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A Report from

Northern Tunisia 16 - 23 February 2005,

Mark Easterbrook


Collins Guide to the Birds of Britain & Europe with N. Africa & The Mddle East.
Trip reports posted on the Web.

1.  Introduction

Ninety two species were recorded during the holiday - which was not intended to be a total birding experience.  I had just returned from duty in Iraq and it was a chance to unwind with my family and take in some of the Tunisian historical sights and the sun - which there wasn't much of in an unseasonably poor winter.  Indeed our day trip and only total birding day to Ain Darham (Ain Darhem) was a total washout with visibility down to 5 metres during a snow blizzard in the Atlas mountains.

We were unable to travel to the south of the country as time was short and we simply didn't have time to stop overnight in the desert - which should be the aim if you are planning a visit with the time to do it.

Birding in Tunisia is well documented so I will not give site directions, as existing ones remain extant (with the exception of Thyna Salt Pans), however I will make reference and give thanks to all those people who have previously contributed trip reports to various trip report Web pages - thank you all; the trip would not have been so enjoyable without your valuable information.

Car hire cost Î116 for 4 days (1.4 Renault Cleo) pre booked over the Internet with Camelcar (a good tip from previous reports and by far the cheapest company - and reliable), petrol is about half the price of the U.K. with the standard of driving being a little unorthodox to say the least.  However it is generally standard for that part of the world.  The standard of road is generally very good, although distances are large and overnight stops are recommended if you are not to feel extremely tired.  We stayed in Hammamet, which was a pleasant place that contained several good birds.

2. Daily Itineries

Day One

The flight from Bristol to Monastir took about two and a half hours, from the airport to Hammamet, where we were staying took just over an hour, as we had to drop off other travellers on route. We noted Greater Flamingo, Southern Grey Shrike (algeriensis appeared common along the road at the coast) and numerous Spotless Starlings from the coach.

In the hotel Bel Azur grounds we noted several Sardinian Warbler, which were extremely common and the North African race of Blue Tit that were very striking.  A singing Serin and a Sandwhich Tern over the sea ended the day.

Day Two

We hadn't booked the car for today, so a walk to Hammamet Modina and a taxi to Nebeul filled our day.  Hoopoe, Black Redstart and Chiffchaff were noted in the cemetery at Hammamet and the only sighting of a Fan-tailed Warbler was noted near Nebeul in longish grass.

Day Three

Prior to the car being delivered a Common Bulbul was noted singing in the grounds of the hotel.  As we journeyed to Ain Draham 3 Black-shouldered Kite were noted near to the Toll area on the motorway near to Tunis.  On route to Ain Drahem, a Quail was seen flying across the road at Bou Salem, Long-legged Buzzards were noted and the majority of roadside birds were Crested Larks.  The weather deteriorated dramatically in the Atlas Mountains and having eventually reached the turning for Beni M'Tir the Levaillailant's Green Woodpecker site south of Ain Draham visibility was almost non existent so there was little chance of connecting with the bird.  On the northern side of the mountain having driven in some pretty hideous conditions and slid for some considerable time, we descended to Tabarka and onward towards Tunis.  In an obvious layby between Tabarka and Nefza we stopped on the route 7.  Here we heard and had a fleeting glimpse of a Levaillant's Green Woodpecker in a wooded location much further down the mountain than we had expected.  A Wryneck was also noted here.  On the drive back to Hammamet, White Storks were noted on their nests and a Barn Owl flew over the road near to Mejez El-Bab.

Day Four

Today we visited the Historic Roman ruins at Dougga, which is a tremendous site to visit in it's own right.  It also happens to be probably the easiest place to see Moussier's Redstart and Black Wheatear. These birds coupled with Barbary Partridge, Little Owl, Blue Rock Thrush, easily identifiable Thekla Larks and an Eastern Black Redstart made this an exceptional place to bird watch also.  Roadside Long-legged Buzzards, White Storks and White-headed Ducks at Sidi Jididi made this an enjoyable and productive day out.

We also visited Siliana Barrage on our return from Dougga to Hammamet which proved to be a very good site for wildfowl.  This lies on the route 73 and is well worth a visit.

