Julian Sykes Wildlife Holidays

Southern Morocco
March 8th – 19th 2010

By Julian Sykes

Monday 8th :- Without too much fuss myself John, Elizabeth, Terry & Sally, Waine & Sue gathered at Gatwick’s North Terminal and proceeded to catch our flight to Marrakech, which landed well on time. We disembarked to warm sunshine and got through passport control relatively easily and continued to collect our luggage. This had already been off-loaded and everyone collected their bags but a couple of singing House Buntings started the list in fine form, with ‘lifers’ for the whole group. In Arrivals we were met by our Moroccan guide Mohamed and we were escorted to our minibus for the holiday that was going to be driven by the very capable Hassan. A Tortoise (sp) in the airport gardens was a surprise find by Elizabeth and we also added a few migrating Barn Swallows heading north. As it was now lunchtime and we needed to change money we travelled into Marrakech centre, which is a fairly short journey from the airport. After changing some currency Mohamed led us to a small roof-top café in the Medina, which overlooked Gmaa Lafna Square a hive of street vendors selling spices, fruit, veg and an assortment of other things, plus a snake charmer (complete with Cobra) and a few Barbary Apes. However it was here that we really kick-started our trip list as for the next hour during a lunch of salad, lamb couscous and vegetable tagine we saw 10+ Little Swifts, Pallid Swifts, Common Bulbuls, more very close House Buntings, a single Booted Eagle, Kestrels, White Storks & Spotless Starlings. Very satisfied we returned to the vehicle and headed out of the city stopping for water at Bab Rab -.an impressive gate that holds nesting White Storks. Also here we got some more fantastic views of House Buntings as they fed around the street-side grain stalls, making for an amazing photo opportunity. We travelled out of the city towards the snow-capped High Atlas Mountains across the Haouz Plain a fertile area of agricultural fields and orchards. Elizabeth spotted a Red rumped Swallow from the bus; however we stopped en-route and got views of our first stunning male & 2 female Moussier’s Redstarts. Also around here we found 2 Great Spotted Cuckoos getting the attention of the local Moroccan Magpies, (algirensis) Southern Grey Shrike, a few Spanish Sparrows, Corn Buntings, Crested Larks, Greenfinches, Goldfinches and John heard a Quail calling from a stubble field. Terry & I found a few butterflies with Greenish Black-tip, Moroccan Orange-tip, Clouded Yellow and Small White, although the plaudits must go to Sue for seeing an African Babel Blue. Back on the road the mountains loomed closer and we saw through the cloud North Africa’s highest peak – Jebel Toubkul at over 4100m. As we passed through Asni we saw 100+ Cattle Egrets sitting in the trees and then we headed up the Imlil Pass in the hope of finding a Levaillant’s Woodpecker. Sadly we didn’t manage to find any of these North African endemics but I found a male Bonelli’s Eagle as it crossed the valley, which started to display in the distance. There were North African Chaffinches, African Blue Tits, Great Tit, Robin, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, a Grey Wagtail along the river, Blackbirds, and some very elusive Wrens. It was now late afternoon and time to drive to our accommodation as we were all pretty jaded from the day’s journeying so with some welcome sleep en-route we soon arrived at the impressive Auberge El Bergerie set in some (hopefully) productive grounds. This proved to be the case as Mohamed was sorting out the rooms, John & Terry heard a Nightingale in sub-song from deep cover. So a quick recce of the immediate grounds produced a couple more new species with Sardinian Warbler and Serin, plus I found our first Hummingbird Hawkmoth of the trip. In addition to these we also saw plenty of Common Bulbuls, House Bunting, African Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Blackcaps and Blackbirds. It had been a very good first day and we were looking forward to our full day in the High Atlas tomorrow. So after a good rest and freshen up we convened in the bar for a welcome drink and call the log, followed by an excellent meal before retiring to bed in anticipation of the next day. During the evening meal John spotted a Moorish Gecko on the ceiling of the dining room and while Elizabeth & Sally were walking back to their respective rooms they found a large Mauritanian Toad crossing the track in front of them.

Tuesday 9th :- We had arranged to meet for a pre-breakfast walk around the grounds but the weather we dire. However Waine & Sue, Terry, John and I still managed a quick look round seeing a couple of Red rumped Swallows around the buildings, Common Bulbuls, House Bunting, 2 Sardinian Warblers, Blackcaps, Chaffinches, Serins and Blackbirds. We then met the others at breakfast, which was very nice with hot croissants, pan aux chocolat and sweet pittas with butter and local jams. After this we then met at the minibus geared up for a cold (and now wet) day in the High Atlas Mountains, although first we had to go to the Pharmacy in Asni because Sue wasn’t feeling too well. So we set off and drove down the road to the small town without seeing too much in the dreary conditions until Elizabeth said “STOP, I’ve just seen a partridge at the side of the road!”. So we returned to the site and sure enough there was a Barbary Partridge sat in full view – what a start to the day. We watched and photographed it for several minutes before it scurried off into the undergrowth. We continued towards Asni and then just outside the town Terry saw a Black Wheatear – so we stopped again. This proved to be very worthwhile as we continued to find at least 3 more Black Wheatears, a pair of Moussier’s Redstarts, a pair of Black Redstarts, 4 Thekla Larks, Serins, Linnets, Goldfinches and Corn Buntings. In Asni Mohamed quickly sorted out Sue with what she needed and we carried on with our journey seeing several Cattle Egrets and a couple of White Storks on nests in the town. We drove over the winding Sidi Fars Road in mist and rain not seeing much at all and eventually reached the junction to Oukaimeden and made a comfort stop along with a mint tea and cake. After this things started to improve particularly the weather and we made several stops on the road through the Ourika Valley up to the ski resort. The first of these was because Mohamed had seen our first Mistle Thrush sat on a rock, which was followed by me finding a Long legged Buzzard doing some displaying and a female Crossbill sat in a pine. Further up at Aitlkak we stopped off at the villages Walnut grove and with Mohamed doing his excellent woodpecker impression we got good views of 2 male Levaillant’s Woodpeckers and another being heard. The next place we stopped was because it ‘just looked good’ and the weather was improving all the time. Immediately on leaving the minibus Mohamed found a male Blue Rock Thrush, Sue saw a Barbary Partridge, I scoped a male Rock Bunting (much to Waine’s delight), there were also 20+ (genuine) Rock Doves, Coal Tit, a couple of distant Red billed Choughs (or Cuffs!) and our first Barbary Ground Squirrels of the trip. We decided to try and get a better look at the choughs but ended up getting fabulous views of a Firecrest and also more, closer Red billed Choughs. Nearing the ski resort of Oukaimeden we made one final stop and John quickly found our target bird – Dipper in the fast running stream below us, with Waine then finding a couple Alpine Choughs amongst their Red billed cousins. At the entrance to the resort we checked the lake but there wasn’t anything on it, however we did see a sizable flock of Alpine Choughs next to the road, which was good. As it was nearly lunchtime we parked at the village and while Mohamed organise an ‘al fresco’ tagine the rest of us looked around the general area finding lots more accommodating choughs, Chaffinches, Black Redstarts and a couple of African Blue Tits. The lunch was both marvellous and most welcome as it was now mid-afternoon with both lamb and vegetable tagines on offer followed by some yogurt for dessert. After lunch we drove further up the mountain where the vistas were incredible of the plains stretching out beyond the mountains and the visibility was now excellent. We continued to walk up the track with Terry & Sally finding our first (of several) Shorelarks in this immediate area. Apart from this it was fairly quiet and we still hadn’t found our major target of the day – Crimson winged Finch. So Mohamed took us round to the ski station and we walked the track out along the valley where Elizabeth located a huge flock of 100+ Red billed Choughs feeding on the hillside and I saw a Wall Lizard (sp) basking in the sunshine. Mohamed knew where to go and soon enough he indicated he had found some distant finches. So we quickly made our way along this side valley and we were soon getting fabulous looks at 20+ Crimson winged Finches – some down to just 20m from where we were standing. During this time Terry located a few Rock Sparrows amongst them and a flock of 60+ Shorelarks were disturbed by a skier walking off the mountain, which flew past us calling. Time was moving on and Mohamed wanted us to leave and just as we started back a pair of Ravens flew over and proceeded to ‘tumble’ as they went along. We had pretty much seen all the species I had expected to see on this high mountain day. The return to the hotel was both interesting and slow as the recent rains had created some unforeseen ‘fords’ across the road and Hassan did a marvellous job negotiating these potential blockades. Mohamed wanted to try a couple of places for Tristram’s Warbler but without success however Elizabeth found a Sparrowhawk following one of the ridges, another pair of Moussier’s Redstarts were seen, as well as another Firecrest, Coal Tits, singing Mistle Thrushes and the commoner species. We got back to the hotel complex at dusk and even though it had been a long day we all agreed it had been superb as well. That night we enjoyed another very good meal followed by the log and an explanation of the following day’s itinerary as we were leaving here and travelling to Boulmaine Dades on the stone desert.

