Sunday 8 April 2018

Western Sahara - part one

On Tuesday 27th March myself and Nick Watmough headed to Western Sahara for a week long birding trip. We based ourself in the city of Dahkla for the first two days, birding off our own steam at various spots around the city and Dahkla Bay itself before spending three days in the desert looking for specialist species such as Golden Nightjar, Cricket Warbler and Sudan Golden Sparrow amongst many others.
We had a long but uneventful journey from Gatwick airport to Dahkla via Casablanca with Royal Air Maroc. We picked up our rental car on arrival at Dahkla, drove to the hotel and hit the hay pretty much immediately.
The next morning we fuelled the car up, picked up supplies for breakfast and lunch (fresh bread, water and camel cheese) and set off birding.

Breakfast and lunch - bread and camel cheese
First birds were Common Swift and Osprey. We birded the coast road on the Atlantic side where we had gatherings of 'Intermedius' Lesser Blacked-back Gulls, Audouin's Gulls, a few Yellow-legged Gulls and the odd Caspian Tern mixed in. We were hoping / expecting to come across a few Royal Terns but this species was to prove quite tricky for us over the course of the week. We also had several Kentish Plovers along the track plus a single Common Sandpiper and a pair of Hoopoe Larks. Migrants were also in evidence with the occasional Northern Wheatear popping up.

Adult Audouin's Gull

Caspian Terns

Hoopoe Lark
We reached the end of the track and in attempting to turn back we got stuck in the sand - however a few locals and a couple of Gendarmes were on hand to push us out. But, from that point on I was a lot more cautious going off road - it doesn't take too much sand to stop you in your tracks if you don't have 4-wheel drive.
From there we located a small little lagoon on the bay side of the main road heading north out of Dahkla. We had quite a nice combination of waders and migrants in this spot. We had Grey Plover, Collared Pratincole, Redshank, Greenshank and Whimbrel and on the migrant side we had Bluethroat, Grasshopper Warbler, Tree Pipit, Subalpine Warbler, Chiffchaff, White Wagtail, Sand Martin, Blue-headed Wagtail and Marsh Harrier.
Continuing our quest for Royal Terns we headed further along the north road out of Dahkla. We scoped this group of Terns and Gulls for Royals and while there were none present, the Slender-billed Gulls were really elegant looking.

Slender-billed Gulls (plus Sandwich Terns and Black-headed Gulls)
We stopped for lunch in a little cafe at a spot called L'aquila. The owner had planted a few trees around the edge of the cafe and even these held a few migrants that kept us entertained while we enjoyed our chicken sandwiches. We had Subalpine Warbler, Nightingale, Tree Pipit, Woodchat Shrike, Blackcap and Chiffchaffs. Basically any area of greenery in the desert will attract migrants!

L'aquila cafe - lots of cover for tired migrants
We headed back towards Dahkla and finished the day off at a small farm where we enjoyed the spectacle of at least 30+ Tree Pipits and many Blue-headed Wagtails plus lots of Chiffs and Willows (including some darkish looking Willows - acredula?), one more Nightingale, Hoopoe and Bee-eaters.

possible 'acredula' Willow Warbler?
Farm outside Dahkla (Taourta II on google maps)

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