All of us, bar one, had visited Morocco on at least one occasion previously. The purpose of this trip was to have a good couple of days birding in The Atlas Mountains with the intention of locating Atlas Flycatcher – this was attained with relative ease.
Knowing how good the country is for birding, we also took the opportunity to observe some Moroccan specialities such as Ruddy Shelduck, Crested Coot, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Moussier’s Redstart, Red-rumped Wheatear, Tristram’s Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler and Crimson-winged Finch in addition to enjoying the typical avian fair and decent scenery. Lots more photos from the trip can be found on my website here.
We flew with Ryanair from Luton to Marrakech return and hired a couple of cars (through Hertz and Europcar). We stayed at the Hotel Chamonix in Ifrane for one night (£12 per person per night) and at the Hotel de la Menara in Marrakech for two nights (£16 per person per night). Food was decent and easy to find throughout our stay, varying from local tajines to a Pizza Hut in Marrakech.
The local currency, the dirham (£1 equalled 16 dirham during our visit), is a restricted currency and cannot be taken out of the country and is not available abroad. However it is easy to purchase within the country as all towns that we visited contained ATM machines that accepted internationally recognised cards. For the latest currency rates, details can be found at www.oanda.com.
Having visited the country in recent years we just took along what we had already - ‘Finding Birds in Northern Morocco’ and ‘Finding Birds in Southern Morocco’, both by Dave Gosney and ‘A Birdwatchers’ Guide to Morocco’ by Patrick and Fedora Bergier were used. Information on the Birdguides website relating to Atlas Flycatcher was also utilised and we used a 1:800,000 GeoCenter World Map of Morocco throughout our visit. Information from my April 2005 trip report was also used.
Bob Swann, Tony Clarke and Pierre-Andre Crochet provided us with some additional information prior to our trip.
Moroccan roads were excellent and we didn’t have much trouble at all travelling around the country. We did manage to find our way by accident into the souk area of Marrakech and this could be a bit of an ordeal for people who are not too confident behind the wheel. Other than this traffic was light but do be aware to stick strictly to speed limits (particularly in built up areas) as there is a heavy police presence.
Since our last visit we had all been to a few countries. Though we hadn’t forgotten how good the birding was, memories had waned with regard to how much of a pain the locals can be. Though there are obviously loads of Moroccans who work hard, a small minority of the population seem to spend their lives trying to skank westerners and seemingly want extortionate amounts of money for doing very little.
A brief outline of our trip (with approximate driving times) is detailed below:
Friday 4th May early morning flight from Luton to Marrakech, then driving from Marrakech to the Ifrane area (6 hours), staying overnight in Ifrane
Saturday 5th May early morning at Dayet Aoua driving south through Zaida and Midelt until early afternoon. 6 hour drive back to Marrakech, staying here overnight
Sunday 6th May Oukaimeden from early to late morning, then birding nearby areas on the road from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. Overnight in Marrakech
Monday 7th May mid morning flight from Marrakech to Luton
c.15 were present on Aguelmaine de Sidi Ali lake (between Timahdite and Itzer) on 5th May and a pair were present on the small lake at Oukaimeden on 6th May.
One was seen by the roadside on the drive up to Oukaimeden on 6th May.
50+ were seen on the lake at Dayet on 5th May with a further pair seen on a roadside pool on the northern outskirts of Ifrane on 4th May.
Several were seen in the town of El-Kelaa-Des-Srarhna on the drive between Marrakech and the Middle Atlas on 4th May whilst half a dozen flew over a restaurant just south of Asguine on our descent from Oukaimeden on 6th May.
Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker
At least two were present in oak woodland between Azrou and Ifrane (see Atlas Flycatcher for further site details) on 4th May whilst one was seen in roadside trees at Dayet Aoua on 5th May.
This species was relatively common and extremely confiding, particularly in the car park by the ski lift, at Oukaimeden on 6th May.