Wednesday 10th :- Pre- breakfast walks for the group proved interesting as Terry heard 2 Common Cuckoos just outside the grounds and saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Elizabeth & John had a flock of 100+ Woodpigeons plus a couple of Red rumped Swallows and had the usual House Bunting, Common Bulbuls, Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Sardinian Warblers and Chiffchaffs. The weather had improved incredibly and we were looking forward to our long drive over the High Atlas to the stone deserts of the south. We quickly got ready and loaded the van with at least 6 Red rumped Swallows flying round the buildings and also heard the Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming in the near distance. As we were about to leave and with most of the group in the vehicle I looked up and saw 2 Short toed Eagles circling above, so everyone alighted and we all managed good views of these migrant raptors heading north. So we eventually set off and the journey down to Tahanaout was much different to the previous day with clear skies and the river beds now dried up. Elizabeth scored again by seeing another Barbary Partridge from the mini-bus, which was closely followed by two more. In Asni we found the usual Cattle Egrets and White Storks and a little further we saw our first Kestrel of the day. From Tahanaout we headed across the agricultural lands and fields of mustard plants towards Alt Ourir finding plenty of Thekla Larks, Corn Buntings, Goldfinches, Swallows, several Southern Grey Shrikes and a couple of Stonechats. One excellent sighting was Terry spotting a Common Redstart from the minibus, which was obviously a passage migrant heading north. At Alt Ourir we headed into the mountains towards the famous Tizi n Tichna Pass that took us up through some excellent pine forest. Two stops were made for raptors that turned out to be firstly a couple of Booted Eagles plus we also found some Crag Martins amongst the House Martins and Swallows and then a little further on there was another Short toed Eagle. Higher up we made another stop to look for woodland species but instead we got great views of a Long legged Buzzard followed by another Booted Eagle. We continued over the wooded mountains stopping later for refreshments at the Touflihte Café, which produced an amazing spectacle. Just after getting out of the minibus I saw a large raptor in active flight and identified it as a sub-adult Bonelli’s Eagle, which was quickly followed by a second sub-adult. Then, as if it was chasing them off, an adult Bonelli’s Eagle also passed overhead following the first two birds. Then a few minutes later the adult returned but this time being much lower and giving tremendous views to us all. I was then again scanning the hillside and found a pair of Sparrowhawks circling over the pine forest; sadly this was all we really saw during this welcome break sat in the sunshine. Again we continued towards the pass not seeing anything new but the scenery was breath-taking and very much a highlight of the holiday so far. We stopped for lunch in the very small town of Taddart and again sat on the restaurant roof terrace to enjoy our tagine and fruit. The hoped-for Golden Eagle didn’t appear but we did manage to see a Rock Bunting (found by Waine), Grey Wagtail, Blue Rock Thrush and a Kestrel. After lunch we drove up through the equally spectacular Tizi n Tichna pass which rises to 2260m and produced a couple of Long legged Buzzards (one sat at the side of the road), 2 more Barbary Partridges and several Thekla Larks. Soon we started to drop down towards Ouzazate and stopped just outside Tabouraht on the Aitzin Plain where we found our first pair of Desert Wheatears, 2 Woodchat Shrikes, and a migrating Black Kite. Then at the other side of the town most of us saw our first White crowned Wheatear from the vehicle, this was followed by at least four more before we reached Ouzazate. In the historic city we stopped for provisions, particularly beer & wine as the authentic hotel we were staying in for the next couple of nights does not sell alcohol!. Once we had made our purchases we again set off east towards Boulmaine Dades, although just outside Ouzazate we pulled off the main road and drove towards Barrage Monsour Eddahbi. As we approached the lake we found a very nice flock of 10+ Greater Short toed Larks and got excellent views from the minibus. We then parked up and started scanning this enormous body of water with a small amount of vegetation and tamarisk around the edges. Initially we found the usual Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Cormorants and Great Crested Grebes, but closer inspection revealed several Black headed Gulls, Sally found a Little Grebe, Terry did very well finding a male Black eared Wheatear and there were also 3 Marsh Harriers, 4 Woodchat Shrikes, Chiffchaffs, Crested Larks, several Mallard and a single Common Coot. It had been an excellent stop but it was now time to head for our hotel just outside Boulmaine Dades. The journey went well seeing more White crowned Wheatears and Elizabeth scored again with a Little Owl sat on a fence post at dusk. We reached the hotel in darkness but were quickly shown our rooms and after a welcome shower I was ready to meet the group and go for our evening meal. It was yet again another superb meal, topped off with some live entertainment by the resident band of Berber drummers who make a living playing their favourite music.

