organised by Boletas Birdwatching Centre founder Josele J Saiz assisted by Harry Barnard.
Also see Josele's BoletasTrip Report - Morocco in February 2010
We stayed last night at the Sofitel beside the North terminal at Gatwick. Early in the morning we took the transit bus to the South terminal, only to discover that the flight number had changed and we were now flying from the North terminal! The weather was bright, cold and sunny.
The easyJet flight from Gatwick to Marrakesh arrived on time, but we were delayed filling in arrival forms at customs. We met Josele, changed money and had a quick bite to eat at the airport whilst watching house buntings flitting inside the arrivals hall.
Straight into birding we drove one and a half hours south to Vallee de L’Ourika and then Setti Fatma . We passed many bright handwoven carpets and clay vases for sale on the roadside .
This journey took us into the low foothills of the High Atlas Mountains and we saw rivers that are obviously in spate during the winter, but dry in summer.
At our evening meeting Josele formally introduced Harry Barnard who is already an expert birder at 17. Josele is to take us to a range of habitats: high Mountains, sandy dunes, stony desert, woodlands and coast. At this time of year, we will have good opportunities to see endemic species which are displaying and perhaps a few early migrants. We will have four-wheel drive cars, from tomorrow and each day the passengers move forward a car. On some days the drivers will cook for us or we will have a packed lunch. Harry will do the checklist each night.
After dinner some went to the Medina in Marrakech to view the musicians, drummers, singers and dancers in the square. A small taxi will take you there for 20 dirhams about £1.80. The food stalls were buzzing, offering soupe, lentilles and gateaux. The shops are selling iron work lamps, pouffes, bags, slippers, djellabas, rugs, material, shawls and magic potions to keep you awake all night long! These stalls were surrounded by a circle of young men!! Most shopkeepers are very pleasant, and they have a knack of getting you inside by stepping out of their shop and placing you between the shop and themselves! “Bonjour Mesdames! C’a va? What you want to buy? Come and look in my shop..just look ..try this on..no buy!”
Marrakesh to Boulmane du Dades 300 km
left at 8:20 AM in heavy rain, which turned to snow, mist and snowploughs on the High Atlas. The view from the Tizi n Tichki pass would have been spectacular, but was invisible to us in the mist and snow. The snow disappeared as we descended.
We stopped by a river in below and spotted a thekla lark and a lovely Moussiers redstart sitting bright and bold on the rocks.
Moussier's RedstartGarry Wilkinson
There was evidence of heavy rain with puddles along the roadside. We stopped along the way for a mourning wheatear which some saw.
Then paused at a hotel in Ouarzarzate, for lunch in the garden with migrant Black kites, a spoonbill and white storks flying overhead.
Late in the afternoon, we arrived in Boulmane du Dades at the Hotel Xaluca Dades, tired and dusty, to be welcomed by a nomad with sweet mint tea served in tiny glasses.
20 February Tagdilt Track nr Boulmane du Dades
21st of February Sunday - Boulmane du Dades to Merzouga 6 to 17°C
We left for Ouarzazate at 8:40 AM and searched along mountainsides with boulders and scree for mourning wheatear - fruitlessly. We saw lots of white-crowned black wheatear, black kites over the towns, an Eagle owl, temminck’s horned lark, but sadly no sand grouse and it seemed we were too early for the blue cheeked bee eater.
This was the last drive for our 4x4 drivers so we said goodbye to Jusef, Mohammed, Hassan and Barrack.
Wednesday, 24 February Ouarzazate to Taroudant. Weather fine and sunny. We stopped at a small town by a river called Ait Benhadou while Josele went back to the hotel for the picnic. We wandered around an orchard with Harry spotting white stork, common bulbuls, yellow wagtails and the start of the migrants such as spectacled warbler. It was a beautiful start to the day, even better when a second minibus appeared for us to spread into, and which made the rest of our journey much more comfortable.
Today's journey was through the Anti- Atlas and hamada desert. Looking north, we could see the snowcapped mountains of the high Atlas.
We stopped for lunch at a river gorge tightly packed with scrub and trees. Whilst eating we spotted Barbary partridge, shrikes and chiffchaff. Further along the road, we stopped at Aoulouz, where a bridge crosses the Sous River. There were lots of small birds in the olive groves such as blackcap, serin and corn bunting.
A lanner falcon was spotted at close range on the ground tearing its prey. We had good views through the telescope.
One of our party urgently needed a toilet stop. Josele said 10 minutes. 20 minutes later we were still driving...uh oh! So we stopped by the roadside, and the driver was in stitches laughing at the “Berber toilette”.
On the edge of the town is an unregulated rubbish dump by the river. Needless to say it's a great spot for birds and here we saw plain martin, sand martin, yellow wagtail, southern grey shrike and little owl. Not recommended to wear sandals here!! The rather grand Hotel Palais Salam in Taroudant was faded but gorgeous. High walls, and even higher palm trees, tiled floors and walkways, arched doorways and two swimming pools -this was formerly a pasha's palace. It's well worth a stay if you haven't been, but try to get a room in the old part.
25th February Taroudant - Agadir - temperature max 28c
We started off this morning at the riverside rubbish dump. The plain martins eventually showed up and a little owl bade us farewell.
LittleOwl Garry WilkinsonAlong the road Harry told us to watch out for Great Spotted Cuckoo since we were driving through suitable territory. Men were off to work in the early morning, wearing djellabas with hoods up to keep out the chill. The road was cluttered with bicycles, motor bikes and scooters, lorries and cars. The driver drives up close, gives a toot on the horn, overtakes even when there is little room and toots twice when he has passed (to say thank you). Road mortality rates must be very high.
We passed the outskirts of Agadir full of new industrial and commercial developments - many unfinished - on the ring road. And headed out for the Atlantic coast. ...what a perfect place for a picnic...with the temperature rising to 28C and a cooling breeze. Remember this is the first heat anyone has felt since last May in Ireland.
We watched yellow legged, audouins and lesser black backed gulls, gannets and cormorant mauritanica. Further along we saw some rare bald ibis, kentish plover and common sandpiper. Back to the hotel in Agadir where some of us enjoyed a refreshing swim in the pool before dinner.
26th Agadir - Souss-Massa National Park - Oued Souss
27th February Agadir - Marrakech
Driving back through the mountain alongside an almost-completed motorway the wind blew with increasing strength...breaking branches. Was this a sand storm? It was part of the weather system that caused heavy rain and serious storms in Spain and Southern France.
The last afternoon and evening in Marrakech were free for us to choose our own itinerary.
...why not go to Morocco and enjoy it for yourself?
Thank you Josele for organising such a wonderful trip and also for bringing Harry along to assist so excellently with the guiding. And finally thanks to all the other birders who made this a superb holiday.