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 (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.
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)
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’.
Barbary ground squirrel, Moroccan subspecies of spur-thighed tortoise, several species of lizards and geckos.
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 (Igor Maiorano), supported by our conservation project on this holiday.
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.
Maximum number (2/3 leaders): 14
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.