingly attractive mud-walled towns and villages, colourful tribal people and superb birding ensures that Morocco is one of those places that one longs to return to.
Morocco has a wide range of biodiversity. It is part of the Mediterranean basin, an area with exceptional concentrations of endemic species. It is considered to be a hotspot for conservation priority. Avifauna are notably variant and the bird list for Morocco includes a total of over 450 species.
As an independent country after French rule, few Muslim countries offer the combination of such a friendly atmosphere complimented with strong cultural beliefs and few restrictions on visitors. Birding in Morocco is scenic and exciting, and on this Nature Travel Birding Tour we will visit the High and Middle Atlas Mountains, the vast Sahara desert, many stunning and bird-rich gorges and valleys and the picturesque Atlantic coastline.
NEXT DEPARTURE DATE:   28 MARCH 2020
ITINERARY – MOROCCO BIRDING TOUR
DAY 1: Arrival in Marrakesh
After your arrival at the Marrakesh Menara Airport you will be met by a company representative and as the arrival is usually late in the evening we will transfer to our hotel in the old city of Marrakech Riad Omar.
Marrakesh is the fourth largest city in the country and home to almost one million people. It is the capital city of the mid-southwestern region of Marrakesh-Safi, and is located to the north of the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains. Marrakesh is possibly the most important of Morocco’s four former imperial cities, and has a history dating back to 1062. Like many Moroccan cities, Marrakesh comprises an old fortified city packed with vendors and their stalls (the medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), bordered by modern neighbourhoods. Today it is one of the busiest cities in Africa and serves as a major economic hub and tourist destination.
We start our birding tour tomorrow!

DAY 2: High Atlas Mountains
Even before leaving this morning, look around the hotel grounds for House and Striolated Bunting, Common Bulbul, Pallid and Common Swift and even White Stork. We should also see Black Kite, Eurasian Collared Dove, Common Wood Pigeon, Spanish Sparrow and European Bee-eater.
Departure is early in the morning to the ski resort of Oukaimeden (2600 metres above sea level) in the High Atlas Mountains, about 80 kilometres (50 miles) to the south of Marrakesh.
On the Haouz plains we will search for Moroccan Magpie, Crested Lark and many other passerines can be found in gardens and on the plain. En route we will also hope to see Western Jackdaw, here at its southern limit.
On the lower slopes of the Atlas Mountain we may find House and Rock Bunting, Moussier’s Redstart, Black Wheatear and Blue Rock Thrush. In the small oak trees we find the African Blue, Great and Coal Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Hawfinch, Common Firecrest and Tristram’s Warbler. The big walnuts trees in the valley are the good habitat for Levaillant’s Woodpecker.
On the plateau of Oukaimeden itself, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and conifer-covered slopes, we hope to find Red-billed and Alpine Chough, Rock Sparrow, Water Pipit, Horned Lark and African Crimson-winged Finch, and the seebohmi subspecies of Northern Wheatear (possible future split) amongst many others.
The High Atlas is also a good area to see the famous Bearded Vulture and Golden Eagle as we come down to our hotel La Bergerie in Ouirgane, about an hour to the west of Oukaimeden. We could also see Mistle Thrush, Eurasian Jay, Black Redstart, European Robin, Common Wood Pigeon, Rock Sparrow, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and the mauritanica subspecies of Tawny Owl.

DAY 3: Southeast to Ouarzazate
We will drive through the high Atlas Mountains en route to Ouarzazate, about 5 hours away to the southeast.
We will make a few stops on the way there in good habitats, including on the Tichka pass and around Zat. Key birds that we will be keeping a close eye out for today will be Levaillant´s Woodpecker, Mourning Wheatear and Trumpeter Finch.
We could also see Lanner and Barbary Falcon, Lesser Kestrel, Black Kite, Long-legged Buzzard, Short-toed Snake Eagle, and Booted Eagle.
After exiting the mountains we enter into the ‘gateway to the Sahara’ and arrive in Ouarzazate. Ouarzazate, also nicknamed The Hollywood of the desert, is at an elevation of 1,160 metres (3,810 ft) in the middle of a bare plateau south of the High Atlas Mountains. The Ouarzazate area is a noted film-making location, with Morocco’s biggest studios inviting many international companies to work here. Films such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), The Living Daylights (1987), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Mummy (1999) and Gladiator (2000) were shot here, as was part of the TV series Game of Thrones.
There are many sites around Ouarzazate to explore, including a large reservoir with surrounding vegetation. Here we can expect Marbled Duck, Ruddy Shelduck, Western Bonelli’s, Western Orphean, Sedge and Western Olivaceous Warbler. We will also look for Osprey, Desert, Crested, Thekla’s and Maghreb Lark and Black Wheatear. There is also a good chance of various other birds in the surrounding scrub, most notably Tawny Pipit, Eurasian Wryneck and Bluethroat.
We will come back to Ouarzazate for our dinner and overnight stay.