One was present on the roadside on the drive up to Oukaimeden from Marrakech on the morning of 6th May near Asguine. On the way back down three were seen on the braided river by the main road north of Asguine by the sign to ‘Jardin de Timalizene’.
Common and seen at several locations.
One male was seen at Dayet Aoua on 5th May with a further male south-east of Midelt on the Tizi-n-Tairhemt pass on the same day. Additionally, this species was relatively common at Oukaimeden on 6th May where at least ten were seen.
This (sub) species was commonly seen in the Middle Atlas on the road between Azrou and Zaida on 5th May, as well as being common in the High Atlas at Oukaimeden on 6th May.
A pair were seen by the roadside 20km south of Zaida on 5th May having been initially located on fenceposts from the car.
Two were seen by the road between Azrou and Zaida near Timahdite on 5th May and two were seen at Oukaimeden the next day.
Western Olivaceous Warbler
Presumably a common species in Morocco, we discovered a decent site purely by stopping randomly by the Marrakech to Ouarzazate road. Though somewhat difficult to see, c.10 were present in orchards 25km east of Marrakech near Choulter on 6th May. Coming from Marrakech you will head over the Oued R’mat and shortly after this park by the ‘Ouarzazate 176km’ stone and walk into the orchards to the north of the road.
We located at least 3 birds of this species (including fledged young) south-east of Midelt on the Tizi-n-Tairhemt pass on 5th May. If you are coming from Midelt, park in the lay-by on the hairpin bend by the ‘Er-Rich 51’ and ‘Errachidia 114’ signpost exactly 1.5km before you reach the pass summit (signed Col Talghomt 1907m). Walk down the obvious valley and the birds favour the bushes on both sides of the small ravine.
We observed at least nine males of this species at two sites on 4th-5th May. The fact that only territorial males were present suggests that this species had only recently arrived – in fact one of us visited the same sites during the last couple of days of April in 2006 and failed to see any of this species. An essential reference to the identification of this species can be found in Birding World 16: 252-256 (Etherington & Small). Though this paper states ‘the white on the rump is prominent (like Collared Flycatcher)’ we would have to disagree given that only one of the birds we saw exhibited a noticeably pale hue to the rump in the field and in no way was it ever as obvious as you would expect on Collared Flycatcher.
We found at least five males on 4th May in oak woodland about 11km north of Azrou on the road to Ifrane. If approaching from Azrou park on the right hand side of the road just before the ‘Fes 73 and Marrakech 411’ post by a track that heads into the woodland. The flycatchers were easily found in the tall oaks adjacent and to the right of the path within a couple of hundred yards of the main road. The following morning, we found a further four males at Dayet Aoua where they favoured the trees on the south side of the lake between the road entrance and sites 2 and 3 on page 14 of Gosney’s ‘Finding Birds in Northern Morocco’. Note we also saw an obvious male Pied Flycatcher at Dayet Aoua on the 5th May.
Despite little snow 4 birds were easily found at Oukaimeden on 6th May. They favoured the rocky slopes beyond the 2nd car park and in the vicinity of the base of the ski lift.
African House Bunting
One on rooftops in the town of El-Kelaa-Des-Srarhna on the drive between Marrakech and the Middle Atlas on 4th May was our only record.
4th May 2007
We flew from Luton at 6am, arriving in Marrakech at 8.30am local time. With a little bit of waiting around we got some local currency and were in our hire cars within the hour. Knowing that we had a drive of over 400km ahead of us, we navigated our way around Marrakech surprisingly easily and picked up the road to Fes. The weather was pleasantly warm with light cloud cover and as we departed the city typical roadside birds started – Cattle Egrets, White Storks, Crested Larks and Southern Grey Shrikes.
