Trip report: Morocco: North Africa in a Nutshell (March 2016)

Guided by Lisle Gwynn. This was a set departure tour.

Morocco is a fascinating, mesmerizing and spell-binding country. Our set departure tour is popular for a reason; this tour offers more than just good birding, it offers GREAT birding, GREAT food, spectacular landscapes, unique culture and a whole barrel of laughs along the way.

The tour this year was a roaring success. Our final tally totaled 181 species of bird, including 13 seen only on a private pre-tour extension. More importantly, not only did the tour produce all of the target birds we would normally seek, two of the clients had arrived with lists of birds that would be lifers, and we managed to find every single one – though unfortunately Black-bellied Sandgrouse was a heard-only (next time Peter!). In search of these birds we made our way from the mid-altitude hustle and bustle of old-style metropolitan Marrakech to the snow-covered high Atlas Mountains, by way of the frigid but idyllic Ourika Valley. We then traversed the Tizzi-n-Tichka Pass and descended into the high desert of Boumalne Dades and the (in)famous Tagdilt Track in search of wheatears, larks, sandgrouse and other pre-desert delights, before making our way to the ‘real’ desert. The dunes of the Sahara at Erg Chebbi and our magical hotel will surely never be forgotten; it would be hard to forget such incredible scenery teamed with such fruitful and enjoyable birding. After our fill of desert birds we returned to the town of Ouarzazate to begin our tally of waterbirds at the local reservoir and rest before taking the drive to the coastal tourist paradise of Agadir. Here at the coast the Oued Souss estuary and snaking, lush Souss Massa valley presented us with a bounty of birds, including SEVENTY plus of the Critically Endangered and wholly unique Northern Bald Ibis. One last morning in the area saw us find an extremely rare vagrant in the form of Franklin’s Gull, score a final couple of targets including abnormally spectacular views of Water Rail, before heading back to the enchanting chaos that is Marrakech. Some final shopping, or rather laughing at Lisle as he bought djellaba robes and Saharan headscarfs, preceded one last delicious meal together.

Morocco has evolved and transformed significantly since my first visit nearly 10 years ago, and it has now revealed itself fully as the welcoming, friendly, exotic and heart-capturing destination I know it to be. Of course, the birding is also absolutely fantastic with a whole host of endemic subspecies for future interest and endless superb birds, most of which are also great lookers! To give you a taste, the final Top Five Birds of the Trip as voted by the participants are:

1. Maghreb (Western Mourning) Wheatear
2. Egyptian Nightjar
3. Pharoah Eagle Owl
4. Moussier’s Redstart
5. Cream-coloured Courser
6. Northern Bald Ibis

Frankly I found it unacceptable that Northern Bald Ibis didn’t make the top 5, especially with such killer views, so it receives a special mention at number six. However, surely it shows the quality of the birding when such a brute of a bird doesn’t even make the top 5. There will be a battle among guides to lead this incredible tour next year.

Click this link to view the full report in PDF format (4 MB file)