I visited Morocco, my 100th country, at last, having postponed my intended trip in the winter of 1993 when the Slender-billed Curlews failed to come for the first time! My excellent companions were Simon Colenutt and Paul Macklam. A rewarding and successful trip, only missing two of the 20 species I most wanted to see, namely Houbara Bustard (unlucky) and the difficult Spotted Sandgrouse. We went later than most and in the opposite direction to be sure of seeing the migrant Atlas Flycatcher near the end of the trip. In the event we saw it on the second full day and in retrospect might have been better sticking to the conventional clockwise tour of the country so we could have had an early morning for Crimson-winged Finch and see the Eleonora’s Falcons on the coast.
We flew to Casablanca with BA for £200 (booked on BA’s website) and hired a compact car (Renault Megane which was fine) on the net from Easycar for £510 for 13 days. Nothing else was pre-booked and we had no real problems finding good accommodation. Hotel of the trip was Auberge Le Soleil Bleu at Boumalne (00212 44830163), followed by the more expensive Hotel La Felouque, Temara Plage. The only disappointment was the high cost of beer - £1-50 to £2 for only 250ml! Note that relatively few people speak English, but most speak French.
The Gosney booklets were very useful and the Bergier guide of some value, supplemented by several reports from the net, especially Chris Batty’s. We are grateful for help from Dave Adkin, Chris Bradshaw, Chris Falshaw, Pablo Fernández García Dave Gosney, Nigel Redman and Mick Taylor.
April 26 Heathrow – Casablanca – Ettat, Bel Air Hotel
27 Ettat - Marrakech – Oukaimeden –Marrakech
28 Marrakech - Tizi-n-Test pass – Agadir, Hotel Atlantic
29 Oued Massa - Tamri – Agadir – Taliouine, Auberge Askaoun
30 Taliouine – Tazenakht – Barrage El Mansour, Ouarzazate – Boumalne, Auberge de Soleil Bleu
May 1 Tagdilt Track, Gorge du Dades, Boumalne, Auberge de Soleil Bleu
2 Boumalne – Gorge du Todra – Erfoud - Rissani - Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua
3 Wadis, Café Jasmine, Rissani, Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua
4 Houbara search, Merzouga, Nomad Palace
5 Merzouga - Errachida, Km 43 – Tiz-n-Tahremt pass - Zaida, Timnay Motel
6 Zaida – Azrou - Ifrane – Imousser, Hotel La Chambotte
7 Dayet Aoua – Meknes – Kenitra - Lac de Sidi Bourhaba - Temara Plage, Hotel La Felouque
8 Temara Plage - Casablanca airport - Sidi Yahya – Rabat - Temara Plage
9 Temara Plage – Casablanca airport – London.
Comments on localities
Nice area in the High Atlas, with a lot of snow still around. We were disappointed to be unable to find Crimson-winged Finch and had to make do with numerous Moussier’s and Black Redstarts, Shore Larks, Seebohm’s Wheatears and both Choughs. Should have stayed overnight there as the finches are much easier in the first hour after dawn, but wanted to see something of Marrakech.
We stopped at Km 50 from Marrakech and were surprised to find a male Atlas Flycatcher, and then at Km 52 where others have had Tristram’s Warbler. A long search here only succeeded in finding Subalpine Warbler - the habitat did not look right for Tristram’s. We did flush Barbary Partridge and saw Black-eared Wheatear and a pair of Atlas Fly’s, again in a gully on the west side. After a long winding drive, a stop just before the pass gave a Barbary Partridge perched on a rock and a pair of Hawfinch. After the pass, we found Tristram’s Warbler in the stunted hillside scrub at 1400m, on a stop to photo a village across the valley – we did see it again, just over the Tiz-n-Tahremt pass, on the Errachidia to Midelt road.
Took some time to find a hotel here – would have been better stopping at the only hotel we saw by the main road junction on the way in. Probably should have visited Oued Souss but wanted to press on at this stage.
Disappointing, with relatively few birds, the only speciality being the Tchagra – no Marbled Teal. Lost time finding the way because we missed the turning on the main road it is now signed “Sidi Rabat”, so did not spend long looking in the gardens.
