29 April - 06 May 2007
F. Simpson & L. Ketchen
For many years I had harboured ambitions to travel to Morocco. So close to Europe yet somehow an exotic place in the mind. In terms of birds and wildlife, there are many new species to discover but there are also the phenotypic differences in the more familiar species to appreciate due to the geographical separation of the two continents. A week was planned to concentrate on the pre-desert and desert areas south of the High Atlas mountains, between Marrakech and Merzouga. A total of 156 species was recorded at a relaxed pace during seven days of birding. Travel was easy, particularly with limited French and we found people welcoming and helpful. I brought the tent as usual but found that small hotels were cheap, comfortable and served good food. All had hot water though I was mindful of using an obviously precious resource in such landscapes. Most of my targets were located with exception of Egyptian Nightjar. Highlights included the crazy displays of Hoopoe Larks on the Tagdilt plateau, a movement of over 100,000 Swifts in the Dadès Valley and the stunning landscapes from mountains and gorges to the deserts and dunes. I plan to return for a longer trip next year, taking in the coastal wetlands and the Argan, Mamora and Cedars forests.
Ruddy Shelduck · Marbled Duck · Long-legged Buzzard · Lanner Flacon · Barbary Falcon · Red-knobbed Coot · Cream-coloured Courser · Laughing Dove · Spotted Sandgrouse · Crowned Sandgrouse · Little Swift · Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Levaillant's Green Woodpecker · Desert Lark · Bar-tailed Lark · Thick-billed Lark · Atlas Horned Lark · Temminck's Lark Hoopoe Lark · Rufous Bush Robin · Common Bulbul · Moussier's Redstart · Seebohm's Wheatear · Desert Wheatear Western Mourning Wheatear · White-crowned Wheatear · Red-rumped Wheatear · Tristram's Warbler · African Desert Warbler · Scrub Warbler · Fulvous Babbler · Brown-necked Raven · Desert Sparrow · Trumpeter Finch · Crimson-winged Finch · House Bunting
London Luton (LTN) to Marrakech-Menara (RAK) with Ryanair cost a £120 including baggage. Easybus from Baker Street, London to Luton Airport was £4 each way.
Car hire with National/Alamo was booked through Holiday Autos costing £300 for a compact/2-door with air con and inclusive of damage excess waiver and unlimited milage. Unusually we had to pay for the full tank of petrol on arrival and return it empty at the end of the week.
Ranged from 60-250 Dirhams (£5-16) per night, most inclusive of breakfast and evening meal:
Oukaïmeden: Club Alpine Francais
Ouarzazate: Hotel Amlas
Boumalne du Dadès: Auberge du Soleil Bleu
Er-Rachidia: Hotel M'Daghra
Erg Chebbi: Auberge Kasbah Yasmina
Insight Travel Map.
Morocco 1:800 000 was sufficient for our purposes. Garmin GPS
utilised for grid references.
LITERATURE, REFERENCES & SITE GUIDES USED
P & F. 2003. A Birdwatchers' Guide to Morocco. Prion
6. Svensson, L. et al. 1999. Bird Guide.
7. Tolman, T. & Lewington, R. 1997. Butterflies of
Britain & Europe. Collins.
Day 01 29/04/07 London
Luton (LTN) > Aeroport Marrakech-Menara (RAK) > Oukaïmeden,
> OUKAÏMEDEN, HIGH ATLAS MOUNTAINS
Reaching the coniferous zone, Serins were numerous, several Coal Tits (atlas) singing, Raven (3+), first Alpine Chough higher up with an impressive flock of 100+, several pairs of Kestrels, Rock Doves on the cliff faces, Black Wheatear, Wren singing and Red-billed Choughs heard calling.
