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A Birdwatchers Guide to: Morocco

Atlas Mountains



A map of the Atlas mountains of Morocco showing the main birding areas link to Oukaimden section link to oued n'fiss and Tizi-n-Test section link to Oued Tichka valley section link to Zaida Plains section link to Azrou and Ifrane section link to Ouarzazate, Morocco South East link to Boumalne Dades, Morocco South East
A map of the Atlas Mountains of Morocco showing the main birding areas (Boumalne Dades and Ouarzazate are covered in Morocco South East).

This section covers high-altitude sites in the Atlas mountains as well as sites at lower altitudes; all covering species that are uncommon or absent in the other sections.
The first site described is Oukaimden, a high-altitude ski resort a few hours from Marrakech, and this site is definitely worth a visit, both for the birds and for the scenery. The most important bird here is the African Crimson-winged Finch, which you should find here with some patience (some groups stumble across flocks of these rare passerines here with ridiculous ease). There are also other high-altitude specialities here, like 'Atlas Horned Lark' (ssp. atlas) and Alpine and Red-billed Chough, making the trip worthwhile. The valley leading up to Oukaimden can be good; the upper parts of the valley is a good place to find Levaillant's Woodpecker and Tristram's Warbler is also frequently seen here.
Driving from Marrakech to Ouarzazate you have to cross the Tizi-n-Tichka pass. Near this pass, at an altitude of 2260m (7415 ft), you have a chance of seeing some high-altitude specialities, like 'Atlas Horned Lark', Alpine Accentor and even African Crimson-winged Finch. They are not as easy here as in Oukaimden, but if you are not going to Oukaimden you could try your luck here. There are also sites along this road, at lower altitudes, that are quite interesting, particularily for Levaillant's Woodpecker.
One site covered in this section is the Zaida plains; strictly speaking not part of the Atlas range, but rather a high plateau between the Central Atlas and High Atlas ranges. The site is covered here for convenience. The one bird everyone is looking for here is the Dupont's Lark, a very localized lark that is very hard to find elsewhere, but rather easy to find here in spring (if you get up before dawn and listen for its distinctive song, that is). As you might expect you can also see other good birds in this area, particularily larks and wheatears.
Finally we describe the area between the two towns of Azrou and Ifrane. Here you will find details of a few very birdrich lakes northeast of Ifrane (Dayet Aoua, Dayet Ifrah and Dayet Hachlaf). This area is also very good for Levaillant's Woodpecker. Details are also given for sites near the town of Azrou that should be checked for Atlas Pied Flycatcher and where you can see (or perhaps rather hear) Tawny Owl of the near-endemic subspecies mauritanica. The forests around Azrou and Ifrane are also good for endemic subspecies of Coal Tit (ssp. atlas) and Eurasian Nuthatch (ssp. atlas) and near-endemic subspecies of Short-toed Treecreeper (ssp. mauritanica), Great Tit (ssp. excelsus), Eurasian Jay (ssp. minor), Common Chaffinch (ssp. africana) and Hawfinch (ssp. buvryi).



Oukaimden

(Oukaimden, أوكايمدن)




A map of Oukaimden larger version of previous map
A map of Oukaimden showing the main birding areas.

