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For many consecutive wintersNaturetrek groups have been happilyplying the Souss Valley westwards,from the foothills of the High AtlasMountains to Morocco's spectacularAtlantic coast south of Agadir. Here, in theautumn, late winter and spring, the nearbyestuaries of the Oued Souss and OuedMassa are thronged with migratingwaders, gulls and terns. We watch Red-necked Nightjars at the Royal Palaceentrance (if the King is not in residence!),and sea-watch for Cory's and BalearicShearwaters at dramatic Cap Rhir. Yet it isthe draw of one of the Western Palearctic'smost enigmatic - and endangered -birds, the Northern Bald Ibis, which hasprovided the highlight of so many previoustours, and will be the primary focus of thisrelaxing long weekend.The 33,800-hectare Souss-Massa NationalPark was created in 1991. Lying betweenAgadir to the north and Sidi Ifni to thesouth, this Atlantic coastal site incorporatesa variety of habitats, ranging from Arganiaspinosawoodland, cultivated fields andRetama and Euphorbia steppe, to dunes,cliffs, sandy beaches and wetlands. Itencompasses the estuaries of the OuedSouss (the northern limit of the park) andthe Oued Massa, a large and magicallagoon that has formed where the estuaryis cut off from the sea by sand dunes. Welong believed the Souss-Massa to beworthy of a tour in its own right, and it iswithin this national park, nestled betweengolden dunes and with splendid panoramicviews of the Atlantic Ocean, that we founda wonderfully appointed hotel, the perfectbase for a short, rewarding, yet relaxingbirdwatching holiday. With Morocco's richheritage in mind, the owners have built anddecorated their hotel tastefully, using a finemix of traditional materials, localhandicrafts and luxurious carpets andfabrics, all collected from Morocco's variedand bustling souks. The lavishness of thebeds and bedclothes, indeed of all fixturesand fittings, exude a feeling of calm andinvite relaxation. We will have plenty of timeto fully enjoy the hotel's enviable location!A relaxed five days is envisaged, for someof the best local birding is available fromthe hotel terrace! Together with an open-air pool, the hotel boasts a traditionalHammam (Turkish bath/massage room)offering a suite of health treatments, andfine cuisine (salads and grilled fish andmeat being a particular speciality) to beenjoyed on a beautiful outdoor terraceoverlooking the ocean. The Souss-Massa National Park holds awealth of birds, and the diversity ofhabitats within it ensures us of a widevariety during our stay. However, the parkderives its greatest importance from itsprotection of three of the four Moroccanbreeding colonies of the Northern BaldIbis. These three colonies are located oncoastal cliffs within the park and totalled33 breeding pairs in 2000, or 52% of theMoroccan and world population. Severalroost sites exist, and most of the coastalsteppes and fallow fields are used asfeeding areas at different times of the year.In addition, the park attracts a host ofmigrant birds, both on passage and duringthe winter. In fact, almost anything can anddoes turn up here and the chance offinding a vagrant from southern Africa orthe Americas adds to the excitement ofthis locality. However, it is the plight of theIbis which provides the principal focus onthis tour. In the face of threatened invasivetourism development, severalorganisations, including the RSPB andBirdLife International, are working toprotect the Northern Bald Ibis whosebreeding population now stands at over100 pairs, of which 75 pairs breed in theSouss-Massa National Park and 25 in theTamri region, 60 kilometres north of Agadir. On this holiday we will be following ourusual Moroccan tour format, with ourminibus being driven by our local driver inorder to provide flexibility in our explorationof the park and to ensure a relaxed pace.Tamri will certainly be on our list of places tovisit, a real stronghold for the Ibis. BarbaryFalcons can regularly be seen around thecliffs