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MOROCCO

20 February–3 March 2018

The diversity of Morocco’s habitats is reflected in its list of desirable birds: Double-spurred Francolin, Waldrapp, Cream-coloured Courser, Pharaoh Eagle-owl, Marsh Owl, Little Swift, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Peregrine Falcon (pelegrinoides), Black-crowned Tchagra, Dupont's, Thick-billed and Temminck’s Larks, Plain Martin, African Desert and Tristram’s Warblers, Fulvous Chatterer, Red-rumped Wheatear, House Bunting, Crimson-winged Finch and Desert Sparrow.

Day 1 Flight from London to Marrakech followed by a journey up into the High Atlas for a one-night stay at Oukaimeden. As we drive up the mountain road enjoying the absolutely stunning scenery, we must keep our eyes open for raptors including Bonelli's and Golden Eagles. Levaillant's Woodpeckers occur on the higher slopes, as do Rock and Cirl Buntings and Black Redstart.

Day 2 Dawn can be very cold here so we must dress warmly! It is worth the minor discomfort of the cold, however, to see Crimson-winged Finches and flocks of Rock Petronias. Red-billed and Yellow-billed Choughs will be wheeling around, while Water Pipits and White-throated Dippers may be searching the reservoir margins for food. We will explore the area around the village, seeing plenty of birds in this seemingly inhospitable environment. Horned Larks and Black Redstarts are common and Alpine Accentors are sometimes found in the gardens. The views over the mountains and across the plains are breathtaking. Mid-morning we will head back down the mountain, looking for Levaillant's Woodpecker again if still needed, firstly to Marrakech and then north-west via Casablanca to Témara Plage for the night. En route we will make several stops to look for Calandra Lark.

Day 3 This morning we will visit the Zaers, a region of remnant Cork-oak woodland. The avian highlight of the area is an isolated population of Double-spurred Francolins but they are not easy to see and our chances are only even. However, we do stand a good chance of seeing other specialities including Black-shouldered Kite, Long-legged Buzzard and African Blue Tit. We will also see many species with less-restricted ranges including Sardinian Warbler and European Serin. Next we will visit the superb Lac de Sidi Bourhaba, which supports two of the special birds of Morocco: Red-knobbed Coot and Marbled Teal. Also in the area are Western Swamphen, Cetti's Warbler, Eurasian Marsh-harrier and many wintering duck species. The rest of the day will be spent at Merdja Zerga, where we will look for Marsh Owl, which has its only Western Palearctic outpost in Morocco. We will spend the night in Moulay Bousselham.

Day 4 Driving south-east to Midelt, we will stop firstly to search for the tiny Plain Martin and then at excellent sites in the Middle Atlas for Levaillant's Woodpecker and Ruddy Shelduck. In the Cedar forests we may also see Wood Lark, Firecrest and the local races of Great Spotted Woodpecker and Coal Tit. Overnight in Midelt.

Day 5 We will leave early to search for Dupont's Lark near Zeida. This very difficult high-plains species is infamous for disappearing amongst the tussocks. During our walk we should see Thekla and Lesser Short-toed Larks. Afterwards we will head south to the edge of the Sahara. En route we may see Eurasian Crag-martin, Desert Lark and Black Wheatear while, in a spectacular gorge, Rock Bunting and Blue Rock-thrush can be found. We will end the day looking for birds near our desert hotel. Two nights south of Erfoud.

Day 6 Today we will venture into the Sahara Desert on tracks leading to high dunes and to the cafes which dot the area. Here we will start our search for the highly sought-after Desert Sparrow. By visiting all of the cafes overshadowed by the spectacular Erg Chebbi sand-dunes, we will stand a very good chance of success. All around in the desert are various larks including Bar-tailed and Maghreb Larks and Greater Hoopoe-lark. White-tailed Wheatear is common, with Desert Wheatear less so, and we may see Cream-coloured Courser or African Desert Warbler. If rains have been plentiful a seasonal lake near Merzouga can be very interesting, with ducks, waders and their attendant raptors. Later in the day we will look for Fulvous Chatterer near Rissani then move on to a wadi where we will search for Tristram's Warbler, Brown-necked Raven and, lastly, Pharaoh Eagle-owl.

Day 7 After an early look at the desert around our hotel we will head west and stop at a site to search for Thick-billed Lark, Spectacled Warbler and Trumpeter Finch before reaching the Tagdilt Track. The stony desert here is at quite a high altitude. Larks are well represented with Desert, Lesser Short-toed, Thick-billed and Temminck's Larks and Greater Hoopoe-lark; Desert and Red-rumped Wheatears also occur; with luck, we may see sandgrouse flying around the area, most likely Black-bellied Sandgrouse but sometimes Crowned or Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, and Cream-coloured Coursers may well be present. Overnight in Boumalne du Dades.

Day 8 We will begin at the Tagdilt Track again, to look for any species we may have missed yesterday, then head west, searching the roadside stone-deserts for Mourning Wheatear. Next we will visit various sites around a large reservoir near Ouarzazate before heading into the town itself, where we may see Little Swift and House Bunting and where we will spend the night.

Day 9 A long drive to the west will take us over the Anti Atlas, into the Sous Valley and on to Agadir. Initially we will keep our eyes open for various larks by the roadside and for Southern Grey Shrike and Eurasian Hoopoe. In the Sous Valley we could see Black-shouldered and Black Kites, Cirl Bunting and Spanish Sparrow, although there is little likelihood now of the very rare Tawny Eagle and Dark Chanting-goshawk. Over the town of Taroudannt there may be Pallid and Little Swifts. Three nights in Agadir.

Day 10 We will head north, stopping firstly at a beach where there will be Lesser Black-backed Gulls of two races, Audouin's Gulls and a few Yellow-legged Gulls and where we have often seen a skua or two offshore, and then at Cap Rhir for a seawatch, primarily for shearwaters and skuas. We will continue north to Tamri to search in the scrub and fields adjacent to the coast for Bald Ibis. We should also see Moussier's Redstart here. If we see the ibises with time to spare we will return south to the Oued Sous estuary.

Day 11 South of Agadir is the famous Oued Massa. In the nearby agricultural areas we will look primarily for Black-crowned Tchagra and also for Common Quail, Laughing Dove, Spotless Starling, Moussier's Redstart and migrants. We will have another chance for Plain Martin and, with some luck; we may see Black-bellied Sandgrouse. At the Oued Massa itself we will have another opportunity to find Black-crowned Tchagra and Common Cranes may be present. Later in the day we will return north to explore the Oued Sous estuary, which is alive with birds. Numerous waders might include Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover, whilst the gulls can include Audouin's, Mediterranean and Slender-billed Gulls. Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo and Osprey also occur. In the evening we plan to look for Red-necked Nightjar but, because of the proximity of the King's palace, this is sometimes not possible!

Day 12 Sadly it is time to say farewell to Morocco and we will head to the local airport and catch our flight to London.

General Information Although bad weather is unlikely, the temperature can vary from well below freezing at altitude to rather warm in the desert. The pace of the tour is mainly moderate with a basic degree of fitness required for walking. On a few occasions in the mountains and deserts, or on longer journeys, a little more effort may be required. There are no special medical requirements and insects are only a minor problem. Visas are not required. Moroccan currency cannot be taken in or out of the country. Accommodation standards will vary from place to place although the hotels are mostly good with private facilities.

Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 11.

Northern Bald Ibis

Northern Bald Ibis

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