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MOROCCO 2007

The eleven of us on the Birdfinders tour to Morocco were treated to many splendid views of top quality birds, often against a dramatic backdrop. Other than on one very dull day, during which we experienced heavy snowfall, sleet and rain, it was largely sunny, although the temperature ranged from warm to cold with increased altitude.

We began by exploring the cork-oak woodlands, marshes, lakes and rivers to the east and north-east of Casablanca. Red-knobbed Coots seemed unaware of their celebrity status, while tiny Plain Martins were intent on visiting their nest-holes and Double-spurred Francolins taunted us with their raucous calls but remained out of sight. We watched a Purple Swamphen vandalising a reed-bed, a Slender-billed Gull and Caspian Terns at an estuary and a beautiful Marsh Owl which stood on a post for a long while in broad daylight, unconcernedly preening, before flying even closer to us and dropping into cover. There were gasps of appreciation all round for what was, for many, the bird highlight of the whole tour.

Next we headed south-east, crossing both the Middle Atlas and the High Atlas, where we encountered our only spell of poor weather. Spirits were not dampened, however, as sightings of many more Red-knobbed Coots and a few Short-toed Treecreepers were eclipsed by superb, prolonged views of a pair of Levaillant's Woodpeckers feeding on a grassy hillside.

Our stay at the edge of the Sahara included a day exploring in Land Rovers areas inaccessible by minibus, notably the rim of the impressive Erg Chebbi sand dunes. Larks included Bar-tailed Desert and Temminck's Larks and Greater Hoopoe-lark, and we discovered an Isabelline Wheatear as well as Desert Wheatears. There were African Desert, Spectacled and Tristram's Warblers in the sparsely vegetated wadis while highly prized Desert Sparrows and a Great Spotted Cuckoo were found near areas of human habitation. We also saw Brown-necked Ravens, a Lanner harassing larks and a majestic Pharaoh Eagle-owl on a cliff-face at dusk.

The long, two-day westerly drive to the coast, which included crossing the Anti Atlas, was necessarily short on birding time, but many good species were seen during selected stops including more Bar-tailed Desert, Temminck's and Greater Hoopoe-larks, Spectacled and Tristram's Warblers and Desert Wheatears. Remote abandoned fields held Black-bellied Sandgrouse and, on the flat, high gravel plains, there were Lesser Short-toed Larks as well as Thick-billed Larks and Red-rumped Wheatears, two Moroccan specialities.

From our base at Agadir we travelled both north and south along the coast and visited two of the country's best-known reserves. Amongst the numerous birds at the Oued Sous estuary, we saw Slender-billed Gulls, a Gull-billed Tern, a Moroccan White Wagtail subpersonata and, at dusk, Red-necked Nightjars. At the Oued Massa and its surrounding villages, cultivated fields and semi-desert areas, we recorded a Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibises, a Great Spotted Cuckoo, Lesser Short-toed Larks, Plain Martins, a Red-throated Pipit and Subalpine Warblers. There were more Subalpine Warblers in the Tamri area, where good views were obtained of the critically endangered Bald Ibis.

Calandra Larks were seen during the drive to Marrakech, where we experienced the sights, sounds and smells of the famous square and souk before heading into the High Atlas. The ascent and following day's descent produced Bonelli's Eagles, Levaillant's Woodpeckers and Crag Martins, while we enjoyed close views of Alpine Accentors, attractive Crimson-winged Finches, Rock Sparrows and Alpine Choughs in the snow near to our ski resort hotel. We paused our final drive, across the plains from Marrakech to Casablanca, to watch Calandra Larks.

This short summary is necessarily species-selective. Further notable species, all recorded on three or more days, included Cattle Egret, Greater Flamingo, Ruddy Shelduck, Marbled Duck, Black-shouldered Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Barbary Falcon, Lesser Kestrel, Barbary Partridge, Black-winged Stilt, Cream-coloured Courser, Audouin's Gull, Laughing Dove, Pallid and Little Swifts, Desert, Crested and Thekla Larks, Common Bulbul, Zitting Cisticola, Moussier's Redstart, Black and White-crowned Black Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrush, African Blue Tit, Black-crowned Tchagra, Southern Grey Shrike, Spotless Starling, Spanish Sparrow, Trumpeter Finch and Rock and House Buntings.

The total number of species seen and heard by the group was 201: a new Birdfinders record for a winter tour to Morocco.

Northern Bald Ibis

Northern Bald Ibis