Thursday 11th :- Breakfast was fairly early but a quick walk around the grounds produced lots of Cattle Egrets on the River Dades, House Bunting, Chiffchaff and House Sparrows. We enjoyed a very good Moroccan breakfast before heading out towards the Anved Plateau made famous by the Tagdilt Track. This massive expanse of stone desert has long been associated with many special birds and today did not disappoint. Although a Hoopoe in Boulmaine got the day off well we then proceeded to find a few migrating Black Kites, which will have rested on the plateau overnight. It was however the first proper stop that produced some of the commoner ‘wanted species’ such as Red tailed & Desert Wheatears, Greater Short toed & Temminck’s Horned Larks plus a Hoopoe Lark was seen Mohamed and Sue. We followed the road that dissects this area seeing more of the same species and at the seasonal pools we only managed to find a Little Ringed Plover plus our first Fat Sand Rat of the day. So we continued on and soon cut off the main road to a track that led to some disused buildings and along here we found our first (of 30+) Cream Coloured Coursers. Everyone really enjoyed these enigmatic waders and seeing them both on the ground and in flight enhanced the experience. Later in the day we got some superb close views of a flock of 16 birds, which was magical. At the disused buildings we got out of the vehicle and spent some time looking for our target species – Mourning Wheatear. Initial finds included a large flock of Greater Short toed Larks, a couple of Northern Wheatears, a close range Long legged Buzzard, a Common Swift flew through with several Red rumped Swallows plus the usual Red rumped & Desert Wheatears, Temminck’s & Thekla Larks. Terry then ‘picked up’ a dark wheatear that I also saw and identified as a 1st winter male Mourning Wheatear, much to everyone’s delight. We watched this scarce Moroccan bird for quite a while and during this time we found several Trumpeter Finches around the nearby water troughs plus another male Northern Wheatear. Mohamed had seen a large falcon in the distance sat on a rock, which I tentatively ided as a Lanner Falcon so we walked out on the plateau for a better view. As we got closer to the bird it flew and confirmed my identification showing it’s overall pale coloration with darker wing tips and a medium length tail. Sadly the Lanner didn’t stay around much and soon departed out of sight without anyone getting a brilliant view. We then returned to the minibus and continued along the metalled track seeing more Cream Coloured Coursers and the odd Hoopoe Lark. Mohamed knew an area that was good for sandgrouse and sure enough we managed to flush 10+ Black bellied Sandgrouse, which landed in the distance. So we drove around to this area and slowly followed the appropriate track eventually getting fabulous scoped views of the ‘now’ 20+ Black bellied Sandgrouse. Sue did very well finding another large falcon on the opposite rise, which was another Lanner Falcon with a Long legged Buzzard not far away. We watched as the Lanner took to the air and then proceeded to buzz the Long legged Buzzard, which might have actually stolen it’s prey. It was now time for lunch so we headed into Boulmaine Dades where Mohamed sorted out a lunch of lamb & chicken kebabs, French fries and salad, which was lovely. During lunch we saw a few Crag Martins and Swallows passing through the town, with Terry and I getting very brief views of what was likely to be a Peregrine Falcon. After lunch we headed up to the Dades Gorge taking in many photo opportunities on the way. At the head of the gorge we had to stop due to the high river, which had now covered the road ahead!!!. Here we parked and I opted to stay with the minibus and watch for birds from there, which back-fired just a little. Sadly Sue opted for this also and the others found a singing male Tristram’s Warbler in the hillside scrub. Sue and I did have some recompense with an adult Bonelli’s Eagle overhead but it was an unfortunate miss for Sue. However we did try and relocate the bird and found a pair of Black Wheatears and a male Moussier’s Redstart plus the usual Black Redstarts and Crag Martins. It was raining in the mountains above the gorge so Mohamed wanted us to return to the town. After the ford we were safe so we started to look out for birds again and at one such stop Terry & John saw a ‘dove’ fly into a nearby olive tree. Again I quickly got on to this bird and was surprised to find an adult Laughing Dove sat there, certainly not the place I would have expected to find one. This time we managed to get everyone on to it and got some very good views through the telescope. It was now late afternoon and I decided we should head back to the hotel for a good relax before our evening meal. So Hassan drove us back seeing en-route another Hoopoe, Cattle Egrets and a Long legged Buzzard incredibly spotted by Sue in the distance. Back at the hotel we had a quick freshen up and some of us went for a walk outside of the complex. It was an excellent last hour as I saw an Alpine Swift migrating north, plus found a pair of White crowned Wheatears, Desert Wheatear and Thekla Larks. Waine and I went for a walk around one of the complexes finding a distant Lanner Falcon, 2 Black Storks & 20+ migrating Black Kites – what a fantastic end to a brilliant day. We gathered for the evening meal and enjoyed yet more Moroccan soup and a meat (or vegetable) tagine followed by fruit for dessert.

