Tour Summary: Birding in Morocco is both scenic and exciting and the country has many first class birds, including a number of near-endemics such as the stunning Moussier’s Redstart, Tristram’s Warbler, Levaillant’s Woodpecker and more than 100 breeding pairs of Northern Bald Ibis. This tour follows the birdlife of the Sahara desert, the Atlas mountains, the Atlantic coast and the Sous/Massa wetlands as well as incorporating the spectacle of spring migration from Africa to Europe. From the snow-capped Atlas Mountains at around 2600m, to the low lying beautiful dunes of the Sahara Desert – the birds we see are always against an impressive backdrop wherever we are! In early spring birds are migrating to Europe and the beautiful Morrocan landscape explodes into bloom, helping the numerous passerines on their northward migration.
However, for many, it is the numerous mouth-watering near endemic and desert specialities that can be found in Morocco that have the biggest draw and the list is long! Whether it be watching the prehistoric looking and critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis flocks shuffling across the coast at Tamri, seeing beautiful male Moussier’s Redstarts perched on roadside bushes, waiting at dusk for a view of the mystical Egyptian Nightjar or Pharaoh Eagle Owl, searching for small groups of Cream-coloured Coursers and Thick-billed Larks on the now famous Tagdilt Track, sifting through migrants in a desert hotel garden, watching African Desert Warblers in the sand dunes or simply enjoying the desert scenery amongst camels, or watching the sun set on the mighty Massa Estuary, there is something for everyone on a Morocco birding adventure!
After meeting at Marrakech airport, if there is still daylight we can begin birding straight away! Common species within walking distance of the terminal building! House Bunting, Common Bulbul and both Pallid & Little Swift are all possible and migrants can also be found in the nearby gardens. Time permitting we will drive to the foothills of the Atlas mountains where we may species such as Bonelli´s Eagle or Levaillant’s Woodpecker. Overnight in Marrakech
This morning we will drive up into the High Atlas Mountains and visit the ski resort of Oukaimeden (2600m). As we drive along the cultivated valley floor we should find a good mix of resident and migrant species such as, Woodchat Shrike, White Stork, Common Crossbill, Hawfinch, House, Rock & Cirl Buntings and we shall keep our eyes peeled for our first stunning Moussier’s Redstart. Slightly higher up among the rocky slopes we will search for Barbary Partridge, Blue Rock Thrush and the endemic Levaillant’s Woodpecker.
When we finally reach the snow capped ski resort of Oukaimeden we will take some time to admire the stunning scenery before beginning our search of the snowline for the specialities of this area. The handsome Crimson-winged Finch will be at the top of the list along with Seebohm´s Wheatear, and Shore Lark as well as Rock Sparrow, Water Pipit, Red-billed and Alpine Chough Raptors to keep an eye out for include Golden Eagle and possibly the majestic Lammergeier. After having fully explored this wonderful area we shall slowly return back down to Marrakech where ther will be an optional visit to Marrakech city after dinner. Overnight in Marrakech
MARRAKECH to BOUMALNE DADES
We will drive through the High Atlas Mountains where the snowy peaks can be seen for miles and the habitats change surprisingly quickly. We shall make a few stops in suitable habitat and also to scan for raptors with resident and migrant birds such as Lanner, Barbary Falcon, Lesser Kestrel, Black Kite, Long-legged Buzzard, Short-toed & Booted Eagle all possible. Before long we will find ourselves winding higher and higher as we pass through the scenic and quite exhilarating Tizi `n’ Tichka pass. It is an impressive placeand we shall take a short break at the top of the pass to admire its fabulous geological rock formations before continuing on our journey to the Plains. The road continues down the other side and continually winds back and forth, but we will take a few short breaks at various points, as always searching for new species! Key birds that we shall be keeping a close eye out for will be Levaillant´s Woodpecker, Mourning Weatear and Trumpeter Finch. Once we have descended from the high pass, the habitat begins to change again and we will have time for lunch and a short walk through a small stream surrounded by olive and palm trees. Here it can be very good for migrants such as Tree Pipits, Yellow Wagtailsand Wryneck before we shall then arrive at our base in Boulmane with impressive views to the Dades river. Overnight Boulmane.
“HAMMADA” (STONY DESERT)
After a good night’s sleep, we will visit the famous and exciting Tagdilt Track early in the morning. Despite the rather depressing sight of a nearby rubbish tip at this site, this is still an excellent spot for some very special desert specialities. Careful searching of the area could reveal Cream coloured Courser, Black-bellied & Crowned sandgrouse, Thick-billed, Bar-tailed, Desert and Temminck’s Horned Larks, as well as Red-rumped and Desert Wheatears and Trumpeter Finch. We shall take time to check a nearby building where Desert, White-Crowned, Red-rumped and Maghreb Wheatear have been regularly breeding. Lanner and Long-legged Buzzard are also likely here. After lunch and depending on the temperatures we can walk through a river bed with good chances of Hoopoe, Bee-eater or Orphean Warbler and in the early evening we can try for Tristram’s Warbler and the often tricky Scrub Warbler at nearby suitable habitat. Overnight in Boulmane.