> PARC NACIONAL DE TOUBKAL, HIGH ATLAS MOUNTAINS
After dumping the rucksacks hiked up the trail into the mountains passing the offers of guides and mule treks at the base of the ski lift up to Jbel Oukaïmeden (3273m). More Black Redstarts singing. First of several pairs of Horned Larks (atlas) found feeding inconspicuously on the slopes. First look of a Seebohm's Wheatear was of a male chasing off a female Black Redstart. More Seebohm's were found including a female with food for young. In the valley of the Assif n' Aït Irene a roving flock of c150 Alpine Chough held a few Red-billed Choughs. Kestrel (1). Feral Rock Dove (c40) around the Berber village. Higher up we eventually found our target species as a flock of 12 Crimson-winged Finches flew by and settle some distance away. Lots of reptiles along the edge of the tracks though without a field guide to North Africa we succeeded only in identifying High Atlas Moroccan Day Gecko (Quedenfeldtia trachyblepharus), Moroccan Rock Lizard (Lacerta perspicillata) and Iberian Wall Lizard (Podarcis hispanica). Painted Lady butterflies were passing regularly.
At higher altitude things turned quiet and much cooler though the scenery was great. We headed back down to the village area at Oukaïmeden for our first bite to eat all day. A large chicken and vegetable tajine, bread and mint tea cost just £2.50 each. I have to say this was probably the best tajine of the trip, probably helped by a combination of mountain air and hunger.
Typical mountain birds around Oukaïmeden
African Blue Tit (ultramarinus) (2-3) on wires around the restaurants, occasionally flying down for scraps around the tables and chairs. Scanning the grassy meadow of the plateau produced 24 Red-billed Chough which were searching for food by turning over stones. Sooty Orange Tip (Zegris eupheme) found. Chaffinches flitting past. Later, we walked out and followed the stream (Assif n' Aït Irene) downstream to the lake where an unbelievable chorus of masses of North African Green Frogs (Rana saharaica) could be heard over 500 metres away. Plenty of Hoop-Petticoat Daffodils (Narcissus bulbocodium) flowering the surrounding damp grassland. Seebohm's Wheatear (2) and a Kestrel. A flock of seven Crimson-winged Finches flew past and landed on the rocky outcrop above the lake but didn't relocate them. Sun down behind the mountains at 1830h. Back at the village a Mistle Thrush was alarm calling and many Rock Sparrows were singing towards dusk.
ALPINE FRANCAIS, OUKAÏMEDEN, HIGH ATLAS MOUNTAINS [31º
12' 34.3" N 007º 49' 31.7" W]
• 2551m Heard a Dipper singing from the mountain stream (Assif n' Oukaïmeden 31º 12' 48.6" N 007º 50' 50.0" W) which we soon located along with a Grey Wagtail. Singing Blue Rock Thrush and Black Wheatear nearby. More Alpine Chough overhead. Lower down, another pair of Blue Rock Thrushes and a Wren singing from barren terrain. Even more flocks of Alpine Chough encountered further down, plus several Kestrels and more singing Wrens.
• 2406m Alpine Swift (1), Rock Bunting (m), Blue Rock Thrush giving display flight, African Blue Tit & Black Redstart.
• 2400m At the Marrakech Km-71 post 31º 13' 34.3" N 007º 49' 31.5" W a pale morph Booted Eagle was overhead, a singing Moussier's Redstart, several singing Firecrests, Woodlark song-flighting, recently fledged Kestrel, Coal Tit, Serin, Blackbird, Mistle Thrush, Cirl Bunting and Chaffinch.
• 2249m Moussier's Redstart singing from roadside boulder.
• 2233m Area around the antenna 31º 14' 14.8" N 007º 48' 59.7" W: Moussier's Redstart, Rock Bunting and Tristram's Warbler in scrubby area of broom/whin/juniper. Woodlark displaying from a large boulder. Serin overhead. Driving on down we found Great Tits to be common from c2000 metres, several Black Redstarts and many singing Firecrest, Serin and Goldfinch. Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia).
• 1700m First House Sparrows appeared in the small villages here.
• 1500m Nightingales common below this altitude. At least 23 singing mm heard between here and the edge of the foothills.
Spectacular mountain scenery in the High Atlas
To save driving all the way back to Marrakech to access the main road going to Ouarzazate, we looked for the road connecting the two (as shown on the map). We saw a sign for Ouarzazate, followed it, and soon got stuck in a village clearly in the full swing of market day. The crowds got thicker and we soon realised we were the only people driving along the road as we became engulfed in a sea of bodies and donkeys. Not knowing what to, reversing was an impossibility, we crawled through the crowds trying not to crush feet or injure elbows. One man then seemed to take an interest in us and it became apparent that he was trying to find us a parking space. After about 20 minutes the nightmare was over and we had escaped the scenes straight out of a National Geographic film.
