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Southern Morocco – easy birding tour

A birding exploration of the varied habitats of southern Morocco.

March is a very pleasant time to visit Morocco, with good weather, large numbers of migrating birds heading northwards to Europe and plenty of plants in flower, both on the coast and in the mountains.

We will start our tour on the Atlantic Coast, seeking out local specialties, including Moussier’s Redstart, Blackcrowned Tchagra and, with luck, the critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis. We will visit the Sous Massa National Park where we will look for several species of antelope that have been reintroduced here, including Addax, Dorcas Gazelle and the graceful Scimitar-horned Oryx.

Heading inland we will pass through the argan forest of the Sous Valley to the arid rocky steppe of the Tagdildt Track, home to larks and wheatears. We will explore rock gorges in search of Pharoah Eagle Owl, Maghreb Wheatear and the endearing Gundi, before reaching the stony desert of the Tafilalt and the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi, home to desert specialities including Desert Sparrows, Egyptian Nightjar, Cream-coloured Courser and various sandgrouse

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Heading back westwards, we will travel through the spectacular Anti-Atlas mountains, before finally climbing the High Atlas to the snow line, where we hope to find African Crimson-winged Finches, Seebohm’s Wheatear and Levaillant’s Woodpecker.

As well as Morocco’s birdlife, we will find reptiles, butterflies, spring flowers and some amazing scenery. This holiday will be our 18th visit to southern Morocco, and our second to explore further into the eastern desert.

Dates

17 – 29 March 2020

Leaders

Mike Russell and Laurie Jackson

Price

£2,485

Single Room Supplement – £300

Included

Return flights from UK to Morocco. Local transport as specified in the itinerary. Twelve nights’ accommodation, full board basis.

Not included

Dinner Day 13. Refreshments. Entrance fees for optional sightseeing. Gratuities. Travel insurance.

Group size

Minimum 5, maximum 12.

Day 1 Fly to Agadir and transfer to Atlas Kasbah (c30 minutes). After lunch, we explore the local countryside for our first North African specialities, with Common Bulbul and House Bunting common around the hotel and Moussier’s Redstart in the Argan trees.

Day 2 We head to the Atlantic coast, where we hope to see the critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis. This coastline is also well known for its unique communities of succulent Euphorbias, and we will stop to explore this interesting habitat, hoping to find Spectacled Warbler and Black Wheatear along with endemic geckos and interesting plants.

Day 3 We head to Sous Massa National Park to learn about the important conservation work going on here; ’re-wilding’ of a variety of Saharan antelopes including Dorcas Gazelle, Scimitar-horned Oryx and Addax, and the Red-necked Ostrich, all of which have become extinct across much of their range. We spend the afternoon at Oued Massa, hoping to hear the fluting song of Black-crowned Tchagra.

Day 4 We start with a visit to the river-mouth at Oued Sous, where flamingos gather on the estuary and feed alongside various waders, gulls and terns. From here we travel through the famous Argan forests of the Sous valley, towards Oulad Berhil.

Day 5 We continue eastwards, travelling through increasingly arid, rocky landscapes as we head towards Ouarzazate. Along the way we will start to see White-crowned and Desert Wheatears and a variety of larks along the roadside, and keep our eyes open for Barbary Falcon, Lanner and Long-legged Buzzard.

Day 6 Our morning starts with a visit to Ouarzazate Reservoir. Various migrants rest here on their journey northwards, and could include a variety of waders and wildfowl, warblers and wagtails. From here we travel to Boumalne des Dades where we explore the Tagdildt Track, famous for its desert steppe birds: we hope to find a variety of larks including Thick-billed, Hoopoe, Desert and Temminck’s Larks, Red-rumped Wheatear, Cream-coloured Courser and Trumpeter Finch.

Day 7 We will spend the day locally, travelling up the Dades Gorge, where birds might include Tristram’s Warbler, Golden Eagle and Rock Bunting.

Day 8 We continue our journey eastwards. Along the way we will check cliff faces for a chance to find Pharoah Eagle Owl at its roost site. Nearby we hope to find Maghreb Wheatear. Further eastwards, depending on time available, we may look for Saharan Scrub Warbler before finally arriving in the desert proper of the Tafilalt, at Merzouga.

Days 9/10 We spend two days exploring the Tafilalt ,taking a fourwheel drive ‘safari’ one day in search of some of the special birds of the desert: Egyptian Nightjar, Houbara Bustard and Desert Sparrow, as well as Spotted Sandgrouse, Bar-tailed Desert Lark and African Desert Warbler. We will visit the sand dunes of the Erg Chebbi and explore the oasis gardens in search of migrant birds.

Day 11 Today we head back to Ouarzazate through the Anti Atlas mountains, with one or two stops along the way amongst the stunning scenery.

Day 12 Up until now we have been south of the High Atlas: today we cross the mountains, via the Tiz n Tichka pass at an altitude of 2,260m. From these heady heights we drop back down into the plains near Marrakech, before climbing again up towards Oukaimeden.

Day 13 An early start takes us in search of one of the stars of the mountains; African Crimson-winged Finches that feed around the base of the Oukaimeden ski lifts. Atlas Horned Lark and both Alpine and Red-billed Chough should also be found, and we may be lucky and find an early returning Seebohm’s Wheatear. Nearby we will look for Levaillant’s Woodpecker. After lunch, we head down to Marrakech for our flights home.

Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.

Our hotels and guesthouses will have en-suite accommodation: dinner and breakfast will be taken in the hotels, with lunches a mixture of picnics and ’sit down’ meals in hotels and local restaurants.

We will travel by minibus. Our excursions in Sous Massa National Park and into the desert beyond Merzouga will be by comfortable four-wheel drive vehicles.

The group flights are with Easyjet from London Gatwick to Agadir, returning from Marrakech to London Gatwick with British Airways:

17 March depart London Gatwick 07.10, arrive Agadir 12.05
29 March depart Marrakech 14.30, arrive London Gatwick 18.10

Morocco local time is the same as in the UK.

If you hold a British passport, you do not currently need a visa to travel to Morocco, but your passport will need to be valid for at least six months after your entry into Morocco. If you do not have a UK passport, please check with your local consulate.

In March, the weather is usually sunny but not too hot. If we get hot weather we will adapt the itinerary as much as possible. There may be cooler weather, particularly in the mountains.

This is not a strenuous holiday. The main fitness consideration is likely to be long distances travelled by bus. There will be some walking, including on sand dunes/sandy beaches, and on rocky/ uneven tracks, sometimes gently uphill. We will adapt our walking to the weather but we will no doubt be walking in the sun on some days, albeit not for very long walks. The hotel rooms may be on the first or second floor, with no lift available.