DAY 4: Dades Valley
The desert and oases near Ouarzazate and on the way to Dades valley are good places for birdwatching, and we could see various desert larks, wheatears, sandgrouse and coursers, along with Barbary and Lanner Falcons.
We will then head for the famous Dades valley and gorges. The Dadès Gorges are a series of rugged wadi gorges carved out by the Dadès River. The river originates in the High Atlas range of the Atlas mountains, flowing some 350 kilometres (220 mi) southwest before joining the Draa River at the edge of the Sahara. The many-colored walls of the gorges range anywhere from 200 to 500 meters (650 to 1600 feet). The southernmost gorges are known for extensive production of roses, used in the production of rose water. There are also groves of palm and almond trees. Some great photo opportunities here! We will also look for Eurasian Hoopoe, Bonelii’s Eagle, Western Marsh Harrier, Lanner Falcon, Long-legged Buzzard, Red-rumped Swallow, European Bee-eater, Common Linnet, Greater and Lesser Short-toed Lark, European Goldfinch, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, European Greenfinch, Bar-tailed, Temminck’s, Desert and Thekla’s Lark, Willow and Cetti’s Warbler, Desert, Northern and White-crowned Wheatear and many other species.
Our hotel is in the small town of Boumalne Dades.

DAY 5: Dades Valley
We spend all day near Dades valley and on the famous Anved plateau (Tagoudilt track). Despite the presence of a nearby rubbish dump site, the dry, stony, barren plains of the area play host to a large number of tricky desert specials. These include Cream-colored Courser, Blue Rock Thrush, Grey Wagtail, Black-bellied, Pin-tailed, Spotted and Crowned Sandgrouse, Thick-billed, Temminck’s, Bar-tailed, Short-toed, Thekla’s and Desert Lark, and Trumpeter Finch.
A nearby building hosts breeding Mourning, Desert, Red-rumped, and White-crowned Wheatears. We slowly drive along the track, hopping out regularly to scan the plains for the various specials, as well as undertake short forays out into the plains to find the species. The birding along here is usually very productive! We might also find, amongst others, Common Nightingale, Western Yellow Wagtail, Collared Pratincole, Subalpine Warbler, Eurasian Skylark, Spotted Flycatcher, European Stonechat, Montagu’s Harrier, Horned and Calandra Lark, Common Redstart and Long-legged Buzzard.
We will spend one more night in Boumalne Dades. Look out for Little Owl perched on buildings in the area!

DAY 6: East to the Sahara
Today we go further east to Erfoud and Merzouga, the gateway to the big Sahara.
Erfoud is an oasis town in the Sahara Desert, in the Drâa-Tafilalet region in eastern Morocco. Due to its proximity to Merzouga, Erfoud has developed tourist-related infrastructures such as hotels and restaurants. Nearby Merzouga is known for its proximity to Erg Chebbi, a Saharan erg (wide flat sand expanse), and it is for this reason a part of the itineraries of many tourists visiting Morocco. Merzouga has the largest natural underground body of water in Morocco.
This area of Morocco has also been identified as being very similar in appearance and possibly geology to certain areas on the planet Mars. Because of this, there is an interest in this area as a field research location for Mars analogue research.
On the way to Merzouga we visit the famous Toudgha valley and gorges. Many birds can be found in the palm groves and fields, usually similar to what we looked for at Dades Valley.
On our way to the Sahara the landscape becomes more desolate and arid; we hope to find Bar-tailed and Hoopoe Lark, Streaked Scrub, Subalpine and Desert Warbler, Brown-necked Raven, Houbara Bustard, Fulvous Babbler and Desert Sparrow among many others.
Overnight is at the bottom of one of the biggest sand dunes!

