From the 3rd to the 10th of March I visited Morocco with my like-minded friend Ingo Waschkies in search of North African desert and mountain birds.

I started from Stockholm and got to Marrakesh via the non-stop Norwegian flight. I met up with Ingo at the airport, picked up a rental car after a little bit of a hassle and we headed to a hotel in the southern outskirts of the town. We spent the evening strolling in the city centre before enjoying the first of many Moroccoan Tagines on the trip, a slow-cooked dish most of the time based on vegetables, chicken or lamb, lemon and traditional seasoning.

The following night we had the only proper sleep of the trip and a nice traditional breakfast before we went stacking up groceries at Carrefour. We headed south through we Ourika Valley before we started we ascent to Oukaimeden ski resort, which turned of to be packed with people on a Sunday, but almost no one was skiing. The snow itself seemed to be the main attraction for the selfie-clicking masses of Moroccan Sunday strollers. We went birding the area waiting for softer light and calmer conditions with little birds around. Eventually we found our first Shore Lark and two African Crimson-winged Finches at a feeding spot at one of the car parks.

Tagine with a view.

While we were relaxing in sun people started to drop off and head home. We purchased a lot of walnuts from the local salesmen and went to the place where we saw the finches. Now there were 7 birds around, but they flew of the ridge as we arrived so we decided to put out some nuts. It didn’t take long until 50 finches arrived together with a bunch of Shore Larks and they put off a great show during the rest of the day.

African Crimson-winged Finch | afrikansk bergsökenfink | Rhodopechys alienus
Oukaimeden, High Atlas.

The second day (Monday) was a complete contrast to the crowded, sunny ski resort we experienced the day before. It was a chilly morning with a low cloud cover and loads of birds feeding on all the scraps left behind by the thousands of people who were there 15 hours ago. Red-billed and Alpine Choughs were everywhere, accompanied by numerous Rock Buntings, Rock Sparrows, African Crimson-winged Finches and Shore Larks. I spent an hour shooting the Choughs before focusing on Shore Larks feeding on the hillside behind the ski lifts (the slope behind the houses on the picture above) before wrapping up with a singing male Black Redstart.

Black Redstart | svart rödstjärt | Phoenicurus ochruros
Horned Lark | berglärka | Eremophila alpestris ssp. atlas
Red-billed Chough | alpkråka | Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax
Alpine Chough | alpkaja | Pyrrhocorax graculus
Alpine Accentor | alpjärnsparv | Prunella collaris
The road from the Valley to Oukaimeden.
Ourika Valley.

We spent the rest of Monday driving around six hours east through the dangerous Tizi n’ Tichka mountain pass, past Ouarzazate towards the high Desert city Boumalne Dades. Around sunset we reached the Amerzgane area, where we took a little detour which provided a couple of Desert Larks and Black Wheatears. We reached Boumalne Dades way after dawn, where we met up with our local guide Lachen who we hired mainly to get us around in the sandy desert areas in Merzouga, but he also arranged accommodation in Boumalne and knew some good areas around there.

Desert Lark | stenökenlärka | Ammomanes deserti
Black Wheatear | svart stenskvätta | Oenanthe leucura

The following two days we went looking for desert birds east of Boumalne Dades. The area around a rubbish dump provided lots of good birds, such as Thick-billed and Temminck’s Larks, Red-rumped and Black Wheatears, Long-legged Buzzard and Trumpeter Finch. We also visited a canyon further east where we found breeding pairs of  both Pharaoh Eagle Owl and Mourning (Maghreb) Wheatear.

Boumalne Dades, Tagdilt Track.
Boumalne Dades, Tagdilt Track.
Boumalne Dades, Tagdilt Track.
Pharaoh Eagle-Owl | ökenuv | Bubo ascalaphus
Red-rumped Wheatear | berberstenskvätta | Oenanthe moesta
Temminck’s Lark | ökenberglärka | Eremophila bilopha
Long-legged Buzzard | örnvråk | Buteo rufinus
Temminck’s Lark | ökenberglärka | Eremophila bilopha
Trumpeter Finch | ökentrumpetare | Bucanetes githagineus
Temminck’s Lark | ökenberglärka | Eremophila bilopha

After photographing two mornings east of Boumalne Dades we continued east towards Merzouga. The landscape was very beautiful as we descended from the stony deserts near the Atlas towards the sandier parts at the edge of Sahara. We reached Merzouga in the dark but we still managed to see an Egyptian Nightjar hunting in front of the headlights of the car.

With three nights to go of the trip, we realized that we’d only have two morning sessions and had to make up our minds how we prioritized the species we’d go looking for. We decided on making Crowned and Spotted Sandgrouse our number one priority as our guide Lachen had a reliable drinking spot nearby. Only a couple of km’s away we had a location for another target species, Desert Sparrow, while we had to accept we wouldn’t have time to look for Desert Warbler, Cream-colored Courser or Hoopoe Lark during our time. In hindsight, the Erg Chebbi/Merzouga area probably requires a week or so to get good images of most species. The sandgrouse turned out a bit hard to get close to, even though we were hidden under huge blankets they kept their distance to us. We did however get Ruddy Shelducks and Bar-tailed Lark as bonus species, but we still wasted the best time of day waiting for sandgrouse without getting the results we wanted. After giving up on the sandgrouse, we proceeded to the Desert Sparrows who also turned out hard to photograph since they were busy nest building and not very interested in our breadcrumbs. The evenings were in general much less productive birding-wise. We went searching for Hoopoe Lark one evening only to see one in flight without getting a single image. The other evening was better, with Egyptian Nightjar, White-crowned Wheatear and Bar-tailed Lark as highlights.

Bar-tailed Lark | sandökenlärka | Ammomanes cinctura
Spotted Sandgrouse | ökenflyghöna | Pterocles senegallus
Hoopoe Lark discussions between Ingo and Lachen.
Erg Chebbi dunes.
Erg Chebbi dunes.
Lachen and Ingo.
White-crowned Wheatear | vitkronad stenskvätta | Oenanthe leucopyga
Ruddy Shelduck | rostand | Tadorna ferruginea
Desert Sparrow | ökensparv | Passer simplex
Egyptian Nightjar | ökennattskärra | Caprimulgus aegyptius
Crowned Sandgrouse | kronflyghöna | Pterocles coronatus

With 9 hours of driving back to Marrakesh airport, we decided to drive 3 of them to reach Boumalne Dades in the night and get one last shot at Maghreb (Western Mourning) Wheatear. We headed out before the sun went up and instantly found a pair we localized at a breeding cliff a few days earlier. After 1 hour of intense photography, we left not only with great shot of the Maghreb, but also Desert Wheatear and presumed hybrids between Black and White-crowned Whatear. After stressing through the mountain pass on National Road 9, getting held up by a full 30 minute stop due to one of many accidents on that road, we reached the airport about 3 hours before my departure. 3 hours turned out to be just what I needed (with my previous experience of this airport in mind I knew I’d need it) because of all the complicated, slow and completely uncoordinated controls that the departing passengers need to pass at Menara Airport.

Mourning Wheatear | sorgstenskvätta | Oenanthe lugens
Desert Wheatear | ökenstenskvätta | Oenanthe deserti

Below you’ll find the images I’ve edited from the trip so far, the album is still work in progress.



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