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A Report from

Tunisia, 23 February 6 March 2008,

Ernesto G. Occhiato

Thick-billed Lark


Here is a short account of my recent trip to Tunisia, as usual accompanied by my wife Dina. The itinerary we followed was biased by my interest in desert birds and the typical North African species (Moussier’s Redstart, Tristram’s Warbler and Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker) and so, a part from the Sebkhet Kelbia, which was dry, and the pools around Douz, we did not explore any of the known barrages, marshes or saltpans of Tunisia.

The birding areas of Tunisia are well dealt with in some previous trip reports and so I will not add anything here except for some notes in the itinerary which could be useful and notes for some of the generally most wanted species in the checklist.

Particularly useful reports were the following ones:

Richard Fuller, Tunisia 17-28 November 2004,
William Oliver, Birding trip to Tunisia, 7th-15th March 1999,
Philippe J. Dubois, Tunisie, 19 au 26 février 2007

I also wish to thank the following people who were so kind to reply to my questions: Bruno Caula, Giorgio di Liddo, Daniele Occhiato, Georges Olioso, Rainer Jahn, Ken Tucker, and Frédéric Jiguet.


23 February: arrival to Tunis airport at 4.30 pm, car from Avis and tranfer to Kairouan (Hotel Amina).

24 February: visit of the Sebkhet Kelbia. We explored the steppe and grassy areas on the north-western side of the Sebkhet between kms 29 and 31 from Kairouan (P2 road). Park the car along the P2 at any point between kms 29 and 31 and walk east towards the Sebkhet. This year the Sebkhet was dry earlier than usual. Then back to Kairouan.

25 February: transfer to Matmata (Hotel Matmata). Visit of the area north of the road between kms 26 and 27 from Matmata along the Matmata-Douz road (C105).

26 February: whole day spent along the pipeline road up to Ksar Ghilane, birding various oueds en route as well as Bir Soltane.

27 February: mountain road (C104) between Matmata and Medenine, then the C113 to Beni Kheddache and from there, we took the C114 west towards Bir Soltane. The asphalted C114 road ends at the cross-road to Bir Soltane and Ksar Ghilane, after passing first through Bir Zoui and then, 2.5 km before the cross-road, Bir Hashana (I’m not sure of this name, it was told me by a man met there who did not speak any French). The C114 after Bir Zoui was the best semidesert area we visited as far as it concerns number and variety of birds and landscape beauty. When you get in Beni Kheddache, from Medenine, do not enter in the square where the collective taxis are parked, but keep right and go uphill for some kms until you reach a big and well visible restaurant on the left, well outside the village. Just after the restaurant turn left and continue through the mountain until you reach the C114.

28 February: transfer to Douz (Hotel 20 Mars), with birding all along the C105. Visit to the pools and palmeraies in Douz area.

29 February:  whole day spent exploring the pools, the palmeraies and some desert areas around Douz (for example a sandy area with bushes between Nouil and Bechini, at the km 29 to El Faouar on the right was very good).

1 March: transfer to Tozeur (Hotel du Jardin) through the Chott el Jerid and visit of the palmeraie.

2 March: road to Tamerza, Mides, and then to the Seldja gorges along the C201 via Redeyef , Moulares and Metlaoui. Not a lot of time spent near the Seldja gorges, so the bird list there is very short.

3 March: transfer to Ain Draham (Hotel Royal Rihana).

4 and 5 March: we tried some birding near the cross-road to Beni M’Tir, 7 km south of Ain Draham, but the strong wind on 4th and again strong wind, plus heavy rain and even snow next day (we remained in the hotel) reduced our chances to connect with Levaillant’s Green Woodpecker. Some birding from the car and from the hotel room.

6 March: transfer to Tunis and departure to Rome.

Systematic List

(we saw 99 species, notes are given only for some selected species, in bold are the lifers)

Marbled Duck (Marmaronetta angustirostris): very common in the Douz area, with at least 150 on Pool A, more or less the same number on Ghidma and Blidette pools. A very few (15-20) on Pool B, but I saw several dogs roaming on the shores of this pool (and a Wild Boar, too!).

Marbled Duck

Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus cirtensis): one juv. at the Sebkhet Kelbia on 24 Feb, one near the km 26 to Matmata along the C105, 1 ad. between Beni Kheddache and Bir Zoui on 27 March, 3 birds north of Le Kef towards Ain Draham and a pair at Ain Draham.

Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus erlangeri): one adult was seen between Beni Kheddache and Bir Zoui feeding in flight on a killed bird.

