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A Week in Morocco May 2024 (1 Viewer)

sbradfield

Well-known member
Trip Report Morocco May 2024
Participants: - Simon Bradfield, Simon Hitchen, Dave Rose, guided by Hamid, assisted by Mohammad

The logistics/TripAdvisor bits -you can skip this if you just want to read about the birds.
This was effectively an 8 night/7 day trip although the first day was taken up with flying (leaving UK c 1pm arriving at 4pm). This trip involved a lot of driving and we hadn’t really this. I partly blame the Mercator effect which makes countries closer to the equator look smaller compared to more Northern countries. In particular the decision to go to the coast for Bald Ibis, rather than the High Atlas probably added at least two days driving.

Flights
Direct flights with easyJet from Gatwick and Manchester to Marrakesh. All on time and hassle free. A dishonourable mention to British Airways, who we had originally all booked to fly from Heathrow to Marrakesh. BA changed the flight time of the out going flight meaning that it no longer worked for Simon getting from Manchester to Heathrow and completely cancelled the return flight, putting us all on a return fight to Gatwick instead and telling us we would have to make our own way back to Heathrow. After some tribulations we were able to cancel without penalty and rebook with easyJet.

Accommodation in Morocco
We stayed in 6 different locations.
Palais Al Bahja, Marrakesh. A pretty standard hotel near the airport. Fit for purpose.
Riad Dades Birds, Boulmane Dades. Really nice place to stay with a lot of atmosphere, great food and good birding right on the door step.
Auberge Dunes D’Or, Merzouga. This was the only place we spent more than 1 night. A characterful if somewhat basic hotel with enormous rooms. Space is not at a premium in the desert!
Les Jardins de Ouarzazte, Ouarzazate. Straight forward tourist hotel but very pleasant, good food, nice looking pool and some gardens which had some good birds.
Apartments, Sidi Wassay. Basic self-catering type accommodation (although they did provide a meal for us). Slightly odd room layouts with sink in a different room to the toilet/shower
Hotel Aferni, Agadir. Standard resort hotel. Nice enough but nothing special.

In all hotels the staff were really friendly and had free Wi-Fi throughout.

Itinerary and Guiding
We booked with Gayuin direct in Morocco. Brahim from Gayuin arranged everything and was helpful in changing things when BA cancelled our original flight.

Our guide on the ground was Hamid, who was assisted by his younger brother Mohammad who was learning the ropes. Both were great company and Hamid certainly knew his birds.

Day 1 Sunday 12-05-24
A day of travel. We got to Marrakesh on time and having eventually cleared a slow immigration queue, found a café in the terminal to wait for Simon who was arriving on a later flight from Manchester. There, inside the terminal, we had our first bird of the trip. A House Bunting was heard singing and then spotted on a perch in the wall. This was our only bird of the day but a lifer nonetheless. We encountered them most days around human habitation.

Once Simon arrived we met up with our guide, Hamid and his brother Mohammad who was being trained. It was dark by now so we headed straight to our Marrakesh hotel. There our hopes of a beer in the hotel bar were dashed, with alcohol needing to be purchased from special shops. Future days often included a quick stop to pick up beers which the hotels were happy to put in a fridge for us and let us drink with our evening meal.

Day 2 Monday 13-05-24
Birding at the urban hotel over breakfast yielded the usual suspects. The most interesting being the large number of swifts which included both Common Swift and Pallid Swift in the sort of numbers we rarely see in the UK now and a single Little Swift. Breakfast in Morocco was not a culinary strong point anywhere we stayed consisting of fairly dry pastries, hard boiled eggs and green tea.

We set out on the long drive to Boulmane Dades. First stopping a couple of times on the outskirts of Marrakesh for some interesting birds. A Great Grey Shrike was found in a patch of scrub, the only one we saw until the last day. A pull in at a petrol station got us good views of Maghreb Magpie, a fairly recent split from Eurasian Magpie, differentiated by a patch of electric blue skin behind the eye. Our final stop was for a Little Owl, a species we encountered everywhere.

