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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Morocco in Spring

2017 Narrative

Morocco has so many special birds that it’s difficult to know where to begin, so in chronological order. We started in the snowy-capped High Atlas with Levaillant’s Woodpeckers, African Crimson-winged Finches, Alpine and Red-billed Choughs, Seebohm’s Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Bunting, Barbary Falcon, Barbary Partridge, White-throated Dipper, African Blue Tits and African Chaffinches. All seen against a stunning backdrop of rugged peaks and isolated stone compounds. By our hotel, we had Little and Pallid Swifts and Red-rumped Swallows.

As we descended out of the Atlas we had great views of Firecrest and Short-toed Treecreeper which was only bettered by watching singing Tristram’s Warblers on a sunny hillside! We then moved on to Tagdilt, famous for its larks and wheatears - and we weren’t disappointed. A whole day around this famous desert area produced Red-rumped, Desert, White-crowned and, best of all, Maghreb Wheatear.Larks were represented by Temminck’s Horned, Greater Hoopoe, Bar-tailed, Desert, Greater Short-toed and Thekla, and we also managed to see a small group of Black-bellied Sandgrouse flying over, plus over 20 Cream-coloured Coursers, Long-legged Buzzards, a selection of migrant Yellow Wagtails including the very rare black-headed race ‘feldegg’.

Leaving Tagdilt behind we were amazed to see a pair of Lanner Falcons perched right next to the road, and several roadside stops provided us Scrub and Spectacled Warblers, Brown-necked Raven, Woodchat Shrike and Fulvous Babbler.

Once in the Sahara we had time to check the grounds of our hotel where we saw breeding White-crowned Wheatears, Fulvous Babbler, flocks of both Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters, Nightingale and Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Wryneck, and Subalpine and Olivaceous Warblers to puzzle over.  After a delicious dinner (not the first one we had had either!) we were up early for a full day in 4x4’s. Our local guide wasted no time in taking us to a small patch of water seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and we waited, and then we heard them, groups of Spotted Sandgrouse calling, and then perched, and then Crowned Sandgrouse as well. We spent some time enjoying these birds at distance, before returning to our vehicles, and sure enough the birds all came in to drink, hundreds and hundreds of sandgrouse, calling all the time, with fantastic morning light, a backdrop of sandy dunes, just a magical experience!

Unbelievably the day got even better! Hamid took us to see Desert Sparrows breeding around a berber camp, two day-roosting Egyptian Nightjars, African Desert Warbler, Trumpeter Finch, more Greater Hoopoe Larks and Brown-necked Ravens, a delicious berber tajine for lunch, followed by a brilliant Pharaoh Eagle Owl, who waddled out of a cave just long enough for us all to get a good look and then disappeared back into the cave.

From the Sahara, we worked our way back towards Ouarzazate, the reservoir producing Moroccan Wagtails, Red-throated Pipit, Temminck’s Stint, Wood and Green Sandpipers, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Maghreb Larks, Eastern Olivaceous Warblers, a flock of Black Kites and some Ruddy Shelduck.

Our next port of call was Agadir.  We followed the Souss valley towards the coast stopping to buy saffron on the way and even finding time to see a Western Orphean Warbler in the Argan forest. The key target around Agadir is Northern Bald Ibis, and we had stunning views of several next to the road. These bizarre looking birds remain highly-threatened and breed in just a few small areas on the Moroccan coast. Nearby we saw singing Rufous Bush Robins, more Moussier’s Redstarts, and later a short sea-watch produced lots of Northern Gannets, plus Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gulls.

With the ibis safely ‘under our belts’ we then had a full day around the Oued Massa. This area is so bird rich.  Our highlights included Little Bittern, Purple and Squacco Herons, Marbled Ducks, Glossy Ibis, Montagu’s Harriers, Little Owl, European Stone-curlew, another Rufous Bush Robin, European Kingfisher, Black-crowned Tchagra, Black-winged Kite, Plain Martin, Cetti’s and Western Bonelli’s Warblers, Black-eared Wheatears, European Turtle Dove and more than enough Common Linnets!

So, our last day was filled with birds, a fitting way to end what I think was my best Morocco tour ever. I think the lasting memories of brilliant birds, in great scenery, good food, delicious orange juice and friendly people will see me back in the country before long.

Thanks to everyone for making it such a memorable trip, and to our driver for driving carefully and in a birder-friendly way!

- James Lidster

Created: 09 May 2017