Morocco 2018 - Atlas Mountains to the Sahara Desert & Beyond!
Thursday 1st March – Tuesday 13th March 2018
Situated in North-west Africa, Morocco has for centuries drawn travellers in search of adventure and the exotic. The country is full of contrasting images and colourful sights that invade your senses and has a fascinating history and culture, which we will get a little flavour of as we pass ancient ruins and Kasbahs on our way to palm-fringed oases out in the desert. The variety of habitats from stony deserts (hammada), sand dunes, lakes, rivers, estuaries and the immense Atlas Mountains gives it one of the most interesting avifaunas in the Western Palearctic. If you could have designed a country purely for birding, then it would look something like Morocco and it attracts birdwatchers from all over the world in search of some incredible sought-after specialities and NW African endemics. Our journey begins at Marrakech and this beautiful city gives us access to the High Atlas Mountains where African Crimson-winged Finch inhabits the snowline and Levaillant's Woodpecker can be found in the forests lower down the valley. The famous Tagdilt Track is a very special place where Cream-coloured Courser, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Red-rumped Wheatear and stunning Thick-billed Larks can be found. From here we visit the scenic Todra Gorge for Tristram's Warbler before heading off the usual birding circuit and targetting the difficult Dupont's Lark, which at this time of year should be displaying and giving us the best opportunity to observe this much-wanted species. A three-night stay in the desert environs of Merzouga, rather than the usual two nights, gives us excellent chances to find the very special birds that inhabit this remote area. High on our wish-lists are Pharaoh Eagle Owl, Spotted Sandgrouse, African Desert Warbler, Fulvous Babbler, Desert Sparrow, and if we are lucky, the increasingly scarce Houbara Bustard. Our last couple of days will be spent along the coast where Northern Bald Ibis reside, and we'll have plenty of time to explore the two most famous sites of Oued Sous and Oued Massa where Red-necked Nightjar, Moussier's Redstart, Black-crowned Tchagra and a wide variety of other species will ensure our action-packed Moroccan adventure ends on a high!
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We take a flight from London to Marrakech and then transfer to our hotel for a two night stay. Night at Marrakech. .
Days 3 - 4 High Atlas - Boumalne du Dades - Tagdilt Track
After an early breakfast we leave the mountains behind, perhaps pausing again en-route for Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker, as well as African Blue Tit and distinctive local races of Common Crossbill and African Chaffinch. From the flat plains of Marrakech,we will drive through the High Atlas Mountains and drive to Boumalne du Dades via the scenic and rather impressive Tizi-n-Tichka pass (2260 meters), a spectacular and long drive.The road through the mountains is extremely winding and we will take our time, stopping at a few convenient locations. Along the way we’ll try for the stunning endemic Tristram’s Warbler, which has very specific habitat requirements away from its wintering grounds and not always easy to find. As the road climbs into the hills, we may start to see some raptors such as African Long-legged Buzzard and Bonelli's Eagle. Before reaching Boumalne du Dades we’ll stop at a few places to look for the rare Maghreb Wheatear. Once we have dropped down to the valley floor the scenery soon changes and we will drive across the `hammada’ or stony desert. Roadside birds can include Black and White-crowned Black Wheatears and both Desert and Thekla Larks.
Our main reason for coming here is to visit the famous Tagdilt Track. This is without doubt one of the top areas for birding in Morocco and is an excellent area for some very special birds. Excellent chances exist for seeing Cream-coloured Courser, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Red-rumped and Desert Wheatears, Thekla Lark, Greater Hoopoe, Temminck's and Short-toed Larks, Trumpeter Finch, and with luck the highly nomadic Thick-billed Lark. If the heat allows, we will dedicate most of our day to exploring this area, before visiting a rocky canyon searching for Maghreb Wheatear, Desert Lark and our first chance of Pharaoh Eagle Owl where the people live in caves here with flocks of sheep and goats. Other possibilities here include Booted Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, Pin-tailed, Spotted or Crowned Sandgrouse and Lanner. Nights in Boumalne du Dades.
