The purpose of this trip was to focus on the 10 desert specialities we had not seen either in Morocco or elsewhere and experience Morocco at a relaxed pace and in the full flood of migration. Focusing on such a restricted number of species meant that difficult choices had to be made. For instance, do we devote a morning or more searching for Houbara Bustard given that we had already seen that species in Fuerteventura and the local breeding programme by the Saudis’ for hunting, or spend the time looking for Desert Warbler? Inevitably, the answer was to go for the Desert Warbler.
On previous trips to Morocco, it was cheapest and easiest to book a package to Agadir or Marrakech and go out for days from there. Because we were exploring the south-eastern desert area, this time we booked our flights independently. We spent the first night and the last three nights in Agadir and drove east from there. Total trip 3131 Km, but at the equivalent of 90p per litre in a very economical car, and negotiating good prices at the hotel reception desk meant a surprisingly economical trip. Dividing the total mileage by the total amount paid, the fuel worked out at less than 5p per Km.
Flights were booked on-line with BMI, currently part of Lufthansa. We also booked the first night of the Agadir hotel on-line in the UK. All other accommodation was booked when we arrived, which allowed far greater flexibility both geographically and which hotel we decided to stay at. Inevitably, the first price quoted at the hotel desk (x) was always reduced to (x 2/3) or on occasion (x ½) when two or more nights were booked. The star rating was inconsistent – 4 star was frequently more like 3 star and less frequently 5 star, but always clean with good food.
Car hire was very easy and reasonably priced via Amoudou Car Rental. The owner of the business, Lahcen, is very helpful and for reasons of economy and ground clearance for a small car, we decided on our usual model, Dacia Logan. We were pleasantly surprised that it was exactly the same vehicle that we had hired from Amoudou last year.
We met two other birders from France who we found to be very friendly and helpful with much mutual exchange of information. At Hotel Yasmina we were very fortunate to meet the Catalan Ornithologists and also the Secretary of the Moroccan Rarities Committee. We also noted a UK based birding tour group disappearing into the reeds at the Barrage El-Mansour, Ouarzazate!
This was our fourth trip to Morocco and as ever met with great hospitality and felt safe birding at all times. By far the best area for one of our key species, Desert Sparrow, was at M’hamid although there was one pair at Hotel Jasmina, Merzouga. M’hamid is the principal area apart from Oued Massa, nr Agadir, where touts became a nuisance. Knowing where to look for the birds meant that we simply drove past the touts to where we wanted to go. In any case the touts are mainly trying to sell camel and 4WD desert trips.
We wrongly imagined that the Pharoah Eagle Owl at Rissani would be difficult and so decided to hire a guide for the day.
Throughout the trip it was very evident that there had been a lot of recent rainfall during the spring, as there were many flooded fields and pools of water.
In the desert areas we found the GPS extremely useful, especially around Hotel Yasmina where the tracks are very confusing even in good weather. In a dust storm the GPS would be a life-saver in retracing one’s steps.
Thanks as always are due to Patrick Bergier for his advice and excellent book and to those who had submitted their bird reports on-line on Go-South and Surfbirds web sites.
The report by Bernard et Catherine Recorbet on Go-South ‘Voyage au Maroc’ 20/02 – 04/03/2010 was very helpful in finding the Desert Sparrows at Mille et Une Nuits, Near M’hamid.
Angle Av. Hassan II et El Monquaouama
Tel: 0021 266 115 8321 GMS: 0661 15.83.21
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Contact name: Lahcen
Dacia Logan 1.4 with air con cost 4060 MAD (£308) for 14 days including the supplement. This is generally referred to as a ‘Franchise’ and is an extra charge for reducing both theft and damage excess to zero. We found the 2WD Dacia Logan (a Renault owned company) an excellent small car for birding as amongst many other virtues, has a high wheel-base.
Hotel Palais des Roses, Secteur Balneare et Touristique, Agadir.
