Uganda__________________________________________________

 

 

Tunisia 2014

...with Chris Bradshaw

12th-23rd March 2014

UGANDA
For this leader, and I suspect the participants, this tour seemed to have been in progress for a long time even before we all met up at Heathrow early on the morning of 12th March. A planned part of the tour had been a visit to Algeria, which had come very close to happening until at the very last minute being pulled due to security concerns at the prime location for our visit. So, disappointingly there was to be no chance of the Algerian Nuthatch. However, a quick rejig of the itinerary and we were off on a slightly extended trip around Tunisia.

Our tour covered locations in the north-west where Levaillant's Green Woodpecker, the local subspecies of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and showy Firecrests were among the highlights. Desert areas of the south yielded wanted species such as Desert Sparrow, Cream-coloured Courser, Crowned Sandgrouse, the full suite of possible wheatears in Tunisia, Trumpeter Finch, Temminck's and Hoopoe Lark. Other memorable species included the ever popular Moussier's Redstart, huge numbers of Slender-billed Gulls at Thyna, close views of Red-throated Pipits, a wonderful flock of migrant Lesser Kestrels, singing Spectacled Warblers and some smart Subalpine Warblers. Finally, the most surprising find of the trip was a Lesser Yellowlegs on a wetland near Douz, seemingly a new bird for the Tunisian list.

Thanks to our driver Adel and guide Moujib for a memorable experience in this varied country.


12th March: London - Paris - Tunis

An early start in order to catch an Air France flight from London to Tunis via Paris. Our planned use of a direct flight being scuppered by a change in schedules by our preferred airline. Our flight proceeded smoothly enough and although there was a slight delay in Paris we were in Tunis by late afternoon. A typically slow progression through passport and customs was not without its moments of drama, but eventually we had changed money and were on our way to our hotel in the bustling city of Tunis. Few birds were noted although a Sardinian Warbler was one of the first birds on the list and there were a few Spotless Starlings and Pallid Swifts near the hotel. After an opportunity to wash and change it was time for some dinner before retiring for the night.

13th March: Lake Ichkeuil. Drive to Tabarka
Weather: Overcast and cool with a moderate breeze that freshened through the day. Rain in the afternoon.

After a 0630 breakfast we were on our way out of Tunis soon after 0700. The day was a little gloomy but as we passed through an open agricultural landscape we began seeing our first Tunisian birds in the form of White Storks, Cattle and Little Egrets, Crested Lark and a smashing Black-shouldered Kite. As we arrived at Lake Ichkeuil we had nice views of a Long-legged Buzzard and there were Spanish Sparrows near the entrance gate. We had a walk along an easy track that passed through a mix of Olive trees, tamarisks and other bushes and which also afforded good views across the lake. Were it not for the abundant Sardinian Warblers one could have been forgiven for thinking we were still in the UK as we saw Blackbird, Robin, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Greenfinch. However, the chaffinches here were rather different, as were the African Blue Tits.

Out on the lake Coots dominated, along with Mallard, Wigeon, Gadwall, Shoveler and Shelduck, but there were also some flocks of Spoonbills and Greater Flamingoes. Overhead a Short-toed Eagle teased before obliging us with some nice views, whilst some lakeside bushes harboured a group of Black-crowned Night-herons and a handful of Ferruginous Ducks. With the weather cool and not especially pleasant we went to a nearby town for lunch and then headed to a different part of the lake. Unfortunately the weather was deteriorating and although we encountered Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers, Common Sandpiper and some smart Stonechats, it was a disappointing afternoon, although the stop for a glass of tea was well received. Continuing on to Tabarka we arrived in the late afternoon and from our seaward facing rooms we could see a few Sandwich Terns patrolling the beach (plus a leader only Cory's Shearwater), whilst a Black Redstart flitted about the poolside.

14th March: Tabarka to El Freija
Weather: Cool and overcast with a cold wind, rain in the morning and fog during the afternoon.

The day dawned disappointingly overcast and cool. A check around the hotel grounds revealed little of significance, so we were soon heading south towards El Freija. As the weather was poor and we feared even worse weather at El Freija, we made a number of roadside birding stops. This first couple were not especially productive, but the next yielded Short-toed Treecreeper, an obliging Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and extended views of a Levaillant's Green Woodpecker, an endemic to NW Africa. Also new to the list here were Wood Pigeon, Coal Tit and a smart male Cirl Bunting. Continuing our journey through rolling hills given over to agriculture, a rough piece of scrub around an old building adjacent to a small marshy area produced displaying Serins, White Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Corn Bunting, Black Redstart and Little Ringed Plover. As we headed closer to El Freija the weather worsened further, but we paused for the first Moussier's Redstart (male) of the trip. After a picnic lunch spent sheltering from the weather in a small local shop (not just for local people ?) we attempted further birding in the gloom. A couple of Firecrests performed very nicely, but conditions were not very pleasant at all. Dropping down out of the park we checked into our hotel and birded the local area adding Great Spotted Woodpecker of the local subspecies numidus and further views of Firecrest but really we needed a change in the weather.