Stops en-route, either to relieve ourselves or stock up on supplies, were fairly productive. Whilst picking up some bread in El-Kelaa-Des-Srarhna several Little Swifts buzzed overhead whilst a scruffy House Bunting perched on a nearby roof. With the windows down Serins and Nightingales were typically vocal in roadside vegetation and a stop for a couple of minutes in an arable area revealed such species as Quail, Turtle Dove and Woodchat. As we climbed in altitude the weather became more overcast and we commented that it was probably hotter back home in the UK. Despite the weather typical Mediterranean/North African species were common with Pallid Swifts seen in most towns whilst the Azrou colony of Lesser Kestrels provided an impressive sight.
After about 6 hours of travelling we reached our destination 11km north of Azrou on the road to Ifrane. An area of mature oak woodland in the Middle Atlas almost immediately provided us with views of Atlas Flycatcher as they moved hurriedly through the canopy and sang very much in Pied Flycatcher-like fashion. After a couple of hours here, in addition to being rather cold, we recorded a total of 5 males of this species and presumed that they must just have arrived due to their territorial nature and lack of females. At least 2 Levaillant’s Woodpeckers were a bonus here; one showing very well perched motionless on a horizontal branch. Other birds seen at this site included African Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Chaffinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Firecrest.
One of our cars decided to go to Dayet Aoua for the last half hour of light where Crested Coot and lots of Hawfinches were the highlights. On the northern outskirts of Ifrane a pair of Crested Coots were found on a small pond. Having stayed there on a previous visit we booked into the Hotel Chamonix for the evening and, after a meal in a nearby restaurant, got our heads down for the night.
5th May 2007
Having gone to bed rather early the night before, the majority of us woke up before our alarms. From the hotel we located a male Golden Oriole, a couple of White Storks and several Lesser Kestrels before we headed off north to nearby Dayet Aoua.
The weather had not improved that much and it was still rather chilly. As we drove around the south side of the lake, our first stop was forced by a black-and-white flash that darted in front of the car. This was to be the first of four male Atlas Flycatchers that we saw at this site – all birds favouring the waterside vegetation by the road. Spotless Starlings, Hawfinches, Chaffinches and African Blue Tits were common throughout this site whilst at least half a dozen Rollers were relatively obvious.
We parked the car by the shore and then walked along the broad track to what is site 4 in Gosney’s ‘Finding Birds in Northern Morocco’. Rock Sparrows were present on the building here and Golden Orioles sung from the adjacent poplar plantation. The odd Melodious Warbler sung from the hillside scrub along with a Woodchat, whilst species such as Spotted Flycatcher, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Short-toed Treecreeper were noted. Further down the path a male Moussier’s Redstart perched on the brow of the hill whilst an extremely showy Western Orphean Warbler provided a rare opportunity to observe this species. Happy with our fill we walked back to the car and the scattered trees just before the lake provided us with excellent views of an unequivocal male Pied Flycatcher.
Before departing a scan of the lake gave us a load of waterfowl and a few waders including good numbers of Crested Coots and Black-necked Grebes whilst at least 25 Black Terns skimmed the lake surface. A couple of Black-winged Stilts and an Avocet were the wader highlights and, just before leaving, a Levaillant’s Woodpecker showed.
Whilst stopping for petrol on the north side of Azrou by the road to Errachidia, a couple of pale phase Booted Eagles flew over whilst the braver team members tucked into a rather raw-looking omelette. Having previously birded the road between Azrou and Itzer in April 2005 we knew that Seebohm’s Wheatears were common here and, therefore, it was no surprise that we found c.10 in suitable habitat by the road on our journey south. Further Booted Eagles along with Ravens punctuated the skyline whilst a couple of Black Wheatears to the north of Zaida in a rocky gorge at Timahdite were decent value. Just south of here, we turned off the main road to the well signed lake ‘Aguelmaine de Sidi Ali’ where we knew was a good site for Ruddy Shelduck on past experience. We were not to be disappointed and found c.15 Ruddy Shelducks on the lake along with a few Black Terns whilst the adjacent rocky landscape provided us with a male Rock Thrush and several Thekla Larks and Seebohm’s Wheatears.
