Birdwatching Morocco – Mountains, Sea, Marshes and Wind-swept Dunes

While birdwatching in Morocco, I don’t know what hit me first – the hypnotic music, the bustling voices in the marketplace, or the smells of spiced vegetables and meat grilling on open barbecues in the Djemaa el Fna Square in Marrakesh. This was the first stop on our week-long, winter, Morocco birding extravaganza and we didn’t want to miss a thing. We spent the night in Marrakesh, eating well, strolling among the crowd, and purchasing spices and souvenirs at the bazaar.

Temminck’s Lark

Ourika Valley

For our second morning of birdwatching in Morocco, we woke up early. We headed to the Ourika Valley, not far from the city. Snow covered the ragged Jbel Toubkal – the highest peak in Morocco. The bright sun felt good on our faces. This was going to be a great day for birding. Within minutes of arriving, we spotted a Bearded Vulture soaring on splendid wings over the snow-covered valley. As we walked, we saw Red-billed Choughs scampering on the ground in small groups, and Horned Larks and Rock Sparrows were everywhere. On our way down, we even saw a Little Owl and a lovely Moussier’s Redstart.

Little Owl

In search of the Bald Ibis

Though it was thrilling to spend time with these birds,  I most wanted to see the Bald Ibis. With only 300 individuals left, this is one of the most endangered birds in the world. As we slowly wound our way down the coast in search of this elusive species, we observed Audouin’s Gulls and Barbary Partridges. Joyfully, we finally spotted the dark shapes of the Bald Ibises as they wandered along the sand dunes, probing for insects with their long beaks. After parking, we snaked our way quietly toward the beach.  We inched closer to the birds to get a better view, careful not to disturb them. We observed them for quite a while from a distance, taking photos and just enjoying the splendor of being in the presence of such an amazing bird.

Northern Bald Ibis

Souss-Massa National Park

After the thrill of spending time observing Bald Ibises along the Moroccan coast, we continued south, for there were more amazing birds to be seen. We visited the beautiful Souss-Massa National Park to see the Black-crowned Tchagra and the Moroccan Magpie. We saw Barbary Falcons perched on telephone poles in open fields. At the Ouarzazate Lagoon, we observed Marbled Ducks, Ruddy Shelducks, Squacco Herons and Crested Grebes. We also saw Yellow Wagtails, White-crowned Wheatears and the flashy Blue-throats  along the edge of the lake.

Sahara Desert

The next day we left the warm waters of Ouarzazate and headed to the Sahara. There, we stopped in the hills of Boumalne Dades to try our luck with some birds such as the Greater Hoopoe Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Red-rumped Lark, Temminck’s Lark and Trumpeter Finch… And saw them all!

We arrived in the desert in the late afternoon to the sight of red sand dunes jutting from the earth, camels wandering lazily in the sun, and Brown-necked Ravens scampering across the ground. We took an ATV ride across the dunes to a small patch of palm trees where a small flock of Desert Sparrows could be seen flitting in and out of the trees. This species, once common throughout the area, is now almost limited to small oases in the middle of the desert.

Desert dunes

Before leaving the desert, we were able to see some of the most charistmatic birds of the region: Tristram’s Warbler,  Desert Wheatear, Streaked Scrub-Warbler, African Desert Warbler, a good flock of Spotted Sandgrouse and finally, as a parting gift, the Houbara Bustard.

Tristam’s Warbler

Forest of the Cedars

One of our last stops was in The Forest of the Cedars – where families of monkeys sat by the side of the road or in the trees, watching us with interest as we walked through the forest. Morocco really is a country of contrasts. Only a few hours ago we were in a vast desert. Here, shadowy paths wind between tall trees, and birdsong echoes in our ears. We spotted Mistle Thrush, Coal Tit, Levaillant’s Woodpecker, Eurasian Nuthatch, Short-toed Tree-Creeper, North African Chaffinch and African Blue Tit.

The week of birdwatching in Morocco passed quickly. When I boarded the plane back home, I was filled with good memories of our Morocco Birding tour. It has been an enlightening and amazing trip filled with good food, great company, interesting culture, and of course, some pretty special birds – a total of 132 species in all. It was a fabulous way to ring in the New Year!

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