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A Report from

Tunisia, 9th – 15th April 2006,

Bob and Dora Swann

This report gives details of the birds seen and the sites visited during a week in north east Tunisia based at the resort of Hammamet. We arranged a last minute deal with Panorama and flew from Glasgow to Monastir. We stayed at the Miramar Hotel, which was fine for our purposes, as it had large, well vegetated grounds, with a wide range of amenities, just by the beach. I did not manage to arrange car hire before we went. Opposite the hotel was a local car hire office and we got a reasonable deal on a middle of the range vehicle for 350 DN (£147) for 7 full days. For research I used two trip reports, one by Kathleen and Ian Johnston (March 2004) and the other by Stephen Poley (May 2005). Both proved to be very useful.

9th April.
We woke up in our hotel room to the sound of a singing Common Bulbul. The well vegetated grounds outside our window also held displaying European Serin and Greenfinch, singing Blackbirds, Sardinian Warbler and Wren. There were also Laughing Doves and a pair of Collared Dove, which were nesting in a palm tree. Spotless Starlings fed on the lawns, with sparrows, which were mainly Spanish Sparrows, but quite a few appeared to be hybrid Spanish/House. House Martins were zipping about overhead.

After we picked up our car we decided to head north east up to Cap Bon. First stop was the lagoon at Tuzerka where we had 4 Greater Flamingo, 2 Common Shelduck and several Slender-billed Gulls. Far more impressive was the lagoon north of Korba. We stopped first, half way along it, where a series of posts went out into the water. Crossing the field here to get to the shore we had a superb noisy flock of 60 Collared Pratincoles, flying, landing and displaying all around us. On the posts were lots of Sandwich Terns, 3 Little Terns and 2 Great Cormorant. We drove further north to where a track crosses the lagoon (to a fisherman’s hut). Here there were masses of birds including 200+ Greater Flamingo, 10 Eurasian Spoonbill, 6 Little Egret, 1 Great White Egret, 5 Grey Heron. Masses of gulls, comprised Slender-billed and Black-headed, along with 50+ Sandwich Terns and one Black Tern. Lots of waders in the shallows included 50+ Black-winged Stilts, 4 Common Redshank, 3 Spotted Redshank, 2 Marsh Sandpiper, 1 Greenshank and a Pied Avocet. Common Shelduck and Mallard bobbed about in the water. In the vegetation by the shore were Yellow Wagtails (mostly iberiae, but one thunbergi). As we drove back up the track towards the road we had close views of a pair of Stone Curlew.  Quite a start to our trip.

We drove further north, till just before Menzel Temime, there was a signpost to Barrage Lebna. We followed the road till we were overlooking the dam and the lake. Out on the water were lots of Common Coot, Great Crested Grebes and about 10 Black-necked Grebes. In the shallows were Little Grebes and Moorhen and a nice male White-headed Duck. By the shore were 3 Glossy Ibis, a few Little Egret and we flushed two Purple Heron, a Squacco Heron, a Common Snipe and a Common Sandpiper. In the adjacent fields there were large flocks of Spanish Sparrows, Spotless Starlings, 2 Common Linnets, a Southern Grey Shrike and we heard a Common Quail.

We drove on through Menzel Temime and Kelibia, till we reached El Haouaria. We went into the town till we came to a sign saying ‘Hopital’, by a big picture of a raptor. We followed the road which headed up the hill, Jebel Haouaria. At the top it was very windy. There was a large flock of 80 Black Kite that drifted low over the hilltop, out to sea and back again, giving nice close views. Other raptors included Common Kestrels, a Eurasian Sparrow Hawk, a Long-legged Buzzard and two Common Buzzards. In the scrub we had a nice Moussier’s Redstart, a male Blue Rock Thrush and two Barbary Partridge. It was so windy we decided to head on, driving down to Tazoghrane. Here we cut across country along the C45, through rich agricultural land with many Crested Lark, a Greater Short-toed Lark, lots of Southern Grey Shrikes, Zitting Cisticolas and Corn Buntings. Near the end of the road we turned off left to Ketchemi. This took us to another barrage. It held the usual Common Coot, Moorhen and Great Crested Grebes and 4 Black-necked Grebes. The adjacent scrubby area added our first Woodchat Shrike and two Hoopoes and we heard another Common Quail. We then drove on to Menzel Temime and then south down to the C27 back to Hammamet.

