Central and Northern Morocco 3rd-10th March 2007

Published by Peter Stronach (peterstronach AT gmail.com)

Participants: Peter Stronach, Andrew Seth, Alan Bull and Steve Turner


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Long-legged Buzzard
Long-legged Buzzard
Black-shouldered Kite
Black-shouldered Kite
Short-toed Eagle
Short-toed Eagle

This trip report details a 7-day trip that we undertook in the spring of 2007, highlights of which were Dupont’s Lark, Thick-billed Lark, Crowned Sandgrouse, Double-spurred Francolin, Crimson-winged Finch, Brown-necked Raven and a memorable evenings birding at the Lagoons southwest of Sidi Moussa.

Our itinerary was as follows:

3rd March 2007: Flew from London Gatwick to Marrakech Menara, overnight stay in Marrakech.
4th March 2007: Early morning birding Marrakech suburbs, drive to and bird Oukaimeden ski resort, drive to and bird Tizi-n-Tichka pass, birding Amerzgane at dusk, Overnight stay in Ouarzarzate.
5th March 2007: Early morning birding Barrage El Mansour Eddahbi, drive to and bird Todra gorge, birding Iknoan road, overnight stay in Boulmane Dades.
6th March 2007: Dawn at Tagdilt track, drive to and birding Goulmina area, drive to and birding Rissani area, overnight stay at Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua, Erg Chebbi.
7th March 2007: Dawn birding around Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua and Kasbah Said, drive to and birding Merzouga area and Merzouga Lake, drive to and overnight stay in Midelt.
8th March 2007: Dawn at Zeida plains, birding Jbel Hebri and Foret de Cedres, drive to and birding at Lac du Sidi Bourhaba, drive to and dusk at Merga Zerga, overnight stay in Temara, Rabat.
9th March 2007: Dawn at Sidi Yahya des Zaer, drive to and birding at Sidi Moussa lagoons, overnight stay in Marrakech.
10th March 2007: Early morning birding Marrakech suburbs, Flight from Marrakech Menera to London Gatwick.

The report is split in two, the first part details the specific sites that we visited detailing precise locations and additional information that we would have found useful during our trip, the second gives details of the those species that birders specifically visit Turkey for. If you would like any further information please do contact us, peterstronach@gmail.com, andrewseth@hotmail.com and alanjbull@hotmail.com.

Useful Sources of Information

We found the following invaluable during the trip:

· Svensson, L., Grant, P.J., Mullarney, K and Zetterstrom, D. Collins Bird Guide, Collins, London.

· Bergier, P and Bergier, F (2003) A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Morocco. Prion Ltd, Norfolk.

· The Rough Guide to Morocco (2004 Seventh Edition)

· Insight Travel Map: Morocco 1:800,000

· Trip Report: Richard Bonser 2nd-10th April 2005, www.birdtours.co.uk.

· Trip Reports and recent sightings on www.go-south.org.

· Birdguides article: Dupont’s Lark are easy!, www.birdguides.com (subscriber’s only)

General Tips

We recommend the following:

· Make sure you bring plenty of warm clothing if you intend to visit the Zeida plains at dawn; it was 6c when we visited with a very strong cold numbing wind, and after spending the last couple of days in the desert it felt baltic to say the least.

· There are many manned speed traps on the motorways and minor roads, these are mainly near the large settlements. We were stopped by the police five times, a new record!.

· Don’t be afraid of the local food, it is absolutely great, highlight of which was the many varied tagines.

Key Sites

We have assumed that anybody going to Morocco has the sources of information detailed above and therefore the text below just adds to the information found within these. The locations are arranged in the rough loop that we followed, starting and finishing in Marrakech. Firstly going south to the Atlas mountains for the high altitude species, crossing over to the Ouarzarzate area, before heading east through Boulmane Dades to the Merzouga area for the desert species. Here we headed north to the Zeida plains for Dupont’s Lark, then further north to Merga Zerga, before returning southwest to Marrakech via the coast at Sisi Moussa. For purposes of brevity we have not listed all the sites we visited, but only those supporting the Moroccan specialities.

