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Morocco 15 – 22 March 2016

In the foothills of the Anti Atlas

Honeyguide’s first dip into North Africa is just a small hop over the Mediterranean but certainly adds natural history spice. Just a short distance inland from coastal Agadir – with its pallid and little swifts – even many garden birds are unfamiliar. There’s a touch of glamour about Moussier’s redstart, house bunting and bulbuls, all widespread here.

Oued Massa – part of the Souss-Massa National Park – is a coastal wetland with easy birdwatching. Waders, terns and passerines of many species pass through, and we are here at an ideal time for passage birds including wagtails, swallows and bee-eaters. Inevitably there are herons, spoonbills, egrets and probably flamingos. Black-crowned tchagra – a bush-shrike - is more African than Mediterranean, though it can be skulking and tricky to see.

Low cliffs support the last truly wild population of the northern bald ibis. One of Europe’s rarest birds, intensive conservation efforts have brought it back from the brink of extinction.

Oued Massa
Oued Massa (Richard Hobbs/Sally Ward).

Part of the attraction of Morocco is the cultural charm, such as flat-roofed Berber villages, herds of sheep and goats and a distinctive cuisine. These are all in evidence at our holiday base, the Atlas Kasbah Eco-lodge, which has a feel of a small castle with its towers and ramparts. It provides friendly and comfortable accommodation run by owners Hassan, a Berber, and his wife Hélène, who is French, providing employment for local people in the kitchen and garden. We have heard good reports of the food: gently spiced, with couscous, tagine and an excellent mix of meats and vegetables, often with a French twist. Mint tea is a local speciality.

The eco-lodge – so named as it has strong environment values, such as using local produce, solar power and on water treatment – is situated in the Argan Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is called the ‘High Atlas’ mountains, though here we are in low hills, only 20 minutes from Agadir but a useful distance away from more developed coastal areas where tourism is concentrated.

This holiday is run jointly with our friends in N & S Wildlife & Walking Holidays, using one of Richard and Sally’s established bases. The itinerary will need little adapting: like Honeyguide they take it slowly and enjoy all types of wildlife. Richard is a very experienced botanist, and knows the Moroccan specialities that grow alongside more familiar Mediterranean flowers like Barbary nut iris, crown daisy and sand crocus.

Birds

Those above plus laughing dove, hoopoe, Bonelli’s and short-toed eagles, black and black-eared wheatears, Barbary partridge, woodchat and great grey shrikes and spotless starling. The ‘Maghreb’ mauritanica subspecies of magpie is distinctive with blue facial skin, and a potential ‘split’ as a new species. The holiday is about enjoying the local birds and other wildlife, rather than travelling distances to see lots of Moroccan specialities.


Common bulbul (Igor Maiorano)

Flowers

Near the coast there are bright yellow broomrape-like Cistanche phelyphaea, pink Frankenia and some astonishing large spurges, which at first glance appear to be large, prickly cacti. There are also more familiar plants such as wild lavender and thyme, plus mountain germander, rockroses, shrubby milkwort Polygala balansae and the interesting sounding Periploca – an odd milkweed relative. There are restharrows in pink and yellow, campanulas, toadflaxes and an endemic bugloss. An unusual annual is Papaver setigerum, a white poppy with a purple centre. Spring flowers can include Dipcadi, a brownish ‘bluebell’.

Other wildlife

Barbary ground squirrel, Moroccan subspecies of spur-thighed tortoise, several species of lizards and geckos.

Conservation project

A team of wardens safeguards nesting and feeding areas of the critically endangered northern bald ibis. The work is run by GREPOM, a small NGO and the new BirdLife partner for Morocco, supported by SEO/BirdLife Spain. Report from our donation of £800 in 2016 here and it's in June 2016 Birdwatching magazine here. Photos from the visit to the bald ibis colony on Facebook here.

bald ibis
Bald ibis (Igor Maiorano), supported by our conservation project on this holiday.

Holiday details

Price: £1,300 per person in twin or double room for a full week (Tuesday to Tuesday). Price does not include lunches or drinks with dinner.

Single room supplement: £120

En suite facilities

Flights: Scheduled easyJet flights London Gatwick to Agadir.

Deposit: £300

Maximum number (2/3 leaders): 14

Leaders

Richard Hobbs and Sally Ward have for many years run N & S Wildlife & Walking Holidays, a small company offering natural history holidays. They are based in a village near Norwich, close to the Honeyguide office, and as old friends of Chris are natural partners for Honeyguide. This is a holiday designed by Richard and Sally, and this year is jointly promoted. Richard worked for Norfolk Wildlife Trust for 17 years, ending up as Director, before concentrating on gardens (he runs a mail order seed company) and holidays.

Dip into the Honeyguide archive and you'll see that Richard was co-leader in Italy in 1995 in a holiday run jointly with the Wildlife Trusts in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Chris Durdin is the driving force behind Honeyguide, running holidays since 1991. For many years he combined this with his work for the RSPB in Eastern England, often the Society’s spokesman, but has been concentrating on Honeyguide full-time since 2009. Chris is the co-author of a book about Norfolk’s cranes. He’s also a qualified soccer coach, for one son’s under 13 year group. As a naturalist, Chris is an all rounder.


Argan trees in the Argan Biosphere Reserve: there is a thriving export market for argan oil.

For prices, see Holiday Details at the bottom of the page.

This holiday is run by N & S Wildlife & Walking Holidays working with Honeyguide: bookings are through Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays.

Moussier's redstart

Moussier's redstart (Igor Maiorano)

Holiday report

March 2016 holiday report here.

Photos from March 2016 on Facebook here.

Barbary ground squirrel

News

Our Morocco holiday base is a winner at the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2015 (November 2015).

Gold Winner: Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge was the "Best Hotel for Local Sourcing sponsored by Colorado Tourism Office".

"Judges reasons for winning: Based in Morocco’s Argan Forest near Agadir, the judges were impressed by Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge’s ability to report in detail on its impact on the local economy, with 81% of money spent within a 50km radius,and staff employed from nearby Berber communities.

"By offering guests local experiences such as cooking and craft classes, and starting up an organic food basket scheme with deliveries in Agadir and neighbouring villages, Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge has successfully developed wide a range of economic activities with the local Berber communities to their mutual advantage." More information here.

Atlas Kasbah Eco-lodge, above and below (Richard Hobbs/Sally Ward).

house bunting

House bunting (Igor Maiorano)

Cistanche phelypaea

Cistanche phelypaea

Barbary nut iris

Barbary nut iris

argan trees

Argan trees in the Argan Biosphere Reserve (Richard Hobbs/Sally Ward), a species endemic to this area. There is a thriving trade in argan oil, for food and in cosmetics. More on Wikipedia here.

Holiday leaders

Sally Ward and Richard Hobbs
Sally Ward and Richard Hobbs

Chris Durdin

Chris Durdin in Extremadura, February 2015 (Howard Bayliss).

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Atol protected

The air holidays shown are ATOL Protected by the Civil Aviation Authority. Our ATOL number is ATOL 3253. ATOL Protection extends primarily to customers who book and pay in the United Kingdom. Click on the ATOL logo if you want to know more.

Helping you enjoy wildlife – Helping you protect wildlife