South Morocco with Birding Breaks 5 - 15 april 2009
tour leader: Arnoud B. van den Berg
Report by John van der Woude at  -  see also Dutch version
Part 1. Birding sites (this page)
Part 2. Bird photos
Part 3.
Species list

Many special birds, splendid weather, a nice small group, an excellent guide, an impressive scenery and friendly Moroccans. Those were the most important aspects of this very successful spring tour with the Dutch bird tour company Birding Breaks to South Morocco. For me and Nollie an added surprise was that we saw all wish-list species (lifers; 24, including several recent splits), something we have never before accomplished on our birding trips. This we owe in the first place to our guide Arnoud and his great experience with this country, and also to the observant other group members: Walter, Jelle, Henk, Silvia, Sam, Fietje. And of course we thank the organisation of Birding Breaks (, and our considerate and patient driver Ismael.

Because we flew from Schiphol airport on 5 April at 6 a.m. already to Marrakech, and flew back from Agadir in the night of 15 April, we had as much as eleven birding days. Moreover, we had our accommodation always as close as possible to the birding areas. On the map above the locations of the accommodations are given in white squares: near Marrakech (2 nights), Boumalne (2 nights), Merzouga (2 nights), Ouarzazate (1 night), Taroudannt (1 night), Agadir (2 nights).

Below, the main birding sites are shown. In Bird photos we show several of the more special bird species. The Species list is a matrix of the 205 observed bird species against the six main areas: Atlas mountains (= High Atlas), stone desert, sand desert, Ouarzazate reservoir, the drive West to Taroudannt, and the coastal area. 

Because this was a trip of a tour company, and for bird protection reasons, I mostly omit the exact locations of special and/or rare bird species.

The first birding spot of the trip, actually in the middle of Marrakech city. Introduction to the first specialties: Western Olivaceous Warbler, Moroccan Blackbird (the female is black!), House Bunting. Also made a short stroll across the famous square behind the tower, with snake charmers etcetera, so we could tell friends in Holland we have been in Marrakech!

In the Atlas mountains, along the N9 highway South of our hotel: Atlas Crossbill, Maghreb Short-toed Treecreeper, Ultramarine Tit, Hawfinch (the smaller subspecies buvryi). A little further on we added Moussier's Redstart, Atlas Long-legged Buzzard, Cirl Bunting. In a similar habitat further on we found Levaillant's Woodpecker.

Mountain stream in the highest parts of the Atlas, near the Oukaimeden ski resort. Dipper (subspecies minor), Barbary Partridge, Blue Rock-Thrush, Red-billed Chough, Barbary Ground Squirrel.

At the ski area of Oukaimeden. Practically no skiers left. Rock Sparrow, Mistle Thrush (the paler subspecies deisleri), Atlas Horned Lark, Seebohm's Wheatear, and the target species (but not always garantueed!), African Crimson-winged Finch. However, we also 'rediscovered' Lammergeier (had been absent for some years). On the left our 17-seat bus, so everybody had a window seat.

On the South side of the Atlas mountain range, at the transition from the green Atlas scenery to the stone and sand deserts of the Sahara. In these bushes we tried to find Trsitram's Warbler. We briefly saw it, but later at the Todhra gorge we had much better views.

The stone desert East of Boumalne. At this inhospitable site (although some sheperds had their bivouacs in the shallow valley to the left), we found one of the most difficult wheatears, Western Mourning Wheatear. Also Red-rumped Wheatear, Seebohm's Wheatear, Northern Wheatear (with ruddy throat), Desert Lark and Temminck's Lark.

Stone desert East of Boumalne town, just visible to the right at the background. Lanner Falcon (subspecies erlangeri), small flocks of Black-bellied Sandgrouse, more Red-rumped Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Montagu's Harrier, European Bee-eater, Greater Short-toed Lark (a group of 25), Lesser Short-toed Lark, and the first Greater Hoopoe-Larks and Cream-coloured Courser. At a similar site West of Boumalne, with some luck we had picked up already Crowned Sandgrouse and Thick-billed Lark at some distance from the road we drove.

Greater Short-toed Larks in the scope, East of Boumalne.

The valley of Boumalne as seen from our hotel. Eurasian Hoopoe, Bonelli's Eagle, and House Bunting (of course).

In the famous Todhra gorge, searching for Tristram's Warbler, which we found, with good views. Also Blue Rock-Thrush, Eurasian Crag Martin, Nightingale. The latter species uses this N-S oriented valley to cross part of the Atlas mountain range on its way to Europe.

A shallow wadi in the stone desert East of Goulmina (which is halfway between Boumalne and Erfoud). Bar-tailed Lark and Spectacled Warbler both in display flight, Desert Grey Shrike, Woodchat Shrike, and the local target species Maghreb Scrub Warbler: two adults plus five young going from bush to bush.

An 'oasis' (actually a palm tree orchard with some tiny arable fields and some deciduous trees) on our way to Erfoud. Pied Flycatcher, Serin, Turtle Dove, Eurasian Hoopoe. Target species Eastern Olivaceous Warbler did we see well in the scope, and we heard it well too (cyclical high-low song, see the Sound Approach to Birding). Surprisingly, also Western Olivaceous Warbler was present, possibly still on migration.

