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Morocco - 22nd to 27th March - coastal strip north & south of Casablanca (1 Viewer)

Paul Chapman

Well-known member
With three friends, I took a short break in Morocco between 22nd and 27th March. The essential preparation for the trip was Gosney – Finding Birds in Morocco: coast and mountains and Bergier – A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Morocco – as well as the usual trip reports kindly posted on Internet sites by previous travellers.

As a local group of birders, this was our sixth trip. The first five were Extremadura (March 2006), Latvia (May 2009), southern France (February 2010) and Bulgaria (May 2010).

Last year, we had also visited Morocco – flying into Agadir and out of Marrekech between 16th and 21st February visiting Oued Massa, Ouarzazate, Tagdilt Track, Rissani, Merzouga, Ar-Rachidia and Oukimeden. The trip had been successful and despite missing Pharoah Eagle Owl and Egyptian Nightjar we had seen most targets with particular highlights being Ruddy Shelduck, Marbled Teal, Bald Ibis, Lammergeier, Lanner, Crowned Sandgrouse, Red-necked Nightjar, Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker, Black-crowned Tchagra, Plain Martin, Fulvous Babbler, African Desert Warbler, Tristram’s Warbler, Moussier’s Redstart, Red-rumped Wheatear, Maghreb Wheatear, White-crowned Black Wheatear, Desert Sparrow, Crimson-winged Finch and House Bunting. A total of 137 species were recorded on that trip.

As a result, we were used to travelling and birding together and had all visited Morocco before. Precautionary ear plugs had been packed by some.

This was a far less ambitious trip than before focussing on very different areas and habitats. The contrast being reinforced by the fact that two of the commonest species on this trip – Cattle Egret and Black Kite – were not even recorded on the first trip!

22 March 2012

We flew from Heathrow to Cassablanca with Royal Air Maroc arriving at 8.30pm local time. We had booked rooms at La Felouque at Temara Beach over the Internet. We collected our hire car from Thrifty and were on the road before 10.00pm. We arrived at the hotel before midnight. The hotel was difficult to find but eventually some good fortune shone upon us. We took the right combination of turnings and drove through a building site to find the hotel in total darkness tucked away on the beach. (If you are travelling there in darkness make a proper study of Google maps to find your directions!) The rooms were comfortable and pleasant but the staff were less than friendly. I anticipate that this was contributed to by the language barrier but it did cause us to choose an alternative hotel in Temara Beach when we returned two days later.

23 March 2012

The next morning we had a slightly later start than intended (only just) and we left the hotel shortly after 6.20am having had a coffee and a pastry on the veranda overlooking the ocean. It was clear that there had been some migrants grounded with a Black Stork by a roadside pool en route to the Royal Hunting Lodge area from Sidi Yahya des Zaers. We struggled to work out what area was meant to be the car park area track and I recommend checking the distances in Bergier carefully. After some meandering, we birded the car park area, between there and the Royal Hunting Lodge and the track running south west from the road close to the fenced off cemetery area (‘the south-western track’). The left fork of that track is suitable for four wheel drive vehicles and goes downhill into a lovely wooded valley after about three quarters of a mile before crossing a stream and going back uphill to give a panoramic view in both directions of the surrounding woodland including a number of fire breaks.

The general area yielded four Black Storks (sitting up in the trees on the hillside and when the thermals eventually arrived they rose up to continue their journeys north), Black-shouldered Kite, Booted Eagle, lots of Redstarts, Nightingales, Cuckoos and Subalpine Warblers, Montagu’s Harrier, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Hoopoes, Woodchat Shrikes, Hawfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a distant calling Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker. As for the main target, when we got our ear in, we heard at least six Double-spurred Francolin from both the car park area and the left lower fork of the south-western track. But views eluded us.

We left the area around 11.00am. Before we reached Sidi Yahya des Zaers, a roadside pool produced a pair of Red-crested Pochards, Greenshank and Little Ringed Plovers and the first of the ever present Black-winged Stilts. Roadside wires produced a couple of Southern Grey Shrikes.

