We arrived in Marrakech on April 2nd for a packed 4 day tour of some of Morocco's prime birding locations.
2/4 - Marrakech - Oukaimaden
The birding began as soon as we got off the plane, with House Buntings flitting around inside the airport, Swifts screaming around overhead and White Storks circling much higher. We managed to navigate through Marrakech's hectic streets onto the road to the Ski resort of Oukaimaden in the Atlas Mountains. April is prime time to visit Morocco, and the countryside here was green, lush and spectacular. En route to the mountains, the road was littered with stray dogs and donkeys, but also Spotless Starlings, Woodchat Shrikes and plenty of Serins and Crested Larks. As we began to climb up, two pale phase Booted Eagles circled, and subsequent stops produced a Cuckoo and a Sparrowhawk.
The route up into these impressive mountains follows a river valley, and our first stop to search this vegetation produced a pair of Moussier's Redstarts, Common Bulbuls aplenty and the cries of the angry Levaillant's Green Woodpecker. The ultramarinus race of Blue Tit was also present here.
Mist descended, suggesting an early end to the days birding. However, we climbed above the cloud layer as we approached Oukaimaden and were greeted by Black Wheatears using the rocky terrain, and a Long-legged Buzzard being mobbed by one of scores of Red-billed and Alpine Choughs.
Oukaimaden is a far cry from the Ski resorts of France and Switzerland, but it has plenty of character and plenty of birds. Around the ski-lifts and surrounding areas were plenty of Atlas Horned Larks, Rock Sparrows, Seebohm's Wheatears and Black Redstarts.
We stayed that night at Chez Juju, the most expensive of our hotels on the trip. The rooms, however, were reasonable, the staff were friendly, and dinner and breakfast were top class. There was also a bird log here, which taunted us with the news that Crimson-winged Finches had been seen the day before.
3/4 - Oukaimaden-Ouarzazate
An early morning trek down the mountain yielded Red-rumped Swallows, Crag Martins and Alpine Swifts. We stopped again at the Moussier's site, and had great views of 2 Nightingales in full voice. Also here, Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Cirl Bunting and another Booted Eagle. Further down, we passed through the town of Dr Caid Ouriki, where half a dozen Little Swifts raced overhead. Heading towards the Tizi n Tichka road, we passed Corn Buntings and Southern Grey Shrikes on the road side and then stopped under a cloud of White Storks. Soon, they were joined by a Black Kite, and Rhys-Jones himself, a wandering Griffon Vulture. The cause - a big rubbish tip by the town of Ait Ourir (worth a stop).
Now on the Tizi n Tichka road, we began to climb. Stops en route produced a marvellous Goshawk and a gang of Maghreb Magpies. Yet again we heard the yaffle of Lev-head but alas he didn't show himself.
As we came to the end of the 200+km journey to Ouarzazate, the pre-desert area around Amerzgane produced a Black-eared Wheatear, a large Bee-eater colony in a river bank and our first of many White-crowned Wheatears. Our destination in Ouarzazate was the reservoir, which we accessed through tracks from the P31 road that runs to the North of the Res. The water itself was only graced by the odd Cormorant and pair of Great-crested Grebes. In the scrub around the edge, however, we found plenty of migrants including Yellow Wagtails, Bonelli's Warblers and an Olivaceous Warbler. Also here, a Hoopoe, Grey Herons, and a pair of Desert Wheatears.
In a garden by the Royal Golf resort slightly further East, we found a cracking male Tristram's Warbler, one of the birds of the trip.
Accommodation this night was in the YHA in Ouarzazate. Very cheap (£13 all in for 2 of us) but took a bit of finding!
4/4 - Draa Valley
The aim today was to see as much of the Draa Valley as we could manage before heading to Boumalne du Dades in the evening. We hit the road early, and soon found the first Desert Larks of the trip on the roadside. Whilst looking at some Camels, 4 Trumpeter Finches whizzed by and we spotted the grinch - a tired looking migrant Wryneck sat on a rock in the middle of the desert!
We stopped at a promising looking patch of lush vegetation and cultivated land on the way to Agdz for what was supposed to be a quick stop. The place, however, was absolutely swimming with migrants, probably the finest site for birds either of us had ever been to. (Contact me for exact location). This is just a selection of the birds we found here: Barbary Partridge, Wood Warbler, Bonelli's Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Reed Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, Woodchat Shrike, Crested Lark, Rufous-Bush Robin, Tree Pipit, Ortolan, Blue Rock Thrush, Golden Oriole, Laughing Dove, Bulbul, Hoopoe. Unbelievable stuff. To cap it off, 2 Bonelli's Eagles drifted over the ridge above us.