10th April.
We were on the road by 9.00am and drove south to Bouficha. We then went west up the C35 towards Zaghouan. Just after Bouachir we turned right along a closed road to Oued Rmel. We stopped by the bridge overlooking the lake, reeds and flooded fields. On the water were masses of Common Coot, Great and Little Grebe, a few Mallard, a Common Pochard, two Common Shelduck and a Great Cormorant. Along the edges and in the fields were 8 Glossy Ibis, 20 Cattle Egret, 10 Little Egret and two Purple Heron. There were lots of waders in the muddy pools, 50+ Wood Sandpiper, 10 Common Sandpiper, 10 Ruff, 2 Little Stint, 8 Little Ringed Plover, 6 Kentish Plover, 15 Black-winged Stilts and overhead 8 Collared Pratincoles. A Gull-billed Tern flew up and down the channel along with a few Sand Martins. In the reeds were singing Reed Warblers, a few Cetti’s Warblers, Sedge Warblers, a Great Reed Warbler, a Whinchat and we heard a Water Rail, whilst overhead were several Marsh Harriers. Along the road side were several Yellow Wagtails (mainly thunbergi) and a nice Red-throated Pipit.  In the adjacent fields were Crested Larks, Skylarks, Common Linnet, Spanish Sparrow, Common Ravens and a Woodchat Shrike. This was a very nice birding location.

We drove back to the C35 and headed west following the signs to Mornag. Just by Oued Ez Zit we had excellent views of a Long-legged Buzzard on a tree and a Short-toed Eagle on a pylon. Also a Red Fox. We drove up through the forested hills seeing lots of Chaffinch (africana –very different to ours, with a lot more white on the wing and tail and a different head and back pattern), European Serins, Blue Tits (of the race ultramarinus), Thekla Larks singing from the tops of trees, a Common Cuckoo and a nice singing male Black-eared Wheatear. We drove to the summit and then turned and went back the way we came, till we headed west to Zaghouan. Just as we approached Zaghouan we had two White Storks and our first Alpine Swifts. We went into the town and at the first roundabout in the centre turned left, up the hill following the signs to Temple des Eaux. As we entered the gate at the temple we immediately turned right and followed the road that took as up Jebel Zaghouan, the highest mountain in eastern Tunisia. We drove on up till we reached a sign saying ‘Military area no access’. Just beyond this was a bit where we could turn and park the car. We walked back down and sat in the bushes, overlooking a deep valley. As we watched Booted Eagles were making there way up the valley, often passing very close to us and giving superb views, probably 30+ came through in total. Overhead we had 4 Egyptian Vultures and 3 Long-legged Buzzards. At one stage a large brown falcon came out and started swooping at passing Booted Eagles. I was a bit confused at first as to what it was (Saker crossed my mind), till I realised it was a juvenile Lanner. It eventually flew back up to the cliff directly opposite us and landed back in its nest, an old raven nest in a hole in the cliff. There it sat giving us good views. It sallied out once again as two more Booted Eagles came close, diving down at both of them, very brave for a juvenile bird.

We drove back down the mountain and headed back east to Hammamet on the C28. Just before Sidi Jdidi we came across another large lake by the roadside. As well as the usual Common Coot, Little and Great Crested Grebes, there were 2 Black-necked Grebes, 2 Tufted Duck, 3 Shoveler, but best of all 3 male and a female White-headed Duck. So it was back to the hotel after another excellent day.

11th April.
After breakfast we decided to head north to Soliman. On the road between Grombalia and Solomon is a large battery chicken farm. The waste droppings are dumped beside it and this had attracted 50 Cattle Egret and lots of Yellow Wagtails (mainly flava and thunbergi). Raptors in the adjacent fields included a few pair Marsh Harrier, 2 male Montagu’s Harrier, 3 Long-legged Buzzard and a Black Kite. Lots of White Storks were nesting on the pylons and on a ruined building we had two Little Owls.