With hindsight we should have taken the A1 north to bypass as much of Rabat as possible cutting to the N1 further north as the route we chose was fairly laborious. In most countries, sticking to the main routes irrespective of increasing the distances is ordinarily the most sensible move! Nevertheless the N1 did provide a fantastic Cattle Egret colony of several hundred pairs literally on the pavement alongside the road north of Rabat and having not had a coffee since the early morning start at the hotel we quickly found a suitable roadside cafe. The break yielded Subalpine and Willow Warblers in the cafe garden and our first group of Spoonbills of the trip migrating north.

The turning to the southern end of Lac de Sidi Bourhaba eluded us initially twice. Gosney provides this as 7km south of the outskirts of Kenitra. However, be warned that this is around the 12km roadside marker. It was labelled for ‘camping’. We stopped as soon as we could see the southern end of the lake and White-headed Duck and Crested Coot were immediately found. Birding around the lake including the northern causeway yielded more Red-crested Pochard, Marbled Teals and Ferruginous Duck amongst commoner wildfowl, Greater Flamingo, Purple Gallinule, Green Sandpiper, Little Ringed Plover and ‘Moroccan’ Magpies (the latter at the southern end).

We had planned to head north to Merja Zerga to try for Marsh Owl that evening but weighing up the additional travel with the fact that the weather was deteriorating with dust and drizzle as the wind picked up, we decided to stake out the northern causeway which we had also been given as a Marsh Owl site. A vigil till 7.15pm failed to yield results. An Osprey was a pleasant distraction as were the antics of the Purple Swamphens and a group of Purple Herons. A few snatches of ‘reed warbler’ song failed to reveal whether it was a resident and had an unusual moult sequence!

We headed north into Kenitra and eventually settled on The Hotel Mamora.

24 March 2012

The next morning we had breakfast at 6.30am and were soon heading north to Merja Zerga. We were in the Nador Canal area by 9.30am. We spent a while scanning the saltmarsh before checking the various pools with good numbers of Glossy Ibis, Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns, Black-winged Stilts and other waterbirds. We then spent a while around the mouth of the river watching good numbers of Audouin’s Gulls and Sandwich Terns against a crystal blue sea. Stunning. All areas were generally supported by a sprinkling of migrants.

In order to maximise our chances of Marsh Owl, we contacted Hassan Dallil and arranged to meet him at 4.30pm at Cafe Milano at Moussay Bousselham. This gave us the opportunity for a break, a drink and something to eat. Checking the log books here was fascinating with various familiar names and the older book falling open at a well-thumbed entry from Phoebe Snetsinger on her Slender-billed Curlew sighting of which I had previously read in ‘Birding on Borrowed Time’. Hassan guided us back to the areas that we had already scanned during the day and we spent the late afternoon and evening scanning the saltmarsh from the road between Mesbah and the mouth of the river for another failed vigil until 7.15pm.

Having struck out on Marsh Owl for the second time, we headed back to Temara Beach. This time we chose the Panorama Hotel. An interesting choice. The bar was ‘lively’ and some of the clientele were ‘interesting’. So our first beer of the trip was short-lived.

25 March 2012

We were up and out in the dark stepping over the staff sleeping in the reception area and we were at the car park area near the Royal Hunting Lodge by 6.15am. As would be expected, the species selection was very similar to two days beforehand. We finally had a couple of sightings of Frnacolin – both approximately one and a half miles along the left fork of the south western track - with a single walking across a firebreak in close vicinity to where we had parked and another calling from a tree in the wooded valley to the south of there. We also had two sightings of Barbary Partridge, Stone-curlew, Western Orphean Warbler (which unfortunately flew away into an inaccessible area before I could get conclusive views myself – this species is proving tricky for me!) and Black-crowned Tchagra.

Again we left around 11.00am to travel south. We stopped at a cafe on the high street in Sidi Yahya for coffee and pastries and were surprised to see a Gull-billed Tern heading purposefully north above the height of the buildings. After a couple of hours journey, we stopped in El-Jadida along the seafront and this yielded a number of waders. The weather had deteriorated having turned colder with a distinct onshore breeze and sea mist. From here, we drove south to begin checking the coastal strip and saltpans between El-Jadida and El-Oualidia. Birding the strip yielded more waders and migrants and we eventually arrived in Oualidia. We stayed at the Beach View Hotel having negotiated a discount on the room rate.