The site for Northern Bald Ibis now. There were none on the lagoon but several birds were noted flying over cliff-top fields adjacent to the main road between 6 and 9 km north of Tamri village. We located a breeding colony but were prevented from staying for long by an unhelpful Moroccan (the only one we met) who was “guarding” the site and keeping everyone away – not the way to encourage cooperation and conservation in my opinion.
Here’s the official line:-
Seeing Northern Bald Ibis in Morocco:
The colonies are strictly protected, and birders trying to approach them will be sent away by the wardens and reported to the Park authorities. We have had problems with one or two irresponsible birders and even tour guides on this, and although they may feel they're doing
no harm, remember the local context and attracting attention to the area, things can very quickly get out of hand. Please help us protect these last colonies by avoiding the colonies.
Anyway, by far the best area is the estuary at Tamri, especially around the middle of the day when the birds often rest there - often by the water, but scan the surrounding steppe. The steppe on the south side of the estuary is worth walking over if you don't have any luck.
Simply keeping an eye out for birds flying along the coast is bound to pay off, especially towards dusk. Another area worth scanning is the fields north of the Cap Rhir lighthouse. There are also fields (visible from the road, so worth a scan) between Aourir and Tarhazoute 15km north of Agadir where a few ibis feed between July and November.
For more up to date information, contact Ali Aghnaj or Jorge
Fernandez at the Park headquarters in Agadir, Tel: 048 332973.
Chris Bowden, Bald Ibis Research Project - RSPB/Parc National Souss-Massa
About 5 km west of Tazenakht, at 1400m, we stopped for a lengthy trek in the desert, and were rewarded by a Thick-billed Lark, with food, 5 Crowned Sandgrouse on the deck and Black-bellied flying over, along with our first Cream-coloured Coursers and Red-rumped Wheatears. Apart from the Zaida Plain, this was the only site where we saw any sandgrouse – rather surprising. BirdQuest, who were in Morocco about the same time, had a similar experience.
Barrage El Mansour, Ouarzazate
Failed to find Gosney’s access to the reservoir just beyond town, so took the first tarred road on the right, after c.15 km – just before the golf club (279 km from Errachidia). Exploration of the scrubby habitat gave Fulvous Babblers feeding young, good views of at least one pair of Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, and many singing Western Olivaceous Warblers.
After this we made several stops to look for Mourning Wheatear but without success.
This was disappointing apart from several Temminck’s Horned Larks, Hoopoe Larks, Red-rumped Wheatears and a pair of Cream-coloured Coursers. No Thick-billed Larks were located by us or BirdQuest. We did see 4 Griffon Vultures soaring, a rare bird in Morocco at this time of year. The dry oasis area held migrants including Western Bonelli’s Warblers and at least one Chiffchaff looking like an Iberian.
We visited the nearby Gorge du Dades and Gorge du Todra, both very scenic but unrewarding for birds.
Went to the Pharaoh Eagle Owl stake-out 4.9km west of Rissani but initially at 11.30 in strong wind. I saw a youngster in the favoured cave but it soon disappeared. We returned the following day in late afternoon and saw an adult and 2 young, along with a few Rufous Bushchats.
Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua
We decided to stay here, despite the price, to be sure of Egyptian Nightjar and to use their guide to look for Houbara as BirdQuest had seen it with him a couple of days earlier. We drove there along the sandy track from Erfoud but later found it was easier to go on the track across the desert from the tarred Rissani – Mergouza road. Egyptian Nightjar showed at late dusk at 19.25-30/35 on both nights flying around the swimming pool, where it was illuminated by the lights. I think it would have been difficult/ impossible to obtain tickable views from outside the grounds. Visitors are allowed in if they pay a modest entrance fee. A couple of Fulvous Babblers were seen here along with a number of migrants.
No Desert Sparrows were found at Café Yasmina itself but a pair was seen in the stables between there and Auberge Caravanne, with more at the Auberge itself.
We spent a long time searching various wadis for African Desert Warbler, without success, as had BirdQuest. Strange, because other groups had seen them last year.