We arrived on the outskirts of Soliman, turned left along the bypass and then about 2km west of Soliman followed a sign marked Plage. This took us into a marshy area. We found a Southern Grey Shrike nest with two youngsters, in a roadside bush. To get to the best area for birds we drove across the marsh, turned first right, drove along the south edge of a settlement and then took the next right. Here the road overlooked open water and flooded fields on one side and a reedy area on the other. There were masses of birds: 300+ Black-winged Stilts, 100+ Ruff, 50+ Wood Sandpiper, 400+ Little Stint, 3 Marsh Sandpipers, 1 Spotted Redshank and lots of Kentish Plovers. Above were 40 feeding Collared Pratincoles. Also on the pools were 20+ Glossy Ibis, 1 Grey Heron, Common Coot, 100+ Mallard and 2 Marbled Duck. Sitting out on the open field was an adult Peregrine. It would swoop over from time to time, causing everything to fly up in alarm, swirling about and calling. It was quite a spectacle. Lots of Crested Larks and Skylarks were singing, and a Common Quail. Along the road side were lots of Sparrows, some House, but most were hybrid House-Spanish.  In the distance by the dump were lots of Yellow-legged Gulls and a few Common Raven.

We then drove into Soliman and took the road to Menzel Bouzella, then the C43 towards Menzel Temime. We stopped at Barage Chiba and walked down to the shore. Not a lot of birds. Waders included 15 Black-winged Stilts, 3 Little Stint a Common Snipe and a Green Sandpiper. Ducks included a male Shoveler. We drove on further, till about 7km before Menzel Temime we came across Oued Oui Dianne. This area by the road had lots of reedy areas and lots of birds. Masses of Common Coot, 100+ Mallard, 12 Eurasian Wigeon, 4 Gadwall and 4 Garganey. On the shore 22 Black-winged Stilts, 3 Black-tailed Godwit, 5 Little Ringed Plover and 5 Eurasian Spoonbill. At least 8 Marsh Harriers were hunting, along with 1 female and 3 male Montagu’s Harriers. Large numbers of Barn Swallow, Sand Martin and House Martin fed over the open water and were joined by 5 Whiskered Terns. We then stopped by the bridge overlooking the main channel. Here at the edge of the reeds were 22 Common Pochard, 4 male White-headed Ducks, displaying to a single female and a group of 7 Ferruginous Ducks (3male and 4 female) also displaying. This was yet another super site.

We drove to Menzel Temime and then back south to Korba. We stopped briefly at the north end of the lagoon, but it was very windy and not so many birds, bar a group of 22 Marbled Duck and a nice Great White Egret. Drove on back to Hammamet and before our evening meal had a quick walk round the grounds, where I found a pair of Blackcap and got nice views of the Common Bulbuls. Offshore there was a flock of several hundred Cory’s Shearwater and 2 Sandwich Tern.

12th April.
An early start today, we were off before 8am. It was quite cloudy, with a strong wind that had swung from the south to northwest, making it quite cool. We drove south to Enfida, where a quick stop by the museum in the centre of town revealed 2 Little Swift, amongst the Common Swift and a pair of Collared Dove, with the Laughing Doves. Outside the town were lots of White Storks, nesting on pylons.

We drove on down to Kondor and then further south till between kilometre stones 31 and 30 a track went down towards Sebhket Kelbia. We walked down through some abandoned agricultural land, with Crested Larks, Southern Grey Shrikes and a Whinchat. This took us towards some barley fields and then down to an area of more natural vegetation. Here there were masses of singing and displaying Calandra Larks. We also had small groups of Black-bellied Sandgrouse flying by and landing in more open areas, about 16 in total. Also down in these more open areas were Lesser Short-toed Larks. Lots of Barn Swallows, Sand Martins and Common Swift were heading north. We could not get down to the lake shore but in the distance could see 100s of Ruff, 50+ Little Egret and some Common Shelduck, disturbed from time to time by hunting Marsh Harriers. We headed back up to the car and drove back to Kondar.