Oukaimden is a ski-resort about 1,5 - 2h from Marrakech and this locality is famous among birdwatchers for several high-altitude specialities of which the African Crimson-winged Finch is the most prominent. This species has a very restricted range in the northwestern corner of Africa and Oukaimden is known as one of the very few places where you have a good chance of finding this exotic finch. The most reliable sites are the two car-parks near the village and flocks of African Crimson-winged Finches are frequently seen here (exceptionally flocks with more than a hundred birds). If not seen near the car-parks or the road it is worthwhile to climb the mountainslope around the ski-lifts as the finches are often also seen here.
The ski-lift area is also the best place to see two other of the Oukaimden specialities, namely Horned Lark of the endemic (sub-) species atlas ('Atlas Horned Lark') and Northern Wheatear of the near-endemic (sub-) species seebohmi. They are often, just like the finches, seen on the ski-slopes or in the immediate surroundings and in winter the larks are sometimes in flocks with dozens of birds.
Another good birds here are the Alpine Accentor, which is sometimes seen near the upper parts of the ski-slopes and Rock Sparrow which is common here. Small flocks of Rock Sparrows can often be seen near the car-parks or around Oukaimden village, but the accentor is much more tricky to find. A more reliable place for the Accentor might actually be the area around the TV tower. There are also sightings of Blue Rock Thrush and Common Rock Thrush from the higher grounds near the ski-lifts and TV tower.
The village itself can also be good for some birds. Apart from the Rock Sparrows you can also see Moussier's Redstart here among the much more abundant Black Redstart and there are many reports of Rock Bunting around the village. The meadow between the village and the small lake often has wintering Water Pipit, Grey Wagtail, White-throated Dipper and Black Wheatear and another good place for these is around the outlet of the lake on the northern side. Both Red-billed and Alpine Choughs are often seen feeding on the meadow and both species of Chough are in fact common around Oukaimden. Large flocks are often seen flying around the valley.
Of raptors the Common Kestrel is by far the most common, but there are also reports of Lesser Kestrel, Barbary Falcon and Booted Eagle.

photo of a male African Crimson-winged Finch.
A male African Crimson-winged Finch

What should be noted that not only is Oukaimden a terrific place for birding, but so also are the narrow valleys leading up to the ski resort. One northwest African endemic that you should be searching for here is Levaillant's Woodpecker. This rather tricky bird is often seen by birders driving up the Ourika and Tizerag valleys leading up to Oukaimden. There are many records of Levaillant's Woodpecker here, particularily around the higher altitudes near Oukaimden. One site that has been consistently good is around the village of Ait-Lekah, some 8 kms before Oukaimden. The best strategy is to give the valleys some time and frequent stops at suitable habitat and the chances are that you will at least hear the woodpecker. Other birds in the valleys are Barbary Partridge, Eurasian Crag Martin, Moussier's Redstart, Common Firecrest, Great Tit (ssp. excelsus), African Blue Tit and Common Chaffinch (ssp.africana). Checking the sky you can sometimes see Short-toed Snake Eagle and Long-legged Buzzard and there are sightings of Eurasian Sparrowhawk.

All in all Oukaimden has some very good, hard-to-get birds and this is a birdwatching locality that you really don't want to miss. Be warned though, that because of the scenery and the ski-resort, Oukaimden is also very popular with the Moroccans, and it can be very crowded here, particularily in the weekends. Thus, if you can be flexible about it, try to avoid Oukaimden in a weekend!


Birds in Oukaimden
photo of a male tristrams warbler
A male Trisram's Warbler

Ski slopes:
Booted Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Common Kestrel, Red-billed Chough, Alpine Chough, Horned Lark (ssp. atlas), Common Rock Thrush, Northern Wheatear (ssp. seebohmi), Alpine Accentor, African Crimson-winged Finch and Rock Sparrow.

TV tower:
Black Kite, Common Kestrel, Barbary Falcon, Northern Raven, Eurasian Wren, Black Redstart, Blue Rock Thrush and Alpine Accentor.

Oukaimden village:
Levaillant's Woodpecker, Barbary Falcon, Red-billed Chough, Alpine Chough, Northern Raven, White-throated Dipper, Moussier's Redstart, Black Redstart, Black Wheatear, Mistle Thrush, Grey Wagtail, Water Pipit, Rock Bunting, Common Chaffinch (ssp. africana) and Rock Sparrow.

Tizerag and Ourika valleys:
Barbary Partridge, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Long-legged Buzzard, Common Wood Pigeon, European Turtle Dove, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Levaillant's Woodpecker, Eurasian Crag Martin, Coal Tit, Great Tit (ssp. excelsus), African Blue Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, White-throated Dipper, Common Firecrest, Eurasian Blackcap, Moussier's Redstart, Grey Wagtail, Rock Bunting and Common Chaffinch (ssp. africana).