4* very formal, main language French. Excellent food.
+212 (0) 528 849 400
2 persons Side Seaview room Half Board £82 per room night on 3 April
Full Board £59.45 per room night + £4 tax per room night on 14/15/16 April
Both the above booked via Travel Republic online
Hotel Riad Salam, Erfoud.
4* very good food
+212 (0) 535 576 665
2 persons HB £41.36 per room night
Hotel Ksar Tinsouline, Zagora.
4* Very pleasant, slightly formal with colonial ambiance, very good food
+212 (0) 525 847 252
2 persons HB £42.93 per room night
Hotel Kenzi Azgour, Bd Prince Moulay Rachid, Ouarzazate.
4* OK, good food
+212 (0) 524 886 501
2 persons HB £59.82 per room night
We found 3 ‘guides’ familiar with the Rissani/Erfoud/Merzouga area who, as others have commented, seem also to be involved in the fossil trade. In the event, we used Brahim Mezane paying him 500MAD (£38 a large amount in Moroccan terms), but a misunderstanding arose at the end of the day with a lot of unnecessary discussion about money. Despite searching at four possible locations on the first day, we missed the Pharaoh Eagle Owl which is not breeding at present. We thought it was going to be a dip until we had a phone call the next morning when the bird had returned to the usual site described by Dave Gosney. Because we had already paid him, we did not give him any more but did have scope views of the Owl. We doubt whether we would use a guide again as the site mentioned in Gosney’s book is easy to find.
We found 3 ‘guides’:
No 01 Elmokaouiama, 52450 Rissani, Morocco
GSM: +212 (0) 670 181 130
Ksar Tagouromte, Rissani, Morocco
GSM: +212 (0) 671 146 336
Ali the Nomad
Hotel Nomad Palace, 52202 Merzouga, Morocco
Not surprisingly, the desert areas were very hot during the day, but cold at night
Books, Reports, Articles and Maps
Bergier, P. & Bergier, F. (2003) “A Birdwatchers’ Guide to Morocco”. Pub: Prion Ltd., Cley
Gosney, D. (2009) “Finding Birds in Morocco: the deserts”. Pub: Easybirder, Valley View Cottage, 15 Low Road, Sheffield, S6 5FY
Reports and Articles
Patrick Bergier Discovering and Birding Morocco” http://www.go-south.ifrance.com
An excellent, comprehensive website containing all the information you need to know on birds in Morocco, including things like site details, trip reports and research bulletins.
The many trip reports on-line at Go-South, Surfbirds and Travelling Birder.
Reise Know-How Verlag, Bielefeld, Deutschland. “Marokko 1:1,000,000” 2011
Michelin 742 National “Maroc, 1:1,000,000”
Rainage S.A.R.L. (Tanger) “Southern Morocco Road Map, 1:1,000,000”
The typical rate of exchange was 13.2 MAD/£1 and to our very pleasant surprise found that we were able to exchange pounds sterling notes at 24 hour cash points outside Banque Populaire branches in Agadir and Erfoud to get a very good rate.
3 April. Sunny, max temp 25C.
Flight from London Heathrow arrived Agadir 14.30, were met at the airport by Amoudou Cars and taken to their offices to complete the paperwork. Checked in at Palais des Roses, Agadir and prepared for a very early next day start to Ouarzazate.
4 April. Sunshine and clouds 25C, 15C in mountains.
We drove from Agadir to Ouarzazate by taking the road to the south of the N10/P32 (Gosney page 27), by-passing Taroudannt and Aoulouz. With the greatly improved roads, the whole journey could have been covered in 6-7 hours.
A short break west of Arazane at Gosney site 7, pp 27-28. Still comparatively early in the day, a walk up the hill yielded no Black-shouldered Kites, a target bird, but the hill did give a first sense of migration with large numbers of Hirodines, Swifts and Bee-eaters flooding through. Crossing the road and taking a small farm track to the north at (N 30.50767 W 008.70307) we discovered a very productive area after around 200 metres for Western Orphean Warbler (N 30.50928 W 008.70250), the africana race of Chaffinch, the voouzi Greenfinch and the arenicolor Turtle Dove.