Day Five

We made an early visit to Sidi Jididi lake, where there were 10 White-headed Ducks (1 male), heard Cetti's Warblers and identified a fine pair of Little Crake in reeds on the southern shore.  The only Gadwall and Tufted Duck were also noted here.

We continued to Korba via Beni Khalid where we saw a massive flock of some 3000 Starling with a mixture of Common and Spotless, which made quite a spectacle.  At Korba Salt Pans, Great White Egret, Wood Sandpiper, several migrating hirundines and several species of wader were noted.

At Kalibia we noted a Crag Martin in the pools west of the town along with a Little Ringed Plover.  By this time the wind was blowing strongly so we proceeded to the harbour for some sea watching.  Hundreds of Cory's Shearwater were passing close to the point and at least 3 Yelkouan Shearwater were positively identified at relatively close range.

On leaving Kalibia our attentions were drawn to a Gull in a ploughed field.  Closer inspection revealed the presence of a Common Gull.  I am unsure of the status of this species in Tunisia but it would appear to be a semi-rarity at least.

We returned to the hotel early and then went out for the evening to a Tunisian theme night - as you do?

Day Six

Today we visited Al Jem and its Roman Amptheartre.  This is well worth a visit as it is a spectacular construction where you can almost feel the atmosphere.  Blue Rock Thrush and Black Redstart were common here.

We continued to Thyna Salt Pans on the main road to Gabes and South of Sfax.

Directions:-  Continue past Sfax toward Gabes.  Look for the Thyna sign after about 20 kms on your left.  Turn here and continue along the straight road to a T Junction.  Turn right here and then left into the industrial area.  Follow the road to the bottom of the industrial area where there is an obvious gap in the wall.  This leads to the Salt Pans and raised causeways, which you are able to drive around.

The Salt pans produced at least 8 Spoonbill, about 800 Avocet, Marsh Harrier, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Marsh Sandpiper, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit and several hundred Greater Flamingo.

Day Seven

We birded locally and packed with a view to returning to the UK the next morning.  An evening seawatch from the hotel produced a 1st winter Mediterranean Gull and Caspian Tern.

Day Eight

We returned to the UK and the snow having added no new species for the trip during our journey.

