ABS Special Member’s Tour – Visiting our neighbours

We have been asked by several members about the possibility of visiting Morocco and seeing some of their amazing birds that are absent or extremely rare here in Andalucia. We have taken time to develop an itinerary to give us an opportunity to see many of these rare birds and to appreciate the amazing landscape of this great birding destination. The costs of the trip will be at cost price and any surplus will be paid into our conservation funds. Hopefully enough members will be interested to join us and enjoy an extended field meeting with a real difference!

Here we outline our proposed itinerary for September 2022 and the tour will focus on the Sahara Desert and High Atlas range of birds. It promises to be an outstanding experience for those not familiar with this part of Africa and even if you have visited before, it will be a great tour with all the target birds most likely to be seen. Note: Tour begins in Marrakech and participants can either fly or drive to our meeting point, either way making their own arrangements to be at the start of the tour.

Pricing will be based on the provision of all accommodation, transport, all meals and of course guiding (local guide). At the moment we need to gauge interest in this tour, so do please let us know if you have an interest to partake in this proposed Moroccan adventure. The price will obviously depend on the number of persons doing the tour, the more we have the better the pricing.

Important. In order to proceed the tour will need at least 6 persons and we will limit the maximum number of participants to 18 persons.

Day 1: Arrivals

Arrive today at Marrakech Airport, where you are met and transferred to our hotel. Depending on arrival times we can bird the hotel gardens or simply rest after a long day of travel. Those that have arrived before dinner can gather informally for dinner to get to know each other.

Day 2: High Atlas Mountains | Gateway of the Sahara Desert

Today we have an amazing journey across the highest pass in the High Atlas Mountains, where the views are spectacular and varied. The northern aspect of the mountain range is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, hence the vegetation is green and lush, but as we climb the landscape changes and vegetation clings to areas where water passes and becomes sparse on the steep slopes of the multi-coloured mountains. Lunch is taken just before the highest point of the mountain pass and here we can relax enjoying a light lunch and birds that visit the surrounding area. The afternoon drive is downhill, headed towards our first encounter of the fringes for the Sahara Desert, a landscape to take your breath away, especially on a planned excursion to seek difficult bird species such as Maghreb Wheatear and other exotics. A walk near a few palm fringed wadis and a river crossing produces some migrant birds on their way to their African wintering grounds. We make our way to the town of Ouarzazate, the gateway to the Sahara Desert and famous for its movie studios (Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here). We aim to arrive at our hotel with time for guests to relax and clean-up before dinner and the run through of our bird checklist.

Desert Wheatear

Day 3: Draa Valley | Erg Chebbi Sand Dunes

Most people think of the Sahara Desert as endless rolling sand dunes, but our journey today bears testimony to the fact that it is anything but. Stone desert interspersed with bare rock mountains, yet where water courses flow above and below ground, green fingers run through the rocky terrain, small oasis form and hold both migrating and resident birds; we visit a few of these areas. After a drink break, we pass over the Jbel Saghro Mountains, a mountain range of unique features that form a mosaic of shapes created by the lines of strata. From here we descend into the Draa Valley. The Draa Valley is a river system that is lined by palmeries and small villages; it is also a main highway for migrant birds departing for the vast expanse of the unpopulated Sahara Desert. We should find our first Blue-cheeked Bee-Eater here among other exotic migrants, so we need to be in our best “find the bird” mode. From this wonderful valley we head east and make our way to the largest sand dune complex of the Moroccan Sahara, Erg Chebbi. We make this unique area our home for two nights.

Day 4: Full Day in the Sahara

We spend a day in the desert, traversing the dunes and open areas in our 4×4 vehicles, searching for Egyptian Nightjar, Desert Warbler, Crowned and Spotted Sandgrouse, Hoopoe Lark, Cream-coloured Courser, Fulvous Babbler, Desert Sparrow and Lanner Falcon to name but a few! The scenery is stunning, and we really are on an adventure day with birds.
Later in the day we enjoy lunch and then make our way to the sand plains nearby for Pharaoh Eagle Owl and a nesting place for Lanner Falcon. Today is sure to be a day to remember. By late afternoon we head for our hotel overlooking the amazing high points of the Erg Chebi dune complex; there is a water outfall very near the main entrance to the hotel and here we find many small migrant birds coming to drink and bathe, including the amazing Hoopoe.

