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Morocco Autumn in Agadir

An 8-day, small group birdwatching tour to southern Morocco

Travel from Atlantic shore to Sahara’s edge on our autumn birdwatching tour to Southern Morocco. Five nights at Agadir on the sunny Atlantic coast, plus two nights at Guelmim in the south in search of larks, wheatears and other desert-loving species. Northern Bald Ibis, Barbary Partridge, Cream-coloured Courser, Black-crowned Tchagra, Fulvous Babbler, Tristram’s and Streaked Scrub Warblers, Moussier’s Redstart and House Bunting among a host of exciting North African specialities to watch for. Additional trip highlights include a day in the Atlas Mountains and visits to the Oueds Souss and Massa, two of Morocco’s premier wetland sites.

Tour Dates

2020

Spaces
5

Leaders
David Walsh

Max Group Size: 10
Duration: 8 Days

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Cost: £1695

inc return flights London Gatwick-Agadir, nonstop with Easyjet

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £175
Land Only: £1525

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Northern Bald Ibis 1 Morocco Nov 2019 EG del Rey (flip) resized

One of the world’s rarest birds, the population of Northern Bald Ibises in Morocco has recently increased to just over 700 birds © tour participant Eduardo Garcia-del-Rey/SOC

If the dank days of autumn are getting you down at home, then this two-centre birdwatching tour to the sunny Atlantic coast of southern Morocco offers the perfect panacea. With its warm, Mediterranean-type climate and fine diversity of habitats - from arid coastal scrub to dramatic mountains - the Agadir region not only attracts good numbers of wintering European migrants but is also home to a fascinating resident bird population that has a distinctly African flavour.

Barbary Partridge, Brown-throated Martin, Moussier’s Redstart, Black-crowned Tchagra and the sought-after Northern Bald Ibis are among many specialities we hope to see on this trip, while the cheery calls of Common Bulbuls enliven the hotel gardens and Spotless Starlings and House Buntings sing from the rooftops.

Two of Morocco’s very best birding spots - the estuaries of the Oued (river) Souss and the Oued Massa - lie within an easy drive of our comfortable Agadir hotel. Shorebirds abound, with herons, Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, waders, gulls and terns being numerous on the Souss, and the likes of Marbled Duck, Black-winged Kite, Laughing Dove and Maghreb Magpie among more exotic species to look for in the Massa valley.

A day in the Atlas Mountains in and around Immouzzer will provide a splendid contrast to our desert birding. Here we will try for Tristram’s Warbler, another Maghreb endemic, as well as Bonelli’s Eagle and Rock Bunting. And Paradise Valley, where we spend the afternoon, is exactly that, with its amazing rock formations and palm trees - plus birds such as African Blue Tit, Black Wheatear and North African Chaffinch.

Agadir lies far enough south that, even in November, we might also encounter a wide range of European migrants, pausing to refuel before continuing their way south to spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa. Rare and unusual species turn up from time to time - over the years, we have even found vagrant Great Knot and Olive-backed Pipit here!

A special feature of this late autumn tour - a trip that we’ve made many times over the past 35 years - will carry us south for an extended two-night stay at Guelmim, where the creeping fringes of the Sahara Desert provide a true flavour of this ancient kingdom.

Famed for its camel market and as a historic meeting place of the Sahara’s nomadic ‘blue men’ (or Tuareg), the arid Guelmim region is home to a splendid range of desert birds that are rarely found near Agadir. ‘Atlas’ Long-legged Buzzard, Lanner Falcon, Cream-coloured Courser, Bar-tailed, Desert, Temminck’s, Lesser Short-toed, Thick-billed and Greater Hoopoe Larks, Streaked Scrub Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Fulvous Babbler and Red-rumped, Desert and White-crowned Wheatears are all possible.

Limosa first operated this tour in the 1980s - in fact, it was our first overseas trip in the days before we even had a brochure! Our guide David Walsh has led more than 20 tours to Morocco over the past 25 years. His experience and extensive knowledge of Morocco’s birds and where to find them has helped countless travellers enjoy a wonderful and bird-filled holiday in this remarkable country.