After driving an hour or so south, through the plains near Zaida, we reached our next destination to the south-east of Midelt. A family group of at least 3 Tristram’s Warblers gave a real sense of deja-vu being present in the same small group of bushes at the Tizi-n-Tairhemt as this species was in April 2005. A male Moussier’s Redstart showed well here and on the drive back c.20km south of Zaida a pair of Red-rumped Wheatears by the road necessitated an impromptu stop. Other birds noted on the Zaida plains included several Short-toed Larks, a Collared Pratincole, a couple of Rollers and a solitary Whinchat.
After our day in the Middle Atlas, it was time for the long drive back to Marrakech. Heading west at Zaida the open arable landscape provided opportunities to see species such as White Stork, Corn Bunting, Southern Grey Shrike, Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Roller and Calandra Lark from the car. Common Bulbul, House Martins and Black Kites preferred a more urban setting and at the pretty amiable time of 8.30pm we arrived back in a fairly chaotic Marrakech. After unwittingly driving through the centre of the souks (and having a brush with a bicycle) we eventually found a place to stay, the Hotel de la Menara, and this was to be our base for the next couple of nights. After a few beers and a meal, we all headed off to get some sleep before our final day of birding.
6th May 2007
We were all a little bit chilled out today with the main site of Oukaimeden being only an hour and a bit to the south of our hotel in central Marrakech. Rising at a half decent hour, but still early, we were out of the city in no time and ascending into the High Atlas. Highlights on the road up to the top of Oukaimeden included a roadside Moroccan (White) Wagtail, a male Moussier’s Redstart and a Barbary Partridge.
We arrived at the top car parks at around 7am and were remarkably the only people around – the lack of snow and people suggested it was certainly off season in this ski resort. We drove past the small settlement and parked in the car park near the ski lift. After only a couple of hundred yards walking on the road we quickly discovered our target species – (North African) Crimson-winged Finch. A total of 4 birds showed extremely well in perfect light on the nearby rocky hillside. Lots of Alpine Choughs and Red-billed Choughs littered the hills and echoed their calls across the valley whilst Black Redstarts, Woodlarks, Seebohm’s Wheatears and Rock Sparrows were easy to see. We walked to the end of this road that terminated in a deserted car park albeit the atlas race of Shorelark seemed pretty happy and was extremely approachable and a Crag Martin flew over.
After grabbing a bit of breakfast in one of the hotels, we drove up to the radar station above the small village and as well as amazing views across the mountains and plains a handful of Moussier’s Redstarts, a couple of Blue Rock Thrush and a couple of Black Wheatears were seen. After noting a couple of Ruddy Shelduck by the lake we had spent a fair amount of time up here and decided to descend down the valley late morning. After a bit of an incident where a couple of locals tried to hold us to ransom by wanting money to open a gate, we successfully opened the gate ourselves and drove off. They seemed rather bemused with our cheek… or initiative, whichever way you want to look at it.
On the way down we stopped several times and these lower slopes were pretty productive noting Rock Bunting, Cirl Bunting, Moussier’s Redstart, Melodious Warbler, Subalpine Warbler and Sparrowhawk along with the continual sound of singing Serins. With time to kill and stomachs to fill we settled down for a sit down meal at one of the cafes in the valley. Here half a dozen Little Swifts flew overhead and the adjacent valley held Cetti’s Warbler, Nightingale, several Spotted Flycatchers and a vocal Wren. A little bit further down just to the north of Asguine we found 3 Moroccan (White) Wagtails and a Grey Wagtail on a braided river close to the road.
