Morocco is a bird watcher's delight. The coastal wetlands of Oualidia and the Souss-Massa National Park are ideal for spotting migrant species in October and March-April, while mountain areas abound with raptors like golden eagles and Egyptian vultures. Although we do not offer specific bird watching holidays we will be happy to provide advice and suggestions.
A stay at the Hippocampe Hotel is an opportunity to do some really interesting and very accessible bird watching. The Oualidia lagoon is a haven for both migrating and resident water birds especially a whole host of waders, egrets and herons. For the serious “birder” or the complete novice it is well worth asking the boatman at the Hippocampe to take you for a boat trip around high tide to see multitudes of birds, often at very close quarters. In late January 2013 I saw the following species during a boat excursion on the lagoon: Little Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Coot, Oystercatcher, Black-winged Stilt, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Little Stint, Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew, Yellow-legged Gull, Audouin’s Gull and Sandwich Tern.
Behind the camper van park in the town are some pools, which are worth exploring. Don’t be put off by the litter and general unkemptness of this area, as it is full of a whole variety of species including many different waders (Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Snipe, Ringed Plover) and several smaller species which you would not see in the UK, including Black Redstart, Sardinian Warbler, Fan-Tailed Warbler, and Spotless Starling. The beach at Oualidia is a great place for a lunch of barbecued spider crab and the opportunity to watch the Turnstones and squabbling Sanderlings, which feast on the left-overs.
The grounds of the Hippocampe are home to Common Bulbul (these birds make the loud musical calls), Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Serin, House Sparrow and Collared Dove. Actually, a relaxing day sitting on the patio will give you the opportunity to bird watch and enjoy a beer at the same time. The sandbanks in front of the hotel provide a roost for three species of gull along with fishing cormorants, herons and egrets.
One species of particular interest lives within seven kilometres of Oualidia. The Andalusian Hemipode, which is a tiny quail-like bird, is found in this area and is attracting a lot of interest as it is critically endangered. Oualidia is one of the few areas in North Africa where this bird is to be found. For this reason there is gathering opposition to a proposed new road which would cut through the breeding area of the Hemidopes.
A visit to the High Atlas area of Morocco in April is a rewarding one for anyone excited by the prospect of seeing a whole range of interesting bird life in a variety of beautiful locations. Not only are there resident species of birds present which are North African specialties, but there is also a steady stream of migrant birds passing through the lush mountain valleys as they return to their Northern European breeding grounds. In addition, the visitor will have the opportunity to come across many different reptiles, amphibians, mammals and insects. All this activity takes place against a backdrop of impressive mountain scenery, acres of wooded hillside, magnificent high plateau, and flower rich valleys watered by the melting snows. Temperatures are in the comfortable mid-twenties Celsius and the evenings are warm enough to enjoy an outside drink as one ponders the adventures of the day.
A lot can be enjoyed and encountered without spending too much time travelling by car. There are many pleasant river walks and lonely tracks, which may not be in the guidebooks, but are well worth exploring. I spent a wonderful ten days in the area based at two very different locations looking for birds and other wildlife, and experiencing the culture and history of this part of Morocco.
Tagadert, Takerkoust, Ourika Valley and Oukaimeden
For the first four days of my adventure I stayed at the extremely comfortable guesthouse Chez Max in the Berber village of Tagadert. From here I was able to explore the local area around Lake Takerkoust – 15 minutes drive - and the banks of the Oued N’Fiss, and then go further into the Atlas via the Ourika Valley to the ski resort at Oukaimeden. Tagadert is fringed by a large area of Almond and Olive grove and mixed woodland. This place is a haven for a profusion of small birds and should be visited in the morning once the sun has risen. The visitor will be immediately aware of the song of nightingales, the call of the cuckoo and the constant twittering of Serin. There is every chance of seeing most of the finch family, including Hawfinch, as well as Sardinian Warbler, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaff, Turtle Dove, Red-rumped Swallow, Bee-eater, Spotted Flycatcher around the woodland, and Woodchat and Crested Lark on the hillside. Tagadert is very close to the Kasbah at Oumnast, also well worth a visit. The rocks and masonry are home to lizards, and do look out for Great Grey Shrike on the electricity wires.
Lake Takerkoust is probably best visited during the Autumn and early Spring migration periods if you want to see waders and other water fowl. It can be a bit sparse and arid but do persist as there are resident Black-Crowned Night Heron about, with Rufous Bush Robin and Woodchat in the hedges and scrubland which fringe the road. The hillsides which surround the reservoir are home to Black and Black-Eared Wheatear. A more enjoyable trip involves driving along the 6029 road which follows the N’Fiss river just north of Takerkoust. This is a lovely area in Spring and good place for a stroll amongst the rocky banks and Oleander shrubs. Grey Wagtail, Pied/White Wagtail, Little Swift, Bee-eater, Black and Black-Eared Wheatear are all common and I suspect that more species would be seen during a longer stay. There is a small bridge where Little Swifts nest and which is a great place for a picnic!
A must-do excursion involves a day set aside for a drive to the ski resort of Oukaimeden via the Ourika Valley. This is a lovely journey as you meander along the valley with its many panoramic views points, ancient hillside villages and terraced fields. Trying to concentrate on the road whilst watching out for Booted Eagle and Long-Legged Buzzard is a little hazardous, but there are a number of places where you can stop to scan the hillsides and cliff tops for raptors. There is a long ascent to the plateau at Oukaimeden where hundreds of Choughs, both Red-Billed and Alpine, gather to feed. At the resort there will be the opportunity to see Rock Sparrow, Black Redstart, Horned Lark, Alpine Accentor and Crimson-Winged Finch. In April these very pretty finches had gathered at the car park and were quite used to being watched and photographed. A walk past the ski-lift station along the road and into Oukaimeden Pass is worthwhile for both the wonderful scenery and an assortment of mountain birds.
