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A Birdwatchers Guide to: Morocco

Southeast Morocco



A map of Southeast Morocco showing the main birding areas link to Erg Chebbi section link to Rissani section link to Goulmima section link to Boumalne Dades and Tagdilt track section link to Dades Valley section link to Ouarzazate section link to Tizi-N-Tinifit gorge section
A map of Southeast Morocco showing the main birding areas.

This section covers sites in the desert regions southeast of the Atlas mountains. The first site described is Erg Chebbi; this is the only large system of sand dunes in Morocco, and covered here are several smaller sites in the vicinity of the sand dunes as well as Lake Merzouga near the village with the same name. Since the habitat here is to some extent unique for Morocco a number of interesting species of bird can be found here, that are either absent or hard to find elsewhere in the country. The most interesting birds here are probably Houbara Bustard, Egyptian Nightjar, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Streaked Scrub Warbler, African Desert Warbler, Tristram's Warbler (winter) and Desert Sparrow.
Not far from the Erg Chebbi sand dunes is the town of Arfoud and south of this is the Rissani oasis. Rissani with surroundings has been getting more attention the last few years, mainly because of breeding Pharaoh Eagle-Owl, Fulvous Babbler and Eastern Olivaceous Warbler of ssp. reiseri ('Sahara Olivaceous Warbler'). In this section you can also find information about a reliable site for Egyptian Nightjar. The site describe here produces Egyptian Nightjar more consistently nowadays than the classical sites nearer to Erg Chebbi.
The desert near the town of Goulmima can also be productive for larks and wheatears, but the bird to look for here is the Streaked Scrub Warbler. There are some wadis here where this desert skulker is often seen by visiting birdwatchers and the details are provided in this section.
More to the west lies the town of Boumalne du Dadès and several tracks and roads lead into the stone desert from here; this is the famous Tagdilt track, visited by most birdwatchers for larks and wheatears. Birds as Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Red-rumped Wheatear and Desert Wheatear are common here, and Thick-billed Larks are seen here regularily. There are even sightings of Mourning Wheatears from this area (ssp. halophila, 'Western Mourning Wheatear'). From Boumalne du Dadès you can also head up the Oued Dadès valley to the Dadès gorge and further.
The last site describe here is the Mansour Eddahbi dam, just outside Ouarzazate. This artifical lake can hold impressive numbers of wintering birds and the numbers of birds on the lake swell during the migration seasons. At that time the sparse vegetation arround the lake should be checked for migrants and the desert surroundings should also be checked for desert birds. All in all an impressive variety of birds can be experienced here in one day.



Erg Chebbi

( عرق الشبي )




A map of the Erg Chebbi area in Southeast Morocco showing the main birding sites a larger version of the previous map
A map of the Erg Chebbi sand dunes and the main birding sites in this area.