Having shelved plans to burn off east to the desert near Ouarzazate in search of Western Mourning Wheatear, the rest of the day was spent driving to the south-east of Marrakech and stopping in areas that looked productive. The first of these stops, to the south of Ait-Ourir on the road from Oukaimeden, produced a calling Quail, a Tree Pipit and a handful of Sardinian Warblers amongst other commoner species. Driving along through the arable land Southern Grey Shrikes were common on roadside wires and a couple of Bee-eaters were also seen. Though we headed east on the Marrakech to Ouarzazate road we decided to turn round well before the Tizi-n-Tichka pass with a view to doing a bit of birding on the way back and getting to Marrakech for a decent hour for a meal and a few beers.
Our final stop 25km east of Marrakech was the most productive. We parked by the main road near the ‘Ouarzazate 176km’ post and walked into the olive groves to the north of the road. It was now early evening and birds were pretty vocal, this including c.10 Western Olivaceous Warblers as they sounded out their rather acro-like song whilst we persevered to get good views. Considering the random nature of our observation of this species, it is obviously a pretty common bird in suitable habitat. As the evening progressed, hirundines and swifts became lower in the sky and several Red-rumped Swallows, Swifts and Pallid Swifts were seen over the orchard. We returned to Marrakech and once again seemed to navigate our way into the middle of the souks, and after having a couple of unfortunate incidents with the locals, managed to re-find our way back to our hotel where we crashed out after a meal and beers.
7th May 2006
We left the hotel and being conveniently situated on the west side of Marrakech it meant that the journey to the airport was easy and stress free. After changing back our local currency we boarded our Ryanair flight back to Luton, arriving only half an hour or so later than scheduled after a successful and value packed trip.
The list below generally follows the taxonomy and nomenclature used at www.netfugl.dk.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
White Stork Ciconia ciconia
Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Common Pochard Aythya ferina
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus cirtensis
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Common Quail Coturnix coturnix
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Crested Coot Fulica cristata
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Black Tern Chlidonias niger
Common Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
European Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur
Common Cuckoo Cuculus canorus
Common Swift Apus apus
Pallid Swift Apus pallidus brehmorum
Little Swift Apus affinis galilejensis
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster
European Roller Coracias garrulus
Eurasian Hoopoe Upupa epops
Levaillant's Woodpecker Picus vaillantii
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major mauritanus
Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra
Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla
Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Thekla Lark Galerida theklae
Wood Lark Lullula arborea pallida
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis
Shore Lark Eremophila alpestris atlas
Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Red-rumped Swallow Hirundo daurica
House Martin Delichon urbicum
Tree Pipit Anthus trivialis
Moroccan Wagtail Motacilla (alba) subpersonata
Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea
Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus
Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus
Moussier's Redstart Phoenicurus moussieri
Whinchat Saxicola rubetra
Seebohm's Wheatear Oenanthe (oenanthe) seebohmi
Red-rumped Wheatear Oenanthe moesta
Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura syenitica
Rock Thrush Monticola saxatilis
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius
Common Blackbird Turdus merula
Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus deichleri
Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti
Fan-tailed Warbler Cisticola juncidis
Western Olivaceous Warbler Hippolais pallida
Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta
Tristram's Warbler Sylvia deserticola maroccana
Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata
Subalpine Warbler Sylvia cantillans
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala
Western Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis
Garden Warbler Sylvia borin
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata
Atlas Flycatcher Ficedula speculigera
Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca
Coal Tit Parus ater atlas
African Blue Tit Parus teneriffae ultramarinus
Great Tit Parus major excelsus
Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla mauritanica
Nuthatch Sitta europaea
Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis algeriensis
Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
Alpine Chough Pyrrhocorax graculus
Red-billed Chough Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Common Raven Corvus corax tingitanus
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia barbara
Common Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs africana
European Serin Serinus serinus
European Greenfinch Chloris chloris voousi
European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Common Linnet Carduelis cannabina
Common Crossbill Loxia curvirostra poliogyna
Crimson-winged Finch Rhodopechys sanguinea alienus
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes
Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus
Rock Bunting Emberiza cia africana
African House Bunting Emberiza sahari
Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra