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A Report from

Trip-report Tunisia / Cap Bon [ 26/04 - 03.05.2000 ],

Dirk Raes

Being just two days home [ after guiding a birding tour to Mallorca ] , I left Brussels-International for Monastir, Tunisia with some 30 birders. The Belgian ornithological society De Wielewaal asked the travel-agency Ro-Travel [] to organize one of their yearly birding-trips with me as guide.

So the unknown Cap Bon was this year on the list. The area is not that well known to birders and then mostly during autumn for wintering ducks. Our people left with great expectations. 

After an early-morning flight of about 2.30hours, during the landing you can already see the first birds : Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) in the Salinas of Monastir. During the bus trip towards Hammamet (we stayed in the Hotel Hammamet) a Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola) and several Eurasian Hoopoes (Upupa epops) were spotted.

If you decide to go to Hammamet , choose one of the hotels towards the old center. These hotels have nice gardens with a lot of green. The new Hammamet-sud area is total bird-unfriendly. We choose the Hammamet-Hotel, very well situated (100m. from the beach) , a swimming-pool, extremely good buffet-food, friendly people and above all some nice birds in the garden. New birds for the group and immediately seen in the hotel-garden were Blue Tit, racial variation ultramarinus (Parus caeruleus ultramarinius) , Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) , Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor) and Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus). These four birds can been seen from your room or just go out in the garden or on the street !!!

During the morning we took a walk along the beach and spotted the first Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) , several gannets (Morus bassanus) and also some fishing Little Terns (Sterna albifrons) and during the afternoon we made a visit to the Cultural Center of Hammamet (about 1km. towards Hammamet-Center) and worth a visit. It's a garden with some trees and scrubs looking towards the sea. The area is very nice, calm and very interesting for birds. A quick passing Hobby (Falco subbuteo), A Barbary Dove (Streptopelia roseogrisea risoria) , a Hoopoe (Upupa epops) and - of course- the Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) were the most outstanding observations of that day. A promising start!!!

The next day - the 27th. of April - we went to the Soliman-lagoon. This lagoon is just north of the village of Soliman, north side of Cap Bon. You can enter the area by a small road, leaving the C26-road, at the point where a little beton industrial plant is beside the C26. This road brings you along gardens and later towards the lagoon. During the preparation of this trip (March 2000) I saw two Black-Shouldered Kites (Elanus caeruleus) in this area, unfortunately not this time. The wind was probably the reason, indeed at 50km./h, was very disturbing that day. Sure we lost a lot of observations, not pleasant for a guide either. Anyway the most significant were extremely good observations of Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus), Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea) , Little Stint (Calidris minuta) - from this one we should see hundreds, definitely heavy migration - Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra), Fan-tailed Warbler (Cisticola juncidis), Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor algeriensis) and a probable Trumpeter Finch (Bucanetes githagineus). Most remarkable were the migration of 42 Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus), 1 Black Kite (Milvus nigrans) and 135 Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber). Worth mentioning for the site is 11 Marbled Ducks (Marmaronetta angustirostris) and Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia).

As already said, the wind had an negative effect on our bird-list. The guide was starting to panic !!

Friday the 28th. of April , some wind but also some rain, not the ideal for visiting El Haouaria, at the end of Cap Bon. Our local guide wanted to visit with the group the tourist area like ceramic and textile shops, but with me as group-guide he had it difficult , just birding and no ceramics, and probably his pocket-money gone. Up to El Haouaria with a superb visit of Les Grottes and good views over the sea. Within 1.5 hour some 180 Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus) 1 Black Kite (Milvus migrans) and 1 Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) , that is the famous migration at Cap Bon. Then a state of panic in the group, where to look first ?: Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus) , Barbary Falcon (Falco pelegrinoides) or Peregrine (Falco peregrinus) [still under question !!] , Moussier's Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri) , Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) , Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka) and Little Owl - race lilith (Athene noctua). Great moments. We took lunch in the restaurant Les Grottes, from where Moussier's Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri) was seen. In the afternoon, a walk in the area, didn't bring us anything better. A short visit to the Fauconerie [yearly El Haouaria is organizing the days of the Sparrowhawk with a show on trained birds]. Back to Hammamet, a nice day but again due to the weather not a "big list".