The sand desert near Merzouga, with the famous Erg Chebbi dunes in the morning sun. The tents belong to our hotel, but we slept in the hotel building.

Thanks to all the tourists there is some habitation left in this sand desert, and there are some camels left too, to bring the tourists into the high dunes. This way, there is still habitat (buildings) and food (camel droppings) for the rare Desert Sparrow. In the early morning we saw a pair at a nest hole in a small building.

A whole day in the sand desert with two 4WD cars (our bus had stayed behind at Erfoud). Here we saw several Greater Hoopoe-Larks in display flight. Also Spectacled Warbler (breeds here), Spotted Sandgrouse, many singing Greater Short-toed Larks. Soon we had our target species African Desert Warbler, near this spot. It was singing a long time, and we even saw it briefly in display flight. Many migratory songbirds too, like Willow Warbler, Common Redstart, Pied Flycatcher.

An oasis in the sand desert, with always some migratory songbirds at this time of year. At a similar oasis nearby we had Long-billed Crested Lark, and at dusk many European Bee-eaters and briefly also Egyptian Nightjar flying in to roost.

Here, after a long search and partly thanks to our driver Achmed, we found our only Houbara Bustard.

A seemingly collapsed table mountain in the sand desert around Merzouga.

At the site of the Pharaoh Eagle-Owl we were accompanied by some sellers of fossils and minerals. Second left is their colleague who brought us to this spot. He is trying to grow from fossil seller into naturalist guide, and we wish him well in his courageous undertaking. Bins and a field guide did he have already, so he is a veritable exception in this bird-rich country. Apart from the eagle-owl, here we also saw Trumpeter Finch (a remarkable scarce species on this trip), and, in a lone tree, Western Orphean Warbler.

Classical cuestas: asymmetrical mountains thanks to sloping layers of hard rock. At the vertical walls we saw Brown-necked Raven near a nesting spot.

On our way back from the sand desert we again halted at our favourite café nar Tinjdad, if only because of the 'best orange juice in Morocco'. [In 2019 we could not find it again alas.]

South Morocco is a geological wonderland.

The 11th of April was a long travel day, but with views like this that was not a problem.

The reservoir near Ouarzazate brought us not only terns and pratincoles etc., but also interesting species along the shore: Lilith's Owl, Moroccan Wagtail, Fulvous Babbler, Saharan Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Red-throated Pipit, and many Common Crested Lark.

Travelling towards the coast, at the section from Ouarzazate to Taroudannt, we often passed along sites like this. Around this spot alone we had Ortolan Bunting, Subalpine Warbler, Tawny Pipit, Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin, Corn Bunting, Short-toed Eagle, Trumpeter Finch, Western Orphean Warbler, Spanish Sparrow, Bonelli's Warbler, Woodchat Shrike. It was hard to leave this spot!

In the steppe-like vegetation West of Tazenakht (on our way to the coast) we tried to find Dupont's Lark. As virtually expected, we did not find it at this time of day and year (moreover this is more a specialty of Spain of course), but we did have dozens of singing Greater Short-toed Larks, many Thekla Larks, and a family of Temminck's Lark, photographed here for us by Arnoud.

Hotel Palais Salam in Taroudannt was the accommodation highlight of the trip. Very green and a maze of small alleys to the rooms which come in a great variety, some even in the small towers. At dawn, from the highest point in this complex we witnessed the Pallid Swifts taking the air, together with some Common Swift, small groups of Little Swift and a passing Alpine Swift. Amidst the greenery we discovered a Hawfinch at just a few meters distance.

Argan trees (Argania spinosa), an endemic species of Morocco in the region between Taroudannt and the coast. More and more Maghreb Magpie now, and for the first time since we left the Atlas mountain range we saw several Moussier's Redstarts again. Closer to the coast, the Argan trees are smaller, due to the salt in the air.

River mouth at the beach of the Atlantic Ocean. Here we saw the rarest bird species of the trip, Northern Bald Ibis. Also African Northern Raven, Moroccan Wagtail and Zitting Cisticola.

Massa river valley South of Agadir. Desert Grey Shrike (algeriensis), Eurasian Thick-knee, Lilith's Owl and Western Black-eared Wheatear did we see at the arable fields just outside the valley. In the valley itself Black-crowned Tchagra was the target species, which we saw well in display flight and singing at a bare branch. Also Zitting Cisticola, Ashy-headed Wagtail (displaying!), Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis, Water Rail, Laughing Dove, Marbled Teal. Closer to the sea, but still in the valley, we had Whiskered Tern, Little Tern, Greater Flamingo and several waders on their way to Europe. Even a family of Wild Boar appeared at the river bank.

Mouth of the Souss river at the beach of the Atlantic Ocean. Apart from an enormous number of Gull-billed Tern (at least one thousand) we saw Lesser Crested Tern and Peregrine. We stayed long enough to finally also see our last wish-list species, Barbary Falcon, passing us at eye level at barely 15 meters distance.

Watching the Lesser Crested Tern. From left to right Jelle, Walter, Silvia, Henk, Sam Fietje, Arnoud and Nollie.

See also:   Part 2. Bird photos    Part 3. Species list