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Morocco Birding and Wildlife Trip Report – 22nd of March – 1rst of April 2010

Group members: Jane, Cris, Jane, John, Mija, Kai, Margaret, Yvone, John, Peter, and Paul

Guide: Cristian Jensen

22nd of March – Marrakech to Agadir

We flew into Marrakech airport on time, and met Cristian, our guide and the rest of our group. Unbelievably, our birding began immediately with a male and female House Bunting inside the airport building. This little bird was to become quite special and would be seen in many places.
Before our long drive to Agadir we walked around the airport grounds which proved to be quite fruitful. We saw Pallid and Little Swifts, Sub-alpine Warbler, Barn Swallow and Spotless Starling as well as Blackcap, Greenfinch, Linnet and Collared Dove. We also heard European Bee-eaters overheads.
The journey was fairly long but very interesting. Large lorries, laden trucks and cars drove at great speed and came out of roads in front of us suddenly and gesticulating as they hit the horn at each other. Great tractors were carried on board trucks and agricultural products were piled high on small vehicles. A horse wandered loose down the centre of the road.
As we headed through the countryside, Cristian drew our attention to a Raven (ssp. tingitanus) on the wire and a Long-legged Buzzard which glided over the coach. In the towns, White storks sat on nests, high on buildings or flew, majestically, overhead. A Montagu’s Harrier was also spotted. We stopped at picnic area for lunch and before returning to the coach watched Thekla Lark, Barn and Red-rumped Swallows, and a Little Swift flying into a half built house.
Further on, colourful trees and bushes lined the roads the reds, blues, pinks and yellows made even the drabber areas abound with life.
A comfort stop brought more bird-sightings, a Moroccan subspecies of Great Tit (ssp. exulsus)(We were to discover many North African sub-species) and our first endemic, a Moussier’s Redstart. Further on, several Southern Grey Shrikes (ssp. algeriensis) were spotted on wires.
At last we reached Agadir and our Hotel. It was a large hotel with beautiful garden. A male Sardinean Warbler song in a tree and Yellow-legged Gulls (ssp. atlantis/lusitanicus) perched on the roof. It was time, however for showers, bird count a dinner.

23rd of March – Bald Ibis day

Today we set out towards the north. The coast-road ride was pleasant with a few Yellow-legged Gulls over the sea and a Common Kestrel over the road. In the country areas Common Bulbuls sat on bushes and a Raven, carrying a plastic bag in its bill, flew over – no doubt on the way to the Supermarket!! Soon we spotted our first flock of Audouin Gulls and the North African Great Cormorant (ssp. moroccanus).

We reached our destination and had our first stop. Walking in this area we had Zitting Cisticola, a small flock of Spanish Sparrows and Black and Northern Wheatears. The water’s edge brought Little Egrets, Kentish Plovers, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Grey Herons and a pair of Ruddy Shelduck. A strange highlight was when a first winter Greater-black Backed Gull flew in and aggressively chased the other gulls. It was the first time Cristian seen this species in Morocco, as it’s a scarce bird coming from the North. We could compare very well all the gull species in size, structure, plumages and ages. Later we also found our first Sandwich Terns.
We drove again in search of the Bald Ibis and we stopped in the scrubland. Here we saw Tawny Pipit, Thekla Lark and very smart and obliging Spectacled Warblers. Several of the group had not seen this bird before. We were still looking for our target bird – the Bald Ibis – and very soon they were seen flying over. They had a nasty habit, however, of landing and disappearing behind the bushes!! We did have some good views which were very special as the Bald Ibis is an endangered species with few hundred left in the wild and we were able to get close to them in their natural environment.
Very pleased with ourselves we drove on to a Valley via a typical noisy Moroccan town. The road led us by a dried up river bed where we spotted a smart Black Wheatear. A lunch stop at a fantastic viewpoint overlooking the mountains and a fine valley brought new birds – the Moroccan subspecies of Chaffinch (ssp. africana), two Black-eared Wheatears, Thekla Larks and more Bee-eaters overhead.

The Paradise Valley was well named with its huge cliffs, clear blue streams and green trees, palms and bushes. We walked quite a way and were rewarded with Rock Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, two Short-toed Eagles and a stunning Peregrine Falcon (spp. brookei/minor). This was the Mediterranean North African subspecies with rofous nape, large moustache and very blue-grey head not to be confused with a Barbary Falcon.

