SOUTHERN MOROCCO

spring in the desert and the High Atlas Mountains

 

 

 

"Just wanted to tell everyone how much I enjoyed the trip to Morocco.  Everything went very smoothly, and John was a great guide.  The hotel was pleasant, and the pace was perfect. ".... 

Ms A.W. Maryland, USA

 

''Thank you for a wonderful trip to Morocco to see all the birds, especially all the different  wheatears.'' .... Mrs IW. Dumfries.

 

''Just a quick note to thank you for your leadership, friendship and good fun during the Morocco trip.'' .... Mr and Mrs A, Northwich.

 

 

click here for a pdf version of this destination write-up  -  easier to print  -  no photos

 

 

 

 

Occupying the north-west corner of the African Continent, Morocco is an excellent birdwatching destination. This colourful country is famous for its stunning scenery, a mix of mountains and deserts. Spring is the best time to visit as an array of spectacular resident birds are joined by waves of northbound migrants. Once visited, one never forgets the special beauty this country possesses. Our hosts will provide us with a typically warm and welcoming Moroccan experience.

 

This year we present a fresh itinerary starting and finishing in Marrakech. We drive over the snow capped Atlas mountains to reach the deserts of stone and sand dissected by the stunning rocky passes and valleys of the old Saharan trade routes. Our journey takes us to the spectacular sand dunes at Erg Chebbi on the edge of the Sahara. Unique inhabitants of the desert here include Houbara Bustard, Egyptian Nightjar, African Desert Warbler and Desert Sparrow. On the high plain between the mountains of the Central High Atlas and the Jbel Sahro, is an area known to birdwatchers as the Tagdilt Track. This atmospheric dry steppeland is home to a host of nomadic and resident birds including Cream-coloured Courser, Thick-billed Lark, Temminck’s Horned Lark and Hoopoe Lark. Desert and Red-rumped Wheatear are common and we regularly see parties of Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Crowned Sandgrouse.

 

Rather than enduring the long drive to the desert in one go, we shall break both the outward and return journeys at verdant oases. At Ouarzazate we will enjoy spectacular views of mountain landscapes and deep gorges, through which run life-giving rivers. This is home to the Magreb form of Mourning Wheatear and the long-billed race of Crested Lark. Wetlands and nearby oases attract breeding Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and at times, flocks of migrant warblers. On the return leg we will stop in the High Atlas to look for Atlas Shore Lark and African Crimson-winged Finch.

 

 

ITINERARY

 

OUARZAZATE AND THE DRAA VALLEY

On arrival in Marrakech we head south through the dramatic scenery of the Tizi-n-Tichka pass. Then the route drops steeply into the stony deserts west of Ouarzazate. The landscape all around is simply stunning. Familiar roadside birds include Chough, Hoopoe and the North West African forms of Magpie, Blue Tit and Chaffinch. Black-eared Wheatear is one of several wheatear species that we can expect to see. Trumpeter Finches frequent the boulder fields and wadis, as does the bright local race of Desert Lark.

 

Over breakfast on day two we can watch Bee-eaters and Red-rumped Swallows passing over the hotel. Nearby we know of a reliable site for Mourning Wheatear, whilst along the route we will find Desert and White-crowned Black Wheatears. We should also find the beautiful Blue-cheeked Bee-eater as they return to breed.

 

Moving on from Ouarzazate on day three we will check the Mansour Barrage for Ruddy Shelduck and migrant waterbirds. The long-billed race of Crested Lark, or Magreb Lark, can be found feeding in adjacent fields. Sometimes a family party of Fulvous Babblers may be encountered. What little vegetation there is growing at the roadside usually holds breeding Southern Grey Shrike and Desert Wheatear as well as many passing Western Subalpine Warblers.

 

BOUMALNE DU DADES AND THE TAGDILT

Our base for the next two nights is the small town of Boumalne du Dades. Our hotel sits high above the valley offering dramatic views of the oases alongside the Oued Dades which form a shaft of green through the heart of the terracotta mountains.

 

On our doorstep is one of Morocco’s most famous birdwatching sites, the Tagdilt Plain. This is a wonderful place for watching raptors, sandgrouse, coursers, larks and wheatears. On one evening visit we counted no less than one hundred Cream-coloured Coursers on the plain. All this to a backdrop of displaying Hoopoe Larks and the ‘whistling kettle’ song of Red-rumped Wheatear. A multitude of small rodents, in turn, attract hunting Long-legged Buzzards and Lanner Falcons. Parties of sandgrouse, mainly Black-bellied but sometimes Crowned, fly overhead, located by their liquid calls. Thekla Lark is common, as is the rather attractive Temminck’s Horned Lark. In the mornings the sound of displaying Hoopoe Larks carries on the breeze. With some luck we will encounter the impressive Thick-billed Lark, which can be numerous here in some years.