Friday 12th :- A short pre-breakfast stroll on this glorious morning produced excellent views of a male Sardinian Warbler for most of us plus a few Cattle Egrets along the river and the explosive song of a Cetti’s Warbler. During breakfast we discussed the day ahead as it was another driving day with stops en-route. Once we had all gathered at the minibus with our luggage we were quickly on the road heading out of Boulmaine Dades towards Tinehir. Firstly though we wanted to again stop on the Anved Plateau near the pools we had seen the previous day. Things were fairly quiet before getting there and on the small pools we again found the lone Little Ringed Plover but not the ‘hoped for’ sandgrouse. However as we got out of the vehicle I spotted a single Crowned Sandgrouse flying away from the water and off in the distance. Sadly everyone else didn’t get a chance to see this bird very well, just a sandgrouse (sp) flying away from our position. Mohamed & I decided we would have a walk out onto the plateau, so we collected our ‘scopes’ and set off initially finding plenty of Temminck’s Larks with a few Red tailed & Desert Wheatears. I then heard the familiar bubbling call of Black bellied Sandgrouse and quickly located them coming in to land by the water. We got the telescopes on the four of them and in the morning sun they looked sublime – a real treat. After a couple of minutes they left the pools and headed out over the stone desert to feed some more. We carried on walking and stopped at a small ravine and scanned around, with Mohamed finding a Red Fox trotting across the landscape. We remained there for about 30 minutes seeing the usual Temminck’s, Short toed & Thekla Larks, Red rumped & Desert Wheatears plus a couple of Fat Sand Rats. Terry & I saw a Thick billed Lark fly past but unfortunately it didn’t land. We began to return to the minibus and I saw a dark wader on the side of the pool so checked it through the telescope and found a Green Sandpiper, which was quickly followed a second. These left soon after finding them and I then found another Thick billed Lark in the same area, which was followed by a pair of Trumpeter Finches coming to the water’s edge to drink. It had been an excellent few minutes but we needed to start our journey east towards Algeria. The next couple of hours were spent driving to the town of Tinehir with Terry seeing a Moroccan Wagtail at the side of the road as well as several (elegans) Southern Grey Shrikes and White crowned Wheatears. In Tinehir we stopped for our usual fix of mint tea (or coffee) while Mohamed & Hassan went to but provisions for the picnic lunch. During this time we sat enjoying the warm sunshine and watching the local Cattle Egrets fly back and forth with nesting material. When everyone was ready we then headed up to the impressive Todra Gorge stopping en-route for a photo opportunity, which also produced a couple of Barbary Partridges. The gorge is quite touristy but we spent some time walking through it along the river getting good views of an adult Bonelli’s Eagle, 2 Grey Wagtails, House Buntings, Black Redstart, Rock Doves, Crag Martins and a Red rumped Swallow found by John. It was again time to continue our journey and the return to the main road produced a Blue Rock Thrush for Mohamed and Elizabeth. Again the journey to our lunch stop oasis had the usual shrikes and wheatears but nothing more unusual. Eventually we pulled into Ait Aissa Oubrahim where upon Terry found a gorgeous male Black eared Wheatear before any of us had left the bus!. Once out we were greeted by the owner and given a table to use for the picnic, so Mohamed & Hassan proceeded to prepare a veritable feast of sardines, cheese, ham & chopped salad followed by cake and fruit. While this was being prepared we all got a chance to wander round the grounds where we found a few White crowned Wheatears, female Black Redstart, a couple of ‘North African’ Crested Larks, 3 Woodchat Shrikes, plus Waine and John saw a Spiny footed Lizard ‘type thing’. After lunch we got another opportunity to look around while Mohamed conducted one of his five daily prayer rituals during the day. Soon enough we were driving east again across miles and miles of barren terrain, which was punctuated by the odd village or fertile area. A couple of flying plastic bags proved interesting as they were mistaken for soaring birds of prey - believe me an easy thing to do!!!. Desert Lark was a target we needed so we stopped off at a drinking well I had been successful at, in previous years. Sure enough a quick search was fruitless but then I saw a group of four birds on the rocky hillside, but Waine found a pair even closer. Over the next half hour we got tremendous views of this pair of Desert Larks as they fed near to where we were standing. Incredibly pleased we continued our journey seeing lots more White crowned Wheatears, with Terry and Waine finding a Long legged Buzzard sat just in from the roadside. With the late afternoon sunshine illuminating the gorgeous sand dunes we turned off the main road to the Auberge Darkoua. Along here we made a couple of stops, which first produced a flock of 50+ Pallid Swifts heading north and then our first Bar tailed Larks of the holiday, much to everyone’s delight. Also at this stop Mohamed found a lovely Jerboa sat under one of the many shrubs to be found in the Sahara Desert. Eventually as the sun was setting we got to the auberge and quickly checked in as I wanted to look for nightjars at dusk. Most of us gathered (with Elizabeth & I having already seen a couple of male Sub-alpine Warblers) and walked to a wadi just outside the grounds, where we sat and waited for dusk. Then right in front of us the ghostly shape of an Egyptian Nightjar flew past, and continued to do so, occasionally alighting on the sand in the semi-light. This was a fantastic way to end the day in this magical oasis in the desert. The log and evening meal were taken under the stars with a spring roll starter followed by beef & apple tagine main course, which was a massive hit with everyone. Most people opted for a dessert (in the desert!), which ranged from ice cream to chocolate mousse. We retired to bed soon after the meal as we had a very early start the next day, being our 4 x 4 safari into the Sahara.

