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Morocco birding in February (3 Viewers)

ErnstM

Member
United States
Hello,

I just joined this forum because of my upcoming trip to Morocco and I’ve already found some very useful tips (Oukaimeden and Boumalne Dades - Tagdilt Track). I enjoyed reading laszlo111’s recent December post, since the Northern Bald Ibis is on my target list. I was originally going to do this as a 3-week trip in late March/early April of 2020 and then everything starting shutting down about a week before I was to leave…

I’m an avid birder and use eBird regularly, so I know the benefits of using it as a resource and plan to do that. I have quite a bit of time on this trip, but I’ll say it wasn’t initially planned as a birding trip in 2020, but more exploration and photography of the country’s landscapes, architecture, and culture, with a little birding mixed in. Now that I’m replanning, I’ve been gravitating a bit more to birds, but still want to experience the country as I originally planned. I’m hoping to get some additional tips here on potential hotspots for birds in areas I’ll be traveling in - perhaps specific species to look out for, also considering the time of year. I haven’t done a whole lot of birding in Europe and this will be my first time in Africa, so many species will be new, but I’m always interested in the harder to come-by species. I’ll arrive in Casablanca on the 30th of January and depart on the 4th of March. What initiated my trip this year to Morocco from my home in New York, is a 4-day work seminar north of El Jadida in early Feb.

Starting out, I plan to head north to Sidi Bougaba and Merja Zerga on 31.01. I’ll arrive in Chefchaouen on 04.02. and meet a friend there (not a birder) on 05.02. On 06.02. we’ll drive down to the resort where our work seminar will start the next day, north of El Jadida. I was thinking 2 days each in Sidi Bougaba and Merja Zerga and then driving to Chefchaouen and exploring the town. Are there any other spots I should check out on that route or near Chefchaoeun?

After the seminar I’ll head straight to Marrakech to spend 2 nights. From there I’ll explore south and east of Marrakech for the rest of the time, before returning to Casablanca for my flight out.

I know Oukaimeden is a ski resort and target birds include Crimson-winged Finch and Levaillant’s Woodpecker. Based on the time of year, would it be better to go there later in February, towards the end of my trip? I’m concerned about driving in snow. I have a Dacia Logan (or similar) reserved, not a 4x4 or AWD. Similar question with the Tagdilt Track. I’ve read that a car is ok to drive there (carefully). Is the condition of that road ok to drive without a 4x4 or high clearance?

Due to the time of year, I’m not sure about the best way to plan my route - or if it really matters that much (thinking more about the Middle and High Atlas). I am interested in the Almond Festival in Tafraoute, although the exact dates seem hard to pin down. I had planned about 4 days in this area - Ameln Valley/Oumesnat/Tafraoute.

Other places I plan to explore or I’m considering:
Sousa Massa National Park/Sidi R’bat/Tifnit
Sidi Infi/Legzira/Mirleft
Taroundant
Taliouine
Tilsit Gorge
Agdz/Tamnougalt/Timidarte
Merzouga/Erg Chebbi
Todra Gorge/Dades Gorge
Skoura/Ouarzazate/Ait Benhaddou
Ounilla Valley
Ouzoud

I had planned for the Atlas Mountains in early April 2020, but I’m thinking I should perhaps skip these places now that it’ll be February:
Zat Valley/Ourika Valley/Imlil
Demnate/Imi-n’Ifri

I recently came across Khnifiss National Park just north of the Western Sahara border. I can’t find much information about it, or how to access it other than that there are boats to go to see the fauna. I did read a blog where a few people hiked around and camped there, but they weren’t birding specifically. They did have some nice photos of the sand dunes and the lagoon. It seems that it’s not really developed yet, but that there are plans for it to become an eco-tourism destination. It’s quite a drive, but it seems like a great spot for birding. Does anyone know more about it? Wondering if it would be worth going there at the expense of other places I had already planned on.

If anyone has suggestions about birding spots in the areas I’m traveling through, I’d love to hear about them. Thanks for your time!

