Indoor Meetings about Birds and Wildlife

From Marrakech to Massa
by Chris Ward

Date: Thursday 11 April 2019 at 19:30


Thirty-two people attended this meeting, at which Chris Ward gave an illustrated talk about a bird watching tour that his wife Caroline and he undertook in Morocco. The trip began near Marrakech and ended in the arid desert of the northern Sahara, travelling through the Atlas Mountains and the high rocky desert south of the mountains.

The visit was made in springtime to avoid the scorching 50°C temperatures of summer and also to catch some of the migrants heading from Africa to Europe.

The presentation began with a surprise! Snow in the mountains and several birds that were the same as or similar to species found in the UK, eg mistle thrush (slightly lighter in colour than ours), black redstart, two species of chough - red-billed (like ours) and yellow-billed (the alpine chough). The Atlas race of shore lark (or horned lark), the alpine accentor (very like our dunnock) and the crimson-winged finch (very like our hawfinch) were also found up in the mountains.

Further down the mountains on the edge of the rocky desert, Tristram’s warbler, fulvous babbler (normally a desert bird) and the once very rare northern bald ibis of which only 59 were known when this visit was made. Happily, intense conservation has resulted in a recovery to 150 nesting pairs in 2018. This is not the prettiest of birds with its vulture-like head and neck but a joy to behold in conservation terms.

Into the rocky desert and there were still plenty of species eking out a living in the sparse vegetation – Moroccan stonechat, linnet, Spanish sparrow, common bulbul, Mousier’s redstart which is very small, bush shrike and on the banks of a few pools of water were spoonbill, greenshank and stone curlew.

Now further east and south the terrain is becoming more desert like with sand and less vegetation, but we still see more species – desert lark, desert wheatear and three grouse species (sand, crowned and spotted). The male sand grouse collects water in its specially absorbent chest feathers and flies away from the water deep into the desert to provide water for its recently hatched young. It is safer to rear their young in the deep desert than near water. Trumpeter finch were abundant. Moving to Boumalne Dades, we saw our first and only mammal of the show the fat sand rat; which is ideal prey for the long legged buzzard. Migrant waders passing through include cream-coloured courser, Temminck’s horned lark, red-rumped wheatear (morning wheatear), rock thrush, subalpine warbler, Bonelli’s eagle, house bunting, white-crowned black wheatear, white wagtail, Moroccan pied wagtail, African desert warbler, little owl and the magnificent desert eagle owl.

Finally, on to Merzouga where large pools of water from recent rain held short-toed lark, greater hoopoe lark, North African water frog, very pink flamingo, marbled teal and ruddy shelduck.

Morocco has a surprising specie count for a country known for its mountains and desert. Its bird life is varied but not teeming with spectacular species, none the less it was a delight to see such a variety of birds and Chris does have a wonderful ability to continually involve and amuse his audience, as well as entertaining and educating. Morocco is not a country of endless magnificent scenery although Chris did capture some beautiful scenery and a spectacular sunrise! A really worthwhile evening.

During the evening Brian Clews asked for volunteers to monitor the number of house sparrows and house martins in their local Maidenhead area. If anyone is interested and can help please email Brian Clews at to register your support and the area you are willing to cover. Further information will be sent on how to enter records.

--- Original Programme Information ---


This talk takes us on a journey around central and southern Morocco, a wonderful and easily accessible country in north west Africa. It is best visited in winter and early spring. From Marrakech and the snow-capped High Atlas mountains we travel to the coast, visiting well-known birding sites of Massa and Tamri in search of one of the world’s rarest species. Then we briefly visit some exotic towns and cities. Most of the talk then looks at the deserts and sand dunes of Boumalne, Merzouga and Erfoud, near the northern edge of the Sahara.

Oukaimeden Haut Atlas   Erg Chebbi
Oukaimeden, Haut Atlas   Erg Chebbi, Merzouga

Here in southern Morocco, birds seem to be everywhere!

Exciting birds, including numerous desert and high-altitude specialities, are a major feature of the talk.  Always set in a spectacular setting of deserts and mountains…

Red-rumped Wheatear   Shore Lark ('Atlas' race)
Red-rumped Wheatear   Shore Lark ('Atlas' race)
Cream-coloured Courser   Northern Bald Ibis
Cream-coloured Courser - Tagdilt track   Northern Bald Ibis


Chris is an experienced lecturer, having presented talks to over 250 clubs and societies. He is a keen traveller and a wildlife photographer for over 30 years. A former Group Leader of the RSPB North Bucks Local Group for 10 years (committee member for 30 years) and a former member of the Buckinghamshire Birds Rarities Committee for 15 years.

All pictures are © Copyright. Do not reproduce without permission from Chris Ward.