Fulvous Babblers Morocco Nov 2019 EG del Rey resized

Usually to be found in animated family groups, the sociable Fulvous Babbler is a bird of southern Morocco and Sahara edge © tour participant Eduardo Garcia-del-Rey/SOC

Please note: for logistical or other reasons, it may sometimes be necessary to vary the running order of the above itinerary but the places visited will remain as described.

Day 1                                                
FLY AGADIR
Our autumn birdwatching tour to Morocco begins with an Easyjet flight from London Gatwick nonstop to Agadir. Depending on flight schedules (which seem to change every year), we may arrive in time to settle in and enjoy some initial birding this afternoon. Night Agadir

Days 2 - 3                        
LOOKING FOR BALD IBIS, ATLANTIC COAST AT TAMRI & OUED MASSA
Early risers will relish the chance to check out the environs of the hotel, where ‘strangers’ such as Spotless Starling, House Bunting, Spanish Sparrow and cheery Common Bulbuls mingle with the likes of Blackcap, Chiffchaff and other more familiar ‘British’ birds.

Our first stop is Agadir Kasbah (castle), a short drive from our hotel.  Here we expect to find the dazzling Moussier's Redstart, the most striking of the region’s endemic birds, along with the wary Barbary Partridge, Black Wheatear, Thekla Lark, ‘Desert’ Great Grey Shrike and Blue Rock Thrush.  We also have our first opportunity to look for the vocal but elusive Black-crowned Tchagra.

The narrow threads of sand along the Atlantic shore are well worth checking in winter for flocks of Yellow-legged and Audouin’s Gulls. On the outskirts of Tamri we enjoy our first tagine lunch and take a walk at the lagoon, where we should find Zitting Cisticola, Eurasian Spoonbill and Ruddy Shelduck. Surprises often occur: on our 2019 tour we encountered both Ferruginous and Marbled Ducks plus a gaudy Western Swamphen lurking in the reeds! Barbary Falcon is another interesting possibility at Tamri. Here (or at Agadir itself), if the winds are onshore, we are likely to see Cory’s Shearwater and Northern Gannet passing along the coast, with Common Scoter and Arctic Skua also possible.

Our main aim near Tamri will be to find one of the world’s rarest - and weirdest-looking - birds, the Northern Bald Ibis. Once a widespread and numerous species with a range that extended north to the Alps and east into Turkey and the Arabian Peninsula, this enigmatic bird is now critically endangered - and all but confined to this tiny corner of Morocco. The stretch of arid coastline that lies immediately to the north and south of Agadir is its final stronghold, where it’s great to report that the population has latterly increased to just over 700 birds.

The following day we pay a first visit to the bird-rich estuary of the Oued (river) Massa, which lies about an hour’s drive south of Agadir. This shallow, reed-fringed river is arguably Morocco’s premier birding spot, combining a mosaic of freshwater habitats protected from the ingress of tidal saltwater by a sandbar thrown up by the Atlantic Ocean. Periodically (typically, once in around every seven years or so), the sea breaches the sandbar and inundates the river behind, dramatically changing the character of the Massa - and with it, the range of birds to be found there. But no matter what the current state of the wetland - be it fresh, brackish or intensely saline - the Massa River and its environs remain an outstanding spot for birds.

Delicate Brown-throated Martins flitter bat-like over the baked-mud houses and date palms that are so characteristic of the villages here. ‘Desert’ Great Grey Shrike, Zitting Cisticola, Cetti’s and Sardinian Warblers, and Serin should all be about with Cirl Bunting, Osprey, Marbled Duck, Laughing Dove and the secretive Black-crowned Tchagra also possible closer to the river itself. With luck, we may also encounter African Reed Warbler - until recently, an undescribed taxon. Or perhaps we’ll be lucky to spot a flight of thirsty Black-bellied Sandgrouse coming to the water’s edge to drink. Barbary Partridge and ‘Desert’ Little Owl frequent the low arid hills that border the northern shore of the river and there are usually one or two white-breasted 'Moroccan' Cormorants about. The special butterflies of the area include Lang’s Short-tailed and African Grass Blues. Two nights Agadir

Days 4 - 5                          
GUELMIM & THE SOUTHERN DESERT
Setting off after breakfast from Agadir on the morning of day four, we travel south for a two-night stay at a good hotel in the desert town of Guelmim, ‘Gateway to the Sahara’. The drive south will take about four hours; en route we will cross the rugged Anti-Atlas Mountains, where the cacti-like Euphorbia, red soil and rock formations make for superb scenery, before descending towards Guelmim itself.  

