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WEATHER: fantastic, wall to wall sunshine all day, light breeze. Top Temp 23C

What a fantastic start to our 11 day Tour of Morocco, the weather was fabulous with bright sunshine all day and very light winds. It is very rare to go up to 8,000ft and not encounter some cloud cover, we were so lucky.

Our group assembled in the breakfast room at our hotel at 8am and by 9am we were on our way, we saw several birds around the hotel as well as a stunning male House Bunting which joined us in the dining room. Serins, Common Bulbuls and Hoopoe went on the list as well as dozens of swifts of three species, Common, Pallid and Little Swifts.

on the way towards the Atlas Mountains

Along the road towards the mountains we stopped several times to look at birds in flight or perched in prominent places along the roadside. A Black-winged Kite was a great call by Phil, seen by a few of the group but we could not relocate it once we had piled off the bus. We did see Red-rumped and Barn Swallows and a Great Grey Shrike.

Queen-of-Spain Fritillary found one the way up to Oukaimedan

Another stop in the Ourika Valley produced sightings of Sardinian Warbler, African Chaffinch, Serin, Greenfinch, Common Kestrel, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and a real beauty, a Great-spotted Cuckoo. A little further along the valley we stopped to look at a raptor circling over a ridge, another shout by Phil, turned out to be a Bonelli’s Eagle, wowzah!

not a bad spot for our picnic

As we climbed up into the mountains towards Oukaimedan we stopped to scan a rocky valley and found a couple of male Moussier’s Redstarts and a Common Kestrel. A large mixed flock of Chough flew over, both Red-billed and Alpine (yellow-billed) were seen by some of the group.

our first of several Moussier's Redstart sightings

Our picnic stop was in a clearing amongst a copse of pine trees with a back-drop of snow-capped peaks, a chilly breeze swept through the pines but it did not stop our enjoyment. We saw lots of species during the hour we spent there, more Chaffinches appeared both Common and African, also African Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Serin, Siskin and after a short walk we bumped into a flurry of Firecrests. We even saw one Firecrest foraging on the ground, another pair came so close we could have reached out and touched them!

a Firecrest foraging in the grass? This Moroccan subspecies has a white band right across the forehead

We finished this session with a sighting of a single Hawfinch, found once again by Phil, the bird was a bit elusive but I think that most of us saw it. Mistle Thrushes and Black Redstarts were also present throughout our stay in the pines.

Black Wheatear

Just before we reached the small village of Oukaimedan we stopped in small ravine where a babbling brook raced down the mountainside. There we saw Black Wheatear, more Black Redstarts, Rock Bunting, Blue Rock Thrush, Common Kestrel and more Red-billed Choughs. White-throated Dipped was seen well in the stream but we couldn’t find Water Pipit anywhere.

Red-billed Chough

A quick stop at the Lake just before Oukaimedan produced three Common Coots a Northern Wheatear and we saw a flock of 70+ Red-billed Chough feeding on the grass meadow. We were now up at 8,000ft, the air was much thinner but the temperature was fine.

the beautiful scenery around the Lake at Oukaimedan

With snow all around us on the peaks we searched for Atlas Horned Lark, we found good numbers of Rock Sparrows, more Black Redstarts and more Moussier’s Redstarts before we finally found the Horned Lark. Whilst searching the mountainside for the lark we had great but short views, of a Barbary Falcon which dashed over the top of us.

Rock Bunting

Finally we drove round the upper car park where we hoped to see African Crimson-winged Finch, boy did we have a great time watching those little beauties! They were seen in ones and twos at first, but soon we found a great flock of fifty or more birds. They were raiding a ‘free sample’ tray of nuts on a stall near the car park, we got so close to them.

Atlas Horned Lark

thieves at work - African Crimson-winged Finches

A good number of Atlas Horned Larks were also fliting about on the rubble above the car park and with a mixed flock of finches we got sightings of two Bramblings, one was a stunning male in summer plumage.

record shots of the Brambling in summer plumage

I had to drag the group away from the finches, we searched for Seebohm’s Wheatear without success and gave up on the Water Pipit. We made another couple of stops without adding to our list before we set off back down the mountains.

the peak in the distance is Mount Toubkal, at 4,167 meters, which is 13,671ft, above sea level

On the way down we saw a Levaillant’s Woodpecker fly across the road and over the bus, so we stopped to look for it. We could hear it calling several time but we never saw it perched. Two other stops to look for the woodpecker produced nothing.

the view from my room in the hotel along the Ourika Valley

We got down to our hotel around 5:30pm it was still light as we checked in and after a quick shower and brush-up we sat down to eat dinner at 7pm. Tajine was the main course and it was delicious.

We called the bird-log and all went off to their rooms for an early night.