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MOROCCO – WESTERN SAHARA

20–29 March 2018

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 to Agadir followed by a three-hour drive south to Guelmim, where we will spend the night.

Day 2 After taking an early breakfast, we will drive a short distance south of town where we will search a wadi for Streaked Scrub-warbler and Asian Desert Warbler. Continuing south, we will next check an extensive area of abandoned cultivation and low vegetation for larks and Cream-coloured Coursers. Greater Hoopoe-larks should be displaying and this is an excellent site for Thick-billed Larks. The low vegetation is also good for Red-rumped Wheatears, Asian Desert Warblers and Streaked Scrub-warblers. There may also be Long-legged Buzzards and Lanner Falcons hunting for Fat Sand Rats. Continuing south, we will cross several tidal inlets where hopefully we will find roosting gulls and terns. Most will be Lesser Black-backed and Audouin’s Gulls and Caspian Terns, but we may find the odd Royal Tern here at the extreme northern end of their range. In the afternoon we will arrive at Akhfennir, our base for the next two nights and immediately check the local beach and rubbish tip where both Kelp Gull and Pied Crow were seen in 2017.

Day 3 We will revisit the beach and rubbish tip first thing in the morning then continue on to the famous Khniffis Lagoon. Until recently it was thought that there was an increasingly large colony here but it has been determined that most of the large 'black-backed' gulls are in fact Great Black-backed Gulls although Kelp Gull may be within the flock. We will however, have our work cut out to find our target amongst the hordes of Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls. There should also be good numbers of waders wintering here whilst Black Wheatears and Trumpeter Finches can be found easily together with migrant passerines. In the afternoon we will return to check the beach and the rubbish tip before making back to our hotel.

Day 4 A long drive south with packed lunches, stopping for birding occasionally and opportunistically, until we arrive in Dakhla where we will spend the night.

Day 5 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 Desert and White-tailed 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 Bar-tailed, Desert 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 6–7 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 8 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 and in March 2017 a White-throated Bee-eater was seen outside a local hotel. We will then visit 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. Our targets here are Lesser Crested and Royal Terns in amongst the huge numbers of gulls. We should also check the gulls carefully as Kelp Gull is also possible here and by carefully checking all the small gulls we may even find something outrageous like Grey-headed Gull. Overnight in a comfortable hotel in Dakhla.

Day 9 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: 11 with 1 leader.

Golden Nightjar

Golden Nightjar