We then headed for the Souss River and found a variety of water birds – 44 Storks, 18 Spoonbills some with rings from the Netherlands and Spain, and numerous Little Egrets. We had also our first good views of the North African Magpie (ssp. mauritanica) – local and beautiful subspecies with the blue behind eye. We added later Gull-billed Terns, Common and Green Sandpipers, Redshank, Ruff and Snipe. Then one more, how did Maija spot that Stone Curlew (ssp. saharae) highly camouflaged and very distant?
It was then time to go to the hotel after a very good day and some good birds.

24th March – Tchagra’s day

After breakfast and loading our luggage we set to Tadourant via Massa National Park. Massa had been flooded but despite the wet and the muddy parts the birding was excellent. Our target bird was the Tchagra and we had been warned that it could be difficult as it could skulk in the bushes. Some of us thought we might miss it but after spotting Black-eared Wheatear, several Moussier’s Redstart and Cirl Buntings, there it was. We got excellent views of two pairs the Black-crown Tchagras – a bonus for the photographers. We then added Cetti’s and Western Olivaceus Warbler, Goldfinch (ssp. parva), Stonechat and Laughing Dove.

Walking by the river our luck continued. Plain Martins were flying around, a Little Bittern arose and flew and this was followed by a close Purple Heron. Walking back we then added Sand Martin, Turtle Dove and European Bee-eaters perched. Well pleased with ourselves we drove on towards Massa village only to have a sudden stop as Cristian spotted a Great White Egret and then a Barbary Partridge which was seen sitting on a stone wall. We looked for a Little Owl as this was its territory and sure enough, there it was on the same wall.
We entered in the National Park and had a lunch stop. Telescopes were raised again and Serins, Willow and Sardinean Warblers, Turtle Dove and Kestrels were watched. Then great excitement as a pair of Wild Boars with ten striped youngsters ran along the rivers’ edge.
We drove on in search of Greater Flamingo and Marbled Teal seen earlier by one of the local rangers. We saw Cattle and Little Egrets, Iberian Yellow Wagtail (ssp. Iberia), White Wagtail (ssp. alba), Kentish, Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers, Flamingo and Stone Curlew.

We reached Tadourant and our hotel, which is set in the city walls. Some of us went into the town and “climbed” the city walls watching Pallid and Little Swifts swooping around the square. Others walked through the narrow streets with their interesting shops.
Back at the hotel, Kestrels flew into courtyard Palms and Terrapins lazed in the small fountain pool.

25th March - Transfer to the Tagdilt Track

We woke early to the sound of the Muezzin calling the Muslims to prayer and very loud Common Bulbuls in the trees. After breakfast we drove towards the Tagdilt track. The road was fairly busy with the usual overlade lorries, cars with wild shock, donkey cars carrying animals food, motor schoolers and bicycles. Some preferred to drive on the wrong side of the road but poor driver took it all in his side.
As we passed through a more agricultural area with bushes of bright yellow flowered Acacias (Acacia sp), Mimosa type of bush, lining the road. Birdlife was not plentiful but having seen Goldfinch, Storks, and quite a few Bee-eaters and two smart male Montagu’s Harriers were seen.
A stop by the river, with some water still present, proved to be a good birdwatching area. Common Redstart, a close Subalpine Warbler and our first Bonelli’s Warbler were spotted but the highlight was a Booted Eagle which soared soared overhead and then settled on rocks quite close to us giving excellent views.
Moving on we drove through huge plains with little vegetation (semi-deserts) where Cattle Egrets fed on the sheep and a male Marsh Harrier was seen in migration. Another stop brought a fine Booted Eagle. It’s landing lights clearly visible, a Woodchat Shrike, Thekla Lark, Bonelli’s Eagle, and then Western Orphean Warbler – a life tick for most of us.

The long journey was never dull. Driving through mountainous terrain we had Little Swifts and then suddenly glimpses of Trumpeter Finches!! Alarm for those who had never seen the before but a calm “you will them again” from Cristian eased the tension!
Time for a picnic. We stopped by a dried riverbed and enjoyed our rolls, meat, cheese, olives, and fruits.
We reached Ouarzazate with its large film studio’s. A raptor was spotted – another Bonelli’s Eagle we were told but it disappeared as we scrambled out the coach. Never mind, there were Desert Short-toed Larks (spp. rubiginosa) and few groups of Trumpeter Finches (ssp. zedlitzi), specially two males brightly coloured. Wide grins all around.
After a short stop at the Cafe Du Sud we drove on to our final stop of the day – The Tagldilt track. The wind was stronger and the desert scrubland stretched before us. It looked deserted of birds but as we walked, Cristian heard various calls. Suddenly there were two pairs of Temmink’s Larks – another new bird for the group followed by Desert and Red-rumped Wheatears and Thick-billed Larks. Some people got over excited. Four key Moroccan birds in 30minutes and we will still had the next day in this important birding area. Reluctantly we dragged ourselves away and drove on to our hotel. Tired at the dinner table but all delighted with the day’s birding.

