Friday 10th March 2017
THE MAGIC OF MOROCCO - THE GRAND TOUR
Friday 10th - Monday 20th March 2017
We met at a cold and murky Gatwick Airport for our flight down to Marrakech in Morocco. Due to a French air traffic control strike, we were re-routed westwards over Cornwall where we made a turn to the south just past the Isles of Scilly.
Down over the Portuguese border and out over the Atlantic, our arrival at Marrakech was just 30 minutes later than planned and we disembarked the plane to a warm 31 degrees! As we entered the terminal building a fine MOROCCAN WAGTAIL strolled past.
After the rigmarole of immigration, we spotted our first HOUSE BUNTING singing from the gantry and we met our local guides Chris and Dani who took us to our coach with driver Mohammed from our previous tours to Morocco.
A short while later we arrived at our hotel with some time to unpack and have lunch with a cold drink in the restaurant.
Whilst relaxing, we noted more HOUSE BUNTINGS plus HOUSE SPARROW, LITTLE SWIFT, PALLID SWIFT and two ALPINE SWIFTS. Other goodies included COMMON BULBUL, WHITE STORK and COMMON KESTREL.
We reconvened at 4.00pm when the temperature had dipped and after meeting up with Karim and Stephen who had travelled from Gabon and Norway respectively we drove to the outskirts of the city to spend time birding an area of palms and scrub.
COMMON BULBULS were common and a pair of ZITTING CISTICOLAS were in a barley field close to the road. One of the highlights were a pair of BARBARY PARTRIDGE feeding in a rough field before slinking away. Whilst watching the partridge, a SPUR-THIGHED TORTOISE followed by a second individual were seen a little further away.
A pair of SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKES fed on insects whilst a male SARDINIAN WARBLER flitted from the scrub. Migration appeared to be in full swing with many BARN SWALLOWS moving northwards including individuals with dark underparts. WHITE STORKS and CATTLE EGRETS were seen in good numbers with the latter species heading off to roost in sizeable flocks.
WHITE and YELLOW WAGTAILS were recorded plus flyover MEADOW PIPITS and a single GREENFINCH was added to our lists for good measure. In the distance were a pair of BOOTED EAGLES that eventually moved nearer and almost came over us.
Butterflies were well represented with MOROCCAN ORANGE-TIP, GREENISH BLACK-TIP, CLOUDED YELLOW and a possible BATH WHITE.
Time was getting on so we wandered back to the coach and returned to the hotel where we had time for a hot shower before meeting for our evening meal.
At dinner we met Tony who had flown in from the UK on a later flight and we settled down to dinner.
The food went down well and we headed off for some well-earned rest, looking forward to the next and first full day of birding in Morocco!
Saturday 11th March 2017
After a good night’s sleep we met for breakfast at 6.30am and tucked into a good selection of goodies. We were away promptly at 7.00am heading out of the city and noting good numbers of SPOTLESS STARLINGS along the way. After we started climbing up through the hills a few RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS were spotted before we made our first stop.
A few WOODPIGEONS of the race excelsa were seen plus our first AFRICAN CHAFFINCHES and AFRICAN BLUE TITS. We could hear GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER drumming which remained unseen although we did have scope views of SERIN, HAWFINCH and COMMON CROSSBILL, also known as 'Atlas Crossbill'.
BLACKCAPS flitted around the trees and both GREAT TIT and COMMON BULBUL were noted. With conditions looking good, we continued our journey up towards the ski resort at Ouikameden.
In a few kilometres we made another impromptu stop in a village and located one of our main targets - LEVAILLANT'S WOODPECKER! The light wasn't fantastic but we saw the bird had a deformed bill, with both upper and lower mandibles crossing and making it look more like a Crossbill!
It was joined by a male GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER which showed before dropping into the river valley. The trees bordering the small fields held good numbers of AFRICAN BLUE TIT, GREAT TIT and ROBIN. HOUSE MARTINS flew over the houses and GREY WAGTAIL zipped overhead.
Another LEVAILLANT'S WOODPECKER was seen, again in poor light but this time with a normal bill. Just as we were to board the minibus, we found COAL TIT and a pair of SHORT-TOED TREECREEPERS.
