Wednesday 11 April 2018

Western Sahara - the final part

Sad to report that the next morning was no better, despite near perfect weather conditions the Nightjars remained out of sight. Two birds sang briefly before the sun rose, we returned dejectedly to Aousserd for breakfast. Around the house that morning we had a singing White-crowned Black Wheatear, a Woodchat Shrike, several House Martins and four Black Kites. As there was a military base and UN base nearby we thought better than to wave our large lenses about - so no photos.
So having dipped on Sudan Golden Sparrow and Golden Nightjar, it was really important for morale to see African Desert Warbler and find Royal Tern. I think if we left Western Sahara without seeing those birds too it would put a real damper on what had been otherwise an excellent week.
We checked a site for African Desert Warbler that the Dutch guys had given us and failed to see or hear anything - I was really starting to despair at that stage. We drove back along the road and checked the same site we had been to a few days earlier (where we had also drawn a blank) and thankfully this time we had a singing male...phew! It kept its distance but still gave great views as it sang from the top of the small desert bushes.

The ultimate record shot - African Desert Warbler
A little further along the road we had a couple of Long-legged Buzzards feeding on a deceased Desert Hare.

Long-legged Buzzard (cirtensis) - Western Sahara
Birds in this region are a sub-species called cirtensis. Slightly smaller than the nominate race, pale-headed with a pale rump band and a rufous tail.
We stopped for one final check around the water tower at Tachaktant, the winds had switched around from north to south and there appeared to be far less migrants present. Although there was a female Bluethroat, two LRPs, two Spanish Wagtails and this very dark Sardinian Warbler.

Dark looking Sardianian Warbler - Tachaktant
I also came across this Chameleon walking out in the open - even more bizzare looking when they aren't clinging to a branch.

Chameleon spp.
And also a pair of Thick-billed Larks dropped in for a drink.

Thick-billed Lark, Tachkatant, Western Sahara
We enjoyed a final lunch before heading back to Dahkla.

So, we still had one last bird to try for............Royal Tern. Once again we had directions from the Dutch guys, it was now or never! And this time our luck was in - just one bird resting on the sand below the cliffs at the 20km marker on the road out of Dahkla - but you only need one bird right?

His Royal Highness!
And while we were at it there was this dark Western Reef Heron too!

Dark morph Wester Reef Heron
And the only 'quack' of the trip - Pintail.

Drake Pintail and three 'lady' Pintails
And that was it - back to the hotel and farewell to Nico and his crew. Which by the way I would like to heartily recommend and endorse Dahkla Rovers. Nico and Martina were excellent, we were well taken care of in all respects.
We totted up our list over some local beer that evening and voted Sand Cat as 'Bird of the trip'!

The local poison - Casablanca
A Stone Curlew at the airport the following morning brought our trip list to 101 - quality over quantity maybe. A pity to miss Golden Nightjar and Sudan Golden Sparrow but we compensated a little with some unexpected bonuses such as Scops Owl and snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat on the final day with Royal Tern and African Desert Warbler. For me I will never forget the morning I spent at Mijk Farm sitting beneath an Acacia tree as Bluethroats, Olivaceous Warblers, Subalpine Warblers, Wrynecks, Bee-eaters and Woodchats buzzed about me - that's what birding is about for me and it will go down as one of my most memorable birding moments ever!

Tuesday 10 April 2018

Western Sahara - part five

5am came around pretty quickly and soon we found ourselves back at the Oued Jenna wadi standing silently in the darkness listening and hoping for Golden Nightjar. However there was neither sight nor sound. When the sun came up we decided to use the cool of the morning to bird the wadi - which turned out to be a good strategy. The place was heaving with migrants - mainly Western Olivaceous Warblers, Western Subalpine Warblers and Western Orphean Warblers.

Western Olivaceous Warbler
We had a good candidate for Moltoni's Warbler but the call was not quite right. We bumped into our Dutch buddies and birded with them until around 11am.

Our by now regular birding companions from Holland
Highlight of the morning was a fine Pharoah Eagle Owl - wish I had been a bit quicker with the camera though!
We returned to our digs in Aousserd and took brunch. The heat, the travelling, the long days and early starts were taking their toll on us all and we elected to skip the midday heat and enjoy a siesta. That was a good idea but we followed that up with another few hours back at Oued Jenna searching for Sudan Golden Sparrows and by evening time I was really shattered.....and we were 'sparrow-less'.

Oued Jenna wadi
Fortunately Nico had packed some emergency chocolate cake - while we waited for it to get dark we polished off the cake, drank a few gallons of water, rested a little and got ready for the Golden Nightjars to perform.

X marks the spot - or in this case a red rag marks the Golden Nightjar spot on the Aousserd road - thanks to whomever left this

All set for Nightjarring - my wife said I looked like a Minion!
And while we waited we had two Melodious Warblers feeding in Acacia trees beside where we had parked.

