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Morocco is quite unique. It offers anexotic environment at a short-haulprice, being just a 3-hour flightfrom London. Yet there is much more toMorocco's popularity than this. Sitting onthe edge of the great Sahara, with both anAtlantic and a Mediterranean seaboard,and the highest mountains in northernAfrica, Morocco has a variety of sceneryand climate unrivalled by otherMediterranean countries. Further, betweenthe end of Roman rule in AD 253 andFrench takeover in 1912, Morocco wasable to develop as a fiercely independentnation with a unique and powerful cultureof its own. Few other countries haveremained as separate entities with theirborders unchanged for so many centuries.Few Moslem countries todaycan offersuch a flavour of Islam with so fewaccompanying restrictions on visitors. Soclose to the West, Morocco has a fineunderstanding and tolerance of our ways.Our trip centres on the High Atlas. In thesebeautiful mountains that are as high as theAlps and stretch for 700 kilometres acrossMorocco, we spend 10 days. By the endof May the fierce heat of the north Africansummer has arrived in the plains, but inthe High Atlas seasons are late: it is stillspring. Snow sits on the high peaks, andits melt floods the mountain streams andlush green pastures that abound withmauves, pinks and yellows of springflowers. Botanists will be in their element.Fields of barley sit on ancient terraces,and green walnut groves nestle in everyvalley. The Berbers, the indigenous people of these mountains, filter towardsthe high pastures and summer villages,their sheep and goats before them, theirchildren and colourfully dressedwomenfolk riding on mules.We follow them, via rocky ridge and pass,from busy valleys to barren pastures,through forests of ancient junipers andholm oaks. We follow tumbling streamsthrough shady groves. We take our timeenjoying the flowers and local birdspecialities-Moussier's Redstarts,Tristram's Warblers, Rock Sparrows, Bootedand Golden Eagles, Long-legged Buzzards,Shore Larks, Rock Buntings, Seebohm'sWheatears, Crimson-winged Finches,Rollers, Barbary Partridges and Levaillant'sGreen Woodpeckers. Lizards, of variousshapes and sizes, are common too, andground squirrels. If we are lucky we mayeven see the endangered Barbary Sheep,which still occurs in the region in smallnumbers. However, just as interesting arethe local people. These tribal subsistencefarmers, untouched by time, are happy,humorous and hospitable; they have alwayspreserved their independence, first againsttheir own Sultans, more recently againstFrench colonists, and now against theMoroccan Government. Even today theypay no taxes; in return they take no socialsecurity.We begin and end our holiday inMarrakech, the ancient capital of southernMorocco where we explore the fascinatingsouks, mosques, mausoleums andpalaces of the 'Old City'. We also visitEssaouira after our trek, an exquisitefortified port and one of the most beautifultowns in Morocco. Here we eat freshlygrilled sardines and bathe from the sandsthat stretch endlessly to the south, or wecan watch the Eleonora's Falcons andseabirds that breed on the offshoreislands, and explore the inland maquis.The High Atlas Mountains of MoroccoA 15-day holiday incorporating a 10-day trek to discover the spring flowers and resident birdsof the Mount Toubkal National Park.Wednesday 22nd May - Wednesday 5th June Cost: £1,395Outline itineraryDay 1Depart London andarrive Marrakech. Day 2Marrakech. Day 3/12Trekking, High Atlas. Day 13/14Essaouira. Day 15Depart Marrakech andarrive London.AccommodationSimple but characterful hotels inMarrakech and Essaouira, both withprivate facilities. A mixture of basicBerber houses and fully servicedcamping on trek.FoodIncluded in the price, except forlunches and dinners in Essaouiraand Marrakech. Allow £30.TrekkingGrade B. Moderate. Between 1,520and 3,050 metres.FocusPlants, birds and Berber culture.LeaderDavid Tattersfield.Single room supplement£80 (where available). ExtensionsAvailable on request, with or withoutcar rental. Web quick search: MAR04158Call now or visit www.naturetrek.co.ukfor your free Trip ItineraryS. MOROCCOALGERIAMEDITERRANEAN SEAATLANTIC OCEANMOROCCOAGADIRESSAOUIRAMIDDLE ATLAS MOUNTAINSHIGH ATLAS MOUNTAINSTANGIERCASABLANCAMARRAKECHANTI ATLAS MOUNTAINSIMLILRhodanthemum catananche, High AtlasMoussier's RedstartAnagallis monelli

Of all north African countries, Tunisia is the old favourite. It is,after all, closer to Europe bothgeographically and culturally, and offers astability that has not always been assuredby its neighbours. Perhaps most appealingof all though, is its small size; it is simplydwarfed by its massive neighbours Algeriaand Libya, and is a microcosm of allthings north African. It is therefore ideal fora short break, allowing both swift accessto the great sand dunes of the Sahara, aswell as to its wetlands, woodlands andsavannahs. Indeed, for the naturalist, it isrefreshing to find that these diversehabitats are so well protected by a well-managed system of national parks. In the far north of Tunisia, the ruggedgreen hills and valleys are clothed invineyards, oak woodlands, and tidy townsand villages whose European style onlyenhances an ambience