Tour Leader : Pieter Verheij Guiding/Trip Report : Peter Jones Day 1 - March 14th - Marrakech
Our tour began with some of our party visiting the slopes of the Anti Atlas, whilst others either visited the famous Souk or took an exploratory drive to one of the valleys which supplies Marrakech with its water.
Day 2 - March 15th - Marrakech – Ouarzazate
John, Geoff, Liz and Pieter visited Oukaimeden.
Bird wise they had by far the best day seeing Crimson-winged Finch, Alpine Accentor, Alpine Chough, Rock Bunting
Jenny, Sheila, David and Peter visited the famous Souk in the heart of Marrakech. My concern was how much would they be cajoled into buying? I needn’t have worried, only Peter fell prey to negotiations and returned with 2 kilos of Kidney Beans!!
Mick, Roger and I took an excursion into the river valley Oued Issil, part of several river systems that supplies Marrakech with its water. We had Cirl Bunting
and N. African sub. species of Blue
and Great Tit!
The 1st part of our journey was, for the largest part, an overcast drive into the Anti Atlas mountains. Although a lunch stop at Taddert gave us Moussier’s Redstart, the morning’s weather beat us!
We made-up for our morning lack of birds as soon as we made our decent from the Tizi-n-Tichka pass. Long-legged Buzzard, Barbary Falcon (2), Desert, White-crowned and Northern Wheatear, Desert and Crested Lark, House Buntings and Marsh Harrier! The under belly white feathers of the White-crowned Wheatear extending further than its close cousin the Black Wheatear. Shortly before Ouarzazate, the day ended very well as we spotted a juvenile Golden Eagle, which gave good sightings for fully ten minutes.
Day 3 - March 16th - Ouarzazate – Zagora
Day 4 - March 17th - Zagora – M’Hamid
At last Barbary Partridge!
Thanks to the persistence of David, we were able to enjoy this fine bird. Fruitless searches of the previous day made the discovery all the more satisfying.
The same area produced Lanner Falcon, Desert Lark, Tristram’s Warbler
and many Trumpeter Finches.
We made our way to our lunch stop near to Agdz and saw our first Laughing Doves
and Woodchat Shrike.
Departing from lunch we were treated to the sight of 4 Blue-cheeked Bee Eaters
mobbing a female Sparrowhawk
. Our next stop at the barrage near to Tansikht produced perhaps the greatest surprise of the whole tour. We were quietly watching Little-ringed Plovers
, when Liz gave excited yells of seeing a Crake
. Pointing to the bird, quietly feeding out in the open, we were able to scope and have the best views possible of Ballion’s Crake!
! I have never seen this bird so far from any cover and we were all able to enjoy the most unbeatable views ever of this colourful Crake. Such an unexpected and fantastic surprise was always going to make the rest of our journey pale in comparison. However, we did see Sub-Alpine, Bonelli
and Willow Warbler!
We depart for our night’s camping adventure near to M’Hamid!! Stocked with wine aplenty we ventured south. The first stop produced yet another surprise, Isabelline Wheatear! The bird gave us excellent views for the duration of our stop. Trumpeter Finches were abundant.
We next stopped at a bridge near to Tizi-Beni-Selmane where we had good views of Blue-cheeked Bee Eaters and Sub-alpine Warbler. Around the bridge we also had House, Sand Martin, Red-rumped and Barn Swallow. On the river we saw Little-ringed Plover. After our tea stop at M’Hamid, we made our way into the desert and our Bedouin Camp. More or less as soon as we arrived Desert Sparrows made an appearance and both Brown necked Raven and Black Kite were spotted. A camp fire sing-along and wine ensured a good night’s sleep!
Day 5 - March 18th - M’Hamid (Zagora)
Day 6 - March 19th - Zagora – Tazzerine – Merzouga
Before heading into the desert, we had good views of Desert Warbler
around the camp. The wine of the previous evening took its toll as we departed a little later than planned!! But what a day.
Our first stop was induced by the sighting of several Lesser Kestrels
perched and hawking over extensive Tamerisks. Soon we spotted a male Merlin
and later a female. Overhead we had flights of Spotted, Crowned
and Black-bellied Sandgrouse
. Also here we saw many Brown-necked Raven, Marsh Harrier, Black Kite
and Fulvous Babbler.
Our next stop produced many more of the same Sandgrouse
and Bar-tailed Desert Larks
, only this time we were able to get close to a flock of Spotted Sandgrouse
who were reluctant to fly. Hoopoe Lark
also gave good views, but the star of the day had to be our first Cream-coloured Courser
(a pair), well spotted by Jenny, also a lifer for many on this trip.
Probably our most gruelling day of the tour. Certainly our journey across the sand and stone desert to Tazzerine was entertaining. The occasional Hoopoe Lark was seen and several Desert Larks. With each stop we managed to find good numbers of Sub-alpine Warblers. Desert Wheatear was common en route and we again saw Trumpeter Finch throughout our journey. Woodchat Shrike were seen and the more common Southern Grey Shrike noted at most stops. Before reaching our lunch break at Tazzerine, we stopped at a wadi and here we managed several species, including our first Meadow Pipits of the tour. Moussier’s Redstart and Common Redstart gave excellent views. Serin, Corn Bunting, House Bunting and Blue Rock Thrush also showed.