From there we went east to Kaala Kebina, before getting onto the main P1 road and heading north to Sidi Bou Ali. About one km out of Sidi Bou Ali, just before a bridge, we turned off to the right and found ourselves alongside a wide river channel. There were lots of birds here including 80+ Slender-billed Gulls, 1 Whiskered Tern and 7 Marsh Sandpipers. We went under the motorway bridge and walked down the edge of the channel. Feeding along it were 50+ Little Stint, 20+ Kentish Plover, Common Sandpipers and a Ringed Plover. We also flushed a pair of Stone Curlew. In the bushes by the channel we had Southern Grey Shrikes, a Common Whitethroat and also saw our first Northern Wheatear. We walked back up to the car and then crossed to the west side of the main road. From the remains of the old bridge we got good views of an area of open water surrounded by reeds. Between here and the other side of the bridge there were at least 18 Little Egret, 6 Cattle Egret, 5 Eurasian Spoonbill, 3 Grey Heron, 200 Black-winged Stilts, 100+ Ruff, 20+ Wood Sandpiper, 17 Spotted Redshank, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 12 Collared Pratincoles, 40 Gull-billed Terns and 3 Marbled Duck. In the bushes we had a Hoopoe, another Whinchat and our first Willow Warbler. This was a very nice area, which provided good close views of a lot of birds.

We then drove back into Sidi Bou Ali and in the centre turned left on to the Hergla road. This brought us to the southern shore of Sebkhet Halk el Menzel. Out in the distance feeding in the very shallow water were 100s of Little Stints and Ruff. Along the shoreline were Kentish Plovers, 7 Greenshank, 2 Pied Avocet, 6 Collared Pratincoles and a Curlew Sandpiper. In the south east corner there were lots of Slender-billed Gulls and on a little sandbar 20 Sandwich Terns, along with 5 Caspian Terns. Here there was an outflow to the sea with 7 Great Cormorants, 6 Grey Heron and lots of Yellow-legged Gulls. We also had 2 Little Owls sitting on a pile of rubble. We then headed north to Hergla then west along the north shore of the lake. This area was birdless as the lake here was dry, so we drove back north to Hammamet.

13th April.
Another early start as we went back to Oued Rmel. Unfortunately it was cloudy and cool with a strong northwest wind. This made birding difficult and a lot of birds were hiding in open areas amongst the reeds. We did have 3 Temminck’s Stints, several Common Sandpipers and the Red-throated Pipit on the edge of the roadside ditch. Amongst the reeds there were still lots of Wood Sandpipers, plus 110 or more Black-winged Stilts, 40+ Greenshank, 20+ Little Stint, 10 Glossy Ibis, 9 Squacco Heron, 25 Little Egret and a few duck including 16 Garganey, 6 Shoveler, 3 Gadwall, 5 Marbled Duck and a Eurasian Wigeon. Lots of Barn Swallow, Sand Martin and Common Swift were moving north. In the fields were 80+ Cattle Egrets. Also overhead we had an Egyptian Vulture, a Montagu’s Harrier and several Marsh Harriers. In the adjacent olive groves were a pair of Pied Flycatcher and several Woodchat Shrikes.

We moved on to re-visit Jebel Zaghouan and went back up to the edge of the Military area. It was cloudy and windy, so not much raptor migration. Only 2 Booted Eagles and one Short-toed Eagle came through, though we also saw 2 Blue Rock Thrush and an Alpine Swift. The juvenile Lanner was lying low in its nest most of the time. It wandered to the edge a couple of times and went out for one short flight, before quickly returning. We had brief views of one of the adults flying along the cliff behind us. As it was so cool, we decided to retreat back to the Temple des Eaux. Here we had excellent close views of Moussier’s Redstarts. On the cliff behind the temple I spotted two falcons, a pair of Lanner. One landed on an old raven’s nest on the cliff and started to incubate. Five minutes later the second bird came back in and we watched a changeover at the nest. During this period we also had three Booted Eagles over the cliff and heard a Common Cuckoo. The weather was showing no signs of improving so we headed back to Hammamet.