Other Wildlife

Barbary Ground Squirrel (Atlantoxerus getulus, سنجاب بربري) is quite common around Oukaimden, but there are few reports of other mammals seen in this area.


Information

Permits:
No permits needed for Oukaimden.

Food and accommodation:
Oukaimden is a major center for domestic tourism and food and accommodation is no problem whatsoever (can be a little bit over priced, though).


Getting There

To get to Oukaimden from Marrakesh, follow the P2017 south out of Marrakesh towards Ourika. After about 48 kms (10 kms past Ourika) turn right onto the narrow, but well-maintained P2030. This road leads straight up to Oukaimden (about 19 kms from the junction).





Oued N'Fiss Valley and Tizi-n-Test pass


a picture of Dave Gosney's guide to Morocco, the deserts
a picture of Dave Gosney's guide to Morocco, the mountains
A map of N'Fiss valley showing the main birding areas larger version of previous map
A map of the N'Fiss valley showing the main birding areas.

When driving to Marrakesh from Agadir the fastest route is via the main A7. A far more scenic alternative is to drive over the High Atlas from the Souss Valley on road 203. Although this road can be slow going, particularily in the southern part, this route can be very productive for birds. The most special bird here is the White-rumped Swift, which breeds near Imlil, and the juniper covered hills of the N'Fiss river valley are excellent for breeding Tristram's Warbler.

If driving from the south the 203 starts from the main A10 near Oulad Berhil and the first part goes through argan forest. Interesting birds here include Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Moussier's Redstart, Sardinian Warbler, Southern Grey Shrike and Eurasian Magpie (ssp. mauritanica). Soon after Tafingoult the road ascends steeply into the Atlas mountains with the Tizi-n-Test pass at the highest point (altitude 2092 m, appr. 37 km after the junction). After this the road levels out and passes through pine forests before it for a large part descends slowly all the way to the Marrakesh plains (130 km from the pass). Along this road Moussier's Redstart is a common appearance and Black Wheatear can also easily be found. Booted Eagles can often be seen soaring in the air. Stop at promising spots with pine forest and check the trees for local, (near-)endemic forms of familiar European species. Coal Tit and Common Firecrest are probably the most common, but also Mistle Thrush, African Blue Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Jay, Common Chaffinch (ssp. africana) and Red Crossbill. The cultivated areas around the villages a little bit further down in the valley should also be checked for European Turtle Dove, Western Orphean Warbler and Western Bonelli's Warbler. The local forms of Common Chaffinch, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch and Common Linnet are all common.
One of the most interesting birds in this valley is Tristram's Warbler. The habitat of this Northwest African endemic is juniper scrub that is very abundant here. Large tracts of the hillsides above the river valley are covered with junipers and Tristram's Warbler is probably quite common here. Unfortunately they can be quite quiet so some patience and multiple stops at promising habitat is probably needed. A well-known site for years now (and productive at least up to March 2016) is 9 kms south of Asni. Here is a km stone (reading 'Asni 9') with junipers on both side of the road and the warbler can be heard singing (or calling) in the immediate area around the km stone. If km 9 or N'Fiss valley should fail all together there is another option. There is a road across the mountains from Asni to the Ourika valley (see Oukaimden section above) where Tristram's Warbler have been seen by several groups in recent years. The area between Asni and the village of Sidi Faress (17 km) is said to be the best part. From Sidi Faress it is another 14 km to the Ourika Valley. I have no personal experience with this road, but it should be drivable with a normal 2-wheel drive.
The White-rumped Swift apparently breed in the area between the village of Imlil and Jbel Toubkal. They do not return from their winter grounds until mid/late May, however, and you probably have to do some trekking if you want to find these birds. If you don't want to comit yourself to that level of effort, you can have a look in the valley between Imlil and Asni, where small flocks are sometimes seen. As the birds arrive that late in the season (with few visiting birdwatchers) it is difficult to find any recent reports with sightings of White-rumped Swifts. I would be grateful to receive any information about sightings from the last ten years.
A Morroccan endemic that is frequently seen in the valley between Asni and Imlil and also in Imlil village itself is Levaillant's Woodpecker. Alpine and Red-billed Choughs are of course also frequently seen at this altitude.