Hotel Riad Mogador, adjacent to the main bus station, Marrakech
We stayed in this hotel on our first night and after a baptism of fire driving a hire car through the streets of Marrakech, it came as a welcome relief. Several House Buntings provided an entertaining backdrop for our breakfast the following morning, flying around inside the hotel and the supermarket below.

Outskirts of Marrakech
On our first morning we stopped on the outskirts of Marrakech on our way to the ski resort of Oukaimeden. From the Place de la Liberte, we took the road signposted Asni from the road that leads around the city walls, the Boulevard el Yarmouk (Marrakech City map in The Rough Guide is very useful) . The turn was the second major road on the right after you pass the large olive grove. We continued on the left hand fork when the road splits. Stopping a few kilometers out of the city, we explored the prickly pear hedgerows and the olive groves. There were plenty of migrants including a calling Quail, Chiffchaffs and Sardinian Warblers. Residents included the ubiquitous Common Bulbul, singing male Serins, a single male Moussier’s Redstart, a Little Owl of the form saharae, several Magpie of the race mauritanica, several Chaffinch of the race africana. Other species recorded included Blackcap, Greenfinch, Blackbird, Spotless Starling and House Sparrow.

Road to Oukaimeden
We stopped several times on the winding road upto the ski resort enjoying travelling through the different habitats from the flat agricultural fields and olive/orange groves, through foothills with sparse trees and up into and through the pine forests. At various stages of the journey the following species were recorded a single Red Kite, a male Moussier’s Redstart, Blue Rock Thrushes, Crested Larks, Cattle Egrets, Black Redstart, a single female Black Wheatear and Rock Buntings.

Oukaimeden (Bergier and Bergier 2003, pages 67-69)
We drove through the barrier for the national park and paid the fee, the road passed barracks on the right, which had a tip within the perimeter walls. A vast flock of Alpine Choughs, with several Chough were viewable from road as they fed at the tip. A surprise sighting in the icy lake adjacent was a pair of Ruddy Shelduck.
Through the village, we took a left at the fork and parked before the large carpark on a layby on the left hand side of the road. Walking up the slope behind the large chalet we quickly found a mixed flock of 5 Crimson-winged Finch and Shorelarks. A Black Redstart, a large flock of Rock Sparrow, a single Brambling and a large flock of Chaffinchs (both of the forms coelebs and africana) were present around the chalet buildings close to the layby. Further up the valley past the carpark and ski tow, more Crimson-winged Finch and Shorelark were recorded, as well as White Wagtails, a single male Brambling and a female Black Redstart. A stop back in the village on the road upto the radar station produced Blue Tits of the form ultramarinus, Black Redstart and a Coal Tit.

Tizi na Tichka pass (Bergier and Bergier 2003, pages 69-71)
From Oukaimeden we drove to Ouarzarzate via the Tizi na Tichka pass. We were lucky on the drive and amongst other birds we recorded a Long-legged Buzzard soaring along the ridgeline and a flyover Levaillant's Woodpecker which we relocated in a tree next to the road. A further stop was made in the pine forest at Toufliath (pg 70 Bergier), birds recorded here included Crossbill, Firecrest, Jay, Grey Wagtail, and Coal Tit. No further sightings were made apart from a large number of Crag Martins flying around a presumed nesting cliff. Just after the Tizi na Tichka pass a stop was made at a layby on the right-hand side, when a small waterbody came into view. Despite promise, nothing was present on the shores of the small lake. A brief exploration of the dry steppe across the road and up the slope found a male Spectacled Warbler carrying nesting material, a male Black Wheatear, a female Moussier's Redstart and a singing Thekla Lark.