Leaving Marrakesh behind we climbed through the foothills of the Atlas. We made a brief stop to photograph a roadside European Roller just before the town of Toufliht, shortly after which we stopped at a café for a break and a welcome drink and ice cream. We spent some time on the café terrace. There we encountered African Blue Tit (a bit like a European Blue Tit that had been over-processed in Photoshop), African Chaffinch (the male being a very distinctive bird, with a paler pink breast, green back and black patch around the bill) and, perhaps less excitingly, the only Great Tit of the trip.

Shortly after our break we pulled off the road again and began to explore a scrubby gorge. A singing European Serin, was added to the list, the first of many. A Tristram’s Warbler could be heard distantly singing and we headed off in search of it. After some patient searching the bird showed quite well a couple of times but not enough to get a camera on it. In complete contrast was a male Moussier’s Redstart which was anything but camera shy. This was a bird I recall first seeing a photo of as a teenager in the 80s in an early edition of “Birdwatching” magazine. It had only taken 35 off years but I finally had gotten to Morocco and added one to my life list.

Travelling on we stopped for a good lunch at a roadside restaurant in Targa. A stunning Woodchat Shrike was perched in a bush by our table and kept us entertained throughout lunch. African Chaffinches and Common Bulbuls were plentiful here and a Eurasian Hoopoe flew into the scrubby field that the restaurant overlooked.

Travelling on we stopped again near Tabourahte for the first of the many Larks we were targeting. We soon found several “Maghreb Larks”, this is currently treated as a subspecies of Crested Lark by most authorities but is a potential future split. The most obvious difference is a stonking great bill which is immediately noticeable and much bigger than those on European birds or the Crested Larks we saw later near the coast. Hopefully a future “armchair tick”.

The next stop was at another cultivated area to look at a very smart, White-crowned Wheatear which was using an outbuilding as a useful perch. Further scanning of the area revealed several Desert Larks, feeding in the weedy patches. These blended in well with the background. The yellow based bill was the most useful ID feature on these otherwise quite plain birds. A pair of Trumpeter Finches flew in to feed. Surprisingly this was the only encounter we had with this species on the trip, whereas the Wheatear and Larks were frequently encountered.

We moved on through the valley of the roses with its roadside rose sellers and roundabouts adorned by giant rose bowls until we reached Boulmane Dades and our accommodation for the night Riad Dades Birds. This was the nicest accommodation we had in Morocco. Rooms decorated in Berber style around a beautiful courtyard. It was surrounded by farmland, so we took a pre-dinner walk, adding European Turtle-Dove, Common Nightingale and Spotted Flycatcher to our trip list. Nightingales were particularly common and often showed well here. Dinner was a superb Lamb meatball tagine.
 

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Day 3 Tuesday 14-05-24

The following morning, we started with a pre-breakfast walk in search of Scrub-Robin but without success, just seeing a similar range of birds to the previous night although Laughing Dove was an addition and we had excellent views of a singing House Bunting.

After breakfast we made the short journey to the Tagdilt Track, stopping en route for some European Bee-eaters and the first of many Desert Wheatears. We turned off the main road down the track to a festering rubbish dump. Like most birders I have ended up in some fairly unpleasant places whilst birding and this place was certainly up there with them. A depressing landscape of discarded plastic, glass, clothing, and flies. However, the flies certainly attracted the birds.

Desert Wheatears were plentiful and confiding. A single male Red-rumped Wheatear showed well, although refused to turn around and show us his red behind. A few White-crowned Wheatears were also seen. The real stars of Tagdilt though were larks. First up was the elegant Temminck’s Lark, superficially like a Shore Lark but somehow even better looking. A few Desert Larks were around the dump and the first Greater Short-toed Lark of the trip showed briefly. Two Thekla’s Larks were also picking their way through the rubbish.

The undisputed star birds though were the Thick-billed Larks. These larks with their almost grotesquely large bills and over-sized heads reminded us of tiny T-Rexs as they ran around amongst the rubbish. A delight to photograph, but the challenge was minimising the somewhat unattractive background. On the way back to the main road a distant Black Kite was seen.