 

MERZOUGA AND ERG CHEBBI

As we continue further east the stony deserts are replaced by sandy plains and dry wadi beds before we finally reach the spectacular sand dunes of the Sahara Desert. In the Ziz Valley stands of tamarisks hold migrant birds such as Wrynecks, Bee-eaters and warblers refuelling on their northbound migration. South of Erfoud we will stay for three nights on the edge of the yellow sands to make the most of this beautiful landscape and the amazing sunsets.

 

The endangered Houbara Bustard still clings on in this area aided by a programme of reintroductions. Sometimes we encounter a day roosting Egyptian Nightjar; these birds are marvellously camouflaged against the desert floor. Out here the Common Raven is replaced by the Brown necked Raven. The African Desert Warbler breeds amongst the isolated bushes scattered across the sandy wastes.

 

Other specialist species include the very local Desert Sparrow which is virtually endemic to North Africa. Both Western and Eastern Olivaceous Warblers occur together side by side. The sandy deserts also hold Spotted Sandgrouse and Bar-tailed Desert Larks. We will look for the Pharaoh Eagle Owl here. The owl sometimes shares its rocky nesting site with both Lanner and Barbary Falcons. The Atlas form of Long-legged Buzzard is also a resident here.

 

We will then retrace our steps, spending another two nights at Boumalne. This time we will explore the stunning Gorge du Dades. We can expect great views of the majestic Bonelli’s Eagle here, as well as seeing breeding Crag Martins and migrating European Bee-eaters. Tristram's Warbler, a smart little bird which is endemic to the Atlas Mountains, inhabits juniper scrub at the roadside here. Amongst the palm groves at lower elevation dozens of Nightingales are in full song, whilst other species include House Bunting, Rufous Bushchat and Black Redstart. It all makes for wonderful birdwatching in some of the region’s most spectacular scenery.

 

MARRAKECH AND THE HIGH ATLAS

The High Atlas Mountains, within easy reach of our final base outside Marrakech, offer a combination of breathtaking scenery and exciting birdwatching. Two days spent in this area will yield a number of localised breeding birds.

 

We will drive up to Oukaimeden, a ski resort situated above the tree line. This is an excellent location to search for the high altitude mountain birds. Of these perhaps the most sought-after is the African Crimson-winged Finch. It is easier to find this species here than anywhere else in the world. Seebohm’s Wheatear, recently split from Northern Wheatear, breeds on the grassy slopes . Levaillant's Green Woodpecker nest around the resort of Oukaimeden. The beautiful Atlas Shore Lark occurs on the edge of the retreating snowfields, while Alpine Accentor is more thinly spread. Other birds of these high altitude areas include Black Wheatear, Rock Sparrow, Rock Bunting, Alpine Swift, Black Redstart, Alpine Chough and Red-billed Chough. Even the stunning Moussier’s Redstart can also be found here; perhaps the iconic bird of Morocco.

 

CLIMATE AND PACE

The weather will be mostly warm and sunny. However in the higher elevations it can be pleasantly cool, particularly in the morning. Rain is possible in the mountains, but unlikely in the desert. Breakfast will be taken at about 7am most mornings, perhaps slightly later if the previous day has been tiring. Basic fitness is all that is required. Full days will be spent in the field and short/medium length walks on the flat will be undertaken regularly.

 

ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD

Full-board accommodation is provided with two nights at the Hotel Khenzi Azghor, Ouarzazate, two nights at the Hotel Xaluca Dades, Boumalne, three nights at Kasbah Erg Chebbi, two nights back at the Hotel Xaluca Dades, Boumalne, and two nights at Auberge Le Maquis in the Valle d’Ourika. Rooms are of a very good standard and have en suite facilities. Lunch will usually be taken in a hotel restaurant or café.

 

PRICE INCLUDES …..

All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local driver/guide (this will be John’s eighth tour to Morocco), full-board accommodation (starting with lunch on 10th and ending with breakfast on 21st), soft drinks at meal-times, bottled water throughout, local transport by mini-coach and international flights.

 

WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED

Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.

 

INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS

Return flight from both London Gatwick and Manchester to Marrakech using the services of Thomsons and Easyjet. Outbound flight departs early morning, return flight arrives back late afternoon.

 

 

 

 

11 nights:

                               

Principal leader:

 

Maximum group size:

 

Cost with discount

(if you book before

30th January  2015):

 

Full Cost:

 

Deposit:

 

 

10th to 21st April 2015

 

John McLoughlin

 

10 clients with one leader

and a local driver/guide

 

£1830 per person sharing

(£230 single supplement)

 

£1930 per person sharing

 

£300 per person

 

A ground only price is available. Please contact our office.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The attractive Moussier's Redstart is always a favourite on our trips

A cocky Rufous Bush Chat in a typical pose

Temminck's Larks are abundant on the Tagdilt Plain

 

Black Wheatear one of several species of wheatear to be encountered on the tour

A splendid male Lanner Falcon, we usually have superb views

African Desert Warbler is a speciality of the Merzouga area.

Levaillant's Woodpecker is endemic to the Altas Mountains. This one was photographed near our hotel in the Valle d'Ourika.

 

 

 

 

 

 

click here to see the photographs in our Morocco Album

 

 

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