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Morocco Trip Report, please contact me if you'd like any more info. (1 Viewer)

Canarybirder

Oenanthe Birding Adventures
Morocco, March 2005
Our first exploration of North Africa and a trip that was long in the planning.
Initially we had dismissed doing the whole of the Morocco rounds in this trip because of time limitations but having chatted at length with Steve and Dot Smith it became apparant that is was indeed doable.
So, the objective of the trip became a complete clean up of all the specialist species from north to south!
There are a number of routes a trip to Morocco can take but our itinerary involved flying into Marrakech, taking the route westwards to the coast at Oued Massa, then driving south along the coast to Agadir and Oued Sous before heading back to Marrakech. From there we then struck north through Settat and further north to the coast again at Temara Plage and Merga Zerga. From there we headed generally south east through Ifrane and Azrou before cutting through the Atlas Mountains and continuing south to Merzouga on the edge of the Sahara. Then it was west along the southern edge of the mountains to Boumalne du Dades then north over the Tizi n Tichka pass and up to the alpine ski resort of Oukameiden. From there it was a simple drive back down to Marrakech.
The sites we visited in chronological order were:

Oued Tamri
Paradise Plage, Taghazoute
Oued Sous
Oued Massa
Lac de Sidi Bouhaba
Moulay Bousalem
Sidi Bettache
Dayet Aoua, Ifrane
area east of Ifrane
Lac de Sidi Ali
Cafe Yasmina, Erfoud
area around Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua
area west of Rissani
Tagdilt Track
Riverbed at ??
Oukameiden

As ever we only booked our 1st nights hotel and then relied upon our trust Rough Guide to find suitable accommodation. The standards found were pretty good on the whole with no dives encountered. Prices were cheap (typically £8 - £10 each for a room) with some deals including breakfast and even dinner. We stayed at:

7 March - Hotel Agdal, Marrakech (adequate)
8 March - Hotel Hagouina, Inezgane (probably the roughest place we stayed in but still OK)
9 March - Hotel du Parc, Settat (quite a plush country club)
10 March - Hotel Panorama, Temara Plage (pretty good)
11 March - Hotel Azrou, Azrou (good, with interesting local characters!)
12 March - Hotel El Farah Zouar, Merzouga (adequate)
13 March - Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua, Merzouga (fantastic desert retreat and so atmospheric, great food)
14 March - Hotel Le Soleil Bleu, Boumalne du Dades (adequate)
15 March - Hotel Chez Ju Ju, Oukameiden (a little rough around the edges but a great location and great food, 3 meals included)
16 March - Hotel Jasmine, Marrakech (clean, sterile but adequate)

Driving in Morocco is interesting to say the least! In urban areas it's a complete free for all with the added complication of other road users (abusers!) not bothering with lights at night. Although road surfaces are good the going is slow on some of the routes because of heavy traffic. The worst stretches we encountered were the roads west out of Marrakech, the road north out of Marrakech towards Settat and the road through the mountains between Agadir and Marrakech. In the south the roads were much emptier than in the north. We saw all manner of other vehicles from heavy lorries through to donkeys and carts and barrows on the back of bikes!




7 March 2005

Our flight from Heathrow arrived in the mid-afternoo so birding was limited to a little chance sightings around our hotel in central Marrakech. Still, we did score with our first WP tick of the trip in the form of a Common Bulbul plus c350 House Sparrows at roost and a single Chiffchaff.


