2014 Tour Narrative
I’m never sure which scenery I prefer more, the snow-topped mountains, the lush green terraced fields, the stony desert plateaus, the Saharan desert dunes, the ever changing rock formations, or the Atlantic rollers around Agadir. The great thing about Morocco is there is always something to see, and the ever-changing scenery is supported by an ever-changing list of birds.
The High Atlas is always a special place but when you have point blank encounters with African Crimson-winged Finches and a supporting cast of Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Atlas Chaffinch, African Blue Tit, Atlas Horned Larks, both Red-billed and Alpine Choughs, Seebohm’s Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrush, Moussier’s and Black Wheatears, White-throated Dippers, Rock Bunting, Long-legged Buzzard and Rock Sparrow you can see why we opt to spend two nights here. Not only are the birds fantastic but so is the scenery, and once the day-trippers have gone home we have the resort all to ourselves.
After stopping for breeding Tristram’s Warblers in the Atlas we headed west. Boumalne and Tagdilt are on everyone’s Moroccan itineraries but after a couple of hours early morning it was eerily quiet with just the faithful Red-rumped and Desert Wheatears and Temminck’s Larks for company. We weren’t complaining but I knew it should have been busier…..and then after breakfast it all happened - Thick-billed, Bar-tailed and Greater Hoopoe Larks, Cream-coloured Coursers, Trumpeter Finches, Crowned Sandgrouse and Long-legged Buzzard. Later on we also found Black-bellied Sandgrouse and migrants, including lots of European Bee-eaters, Eurasian Hoopoes, Woodchat Shrikes and a most welcome Pharaoh Eagle Owl.
As we headed further south and west the species list changed again with roadside Fulvous Babblers, White-crowned Wheatears and Scrub Warblers, followed by more migrants in the form of Common Nightingales, Eurasian Wryneck, Western Subalpine Warblers and Western Bonelli’s Warblers. After an atmospheric dinner at our oasis desert Kasbah we were collected by our 4x4’s ready for a day in the desert…and what a day! We started with more Fulvous Babblers, then Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, followed by nesting Barbary and Lanner Falcons, Brown-necked Ravens, Saharan Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, and also both Spotted and Crowned Sandgrouse. We took lunch at the base of the famous Erg Chebbi dunes, and then as the afternoon wind picked up we still managed to find African Desert Warbler, a male Desert Sparrow, another Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and best of all two Egyptian Nightjars in broad daylight, one of which allowed unforgettable views. This was followed by a great dinner again, pastille and chicken tajine, and chocolate mousse!
It was now time to return west, and a night in Ouarzazate allowed us to go birding at different parts of the reservoir on the edge of town. The first afternoon was tough going in the wind but we still saw Gull-billed Terns, Ruddy Shelduck, Moroccan Wagtails, 3 subspecies/species of Yellow Wagtail, Osprey, Stone-curlews and a Bluethroat. This was followed the next morning by brilliant views of Pallid and Little Swifts, Red-rumped Swallows, Collared Pratincole, Western Black-eared Wheatears as well as Montagu’s Harrier, Tawny Pipit and quite a movement of swallows and wagtails. The weather forecast was amazingly predictable each day, with morning sun giving way to afternoon wind. On the day we left Ouarzazate for Agadir the forecast was for rain, lots of it, and they were right! We could see enough out of the windows to see a large flock of Black Kites being forced down in the rain, and later even managed to have brilliant encounters with two different Black-shouldered Kites right next to the road. By the time we reached Agadir the sun was shining and we could enjoy Moroccan Magpies at the Souss, with Eurasian Spoonbills, Little Terns and more Gull-billed Terns.
Our first morning at Agadir did not, for a change, begin with ibis. Instead we headed inland and had a quite remarkable few hours birding. We saw Black-crowned Tchagras, Rufous Bush Robins, Cirl Buntings, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Desert Grey Shrike, Barbary Partridge, and an amazing battle between an adult Golden and Bonelli’s Eagles. At first the Bonelli’s looked to have seen the Golden off but then the Golden returned, and then both birds came towards us, right over our heads!! The agility of these birds was incredible, able to manoeuvre so quickly, and the size difference between the two was also dramatic. It was a real ‘goose bumps’ moment and a great end to the morning’s birding. We followed this with a sumptuous fresh fish lunch before setting out in search of Northern Bald Ibis. It didn’t take us long to find them, over 30 birds feeding in roadside fields along the Atlantic coast. Later that day we stopped at the Tamri estuary and saw lots of Audouin’s Gulls and another Moroccan Wagtail.
Our final day was spent at the Massa, a site that many are saying has seen better days. It certainly doesn’t hold the wildfowl and waders it used to, but we still saw 2 Marbled Ducks, Little Bittern, Night, Squacco and Purple Herons, Little Owl, Brown-throated Martins, Great spotted Cuckoos, Montagu’s Harriers, Black-crowned Tchagra, Western Bonelli’s and Olivaceous Warblers, a brief Common Kingfisher, and Spanish Sparrows. Some people caught sight of Egyptian Mongoose; and so for the time being Oued Massa will be staying firmly on our itinerary. There was just enough time to call again at the Souss, adding Slender-billed Gull, Pied Avocet and Greater Flamingo to our trip list as well as more Barbary Partridge, Stone-curlews, Moroccan Magpies and a selection of waders.
In addition to all of the scenery and birds we were treated to some great Moroccan food from tajines to pastille and mint tea, to locally produced (and judging by our consumption) tasty red wines! We divided our lunches between picnics and cafes and in 11 days really felt like we saw a huge cross section of Moroccan life.
Special mention should be made of our driver, who not only drove carefully in sometimes trying conditions, but also helped with the picnics. He was never late and his ability to stop safely when we saw a Black-winged Kite was exemplary! Roll on 2014.
Updated: April 2014