The Erg Chebbi is the only large system of sand dunes in Morocco and also one of the most popular destinations in Morocco for the keen birdwatcher. There is a wide variety of desert species to be found here, some in good numbers, which make this the most important desert site in the country. A few species are found with relative ease here, but hardly anywhere else in the country. The most important of these is probably the Houbara Bustard, which can often be seen when venturing into the desert east of Erg Chebbi with a 4W drive (although some birders have a disregard for these as some bustards are apparently captive bred as part of a reintroduction program). If you want to look for the bustard you can often hire a 4W-drive with driver in one of the hotels; they are accustomed to visiting birdwatchers and have guides that know the best places for the bustard. Many of the other local specialities are often also seen on these excursions.
The other specialities that can be seen around Erg Chebbi are Spotted Sandgrouse, Egyptian Nightjar, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Dunn's Lark (rare), African Desert Warbler, Tristram's Warbler (winter) and Desert Sparrow.
In the past Erg Chebbi could only be accessed on the old R702 road from Arfoud. This road was the last few years in very bad condition (hardly drivable without a 4W drive), but they are currently (2016) busy with upgrading this road again and it is now in good condition from Arfoud all the way to Merzouga (but unsurfaced after Hotel Said). The main Rissani - Merzouga road (N13) is new, and is very good. The main tracks through the stone desert should be passable with a two-wheel drive, although a little bit rough and bumpy in places. Venturing far off-road into the sandy parts of the desert without a 4-wheel drive is not recommended!
For the most part this area consists of stone desert, which is the right habitat for birds as Spotted Sandgrouse, Greater Hoopoe-Lark and Bar-tailed Lark. There are no places that holds these species consistently, but driving along the R702 or on one of the numerous tracks that cross the desert you should find Eurasian Hoopoe-Lark and small flocks of Bar-tailed Lark as well as the more common Desert Lark. The area around Auberge Yasmina on the northern edge of the sand dunes has proved to be good for all these larks and there are even some sightings of Dunn's Lark from here. In this habitat you can also find several species of Wheatear; most common are White-crowned Wheatear and Desert Wheatear, but with some luck you can also find a Mourning Wheatear here. Again the northern edge of the sand dunes, for instance between the R702 and Auberge Yasmina, has proven to be good. Breeding raptors that you can see here are Long-legged Buzzard, Barbary Falcon, Peregrine Falcon and Lanner Falcon, and occasionally even Bonelli's Eagle. Other species belonging to this habitat are Cream-colored Courser, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Brown-necked Raven and Trumpeter Finch, all relatively common.
The African Desert Warbler is a rather tricky bird to find, but one place that has been productive the last few years (at least since 2012) is at the beginning of the main track that leads from the main Rissani - Merzouga road towards Auberge Yasmina (see map). Coming from the west follow the track for about 100 m and search the scrub on the north side of the track.
In the northern part of the Erg Chebbi area, between Auberge Derkaoua and Arfoud, there are numerous small wadi's and these should also be checked for the Desert Warbler. A good place to check is the wadi just north of Auberge Derkaoua (next to the R702, some 10 km north of Erg Chebbi), but the most reliable site is 2,5 km to the north where the old road crosses a wadi with small sand-dunes (just south of Hotel Said). This has for many years now been the best locality for this shy warbler. The easiest way of getting here is from Hotel Said: immediately to the south of the entrance to the hotel, turn off the newly constructed road onto the old road and follow this for 600 m. Check the sandy wadi to the west. About 500 m further down the road is another wadi where it has also often been found. Depending on prevailing conditions this road is not always passable with a regular 2W drive and you might have to do some (short) walking to get to these wadis. If coming from Arfoud Hotel Said is 18 km to the southeast of town (as measured from the bridge over the Oued Ziz). The R702 is crossing several other wadi's and the one to the east of the road at km 7,4 from the bridge is another site that is said to be reliable for the Desert Warbler. The wadi at km 10,4 has also produced African Desert Warbler (as well as other wintering warblers, including Tristram's Warbler) and Egyptian Nightjars have also been reported. There is a tourist shop here (fossils) where you can park. Check the wadi on either side of the road.
Auberge Derkaoua was also a regular place for the Egyptian Nightjar in the past; the nightjar was frequently seen inside the hotel grounds, or alternatively in the wadi to the north. In the last few years, however, there are fewer succesful reports from Derkaoua. The only recent reports are sporadic sightings from the wadi. Another new site with many sightings at least the last two years is the desert near the tiny village of Tisserdmine. Here many visiting birders find nightjars perched on the bushy plain about 1,5-2 km northwest of the village, or they hear displaying birds here after sunset. Tisserdmine is about 12 km to the east of Auberge Derkaoua. The track is marked with white painted stones, at least part of it. The problem is that it can be difficult to find your way back in the dark, so you might have to camp out if you want to check out this site (there is no accommodation in Tisserdmine). The most accessible site now appears to be near Auberge Tresor (see Rissani section for details).
Around Auberge Derkaoua you also have a fair chance of finding Fulvous Babbler.


a photo of an african desert warbler
The African Desert Warbler is one of the most sought-after birds of Erg Chebbi. © Risto Skjelnes

There are numerous hotels around Erg Chebbi nowadays, very useful if you want to stay the night, but most of these are also very interesting for birds. The most important of these is probably Auberge Yasmina and the major attraction here is Desert Sparrow; in winter they can be quite numerous, and in most years a few birds remain to breed. It there are any breeding birds they are not necessarily breeding at the auberge self and you might need a guide to find them. If you fail at Yasmina you could check out other (hotel) gardens in this area; the last few years Auberge Caravan, a km to the west, is said to be a very reliable site (and sometimes they breed here too).
More common breeding birds in the gardens and palm groves are Barbary Partridge, European Turtle Dove, Eurasian Hoopoe, (Moroccan) White Wagtail, Common Bulbul, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Cetti's Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler and Spotted Flycatcher. This vegetation also act as magnets for migrating birds, and in spring birds as Woodchat Shrike, Subalpine Warbler, Western Orphean Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Western Bonelli's Warbler and Iberian Chiffchaff, as well as more common Palaearctic passerines can be found here. Two very good places to see stranded migrants are Auberge Yasmina and Auberge Derkaoua. At Yasmina there is also a bird ringing station where visiting researchers from Spain trap birds with mistnets. Another site that can be excellent for migrant passerines is where the N13 crosses the Oued Amerbouh (near the entry of the Derkaoua track); even if the river seems to be completely dried out there is a patch of vegetation 200 m to the south of the bridge which can hold an impressive variety of migrants.
Also raptors migrate through this area and Eurasian Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Montagu's Harrier, Booted Eagle, Western Osprey and Eurasian Hobby are all regular.
In the southern part of Erg Chebbi is Lake Merzouga (Also known as Dayet Merzouga or Lac Dayet Srij) and unless the lake has dried out can be very good for waterbirds. Apart from the more common dabbling ducks, the lake sometimes holds hundreds of Ruddy Shelduck and Marbled Ducks, and along the shore there is mostly a nice variety of shorebirds. More importantly the tamarisks around the lake is one of the best places in Morocco for Tristram's Warbler, although only in the winter months (they breed in the mountains).


Birds in Erg Chebbi
a photo of the typical habitat of the African Desert Warbler
The typical habitat of the African Desert Warbler.
© Risto Skjelnes

Stone Desert:
Houbara Bustard, Cream-colored Courser, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Spotted Sandgrouse, Egyptian Nightjar, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Desert Lark, Dunn's Lark (rare), White-crowned Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Mourning Wheatear, African Desert Warbler, Fulvous Babbler, Brown-necked Raven and Trumpeter Finch.