8 March 2005

Today was essentially our first real day and when we really started clocking up our first birds. Before we did any of that though we had a little encounter with an angry local outside our hotel! Having parked our hire car in a side street beside the hotel the prvious evening we were greeted by what we later found out was a 'guardian' who proceeded to carry our bags, adjust our wing mirrors and generally bow and scrape. This was unwelcome attention which we dismissed and drove off quickly without giving him the tip he obviously wanted. Unfortunately our road led us to a cul-de-sac so we had to turn round and drive back past him as he threatened to put the brick he was waving through our windscreen! Welcome to the continent of Africa!
We then proceeded to fight our way through the mass of traffic, humanity and Pallid Swifts and out on the road west from the city. The journey to Agadir was a slow one but enlivened by c12 Common Bulbuls, c4 Southern Grey Shrikes, 2 Woodchats, 3 Hoopoes, numerous Cattle Egrets and White Storks but these were surpassed by our first House Bunting.
The route south from Agadir to Tamri then yielded some more goodies including 2-3 stunning Moussier's Redstarts (between Taghazoute and Cap Rhir), a Black Wheatear and 4 Audouin's Gulls loafing on the beach near Tamrhakht.
Upon reaching Oued Tamri we then embarked upon a fruitless search for Bald Ibis. Up and down the stretch of coast we worked but failed to locate any. We then got flagged down by a local at the side of the road who kindly offered to show us where they were.Although we were slightly wary we figured there wasn't much he could do to the 3 of us by himself so he jumped in and we were off down a track towards the estuary. And he was good to his word - 31 Bald Ibis were quickly located and watched extremely well. What's more he didn't want any more payment than a lift back into the village! As we were to find out in the coming days this is very unusual in Morocco! The area was pretty species rich too and we notched up some point blank views of House Bunting where we were watching the Ibises from plus 1 Subalpine Warbler, 3 Chiffchaffs, 3 Serins, a Red-rumped Swallow, Yellow Wagtail, 9 Ravens, 2 Gannets offshore, 1 Yellow-legged Gull and an impressive 50 Audouin's Gulls at the river mouth.
Next up we drove through nearby Paradise Plage where a shout from me saw us quickly watching a roadside Black-crowned Tchagra followed by a celebrationary tea where a House Bunting shared the cafe floor. On the beach here we also found a Lesser Crested Tern, 8 Sandwich Terns and 36 Audouin's Gulls.

With a view to spending a reasonable amount of time at the tidal estuary of Oued Sous in the evening we then made our way into Inezgane to secure our overnight room in plenty of time. This 'town' is really one enormous (and rather sleazy) taxi rank with the square full of the local pale blue taxis. Despite some language problems Andy got by with his smattering of french and we booked a room for 3 in the functional Hotel Hagouina in one corner of the square and fought our way through the traffic to Oued Sous.

The site is one of extensive and rather poor quality dried out saltmarsh on the northern edge of a muddy estuary with the marsh also bordered by the wall of a presidential palace (of which there are quite a few in Morocco). The area is guarded by the military but the one guard by a barrier across the track didn't seem bothered by our presence and was more interested in blagging one of Andy's fags! The entrance track gave us both Barbary Partridge and the curious blue-faced local race of Magpie.
During the last couple of hours of daylight we managed a host of good birds which seriously boosted the trip list. Waders included c6 Stone Curlew, c40 Kentish Plovers, 2 Little Ringed Plovers and 1 Little Stint as well as Greenshank, Grey Plover, Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Knot, Redshank, Curlew and Snipe. A Kingfisher perched obligingly in front of us as we scanned the gulls on the estuary and picked out 6 Slender-billed Gulls and 4 Mediterranean Gulls. Other goodies included c250 Greater Flamingoes, 6 Spoonbills, a Cormorant of the white-breasted 'maroccanus' form, an Osprey, c5 Sardinian Warblers, 2+ Serins and 3+ Fan-tailed Warblers. As the light began to fade we made or way towards the palace walls as the security lights flickered on for the night in search of our main target bird - Red-necked Nightjar which is said to hunt underneath the lights. Justy got a brief view of one in the middle of the saltmarsh but very frustratingly it didn't shown again. Until 30 mins later when one was picked up gliding along the track by the wall and then watched at ludicrously close range as it sat still on the deck. A bogey bird well and truly laid to rest!

That night we found a local kitchen/bar in the square in Inezgane and dined on roast chicken as we joined the locals watching Chelsea beat Barcelona in the Champions League.


9 March 2005

Our next port of call on the southern coastal leg of the trip was Oued Massa to the south of Inezgane. En route along the coast road we saw a male Cirl Bunting on roadside wires, 1 Turtle Dove and a Woodchat as well as 2 House Buntings (the first of which was inside our hotel in the corridor!)