N9: ÂÏT-OURIRH > TOUFLIAH
28' 38.1" N 007º 26' 02.8" W]
> TADDERT > TIZI-N-TICHKA > OUARZAZATE
AREA, VALLÉE DU DADÈS
BARRAGE EL MANSOUR EDDAHBI/ASSIF MENGOUB, EAST OF OUARZAZATE
[1127m · 30º 55' 36.8"
N 006º 52' 23.1" W]
Wetland and desert habitats in the Vallée du Dadès
N10: OUARZAZATE > SKOURA > EL-KELAÂ-M'GOUNA > BOUMALNE
• Oued Anatim: White-crowned Wheatear and Little Ringed Plover (pr).
• Oued Arguioene: Yellow Wagtail, Little Ringed Plover, Barn Swallow, House Sparrow & 'Crekla' Lark.
• Oued ? near Skoura: Common Bulbul, Woodchat Shrike, Trumpeter Finch (2), Pallid Swift, Common Swift, Barn Swallow, House Sparrow and Feral Rock Dove.
• Oued Elhajaj, Skoura: Palm Dove (2), White Stork nesting on nearby building, White-crowned Wheatear (4) and House Buntings singing.
On the eastern edge of Skoura, single Black Kite and Booted Eagle hunting over the plain. Another Booted Eagle a few kilometres east at 31º 04' 29.2" N 006º 30' 15.31" W 1264m. Desert Wheatear at 31º 06' 46.7" N 006º 24' 47.6" W 1315m.
• 58 Km East of Ouarzazate 31º 06' 46.7" N 006º 24' 47.6" W 1390m Stony desert just past two red/white antennae: Trumpeter Finch (6+), Desert Lark (2), Greater Short-toed Larks common and song-flighting and several impressive Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus) butterflies passing. Further along the road where it drops down into a steep ravine, a pair of Black Wheatears found.
• Imassine: House Buntings singing, White-crowned Wheatear carrying food for young - nesting in an old building. Kestrel and House Sparrow also noted.
• El-Kelaâ-M'Gouna: Flower power ruled in this town as dozens of people lined the streets selling garlands of Centifolia roses. Then I remembered reading that El-Kelaâ-M'Gouna has a Festival of Roses during May. Laughing Dove (5), House Bunting, Serin, Nightingale and Corn Bunting singing, House Sparrows common. On the eastern side of the town, gathering on wires was a festival of doves: Turtle Dove (24), Collared Dove (1) and Palm Dove (7). Some Feral Pigeons on nearby roofs weren't allowed to join the party.
• Boumalne du Dadès: Stopped at a cafe next to the Shell petrol station. Cattle Egret flew over.
'THE TAGDILT TRACK', (PISTE DE TAGDILT) TAGDILT PLATEAU, BOUMALNE DU DADÈS
[1563m · 31º
21' 58.0" N 005º 57' 33.5" W]
SOLEIL BLEU, BOUMALNE DU DADÈS
SOLEIL BLEU, BOUMALNE DU DADÈS
TAGDILT TRACK', TAGDILT PLATEAU, BOUMALNE DU DADÈS
Desert Wheatear (3)
Greater Short-toed Lark (common)
Red-rumped Wheatear (7)
Temminck's Lark (3)
Lanner Falcon (pr) soaring overhead, appeared to be catching insects
Trumpeter Finch (16)
Desert Lark (1)
Cream-coloured Courser (14)
Thick-billed Lark (1)
Bar-tailed Lark (1)
Black Kite (7)
Thekla Lark (2)
Marsh Harrier (1)
Black-bellied Sandgrouse heard calling
After about six or seven kilometres I heard a distant, singing Hoopoe Lark on the stony plateau with sparse sagebrush. The bird was about 250 metres away around 31º 18' 39.2" N 005º 56' 48.1" W but the distinctive sad sounding song appeared to travel far across the fairly featureless landscape. Walked out to the area and discovered 3-4 displaying males performing their crazy display flight. Scoping a wider area revealed around 12 birds on the ground, one of which was fairly approachable. Bath Whites numerous.