Hotel Gardens and Palm Groves:
Barbary Partridge, European Turtle Dove, Eurasian Hoopoe, (Moroccan) White Wagtail, Common Bulbul, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Cetti's Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and Desert Sparrow (Auberge Yasmina).

Lake Merzouga:
White Stork, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Ruddy Shelduck, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Eurasian Teal, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Marbled Duck, Pied Avocet, Collared Pratincole, Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Red Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Little Stint, Temminck's Stint, Eurasian Curlew, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Ruff, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Whiskered Tern, Black Tern and Tristram's Warbler.

Passage Migrants:
Eurasian Honey Buzzard, Black Kite, Montagu's Harrier, Booted Eagle, Western Osprey, Eurasian Hobby, European Bee-eater, Common Redstart, Subalpine Warbler, Western Orphean Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Iberian Chiffchaff, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Woodchat Shrike.


Other Wildlife

Spiny-tailed Lizard is sometimes seen in the Erg Chebbi area. Other possible reptiles are Bibron's Agama (Agama impalearis) and Changeable Agama (Trapelus mutabilis, قاضي الجبل).


Information

Permits:
No permits are needed for birding Erg Chebbi. Please note that it is probably not a good idea to venture into the sand dunes area without a local guide, as it is easy to get lost.

Food and accommodation:
There is an abundant selection of hotels in Arfoud and it should not be a problem to find something that suits your budget and liking there. There are also a number of hotels near the sand dunes at Erg Chebbi, some of these are fairly basic, but there are also some good offers here. You could consider the Auberge Derkaoua or Auberge Yasmina which can have some marvellous birding within the hotel grounds. Derkaoua was in the past one of the best sites for Egyptian Nightjar!


Getting There
a photo of a road sign to auberge derkaoua
The junction towards Auberge Derkaoua is road signed and the track is well marked with green and white poles.
© Risto Skjelnes

The town of Arfoud can easily be reached from Ar-Rachidia on the N13 road driving south (76 km). If coming from Ouarzazate the easiest way is to follow the N10 via Boumalne Dades and Tinghir and before Goulmima turn right onto the R702. This road ends in Arfoud.
Rissani is 20 km south of Arfoud, just follow the N13 south out of town.
For the sand dunes at Erg Chebbi there are two options. The old road (R702) goes southeast out of Arfoud all the way to Merzouga via Hotel Said and Auberge Derkaoua. For some of the sites described above this will be the natural choice. This road is surfaced until Hotel Said and in a fairly good state after that (the road is currently being upgraded).
The best way to get to Merzouga nowadays is via Rissani; the N13 is now extended all the way to Merzouga (and beyond) and this road is surfaced and in very good condition. From Merzouga you can take the old R702 running north on the west side of the sanddunes. There are also numerous tracks across the desert connecting the N13 with the R702 and several of these are perfectly drivable with a 2W-drive. The best of these tracks across the desert are the ones signposted to 'Auberge Derkaoua' and 'Auberge Yasmina 14 km'. The first is about 12 km west of Rissani and goes straight to the auberge; the track is in very good condition and marked with green poles. The track to Yasmina is a further 5 km down the road. This track is rougher than the Derkaoua track, but drivable. The bushy vegetation north of this track (particularily near the N13) is a very good spot for African Desert Warbler (see above for details).


Local Guides

There are a number of guides working in the Erg Chebbi area, and all should be knowleadgable about sites at Rissani and Arfoud as well.







Rissani

( الريساني , Ar-Risani)


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 the western part of Rissani showing the site for Pharaoh Eagle-Owl a larger version of the previous map
A map of the Rissani cliffs showing the site for Pharaoh Eagle-Owl

Handily situatued just to the west of Erg Chebbi lies this oasis town; if driving to Erg Chebbi on the new N13 road (as opposed to the R702, see above) you pass Rissani. It is certainly worth spending some time here, as it is probably the best site in Morocco for Pharaoh Eagle-Owl and Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (ssp. reiseri, occasionally suggested as a distinct species, but this seems speculative). Just to the east of Rissani is further a site for Egyptian Nightjar which has proven quite reliable. Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters are also quite common around Rissani and Arfoud between March and September.
The site for the Eagle-Owl is a rocky ridge about 5 km west of Rissani. You can park along the main road and walk along a wadi beneath the ridge on the northern side for about 1,5 - 2,0 km and scan the cliffs for roosting owls. Gosney describes a mound past two areas where sand is piled up against the ridge where you can scan the main ridge. Some groups manage to see the owls from here, but others are not so lucky. Another site is 4,1 km further to the west on the main road (where the road crosses the ridge); here are a few cliffs (now to the south of the road) where the owls are occasionally seen. It should be mentioned that without up-to-date info about the whereabouts of the owls, they can be hard to find; one of the local guides should be contacted if you want any guarantee of success (see Erg Chebbi section for information about local guides). Another good bird breeding here is the Lanner Falcon, which is often seen, and Barbary Falcon has also been reported. Common birds in and around the wadi include Brown-necked Raven, Desert Lark, White-crowned Wheatear and Trumpeter Finch.