With all our Tagdilt targets seen we headed further down the road to an escarpment. We had been hoping to see Lanner Falcon at their nest site, but it transpired they had already fledged. This resulted in us getting close views from the vehicle of the two youngsters tearing apart some prey whilst their mother kept a watchful eye.

Wandering between two escarpments a distant Wheatear runed out to be one of our targets, a Maghreb Wheatear. Depending on which taxonomy you use it is either a recent split from, or a subspecies of Mourning Wheatear. It seems to be the trickiest of Morocco’s Wheatears to catch up with, so it was pleasing to see one even at some distance.

After some scanning of the cliffs Hamid found our main target a Pharaoh Eagle-Owl. One of this year’s young, still quite fluffy was hiding in the shade of large boulder. A short way away we located an adult in a similar shady spot and then a further youngster came into view as we changed viewing angles. This was a really attractive owl with stunning bright orange eyes.

We then spent some time trying to re-find the Maghreb Wheatear. At first only seeing Desert Larks and White-crowned Wheatears before the Maghreb suddenly flew back towards us and landed on the slope of the escarpment. Unfortunately, it was immediately chased off by the larger, White-crowned Wheatear and disappeared over the top of the escarpment. We made our way in the direction the bird had flown off and eventually relocated it and finally got some pro-longed views before it was once more chased off, this time by a female Red-rumped Wheatear. It was clearly tough being the smallest Wheatear in the area, no wonder they are so hard to find. We finished our visit to the escarpment with a colourful Agama lizard.

We drove on towards the true Sahara, the temperature climbing to 42c, arriving at our hotel, the Auberge Dune D’Or mid-afternoon. This hotel looked like a fort from Beau Geste with its crenelated walls set against the backdrop of the stunning Erg Chebi sand dune system. Rooms were spacious and formed a large courtyard around the pool. We spent some time around the pool as the afternoon heat meant bird activity would be very low. Whilst at the pool a lone Long-legged Buzzard drifted over. In the cool of the evening, we walked out into the dunes to a tented camp where we had been told Desert Sparrows were nesting but only found White-crowned Wheatear. A small pool near the hotel had migrant Spotted Flycatchers and Barn Swallows and our first Greater Hoopoe-Lark of the trip, although it did not stay for long.
 

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Day 4 Wednesday 15-05-24

After a sweltering night (so much for the desert being cold at night!) and a rushed breakfast as the hotel failed to provide it on time we headed out into the Sahara for its special birds. For this we had a new guide for the day, also called Hamid who knew the desert like the back of his hand and had a 4-wheel drive able to cope with the terrain.

First stop was at a drinking pool for Sandgrouse. Watching from the vehicle we had great views of both Crowned Sandgrouse and Spotted Sandgrouse coming to drink. It was interesting to see them dipping their breast feathers in the pool to take back to their chicks, a behaviour I’d only seen before on nature documentaries.

Driving on through the desert we stopped at a small Berber dwelling, where we were greeted by both a Berber lady and an inquisitive Greater Hoopoe-Lark. The larks here were obviously used to people and up to 5 were seen running around the little settlement often at too close to focus distance. Here there was a also a family of Desert Sparrows, consisting of the parents and 3 recent fledglings. These were coming to an old mackerel tin filled with water which had been left out for them. Again, excellent views of a really elegant bird. We took mint tea with the Berber in her tent and then headed out for our next targets.

Up to this point we had enjoyed a 100% success rate on our targets but at this point things started to not go to plan. We stopped at a house and garden in the desert for Fulvous Chatterer. From previous experience of large Babblers we thought this would be easy but there was no sign of them at all. We did see a migrant Common Redstart and a Spectacled Warbler as scant compensation.

On leaving we came across Brown-necked Ravens. These were typically wary even though we stayed in the vehicle but we eventually got one sitting still long enough in the sun to admire the very noticeable brown sheen to the neck and drooping bill.

The next target was another one we had expected to be quite easy. As it was we had to search several likely patches of suitable habitat before we finally found a solitary Bar-tailed Lark. Superficially similar to Desert Lark, the Bar-tailed Lark is the true Lark of the sand desert with the Desert Lark being more associated with rocky semi-desert. Taking so long to find one had eaten up time and the temperature was fast rising.