Saturday 13th :- We met for breakfast at 6am in great anticipation of the day ahead as this is usually one of the highlights of the holiday. After this we gathered outside where we met our two 4 x 4 Landrover drivers for the day Lasanne & Atman. We split into 2 groups with Elizabeth, Waine, Sue & I being in the front Landrover and Mohamed, John, Terry & Sally in the other. It was a lovely bright and sunny day but still quite chilly in the early morning breeze. So we headed off at speed over the desert with those unfortunate enough to be in the back seats (myself and Terry) feeling every bump and doing our best not to hit our heads off the ceiling of the vehicle – but it was great fun!!!. We started to see our first birds of the day with small groups of Bar tailed Larks appearing, during the course of the morning we were going to see 30+ of these little gems. A Hoopoe Lark was spotted running away by ‘eagle eye’ Sue and the first (of several) incredibly pale ‘elegans’ Southern Grey Shrikes was spotted sitting like a sentry on the top of some desert grasses. However Lasanne knew what he was doing and soon enough we stopped in the middle of no-where with just a boy on a moped to greet us. Words were exchanged along with some gesticulation and then we were asked to follow them over the desert for a short distance. Pointing ensued and incredibly there to the side of a tussock of grass lay a female Houbara Bustard – how the boy had found it I have no idea. We stayed there watching this bird watching us, at a discreet distance taking a few digi-scoped shots for record purposes and thoroughly enjoying the experience. Like John said “it’s always nice to get a lifer before 7am!” Eventually we left this area and then spent a good time driving the tracks of the North Eastern Sahara finding many birds. Lasanne did extremely well spotting a tiny Desert Warbler as he was driving and we all got very good views of this (sometimes) ‘hard to find’ species. At one stop we then found a fantastic mixed flock of 20+ Thick billed Larks, 30+ Short toed Larks and 30+ Trumpeter Finches – absolutely marvellous. We also encountered 11 Cream Coloured Coursers, a lovely male Black eared Wheatear, a couple of Desert Wheatears, and several White Crowned Wheatears, plus more Hoopoe & Bar tailed Larks. A few raptors were on migration with the majority being Black Kites but also a smart male Marsh Harrier with a few Barn Swallows heading north. Mid morning we were then driven to group of large tents used for providing the ‘desert experience’ to tourists but they also held one of the most sought after birds of the trip – Desert Sparrow. As we arrived Lasanne quickly found a male sat singing on some stacked crates, which was then joined by a female. Superb views were gained of these very smart ‘passers’ with a third bird being found in another part of the camp. However it wasn’t just the birds that impressed us during the morning as the desert was in full bloom and looking magnificent, with many pictures being taken of the stunning scenery. We decided to take refreshments at the famous Café Jasmina and were very surprised to find its associated lake to be dry, very unlike the previous two years. It was nice to find a group of Menorcan bird ringers there as they were continuing the campaign started last year by a group of Catalonians. They kindly allowed us to watch them process a couple of species, which included a lovely female Sub-alpine Warbler and a Nightingale. During this time I spotted a Brown necked Raven overhead – another one our target birds of the day. Sally spotted a Spiny footed Lizard near some impressive Groundwort and Terry found a Willow Warbler amongst the Chiffchaffs. We did manage to drag ourselves away for some shade inside the cool café and a welcome drink of coffee. Soon afterwards we were setting off again although it was now getting quite hot in the late morning sunshine. As we were leaving Lasanne spotted another male Desert Sparrow on one of the out-building to the café one of the traditional sites for this rare species. We now made our way slowly across the desert seeing more of the same species until we eventually reached the oasis of Hassil Albid, an area of irrigated fields with Palm Groves. This was going to be our lunch stop and while Lasanne & Atman prepared the picnic Mohamed led us through the lush vegetation. A couple of frogs were seen in the water channel with House Sparrows and Collared Doves everywhere. Soon enough we found our first Laughing Dove and even manage to hear one ‘laughing’. Towards the end of the oasis Mohamed & I heard a familiar call and then I got a brief view of another of our targets – Fulvous Babbler. Normally these gregarious birds travel in small noisy groups but this was just a lone individual and we needed better views. So we headed in the direction it flew and I then saw a very smart male Common Redstart and we also flushed an adult Night Heron from the Palm Trees. Mohamed did well in relocating the babbler, which had now joined its colleagues making a group of 6 Fulvous Babblers. Although not easy everyone did manage to get good views of them while trying to stay in the cool of the shade. It was now lunchtime and we walked back the short distance to the vehicles where another picnic feast had been prepared. We relaxed for an hour either taking in the sun or sitting in the shade grazing on the meat, fish, salad and fruit that was on offer, admiring the incredible colour contrasts of the green vegetation, orange dunes and the blue sky. After lunch we had one more major stop before returning to the auberge and I don’t think we were expecting the spectacle that greeted us. As we drove to Tifart (small Lake) we came across a huge flock of 70+ Brown necked Ravens, by far the most I have ever seen in this area. At the lake we scanned and saw an innumerable number of wildfowl, herons, egrets, grebes, waders, gulls & terns, so over the next couple of hours we logged – 100+ Little Grebes, 30+ Great Crested Grebes, 100+ Great Cormorants. 20+ Grey Herons, 100+ Little Egrets, 5 Black Storks, 20+ White Storks, a single Spoonbill, 300+ Greater Flamingos, 300+ Ruddy Shelduck, single Gadwall, 10+ Eurasian Teal, 20+ Pintail, 30+ Shoveler, a phenomenal 500+ Marbled Duck, single Common Pochard, 2 Tufted Ducks, 100+ Garganey, 50+ Ferruginous Ducks, Black Kite, Long legged Buzzard, 6 Marsh Harriers, 3 Moorhen, 1000+ Common Coot, 20+ Black winged Stilts, 20+ Avocets, 3 Little Ringed Plovers, Kentish Plover, Common Snipe, 4 Green Sandpipers, 20+ Black headed Gulls, 4 Gull billed Terns and a couple of Whiskered Terns – Superb!. However we were now getting tired from the early start we had and the heat of the day so we decided to return to the hotel to relax. Lasanne and Atman made the journey back it’s usual ‘white knuckle’ ride of four-wheel drive mania, which completed an absolutely fabulous day. We said our “goodbyes” to them both and met in the hotel garden for a cool drink. Elizabeth and I debated having a swim in the outdoor pool and then just ‘went for it’. The waters were icy when you first got in but incredibly invigorating however we didn’t spend much time in there before retiring to the side of the pool on one of their loungers. We had again arranged to meet at 6:30pm for some nightjaring as both Mohamed & Sue had never seen Egyptian Nightjar before. We walked out to the area we had been before and found a flock of 8 Fulvous Babblers going to roost. We waited a very short while before one ‘ghost-like Egyptian Nightjar appear (still in good light) and landed not far from where we were standing. Excellent views were had of this individual and then as the light was starting to go fully a second bird appeared and they flew around together – simply marvellous. This again completed another fantastic day and we gathered later for a pre-evening meal drink and light snacks whilst doing the checklist followed by another incredibly tasty meal. The food being a massive plus point on this holiday.

Sunday 14th :- An easy start today for those that wanted it but I was out at first light with Terry trying to cover as much of the hotel grounds as possible before breakfast at 9am. I was lucky enough to find a (brookei race) Peregrine Falcon sat on a pylon, which proceeded to try and catch a couple of smaller birds without success. All around the perimeter I encountered White crowned Wheatears and Sub-alpine Warblers in the vegetation. A Tawny Pipit in with a few Crested Larks was a new bird for the trip and other things of interest included Hoopoe, Woodchat & Southern Grey Shrikes, Swallows and 2 Fulvous Babblers. I also spent some time watching the Jerboas playing chase with one another around their burrow holes. After another outdoor breakfast we met at the minibus and Hassan drove us to the city of Rissani and back out the other side to meet a young Moroccan birdwatcher who hopefully knew where to find ‘Pharaoh’ Eagle Owl, a slightly smaller, sandier sub-species of the European Eagle Owl. On the way we saw lots of White crowned Wheatears (with Sue & Elizabeth counting them as they passed), Long legged Buzzard and 9 Brown necked Ravens. He directed us along metalled tracks out into the desert where Mohamed found a Desert Lark along side the bus. Eventually we got to Madalour - a large natural-looking amphitheatre that was once used as dam for Rissani’s water supply. Here we climbed the short way to get a vantage point overlooking the Eagle Owl’s nest hole, where we could just see the female inside. However the male Eagle Owl was sat out guarding the nest nearby and we got some fantastic views of this bird as it kept half an eye on us. We didn’t stay too long and on the way back down we saw a couple of Trumpeter Finches. As we returned to the road we found 2 Bar tailed Larks closely followed by an adult Long legged Buzzard. At the main road we stopped and scanned the nearby cliff face for Barbary Falcon without any luck but Terry did very well finding a third adult Eagle Owl sat in a distant hole. In fact I actually thought it was part of the rock face until Mohamed ran towards the cliff-face and it walked back into the hole!!!. After this we left and returned to Rissani seeing 2 Ruddy Shelduck, another Long legged Buzzard, Little Ringed Plover and a pair of Little Grebes en-route. In the city Mohamed took us to a large bizarre where we given a talk on carpet making and their uses, which was very interesting. During this time Mohamed and Hassan prepared our picnic lunch which we had with a local delicacy - Madfouna (a large meat & potato pie). Once we had finished lunch it had been decided to return to the hotel for a relaxing afternoon before going for a local walk that evening. On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at a couple of roadside pools where we found a Green Sandpiper and 2 more Little Ringed Plovers. We arrived back at the hotel mid afternoon  and had a couple of hours of our own time to either relax by the pool, have a siesta or even go and find or photograph some birds. Terry had done the latter and was lucky enough to encounter a flock of 30+ Trumpeter Finches near the hotel’s alfalfa fields. An evening walk had been arranged and at 5:30pm we all met and set off through the hotel’s grounds. We got initial sightings of Sub-alpine Warblers, Woodchat Shrike and a Hoopoe, then at the fields we found a couple of Iberian Chiffchaffs with Common Chiffchaffs. Whilst watching these and a few Trumpeter Finches I saw a Lanner Falcon fly round the perimeter and land on a sand pile in the distance. Luckily we were still close to the hotel so I could run back and get my telescope to get a better view of this gorgeous raptor. After getting some very good views of this bird we carried on walking to where we had previously seen the Egyptian Nightjars finding a few Crested Larks and a female Desert Wheatear on the way. Just outside the grounds we waited until dusk just seeing a couple of pale bats flying round and then from behind us an Egyptian Nightjar floated into view. It wasn’t easy to see in the gathering dark but you could still make out it’s pale colouration and nightjar shape. We had been lucky enough to see this much ‘sought-after’ species on three nights running, which is something quite special. As we returned to the hotel John exclaimed “there’s a White crowned Wheatear in reception!”, and he wasn’t wrong. Sure enough an adult had found its way into the back room of the entrance and was sat on a cabinet (handing out keys!!!), hopefully it got out safely. We enjoyed yet another excellent meal of Moroccan soup and Couscous for our final night at this wonderful location.