Houbara 4x4 desert search
We had a morning looking for Houbara Bustard beyond the big Erg Chebbi sand-dunes, arranged by Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua, assisted by the bustard guardian. Unfortunately, all tracks had disappeared under sand thanks to earlier strong winds., so about all we saw were Desert, Bar-tailed and Hoopoe Larks. The driver called a friend who claimed he could show one for sure elsewhere. As we were unlikely to see much else in the afternoon, we agreed to go with him, at considerable expense. We drove north beyond Erfoud with his friend before turning east into the desert. We saw egg-shell at a used nest scrape and fresh tracks but could not find the bird before we were ejected by the local bustard guardian who said nobody was allowed in this sensitive area, and bollocked our guide for taking us there, as we would have done if our French had been better.
In retrospect I would go with Ali, one of the many, at the Nomad Palace, Merzouga, firstname.lastname@example.org who convincingly said that he knew where several were, or with Ali from Auberge Caravanne who had shown a Brit group one at the nest in March. The common rate is 1500 D a trip, less if you don’t see the bird. We had met Nomad Palace Ali by chance when birding near Tazenakht and he said he could show us the birds at Merzouga. Unfortunately, he was away when we stayed at Nomad Palace, but returned briefly as we left and claimed he knew where birds drank near there, which could be the key to seeing the elusive Spotted Sandgrouse.43km west of Errachidia (on the road to Ouarzazate)
Just west of the ‘Errachidia 43km’ stone, we parked by the small bridge over the dried up wadi, and explored the low scrub to the northwest where last year another group had located Scrub Warbler, African Desert Warbler, Thick-billed Lark and Cream-coloured Courser. Some time here gave nothing of real interest except Spectacled Warbler. To the south of the road, we explored similar low dry scrub, finding more Spectacled Warblers. Then split up – S and P had exceptional views of a Thick-billed Lark and 7 Scrub Warblers, much to my chagrin, while I tracked down a Desert Warbler at last - a Houdini bird unfortunately.
The literature is confusing on where the best place to search for Dupont’s Lark on the Zaida Plain is. Most of the habitat looked over-grazed so we decided to concentrate on the area in front of the large rocky hill at Km 15 where the grass was longer and the Bergiers stated they had heard birds singing. No joy at dusk or pre-dawn, so we drove to Km 25-26 where two tracks start on the north side of the road. We took the track to the right for c.400m, then walked. A judicious amount of tape-playing produced a response and a lark was watched circling and running round us. Another sang briefly some 400m away, at the late time of 06.30. Lesser Short-toed Larks were common – I watched a pair building a nest under a tussock – and Simon found a pair of Black-bellied Sandgrouse on the deck. We had stayed at Timnay, Km 10, the place mentioned in Gosney, and found it good value.
Just before the town, Brown-necked Ravens were common, attracted by the tip there.
Just before the town, a good number of Lesser Kestrels showed extremely well while hovering over grassland immediately adjacent to the main road. A long stop 5-6 km north on the Imousser road, in woodland reminiscent of the New Forest, gave good views of Atlas Flycatchers and a tape-responsive Levaillant’s Woodpecker, plus many other woodland birds including Goshawk, Hobby, Honey-Buzzard, Roller and Firecrest, plus Blue-cheeked Bee-eater for Paul.
Nesting Crested Coots were obvious on the lake but we could not find the old poplar wood said by Gosney to be the best area for Levaillant’s Woodpecker. I eventually realized it had been chopped down and replaced by two houses. However, the remaining patch of open mixed woodland nearby was very birdy, with Atlas Flycatchers, Woodlark, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, firecrest, Cirl Bunting and confiding Hawfinches.
We stayed at the Hotel La Chambotte, Imousser, (035 663374) run by very helpful English-speaking men, and had one of the best meals of the trip, a late breakfast.
Meknes and Rabat
With time to spare, we visited both these interesting old cities, Rabat being the more attractive in my opinion.
Lac de Sidi BourhabaKenitra was easy to reach, from the motorway, but signs to Mehdiya were non-existent. I think we should have turned left at the first major intersection on the outskirts of town, but got there via the coast. We passed the estuary immediately adjacent to the small fishing port of Mehdiya-Plage, and probably should have stopped to check it, especially as afterwards SC confessed to having seen 2 falcons there which could well have been Eleanoras. We turned left to the lake, and found it to be teeming with weekend traffic and local visitors.
