We travelled to Morocco with Birdfinders for
a winter break which promised "a land of great contrasts, from wide sandy
Atlantic beaches to snow capped mountains over 13,000 feet high to sand
& stone deserts". It certainly delivered all these with a greater emphasis
than expected on the snow and freezing temperatures.
None of this was immediately apparent as we arrived at Casablanca late on the first day after a delayed evening departure from London. On arrival at the hotel, the offer of an unexpected meal was declined in favour of a good night's sleep in preparation for an early start the next day.
On the morning of day 2 we headed northeast from Casablanca before turning inland to Sidi Bettache. We were unable to find double-spurred francolins which only occur here in Morocco but we were rewarded with first sightings of black-shouldered kites, hen harrier, barbary pertridges, as well as North African races of blue tits, magpies and chaffinches. Passing quickly through Rabat, we came to Lac de Sidi Bourhaba which was teeming with a superb mixture of birds. These included 3000 Shovelers, marbled ducks, crested coots, ferruginous ducks, andouin's gulls, spoonbills, greater flamingo, marsh harriers, etc. We waited until nightfall hoping to see the rare marsh owl which failed to appear, but the sight of thousands of cattle egrets coming in to roost on a lovely evening were a consolation.
On day 3 we headed south to Marrakech where we stopped briefly to experience the unique atmoshere, including the first house buntings of the trip, before heading up into the High Atlas Mountains. At lunch just above the snow line, we were treated to superb views of Levaillant's Woodpecker as well as Choughs, Cirl Buntings and Rock Buntings.
As we approached Oukaimeden, the snow became much thicker but we had good views of a group of shore larks and the increasingly numerous alpine choughs. Walking through the village in mid-late afternoon, we saw black redstarts, alpine accentors, rock sparrows and hundreds more choughs but the fog and snow descended forcing us to retreat to the hotel.
The next morning it was bitterly cold as we set out to continue our walk around the village mainly in search of crimson-winged finches which are resident. The heavy overnight snowfall had had a major impact on the birds present with no sign of the finches but they had been replaced by large numbers of alpine accentors with the odd rock bunting and black redstart.
After breakfast, we left Oukaimeden in glorious sunshine and enjoyed spectacular views of the terraced mountain sides as we travelled back down towards Marrakech. Crag martins were common over the river valley, with grey wagtails exploring the rocks together with a solitary green sandpiper. During lunch beyond Marrakech, we saw black-shouldered kite and a falcon which proved difficult to identify but was eventually listed as a peregrine.
After a long drive, we arrived at the Sous Estuary near Agadir where there were thousands of waders and gulls including 13 mediterranean as well as 800 greater flamingoes, and a lovely sunset to admire.
On day 5 day we ventured northwest up the coast in search of the rare bald ibis. A flock of gulls on a beach included 30 audouin's and a few yellow legged. We also came across barbary partridges, a long-legged buzzard, sandwich tern, many thekla larks and our first sightings of moussier's redstart. Despite searching all day long, bald ibis eluded us until 17.50 when a single bird flew along the coast right over our heads.
The following day, we went south to spend most of the day at Oued Massa reserve. On the way we had sightings of the first of many spotless starlings and moussier's redstarts as well as a distant stone curlew. Walking towards the reserve entrance, we came across black-necked grebes, blue rock thrushes and pallid swifts, crested larks, swallows, chiffchaffs, crag and house martins, little swift, barbary partridges, and even a redwing.
Inside the reserve, there was a black-headed bush shrike, serins, black-winged stilts, ruffs, green sandpipers, spotted redshank and yellow wagtail, marbled ducks and over a thousand coots. We then walked around Massa village accompanied by a group of noisy youths. Despite their presence, we still saw zitting fan-tailed warblers, spanish sparrows, brown-throated sand martins, cetti's and reed warblers. Returning to the bus, great spotted cuckoo was a surprise whilst squacco heron, marsh harrier and black-shouldered kite were also sighted. After lunch, laughing doves and a group of 36 glossy ibis were seen before returning to Agadir for another visit to the Sous Estuary where new find included kentish and golden plovers, avocets, gull-billed tern, osprey and barbary falcon.
