Welcome to our bird watching trip to Morocco. On this occasion, we have repeated our favourite itinerary in this wonderful and welcoming country, the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert. In total we have seen 116 species of birds (many of them with a restricted distribution) and several subspecies which will probably be split in the following years.
Five of us meet in Valencia airport and fly together to Madrid airport (Terminal 4) on time to join with Keith and Deidre, both travelling from the United States. Once we get at Marrakesh airport, we meet our driver Hamid. While we get into the van, we see the first bird of the trip, a flock of Little Swifts.
After having breakfast at 8 o’clock, we set off towards the Atlas Mountains. The first stop in route is in an open scrubland area where we see a beautiful male of Moussier’s Redstart, as well as a group of Spanish Sparrow. In addition, in some nearby fields, the scope two Barbary partridges, a pair of Little owls, a Southern Grey Shrike (subsp. algeriensis) and a beautiful Barbary Falcon. What a great start to this bird watching trip to Morocco!
Later, we continue our journey to the Atlas Mountains. Our next stop is at the hotel to leave our luggage and get some new birds. Soon we locate the Atlas Crossbill, a subspecies of the Common Crossbill which is a clear candidate to be a new specie. You might find interesting this article about the differences between the Atlas Crossbill and Common Crossbill. In the same trees we also see a African Blue Tit.
Around the garden, we see the endemic Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker feeding on ants. In addition, in a large walnut tree we get two Great Spotted Woodpecker which are breaking the walnut galls to feed on the insects.
We continue our journey towards the ski slopes of Oukaimeden where we stop to have lunch. After having our first Tajin, we start looking for some local bird specialities. A few meters from the restaurant, we see a large group of Red-billed Chough and Alpine Chough having a feast on a rubbish pile.
After searching for one hour, we finally find a good number of Atlas Horned Larks and a newly arrived Northern Wheatear. This winter the weather has been warmer than average, and therefore the snow has retreated to a higher level. This makes it even more difficult to locate the beautiful Crimson-winged Finch.
Finally, around 5:30 we watch three Crimson-winged Finches flying which we locate later in the market. Next to them, we find an African Chaffinch. These approachable birds allow us fantastic close views.
Today we have a long drive ahead. Around 11:30, we make a stop for coffee in a bar and from the terrace we get four Lesser Kestrel migrating.
After lunch, we continue the itinerary making short stops to watch some birds such as Black Wheatear and White-crowned Wheatear. The latter one gives a lot of discussion as immature birds do not have the characteristic white crown but do have a different pattern on the tail. In the same stop we also find a couple Desert Larks and Thekla Larks.
Finally, our last birding stop is to look for one of the Magreb “jewels”, the spectacular Magreb Wheatear. After searching for 15 minutes, we find a beautiful male, followed by a female and our first Trumpeter Finch of the trip.
A couple of hours later, we arrive at our cosy accommodation, a traditional Riat in Boumalne du Dades where we have a delicious couscous for dinner.
No doubt today will be a fantastic birding day. After breakfast, we visit the famous landfill which attracts numerous species of birds. On the way we pull over to observe an “infiltrated” Atlas Horned Lark among a group of Temminck’s Larks. We also find a flock of Lesser-short toed Larks.
As soon as we arrive at the landfill, we find a beautiful male of Red-rumped Wheatear and three Thick-billed Lark which are on pursued. At some distance we scope pair of Long-legged Buzzards.
In the surroundings we find a beautiful male of Desert Wheatear in full song. Among the piles of debris, a group of 50 Trumpeter finches flies off.
We continue our bird watching tour finding the spectacular Hoopoe Lark and a group of four Cream-coloured Coursers. How beautiful they are! One of the most stunning waders! Later, we stop in the surroundings to have our picnic lunch, a Moroccan omelette. While we tuck in our sandwiches, we scope a flock of Pin-tailed Sandgrouses.
Finally, our last stop of the day is in a gorge to look for the impressive Pharaoh Eagle Owl. Soon, we find the female perched at the entrance of the nest and the male just few meters away. What a stunning bird! On the way back to the hotel we see a pair of Laughing Dove resting in a tamarisk.