We drove through the Atlas foothills more or less continuously because of the inclement weather (snow was falling on the distant High Atlas) and eventually met the road from Marrakech. Not far from here the roadsides were flooded and in one of the flooded fields we were surprised to find 4 Collared Pratincoles (N 30.98243 W 007.12472).
5 April. 10C to 25C
Ouarzazate, Ait Ben Haddou and Barrage El Mansour
After an very interesting morning visit to the Atlas Studios and Ait Ben Haddou. After lunch, we did some serious birding at the Barrage El Mansour where the highlight for us were Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters.
6 April. 20C
Ouarzazate to Erfoud
A short stop looking down into the gorge from a layby, (N 30.71036 W 006.58909) in the Tizi-N-Tinifft Pass yielded African Rock Martins after some difficulty as the birds were flying low in the shadows of the gorge. Whilst there, Payni Desert Larks came through giving excellent views sitting on the wall. Note that on this occasion, our GPS co-ordinates differed from those published by Gosney. Otherwise, a travelling day.
7 April. 20C - 30C
Erfoud – Rissani – Hotel Yasmina – Srij Dayet
We collected Brahim Mezane at the Shell service station in Rissani and we drove him around from site to site.
Our first target species – and the main reason for engaging Brahim for the day – was Pharaoh Eagle Owl. Unfortunately this species has not bred in this area for the past two or three years and so is difficult to locate. Our first stop was at the (original) Pharaoh Eagle Site (Gosney p11) which was negative but we did see Lanner nesting. We then drove to a second potential area beyond the Rissani villages (N 31.27090 W 004.37675) where we walked around between 3 sets of cliffs but these too were also negative.
In the fields around Rissani (N 31.25016 W 004.28640) we had excellent views of Long-billed Crested Larks with one pair collecting nesting material and making display flights.
Hotel/Auberge Yasmina. Travelling south, we turned left off the Merzouga Road at the very prominent ‘camel shaped’ signpost (N 31.22598 W 004.12489). After driving along the track for about 100 metres we stopped to search the scrub on the north side of the track (N 31.22846 W 004.12311) for Desert Warbler, another target bird. Responding to Brahim’s recordings, 2 Desert Warblers flew up and then sat singing on top of the very low bushes.
Arriving at Yasmina (N 31.21331 W 003.98874), we discovered the seasonal pool was dry, but the Tamarisks were full of birds including at least 50 Trumpeter Finches. We also saw the rather lonesome pair of Desert Sparrows defending their nest box against the larger and more dominant House Sparrow. Also in the Tamarisk were Bonelli’s Warbler, Chiffchaff and Turtle Dove.
Our final site for the day was Dayet Srij (N 31.11935 W 004.03705), a seasonal lake which had filled with water in the previous 10 days as a result of the heavy rain in the High Atlas. The lake level actually rose as we watched it, and it was an extraordinary site to see a large flock of Flamingo, Black-winged Stilt and Gull-billed Terns in the desert. Looking into the sun prevented us from identifying ducks and waders on the far bank.
8 April. 30C
Rissani and Hotel Yasmina
Under our own steam we made an early morning visit north along the River Ziz from the Rissani bridge accessed and parking near a football pitch (N 31.27979 W 004.27918) to look for Saharan Olivaceous Warbler. Had excellent and sustained views where the warblers were feeding on insects around piles of decaying poultry feathers.
A phone call from Brahim informed us that the Pharaoh Eagle Owl had been relocated at its original roost (Gosney p11) so after our disappointment the previous day, we hot-footed it back along the Alnif Road and had good scope views.