Cheers,
Ernst
 
Welcome to BirdForum Ernst. Morocco is really excellent for birding. You might find my trip report helpful:
 
Welcome to BirdForum Ernst. Morocco is really excellent for birding. You might find my trip report helpful:
Thanks Andrew!

Looks like you had an awesome trip, with a good amount of birds! This is really helpful. It'll take some time to really study all your listed species and their locations. Since you were there in April, there are probably some species that you saw that won't be around yet when I'm there. You were in many of the same areas I plan to go.

That's cool that you went to Dakhla! I was ready to book a flight there for my first week of travel when I started learning about it in early Dec. I contacted Dakhla Rovers: Birds & nature Archives • Dakhla Rovers because their tours look really good, not just for birds, but for mammals as well. It's not necessarily the safest place to go off-road with potential land mines and unexpected breakdowns with a rental car or 4x4, and a language barrier, so this seemed a better option to me. They were quick to reply, but they had no availability for me, so I scrapped the idea. Perhaps another time though! Definitely too far to drive with the time I have and things I want to do.

Funny, Hotel Yasmina was where I was planning to stay when in Merzouga. I was potentially thinking about hiring a guide there too. Thanks again!
 
Hello,

I just joined this forum because of my upcoming trip to Morocco and I’ve already found some very useful tips (Oukaimeden and Boumalne Dades - Tagdilt Track). I enjoyed reading laszlo111’s recent December post, since the Northern Bald Ibis is on my target list. I was originally going to do this as a 3-week trip in late March/early April of 2020 and then everything starting shutting down about a week before I was to leave…

I’m an avid birder and use eBird regularly, so I know the benefits of using it as a resource and plan to do that. I have quite a bit of time on this trip, but I’ll say it wasn’t initially planned as a birding trip in 2020, but more exploration and photography of the country’s landscapes, architecture, and culture, with a little birding mixed in. Now that I’m replanning, I’ve been gravitating a bit more to birds, but still want to experience the country as I originally planned. I’m hoping to get some additional tips here on potential hotspots for birds in areas I’ll be traveling in - perhaps specific species to look out for, also considering the time of year. I haven’t done a whole lot of birding in Europe and this will be my first time in Africa, so many species will be new, but I’m always interested in the harder to come-by species. I’ll arrive in Casablanca on the 30th of January and depart on the 4th of March. What initiated my trip this year to Morocco from my home in New York, is a 4-day work seminar north of El Jadida in early Feb.

Starting out, I plan to head north to Sidi Bougaba and Merja Zerga on 31.01. I’ll arrive in Chefchaouen on 04.02. and meet a friend there (not a birder) on 05.02. On 06.02. we’ll drive down to the resort where our work seminar will start the next day, north of El Jadida. I was thinking 2 days each in Sidi Bougaba and Merja Zerga and then driving to Chefchaouen and exploring the town. Are there any other spots I should check out on that route or near Chefchaoeun?

After the seminar I’ll head straight to Marrakech to spend 2 nights. From there I’ll explore south and east of Marrakech for the rest of the time, before returning to Casablanca for my flight out.

I know Oukaimeden is a ski resort and target birds include Crimson-winged Finch and Levaillant’s Woodpecker. Based on the time of year, would it be better to go there later in February, towards the end of my trip? I’m concerned about driving in snow. I have a Dacia Logan (or similar) reserved, not a 4x4 or AWD. Similar question with the Tagdilt Track. I’ve read that a car is ok to drive there (carefully). Is the condition of that road ok to drive without a 4x4 or high clearance?

Due to the time of year, I’m not sure about the best way to plan my route - or if it really matters that much (thinking more about the Middle and High Atlas). I am interested in the Almond Festival in Tafraoute, although the exact dates seem hard to pin down. I had planned about 4 days in this area - Ameln Valley/Oumesnat/Tafraoute.