Reaching the ski resort of Ouikameden we made our way along the track and had brief views of an HORNED LARK of the atlas race but our attention was quickly taken by the appearance of several AFRICAN CRIMSON-WINGED FINCHES. Stunning views were had as they took the chance to raid the local trader’s walnuts.
A few CHAFFINCH of the nominate race fed amongst the snow and BLACK REDSTARTS were numerous. Further along the track were more AFRICAN CRIMSON-WINGED FINCHES plus a GREY WAGTAIL.
Reaching the entrance to the Toubkal National Park we had the opportunity to study good numbers of ATLAS DAY GECKO'S plus an unidentified WALL LIZARD.
A quick scan of snowy peaks yielded a few NORTHERN RAVENS plus COMMON KESTREL. Retracing our steps to the area where we had seen the finches, our attention was taken by a song on the far side of the valley which revealed a cracking male SEEBOHM'S WHEATEAR!
We had great views of this scarce visitor as it flitted around the rocks, often with a male MOUSSIER'S REDSTART for company. Delighted by this we headed to a local restaurant for lunch which was a superb tagine followed by satsuma’s and mint tea.
Suitably refreshed, we spent time looking at both RED-BILLED and YELLOW-BILLED CHOUGHS as they fed on the damp grassy pasture, occasionally taking flight and swirling above us.
Taking a drive to the top of a hill gave the chance to wander slowly down. A couple of BLACK WHEATEAR flitted around the rocks as did a pair of ROCK BUNTING. BARBARY GROUND SQUIRRELS were seen but were quite skittish.
As we reached the bottom, we spotted some HORNED LARKS quickly followed by lots more. Over 15 birds flew off but with perseverance we had stunning views as they returned and wandered around without a care.
Slightly out of place was a SHORT-TOED LARK in the same area which promptly disappeared.
We left the area and stopped at a site visited that morning. Here we had good views of AFRICAN BLUE TIT, AFRICAN CHAFFINCH and ATLAS SHORT-TOED TREECREEPER.
It was then time to head black to the hotel, the drive producing a brief sighting of a BLACK-WINGED KITE perched on a pine tree.
After getting back it was great to have a refreshing shower before meeting for our evening meal which we all agreed (well most of us!) that it was very tasty.
It was then time to complete the birdlist before heading to get some rest.
Sunday 12th March 2017
We opted for a more leisurely start with breakfast at 7.00am and an 8.00am departure from the hotel. Whilst loading up we watched hundreds of PALLID SWIFTS plus COMMON BULBUL, HOUSE BUNTING, SPOTLESS STARLING and loads of FERAL PIGEONS.
Our journey took us past the outskirts of Marrakech where RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS came down to take mud from a building site. We hadn't got far when we spotted our first MOROCCAN MAGPIE so we disembarked the van and then two BLACK-WINGED KITES flew past and a pale-phase BOOTED EAGLE was seen distantly.
The magpies gave good views as they posed for us allowing plenty of photographs!
With a long journey ahead of us we carried on and reached the town on Ait-Ourir. We passed a rubbish tip that held a large mixed flock of CATTLE EGRETS and WHITE STORKS with a single BLACK KITE for company. A couple of CRESTED LARKS were also noted along the way.
The habitat began to change as we drove through low elevation hills and with the weather warming up, we stopped at an area to scan the kings hunting estate. A pale-morph BOOTED EAGLE circled overhead but best of all were a pair of LANNER FALCON perched on top of the ridge. After a few minutes they started mating before going their separate ways.
SERIN'S and GREENFINCHES frequented wooded areas and a male AFRICAN CHAFFINCH gave us brief but good views. A PROVENCE HAIRSTREAK was seen briefly on the wildflower-rich slopes before we moved onwards.
As we reached the edge of Toufliht Forest and took a walk along the road, we had brief views of a male GOSHAWK overhead. A few minutes later a SPARROWHAWK was seen and then we were delighted to spot three GOSHAWK together as they circled on a thermal.
It wasn't just raptors though with a male AFRICAN CHAFFINCH showing well and in a small pine tree close-by we had stunning views of two ATLAS CROSSBILLS.