A map of Rissani and the Egyptian Nightjar site a larger version of the previous map
A map of Rissani and the Egyptian Nightjar site

Both Western Olivaceous Warbler and Eastern Olivaceous Warbler (ssp. reiseri) breed in Rissani, Western Olivaceous Warbler beeing the most common of these two. The place where most visiting birders get the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler is at the bridge over the Oued Ziz just to the west of Rissani town. You can park near a football (soccer) pitch here and check the tamarisks along the river where the warbler is fairly common.
If you want to explore this area there is a circular road to the south of Rissani (P7107, about 23 km) that goes around the oasis. This road is signposted as 'circuit touristique' as there are some tourist attractions here (some interesting kasbahs and shrines). Good birds to look for here are Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Crested Lark (ssp. macrorhyncha, 'Maghreb Crested Lark'), Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin and House Bunting, but the most wanted bird here is probably Fulvous Babbler, which is seen here regularily.
Near Rissani is also a very good site for Egyptian Nightjar. This site, near Auberge Tresor, was described by Dave Gosney in his excellent booklet 'Finding Birds in Morocco: the deserts'. This might be the most easily accessible nightjar site in this area with recent sightings (2016). To get here, drive out of Rissani on the main Rissani - Merzouga road (N13) for about 8 km, where you will see the hotel, Auberge Tresor, to the right. Continue for another 300 m where a track leads north into the desert. You can park here and search this area on foot. There are several minor tracks to the right leading down a dry, shallow wadi, and you can look for roosting nightjars here. If you don't find them roosting they become active at dusk and you have a chance of seeing them flying before it gets too dark, and on calm nights you can hear its distinctive song.


Birds around Rissani
a photo of a Lanner Falcon
A young Lanner Falcon

Rissani Cliffs:
Long-legged Buzzard, Lanner Falcon, Barbary Falcon, Crowned Sandgrouse, Spotted Sandgrouse, Pharaoh Eagle-Owl, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Desert Lark, White-crowned Wheatear, Brown-necked Raven and Trumpeter Finch.

Rissani town and surroundings ('Circuit Touristique'):
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Crested Lark (ssp. macrorhyncha, 'Maghreb Crested Lark'), Common Bulbul, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, White-crowned Wheatear, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Fulvous Babbler, Southern Grey Shrike and House Bunting.


Other Wildlife

Red Fox ( Vulpes vulpes , ثعلب أحمر) has been reported from the Rissani cliffs.


Information

Permits:
No permits are needed for this general area.

Food and accommodation:
There is one good hotel in Rissani (Hotel Kashbah Ennasra). Accommodation and food is much more abundant in nearby Arfoud and Erg Chebbi; see Erg Chebbi section above for further details.


Getting There

Rissani is about 20 km south of Arfoud and is easy to reach on the main N13 road. 2,5 km before Rissani the N12 leads straight west; follow this for 5 km and you have the Rissani cliffs to the right. You can park here and walk north of the cliffs for the Eagle-Owl. Alternatively follow the road for another 4 km and check the cliffs here.
If you follow the N13 for another km after the N13/N12 junction the main road curves sharply to the left towards Rissani, while a smaller road leads south. This smaller road is the western entry point of the 'Circuit Touristique' and is clearly signposted as such.
After another 500 m on the main road you get to the bridge near Rissani, the site for the Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. This is about 1 km to the west of Rissani town.


Local Guides

See Erg Chebbi section.



Goulmima

( كلميمة )

A map of the Goulmima area showing sites for Streaked Scrub Warbler a larger version of the previous map
A map of the Goulmima area showing sites for Streaked Scrub Warbler.

This section provides details for finding Streaked Scrub Warbler in desert wadi's crossing the N10 road between Goulmima and Ar Rachidia (Er Rachidia)
The most famous site for the Streaked Scrub Warbler is the 'Km 43' site; i.e a wadi between the km 43 and km 44 posts (as measured from Ar Rachidia). You can enter the wadi on the north side (right side if coming from Ar Rachidia); and check the sparse vegetation here. In older reports the Streaked Scrub Warbler was mostly reported about 2 km from the road where the wadi narrows. The vegetation here is a little bit denser and the birds were often seen here. According to reports from the last few years, however, the birds are seen and heard much closer to the road.
Interesting larks can also be found here, with reports of both Bar-tailed and Thick-billed Larks, in addition to Thekla and Desert Larks. Yet another good birds reported from this wadi include Cream-colored Courser and Spotted Sandgrouse and breeding Spectacled Warbler.
If coming from Goulmima you could check a small wadi about 5 km before Km 43 (between km posts 47 and 49); this wadi is 9,0 km from Goulmima as measured from the Ziz tank station and the bridge north of the city center. The wadi south of the road can be very good for Streaked Scrub Warbler as well as other desert species. In fact, in my experience this site is easier for Streaked Scrub Warbler than the classic site at Km 43 as they can be found only 150-200 m from the road. Km 43 is a larger area with more bird diversity though.
Another site along this road which has proved rather productive is the road to Ksar Tarda. After 1,5 km from the junction with N10 the road crosses a wadi and birds seen here include Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, White-crowned Wheatear and Desert Wheatear.


Birds around Goulmima
a photo of a Streaked Scrub Warbler
The desert between Goulmima and Ar Rachidia is one of the best places to find Streaked Scrub Warbler. © Risto Skjelnes

Km 43:
Cream-colored Courser, Spotted Sandgrouse, Southern Grey Shrike, Bar-tailed Lark, Desert Lark, Thick-billed Lark, Thekla Lark, Streaked Scrub Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Desert Wheatear and Trumpeter Finch.