Yesterday was a long day on the road, so we call it a day. Everyone has time to rest and enjoy the patio of the Riat. We make the checklist having some cold beers.
Today we set off towards the Sahara Desert. Our first stop is to stretch our legs is the Todra Gorge, and we are lucky enough to see a beautiful pair of Bonelli’s Eagles. Superb!
After lunch, we make a stop in a wadi close to Merzouga to look for one of the most difficult species, the Scrub Warbler. Once we start looking around, we see a flock of Great short-toed Larks as well as a Great Grey Shrike of the subspecies elegans, which is much paler than the subspecies algeriensis.
There is also two approachable Black-tailed Larks. Nevertheless, the sighting of the Scrub Warbler is poor and some people miss it. We will try again tomorrow.
Juan and Mateo photograph a weird-looking Wheatear which turns to be a Seebohm Wheatear. A beautiful and unexpected sighting of a short-distance migrant bird that breeds in the Atlas Mountains. In a nearby bush, we find a beautiful male Tristram’s Warbler.
Finally, we arrive at our accommodation in the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert.
Today we have an interesting bird watching day ahead. We leave the hotel in two 4×4 vehicles and head to a watering hole for dromedaries which is sometimes used by Sandgrouses. Once we arrive, we get a pair of Spotted Sandgrouses. A little later, we see a flock of 12 birds landing by the watering hole. Shortly afterwards, a group of 5 Crowned Sandgrouses land not far from us allowing good pictures. What a start!
Our next stop is at a tent where the nomads live. They very kindly offer us tea with mint. While we have the drink seated in the ground, a Hoopoe Lark and a beautiful Desert Sparrow get closer and closer to us. Fantastic!
After that, we go straight to a scrubby area where we find different territories of Spectacled Warbler and Desert Warbler. In the transect to our next stop, we find a good bunch of Brown-necked Ravens.
Later, we meet a Berber shepherd who has been searching at dusk for us a spectacular bird. This bird has just arrived to breed in the desert, the Egyptian Nightjar. Once we get to the area, we locate the bird under a bush, dozing. We enjoy watching it just few meters away. What a wonderful bird!
It’s time to have lunch and our Moroccan friends invite us to have a Berber pizza at their place. During the afternoon, we continue looking for the birds we have miss so far. The weather is not very hot (28 ºC) but the sun is strong.
We set off to some cliffs where a pair of Lanner Falcons nest. The male brings a catch and offer it to the female, great! In the near bushes, we find a female of Tristan’s Warbler.
After that, we visit a wadi where we manage to see two Scrub Warblers after an intense search. Finally, we have a stop in a palm tree grove to see a small group of Fulvous Babbler.
We have seen all the desert bird species, so it is time to celebrate it with a cold beer!
Today we start the trip back to Marrakech. During the journey we cross fertile valleys where palm trees and alfalfa are grown. On a pylon, we see a Short-toed Eagle.
After lunch, we make a stop on the Draa River. Here we see the Moroccan subspecies of White wagtail (subsp. supersonata), as well as Common, Green and Wood sandpipers.
The last stop is made near Ouarzazate, in the Mansour Eddahbi. In this reservoir we find a good number of new species for the trip: Marbled Teal, Ruddy Shelduck, Magreb Lark, Black-winged kite, Greenshank and Kentish plover among many others.
We leave Ouarzazate behind and head North towards Marrakesh. On the way, we visit the impressive Kasbah Ait Benhaddou. This World Heritage city (17th century) has been the set of many popular films such as Game of Thrones, Prince of Persia and Gladiator among many others. We walk along the alleys passing through numerous craftsmen shops and watching birds such as Blue-rock thrush, Red-rumped Swallow and Crag Marin.
After having lunch, we make the last stretch of road to our accommodation in Marrakech.
Today is our last day in Morocco so we will spend the morning visiting the Medina of Marrakech and buying some souvenirs. In the sky we watch migrating, two Booted eagles and a kettle of few tens of Black Kites.
After visiting the Palais Bahia in Marrakesh, we are driven to the airport to end this wonderful bird watching trip to Morocco. We have seen all the target birds and enjoyed the Moroccan hospitality and food.
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