of rural well-being.It is a landscape similar to that ofneighbouring southern Italy, Sardinia andCorsica. To the east lies a lake-land ofgreat appeal to ornithologists, whoseflagship is Lake Ichkeul. Further to thesouth, in the Gulf of Gabes, lie theestuarine mudflats and islands morereminiscent of the south coast of Englandthan of Mediterranean north Africa. Inlandof the Gulf sits a remnant of that scenicsavannah landscape that was once sowidespread across pre-Saharan Africa,and where even this century large gameroamed, stalked by such predators asLion, Leopard and Cheetah. To the south,beyond a rocky and dramatic terrain, thegreat golden sand dunes of the Grand ErgOriental, the northernmost vanguard of thecreeping Sahara, welcome us with springwarmth at the climax of our holiday.We begin our tour with a 2-night stay inthe pleasant northern town of Bizerte, anideal base from which to explore thenearby Lake Ichkeul National Park, andpleasantly removed from the bustle ofmodern Tunis. Lake Ichkeul, like all theTunisian lakes, offers a crucial stagingpost and watering hole for trans-Saharanmigrants. It is, however, particularlyspecial, for it not only lies in a strategicposition at the northern tip of Tunisia - afirst pit-stop for incoming southboundmigrants, and a last-chance saloon forthose outgoing northbound birds - but isalso unusual in having a most variablesalinity, the winter rains ensuring a largelyfreshwater content for much of the year,whilst its salinity is greatly increasedduring the summer. Lake Ichkeul NationalPark has the further attraction of a widevariety of habitats, and during our full dayspent in the park, we will walk in theforests of Mount Ichkeul, haunt of BarbaryPartridge and Moussier's Redstart. We willenjoy the marshes and pastures aroundthe lake where egrets, herons and WhiteStorks feed amongst the feral WaterBuffalo that have long grazed the area. Atthe water's edge we will find Spoonbills,Greater Flamingoes, Greylag Geese, and avariety of ducks and waders, whilstoverhead hunt birds of prey - Long-legged Buzzards, Black-shouldered Kites,Ospreys, and Marsh and Hen Harriersamongst others. With luck we may evenfind the resident and endangered White-headed Duck, a speciality of the Tunisian lakes.Heading southwards next, via the wader-rich wetlands and migration hotspot ofCap Bon, we spend a night in the coastaltown of Mahres. This will allow us toexplore the mudflats and estuarinehabitats nearby. A huge number of waderswinter here, together with high numbers ofBlack-necked Grebes, Caspian and Gull-billed Terns, and Slender-billed andAudouin's Gulls; a rewarding time istherefore assured. Inland from Mahres lieTunisia's scenic steppes and savannahs.Reminiscent of east Africa, this landscapeis a far cry from those breezy mudflats.Here, in Bouhedma National Park, we willbe able to enjoy watching some ofTunisia's larger mammals, several of themsuccessfully reintroduced since theirextinction in the region earlier this century.Solitary Addax, herds of Scimitar-hornedOryx, and smaller numbers of both Damaand Dorcas Gazelles, as well as a numberof other more elusive mammals, all occurin Bouhedma. The magnificent backdropcreated by the less accessiblemountainous part of the park will pleaseany photographers amongst our party,whilst the acacia scrub holds suchattractive species as Southern GreyShrikes and Moussier's Redstarts amongst others. Our final destination, and for many thehighlight of the tour, will be the desert. Wewill be based for two nights in the town ofDouz, the self-proclaimed 'gateway to theSahara' and once an important stop onthe trans-Saharan caravan routes. We willenjoy dawn and dusk excursions by 4x4 toenjoy the warm, golden dunes of theSahara and the shattering silence of thedesert ... at the most productive times ofthe day for birds. There could be fewbetter bases from which to enjoy suchavian desert specialities as Cream-coloured Courser, Brown-necked Raven,Desert Warbler, Desert Sparrow andDesert, Hoopoe and Temminck's HornedLarks. Sandgrouse and the elusiveHoubara Bustard are further possibilities,whilst the Fennec Fox is an occasionalnocturnal visitor.TunisiaA 9-day spring birdwatching holiday to the wetlands, savannahs and deserts of a scenic and varied north African land.Saturday 16th March - Sunday 24th March Cost: £1,495Saturday 28th September - Sunday 6th October Cost: £1,495Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationALGERIA LIBYAALGERIA MAHRESKNEISS ISLANDSTUNISKORBADOUZCAP BONBIZERTELAKE ICHKEULNATIONAL PARKJEBILNATIONAL PARKBOUHEDMANATIONAL PARKDJERBAGULF OF GABESTUNISIAMEDITERRANEAN SEA Outline itineraryDay 1Fly Tunis and transfer toBizerte.Day 2Lake Ichkeul and Bizerte.Day 3/4Cap Bon and Korba.Day 5Gulf of Gabes andMahres.Day 6Bouhedma National Parkand Douz.Day 7Jebil National Park fromDouz.Day 8Djerba or Tozeur.Day 9Fly London.AccommodationComfortable tourist hotels withprivate facilities throughout.FoodAll included in the price.GradingA. A traditional birdwatching tour,though including some easywalking on most days.FocusBirds (and some larger mammals).LeaderGeoff Carr or Dave Smith.Single room supplement£185.ExtensionsGladly arranged on request.Web quick search: TUN01159Saharan dunesWhite-headed Duck