A LEVAILLANT'S WOODPECKER flew from a tree and HUMMINGBIRD HAWKMOTH and BRIMSTONE BUTTERFLY were seen in the sunny glades. A small holding reservoir close to the road looked good for amphibians and a quick scan produced a single SAHARA FROG.
Reaching the van we carried on up through the impressive Tizi n Tichka pass which is 2260 metres above sea level. A brief stop was made for photographs and we managed brilliant views of BOOTED EAGLE overhead with several RAVENS in the surrounding area.
Once descended, we stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant and our meal of Chicken Kebabs went down very well. We concluded our meal with tasty oranges and washed it down with a refreshing glass of mint tea.
The journey down to the stony plains produced a HOOPOE and a few HOUSE MARTINS. Parking near to a small town produced our first WHITE-CROWNED BLACK WHEATEAR of the tour as it perched on top of a pylon.
A ROCK AGAMA basked in the sun on a large rock but scuttled off before we reached it and we saw a COMMON TIGER BLUE BUTTERFLY on our return walk.
Eventually we reached the city of Ouarzazate famous for being the location that the Gladiator movie plus others were filmed.
With time to spare before arriving at our new hotel, we stopped at a small wadi in search of Hamada specialities and a WHITE WAGTAIL and SHORT-TOED LARK greeted us as we got out of the coach.
Strolling slowly along the gulley a first summer NORTHERN WHEATEAR was seen and a little further on was a stonking male SEEBOHM'S WHEATEAR! He was quite skittish in the brisk wind although we all enjoyed good views.
Our wheatear count then increased with a pair of DESERT WHEATEARS perched on top of low scrub and accompanied by SPECTACLED WARBLER. Then we another pair of DESERT WHEATEARS and a SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE.
It was then back to the minibus and onwards for our last leg of the journey to Boulmane Dades and our base for the next two nights.
We were welcomed with Berber music and a green tea before we were given our rooms and after a quick shower we headed to the restaurant in need of a cold beer!
Dinner was a hearty affair with so much choice that we certainly didn't go hungry. Stork beers were order of the day and we drank them to celebrate a great start to the tour.
Monday 13th March 2017
An early morning was in order as we had an appointment with a Pharoah Eagle Owl. Leaving the hotel at 6.15am we drove a short distance to a gorge in the desert which made for spectacular viewing. With the sun rising, a couple of TRUMPETER FINCHES flew in briefly and several BLACK WHEATEARS sang from large boulders.
The track took us to the bottom of the gorge and a few minutes later a magnificent PHAROAH EAGLE OWL was seen sitting in a small hole. We had fantastic views, it was great to see this target bird relatively easily and we took plenty of photos!
Leaving the bird in peace, we headed up the slope and stopped to scan the area. A MARSH HARRIER flew through and a pair of DESERT LARKS were seen before flying off. A YELLOW WAGTAIL flew past plus a BARN SWALLOW which proved migration was under way.
We returned to the coach and headed back for a well-earned breakfast but didn't get very far when a SHORT-TOED EAGLE appeared and another MARSH HARRIER.
With a bit of time to spare, we stopped briefly at the roadside and had brilliant views of a FAT SAND RAT and then a small flock of SHORT-TOED LARKS plus RED-RUMPED WHEATEAR, TEMMINCK'S HORNED LARKS and a single TAWNY PIPIT. The TEMMINCK'S HORNED LARKS were particularly showy and we headed back happier than ever.
Breakfast was a lavish spread with so much choice that we went back several times!
After our hearty breakfast we headed to the famous Tagdilt Track and at our first stop found IBERIAN YELLOW WAGTAIL plus RED-RUMPED & DESERT WHEATEARS, TRUMPETER FINCH and best of all, a cracking THICK-BILLED LARK!
Using some field-craft we managed to get very good views of this sought-after species. Nearby we found a few TAWNY PIPITS plus a flock of around 12 SHORT-TOED LARKS.
We then spent time crossing the many tracks in the area with 12 PIN-TAILED SANDGROUSE showing well close to the coach and further on another 12. With Mohamed’s superb off-road driving skills, we had brilliant sightings of this normally scarce bird.