Monday 15th :- After a short pre-breakfast walk that produced several Sub-alpine Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Bulbuls and Crested Larks we made ready for our long drive west to Ouzazate. We set off a little after 8am and first visited again the cliffs of Rissani, where we saw a large falcon flying around the rock face. When it landed it was properly identified as a (brookei) Peregrine Falcon, and not the ‘hoped for’ Barbary Falcon. Whilst watching the falcon we had some back luck with sandgrouse as we heard the distinctive calls of Crowned Sandgrouse but could not locate them in flight. Also here we saw a couple of Brown necked Ravens, Bar tailed Lark and a few Trumpeter Finches. So we continued on our journey and were punctuated with stops and sightings before our picnic lunch just outside Nkob. Notably again was ‘eagle-eyed’ Sue finding a distant Long legged Buzzard sat on top of a rock face, John & I saw a Hoopoe Lark fly across the road and Elizabeth counted the White crowned Wheatears along the route. We had our picnic under the shade of an Acacia Tree and careful searching of the area produced an unidentified distant large falcon, Desert & Thekla Larks, Southern Grey Shrike and Desert Wheatear. John found a Spiny footed Lizard and Terry found a Skipper (sp) and a large hairy caterpillar that we also weren’t sure about. After lunch we continued west towards the Draa Valley with most people having an en-route sleep to relieve the miles. However once we entered the vegetated Draa Valley attentions were more focused as we followed the river north. Soon into this section of the journey Elizabeth shouted “STOP – bee-eaters I think!” and we did. We exited the mini-bus and soon re-found them confirming their identification as Blue cheeked Bee-eaters – a species high on most people’s wish list. There were three of these beautiful and scarce breeding birds and we spent a lot of time watching them through the telescope sat in the trees and flying around the river. Other birds seen in at this impromptu stop included Cetti’s Warbler, Green Sandpiper, another White crowned Wheatear and lots of Common Bulbuls. Eventually we continued on our journey along the Draa Valley to Ouzazate and our modern hotel the Riad Salem. We quickly dropped our bags off in the rooms, freshened up and returned to the minibus for a quick jaunt to the nearby dam Barrage Monsour Eddahbi (or as John liked to call it Monsour Eddy Grey, after the Crazy Gang!). Here we spent a good hour and a half enjoying some new and very good birds with Sally finding an Osprey as we got out of the bus. This theme continued with Terry finding a couple of Purple Herons as well as 10+ Great Crested Grebes, lots of Moroccan Cormorants, 5 Night Herons, 50+ Grey Herons, a few Little Egrets, 1000+ White Storks, 3 Spoonbills, 10 Greater Flamingos, 10+ Ruddy Shelduck, a few Mallard, male Tufted Duck, several Marsh Harriers, Little Ringed Plovers, 10+ Sand Martins hawked insects with the big number of Barn Swallows and then Sally again scored with a lovely male Northern Wheatear on a nearby building. It had been a very good end to a fairly quiet day travelling through this interesting and historic country. Our hotel was in stark contrast to the previous one’s being a lot more commercial, with buffet dinners and breakfast plus lots of people, which made us feel slightly claustrophobic and longing for the quiet of the mountains and desert.

Tuesday 16th :- Another day travelling west towards the Atlantic coast but stopping before then at the historic walled city of Taroudant. A pre-breakfast walk by John & Terry was quiet apart from a tree full of Cattle Egrets, several Pallid Swifts, Common Bulbuls and House Bunting in the gardens. After breakfast and once we were all ready we loaded the minibus and headed out of Ouzazate with Sue finding 4 Black Kites along this initial route. Soon enough we arrived at our first birding stop at the Iriri River Bridge where we searched the surrounding fields and Tamarisk for migrating passerines. We had some great success here as we found a pair of Western Orphean Warblers, 4 Western Bonelli’s Warblers, a couple of Iberian Chiffchaffs, single Reed Warbler, 20+ Sub-alpine Warblers, a couple of Sardinian Warblers, Common Chiffchaffs, 2 male Moussier’s Redstarts, a male Common Redstart, Common Nightingale, Common Cuckoo, Southern Grey Shrike, Serins, Spanish & House Sparrows. Also while we were there we witnessed a large movement of Pallid Swifts, Barn Swallows and House Martins all heading north. Eventually we continued on our journey seeing White crowned & Desert Wheatears, Short toed & Thekla Larks from the vehicle until we got to Tazenacht where we had a refreshments stop. Whilst having our coffee or mint tea we saw 5 Black Kites and 50+ White Storks on migration over the town at a great height. Again we carried on west for a while before Mohamed found the place he wanted to have lunch – a small area of orchards called Kourkouda. While Mohamed & Hassan were preparing the picnic lunch the rest of us explored the area finding Iberian Chiffchaff, Chiffchaffs, Sub-alpine Warblers, Hoopoe, Serins, Linnets, Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Thekla Lark, White Wagtails, Crag Martins and a single Sand Martin. We also found a lovely Scarce Swallowtail butterfly and Terry saw another interesting lizard species. After lunch we again continued west through more stony desert stopping en-route to allow Sally & Elizabeth to buy some of the locally grown Saffron. This was quite fortunate as the rest of us went for a short walk and found another male Orphean Warbler, male Moussier’s Redstart, Woodchat Shrike and Sub-alpine Warblers. After this we started to climb in the mountains and through the Tizi-n-Taghatine Pass where Mohamed saw a Blue Rock Thrush and a couple of Desert Larks with Waine seeing several Rock Doves from the moving vehicle. Once through the 1700m pass we then dropped down to the famous Sous Valley and almost every bush or tree started to hold a Woodchat or Southern Grey Shrike. Our next short walk was at Aoulouz, where we crossed the Sous River checking the adjacent olive groves, reeds and Tamarisk. Mohamed saw a Grey Wagtail on the river, and we also got good views of 2 adult Long legged Buzzards near the cliffs. We also managed to find plenty of Blackcaps, Elizabeth saw a Cetti’s Warbler, a Cirl Bunting sang but remained hidden and a few Red rumped Swallows hawked insects over the river. It was now mid-afternoon and times to make our final part of the journey into Taroudant. We started to drive through the Argan woods, which looks much like dehesa in Spain. Here we started to see lots more shrikes and also Kestrels sat on many of the pylons but our target was the much rarer Black shouldered Kite. John found a Short toed Eagle over this area and we also had a migrating Marsh Harrier nearer to Taroudant but still not what we wanted. Then not too far outside of the city I saw a bird fly up and hover in a very distinctive manner and I shouted “Black shouldered Kite over the field”. Hassan pulled over quickly and we got out seeing it disappear over the fields and hedges. This gave us chance to get to a good vantage point where Elizabeth found a Laughing Dove amongst the commoner Collared Doves, I got a brief view of a Song Thrush before it disappeared out of sight and a few Corn Buntings sang from the tree tops. However the Black shouldered Kite soon returned and we got absolutely marvellous views of this wonderful raptor as it searched for food making several attempts to catch something – what a treat. Eventually it again disappeared so we headed back to the minibus and as we got there Terry looked up and found 3 Alpine Swifts amongst the big numbers of Barn Swallows heading north. We set off for the final time and quickly got into the centre of Taroudant, and our hotel the Palais Salam. While we were getting our luggage Mohamed saw a few Little Swifts amongst the Pallids and a short walk near the hotel produced White Storks, House Bunting, Blackcap and Spotless Starlings to Terry, Sally & Elizabeth. Sadly this hotel was quite commercial and the evening meal was a buffet, and although nice didn’t have quite the charm of the Auberges experienced earlier in the holiday.