15th March: El Freija to Gafsa with late afternoon birding at Sened.
Weather: Overcast with rain on and off for much of the day, heavy at times. Cool.

The day dawned overcast with the mist having lifted. However, although we were initially encouraged by this, it was not long before it was raining again. The long drive down to Gafsa took until early afternoon with a couple of short birding stops yielding Thekla Lark, Lanner Falcon and a Calandra Lark with some Skylarks. A couple of Marsh Harriers and Black Kites were on the move despite the poor conditions. After a late lunch in Gafsa we visited the Sened area where Graham added Woodchat Shrike to the list and some obliging Black Wheatears were present. A Gundi was a nice creature to see. A walk amongst some impressive arid hills around a village produced some excellent views of Trumpeter Finch as they fed with Spanish Sparrows and a briefly seen House Bunting. Further goodies were hard to come by, but as the day drew to a close we added Hoopoe and Little Owl on the journey back into Gafsa.

16th March: Gafsa to Bouhedma National Park. El Khobna. Douz.
Weather: Sunny with largely clear skies for most of the day. Pleasantly warm after a chilly start.

After an early breakfast we were on our way to Bouhedma National Park as the sun rose. Bouhedma comprises an area of savannah like habitats abutting a range of barren hills and which has an introduced population of Scimitar-horned Oryx and Dorcas Gazelles. On the way we paused for our first decent views of House Bunting and then in an area of rocky hills Booted Eagle, Blue Rock Thrush, a flock of Alpine Swifts, a brief Crag Martin, Lesser Kestrel and Desert Lark. Continuing into the National Park a group of three Black-bellied Sandgrouse did not perform especially well, but Woodchat Shrikes, Hoopoes and Northern Wheatears were clearly on the move north and were present in good numbers. Further additions to the trip list continued at a steady pace as Black-eared Wheatear, Wryneck, Redstart, Fulvous Babbler, Subalpine Warbler, Barbary Partridge were enjoyed by all.

A stop for lunch was enlivened by our first Common Bulbuls and in the early afternoon we were treated to some Red-rumped, Desert and Isabelline Wheatears, a flock of Short-toed Larks, some very obliging Hoopoe Larks, a memorable flock of at least 52 Lesser Kestrels plus Marsh, Hen and Pallid Harriers. After a short stop for coffee we continued our journey on to Douz where we arrived just as the sun was setting.

17th March: Jebil National Park. Douz wetlands.
Weather: Cloudy start but burning off to become warm and sunny.

Much of the day was spent visiting Jebil National Park, an area of desert south of Douz. The journey was a fairly lengthy and bumpy one, with relatively few avian diversions. White-crowned Black (White-tailed) Wheatear was new for the list and we enjoyed further often close views of Hoopoe Larks.

At the park itself we soon located Desert Sparrow feeding with Spanish Sparrows and Short-toed Larks. Another rather bumpy ride through the desert produced quality, if not quantity with some fine and extended encounters with the ever popular Cream-coloured Courser, Maghreb Wheatear and a highly obliging Temminck's Lark, plus Brown-necked Raven. After a picnic lunch back at the entrance gate we explored a different area in the afternoon with more of the same and then a nice flock of Crowned Sandgrouse were an excellent find.

Returning to Douz we visited a wetland site where an impressive 362 Marbled Ducks were present along with two Garganey and a selection of waders that included Avocet, Little Stint, Ruff, Green Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank. Some Yellow Wagtails included a 'dombrowski' type whilst Chiffchaffs and a Subalpine Warbler frequented the tamarisks and an unseen Water Rail called from a reedy fringe.

18th March: Douz area wetlands. Matmata. Gabes.
Weather: Cool start, but soon very warm and sunny with clear skies.

We began the day with an exploration of various wetland sites in the Douz area. Our first stop was an area of reeds and shallow floods which had attracted a nice selection of waders. Sifting through the Black-winged Stilts, Wood Sandpipers, Little Stints and Ruffs I soon picked up a wader that momentarily had me confused before the penny quickly dropped that I was looking at a Lesser Yellowlegs! What on earth was that doing here? The group were onto it before too long and we all obtained some nice views of it, although it was a little flighty and soon disappeared behind the reedy clumps. At the time of writing it would appear that this is the first record for Tunisia! Also in the same area were several Marsh Sandpipers, a Black-tailed Godwit, Kingfisher and two Glossy Ibis dropped in. Whilst trying to relocate the Yellowlegs another nice find came in the form of a female Little Crake skulking along the reed fringe. Once again we all got views of this secretive species. After this great start to the day we continued our wetland exploration, but the rest of the circuit failed to live up to this excellent start with Ruddy Shelduck and further small groups of waders being about the size of it.

