This trip was to have a couple of weeks winter sun and see as many of the specialities found in Southern Morocco as possible within time constraints.
The big surprise was, despite much planning and advice beforehand, the very large distances involved on generally inferior roads with rigidly enforced speed restrictions and numerous other traffic controls.
Our original plan was to explore the far south, perhaps as far as Khnifiss Lagoon and Tarfaya, but once in Morocco we soon realised that to cover that order of distance as well as the birds in the areas to the immediate north of Agadir it would be a matter of a huge driving commitment. So in the event we hired a car for 12 days and covered the areas of Agadir, Paradise Valley, Tamri and south to Tan-Tan Plage.
The easiest but not necessarily cheapest option was to take a two week all inclusive package with Thomsons to Riu Tikida Dunas Hotel, Agadir. This is an exceptionally well managed 4* hotel with every possible amenity. Birding from dawn to dusk and having great food and comfort to come back to made the holiday very relaxing.
Car hire was very easy to arrange. Before we left the UK, we emailed a number of car hire firms, the ‘best’ quote came from Iahcen (who speaks excellent English) at Amoudou Cars. We made the final arrangements on our arrival in Agadir as we knew we would not need a car for the first couple of days.
There are a huge number of car hire firms in Agadir - all the big names and very many smaller local companies all vying for your business. We had emailed a number of firms from the UK and eventually used the one that seemed the most reliable in the UK, but next time to save costs, we would simply spend 3 or 4 hours walking around Agadir and bargain hard. Car hire details are listed separately.
Throughout the two weeks we met no other birders apart from a few casual visitors strolling with paid guides on the Oued Massa.
We found the genuine hospitality of the people of Morocco to be exceptional. At no time did we feel uneasy at walking in the streets or in the countryside. Of course ‘when in Rome do as Romans do’ - respect the local social customs, and at least where we went in Morocco, everything swung along very easily.
Morocco’s second language is French and is spoken widely - English much less so, particularly in the rural areas.
Thanks are due to Alan and Anne Miller for their excellent bird reports and general advice in planning the trip and to Patrick Bergier both for his excellent book and the paper published on his web-site (Christine’s O level French improved greatly as a result of translating the relevant section of this substantial paper!). Thanks are also due to all those who have submitted their bird reports on line, all of which were very helpful.
Angle Av. Hassan II et El Monquaouama
Tel: 0021 266 1158321 GMS: 0661 15.83.21
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Contact name: Iahcen
We hired a Logan Dacia 1.4 with air con which cost 3,500 MAD for 12 days including a franchise which gave complete cover without any excess in case of accident and theft, and 3% for paying by credit card. We found the Logan Dacia an excellent choice for birding.
Hotel Bahich, 31 Av. Abaynou, Guelmim. Tel. 0288 77.21.78
Books, Reports, Articles and Maps
Bergier, P. & Bergier, F. (2003) A Birdwatchers’ Guide to Morocco. Pub: Prion Ltd., Cley
Combridge, P. & Snook, A. (1997) A Birdwatching Guide to Morocco. Pub: Arlquin Press, Chelmsford
Gosney, D. (2009) Finding Birds in Morocco: The Deserts. Pub: Easybirder, Sheffield
Reports and Articles
Patrick Bergier “Discovering and Birding Morocco” http://www.go-south.ifrance.com
An excellent, comprehensive website containing all the information you need to know on birds in Morocco, including things like site details, trip reports and research bulletins.
Bergier, P. Go-South Bull. (2009) 6 1-71 “Le Sahara Atlantique Morocain”
Available on http://www.go-south.ifrance.com
Evans, LGR. “Southern Morocco and West Sahara January 2007”
Available on http://www.go-south.ifrance.com
Miller, A. “Morocco – Agadir & Bald Ibis, 3rd to 17th November 2006”
Available on http://www.go-south.ifrance.com
Miller, A. “Morocco – Agadir and the Southern Desert, 2nd to 16th November 2007”
Available on http://www.go-south.ifrance.com
Miller, A. “Morocco – Agadir and Surroundings. 5th to 19th November 2008”
Available on http://www.go-south.ifrance.com
Pettersson, T., Mild, K. & Waern, P. “Trip report: Western Sahara and Southern Morocco, 14-28 January 2008”
Available on http://www.go-south.ifrance.com
Wright, J. “Morocco, Agadir area, 21-28 January 2009”
Available on http://www.surfbirds.com
Michelin 742 National “Maroc, 1:1,000,000”
Rainage S.A.R.L. (Tanger) “Southern Morocco Road Map, 1:1,000,000”
Purchased in Agadir, but some roads shown as metalled were not necessarily so, as of January 2010 eg Fask - Bouizikarn
L’hssine - the young shepherd at Oued Massa reserve. Speaks some English, but his French is better.