We drove to what looked like a small Berber farmstead. There was no-one around. Hamid got on his mobile and although we could not understand the conversation it was clearly not good news. Hamid announced we would now go and look for African Desert Warbler. We spent a couple of hours walking in two likely areas of desert looking for these birds but with no success. We then moved on again to a stonier patch to look for Scrub Warbler. On the way Hamid confirmed that the Berber we had been supposed to meet to take us to roosting Egyptian Nightjar had failed to find one. This was disappointing as this was one of our most wanted species. The morning ended with more failure as no Scrub Warblers could be found in the now fierce heat.

It was a disappointing end to the morning with 4 targets missed. Hamid suggested we stop for lunch and he would take us out again in the late afternoon so we could try again for the Chatterer and the 2 Warblers.

We headed to a little village called Asserghine and stopped at some fields on the outskirts. As we pulled up the vehicle flushed a Barbary Partridge from the roadside. Unfortunately, it barrelled off and was not seen again.

We explored some date palms and soon found a Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin. Although this was the first of the trip it was a bird we encountered frequently thereafter. These were always a treat to watch, especially on the ground showing off their rufous tails.

In the shade of another palm, we found two Fulvous Chatterers and soon after found a small group of juveniles foraging on the floor. It was great to catch up with one of the missed targets from the morning session. Heading through the village we found Little Owl and a stunning Blue-cheeked Bee-eater which posed nicely with its prey in lovely light.

In better spirits, we headed back to the Scrub Warbler spot for another go. However, despite another hour of searching they did not show. In a final attempt to salvage a tick we tried for African Desert Warbler again. A further hour or so of searching once again proved fruitless, with the only new species being a Golden Fringe-fingered Lizard and a Dung Beetle. Inevitably there was a feeling of disappointment that evening, especially regarding the Nightjar. Distraction was provided by a couple of Desert Long-eared Bats flying around inside the hotel restaurant.
 

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Day 5 Thursday 16-05-24

The day started with the not unexpected news that no Nightjar had been found that morning. There was also a dawning realisation that because we were now heading to the coast that the next 2 days would be mainly driving. We had severely underestimated journey lengths and times on this trip…

After an hour or so of driving we made a stop for yet another attempt for Scrub Warbler. The five of us fanned out and walked through a large expanse of likely habitat. 90 minutes later with temperatures soaring and just a couple of White-crowned Wheatears and Greater Hoopoe-Larks the mood was pretty despondent. Then a shout came up. Dave had seen one. We hurried over just in time to see a small bird fly across the road into more scrubby semi-desert the other side. There we finally had good views of at least 3 Scrub Warblers. These hyperactive little birds zoomed around close to the ground like little mice from one little bush to the next. They were a real challenge to even get a record shot of such was their constant motion. We were relieved and happy to have finally connected after about 3 and a half hours searching over two days.

The rest of the day consisted of a lot of driving. We made a quick stop at the tourist hotspot of the Todra Gorge. This resulted in a few new species, Grey Wagtail, a pair of Black Wheatear, wild(ish) Rock Doves and a cracking pair of Blue Rock Thrushes. We looked again for Tristram’s Warbler but could not find any.

We made one more birding stop just outside Ouarzazate at a cliff overlooking the large reservoir. This was the first large scale water we had encountered and inevitably this bumped the trip considerably adding Ruddy Shelduck, Mallard, Great Crested Grebe, Greater Flamingo, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-headed Gull and Little Ringed Plover. A Greylag Goose was probably best regarded as being of suspect origin!

Our hotel in Ouarzazate was Les Jardins de Ouarzazate and was very comfortable with excellent food. We had a Nightingale performing just outside our windows. There are worse things to fall asleep to…..

Day 6 Friday 17 05 24

I started the day with a pre-breakfast walk around the hotel gardens and was rewarded with cracking views of a Western Olivaceous Warbler. This bird was very showy singing in the open and seeing off any other bird, regardless of species that came within attack range. A real “Angry Bird”. Other species included a party of European Serins, a singing Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin and a probable female Common Redstart which was driven off by the Olivaceous Warbler before I could get a proper look.

