Morocco January 2014

Moussier's Redstart: To be honest I was a bit worried about going to Marrakech. Words like intimidating, dirty, smelly came to mind and it was my first time to a Muslim country, a country that the Foreign Office advices there is a high threat from terrorism in Morocco.

But in reality it was full of warm friendly people, great sights and even better birds. My favorite being Morocco's Moussier's with this dazzling bright red brest.

We stayed in Marrakech and took a couple of day trips and hired a small car to explore even further but unable to get to the more exciting parts of Morocco like the famous Tagdilt Track and Zeida Plains. I still felt Dawn and I made the most of the trip and fitted in as much birding as possible.

Cyber Park

Common Bulbul: This was one of the first birds I came across, as almost as soon Dawn and I arrived we ventured out past the souk's, the very sad looking Donkey's and the squadrons of mopeds.

We headed toward the nearest green patch, not a park but a small walled garden with a few palm trees ringing with the sounds of Bulbul.
Iberian Chiffchaff: The next day we headed out early and walked the same short route we drove down after we landed, here we found a larger park. This was Cyber Park and it was teeming with bird life.
Iberian Chiffchaff: Throughout our stay in Marrakech we made regular stops and visits to this wonderful park.

From our first to our last visit the park was full of with these little guys.

Often foraging on the ground which I don't think is unusual for this recently separated species.  
House Sparrow: Everywhere I go when I am abroad I can hear the calls and vocalisations of House Sparrow, and this was the same for Cyber Park.
Spanish Sparrow: However this little chap is a lot harder to come by! But not in Cyber Park, I must have counted 8 individuals amongst the larger flock of House Sparrow.
With their stripped breast and darker, rust coloured patterns they stood out like sore thumbs.
Although Cyber Park was a pretty place and contained some good birds it also contained some weirdos and people trying to scam you, we had a number of people trying it on, offering directions and then asking for money and selling their wears.

Wryneck: This is one bird that certainly didn't stand out like a sore thumb, a tiny woodpecker, perfectly camouflaged against the brown sandy soil.

A Cyber Park highlight.

Hoopoe: This was the only Hoopoe I saw during the whole trip and I only saw it on one day within the park.


Oukaimden is the highest ski resort in Africa and probably one of the most original places to go skiing or snowboarding in the world. It is highly popular with both foreign tourists and Moroccan ski enthusiasts. You can rent ski and snowboard equipment on arrival, if you do not want to carry it all the way from home or the fancy suddenly strikes you to ski in Morocco. Snowfall is between December right up until April and it is possible to ski on a plateau of some 750 acres. The pistes are suitable for all kinds of ski-ing.

Rock Bunting: This place is awesome, driving through the dusty desert and up the snow topped mountains, from t-shirts to coats.

It took about an hour from Marrakech to Oukaimden but it was a very pleasant and scenic journey.
My target species were Crimson-winged Finch, Black Wheatear and the endemic Levaillant's Woodpecker.

However after an exhaustive search neither Dawn or I caught a glimpse of any target birds.
Oukaimden did have some cracking birds though, one of the first we came across were these striking Rock Bunting forraging around the nearby hotel grounds.
African Chaffinch: Far fewer in number were the green backed African Chaffinch.

These birds seemed that bit tamer and unlike the bunting they were foraging on the very busy road.
Dawn and I had our best meal of the trip up here where there is a small restaurant surrounded by a large chain-link fence, where the Crimson-winged are usually found. We sat down and let our soggy feet dry out and shared a very nice vegetable Tagine.
Chough: The one bird you can't miss when you are up here is the Chough, their croaking calls can be heard across the plato.
There were hundreds of contrasting black birds along the edges of the pure white snow.
There must have been bout 300 Choughs often flying at the same time and about 200 Alpine Choughs, making for a memorable and spectacular view with the snow covered mountains as a backdrop.
Alpine Chough: Look closely at the Chough flocks and you will see the slightly smaller, shorter lemon colour-billed Alpine Chough.
Feeding on the waste left behind from the visiting tourists and perching in the nearby trees of the ski villages, the Cough seemed to be everywhere.
Stunning day.
Atlas Shorelark: Just like the Chough there were also huge flocks of these little horned birds.
They where located on the snow line, between the rock and the road and were actively foraging away under the clear blue skies.
As the morning turned to afternoon the crowds of tourists and locals swelled as more and more coaches pulled up.