DAY 7: Sahara
Today we explore the Sahara Desert!
The Sahara is the largest hot desert and the third largest desert in the world after Antarctica and the Arctic. Its area of 9,200,000 square kilometres (3,600,000 sq mi) is comparable to the area of China or the United States! It stretches from the Red Sea in the east and the Mediterranean in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, where the landscape gradually changes from desert to coastal plains. To the south, it is bounded by the Sahel, a belt of semi-arid tropical savanna around the Niger River valley and the Sudan Region of Sub-Saharan Africa.
For several hundred thousand years, the Sahara has alternated between desert and savanna grassland in a 40000 year cycle caused by changes in the Earth’s axis as it rotates around the sun, which change the location of the North African Monsoon. It is next expected to become green in about 15,000 years (17,000 AD)!
Today we will drive around this incredible area with its huge red dunes, hop out and look for many birds, including Pharaoh Eagle-Owl, Fulvous Babbler, Desert Sparrow, African Desert Warbler, Houbara Bustard, Bar-tailed Lark, Desert, Black-eared and Red-rumped Wheatear, Egyptian Nightjar and many others.
After our day in this famous desert we come to the oases for a relaxing walk and maybe to find some more special passerines, including Bluethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Spectacled Warbler and Eurasian Blackcap.

DAY 8: Sahara
The big Sahara Desert is worthy to be explored one more day.
The Sahara is mainly rocky hamada (stone plateaus). Ergs (sand seas – large areas covered with sand dunes) form only a minor part, but many of the sand dunes are over 180 metres (590 ft) high.
Wind or rare rainfall shape the desert features: sand dunes, dune fields, sand seas, stone plateaus, gravel plains, dry valleys, dry lakes and salt flats. The weather tends to be sunny, dry and stable with a minimal risk of rainfall. The sky is usually clear above the desert and the sunshine duration is extremely high everywhere in the Sahara.
The Saharan flora comprises around 2800 species of vascular plants. Fauna include several species of fox, including Fennec Fox, Pale Fox and Rüppell’s Fox. Antelope species include Addax, Rhim Gazelle, Dorcas Gazelle and Dama Gazelle. Other animals include the Cheetah, Monitor Lizards, Hyrax, Sand Vipers and small populations of African Wild Dog.
From an avian perspective, today we will look for Eurasian Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike, Eurasian Wryneck, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Bluethroat, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Trumpeter Finch, Southern Grey Shrike, Cream-coloured Courser, Spotted, Pin-tailed and Crowned Sandgrouse, Western Orphean Warbler and European Bee-eater, amongst many others.
Seasonal lakes are sometimes present, and when they are they attract numerous waders and other interesting species, including Marbled, Tufted and Ferruginous Duck, Greater Flamingo (a strange sight in the desert!), Western Marsh Harrier, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Greenshank and more.

DAY 9: Draa Valley
We leave the Sahara Desert and go west to Draa valley.
About 225,000 people live in the valley of the Draa, which measures 23,000 square kilometres (8,900 sq mi). The Draa is Morocco’s longest river, at 1,100 kilometres (680 mi). It is formed by the confluence of the Dadès River and Imini River. It flows from the High Atlas mountains to its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean.
The water from the Draa is used to irrigate palm groves and small horticulture along the river. The Draa valley is famous as the date basket of Morocco – more than 18 varieties are grown here. On the way to our overnight stay we can spend some time to watch any bird in the villages, gorges, mountains, cliffs and oases.
Birding wise it is best known as a summer breeding area of Blue-cheeked Bee-eater.
In Draa valley we will hope to find more water birds, including Little Ringed Plover and Green Sandpiper, as well as other species like Laughing Dove (here called Palm Dove) and Trumpeter Finch.
We stay near Agdz for the night. Agdz, which means “resting place,” is located along the old caravan route linking Marrakech to Timbuktu, and played an important role in the exchange of goods across the Sahara.

DAY 10: Sous Valley
We travel west and get closer to the Atlantic Ocean. On the plateau of Taznakht we hope to see Black-bellied Sandgrouse, and many species of larks are possible as well.
The Sous region is the alluvial basin of the Sous River, separated from the Sahara desert by the Anti-Atlas Mountains. The natural vegetation in the Sus region is savanna dominated by the Argan (Argania spinosa), a local endemic tree found nowhere else; part of the area is now a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve to protect this unique habitat. The region of Sous is generally fertile and has a high agricultural production.
The entire Sous valley is a good area for birding. It is especially famous for Dark Chanting Goshawk and Tawny Eagle, and Booted Eagle, Black-Winged Kite and Eurasian Kestrel can also be seen. In the agricultural fields we will also hope to find many different species of passerines.
Today’s overnight stay will be in Taroudant. The town is known as the “Grandmother of Marrakesh” because it looks like a smaller version of Marrakesh with its surrounding ramparts. In the sixteenth century, the Saadi dynasty briefly used Taroudant as a capital before it moved its royal seat onwards to Marrakesh. Today, the city has the feel of a small fortified, walled market town on a caravan route. The town is known for its local crafts, including jewellery and carpets.