Ouirgane, Tin Mal, Moulay Brahim and Imlil
For the second part of my High Atlas trip I stayed at La Roseraie in Ouirgane. This is a superb location as the rooms are set in stunning gardens surrounded by Olive and Almond groves with mixed woodland and meadow. It is a perfect place for anyone who wants a relaxing holiday with the opportunity to observe some great wildlife without having to drive anywhere. Moroccan Great Spotted and Levaillant’s Woodpecker nest in the gardens along with a host of smaller birds. Common Bulbul, Nightingale, Spotted and Pied Flycatcher, Golden Oriole, North African Chaffinch, African Blue Tit, Bee-eater, Chiffchaff and Hawfinch are all common. If you are lucky, and observant, you may come across a Chameleon or a Tortoise. Spadefoot Toads and Painted Frogs enjoy the water features which enhance the gardens and provide moisture for a profusion of roses. Both Sparrow-Hawk and Kestrel hunt in the gardens.
The Ouirgane Valley is a resting place for many different migrants on their journey north. Redstart, Winchat, Barn Swallow, Cuckoo, and Blackcap are just few of the species which are passing though the valley. It is well worth spending some time exploring the network of paths and tracks which can be easily found close to the main hotel complex. By April butterflies are starting to emerge and the flowering meadows and woodland fringes attract Cleopatra, Plain Tiger, Common and Long-tailed Blue, Clouded Yellow, Small Copper, Grizzled Skipper,
Speckled Wood and Small White.
There are some great car journeys which are relatively short and take you to different habitats. Within easy driving time is a beautiful high plateau landscape of wide prairie where time appears to have stood still. It is home to various Larks and Pipits and patrolling raptors. The plateau is approached by taking the road to Asni – where you can stop to look at the Stork and Egret colonies – and driving up to this mystical landscape via the small town of Moulay Brahim.
After driving back to Asni you might want to take the road up to Imlil to search out more upland birds. Keep a look out for Moussier’s Redstart. Once located you will have no difficulty watching, and photographing, this splendid iconic bird as they appear to be very bold and confident. The road is a typical mountain road and needs a steady nerve. I’d avoid weekends as it is a popular route for the locals. On returning to Ouirgane it is possible to find an interesting Moroccan speciality, Tristrams Warbler, as it searches in the branches of Juniper for food.
Another excellent excursion involves driving in the direction of the Tizi-n-Test pass to the 12th century Almohad mosque at Tin Mal. This trip should involve you in some lengthy stops as you search the river valley for birds. Attention should be given to frequent scanning of the skies for Short-toed and Bonelli’s Eagle. At Tin Mal I found a pair of nesting Roller and a dead tree adorned with Bee-eaters. The mosque and the beautiful scenery which surrounds it is worth the drive alone with the added bonus of seeing Black Wheatear, Rock Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, Woodchat, Grey Wagtail and House Bunting.
Expectations in Spring
Visiting the sites mentioned in this report is rewarding and not solely dependent on finding your target birds. The countryside is very beautiful and varies between steep mountain gorges, arid hillsides, lush valleys, wet areas watered by streams and rivers, and evocative high plateaus. The landscape photographer is in his or her element. For the wildlife enthusiast there are always surprise encounters; a tortoise crossing a minor road, a chameleon stalking in a tree, a lizard or snake which has yet to become aware that it is being observed, a Mongoose hunting along the verge of a road, and the inquisitive antics of the numerous Ground Squirrels. Bird watching is, as ever, a matter of patience, luck and good up to date information. Nature photography requires a special type of patience and tolerance but can be extremely rewarding ! However the visitor is very likely to see some excellent North African specialities as well as birds not normally encountered in the United Kingdom.
Nothing is certain but expect to find Moussier’s Redstart, Black Redstart, Seebohm’s Wheatear, Black–Eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Rock Bunting, House Bunting, Rock Sparrow, Crested Lark, Sardinian Warbler, Bee-eater, Woodchat, Rufous Bush Robin, Little Swift, Red-rumped Swallow, Golden Oriole, Nightingale, African Blue Tit, Hawfinch, Pied Flycatcher, and a variety of passage species. Amongst the larger birds you should be able to spot Levaillant’s Woodpecker, both species of Chough, Roller, White Stork, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Long-legged Buzzard, Booted Eagle and Short-toed Eagle. With a little more luck you would hope to see Crimson-winged Finch, Horned Lark, Tristram’s Warbler, Alpine Accentor and Bonelli’s Eagle.
One thing is certain; the wildlife tourist will not be disappointed.
For further information on birds in this area I recommend Finding Birds in Morocco : coast and mountains by Dave Gosney. This book is inexpensive and is full of advice and information.
The Lawrence of Morocco map displays the locations of the destinations and accommodation that we have selected and visited; for each item, hovering over or clicking the marker will display a short summary and photo of that place or hotel, and hotel pricing. Follow the links in the info box to the full page listing which has much more information.
Note that the online map offers both a satellite view (click satellite in the top right) and, for some locations, a street level view (Drag the person in the top left onto the map). These let you explore the country; and when you wish to explore in person, or if you have any questions about the places you see, give our staff a call, or request a quote. Our staff regularly visit the places and accommodation that we feature.
When you book a holiday with us we will provide full driving instructions for reaching your accommodation, where necessary; these can be used by yourself, or you could enjoy the luxury of a driver. Alternatively we will arrange private (car rather than coach) transfers for you; helicopter transfers are also possible for some destinations.
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Deputy Editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Sasha Slater, travelled with her family to Marrakech and Ouirgane with Lawrence of Morocco in April 2014.
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