This is the first in the Crossbill Guides series to cover any part of mainland Africa. Coverage is a roughly rectangular area of 500 km by 300 km, west from Marrakech to Essaouira, south to Guelmim and east to Erfoud. This area includes some of the best birding habitat in Morocco, with the High Atlas in the north, the Anti-Atlas in the south, and the high steppes and desert plains in between. The author has visited the area regularly for the last 20 years and leads several tours to the region annually.
Morocco is a relatively safe country with around 700,000 British tourists visiting every year, although relatively few of those visiting Marrakech venture far from the city and its amazing medina and souk. For the birder, however, there are compelling reasons to leave the city. For a start, Morocco is the only country in the world to have a totally wild population of Northern Bald Ibises Geronticus eremita. There are also a number of specialities that are shared with other north African countries. These include the highly elusive Maghreb OwlStrix mauritanica and birds such as Barbary Partridge Alectoris barbara, Levaillant’s Woodpecker Picus vaillantii, African Desert Warbler Curruca deserti, Tristram’s Warbler C. deserticola, Moussier’s Redstart Phoenicurus moussieri and African Crimson-winged Finch Rhodopechys alienus, and a handful of recently split species, such as Maghreb Lark Galerida macrorhyncha, Maghreb Wheatear Oenanthe halophila, AtlasWheatear O. seebohmi and Maghreb Magpie Pica mauritanica. In addition, southern Morocco has around 300 endemic plant species, plus a fascinating range of dragonflies, butterflies and reptiles.
All Crossbill Guides follow the same basic layout with three sections. In the first section the landscape and local history are described, including the impacts on nature conservation. Each of the main ecosystems is explored, along with geological features that affect wildlife. The second section describes the range of species that can be encountered – flora, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. The third section describes 25 routes that can be explored, mostly by car. These are grouped by zone: High Atlas (five routes), High Arid Steppe (four), Sahara (five), the Souss Valley (four), Anti-Atlas (three) and the coast (four). Several additional sites are covered briefly. For all of these locations, there are basic maps showing the route and suggested stopping points. Rather than focus solely on the bird interest, the Crossbill Guides are always quick to point out all wildlife in the area.
This book is clearly designed for the independent traveller, although a number of local specialities such as Egyptian Nightjar Caprimulgus aegyptius and Pharaoh Eagle-Owl Bubo ascalaphus are best found using local guides and details of locations are not given in this book. Indeed, some species are found in remote places where you really don’t want to get lost or suffer from car trouble. There is plenty of advice on how to visit, with the spring and autumn offering the greatest variety of birds and pleasant weather – although there can still be snow in April.