Crested Coot, Red-crested Pochard and a few Marbled Duck (at last) were soon spotted from the causeway, but a wait till dark was not rewarded by the expected Marsh Owls. We then drove to Temara Plage, via Kenitra, and found Hotel La Felouque, well-appointed by the sea. Our only Audouin’s Gull was seen on the beach from the patio the following morning, along with Gannet and Little Terns, and distant Cory’s Shearwaters for Simon. The easiest way to find this hotel is to exit the motorway at the first turn after (south of) the Temara turn, signed Ain Atiq, continue towards the sea, then turn right/north along the coastal road and the hotel is on the left after some 2-3 km.
Having dropped off Simon at Casablanca airport, as he had to leave a day before Paul and me, we came back to Temara and on to Sidi Yahya. On the way, a Calandra Lark was the only one seen. The trick to finding the site is to ask for Sidi Bettache, a right fork on the outskirts of Sidi Yahya. We arrived much too late for Double-spurred Francolin but did see Black-crowned Tchagra and Barbary Partridge, though not Black-winged Kite (for which it was supposed to be a good site - we had seen earlier near Temara Plage). This was a disappointing site as I had expected to be able to walk in some decent Cork Oak forest but only small patches remained, most of the area being grassland and scrub.
RECORDS OF INTEREST
Waldrapp, Geronticus eremite
A large nesting colony with Cormorants on cliffs near Tamri.
Marbled Teal, Marmaronetta angustirostris
A couple of pairs on the water at the north end of Lac de Sidi Bourhaba and several in flight including 7 or 8 at once.
Black-shouldered Kite, Elanus caeruleus
Only 3 singles: 2 in the general area of Casablanca and one east of Taliouine.
Black Kite, Milvus migrans
Well scattered in small numbers, with a flock of c.30 near Azrou, possibly migrants, mainly perched on grassland.
Eurasian Griffon, Gyps fulvus
4 soaring over hills at Tagdilt Track.
Montagu's Harrier, Circus pygargus
Surprised not to see this species, although a male harrier seen briefly at Km 5 north of Ifrane was almost certainly one.
Golden Eagle, Aquila chrysaetos
A pair below Oukaimeden on the way up and on the way down was the only record.
Bonelli's Eagle, Aquila fasciatus
One at Tizi-n-Test pass was the only sighting, surprisingly.
Lesser Kestrel, Falco naumanni
Only identified near Ifrane: a pair feeding a fledgling at an isolated farm above Azrou and a colony of over 50 on the southern outskirts of Ifrane.
Lanner Falcon, Falco biarmicus
The only bird seen was one with jesses en route to Taliouine. It is quite often seen at Tagdilt Track.
Barbary Falcon, Falco pelegrinoides
Singles between Taroudant and Agadir and at Eagle Owl site near Rissani.
Barbary Partridge, Alectoris barbara
2 flushed at Km 52 en route to Tizi-n-Test pass, 1 perched on rock just before the pass, and 1 seen at Sidi Yahya with another heard.
Cream-coloured Courser, Cursorius cursor
Surprisingly scarce, with only two pairs 5 km west of Tazenakht and one pair at Tagdilt Track.
Collared Pratincole, Glareola pratincola
A few were seen on the first day flying over grassland near Ettat.
Red Knot, Calidris canutus
Nice to see 2 in summer plumage on the rocks at Temara Plage on May 9.
Crowned Sandgrouse, Pterocles coronatus
Five on the deck 5 km west of Tazenakht.
Eurasian Turtle-Dove, Streptopelia turtur
Nice to see this species was abundant, a bit different from at home!
Pharaoh Eagle-Owl, Bubo ascalaphus
An adult and 2 juvs at The stake-out roost, a cliff c1.5km north of the N12 4.9km west of Rissani – turn west at green Ziz petrol station on northern outskirts of town. From 'Alnif 84' km post walk north for c1.5km along base of cliff until you reach a low ridge of rocks running parallel with cliff, just before the main cliff veers off northwest. View the main cliff from the highest point of the ridge of rocks and the owl’s cave is just left of an obvious arched fault in the rock strata.