After lunch we decided to journey on to our hotel the Kasbah Derkaoua. Here we had options for the next couple of days to either go birding or relax. The gardens gave good value birds and not least Egyptian Nightjar on our first evening
Day 7 - March 20st - Auberge Derkaoua / Merzouga
I am sure we all appreciated the ambience of our hotel and the fact that we could settle in one place for a few nights. With the desert literally on our doorstep, early morning and evening walks were always worthwhile. Quail, Red-throated Pipit
and other birds were only a stroll away! The water outfall from the hotel provided good species such as Bluethroat.
The hotel gardens produced many migrants including Sub-alpine, Bonelli’s
and Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat
and Red rumped Swallow.
Whilst the desert area and the lagoon near Merzouga provided some great finds. As soon as we setout on our day’s excursion we found Hoopoe Lark, Crowned
and Spotted Sandgrouse.
The most common bird of the area was Short toed Lark
and at the lagoon we had the bizarre sight of Sanderling, Kentish Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Greenshank, Redshank, Green and Wood Sandpiper
all in the middle of a desertt! Whie Stork, Spoonbill, Little
and Cattle Egret
added to the occasion.
Day 8 - March 21st - Auberge Derkaoua / Merzouga
Day 9 - March 22nd - Merzouga / Boumalne de Dades
We had some real surprises during our visits to the lagoon at nearby Merzouga, probably the least expected was Red-necked Phalarope
and also Sanderling.
To observe these species so far into the desert was bizarre and extraordinary. Among notables for the lagoon were Marbled Teal, Ruddy Shelduck, Black-winged Stilt, Wood
and Green Sandpiper, Eurasian Shelduck, Shoveler, Greater Flamingo, Spoonbill, Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank
Our visits to the surrounding deserts were somewhat marred by being accompanied on one day by the official guardian for the Saudi Arabian’s hunting party. These barbarians will no doubt eventually hunt Houbara’s Bustard
to virtual extinction in Morocco. Though with all their money, I cannot understand why they do not operate a captive and release program for this species and make their slaughter more of a sustainable operation! Great birds seen included young Hoopoe Lark
and Cream-coloured Courser, Desert Warbler, Red-throated Pipit, Quail, Sandgrouse sp.
, our first Montagu’s Harrier, Booted Eagle, Tawny Pipit
, a glimpse of Egyptian Nightjar
in the middle of the desert!
At last, our first good sightings of Bee Eater! We also had our second and much better views of Montagu’s Harrier and also saw Booted Eagle at the same stop. Corn Bunting, Desert Lark and Trumpeter Finch were aplenty during our morning drive to our lunch stop near Todra Gorge. We stopped during the afternoon to find Mourning Wheatear, but alas only Jenny and David had decent views! Shortly after this stop, members of the group were able to get excellent views of Temminck’s Lark. Later, after we checked-in to our hotel we had time to visit the Tagdilt Track and one of our prime target species, Thick-billed Lark, showed well for one and all! We also had Tawny Pipit and many lark species.
Day 10 - March 23rd - Boumalne de Dades / Ouarzazate
We set-off at a reasonable hour to spend the morning searching the near-by Tagdilt Track. The morning began well with Lanner Falcon making abortive attempts at catching Black-bellied Sandgrouse! Soon we spotted Stone Curlew and later on our route we had good views of both male and female Mourning Wheatear. Apart from Red-rumped Wheatears, the local desert only produced more Trumpeter Finch and many Short-toed Larks. After giving up on our search to rediscover Thick-billed Lark, we made our way towards El Mansaar Lake near to our final destination in Ouarzazate. The lake always disappoints for me, but at least on this occasion we found Whiskered Tern! Later, after checking into the hotel, Peregrine was seen twice over the hotel.
Day 11 - March 24th - Ouarzazate / Marrakech
With all day to cover the 200 kms to Marrakech, we again were able to set-off at a civilised hour. En route to our lunch stop at Taddert, we saw a pair of Golden Eagles
and the odd Rough-legged Buzzard
. We also decided to go off road in search of Horned Lark
and headed up mountain on a service track for a radio relay station. On prior visits I had always seen these larks on the higher areas of this track, but on this occasion we spent a long and fruitless time walking the hill tops! However, and with not a little relief on my part, we did eventually find them on our way down, together with a scattering of Rock Sparrows
. At a brief stop on the river pass we managed Tree Pipit.
After lunch we made for a mid-afternoon break at Toufliht. Just prior to our stop, we investigated a spring from a closed café roof and were rewarded with Hawfinch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Wren, Robin
and Great-spotted Woodpecker.
With mint teas in our hands we were able to spot Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker,
made even more rewarding by the fact we had heard this bird on our outward journey, but had failed to actually see it! From here we made our way to our journey’s end at Marrakech, seeing a few other species along the way including Sparrowhawk, Blue Rock Thrush