By this time the soft snow was turning to ice and slush.

Cracking birds.
Crag Martin: During the coach ride up and down the winding roads of the mountains I picked up plenty of Crag Martin and caught a glimpse of a Black Wheatear too.

This was by far the best day trip we organised while in Morocco.



Marrakech is an intoxicating city known for its souks, spices, snake charmers and hidden palaces, though these days it’s prized as much for its trendy art galleries, hip hotels and elegant hammams.

White Stork: Dawn and I were always on the lookout for birds and birding opportunities, parks, gardens and any broad winged bird gliding over.

On one day we decided to walk towards the edge of the city and away from the crowds and urban sprawl.

On the map we could see a park called Jardins de l'Agdal on the edge of the city that seemed to have large green spaces and two large fresh water pools, so we made a beeline for this on foot.

Stork Nest: During the walk we ended up sitting on a bench beside the great city walls of Badii Palace when we were treated to some brilliant views of about 30 White Stork flying low over the palms.

Desert Grey Shrike: The walk was a great idea as we got a the chance to really see Marrakech off the beaten track and away from the tourist centres.

It was strange how familiar and safe Dawn and I came to feel, thinking back to our first day in the city when we were feeling more guarded and intimated.
When we arrived at Jardins de l'Agdal we stumbled across this Shrike perched in a lemon tree.
Sardinian Warbler: There were plenty of Sardinian tacking away from the shrubs and bushes.
This was one of the few places I saw the Moroccan Magpie, a stunning bird distinguished between our home grown variety by an electric blue patch behind their eyes.

However I couldn't get close enough to get any pictures.
White Stork: We took a different route back that took us past Bab Agnaou Gate, here we came across the famous nesting White Stork that perch and nest on the great walls of the city.
This place was remarkable, the birds were flying in and out right over our heads.

Many birds were displaying to each other and affirming their bonds, clacking their big red bills together and swinging their long necks back.
The stork is holy to Marrakech and there are countless tales to explain it's exalted status, including the impression it gives of prayer-like prostration when at rest.
The most commonly repeated tale is of a local imam, dressed in traditional Moroccan garb of white djellaba and black robe, drunk on wine, who then compounds the sin by climbing the minaret and blaspheming. Shazam! Man suffers wrath of God and is transformed into a stork.
I have read that even before the arrival of Islam, an old Berber belief held that storks are actually transformed humans. To this day the offence of disturbing a stork carries a three-month prison sentence.

So Dawn and I kept our distance!

This individual took the opportunity to steal nesting material from it's neighbours nest, this brazen behaviour continued until the occupants came back and chased the thief away.

We also witnessed some actual mating!
I couldn't recommend visiting the great Bab Agnaou Gate enough, one of the nineteen gates in the old city walls that give entrance to the cashbah of Marrakech.

The best place to come and see White Storks like you have never seen them before.
Desert Grey Shrike: Sitting in its lemon tree.

Thanks to @MoroccanBirds for the re-identification of the Shrike, (Lanius elegans ssb. algeriensis).

And apparently rare for Morocco.

Ouzoud Waterfall 

Ouzoud Waterfalls are around 110m high and are located in the Grand Atlas village of Tanaghmeilt, in the province of Azilal, 150 km north-east of Marrakech. It is the most visited site of the region and is famous for it's lush green valleys, mills, orchards and a superb circuit of the gorges of the El Abid River.

Black Redstart: I was really hoping this would give me the opportunity to see some species Morocco is known for like its larks, finches and grouse.