Tawny Owl, Strix aluco
1 heard calling at night outside Auberge Askaoun, Taliouine.
Little Owl, Athene noctua
Singles just below Oukaimeden, at Oued Massa and ?
Egyptian Nightjar, Caprimulgus aegyptius
2 seen well in flight at Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua in the vicinity of the swimming pool.
Alpine Swift, Tachymarptis melba
Abundant at Meknes but very few elsewhere.
Common Swift, Apus apus
At least 100 were observed in small flocks passing over Tizi-n-Test pass on 28 April. Rarely detected elsewhere amongst the Pallid Swifts abundant in the towns.
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Merops persicus
At least 2 at Barrage El Mansour, 1 Boumalne – Erfoud and two 5 km north of Ifrane.
European Bee-eater, Merops apiaster
A large colony in sandstone cliffs near Marrakesh? And passage birds noted elsewhere, especially at Tizi-n-Test pass on 28 April.
European Roller, Coracias garrulus
Very few until the middle Atlas where they were not uncommon, eg at Dayet Aoua.
Levaillant's Woodpecker, Picus vaillantii
A pair 5 km north of Ifrane and 2 singles at Dayet Aoua.
Bar-tailed Lark, Ammomanes cincturus
Probably under-recorded as only a few were noted during the Houbara search and 2 at
43 km west of Errachidia.
Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Alaemon alaudipes
A few in most areas of desert, first seen 5 km west of Tazenakht,. There was a nest with 2 eggs in a tussock at a wadi near Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua.
Thick-billed Lark, Ramphocoris clotbey
One with food 5 km west of Tazenakht and another 43 km west of Errachidia. None were found at Tagdilt Track, where most birders see them.
Calandra Lark, Melanocorypha calandra
The only 1 seen was in farmland near Temara.
Lesser Short-toed Lark, Calandrella rufescens
Probably over-looked as, apart from 1 at Gorge du Todra, only noted on the Zaida Plain where it was quite common.
Dupont's Lark, Chersophilus duponti
One seen well and another heard singing briefly, well after dawn, at Km 25+, Zaida Plain.
Temminck's Lark, Eremophila bilopha
At least 8 Tagdilt Track, 1 near Gorge du Todra and two 43 km west of Errachidia.
White-throated Dipper, Cinclus cinclus minor
At least 3 below Oukaimeden. Surprisingly, the race here is chestnut-, not black-, bellied like the mainland Europe form.
Streaked Scrub-Warbler, Scotocerca inquieta
Seven in territorial dispute 43 km west of Errachidia (SC, PM).
Grasshopper Warbler, Locustella naevia
One seen well in a wadi near Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua.
Western Olivaceous Warbler, Hippolais opaca
Probably quite common, especially at Barrage El Mansour. Mistook the song at first for that of a Marsh Warbler.
Melodious Warbler, Hippolais polyglotta
Common in the southwest. 2 or 3 in wadis looked like Icterine Warbler, Hippolais icterina, with pale wing panels and steep foreheads but I failed to note leg colour and primary projection length; this is said to be a rare passage migrant, restricted to the east.
Iberian Chiffchaff, Phylloscopus ibericus
Single chiffchaffs at Tagdilt Track oasis and in a wadi near Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua had the appearance of Phylloscopus ibericus but identity is impossible without hearing the song.
Western Bonelli's Warbler, Phylloscopus bonelli
At least 2 at the Tagdilt Track oasis, singles at Sidi Yahya and below Tizi-n-Test pass, but probably under-recorded.
Western Orphean Warbler, Sylvia hortensis
1 at Dayet Aoua.
African Desert Warbler, Sylvia deserti
1 seen briefly 43 km west of Errachidia.
Subalpine Warbler, Sylvia cantillans
Found to be fairly common at Km 52 north of Tizi-n-Test pass, and a few seen in wadis in Erfoud-Merzouga region.
Spectacled Warbler, Sylvia conspicillata
A few 43 km west of Errachidia.
Tristram's Warbler, Sylvia deserticola
2 singing south of Tizi-n-Test pass and 2 just below Tiz-n-Tahremt pass.
European Pied Flycatcher, Ficedula hypoleuca
A fairly common migrant, eg at Tagdilt Track oasis and around Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua.