Upon arrival at in the village of Massa we found the target bird in the form of 10+ Laughing Doves and then quickly proceeded to the high ground north of the village picking up a local bird 'guide' on the way. This young guy didn't prove to be much help and was more interested in following us around, looking at our Collins Bird Guide and pointing out the blatantly obvious through his Miranda bins! Needless to say he didn't get the money he wanted when we eventually managed to shake him off!

The rolling desert like high ground to the north of the village yielded 13 Cream-coloured Coursers, 5 Stone Curlews, a Tawny Pipit and several Lesser Short-toed Larks before we ventured down to the estuary of Oued Massa itself. A thoroughly rewarding walk along the track on the north side of the estuary gave us our wanted Brown-throated Sand Martins and we saw 10+ at their small nesting colony in the bank beside the track. The number of species seen was impressive with the pick being a Ferruginous Duck, 4 Pintail, 1 Spoonbill, 1 Squacco Heron, an amazing 214 Glossy Ibis, 1 Osprey, 2 Barbary Partridges, 5 Black-winged Stilts, 2 Little Owls and 3 Red-rumped Swallows. Passerines were well represented too with some giving some very good views indeed - c6 Moussier's Redstarts, 4 Blue Rock Thrushes, 1 Subalpine Warbler, several Sardinian Warblers, 2 Cettis Warblers, several Fan-tailed Warblers, 3 'iberiae' Yellow Wagtails, 2 House Buntings and some memorable views of 3 Black-crowned Tchagras.

Needing to cover a lot of miles meant the rest of the day and well into the evening were spent on the torturous drive from Oued Massa to Settat via Marrakech. Although Settat wasn't our planned overnight place to stay but the slowness of the journey and heavy traffic dictated we stop short of our intended destination. In the end we found the very nice country club-like Hotel du Parc just outside the town which had a decent if rather surreal bar and did the job nicely. On the drive we only saw c25 Spanish Sparrows and 2 Southern Grey Shrikes of any note.


10 March 2005
Upon leaving the hotel in the morning we immediately had a fly-past Great Spotted Cuckoo to get the day off to a good start before we headed north towards the coast.

First stop was the lake of Lac de Sidi Bouhaba a well known breeding site for Crested Coot. And so it proved with c30 seen very easily almost as soon as we got there. Wildfowl were very well represented and probably the rarest Moroccan bird of the trip found by us - a drake Ring-necked Duck. Add to this c75 Little Grebes, 3 Black-necked Grebes, 1000+ Shoveler, 3 Gadwall, 5 Pintail, c12 Red-crested Pochard, a smart drake Ferruginous Duck, c600 Pochard and 10 Tufted Duck. The other speciality of the site took some winkling out but eventually we found c30 Marbled Duck loafing under overhanging vegetation. Around the lake we also has c40 Greater Flamingoes, c25 Spoonbills that circled in, 1 Purple Gallinule, c10 Marsh Harriers, 1 Kingfisher, 2 Barbary Partridges, 1 Grey Wagtail, c10 Cettis Warblers and 2 Sardnian Warblers. Venturing back towards the town of Merdya we then located a flock of c15 Lesser Kestrels hunting over waste ground on the edge of a dilapidated housing estate.

One of the most eagerly anticipated sites was next as we made the relatively short drive to the north side of the famous Merja Zerga to the village of Moulay Bousselam. Here the walled campsite was easily found and having paid our small entrance fees we were allowed to drive in and bird at our leisure. There were a few campers on one side of the campsite but the other (western) half was completely empty and we encountered none of the hassles of local children that we'd read about in several trip reports. After wandering for some while I flushed an African Marsh Owl out of some low trees and despite my yell nobody else got onto it. Andy scored next and then it was a frustrating 15 minutes before Justy bagged his first sighting and it was grins all round! Over the next hour and a half or so we got several more good views but only of flying birds but reckoned on at least 3 individuals. What an enigmatic species. A Black-shouldered Kite posed on top of a tall spindly tree and 2 Little Owls, 1 Sparrowhawk, 3 Hoopoes and c10 Song Thrushes joined the numerous Cattle Egrets to compete for our attention.