BOUMALNE DADES to MERZOUGA
After a morning visit to the Tagdilt Track for any species that we may have missed, we then head towards our secluded auberge at Merzouga, situated right on the edge of the Sahara Desert where we will stay for the next three nights. The drive east will no doubt be a start-stop journey as we check out the numerous wadis and palm-fringed oasis. This is exciting birding and the possibilities are endless as these areas can often be full of migrants re-fuelling before continuing their jorney north into Europe. We shall be specifically looking for gems such as the superb Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Subalpine Warbler and European Bee-eater amongst many others . A short walk before arriving at Merzouga will give us the chance to see the magnificent Pharaoh Eagle Owl. Overnight in Merzouga.
Days 6 & 7
THE SAHARA DESERT
Dependent on recent weather and the abundance of migrants, just a short stroll from our Auberge on the edge of the Sahara, can produce migrants such as Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike, Wryneck, Rufous Bush Robin, Bluethroat, Western Orphean Warbler and European Bee-Eater to name just a few! We will spend the next two days checking various sites around the edge of the red sand dunes of the Erg Chebbi – the largest dune system in Morocco . Our major prize should be found around the various cafes that are dotted about the landscape, and in one of these remote outposts we hope to find the elusive, pallid but beautiful, Desert Sparrow. Other species we will search for include Fulvous Babbler, Hoopoe Lark, Brown-necked Raven and the highly sought after African Desert Warbler. There are sometimes seasonal lakes, which attract numerous wildfowl and waders such as Marbled Duck the attractive Ferruginous Duck , Greater Flamingo or the bizarre sight of a Marsh Harrier out in the desert! It is also worth scanning the skies for visible migration, and as the day warms up it is possible to see good numbers of storks and raptors rising on the thermals and heading north towards their breeding grounds. We will also spend some time at dawn or dusk searching for the rather unpredictable Egyptian Nightjar, which sometimes breeds in nearby wadis. Other species in this area include Greater Short-toed and Bar-tailed Desert Larks, Desert and Black-eared Wheatears, Spectacled Warbler, Trumpeter Finch, Southern Grey Shrike and maybe even Spotted Sandgrouse. We shall focus on the desert species in particular, taking advantage of our 4X4 vehicles to find the harder species such as sandgrouse and bustards. Sadly, Houbara Bustard numbers have greatly declined in Morocco due to hunting from falconers and most birds in Morocco are now from a re-introduced breeding programme, intended in part as quarry substitutes for wild birds. However, we may be lucky to find one. Overnight in Merzouga.
MERZOUGA to OUARZARZATE
Today is mostly a travel day. We will drive through the Anti-Atlas , the second most important mountain range in Morocco; a series of rocky hills , cliffs and deep gorges of volcanic geological formations. Roadside birding will no doubt produce lots of migrants and wheatears and at the end of the day we shall do some birding around Ouarzarzate reservoir. This site should reveal a good selection of birds which may include: Ruddy Shelduck, Wryneck, Western Bonelli´s, Western Orphean, Subalpine & Western Olivaceous warblers, Desert, Northern & Black-eared Wheatear, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Rock & House Bunting among other migrants. Overnight in Ouarzarzate.
OUARZAZATE to AGADIR
Today we head for the Atlantic coast. If time allows, we may stop in the famous medieval Kasbah Ait Benhadou, an impressive example of Southern Moroccan architecture and a World Heritage site. The birding here is also pretty impressive too where local specialities include Desert Lark, Trumpeter Finch and Maghreb Wheatear. After Lunch in the scenic Tzin Izhsane we continue to the fertile Sous Valley where the habitat consists of scrub thickets and citrus groves where we could find European Roller and Black shouldered Kite as well as Black Kites migrating overhead and European Bee-eaters resting on roadside wires. Several stops will again, no doubt produce interesting migrants passerines, raptors, waders or storks. Overnight in Agadir.
Days 10 & 11
THE ATLANTIC COAST
An early start will see us ahead to the Atlantic coast. We will spend the morning in the Sous Massa National Park. We will walk all along this important spot for the critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis, one of the rarest birds in the planet. This is an extremely important bird population and we shall savour our time with these subtly beautiful Ibis. We shall also search the vegetation along the water’s edge for skulking Squacco and Purple Herons whilst the distinctive call of Black-crowned Tchagras ring out from dense cover. Other birds can include Marbled Duck, Marsh Harrier, Osprey, Black-shouldered Kite, Glossy Ibis, Purple Herons, Ruddy Shelduck, and Plain Martin.The possibilities at this bird rich area are many and may include: Savi’s, Western Olivaceous and Moustached Warblers, Zitting Cisticola, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Pallid Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Common Bulbul, Spotless Starling. We shall also try a small river where Brown-throated (Plain) Martin can sometimes be seen.
On one of the days, we shall drive to nearby Tamri where we will spend some time watching one of the world’s biggest colonies of Northern Bald Ibis. This is sure to be one of the highlights of the tour as the birds are often very approachable in a vehicle, allowing great photographic opportinities. Other species we hope to see are Audouin’s Gull, Zitting Cisticola, Barbary Partridge, Moussier’s Redstart and maybe Little or Spotted Crake.
During the late afternoon on day 11, we shall head to Marrakech which is only 3hrs away.
Overnight Agadir on day 10 and Marrakech on day 11
A relaxing morning before travelling to Marrakech airport to take our flight home.