After having lunch at the hotel, our desert exploration begins!  We'll spend the first afternoon and all of the following day searching the arid landscapes that surround this “frontier town”, as well as those to either side of the road that runs south towards the 'nowhere town' of Tan-Tan, in what was formerly Spanish Sahara. Here we'll be seeking an exciting range of nomadic desert birds that generally don’t occur around Agadir.

Although we may not find them all in a single visit, careful searching at choice spots we’ve discovered over the years should reveal an excellent cross-section of desert species: Cream-coloured Courser, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Desert, Bar-tailed, Lesser Short-toed and Temminck's Larks, White-crowned and Desert Wheatears, Streaked Scrub Warbler, Spectacled Warbler and Fulvous Babbler are among many enjoyed by our groups in the past.

As we check the roadside wires and power lines for perched raptors such as Barbary and Lanner Falcons, and ‘Atlas’ Long-legged Buzzard - all keeping a watch for the gerbil-like Fat Sand Rats upon which they prey - we also might be lucky to come across a party of bruising Thick-billed Larks, witness the amazing ‘kamikaze’ display flights of the incredible Greater Hoopoe Lark or hear a Red-rumped Wheatear’s classic rendition of a whistling kettle coming to the boil! Two nights Guelmim

Days 6 - 7                          
OUED MASSA & ATLAS MOUNTAINS
On the morning of day 6, we leave Guelmim to travel back north towards Agadir. Once again, it’s a fascinating journey across a range of semi-desert habitats, where we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for more dry country birds beside the road.

We will break our journey with a return visit to the superb Oued Massa complex, exploring a different part of the river this time - but with the same exciting prospects for birding! Bonelli’s Eagle, Crested Lark, Maghreb Magpie, Moussier’s Redstart and even Bald Ibis are among a wealth of possible species to look for at this amazing spot before we arrive back at our hotel in Agadir, where we spend the last two nights of our tour.

Next day, we will enjoy a scenic drive inland, climbing high into the foothills of the Atlas Mountains as they tumble west towards the sea. Over a coffee or glass of mint tea in the lush terraced water gardens at Immouzzer, we can scan for passing Bonelli’s Eagle and watch for residents such as Black Redstart and the distinctive North African race of Chaffinch, with its ‘blue rinse’ and moss green back. Crag Martin, Rock Bunting and ‘Atlas’ Common Crossbill are also possible in the hills today, but we shall be hoping especially to find the scarce and elusive Tristram’s Warbler, yet another of this remarkable region’s endemic specialities!

After a tagine lunch in a restaurant with a panoramic view, and Desert Orange Tip possible on the flowers, we descend into the aptly named Paradise Valley. As well as looking for Moussier’s Redstart, Black Wheatear and African Blue Tit,  this is a good site for dragonflies, including the exotic Violet and Orange-winged Dropwings. Plain Tiger, Spanish Terrapin and Barbary Ground Squirrel add to the variety on offer and, if we are lucky, we might find a Two-tailed Pasha feasting on the date palms. We return to the hotel via a wonderfully positioned roadside shop in the hills selling plates and ammonites.

Birding in Morocco can be full of surprises... Our autumn 2017 group was lucky enough to find the endemic Levaillant’s Woodpecker, this being an area of Morocco where the species had only once been recorded before - by Limosa's autumn 2012 group! Two nights Agadir

Day 8                       
OUED SOUSS, FLY LONDON
Exiting into the sea at Agadir, the wide sandy estuary of the Oued Souss is outstanding for birds. In autumn, with migration in full flow, there is a considerable turnover of species and one never quite knows what might turn up next.

