Friday, 24 April 2015

Birding Ourika Valley and Oukaimeden, Morocco

A trip to Marrakech wouldn't be complete without visiting the high Atlas Mountains, especially as they are only 90 minutes away.

The road out of Marrakech following the Ourika river valley towards Oukaimeden is full of birding opportunities, and I had to stop our driver on a couple of occasions as I picked up first a Southern Grey Shrike and then a Woodchat Shrike on the telegraph wires.

Ourika Valley,Oukaimeden, Morocco

My main target bird though was Levaillant's Woodpecker which could possibly be found anywhere along our route. Stopping at what I thought might be the most suitable habitat along the river, almost immediately I could here the familar yaffle of a Picus Woodpecker, the bird was quite difficult to pick out amongst the heavily covered vegetation and no prizes will be given for the photograph below, but I did eventually locate the calling bird and good views were had of this North African endemic Woodpecker. I also found familiar UK birds along the lush river valley such as Grey WagtailGreat Spotted Woodpecker, Blackcap and Nightingale, along with a couple of good regional birds African Chaffinch and African Blue Tit.

Ourika Valley, Oukaimeden, Morocco

As we started to gather height continuing our journey towards Oukaimeden, another stop at the side of the road, near to what I think was a small electricity power station resulted in finding another prize bird of the high Atlas Mountains - a cracking male Moussier's Redstart. As I tried to capture that all important record shot, a pair of displaying Booted Eagles called above us, sending the Redstart into cover. Whilst stopping I also picked up a pair of Crag Martins and Ravens along the valley ridge.

Oukaimeden, Morocco

Reaching the top and parking up next to the dammed lake, we had clearly picked the best day weather wise for our day trip - beautiful clear blue skies greeted us and not a breath of wind. Both Red-Billed and Alpine Choughs were numerous, I also found singing male Black Redstart on top of one of the buildings and a small flock of Rock Sparrows, before crossing the dam and heading into the rocky outcrop.

I soon found a male Blue Rock Thrush sat up on the rocks - sadly the views were only brief. I also flushed a sandy coloured Little Owl presumably saharae race out from the rocks as we crossed lower into the valley. Here I found both male and female Seebohm's Wheatear and then amongst the cover of the rocks a smart male Black Wheatear - despite my best efforts, photographing both Wheatears became mission impossible as neither were very approachable, as I lost them amongst the large rocks, and climbing over the rocky outcrop left me breathless in the thinning mountain air - I'm not getting any younger.

Oukaimeden, Morocco

Oukaimeden, Morocco, Yellow-billed Chough

Oukaimeden, Morocco

Oukaimeden, Morocco

Moving on a little further towards the ski lifts another male Moussier's Redstart was flirting along the edge of the rocks, but now the increasingly warm and sunny conditions had put paid to getting any decent photographs. I soon discovered much of the snow had retreated and my hopes of finding Crimson-Winged Finch along the snow line weren't looking good - especially as most of the sightings seem to be early mornings. I did however find another target bird Atlas Shore Lark, three confiding birds were feeding around a grass-fringed muddy puddle, leftover from the melting snow.

Oukaimeden, Morocco

Oukaimeden, Morocco

I continued to search for those endemic Finch's without any luck, and even the amazing views couldn't hold the attention of Mrs B forever so I decided to call it a day - a wee bit disappointed not to have seen one of my target birds, but I couldn't complain with what I had seen in the short time I had in the mountains, and with the thought of a Moroccan hammam spa waiting for us back at the riad, the disappointment of missing those Crimson-winged Finch's was short lived - anyway you always need a good reason to return.

Oukaimeden, Morocco
At around 2600m stunning views can be had across the Atlas Mountains from Oukaimeden






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