South Morocco, 1st – 7th

April 2002, Bob Swann

 

This report gives details of the birds seen and the sites visited during a week’s holiday in south Morocco based at the resort of Agadir with my (non-birding) wife. We were on a package holiday with Panorama and flew from Gatwick. We stayed at the Igoudar Apartments on a self-catering basis. The apartments were comfortable and central, with shops and restaurants close by. We booked a car prior to leaving with Holiday Autos at a cost of £180 for the week. We arrived late on the 31st March to find it pouring with rain. Not quite what we expected!

 

1st April

Got up at 7am to find it cloudy but dry. A Common Bulbul was singing in the palm tree just outside the apartment. My first lifer of the trip already! Not much to look at, but quite a songster. Walked down to the beach, which was full of joggers and a few Yellow-legged Gulls and then cut in to check out the scrub and trees around the hotels, apartments and parks. A few migrants including Blackcap, Subalpine Warbler and a Melodius Warbler, also lots of Spotless Starlings.  Then walked up into central Agadir where there were lots of swifts flying over. Although most were Common Swift, a Pallid Swift flew into one of the building and a pair of Little Swift were flying about characterised by their shorter rounder wings, stubbier tail and white rump. I headed back to the apartment where there were now a pair of House Bunting in the palm tree which gave excellent views, especially of the singing male.

 

We picked up the car at 11am and decided to head north to Tamri. About 2 km before we reached the lagoon we spotted a flock of 8 Bald Ibis between the road and the cliff top. Unfortunately they were almost immediately disturbed by a fisherman. We got good views, however, as they soared about above us. We parked beside the west end of the lagoon and walked down a wee track. By a very small field we flushed a Barbary Partidge, whilst in the surrounding shrubs we had our first Mousier’s Redstarts. On the lagoon were 5 Marbled ducks, whilst on the beach amongst the Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Sandwich Terns were 13 Audouin’s Gulls. On the far hillside a Long-legged Buzzard flew over pursued by two Common Raven and a flock of 9 Bald Ibis got up, soared about and headed north. We headed north as well through Tamri, but got no further sightings of the ibis. In the roadside scrub however we had a pair of Spectacled Warblers.

 

We headed back to Agadir and then went south on the road to Inezgane, turning of right at the sign saying Pyramid Hotel which took us to Oued Sous. The tide was in and at a big lagoon at the side of the road we got excellent views of up to 65 Gull-billed Tern which were flying about and dipping into the water. The lagoon also contained lots of Little Egrets and a Eurasian Spoonbill. On the opposite shore were many waders: Black-winged Stilts, Common Redshank, a few Ruff and Wood  Sandpipers. Whilst amongst the roosting Common Shelduck was a single Ruddy Shelduck. In the surrounding scrub there were lots of Common Magpies, of the local race with the bright blue mark behind the eye. We also had a Moroccan race White Wagtail with its very black face patch. We went up to the entrance of the reserve but were denied access as apparently the King was in residence at the adjacent palace.

 

2nd April

Decided to head south to Oued Massa. Took the road through Inezgane, which was a mistake as the traffic was terrible. Agadir bypass is a much easier way of getting south. Took over an hour to get to Massa. There had obviously been very heavy rain overnight and as we approached Sidi R’Bat the track became very muddy so wedecided to abandon the car and walk. As we walked along the riverside we heard an unfamiliar, but loud, repetitive whistling song. We followed it up and got good views of our first Black-crowned Tchagra. Lots of hirundines were flitting along, mainly Barn Swallows and Sand Martin, but with a few Red-rumped Swallow and House Martin and amongst them a single Plain Martin. As we approached Sidi R’Bat we flushed 2 Cattle Egret. In the bushes by the village were numerous European Serin, Common Bulbuls, Turtle Doves and a few Laughing Doves. A pair of House Buntings flitted about one of the buildings and we had more good views of Mousier’s Redstart. We then walked down the track on the north side of the estuary. A scattering of duck included Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Common Teal and Marbled Duck. Waders along the shoreline included Black-tailed Godwit, Little Stint and Kentish Plover. We flushed a Green Sandpiper from one of the channels. Feeding below us on the shore were 2 Squacco Herons. Out in the estuary were several Great Cormorants, most of the african race with their dazzling white breasts. Quite impressive! We walked out to the beach at the mouth and though it was now warm and sunny a very strong wind was getting up so we didn’t stay long. We headed back through the scrub on the hillside above the track getting good views of Great Grey Shrike, Barbary Partridge and Sardinian Warblers. We then followed the track to our abandoned car, getting a nice view of a Purple Heron carrying a massive fish and two Marsh Harriers quartering the reeds.