We left Agadir the next morning heading east along the Sous Valley. It was very cold, and although there were goood views of trumpeter finches, desert larks and other birds seen previously, the expected raptors were few and far between. After a long day, we arrived at Boumaine du Dades where our rooms consisted of ensuite caves which were surprisingly cosy if lucky enough to find an electric fire included, which not all did. We were lucky, and perhaps this contributed to our pleasant memories about this place.
Day 8 began in freezing temperatures heading towards the rubbish strewn area known as the Tagdilt Track. How such a remote desert area has become littered with millions of black plastic sacks is a mystery, but very sad indeed. However, this sparse habitat obviously proves attractive to trumpeter finches, desert larks, thekla larks, thick-billed larks, temminck's horned larks, lesser short toed larks, red-rumped wheatears as well as the many fat sand rats which abound. We also came across several camels which seemed to be fairly aloof to our presence in the freezing cold. During our journey further east, we passed through a village where 3 fulvous babblers were discovered as well as a dartford warbler. We then continued to Erfoud where we checked in to a beautiful hotel with lovely rooms and courtyards, the only downside being the freezing cold dining room and the almost total lack of any money in the hotel tills making it very difficult to buy drinks, etc.
The following morning, we set out for the sahara desert in a land rover and were soon treated to views of wonderful sand dunes even if it was still bitterly cold. At the Cafe Yasmina we had good views of desert sparrow, bar-tailed desert lark and white-crowned black wheatear, hoopoe larks, trumpeter finches and desert warbler. After refreshments, a walk in and around the garden produced sardinian, dartford and tristrams warblers. Following a pleasant walk around an oasis we headed out into the desert again to find a desert and red-rumped wheatear before returning along the bumpy track to our hotel.
We now headed north, stopping at barrage de Hassan Addakhil where a sprinkling of birds included ruddy shelducks, bonelli's eagles, and desert and thekla larks. At the Zeida Plain near Midelt, we searched for the elusive dupont's lark which was found with only a little difficulty. Another freezing night was spent in a hotel with tepid central heating.
On day 11, we again visited the Zeida Plain but this time in sub-zero temperatures. A pair of dupont's larks were again located, but the area was devoid of other life so we returned towards Casablanca over the snow clad mountain ranges. Many birds were seen on the journey at several stops, including a pair of white storks huddled on a nest beside the road which were an impressive sight. Later, a flock of Calandra Larks entertained us before our last evening in Casablanca, to be followed by our final day which consisted mainly of the flight home via Tangiers.
NB. I would like to thank Mr Peter Lansdown for his meticulous leadership of our group, his impressive knowledge and identification skills of the birds seen, and for providing such a detailed record of the trip which helped enormously in compiling this report.
Itinerary15 Jan London - Casablanca
16 Jan Casablanca - Sidi Bettache - Lac de Sidi Bouchaba
17 Jan Casablanca - Marrakech -Oukaimeden
18 Jan Oukaimeden - Marrakech - Agadir (Sous Estuary)
19 Jan Agadir - Tamri - Agadir
20 Jan Agadir - Oued Massa - Massa Village - Sous Estuary
21 Jan Agadir - Boulmane du Dades via Sous Valley
22 Jan Boulmane du Dades -Tagdilt Track - Erfoud
23 Jan Erfoud - Sahara Desert - Cafe Yasmina - Lake Merzouga -Erfoud
24 Jan Erfoud - Midelt via Barrage de Hassan, Legionnaires Tunnel, Zeide Plain
25 Jan Midelt - Zeide Plain - Casablanca
26 Jan Casablanca - Tangier - London
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