Km 48:
Southern Grey Shrike (ssp. elegans), Streaked Scrub Warbler, Moussier's Redstart and Desert Wheatear.

Ksar Tarda:
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, White-crowned Wheatear and Desert Wheatear.


Information

Permits:
No permits are needed for birding the deserts around Goulmima.

Food and accommodation:
Food and accommodation is available in Ar Rachidia while the selection of accommodation in Goulmima seems to be very limited.


Getting There

Goulmima and Ar Rachidia are both on the N10 road, and thus easy to reach from Ouarzazate (Ouarzazate - Ar Rachidia 298 km). Coming from the north (Azrou - Zaida plains) you get to Ar Rachidia on the N13 road.
The road to Ksar Tarda goes south from the N10 about 20 km from Ar Rachidia (sign-posted 'Ksar Tarda 3 km') and after 1,5 km crosses the wadi.



Boumalne Dades (Tagdilt Track)

(بومالن دادس, Boumalne du Dadès)

A map of Boumalne Dades showing the Tagdilt track a larger version of the previous map
A map of Boumalne Dades showing the old Tagdilt track and Ikniouen road.

Boumalne Dades is a town located at the edge of a desert plateau, and its main ornithological fame derives from this stone desert. The flat, rocky terrain stretching out to the south of the town can be birded from several drivable tracks, and among birders this area is also known as 'Tagdilt track' (The main track leads to the village of Tagdilt. Nowadays this is sometimes refered to as the 'old Tagdilt track', due to the new Ikniouen Road that currently is the main road to Tagdilt). The main track starts out just outside town, near some army barracks and a garbage dump and it is most famous for larks and wheatears. You can enter the area from the army barracks, or more conveniantly on a track a further 1,5 km to the east. Following the main track for several kilometers and birding the surroundings you can on good days find several Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Desert Lark, Thick-billed Lark and Temminck's Lark (last species is numerous here). Both Red-rumped and Desert Wheatear (Mar - Oct) are common, particularily the Red-rumped Wheatear is abundant. Normally there are also some Greater and Lesser Short-toed Larks around and during spring migration there might actually be large flocks of both species here. With some luck you might even find Bar-tailed Lark here, which is a resident breeder, albeit not very common. Both Crested and Thekla Larks are frequently recorded here by visiting crews, and the latter breeds in the rocky hills (Jbel Sarhro) to the south of the plain.
The best place for Thick-billed Lark is apparently the area south of the large wadi that crosses the plains from NE to SW about 4 km south of Boumalne (this is most often refered to as a 'wadi' in various trip reports, but it hardly qualifies as one, it is more like a shallow depression of the ground). The sandy area to the south of the wadi might be easier to reach from the Ikniouen road (see below). This is also the best place for Greater Hoopoe-Lark, which can sometimes be abundant here, but absent to the north of the wadi.
Other interesting species you might find in the Tagdilt track area are Long-legged Buzzard, Cream-colored Courser (absent Sep - Dec), Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Lanner Falcon and Trumpeter Finch, all fairly common and often seen. Some also manage to see Crowned Sandgrouse here, but the Ikniouen road is probably a safer bet for this rather difficult species.
A major attraction in this area in the past was Houbara Bustard, but this magnificent bird seems to have disappeared altogether the last few years. The last record I am aware of is from 2008. There were no specific sites where they were regularily seen, but rather the sightings were from various parts of the plateau. The best places seems to have been the area to the west of Tagdilt track and also around the waterhole near Ikniouen road. I suppose it is still worth to look for this species in this general area.

a photo of a thick-billed lark
Some years Thick-billed Lark stay to breed near Boumalne Dades. © Risto Skjelnes

The Ikniouen road leads south from the main road about 6,5 km to the east of Boumalne Dades. This is a surfaced road that gives easy access to the plains south of the large wadi that divide the plains. An important site here are some pools that attract large numbers of birds (unless of course they have dried completely out..) and flocks of Crowned Sandgrouse are regularily seen here (a flock with more than 60 birds here in 2016). With a little bit of luck you might also have small numbers of Pin-tailed Sandgrouse here, and Black-bellied Sandgrouse are rather common in this general area. The best time to check the waterhole for Sandgrouse is mid-morning.
To explore the plains you can take several minor tracks to the west of the road or you can follow it for 8,3 km to the point where Ikniouen road joins the Tagdilt track and hence explore the southern part of Tagdilt track. Obviously you can expect many of the same species as describe here above for the Tagdilt track, but Thick-billed Lark, Greater Hoopoe-Lark and Desert Wheatear appear to be more common here than in the northern part.
One interesting site here is what Dave Gosney calls the 'Wheatear wall', an old ruin that for several years had breeding Mourning Wheatear (as well as White-crowned Wheatear and Desert Wheatear). Although I have seen no Mourning Wheatears reported here the last few years it remains a possibility, and the ruins should be checked. On a visit here in 2016 the ruins were fenced off, but no problem to scan the ruins from outside the fence.
You can follow the Ikniouen road for another 2 km and you have an orchard to the left of the road (about 1 km before Izoumgane village). There are some interesting breeding birds here as Western Olivaceous Warbler, but this vegetation is more important as shelter for migrant passerines, which are sometimes seen here in good numbers.
There is some mention of a breeding site for Mourning Wheatear that you can consider to check; it was described by Ray Thorneycroft in 2008 (ref. 24). I haven't checked out this site myself and I don't have any recent reports from here, but check out 'Getting There' below for details if you want to have a go at it.
Many birders staying overnight in Boumalne Dades stay at Hotel Soleil Bleu; one good thing about this hotel is that they have a birders log where you can get recent information about sightings in the area. The hotel garden can also be good for birds and interesting sightings here in the past are Eurasian Scops Owl, Little Owl, Black Wheatear and Dartford Warbler. House Bunting breeds here.