Saturday 29th of April , a major weather improvement and a visit to Zaghouan, west/south-west of Hammamet and also towards the mountains. But before this, you should visit the new dam/barrage of Oued Rmel. To arrive at the best place, just continue on the road towards Zaghouan , after a village called Bouachir turn right into the C35 road and at the small bridge just WAIT !! This place and the direct surroundings are very productive. From the bridge we saw Great Crested (Podiceps cristatus) , Little (Tachybaptus ruficollis) and Black-necked grebe (Podiceps nigricollis). Everywhere were LittleEgrets (Egretta garzetta) and migration of White Stork (Ciconia ciconia). Also some Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) and several Gull-billed terns (Sterna nilotica), Whiskered Terns (Chlidonias hybridus) and Black Terns (Chlidonias niger) were seen. Different species of waders and plovers and regular Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola) hawking over the water. A Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) and some Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) passed by. Just before leaving a couple of Marbled Ducks (Marmaronetta angustirostris) were diving into the reed. The place is just great, we'll be back !!

For lunch we went to Zaghouan, more specifically, Le Temple des Eaux. This place, on the backside of the city and at the foot of the mountains was an old Roman Nymphaeum. Take your pic-nic, sit down at the little restaurant, order a drink and then try to eat. Impossible, too much to see. A short overview : Red Kite (Milvus milvus), min. 2 Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), 3 Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus), min. 4. Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus), some 12 Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) hunting like Lesser Kestrel, Peregrine (Falco peregrinus), min 3 male Moussier's Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri). Some time left to eat ?? After 'lunch' we went for a walk along the road behind the restaurant and were rewarded with Barbary Partridge (Alectoris barbara). On the way back we stopped near the relicts of a Roman Forum (not mentioned on any map) and apart from this cultural stop, some birds like Alpine Swift (Apus melba), Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) and Golden Oriole -male- (Oriolus oriolus). A family to which we didn't pay enough attention during the trip was the sparrows of which today we saw the Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis). Ending this great day on the beach of Hammamet with Mediterranean Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan) was just great !

Sunday the 30th of April , the last day of the month and very good weather for birding. Salinas of Korba , north of Hammamet and Barrage Lebna, known for ducks in winter, but not as great as promised by me to my group. Wait , read and see !!

The Salinas of Korba are just north of Hammamet direction El Haouaria. You should consider the position of the sun visiting this place. Just after Korba you can stop along the road and walk between the fields towards this great birding area. A first look showed us that still some 570 Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) were present. Also a lonely Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) and one Great Egret (Egretta alba) on a dike. A few Shelducks (Tadorna tadorna) and 3 Marbled Ducks (Marmaronetta angustirostris) passed by. On migration were a Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) and one male Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus). Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus) were everywhere breeding and alarm calling, and a beautiful Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) flew over. All the time about ten Slender-billed Gulls (Larus genei) flew over our heads, nice to see such a small group. Going a little bit further along this road , you can stop alongside and walk towards a fishermen's house on the other side of the Salinas and along the beach. In the middle of this road [and so also in the middle of the salinas] we continued to build our list with Gull-billed Tern (Sterna nilotica), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola), about 50 Little Stints (Calidris minuta), Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) and totally black, Spotted Redshanks (Tringa erythropus). Between this all some Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis), Little Terns (Sterna albofrons) and a few Whiskered Terns (Chlidonias hybridus) flew over. A regular ten to twelve Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola) were hawking over the water. A nest with several juv. Great Grey Shrikes (Lanius excubitor algeriensis) was near our pic-nic place, the beach and also a Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator badius) was present. During lunch several hundred Swallows (Hirundi rustica) migrated through. I have to say that this place was difficult to leave, it was just great.