25 Jan. Sunny, max temp 18C, wind westerly force 2.
Flight from Gatwick arrived Agadir 12.35 and on arrival at hotel, we quickly saw 6 Moroccan Magpies and 4 Common Bulbuls. Birded Agadir looking for Moroccan White Wagtails of the subspecies subpersonata without success.
26 Jan. Sunny, max temp 16C, wind westerly force 5.
Oued Souss. Set off along to the end of the promenade towards the King’s Palace hoping to get close to the mouth of the Oued Souss to get good views, but to get really close it is necessary to go to the mouth of the estuary via the track to the south of the King’s Palace. Our hotel actually provided a free coach transfer to the ‘Golf du Soleil’ golf course which is about 2 km from the Oued Souss but as this was only our first full day we used taxis which also meant that we could go further than the golf course and get right along to the start of the track.
Two local taxis and 40 MAD/£3.20 later (after negotiation) we arrived at the track which runs down between the southern perimeter of the palace grounds and the northern side of the estuary and leads to the sea. We found taxi drivers best understood exactly where we wanted to go by using the local name ‘Embouchure du Souss’.
On the way to the sea we saw a good selection of waders, Flamingo, Little Egret, and surprisingly, 3 Great White Egrets. Only raptors were an Osprey and a Barbary Falcon. On reaching the sea we got too close to the palace grounds and were whistled off by over-active palace guards. It is forbidden to use binoculars, cameras or telescope in the direction of the palace, and contravening this could result in confiscation of the equipment. Walking back up the estuary towards the start of the track provided our first Moussier’s Redstart.
27 Jan. Sunny, max temp 18C, wind westerly force 6.
Tamri. The car we had arranged arrived at the hotel promptly at 8am. Drove up to Tamri to search for the target bird of the day, Bald Ibis, where as predicted the self appointed car park guardiennes and guides wanted to take us to the birds for 200 MAD. This was a huge price and quite unnecessary as the birds showed up as they very regularly do at mid-day. We found the most reliable way to see the Ibis was to park in the surfers car park, follow the beach north until the mouth of the estuary came into view and the birds either came in to the gravel on the land side of the spit or flew directly to the low cliffs opposite.
The first flock of 21 Bald Ibis were followed by a further flock of 16, including 2 juveniles. The Ibis didn’t tend to hang around for long on the gravel but flew off to feed on low cliffs on the north side of the estuary below farm buildings. Good scope views. Gave the lads in the surfers car park 20 MAD for looking after the car and everyone was happy. Other notable birds were 300+ Audouin’s Gulls, 100+ Yellow-legged Gulls,100+ very dark backed Lesser Black-backed gulls of the intermedius sub-species and 2 Ruddy Shelduck were on the left arm of the estuary when looking upstream. On the low bushes of the salt-marsh were 30+ Iberian Chiff-chaff along with Sardinian Warblers and a pair of Stonechats.
Cap Rhir. Parked opposite the lighthouse and followed tracks down to the sea. It was now very windy and difficult to identify singing larks when exposed to the westerly. Significant northward movement of Gannets and brief views of Moroccan Cormorant and riggenbachi Shag. Birding from the car we saw 10 Thekla Larks and our first House Buntings.
Large flocks of House Martins were seen on the drive back to Agadir.
28th Jan. Overcast with distant thunder in the morning followed by torrential rain, max temp 14C, wind force 2 south-westerly increasing strongly in the afternoon.
Oued Massa. Journey time 2 hours from Agadir via Inezgane and Ait Melloul as we failed to find the dual carriageway which by-passes these towns. To reach the reserve from the main road look for the signpost ‘Camping International Wassay Beach’ on the right when travelling south.