Other places I plan to explore or I’m considering:
Sousa Massa National Park/Sidi R’bat/Tifnit
Sidi Infi/Legzira/Mirleft
Taroundant
Taliouine
Tilsit Gorge
Agdz/Tamnougalt/Timidarte
Merzouga/Erg Chebbi
Todra Gorge/Dades Gorge
Skoura/Ouarzazate/Ait Benhaddou
Ounilla Valley
Ouzoud

I had planned for the Atlas Mountains in early April 2020, but I’m thinking I should perhaps skip these places now that it’ll be February:
Zat Valley/Ourika Valley/Imlil
Demnate/Imi-n’Ifri

I recently came across Khnifiss National Park just north of the Western Sahara border. I can’t find much information about it, or how to access it other than that there are boats to go to see the fauna. I did read a blog where a few people hiked around and camped there, but they weren’t birding specifically. They did have some nice photos of the sand dunes and the lagoon. It seems that it’s not really developed yet, but that there are plans for it to become an eco-tourism destination. It’s quite a drive, but it seems like a great spot for birding. Does anyone know more about it? Wondering if it would be worth going there at the expense of other places I had already planned on.

If anyone has suggestions about birding spots in the areas I’m traveling through, I’d love to hear about them. Thanks for your time!

Cheers,
Ernst
I have come late to this post, so I will try and help where I can.

I am sure there are others out there who can help with the northern section. Driving to Oukaimeden is simple enough in a normal car. There is a tarmac road the whole way and you dont need 4x4. Yes it is a 'ski resort' but probably no quite the same as you would expect from any ski resort on your side of the pond. Whether there will be any snow is questionable also.

The Tagdilt track is really two sections - the area close to town (which is a refuse tip) and the area further south that can be accessed via the new Tagdilt track (actually the road to Ikniouen). Both can be accessed by a normal car - but careful how far you go off road due to sand traps.

As for the other areas- some are birding locations and some not so much. There is a new book that would help with detailed locations and planning The Crossbill Guide to Southern Morocco - Crossbill Guide Southern Morocco (Crossbill guides, 33): Amazon.co.uk: Pitt, Martin, Wolter, Horst: 9789491648212: Books
 
I have come late to this post, so I will try and help where I can.

I am sure there are others out there who can help with the northern section. Driving to Oukaimeden is simple enough in a normal car. There is a tarmac road the whole way and you dont need 4x4. Yes it is a 'ski resort' but probably no quite the same as you would expect from any ski resort on your side of the pond. Whether there will be any snow is questionable also.

The Tagdilt track is really two sections - the area close to town (which is a refuse tip) and the area further south that can be accessed via the new Tagdilt track (actually the road to Ikniouen). Both can be accessed by a normal car - but careful how far you go off road due to sand traps.

As for the other areas- some are birding locations and some not so much. There is a new book that would help with detailed locations and planning The Crossbill Guide to Southern Morocco - Crossbill Guide Southern Morocco (Crossbill guides, 33): Amazon.co.uk: Pitt, Martin, Wolter, Horst: 9789491648212: Books
Thanks for this! Yes, some of the locations aren't really known for birding, but there are other things I was planning to do as well. My plans are still evolving and destinations have been changing somewhat since I first posted this. I don't have any accommodations booked yet after Marrakech as I'm still looking at possibilities. That guide book looks great. I went to the website and I won't be able to get one before I leave for Morocco this Sunday. It says on the site to expect it to take 2 weeks to arrive, if they are sending it outside of Europe. Thanks again!
 
Thanks for this! Yes, some of the locations aren't really known for birding, but there are other things I was planning to do as well. My plans are still evolving and destinations have been changing somewhat since I first posted this. I don't have any accommodations booked yet after Marrakech as I'm still looking at possibilities. That guide book looks great. I went to the website and I won't be able to get one before I leave for Morocco this Sunday. It says on the site to expect it to take 2 weeks to arrive, if they are sending it outside of Europe. Thanks again!
I did send a DM to you - still happy to provide more details directly
 
Hi, I'm doing Marrakech to Merzouga the end of March. Can I clarify how the Tagdilt Track is without a 4x4? Maybe you could comment once back.