Day 5 Boumalne du Dades - Todra Gorge - Atlas Mtns - Midelt
We will depart early and visit the spectacular Todra Gorge for the endemic Tristram's Warbler, as well as Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush, Rock Dove, Crag Martin, House Bunting and possible Bonelli's Eagle! Next we travel eastwards and stop at a scrubby wadi to seek out the elusive Streaked Scrub Warbler, and maybe also rewarded with Thick-billed Lark and more Trumpeter Finches. Night in Midelt.
Day 6 Midelt - Goulmime - Sahara Desert
We will leave very early this morning to search for the elusive Dupont's Lark near Zaida. This is a very difficult semi-desert high-plains species that has the ability to seemingly totally disappear amongst the tussocks. During our walk we should see Thekla, Short-toed and Lesser Short-toed Larks, as well as Maghreb Lark (a recent split from Crested Lark). After breakfast we will head south through the stark mountain landscape to the edge of Sahara desert, and along the way we may see Eurasian Crag Martin, Desert Lark, both Black and White-crowned Wheatears, while in a spectacular valley both Rock Bunting and Blue Rock-thrush can be found. Finally after another exciting day we will arrive at our desert hotel for a three night stay. Night in Merzouga.
Days 7 - 8 Merzouga - Erg Chebbi Dunes
We have two full days dedicated to exploring the sandy dunes, palm groves, wadis and the nearby stony desert of Erg Chebbi - the largest dune system in Morocco. This remote area holds a number of key target birds and we'll have plenty of time to search for them in a vey relaxed manner. Our target species here and amongst the stark desert landscape, as well as several remote café’s will be the superb and increasingly difficult Houbara Bustard and the attractive looking Desert Sparrow. Other species we will search for include Pharaoh Eagle-Owl, Fulvous Babbler, Greater Hoopoe Lark, African Desert Warbler and Brown-necked Raven. There are sometimes seasonal lakes which attract numerous wildfowl and waders – an amazing sight out here in the desert! It is also worth scanning the skies for visible migration and as the day warms up it is possible to see good numbers of storks and raptors rising on the thermals and heading north towards their breeding grounds. Other species in this area include Spotted Sandgrouse, Barbary and Lanner Falcon, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Short-toed, Desert and Bar-tailed Desert Larks, Desert and Black-eared Wheatears, Dartford and Spectacled Warblers, Saharan Olivaceous Warbler, Trumpeter Finch and Southern Grey Shrike. We will also be here at a good time of the year to seek out Egyptian Nightjar at a day roost and our excellent local guide has a high success rate with this much-wanted species. Nights at Merzouga.
Day 9 Rissani – Anti Atlas Mtns – Ourzazate
Today is mainly a travelling day as we transfer from Merzouga to the former French garrison town of Ouarzazate across the Anti-Atlas Mountains, a series of rocky hills, cliffs and deep gorges of volcanic formations. Roadside birding could produce plenty of White-crowned Wheatears and Southern Grey Shrikes, as well as giving us further chances of finding Streaked Scrub Warbler or Thick-billed Lark if we still need them. Before reaching our hotel in Ouarzazate we’ll stop to explore the Barrage at Mansour Eddahbi, where we have a chance of seeing a good variety of wildfowl and shorebirds such as Marbled Duck, Ruddy Shelduck and Black-winged Stilts, herons, egrets, Maghreb Lark (split from Crested Lark), and Sardinian Warbler as well. Night in Ouarzazate.