Up to twenty species of wader are regularly present in late autumn, including Black-winged Stilt and Kentish Plover, along with small flocks of Greater Flamingos, an array of herons and usually a few White Storks and Spoonbills - the latter sometimes sporting Dutch rings on their legs. Gulls and terns are numerous and regularly include scarcities such as Slender-billed and Mediterranean Gulls. Eurasian Stone-curlews doze in their shady daytime hideaways beneath the scrub and Serins jangle from the tall eucalyptus groves beside the river, where other species to watch for include Maghreb Magpie, Zitting Cisticola, ‘Desert’ Great Grey Shrike and the endemic Moroccan race of White Wagtail.

After enjoying a morning birding at the Souss, we’ll return to our hotel for lunch. Later, we make the short return to Agadir airport for our nonstop Easyjet flight back to London Gatwick, where our autumn tour to Morocco concludes.

Itinerary Note: If the outbound flight timings don't allow time for birding on Day 1 of our tour, this will usually be compensated for by a correspondingly later return flight at the end of the trip, with time to go birding in Morocco on the last day instead (as we’ve outlined above).

Male Moussier's Redstart, Morocco © Brian Small/Limosa

The superb Moussier’s Redstart is endemic to Northwest Africa and one of many highlights to look forward to on this excellent tour! © Brian Small, Limosa Holidays

What To Expect

Travel from Atlantic shore to Sahara’s edge on our autumn birdwatching tour to Southern Morocco. Five nights at Agadir on the sunny Atlantic coast, plus two nights at Guelmim in the south in search of larks, wheatears and other desert-loving species.

Northern Bald Ibis, Barbary Partridge, Cream-coloured Courser, Black-crowned Tchagra, Fulvous Babbler, Tristram’s and Streaked Scrub Warblers, Moussier’s Redstart and Trumpeter Finch among a host of exciting North African specialities to watch for. Additional trip highlights include a day in the Atlas Mountains and visits to the Oueds Souss and Massa, two of Morocco’s premier wetland sites.

Agadir enjoys a Mediterranean-type climate. In November, the weather is usually pleasantly warm and sunny, with average daily temperatures typically in the range of 11-24C (52-75F) and 11 hours of sunshine. It can be slightly hotter in the south around Guelmim. Rainfall is low (averaging 20-30mm) but possible at any time. It can sometimes rather feel cool in the mountains and along the coast, especially if a brisk onshore breeze is blowing.

Birds

120-150 species (plus a small selection of mammals, reptiles, butterflies and dragonflies)

Accommodation

7 nights at comfortable tourist hotels in Morocco, including 5 nights (3 + 2) at a good, modern 4-star hotel in Agadir and 2 nights at the Hotel Adir Moussafir in Guelmim. All rooms have private facilities.

Meals

All main meals are included in the price, commencing (based on 2019 flight schedules) with dinner in Agadir on the evening of Day 1 and concluding with lunch in Agadir on Day 8. Food in Morocco is tasty and good, with dinner and breakfasts taken at the hotels.

Lunches may either be picnics or taken at convenient restaurants along the way.

Coffee, tea, beer, wine, soft drinks etc can be purchased at the hotel in Agadir. Please note that alcoholic drinks are not available at the hotel in Guelmim, so you may wish to purchase supplies in advance, as the hotel are normally happy for us to drink the alcohol which we have brought with us.

Walking

The walking effort is easy, with short walks over mostly flat terrain. To make the best of the birding on this tour, however, and to beat the heat of the day at times, you should be prepared for some early starts.

Comfy walking shoes or lightweight boots are recommended to protect against sharp stones in the desert areas and mountains. Depending on access at the time, walking beside the Souss can sometimes be wet and muddy in places - take a pair of old trainers or flip-flops that you don’t mind messing up.

Travel

We use the only direct scheduled flights currently available on this route, these being with Easyjet from London Gatwick to Agadir.

Ground Transport   Minibus with local driver. 

Streaked Scrub Warbler Morocco Nov 2019 EG del Rey resized

The elusive Streaked Scrub Warbler makes its home amid low vegetation on the desert flats around Guelmim © tour participant Eduardo Garcia-del-Rey/SOC

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