Wednesday 17th :- Today we were travelling to the short distance to the Atlantic coast and then north of Agadir to the coastal town of Tamri. A pre-breakfast walk produced the usual House Buntings, Common Bulbuls, Pallid Swifts, Blackcaps and Kestrels. After breakfast we loaded up the minibus and continued on the main (now) dual carriageway towards Agadir seeing Crested Larks, Swallows, House Martins, (algenensis) Southern Grey Shrikes, Woodchat Shrikes and Corn Buntings. Elizabeth was on top form finding 2 male Moussier’s Redstarts at the side of the road followed by a kettle of 100+ White Storks. Once in Agadir we followed the coastal road north out towards the peninsular of Cap Rhir and stopping in Tamrhakh for a coffee or a lovely mint tea. Whilst sat outside in the sunshine watching the Pallid Swifts move north I found a Little Swift amongst them, which was nice. We continued on and near the cape two large black birds appeared over the road but not our targets these were just Common Ravens!. A little further and just south of Tamri we stopped overlooking a coastal pool and within seconds ‘eagle eye’ Sue (who actually claims she’s blind!) spotted a group of 20+ large black birds in the far corner of the small lake. We got out our telescopes and confirmed they were are major target species - Northern Bald Ibis. So Hassan skilfully parked up the minibus and we walked across the beach to get a closer view of these globally endangered birds. We got to where they were first seeing an Avocet on a smaller pool on the way and set up the telescopes. As we were enjoying good views of the ibises they all lifted into the air and circled round the hillside beyond being joined by more that had been out of sight around the corner. As they joined up we got to see a flock of 50+ Northern Bald Ibises flying round together, which could possibly constitute about 8% of the world population – if you need it in perspective!. Eventually they split up and a group of about 20 birds dropped into the fields beyond the pool and started to feed in full view, enabling us again to get very good views of them on the ground. While we were there we checked the terns and gulls in the area and found 22 Audouin’s Gulls, lots of Lesser Black backed & Western Yellow legged Gulls, 20+ Sandwich Terns, little Egret, Grey Heron, Cormorant and 2 Ruddy Shelducks. It was now time for lunch but not before Sally & Elizabeth went for a paddle in the Atlantic Ocean. We got back to the minibus and drove the very short distance to Tamri where Mohamed organised either tagine or fish for us with the usual pitta bread. After lunch we had decided to head back to Agadir, go to the hotel, have a siesta and go out later that afternoon to the Sous River mouth. So we started off back and just as we left the town Terry shouted “STOP ROLLER, I’m sure it was”. So Hassan swung the bus round (not for the first time this trip) and we returned to where Terry had seen this early migrant. Sure enough there on a wire was an adult Roller in all it’s blue & orange glory, what a terrific find for Terry. Photos were taken and everyone was on a high as we set off again along the coast road. As we passed Cap Rhir I spied a Gannet off-shore so we stopped to get a better look. We ended up staying here about an hour as we managed to find more Gannets, a Whimbrel flew in and landed on the coastal rocks and Elizabeth found a smart male Black eared Wheatear. However the second surprise (after the Roller) was 20 Common Scoter heading north out to sea, the first time I have ever seen this species in Morocco. Finally we left the headland and a little way further Sue saw a Black Wheatear, which was followed by Elizabeth finding 20+ Bee-eaters, which could have just come in off the sea. We stopped for these beautiful birds but they had just headed inland so we only got distant views as they hawked insects over a hillside. Our return to Agadir continued and eventually we reached the luxurious Hotel Argana and proceeded to go through the usual check-in rigmarole. By the time we got our forms filled and had our rooms allocated there was only time for about an hours rest before heading out again. So at 16:30 we reconvened at the minibus and set off towards the southern end of the town passing the Kings Palace on the way to the Sous River. Soon enough we got there but major works on the roads were a problem (will be nice next year) and according to Mohamed recent flooding had also caused some damage to the river. Sadly there was a constant smell of rotting fish and the day had become sultry so there were also mosquitoes around!. However we stayed for about an hour as we were seeing some new species for the trip such as 50+ Mediterranean Gulls, with the Black headed, Yellow legged & Lesser Black backed Gulls, waders included several Ruff, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, with Sue seeing her own Greenshank as well as Green Sandpiper, Kentish & Little Ringed Plovers, Black winged Stilts and Avocets. We also found 12 Spoonbill, 2 Ruddy Shelduck, a single Cattle Egret (found by John), Little Egrets and White Storks but one highlight was seeing 500+ Black Kites coming into roost in the distant trees. Around 6pm we left and returned to the hotel giving ourselves plenty of time before meeting for a beverage or two and the log, before our evening meal, which was again an excellent buffet.