Road P32c south of Amerzgane, Ouarzarzate (Bergier and Bergier 2003, page 111)
With rapidly diminishing light we decided to quickly try for desert species on the vast stone desert on the p32c south of the village of Amerzgane, this paid off with a large number of birds present at the very start of the large expanse of flat steppe. In total 15+ Trumpeter Finch were recorded with their fantastic mechanical call which had us in stitches, a pair of Mourning Wheatear, a large flock of Short-toed Lark also containing Lesser Short-toed Lark and 2 Desert Lark.

Ouarzarzate Reservoir (Bergier and Bergier 2003, page 114)
After leaving the Hotel Royal in Ouarzarzate early morning, we decided on a stop at Mansour Eddahbi reservoir east of Ouarzarzate, stopping at the panoramic table we walked down from the elevated parking position and followed the wadi to the reservoir. In the wadi vegetation a Yellow Wagtail was found as well as a Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipits, 3 Subalpine Warbler, 10 Sardinian Warbler, 15 Chiffchaff, an adult Great Spotted Cuckoo, a male Moussier's Redstart, Common Bulbuls, a single Night Heron and on the crag adjacent to the watercourse a singing male White-crowned Black Wheatear. On the lake were Teal, Mallard, Ruddy Shelduck, a single Little Egret, 3 Little Ringed Plover and a Great Crested Grebe. On the way back from the reservoir we crossed the dry steppe adjacent where there was 3 singing male Desert Wheatears, a single Isabelline Wheatear, a Kestrel and a Crested Lark. A distant raptor stopped us as we drove away from the reservoir, at the vegetated wadi adjacent to the buildings and palms, 20km east from Ouarzarzate. The raptor was a Short-toed Eagle, quickly followed by two others, a White Stork and while a scanning a superb Bonelli's Eagle drifted over our heads. Also around the adjacent buildings were a pair of Trumpeter Finch, a Black Redstart and a male White-crowned Black Wheatear. Later a disappointing visit to the Todra gorge only produced Crag Martin and Serin, on the journey we recorded our first Laughing Doves and a Hoopoe.

Iknoan Road, Boulmane Dades (Bergier and Bergier 2003, page 105)
An evening visit was planned to the tarred road to Iknoan running parallel to the Tagdilt track, a stunning evening and sunset was memorable and a pair of Red-rumped Wheatear, 5 Temminck’s Lark, 4 Black-bellied Sandgrouse and 3 Cream-coloured Courser added to it. We stayed the evening at the nearby Hotel Soleil Bleu, excellent food and an up-to-date bird log, flocks of Slender-billed Curlew, you old timers had it hard!.

Tagdilt Track
A much anticipated dawn trip to the Tagdilt track resulted in plenty sandgrouse including 15 Black-bellied Sandgrouse flying over and a flock of 5 Crowned Sandgrouse on the ground. Other species recorded near the wadi on the main track included 2 Thick-billed Lark, 100 Short-toed Lark, Red-rumped Wheatears, Desert Wheatears, a single male Northern Wheatear, a Sardinian Warbler, 2 Chiffchaff, 4 Cream-coloured Courser. On the way back to the main road and circling over the pack of wild dogs we found 5 Black Kites.

Road between Goulmina and Er Rachidia (Trip Report: Richard Bonser)
To the west of the 43km to Er Rachidia post, we parked by the small bridge and birded the sparsely vegetated wadi to the north of the road. Here we found 4 Hoopoe Lark, 5 Hoopoes, 1 Desert Warbler, 3 Spectacled Warbler, a single male Moussier’s Redstart, 2 Thick-billed Lark, several Trumpeter Finch and a large flock of Short-toed Lark.

Road between Kasbah Derkaoua and Kasbah Said, Erg Chebbi
Whilst driving on the dirt track between the two kasbah’s we flushed 1 Bar-tailed Desert Lark, our only one of the trip!