Also, is it best to spend two nights in Boumalne Dades (if so where?) or one night there and one night in Todra Gorge? Will we clean up Tagdilt in a morning or do we need two?
 
Hi, I'm doing Marrakech to Merzouga the end of March. Can I clarify how the Tagdilt Track is without a 4x4? Maybe you could comment once back.


Also, is it best to spend two nights in Boumalne Dades (if so where?) or one night there and one night in Todra Gorge? Will we clean up Tagdilt in a morning or do we need two?
The Tagdilt Track is sealed and a 4x4 wasn’t necessary. I drove as far as Tagdilt and turned around. The photo is of a small pond closer to the start of the drive on the Tagdilt Track. I don’t know if it’s always there, but I was there after 5 days of a lot precipitation including snow! At that pond there were plenty of fat sand rats and Temminck’s Larks. Also had a Trumpeter Finch, Little Ringed Plovers and 8 Black-bellied Sandgrouse in flight. I didn’t spend time anywhere else on the Tagdilt Track other than at that pond.

On my initial arrival at Boumalne Dades it was raining. The following morning it was snowing and the roads were in bad shape. I ended up heading to Merzouga since the next day looked dry there, whereas everywhere else south of the Atlas in that region had rain in the forecast. So I didn’t spend as much time in the area when I returned as I might have if the weather had been dry on my first time through. I had places I wanted to get to and had lost 5 days to rain and snow. Apparently this area hadn’t seen rain in 5 years! Just lucky I guess.

If you’re looking for the Pharoah Eagle-Owl, I heard it’s typically found just west of Imiter, which is where I found one. There’s an eBird hotspot: Escarpement a l’ouest de Imiter (Cave of Taouite), which is about the right area. I didn’t know where to start and just parked off the road and planned to hike down and just explore. As I walked off the road towards the edge of the cliffs I flushed a Lanner Falcon. From the edge there I saw a group of birders in the distance looking up at the cliff sides from below. That’s how I found the owl that particular day. The guide with the group said it was in an unusual location. Usually it would favor shaded alcoves up in the cliffs and this one although somewhat in shade, was high up on a canyon wall that was facing the sun. Seeing that group of birders saved me a lot of time. In my wanderings there I also saw 4 Trumpeter Finches.

I went to the landfill site just east of town without any direction of where to look specifically for my target birds. I first drove in on the first short dirt road after leaving Boumalne Dades, where you can see what looks like a structure with a closed gate or door. I parked right by it and started walking, since continuing wouldn’t have been suitable for the car I was driving. Later I discovered that the 2nd dirt road is better and gets you in further. Looking at an aerial Google map, I think the target where you may want to park is Asfalou on the map - which apparently translates to incineration plant. I saw a birding group parked there from afar, and they then drove out in their tour van as I was walking in. On my walk in I did pick up 11 Black-bellied Sandgrouse (again in the air as I inadvertently flushed them). There are lots of dogs at the site and at the actual spot where the trucks come in and dump their loads, which I believe is Asfalou, there were people milling through the rubbish along with goats, dogs, cows… it appeared that some people may also live there. I picked up Red-rumped Wheatears and also had another 16 Trumpeter Finches. I had hoped to get Thick-billed Lark, but that was a miss for me. I may not have been in the right spot or perhaps wasn’t there early enough in the day.

I don’t know what’s best as far as timing - how many nights. It may not be an issue when you’re there, but the 2 places I stayed didn’t have heat. The first place I stayed was Riad Dades Birds as I thought I could get info there and meet other birders. Due to the weather I only spent the night and then left the area. They have propane powered heaters that you can use, but it would be unsafe to leave them running while sleeping (carbon monoxide). When I returned, I stayed at Kasbah Tussna, which was very nice, but also without heat. Both places were not straightforward to find with GPS.

I didn’t go to Todra Gorge at all due to all the time I lost, so I can’t comment on that.