After breakfast it was back on the road for another long day of driving. We stopped at a bridge at Tiouiyine. There we found Eurasian Reed and Sedge Warblers and heard Cetti’s Warbler. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers were getting somewhat angsty with a Kestrel, which had some prey…quite possibly an LRP chick….

Our next stop was in a saffron growing area, to try some saffron tea and purchase some saffron at less than half the price of home. Around here we also found two other non-avian Moroccan specialities, endemic Argan trees, from which Argan Oil is produced (I’m sure all birders use it!) and the famous tree-climbing goats. According to Hamid it is illegal for the goats to climb trees. No-one seemed to have informed the goats though. We stopped in Tradount for lunch and then in Agadir to replenish our beer stock, arriving in the Sidi Wassay area in the late afternoon.

In the cool of the evening, we set out birding on some farmland. Simon found a pair of very distant Cream-coloured Coursers. There was no cover between them and us and they flew as soon as they clocked our presence, resulting in somewhat unsatisfactory views obscured by heat haze.

We then caught site of our main target 3 Northern Bald Ibis, flying some way off. We set out on foot around some fields in search of them. Eventually we caught up with4 birds feeding on a large pile of chicken manure alongside some Spotless Starlings. We had fabulous views as they fed, completely unconcerned by our presence. I had seriously been questioning whether seeing these could justify the amount of travelling we had done when we could have spent that time birding elsewhere rather than driving. Now with these magnificent birds in front of me I felt the trip across country had been worth it. I had not really been prepared for their size. Appreciably bigger than Glossy Ibis, they reminded me more of the Ground Hornbills we had seen in The Gambia rather than Ibises. A fifth bird finally joined them before they were flushed by an off-leash dog – birding in Morocco has some of the same issues as birding in the UK!

Returning to the vehicle we searched again for the Coursers but to no avail but did find a Eurasian Stone-Curlew. We then went to our apartments for the night at Sidi Wassay. These were a bit basic, and the evening meal was interesting consisting of fish and nothing else…no potatoes, rice or veg! To be fair the fish was tasty and plentiful (two whole Dorada each) but really needed some accompaniment. With the Ibis in the bag, Hamid suggested a change in itinerary and that we move on to Agadir tomorrow afternoon rather than spend two nights at Sidi Wassay to which we readily agreed.
 

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Day 7 Saturday 18-05-24
We started the day by birding some scrubby ground near the hotel. A Great Grey Shrike was seen singing from a fence line and another Little Owl also showed well, a Eurasian Stone-Curlew was more distant. Larks were very much in evidence again, including Mediterranean Short-toed Larks, our ninth Lark species of the trip. Two Cream-coloured Coursers flew past as did a group of Northern Bald Ibis. A further Cream-coloured Courser then landed only a short distance in front of us, finally giving us good and prolonged views of this ultra elegant species. Finally, a pair of European Bee-eaters added some colour to our morning.

We drove down to a bridge over the Oued Massa where we had quickly stopped the previous evening. The river here was broken by sand banks, which had both Common and Little Ringed Plovers, Black-winged Stilts and a couple of Eurasian Spoonbill, one of which was in stunning breeding plumage. A walk around the cultivated areas along the river banks produced many Zitting Cisticolas, a couple of Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robins, Corn and Cirl Buntings, and a fly past flock of 5 Black-bellied Sandgrouse. Another Eurasian Stone-Curlew close to the path tolerated our presence and allowed closer views than I am used to with this species. We also found two birds which just edge into the Western Palaearctic in this area. A Black-crowned Tchagra, which was reasonably showy for this sometimes skulky species and up to 5 Plain (or Brown-throated) Martins joined the many Swifts and Swallows feeding overhead.

Back at the river bridge there were several Western Yellow Wagtails of the iberiae race including one singing. A pair of Moussier’s Redstarts were the first we had seen since day 1 and House Bunting showed particularly well.