Barbary Partridge (Alectoris barbara spatzii): six birds were in the abandoned plantation on the NW side of Sebkhet Kelbia. Easy to see along the road between Matmata and Toujane and also along the C105 after Tamezret (at the km 15 to Matmata there is a wadi on the right with some Olive trees. We saw five and three partidges coming to feed below these trees on 26 and 27 Feb afternoon, respectively).

Crane (Grus grus): 80+ birds flying over the Sebkhet Kelbia. The Sebkhet is a known wintering area for Crane.

Stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus): one bird seen from the Hotel Amina at Kairouan and calling at night.

Cream-coloured Courser (Cursorius cursor): two seen along the pipeline road on 26 Feb. and two seen along the C105 at the km 29 to Douz.

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus): 100+ were on the shore of Pool B on 28 Feb.

Slender-billed Gull (Larus genei): two birds quite inland at pool B, Douz, on 29th Feb.

Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis phoenicophila). Common and widespread.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba erlangeri): one heard calling at night at Douz.

Little Owl (Athene noctua sahare): this subspecies was seen along the pipeline road, near Bir Soltane. Darker birds common along the C105 on approaching Matmata.

Little Swift (Apus affinis): a small colony (9-10 birds) is now present at Kairouan near the Palace du Gouvernorat, very close to the Hotel Amine. I could see the birds from my room. So no need to go to Enfida for this species.  Also 4-5 birds seen on a vertical cliff just before Tamerza on 02 Feb. and some other birds above the Seldja gorges.

Alpine Swift (Apus melba): a colony on a cliff just before Tamerza.

Levaillant's Green Woodpecker (Picus vaillantii). Three birds only heard at Ain Draham on 4th March at the junction with the Beni M’Tir road. Another one heard near the Hotel La Foret.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major numidus): some birds seen well at Ain Draham on 4th March at the junction with the Beni M’Tir road.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos minor ledouci): one female seen on 4th March from our room at Ain Draham.

Lesser Short-toed Lark (Calandrella rufescens minor): a very common species on the NW side of the Sebkhet Kelbia, on 24th Feb., alongside Calandra Lark. Singles or small groups seen daily in the various desert and semi-desert areas visited along the C105, the pipeline road, and the C114.

Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla): small groups (7-8 birds) seen only near Bir Soltane and Bir Hashana, coming to drink.

Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra): abundant in the steppe area on the NW side of the Sebkhet Kelbia, on 24th Feb.

Temminck's Lark (Eremophila bilopha): a common species always observed in the semi-desert area visited; good numbers at Bir Hashana and Bir Soltane, in company of other larks at these drinking sites.

Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti algeriensis): Often seen in semi-desert habitats around Matmata, and also along the C114 road.

Bar-tailed Lark (Ammomanes cincturus arenicolor): two seen on 25th and 28th Feb. at km 26 of the Matmata-Douz road; 5-6 seen along the pipeline road on 26th Feb.; 5 birds seen along the road between Bir Zoui and Bir Hashana on 27th Feb.

Bar-tailed Lark

Thick-billed Lark (Ramphocoris clotbey): four birds observed in the hammada between km 26 and 27 of the Matmata-Douz road on the 25th Feb.; and three birds in the same place on 28th Feb. (one pair present). To find the place, park the car near a white box on the roadside and walk uphill on the N side of the road. In both occasions, the birds were not very far from the road. I strongly suspect that this is a traditional breeding area of Thick-billed Lark as it has been seen here also in the past by other birders. Two birds (pair) also seen in the wadi to the lefthand side of the pipeline road on 26th Feb. (milestone n. 57; about 20 km from the beginning of the pipeline road).

Thick-billed Lark

Hoopoe Lark (Alaemon alaudipes): fairly common, seen or heard daily in the semi-desert and desert area visited.

Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae): I did not check most of the Galerida encountered but, when I did it, I found some theklae along the C114 and the pipeline road.

Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus samamisicus): one full adult male observed on 2nd Mar. along the C201 after Tamerza. As far as I know it should be an accidental for Tunisia as this subspecies migrates through Middle East to Africa. Probably this bird took a more westerly back route.

Moussier's Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri): two males and three females observed on 24th Feb. at Sebkhet Kelbia; then observed daily especially in the palmeraies of Douz and Tozeur. One bird also along the C201 N of Tamerza on 2nd Mar.

Northern Wheather (Oenanthe oenanthe): some birds (males) in Douz area.

Isabelline Wheather (Oenanthe isabellina): this a regular migrant at the end of Feb in Tunisia as some birds follow a more westerly return route to their breeding quarters. Three birds seen on 27th Feb. along the C114 between Bir Zoui and Bir Hashana.