Birds in Oued N'Fiss valley

River valley:
Booted Eagle, Barbary Partridge, Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin, Eurasian Crag Martin, Moussier's Redstart, Cetti's Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Western Orphean Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Tristram's Warbler, Western Bonelli's Warbler, European Goldfinch, European Greenfinch and Common Linnet.

Pine forests:
Common Wood Pigeon, Mistle Thrush, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Common Firecrest, Coal Tit, African Blue Tit, Great Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Jay, Red Crossbill and Common Chaffinch.

Imlil area:
Common Wood Pigeon, White-rumped Swift, Levaillant's Woodpecker, Red-billed Chough, Alpine Chough.

Tizi-n-Test pass:
Booted Eagle, Rock Dove, Moussier's Redstart, Black Wheatear and Red-billed Chough.


Other Wildlife

A very interesting mammal that can be seen in the hills around Tafinegoult is Cuvier's Gazelle (Gazella cuvieri, غزال كوفييه). Not quite sure if the animals here are part of a reintroduction scheme or not, but you can trek through the hills here starting from Tafinegoult and look for them. Dusk and dawn are presumably the best times for these animals.
Barbary Ground Squirrel (Atlantoxerus getulus, سنجاب بربري) is quite common in this general area, particularily around Tizi-n-Test pass.


Information

Permits:
No permits are needed for birding the N'Fiss valley, but note that the pass might be closed in winter due to snow.

Food and accommodation:
Food and a variety of accommodation is available throughout the N'Fiss valley and there is also a small selection of hotels and lodges in Imlil.


Getting There

The starting point of road 203 is from the main A10 road in the Souss Valley, about 120 km East of Agadir, and ends in Marrakesh, about 170 km to the north. The Tizi-n-Test pass is 37 km to the north of the junction with A10 and Asni is about 45 km to the south of Marrakesh. The road is generally in fairly good condition (no problem whatsoever for a 2W drive), but pretty narrow in places with lots of hairpin bends. It can be quite slow in places, certainly if you get stuck behind a lorry working its way up the mountains.. The pass is sometimes blocked by snow in winter.
The road from Asni to Imlil (17 km) is driveable, but can also be slow going as it is in parts in poor condition.



Oued Tichka Valley and Tizi-n-Tichka pass


a picture of Dave Gosney's guide to Morocco, the 	deserts
a picture of Dave Gosney's guide to Morocco, the mountains
A map of Foret Toufliht, i.e Oued Tichka valley larger version of previous map
A map of Forêt Toufliht (Oued Tichka valley).

The main N9 road between Marrakesh and Ouarzazate ascends the High Atlas mountains parallell to the Oued Tichka river until it crosses the mountains at Tizi-n-Tichka pass (2260 m). Common birds in the lush vegetation of the lower parts of the Oued Tichka valley are Common Bulbul, Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin, Common Nightingale, Cetti's Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler and Melodious Warbler. Scanning the air you might see Long-legged Buzzard and Booted Eagle and Bonelli's Eagles are also sometimes seen here.
This river valley do also hold some very good, Moroccan specialities however, of which Levaillant's Woodpecker probably is the most important. Basically you can stop anywhere at the upper reaches of this valley with suitable habitat and try to localize the woodpecker. One site that is frequently good for this endemic, also in recent years, is the forest around Toufliht (around 60 kms east of Marrakech). There are some minor roads and tracks leading into the forest west of the village, and with some patience you should be able to see, or hear, the woodpecker here. This forest can also be good for local, northwest African races of a number of passerine species, of which Coal Tit (ssp. atlas), Eurasian Jay (ssp. minor) and Common Chaffinch (ssp. africana) might be the most interesting. Scrubs between Toufliht and Tizi-n-Tichka pass should also be checked for Tristram's Warbler, which is sometimes seen here, and Barbary Partridge and Moussier's Redstart are both quite common.
When crossing the mountain pass at Tizi-n-Tichka you should stop and bird this high-altitude site. Birds recorded here in the past include the (Atlas) Horned Lark, Northern Wheatear (ssp. seebohmi), Alpine Accentor, Red-billed and Alpine Chough and even African Crimson-winged Finch. It should be noted, though, that although there is high potential for these high-altitude specialities here, the chances of finding them are better at Oukaimden (see above for details).
When continuing on the N9 road eastwards from the pass the habitat gets increasingly dry, and the avifauna changes accordingly. Interesting birds you might expect on the southern slopes of the mountains include Moussier's Redstart, Black Wheatear and Rock Bunting. Before you arrive in Ouarzazate a range of desert species are likely to be seen (see Ouarzazate section for further details).

