Ifrane area - Middle Atlas (Morocco)

Published by Georges Olioso (gol11 AT wanadoo.fr)

Participants: Georges Olioso, Jean-Marc Pons


This trip was a mission of the National Museum of Natural History (Paris), aimed at the study of the Levaillant’s Woodpecker Picus vaillantii. But a stop in the seaside during our return towards Casablanca, the quasi-totality of the observations were realized in the Ifrane-Azrou area, mostly in the cedar forest and in the forest of Jaaba. The weather report was not of the most clement. Cold (4°C in the morning), fog, rain and wind the first three days, beautiful of 13 to 15, then variable until 19 and finally very beautiful from 20.

General considerations

Forests are magnificent. Cedars several times impressive centenarians, beautiful oak groves. There are sheeps everywhere! The vegetation of the undergrowth is reduced to its simplest expression. Practically no flowers (but it is seen maybe a little early the weather report). When we walk in Ifrane, we have rather the impression to walk the streets of an Alsatian or Swiss city, green gardens, fountains, very sharp roofs and storks throw the confusion … The contacts with the local population are never unpleasant and most of the persons speak French (what facilitates well things!). No problems for the food, the souks offering varied and good quality local products; good range of restaurants, anyway never expensive! Attention, the electric cells of means and big size are untraceable (it was necessary to us to come down to Fes (50 km) to find there!). Sockets are the same that in France.


At the airport of Rabat, we rented (with Avis) a Logan (big safe!) which raised us no problem. Unleaded gasoline almost so expensive as in France. The main roads are maintained well. For the secondary, mostly, only the center is tarred and it is necessary to squeeze up on shoulders during the crossings. In the Ifrane area, little traffic with however some big trucks going up very with difficulty the numerous climbs. White lines do not manifestly play the same role as to us … We never felt in danger on the road. Attention on the pedestrians (numerous, sometimes even on the freeway) on asses and on herds.


The avifauna of the region of Ifrane looks like that of the center of France. Most of the species are the same but are represented to it by different subspecies, sometimes even very different (Chaffinch, Wheatear, Jay). Some species are different : North African Tit Parus (teneriffae) ultramarinus, Atlas Flycatcher Ficedula (hypoleuca) speculigera, Levaillant’s Woodpecker Picus vaillantii and Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus or Crested Coot Fulica cristata.

Visited places

City of Ifrane. City of European type (Switzerland), very green, maintained well (presence of a royal palace obliges). Large parks with old trees, big pond in the public garden (but very rare mallards), several tens of couples of Cattle Egrets and at least 2 of the Little Egrets nest in this park. Near this park, beautiful ripisylve with the classic species. Some pairs of White Storks, numerous pairs of Little Kestrels and Spotless Starlings; some pairs of Pallid Swifts also seem to reproduce. Sparrows (House) are not many. In limit of the city, on the road of Azrou, near the stadium, the local subspecies of the Northern Wheatear.

Neighborhood of Ifrane. A small fish pond is 2 km of the city center on the road to Fes (drive the track on the right as soon as we see the pond). Very beautiful population (env. 15 pairs) of Crested Coots, numerous tortoises Mauremys leprosa, Long-legged Buzzard, Laughing Dove, etc.

Tizguite valley (source Vitelle). Very green Valley (follow arrows from the city center or before arriving at Ifrane coming from El Hajeb). Ash trees and beautiful poplars, site grazed and very frequented its upstream part (the closest to the city), some water everywhere. The Atlas Flycatcher is very common (we estimated the population about 50/60 couples for 10 km), quite as the North African Tit and, what surprised a lot us, the Hawfinch. Levaillant’s Woodpecker easy to see. From Sidi Abdesslam, the valley dries out and the landscapes change (Northern Wheatear and Crested aod Thekla Lark almost everywhere).

Forest of Jaaba. Very beautiful oak grove easy of access on the road from El Hajeb to Ifrane. Same species as in the previous site, numerous possible walks.

Dayet Aoua. On the road to Fes, indicated well (route des lacs) on the right, about 20 km from Ifrane. It was, it seems, the tourist and ornithological Mecca … But to day is totally dry …

Cedar forest near Azrou and Ifrane. What a beauty! Magnificent trees! From Ifrane, follow the direction of the ski resort of Michlifen; from Azrou, take the long climb towards Timahdite. Good chances to observe the Moussier’s Redstart in the clearer zones with rocks. Attention on monkeys over Azrou.

Neighborhood of Timadhite. After the cedar forest, the road crosses mountainous landscapes much more opened with little spread fields of cereal. In the South of the city, crossed by a narrow pass (Blue Rock-Thrush, numerous Ravens, White Storks, etc.). About ten km farther, near a hamlet, set to the right the " route des schistes " and follow it until see the Aguelmane ( lake) Tiffounassine (Ruddy Shelduck, Crested Coot, Black Wheatear, etc.).

Between El Hajeb and Khemisset. The plateau on the West of El Hajeb is almost completely cultivated. We followed R701 towards the southwest from Sidi El Ouafi, then took a track on the right (direction Khemisset). Species of the opened landscapes (Greater Short-toed Lark, Crested and Thekla Larks, Northern Wheatear, etc.). Investigate the rare zones of orchards (Spectacled Warbler, Woodchat Shrike).

Beach of Petit Val d' Or. Bay at the south exit of the Commune of Harhouara, between Rabat and Casablanca, by the coastal road and not by the freeway. Beautiful colony of Collared Pratincoles (at least 25 pairs), some limicoles. In 5 years, the region will be totally urbanized, the tourist residences grow as mushrooms.

Species Lists

We follow here the order of "The birds of Morocco" (Thévenot, Vernon and Bergier, B.O.U. 2003).