The built up Draa Valley was disappointing by comparison. We did, however, connect with numerous Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters as well as a handful of Laughing Doves and 2 Short-toed Eagles perched up on telegraph poles.
Stayed the evening in Auberge Soleil Bleu just outside of Boumalne du Dades. A very comfortable hotel at a reasonable price and handily located for birding on the Tagdilt Track. Also a great log book here going back to the early 90s.
5/4 - Tagdilt Track
We took the old track (next to the Army Barracks) and were in position to bird before sunrise. Very conspicuous with their 'boiling kettle' call were numerous Red-rumped Wheatears. We also saw Northern and Desert Wheatears along the track. Larks are one of the specialities here, and although we missed Thick-billed and Bar-tailed, we had great views of numerous Temminck's, Short-toed, Desert and the spectacular Hoopoe Larks.
As we watched 2 fine male Montagu's Harriers, a few groups of Sandgrouse took flight and although the first ones were too far away to identify, some flying much closer turned out to be Crowned Sandgrouse. We watched them land, but attempts to view them on the ground proved futile as they outsmarted us! In searching for the sandgrouse, though, we picked out one of the main target birds of the trip - distant Cream-coloured Coursers, another speciality of the Tagdilt Track. Taking the bumpy road back to Boumalne we found more Coursers only 20 yards from the track, allowing fantastic views.
Perhaps the bird of the trip still awaited us though. Thanks to help from a fellow birder, we connected with a juvenile Lanner perched up about 50 yards from the road. As we watched, 2 Long-legged Buzzards put the bird up and out of sight. After some waiting, though, the Lanner reappeared, this time mobbing a Short-toed Eagle. Later on, we had prolonged views of a prime adult Lanner over the car. What a place! This was about as good as birding gets.
We made the long trek back to Marrakech that evening, staying in Dar Souihla, Les Dars d'Orient. We stopped at the Poste d'Eau et Foret in Toufliath on the way back to look for Levaillant's (which formerly bred here). Though unsuccesful, we did hear Firecrests and Crossbills as well as seeing Short-toed Treecreeper, a subspecies whose song and habits point towards it being split in the near future.
The hotel was about 15km out of marrakech and, again, took some finding. We only found our way there thanks to bribing a caped crusader on his scooter to lead us there for a few Euros. The birding wasn't quite over yet, though. In the lush garden of this hotel, Nightingales sang through the night as did a Scops Owl. The owl was out of the compound, though, and any energy we could have mustered to track it down quickly dissipated as the Moroccan food finally took its toll on our ailing digestive systems..
A total of 97 species (not bad considering it included no ducks, no gulls and only 2 waders!)
Out of this list, 23 were lifers for us - a great haul!
Though friendly, the local people are persistent to the point of annoying in their begging and attempts to sell tourist items. Be friendly and polite back, though, and you shouldn't have any problems.
Take care with the food and drink only bottled water here. Also recommend even brushing teeth with bottled water as there are plenty of nasty stomach bugs waiting to happen.
If hiring a car, use a reputable company, even if it means paying a bit more.
Allow more than 4 days to explore this fantastic country!
For further information on specific sites or species, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Great Crested Grebe,
Cattle Egret (colony at Boumalne),
Alpine, Common, Little Swifts,
Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters,
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Lev Green Woodpecker (heard only),
Desert, Hoopoe, Short-toed, Crested, Temminck's Larks,
Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow,
Tree and Meadow Pipits,
Iberiae Yellow Wagtail,
Subpersonata White Wagtail,
Rufous Bush Robin,
Northern Wheatear, Seebohm's Wheatear,
Black-eared, Desert, White-crowned, Red-rumped and Black Wheatears,
Mistle Thrush (local race),
Reed, Western Olivaceous, Tristram's, Subalp, Sardinian, Blackcap, Bonelli's, Wood and Willow Warblers,
Coal, Blue and Great Tit,
Short-toed Treecreeper (Atlas race),
Oriole (heard only)
Elegans Southern Grey Shrike,
Alpine and Red-billed Chough,
House and Rock Sparrows,
Green and Goldfinch,
Cirl, House, Ortolan and Corn Buntings.