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WEATHER: hot, dry and sunny all  top temp 25C

A House Bunting was singing in the dark at 6am this morning when I got up and opened my balcony door. It reminded of yesterday afternoon when several of these little beauties were flying around the hotel grounds.

The whole group was assembled at our first hotel in Marrakech in readiness for the tour to start at 9am after breakfast. Yesterday three of us arrived quite early in the afternoon and we went for short birding walk around 4pm after we had checked-in and had a late lunch. House Buntings were scavenging around the el fresco dining tables alongside the swimming pool in the hotel courtyard, we also saw Common Bulbul, House Sparrow, Pallid and Common Swifts.

Common Bulbul above and House Bunting below are two of the most common species in Marrakech! Both taken by Tony Moore

We walked to a small park about 400 meters from the hotel and discovered a little birding haven, the park was well groomed, lawns, flowerbeds, shrubs and bushes, it even had a cactus garden. We saw a Booted Eagle flyover and a Common Kestrel as well as Little Swifts.

Common Redstart taken by Tony Moore in the park on the 19th - Pre-tour Day

We spent an hour in the garden and discovered, Common Redstart, Sardinian Warbler, Willow Warbler, Eurasian Siskin, Eurasian Hoopoe, Blackbird, Spotless Starling, Wood Pigeon and Feral Pigeon. We heard Serin, Goldfinches and Greenfinches and watched Common Bulbuls and more House Buntings.

another picture by Tony Moore taken in the park on the 19th. 

This morning was very different, we awoke to overcast conditions and it rained for a couple of hours mid-morning. We re-visited the park with most of the group at 6:30am only to find that it did not open until 7am. So we walked around the perimeter for 30 minutes or so and found a good number of species. The hotel had provided us with the Common Bulbul, House Sparrow, Feral Pigeon and the House Bunting and we added Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Greenfinch and Common Swift as we walked towards the park.

Sardinian Warbler taken by Tony Moore - today 20th March Day 1 of the Tour

We spent some time watching a Booted Eagle gathering nesting material from one tree and flying across a road to deposit it at the nest site. Sardinian Warbler showed very well a couple of time and when we eventually got into the park we added Red-rumped Swallow, Spotless Starling and Willow Warbler. Some of the group had nice views of Pallid Swifts.

After a nice buffet breakfast we were on our bus ready for the official tour, our first destination was the High Atlas Mountains at Oukaimedan some 70km away. We drove through drizzling rain for most of the journey and only added a couple of species during the first part of the drive. We saw White Stork and Woodchat Shrike along the roadside.

After a stop to pick up lunch supplies we entered the Ourika Valley and stopped by the river. The rain had stopped and it looked like it was clearing up. We saw Eurasian Sparrowhawk circling above the hillside, a Moroccan Wagtail, a Cattle Egret, some Barn Swallows and Sand Martins. We also heard a Nightingale singing.

Moussier's Redstart taken by Tony Moore

A second stop at regular site for Levaillant’s Woodpecker produced a sighting of the very same woodpecker as soon as we got off the bus. We saw it again a couple of times but only in flight. We also watched Greenfinches, African Chaffinch, African Blue Tit and Great Tit.

Next we stop at a large area of rocky scree just above a village where we found our very first Moussier’s Redstart, in fact, we found two pairs of them. We also saw Northern Raven, North African Buzzard, Red-billed Chough, Blue Rock Thrush and Black Wheatear.

after breaking through the clouds we found this snow-less landscape at Oukaimedan

Our next stop was also our lunch stop, we parked in the middle of a pine woodland and within minutes we were watching a Firecrest. We also found a few African Chaffinches, Coal Tits, Mistle Thrush and then David called out a Hawfinch, we found two of them feeding in the same tree as the Coal Tit. Christopher found a Short-toed Treecreeper, he called that one out but no-one appeared to hear him, so it was a one-person sighting, but a good one. A Goshawk circled above us no long before we left.

a Hawfinch stuffing its face in the larch trees

Further up the road and very near to the plateau on which Oukaimedan is built we stopped to view a stream which flowed some 30 meters below the road. From our roadside view we could see a good section of the stream on which we found at least 2 pairs of White-throated Dippers,  a pair of Grey Wagtails, several Black Redstarts, more Black Wheatears, a bunch of Red-billed Choughs, two Yellow-billed Chough and a Common Kestrel.

Yellow-billed Chough, we had several sightings of this species, taken by Tony Moore

At the dam we stopped to scan the reservoir where 4 Common Coots were feeding, we saw a Green Sandpiper on the stream and another Dipper in the overflow duct.

Oukaimedan itself was very disappointing, it was virtually bird-less and totally snow-less. It was also RAMADAN and not many people were about, the cafes and shops were mainly closed. The sky was clear blue but a very chilly wind howled  down from the mountain peaks.

We drove to the mirador, the viewpoint from where Mount Toubkal (4160 Meters – approx. 12,000ft) was visible. We saw more Moussier’s Redstarts and Black Redstarts and also our one and on ly Rock Bunting. Our walk back down to the village also produce much of the same, including another Mistle Thrush.

A view of Mount Toubkal, 4160 meters the highest peak in Morocco

At the upper-ski car park we searched the usual places for Atlas Horned lark and Crimson-winged Finch and saw neither of them. We had to walk quite distance along a track to get a view of the Lark but we never caught up with a Crimson-winged Finch. During our progress up the valley looking for the Finch we found a nice male Seebohm Wheatear and a beautifully marked male Northern Wheatear. Apart from dozens of Chough, Black Redstarts and Moussier’s Redstarts we saw little else.

The Seebohm Wheatear - taken by Tony Moore

Another picture by Tony Moore - Atlas Horned Lark

It was 5pm when we finally gave up on the Finches, they were not coming today, the market was closed and no food was lying around for them to snaffle up. It was dark as we reached our hotel back down in the Ourika Valley, we had a nice chicken tajine for dinner and a cold beer.