However it was very geared towards us tourists and offered little in the way of birding.
Grey Wagtail: When we arrived, the coach tour company provided us with a tour guide and we were pressured in to taking a walking tour. We soon plucked up the courage to politely say thank you to the guide and make a quick exit to try and find our own way around the site and locate some good birds.
White Wagtail: However we didn't get away lightly, the guide had rescued Dawn's beanie hat from a troublesome Barbary Macaque who grabbed it from her head earlier during the tour and insisted on a tip for his troubles!
Serin: I was thrilled when Dawn and I separated from the walking tour as we found our own way up the mountain to a cliff edge where we saw some interesting birds like this male Serin.
Sardinian Warbler: There was a small cottage surrounded by a wall and a fence that contained some larger trees and shrubs and this was where we found Sardinian Warbler, House Sparrow and Buntings.

Lesser Kestrel: During the whole trip I didn't see many birds of prey, thinking back I can only recall seeing Lesser Kestrels, Honey Buzzards, Black Kite and one pale phased Booted Eagle over the waterfalls.
African Bluetit: With it's darker blue and blacker black the African Blue tit really stands out.
Little Swift: Eventually our time was up and we had to head back to the coach and a grumpy looking guide who gave us a cold shoulder, but not before getting treated to some brilliant Little Swifts swooping past us.
House Bunting: As always there were plenty of these ginger chats about.
This was by far the longest day trip we took, the coach seemed endless and it took over about 2 hours to arrive at the waterfalls.

Ouzoud chocolate coloured Waterfalls were lovely to see but not great for birding.

Blue Rock Thrush: Still we took in the lovely scenery and found some birding along a mountain ridge where we found Lesser Kestrel, Blue Rock Thrush, Serin, African Bluetit, Chaffinch, House Bunting and a load of Black Redstart.

Our Riad (Arabic: رياض‎) 

A riad is a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. The word riad comes from the Arabian term for garden. Our riad was lovely, however it was located down a really dirty ally way, with lots of children playing and a couple of really poorly looking cats.

The riad was pretty much sandwiched between the main square and the very busy souks, but there were still a few great birds knocking about.

Collard Dove: The familiar calls echoing across the rooftops of the riads.
House bunting: A superb little bird and a bird found throughout Morocco, we had them all over the place.

They weren't shy either and often came within the garden and balconies of the riad. There were times I was often awoken by the calls of House Bunting raiding the courtyard garden in the morning.

Other birds of note that we had around the riad were little Swift, White Stork, Honey Buzzards and Black Kites.

These two images were taken from within our riad where the cheeky buggars had snook in and rested on the upper balcony.
Brilliant little birds to watch during breakfast!

Car Trip

After our visit to the waterfalls we started to realise that we wanted to explore further a field but not with a group or tour so we booked ourselves a hire car and took to the roads. We decided to head towards the mountains and try and find some good birds.

Moussier's Redstart: After negotiating the city traffic, the Donkeys, the mopeds and clipping someone on the arm on the way out, we ended up heading towards the atlas mountains, to explore the deserts surrounding the city.
We only had to leave the city centre and we could see plenty of Moussier's.
 Such a great bird and a Moroccan specialty!
Crested Lark: As we drove further in to the desert we picked up Stonechat, Crested Larks, Thekla Larks on the higher, more rocky ground.
House Bunting: When ever we encroached on to a small village or an occupied building we would come across flocks of House Bunting taking advantage of what we humans have to offer.

Meadow Pipit: I was hoping for a nice red-throated or something else half decent.
Moussier's Redstart: When ever I would stop and pull over on the side of the road to scan across the flats I would regularly see the bright red chest of the Moussier's.
Corn Buntings: This is a familiar sight as I get Corn Bunting singing on wires down the road from where I live.

However here in Morocco there were definitely bigger numbers of these birds.
White Wagtail: The car trip was great as once again Dawn and I got to explore a bit more of Morocco and get away from the smelly souks, snake charmers and the crowds of tourists that the city centre had to offer.

I had a really excellent time in Marrakech, and I really look forward to returning to Morocco but next time it will be pure birding and more endemics.