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MOROCCO 2003

Those who chose to leave Britain's winter weather behind and tour Morocco with Birdfinders experienced almost unbroken sunshine; it was pleasantly warm in the south and near the coast, although, as expected, early mornings were cool and it was decidedly cold at mid and high altitude.

During a journey of almost three thousand kilometres, from Casablanca to Rabat to Midelt to Erfoud to Boumalne to Agadir to Oukaimeden via Marrakech and then back to Casablanca, the participants enjoyed the varied cultures and scenery of a fascinating country. They birdwatched in a rich assortment of habitats, from the sandy beaches of the Atlantic coast, where flocks of Audouin's Gulls rested, to a small ski resort on the edge of a secluded plateau in the breathtaking High Atlas, where Alpine Accentors foraged in the snow. A Plain Martin patrolled a quiet freshwater channel, Fulvous Chatterers sat unobtrusively under date palms at a large oasis, Crested Coots squabbled on a still lake and Slender-billed Gulls stood with hundreds of other birds at low tide in a great estuary. In small villages and busy towns and cities alike, Common Bulbuls bubbled noisily from lush gardens while House Buntings sang sweetly from the rooftops. Bald Ibises picked amongst arid cliff-top scrub, Tristram's Warblers crept through low tamarisks on a dry lake-bed, Double-spurred Francolins called unseen from bushy hillsides, Levaillant's Woodpeckers established territories in montane cedar woods and a Great Spotted Cuckoo appeared as if by magic in what is said to be the only argana forest in the world.

Black-shouldered Kites hovered over fertile farmland, Thick-billed Larks searched for sustenance on high stony plains and Cream-coloured Coursers ran elegantly amongst the boulders of a small semi-desert.

Further Morocco specialities encountered included Ruddy Shelduck, Marbled Duck, Barbary Falcon, Barbary Partridge, Little Swift, Greater Hoopoe-lark, Temminck's Lark, Moussier's Redstart, Red-rumped and Mourning Wheatears, African Desert Warbler, Black-crowned Tchagra, the much sought-after Crimson-winged Finch and the charismatic Desert Sparrow, while Ferruginous Ducks, Western Swamphens, Laughing Doves, an Isabelline Wheatear, Brown-necked Ravens, Rock Buntings, Trumpeter Finches and numerous other scarce species added to the excitement.

The most memorable day's birding was when the group switched from minibus to Landrovers and ventured some sixty kilometres into the Sahara and back, while the oddest experience was standing amongst the crowds in the famous square in Marrakech and watching Egyptian Vulture and Short-toed, Golden and Booted Eagles overhead.

Northern Bald Ibis

Northern Bald Ibis