MOROCCO – WESTERN SAHARA
4–11 March 2017
From Dakhla we travel deep into the Sahara Desert to camp for three nights to look for the recently-discovered Golden Nightjar. Other target birds here include Black-crowned Sparrow-lark, Dunn’s Lark, Cricket Longtail, Fulvous Chatterer and Desert and Sudan Golden Sparrows, whilst at an oasis we should find sandgrouse. At the coast we will look for Royal Tern and possibly Kelp Gull, and all within the Western Palearctic.
Day 1 Flight from London Gatwick to Agadir, where we will spend the first night.
Day 2 After breakfast we will drive south to the Oued Massa area, where we will search the agricultural areas primarily for Moussier’s Redstart and Black-crowned Tchagra but also for Laughing Dove, Spotless Starling, Common Bulbul, House Bunting and migrants including Common Quail. With some luck, may see Northern Bald Ibises fly over. Later in the morning we will head north to explore the Oued Sous estuary, which can be alive with birds including Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Osprey, Black-winged Stilt, Kentish Plover and Audouin’s, Mediterranean and Slender-billed Gulls. Mid-afternoon we will return to the airport for our flight to Dakhla, where we will spend the night.
Day 3 Taking packed breakfasts with us, we will begin the long journey inland towards Aousserd, stopping at Gleb Jdiane to watch sandgrouse coming in to drink. In the mornings, Spotted Sandgrouse is the most likely species but smaller numbers of Crowned Sandgrouse can occur. Other birds in the area include Southern Grey Shrike and Red-rumped Wheatear; in 2016 an Allen’s Gallinule was found here. Closer to Aousserd we will start our search for Cricket Longtail. This enigmatic species is right on the edge of its Western Palearctic range here although it is quite common in the right habitat. Cream-coloured Courser, Brown-necked Raven, African Desert Warbler and White-tailed and Desert Wheatears are also present. Black-crowned Sparrow-lark can often be found, while another speciality that can occur is Dunn’s Lark; both species are irruptive, however, and are easier to see in some years than in others. Larks can include Greater Hoopoe-lark and Desert, Bar-tailed and Thick-billed Larks. Desert Sparrows are commoner here than in their former stronghold of Merzouga whilst Fulvous Chatterers can also be found. Sudan Golden Sparrow has been recorded in this area and Blue-naped Mousebird has been recorded slightly further south in Mauritania so you never know your luck! We will set up camp for a three-night stay and, in the evening, start our search for Golden Nightjar, a species recently discovered in the Western Palearctic.
Days 4–5 We will have a further two whole days (and nights!) to search for the speciality birds of the area and, with this amount of time, who knows what we may discover in this little-birded region. We are scheduling three whole nights in the desert as sandstorms can sometimes envelop the area and, of course, birds are difficult/impossible to find in these conditions.
Day 7 We will have all day to explore the Dakhla area, where an early-morning seawatch on the seaward side of the peninsula may produce seabirds including Cory’s Shearwaters, Northern Gannet and Great Skua; on our 2016 tour both Band-rumped and European Storm-petrels were seen. We will then return to the bay to check the state of the (unpredictable) tide to see how far out we will need to walk to scan the gulls and terns.
Day 8 We will board an early morning flight back to Agadir, where we will have a few hours to head north of town to Tamri to search in the scrub and fields adjacent to the coast for Northern Bald Ibis. We should also see Moussier's Redstart here. On our way back to Agadir, we could stop at Cap Rhir for a seawatch, primarily for shearwaters and skuas but where we can also see Black Wheatear and Blue Rock-thrush, and also at a beach where there will be Lesser Black-backed Gulls of two races, Audouin's Gulls and a few Yellow-legged Gulls and where we have often seen a skua or two offshore. Alternatively, we can check through the thousands of gulls at a fish factory where, in February 2016, a Kelp Gull was reported. We will have most of the afternoon birding before we return to the airport to take an early evening flight back to London at the end of the tour.
General Information The climate can vary from hot in the desert to cool on the coast. Rain is unlikely but strong winds are a feature of this area and we may encounter sandstorms. There will be a moderate amount of walking, mainly on flat (but sandy) ground. Insects are not a problem. Visas are not required for EU citizens. Distances are quite long but we will have a reliable local driver. Accommodation standards are good with en-suite facilities except when camping. Single tents may be available at an extra supplement.
Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 12 with 2 leaders.