CLUB TRIP MOROCCO FEBRUARY 2010
From the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara.
by Boletas Birdwatching Centre founder
Josele J Saiz assisted
by Harry Barnard.
Also see Josele's BoletasTrip Report -
Morocco in February 2010
We stayed last night at the Sofitel beside the North terminal at Gatwick.
Early in the morning we took the transit bus to the South terminal, only to
discover that the flight number had changed and we were now flying from the
North terminal! The weather was bright, cold and sunny.
The easyJet flight
from Gatwick to Marrakesh arrived on time, but we were
delayed filling in arrival forms at customs. We met Josele, changed money
and had a quick bite to eat at the airport whilst watching house buntings
flitting inside the arrivals hall.
birding we drove one and a half hours south to Vallee de L’Ourika
and then Setti Fatma . We passed many bright handwoven
carpets and clay vases for sale on the roadside .
This journey took us
into the low foothills of the High Atlas Mountains
and we saw rivers that are obviously in spate during the winter, but dry in
At our evening
meeting Josele formally introduced Harry Barnard who is already an expert
birder at 17. Josele is to take us to a range of habitats: high Mountains,
sandy dunes, stony desert, woodlands and coast. At this time of year, we
will have good opportunities to see endemic species which are displaying and
perhaps a few early migrants. We will have four-wheel drive cars, from
tomorrow and each day the passengers move forward a car. On some days the
drivers will cook for us or we will have a packed lunch. Harry will do the
checklist each night.
sightings for today were African blue tit, great tit, cirl bunting,
blackcap, common bulbul, blackbird, chaffinch, grey-wagtail, dipper,
Peregrine Falcon, Bonelli’s Eagle, wren(h), robin (h), spotless
starling, white stork, kestrel, hawfinch, cattle egret, house bunting,
grey heron, magpie, chiffchaff, swallow, collared dove.
After dinner some went to the Medina in Marrakech to view the musicians,
drummers, singers and dancers in the square. A small taxi will take you
there for 20 dirhams about £1.80. The food stalls were buzzing, offering
soupe, lentilles and gateaux. The shops are selling iron work lamps,
pouffes, bags, slippers, djellabas, rugs, material, shawls and magic potions
to keep you awake all night long! These stalls were surrounded by a circle
of young men!! Most shopkeepers are very pleasant, and they have a knack of
getting you inside by stepping out of their shop and placing you between the
shop and themselves! “Bonjour Mesdames! C’a va? What you want to buy?
Come and look in my shop..just look ..try this on..no buy!”
Marrakesh– Ouikemeden – Marrakesh
conditions today. It was cold, windy, raining and snowing… and you
thought this weather just happened in Ireland! We left, promptly at 8
AM, in four 4x4s heading south. We stopped opposite this village to
search for the levaillant's woodpecker. Women were spreading their
washing on the rocks to dry.
upwards towards Oukaimeden ski resort, where a
snowplough was clearing the road. Our vehicles were comfortable and
managed the snow without any problems.
We stopped at
the resort for a comfort break, mint tea, coffee. There were crimson
winged finches in the trees - a flock of alpine and red billed choughs
on the rooftops and a pair of ravens foraging on the ground.
restaurant, just below Oukaimeden was preparing tagines of goat,
chicken, potatoes and vegetables. We ordered ours and then strolled
off to hunt the Levaillant’s woodpecker - a Moroccan endemic
our great delight, one landed in a tree not far from the
restaurant providing us with good views, which meant we enjoyed
an even tastier lunch!
bread called Khobz..anyone found a recipe? Try
moroccan bread - made partly with semolina.
Further down the
hillside, we had views of Firecrest, blue Rock Thrush and great spotted
We stopped by a
river in below and spotted a thekla lark and a lovely Moussiers redstart
sitting bright and bold on the rocks.
Boulmane du Dades 300 km
left at 8:20 AM in
heavy rain, which turned to snow, mist and snowploughs on the High Atlas.
The view from the Tizi n Tichki pass would have been
spectacular, but was invisible to us in the mist and snow. The snow
disappeared as we descended.
There was evidence
of heavy rain with puddles along the roadside. We stopped along the way for
a mourning wheatear which some saw.
Then paused at a
hotel in Ouarzarzate, for lunch in the garden with migrant
Black kites, a spoonbill and white storks flying overhead.
Late in the
afternoon, we arrived in Boulmane du Dades at the
Hotel Xaluca Dades, tired and dusty, to be welcomed by a nomad
with sweet mint tea served in tiny glasses.
Tagdilt Track nr Boulmane du Dades
We left the
hotel at 7 am. The weather was windless and mild, with a weak sun. We
were to spend the day on the Tagdilt track. This is an
area of the 3000 foot plateau between the High Atlas and the Anti-Atlas
Mountains. It is quite flat with scrubby, prickly growth and strewn with
rubbish, mainly black plastic bags which blow enticingly in the wind,
caught in the bushes. This area supports a pack of wild dogs as well as
a delightful range of birds.