Birds around Boumalne Dades
a photo of a Red-rumped Wheatear
A Red-rumped Wheatear at Tagdilt track, near Boumalne Dades.

Tagdilt Track:
Black Kite, Long-legged Buzzard, Cream-colored Courser, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Crowned Sandgrouse, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Desert Lark, Thick-billed Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Temminck's Lark, White-crowned Wheatear, Red-rumped Wheatear, Desert Wheatear and Trumpeter Finch.

Ikniouen Road:
Long-legged Buzzard, Cream-colored Courser, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Crowned Sandgrouse, Lanner Falcon, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Desert Lark, Thick-billed Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Thekla Lark, Temminck's Lark, Red-rumped Wheatear, Desert Wheatear and Trumpeter Finch.

Izoumgane Orchard:
Common Bulbul, Common Redstart, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear, Common Blackbird, Eurasian Blackcap, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Western Bonelli's Warbler, European Pied Flycatcher, Woodchat Shrike and European Goldfinch.

Mourning Wheatear Site:
Little Owl, Desert Lark, Northern Wheatear and Mourning Wheatear.

Hotel Soleil Bleu:
Eurasian Scops Owl, Little Owl, European Bee-eater, Black Wheatear, Dartford Warbler, Sardinian Warbler and House Bunting.


Other Wildlife

Lesser Egyptian Jerboa (Jaculus jaculus, الجربوع) appears to be quite common around Tagdilt track, but most reports are of road kills. Fat Sand Rats (Psammomys obesus, فأر الرمل السمين) are common near the Boumalne Dades garbage dump and there are also sightings of Algerian Hedgehog (Atelerix algirus, القنفذ الجزائرى) from Tagdilt track. Larger mammals reported from the desert around Boumalne Dades are Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes, ثعلب أحمر) and Golden Jackal (Canis aureus, ابن آوى الذهبي).
Of reptiles Spiney-tailed Lizard sp. has been seen in the vicinity of Boumalne Dades.


Information

Permits:
No permits are needed for birding Tagdilt track.

Food and accommodation:
It seems that most birders stay in Le Soleil Bleu, a wonderful place with the added advantage of an up-to-date birdwatching log. There are, however, many other places, of all price categories, to stay in Boumalne Dades. Good restaurants are not hard to find either.


Getting There

Boumalne Dades can be reached on the N10 either from Ouarzazate in the southwest (110 km) or Ar Rachidia in the northeast (190 km).
The start of the Tagdilt track is from the N10 near some army barracks east of the town, but there are more entry points to the plateau from the N10; one of these is 1,5 km to the east of the barracks. The start of the Ikniouen road is a further 5 km to the east.
For the Mourning Wheatear site head east out of Boumalne Dades on the N10 and take the first track left after passing the '48 Tinerhir' marker and follow this for about 2 km to some electricity pylons. Before the pylons you have a wadi to the left which you recognize by three caves. Check this wadi for the wheatear.




link to ornitholidays.co.uk

Dades Valley

( وادي دادس )

If staying in Boumalne Dades for the desert species you could also consider to venture up the mountains from here. The avifauna is completely different from the plains and the trip is worthwhile also for the breathtaking scenery. You can follow the valley of the Oued Dades, beginning in Boumalne Dades, for a range of interesting species up to the Dades gorge and further. It is possible to cross the mountains between Msemrir and Tamtattouchte (highest pass at 2639 m) and descend down the valley of Oued Todra. The full route, however, is quite long and you probably need a 4W drive, but by doing this you also have a chance of seeing several high altitude species. Alternatively you can drive up the Todra valley from Tinghir for the same sort of scenery and the same birds as in the Dades valley. It probably isn't worth the time and effort to do both.


a photo of the Dades gorge
A view from the upper part of Dades gorge
© Paul Gordon

Driving up the Oued Dades valley from Boumalne Dades you first drive through areas with agricultural fields, gardens, orchards and palm groves. Characteristic birds here are White Stork, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Scops Owl, Common Bulbul, Common Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler and Eurasian Golden Oriole. The Common Nightingale is particularily common (and vocal!) here. At slightly higher altitudes the valley gets steeper and more rocky, common birds here are Black Redstart, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Bunting. The river should be checked for Grey Wagtail, which is fairly common here. At the Dades gorge you should look out for Eurasian Crag Martin and Rock Dove is common. Around the gorge and further up in the mountains you should look out for Bonelli's Eagle, which is frequently sighted. Other raptors reported from this area are Golden Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard and Lanner Falcon.
After the village of Msemrir you get above 2000 m (but as said, you need a 4W drive). Birds recorded here are Barbary Partridge, Moussier's Redstart, Ring Ouzel (winter), Streaked Scrub Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Tristram's Warbler, Red-billed Chough, Trumpeter Finch and African Crimson-winged Finch. Near the pass (at 2639 m) you also have Horned Lark and the Moroccan race of Northern Wheatear (ssp. seebohmi ).
Please note: Although seemingly an impressive list of high-altitude species after Msemrir apparently few birders do a full roundtrip and I have no recent information as to how common or easy to find these birds actually are!