It was then time for some sustenance so we visited a restaurant in Boulmane Dades for a slap-up lunch and washed it down with some Berber Whisky aka Herbal Tea!
An area of agricultural land with water was our first afternoon port of call and in the small irrigation stream we had great views of several SAHARA FROGS, but by now wind had picked up making finding migrants slightly tricky. With effort, we found singles of WOODCHAT SHRIKE, COMMON REDSTART plus COMMON BULBUL, BLACKBIRD and an unidentified phylloscopus Warbler.
Trying to escape the wind was difficult so we revisited the Eagle Owl site. It was still present but we got onto a hirundine that looked interesting and photos were taken. With discussion, it looked pretty good for ROCK MARTIN but it may be just an odd plumaged Crag Martin.
It was time to head back for a hot shower and clean off all the dust before meeting in the bar for a well-deserved beer! Dinner was once again superb with plenty of choice, some of the group opting for a variety of Moroccan Sunday roast!
Tuesday 14th March 2017
Breakfast was at 6.30pm and with another busy day ahead we loaded up the coach whilst the usual HOUSE BUNTINGS entertained us. Heading eastwards we stopped at an area that had previously been good for Maghreb Wheatear but despite searching, we just managed a BLACK WHEATEAR. We did however have good views of a pair of DESERT LARKS that fed on vegetation close by.
With time getting on, we needed to be at our next destination before tourists arrived for the day. We made an emergency stop when a black and white Wheatear was seen close to the road and lo and behold it was a stunning male MAGHREB WHEATEAR! During the next ten minutes, we had superb views of this main target. A LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD flew past carrying a FAT SAND RAT and back near the coach was an interesting plant that looked like a species of broomrape.
Reaching the magnificent Todra Gorge, we wound our way up through and stopped where there were good numbers of CRAG MARTINS. These were very different to the bird we had seen the previous day.
A female BLACK WHEATEAR showed well as did a DESERT LARK before we continued onwards. As the gorge widened we stopped in suitable habitat for our next target and it didn't take too long before we found a female TRISTRAM'S WARBLER flitting around Oleander bushes. Eventually it was joined by a male who performed his song from on top of the bushes.
Very happy with our sighting, we carried on by foot noting two BARBARY PARTRIDGE that with patience gave good views.
It was then time for refreshments with a visit to a cafe at the mouth of the gorge. CRAG MARTINS zoomed above and in the garden we noted singles of BLACKCAP, GARDEN WARBLER, COMMON REDSTART and SERIN. Just as we were about to leave, two superb adult BONELLI'S EAGLES drifted over causing havoc when the many ROCK DOVES/FERAL PIGEON blitzed everywhere.
With a two hour drive ahead we motored eastwards and stopped for lunch in a small village where we enjoyed a rather satisfying chicken tagine followed by oranges and bananas sprinkled in cinnamon.
We visited a nearby wadi and stumbled across a SPECTACLED WARBLER and then a sylvia warbler flew into scrub and turned out to be a first-summer TRISTRAM'S WARBLER! A SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE posed nicely before we moved onto another site nearby.
As we pulled up at our next site, a couple of TRUMPETER FINCHES were seen close to a well and crossing the road yielded two BAR-TAILED LARKS that gave really good views. Further along a FULVOUS BABBLER perched on top of a thorny bush and with patience we had good views of three birds.
Walking down a wadi was productive with up to eight SHORT-TOED LARKS, four SUBALPINE WARBLERS, SPECTACLED WARBLER and a spanking male BLACK-EARED WHEATEAR. A CRESTED/THEKLA LARK was seen briefly but on inspection of the photos it proved to a MAGHREB LARK! Apart from the usual FAT SAND RATS, Peter photographed a possible SHAW’S JIRD?
A falcon flew over and remained unidentified but a LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD proved no trouble for us.
It was then onwards and upwards towards our hotel and we arrived at our base for the next three nights. After a refreshing shower we met for a cold beer which went down a treat.
Our evening meal was delicious with again, so much choice.
Wednesday 15th March 2017
Some of the group headed out before breakfast where views of the Erg Chebbi dunes with the sun was coming up created fantastic landscape photographs.
