Morocco - April 4th - 13th 2008

Published by Bob Buckler (bobbuckler49 AT hotmail.com)

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Leader: Bob Buckler Wingspan Bird Tours



Summary.

During early April and over a period of 10 days our group of seven wing-spanners toured the wonderful countryside of Morocco, visiting the high Atlas Mountains, the stony plains of the ‘Hammada’, the southeast region of Tafilalt, (the area closest to the Sahara), the lush Sous valley, the coastal estuary of the Oued Sous and the Souss Massa national park near Agadir. During our attempt to see the wonderful array of bird species that Morocco has to offer we witnessed bright sunshine, thunderstorms and a sandstorm of epic proportions. Our birding-time was cut by about 40% during the three day desert storm but despite the weather we managed to see a total of 180 species including some rather special birds such as Bald Ibis, Desert Sparrow, Crimson-winged Finch, Black-crowned Tchagra, Pharoah Eagle Owl, Desert Warbler, Tristram’s Warbler, Brown-necked Raven, Houbara Bustard, Egyptian Nightjar, Mousierre’s Redstart, Fulvous Babbler, Plain Martin, Little Swift, Marbled Duck and Hoopoe Lark to name but a few.

Friday 4th April

A dry sunny day with temperatures in the upper 20’s greeted the group as they disembarked at Marrakech from their Easy Jet Gatwick flight at 9:22am. After a long delay passing through customs, security and baggage collection we met up with our driver Ahmed, we then loaded up into the bus for the drive to Oukaimedan in the western high atlas, a journey of some 80km. As we headed for the snow capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains there was a buzz of excitement in the bus at the thrilling thought of exploring the beautiful mountain landscape that loomed ahead of us.

Birds began to appear as soon as we left the terminal building, Pallid Swifts were the first, soon to be followed by Little Swift, as we crossed the plain of Houza we noted Barn Swallow, Spotless Starling, House Sparrow, White Stork and Collared Dove. We arrived at our hotel near Ourika village and off-loaded our luggage, unpacked our scopes and met in the car park some 15 minutes later. In the hotel grounds we found a Subalpine Warbler singing, House Bunting, African Chaffinch, Serin, Great Tit and a small colony of Little Swifts, they were nesting under the eaves of the hotel, their nests were an elaborate construction of feathers and were incredibly large for such a small bird, they gave fantastic views at very close quarters.

We then set off for the high atlas mountain-village of Oukaimedan but stopped along the way to have lunch in a pine forest. Several Firecrests gave us good views and the Moroccan strain of Coal Tit was also seen well but the best bird was the Mousierre’s Redstart of which we found two pairs, the males in full colour breeding plumage. Driving further up the hill we stopped alongside a stream where large mixed flocks of Chough were feeding. A Dipper flew off upstream noted by only two of the group and a superb Ring Ouzel stayed for a while, other birds of note were Grey Wagtail, Black Redstart, Blue-rock Thrush and Rock Dove. We visited the village of Oukaimedan and searched tracks and trails above it. Rock Sparrow and Mistle Thrush were added to our list before we drove to the upper ski-lift car park. As we left the bus we sighted small flocks of our target species the Crimson-winged Finch, what a delightful little bird. Next we found Seebhom Wheatear, a small grey-backed, black-faced bird, a sub-species of Northern Wheatear, our last bird was an Atlas Horned Lark giving incredible views in the fading light. We made one final stop on the way down the mountain at the stream hoping for a second view of the Dipper. Alas it was not to be, however we did find another Ring Ouzel along with Water Pipit, Barbary Partridge and Common Kestrel. We were all tired after a very long day so we headed back to the hotel for a well earned shower, a couple of beers and dinner.

Saturday 5th April

A pre-breakfast excursion found us wandering around the grounds of the hotel where we had great views of the African race of Chaffinch, Common Bubul, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Cirl Bunting, Serin and several common garden birds. Walking a little further we found Nightingale, Cattle Egret, Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler and heard Cetti’s Warbler. By now our resident Little Swifts were up and about looking for breakfast and so was the local House Bunting.

After breakfast we set off for our next destination, Boumalne Dades, it was to be a very long journey through some wonderful countryside, lush green valleys and sandstone hills interspersed with flat arable land. We made several stops along the way noting Corn Bunting, Jay, Red-rumped Swallow, many Southern Grey Shrikes, Spanish Sparrow, Northern Wheatear, Trumpeter Finch, Black Kite, a dozen or so Booted Eagles and as we climbed the Tiz-n-Tichka pass we saw a superb Bonelli’s Eagle. Other birds flashed by as we sped along the straight desert roads which included Black Wheatear, White-crowned Wheatear, Bee-eater, Common Cuckoo and Woodchat Shrike. As we reached Boumalne we stopped at the edge of town to use the bank and on a radio tower we found a Barbary Falcon, it flew up high and circled several times before flying off to find a less windy roost site, what a find and a great end to a long day in the bus.

Sunday 6th April.

We made an early excursion to the Tagdilt trail and there was plenty to see on a cold and fairly dull morning. The usual fare began to appear; Cream-coloured Courser, Trumpeter Finch, Red-rumped and Desert Wheatears, Short-toed Lark and a bevy of Harriers leaving their roost. Raptors seemed to be everywhere and often appeared from nowhere. Male Montagu’s Harrier proved to be a crowd pleaser whilst Long-legged Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and Lanner Falcons were all found perched on the ground. Following several short walks we added Temminck’s Horned Lark, Northern Wheatear, Desert Lark and after some searching we finally located a Hoopoe Lark. As the sun rose higher in the sky more Harriers appeared along with Black Kite. Two more Lanner Falcon sightings were had and as we made our way off the track we found a single Stone Curlew and two Black-bellied Sandgrouse.

We ate our breakfast back at the hotel with great gusto and soon we were back onto the ‘hammada’, however the wind had picked up and was now quite blustery. We made a couple of stops over the next hour finding Trumpeter Finch, Woodchat and Southern Grey Shrikes, more Northern Wheatears and a couple more Marsh Harriers. We decided to give up the fight with the blustery winds and headed into Boumalne for water and then onto the famous gorge for a cooler afternoon. The wind followed us up the gorge with storm clouds building up behind us. We stopped on a few occasions to photograph the lovely scenery and to bird-watch, we managed to see Crag Martin, Common Kestrel, Hoopoe, Western Olivaceous Warbler, White Stork and Goldfinch. At the top of the gorge we stopped for lunch, noting a pair of distant Bonelli’s Eagle, whilst House Bunting and Black Wheatear were seen in the restaurant car park. As we ate lunch a storm broke and heavy rain began beating against the windows. An hour later, as we left the restaurant, the wind dropped, the rain stopped and the sun came out.

We drove further up the gorge to search for Tristram’s Warbler and very shortly we had sightings of a very flighty one, with more persistence we all managed good views of second bird also noting Black Wheatear and Rock Bunting. Again the wind picked up and the skies darkened so we beat a hasty retreat to the bus and drove through a second storm back towards Boumalne with sheets of heavy rain lashing the windscreen.

At Boumalne we had passed through the storm and drove back onto the Tagdilt track for a second visit. With dull skies behind us we spent 90 minutes tracking down a couple of flocks of Sandgrouse, noting 12 Black-bellied and 18 Pin-tailed, these birds were showing pretty well and despite the poor light they still managed to show off their fantastic camouflaged plumage. We also saw many other birds including a second sighting of Barbary Falcon, more Lanner Falcon views, Hoopoe Lark, Stone Curlew, Cream-coloured Courser, Red-rumped Wheatear, both Montagu’s and Marsh Harriers, Long-legged Buzzards, Black Kites, Temminck’s Horned Lark and Short-toed Lark.

In the ‘weakening eye of day’ we decided to end a long, but superb outing and drove back to the hotel for a hot shower and dinner.

Monday 7th April

Only 4 of us made it to the 6:00am excursion and as we left the hotel a flock of 7 Yellow Wagtails flew over us in the car park. We ventured on foot walking left uphill along an escarpment, the morning was not bright with some dark cloud and spots of rain. After a while we noticed movement in a shallow valley, a couple of Trumpeter Finches were feeding and small flocks of Short-toed Larks, about 40 birds, were passing through. Thekla Larks fed nearby and two Desert Larks were found further along the valley. A noticeable increase in Wheatear numbers was recorded with many Northern and a few Desert Wheatears noted, above us a flock of Black Kites drifted up the Dades valley accompanied by a couple of Marsh Harriers and a little while later a Montagu’s Harrier drifted by. Just before we returned to the hotel we had very close views of a Temminck’s Horned Lark that allowed us to approach within a few feet as it fed in the stony scrub.

An early breakfast was taken and we were on the road by 8:15am taking leave of our hosts Moustapha and Jamila as we set off for our desert section of the tour, our destination was Rissani via Erfoud. The weather had deteriorated with a strong westerly tail-wind driving us on. We stopped a couple of times to try to bird-watch in atrocious conditions, one stop was at a wadi just west of Goulmima where we managed to find Chiffchaff, Bonelli’s and Willow Warblers, Southern Grey and Woodchat Shrikes and more Trumpeter Finches. From then on the weather really did get bad and at times it was almost impossible to see the road ahead, we had a pretty miserable time driving into clouds of sand as the storm failed to let up, it was a very tired and dusty group that arrived at our hotel, just south of Rissani, at 3pm. We learned from the hotel staff that the storm started the day before and let up only after dark and to our dismay the same happened this day, so we washed and changed and then relaxed in the bar swapping birding tales over a beer or two until early evening when we returned to our rooms to change for dinner. We had the shortest bird-log ever!!!

Tuesday 8th April

We arranged a very early breakfast at the auberge hoping that we could get a few hours birding before the winds began again as forcast, so we ate at 5:30am and departed at 6am. En-route to Merzouga lake, our morning destination, we noted several species, the first of which was a Hoopoe Lark that sang and then performed it’s fabulous display fight, what a crowd pleaser.

Next we watched a couple of pairs of Browned-necked Ravens that were scouring the roadside verges for scraps or road kills. At the lake we were pleased to see that plenty of water remained providing good habitat for several species of ducks, waders, pipits, wagtails and herons. Greater Flamingos (400+) just outnumbered Ruddy Shelduck (300+), with a supporting cast of Marbled Duck, Shoveler, Common Pochard and Garganey. There were many Black-winged Stilts, Little Stints, Kentish Plovers and fewer Redshank, Green Sandpiper and Little-ringed Plover. Along the shoreline we picked out several Yellow Wagtails and a good find was a summer plumaged Red-throated Pipit. All at once most of the waders took to the air as a Lanner Falcon dashed across the lake, we followed it with our optics and had reasonable views of it as it alighted on the hillside on the far side of the lake.

With increasing winds we set off for the great sand dune system of Erg Chebi stopping at Auberge Caravanne along the way, there we found Desert Sparrow, a fast declining species in Morocco, what a little gem. We then made the short hop across to Auberge Yasmina where we sat drinking tea and coffee looking over the large seasonal pool found there. Many wading birds were present and made a remarkable sight feeding in muddy pools with a back drop of the Erg Chebi sand dunes. A flock of 43 Little Stint were joined by Marsh Sandpiper, Ruff, Redshank, Little Ringed Plover, Green & Wood Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover. On the far bank 16 Browned-necked Ravens were scattered about picking up morsels of food mainly around the camel herds. Passerines included a Bluethroat which intrigued the group as it dashed about in the undergrowth with its tail fully cocked. The winds again began to whip up clouds of sand and forced us to make an early exit, we hadn’t gone far when 2 Brown-necked Ravens alighted on the ground not far from the track, they gave us a good opportunity to photograph them, which we duly did. It took an hour for us to arrive back at our Auberge at 11:30am and as the wind had not reached full force we decided to wander through the garden, courtyards and shrubby alleyways to search for more birds. It wasn’t long before a cry of Wryneck went up, only one of our group saw it but before long we all had good views as it reappeared on a wall. Several other species were noted: Common Redstart, Western Olivaceous & Bonelli’s Warblers, Common Bubul, European Bee-eater, Sub-alpine Warbler, Nightingale, Trumpeter Finch and another Red-throated Pipit. Not bad for a garden list, we also found a Pied Flycatcher dead in the garden, We ate our lunch at 1pm and decide to reconvene at 4pm.

We set off at 4pm and headed for Rissani and a well known Pharaoh Eagle Owl site where, upon arrival, we set off on foot to walk along a dry riverbed with a high rocky ridge to our left. We wrongly thought that the ridge may well give shelter from the relentless wind but we were blown about and sand-blasted as we made our way. In the shrubs we located Bonelli’s & Willow Warbler, Common Chiffchaff and a male Common Redstart, whilst White-crowned Wheatears were very common. We eventually arrived at the Eagle Owl nesting site but could not locate a roosting Owl until a local man found one using our telescope, the bird was very well hidden and only showed it’s ear tufts, part of it’s head and eyes. Nevertheless it delighted the group who had put in a lot of effort in making the journey. The return trek was just as bad as the outward journey although the wind had subsided a little, we found a pair of Brown-necked Ravens on a ledge and more White Crowned Wheatears as we completed the trip. The light began to fade as we set off back for dinner, tired but pleased with what we had seen, the wind died down at about 7pm as we entered the restaurant for our pre-dinner meeting and bird-log.

Wednesday 9th April

This was our last full day in the desert region and one that most of us had been waiting for, because today we went in search of the Houbara Bustard. We loaded up our 4-wheel drive vehicles taking our packed breakfast and our local guide and set off north towards Erfoud. Within 30 minutes of a glorious sunrise we stopped the jeeps and scanned the flat landscape in the direction that the guide suggested, and, as if miraculously, there it was, a Houbara Bustard standing proud against the distant backdrop of the sand dunes. All of a sudden the bird thrust out it’s white breast feathers and extended it’s necklace of black feathers, dropped it’s head across it’s back and began to walk quickly to the left. Picking up speed and it began running and after 20 meters it began to run in a wide circle, repeating the circuit several times! What a fantastic sight, a rare Houbara Bustard displaying right in front of us. Well that got us all buzzing, we watched the bird for an hour as it repeatedly performed this comical act and to top off this rare treat a pair of Crowned Sandgrouse sat obligingly some 40 meters behind us. We decided to take breakfast at this point so we unpacked our pancakes, scones, bread, jam and honey, and we drank tea, coffee and orange juice whilst listening to the plaintiff call of the Hoopoe Lark as it sang from a nearby shrub.

Well, what could top that? We asked the guide if he knew of a roosting site for Egyptian Nightjars, he answered that he did but the recent high winds may have affected the bird’s choice of roost. We then sped off back towards our Auberge, zig-zagging across the stony plateau, then the guide stopped the vehicles jumped out and walked a few meters before stopping and calling us over. There just, a few feet in front of us, sat a sleeping Egyptian Nightjar, tremendously camouflaged with intricate feather colouring the bird was very hard to see. Fantastic, what a great start to our last full day and it was still only 8 am! We now headed south towards Merzouga criss-crossing the desert areas to visit wadis and any areas that held plant-life. We recorded several Desert Warblers, Desert Lark, Black-eared Wheatear, Southern Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike and several more Hoopoe Larks.

We then returned to the lake at Merzouga hoping to add more species to our growing list, but the wind picked up which made viewing very uncomfortable so we abandoned the lake and set off back to the Auberge. One last stop was the wadi adjacent to the Auberge where we spent a very windy 30 minutes searching the shrubs for Fulvous Babbler, however we only managed to see Turtle Dove, Southern Grey Shrike, Bee-eater and Northern Wheatear, again the wind put paid to any attempt of further birding that day, we returned to the Auberge at 11:30 am having been out for just over six hours. The rest of the day we were confined to barracks taking both, lunch and dinner inside closed doors, a disappointing end to a day that began with a fabulous morning.

Thursday 10th April

Today we made an early start and at 6 am we walked across to the adjacent wadi leaving the walled garden of the Auberge. We spent an hour or so searching the scrub for migrants and for one of our target species the Fulvous Babbler. We found several species of warbler including Sub-alpine, Sardinian, Spectacled and Olivaceous. Both Woodchat and Southern Grey Shrikes were present along with Hoopoe, European Bee-eater, Turtle Dove, Trumpeter Finch and Northern Wheatear but no Babbler. We retired for breakfast then loaded our luggage onto the bus for our very long drive to Taliouine.

It took us all day to get there but we made several stops to break the journey. Some of the notable species en-route were Rufous Bush Robin, Nightingale, Wryneck, Black Kite, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, European Bee-eater and many White-crowned Wheatears. We arrived at our hotel in Taliouine at 5pm, and after checking in, a few of the group took a walk in the adjacent scrubland. There we found a good variety of species: Thekla Lark, Serin, African Chafinch, Common Bubul, another Rufous Bush Robin, Nightingale and Bonelli’s Warbler. We ate dinner in the restaurant and retired for an early night after a very long day.

Friday 11th April.

All of the group made it to the 6am walk and many of the species that were seen the previous night were re-recorded with the added bonus of Laughing Dove and a Common Whitethroat. At 8:30am we set off for the final leg of the journey to Agadir with several planned stops along the way. The central Sous valley proved to be excellent for birds, we stopped two or three times to view the open fields and woodlands of the famous Argan ‘forest’ region. We found both species of Cuckoo in fairly close proximity to one another, the Great Spotted variety being the most popular. Not many raptors were recorded but a juvenile Lanner Falcon was seen to dive-bomb a Lark several times, missing it by inches at each attempt. Several Black Kites drifted down the valley and a couple of Montagu’s Harriers glided across the grasslands.

As we approached the walled town of Tarroudant we nipped into an area where we have had regular sightings of Fulvous Babbler in past visits. We were successful this time as well, we watched a family party foraging in the base of a thicket, a lovely Jay-like bird and one that is sadly diminishing in Morocco. Many birds were noted during the final few miles of the journey which included Little Swift, Moroccan Magpie, Turtle Dove, White Stork and Pallid Swift.

We arrived in Agadir around 1:30pm and decided to take lunch at the hotel before setting off northward to Tamri. So at 2:30pm we headed off through Agadir and along the rugged coastline where we had good sea-views for the first time on the trip. We stopped just north of Amesnaz to do a little sea-watching, we managed only a few species; Yellow-legged Gull, Sandwich Tern, Northern Gannet and an impressive flock of some 40 Black Terns. Next we stopped at the Mouth of the Oued Tinkert where a large reed-fringed lagoon usually holds roosting Gulls, a few waders and waters birds such as Coots, Grebes and Moorhens. As we emerged from the bus we spotted a large flock of Bald Ibis as they were disappearing over the ridge of the distant hillside, some 60 birds in all. We then scanned the hillside and found smaller parties feeding in the sparse undergrowth. Well, our target species was found within minutes of our arrival. The windy conditions kept the passerines down and out of sight but we did manage to see Audouin’s Gull, Common Sandpiper, Greater Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Common Coot, Little Grebe and Grey Heron.

We returned to Agadir and made our way to the Oued Sous estuary which forms part of the Souss Massa National Park. The wind was very strong by now and the tide was high so very few waders were present. We managed to find small groups of roosting birds and these included; Greater Flamingo, Pied Avocet, Oystercatcher, Curlew, Sandwich Tern, Gull-billed Tern and a flock of 19 Black Terns. In the scrub along the shoreline we found Sardinian Warbler, Mousierre’s Redstart, Zitting Cisticola and Moroccan Magpie. The wind was now quite cold so we made the short trip back to the hotel for a refreshing bath, a lovely dinner and a glass of wine.

Saturday 12th April.

Sadly this was our last full day of birding and we intended to make the most of it by visiting the famous Souss Massa National Park at Sidi Rabat. We set off at 6am and made the journey south in about 55 minutes. We alighted from the bus at the edge of the park and walked along a dirt track with the river and marshland below us to our left. The weather was perfect, bright sunshine with a light breeze, the sun was behind us and made viewing the area very enjoyable. We quickly started logging new species, a Little Bittern made a brief flight across a reed-bed, a distant flock of Swallows were alighting on the thick stems of the bamboo, they were joined by Red-rumped Swallows and another of our target birds the Plain Martin. Passerines seemed to be in every bush, Bonelli’s, Olivaceous, Sub-alpine, Sardinian and Willow Warblers, Common Chiffchaff and Blackcap. We also noted Stonechat, Zitting Cisticola, Nightingale, Cirl Bunting, Mousierre’s Redstart, Common Redstart and we heard Cetti’s Warbler. Below us, on a sandy patch of bare soil, a pair of Stone Curlews were found.

A little further along the track we heard the melodic call of the Black-crowned Tchagra, a kind of ‘posh’ Willow Warbler song, for such a big bird it took ages for us to locate it. We eventually got very good views and in total we heard 6 birds singing and saw them perform their song flights, what a show and a great bird to boot. Back at the water we logged Marbled Duck, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbill, Mallard, Common Pochard and a good selection of waders, there were Avocet, Common Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Little Stint, Redshank and Greenshank. We also noted a single Whiskered Tern, 20+ Sandwich Tern and a couple of Squacco Herons. Raptors were remarkably scarce, we only recorded Common Kestrel. But overhead a large mixed flock of swifts held, Common, Pallid and a few Alpines.

We walked almost to the shoreline enjoying the sunshine, the cooling breeze, the fascinating scenery and the wonderful bird life, with the beach in sight we turned our backs to the sea and returned along the same path, it was late morning but still bird song was everywhere. Another Tchagra called from across the river and we watched it perform it’s musical song flight. We boarded the bus slightly worn but very excited about our fabulous morning. A short excursion onto the heathland was made hoping to find a few species that had eluded us thus far, however, we soon realised that most of the vegetation had been removed from the heath and the resulting barren plain produced just a couple of Cream Coloured Coursers.

Next we drove through the village to visit a couple of sites further up the river, we logged our only Black-necked Grebes from the bus as we passed high above the river. We reached a cultivated area that was bordered by hedgerows of tamarisk, ditches and reed fringed pools but there was a distinct lack of water and so, very few birds were found, we did managed to find Plain Martins, Yellow Wagtail, Zitting Cisticola, Bee-eaters and many Common Swifts. A second Little Bittern was found along the river where we also had excellent views of a Wood Warbler. During our lunch break at the main bridge we found a couple more Plain Martins and had a brief glimpse of a Kingfisher as it flashed by.

It was now 2pm so we decided to head back to Agadir to vist the Oued Sous, another estuary within the boundaries of the Souss Massa national park. On arrival one hour later we found the tide low and a vast area of exposed mud seemed to be covered in birds. An Osprey was one of our first sightings but then waders dominated and captured our attention for the next hour. Both Godwits were there, also Red Knot, many Whimbrel and Curlew, Sanderling, Avocet, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Grey, Kentish and Ringed Plovers. A large group of some 200 Sandwich Terns were flushed a few times making excellent viewing, the tern flock also held Gull-billed and Common Terns and later about 20 Little Terns joined them. The tide began to rise and the bird density increased, in all we saw 20 species of waders, we also had distant views of a ‘flock’ of Lesser Kestrels, we saw a distant Great White Egret (a very good bird for Morocco), Spoonbills and Flamingos showed very well and our tally of gulls increased with the inclusion of Black-headed Gull. We spent a very enjoyable two hours watching the shorebirds, the sun was placed superbly behind us and the wind had dropped to a light breeze, a great light and temperature for us and a very fitting way to end our bird-watching tour. We amassed a total of 111 species during the day adding 15 new species to our trip tally- a glowing testament to the value and importance of the Souss Massa national park.

We spent the last couple of hours of daylight sitting in the garden of the hotel discussing our tour and reminiscing about our favourite moments over a couple of beers.

Sunday 13th April

We made a very early start to travel the 200 kilometers from Agadir to Marrakech, even at 5am the Common Bulbuls were noisily going about their business in the hotel garden. The drive to Marrakech was uneventful we made one stop for coffee and further along the route we noted more Bulbuls, House Bunting, Spotless Starling, Cattle Egret and White Stork. A couple of group members saw Calandra Larks flying across the grassy plains just west of Marrakech, but the birding tour was over as we arrived at Menera airport for the return flight to London, Gatwick.

The trip was made a great success due to the efforts of the participants and my thanks go out to them for the humourous banter and the relaxed atmosphere. We encountered 180 species and had some memorable experiences, the group voted the Egyptian Nightjar as their favourite sighting, with the Houbara Bustard, and it’s hilarious running display, coming a very close second.

Two-night Extension.

Sunday 13th April


After dropping the group off at Marrakech airport I set off northwest towards Casablanca taking the autovia. The trip lasted three hours and birds noted along the way included Collared Pratincole, Jackdaw, Black Kite, White Stork, Cattle Egret and many swallows and swifts. By-passing Casablanca I took the road to Rabat turning off the autovia at Shkirat where I quickly located a hotel and dropped off my baggage. I was back out birding within minutes and nearby I located several lagoons and beachside pools which held Curlew Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilts, Sanderlings, Common ringed Plovers and Little Egrets. The rest of the afternoon was spent driving through tracks and quiet lanes finding my way around and locating areas and sites described in the guide book written by the Bergier brothers. At dusk I retired to the hotel.

Monday 14th April.

I left the hotel at 5:15am and drove 20Km to a woodland area just north of Sidi Bettache where my target species the Double-spurred Francolin was known to inhabit. The woodland covered thousands of hectares of rolling hillsides and shallow valleys and comprised of young cork oak with an under-storey of cistus scrub with open glades. Many tracks led into the wood and I parked a short way along one of those. As I stepped from the car I disturbed a superb Doe Fallow Deer and walking into the wood I heard the call of my target species. The call came from beyond a fence in dense undergrowth. I waited and listened but failed to see this particular bird and so I pressed on. The air was warm and still, the dawn chorus was magical, Turtle Doves turred, Hoopoes called, Common Cuckoos were everywhere (I counted 14 throughout the morning), a Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed, there were also European Bee-eaters calling overhead. A surprise bird was the Cattle Egret (yes in a wood, following goats), I also noted Wood Pigeon, Thekla Lark, Chaffinch, Woodlark, Hawfinch, Blue and Great Tit, Sardinian Warbler and Woodchat Shrike.

Moving on I drove further into the wood and stopped at an area where large open areas of scrub dropped away to my right into a shallow valley, I heard the call of the Francolin but again it was came from dense cover, I walked on and then suddenly a pair of birds burst from the undergrowth and flew off down the valley, I picked them up in my bins and noted their striped heads, all-brown body and tail, that lacked the outer-tail red-feathering of partridges, Double-spurred Francolin, a lifer!

Over the next two hours I sighted two more pairs in similar circumstances and heard many more, this was a superb site. I heard many Golden Orioles and saw a pair fly across a valley, I also saw Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk, Short-toed Eagle, Serin, more Hawfinches, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. The woodland often opened out to flower meadows and cultivated fields and it was at one of these that I stopped to photograph the prolific wild flowers. I noted movement in a lone tree and identified a Common Redstart and further movement brought my attention a pair of Little Owls. They posed superbly, until I reached for my camera! What a fantastic place, I recorded over 30 bird species in the first two hours of the day!

I drove off towards a nearby reservoir and noted an Osprey quartering the water, a Booted Eagle joined it in the air as did a Black Kite and hundreds of swifts. I can’t believe I was watching raptors circling on the thermals and it was only 8:20am. On the Reservoir shoreline there were several Common Sandpipers, Common Coots and Little Grebes were dotted about on the surface, but not much else. At 9am I decided to return to the hotel but not before seeing another pair of Double-spurred Francolins fly across the road in front of the car. I ate breakfast and very soon I was back on the road to search the beach-road lagoons. During the next two hours I recorded many of the species of last evening but added Collared Pratincole, Meditteranean and Audoiun’s Gulls and had an unusual observation of 30 Stone Curlews on the beach!

Next I drove south towards Safri and spent the afternoon visiting the lagoons and salt pans adjacent to the sea near Sidi Moussa, it was there that I found Red-knobbed Coot, more Med Gulls, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Knot, Greenshank, Redshank and Avocet. I next set off inland to search for another lagoon, I stopped frequently along the way and added Common Raven to my day and trip list. The lagoon had dried up but small pools contained White Wagtails. Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Common Chaffinch came down to drink as did Linnet and Serin.

As evening approached I set off for Essouria, but leaving it rather late, it was dark when I arrived and I found it very difficult to navigate with no street lighting or signposts. Fortunately I stumbled across an excellent hotel, with good clean rooms and a proper bathroom with towels and hot water!

Tuesday 15th April

I left the hotel at 9am after a lie-in, the first for many weeks, what a luxury! I drove round to the sea front and parked near the harbour wall. The harbour was alive with people as many fishermen were selling their morning catch, hundreds of Yellow-legged Gulls joined the fray. I walked to the far end of the wall and scoped the island just out to sea. The sky above it was alive with gulls, many thousands breed there, but also the island is a very important site for Eleanora’s Falcon, over 600 pairs breed on the off-shore islands of Morocco which represents some 60% of the world population. The falcons usually arrive during late April and I was hoping to see a few early pairs. Sure enough after five minutes I caught site of one as it drifted back and forth along the island, it toyed with the gulls and very soon a second and a third bird appeared. Job done I returned to the car and drove south to the view the river mouth at Diabet. This area was the summer refuge of the 1960’s hippy community, I realized this as I passed Jimi Hendrix café and bar. But what a great move that was, despite a soupy mist over the sea and a ‘purple haze’ landward, birds were everywhere.

The river held a good variety of waders such as, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Grey and Ringed Plover, Greenshank, Sanderling, Dunlin (a single bird), Whimbrel and a solitary Curlew. The gull roost contained only Yellow-legged Gulls but nevertheless it consisted of a large number of birds. Along the shore line there were White, Yellow (two sub-species) and Moroccan Wagtails and the tamarisk shrubs were alive with warblers. I counted 30 Willow Warblers in a short space of time and I soon realised that I was amidst a large ‘fall’ of migrants. At one point I sat quietly and watched a single leafless bush that stood at the end of a long hedgerow that lay at right angles to the river. Birds were filtering along the hedgerow to this one bush at the river side. I logged 9 species of Warbler in that bush! Willow, Melodious, Wood, Bonelli’s, Sub-alpine, Spectacled, Sedge, Reed and Common Chiffchaff. My camera was busy clicking away but the birds were feeding and moving constantly, ruining my photographic efforts, I wish birds would keep still for a second!

It was now getting very warm and humid so I decided to return to the car for water and to try to locate the whereabouts of the Plain Martins that had been flying up and down the river whilst I was drooling over the warblers. A hundred meters up river I experienced an amazing sight, a whole flock of Plain Martins, they were perched on dead branches that were overhanging the river on the far bank. There were 53 of them!! Well what a find! I crept as close as I dared and reached for my camera, oops, wrong move, the whole flock erupted and scattered far and wide.

I decided to sit this one out, so I perched on the bank crouching behind my scope, which was set to its lowest height, with camera at the ready. It was not long before I was shooting away as the birds returned, I took 50 shots in all, then I began to really look at these “plain” birds and realized that they are not so plain as you might think, OK they are only coloured in shades of brown and buff white but a careful inspection will reveal a peachy hew to the throat on the juveniles, big black eyes, fleshy coloured legs and a lovely pale edging to tertials and wing coverts (many of these birds were juvenile as they breed during the winter months). They have an endearing cute expression but can turn very nasty to one another when vying for perch positions.

Just as I was finishing extolling the beauty of this little brown bird and coming round to appreciating their colourful elegance a Kingfisher landed just below the flock, talk about contrast. Beauty and the beast came to mind, the martins went straight back to being ‘plain’ again. The Kingfisher moved to a perch just below a well-used hole in the river bank and then promptly disappeared into it. Next, a couple of Barn Swallows alighted amidst the flock and further exaggerated the plainness of the martins’, the swallows looked absolutely brilliant with the sunlight on their backs. The final nail in the coffin of ‘ Plain Martin’s beauty-theory’ came when a gorgeous male Subalpine Warbler started flitting behind the flock showing extremely well, a brilliant combination of blue, orange and white, oh well I tried!

Time was creeping on and I had to head off to Marrakech for an early evening flight so I had to bid adieu to this fascinating place and set off eastward for a two hour drive. The journey was broken by several stops but very few species were seen in the heat of the afternoon. The pick of the sightings were a perched Lanner Falcon, Common Raven and a Nightingale. I arrived at the airport and my last Moroccan bird sighting was a House Bunting that was singing from the new terminal building roof. Thus ended a fascinating extension to the tour, I recorded an extra 13 species bringing the tour tally to 193 birds, a fitting testament to a wonderful bird-watching country, I hope to visit Morocco for many more years to come.

Species Lists

1 Little Grebe
2 Black-necked Grebe
3 Northern Gannet
4 Great Cormorant
5 Little Bittern
6 Little Egret
7 Cattle Egret
8 Grey Heron
9 Purple Heron
10 Squacco Heron
11 Great Egret
12 White Stork
13 Glossy Ibis
14 Bald Ibis
15 Eurasian Spoonbill
16 Greater Flamingo
17 Ruddy Shelduck
18 Mallard
19 Northern Shoveler
20 Common Pochard
21 Marbled Duck
22 Black Kite
23 Western Marsh Harrier
24 Montagu's Harrier
25 Long-legged Buzzard
26 Booted Eagle
27 Bonelli’s Eagle
28 Osprey
29 Lesser Kestrel
30 Eurasian Kestrel
31 Barbary Falcon
32 Lanner Falcon
33 Barbary Partridge
34 Common Moorhen
35 Common or Eurasian Coot
36 Houbara Bustard
37 Oystercatcher
38 Black-winged Stilt
39 Pied Avocet
40 Stone-Curlew
41 Cream-coloured Courser
42 Collared Pratincole
43 Common Ringed Plover
44 Little Ringed Plover
45 Kentish Plover
46 Grey or Black-bellied Plover
47 Sanderling
48 Little Stint
49 Curlew Sandpiper
50 Dunlin
51 Ruff
52 Bar-tailed Godwit
53 Black-tailed Godwit
54 Eurasian Curlew
55 Whimbrel
56 Common Redshank
57 Common Greenshank
58 Marsh Sandpiper
59 Common Sandpiper
60 Green Sandpiper
61 Ruddy Turnstone
62 Black-headed Gull
63 Audouin’s Gull
64 Yellow-legged Gull
65 Lesser Black-backed Gull
66 Little Tern
67 Sandwich Tern
68 Gull-billed Tern
69 Common Tern
70 Black Tern
71 Whiskered Tern
72 Crowned Sandgrouse
73 Black-bellied Sandgrouse
74 Pin-tailed sandgrouse
75 Rock Dove
76 Feral Pigeon
77 European Turtle Dove
78 Eurasian Collared-Dove
79 Common Wood Pigeon
80 Laughing Dove
81 Great Spotted Cuckoo
82 Common Cuckoo
83 ‘Pharaoh’ Eagle Owl
84 Egyptian Nightjar
85 Common Swift
86 Pallid Swift
87 Little Swift
88 Common or Eurasian Hoopoe
89 Common Kingfisher
90 European Bee-eater
91 Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
92 Great Spotted Woodpecker
93 Wryneck
94 Desert lark
95 Hoopoe Lark
96 Calandra Lark
97 Greater Short-toed Lark
98 Crested Lark
99 Thekla Lark
100 Horned (Atlas) Lark
101 Temminck’s Horned Lark
102 Plain Martin
103 Sand Martin
104 Eurasian Crag-Martin
105 Barn Swallow
105 Red-rumped Swallow
107 House Martin
108 Water Pipit
109 Red-throated Pipit
110 Yellow Wagtail (iberiae)
111 Yellow Wagtail (flavissima)
112 White Wagtail
113 Moroccan White Wagtail
114 Grey Wagtail
115 Common Bulbul
116 Dipper
117 Wren
118 European Robin
119 Rufous Bush Robin
120 Bluethroat
121 Black Redstart
122 Mousierre’s Restart
123 Common Redstart
124 European Stonechat
125 Northern Wheatear
126 North. ‘Seebohm’ Wheatear
127 Black-Eared Wheatear
128 Desert Wheatear
129 Red-rumped Wheatear
130 White Crowned Wheatear
131 Black Wheatear
132 Blue Rock Thrush
133 Common Blackbird
134 Mistle Thrush
135 Ring Ouzel
136 Cettis’s Warbler
137 Sedge Warbler
138 Zitting Cisticola
139 Eurasian Reed Warbler
140 Western Olivaceous Warbler
141 Tristram’s Warbler
142 Spectacled Warbler
143 Subalpine Warbler
144 Sardinian Warbler
145 African Desert Warbler
146 Common Whitethroat
147 Blackcap
148 Western Bonelli’s Warbler
149 Willow Warbler
150 Wood Warbler
151 Common Chiffchaff
152 Firecrest
153 Spotted Flycatcher
154 Pied Flycatcher
155 Fulvous Babbler
156 Coal Tit
157 African Blue Tit
158 Great Tit
159 Black-crowned Chagra
160 Southern Grey Shrike
161 Woodchat Shrike
162 Eurasian Jay
163 Common Magpie
164 Alpine Chough
165 Red-billed Chough
166 Brown-necked Raven
167 Spotless Starling
168 House Sparrow
169 Spanish Sparrow
170 Rock (Petronia) Sparrow
171 African Chaffinch
172 European Serin
173 European Greenfinch
174 European Goldfinch
175 Eurasian Linnet
176 Trumpeter Finch
177 Crimson-winged Finch
178 Rock Bunting
179 House Bunting
180 Corn Bunting

Additional Species seen on the 3-day extension

181 Double – spurred Francolin
182 Sparrowhawk
183 Short-toed Eagle
184 Golden Oriole
185 Woodlark
186 Hawfinch
187 Red-knobbed Coot
188 Eleanora’s Falcon
189 Mediterranean Gull
190 Wood Sandpiper
191 Melodious Warbler
192 Common Raven
193 Little Owl