Boumalne du Dadès
N10: BOUMALNE DU DADÈS > GOULMINA > ER-RACHIDIA
Continued on the drive east towards Er-Rachidia, stopping at interesting looking wadis. Noted on the drive: Trumpeter Finch, Long-legged Buzzard, White-crowned Wheatear, Woodchat Shrike, Greater Short-toed Lark, Southern Grey Shrike and many Plain Tiger and Swallowtail butterflies. Also many Spiny-tailed Lizards (Uromastyx acanthinurus) and other Agama-type lizards perched on prominent rocks at the roadside.
• 51 km west of Er-Rachidia [1102m · 31º 43' 30.6" N 004º 54' 17.3" W] The area on the left just before the distance marker (Km-51) looked quite interesting after stopping to watch a Long-legged Buzzard here. Species found along the base of the low cliff: 40+ Trumpeter Finches, a fantastic displaying Rufous Bush Robin, Desert Wheatear (2), Temminck's Lark (fairly common), Greater Short-toed Lark (common), White-crowned Wheatear (pr at nest site), and a Western Olivaceous Warbler on low bushes. Bath Whites abundant.
• 43.5 km west of Er-Rachidia [1098m · 31º 45' 14.7" N 004º 50' 03.9" W] Fairly large, well vegetated wadi, still damp in places, surrounded by barren steppe. An excellent spot with at least four displaying Lesser Short-toed Larks though no Desert Warblers found. Hoopoe Lark (4), Thick-billed Lark (1), Spectacled Warbler (5 singing mm), Trumpeter Finch (5+), Desert Wheatear (1), migrant Whinchat (m), Melodious Warbler (3), Greater Short-toed Lark, Southern Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, and numerous Hummingbird Hawk Moths and Striped Hawk Moths. Bath Whites abundant. Clouded Yellow and Painted Lady common. Small, blue lycaenid noted here.
Cryptically-coloured inhabitants relying on camouflage in a landscape with little cover
N10: BOUMALNE DU DADÈS > GOULMINA > ER-RACHIDIA
• 29 km west of Er-Rachidia [1059m · 31º 48' 12.8" N 004º 41' 42.2" W] Bushy wadi which I walked south for about 1000 metres. Could hear a mass of chattering sparrows in tamarisks and decided to investigate as there was no human habitation for miles around. They turned out to Spanish Sparrows with at least 100 birds in the wadi. One large tamarisk held an impressive breeding colony with at least 40 nests! A group of Fulvous Babblers (9) flew from one bush to the next and as I tracked them, discovered the area held quite a few migrants including Willow Warbler (7), Melodious Warbler (5), Western Bonelli's Warbler (2), Redstart (1), Western Olivaceous Warbler (1) as well as three territorial Spectacled Warblers. More great birds followed with Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (3), Thick-billed Lark (1) and a singing Hoopoe Lark. Working harder, I eventually found two major targets. Excellent views of a Scrub Warbler calling and singing down to five metres (but the camera was back in the car!) in a sparser area of sandy desert adjacent to the wadi. Nearby an African Desert Warbler was found. Also Desert Lark (2), Palm Dove (2), Woodchat Shrike (5) and a Southern Grey Shrike. One of the best spots on the trip!
• c21 km west of Er-Rachidia [1053m · 31º 49' 58.9" N 004º 37' 26.9" W] Three Crowned Sandgrouse flew alongside the car before diverting away.
Today we headed to the only true Saharan dunes in Morocco with the spectacular Erg Chebbi rising over 200 metres above the surrounding stony deserts.
DU ZIZ (ROAD N13): ER-RACHIDIA > ERFOUD
> MERZOUGA (END OF TARMAC ROAD)
At the end of the tarmac there is fossil shop, after which it seemed like the edge of the known world. Keen to avoid guides and find our own way to Erg Chebbi, Merzouga Lake and Cafe Yasmina, we were approached by Ahmed who offered to be our guide. He did know where to find Desert Sparrow, coursers and flamingos so we hired him for the day and following morning for 150 dirhams. We were soon heading south across the hamada, finding Hoopoe Lark, Cream-coloured Courser, and Trumpeter Finch.