Birds in Oued Tichka valley
a photo of tizi-n-tichka pass
Tizi-n-Tichka pass.

River valley:
Booted Eagle, Barbary Partridge, Common Bulbul, Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin, Eurasian Crag Martin, Common Nightingale, Moussier's Redstart, Mistle Thrush, Cetti's Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Tristram's Warbler and European Serin.

Foret de Toufliht:
Common Wood Pigeon, Levaillant's Woodpecker, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Common Firecrest, Coal Tit, African Blue Tit, Great Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Eurasian Jay, Common Chaffinch and Hawfinch.

Tizi-n-Tichka pass:
(Atlas) Horned Lark, Northern Wheatear (ssp. seebohmi), Alpine Accentor, Red-billed Chough, Alpine Chough and African Crimson-winged Finch.


Information

Permits:
No permits are needed for birding along this road, but note that the pass might occasionally be closed in winter after heavy snowfall.

Food and accommodation:
There is not much accommodation available between Marrakesh and Ouarzazate, but the distance between these two cities is less than 200 kms and can be done in about 3 - 31/2 hours (without birdwatching stops!)


Getting There

The road described here is the main N9 road between Marrakesh and Ouarzazate, approximately 200 kms. Toufliht is about 60 kms east of Marrakesh and Tizi-n-Tichka pass is about 105 kms from Marrakesh (so about halfway between Marrakesh and Ouarzazate).



Zaida Plains

(Zeida, زايدة)

A map of Zaida and Tizi-n-Tairhemt larger version of previous map
A map of Zaida and Tizi-n-Tairhemt.

The Zaida plains is a classic site for Dupont's Lark, one of the most enigmatic birds of Morocco. Zaida is a small town between the Middle Atlas and High Atlas ranges, and the locality referred to as the Zaida plains is a semi-arid steppe to the southeast of the town. Although this steppe of (mostly) Halfa grass covers a vast region there is an area a few kms out of town that most birders visit for the Dupont's Lark and where most visitors also get to see, or at least hear, this difficult bird. It is generally thought that you have to be on location before sunrise to stand any chance of finding any Dupont's Larks, but I do think this is exaggerated. I have seen reports of people hearing and seeing larks here well after sunrise and I have myself found them here singing up to two hours after sunrise. But admittely the birds do sing during the night and are more active at dawn than later in the morning and you are thus well advised to start as early as possible.
There are several places that are good for the lark a few kms out of Zaida; at kms 2, 3.5, 4.0 and 5.5 (as measured from the bridge over the Oued Moulouya) there are tracks near the road that lead into suitable habitat and that you should check. The best strategy is to start before dawn and listen for its distinctive song. When the light is good you can walk into the steppe and check the ground well in front of you as the birds tend to run away from intruders. If you have a tape recorder you can place it in the territory of the birds and playback their song while watching from a distance with your binoculars or telescope. Using one or more of these strategies you have a fair chance of actually seeing these birds. Spring is obviously the best time for singing larks, but they are also reported to sing occasionally in the fall and in late winter (Bergier & Bergier).