Kasbah Said
In the evening we birded around Kasbah Said, the large building at the end of the tarmac road on the way to Kasbah Derkaoua/ Yasmina etc. A surprise discovery was a male Desert Sparrow feeding at the small rubbish tip to the southwest of the main building. We also recorded a White-crowned Black Wheatear here. A late night trawl of the roads in the area listening for Egyptian Nightjar produced nothing, we were possibly too early for this species. At dawn the following morning we found a hybrid male Desert Sparrow x House Sparrow drinking at the well buildings to the southwest of the main building at Kasbah Said, this is the first record of such a hybrid. We also found in the wadi to the southwest a Desert Warbler, the skies above us were full of Sandgrouse at dawn, all those calling and those that came near enough to see were Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, a rough estimate was around 500 birds.

Kasbah Derkaoua (Bergier and Bergier 2003, page 107)
After Kasbah Said we birded the wadi to the north of the Kasbah, which is sparsely vegetated with scattered Palm Trees. In the wadi we recorded 1 female Tristram's Warbler, several Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warblers, a Black Redstart and on the drive back to the tarmac road a Cream-coloured Courser.

We briefly birded the palm groves in Merzouga, finding 10 Laughing Doves, several Subalpine Warbler and 5 Hoopoe.

Merzouga Lake
We visited this site, by driving out of Merzouga then taking a left along a dirt track. The lake held a lot of water and there was plenty of waterfowl and waders present including Spoonbill, Little Egret, Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, Ruddy Shelduck, Kentish Plover and Little Stint.

Rissani (Trip Report: Richard Bonser)
Following the directions in Richard Bonser’s trip report we checked the cliff face for Eagle Owl, but there was no sign, even though a local at the site reported seeing thm the evening before. In the wadi on the way to the nesting cliff we recorded over 30 Subalpine Warbler’s, 10 Sardinian Warblers, 2 Tristram's Warbler, 2 Brown-necked Raven 2, Spectacled Warbler, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Kestrel and several Trumpeter Finch.

Er Rachidia Reservoir
We had a disappointing visit to this reservoir on the way to Midelt and Zeida, only recording Cormorant, Coot, 6 Grey Heron and Ruddy Shelduck.

Zeida Plain (Birdguides article: Dupont’s Lark are easy!)
We visited the Zeida plains from an hour before dawn. 3km to the south of Zeida, close to the 'Er Rachidia 167' and 'Meknes 162' kilometre posts, we drove east along the track running perpendicular to the tarmac road for exactly 600 metres. The Dupont's Larks were singing from an hour before dawn, in total there were four singing, 2 north of the track and 2 south of the track, we managed to see and photograph 2 birds. Also present on the cold, windswept plain were many Short-toed Lark, several Lesser Short-toed Lark, 2 Black-bellied Sandgrouse and a singing male Red-rumped Wheatear.

Jbel Hebri
This pass is on the road between Midelt and Azrou/Meknes, we stopped 14km to the south of Azrou were the minor road leaves the main road close to a large lake. We birded this upland area and found Woodlark, Serin, Chaffinch of the form africana, Goldfinch, Rock Sparrow, Shorelark, Thekla Lark and 2 Ruddy Shelduck.

Foret de Cedres
From Jbel Hebri we drove down into the Cedar forest stopping soon after entering the main section of forest, when we spotted a pack of Barbary Ape. The forest was very cool in the shade and was a very pleasant temperature for birding in. There was plenty of birds calling and we recorded Firecrest, a flyover Short-toed Eagle, Short-toed Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Chaffinch of the form africana, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Raven and Mistle Thrush.

Lac du Sidi Bourhaba (Bergier and Bergier 2003, page 37)
We drove across the causeway stopping briefly then drove down the southern bank to the lake stopping in the carpark to scan the lake. Several Crested Coot were present, as well as a small flock of 30 Greater Flamingo and our first Audouin’s Gull of the trip. Other wildfowl included a single Marbled Duck, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Pochard, a single Ferruginous Duck and a Green Sandpiper. Passerines recorded in the lakeside bushes included Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Chiffchaff, Cetti's Warbler, Blue Tit, Song Thrush and Robin.