14th April.
We decided to head back down to Sidi Bou Ali. In the open water either side of the bridge, there were still lots of birds, much as two days ago, including 30+ Marsh Sandpipers, 1 Green Sandpiper, 150+ Little Stint, 250 Black-winged Stilts and 30+ Collared Pratincoles. There were now 15 Eurasian Spoonbills, 9 Whiskered Terns and 4 pairs of Little Terns. At the west end of the reedy area we had 6 European Bee-eaters and a Hoopoe. In the reeds 2 Sedge Warblers were singing and in the bushes we located 3 Whinchat and a Common Whitethroat.  Overhead were lots of swifts, some Common but most appeared to be Pallid Swifts. We then walked under the motorway bridge and down the channel. An immature Peregrine flew up and grabbed a Little Stint. After the bridge there are three lines of eucalyptus trees. At the end of the third line is an area of scrub, by a small building. An unusual trilling call alerted us to a group of 6 Fulvous Babblers. They were very agitated flying out to an isolated bush and alarm calling. As we approached a cat ran out, pursued by the babblers. After that they settled down and we had good views of the family group in the bushes and feeding on the ground.

We drove east back to the southern shore of Sebkhet Halk el Menzel. Feeding out in the shallow water were 500+ Greater Flamingos, 100s of Little Stints and Ruff with at least 20+ Curlew Sandpiper, 3 Sanderling, 3 Eurasian Curlew, 2 Ringed Plover and 10 Collared Pratincoles close to the southern shore.  In the south east corner were a group of terns: 20 Sandwich, 20 Little, 2 Caspian and a super Lesser Crested Tern. An excellent find. We had our picnic lunch on the beach. Off shore were more Little Terns (35+), whilst behind the beach I found a Stone Curlew and in the bushes 3 Pied Flycatchers.

We drove back to Hammamet. I dropped Dora off at the hotel and then drove west out along the C28. Just before Sidi Jdidi I turned off right (sign posted El Monchar) to explore some interesting limestone outcrops. I checked a couple of the ridges, the best one was on the right of the road, opposite the quarry. In this general area I had 3 male Black Wheatears, a male Black-eared Wheatear, one pair Stonechat, lots of Moussier’s Redstarts, and several singing Thekla Larks. From the ridge opposite the quarry I flushed an adult Peregrine, followed soon after by a superb Lanner, which flew low overhead, giving me my best views yet. There was also a Long-legged Buzzard and passerines included Spanish Sparrows, Corn Buntings, Blue Tits and Sardinian Warblers.

15th April.
Our final day. Decided to return to the wetlands at Soliman. The Grombalia-Solomon road was fairly quiet. At the chicken battery farm, still lots of Yellow Wagtails, including a Black-headed one, though it had an indistinct white eye stripe. Went down to Soloman Plage and checked the beach. About 30 Cory’s Shearwater offshore, but little else. Then moved on to check the flooded pools. A strong southeast wind meant that a lot of the birds were hiding amongst the reeds for shelter, making them difficult to see. The adult Peregrine and up to 12 Marsh Harriers were hunting the area and regularly flushing flocks of Ruff, Little Stint and Black-winged Stilts. Three Marbled Duck flew by and 50+ Collared Pratincoles were feeding over the fields. In the reeds I located a juvenile Purple Swamphen. We then drove north till 34km from Soliman (just after the 34km stone), we turned down a track that took us to an empty beach, fringed by large dunes. In the bushes behind the dunes we had Woodchat Shrike, Wren, European Serin, Chaffinch and a Common Cuckoo as well as a Northern Wheatear. Overhead were hundreds of Swifts, mostly Common, but a few Alpine in amongst them. We also had a male Marsh Harrier and a Long-legged Buzzard overhead.

We then returned to Hammamet to drop of the car (having done about 1300km) and finish packing. We had had a super trip, though the weather had been a bit mixed. Saw 130 different species and got 3 lifers. Tunisia is a superb area for birding, with a lot of good sites fairly close to the main holiday resorts. We also managed to see quite a few of the north African specialities. Despite this, surprisingly, we saw no other birders in our week long trip.


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