26th March – African Wild Cat, Wheatears, Larks and Kasbahs

We needed an early start as we headed for the Tagdilt steppes plateau. We were soon on the road and our first stop was at a rocky slope in search of Mourning Wheatears. To our great surprise, Cristian called “African Wild Cat” and many of us managed a quick view of a small, pale, striped cat sitting at the entrance to a small cave in the rock face.

Having climbed up the hillside, there was no sign of our target bird but we had good views of Thick-billed and Desert Larks (ssp. algeriensis/payni), Black and Desert Wheatears. As most of them were new to the group there were many wild smiles. Then as we looked up Bee-eaters flew over and Kai spotted a Booted Eagle which we enjoyed looking at.
We drove on and from the coach, a Hoopoe Lark was seen displaying and suddenly Sandgrouse were seen flying. We stopped and with the telescopes up we saw about thirty Black-bellied Sandgrouse. What a heat to see these elusive birds. We had then a Lanner Falcon flying low over our heads and good views of Cream Coloured Coursers.
We stopped by a house and found a Brown Scorpion sheltering under a rock. Red-rumped Swallows flew over and then a male Mourning Wheatear was spotted – But was it? It did not have the correct features and its parentage was a bit of a mystery! The tail had lots of white like a White-crown Wheatear but had white belly and breast like Mourning… In the cap had traces of black… As Cristian previously found out, and researched and debated with experts turn it to be a likely hybrid between this two species!!!
The female was then spotted going to and from a cavity in the wall and we could then say we had seen the species. This female proved to be a dark throated morph of the Western Mourning Wheatear (spp. halophila).
As we returned to the coach we had fresh views of Hoopoe Lark, Trumpeter Finches and Temmink’s Lark. Later on we went to a Kasbah where we had tea poured in the traditional way. From here there were beautiful views across the valley.
Later we drove through a valley allowing us to take astonishing shots from the rocky cliffs and many more Kasbahs. Here we saw our first Crag Martins.

We had our second night at the hotel where we enjoyed for dinner a delicious tagine accompanied with brochettes.

27th March – The day of Tristram’s and Scrub Warblers, Blue-checked Bee-eaters, and Fulvous Babbler – Transfer day to the Desert

Today we headed towards the Desert. We stopped at a view point for a photograph of the valley but our first major visit was to an astonishing gorge with rock cliffs of more than a 1000m (3000feed) tall which was spectacular with all the different colours of the rocks. Luckily we had it almost for ourselves and we were able to watch Crag Martins coming down to drink and collect mud to build their nests. Grey Wagtails sat on small rocks and House and Rock Buntings, and Tristram’s Warbler were watched. This was our first views of Tristram’s Warbler – a really attractive bird and quite obliging for the photographers. We reworded our coach and later after a coffee stop we watched White-crowned Wheatear flying up into a tree. We stopped at a quite road-side area with sparsely spaced bushes to look for Scrub Warbler. Having noted Desert Wheatear, Short-toed and Crested Lark (spp. riggenbachi) a small sandy-coloured bird with a long dark tail was seen springing from place to place in a fairly lovely way. This was definitely our target bird and we were lucky to have such a marvellous views.
We had lunch in the shade of one of the very few trees in the area, as it was very hot, and then drove on. Our afternoon cafe/tea stop was very interesting as it was inside a huge traditional tend overlooking a huge gorge where Ravens were flying. Here we had tea or cafe and many of the group bought scarves to protect themselves from the sun in the desert. An ubiquitous House Bunting hopped between the tables of the tent.

Our target now, was the Pharaoh Eagle Owl but all was to change. Suddenly, as we drove along, Blue-checked Bee-eaters were spotted and we had fantastic views of male landing on a wire with a bee, hitting out its sting and presenting his prize to the female. We watched this beautiful birds for some time and saw, also, Crested Larks, Spanish & House Sparrows (spp. tingitanus) and a 1rst winter White Crowned Wheatear.