Merga Zerga (Bergier and Bergier 2003, page 34)
A great spot at speed was a Black-shouldered Kite sitting on a post next to the motorway, which brought us to a screeching halt on the hard shoulder. Several kilometers further on we were brought to a screeching halt again, this time for a speeding ticket!, a fortunate place to stop however as another Black-shouldered Kite was hunting nearby. We drove up the western bank of the canal at the southern end of the Merga Zerga. We managed to drive along until the end of the plantation on the left, just where a large expanse of grazing marsh comes into view. Here we were besieged by people wanting to show us the Marsh Owls (“Hibou” is French for Owl), we were led into the grazing marsh we had assumed to be shown a good vantage point to watch the owls. Unfortunately the local shepherd walked us straight to one of the roosting owls, flushing it. At this point the reserve warden appeared and all hell broke loose, with a big argument between the warden and the local shepherd. We then went back to the short grassed area adjacent to the canal and waited until dusk in the hope that the owls would appear “naturally”, unfortunately the warden was impatient and before long was striding through the marsh flushing owls left right and centre, we left shortly after this. In hindsight and what we would recommend to prevent disturbance to the owls, would be to stand with scopes and cameras at the ready on the short grassed area with the expanse of grazing marsh in front of you and wait till dusk. The owls once they were flying flew very close to this area and one actually flew right overhead. In total 3 Marsh Owls were seen, as well as Marsh Harriers and Fan-tailed Warblers.

Sidi Yahya (Bergier and Bergier 2003, page 41)
At dawn we birded the entrance to the Hunting Lodge, but had no luck with Double-spurred Francolin here. However we did see 2 Barbary Partridge and heard 3 Black-crowned Tchagras in the small well vegetated valley to the east of the road. We then tried the carpark area and heard 2 Double-spurred Francolins calling from the scrub opposite where the track leads to the small carpark, we flushed one bird as we walked back from the carpark towards the road. Also of note in this area were 4 Barbary Partridge, 2 Booted Eagle displaying vocally over our heads, a single Long-legged Buzzard, a Black Shouldered Kite and a Short-toed Eagle.

Motorway between El-Jadida and Casablanca
Our severe lack of fuel forced us off the motorway in search of petrol at Bir-Jdid, we passed through the toll and drove back over the motorway northeast, as we entered the large settlement a small swift was spotted, we stopped and recorded in total 5 Little Swifts.

Lagoons at Sidi Mousa (Bergier and Bergier 2003, pages 44-47)
We stopped next to the first set of saltpans southwest of Sidi Mousa where a track crosses them on a causeway, heading eventually to the beach. It was getting towards dusk and a strong northerly wind was blowing, we were birding for a couple of minutes when we found a Bluethroat, this and the sheer volume of waders and waterfowl spurred us on. Over the next couple of hours at this site and the next accessible site further southwest we recorded 6 Bluethroats of the race cyanecula, many Chiffchaff, Fan-tailed Warblers, lots of Yellow Wagtails of the races iberiae and 1 cinereocapilla. The waders were fantastic and there were large numbers, obviously peak migration time, there was a large flock of Greater Flamingo, a single Marsh Sandpiper, a single Great White Egret, a small flock of Spotted Redshank, Redshank, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, many Little Stint and several Temminck’s Stint, and a large flock of Dunlin with 2 Curlew Sandpiper. As well as the waders and the passerines there was many gulls on the saltpans with many Audouin's Gull including one spanish-ringed bird, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, 20+ Slender-billed Gull, Mediterranean Gull and Black-headed Gulls and a hunting Black-Shouldered Kite. This was the best birding site of the whole trip, we didn’t record any particularly rare species, but just the sheer variety and volume of migrants was really impressive and the lagoons along the road are seemingly endless, you could easily spend a couple of days here during the migration period.