• Wadi at Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua: Palm Dove (2), Black-eared Wheatear (1), White-crowned Wheatear (5), Turtle Dove (20), Fulvous Babblers, Spectacled Warbler (1), Melodious Warbler (4), Trumpeter Finch (9), Woodchat Shrike (3), Collared Dove (1), Crested Lark (2), Southern Grey Shrike (2), Western Olivaceous Warbler (3) and House Sparrow (common). Driving south across the reg, following Ahmeds excellent directions, we saw the orange dunes of the erg getting closer, dozens of dust devils and mirages. Then, a massive mirage turned out to be a lake for real - the Dayèt Sjri near Merzouga.
SJRI/DAYÈT MERZOUGA (aka MERZOUGA LAKE/LAC DE MERZOUGA/TAMEZGUIDAT)
• 1st stop at northern end:
Greater Flamingo (1) though over 100 'scoped in the distance
Ruddy Shelduck (19)
Black Tern (80+)
Back-winged Stilt (abundant)
Little Stint (4)
Broad-billed Sandpiper (1)
Common Sandpiper (20)
Ringed Plover (1)
Green Sandpiper (2)
Kentish Plover (2)
Little Egret (1)
• 2nd stop on western edge:
Curlew Sandpiper (2)
Kentish Plover (several broods)
Temminck's Stint (1)
Ruddy Shelduck (31, plus a creche of 24 ducklings)
Black-winged Stilt (abundant)
Green Sandpiper (2)
Little Ringed Plover (2)
Wood Sandpiper (1)
Common Sandpiper (abundant)
Little Stint (6)
Black Tern (common)
Gull-billed Tern (1)
Whiskered Tern (10+)
Marbled Duck (4)
Brown-necked Raven (2)
• 3rd stop on southern end:
Greater Flamingo (118, inc 22 juveniles)
Gull-billed Tern (18)
Little Stint (100+)
Black Tern (35)
Red-knobbed Coot (4)
Black-necked Grebe (4)
Grey Heron (4 ads + juv)
Black-winged Stilt (100+)
Ruddy Shelduck (9 + b/6)
Curlew Sandpiper (1)
Little Egret (8)
White Stork (2)
Marsh Harrier (1)
Yellow-legged Gull (a lonesome 1st-S)
Swallowtail butterflies, possibly Desert Swallowtail (Papilio saharae).
Greater Flamingos on the Dayèt Sjri · Beetle Trail · Tents in the Dunes at Erg Chebbi
CHEBBI: MERZOUGA > AUBERGE YASMINA
• Western edge of the impressive Saharan dunes of Erg Chebbi: We checked various cafes along here for Desert Sparrow, particularly around the resting camels. Just south of Cafe Dunes d'Or we found a chirping male Desert Sparrow in a palm. Another major target found! Went back for the 'scope and camera and on returning the bird flew out and disappeared into the dunes. White-crowned Wheatears, House Sparrows and Collared Doves were found around all the cafes. Best were Bar-tailed Lark (2) and Woodchat Shrike (4).
YASMINA LAKE' AUBERGE YASMINA, ERG CHEBBI
Ruddy Shelduck (20+)
Marbled Duck (2)
Black Tern (10+)
Little Grebe (2 prs)
Turtle Dove (20+)
White-crowned Wheatear (3),
Western Olivaceous Warbler (1)
Common Sandpiper (common)
Collared Dove (4)
Bar-tailed Lark (4)
After dinner, around 2000h, I headed out under a full moon with the torch to search for Egyptian Nightjar. Explored the lake margins, tamarisks and the stony plateau of the hamada. The wind soon picked up and before long was blowing strongly - not ideal gypojar finding conditions. Difficult to hear anything and much sand was soon blowing. No nightjars found but I did see a Desert Fox (Fennec) in the torch light.
'CAFE YASMINA LAKE' AUBERGE YASMINA, ERG CHEBBI
0640h Still very windy this morning. The lake was like an inland sea. Some sandgrouse appeared to be moving overhead. Soon found a group of 47 Spotted Sandgrouse drinking on the shoreline of the lake. Excellent! More birds were passing in the distance. In a cultivated patch of sunflowers amongst the tamarisks between the auberge and the lake there appeared to be a small fall of migrants with Pied Flycatcher, Wood Warbler and several Spotted Flycatchers.