here, whilst the beach often supportsa flock of Audouin's Gulls in a variety ofplumages. At other times our focus willremain within the picturesque Souss-MassaNational Park where, during the five days inwhich we explore its rich mosaic of habitats,a wealth of birds may include such speciesas Greater Flamingo, Bald Ibis, Glossy Ibis,Marbled Teal, Ferruginous Duck, CommonCrane, Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Tawny Eagle,Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Black-wingedStilt, Laughing Dove, Alpine Swift, PlainMartin, Tawny Pipit, Black-crowned Tchagra,Zitting Cisticola and Moustached Warbleramongst many others.For pleasant winter warmth and sunshine,good birding, an appreciation ofconservation in action and authentic local hospitality, we think this holiday is hard to beat!Morocco-A BaldIbisBreak!A relaxing 5-day holiday, based in a comfortable and exclusive beach retreat, to the Souss-MassaNational Park, Morocco's finest birdwatching site and home to the endangered Bald Ibis.Thursday 25th October - Monday 29th October 2012 Cost: £995Tuesday 12th February - Saturday 16th February 2013 Cost: £995Tuesday 15th October - Saturday 19th October 2013 Cost: £995 Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Agadir; transfer Souss-Massa National Park.Day 2/4Souss-Massa National Park.Day 5Fly London.Accommodation A very comfortable beach hotel(with private facilities), remotelysituated in the national park andwith fabulous views of thecoastline. Food All included in the price.GradingDay walks only. A. Focus Birds, the Bald Ibis conservationstory, and relaxation!LeaderRichard Bashford, Chris Murphy,Mohamed Zaki or Bob Dawson.Single room supplement£150.Web quick search: MAR03156Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryS. MOROCCOALGERIAMEDITERRANEAN SEAATLANTIC OCEANMOROCCOEL KELAAMERZOUGAAGADIRERFOUDTODRAGORGEMIDDLE ATLAS MOUNTAINSHIGH ATLAS MOUNTAINSTANGIERCASABLANCAMARRAKECHOUED MASSAANTI ATLAS MOUNTAINSTAROUDANTOUARZAZATENorthern Bald IbisOur beach hotel

Southern Morocco A 10-day birdwatching tour to the deserts, oases and mountains of southern Morocco's kasbah country.Thursday 21st February - Saturday 2nd March Cost: £1,495Thursday 7th March - Saturday 16th March Cost: £1,595Thursday 21st March - Saturday 30th March Cost: £1,595Thursday 4th April - Saturday 13th April Cost: £1,695Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationS. MOROCCOALGERIAMEDITERRANEAN SEAATLANTIC OCEANMOROCCOEL KELAAMERZOUGAAGADIRERFOUDTODRAGORGEMIDDLE ATLAS MOUNTAINSHIGH ATLAS MOUNTAINSTANGIERCASABLANCAMARRAKECHOUED MASSAANTI ATLAS MOUNTAINSTAROUDANTOUARZAZATEOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Marrakech. Day 2/3El Kelâa des Mgouna. Day 4/5Erfoud. Day 6Ouarzazate. Day 7Taroudant. Day 8/9Agadir. Day 10Fly London. AccommodationAn interesting mix of characterfuland comfortable hotels, all withprivate facilities.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. Limited walking, but plenty of action in this comprehensive birdingtour.FocusBirds.LeaderDave Allen, Geoff Carr, Andy Impey,Andy Smith, Dave Suddaby, RegThorpe or Simon Woolley.Single room supplement£230. ExtensionsIf you have time, we recommendextending your stay in Marrakech.Please call 01962 733051 for advice.Web quick search: MAR01157Imagine birdwatching in an oasis of datepalms, surrounded by a warming desert,beneath a clear blue sky and aspectacular snowclad mountain range thatis as high as the Alps. The temperature isperfect; at home it is chilly and grey! Thisis southern Morocco: the dramatic kasbahcountry of central southern Morocco,impressive pictures of which decorate somany brochures and tourist board offices,but which remains a little too inaccessiblefor the majority of the country's visitors. Itis this region, in particular the desert,oasis and mountain habitats that borderthe beautiful Dades and Draa Valleys-two rivers to the south of the High Atlasmountains that never reach the sea-onwhich we will focus in our quest forsouthern