After a quick breakfast, we joined our three 4x4 drivers and local guide Lahcen and headed deep into the desert. We reached a small puddle of water and there were a mixed group of SPOTTED & CROWNED SANDGROUSE. Most of the birds flew off but luckily some came back and gave really good views as they drank.
Delighted with excellent views, we carried on a little further to reach a Berber camp and there in the tree were our next targets - DESERT SPARROWS! These smart little passerines fed on the ground and often could be seen with HOUSE SPARROWS.
Several SUBALPINE WARBLERS fed in the tall trees and both BARN SWALLOW and SAND MARTINS headed north through the dunes.
With several more desert specialities to look for, our next spot produced DESERT & BLACK-EARED WHEATEARS and then we had amazing views of a male HOOPOE LARK that gave stunning sightings on the ground before performing its dramatic display flight.
Further on a couple of CREAM-COLOURED COURSERS gave us the run around before a small pale sylvia warbler was seen. On tracking it down it was an AFRICAN DESERT WARBLER that gave reasonable views in a small bush.
Our last port of call before lunch turned up a male and female EGYPTIAN NIGHTJAR, shown to us by a local nomad. Plenty of photographs were taken and we opted to head back later when the light improved.
Lunch was taken in the nearby town of Rissani where we had our packed lunches in a cafe.
It was then off to an area of date palms and small fields where we found some MAGHREB LARKS perching on soil banks and it was great to see all the salient features of this recently split species.
A bit more searching produced four BLUE-CHEEKED BEE-EATERS several of which looked absolutely amazing as they caught VAGRANT EMPEROR DRAGONFLIES overhead.
After a getting our fill of these rainbow beauties we headed to a well vegetated part of the desert where our next target gave us the run-around. But with patience and dogged determination, Lachen found two STREAKED SCRUB WARBLERS and although photography was tricky, we all managed reasonable views.
With the light dropping, we made a last ditch attempt at seeing the nightjars and as dusk fell we saw them fly low over the desert which was simply amazing!
It was good to get back after such an action-packed day for a refreshing shower followed by a celebratory beer. Dinner was as lavish as previous days and at the hotel we were joined by lots of motorcyclists taking part in a mass ride.
Thursday 16th March 2017
Some of the group headed out for the obligatory sunrise/sand dune shots before meeting for breakfast. We were once again out early for another visit to the sandgrouse watering hole.
On arrival there were quite a few SPOTTED & CROWNED SANDGROUSE which gave plenty of good views in flight and on the ground. A flock of SHORT-TOED LARKS drank as did a BROWN-NECKED RAVEN that unfortunately only had one foot!
With the wind strong and creating a mini-sandstorm we headed to an oasis in search of migrants. Our journey produced SOUTHERN GREY SHRIKE, HOOPOE LARK, SPOTTED SANDGROUSE and DESERT WHEATEAR before arriving in the town of Begaa.
The small irrigated fields are a migrant magnet and we found good numbers of COMMON REDSTARTS along with BLUE-CHEEKED BEE-EATERS, NIGHTINGALE, HOOPOES, LAUGHING DOVE, CHIFFCHAFF, WILLOW WARBLER, BONELLI'S WARBLER, three FULVOUS BABBLERS, WRYNECK, TREE PIPIT, SUBALPINE WARBLER and best of all, a first-summer male BLUETHROAT!
Our amphibian list grew with the addition of a couple of AFRICAN GREEN TOADS that frequented a small channel.
With our stomachs starting to rumble we drove to a small oasis in the middle of the desert and enjoyed our packed lunches. Whilst heading there, we made an emergency stop as an EGYPTIAN VULTURE was fighting its way into a headwind across the desert. Eventually it came right over our heads - brilliant!
Lunch was very enjoyable and birding around the nomad camp was superb with WHITE-CROWNED WHEATEARS, SUBALPINE WARBLERS, COMMON WHITETHROAT, COMMON REDSTARTS, WOODCHAT SHRIKE, DESERT SPARROWS, WESTERN BONELLI'S WARBLERS and IBERIAN CHIFFCHAFF which showed really well on Cistanche stems.