Time to go then panic, John had lost his glasses lens. Luckily it was found and because of the delay some of us managed to see a Fulvous Babbler but it proved to be elusive.
We were a little late now and our search for the Pharaoh Eagle Owl was delayed. Instead we drove on to our hotel in the desert. This was a beautiful part of North Africa and that night we had a magical Moroccan dinner. We were all looking forward to our next day looking for rare birds of the desert.

28th March – Desert Sparrow, Egyptian Nightjars, African Desert Warbler, and Brown necked Raven - Desert excursion with 4x4

Our hotel was situated close to huge sand dunes and even early Dromedaries could be seen and some birds heard. After breakfast, we separated into four 4x4 Land cruisers and soon began our exciting day. Our landscape was very different now – sandy desert, a few nomadic tends and only small amount of vegetation. Our first stop brought a much wished for bird – The Desert Sparrow. In a tree, by some buildings, several sparrows were spotted but these were House Sparrows. Then on the ground a pale grey and white bird with a black bib, lores, beak and eye area appeared – popping up into the tree. We were able to watch it for a while. Another life tick and a real pleasure at seeing this rare bird. Perhaps a more surprising one was a Great Cormorant flying over the desert but we were told that was water nearby.

Driving on a Hoopoe Lark was seen displaying and on the palms were Spanish Sparrows and Collared Doves. We were heading for a ringing station and this brought some extremely good birds in the hand, and a lot of interesting information about ringing. We were very fortunate to see a Western Olivaceus Warbler (Hippolais (pallida) opaca) besides the Saharan taxon (Hippolais (pallida/opaca) raisieri) where all the subtle differences could be noted. Shown, also in the hand, were Spectacled Warbler, Scops Owl, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Willow Warbler and the rarest bird was a Blackcap in the middle of the desert. As we prepared to leave a Lanner Falcon flew over giving us excellent views of this handsome raptor.

Back in our 4x4’s we started driving around the edge of the dune desert. An Agama lizard was spotted and photographed and at another stop, we walked by huge sand dunes and noted some desert plants as well as Bar-tailed desert, Short-toed and Thick-billed Larks, more Cream coloured Coursers, Southern Grey (ssp. elegans) and Woodchat Shrikes, Black-eared Wheatears and our first African Desert Warbler and Brown-necked Ravens.
We then had a real treat – an Egyptian Nightjar had been found by one of Cristian’s contacts – an extremely difficult bird to find in such a huge area. “Sleeping” or closing its eyes to not break the camouflage by some sandy soil close to some rocks, its camouflage was excellent making it almost impossible to see without a telescope even doo was 40meters (120feed) away. We watched for some time and photographers then were able to get closer without disturbing it.
After lunch and a rest from the heat of the day, it was now 40ºC, we returned to the desert hoping to see the elusive Houbara and Sandgrouse. White-crowned Wheatears and more Brown-necked Ravens were seen and then six Crown Sandgrouse and another Egyptian Nightjar were found with the help of a Cristian’s friend. The fact that our Houbara tracker have found the food prints was very promising but the wind had increased and the tracks lost. We drove around the area where they were last seen by the nomads but had no luck. Oh well - that’s birding! We were far more successful with the Sandgrouse as another Crown Sandgrouse was spotted together with a Hoopoe Lark.

As we drove to our hotel via a village to buy some dinosaur teeth fossils, we felt that it had been an excellent day in a very different environment.

29th March – Moroccan White Wagtail and Pharaoh Eagle Owl – Transfer to Ouarzazate

Reluctantly, we left the desert and set out towards our next hotel in Ouarzazate. As we drove more White-crown Wheatears and Brown necked Raven were spotted and we had an interesting stop to watch Blue-checked Bee-eaters digging in the sandy cliffs and sitting on wires. A Pallid Swift was seen flying over. Our target, now, was the Pharaoh or Desert Eagle Owl but we took time to slow down and watch our first Moroccan White Wagtail. It walked in shallow water by the reeds and was extremely photographic. Soon we reached the cliffs where the Owl had been seen by Cristian in previous tours. We were met by locals, who know of the Owl and wanted visitors who to sell fossils. At first we had no luck, but as we walked further on the bird was seen sitting by a crack in the cliff face and to add to our good fortune, one of its grown up chicks was perched a little away from its mother. We watched until the mother disappeared and her chick flew after her. We returned to the area where the Fulvous Babbler was seen but, after hearing its call, the bird flew further away. A few were lucky to hear and see the Rufous Bush Robin and later a Barbary Falcon.