We saw desert
and red rumped wheatear, Temminck's Horned Lark, cream-coloured courser
and bar tailed desert lark. We searched and searched for thick billed
lark, to no avail. However, as we were leaving the track. Josele made a
final search, and came across six thick billed larks running through the
scrub. Apparently they use their thick bills to carry stones. The male,
which can carry the heaviest stone is chosen by the female. At another
spot we searched for the three varieties of sand grouse, and eventually
picked up quite a few black-bellied sand grouse and more cream-coloured
Black Bellied Sandgrouse
Down the road we
stopped by a ruin at Armezgane, whilst the drivers
prepared lunch, spread a red woven rug on the desert and set out our
On down the
Tinerhir Road . We walked a couple of miles on the stony shale below the
cliffs. Seeking the elusive mourning wheatear, but found a flock of
trumpeter finches instead.
We were back at
the hotel by 4 PM. Just time to visit the local hammam for 25 dirham.
February Sunday - Boulmane du Dades to Merzouga 6 to 17°C
Our first stop
this morning was to view a Pharaoh's Eagle owl perched on a cliff face.
Todra Gorge is a dramatic rift in the Atlas Mountains.
As you drive in it becomes increasingly narrow and very high.
You, anyone with an imagination might feel they were driving
into the gates of hell. Never to return! Our early start meant
we arrived before any coaches which make driving difficult.
searched a dried up river valley, and finally spotted a
Tristam's warbler and a pair of Barbary partridge; the warbler
didn't hang around for long but the latter didn't seem too
bothered by our presence.
Moving on to
Goulmima we stopped at another flat plateau area,
which was more like stony desert… Hamada. Here we found spectacled
warbler, Thekla lark.moussier's redstart and southern grey shrike.
The delightful bird of this area was the scrub warbler, which is
difficult to find, but displayed for us on the tops of the bushes.
The drivers prepared lunch of boiled eggs, Berber omelette, bread,
salad, water and Coca-Cola and gave a share to a passing
the afternoon we paused at a luxurious hotel owned by Josele's
friend. It is set in a compound inside a wall; a calm area
sheltered from the desert. Again, we were welcomed with mint
finished the day in Merzouga at the beautiful
Hotel Xaluca Tombuctu. The entrance archway is
made of kissing camels so you won't miss it!
Monday 22nd of February, depart 6:45 AM temperature 8- 22°C
We were to spend today in the desert seeking the houbara bustard,
desert warbler, fulvous babbler, sand grouse - both crowned and
spotted, Desert Sparrow, and brown necked raven.
the desert is quite different from driving in Europe. There are tracks
through the sand, but no roads, so drivers can choose to drive where
Desert Sparrows Garry Wilkinson
The special bird
of the morning? Desert Sparrows hopping along the ground and the walls
of the hotel nearby.
the desert is sandy and sometimes stony.
We took a gentle walk around an oasis and spotted the shy
fulvous babbler that we had come to seek, moving through the trees
in a party of eight..
stop was under a tamarisk tree in a sea of dunes. Whilst we waited
for the drivers to prepare lunch three young nomad girls appeared
from nowhere to sell camels they had made from fabric. Their father
was herding camels, and although he ate lunch with us the
We spent an
hour relaxing under the tree, photographing dung beetles and
occasional birds including brown neck ravens and southern grey
shrike. Then we shot off across the desert for about 20 km at great
speed! The Algerian border wasn't far away...
the day at the
Merzouga lake. What a surprise to see flamingos, marbled duck,
pintail, shoveller, little ringed plover, teal, ruddy shelduck ..in
the desert!! ...Not to mention the traders selling soap dishes and
other ornaments with embedded fossils.
Portrait of desert boy by Helen Cooper
22nd of February Merzouga to Ouarzazate departing at 8:30 AM.
Some of us went
for a walk at 6.45 before breakfast through the local oasis
with cultivated gardens. The plots are surrounded by low mud walls,
about a foot high and irrigated by a concrete channel, which supplies
water from the local lake. The fertile gardens grow onions, garlic,
carrots, beans and date palms. The palms provide shade and shelter for
laughing doves, hoopoe, robin, chiffchaff and a blackbird. It was bliss
walking through shady garden - a haven of green in the middle of the
sandy desert. Not such bliss for the birds that had been caught by the
Spanish ringers nearby.
We left for
Ouarzazate at 8:40 AM and searched along mountainsides with boulders and
scree for mourning wheatear - fruitlessly. We saw lots of white-crowned
black wheatear, black kites over the towns, an Eagle owl, temminck’s horned
lark, but sadly no sand grouse and it seemed we were too early for the blue
cheeked bee eater.