Desert Wheatear (Oenanthe deserti homochroa): several birds observed on 27th Feb. along the road between Beni Kheddache and Bir Hashana; one male on 28th Feb. at km 26 of the Matmata-Douz road and one male on the same day near the Ghidma pool.

Mourning Wheatear (Oenanthe lugens halophila): the rarest among the resident wheatear with two males and one female on 25th Feb. at km 26 of the Matmata-Douz road (quite uphill); one pair on 26th Feb. along C105 before Tamezret and one male along the pipeline road on 26th Feb.

White-crowned Wheatear (Oenanthe leucopyga): very common along the mountain road between the village of Chebika and Tamerza on 2nd Mar. Not seen in the Matmata area.

Red-rumped Wheatear (Oenanthe moesta moesta): common along the pipeline road and especially so along the C114 between Bir Zoui and Bir Hashana; some birds seen also in the area of km 26 of the Matmata-Douz road.

Red-rumped Wheatear

Black Wheatear (Oenanthe leucura syenitica): very common around Tamezret, Matmata, the mountain section of the Matmata-Medenine road and in the mountains around Beni Kheddache.

Tristram's Warbler (Sylvia deserticola): clearly most of the birds had left their wintering areas at the time of my visit (end of Feb – beginning of March); so I was lucky to see one beautiful male at Ksar Ghilane on 26th Feb.; another one in the area around km 29 of the road between Nouil and Bechini on 29th Feb. and a female in the same area the next day.

Scrub Warbler (Scotocerca inquieta saharae): one bird seen on 29th Feb. at km 29 between Nouil and Bechini.

African Blue Tit (Cyanistes teneriffae): observed in the palmeraies of Tozeur and in the garden of the Hotel du Jardin, keeping us company while eating our breakfast. Common at Ain Draham.

Coal Tit (Periparus ater ledouci): this distinctive sub-species is common in the woods of Ain Draham.

Southern Grey Shrike (Lanius meridionalis algeriensis/elegans): subspecies elegans very common everywhere; two birds very likely to be algeriensis observed quite far from coastal areas at Sebkhet Kelbia on 24th Feb.

Southern Grey Shrike

Fulvous Babbler (Turdoides fulvus): single birds observed in various areas of the palmeraies of Douz and a group of 6-7 birds found along the road between Nouil and Bechini (km 29) on 29th Feb and 1st Mar.

Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius cervicalis): some birds observed at Ain Drahama.

Brown-necked Raven (Corvus ruficollis): some birds seen along the pipeline road near Ksar Ghilane and south of Douz.

African Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs spodiogenys): common around Ain Draham.

Trumpeter Finch (Rhodopechys githaginea zedlitzi): single birds and small groups observed daily in the desert and semi-desert areas visited.

House Bunting (Emberiza striolata sahari): quite common and easy to be observed / heard in the various villages encountered along the Matmata-Medenine, Matmata-Douz, Douz-Tozeur and Tozeur-Tamerza roads.

Major dip: Desert Sparrow (Passer simplex). A few birds survive at the fort close to Ksar Ghilane (see Philippe Dubois’ trip report) but I could not go to the fort as it was too late for dune crossing either on foot or by dromedaire. This is probably the last reliable spot in Tunisia for Desert Sparrow as this bird has not been seen or reported since long time at the other traditional spots like El Hessai and Bir Soltane (here, last observation 2005).

Other species seen: Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Grey Heron, White Stork, Shelduck, Shoveler, Wigeon, Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk (Ain Draham), Kestrel, Peregrine (Ain Draham), Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Little Stint, Green Sandpiper, Greenshank, Yellow-legged Gull, Rock Dove, Wood Pigeon (Ain Draham), Pallid Swift (Kairouan), Hoopoe, Skylark, Crested Lark, Barn Swallow, House Martin, Water Pipit, Meadow Pipit, White Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Wren (Ain Draham), Robin, Black Redstart, Stonechat, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush (Ain Draham), Blackbird, Blackcap, Sardinian Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Great Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff, Firecrest (Ain Draham), Great Tit (Ain Draham), Short-Toed Treekreeper (Ain Draham), Common Raven, Spotless Starling, Italian Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Chaffinch (Ain Draham), Linnet, Greenfinch, Serin, Corn Bunting.


Gundi (Ctenodactylus gundi): very common along the mountain section of the Matmata-Medenine road; scarcer along the road between the village of Chebika and Tamerza.

Golden Jackal (Canis aureus): one seen at Ain Draham.

Wild Boar (Sus scrofa): one seen at the pool B near Douz.

Ernesto G. Occhiato Firenze, Italy


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