After lunch, we returned to the Tagdilt to find some birds that one of the group had missed. This was good for the rest of us , despite a strong wind, we were able to have added views of Desert and Red-rumped Wheatears and Temmink’s Lark.

Driving on to Ouarzazate we had 30+ European Bee-eaters, White Stork and a Lanner Falcon.

30th March – Ouarzazate – Transfer to Marrakech - Trumpeter finches, Lanner, Booted and Short-toed Eagles

Our hotel in Ouarzazate had a pleasant garden and before breakfast some of us spotted Cattle Egret, a Western Olivaceus Warbler and a Cuckoo.
A walk in an agricultural area, where women were working in the fields, brought us a variety of birds – Zitting Cisticola, Woodchat Shrike, Melodious, Willow, Sedge and Western Olivaceus Warblers, Moroccan Wagtail, European Bee-eater and Serin plus Little Ringed Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Ruddy Shelduck and Little Egret by the water.
Our next stop was near Ben Haddou where men were holding snakes. We held and photographed a Montpellier Snake – One of the largest snakes in Europe - and a Ladder Snake. Bee-eaters and our first Collared Pratincole were seen flying over.
After Tissergate, we came to some rocks be the road and a Short-toed Eagle was watched as well as a Kestrel on the cliff face, Willow Warbler in the trees and more Trumpeter Finches. Further on a Cuckoo was seen singing on a wire and after on a bush.
Our last stop of the day was some hunting grounds. We scanned the cliffs and blue skies for raptors and were rewarded with excellent views of a dark phase Booted Eagle with very obvious “landing lights” and then Sparrowhawk, Lanner Falcon and a Provable Barbary Falcon. Despite being a long way away we were quite certain that it had to be a Barbary!
After a long day we were pleased to read Marrakech and to see the luxury hotel.

31st March – High Atlas – The African Alps – Crimson’s Winged Finch, Levaillant’s Woodpecker

This was the day many had been waiting for a journey into the High Atlas Mountains in search of Alpine birds. We drove through the outskirts of Marrakech and by poppy fields and fertile valleys and then climbed towards the snowline. We had our first spots of rain and some mist but it soon cleared.
The road was very winding but as we were passing through a wooded area Richard shouted “Woodpecker” and we stopped hoping to see this wanted bird. A very smart Moroccan Blue Tit, North African Chaffinch, and a Nightingale were seen but no Woodpecker. Further on we had more success and were able to watch the bird in the trees and on a telegraph pole. Here, despite being mobbed by Blackbirds, it held its position and allowed food views.
Gradually, we climbed higher through spectacular scenery and saw our first Alpine and Red-billed Chough and had some Rock Sparrows. We now reached a ski-resort and could see the slope leading up to the snow. We needed to “climb” here to see Crimson’s Winged Finches. Most bravely faced the climb but Jane and Yvonne opted for donkeys – for all of twenty yards as the Crimson’s decided to show by the area where we were.
The birds were spotted much lower than usual and giving good views that we watched these attractive birds for some time. Driving on we added Rock Bunting, Shore Lark and another Rock Sparrow to our list and the Seebohm’s Weather. We left the coach and sat on rocks viewing the sea of clouds trapped by the mountains with snowy peaks above – a beautiful sight in the bright sunshine. Here we saw Blue Rock Thrush and Moussier’s Redstart.
Lunch was a delicious Tagine dish and as we enjoyed the food, a large flock of Alpine and Red-billed Choughs flew over – quite a spectacle. What a day!! And we had the journey down and an evening visit to Marrakech to enjoy.
Our city tour was taken by local guide as Cristian was unwell and we drove through a city gateway, parked and walked into The Djeman el Fna. This unique place was full of people walking, talking, selling and entertaining. There were storytellers, acrobats, snake charmers, and people selling everything imaginable. One stand had sets of false teeth!!!
With difficulty, we found the washing fountain by a mosque and witnessed Little Swifts flying in and out of their nests. Then it was a quick walk through the many narrow streets of the Souk looking at the people selling vegetables, spices, clothes, and handbags, etc. Our last stop was to a shop where we were hold about the various spices and lotions sold in Marrakech. Some of us had a relaxing neck massage and bought spices to take home.
As we left Marrakech the sun had gone down and the lights lit up the crowded square and the Mosque – Quite a spectacle.

1st April – Departure home

After breakfast some of us walked around the local park and had coffee before our lunch and departure for the airport. This had been a marvellous holiday and had lived up to our highest expectation.

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