Atlas Flycatcher, Ficedula speculigera
Two males and a female at Km 50 and 52 below Tizi-n-Test pass on 28 April, 6 at 5 km north of Ifrane and a pair at Dayet Aoua.
Common Nightingale, Luscinia megarhynchos
The most commonly heard song-bird, widely distributed and seen on passage.
Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin, Cercotrichas galactotes
1 or 2 Tagdilt Track oasis, and 4 at owl site, Rissani.
Moussier's Redstart, Phoenicurus moussieri
Common at Oukaimeden and along the Tizi-n-Test pass road, but only a few elsewhere including on the coast at Oued Massa.
Northern Wheatear, Oenanthe oenanthe seebohmi
Common at Oukaimeden but only a few in the Middle Atlas.
Red-rumped Wheatear, Oenanthe moesta
Two 5 km west of Tazenakht, 6 Tagdilt Track including a pair feeding young in an animal hole, and 1 near Zaida.
Black-eared Wheatear, Oenanthe hispanica
Only a few were identified, eg at Km 52 belowTizi-n-Test pass and near Zaida, but probably under-recorded.
Desert Wheatear, Oenanthe deserti
Common in desert habitat.
Fulvous Babbler, Turdoides fulvus
5, at least some of which were feeding young, at Barrage El Mansour, and 2 at Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua.
Black-crowned Tchagra, Tchagra senegala
2 at Oued Massa and 1 at Sidi Yahya.
Eurasian Magpie, Pica pica mauritanica
The endemic blue-eye patch form was surprisingly scarce, only being numerous at Oued Massa.
Brown-necked Raven, Corvus ruficollis
Only seen at Zaida tip where there were at least 50.
Hawfinch, Coccothraustes coccothraustes
2 below Tizi-n-Test pass – must have been over 2000m asl (usually breeds 600-1900m, occasionally to 2100m, Birds of Morocco) - and at least 8 feeding on the ground and in flowering trees at Dayet Aoua.
Trumpeter Finch, Bucanetes githaginea
A scattering of small numbers, eg at Taliouine and Zaida.
Desert Sparrow, Passer simplex
6 around Auberge Caravanne.
Double-spurred Francolin, Francolinus bicalcaratus Commonly seen at dawn at Sidi Yahya; we knew we would be too late for it but had seen it Gambia.
Houbara Bustard, Chlamydotis undulate Very scarce now in Erfoud – Merzouga area but a few are monitored by “guardians” so can be seen on 4x4 trips with luck.
Spotted Sandgrouse, Pterocles senegallus Present in Erfoud – Merzouga area but very difficult if drinking place is not known.
Marsh Owl, Asio capensis Disappointed not to see at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba. Merdja Zerga is a better site but we did not go there as there was nothing else we wanted to see.
Mourning Wheatear, Oenanthe lugens This is a scarce species in Morocco, normally seen in the vicinity of Ouarzazate.
Crimson-winged Finch, Rhodopechys sanguinea Said to be easy at Oukaimeden in the first hour after dawn. We were too late and could not find it despite a thorough search.
1. Waldrapp Geronticus eremita
2. Marbled Teal Marmaronetta angustirostris
3. Barbary Partridge Alectoris barbara
4. Crowned Sandgrouse Pterocles coronatus
5. Pharaoh Eagle-Owl Bubo ascalaphus
6. Egyptian Nightjar Caprimulgus aegyptius
7. Levaillant's Woodpecker Picus vaillantii
8. Thick-billed Lark Ramphocoris clotbey
9. Dupont's Lark Chersophilus duponti
10. Temminck's Lark Eremophila bilopha
11. Western Olivaceous Warbler Hippolais opaca
12. African Desert Warbler Sylvia deserti
13. Tristram's Warbler Sylvia deserticola
14. Atlas Flycatcher Ficedula speculigera
15. Moussier's Redstart Phoenicurus moussieri
16. Red-rumped Wheatear Oenanthe moesta
17. Fulvous Babbler Turdoides fulvus
18. Desert Sparrow Passer simplex
19. House Bunting Emberiza sahari A recent split from the form I had seen in India etc, now known as Striolated Bunting E. striolata