 

We headed back towards Massa. Just before entering the village we turned left a short distance along a track into a semi-desert area. I flushed 2 Cream-coloured Coursers and had lots of Lesser Short-toed Larks and a Tawny Pipit, but the very strong wind made viewing difficult. So we went into Massa and cut down some narrow streets towards the river. Here small fields are surrounded by scrub and we had good views of another Black-crowned Tchagra singing away. By the river we had another 3 Squacco Herons, a Purple Heron, singing Cetti’s Warblers and 2 Tufted Ducks, but once again the strong wind made viewing difficult.

 

We decided to head back north. On the way back we turned left off the main road down to Tifnit. Just past an army camp we had a flock of 26 Cream-coloured Coursers on a field with very short grass. They gave us superb views as they walked towards the car. Amongst them were 2 Northern Wheatears. Further on amongst trees we had good views of a small flock of European Bee-eaters and 3 White Wagtails (but they were not of the Moroccan Race). We headed down to Tifnit but due to the very strong winds viewing was very difficult so we retreated back to Agadir.

 

3rd April

We decided to head up the Sous valley and into the High Atlas. First stop was on the flood plain just before Taroudannt a known site for babblers. We crossed the causeway and then walked down the west side. Nice views of a pair of Stone Curlew and a few Subalpine Warblers in the bushes, but little else. We then crossed the road and walked down the east side. There is a dump here which had attracted about 200 fairly disgusting White Storks. Also feeding on the insects around the dump were large numbers of European Bee-eaters, several Great Grey Shrikes and a couple of Woodchat Shrikes. We also saw at least 4 Hoopoes and along the river channel were Little Ringed Plover and a Common Sandpiper. Despite extensive searching there were no sign of the babblers.  Headed on east past the fine walled city of Taroudannt, where a Montague’s Harrier crossed the road in front of us. We took the turn off to Marrakech and started to climb up a narrow windy road into the Atlas Mountains. We came into an area of pines and dwarf palms on a steep hillside. We decided to stop and look around. Despite apparently being in the middle of nowhere we were soon joined by some kids who continued to pester us and made birding difficult. Amongst the dwarf palms we had several Black Wheatear (some feeding young), at least 2 pairs of Rock Bunting also singing larks which we assumed were Thekla Larks and in the distance a Common Cuckoo was calling. In the pines we had a small flock of 5 Common Crossbills. The kids were getting such a pest we decided to move on. We quickly got into low cloud so decided to turn back well before we reached the Tizi-n-Test pass. On the way down a Short-toed Eagle soared over the road above us and a Barbary Ground Squirrel ran across the road in front of us.

 

4th April

I decided to go on a trip on my own to the desert. I got up early at 4.40am and was on the road by 5.00am. The roads were quiet so I made good progress. Dawn broke about 6.00am as I reached the Anti-Atlas mountains. The road was good and traffic still fairly light. I got to Goulimine just after 7.00am and stopped just to the south of the town at the Oued Sayed wadi. The recent torrential rain had resulted in a massive discharge of water down the wadi, flattening the bushes and causing much erosion. The surrounding desert had also been inundated with water and was still soggy and quite difficult to walk over. A very strong cold wind was blowing and a few migrants were sheltering from it on the lee side of big bushes these included a single Bonelli’s Warbler, a Garden Warbler, a few Willow Warblers, a Common Nightingale and several Subalpine Warblers. In the channel I flushed a Green Sandpiper and a few Common Moorhens scuttled for cover.