The birds in the Todra valley are roughly the same as in the Dades valley.


Birds in the Dades Valley

Villages, Gardens and Orchards:
White Stork, Eurasian Hoopoe, Eurasian Scops Owl, Common Bulbul, Common Nightingale, Common Blackbird, Cetti's Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler and Eurasian Golden Oriole.

Dades Gorge:
Bonelli's Eagle, Rock Dove, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Eurasian Crag Martin, Black Redstart, Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Bunting.

High Altitudes:
Barbary Partridge, Horned Lark, Moussier's Redstart, Ring Ouzel (winter), Northern Wheatear (ssp. seebohmi), Streaked Scrub Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Tristram's Warbler, Red-billed Chough, Trumpeter Finch and African Crimson-winged Finch.


Other Wildlife

The Barbary Ground Squirrel (Atlantoxerus getulus, سنجاب بربري) is rather common around the Dades gorge. A good place to look for this species is around the restaurants/souvenir shops on the upper side of the gorge.


Information

Permits:
No permits are needed for the Dades valley.

Food and accommodation:
There are several good options if you want to stay overnight in the valley as there are several affordable, but good, hotels to be found here. Alternatively you can stay in Boumalne Dades, see that section for more details.


Getting There

You get to the Dades valley from Boumalne Dades; the road leading up the valley (R704) begins at the N10 just north of the town center.
Likewise you get to the Todra valley by taking the R703 from Tinghir (50 km to the northeast of Boumane Dades).




Ouarzazate

( ورزازات )

A map of Ouarzazate and the Mansour Eddahbi dam a larger version of the previous map
A map of Ouarzazate and the Mansour Eddahbi dam.

Ouarzazate is a large town and the capital of Ouarzazate Province. Just outside the city is the desert, but another important feature here is the Mansour Eddahbi Dam ('Barrage El Mansour'), the only large body of water in the region. Not surprisingly then, this site can be excellent for waterbirds, both for wintering birds and migrants stopping over. The most interesting waterbird here might be the Ruddy Shelduck, the species breeds here and in the spring hundreds of birds can be seen on the water. Another good duck in the reservoir is Marbled Duck and they number here in the low tens in winter and spring. Of the common dabbling ducks Northern Shoveler and Eurasian Teal are the commonest, but you can also see Mallard, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Northern Pintail and sometimes Garganey.
The common western palaearctic herons can be seen at Mansour Eddahbi, Grey Heron and Little Egret are the commonest, but normally you can also expect Great Egret, Western Cattle Egret, Squacco Heron and Black-crowned Night Heron.
Of the shorebirds the most common are Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover (breeding), Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Little Stint, Common Snipe and Collared Pratincole, but a large number of additional waders occur here irregularily.
Resident raptors in this area include Long-legged Buzzard and Barbary Falcon, both of which are sometimes seen hunting around the reservoir or in the dry surroundings.
To get a good view over the reservoir you can drive east through town, turning right at the traffic lights to Ait Kdif and follow this road (Rue Ait Kdif) to the end. You can check the lake from the end of the road (unless water levels are very low) or explore this area on foot. To the north of the reservoir (14-20 km east of Ouarzazate) are also a number of tracks leading down to the shore, where you also get a good view of the lake and its birds; see 'getting there' below for details.


a photo of a flock of Ruddy Shelduck's
A group of Ruddy Shelduck

In the migration seasons good numbers of passerines migrate through and can be seen around the dam. One good spot for migrants is the area just to the east of the camping on the western shore of the dam (Ait Kdif). Checking the sparse vegetation here can on good days be very rewarding and birds reported here in April are Western Bonelli's Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Eurasian Blackcap, Western Orphean Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Common Nightingale, Black-eared Wheatear, Western Yellow Wagtail (ssp. iberiae ) and Tawny Pipit. From early April small numbers of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters are often seen together with the far more common European Bee-eater. White Wagtails of the Moroccan subspecies subpersonata are also regular here.
What also makes a days birding around the Mansour Eddahbi dam so rewarding is the fact that several interesting desert species can be found in the immediate vicinity of the dam. There aren't really any sites that hold any of these birds constantly, but several minor roads leading down to the northern shore of the dam, and the surroundings, should be checked. A good bird that is relatively often found here is the Mourning Wheatear, as well as White-crowned Wheatear and Black Wheatear. There are reports of Cream-colored Courser some years and four species of sandgrouse have been seen here (all but Lichtenstein's). There are also infrequent sightings of Bar-tailed, Desert, Thick-billed and Greater Hoopoe-Larks and in winter Tristram's Warbler is sometimes found here. Trumpeter Finch is regular to the north of the dam.


A map of tizi-n-tinifit and agdz with surroundings a larger version of the previous map
A map of Tizi-n-Tinifit and Agdz.