26 March 2012

In the morning, the weather remained grim although it gradually improved during the course of the day. The old saltpans reached from the turning opposite the Cafe de la Cote south of Oualidia were superb as were the saltpans between Sidi Brahim and Sidi Moussa. We stopped at the hotel at Sidi Moussa for lunch. During the day, we added a number of species to the trip list with two Great Spotted Cuckoos, three Mediterranean Gulls, two Slender-billed Gulls, Collared Pratincoles, Wryneck and Bluethroat. All too soon the main trip was over as dusk fell whilst we were still checking the saltpans and coastal strip between Sidi Moussa and El-Jadida. We decided to stay in El-Jadida as we were flying out of Casablanca the next day. We eventually found the Ibis Hotel on the seafront.

27 March 2012

The final morning we headed to Cap Blanc (the cliffs north of Jorf Lasfar just south of El-Jadida) and this proved to be a good destination for a couple of hours birding with Peregrine and Lanner activity as well as at least four Lesser Kestrels. The immature males and females proving a reminder that they hardly stick out like a sore thumb! Offshore we were surprised by a Razorbill. We headed off shortly after 8.00am and a single Long-legged Buzzard over the car was the last addition to the trip list.

We arrived at the airport at around 10.00am and flew back at 12.40pm arriving at Heathrow at 4.50pm.

Species List

Migration was not really in full swing but between us, we recorded a total of 147 species and the trip took our combined list for the two Morocco trips to 200 (and our combined list for trips and patch to about 400):–

Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe – only recorded at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba (23.03.12)
Black-necked Grebe – a single on the saltpans between Oualidia and Sidi Moussa (26.03.12)
Great Cormorant
Cattle Egret - everywhere
Little Egret
Great Egret – a single at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba (23.03.12) and three flying north with Cattle Egrets at Merja Zerga at dusk (24.03.12)
Grey Heron
Purple Heron – several seen at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba (23.03.12), Merja Zerga (24.03.12) and the coastal strip (26.03.12)
Black Stork – a single by a roadside pool en route to the Royal Hunting Lodge area and four roosting in trees along the south-western track before rising on thermals and heading north (23.03.12)
White Stork – resident birds already breeding but obvious migrants moving with the largest group around one hundred birds
Glossy Ibis – largest number being a group of around fifty at Merja Zerga (24.03.12)
Spoonbill – largest group twenty migrating from the car (24.03.12)
Greater Flamingo – good numbers seen at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba (23.03.12), Merja Zerga (24.03.12) and the coastal strip (26.03.12)
Teal
Mallard
Pintail – only recorded at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba (23.03.12)
Garganey – three drakes at Merja Zerga (24.03.12)
Shoveler
Marbled Duck – only recorded at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba with at least four seen at two locations (23.03.12)
Red-crested Pochard – several by a roadside pool en route to the Royal Hunting Lodge area (23.03.12 & 25.03.12) and at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba (23.03.12)
Pochard – only recorded at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba (23.03.12)
Ferruginous Duck – single drake from the northern causeway at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba (23.03.12)
White-headed Duck – up to 10 birds at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba seen at the southern end, the northern causeway and the picnic areas near the visitor’s centre (23.03.12)
Black-shouldered Kite – seen on both visits to the Royal Hunting Lodge area (23.03.12 & 25.03.12)
Black Kite - everywhere
Marsh Harrier - everywhere
Montagu’s Harrier – a single at the Royal Hunting Lodge area (23.03.12)
Sparrowhawk – obvious birds moving north on the first day (23.03.12)
Long-legged Buzzard – a single en route to Casablanca Airport on the last day (27.03.12)
Booted Eagle – seen on both visits to the Royal Hunting Lodge area (23.03.12 & 25.03.12) and additionally a single heading north at Merja Zerga (24.03.12)
Osprey – single at the northern causeway at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba (23.03.12)
Lesser Kestrel – at least four seen at Cap Blanc (27.03.12)
Kestrel
Hobby – a single moving north over Moullay Bousselham (24.03.12)
Lanner – at least one at the cliffs at Cap Blanc (27.03.12)
Peregrine – at least one at the cliffs at Cap Blanc (27.03.12)
Barbary Partridge – two different sightings of two birds at the Royal Hunting Lodge area - one along the south western track and the other in the car park itself (25.03.12)
Double-spurred Francolin – at least six birds heard on both dates at the Royal Hunting Lodge area and two different individuals seen on the latter date (23.03.12 & 25.03.12)
Quail – first heard at Merja Zerga (24.03.12) and subsequently several heard and at least three seen along the coastal strip (25.03.12 & 26.03.12)
Water Rail – heard at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba (23.03.12) and seen at the saltpans south of Oualidia (26.03.12)
Moorhen
Purple Swamphen – at least three sightings of single birds at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba – one at the southern end and the others from the northern causeway (23.03.12)
Coot
Crested Coot – good numbers seen at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba (23.03.12) and again on the coastal strip at saltpans between Oualidia and Sidi Moussa (26.03.12)
Black-winged Stilt – everywhere
Avocet
Stone-curlew – a single on the road at the Royal Hunting Lodge area in the half-light (25.03.12) and two at Cap Blanc (27.03.12)
Little Ringed Plover
Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Grey Plover
Lapwing
Knot
Sanderling
Collared Pratincole – seven at saltpans between Sidi Moussa and El-Jadida (26.03.12)
Little Stint
Curlew Sandpiper
Dunlin
Ruff
Common Snipe
Black-tailed Godwit
Whimbrel – heard at Sidi Moussa (26.03.12)
Curlew
Spotted Redshank
Redshank
Greenshank
Green Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
Turnstone
Mediterranean Gull – three first-summers seen at the saltpans south of Oualidia (26.03.12)
Black-headed Gull
Slender-billed Gull – a first-summer and an adult at the saltpans south of Oualidia (26.03.12)
Audouin’s Gull – several hundred seen at the mouth of the river at Moullay Bousselham (24.03.12) and also seen in good numbers at saltpans between Sidi Moussa and El-Jadida (26.03.12)
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Yellow-legged Gull
Gull-billed Tern – good numbers at Merja Zerga (24.03.12) and others seen obviously migrating north over land (25.03.12 & 26.03.12)
Sandwich Tern – good numbers at the mouth of the river at Moullay Bousselham (24.03.12) and off Cap Blanc (27.03.12)
Whiskered Tern – good numbers at Merja Zerga (24.03.12)
Black Tern – single winter plumage bird at the saltpans between Sidi Moussa and El-Jadida (26.03.12)
Razorbill – single winter plumage bird off Cap Blanc (27.03.12)
Feral Pigeon
Woodpigeon
Collared Dove
Turtle Dove
Laughing Dove
Great Spotted Cuckoo – two – an adult and a first-summer at different places along the coastal strip (26.03.12)
Cuckoo
Little Owl
[Barn Owl – a single dead by the side of the road at Merja Zerga (24.03.12)]
Common Swift
Pallid Swift – several seen and heard and some time spent trying to learn the call on birds at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba whilst waiting for Marsh Owl not to show (23.03.12)
Bee-eater – heard migrating at the Royal Hunting Lodge (23.03.12) and Merja Zerga (24.03.12) but a group eventually seen on wires at the saltpans south of Oualidia (26.03.12)
Hoopoe
Wryneck – a single seen at the saltpans south of Oualidia (26.03.12)
Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker – heard at the Royal Hunting Lodge area (23.03.12)
Great Spotted Woodpecker – a single seen at the Royal Hunting Lodge area (23.03.12)
Crested Lark
Thekla Lark
Sand Martin
Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow – at least five sightings of birds moving north
House Martin
Tree Pipit
Meadow Pipit
Yellow Wagtail - several Spanish-type birds
White Wagtail
Common Bulbul – a common sound
Robin
Nightingale - everywhere
Bluethroat – single seen at the saltpans south of Oualidia (26.03.12)
Redstart
Stonechat – in contrast to the February trip when they were everywhere, only a single seen at saltpans between Oualidia and Sidi Moussa (26.03.12)
Wheatear - two sightings of 'normal' birds
Black-eared Wheatear – a single seen from the car whilst travelling south near El-Jadida (25.03.12)
Blackbird
Song Thrush
Cetti’s Warbler - everywhere
Fan-tailed Warbler - everywhere
Reed Warbler – two heard and the latter one seen – at Lac de Sidi Bourhaba (23.03.12) and at the saltpans south of Oualidia (26.03.12)
Spectacled Warbler – seen at Merja Zerga (24.03.12)
Subalpine Warbler - everywhere
Sardinian Warbler - everywhere
Whitethroat – single seen at Merja Zerga (24.03.12)
Western Orphean Warbler – single seen at the Royal Hunting Lodge area (25.03.12)
Blackcap
Western Bonelli’s Warbler – single seen at the Royal Hunting Lodge area (23.03.12)
Common Chiffchaff
Willow Warbler
African Blue Tit
Great Tit
Black-crowned Tchagra – heard and a single seen seen at the Royal Hunting Lodge area (25.03.12)
Southern Grey Shrike – seen on three occasions
Woodchat Shrike - everywhere
Moroccan Magpie – seen twice - at the southern end of Lac de Sidi Bourhaba (23.03.12) and the outskirts of Kenitra (24.03.12)
Jackdaw
Common Raven – two sightings of two birds
Spotless Starling – not always checked for any wintering Common Starlings but pretty much everywhere
House Sparrow
Spanish Sparrow – several groups moving north along the coastal strip (26.03.12)
Chaffinch – not always studied – as usual a kaleidoscope of varieties with some classic 'African' and some looking far more reminiscent of 'European'
Serin – everywhere
Greenfinch
Goldfinch
Linnet
Hawfinch – two at the Royal Hunting Lodge area (23.03.12)
House Bunting – surprisingly infrequent with sightings near Merja Zerga (24.03.12) and at El-Jadida (25.03.12 & 27.03.12)
Corn Bunting - everywhere