DAY 11: Sous Valley
We travel to Agadir today and watch birds on the way in the lower Sous valley. Agadir is located on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean near the foot of the Atlas Mountains, just north of the point where the Sous River flows into the ocean. It is now the largest seaside resort in Morocco, where foreign tourists and many residents are attracted by an unusually mild year-round climate.
In the afternoon we will spend time at the nearby Oued Sous estuary near. Here is very good birding to be had and we will look for Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Spoonbill, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Black-winged Stilt, Grey, Common Ringed and Kentish Plover, Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Eurasian Coot, Common and Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, Whimbrel, Green, Wood and Common Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Little Stint, Dunlin, Ruff, Pied Avocet, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Mediterranean, Audouin’s, Slender-billed and Mew Gull and Marbled Duck along with many others. We could even find a Red-necked Nightjar!

DAY 12: Oued Massa Nature Reserve
After two days in the Sous valley we go south to the Oued Massa Nature reserve, and its neighbour, the Sous-Massa National Park. It is a rich ecology system that consists of the Massa lagoon fringed by massive sand dunes, reed beds and muddy banks. The 34000 hectare park and nature reserve were created in 1991 to protect the unique flora and fauna in this part of Morocco.
The park’s main conservation importance is that it holds three of the four Moroccan colonies of the Northern Bald Ibis. Together with the fourth site at nearby Tamri, it holds 95% of the world’s truly wild breeding birds of this endangered species! Only about 500 remain in the wild…
We will also enjoy watching all the different ducks, gulls, terns and waders here. We will look for Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Marbled Duck, Ruddy Shelduck, Squacco and Purple Heron, Caspian and Sandwich Tern, Great Cormorant, Northern Gannet, Little Bittern, Eurasian Spoonbill, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Western Marsh Harrier, Baillon’s and Little Crake, Brown-throated Martin, Black-crowned Tchagra, Spotless Starling, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Maghreb Magpie, Meadow Pipit, Zitting Cisticola, Pallid Swift and Red-rumped Swallow amongst many others.

DAY 13: Tamri and Essaouira
From the coast road we travel to the seaside town of Essaouira. On the way we can watch more sea birds.
In Tamri we will again look for the Northern Bald Ibis, especially if we missed it yesterday. It is also a good area for finding Audouin’s Gull, while in the scrubby areas we will search for Moussier’s Redstart, Spotless Starling, Blue Rock Thrush, European Goldfinch, European Serin, Corn and House Bunting, Sardinian Warbler and Spanish Sparrow. In other nearby habitats we could also find Plain Martin, Common Chiffchaff, European Starling, Barbary Partridge, White Stork, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Zitting Cisticola, Eurasian Stone-curlew and Whinchat to name a few.
We will spend tonight in Essaouira, formerly known as Mogador. It is a city in the region of Marrakesh-Safi, on the Atlantic coast. The modern name means “the little rampart”, a reference to the fortress walls that still enclose part of the city. The Medina of Essaouira is a UNESCO World Heritage listed city, an example of a late 18th-century fortified town, as transferred to North Africa by European colonists. The medina is home to many small arts and crafts businesses, notably cabinet making and ‘thuya’ wood-carving (using roots of the Tetraclinis tree), both of which have been practised in Essaouira for centuries.
Essaouira is also renowned for its kitesurfing and windsurfing, with the powerful trade wind blowing almost constantly onto the protected, almost waveless, bay. The annual “Woodstock of Morocco”, with an emphasis on gnaoua music, rock, jazz and reggae is also held in Essaouira, attracting 45000 spectators.

DAY 14: Back to Marrakesh
Today we will embark on the 200 km (120 mi) drive back to Marrakesh.
We will have many opportunities to see birds along the way and will stop for any interesting species we might spot from the car or during breaks. For example, near Majjat village we will look for Lesser Kestrel.
Upon our arrival back in Marrakesh, we might stop at one or two known birding spots and we will look out for White Stork, Common Bulbul, House Bunting, Spotless Starling, Common Blackbird, Stock Dove, European Turtle Dove, Black Kite, European Serin, Eurasian Blackcap, Western Cattle Egret, Common, Little and Pallid Swift, Great Tit, Hawfinch, Red-rumped and Barn Swallow, and maybe even a surprise visitor or two!
We will overnight in our comfortable city hotel.

DAY 15: End of tour
We will leave for the airport of Marrakesh after breakfast and fly back home.

A shorter 7 Day Morocco tour is also available, please enquire should you want to join this tour

Do you have a quick question about this birding tour? Speak to a specialist at
info@naturetravelbirding.com