Our tour group from Honeyguides had enjoyed their sample of urban birding in Spain, now it was time to hit ’em with the hard stuff! As we set out for breakfast in downtown Larache, they were in for another urban birding treat. The café, under the arches of the promenades surrounding the town square, was right next to a colony of little swifts! We were able to watch them come and go through the arches as we enjoyed strong coffee and Moroccan churros, and also admire their creativity as they patched up their nests with everything from feathers to bits of plastic!
Next it was on to nearby Loukkos marshes, a wetland right on the urban fringe of Larache. We spent a great morning there, and highlights included the group’s first views of glossy ibis, red-crested pochard, red-knobbed coot, Caspian terns, several brown-throated martins and a nice selection of common waders including little-ringed plovers, green sandpipers and black-winged stilt.
We were surprised by the incredible numbers of marsh harriers present, with probably half a dozen being visible in the air at any given moment, and a total of 20+ for the day. We also enjoyed picking through a large flock of yellow wagtails which included flava, flavissima and iberiae races, a real treat to see these different markings together and be able to compare them.
Unluckily – and unusually for the time of year – the weather was taking a turn for the worse, so we negotiated a deal with a nearby café, who allowed us to eat our picnic lunch of local breads and cheeses and salads in the shelter of their establishment, while also getting a warming glass of tea!
The journey through Bouachem forest was sadly very cold and wet, but this didn’t stop Simon and Niki valiantly getting out of the van to search for Levaillant’s green woodpecker and the resident population of Barbary macacques. After numerous attempts we were unlucky so we carried on our journey without further ado.
Things had cleared somewhat by the time we reached Chefchouen, a town beautifully located in the Rif mountains. The buildings and streets of its Old Town are painted many shades of blue, and from a distance appear to tumble down the hillside like a waterfall. Its tiny streets, some barely a couple of yards wide, are an intriguing maze of tea shops, grocery stores and art galleries, and the group couldn’t help but be cheered by this fascinating new place.
Our hotel, the Ras el Maa, is reached through a small unimposing doorway in a row of traditional properties, but once inside opens up to reveal beautiful Moorish architecture full of open spaces and intricate archways. Perhaps one of its best features from our point of view is the roof terrace, which affords breath-taking views of the village as it tumbles down the hillside, and the mountains of the Talessamtane National Park behind it.
Those of us that hadn’t remained in their rooms to relax before dinner were treated to a final hit of urban birding from here, as we watched Atlas long-legged buzzard, large groups of ravens and red-billed chough and a distance glimpse of two black wheatears while we enjoyed the evening call to prayer drifting out over the town.