Day 10 Ourzazate – Anti Atlas Mtns - Sous Valley - Taroudant - Agadir
A long drive to the west will take us over the Anti Atlas mountains and into the fertile Souss Valley and on to Agadir situated on the Atlantic coast. Initially we will keep our eyes open for various larks by the roadside and for wheatears, whilst in the Souss Valley we could see Laughing Dove, European Bee-eater, European Roller, Black-crowned Tchagra, Red-rumped Swallow, Common Nightingale, Sardinian and Western Orphean Warblers, Spanish Sparrow, Cirl Bunting and Spanish Sparrow, whilst over the town of Taroudant there may be both Little and Pallid Swifts. We may also come across the brookei form of Peregrine (an interesting form to compare with the closely related Barbary Falcon). Finally after an exciting day we will arrive at our hotel in Agadir where we will stay for three nights.
Day 11 Oued Massa - Oued Sous
We will have another early start and head south of Agadir to the famous Oued Massa on the Atlantic Coast - one of the best birdwatching spots in the country.This estuary is famous for rarities, but we shall be happy finding some of the resident or regular migrants that are drawn to the mosaic of habitats. We will search the vegetation along the waters edge for skulking Little Bittern, Spotted, Little and Baillon’s Crakes, whilst the distinctive call of the secretive Black-crowned Tchagra ring out from dense cover. More easily observed birds can include Ruddy Shelduck, Marbled Duck, Marsh Harrier, Osprey, Black-shouldered Kite, Glossy Ibis, Squacco and Purple Herons, Ruddy Shelduck, Plain Martin and hopefully Tawny Eagle. Other possibilities include Little Owl, Laughing Dove, Brown-throated Martin, Moussier's Redstart, Savi’s, Western Olivaceous and Moustached Warblers, Zitting Cisticola, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Pallid Swift, Red-rumped Swallow and Common Bulbul, as well as a whole host of waders.
We will spend the afternoon at the Oued Sous - a delightful area which is very good for a wide variety of waders, terns and large flocks of roosting gulls that can include such delights as Pied Avocet, Kentish Plover, Curlew and Wood Sandpiper, Slender-billed, Audouin’s and Mediterranean, Gull-billed Tern, and on occasions there's a Lesser Crested Tern in attendance as well. Other species here include Greater Flamingo, Zitting Cisticola and Sardinian Warbler and at dusk we will check a nearby site for Red-necked Nightjar.
Day 12 Cap Rhir - Tamri - Agadir
Early in the morning we will head north, stopping firstly at a beach where there will be Lesser Black-backed Gulls of two races, Audouin's Gulls, a few Yellow-legged Gulls and there is often a skua or two offshore. Aftewards we will visit Cap Rhir for a seawatch, primarily for shearwaters and skuas. We will then continue north to Tamri to search the scrub and fields adjacent to the coast for the endangered Northern Bald Ibis.The entire area is excellent for birds and we can also see Barbary Partridge, Yellow-legged Gull and the beautiful endemic Moussier’s Redstart. Late in the afternoon we travel back to Agadir.
Day 13 Agadir - UK - End of Tour - 13th March
Morning transfer to the airport and return international flights to London where the tour concludes later today.
Group size: Minimum of 4 and maximum 10.
Included in cost: Accommodation in twin/single rooms en-suite throughout, all meals, bottled water, transport, all reserve entrance fees, and services of local guides.
Not included: International airfare, insurance, drinks, tips and items of a personal nature.
Accommodation: Good throughout, all in well-appointed hotels and guesthouses with private facilities. All hotels provide a simple breakfast typical of Morocco, consisting of fresh bread, butter, honey and jam, fruit juice, tea or coffee. For lunch we will have picnic lunches when out in the field. Evening meals will be a mixture of local and international cuisine.
Tour Code: A standard birding tour where a moderate degree of fitness required. Leisurely walking, very occasionally over moderately rough terrain, is the only physical requirement on most days. Most birding is done close to our vehicle, though we will need to walk to see mountain and estuaries species, and some exertion will be required in mountain environments. There will be the option to stay close to the vehicle, should anyone wish to go back. The weather is changeable and can sometimes be cold, windy or wet along the Atlantic coast and in the Atlas Mountains, so bring a warm jacket, gloves, warm layers and adequate rainwear. It should be quite hot during the daytime whilst in the desert.
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