After an interesting drive through the slum villages on the edge of the Merja Zerga and some great views of no less than 4 Black-shouldered Kites we made our way to the costal resort of Temara Plage and found the pretty good Hotel Panorama. The terrace restaurant here provided a relaxing evening at the end of a logn but rewarding day. Travelling throughout the day had also produced many White Storks and Cattle Egrets, c240 Black Kites, 1 Booted Eagle, 1 Marsh Harrier and a Raven showing that a northerly passage was underway.


11 March 2005

No rest for the wicked! We were up pre-dawn because of the important of being at our next site at Sidi Bettache at the first glimmers of daylight. So despite taking a wrong turning in the dark we were still on the small carpark in time and within a few minutes were hearing the calls of Double-spurred Francolin. Picking one up in the gloom and tricky habitat was another matter though but eventually I located one in the scope and a panicky few minutes later we were all enjoying views as it sat on the top of a bush calling. The curious habitat of rolling hills and thick impenetrable thron bushes makes this a difficult site to work and it is absolutely essential tio be there at dawn as the birds only call for about 30 mins and then shut up for the rest of the day. In all we had 3 birds calling but only managed views of 1. A wander up and down the road resulted in a few other goodies too with 4+ Black-shoulderd Kites, a Little Owl, 2 Barbary Partridges, 1 Woodlark singing on wires, 1 Black-crowned Tchagra, 1 Wren and 2 'africana' Chaffinches as well as the very common Serins and Sardinian Warblers.

We left the site and then began a drive in a roughly SE direction through arable areas towards the alpine feeling town of Ifrane. This was a complete change of scenery with woodland, hills and almost Swiss feel to it. En route we encountered a few raptors obviously still moving with c30 Short-toed Eagles, 2 Booted Eagles, 1 Long-legged Buzzard, 1 Montagu's Harrier, c20 Black Kites, 1 Sparrowhawk and 5+ Lesser Kestrels.

Close to Ifrane is the lake and woodland of Dayet Aoua which we headed for upon arrival. Despite it's obvious scenic attractions we found the site a frustrating one. This was because although we saw plenty of supporting cast our main target Levaillant's Green Woodpecker proved a real bugger to find! The lake itself held numerous Pochard, Shoveler, Little Grebes, Crested Coot and Common Coot together with 4+ Black-necked Grebes and 2 Ruddy Shelduck whilst waders were represented by c30 Black-winged Stilts, c6 Green Sandpipers and a couple of Redshank. Wandering around for ages in all accessible areas of woodland gave us 7 Short-toed Treecreepers, c5 Great Spotted Woodpeckers, several Firecrests, 2 Black Redstarts, 2 Coals Tits, c15 Mistle Thrushes, a Hoopoe, 2 Cirl Buntings, 8 Rock Sparrows and a Southern Grey Shrike. Then almost at the death in an area of pine woodland up a side road we got our bird! 2 Levaillant's Green Woodpeckers (male and female) eventually gave themselves up and provided some excellent views and even allowed photography!

Feeling rather relieved and elated we then explored the area to the east of Ifrane but failed to find very much. Just 1 Long-legged Buzzard perched on a brush pile and a squabble of c200 Ravens, c6 White Storks and c4 Black Kites around a rubbish dump.

That night we found accommodation at The Hotel Azrou in the town and ate tagine that evening in the hotel restaurant. A rather colourful character (who we later found out to be a lecturer in English at a local school) was slowly getting drunk on wine in the corner of the restuarant and engaged us in some hilarious conversation which contained a phase which has since become immortalised - 'tell me my friends, how is Shakespeare perceived in England?'!


12 March 2005

We started the morning at a very relaxed pace by eating breakfast outside a cafe in Azrou town while we watched the hustle and bustle. The pastries and coffee went down very well as did our only Alpine Swift of the trip around the church opposite plus our only Jackdaws a Grey Wagtail and c20 Cattle Egrets over.

We eventually tore ourselves away from the town (which we all agreed was our favourite of the whole trip) and began our long drive south through the eastern Atlas Mountains and down to the edge of the desert at Erfoud.

The drive was an very interesting one punctuated by several stops and loads of new birds as the habitat changed.