1. Little Grebe Tachybaptus r. ruficollis. About 10, small fish pond near Ifrane.
2. Northern Gannet Morus b. bassanus. May 22, in front Petit Val d’Or beach.
3. Night Heron Nycticorax n. nycticorax. May 18, two adults come in the d’Ifrane colony the go out.
4. Cattle Egret Bubulcus i. ibis. Saw every where, also in Jaaba forest ! Two colonies (more than 100 pairs) in Ifrane and Azrou center.
5. Little Egret Egretta g. garzetta. At least 2 pairs at nest in the Ifrane coliny, May 18.
6. Grey Heron Ardea c. cinerea. One, May 12, near Ifrane ; 1, May 16, Ras el Ma.
7. White Stork Ciconia c. ciconia. Nests saw in numerous cities and village (Azrou, Ifrane, Timahdite, etc.).
8. Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea. Pair, May 21, Aguelmame Tiffounassine, near Timahdite).
9. Gadwall Anas s. strepera. Male et 2 females le 21 May 21, Aguelmame Tiffounassine, near Timahdite).
10. Mallard Anas p. platyrhynchos. Ifrane, 2 pulli (about 10 days), May 18. May 21, 8 May 21, Aguelmame Tiffounassine, near Timahdite).
11. Black-shouldered Kite Elanus c. caeruleus. One, May 22, in still flight at the edge of the freeway near Mohamedia.
12. Black Kite Milvus m. migrans. A small group of about twenty permanently in the dump of household refuse of Ifrane. In the forest of Jaaba, a couple seems to nest approximately 7 km in the North of Ifrane ( repeated alarms). May 21, a ten feed on the ground with ravens in the South of Timahdite (capture probably dung beetles).
13. Short-toed Eagle Circaetus g. gallicus. May 13, 1 near El Kissarite and 1 above fish pond near Ifrane. May 16, 1 Ras el Ma.
14. Western Marsh-Harrier Circus aeruginosus. May 12, a pair not far El Hajeb (north of the city).
15. Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus punicus. Regular in the Tizguite valley; May 19, 1 near Sidi Abdesslam ; May 20, 1 Jaaba forest, 7 km north Ifrane.
16. Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus cirtensis. May 13, 3 along the small road towards El Kissarite (over Azrou) and 1 on the fish lake at the exit of Ifrane; in the forest of Jaaba, 1 May 15 and an adult brooding May 21, 7 km in the North of Ifrane. One, May 18 on the road of Sidi Abdesslam.
17. Booted Eagle Aquila pennata. May 17, 1 Jaaba forest ; May 18, 1 near Sidi Abdesslam (the two light form).
18. Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni. Spread well, observed almost everywhere, in campaign and in city (Rabat, Fes, Ifrane, Azrou, etc.). Maximum 17 on the electric cords, May 16 in the station of seismography of Ifrane.
19. Kestrel Falco t. tinnunculus. Nous n’avons pas détaillé tous les faucons de type crécerelle/crécerellette… Le 11, 1 au-dessus de l’hôtel Terminus à Rabat. Le 16, 1 à la pisciculture de Ras el Ma.
20. Hobby Falco s. subbuteo. May 11, 1 south El Hajeb ; May 21, 1 Aguelmame Tiffounassime.
21. Common Quail Coturnix c. coturnix. Some singers: near Sidi Abdesslam, 1 May 18 and 1 (other site) Ma y 19; May 21, 1 singer 3 km in the North of Timahdite and 1 other one in Aguelmame Tiffounassine.
22. Water Rail Rallus a. aquaticus. May 21, 1 Aguelmame Tiffounassine. A rare bird here.
23. Moorhen Gallinula c. chloropus. A ten at the fish pond near Ifrane. Maiy 15, 2, Ifrane, very early morning, Tizguite valley; May 19, 1 Ras el Ma.
24. Crested Coot Fulica cristata. At least 30, fish pond near Ifrane (2 nests May 12, one with 6 eggs) and 30, May 21 ’Aguelmame Tiffounassine.
25. Stone Curlew Burhinus oedicnemus saharae. At least 2 birds in the fallow land behind the station of seismology to Ifrane.
26. Pratincole Glareola p. pratincola. About 50, May 22 on an islet in front of the Petit Val d’Or beach, south of Harhoara (south of Rabat). Probably a colony.
27. Common Ringed-Plover Charadrius hiaticula. We did not determine the subspecies. May 22, 6 in the beach of Petit Val d' Or at the south exit of Harhoara (South of Rabat).
28. Kentish Plover Charadrius a. alexandrinus. Pair, May 22, beach of the Petit Val d’Or ; probably breeding.
29. Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola. One, May 22, Petit Val d’Or beach.
30. Sanderling Calidris alba. Two, May 22, Petit Val d’Or beach.
31. Dunlin Calidris alpina. Five, May 22, Petit Val d’Or beach.
32. Turnstone Arenaria i. interpres. One, May 22, Petit Val d’Or beach.
33. Yellow-legged Gull Larus m. michahellis. Only Petit Val d’Or beach.
34. Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia. Two, May 22, Petit Val d’Or beach.
35. Common Tern Sterna h. hirundo. One, May 22, Petit Val d’Or beach.
36. Little Tern Sterna albifrons. Eleven, May 22, Petit Val d’Or beach.
37. Rock Dove Columba l. livia. The urban populations are not very plentiful in the sectors which we frequented. A single observation of "wild" birds (7), May 21, 1 km in the North of the crossroads towards the " road of schists " near Timahdite.
38. Stock Dove Columba o. oenas. May 13, over Azrou, 1 in the cedar forest along the small road towards El Kissarite; May 14, 1 singer in the cedar forest in the South of Michlifen and 4, always in the cedar forest, not very far from souvenir shops, 7 km in the South of Azrou.
39. Wood Pigeon Columba p. palumbus. Common in the forests. At least 60 together, May 15, Tizguite valley, near Ifrane and, always in Ifrane, about 40 in the riparian forest near the public garden, May 18.
40. Collared Dove Streptopelia d. decaocto. A rare species. Not saw in Ifrane. One, Azrou, May 12 ; some in Fès, May 14. May 20, one El Hajeb and one in a small village 5 km west (road R702).
41. European Turtle-Dove Streptopelia turtur arenicola. Some in song around Ifrane. About 50 (migratory birds) , May 12, near Afourgah lake. Perhaps european birds (S. t. turtur).
42. Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis. We don’t known the subspecies. It is about a recent colonizer in the North of Morocco. May 11, 2 near the fish lake at the exit of Ifrane and May 12, 2 near the lake Afourgah.
43. Coucou gris Cuculus canorus bangsi. Rares chanteurs. Le 16, 1 à la source Vitelle (Ifrane) ; le 17, 1 dans la forêt de Jaaba et le 19, 2 aux environs de Sidi Abdesslam.
44. Scops Owl Otus scops mallorcae. In the Jaaba forest, 7 km north of Ifrane, 3 different birds in song ( 2 May 20 and 1 May 21).
45. Little Owl Athene noctua glaux. Heared several times near the seismological station. May 19, one at rest in a cave on a small road after Sidi Abdesslam and one May 21 at the Aguelmame Tiffounassine.
46. Alpine Swift Apus melba. At least 25 in the city of Fès, May 14. One, May 18, near Sidi Abdesslam and 1, May 20 at the crossroads of R702 and that leading to Agourai.
47. Black Swift Apus a. apus. Only twice : 5/6, May 10, with hundreds of Pallid, Rabat ; 2, May 15, Tizguite valley, near Ifrane.
48. Pallid Swift Apus pallidus brehmorum. Hundreds, May 10, aound the walls of the Old City of Rabat. Common, Fès, May 14. Some birds (max. 12, May 21) Ifrane from May 18 to May 21 (May 21, 3 birds entering under the roof of a building of the « forces auxiliaires » ; at least 2 " in song " under the same roof in the morning of May 22.
49. European Bee-eater Merops a. apiaster. Eared, May 21, Ifrane (not seen).
50. European Roller Coracias g. garrulus. A common bird around Ifrane and Azrou.
51. Hoopoe Upupa e. epops. Not common. Eared every day near the Ifrane sismology station (to 3 in song) ; 1, May 13, road to El Kissarite.
52. Wryneck Jynx torquilla. One in song, May 16, « source Vitelle » (Ifrane) ; a late bird.
53. Levaillant’s Woodpecker Picus vaillantii. Widespread in all the forests. Nest with pulli, May 20, in the Jaaba forest.
54. Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopos major mauritanus. A common bird.
55. Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla. One, May 20, near the track between the R701 and Khemisset.
56. Crested Lark Galerida cristata. Tens (hundreds?) of Crested/Thekla were seen, but we that very rarely tried to determine them. Some cristata (riggenbachi ?), May 13, road to El Kissarite. May 20, 2 at the crossing of the R702 and the road to Agourai. One, May 22 beach of the Petit Val d’Or.
57. Thekla’s Lark Galerida theklae. Commoner than crested. One, May 13 near the Ifrane sismology station and, the same day, some along the small road to El Kissarite ; 2, May 16, dayet Aoua ; numerous, May 18, near Abdesslam and some, May 20, at the edge of the track between the road R701 and Khemisset.
58. Wood Lark Lullula arborea pallida. Some in song : fish pond near Ifrane, sismology station, Jaaba forest, road to El Kissarite.
59. Barn Swallow Hirundo r. rustica. Not common. One, Fès, May 14 ; nesting pair, May 20, crossing of the road R702 and the road to Agourai.
60. House Martin Delichon urbicum. Only one, May 14, Fès.
61. Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava. A male in song, May 20, R701 south Sidi el Ouafi seems to be a cinereocapilla. Some, May 21, Aguelmame Tiffounassine
62. Grey Wagtail Motacilla c. cinerea. Common along the Tizguine valley between Ifraneand Sidi Abdesslam (6 / 7 pairs). In Ifrane, a pair at the fish pond and another in the large city garden. At least 3 birds, Ras el Ma.
63. White Wagteil Motacilla alba subpersonata. One, May 11and 13, fish pond near Ifrane.
64. Wren Troglodytes troglodytes kabylorum. Common around Ifrane (also in the city) and Azrou.
65. European Robin Erithacus rubecula. Widespread, but not very common. One in song, May 12, in the forest of cedars 7 km over Azrou; 3, May 16, dayet Aoua and 2, May 18, Ifrane public garden.
66. Common Redstart Phoenicurus p. phoenicurus. One in song, May 12 in the forest of cedars 7 km over Azrou; another, May 19, in the riparian forest near the « palais royal », Ifrane.
67. Moussier’s Redstart Phoenicurus moussieri. Fréquente surtout les milieux rocheux à proximité des forêts. Male, May 11 at the edge of the cedar forest, road to Michlifen ; another, in song, May 12, In the forest of cedars 7 km over Azrou (a few meters from the Common) and a third some km after Sidi Abdesslam, May 19.
68. Common Stonechat Saxicola torquatus rubicola. Pair, May 20, At the edge of the track between R701 and Khemisset (approximately 2 km of R701).
69. Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe seebohmi. Males are very different than european form. A common species. Spread in fallow and rocky lands.
70. Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica. May 20, a male, road R702, 5 km west El Hajeb.
71. Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura syenitica. Male, May 21 above Aguelmame Tiffounassine.
72. Blue Rock-Thrush Monticola s. solitarius. Two males, May 21, in the narrow pass, south of Timahdite.
73. Blackbird Turdus merula mauritanicus. Common in the forests. In Rabat, tens at rosst in palm trees in the city center.
74. Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus deichleri. Abundant in the forests. Pairs feeding pulli at nest May 15, Tizguite valley, May 21 Jaaba forest and May 18, near Sidi Abdesslam.
75. Cetti’s Warbler Cettia c. cetti. Only May 19, Ras el Ma.
76. Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis cisticola. May 20, one in song near the crossing of the R702 and the road to Agourai ; another, same day, at the edge of the track between R701 and Khemisset (approximately 2 km of R701). One, May 22, beach Petit Val d’Or.
77. Western Olivaceous Warbler Hippolais opaca. One in song, May 13, road to El Kissarite. Not found days after.
78. Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta. Widespread in small number aroud Ifrane. Eared also near Azrou.
79. Spectacled Warbler Sylvia c. conspicillata. One, May 20 at the edge of the track between R701 and Khemisset (approximately 2 km of R701).
80. Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis. May 13, 3 in song along the road to El Kissarite.
81. Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla. Some in song in the Tizguite valley between Ifrane and Sidi Abdesslam.
82. Bonelli’s Warbler Phylloscopus b. bonelli. Common in the forests. May 15, a female builds a nest in the Tizguite valley.
83. Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix. One in song, May 19, Ifrane was a late bird.
84. Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla balearicus. Abundant in the Tizguite valley and in cedar forest (Michlifen and Azrou). Some in Jaaba forest. May 17, near the « source Vitelle » (Ifrane) a pair feeds pulli at nest. The nest is suspended from a branch of fir tree, hardly 0,08 m over the water.
85. Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa s. striata. Widespread but not common.
86. European Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca. Males seen May 12, dayet Aoua and May 14, in the Tizguite valley (Direct comparison with the following species).
87. Atlas Flycatcher Ficedula speculigera. Abundant in the Tizguite valley (about 50/60 pairs/ 10 km). Répandu dans toutes les forêts.
88. Coal Tit Parus ater atlas. Common in cedar forest. May 13, near the road to El Kissarite, a pair was building a nest under a stone.
89. North African Tit Parus ultramarinus = Cyanistes ultramarinus. Abundant. Between May 14 and May 20, we found some nests with pulli.
90. Great Tit Parus major excelsus. Widespread and common
91. Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea hispaniensis. Widespread in the forests. May 15, a female captured in the valley of Tizguite had an incubatrice patch very developed.
92. Short-toed Treecreeper Certhia brachydactyla mauritanica. Widespread but not abundant in the forests.
93. Eurasian Golden Oriole Oriolus o. oriolus. Common in riparian forest, less in oak groves. Not seen in cerdar.
94. Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator rutilans. Only 3birds seen: 1, May 13, Ait Sbaa (south of Fès) ; May 18, 4 near Sidi Abdesslam and 1 female, May 20 at the edge of the track between R701 and Khemisset (approximately 2 km of R701).
95. Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius whitakeri/minor. Common in the forest.
96. Jackdaw Corvus monedula spermologus. Seen in the cities of Ifrane and Azrou. Maximum 7, May 20, sismology station Ifrane.
97. Common Raven Corvus corax tingitanus. Abundant. Seen everywhere.
98. Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor. Abundant in and near Ifrane; tens feeding in lawns (lively the rain !) and collecting preys for the chicks there. Breds also in Jaaba forest.
99. House Sparrow Passer domesticus tingitanus. Common in Fès, some Ifrane and Timahdite.
100. Spanish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis. Rarely seen : 3, May 12 refuse dump off Ifrane and 1 male, May 20, in a small village 5 km west of El Hajeb on the R702.
101. Rock Sparrow Petronia petronia barbara. A pair breds at the sismology station, Ifrane. Another in hollow trees or old nests of woodpeckers in the forest of Jaaba. Present also in the old poplars near Sidi Abdesslam and the dayet Aoua.
102. Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs africana. Very abundant and widespread.
103. European Serin Serinus serinus. Widespread but not seen in forest.
104. European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris. Widespread in small number. May 20, a pair was feeding 3 juv out of the nest, near the crossing of the road R702 and the one to Agourai.
105. European Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis parva. Seen everywhere (but in forest).
106. Eurasian Linnet Carduelis cannabina mediterranea. A ten, May 13, sismology station near Ifrane ; 2, May 16, dayet Aoua ; some, May 20, near the crossing of the road R702 and the one to Agourai.
107. Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes buvryi. A common species in Jaaba forest and Tizguite valley.
108. Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus. Some in song around Ifrane (sismoloye station, fish pond, public garden, dayet Aoua) and 3 km north of Timahdite.
109. Rock Bunting Emberiza cia. One in song, May 21, 3 km north of Timahdite.
110. Sahara Bunting Emberiza sahari. Only in Rabat. May 11, A male enters the room of the restaurant of the hotel Terminus and eats crumbs under tables. It is manifestly in the habit… …
111. Corn Bunting Emberiza c. calandra. Common in cereals fields.