We continued on our way leaving Brahim at the original Pharaoh Eagle Owl site and giving Lahcen, one of the other ‘guides’, a lift back to Rissani. After this we made a return visit to Hotel Yasmina, relaxing on the terrace. From here one can look down into the Tamarisks and we had excellent views of Subalpine, Sardinian and Western Olivaceous Warblers. Had we known how easy Yasmina is to get to and how pleasant it is, on planning our trip we would have built in more time here. We also the great pleasure of meeting the Catalan Ornithologists.
9 April. 32C
Erfoud - Jorf – Goulmima – ErRachidia – Ziz Gorge
This triangular route was taken to find Scrub Warbler and to see the Ziz Gorge. The Scrub Warbler described by Gosney p17 is in a dry Oued accessed between Km33 – Km34 on the Goulmima / ErRachidia Road. Walking north through the scrub along the course of the Oued, we heard Scrub Warbler twice not far from the road, but decided that our best chance of seeing them was to go some 2 Km away from the road to the Gosney site to a group of tall shrubs. This proved unsuccessful and other trip reports have indicated that this species is now seen closer to the road and we missed our chance of seeing the ones we had heard.
As the morning passed, the heat built up and the birds became silent. A flock of 60 or more Trumpeter Finch were feeding on the pale purple flowers of the scrub and we saw good numbers of Desert and Bar-tailed Desert Larks and Cream Coloured Coursers. We recorded 8 Woodchat Shrike within a very small area but our only warblers were to be two Spectacled Warblers.
The third leg of the triangle was from ErRachidia (a garrison town) down the Ziz Gorge. The gorge is very dramatic at one point and a short stop yielded Cetti’s Warbler and Western Olivaceous Warbler in the oasis with Crag Martin and Raven on the cliffs to the eastern side of the road. The highlight of this section was a small flock of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters on the outskirts of Erfoud.
10 April. 34C
Return visit to the Scrub Warbler site
From our lack of success yesterday, we arrived at the site shortly after dawn and concentrated on the area close to the road, this time with success. Today there were even more larks, including Thick-billed Larks and Thekla Lark and also we had tremendous views of 16 Spotted Sandgrouse feeding at close range.
We returned to Erfoud hitting a sand-storm on arrival.
11 April. 23C
Erfoud – Alnif – Zagora
Essentially a non-birding day, retracing our steps to Agdz then heading south down the Draa valley to Zagora. Difficult driving conditions with sand storms later in the day and a closed road at Taghbalte meant that our journey was much delayed.
No special birds but surprised to find Turtle Dove and Chiffchaff in an Acacia tree in the middle of the desert.
12 April. 18C – 30C
Zagora – Mille et Une Nuits – M’hamid
This was one of the most memorable days of the trip
The day’s objective was to find Desert Sparrow which are known to associate with camels.
Heading south from Zagora, our first stop was the Camel Station at Dunes de Tinfou but no Desert Sparrows around.
Our second stop was at Mille et Une Nuits, a desert auberge and where many desert safaris begin. This auberge is located just to the south of Ouled Driss on the road to M’hamid. We found a nomad named ‘Ellel’ working here who was very wildlife and bird friendly. Ellel showed us to the Dromedary enclosure and in the throes of a dust storm we encountered 8 Desert Sparrows which came over the wall from the open desert to feed in the Dromedary enclosure and then hop back again (N 31.21193 W 003.98580). Sheltering behind the enclosure gave us stunning views. Apparently between 6 – 7AM there is a regular flock of 30 Desert Sparrows. As always, it is appropriate to give the Nomad a decent tip and buy some refreshments at the auberge café.
Completely ignoring the touts selling desert safaris, we finally reached M’hamid, literally the end of the road (N 29.82835 W 005.73255), and a sign stating ‘TOMBOUCTOU 50 JOURS’ – this is 50 Camel days across the Sahara!