a photo of the Zaida plains
The author searching for Dupont's Lark in the semi-arid steppe near Zaida. © Paul Gordon

The Zaida plains can also be good for other birds, notably larks and wheatears. Both Greater and Lesser Short-toed Lark breed in this area and are quite common (Greater Short-toed Lark to a large extent absent in winter). Thick-billed Lark has been found by several groups here in the last few years, but it seems to be just as erratic here as in so many other sites in Morocco; apparently many records in some years, like in 2013, in other years totally absent. Thekla Lark and Temminck's Lark are two other breeders that are fairly common here.
Of the wheatears the Red-rumped Wheatear and Desert Wheatear are breeding in this area and the Black Wheatear is said to be a resident breeder, but does not appear to be common. Northern Wheatear and Black-eared Wheatear can be seen here on passage.
Other resident birds of this habitat that are occasionally recorded here are Eurasian Stone-curlew, Black-bellied Sandgrouse and Trumpeter Finch.

When driving from Zaida to Ar Rachidia you should consider to make a few stops at Tizi-n-Tairhemt, about 24 kms east of Midelt. This is a well-known site for breeding Tristram's Warbler and it is rather frequently seen here. The area can't be missed really; at a certain point after Midelt the road goes on a very steep and winding ascent up the mountains and the sparse vegetation is dominated by junipers (the favoured habitat of the warbler). Check out this habitat at any place where you can safely pull over and park. The birds can be quite shy, but at least early in the breeding season (March) they are vocal and thus easily localized.
Other interesting birds recorded here are Moussier's Redstart, Black Wheatear, Northern (Seebohm's) Wheatear and Spectacled Warbler.


Birds on the Zaida plains

Zaida plains:
Cream-colored Courser, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Dupont's Lark, Thick-billed Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Thekla Lark, Temminck's Lark, Red-rumped Wheatear, Desert Wheatear and Trumpeter Finch.

Tizi-n-Tairhemt:
Moussier's Redstart, Black Wheatear, Northern Wheatear (ssp. seebohmi), Tristram's Warbler, Spectacled Warbler and Coal Tit.


Other Wildlife

Bergier & Bergier reports that the Greater Egyptian Jerboa (Jaculus orientalis, يربوع مصري كبير) is common in this area (although mostly found dead on the road) and Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes, ثعلب أحمر), Golden Jackal (Canis aureus, ابن آوى الذهبي) and Algerian Hedgehog (Atelerix algirus) may also been seen. I do not know, however, how common these are and there are mostly no mention of mammals in trip-reports from this area.


Information

Permits:
You can bird freely in the semi-desert plains around Zaida and no permits are needed.

Food and accommodation:
Food should not be a problem in Zaida, but accommodation might be. The nearest place with a decent selection of accommodation is in Midelt, some 30 kms to the southeast of Zaida town.


Getting There

Zaida can be reached from Azrou or Ar Rachidia, all three towns are connected by the main N13 road. Azrou is some 93 kms to the north, while Ar Rachidia lies 170 kms to the south. This road is generally speaking in good condition.
The tracks leading into the right habitat of the Dupont's Lark are also from this main road (distances mentioned above are from the bridge over the Oued Moulouya, in the direction of Midelt and Ar Rachidia.
Tizi-n-Tairhemt is on the main N13 road, about 24 kms east of Midelt.



Azrou and Ifrane

(إفران & أزرو)

A map of Azrou and Ifrane showing the main birding areas larger version of previous map
A map of Azrou and Ifrane showing the main birding areas.