Crowned Sandgrouse

Day 5: Gorges du Dades

We bird outside the hotel for early morning birds, but before that we highly recommend going to the hotel terrace, here you can witness the sunrise over the high sand dunes. It is a spectacular and amazing experience. Then, we journey to the high plateau near Boumalne soon after breakfast, making a few birding stops along the way; our aim is to get to our next destination for a late lunch, so we do stop to get a few onboard snacks during this part of the journey. After lunch we drive through the Gorges du Dades, an amazing deep sided valley with equally amazing geological features. We are sure to stop along the way to take in the scenery and keep our eyes to the sky as we are now in Bonelli’s Eagle territory. Our hotel for the next two nights is a favourite, a place to relax and enjoy the superb cuisine and in house entertainment from members of the family who run the hotel. Crag Martin and Blue Rock Thrush are often seen from the terraces, while Nightingale are singing at the river’s edge below our hotel.

Red-rumped Wheatear

Day 6: High Plateau Birding

We concentrate our birding efforts today on the high plateau east of Boumalne. Here we search the plains for lark and wheatear species, but the area can also hold surprises such as Stone Curlew and Black-bellied Sandgrouse. We transect the plains, stopping to scan favourable areas and attempt to find the elusive Thick-billed Lark as well as the entertaining Fat Desert Rat. We take lunch in a family hostel within the plains and hopefully here we might also find Moussier’s Redstart and European Bee-Eater. Wheatear species are also a feature in the area and on a good day it is possible to see six species including the very handsome Red-rumped Wheatear. After our lunch we search a couple of green areas, cultivated by local villagers, to look for migrants such as roller and warbler species. Later we pass by our hotel and explore the gorge for more migrant birds, a coffee or mint tea, and admire the stunning scenery. We also look for Tristram’s Warbler.

Tristram’s Warbler

Day 7: Birding on Return to Ouarzazate

This morning we depart and take a leisurely drive to our next destination, a return to Ouarzazate. The journey provides places where we can stop to seek a few birds and we also pass through the Valley of the Roses, a famous region in Morocco where women’s cooperatives harvest rose petals and rosehips to manufacture cosmetics and lotions. If the group wants to view these products, we make time for stopping at a cooperative showroom. We take our lunch at a desert Kasbah near to the town of Skoura, or journey onwards for lunch in Ouarzazate. We arrive in good time at our hotel and guests are free to rest, do a bit of birding, or just relax. If you are keen, you can accompany our guide to explore the nearby river and palmery.

Thick-billed Lark

Day 8: Birding River & Desert Areas

Our road trip today takes us back to Marrakech and over the high pass of Tizi N’Tichka. En route we explore the river areas near to Amerzgane and the desert area around Tizgzaouine for later migrants such as Ortolan Bunting, Whinchat, Rufous Bush Robin, and also desert birds like Trumpeter Finch, Desert Lark, and wheatear species. The area is breathtaking with desert scenes that have a backdrop of snow capped mountains, forming a landscape unique to our journey. We again take lunch at the high point of the mountain crossing and here we might explore the local surrounds for Common Rock Thrush and Rock Sparrow. The descending journey provides opportunities for us to stop and find more birds and depending on time, we break to enjoy a mint tea on a café terrace overlooking some amazing tree lined valleys. By late afternoon we arrive at our garden riad for a two-night stay; here the accommodations are rustic, clean, and comfortable with tranquil gardens and large swimming pool—the homemade food is possibly our most favorite on the tour. Last spring, Rufous Bush Robin had taken up residence in this garden!

Mourning Wheatear (Maghreb Wheatear)

Day 9: Oukaïmeden

After birding the hotel gardens before breakfast, we head up high into the High Atlas Mountains to the ski resort of Oukaïmeden. A real departure from our desert experience, we look for high mountain species such as Horned Lark, Crimson-winged Finch, Seebohm Wheatear, Alpine Chough, and Red-billed Chough; we also hope for good views of Barbary Falcon and Moussier’s Redstart. Dipper and Common Rock Thrush might also be seen here. Our previous visits and success at finding these key birds has ranged from very easy to difficult—much depends on the weather, so all things crossed the weather is kind and we have no difficulties finding our birds. We lunch in the resort area and afterwards make our descent taking several opportunities to stop and find mountain birds. The lower reaches of our road gives us a chance to find the elusive Levaillant’s Woodpecker and Tristram’s Warbler. It is a day of amazing scenery and wonderful birds, before we head back to our own private gardens and a celebratory final dinner of wonderful food.

Crimson-winged Finch

Day 10: Departures

Today is departure day and thus a time to relax depending on your time for the homeward bound flight. Enjoy a very leisurely breakfast with time to pack and later you can also relax with an extra coffee or tea. Lunch can be available for those not leaving until the afternoon or early evening, although this is not included in the cost of the tour.

Please let us know if you are interested to join this special ABS event by emailing us at abs.sociedad@gmail.com using Morocco as your title.



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