Morocco's birds.We begin our journey with a flight toMarrakech. This old imperial capital ofMorocco, surrounded by olive and palmgroves, and with the towering snowypeaks of the High Atlas forming such amagnificent backdrop, has a trulywonderful atmosphere. We may have timeto briefly explore the fascinating souks,mosques, mausoleums and palaces of theMedina (old city) and, as the sun sinks, wemay sample the excitement generated bythe open-air entertainers and attendantcrowds in the Jemma el Fna-Marrakech's central square. Such culturalinduction, followed by a delicious dinner oftraditional Moroccan cuisine, will surelyprovide a fitting start to our holiday.We next take a spectacular drive southover the snowbound High Atlas mountainsto Ouarzazate, a French garrison town beside a Glaoui kasbah, sandwichedbetween the High Atlas and Anti-Atlasmountains. From here we will driveeastwards along the Dades Valley to ElKelâa des Mgouna, where a 2-night stay will enable us to explore the Dadesand Todra Gorges; the former with itsbizarre limestone erosions and impressiveksour (fortified villages) and kasbahs, thelatter a dramatic narrow gorge whosetowering pink cliffs are home to CragMartins and Bonelli's Eagles. By contrast,a wide and stony desert close toBoulmane may reward us with a variety of larks, sandgrouse, and possiblyHoubara Bustard.We now continue our journey eastwards toErfoud, through an increasingly desolateand barren landscape, broken only by theoccasional oasis. A stay of two nights here,in this 'gateway to the Sahara', will allow usthe chance to enjoy some of the bestdesert birding that Morocco has to offer.The palmeries and gardens of Erfoud arethe haunt of large numbers of CommonBulbuls and a good variety of otherpasserines, but it is the sandy wadis andstony desert not far from the town, and thefirst great sand dunes of the Sahara atMerzouga, two hours to the south, that willwarrant most attention. Here we will searchfor such elusive species as Desert Sparrow,Houbara Bustard, Cream-coloured Courserand Fulvous Babbler, plus a variety of'desert' larks and even sandgrouse. Theruins of Rissani, fast being consumed bythe travelling sands of the Sahara, are alsoworth a visit, illustrating as they do afascinating 1,000-year period of Moroccanhistory.Breaking the journey in Ouarzazate, wenow return westwards to Taroudant, anattractive ochre-walled town, and 16thcentury imperial capital of Morocco, set atthe head of the fertile Sous Valley. Thelong drive to Taroudant will not be withoutinterest. Thick-billed Larks, Thekla Larks,Barbary Falcons, and other pre-Saharanspecies may be seen on the way, whilstfine views of the High and Anti-Atlasmountains, and the historic kasbah atTaliouine, are further ingredients of asatisfying drive.At Taroudant, from our fine hotel thatnestles in the city walls, we will visit the Argana woodland and olive and citrus groves of the nearby Sous Valley.Here we may find such species asBlack-shouldered Kite, Spotless Starling,Spanish Sparrow, and a variety of finchesand warblers. In particular we will belooking for the very elusive Dark ChantingGoshawk, though any sighting of this birdis considered a rare prize indeed! Wecomplete our tour with two nights in a verycomfortable hotel on Morocco's Atlanticcoast, at Agadir. From this base we arewithin easy striking distance of the OuedMassa lagoon and Tamri, where recentNaturetrek groups have had great successlocating the endangered Bald Ibis. Thissmall wetland is one of the most rewardingbirdwatching sites in Morocco, andamongst its spectacle of herons, ducks,waders, gulls, terns and raptors, we havea good chance of some less commonspecies such as Greater Flamingo, BaldIbis, Tawny Eagle and Black-headed BushShrike. Even some American and southernAfrican vagrants regularly appear here!Finally, at the end of our week of springsunshine and avian activity, we will catch aconvenient, direct flight home from Agadir.Almond blossom in the High Atlas Cream-coloured CourserCrownedSandgrouse