This section covers two towns in the Middle Atlas mountains and a number of lakes in this area. The main attraction for most birdwatchers is probably the Atlas Pied Flycatcher. This northwest African endemic is fairly common in cedar and oak woods around Azrou from late April/early May. The best strategy for the flycatcher is probably to drive around this area and stop in suitable forest and listen for them here. One option that can be productive is to drive south from Azrou on the N13, turn left onto the minor 7231 and then connect to the N8 in Ifrane, where you can head southwest again to Azrou. By doing this roundtrip you get to good habitat where the flycatcher has been found by several groups over several years. The best parts might be where the N13 crosses good habitat immediately to the south of Azrou, but the N8 between Azrou and Ifrane has also been productive in the past. Probably you can find the flycatcher anywhere here if you are in the right habitat, and in one tripreport there is even mention of an Atlas Pied Flycatcher in the center of Azrou!
The charming town of Azrou is worth to consider as a base if you want to explore this area. Accommodation is abundant both in Ifrane and Azrou, but Azrou has the added bonus of some very interesting birds. One of the endemic subspecies in this general area that has got a lot of attraction the last few years is Tawny Owl (ssp. mauritanica). This subspecies, which is endemic to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, is considered a strong candidate as a distinctive species ('Atlas Tawny Owl') and one of the places where this rare owl has been seen (heard) in the past is behind Hotel Panorama in Azrou (3 ind. early in the morning, early May, ref. 32). Another interesting species in Azrou is a breeding colony of Lesser Kestrels near the main tower. The kestrels are regularily seen hunting above the town.
Another target bird that you can find in the wooded hills around Azrou and Ifrane is Levaillant's Woodpecker. You have a fair chance of finding this rather tricky bird anywhere in this area, but one place where it has been reported somewhat consistently is at Dayet Aoua. The trees fringing the road to the southwest of the lake should be checked as this area has been proven to be reliable for the woodpecker. Another area where it is frequently seen or heard is where the N13 descends through the forested hill towards Azrou.
The mountains and hills here do however also have a number of endemic and near-endemic subspecies of common Palaearctic species and several of these can easily be seen here. This includes Eurasian Jay, Mistle Thrush, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Common Firecrest, Common Chaffinch and Hawfinch. Other interesting birds here are African Blue Tit, Moussier's Redstart and Western Bonelli's Warbler.

a photo of a Coal Tit
An endemic form of Coal Tit.

By driving on the roads in the mountains here, like the circular trail describe above, you frequently find yourself in a stony, mountaineous habitat and here you might expect yet other interesting birds. One of the most interesting is Northern Wheatear of ssp. seebohmi ("Black-throated Wheatear" or "Seebohm's Wheatear") and this bird is actually a characteristic species here. Moussier's Redstart is also common here and can often be seen from the car when on the road. By giving this habitat some time you should also be able to find some of the following: Little Owl, European Roller, Thekla Lark, Woodlark, Eurasian Skylark, Tawny Pipit, Black-eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear and Rock Sparrow. The surroundings around Dayet Aoua is said to be good for European Roller, but these magnificent birds arrive quite late in spring.
Raptors in this area include Black Kite, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Booted Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard and Lesser Kestrel. They can be expected anywhere and are often seen soaring above the hills or the stony plateaux.
Horned Larks of ssp. atlas (Atlas Horned Lark) are said to occur in this area, but I don't have any specifics. I am speculating that the plains along the N13 south of Azrou might be a potentially good area to look for this high altitude species (any reports would be appreciated).


A map of Dayet Aoua lake larger version of previous map
A map of Dayet Aoua.

There are a number of lakes to the northeast of Ifrane that can be excellent birdwise. The best of these lakes might be Dayet Aoua, particularily good for breeding Red-knobbed Coot. Dayet Aoua is one of the most important breeding sites for this species in Morocco. Black-necked Grebe can also be numerous here, sometimes hundreds are seen at Dayet Aoua and some of the other lakes, although numbers fluctuate a great deal. Good numbers of waterbirds can be seen on all of these lakes, including impressive numbers of Marbled Duck some years. Again Dayet Aoua is often the best, but if you have time the other lakes here might also be worth a visit, especially Dayet Hachlaf and Dayet Ifrah. All can be good for wintering and migrating waterfowl and at Dayet Aoua small numbers of Ferruginous Ducks are seen in the winter. Breeding birds include Little Bittern, Western Marsh Harrier, Eurasian and Red-knobbed Coots, Savi's Warbler and Great Reed Warbler. The woods around the western shore (near the picknick areas) can be very good for a number of the endemic subspecies mentioned above, and particularily the Hawfinch is numerous here. Birding Dayet Aoua at a leasurely pace is easy enough as there is a good road fringing the whole of the lake. The western half of the lake tends to be best for grebes, ducks and coots and parts of the lake with shallow water can be terrific for waders.