As we moved gradually south the landscape became more arid and we had our first Red-rumped Wheatear perched on roadside wires and soon afterwards other wheatears started to appear and included 2 nice male Seebohm's Wheatears, a total of c8 White-crowned Black Wheatears, c20 Black Wheatears, 1 Northern Wheatear and 3 Desert Wheatears. The journey totals all the way to Erfoud also included 3 Desert Larks, numerous Thekla Larks, 1 Lesser Short-toed Lark, 15+ Rock Sparrows. Our main top on the journey was at the high altitude Lac de Sidi Ali set on a bleak and snowy plateaux. This site is renowned for it's breeding Ruddy Shelduck and sure enough we found 41 close to the lake together with a Blue Rock Thrush and a Thekla Lark. On the windswept lake were numerous Pochard, Mallard and Common Coot. A stop for tea at a roadside cafe next to an escarpment gave us 2 Crag Martins, Booted Eagle and Short-toed Eagle as well and 2 cats shagging on the garage forecourt! As can be seen it was an extremely rich journey in terms of WP ticks!

Dropping down the valley on the southern side of the pass over the Atlas Mountains we could see a stange orangey coloured cloud further down the valley to the south and within about 30 minutes were were driving through our very first sandstorm. Welcome to the Sahara! By the time we reached Erfoud the storm was in full swing and emerging from our car in front of the Hotel El Farah Zonar was fun to say the least. Despite all this we were still hassled by touts wanting to sell us 4-wheel drive tours into the desert despite the fact that you couldn't see past your nose and we just wanted to get checked into the hotel! We saw the storm out from the shelter of our room and eventually managed to venture out a couple of hours later. We made our way along the track leading south into the desert As the track petered out we were met by an enterprising Berber on his moped offering to escort us safely through the desert but as the light was fading we thought better of it and decided to return in the morning.

That night we braved the streets of Erfoud and were pounced upon at every turn but locals wanting to sell us asorted crap or to come into their restaurant. In the end we found a quiet place to eat off the main streets.



13 March 2005

With some trepidation we set off along the same track as the previous evening.

As we'd seen a few hours earlier the first few miles of this track are pretty uninspiring. They are litter strewn, flat wasteland and nothing like the pristine desert we were expecting. Soon the 'under construction' track began to peter out and we found our Berber on moped waiting in the same spot as he has been the previous night. He was annoying to say the least but for not very much money he offered to escort us through the desert, avoiding the soft sandy parts that we would have got stuck in and on to Cafe Jasmina. It was a bizzare experience following him through the desert but quickly the scenery began to improve and we could see the hugely impressive dunes of Erg Chebbi getting ever closer. Zig-zagging our way we eventually reached Cafe Yasmina and parking in the large courtyard we agreed to be left alone for a couple of hours while we birded the area around the cafe. And what a couple of hours it proved to be! Despite the attentions of a tiresome fossil pedler we quickly located a pair of Desert Sparrows that showed nicely on the perimeter wall of the cafe before we turned out attentions to a promising looking area of scrub and bushes. Stalking an elusive sylvia from bush to bush proved a very good move when it revealed itself to be a stunning male Tristram's Warbler. The area proved to be an excellent oasis for tired migrants in the desert with 3 White-crowned Black Wheatears, 1 Black-eared Wheatear, 1 Northern Wheatear, a Hoopoe, 2 Crested Larks, c3 Sardinian Warblers, 1 Southern Grey Shrike, a yellowish Chiffchaff which was probably an Iberian and a flock of c50 Short-toed Larks. Circling not far away were also c10 Brown-necked Ravens.

On our return to the car we were almost immediately ushered into the cafe where we had to sit on cushions and make small talk while we enjoyed what was nicknamed 'berber whiskey', yep, you got it - mint tea! Our man then insisted he escort us to Merzouga with the promise of a vist to his uncles house when we got there. En-route we stopped at a cultivated oasis where a walk around yielded 3 Chiffchaffs, 1 Willow Warbler, 2 Blackbirds and a Sardinian Warbler before we continued to Merzouga. Here, to our enormous surprise (not!) our man's uncle's house turned out to be a shop where they tried to pressure sell us various rugs and trinkets! Myself and Andy held firm but Justy eventually gave in under the onslaught and purchased a rug at the bargain price of quite a bit! Meanwhile Andy and I were outside watching White-crowned Black Wheatear and Laughing Dove and doing a fair bit of laughing ourselves!

