Ramblers Worldwide Holidays are well known for operating guided walking holidays. Since 2009 the company have been running a few specialist birding tours, with some walking included. As a leader that helps put these together I was delighted to have added Southern Morocco the list of destinations and in March 2015 took a group for a 12-day trip out of Marrakech into the snows of the High Atlas, south through the Tizi-n-Tichka pass to the ‘Hammada’ stone deserts, then to the sands on the edge of the Sahara. With Morocco offering the richest birding in North Africa, due to its wide range of diverse habitats, there are a great number of specialities and near endemic bird species to be encountered that are not seen in nearby Europe.
With all our birding holidays we have been generously partnered by Swarovski Optik UK who loan the company optics to use on the tours. In Morocco I was delighted to have with me an ATM 80HD telescope for the group participants to use and pair of 8.5x42EL binoculars myself.
For most of the group visiting Morocco and experiencing its amazing landscapes and culture was a first, plus the prospect of seeing the wide range of exotic wheatears, larks, sandgrouse and raptors along with some rare arid specialities in the sand deserts surrounding the extensive Erg-chebbi sand dunes.
On our first morning, at the ski resort of Oukaimeden in the High Atlas, we were fortunate to find a flock of Crimson-winged Finch feeding on discarded remnants walnuts in the middle of the ski resort there. Although seeing this rare and nomadic species was special the huge mixed flock of both Alpine and Red-billed Chough carrying out a mass social aerial display above our group will stay long in our memories.
In the Rissani and Merzouga areas on the Sahara’s edge we walked in wadis, through low desert vegetation and many an oasis finding an array of the speciality arid habitat birds. Over the vast tracts of desert, in order to find the more difficult species, on some days we were very fortunate to have the services of local nomad guides who knew exactly where to find several of them. In 4x4 vehicles we visited remote nomad camps, dramatic rock escarpments and seasonal lakes, created by exceptional winter rains. Three of the most sought-after birds of the area were shown to us; the delightful Desert Sparrow, African Desert Warbler, displaying Hoopoe Lark, Pharaoh Eagle Owl and probably one of Africa’s most difficult nightjars to find, the superbly cryptic Egyptian Nightjar. With the owl in particular, roosting in a high, distant cave, the telescope was put to good use, as it was with nearby displaying Barbary and Lanner Falcons. Even with the nightjar being within just 20 metres of us it blended-in so well with its surroundings that at first many of the group thought they were looking at a stone until the scope was set-up on the bird and eventually was well seen by all. Some even attempted to photograph it by trying their hand at digiscoping. In addition to these species the great spectacle of that part of our Morocco experience was the mass movements of Sandgrouse of four species; Spotted, Pin-tailed, Crowned and Black-bellied, as they flew between the receding desert lakes. We estimated that we saw over 2,000 of these in one day!
Journeying west we spent our last two days on the Atlantic coast in the Agadir area. Walking the fringes of the wetlands of the Oued Massa National Park we experienced our first real feel of the spring migration with numbers of hirundines, herons, waders and terns moving north. Specialities of this area were a raucous Black-crowned Tchagra, the beautiful Moussier’s Redstart and not-to-be-missed, one of the World’s rarest birds, the Northern Bald Ibis. We were lucky to have excellent views of all these, particularly the Ibis, where a flock of some 40 birds alighted near the group where they were watched for over half an hour feeding on large invertebrates not far from their clifftop breeding colony.
Thanks to the availability of such excellent optical equipment, along with the services of dedicated local guides, I am sure the expectations of the group were more than met.
Birding Tour Leader – Ramblers Worldwide Holidays
About the Author
Barry Trevis is Ramblers Worldwide Holidays (RWH) in-house bird expert. He researches and organizes the birding tours and leads many of them. He lives in Lemsford, Hertfordshire, the village where RWH are based. Here he is the long-standing Hon. Warden of Lemsford Springs Nature Reserve which is well-known as a prime birding site by local and not-so-local birders. Here and at other sites in mid-Herts he carries out bird ringing studies, particularly of Green Sandpiper, Little Egret and breeding Barn Owl. He has also carried out ringing projects in far-flung places abroad, including Kazakhstan and Turkey. He has birded on all seven continents and is very interested in observing the incredible behaviour of birds and other wildlife.