After getting a fair share of images, we checked out an area of Tamarisk bushes and had brilliant views of at least two WESTERN BONELLI'S WARBLERS and a COMMON CHIFFCHAFF.
With time running away, we headed to an area of scrub that looked good for several species such as DESERT WARBLER and HOOPOE LARK. Both species were seen well as they sat on bushes and fed on the ground.
It was then time to head back to the hotel for a hot shower to wash away the dust. Our evening meal was once again delicious and afterwards we completed the bird list before heading to bed for a well-deserved rest.
Friday 17th March 2017
A pre-breakfast excursion was made to a nearby oasis where we would hopefully find some passage migrants. LAUGHING DOVES were incredibly numerous and several individuals gave excellent views.
WHITE-CROWNED WHEATEAR, WOODCHAT SHRIKE and HOOPOE fed on the outside edge and as we entered the fields we found MEADOW & TREE PIPITS, CHIFFCHAFF, WILLOW WARBLER, COMMON REDSTART, SUBALPINE WARBLER, WHITE WAGTAIL and YELLOW WAGTAILS of the race flava, flavissima and iberiae.
A single WESTERN BONELLI'S WARBLER flitted about a small Tamarisk and a male BLUETHROAT was seen in a weedy field. Narrow paths bordering the small fields were easy to walk along and nearing the end of the fields, we flushed a QUAIL! Using field-craft we managed to get brilliant views as it wandered across a bare field in the open.
With the wind picking up slightly, we headed back for our last breakfast in the desert and we had some time to pack our bags before heading off westwards.
Saying goodbye to this excellent hotel we began the journey and hadn't got far when a male MARSH HARRIER was spotted circling over the desert.
A stop was made on the edge of Rissani in a dry wadi to look for Eastern Olivaceous Warbler but despite searching we failed to locate any, probably due to the fact that they hadn't arrived from their wintering grounds. We did however see three WHITE STORK, WESTERN BONELLI'S WARBLER and SUBALPINE WARBLER.
A long drive westwards gave us the opportunity to have a rest but we still managed to spot LONG-LEGGED BUZZARDS, COMMON KESTRELS and a few DESERT & WHITE-CROWNED WHEATEARS.
Lunch was taken in Boulmane Dades before visiting the Tagdilt Track for the final time. The wind was now cold so after putting on extra layers we went for a stroll along one of many litter-strewn tracks. A couple of BLUE-HEADED WAGTAILS were noted and a real surprise amongst the rubbish were three LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS. HOUSE BUNTINGS & TRUMPETER FINCHES sheltered from the breeze and with patience we managed good photographic images of RED-RUMPED, SEEBOHM'S, DESERT and NORTHERN WHEATEARS.
A couple of SKYLARKS were seen with two confiding THEKLA LARKS giving the best views so far of the latter species. Then we used the coach in another area as a hide. A small flock of SHORT-TOED LARKS fed close-by and we had good views of DESERT & RED-RUMPED WHEATEARS. A LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD gave good views as it carried a small mammal off.
A two hour drive laid ahead of us so we reluctantly left and continued west crossing the river where a good number of CATTLE EGRETS roosted.
A party of six BLACK KITES were seen circling over a small village and as the sun fell, we arrived at our penultimate hotel in Ouzarzate.
After a welcome tea, we met for dinner and instead of the usual buffet we had a set menu of mixed salad followed by grilled aubergine with cheese. We had Turkey Skewers for main course and dessert was a choice of fruit or lemon tart. Unfortunately they didn't have enough lemon tarts so some had strawberry crepe!
We completed the bird list and subjects for discussion were the breeding biology of Common Quail and the unusual flavour of both Gannet & Shag!
Saturday 18th March 2017
Breakfast was at 7.00am and soon afterwards we drove the short distance to the Mansour reservoir. Around 250 WHITE STORKS roosted on the banks and we found OSPREY and MARSH HARRIER on the muddy edges. Waders were well represented with GREEN SANDPIPER, GREENSHANK, LITTLE RINGED PLOVER, BLACK-WINGED STILT and KENTISH PLOVERS.
