Our autumn birdwatching tour to Morocco begins with Easyjet's direct flight from London Gatwick to Agadir. Depending on flight schedules (which differ every year), we may arrive in time to settle in and enjoy some initial birding this afternoon.
Exiting into the sea at Agadir, the wide sandy estuary of the Oued (river) Sous is outstanding for birds. Up to twenty species of wader are regularly present in late autumn, 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 Royal and White-winged Black Terns, and Slender-billed and Mediterranean Gulls. Serins jangle from the tall eucalyptus groves beside the river and dusk sees clans of noisy Stone-curlews emerge from their daytime hideaways in the scrub. Night Agadir
[Note: If the outbound timings don't allow any time for birding today, then this will usually be compensated for by a correspondingly later return flight at the end of the tour, with time to go birding then.]
Days 2 - 3
BALD IBIS, COAST & PELAGIC BOAT TRIP OFF AGADIR
Early risers will relish the chance to check out the environs of the hotel, where ‘strangers’ such as Spotless Starling, House Bunting and cheery Common Bulbuls mingle with the likes of Blackcap, Chiffchaff and more familiar ‘British’ birds.
The coastal cliffs that rise up to the north of Agadir are the haunt of Thekla Lark, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush and the dazzling Moussier’s Redstart, the latter the most striking of all the region’s endemic birds. We’ll watch for the wary Barbary Partridge in the cliff-top scrublands, while the narrow threads of sand along the Atlantic shore are well worth checking in winter for Yellow-legged and Audouin’s Gulls, and perhaps a Lesser Crested Tern or two.
Our main aim here 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 less than 500 wild birds remain.
Hot on the heels of our search for Bald Ibis, a pelagic boat trip out of Agadir promises to be another exciting tour highlight! So far as seabirds go, the coast of southern Morocco is still largely an unknown quantity, so our trip offshore will be something of a “voyage of discovery” - but with all the excitement and anticipation that brings! Our last two trips have produced fantastic views of Cory’s, Manx and Balearic Shearwaters as well as dozens of European Storm Petrels - and in 2015, we added Great and Scopoli's Shearwaters, too. Gannets, gulls, terns and skuas may also be about, looking for an easy meal behind the boats of Agadir’s fishing fleet - and the region is well known for turning up more than its fair share of avian surprises! We will be out for the morning and enjoy lunch on board the boat before returning to Agadir again in the afternoon.
Anyone who prefers to skip the boat trip may spend the day relaxing at the hotel or on the beach, shopping in the souks or looking around town - just let our leader/s know on the day. Two nights Agadir
Days 4 - 5
OUED MASSA, GOULIMIME & THE SOUTHERN DESERT
Setting off early from Agadir on the morning of day four, we travel south for a two-night stay at a good hotel (with great food) in the desert town of Goulimime, ‘Gateway to the Sahara’.
We'll pause along the way to pay a first visit to the bird-rich estuary of the Oued 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 Plain Martins flitter bat-like over the baked-mud houses and date palms that are so characteristic of the villages here. Southern (Desert) Grey Shrike, Zitting Cisticola, Cetti’s and Sardinian Warblers, and Serin should all be about, with Purple and Squacco Herons, Osprey, Marbled Duck, Laughing Dove, Bluethroat and the secretive Black-crowned Tchagra also likely closer to the river itself. With luck, we may encounter the puzzling “Moroccan” or African Reed Warbler - presently an undescribed taxon, as Arnoud will explain.
Small numbers of Common Cranes winter in the dunes that line the far side of the estuary and we might also be lucky to spot a flight of thirsty Black-bellied Sandgrouse coming to the water’s edge to drink. Barbary Partridge, Little Owl and Desert Wheatear frequent the low arid hills that border the northern shore of the river, and there's often one or two White-breasted Cormorants about.
As the heat starts to build late morning, we will continue our journey south to Goulimime. We'll spend the remainder of this 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 Desert and Temminck's Horned Larks, White-crowned Black and Desert Wheatears, Streaked Scrub Warbler, Fulvous Babbler and the comical Trumpeter Finch are among many enjoyed by our groups in the past.
As we check the roadside wires and power lines for perched raptors such as Bonelli’s Eagle, Barbary Falcon, Lanner and Atlas Long-legged Buzzard, we also might be lucky to come across a party of bruising Thick-billed Larks, witness the amazing ‘kamikaze’ display flights of the incredible Hoopoe Lark or to hear a Red-rumped Wheatear’s classic rendition of a whistling kettle coming to the boil! Two nights Goulimime
Days 6 - 7
GOULIMIME, OUED MASSA & RETURN TO AGADIR
After a last look at the desert habitats around Goulimime on the morning of day 6, we travel back north to Agadir. 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, 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 refreshing beer or glass of mint tea in the lush terraced water gardens at Imouzzer, we can scan for passing Golden Eagle and watch for residents such as African Blue Tit and the distinctive North African race of Chaffinch, with its moss green back. Crag Martin, Firecrest 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!
Birding in Morocco is full of surprises! Our autumn 2015 tour encountered no fewer than five species of shearwater from the boat trip; in 2014, we found a Great Knot, only the second record for Morocco; while our 2012 group stumbled upon two vagrant Olive-backed Pipits here and was also lucky enough to find the endemic Levaillant’s Woodpecker, this being an area of Morocco where the species had never been recorded before. Two further nights Agadir
OUED SOUS, FLY LONDON
If flight schedules allow, we will make a return visit to the estuary of the River Sous estuary. With autumn migration in full flow, there is a considerable turnover of birds at this season and one never quite knows what might turn up next - we could find anything from a wintering Green Sandpiper through to Southern (Desert) Grey Shrike and the endemic Moroccan White Wagtail.
Our birding over, we make the short return to Agadir Airport for our nonstop Easyjet flight back to London Gatwick, where our autumn tour to Morocco concludes.