Birds around Azrou and Ifrane
a photo of a Barbary Macaque
The Barbary Macaque is common in the woods around Azrou and Ifrane. © Risto Skjelnes


Cedar and oak woods:
Great Spotted Woodpecker, Levaillant's Woodpecker, Eurasian Jay, African Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Common Firecrest, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Mistle Thrush, Eurasian Nuthatch, Short-toed Treecreeper, Common Chaffinch, Red Crossbill, Hawfinch and Rock Sparrow.

Dayet Aoua and other lakes:
Little Bittern, Ruddy Shelduck, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Ferruginous Duck, Marbled Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Booted Eagle, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Black Kite, Northern Goshawk, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Eurasian Coot, European Turtle Dove, Eurasian Scops Owl, European Roller, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Levaillant's Woodpecker, Lesser Kestrel, Woodlark, Moussier's Redstart, Savi's Warbler, Great Reed Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Grey Wagtail, Hawfinch, European Greenfinch, European Goldfinch and Common Linnet.

Stony plateaux:
Black Kite, Short-toed Snake Eagle, Booted Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Lesser Kestrel, Little Owl, European Roller, Thekla Lark, Woodlark, Eurasian Skylark, Horned Lark (ssp. atlas), Tawny Pipit, Northern Wheatear (ssp. seebohmi), Black-eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear and Rock Sparrow.

Azrou town:
'Atlas Tawny Owl', Alpine Swift, Lesser Kestrel and Atlas Pied Flycatcher.


Other Wildlife

Mammals reported from this area include Golden Jackal (Canis aureus, شغال زرد), Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes, ثعلب أحمر) and Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis, ابن عرس), none of these are easily seen, though. You might have more luck with Barbary Macaque (Macaca sylvanus, مكاك بربري) groups of which are frequently seen in the cedar woods here. One place where they are regular is where the N13 enters the nationalpark to the southeast of Azrou. About where the road starts it steep descent down the forested hill are some souvenir stalls and a large family group of macaques are regularily seen here; they are often fed by tourists so used to people.


Information

Food and accommodation:
Ifrane is a popular skiing resort and it is no problem to find good accommodation in several price categories. Azrou is a smaller town, but there is also a good selection of accommodation to be found here.

Permits:
You don't need any special permits to bird this general area. Be careful if you bird the poplars and cedar woods south of Dayet Aoua, though, as there is (yet another!) royal hunting lodge here. Use common sense if walking around with telescopes and advanced photographic equipment here, and always follow the instructions from security personel if you meet any.


Getting There

Ifrane and Azrou can easily be reached from either Fes or Meknes to the north. From Fes follow the main N8 road south for about 61 kms to get to Ifrane. Azrou is a further 17 kms on this road. Alternatively follow the N13 road south from Meknes; the distance between Meknes and Azrou is about 62 kms. The condition of these roads is fairly good.
To get to Dayet Aoua, follow the N8 north from Ifrane for 17 kms, the exit to the Dayet is well marked. The condition of the road around the lake is in very good condition. From the northeastern corner of the lake you can continue eastwards on the P5016 and after 7 kms take a road to the south towards Dayet Hachlaf. Alternatively continue for another 5 kms and take another road southwards to Dayet Ifrah. These two roads connect again just east of Dayet Hachlaf. At least Dayet Ifrah is signposted. These minor roads are surfaced, but the condition of the asphalt is so-so (not so many potholes, but eroded from the sides).

From Azrou you can also continue further south on the N13 road to Zaida and the Dupont's Lark site and from there to the sites described in the Morocco South East section (Erfoud, Rissani etc).