50 MARBLED DUCKS roosted amongst the boulders on an offshore island with SHOVELER, MALLARD & COMMON TEAL. Most of our time was spent photographing PALLID, COMMON & LITTLE SWIFTS and many hundreds if not thousands of images were taken of birds flying into the wind at close range. Four GREATER FLAMINGO were out in the water and a small party of EURASIAN SPOONBILL flew past. A cracking male SEEBOHM'S WHEATEAR was seen on the mud on the opposite bank.
WHITE, IBERIAN, BLUE-HEADED & MOROCCAN WAGTAILS fed on the muddy edges before Chris spotted an interesting aythya duck, which on closer inspection looked good for LESSER SCAUP. Plenty of photographs were taken to clinch the ID and it looked very good. This was the 7th record for Morocco.
It was then time to head back to the hotel to pick up bags before starting our long journey west. BLACK WHEATEAR, BARBARY PARTRIDGE, WHITE-CROWNED WHEATEAR and LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD were seen on the first part of the drive and as we descended through the Anti Atlas Mountains we picked up a flock of around 60 BLACK KITES drifting northwards.
We stopped for lunch at a reservoir in the mountains where a good number of EURASIAN COOTS were present plus LITTLE & GREAT CRESTED GREBES, four POCHARD and around five RUDDY SHELDUCK. The surrounding Tamarisks held COMMON REDSTART, SUBALPINE WARBLER, WESTERN BONELLI'S WARBLER and AFRICAN CHAFFINCH.
The obligatory tea/coffee stop was made mid-afternoon and a short while later we entered a large area of Argan trees where we took a chance to look for Western Orphean Warbler. A few AFRICAN CHAFFINCHES plus THEKLA LARK were seen and then a male WESTERN ORPHEAN WARBLER started singing! It was quite elusive in the trees but we all managed reasonable views as it crashed about.
Driving on through the Souss valley through Taroudant and on to Agadir, we noted more MOROCCAN MAGPIES, SPOTLESS STARLINGS plus BLACK-WINGED KITE and a single TURTLE DOVE. The hustle and bustle of Agadir was very apparent after the solitude of the desert but we still managed to see new species for the tour such as YELLOW-LEGGED & LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS.
We arrived at the hotel after a long day and after checking in, met in the bar for a welcome beer before our evening meal.
Dinner was good and it was great to have some rest after a long day of travelling.
Sunday 19th March 2017
We awoke to heavy rain but by the time we met for breakfast at 6.00am it had stopped. The dawn chorus consisted of COMMON BULBULS and GREENFINCHES with the occasional BLACKBIRD accompaniment.
Our first site was the Oued Massa where we saw several LITTLE OWLS on top of roadside buildings. A track towards the sea gave outstanding views of a pair of STONE CURLEW of which the female sat on a nest close to the road.
Reaching the sea, we had a quick scan yielding SANDWICH TERN, NORTHERN GANNET and a few adult AUDOUIN'S GULLS. It didn't take long to locate our main target with around 50 BALD IBIS seen in flight some way in the distance.
Mohammed took us along a sandy track and using some stealthy techniques, we got great views of this bird that only a few years ago was a very rare bird but through conservation, numbers have been increasing steadily.
Hundreds of SHORT-TOED LARKS flew northwards and on the way back we found our first LESSER SHORT-TOED LARK of the tour.
The STONE CURLEWS were still present as we drove back towards the river. A walk was taken amongst the Tamarisks and we could hear a singing male ISABELLINE WARBLER that gave good views as it sang from the trees. Butterflies included AFRICAN MIGRANT, SWALLOWTAIL and SOUTHERN SPECKLED WOOD.
The nearby stream held good numbers of insect with SAHARA BLUETAIL, LONG SKIMMER, EMPEROR, RED-VEINED DARTER plus CLOUDED YELLOW and GREENISH BLACK-TIP. SAHARA FROGS croaked and SPANISH TERRAPINS basked in the sunshine.
With the weather warming up nicely, a stroll was taken alongside the river where GREAT EGRET, LITTLE EGRET, TURTLE DOVE and KINGFISHER were noted. Eucalyptus trees held good numbers of AFRICAN CHAFFINCHES and at a small irrigation reservoir we enjoyed close views of a MOROCCAN PAINTED FROG with a SAHARA FROG in the adjacent tank.