During the hot early afternoon we moved on to Agadir and birded along the Oued Sous. This spot added a lot of new birds. The sandy islands in the river held good numbers of Yellow-legged Gulls, Sandwich Terns and Gull-billed Terns. A Black Tern was seen flying up river and later sat on one of the sand banks. Singles were also seen of both Little Tern and Caspian Tern, providing both extremes of the Tern size range. Slender-billed Gulls are always a nice bird to come across so I was pleased to find a pair of this species.

There were many waders, most notably hundreds of Sanderlings, in a variety of plumages from full winter to full summer, and many Common Ringed Plovers. Amongst these were smaller numbers of Dunlin, Common Redshank and Ruddy Turnstone, some brick red Bar-tailed Godwits and Red Knots, smart summer plumaged Grey Plovers, a small group of Eurasian Oystercatchers and a couple of Pied Avocets and Eurasian Curlews. Further up towards the river mouth we encountered a solitary Whimbrel.

Longer-legged wading birds included a flock of Greater Flamingos, several Little Egrets and Grey Herons and a Eurasian Spoonbill. Waterfowl were conspicuously absent, with only a fly past from two Marbled Ducks. A flyover Eurasian Hobby was a surprise.

Day 8 Sunday 19-05-24
Our final day began back at Oued Sous for some final birding before the journey back to Marrakesh. Birds were as the previous afternoon but the lower tide had brought in some additional species; a lone and very distant Common Greenshank, a couple of transitional plumage Curlew Sandpipers, two cracking Kentish Plovers, and singles of Black-tailed Godwit and Lesser Back-backed Gull. A pair of Maghreb Magpies gave some very close views.

We wound our way back to Marrakesh, on the way we saw a couple more Black Kites and commented again how few raptors, other than the many Common Kestrels, we had seen. Our final new bird of the trip was a Common Raven as we passed through the hills close to Marrakesh.

With some time to spare before our flight we made a quick visit to Marrakesh’s famous medina. This was a disappointment. Most of the stalls seemed to be selling knock-off tat, fake designer goods etc with very little which was authentically Moroccan. Even the tagines here seemed badly made. We were also pissed off by the sight of chained up and very unhappy looking Barbary Macaques being walked around for ignorant tourists to have photos with. I find it simply implausible that anyone thinks treating an animal in this way is at all acceptable in this day and age. After this Hamid and Mohammad dropped us at the airport and our flights home were trouble free.

Overall we has 125 species of which 23 were lifers were for me.
 

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An excellent well presented report!
Black-Crowned Tchagra, Moussier’s Redstart and Temminck’s Lark would be real “pullers” to name but a few for me taking a trip out there.
Great stuff!…I liked the comment regarding “Beau Gueste”…..take it you were referring to the ‘66 film as opposed to the ‘39 version.🤣
 
Excellent report Simon.

Mirrors to some degree my efforts last year, and like you I worked hard but also failed with Egyptian Nightjar and African Desert Warbler. I also dipped Levaillant's Woodpecker and didn't look for Scrub Warbler not having realised that the ones I'd seen previously in Israel were a separate species now.

There is some doubt that Maghreb Lark can be found anywhere except in the true sandy substrate districts, though many on E-bird tick the long-billed race of Crested Lark as Maghreb that can be found in stony desert around Ouarzazate. I wish I'd worked harder to see Maghreb Larks around Merzouga, but can't even recall whether I saw any there.

My highlights were similar to yours - Moussier's Redstart, Desert Sparrow, Fulvous Chatterer, Thick-Billed Lark, Temminck's Horned Lark, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Tristram's Warbler, Pharaoh Eagle Owl, Maghreb Wheatear, Red-rumped Wheatear, Lanner, Hoopoe Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Crowned and Spotted Sandgrouse, Marsh Owl. It's a wonderful country for birding.
 
When we were there we only had about one day in Morocco proper (at the end of the trip) as we immediately did the long overnight drive down into Western Sahara after desert mammals, but we did tick the amazing Moussier's Redstart and a flock of Northern Bald Ibis as well as seeing my first Cat A Little Owl anywhere.