 

I headed on south and had my first Red-rumped Wheatear at the side of the road and a Temminck’s Lark. I stopped about 35 kms south of Goulimine (round about the area where the road markers were saying Tan Tan 100). By now a major sandstorm was blowing. The area on the west side of the road (reputed to be very good for desert birds) was being badly affected by the sandstorm and there appeared to be few birds there. I crossed to the east side of the road and walked out towards the pylon lines where there were some fields where they were trying to grow cereal crops. This area was excellent for birds. As I walked out I got good views of a pair of Desert Wheatear , 2 Northern Wheatear and another Temminck’s Lark. There were also 3 Cream-coloured Courser. Finally I spotted a pair of Thick-billed Lark which gave excellent close views as they fed amongst the desert plants. Just before the power lines I flushed a Bar-tailed Lark of its nest. The nest under a stone contained 2 eggs. The bird gave good views, but I quickly moved on. Out in the cereal patch were lots more larks. 20+ Temminck’s Larks, some of which were very approachable down to a few metres. When the males sang they put their horns up. I found another flock of 6 Thick-billed Larks, which were again very approachable. Also out here were 2 pairs of Greater Short-toed Larks and 2 Tawny Pipits. It was a super area and despite the wind and periodic blasts of sand I got very good views of all the birds. As I headed back towards the road I came across a Lesser Short-toed Lark. I drove back slowly towards Goulimine. I saw a few more Red-rumped Wheatear, several Desert Wheatear and another Bar-tailed Lark.  I also had a wheatear with very black back, wings, tail and head. It had an off white, streaked crown like a red-rumped but this bird’s rump was pure white, as was its belly and undertail coverts. It also behaved like a red-rumped.  I can only assume it was an aberrant red-rumped wheatear. I passed a couple of wadis with a lot of scrub in them which I decided to check out. They harboured a variety of birds including several Subalpine Warblers, Willow Warblers, another Bonelli’s Warbler, 2 Hoopoe, a Wryneck, a Barbary Partridge and on a flooded area 6 Marbled Duck. Having had a good day, despite the sand blasting, I decided to head back north to Agadir.

 

5th April

It was a nice hot, fairly calm, sunny day so we decided to head back south to Oued Massa. We missed the first turn of to Massa and Sidi R’Bat and took the next one which said Massa 5. This took us into the southern side of the town. As we drove up through the town we came into more open country and close to the road was a large pool. It was full of birds and they were very confiding, ignoring us and other passers by. Amongst them were 16 Glossy Ibis, 2 Common Greenshank, 2 Wood Sandpiper, 2 Ruff and a Common Snipe. A Spotted Crake walked out from the rushes giving us superb views. There were lots of Yellow Wagtails (flava and iberiae). A Common Quail called from a nearby field and a Black-crowned Tchagra sang from a nearby bush giving us excellent views. We took the track down through the fields passing a pair of Common Stonechat and singing Corn Buntings. In the fields closest to the river we had good views of at least 2 Plain Martins.

 

We drove down towards Sidi R’Bat and then walked down the track alongside the estuary. The birds were much the same as 3 days ago but we had good views of at least 4 Osprey (one of which caught a large fish in front of us). Waders included 6 Curlew Sandpiper and 6 Sanderling. Migrants in the bushes along the track included a Common Redstart and a Sedge Warbler. Six Cream-coloured Courser flew over giving their distinctive call. On the far side of the shore was a Eurasian Spoonbill, 2 Glossy Ibis and a very large Wild Boar chomping its way through the rushes. On the way back we had further good views of 2 Black-crowned Tchagras, one of which hopped across the track in front of us. On the field outside Massa we had good views of Greater Short-toed Larks on the ground and in song flight.

 

We headed back towards Agadir and decided to re-visit Oued Sous. The tide was out and with the sun in the west the light was not good. There were lots of waders feeding on the mud but the bad light resulted in poor views. An immature Little Gull and an immature Slender-billed Gull, amongst the Black-headed Gulls gave us reasonable views, despite the poor light. Once again the police prevented us entering the actual reserve.