There is no charge for entry into the Oued Massa Nature Reserve, although some self-appointed guides in birding gear tried to stop us charge and at the entrance. We found by far the best way was simply not to stop and get into pointless conversation by driving slowly past them. Stopping along the track before arriving at the Warden’s House we found a flock of Brown-throated Martins flying very low, presumably due to the unsettled weather, and a pair of Kestrels coming in and out of nests in the cliff caves. In a viewing area on shrubs next to the river was our first Isabelline Warbler.
We left our car at the Warden’s House car park without any hassle and walked along the track towards the sea. Some fellow visitors from the Forest Department assured us that there was no charge and that the car would be safe.
The second target bird at this site was Black-crowned Tchagra and one was heard in tall bushes to the left of the track a few hundred metres after the Warden’s House. We carried on down the track to the second lookout and in a marshy area below found 10 Spoonbills, 6 with colour-rings and flags which have since been reported, 5 Black-winged Stilts, 1 Marsh Sandpiper, 1 Greenshank, a Bar-tailed Godwit and a Redshank. Whilst recording the Spoonbills, yet more waders came in including 11 Spotted Redshanks.
Sitting on posts in the middle of the Oued were 30+ Moroccan Cormorants and 30 Audouin’s Gulls.
At this stage we were approached by a shepherd lad on his day off wanting to practice his English. Being a shepherd, he had an intimate knowledge of the countryside and its wildlife and offered to help us find the Tchagra. As we were now concerned that we would not actually see this very secretive and important bird, we gladly accepted and had excellent views of 2 birds. He tried to refuse payment but we insisted and gave him a decent tip. This would have been far less than paying an official (or unofficial) guide from the Warden’s House. His contact details are listed above.
Shortly afterwards came torrential rain and a testing car journey back to Agadir.
29th Jan. Sunny, max temp 15C, with no wind but wet underfoot and flooded roads.
Golf du Soleil, Agadir. Target bird was once again, the Moroccan Wagtail subpersonata. The golf course is clearly signposted on the main Agadir-Inezgane road. After the King’s Palace turn right at traffic lights at a military establishment and the golf course is found on the left. We were very kindly given permission to access the course along the tarmac tracks between the club house and the Golf Palace Hotel by the ‘Caddy Master’. Saw many birds but missed the subpersonata despite closely examining over 50 individuals. Disappointment was alleviated though by having close views of 2 Barbary Partridges and 8 Woodpigeons of the race excelsa.
From the golf course we drove down towards the Oued Souss and took the road to the left which looks down to a marshy area before the river. The road had collapsed in two places so we birded from the car just after the junction. Excellent views of herons and waders and close-up views of the riggenbachi Crested Lark.
30th Jan. Sunny, max temp 20C, with no wind.
Guelmim and Asrir. Stopped en-route at bridge over Oued Massa, 25km north of Tiznit and clearly signed on approach. There are now two bridges over the oued at this point making walking up to the dam on the east rather difficult so we looked down at it from the south-east bank. Disappointing site on this visit as the only bird was one Moussier’s Redstart.
Moved on to Guelmim where we spent a couple of hours checking out the various hotels. The best we found was the Hotel Bahich in the middle of town which was clean and adequate. Despite a fixed price of 300 MAD, negotiated 200 MAD per night for two nights. This hotel was the cleanest of the four we visited, although there is a new hotel named ‘Hotel Adil Moussafir’ due to be completed in March 2010. This is on the main road into town on the right hand side when approaching from the north and looks as though it will be by far the best. Went out to do some birding and took the Fask road out of town, turning right to Asrir after 5 or 6 km on a newly metalled road.
Stopped at the long sweeping bend before Asrir – a spot we subsequently named ‘Lark Corner’. Countless Crested Lark, our first Desert Wheatear and a single zedlitzi Trumpeter Finch all giving excellent views in the evening light. Had a good evening nosh at the Al Jazeera restaurant/café just round the corner from the Hotel Bahich which we then used for the next two evenings.
31st Jan. Sunny, max temp 25C, wind southerly force 3.
AM. Oued Sayed, Oued Boukila, Sandy Plains. PM. Asrir.