There are some sites further away from Ouarzazate that can be very interesting. 57 km to the southeast of Ouarzazate you have the impressive Tizi-n-Tinifit gorge. This is a well known breeding site for Pale Crag Martin. You can park just above the gorge (there is a large parking there for tourists) and watch the martins from above. Normally you see them at a distance and you probably need a telescope to enjoy them fully, but occasionally they can also be seen hunting higher up.
A very characteristic bird on this particular mountain is the Black Wheatear; about 14 km before the gorge the road starts to climb up the mountain from the surrounding plain and from this point on the White-crowned Wheatear is replaced with the Black Wheatear. Nowhere have I seen Black Wheatear as abundant as here.
10 km further on from Tizi-n-Tinifit you have the desert town of Agdz, from here you can take the R108 to the southwest. After 11 km you have an oasis to the right. You can bird the palm groves here which can be good for interesting birds as Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin and Laughing Dove. If there is any water in the stream behind the palm grove you can hang around there and wait for birds coming in to drink. The best part of this oasis might be a further two km along the road where you sometimes have some open water next to the road. Park here and check out the vegetation; sometimes it can be full of migrants! Blue-cheeked Bee-eater seems to be common here.
From here you can backtrack back to Ouarzazate or continue on the R108 for a longer roundtrip back to Ouarzazate, exploring other oases in this valley.
Another interesting option near Ouarzazate is some 30 km to the NW; if coming from Marrakesh you can leave the main N9 road at Amerzgane and drive through the stone desert on a minor road (1505) to the south. The length of this road, which is in good condition, is about 12 km before it joins the N10 to the south and from here it is a further 8 km back to the N9 towards Ouarzazate. There are reports of Mourning Wheatear and Thick-billed Lark here in the past (but no recent sightings that I am aware of). More common desert species here are Desert Lark, Thekla Lark, Desert Wheatear and White-crowned Wheatear. A site at Amerzgane village that you should not miss (even if you decide against the road through the desert) is where the road crosses the river just outside the village; the bushes here can be full of migrants and wintering passerines. After 9 km on the 1505 the road crosses another river and the vegetation here can likewise be good for migrants. An interesting breeding bird here is Blue Rock Thrush.


Birds in Ouarzazate
a photo of a Moroccan White Wagtail
A White Wagtail of the Moroccan subspecies subpersonata

The Reservoir at Ait Kdif:
Ruddy Shelduck, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal, Marbled Duck, Great Crested Grebe, White Stork, Great Cormorant, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, Western Cattle Egret, Squacco Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Western Osprey, Western Marsh Harrier, Black Kite, Eurasian Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Little Stint, Common Snipe, Collared Pratincole, Gull-billed Tern, Black Tern, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Crested Lark, White Wagtail (ssp. subpersonata) and Trumpeter Finch.

Migrant passerines at Ait Kdif:
Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Common Chiffchaff, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Eurasian Blackcap, Western Orphean Warbler (rare), Subalpine Warbler, Common Nightingale, Bluethroat, Northern Wheatear, Black-eared Wheatear, Western Yellow Wagtail (ssp. iberiae and flava) and Tawny Pipit.

Desert north of the reservoir:
Long-legged Buzzard, Cream-colored Courser, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Pin-tailed Sandgrouse, Crowned Sandgrouse, Spotted Sandgrouse, Barbary Falcon, Lanner Falcon, Southern Grey Shrike, Bar-tailed Lark, Desert Lark, Thick-billed Lark, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Spectacled Warbler, Tristram's Warbler (rare in winter), Mourning Wheatear, White-crowned Wheatear, Black Wheatear and Trumpeter Finch.

Tizi-n-Tinifit
Rock Dove, Desert Lark, Pale Crag Martin, Black Redstart and Black Wheatear.

Amerzgane
Thick-billed Lark (irregular), Desert Lark, Thekla Lark, White-crowned Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Mourning Wheatear (rare?), Blue Rock Thrush and Trumpeter Finch.


Information

Permits:
No permits are needed for Ouarzazate.

Food and accommodation:
Ouarzazate is not only the provincial capital, but also an important holiday destination in Morocco. Accommodation and food is thus not a problem and there is a wide selection of both in all price categories.


Getting There

Ouarzazate is easy to reach from Marrakesh on the N9 road (about 200 km) or on the N10 coming from Agadir (370 km, the N10 joins the N9 28 km west of Ouarzazate). Coming from the NE it is about 110 km from Boumalne Dades on the N10.
To get to the Ait Kdif area (western shore of the reservoir), follow the main 'Avenue Mohamed V' east through the town and turn right at the traffic lights onto 'Rue Ait Kdif' (signposted 'Ait Kdif'). Follow this road to the end (about 2 km) and park here.
To access the reservoir from the northern side there are several roads and tracks leading down to the shore from the main road, the best are probably the roads/tracks at km 8,2 (new surfaced road), km 14,3 (very rough track), km 15,7 (road OK, but potholed) and km 18,7 (good road). All distances are as measured from the traffic lights to 'Ait Kdif' in Ouarzazate.
For Tizi-n-Tinifit follow the N9 southeast out of Ouarzazate for 50 km (as measured from the large bridge in Ouarzazate). At the gorge there is a tourist parking overlooking the gorge.
Amerzgane is about 30 km to the northwest of Ouarzazate, on the main N9 road, and the 1505 leads south out of the village.