 

6th April

I got up early to have another go at the Sous Valley and the High Atlas. Back on the flood plain just west of Taroudannt I searched again, still with no luck, for the babblers. I did get good views of 2 nice Black-eared Wheatears, a Little Owl, another Stone Curlew, numerous Crested Larks (several feeding recently fledged young) and 2 Long-legged Buzzards soaring above the dump. Lots of Common Swifts fed over the flood plain with at least 3 Little Swifts with them. I headed east of Taroudannt and came across a few raptors on the move. There were at least 5 Black Kite, a Booted Eagle, 10 Lesser Kestrel, some undertaking high aerial chases and a large falcon, which may have been a Lanner. There are lots of Chaffinches in this area. These are of the north african race with all blue heads and a green back. They also appear to have more white on the wings and tails than our birds. Thick cloud had built up so there appeared little point in going up into the mountains so I headed back to Agadir.

 

I picked up Dora from the apartment and as it was cloudy and very windy in Agadir we decided to head back north to Tamri. Just a few kilometres before the Tamri lagoon where the cliff top comes quite close to the road I glimpsed a large falcon chasing a Rock Dove. We stopped the car and there on the cliff top was its mate calling away. It was a Barbary Falcon and it gave us superb close views before it flipped over the cliff top and disappeared. The lagoon itself was not very productive as a large herd of camels were chomping their way through the scrub. We moved closer to Tamri where in the scrub between the road and the waters edge we had 3 Reed Warblers and a House Bunting.  It was now sunny and the wind had dropped. We headed to Tamri itself to check the large cliff just to the north of town, a noted site for Lanners, but only saw a couple of Common Kestrels. We decided to head back. Just past the lagoon on a ‘grassy’ hillside on the south side of the road we spotted 5 feeding Bald Ibis that gave very good views through the scope. Satisfied with our trip we headed back to Agadir.

 

7th April

Our last day. I decided to revisit Oued Sous. I thought an early morning visit with the sun in the east would give better viewing conditions. In fact in turned out to be quite cloudy.  As I arrived at the first view point near the reserve entrance a Black-crowned Tchagra was singing loudly and flying from bush to bush giving excellent views. The tide was out and most of the waders were feeding near the mouth. I walked down the track and got good views of the feeding birds. Waders included large numbers of Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling, Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover, Ruff, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Black-winged Stilt along with Oystercatchers, Pied Avocets, Bar-tailed Godwits, Curlew and a few Turnstone. There were 45 Greater Flamingoes, mostly immatures. Lots of Little Egrets, Grey Herons and 14 Eurasian Spoonbills fed along the channels. Amongst the gulls the immature Slender-billed and Little were still there along with an adult Common Gull, whilst amongst the Gull-billed Terns was a single Common Tern. Eventually I was stopped by the police and asked to go back (I am quickly gaining republican sympathies!). A lone wader on the mud by the lagoon close to the road turned out to be a Stone Curlew, giving its curlew like call.

 

I decided to walk through the wood close to the reserve entrance. Lots of European Serins and a fewTurtle Doves. I disturbed a pair of Barbary Partridge in a more open sandy area. In a small open area with some broom type bushes I flushed a Red-necked Nightjar. It dropped down close to the security fence and despite its superb camouflage I relocated it and got excellent views of it on the ground. What a stroke of luck as we had been unable to get in at dusk to look for them due to the reserve being off-limits with the king being in residence.

 

I had to get the car back by 11am so headed back for Agadir. I dropped the car off and walked back to the apartments. It was now raining. In central Agadir there were no sign of the swifts but I did see a House Bunting singing from one of the buildings. We packed up and spent the afternoon by the pool. It had dried up now. On the way to the airport on the outskirts of Agadir amongst the swifts were at least 2 Little Swifts.

 

In all we saw 140 different species and I had 11 lifers. Morocco is an excellent place for birding with lots of different habitats containing a wide variety of different species. A hired car is necessary to get around though and we did 1700kms during our week. The weather was more varied than I had expected. Low cloud restricted our visits to the High Atlas so we could not look for Tristram’s Warbler, whilst on other days the very strong winds made birding difficult. On some days kids were a bit of a pest, particularly in the Sous valley, the High Atlas and around Tamri, where as soon as the saw the car stop they would race up to try and pester us into giving them something. It could get a bit wearing after a while. Overall though we had a great time and would certainly go back again.

 

Bob Swann

 

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