Species Lists

A selection of the more popular species is shown below with details of where we recorded them, these can be cross-referenced with the site accounts for exact directions etc.

Audouin’s Gull – a single at Lac du Sidi Bourhaba, many at the lagoons southwest of Sidi Moussa.
Bar-tailed Desert Lark – one on the road between Kasbah Said and Kasbah Derkaoua, Erg Chebbi.
Barbary Partridge – 6 at Sidi Yahya.
Black Wheatear – a single female on the road to Oukaimeden, a single male on the Tizi-na-Tichka pass.
Black-shouldered Kite – 2 at Merga Zerga, 1 at Sidi Yahya, 1 at the lagoons southwest of Sidi Moussa.
Brown-necked Raven – a pair at the wadi at Rissani.
Common Bulbul – common in the parks and suburbs of Marrakech, several at Ouarzarzate Reservoir.
Cream-coloured Courser – 3 at the Iknoan Road, 4 at the Tagdilt track, 1 at Kasbah Derkaoua, Erg Chebbi.
Crested Coot – several from the causeway at Lac du Sidi Bourhaba.
Crimson-winged Finch - 5 at Oukaimeden behind the chalet and more up past the ski tow.
Crowned Sandgrouse – 5 at the Tagdilt track.
Desert Lark – 2 on the road south of Amerzgane.
Desert Sparrow – one male and one hybrid Desert Sparro x House Sparrow at Kasbah Said, Erg Chebbi.
Desert Warbler – 1 at the road between Goulmina and Er Rachidia, 1 in the wadi behind Kasbah Said, Erg Chebbi.
Desert Wheatear – 3 singing males at Ouarzarzate Reservoir.
Double-spurred Francolin – 2 calling and 1 seen at Sidi Yahya.
Dupont’s Lark – 4 heard and 2 seen at the site on the Zeida Plains.
Hoopoe Lark – 4 at the road between Goulmina and Er Rachidia.
House Bunting – very common in urban areas, resident inside the Hotel Riad Mogador in Marrakech.
Isabelline Wheatear – a single at Ouarzarzate reservoir.
Laughing Dove – seen from the road in the settlements to the west of Todra Gorge, 10 in the palm groves at Merzouga.
Levaillant’s Woodpecker – only one on the road upto the Tizi-na-Tichka pass.
Little Swift – 5 at Bir-Jdid off the motorway between El-Jadida and Casablanca.
Long-legged Buzzard – one on the road upto the Tizi-na-Tichka pass.
Marbled Duck – a single at Lac du Sidi Bourhaba.
Marsh Owl – 3 at the southern end of Merga Zerga.
Mourning Wheatear – a pair on the road south of Amerzgane.
Moussier’s Redstart – a single male on the outskirts of Marrakech, a single male on the road to Oukaimeden, a single female on the Tizi-n-Tichka pass, a single male at Ouarzarzate Reservoir, a single male on the road between Goulmina and Er Rachidia.
Red-rumped Wheatear – a pair at the Iknoan road, several at the Tagdilt track, a single singing male at the site at Zeida Plains.
Temminck’s Lark – 5 at the Iknoan Road.
Thick-billed Lark – 2 at the Tagdilt track and 2 at the road between Goulmina and Er Rachidia.
Tristram’s Warbler – 1 female in the wadi to the north of Kasbah Derkaoua, Erg Chebbi, 2 in the wadi at Rissani.
Trumpeter Finch – 15+ on the road south of Amerzagane, a pair at the wadi near Ouarzarzate Reservoir, several at the road between Goulmina and Er Rachidia, several at the wadi at Rissani.
White-crowned Black Wheatear – a singing male at Ouarzarzate Reservoir and a male in the wadi next to the road nearby, a male at Kasbah Said, Erg Chebbi.