During the afternoon I brought the group to the Barrage Lebna, a place known in winter for his hundreds of ducks and coots. It's an agricultural area which is using the water from the Barrage, so water in spring could provide birds. But, after such a great birding-morning, I didn't promise that much to people : " it won't be that good !! " , I said !!!

Already from the bus -a guide is quite privileged as he is sitting in front- I spotted 2 Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus). Using the microphone to announce this, I never had a group so quick out of my bus. And then the fiesta started : a third Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) appeared. To make a list of the egrets : at one moment 7 or 8 Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) together, min. 29 Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) and a Grey Heron (Ardea cinera). A male White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala) was by himself in the reeds, pointing out a breeding female. Another male Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus) was on migration, while a flock of Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) came down into a tree. A Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) was -in our opinion- uncommon in this place and a magnificent Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator badius) was sitting about 15m. from the group.  Nobody wanted to leave this place, as you can expect.

Monday 05 May : a days 'rest' by visiting Kairouan, the fourth city of the Islam. Beautiful place, worth a visit, high culture and great place for taking pictures. Birders had a great time when they spotted very well Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus) close to Common Swift (Apus apus) and this in the Medresse of Kairouan. The little streets and the open-market provided the so necessary change from birding and during the late afternoon we made a stop for some 'quickie birding' along the road. Signpost km. 30 along the road Kairouan- Enfidha is the place-to-be. Just out of the bus over 25 Red-footed Falcons (Falco vespertinus) hunting insects : all ages, males and females, flying low and high : never seen such a spectacle. Apart from a few Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus), some Black-bellied Sandgrouses (Pterocles orientalis) and a Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae) not special !!! It was also 30C hot, with this temperature, you can not expect better !!!

As told on Saturday 29th of April , today the 2nd. of May, " I'll be back " !!!

Yes, we went again to the undiscovered area of the new dam/barrage of Oued Rmel. Remember, after a village called Bouachir turn right till the small bridge and WAIT !!!!  To be correct after the lunch we went for a walk towards the lake and about 3pm. we spent again about one hour on this magic bridge to mark the end the trip. A Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) at about 35m. in scrub and then flying over. But now the list of that day. The egrets: Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides), Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) and an against-the-sun flying Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) were well spotted. The group of 12 Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) and the same 2 Marbled Ducks (Marmaronetta angustirostris) were the same as some days before. Raptors can be mentioned with Black Kite (Milvus milvus), close views of Egyptian Vulture (Neophron pernopterus), Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus), Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus), a couple of Short-toed Eagles (Circaetus gallicus), a Lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus) and a Peregrine (Falco peregrinus). Worth it to stay on that bridge, isn't it?? Also worth mentioning were the Gull-billed terns (Sterna nilotica) feeding on the fields and several Calandra Larks (Melanocorypha calandra). These last ones are really fat birds. Some Alpine Swifts (Apus melba) passed over together with all other swallows. During the pic-nic a Rufous Bush Chat (Cercotrichas galactotes) came very close and also a Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) and a Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) were close to that famous bridge. For the different waders (see the list of Walter) the very best place is after the bridge, walk inside the vegetation and follow the water-line along the reed. Depending on the water-level you will walk between olives trees which are dead due to the high water level in winter.

Very nice was the observation of a butterfly called Plain Tiger (Danaus Chrysippus).

Let me end by giving an impression -from the bridge-. Cap Bon and his surroundings, staying in Hammamet, are more than worth a visit. Tunisian people are extremely friendly, our group always felt safe, the hotel was great and of course as you were reading, birding was great.

By this visit, with this report we are very pleased to help with an update for a new Avifauna of Tunisia.

If more questions about this or others trips guided by me,

just mail me , most welcome :

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