Hard to say how much time you’ll need. If you get all your target birds on the first day, then you could move on… no guarantee that you’d get any misses if you tried again the following day. I was keeping it flexible and deciding where to book sometimes on the day of. I was there in low season though, and that may be more difficult for you to do if places are booking up.
 

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The Tagdilt Track is sealed and a 4x4 wasn’t necessary. I drove as far as Tagdilt and turned around. The photo is of a small pond closer to the start of the drive on the Tagdilt Track. I don’t know if it’s always there, but I was there after 5 days of a lot precipitation including snow! At that pond there were plenty of fat sand rats and Temminck’s Larks. Also had a Trumpeter Finch, Little Ringed Plovers and 8 Black-bellied Sandgrouse in flight. I didn’t spend time anywhere else on the Tagdilt Track other than at that pond.

On my initial arrival at Boumalne Dades it was raining. The following morning it was snowing and the roads were in bad shape. I ended up heading to Merzouga since the next day looked dry there, whereas everywhere else south of the Atlas in that region had rain in the forecast. So I didn’t spend as much time in the area when I returned as I might have if the weather had been dry on my first time through. I had places I wanted to get to and had lost 5 days to rain and snow. Apparently this area hadn’t seen rain in 5 years! Just lucky I guess.

If you’re looking for the Pharoah Eagle-Owl, I heard it’s typically found just west of Imiter, which is where I found one. There’s an eBird hotspot: Escarpement a l’ouest de Imiter (Cave of Taouite), which is about the right area. I didn’t know where to start and just parked off the road and planned to hike down and just explore. As I walked off the road towards the edge of the cliffs I flushed a Lanner Falcon. From the edge there I saw a group of birders in the distance looking up at the cliff sides from below. That’s how I found the owl that particular day. The guide with the group said it was in an unusual location. Usually it would favor shaded alcoves up in the cliffs and this one although somewhat in shade, was high up on a canyon wall that was facing the sun. Seeing that group of birders saved me a lot of time. In my wanderings there I also saw 4 Trumpeter Finches.

I went to the landfill site just east of town without any direction of where to look specifically for my target birds. I first drove in on the first short dirt road after leaving Boumalne Dades, where you can see what looks like a structure with a closed gate or door. I parked right by it and started walking, since continuing wouldn’t have been suitable for the car I was driving. Later I discovered that the 2nd dirt road is better and gets you in further. Looking at an aerial Google map, I think the target where you may want to park is Asfalou on the map - which apparently translates to incineration plant. I saw a birding group parked there from afar, and they then drove out in their tour van as I was walking in. On my walk in I did pick up 11 Black-bellied Sandgrouse (again in the air as I inadvertently flushed them). There are lots of dogs at the site and at the actual spot where the trucks come in and dump their loads, which I believe is Asfalou, there were people milling through the rubbish along with goats, dogs, cows… it appeared that some people may also live there. I picked up Red-rumped Wheatears and also had another 16 Trumpeter Finches. I had hoped to get Thick-billed Lark, but that was a miss for me. I may not have been in the right spot or perhaps wasn’t there early enough in the day.

I don’t know what’s best as far as timing - how many nights. It may not be an issue when you’re there, but the 2 places I stayed didn’t have heat. The first place I stayed was Riad Dades Birds as I thought I could get info there and meet other birders. Due to the weather I only spent the night and then left the area. They have propane powered heaters that you can use, but it would be unsafe to leave them running while sleeping (carbon monoxide). When I returned, I stayed at Kasbah Tussna, which was very nice, but also without heat. Both places were not straightforward to find with GPS.

I didn’t go to Todra Gorge at all due to all the time I lost, so I can’t comment on that.

Hard to say how much time you’ll need. If you get all your target birds on the first day, then you could move on… no guarantee that you’d get any misses if you tried again the following day. I was keeping it flexible and deciding where to book sometimes on the day of. I was there in low season though, and that may be more difficult for you to do if places are booking up.
It's a shame you were adversely affected by heavy rain, but from a wider perspective, it's great news that the drought has finally broken.
 
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