Marbled Duck (3)
Kentish Plover (5)
Ruddy Shelduck (7)
Palm Dove (1)
Turtle Dove (30+)
Common Sandpiper (2)
Western Olivaceous Warbler (1)
White-crowned Wheatear (1)
Little Grebe (pr)
Collared Dove (15+)
Green Sandpiper (1)
YASMINA > START OF TARMAC TO ERFOUD
OF TARMAC > ERFOUD
> ER-RACHIDIA (ROAD N13)
> TINERHIR (ROAD N10)
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (4)
European Bee-eater (1)
Trumpeter Finch (16 in wadi plus flock of c100 at start of track)
Spanish Sparrow (10+)
Woodchat Shrike (4)
Rufous Bush Robin (2 singing mm)
Ruddy Shelduck (1)
Little Ringed Plover (pr)
Western Olivaceous Warbler (8)
Spotted Flycatcher (6)
White-crowned Wheatear (5)
Greater Short-toed Lark (4)
Barn Swallow (5)
Pallid Swift (3)
Melodious Warbler (3)
Blackbird (singing m)
Turtle Dove (20)
Common Sandpiper (1)
• c41 km west of Er-Rachidia [1133m · 31º 44' 53.7" N 004º 50' 55.8" W]
Screeched to an emergency stop here as I thought I glanced a Western Mourning Wheatear on a small ridge to the left. Lying on the road a few metres in front was a dead Northern Wheatear. Walked back and located a stunning male Mourning Wheatear along with a live Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Temminck's Lark (2), several Greater Short-toed Larks, a single Fulvous Babbler (where were it's friends?), Woodchat Shrike (2mm/1f inc display and song), Melodious Warbler (2) and 75 Swift sp high overhead. Further west along the road we encountered our only rain of the trip as a heavy storm appeared to be progressing in a westerly direction.
Alpine Swift (20+)
Crag Martin (40+)
Pallid Swift (50+)
Black Wheatear (1)
House Martin (4)
Cetti's Warbler (4 singing mm heard)
Nightingale (5 singing mm heard)
Common Bulbuls heard
Grey Wagtail (1)
> BOUMALNE DU DADÈS (ROAD N10)
Long-legged Buzzard (8 km east of Boumalne)
Red-rumped Wheatear (common within 8 km of Boumalne)
Desert Wheatear (common within 8 km of Boumalne)
Around one and a half hours before dusk, from within eight kilometres of Boumalne du Dadès we saw large numbers of Swifts flying west to northwest on either side of the road. It soon became apparent that several thousand, if not tens of thousands of birds were moving over a wide front through the Dadès valley. Stopping to scan, there were flocks of Swifts stretching as far as the eye could see all the way from the High Atlas foothills in the north, to the Jbel Sarhro foothills in the south. All the way to Boumalne the sky was full of Swifts. We arrived back at Auberge Soleil Bleu for another night where the masses of Swifts were obviously being pushed west ahead of the rain. I counted 200 birds per minute flying over a 200 metre stretch. Both Pallid and Common appeared to be present. Well over a 100,000 birds may have been involved in the movement. This was the most spectacular migration event I have ever witnessed. Sand Martin and Barn Swallow around the auberge.
DU DADÈS > OUARZAZATE > TIZI-N-TICHKA (ROAD N10)
• On the drive: Woodchat Shrike (11+), Southern Grey Shrike (2), Trumpeter Finch, Desert Wheatear, Greater Short-toed lark, European Bee-eater, Barn Swallow, White-crowned Wheatear, Kestrel, Red-rumped Swallow, Turtle Dove, Goldfinch, White Stork, Thekla Lark, House Sparrow, Spotted Flycatcher, House Bunting, Feral Rock Dove, Booted Eagle, Common Bulbul, and many Plain Tigers.
Stopping for a lark · Billingual road sign · Flying home
SPECIES LIST - MOROCCO - 29 Apr > 06 May 2007
All photographs © 2007 F. S. Simpson & L. Ketchen
Fraser's Birding Website · fssbirding.org.uk