Back near the coach we had exceptional views of a male MOUSSIER'S REDSTART as it sang from palm trees.
Just when we thought things couldn't get any better, we flushed several QUAIL from an Alfalfa field and by positioning ourselves low to the ground we had the best views ever as one walked towards us and started singing!
The moment was absolutely amazing and we were all left gobsmacked by the experience! Close to the coach we watched male CIRL BUNTING in a small fig tree with several COMMON BULBULS and LAUGHING DOVES nearby.
It was then off to lunch which was rather filling in a nearby town. Afterwards we revisited the Oued Massa where a brief stop was made for Black-crowned Tchagra. Windy conditions prevented us from finding any although a male BLACK-EARED WHEATEAR was some compensation.
Further along we took a walk past a village where we hoped to get shelter from the wind and we came across many COMMON BULBULS feeding in the date palms. MOUSSIER'S REDSTARTS gave some of the best views often at eye-level and then we heard the distinct song of a BLACK-CROWNED TCHAGRA. Eventually, we had good views of a bird perched in the open but the best was yet to come.
Mohammed who had stayed with the coach had found another bird so we headed over to find it showing unbelievably well, perching in the open and sitting on palms and prickly pears. With thunder and black skies all around us, we headed back towards the hotel.
With light still available we stopped off at Oued Souss for a walk to the river. STONE CURLEWS called and in a small stream were GREEN SANDPIPER whilst two MARBLED DUCKS flew past. A couple of CRESTED LARKS sat on piles of rubble and on reaching the edge of the river we saw a flock of around 25 SPOONBILLS plus BLACK-WINGED STILTS, GREY PLOVER, REDSHANK, GREENSHANK, COMMON SANDPIPER, AVOCETS along with WHITE STORKS, BLACK-HEADED GULLS and at least four stonking adult SLENDER-BILLED GULLS.
As the sun dropped, a group of around 25 GREATER FLAMINGO'S gave a fly past into the sunset. With Mosquitos starting to appear, we made a hasty retreat to the coach.
Arriving at the hotel, we had time for a shower before our last evening meal of the tour.
Monday 20th March 2017
With everyone’s flight times spread through the evening, we met for a later breakfast and left our Agadir hotel at 7.45am. With a couple of hours available for birding, we headed the short distance down to the Souss Estuary. The walk produced the usual ZITTING CISTICOLAS, CRESTED LARKS and SARDINIAN WARBLERS plus a couple of flyby STONE CURLEWS.
Out on the mud we added many new species to our list which included OYSTERCATCHER, RUFF, CURLEW SANDPIPER, RINGED PLOVER, SANDERLING, seven MEDITERRANEAN GULLS, CURLEW, BLACK-TAILED GODWIT and the main target, BROWN-THROATED SAND MARTIN!
We enjoyed great flight views of these super birds as they flew around below us.
SPOONBILLS, WHITE STORKS, LITTLE EGRETS, SLENDER-BILLED GULLS and SANDWICH TERNS roosted on the mudflats.
With time getting on, we wandered back and found a small group of EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS hawking insects above us.
It was then time to make the four hour journey towards Marrakesh which produced SHORT-TOED EAGLE and COMMON KESTREL.
We stopped off on the outskirts of Marrakech for our final tagine of the tour plus a glass of Berber Whisky aka Mint Tea!
After Mohammed negotiated his way through the city traffic we arrived at the airport where we said our goodbyes to Stephen, Dani and Mohammed before the remainder checked in. Karim and Tony were on different flights to Paris and London respectively and the rest of the group had plenty of time to relax before the flight back to London Gatwick.
As we waited for the plane, we watched a HOUSE BUNTING sitting just above the gate, a fine farewell after an excellent tour in Morocco!
Our flight took off a few minutes later than scheduled and we landed just over three hours later at a cold and damp Gatwick Airport.
After collecting our luggage, the remainder of the group said their goodbyes after a wonderful tour to a superb country with great food, accommodation and of course, birds and company!