This trip report is from the 24 March–3 April 2018 Sunbird tour of Morocco – you can find more details, including how to book onto the next tour, here.
After a smooth arrival at Marrakesh airport, the group headed into the Atlas mountains and into the Ourika Valley. After a lunch overlooking the Ourika river, we headed up the valley towards Oukaimeden where we enjoyed excellent views of the area’s two woodpecker species – Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker, and the Maghreb race of Great Spotted Woodpecker. African Blue Tit, African Chaffinch and Cirl Bunting provided a supporting cast,.
The “Beast from the East” had just about clawed its way into North Africa and snow cover in the Atlas mountains was more extensive than in most years. Nonetheless, the snow played to our advantage in our second day, keeping many of the mountain’s breeding birds low in the valley around Oukaimeden ski resort car park – 40 Crimson-winged Finches, Horned Lark, Seebohm’s Wheatear and Rock Sparrow were all seen and, amongst the usual African Chaffinches, two male European birds, unsuaul here. Further down the valley we connected with White-bellied Dipper and several Long-legged Buzzard, as well as enjoying swirling flocks of Red-billed and Alpine Chough. Several Red-rumped Swallows gave at least some hint that spring was on its way and, continuing the rare-finch theme, four Siskins, a “write-in” for the trip list.
The following day, our journey south to Boumalne included several stops, adding Cuckoo, Hawfinch, Moussier’s Redstart and another Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker to the trip log. Seven migrating Booted Eagles and great views of a Barbary Partridge – a common but often elusive bird – helped the long journey to pass by quickly. A stop at some fields close to Ouarzarzate proved to be the best birding of the day: the bushes were packed with migrants including a fine male Black-eared Wheatear, a Western Orphean Warbler, Nightingale, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, and Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. Overhead, amongst dozens of swallows, two Collared Pratincoles hawked for insects.
It seems to have been a good year for larks in the desert and on our fourth day in the country, at the Tagdilt track, we found plenty of Thick-billed Larks – normally a tough bird to connect with, we reached the stage where, on getting onto a bird, it was expressed that it was “just another Thick-billed”! Temmick’s Larks were around in good numbers, too, and there were several large flocks of Greater Short-toed Larks. Thekla’s, Hoopoe and Desert helped to complete the day’s lark list. Wheatears put on a good showing, too, with White-crowned, Red-rumped, and Desert all seen. As with the larks, good number of Trumpeter Finches were around. Two Black-bellied Sandgrouse gave great views as they landed briefly in a ploughed field.
Starting today with a drive eastwards, we stopped for Maghreb Wheatear (two males and a female) and Lanner before arriving close to Goulmima, where we enjoyed great views of a Streaked (Saharan) Scrub Warbler. From here we head south, ready for a relaxing evening ahead of our day in the desert.
We started today early, met by Hamid, our local guide for the day. Hamid had provided a convoy of 4x4s, giving us chance to access areas of the desert our bus couldn’t. Starting at a watering hole, with the great Erg Chebbi sand dunes to one side of us and, in the distance, the Algerian birder on the other, we lapped up magnificent views of hundreds of Crowns & Spotted Sandgrouse as they came in to drink. Next up was Desert Sparrow (point-blank views of several pairs), then Egyptian Nightjar (three in their day roost), Desert Warbler (three seen) and a bonus Pallid Harrier, Bar-tailed Lark, a delicious local lunch, Tristram’s Warbler (still on their wintering grounds thanks to the cold Atlas weather) and, to complete the day, a Pharaoh Eagle Owl watching us watching it.
The following day we had a long drive ahead of us, but we had just enough time to enjoy four Fulvous Babblers in the hotel grounds before we headed back west, stopping to enjoy lunch in the breath-taking Toudra Gorge – accompanied by House Buntings, Blue Rock Thrushes and Crag Martins – before adding our first freshwater species of the trip to the list at Ouarzazate reservoir.
We started today where we had ended the last: back at the reservoir. Water levels were low but we found a number of shorebirds amongst the fragrant muddy creeks and enjoyed good views of yellow wagtails of multiple flavours and, in the scrub, a number of migrants including a bonus male Moltoni’s Warbler. An adult Bonelli’s Eagle gave us excuse for a roadside stop as we began the long drive to Agadir, as did a trio of Black-crowned Night-herons some distance further on. An afternoon stop in the Argan forest gave us chance to enjoy at least two Western Orphean Warblers, one of which was in the process of building its delicate spider-web-clad nest.
After a night in Agadir, we headed north along the coast. A stop en route gave us our second Bonelli’s Eagle of the trip, further nice views of Rock Bunting, and our first Black-crowned Tchagra. Then onwards to the Tamri National Park where we enjoyed point-blank views of the Critically Endangered Northern Bald Ibis as they fed by the side of the road, yellow wagtails feeding between their feet as they did so. A pre-lunch stop at Tamri lagoon gave us great views of four Moroccan White Wagtails, while several Audouin’s Gulls where amongst the throngs of Yellow-legged. After a spot of seawatching over lunch, we headed south, back to Agadir and to the Sous estuary. Ringed Plover was the dominant shorebird species but, with some careful scoping, we were able to pick out half-a-dozen each of Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper.
For our final full day in Morocco we headed south from Agadir to the Oued Massa. Two Short-toed Eagles, yet another Bonelli’s Eagle, a Black-winged Kite, excellent views of a pair of tchagra, a some elusive Western Olivaceous Warblers were the highlights of the first few hours on site. The good birding continued until lunchtime, when we rested in the shade of a walled garden, the smell of citrus blossom heady in the air. A cup of jasmin green tea? Hold on one second while the owner picks the jasmin from the tree above your head! We finished the day with another subtle warbler – an Iberian Chiffchaff.
We departed Agadir the following morning, back to London – and beyond.