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Guide : Mick Richardson
Author : Mick Richardson


 Day 6 - April 13th - Zagora to Erford and Desert.
Today was a travelling day with not much of a chance to make many stops. At a barrage just to the north of Zagora we picked up a Rufous Bush Chat singing from the tops of the Acacia trees and both European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters hawked for prey over the river.Turtle, Collared and Rock Doves were all seen along with Bonelli’s and Subalpine Warblers, White Crowned Black and Northern Wheatears and a single Crowned Sandgrouse which flew over.
We stopped at Tansikht where we had a tea break and saw the first European Greenfinch Carduelis chloris, Serin, and House Sparrow.
We then drove without stopping except for lunch to the hotel Auberge Darkaoua on the way we saw more Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, House Bunting, Black-eared Wheatear, Long-legged Buzzard, Common Blackbird and a Hoopoe.
altOn the drive up to the hotel a pair of very special birds were found, two Cream-coloured Coursers ran amongst the abundant vegetation (again due to the wet winter). We booked in and sorted out the rooms and asked Tarik to meet us for a late afternoon drive into the desert. Around the hotel grounds Reed Acrocephalus scirpaceus, Western Olivaceous Hippolais opaca and Melodious Warblers, Woodchat Shrike, Common Redstart Phoenicurus phoenicurus, Pied Flycatcher and Hoopoe were all added to the list.
Later Tarik drove us out into the desert once it had started to cool down, more Cream-colourer Courser’s were seen along with a brief flight view of a Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus, Hoopoe, Bar-tailed, Desert and Temminck’s Horned Larks Eremophila bilopha and Common Swift were all seen.
We returned to the Hotel and had a very pleasant evening meal in the gardens.

Day 7 - April 14th - Merzouga area.
An early morning walk around the Auberge did not produce much more that the yesterday afternoon, Greater Whitethroat and an Immature Greenfinch. We then made our way to the Merzouga Lake which used to be a very temporary watering hole for passage birds but it now seems to be more permanent. The most obvious species was the Ruddy Shelduck’s Tadorna ferruginea that were scattered around the shore line, the only other duck seen was a small flock of Marbled Teal Marmaronetta angustirostris. 50 or so Greater Flamingo’s Phoenicopterus roseus were out in the deeper water with Black Chlidonias niger and Gull-billed Terns Gelochelidon nilotica flying overhead. Little Stint Calidris minuta, Common Actitis hypoleucos and Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea, Sanderling Calidris alba, Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus and Kentish Plover / Snowy Charadrius alexandrinus were all feeding on the shore as we made our way around to the far side of the lake. altOn the far bank we saw White Stork, Common Coot Fulica atra, Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus, Little Egret and a single Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus. We returned to the hotel for lunch before heading back out towards the lakes later in the afternoon, this time we went to some smaller pools which produced very little and then onto the southern end of the main lake. In the reeds we saw our first Squacco Heron’s Ardeola ralloides and a single Great White Egret Ardea alba which was quite a surprise this far south, several Little Egrets and Ruddy Shelduck’s. Several Collared Pratincoles were seen flying low over the reed beds and another Western Marsh harrier was watched as it snatched a young Common Coot from the surface. On the run back to the hotel through the desert more Hoopoe Larks and Cream coloured Coursers were seen well.

Day 8 - April 15th - Merzouga area.
A quick walk around the gardens in the morning produced Common Chiffchaff and Bonelli’s Warbler along with most of the same species from earlier mornings. Today started with a desert drive towards the string of ‘cafes' along the edge of the Erg Chebbi dune system. Our main destination was Café Yasmina but on the way we picked up a pair of Lanner Falcon, the female allowing us a very close view. Black Kite Milvus migrans and Booted Eagle were also added, along with Southern Grey Shrike, White Crowned Black Wheatear, Brown-necked Raven, Hoopoe, Bar-tailed, Crested, Temminck’s Horned and a new Lark Short-toed. I saw a single brief view of a Tawny Pipit but I could not relocate it for the group. We eventually arrived at Café Yasmina and were greeted by a flock of both Bee-eaters feeding from the tops of some dead Tamarisks. A small ringing station has recently been set up by the lake side at the Café but as the wind was quite strong the only bird caught while we were there was a Western Olivaceous Warbler. A very smart Whinchat Saxicola rubetra was added to the trip list as we sat with our Moroccan whiskey in the gardens of the Café. We moved on around the lake and picked up 3 Squacco Herons, Common Coot, Little Egret, Greater Flamingo, Ruddy Shelduck, Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover. We then drove back to the Hotel for lunch.
altThe afternoon was spent out in the desert searching for any surviving Houbara Bustards after the Saudi slaughter during the winter but we did not see them. We had very close views of 11 + Spotted Sandgrouse Pterocles senegallus most in flight but a single bird walked slowly away from us allowing the scope to be used. Cream-coloured Courser, Hoopoe, Hoopoe, Bar-tailed, Short-toed and Temminck’s Horned Larks, Rufous-bush Chat and several Blue-headed form Yellow Wagtails were seen amongst a flock of Nomad's Sheep. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at several small temporary pools in some low dunes, where we saw a strange creature on the margins of these slowly evaporating pieces of water.
We made our way back to the hotel to have the evening meal, on the approach we saw both Bee-eaters again.