Returning to Zagora, we stopped for lunch at an oasis near Ouled Driss. In the shelter of the palms we had excellent views of Subalpine Warblers and the huge numbers of Bee-eaters, House Martins and Barn Swallows gave a real impression of them finding the first place to feed after flying over the Sahara.
13 April. 18C – 26C
Zagora – Ifly Barrage – Kasbah Tissergate
Ifly Barrage is an excellent site described by Bergier (p 120). A continuous stream of Barn Swallows, House Martins and European Bee-eaters were migrating north and mixed flocks, together with Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were feeding on swarms of insects over the water behind the barrage.
In the dried-up river bed we discovered migrant Common Sandpiper, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail and heard Laughing Dove in the palmery. It was here that a Honey Buzzard passed over.
14 April. 25C
Zagora to Agadir
Essentially a non birding day, we met two French birders whilst buying a minute quantity of very expensive (in the west) saffron in the Saffron Tea Café, east of Taliouine. We met Michel and Christian purely by chance as they too were buying a small amount of saffron in the same place, but soon realised that they too were birders and the meeting developed into 2 hours of really useful birding information on both sides. Michel and Christian were the only independent birders we met in the whole of the trip.
15 April. 20C – 30C
Agadir – Oued Sous – Oued Massa – Agadir Al Massira Airport
Our primary objective was the reconnaissance of the illuminated boundary road to the Royal Palace at Oued Souss for an evening’s trip for Red-necked Nightjar, the classic place to find them. The fact that the road is lighted means that, when one can gain access, one can clearly see these nocturnal birds resting on the path.
This plan was completely thwarted by the imminent visit by His Excellency when the road was closed to the public for security reasons. Despite explaining to the many guards that we were only interested in bird-watching, there was utterly no chance of accessing this site and so plan B’ was to follow up reports of Red-necked Nightjar at Agadir Al Massira Airport.
From Oued Souss, we drove on to Oued Massa only to get pestered by self-proclaimed ‘guides’. As mentioned in previous trip reports, we found the best way was to simply drive past them as they try to stop your vehicle as it enters the nature reserve. They then get on their mobile phones to alert their friends that prospective customers are on their way. All very annoying, but not a serious threat to personal security. Because of a sand storm and high winds, birding was reduced to birding from the car.
Agadir Al Massira Airport. We arrived at 5PM to clear skies and light winds and parked tentatively on a piece of rough ground to the east of the airport car-park, near the taxi long stay car enclosure. As the evening approached more birds became apparent including Sardinian Warbler, Common Bulbul and Moroccan Magpie. As dusk fell, the first birds to start calling were Stone Curlew and 7 were seen at the back of the site near to the main road. This was followed by the Red-necked Nightjars, but as it was now completely dark we failed to see them. Heard but not seen! A powerful torch would have been an advantage.
16 April. 16C
Agadir Oued Souss
A much cooler day and the last chance to see the Red-necked Nightjar, so quite a bit of pressure.
The illuminated boundary road of the Royal Palace was still completely out of bounds, this time with even more army and police guarding the area. Having failed at the airport, we decided to give the parking area before the ‘classic’ boundary road a second recce.
Planning to spend the rest of the day in this area, we birded the estuary as the tide was rising. Highlights included a Little Stint, 3 Arctic Terns and 7 Little Terns fishing. After lunch, we walked down to the sea through the scrub at the edge of the estuary and saw 2 juvenile Audouin’s Gulls and a flock of 40 Slender-billed Gulls.
Returning around 9PM we headed back towards the Royal Palace for the Nightjars and saw a car with 4 men sitting with the doors open opposite where there were Stone Curlew calling. Thinking they were birders looking for Nightjars and Stone Curlews, we stopped to chat with them. In the event they turned out to be 4 plain-clothed police in an unmarked car!!
We could hear Red-necked Nightjars calling and almost within seconds of us stopping at the car-park area a Night-jar flew over the car, illuminated by our headlights. Mission completed!
17 April. 18C
Day by day Bird log
Please click here for a pdf list