Finally we managed to shake off our host and made our way the short distance to our accommodation at the Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua and found a Cream-coloured Courser on the way. And what a place to relax with birding on the doorstep! I can't recommend this place more highly for the atmosphere, birding, food or standard of accommodation - it was excellent. Having checked in we explored the lush and watered grounds and the adjacent scrub and palms. Around the grounds there were plenty of sylvias including 3 Subalpine Warblers, 1 Spectacled Warbler and c5 Sardinian Warblers plus Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, 1 Desert Wheatear, c4 White-crowned Black Wheatears, Woodchat and Southern Grey Shrike. Birds of the evening though were the 2 Fulvous Babblers that eventually gave themselves up in palms having been found in a large cane break along the entrance track.
That night we tried for Egyptian Nightjar which are reputedly in the area and hunt around the pool at dusk - not that night though! The beef and prune tagine was to die for though!

A note of warning to anyone venturing to Cafe Yasmina and Merzouga - it is very easy to get stuck in soft sand without a large 4-wheel drive vehicle. A new road was being constructed in 2005 so when it is finished access should be easier. The line of telegraph poles used as a landmark and mentioned in Gosney and other trip reports are no longer there! Access to the Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua is much easier along a good track from the Rissani road to the west.


14 March 2005

Reluctant to leave the auberge we decided to start the day but working the grounds again. It was clear that migrants had come and gone in the night with a good turnover. This time the number of Subalpine Warblers had swollen to c8, a male Tristram's Warbler skulked in the same canes as yesterday's babblers and a male Moussier's Redstart graced an area just beyond the boundary wall. Add to this 3 Sardinian Warblers, a Tawny Pipit, a Wryneck high up in the palms, 1 Nightingale, 1 Black-eared Wheatear, 3 Woodchats and 2 Southern Grey Shrikes and we left the site reluctant but more than happy.

As we left the site and ventured out into the desert we scored heavily with a displaying Hoopoe Lark right beside the car (what an amazing sight it is to see these birds somersault backwards into the air) and also a Desert Lark and 2 Bar-tailed Desert Larks before we headed out of the area and made our way towards Rissani.

Our desitnation was the cliff/escarpment on the north side of the road c5km west of Rissani which holds breeding Pharoah Eagle Owl. Despite a long, hot walk and exact directions we were unable to locate any on their favoured cliff. The couple of hours was spent nervously wondering if our car was going to be broken into as we were followed suspiciously all the way there and back by yet another local selling fossils. We returned to find the car intact however and had also seen 3 Crag Martins, 1 House Martin, 1 Black-eared Wheatear, 1 Isabelline Wheatear, c8 Trumpeter Finches, 1 Spectacled Warbler and a very sandy Crested Lark.

We then began the long drive westwards to Boumalne du Dades along the southern side of the Atlas. With frequent roadside stops whenever we spotted something from the moving car it was a very productive journey. Having read in literature that a particular stretch of the road was one of the only places in the country for the species we concentrated our efforts in that area and duly located 2 male Mourning Wheatears close to the 'Boumalne 49km' sign. Other wheatears were very much in evidence with journey totals of c8 Red-rumped Wheatears, 6 Desert Wheatears, 1 Northern Wheatear, 1 Black Wheatear and c40 White-crowned Black Wheatears. These were eclipsed in numbers by larks however with 6 Desert Larks, 2 Bar-tailed Desert Larks, 1 Hoopoe Lark (between Boumalne and Tinehir), 1 Thekla Lark and a flock of c120 Short-toed Larks. Thick-billed eluded us though and was one big miss for the trip. More spectacular was our first Lanner soaring majestically south of the road plus Barbary Falcon, Booted Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard and no less than 10 Cream-coloured Coursers.
On arrival at Boumalne we checked in at the recommended Hotel Le Soleil Bleu and made our way back quickly to the famous Tagdilt Track on the south side of the road just before the town is reached. This site turned out to be a disappointment to us all despite the hype of how good it is. The first couple of kilometers were covered in blowing litter from an ugly rubbish tip complete with its scavenging Black Kites (c100) and mangy feral dogs. The only redeeming feature were the 4 Temminck's Horned Larks which we found beyond the tip which really were stunning. Before the light faded we added 3 Red-rumped Wheatears, c5 White Wagtails and a Lanner flushed from a shallow wadi.