Day 9 - April 16th - Erford to Boulmaine des Dades.
Today we were heading back west towards Ouarzazate, our overnight stop on the way was at the newly refurbished Hotel Xaluca in Boulmaine. On our way to the Gorge de Todra we made a desert stop at a shallow Wadi with a few Acacia dotted along it. Almost straight away we picked up our first Fulvous Babblers Turdoides fulva, a flock of about 8 birds made their way through the trees ahead of us. Good views of a Southern Grey Shrike family party were also had, along with Woodchat Shrike, Northern, White Crowned Black, Desert and Black-eared Wheatears, Common Bulbul and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters.
The next stop was in the gorge de Todra, on the way up we saw Cattle Egret, House Bunting and Barn Swallow. In the Gorge House Martin Delichon urbicum, Crag Martin, Grey and White Wagtails, House Bunting, Rock Pigeon and Pond Frog Rana perez were all seen.
We continued on and soon started to head into the rock deserts again. A few kms before Boulmaine we made a stop to look at a male Mourning Wheatear Oenanthe lugens which performed on a large road side boulder for us. The hotel was the next stop where we sorted the rooms out and had a bit of a sort out before going out on to the Tagdilt Track for some more desert birding. Red-rumped Wheatears Oenanthe moesta were common, males in cracking plumage seemed to fly up from every group of rocks. Very good views were had of Temminck’s Horned, Desert, Hoopoe, Short-toed, Bar-tailed, Crested and Thekla Larks, Desert Wheatear and Long-legged Buzzard which showed well on the ground at close range. After quite a drive round we headed back to the hotel for a very pleasant meal.

Day 10 - April 17th - Boulmaine des Dades to Ouarzazate.
We started the day with a drive to a small cultivated area on the edge of the stone desert to the south of the hotel. Turtle Dove, Nightingale, Serin, Mistle Thrush, Woodchat Shrike, Thekla Lark and House Bunting were all seen well. altBlack-bellied Sandgrouse were heard but not located. We returned to the stone desert and picked up much the same birds as yesterday, also seen were Eurasian Kestrel, Tawny Pipit and 11 Black-bellied Sandgrouse which flew up from the track side and landed briefly close by but then moved further away and out of sight over a distant ridge. Many Fat Sand Rats Psammomys obesus were seen as they scampered between their tunnels.
The group then made the decision that they preferred the idea of a cultural afternoon in Ouarzazate so we drove pretty much straight there with just a brief stop at the lake to the east of the town. Here the only interest was several Great crested Grebes.
Tarik then took us to the old Kasbah where the group went for a visit. Later Mary Louise and Carlyn along with Tarik went to the Movie studios just outside the town. The rest of us went birding along the wadi near the hotel. We added Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius, Little and Cattle Egret, Western Olivaceous and Bonelli’s Warblers, White Stork, European Bee-eater and Woodchat Shrike.

Day 11 - April 18th - Ouarzazate to Marrakech.
Today we made an early start as we had the winding drive back up and over the Atlas Mountains. Just north of Ouarzazate we made a detour and stopped by a wadi amongst some agricultural small holdings. Several Collared Pratincoles were feeding gracefully along the river with Sand, Crag and House Martins, Barn Swallow and Common Swift. Corn Bunting was also added to the list as it sang from a nearby bush. Further along the road we made a second riverside stop were Little Ringed Plover (Breeding), Common Sandpiper, European Bee-eater and White wagtail were present. Our last stop before the mountains was a brief walk into the stone desert seeing the final White-crowned and Northern Wheatears, Desert and Short-toed Larks. We then started the climb back up to our lunch stop, on the way Barbary Ground Squirrel Atlantoxerus getulus, Long-legged Buzzard, Rock Pigeon, Hoopoe and Common Raven all put in an appearance.
altAfter lunch we stopped at three sites on the way back down the Mountains, the first a road side lay-by produced African Blue Tit and Great Tit Parus major, Woodpigeon, Subalpine Warbler and Nightingale. The second stop was at an old concrete building with steps up onto the roof; Winter Wren Troglodytes troglodytes and European Robin Erithacus rubecula were both added to the trip list. A little further along the road we stopped for tea at the same site as we had seen the Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker on the way up, but without any luck this time. Our last stop of the day was at a co-operative shop which sold beauty products made from Argon nut extract. The rest of the journey was quiet and we got back to Marrakech in good time, a long but interesting journey.
We unfortunately had to say goodbye to some of our group at this point as they were not continuing the trip with us.

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