Morocco 2024

The Middle Atlas

June 9th - 19th 2024

June 9-10 : Oued Sidi Harazem and Sebou river near Fez

Landing at Fes-Saiss Airport late afternoon, I had some difficulties finding my rental car so I arrived at my hotel in Sidi Harazem after dark. An impressive concert of Moroccan Toads (Sclerophys mauritanica) in the hotel garden was the first notable observation of the trip.

The next morning started cloudy with a few drops of rain, not the ideal weather conditions for dragonflies. However, after a slow start the sun broke through and things were livening up in the Oued Sidi Harazem. Most of the target species turned out to be very cooperative and in the afternoon I moved to the nearby river Sebou. More or less the same suspects here and in the evening, yours truly returned happy to his hotel.

June 11 : Ifrane and cedar forests Azrou

After breakfast I drove off to Khenifra. Again a cloudy morning and no improvement in prospect. By the time I arrived at Ifrane, it was pouring. Giving Lake Zerrouka a short glance, I decided to make a little detour in de cedar forests of Azrou. Some problems with my cell phone and gps turned "little detour" into an "interesting but exhausting 50 km dirt road expedition".

Arriving in Khenifra later than expected and pretty tired, a last minute cancellation of the apartment I booked in advance in Khenifra got me into a hotel in the busy city center. A cheesy/cheazy pizza concluded the day.

June 12-14 : Middle Atlas and Oum Er-Rbia river at Khenifra

Of course my prime target in Khenifra was Boudot's Pincertail (Onychogomphus boudoti), so the first stop was at the terra typica of this species. Just like the previous days an overcast sky, much to the delight of the local tortoises. In the Odonata section, at first only damselflies were present, later in the morning a Large Pincertail (Onychogomphus uncatus) made a nice display. As there was not much improvement in the weather, I decided to drive on to some other known sites for boudoti. The sites all had similar habitat characteristics : (very) small streams in an agricultural environment. Again, only Large Pincertail showed up. So I went back to the first spot. By this time the sky cleared and the first Atlas Goldenring (Cordulegaster princeps) made a pass. After examining a dozen or so Large Pincertails, I noticed a deviant individual with yellow lower appendages. Bingo ! With the sun going to full power, I soon found more individuals, and also Atlas Goldenring confirmed its presence.

The next day, the sun was already out early in the morning. I drove to the Oum Er-Rabia river a few km N of Khenifra, hoping to find Glittering Demoiselle (Calopteryx exul). Not an easy job among the numerous Copper Damselflies present. It took me an hour to see the first specimen crossing the river in a fast flight. And at least as much time to get one in front of the camera. Other targets like Yellow-veined Skimmer (Orthetrum nitidinerve) were more accommodating so the picture counter kept ticking nicely. Later that day, I returned to boudoti country for another photo session with those present. In the evening I took my camera to the restaurant to take some shots of the Cattle Egrets and White Storks that have colonised the city centre of Khenifra.

On the last day in Khenifra I gave Glittering Demoiselle another try at the river, but in vain. I decided to take a look at the source of the Oum Er-Rabia river. Although a beautiful site, it was almost devoid of dragonflies. Only patrolling Blue Emperor (Anax imperator) and a Gomphid's (Gomphus simillimus ?) flyby observed.

June 15 : Lake Zerrouka Ifrane

With the improved weather conditions in mind, I wanted to give Lake Zerrouka another go. With good results. In the evening I drove on to Sidi Harazem, on my way to Tazekka.

June 16-18 : Tazekka National Park

Making an early start from Sidi Harazem, I soon arrived at Tazekka National Park. I checked a little river for dragonflies, but after that my focus turned to herping. I stopped at a picknick area "Vallée des cerfs", where a large Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus) escaped over a stone wall into the steep downhill forest. Luckily a number of lizards were less scared. Later that day I arrived in my B&B. What a relief after the busy city center of Khenifra ! In the evening I tried several known sites for Moroccan Midwife Toad (Alytes maurus), but no calls heard or larvae found, let alone adults. 

The next morning I drove up Jebel Tazekka. The lizards present were very skittish. Soon the heat kicked in, which didn't help matters. I decided to seek the shade of the lower forest and returned to the Vallée des cerfs. The lizards here were more accommodating. A beautiful Moroccan Ocellated Lizard (Timon tangitanus) fled into a hole in a cork oak, but with some patience he could be convinced to come out and put on a nice show. Later in the afternoon I met a local nature guide at the coffee shop in Bab Boudir. He confirmed the existence of a cave where fire salamanders were active all year round, so we agreed that he could take me there the next day.

What was originally planned as lazy sight-seeing day and drive back to Fez, turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. After a grueling hour's drive, we arrived at the entrance to the cave and after changing into the proper gear, we descended into a wonderful adventure. Salamanders weren't the only inhabitants. Even a crocodile millions of years old (teleosauroid crocodylomorph from the earliest Jurassic) was added to the list of observations. 

June 19 : Back home