Oued Sayed. Followed a track on the south-west side of the oued to an agricultural area. We were approached by an Algerian horticulturalist who was advising his farmer client and curious to know what we were doing, but very friendly. Next to the farm there was a dump of sand in between some bushes which attracted at least 20 Iberian Chiffchaff, the only Bluethroat of our holiday, several Blackbirds and Robins. In cultivated fields were Crested Larks and Corn Buntings singing. We stopped again briefly on the way back to the main road where 2 Hoopoes flew overhead and had good views of Goldfinch of the race parva along with 50+ Barn Swallows feeding over the fields and scrub.
Moving on to Oued Boukila we parked on the right just after the bridge, scrambled down to the dried up river bed and walked up-stream. Not a lot around but walking back down under the bridge found a single Trumpeter Finch, Thekla Larks at very close range, a Willow Warbler, 20+ Barn Swallows and a pair of Kestrels flying in and out of holes under the bridge. Looking back up-stream, the riverbed had suddenly been taken over by a herd of 80 camels appearing out of no-where and which moved on just as quickly!
Next stop was ‘Sandy Plains’ and we took the car off the road on the right hand side along a small track to get out of the traffic noise. Target birds here were larks. Temminck’s Larks were soon to be found and very abundant and we counted 30 individuals; we heard but could not pinpoint a Hoopoe Lark, saw a couple of Bar-tailed Desert Larks, 5 Cream-coloured Coursers and 4 cirtensis Long-legged Buzzards. On crossing back across the main road we found a male Thick-billed Lark pecking around in some short grass. Also a Desert Wheatear, a couple of Goldfinches and some 50+ Barn Swallows skimming the plain.
Back up to Asrir, as the day was now getting hot, to find the Oasis pools mentioned by Petterson. Shortly after turning off the Guelmim-Fask road towards Asrir, we saw a wheatear sitting on a concrete block on the left hand side of the road and discovered it was a male Red-rumped Wheatear together with a female both feeding in a recently ploughed field. Continuing to Asrir, we parked the car next to the football pitch to walk through the palm-grove and were met by a young chap who also wanted to practice his English. In the cultivations between the palms, there was nothing of particular note except the only Spanish Sparrows of the trip, but at the end of the village we found our first Black Wheatears sitting on the mud buildings.
Carrying on along the road towards Fort Akabar, we spotted a largish bird at the top of some bushes on a dried-up river-bed on the left hand side of the road just before the fort. It turned out to be another of our target species, a Fulvous Babbler and part of a family group of 5. Walking down the river-bed we found a further 2 Babblers, a Great Grey Shrike of the subspecies elegans and 7 White Storks flew over. Returning, 8 Trumpeter Finches sat by the car. Driving on to the next village, we saw more Black Wheatears associated with buildings, then it was straight back to Guelmim as it was now almost dark.
1st Feb. Sunny, max 20C, after a cool start, no wind.
AM. Sandy Plains. PM Tan-Tan Plage (El Ouatia on Michelin map)
Arrived at Sandy Plains at 7.30am and stopped at the same site as yesterday. Watched 3 displaying Hoopoe Larks, Temminck’s Lark were fewer (5), and had excellent views of 3 Thick-billed Larks feeding between the small bushes, a Long-legged Buzzard was eating a breakfast of Desert Rat and a Whitethroat was seen.
At the pull-off between Km 30-35, found a flock of 15 Trumpeter Finches feeding on the fresh grass and a wheatear sitting on a concrete block, which we identified as a Maghreb Wheatear. Realising that this was out of its normal range, we studied it for a good half-hour with the new Collins in hand to ensure it wasn’t a Red-rumped, a species we had seen well the previous day. This bird had no sign of a red rump, either sitting or in flight, and furthermore its crown was a far paler grey, more of a dirty white. Its mantle, scapular and wings were black rather than dark grey/black and there was no sign of any white on its wing coverts.
On to Tan-Tan and Tan-Tan Plage, there were few birds although the scenery was spectacular. On reaching the ocean the tide was in and except for a few gulls there was little to see along the beach and only 2 Gannets out to sea.
We thought the fishing docks would yield terns if they were around. Access to the docks was straight forward subject to the security guards holding our passports until we left. Well in excess of 1000 gulls (Yellow-legged and Lesser Black-backed) were present but the terns were conspicuous by their absence. There were 7 Moroccan Cormorants and a scan of the gulls roosting on the beach turned up nothing new.