That night the hotel didn't prove as good as expected with a poor meal and no beer available. Just as well, with the rather physcadelic painted walls it felt like being drunk anyway!


15 March 2005

Having seen a couple of House Buntings on the edge of Boumalne we ventured once again out along the Tagdilt Track for an early morning jaunt. Numerous Black Kites were still scavenging and joined by 3 White Storks. Giving the area a thorough working up to the point where we couldn't take the hire car any further (due to large rocks all over the track and frequent touching down!) we still failed to find our main target of Thick-billed Lark. Despite still not being great fans of the site we did clock up quite an impressive species list. Mega views of a Lanner sat on the deck were followed by an excellent 26 Cream-coloured Coursers and c19 Black-bellied Sangrouse whilst 2 - 3 Long-legged Buzzards circled overhead. Larks were represented by c4 Temminck's Horned Larks, 1 Desert Lark, 1 Bar-tailed Desert Lark, 3 Hoopoe Larks, 6+ Thekla Larks and c80 Short-toed Larks. We also had c15 Red-rumped Wheatears, 3 Desert Wheatears, 1 Northern Wheatear, 1 White-crowned Black Wheatear, a female Spectacled Warbler, 2 Woodchats and 4+ Trumpeter Finches.
For the mammal lover there were also many Jerboas and 1 Barbary Ground Squirrel.

Leaving Tagdilt slightly miffed we headed west with the aim being to then turn north and over the Tizi n Tchitka pass through the Atlas Mountains to our overnight destination at Africa's only ski resort of Oukameiden.

On the way we made one main stop by the wide riverbed at ?????. Here we scored with our hoped for Moroccan Pied Wagtail but it showed only briefly and Andy wasn't able to get onto the bird. Despite scanning for ages we just couldn't re-locate it amongst the other wagtails. These included c8 White Wagtails, 2 Yellow Wagtails and 1 Grey Wagtail. The gravelley and marshy islands and banks also gave us 4 Little Ringed Plovers and 2 Green Sandpipers while a Black Redstart and a Blackcap were in the bushes below us and a Sand Martin overhead.

The rest of the drive was a spectacular one through the mountains and past the hill villages of the Atlas. The journey totals from Boumalne to Oukameiden were 1 Booted Eagle, c4 Crag Martins, 1 Moussier's Redstart, 2 Black Wheatears, 5 White-crowned Black Wheatears, 1 Corn Bunting, 1 House Bunting, 2 Southern Grey Shrikes, 1 Hoopoe, 2 Chiffchaffs and a Barbary Partridge.
We reached Oukameiden along the final torturous few miles of narrow winding mountain road after dark and in thick fog! All praying that the weather would clear by the morning!

The Hotel Chez Ju Ju was easily found and despite the rooms and interior being a bit basic it proved to be an excellent place to stay. For just £20 we got dinner, bed, breakfast and even lunch the following day!


