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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Morocco in Spring

Saturday 23 March to Tuesday 2 April 2019
with Stephen Menzie as leader

Price: $2,600*

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Northern Bald Ibis is one of the celebrities on Morocco in Spring Photo: James Lidster

As early spring touches Morocco, the country bursts into life, offering the visiting birdwatcher some truly memorable experiences. We’ll begin in the town of Marrakech before heading into the dramatic mountains of the High Atlas. Here we’ll seek out a variety of mountain birds, and in particular the elusive Crimson-winged Finch, a species that is probably seen more easily here than anywhere else.

Perhaps most exciting of all will be our trip through the desert areas near Boumalne and Merzouga along the edge of the spectacular Sahara Desert. In this beautiful landscape are more special birds, including such classic desert species of North Africa as Cream-colored Courser, Thick-billed Lark, and Desert Sparrow. We’ll then travel down to the Atlantic coast and Agadir, where we hope to find Northern Bald Ibis, one of the world’s rarest birds, as well as a variety of waterbirds on the Souss and Massa estuaries.

Day 1: Our tour starts this morning at Menara Airport in Marrakech. Once everyone has gathered, we’ll drive toward the ski resort of Oukaimeden in the Atlas Mountains. If time allows, we’ll look for Levaillant’s Woodpecker shortly before reaching our hotel. Night near Oukaimeden.

Stephen did a great job of being a host, trip organizer and bird guide during the entire tour. I wouldn’t hesitate to go on another WINGS outing.

Charles Carter, April 2018

Day 2: We’ll awake amid the scenery of the High Atlas Mountains, and we’ll spend the whole day exploring this wonderful habitat. Crimson-winged Finch is our primary goal, and the subspecies here, alienus, is a potential split from birds in the east of its range. These beautifully colored finches favor quiet hillsides, and we’ll check any small passerine flocks for them. While doing so, we are sure to come across groups of Rock Sparrows and Atlas Horned Larks (yet another potential split), as well as North African Chaffinch and North African Blue Tit (both already regarded by many authorities as species in their own rights).

The three countries of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria make up the Maghreb, and this area has several endemic species/subspecies depending on whose taxonomy you follow. With luck this mountainous terrain will provide us with two of these—Moussier’s Redstart and Seebohm’s Wheatear—and Black Wheatear and Black Redstart are both common. The high meadows, sometimes covered in snow even in April, are home to both Alpine and Red-billed Choughs, and Water Pipit and “White-throated” Dipper may be found nearby. Overhead we may see the local race of Long-legged Buzzards and, having now recovered from years of persecution, perhaps a mighty Lammergeier. Night near Oukaimeden.

Day 3: After an early breakfast we’ll leave the mountains behind, perhaps pausing again en route for Levaillant’s Woodpecker. From the flat plains of Marrakech we’ll turn back uphill and make the long, scenic drive to Boumalne via the spectacular Tizi-n-Tichka Pass. On the way we’ll try for yet another endemic, Tristram’s Warbler. This bird has very specific habitat requirements away from its wintering grounds and is not always easy to find. As the road climbs into the hills, we may start to see some more raptors, possibly including migrant Booted Eagle and Short-toed Snake Eagles. If time allows, we’ll make a stop in Ouarzazate to explore the dam at Mansour Edhabbi. Here we’ll have a chance of seeing Fulvous Babbler, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, and Maghreb (Long-billed Crested) Lark, as well as Ruddy Shelduck, Eurasian Spoonbill, and a selection of waders. Night in Boumalne.

Day 4: We’ll head out before breakfast to explore the famous Tagdilt region. Our targets for the day will include Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Cream-colored Courser, Desert and Red-rumped Wheatears, Trumpeter Finch, and a selection of larks including Greater Hoopoe, Temminck’s Horned, both Greater and Lesser Short-toed, and with luck the highly nomadic Thick-billed. At this time of year migration is often evident over the desert as small groups of European Bee-eaters and swifts (both Pallid and Common) work their way north. We have some flexibility in the afternoon and can put some time into finding any lark species that have proved stubborn during the morning. Night in Boumalne.