Thursday 18th :- Our final full day and it was going to be spent in one of Morocco’s premier reserves – Sous-Massa National Park. So after breakfast we headed south out of the city having seen lots of Pallid Swifts, Yellow legged & Lesser Black backed Gulls over the hotels and buildings. The journey went smoothly with species such as (algenensis) Southern Grey Shrike, Moroccan Magpie, Kestrel and Thekla Larks being seen along the route. After about 40 minutes we turned off the main road towards the reserve and entered more cultivated land with short dry stone walls to separate them. We stopped to look around this area and soon enough I found our target of a pair of Little Owls sat on a wall, which was quickly followed a third found by Mohamed. Also here we found our first gorgeous male Moussier’s Redstart of the day, another Southern Grey Shrike, Serins and a Barbary Ground Squirrel also sat on one of the dry stone walls. We continued towards the coast and soon enough we entered the National Park and drove slowly along the River Massa stopping to overlook at one vantage point. This produced one of the day’s surprises with a Great White Egret amongst the much smaller Little Egrets on it’s muddy fringes. A particularly obliging Moussier’s Redstart was coveted by our birding paparazzi, and the images taken were superb, an Osprey flew in from the south and was later found feeding on a fish. Two Marsh Harriers were migrating north and in the Tamarisks we found a few Sardinian & Sub-alpine Warblers. It was now getting quite hot so we climbed back into the minibus and drove further down the river to the wooded area near the visitor centre. We parked and left the van as we started to walk towards the Atlantic Ocean; I heard a Nightingale around here and also saw a Common Whitethroat in the nearby sparse trees. We scanned the river and found a few Spoonbills, Little Egrets, Marbled Ducks & Mallard but it was generally quiet. We walked the track that follows the river to the sea seeing the usual Serins, Chaffinches and Goldfinches but a male Stonechat chasing a male Moussier’s Redstart provided beautiful combination of orange, black & white coloration. Then Mohamed & I heard our main target species – the distinctive whistle of Black crowned Tchagra, a bird Waine was desperate to see. We stood looking over the trees and vegetation where the song was coming from and then John says “it’s here on top of this tree”. Sure enough there was a male Black crowned Tchagra singing in full view on top of a Tamarisk, but sadly it didn’t stay there for long – but everyone saw it. Over the next few minutes we tracked it as another joined it and they slowly made their way through the vegetation and out of sight. It hadn’t been a fantastic viewing but certainly good enough. Very pleased we continued down the track getting marvellous views of the earlier Osprey feeding on a fish and a ‘dark phase’ Booted Eagle drifted over. It was now getting very hot and starting to take it’s toll on the lady members of the group and a little further they (sensibly) opted to return to the shade of the woods where the minibus was parked. However this was not before another Tchagra gave us the run around singing close to the track but remaining elusive with only John (he’s obviously good at this!) getting any kind of look at it. As the ladies returned the rest of us started to string out as we carried on down the pathway, with us now starting to see a few Yellow legged Gulls at the mouth of the river (with more on the beach) and a Sandwich Tern flew down the river and out to the Atlantic Ocean. Yet another pair of Moussier’s Redstarts gave superb views to me, who could ever get ‘fed up’ with watching these delightful passerines. It was time to start back to the minibus and have our picnic lunch in the cool shade of the trees and for most of the return journey we saw much the same thing. However we did have one marvellous experience as Waine found a male Black crowned Tchagra sat out in the open singing. We watched, photographed and videoed this incredible bird for more than half an hour as it sat there and occasionally threw it’s head back and gave it’s very distinctive whistle. What an absolute treat and most people’s highlight of the week. Back at the small pine wood we found Sue, Sally & Elizabeth sitting at the picnic tables having enjoyed more marvellous views of Moussier’s Redstart and Elizabeth had the photographic evidence to prove it. Mohamed & Hassan prepared another very good picnic lunch as the rest of us scanned the river and the reeds for birds. During this time Waine found 6 Green Sandpipers and I picked out a Purple Heron against the far bank, plus the usual Spoonbills, Grey Herons, Little Egrets, Mallard and Black winged Stilts. Lunch was excellent and after we had finished we packed everything up and got back into the minibus to look for our other major target of the day – Plain Martin. We drove back out of the reserve and travelled a very short distance to a river bridge, which had been a traditional site for these very localised North African hirundines. Sadly it wasn’t to be but we did see House Martin, Red rumped & Barn Swallows over the nearby village. I saw a Night Heron cross the river but disappeared and a Sedge Warbler sang from deep cover, although I think Terry got some brief views of it. Our resolve was waning in the heat of the day and thoughts of a cool shower, siesta or swim in the hotel pool were grabbing our attention, so we headed back to Agadir. On the way back to the main road, Elizabeth found a male Black eared Wheatear and an ‘Agama’ lizard was seen amongst the rocks next to the road. Halfway back to Agadir we pulled in for a very welcome coffee or mint tea, Mohamed said we might get ice cream but that wasn’t forthcoming!. Upon leaving the café I saw a Little Swift amongst the several Pallid Swifts hawking insects overhead. Back at the hotel we had a couple of hours before meeting up so we all did our own thing, with Waine being conscientious and walking down to the beach, finding his own small flock of Little Swifts, and Elizabeth seeing an incredible 100+ Spoonbills flying over the hotel pool. I just had a sleep!!!!. Just after dark we all met at the hotel foyer and walked out to the minibus – we were again going nightjaring, but this time for Red necked Nightjar. The traditional site for this species was around the King’s Palace gardens where they hawked moths around the many floodlights surrounding them.  Unfortunately though there is a National Guard watching the grounds and they didn’t really like a group of Brits with binoculars walking round the perimeter. So prudently we left and tried another area of barren ground, which looked good from my experiences in Spain (they breed where I live) but again without any luck so we returned to the hotel, bought some drinks, did the log and then go for our evening meal.

Friday 19th :- So our final day dawned and after another good breakfast at the Hotel Argana we loaded the minibus and headed out of Agadir for Marrakech. Sadly the highway between these two major cities is still being built so out progress was on single track roads that tended to be quite slow. However this gave us an opportunity to do some birding en-route. Sue spotted a large raptor from the bus while going over the mountains and we pulled over but initially could not locate it. Then over the horizon it appeared and revealed itself as an adult Bonelli’s Eagle, incredibly the 7th of the holiday!. We stayed around until it disappeared and during this time also found a couple of Ravens, Southern Grey Shrike and a Cirl Bunting. A good way on to Marrakech we stopped at a roadside café for lunch, which actually wasn’t that good, in fact it was voted the worst tagine in Morocco?, however in the warm sunshine we did see a Black Kite migrating north plus a few Little Swifts amongst the large number of Pallid Swifts. Eventually we reached Marrakech and travelling through the city we saw the usual White Storks, Moroccan Magpie, Common Bulbuls and House Buntings. We got to the airport in very good time for our flight back to the UK, thus completing a fantastic holiday to this superb North African destination.

 

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