This was the last
drive for our 4x4 drivers so we said goodbye to Jusef, Mohammed, Hassan and
24 February Ouarzazate to Taroudant. Weather fine and sunny. We
stopped at a small town by a river called Ait Benhadou
while Josele went back to the hotel for the picnic. We wandered around an
orchard with Harry spotting white stork, common bulbuls, yellow wagtails and
the start of the migrants such as spectacled warbler. It was a beautiful
start to the day, even better when a second minibus appeared for us to
spread into, and which made the rest of our journey much more comfortable.
Today's journey was
through the Anti- Atlas and hamada desert. Looking north, we could see the
snowcapped mountains of the high Atlas.
We stopped for
lunch at a river gorge tightly packed with scrub and trees. Whilst eating we
spotted Barbary partridge, shrikes and chiffchaff. Further along the road,
we stopped at Aoulouz, where a bridge crosses the Sous River. There were
lots of small birds in the olive groves such as blackcap, serin and corn
A lanner falcon was
spotted at close range on the ground tearing its prey. We had good views
through the telescope.
One of our party
urgently needed a toilet stop. Josele said 10 minutes. 20 minutes later we
were still driving...uh oh! So we stopped by the roadside, and the driver
was in stitches laughing at the “Berber toilette”.
On the edge of the
town is an unregulated rubbish dump by the river. Needless to say it's a
great spot for birds and here we saw plain martin, sand martin, yellow
wagtail, southern grey shrike and little owl. Not recommended to wear
sandals here!! The rather grand Hotel Palais Salam in
Taroudant was faded but gorgeous. High walls, and even higher
palm trees, tiled floors and walkways, arched doorways and two swimming
pools -this was formerly a pasha's palace. It's well worth a stay if you
haven't been, but try to get a room in the old part.
February Taroudant - Agadir - temperature max 28c
We started off this
morning at the riverside rubbish dump. The plain martins eventually showed
up and a little owl bade us farewell.
LittleOwl Garry Wilkinson
Along the road Harry
told us to watch out for
Great Spotted Cuckoo since we were driving through suitable territory.
Men were off to work in the early morning, wearing djellabas with hoods up
to keep out the chill. The road was cluttered with bicycles, motor bikes and
scooters, lorries and cars. The driver drives up close, gives a toot on the
horn, overtakes even when there is little room and toots twice when he has
passed (to say thank you). Road mortality rates must be very high.
We passed the
outskirts of Agadir full of new industrial and commercial developments -
many unfinished - on the ring road. And headed out for the Atlantic coast.
...what a perfect place for a picnic...with the temperature rising to 28C
and a cooling breeze. Remember this is the first heat anyone has felt since
last May in Ireland.
We watched yellow
legged, audouins and lesser black backed gulls, gannets and cormorant
mauritanica. Further along we saw some
rare bald ibis,
kentish plover and common sandpiper. Back to the hotel in Agadir where some
of us enjoyed a refreshing swim in the pool before dinner.
26th Agadir - Souss-Massa National
Park - Oued Souss
at 7.45 for a two hour drive south to the Sous Massa National Park.
Spotted some stone curlews in a field near the road and heard a western
olivaceous warbler in a bamboo thicket. We walked at a leisurely pace
along an unmade road towards the park observing the devastating effects
of recent heavy rain and floods on the local small farms. Nevertheless
redstart (10+ males), blue rock thrush and black
crowned tchagra were seen in the undergrowth and the bushes.
The hot sun was draining so we were
glad to see the drivers arriving under the trees with our picnic lunch.
We ate to the sound of serin calling all around us.
Back to the hotel for a couple of hours
off and then out at 5pm to the local Oued Souss (wadi) - a water hole
full of little egrets, spoonbill, gulls, avocets and an osprey. The golf
course at the side of this wadi had almost been breached by the floods
and the road had been washed away. In the gathering dusk we walked
towards the back of the king's palace where the nervous guards told us
to go away - there was nothing here to view. We insisted that we weren't
spending the night here, only watching birds. Reluctantly they let us
stay but kept a distant eye on us. We didn't cross the barrier into the
grounds as the guards had guns!
It seemed to take a long time for the
light to drop and the mosquitoes kept us company whilst we waited.
After a long time our target bird flew in, picked up by torchlight - we
could see the white on its wings -
nightjar. Success!! and even better views for some when one landed
on the road in front of the mini bus.
An itchy but delighted crowd of birders
headed back to the hotel for our last dinner with Josele and Harry as
they were leaving us on Saturday at lunchtime.
27th February Agadir - Marrakech
Driving back through the mountain alongside
an almost-completed motorway the wind blew with increasing
strength...breaking branches. Was this a sand storm? It was part of the
weather system that caused heavy rain and serious storms in Spain and
The last afternoon
and evening in Marrakech were free for us to choose our own itinerary.
...why not go to
Morocco and enjoy it for yourself?
Thank you Josele for
organising such a wonderful trip and also for bringing Harry along to assist
so excellently with the guiding. And finally thanks to all the other birders
who made this a superb holiday.