Possibly of assistance to others: we got African Desert Warbler but only by a lot of walking in sandy desert with scrubby bushes and we were considerably helped in finding it by it singing. Fulvous Chatterer, Cricket Warbler and Desert Sparrow fell by looking at the greenest bushes on afternoon drives down into the desert to spotlight on the way back after dark, and we fell over Pharoah Eagle Owl while spotlighting. We found that even reports a couple of weeks old were likely to be out of date depending on the weather since then, as places that had experienced rain dried out very quickly and lost their attraction.

For more see "Long Range Desert Group" in this forum.

I really enjoyed this report, well done!

John
 
When we were there we only had about one day in Morocco proper (at the end of the trip) as we immediately did the long overnight drive down into Western Sahara after desert mammals, but we did tick the amazing Moussier's Redstart and a flock of Northern Bald Ibis as well as seeing my first Cat A Little Owl anywhere.

Possibly of assistance to others: we got African Desert Warbler but only by a lot of walking in sandy desert with scrubby bushes and we were considerably helped in finding it by it singing. Fulvous Chatterer, Cricket Warbler and Desert Sparrow fell by looking at the greenest bushes on afternoon drives down into the desert to spotlight on the way back after dark, and we fell over Pharoah Eagle Owl while spotlighting. We found that even reports a couple of weeks old were likely to be out of date depending on the weather since then, as places that had experienced rain dried out very quickly and lost their attraction.

For more see "Long Range Desert Group" in this forum.

I really enjoyed this report, well done!

John
I think had we been a week or two earlier we would have found Desert Warbler but the breeding season is somewhat ahead of the UK so they had stopped singing. We were lucky to get Tristram's.
 
A place high on my list of 'Must visits' and your excellent report has whetted my appetite for Morocco even more! Many thanks for taking the time to share it.

Chris
 
I think had we been a week or two earlier we would have found Desert Warbler but the breeding season is somewhat ahead of the UK so they had stopped singing. We were lucky to get Tristram's.
I honestly don't think it is that simple. The drought has all but destroyed the Halfa grass, which is their favourite nest sites. Even last year birds were nesting in the remaining small bushes (and not doing so well apparently).

This year ADW was very tricky and usually the last species we tracked down. Admittedly always found it .. .. eventually. I think that numbers are currently very low around Erg Chebbi.
 
Excellent report Simon.

Mirrors to some degree my efforts last year, and like you I worked hard but also failed with Egyptian Nightjar and African Desert Warbler. I also dipped Levaillant's Woodpecker and didn't look for Scrub Warbler not having realised that the ones I'd seen previously in Israel were a separate species now.

There is some doubt that Maghreb Lark can be found anywhere except in the true sandy substrate districts, though many on E-bird tick the long-billed race of Crested Lark as Maghreb that can be found in stony desert around Ouarzazate. I wish I'd worked harder to see Maghreb Larks around Merzouga, but can't even recall whether I saw any there.

My highlights were similar to yours - Moussier's Redstart, Desert Sparrow, Fulvous Chatterer, Thick-Billed Lark, Temminck's Horned Lark, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Tristram's Warbler, Pharaoh Eagle Owl, Maghreb Wheatear, Red-rumped Wheatear, Lanner, Hoopoe Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Crowned and Spotted Sandgrouse, Marsh Owl. It's a wonderful country for birding.
I think there is some confusion regarding Maghreb Lark and this is not helped by the current taxonomic status.

Clements doesn't recognise the species, having relumped nominate and randonii back into Crested a couple of years back.

IOC still recognises the species with the two subspecies.

The reason for relumping was unclear, although it appears they believed the resulting structure was wrong so reversed the previous split even acknowledging it was probably no more correct.

So what are the birds mentioned on the report on the high arid steppe near Ouarzazate. In my opinion they are most likely to be riggenbachi but could be randonii.

This is where more recent DNA analysis is needed. Per Alstroms paper from last year seems (if I read it correctly) to show that randonii is a sub species of Crested Lark. However it also suggests that Maghreb is a true species and is actually most closely related to the Sun Lark of the Sahel and not closely related to Crested at all


This makes sense if look at the history of the northern sahelian zone (that no longer exists), and as wolfbirder says says they should be found only in the Saharan edge, such as around Erg Chebbi
 

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