Melodious Warbler
We had two Golden Nightjars singing - one either side of the road, but we didn't see any unfortunately. There are proably a few more in the Oued Jenna wadi if you were to walk further into it after dark.

A lonely figure under the blue moon

We knocked it on the head at around 10pm and would give it one last go the next morning - alarms set for 6am..........and fingers crossed for Golden Nightjar!

Monday 9 April 2018

Western Sahara- part four

All good things come to an end and eventually we had to leave Mijk Farm and continue on towards Aousserd. Any traces of greenery disappeared and we were soon out in the desert good and proper!

We stopped briefly to check out these very elegant Cream-coloured Coursers.

Cream-coloured Courser
Next up was a site for African Dunn's Lark. Locating the birds was relatively straight-forward but taking photos was tricky. Apart from the strong light, the heat was now really building up - even kneeling on the sand was burning my knees.

African Dunn's Lark
Although perfectly adapted to life in the desert even they sought out whatever shade they could find, often stopping under a tussock of grass to escape the searing heat.
The heat didn't seem to bother these guys though!

Unable to stick the heat any longer, we piled back into our 4x4, turned the AC up full and continued along the Aousserd road towards a set of gps coordinates we had for African Desert Warbler.
Unfortunately we failed to see or hear any of the small Sylvias and the heat was really packing a punch by now. We trudged around for over an hour before throwing in the towel.

Nick and camel (camel on the left!)
En route to Aousserd we stopped off for a quick punt around the Oued Jenna wadi, thankfully it had cooled down a little and while we didn't see any Sudan Golden Sparrows we did have two Cricket Warblers and a small party of Fulvous Babblers.

Cricket Warbler, Oued Jenna, Western Sahara

Fulvous Babbler - Oued Jenna, Western Sahara
We pitched in at our house in Aousserd, ate dinner and then went spot-lighting for Sand Cat and other night-time goodies.

Home for the next three days - Aousserd, Western Sahara
Dinner time!

Spotlighting on the Aousserd Road

Nico and Nick check their shots
Our luck was really in when we came across this stunning Sand Cat watching us from about 80 yards in off the road. A truly beautiful creature.

Sand Cat by Nick Watmough (even my iphone photo from the back of Nick's camera shows how beautiful they are)
And in close second place was this impressive Sand Viper - photo taken with a long lens - from far back.....very far back !!!

Sand Viper

 At least this Gecko was a little less terrifying!

Gecko spp.

We got home around midnight and crashed. Alarms set for a 5am rendevous at Oued Jenna with Golden Nightjars.

Sunday 8 April 2018

Western Sahara - part three

At 8.30am we met with our guide Nico from Dahkla Rovers who would take us into the desert for the next three days to look for Golden Nightjar at the Oued Jenna wadi and to spotlight for desert mammals such as Sand Cat, Fennac Fox, Desert Hare and Desert Hedgehog along the Aousserd road.

All set for the desert

We made a short and yet again unsuccessful stop to look for Royal Tern - really becoming a bogey bird at this stage. We did enjoy nice views of Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Osprey, Peregrine and Great White Egret but no Royalty!

Spoonbill flock - Dahkla Bay, Western Sahara
From there we drove along the Aousserd Road stopping at a place called Mijk Farm to look for migrants. This was basically a large scale commercial banana and tomato farm where in the surrounds of the large hessian-type greenhouses, the owners had created some allotment type gardens with small little irrigation pools here and there.

Mijk Farm
A week before us a Great Bittern had been found here - only the second record for Western Sahara. The few hours we spent here were for me the highlight of the entire week. The place was dripping with migrant birds, Nightingales, Redstarts, Wryneck, Woodchat Shrikes, Bee-eaters, Willows, Chiffs, Bluethroats, Subalpine Warblers, Yellow Wagtails, Tawny Pipits, Western Olivaceous Warblers, Western Orphean Warblers, Reed and Sedge Warblers. I could have spent all week here. It was hard to know where to start, in the end I plonked myself down under the shade of an acacia tree and let the migrants come to me.

A very 'blue' Bluethroat

Look at that Blue bib!

A lifer - Western Orphean Warbler

Western Orphean Warbler

Western Olivaceous Warbler

Western Olivaceous Warbler

Western Subalpine Warbler

Western Subalpine Warbler

Western Subalpine Warbler
We stopped for a short while to take lunch (downside here was that I cracked one of my teeth on an olive stone!).

Lunch is served!
After lunch I sought out a new spot in the shade overlooking a little pond and enoying cracking views of a White-spotted Bluethroat (that at one stage was too close to focus on) plus Segdies, Chiffs and two dualing Nightingales!

White-spotted Bluethroat
Sedge Warbler