Trip Report – January 2011
Day 1: We arrived in Marrakech on New Year’s Day and were staying at a small riad just of the Ddjeema El-fna – the centre of life in Marrakech – I have never seen anything like the chaos in the Djeema – cars, people, donkeys and people all share the same space and this day it was so packed that you could not move!! Still quite an experience.
Day 2: This was not scheduled as s birding day but rather to see the sights of Marrakech as it was our first visit. For us one day was enough – we started early and were able to walk to see everything we wanted as well as take in the souqs. We did also manage to start our bird list – Spotless Starling, Common Bulbul, House Bunting, White Stork were all easy to see around the city. Also had Lesser Kestrel over the Djeema.
Day 3: We were ready to leave Marrakech and start our real birding.We headed out over the High Atlas en route to Bomaine-du-Dades. On the way out of town we saw Magpies (the only place we saw them!).
Our first stop was on the north side of the range where we were looking for the Levaillants Woodpecker. The best spot is supposed to be the Forest House in Touliath but we were not successful. We did get African Blue Tit, Greater Spotted Woodpecker, Coal Tit and Firecrest.
On over the range and then took the route via Telouet and Ait Benhaddou – this is a longer route but you are closer to the birds and it is easy to stop. Moussier’s Redstart, Little Owl, Trumpeter Finch and Crested Lark. It was late when we arrived in Dades and after checking out a couple of places to stay (all of which seemed empty and poorly maintained) – we were thrilled to find the Xaluca Hotel – I would recommend this place because the people are wonderful and it is a little more westernized.
Days 4: A drive up the Dades Gorge today was not really very successful from a birding standpoint but it was definitely worth doing as the scenery is spectacular. Next to the river we saw Barbary Partridge , Cetti’s Warbler, Sardinian Warbler and White Fronted Dipper
Days 5: An early start this morning to hit the Tagldit Track and get some larks. The part of the track you access in town starts off poorly because of the garbage but that doesn’t last too long and then the fun begins. Start by looking back at the town – with the mountains behind it it is worth getting up early for. As for the birds: Temminck’s Horned Lark, Lessor Short-toed Lark, Hoopoe Lark and Red-rumped Wheatear were the stars. Back for a late breakfast (the hotel had kept the restaurant open just for us because the knew we hadn’t eaten yet) and then off towards Merzouga. Birding enroute beside the road was all we really had time for but it turned up some good birds – White-capped and Mourning Wheatear were regulars and Tawny Pipits were a treat.
We had decided to stay at the Xaluca in Merzouga because the last one had been so good but were quite disappointed – it would do but check out the Riad Marmouche – it looked good from the outside. The sand dunes of the Erg Chebbi are spectacular although becoming rather touristy.
Day 6: Today we had hired a bird guide and we were glad that we had as it saved a great deal of time – Desert Lark, Desert Sparrow, Desert Wheatear and Desert Warbler were all quite quickly in the bag. Then onto an area for Crested Lark and Fulvous Babbler that also turned up Spectacled Warbler. We then tried for the Pharaoh’s Eagle Owl but it was not back at its breeding site yet – although the walk back to the car gave us several warblers including Tristram’s.
Day 7: Working our way back to Boumaine – du -Dades we once again birded along the road –Long-legged Buzzard, Blue Rockthrush, Lanner, Barbary Falcon and Sparrowhawk. Gave Tagldit Track one more try for the Thick-billed Lark but it still evaded us.
Day 8: Heading back to Marrakech for a late afternoon flight, we stopped at the reservoir outside Ouzazarte – finally saw Bar-tailed Lark and a couple of not so exotic Great Crested Grebe, Black-headed Gull and Little Egret. Going back over the High Atlas we saw Red-billed Chough and Grey Wagtail before arriving back in Marrakech.
General notes: Getting around is actually quite easy once you are out of Marrakech. We had a drive but could have managed on our own.
On the whole people were very friendly and helpful, although the constant ‘fossil salesmen’ get on your nerves a bit!
Everywhere you stop you will be hounded by children – I was advised to take a bag of candies (bonbons) or pens with me to hand out when travelling – I didn’t actually do this and felt quite guilty but upon my return I was told that I had done the right thing – to quote an email I received:
“Pedophilia is a big problem in Morocco and many children go missing and teaching them to run up to foreigners asking for favors is so wrong! PLEASE if you want to give something in Morocco, give to a registered charity like Education for All, NEVER to children directly.”
We were there in January which isn’t really the best time – probably best to go in March when the migrants are back.
Guides & Resources
Guides – Driver : Mohamed Bayani +212 662 353683
BirdingPals is always a great resource for free and professional guides.
Field Guide – Birds of Europe, Svensson et al (this is the standard European field guide but seems to be the best one to cover North Africa)
Where to find birds – Birdwatcher’s Guide to Morrocco – Patrick & Fedora Bergier ( this is OK but the directions aren’t very specific) There is also a small pamphlet by Dave Gosney that maybe worth picking up as well.
Bird song – Birds of North-West Africa – Jean Roche
Lonely Planet Guide for points of interest.