I’ll add some photos with additional posts. This was the first time that I had taken a telephoto lens abroad for two decades. A friend’s photos on the attached link:-

http://www.flickr.com/photos/clevedonbirds/sets/72157629710446843/

All the best

Paul Chapman
 
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Paul Chapman

Well-known member
Some habitat photos - the Royal Hunting Lodge area; Lac de Sidi Bourhaba; & Moullay Bousselham
 

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Paul Chapman

Well-known member
Additional habitat photos
 

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Paul Chapman

Well-known member
A few selected bird photos - Woodchat Shrike (23.03.12); Crested Coot (23.03.12); Glossy Ibis (24.03.12); Whiskered Tern (24.03.12) & Gull-billed Tern (24.03.12)
 

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Paul Chapman

Well-known member
Audouin's Gulls (& others) (24.03.12); Audouin's Gull (24.03.12); Nightingale (25.03.12); Common Bulbul (25.03.12); & Fan-tailed Warbler (26.03.12)
 

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Paul Chapman

Well-known member
Spotless Starling (26.03.12); Purple Heron (26.03.12); Spanish Wagtail (26.03.12); Peregrine (27.03.12); & Lanner (27.03.12)
 

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rollingthunder

Well-known member
Cheers for this, Paul, yours is the most recent i could find. I am off this Thur 19th for 2 weeks. This is my 7th trip in 3 years - wonderful weather,food,birds and people - i do'nt drive so use coaches and taxis (28 hours Agadir to Dakhla) and just bird extensively but locally. This times its RyanAir Bham - Malaga 45 quid return/Ferry to Tanger?2 nights Fez/2 nites Azrou/3 nites Azemmour then North up the coast finishing prob Assilah.

We only pay between 8-12 quid for double room (girlfriend) - your hard-earned money goes a lot further in Maroc.

My birding contacts in Maroc say the weather has been mixed but on the plus side the migrants are piling up so as migration is what i go far.......ca'nt wait!

Pity you dipped Marsh Owl - managed one for 15 mins sparring with a Marsh Harrier at MZ last year along with a nice adult LCTern.

ATB and thanks again for posting the trip details -

Laurie -:t:
 

pratincol

Well-known member
Thanks for the report.Reminds me of happy days.
We spent 3 happy holidays in Morrocco a few years ago.We used to go in April.
Firstly we went to Taroundant and stayed in the atmospheric Palais Salam.There was wonderful birdwatching around the Sous Valley and Atlas Mountains.
Then we went to Ourzazate which was amazing.The hotel backed on to the Sous Valley.I think every migrating bird stopped over before heading over the Atlas Mountains.There is also a massive resevoir nearby.
Lastly we spent a week in Essouaria which birdwise was the best of them all.
Near Diabet the river runs into the Atlantic and every day newly arrived migrants could be seen.
A wonderful country with great birdwatching and great scenery.
Went to Goa last year and Gambia this year both brilliant.Gambia is a must if you like foreign birdwatching.
all the best
Mark
 

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