Day 5: The scenery will change again today as we leave behind the high, stony desert and travel to a sandier habitat. New birds will continue to appear, with Brown-necked Raven, Bar-tailed Lark, Saharan Scrub Warbler, and White-crowned Wheatear all possible. If we’re lucky, we may be able to catch up with Maghreb Wheatear and Lanner Falcon en route. After passing the dramatic Ziz Gorge with its unexpected palm-lined valley, we’ll make our way to Erfoud, the gateway to the Sahara. On the edge of the desert, we could see a selection of migrant warblers around the the hotel, ranging from Western Subalpine and Sardinian to Western Bonelli’s and Western Olivaceous, as well as Eurasian Wryneck, Hoopoe, Bluethroat, Woodchat Shrike, and European Bee-eater. The highly localized Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (race reiseri) sometimes breeds near the hotel. Night in Erfoud.

Day 6: We’ll spend the whole day in four-wheel-drive vehicles exploring this fascinating desert habitat. We’ll be searching for a number of birds including Desert Sparrow, Bar-tailed and Greater Hoopoe Larks, Spotted Sandgrouse, Cream-colored Courser, Desert Grey Shrike, and African Desert Warbler. We also have a chance of catching up with Lanner Falcon and Pharoah Eagle-owl. Night in Erfoud.

Day 7: We’ll have another long journey today, but not without some birding along the way. Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters are often seen along the route, and we’ll stop at likely looking spots to check for migrants. After another picnic lunch we’ll continue to Ouarzazate where, depending on our arrival time, we may be able to check out the shoreline of the nearby reservoir. Night in Ouarzazate.

Day 8: There will be more time this morning for birding around the reservoir. In recent years this has been a reliable site for Ruddy Shelduck, and migrant waders could include Wood and Curlew Sandpipers, Ruff, Little Stint, and Black-winged Stilt. Passerines will also be present, and careful checking through groups of Yellow Wagtails could produce three different subspecies as well as the Moroccan White Wagtail—species or not, the latter is a stunning bird to see. Migrant harriers often drift through, with Montagu’s and Western Marsh the most likely, and we may see Greater Flamingo and Black-crowned Night and Purple Herons. Our destination this evening is coastal Agadir, and once away from the reservoir we’ll drive through more mountainous habitat, home to Bonelli’s Eagle, Black Wheatear, and Western Orphean Warbler. Night in Agadir.

Day 9: Driving alongside long Atlantic rollers, we’ll head north of Agadir in search of one of Morocco’s most iconic birds, the Northern Bald Ibis. At this time of the year, visiting the breeding cliffs of this endangered species is quite rightly not allowed, but we may find them in coastal fields, where they can sometimes be very confiding. At nearby Tamri we’ll check the estuary, where the ibis sometimes drop in to bathe, as do hundreds of gulls, often including the increasingly numerous Audouin’s and Slender-billed. If there is an onshore wind, seawatching may produce Northern Gannet, Cory’s Shearwater, and occasionally a skua. Migrants may include Western Black-eared Wheatear, Tawny Pipit, and Stone-curlew, while European Serin, Zitting Cisticola, and House Bunting are all common breeders. We’ll spend the afternoon around the Souss estuary, where anything can, and frequently does, turn up. Large wading birds such as Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Spoonbill, and White Stork can be numerous, and we’ll check the gulls and terns for species such as Mediterranean Gull and Gull-billed and Caspian Terns. Waders are often plentiful and the selection ever-changing, from both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits to Eurasian Greenshank, Grey and Kentish Plovers, and Little Stint. The nearby scrub holds plenty of Maghreb (Moroccan) Magpies as well as a special bird widespread throughout Africa south of the Sahara, the striking Black-crowned Tchagra. Night in Agadir.

Day 10: Just as famous as the Souss estuary is the Oued Massa, about an hour south of Agadir. Here the dry stone walls provide ideal perches for Little Owls, Thekla Larks, and wheatears, and the neatly farmed agricultural areas are excellent for Laughing Doves and European Turtle Doves, as well as Barbary Partridge, Desert Grey Shrike, Moussier’s Redstart, and Cirl Bunting. The once brackish lagoon inland of the dunes can hold a variety of waders and herons, and walking along its length provides a great opportunity to scan for raptors, with Osprey, Bonelli’s Eagle, and Black-winged Kite all possible. After lunch we’ll explore more agricultural areas inland where we may find Little Bittern, Squacco and Purple Herons, and Brown-throated Sand Martin, the latter at one of its few Western Palearctic locations. Night in Agadir.

Day 11: The tour concludes this morning at the airport in Agadir.

Updated: 08 June 2018

Prices

  • 2019 Tour Price : $2,600
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $300
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Notes

This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size 10 with one leader.