The fishing docks are a hive of activity and a very interesting place to visit with dozens of fishing boats being unloaded by hand, and stocked up with ice ready for the next voyage. On leaving we saw a couple of House Buntings and a pair of Sparrowhawks were circling over some waste ground at the edge of town.
Back at the hotel in Guelmim we heard a Lesser Kestrel from our hotel window which we then saw on top of one of the buildings opposite.
2nd Feb. AM rain, sunny mid-day and thunderstorms late PM, max temp 22C, wind north-easterly force 6
Asrir to Fask, then return to Agadir via Guelmim.
There had been light rain overnight and we decided to return to Agadir via Asrir and to loop around by taking a newly metalled road from Fask to Bouizikarn. We had breakfast at ‘Lark Corner’ listening to and watching the larks, wheatears and a Whitethroat, but this was curtailed by a rainstorm. Driving on we stopped to see if we could spot the Fulvous Babblers again in the wadi just before Fort Akabar. We weren’t lucky with the Babblers but did see 10 Black Kites flying in from the desert towards Asrir.
There were several Black Wheatears again in the next village and we stopped a km or two further on where some fields were being intensively cultivated on the right as there were some birds perched on the top of reed ‘stakes’ surrounding the field. These turned out to be Desert Wheatear and as we were watching them we picked up 4 Fulvous Babbler which also came in and perched on the stakes.
Carrying on towards Fask, shortly before we entered the town we stopped to investigate another wheatear which was sitting on top of a pole. As we got out of the car we saw an all-black wheatear. It flew off together with another wheatear with a distinct white crown – the latter, a White-crowned Black Wheatear along with a juvenile which lacks the white crown.
In the fields on the left of the road, we had excellent views of 3 more Thick-billed Larks while in the uncultivated scrub to the right we heard Hoopoe Larks in the distance and 3 unidentified sandgrouse flew over.
After Fask, the road became very isolated passing through cultivated fields at first, then stony desert. We had unintentionally got almost to Assa which was in the wrong direction and were heading straight for Algeria! We turned the car around, when 3 Hoopoe Larks flew to the side of the road and as we headed back towards Fask, our earlier fears were confirmed as a convoy of armoured vehicles passed us heading south towards the Algerian border.
We found the road to Bouizikarn on our right before entering Fask and although metalled at the start, is not signposted and was blocked off with rocks presumably as it is not yet completed. In the event we returned to Guelmim and then north to Agadir. On our way we passed now flooded fields and streets – in stark contrast to our journey south just 3 days previously.
Arriving in Agadir, a thunderstorm was upon us, but this time we managed to stay on the by-pass avoiding Ait Melloul and Inezgane. We found our way to the hotel by following signs to the ‘Zone Touristique’ and the superstore ‘Marjane’, turning left on a roundabout shortly after the ‘Metro’ shopping centre and following a tree-lined dual carriageway. The superstore ‘Marjane’ was a very useful landmark.
Just before the electrical storm broke, we saw a large flock of 100+ Pallid Swift circling over the hotel, their squeals being lower pitched than the Common Swift.
3rd Feb. Overcast with showers, max temp 20C, wind westerly force 2.
Agadir. Rest day. Having had a very successful trip to date, we were more than puzzled at not finding subpersonata after 9 days, and so ‘panic’ was beginning to set in! We decided to email our friends for advice. Just 30 minutes after despatching the email, Christine picked up a lower pitched wagtail call from the hotel balcony and there it was....subpersonata.
After lunch we went to see what birds were around in a rather scruffy scrub land at the back of the hotel/housing development towards the King’s Palace, looking down and back towards ‘Marjane’. Here we picked up another target species, the early migrating Great Spotted Cuckoo and had excellent eye level views of brehmorum Pallid Swift.
4th Feb. Sunny after overnight storms, max temp 18C, wind northerly force 2.
Paradise Valley. Essentially a non birding day, visiting the market at the hill town of Immouzzer. A very exciting day of driving into the hills. Due to the exceptionally heavy rains, certain sections of the road had been partially washed away and with a bright red raging torrent of a river. Too late to turn back as we had committed ourselves to the route and we followed any four wheel drive vehicles up to Immouzzer. As one might imagine there was much cultural diversity at this market town high in the hills. Only new birds were 5 Great Tits of the sub-species excelsus.
