The High Atlas has unique flora and fauna, which are accessible even to the most reluctant rambler if you base yourself at Oukaïmeden, Imlil or Ouirgane.
The spring bloom on the lower slopes comprises aromatic thyme and thorny caper, mingling with golden spreads of broom. Higher slopes are covered by more resilient species, such as the blue tussocks of hedgehog broom. The passes ring to the chorus of the painted frog and the North African race of the green toad during their spring breeding seasons, while some species of reptile, such as the Moorish gecko, have adapted to the stony walls of the area’s towns and villages. Butterflies that brave these heights include the Moroccan copper and desert orange tip, and painted ladies heading from West Africa to western England. Other inhabitants include the almost invisible praying mantis, the scampering ground squirrel and the rare elephant shrew.
Birds to be found among the sparse vegetation include Moussier’s redstart and the crimson-winged finch, which prefers the grassy slopes where it feeds in flocks; both birds are unique to North African ranges. The rocky outcrops provide shelter for both chough and alpine chough and the rivers are frequented by dippers who swim underwater in their search for food. Overhead, darting Lanner falcon or flocks of brilliantly coloured bee-eaters add to the feeling of abundance that permeates the slopes of the High Atlas. In the cultivated valleys, look out for the magpie, which, uniquely, has a sky-blue eye mark; there are also storks galore. Other High Atlas birds, as the snow melts, include shore larks, rock bunting, alpine accentor, redstarts and many species of wheatear.
Local flora is impressive, too. The wet meadows produce a fantastic spread of hooped-petticoat daffodils, romulea and other bulbs, and Oukaïmeden in May/June has acres of orchids in bloom.