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MOROCCO 2008

The varied and frequently dramatic scenery of Morocco provided the perfect backdrop to our numerous sightings of some very special birds.

Birding began to the east and north-east of Casablanca, where we visited some of the region's cork-oak woods, lakes, rivers and marshes. We enjoyed good views of Marbled and Ferruginous Ducks, Black-shouldered Kites, Barbary Partridges, Double-spurred Francolins, a Purple Swamphen, Red-knobbed Coots, a Slender-billed Gull, Caspian Terns and Marsh Owls.

From the famous Merdja Zerga we travelled south-east over both the Middle Atlas and the High Atlas, stopping in cedar forests and on high, sparsely vegetated plains. We saw Ruddy Shelducks, Lesser Kestrels, a Great Spotted Cuckoo, Temminck's and Dupont's Larks, Red-rumped Wheatears and a Short-toed Treecreeper.

Our desert hotel was the perfect base from which to explore the edge of the Sahara, in Landrovers. Habitats we searched included gravel deserts, tall sand dunes, former agricultural areas, a high escarpment, dry wadis and temporary lakes. We were rewarded with sightings of Ruddy Shelducks, Barbary Falcons, Cream-coloured Coursers, Spotted Sandgrouse, a Pharaoh Eagle-owl, Greater Hoopoe-larks, African Desert and Tristram's Warblers, Fulvous Chatterer, Brown-necked Ravens and Desert Sparrows.

It took two days to drive west to the coast. This included crossing stone deserts and the rugged Anti Atlas before coasting down the fertile Sous Valley. During this journey, and at chosen sites, we encountered an Egyptian Vulture, a Bonelli's Eagle, a Barbary Falcon, Cream-coloured Coursers, Spotted Sandgrouse, Temminck's and Thick-billed Larks, Greater Hoopoe-lark, Red-rumped Wheatears and Spanish Sparrows.

Agadir was an ideal centre for our trip south to the Oued Massa reserve and its surrounding countryside, where we saw Squacco Herons, Spoonbills, Glossy Ibises, Marbled and Ferruginous Ducks, Barbary Partridges and Plain Martins, for our venture north to the Tamri area, where we quickly located Bald Ibises, and for our visit to the local Oued Sous estuary, where we watched Spoonbills, Slender-billed Gulls, Red-necked Nightjars and a Moroccan White Wagtail subpersonata.

We paused at Marrakech, where we wandered through the famous square and souk and also spotted a Booted Eagle, and twice more in the High Atlas, where we recorded a Griffon Vulture, a Short-toed Eagle and Levaillant's Woodpeckers, before reaching our next destination: a ski resort in the High Atlas. There we found an Alpine Accentor, Rock Petronias, Crimson-winged Finches, Rock Buntings and Yellow-billed Choughs. Our final drive, to Casablanca, was broken by a stop on the plains to watch Calandra Larks.

This short summary of the tour is necessarily species-selective. Further notable species, all recorded on three or more days, included Cattle Egret, Greater Flamingo, Long-legged Buzzard, Lanner, Black-winged Stilt, Audouin's Gull, Laughing Dove, Pallid and Little Swifts, Lesser Short-toed, Desert, Bar-tailed Desert, Crested and Thekla Larks, Crag Martin, Common Bulbul, Zitting Cisticola, Sardinian, Subalpine and Spectacled Warblers, Moussier's Redstart, Desert, Black and White-crowned Black Wheatears, Blue Rock Thrush, African Blue Tit, Black-crowned Tchagra, Southern Grey Shrike, Spotless Starling, Trumpeter Finch and House Bunting.

The total number of species seen by the group was 193. Thanks are due to Alan Bone, John Dickenson, Mick Fiszer, Rada Fiszer, Dennis Hodges, Sid Massey, Perry Smale, Nancy Soulette, Joan Weinmayr, Kevin White and Jack Willmott, who contributed hugely to the success of the tour.

Northern Bald Ibis

Northern Bald Ibis