5th Feb. Early fog, sunny midday then early evening fog, max temp 25C, no wind.
Taroudant. Went looking for raptors, in particular the Black-winged Kite/White-shouldered Kite, but missed. Perhaps too early in the year, or perhaps due to the severe flooding.
6th Feb. Misty then sunshine, max temp 30C, no wind.
Tamri. Penultimate day of holiday, so decided to revisit Tamri to see Bald Ibis again. The surfers car park was flooded out so we parked at the side of the main road and picked our way through the sandy sticky mud to the beach. 34 Bald Ibis arrived on cue at the middle of the day at 12.30 although this time, they by-passed the gravel and landed straight on the low cliffs opposite. Excellent scope views.
On the shingle beach adjacent to the estuary was a large flock of 356 Audouin’s Gulls, 13 of which were ringed and the codes noted to be later advised via the BTO to the ringers. The majority of the other gulls were Lesser Black-backed (590+) and a small number of Yellow-legged Gulls (27). The only other birds of note were 2 Kingfishers, a Moorhen, a Pochard, 2 Little Egrets and a Great White Egret.
Oued Souss. Visited at dusk by Taxi (negotiated cost 100 MAD return including 1½ hours wait) to avoid having to drive in heavy traffic through the towns in the dark, hoping to see Red-necked Nightjar. Taking great care not to be seen looking with binoculars towards the King’s Palace (particularly at dusk when it could seem very suspicious to the palace guards), we made our way down to the sea and saw 3 Little Egret, 1 Great White Egret, 5 Flamingo and 3 Black-winged Stilt. As the sun was finally setting a flock of 40 unidentified terns were seen out to sea flying north. On our way back to the waiting taxi, we saw 2 Barbary Partridge, a Peregrine, several Blackbirds and Magpies. Unfortunately we neither heard nor saw Nightjars. Presumably they had not yet returned from their wintering grounds.
7th Feb. Sunny, very hot and humid, max >30C, wind easterly force 3.
Oued Massa. Last full day. We returned to this nature reserve but on a very different day weatherwise. The journey down took just 1½ hours including having the car washed, largely because we managed to find the Agadir by-pass.
The rains had had a dramatic effect on the vegetation with everything greening up and now many plants in flower. On the way down we saw our only Greenfinch of the trip (voousi) on a power wire near Belfa.
Shortly after the track to the reserve started, we stopped to photograph plants and flushed a couple of Barbary Partridge and a Great Spotted Cuckoo flew straight down the centre of the oued. Brown-throated Martins were not evident but they may have been in the large flocks of hirundines which were flying at very high level. Three groups of Glossy Ibis (22 + 30 + 30) flew down, landing on an island in the middle of the oued towards the Warden’s House.
This time there were no phoney guides/wardens at the turn off to the reserve but on parking the car in the official car-park by the Warden’s House, a local chap nosed around to see what we had with us in the car and in the boot, but soon lost interest and drifted away when we said that we knew that there was no charge to enter the reserve nor a charge for parking. All good natured though, just a try-on.
Walking down the track from the Warden’s House birds of note included 45 Common Crane feeding on the dunes opposite the hide near to the mouth to the oued, 6 Whimbrel which flew in close to the Cranes, a single Sandwich Tern fishing in the oued, 2 Laughing Doves and 50 Audouin’s Gulls, 2 of which were ringed but too distant to read.
By lunch time the temperature had reached a well over 30C with little shade and it was too hot for both birds and people - it also became very humid. The only passerines around now were Moussier’s Redstarts and Stonechats. Additionally a mist then came down and so after an ‘obligatory’ paddle in the sea, we returned to Agadir.
8th Feb. Sunny, max temp 25C, less humid, wind easterly force 3.
Agadir. 8AM Car hire firm came to collect the car. 9am birded around the hotel and from the beach before our pick up from the hotel at 11am for our flight back to Gatwick. We added Song Thrush to our list and had excellent views of subpersonata Wagtail and Moroccan Magpie.
Click here for day by day bird log