Heading east from Douz we passed through a sector of desert that was fairly poor for birds. However on reaching gravelly and the rockier sectors we found more of interest with Booted Eagle, Red-rumped and Desert Wheatear, Barbary Partridge and more Subalpine Warblers amongst the birds of greatest interest. After a lunch stop at Matmata we continued to Gabes, where visits to a couple of coastal sites before reaching the hotel added Black and Caspian Terns, Slender-billed Gulls, Sanderling and Greenshank to the tour list.

19th March: Gabes. Thyna Salinas. Sfax.
Weather: Warm and sunny with clear skies and a cooling light sea breeze.

We spent much of the day exploring the Thyna Salinas near Sfax. This extensive complex of salt pans and coastal mudflats attracts large numbers of waders, gulls and terns. We found large numbers of Greater Flamingoes (1000+) and waders in the form of Marsh, Common, Green and Wood Sandpipers, Greenshank, Spotted and Common Redshanks, Black-tailed Godwits, Little Stints, Turnstones and Oystercatcher. Large numbers of gulls included some stunning breeding plumaged Slender-billed Gulls, with Sandwich and Common Terns also present. A nice party of summer plumaged Black-necked Grebes were memorable, whilst along the channels Red-throated Pipits and Yellow Wagtails (mostly Ashy-headed) foraged amongst the vegetation. A singing Spectacled Warbler was a nice find as it showed well whilst undertaking its song-flight.

Our picnic lunch was taken in an area of trees and bushes, but our exploration of this area after lunch failed to add anything new although a rather dark looking Little owl was of interest. Returning to the salinas we located further Red-throated Pipits, Isabelline Wheatear and two Stone Curlews. With some minor vehicle issues we opted for an early finish, although our journey to the hotel wasn't without its unexpected moments.

20th March: Sfax. Sebkhat Elhaini. El Haourib Dam. Kairouan.
Weather: Sunny start but thickening cloud later and a light easterly breeze.

After a 0630 breakfast we were on the road by 7am and heading back north in the direction of Kairouan. Birds were initially fairly few and far between but a stop by a pool and some Sebkhat produced Marsh Sandpiper and an obliging Spectacled Warbler. A further stop in some Sebkhat yielded nice views of Black-eared and Desert Wheatear and two Calandra Larks. A small cultural diversion took in the amphitheatre at El Jemna and then the main birding took place around the dam lake at El Haouarib. Here there were large number of commoner ducks, all three regular grebes in Tunisia, Marsh Harrier, Long-legged Buzzard, White Stork and Glossy Ibis. A distant flock of White-headed Ducks were eventually tracked down to closer range and we all enjoyed fairly close views of this species. Our final birding stop of the day was a line of low hills which were host to a nesting pair of Lanner Falcons and we were able to enjoy extended scope views of this magnificent bird. Our overnight stop was in a very nice hotel in Kairouan where a Little Swift was noted as we were unloading the vehicle.

21st March: Kairouan. Zhaghouan. Hammamet.
Weather: Overcast, the some sunny intervals. Warm.

We spent much of a fairly slow day at Jebel Zhaghouan. Departing from Kairouan we paused at various wetland locations en-route, but added nothing new, although we enjoyed some nice views of Moussier's Redstarts. At Zhaghouan we had extended views of displaying Booted Eagles, but were unable to find the hoped for Bonelli's Eagle. Other notable species here included Short-toed Eagle, Egyptian Vulture, Peregrine, an obliging family party of Crossbills and three Blue Rock Thrushes. Later we headed for Hammamet and encountered a smart male Pallid Harrier hunting in Olive groves along the way. A male Marsh Harrier was also here. Finally a dam lake at last yielded a couple of Sand Martins along with good numbers of Black-necked Grebes.

22nd March: Hammamet. Lebna Barrage. Sebkhat Soliman. Port Prince. Tunis.
Weather: Very warm and sunny.

Our final full day in Tunisia was spent exploring a number of locations in the Cap Bon area. Much of the day was spent enjoying species already encountered during the tour, but additions to the list came in the form of Sedge and Cetti's Warblers, Turtle Dove and Purple Swamphen. Nightingale and Quail were added to the heard only list. Other memorable birds today included a nice flock of Slender-billed Gulls, showy Sardinian Warblers, Short-toed and Booted Eagles and smart male Marsh Harriers.

23rd March: Sebkhat Sedjoumi. Tunis - London.
Weather: sunny intervals and partly cloudy skies, warm.

We spent a few hours in the morning around the Sebkhat Sedjoumi, a large wetland close to Tunis and rammed full of birds. Huge numbers of Greater Flamingoes, Shoveler and Black-winged Stilts plus lesser numbers of Avocets and Little Stints were present. We also found significant numbers of Marsh and Wood Sandpipers, Kentish and Little Ringed Plovers. Disappointing thought was the amount of rubbish and pollution at a truly amazing wildlife site. Other species seen during the morning included a smart Woodchat Shrike, Whinchat, several Marsh Harriers and Zitting Cisticola.

After lunch at the hotel we made the short journey to the airport where we caught our flight to London via Paris.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at enquiries@birdwatchingbreaks.com.


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