16 March 2005

Eagerly anticipating the day ahead we were up at dawn to get a couple of hours birding in before breakfast. The fog had cleared completely and as soon as we left the front door of the hotel and stepped outside into the cold of the morning about half a dozen Crimson-winged Finches flew right past us and settled around nearby buildings to give some wonderful views. What an amazing start! We then birded in the bottom of the large valley at village level until breakfast. As soon as the sun started to rise and fill the valley Alpine Chough (c200) appeared in large numbers and closer scrutiny revealed small numbers of Red-billed Chough (c20). Black Redstarts were singing everywhere (in all we has 30+) and we also had c20 Rock Sparrows. Returning the short distance to the hotel we enjoyed breakfast sat outside the front of the hotel looking at one of the best ever views. Despite the cold and snow the sun kept us plenty warm enough and we shed some layers before venturing out birding again. This time we headed up a track that curves up and eventually behind the village to a high level radar station. On the walk we encounterd several (12+ in all)of the distictive atlas race of Shorelark, a large and pale-bellied Wren, 1 Blue Rock Thrush, 2 Black Wheatears, singles of Peregrine and Raven, c30 Rock Doves, 2 Mistle Thrushes and 10+ Chaffinches (the latter being of the nominate race). We then returned to a lower level to fill our boots with more Crimson-winged Finch views bringing the number of birds seen up to c20. A quick sojourn down the lane in the other direction to a rushing stream and we'd also scored with 2 Dippers (sporting warm brown bellies) and a Grey Wagtail. It had been a truly memorable few hours of birding and a great way to spend our last day. A lunch of cassoulet at Chez Ju Ju had a lot to recommend it too!

The descent from Oukameiden wasn't without it's rewards either however as less than a mile down the road we fluked a Levaillant's Green Woodpecker that flew in front of the car and then posed for ages in the top of a pine. The same stop yielded 2 Cirl Buntings, 3 Firecrests and a Crag Martin while we also had 1 Long-legged Buzzard, 1 Moussier's Redstart, 2 Red-rumped Swallows, 1 Coal Tit, 2 Black Redstarts, c10 Chaffinches (africana ones again!) and 4 Cattle Egrets on the long descent to Marrakech.
Central Marrakech proved to be just as we'd left it several days before - chaos! We did however locate a clean and convenient hotel, The Hotel Jasmine just outside the walls of the medina and chilled out before our last night out on the town. Using the time to photograph Common Bulbul and watch Pallid Swifts from our balcony.

And it was a very interesting night out indeed! We walked the 20 minutes or so following the crowds towards the main square of the ?D'jeema El Fanar? This is something that really has to be experienced if you visit Marrakech. By day it is just a very large paved square but every night is comes alive in a mass of stalls, entertainers, thieves, rogues, drug dealers and bemused visitors! We watched child boxers, chicken charmers and various stortellers, got offered drugs several times and ate in the open in the square where they tried their best to rip us off! A walk around the myriad of alleyways and courtyards of the souk off one end of the square was also very entertaining, colourful and highly recommended (in a dodgy sort of a way!)

It had been a tiring end to a full-on trip which had not let up in terms of hassle from locals. Luckily the birding had also been amazing with a trip list of 174 including 26 new Western Palearctic species.

We were just glad we'd all but cleaned up and didn't have to think about coming back!
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
It had been a tiring end to a full-on trip which had not let up in terms of hassle from locals.

Excellent round up (is it really from 2005 or more recently?).

Funny though about your words regarding hassle, I spent a month there last year and don't remember any hassle, not in Erford, Merzouga, nowhere ..maybe I don't look worthy of hassling, but had nice breakfast coffee in Erford main street before driving solo across the deserts to Merzouga :)
 

Canarybirder

Oenanthe Birding Adventures
Hi Jos,
Yep, it was 2005 but I've only just written it up (shame on me!)
I'm not sure we look worth hassling either but of all the places we've been Morocco has been the worst for hassle by far. It didn't detract from the great birding though.

Love your website - the Azure Tit tip to Belarus is very tempting...

My website is at www.freewebs.com/canarybirder if you fancy a look

Cheers
Chris
 

pandachris

Well-known member
Terrific and hopefully inspirational trip, Chris. We've given up on finding anything for Sri Lanka in February but did find some bargain deals to Marrakech. I'm just waiting for my ex-spouse to confirm that our dates can be accommodated (and watching the price go up :( ). You saw a few species that we'd like to get a look at and I reckon that we can get 4 nights in, so we'll probably head south. I might well be in touch shortly if I can get my booking sorted out.

Cheers

Chris
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
You certainly found the Desert Sparrows quicker than me! But 'good' (in my nasty way) to see someone else who not only couldn't find the Eagle Owls at Rissani, but couldn't even find the correct ledge ;) I wandered along there for ages and nothing seemed to match the description of the cliff and ledge, I always assumed it was a bit further until it was obviously not!
 

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