(Ouarzazate, Zagora), (s, central)

 31o35´N/05o35´W ha Atlas Mountains, spectacular scenery 
Protected/registered status 
Best Time for visit (May-June 1994)


Birding Site Guide

As well as excellent birding in the good patches of habitat in the spectacular Atlas Mountains, the scenery is unbelievable. On top of this a little further SW and you are getting into true sandy desert. 

Getting to Zagora via Ouarzazate in the SW by bus is no problem, the bus to Ouarzazate cost 46D and stopped at Taddart on the way. It can be cramped however, and in Morocco we always found it far more comfortable travelling on the slightly more expensive trains anywhere we could, which usually had huge old Victorian style carriages and were often empty because for the locals they were far too expensive, but still only a few pounds! Then you can either head up to the mountains first or from Zagora go south into the desert. Accommodation is abundant, do not let self-appointed guides rip you off! If you tell them you want a basic hotel and they take you somewhere plush, simply tell them no and they will not get a tip if they do not find you somewhere cheaper – it works, you have no contract and can just walk away if they do not comply or hassle you. If you get a lot of hassle threaten people with the police, Morocco has quite strict laws about hassling tourists and letting the local hawkers know you know this will always work. 
The Todgha Gorge is some 5km further up and walking up here along the main river valley we saw Lammergier (x 3 probably a family) and at the top of valley through the hills at the far end excellent views of juvenile Lanner Falcon. In the one full day we spent in the Ouarzazate - Dades - Todgha area we also saw Ruddy Shelduck, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Chukar, Pallid Swift, Tawny/little? Owl, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Black Redstart, Desert Wheatear (towards Er Rachidia), Black Wheatear, White-crowned Black Wheatear, Blue Rock-Thrush, Hoopoe, Great Grey and Woodchat Shrike, Grag Martin, Raven and other commoner species such as Black Kite, Barn Swallow, House Martin and Grey and Yellow Wagtail, Olivaceous Warbler, and common waders. Nightingales are common in the scrubby valleys lower down. Many of the desert species, such as sandgrouse, can be seen by taking a camel ride into the desert from Zagora. Our guides took us in the evening to stay out in the night under the stars and admire the desert the next day. We went around 20km into the desert. The guides spoke no English (French is useful though) and cost 250 D each, but there are hidden extra costs, for a scarf and for camel feed, but these amounted to only 65 D. The food they cooked in the desert was a superb traditional tagine. No doubt a more single minded birding trip than ours would turn up much more. Unfortunately this was not a birding trip and I only joined as a last minute stand in, as the only birder, with no money, no plan and a short trip. 

These areas are popular tourist and holiday sites, and there could be many people camping along the most scenic parts of the river. Even further along 4-wheel drives will be present. But you can camp anywhere (even if you have to pay a small fee) just pick your spot carefully away from the crowds and any dodgy people who might be in wandering distance in the night.

Unfortunately, even though we were well away from most people some scabby mongrel was howling all night and in the early hours was sniffing round me in my army sleeping bag on the riverside. I got virtually no sleep and it ruined an otherwise superbly beautiful site and night.

Author: BSG