I have just returned from visiting Morocco again, leading a group, this time on a bird photography tour. I have now led over 30 tours to this wonderful destination, I must be considered some kind of veteran tour leader as far as Morocco is concerned? Our itinerary started with meeting-up in Casablanca, the most populated city in Morocco, then making our way to the small fishing town of Larache. The area around Larache is an interesting mixture of marshes, beaches and saltpans, not far away and within easy reach is Merja Zerga, famous for being the last recorded wintering area for Slender-billed Curlew. From the Atlantic coast we then visited the area of Ilfrane, a mixture of cedar forests and rock strewn plains with lakes. Contrasting landscapes, mixed and fringe habitats made for a rich diversity of birdlife.
Our first day involved driving along the coast road from Casablanca to Rabat. The beach areas were surprisingly void of gull species, but the headlands were full of migrant wheatears with Oenanthe.o.leucorhoa the dominant bird and in the middle of its extraordinary migration which will end in Greenland and the Labrador Peninsula! Whinchat and Yellow Wagtail were also migrating in large numbers. Shortly after Rabat we visited Lac de Sidi Bourhaba, an attractive lake surrounded by woodland and always worth making time to view for such species as White-headed Duck and Marbled Teal (Duck). The area was not to disappoint with good numbers of Marsh Harrier and Black Kite hawking the woodlands and the reedbeds, but the star of the day were 6 Ferruginous Duck. Red-crested Pochard was present with their ducklings, so we were pleased we made the time to visit.
Day two involved a visit and also a boat trip around the lagoon at Merja Zerga. The tidal marsh area holds good numbers of gull, tern and shorebird species, so it was good to witness waders showing the beginnings of summer plumage and Slender-billed Gull in breeding plumage, such an elegant gull. Apart from Booted Eagle, Marsh Harrier and Lesser Kestrel raptors were in short supply, although later we saw a Sparrowhawk take a lark from a field nearby! On a disappointing note we went in search of Marsh Owl with a local guide and on arriving at a ‘known’ site, we were joined by a marauding bunch of children who proceeded to charge around the marsh fringes to flush the poor owl. It was a harrowing experience, one which I will never repeat at any price, much better to visit this area in the winter for this species, where they can be observed at a roost site without causing disturbance to them. We then searched my own specific site at Larache for Moustached Warbler and had extremely good views of a singing male, so we ended on a high note.
Day three involved a fairly lengthy journey to Ilfrane. On our approach we searched the extensive mixed oak forest and were soon seeing Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Roller, Firecrest, Pied Flycatcher, Moroccan Magpie and of course typical forest birds such as Mistle Thrush. Overhead and just before entering the town we saw a couple of Honey Buzzard, then we proceeded to our hotel on the main road to Azrou, situated on a forest trail near to Ougmes. An excursion through the pinsapo forest, which more or less bordered the hotel, produced Moussier’s Redstart, Cirl Bunting, Woodlark, ST Treecreeper, both Great-spotted and Levaillant’s Woodpecker, 00’s Chaffinch and several tit and finch species. Joining the Boulemane to Ilfrane road we also managed great views of Seebohm’s and Black-eared Wheatear. Winding our way down to Ilfrane the river that accompanied the roadside held various species including Red-knobbed (Crested) Coot. Arriving at our hotel for the next two nights, we were greeted by a flock of Alpine Chough, ending our birding day in style.
Day four and the weather closed in. Mist, cold and then later snow curtailed activities, but we did explore the lake route north of Ilfrane, which looked very promising. After a lunch in the town we turned-in for a siesta and rest, we were beaten by worsening conditions.
Day five and determined to make up for the previous day’s disappointment, we set-off into the forest area near to the hotel. We wanted a few target birds for our photographic journal; top of the list was Atlas Flycatcher. We started with good showings by Woodlark, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Moussier’s Redstart, Pied and Spotted Flycatcher. It took us a couple of hours and suffering a cold start to the morning, before we eventually found our Atlas Flycatcher, great photos were taken, but none by me as I was kept busy locating and relocating the male. Hoopoe and male Common Redstart came close and also allowed for great photo opportunities. Satiated we headed back to the route for the lakes, but principally Dayet Aoua. We were able to capture some great shots of Red-knobbed Coot, Hawfinch and some amazing scenes of Black-necked Grebe, on one islet there was a colony of nesting birds that numbered in excess of 300 pairs, yes more than 300! Certainly I have never witnessed such a scene for Black-necked Grebe, incredible. Our day ended with a spectacle that denied us an opportunity as it happened so quickly, we spotted a couple of Common Cuckoo on a rock pile and got ourselves close enough to photograph them, when and without warning a Booted Eagle swooped in an attempt to catch one of our birds. It missed, but of course our two cuckoos were spooked and didn’t return, a nearby male Cirl Bunting gave some consolation by allowing a very close approach and completed our photos for the day and our tour.
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