3. Consolidated Systematic Species List

Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis Common at Sidi Jididi and numerous at Saliana Barrage
Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus Numerous at Siliana Barrage and Sidi Jididi
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris diometea Numerous past Kalibia harbour
Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus Yelkouan 3 seen well from Kalibia harbour
Gannet Morus bassanus 1s & 2s seen from the hotel and at Kalibia harbour
Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo Good numbers, noted with numerous senensis ssp
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis seen in small numbers in wet roadside fields
Little Egret Egretta garzetta 1s seen alongside the road in various locations
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea Seen almost anywhere in suitable habitat
White Stork Ciconia ciconia Numerous birds seen on nest sites atop electricity pylons - all over the Northern area
Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia At least 8 at Thyna salt pans
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber Hundreds seen at salt pans and roadside wetlands
Shelduck Tadorna tadorna Numerous at coastal salt pans
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos Several at Siliana Barrage and Sidi Jididi lake
Gadwall Anas strepera A male and female noted at Sidi Jididi lake
Teal Anas crecca Numerous at Sidi Jididi and Siliana Barrage
Pintail Anas acuta 20 noted at Siliana Barrage
Shoveler Anas clypeata A few at Sidi Jididi
Pochard Aythya ferina Several at Siliana Barrage and Sidi Jididi
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula 1 male at Sidi Jididi
White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala 10 seen including 1 male at Sidi Jididi
Black-winged Kite Elaneus caeruleus 1 to 3 seen near to Tunis on the main toll road from Hammamet.  Near to the toll booths on pylons and near to the pools to the left of the road closer to Tunis
Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus A male and female at Siliana Barrage and 2 females at Thyna salt pans
Long-legged Buzzard Buteo rufinus Singles seen almost anywhere along the road
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus Fairly common seen anywhere in 1s & 2s
Barbary Partridge Alectoris barbara 3 seen well at Dougga historic Roman ruins
Quail Coturnix coturnix 1 seen near Bou Salem flying out in front of the car and across the road could not be relocated in the field it landed in
Little Crake Porzana Parva A male and female heard calling and seen well at Sidi Jididi
Coot Fulica atra Seen in all wetland areas
Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta C 800 seen at Thyna salt pans
Little Ringed Plover Charadrius 1 seen at the pools to the W of Kalibia town
Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus Seen in good numbers at Thyna salt pans
Lapwing Vanellus vanellus Singles seen in wet roadside fields
Dunlin Calidris alpina A large flock at Thyna salt pans
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea Several at Thyna salt pans
Little Stint Calidris minuta Several seen at Thyna salt pans
Ruff Philomachus pugnax 1 seen at Thyna salt pans
Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa Apprx 90 noted at Thyna salt pans
Redshank Tringa totanus Seen anywhere in suitable habitat
Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnitilis 1 seen at Thyna salt pans
Greenshank Tringa nebularia 2 at Korba and 3 at Thyna salt pans
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola 2 at Korba and 1 at Thyna salt pans
Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus The most common gull along the coast
Mediterranean Gull Larus melanocephalus 1 1st Winter over the sea at Hammamet
Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus 1 from the motorway near Tunis
Yellow-legged Gull Larus atlantis Numerous and common at coastal locations
Common Gull Larus canus 1 seen in a ploughed field west of Kalibia
Caspian Tern Sterna caspia 1 adult seen flying south past Hammamet in the evening
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis 1s & 2s seen at sea from the coast
Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto 1s & 2s seen around habitation
Palm Dove Streptopilia senegalensis Seen regularly around Habitation
Little Owl Athene noctua 1 at Dougga
Barn Owl Tyto alba 1 seen flying over the road near Mejez  El-Bab and 1 found dead near Beni Khalid
Hoopoe Upupa epops 3 at Hammamet cemetery and 1s& 2s seen elsewhere
Levaillant's Woodpecker Picus vaillantii Heard and seen briefly on a wooded hillside between Tabarka and Nefza
Wryneck Jynx torquilla 1 seen in a wooded area E of Tabarka
Crested Lark           Galerida cristata Widespread and numerous along the roadside
Thekla Lark Galerida theklae Less common than Crested but easily identified at Dougga
Skylark Alauda arvensis 1 seen along the road from Dougga to Siliana
Crag Martin Ptyonoprogne rupestris 2 seen in pools to the west of Kalibia
House Martin Delichon urbica 2 in Jasmin Hammamet and 1 at Sidi Jididi
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica Several seen at Kalibia and Korba
Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis Common at saltpans
White Wagtail Motacilla (alba) alba Seen almost anywhere generally near habitation
Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus Up to 2 seen singing in the early morning from the hotel in Hammamet on 3 occasions - not common!
Robin Erithacus rubecula Widespread in ones and twos
Stonechat Saxicola (torquata) maura Numerous and seen everywhere an individual at Sidi Jididi displayed characters of the ssp maura
Black Redstart Phoenicurus ochruros Numerous seen almost anywhere
Moussier's Redstart Phoenicurus moussieri Mostly males- at least 7 seen at Dougga and a male and a female seen at Siliana Barrage
Black Wheatear Oenanthe leucura Males and females seen at Dougga - probably 3 pairs present
Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius Males and female at Dougga and 1 male at Al Jem coliseum 
Blackbird Turdus merula Numerous and common
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos Common at Dougga and around Tebarka
Cetti's Warbler Cettia cetti 2 heard at Sidi Jididi
Spectacled Warbler Sylvia conspicillata 1 in scrub at Thyna salt pans
Sardinian Warbler Sylvia melanocephala Widespread and numerous in scrubby habitat
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita Several seen in the cemetery at Hammamet
Blue Tit Parus ultramarines Striking N African ssp and fairly common
Southern Grey Shrike Lanius algeriensis The race algeriensis were common along the roads near to the coast.
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes 1 at Tebarka and one at Thyna
Brown-necked Raven Corvus ruficollis Seen in 1s & 2s in open country
Raven Corvus corax 1s & 2s seen in various locations
Starling Sturnus vulgaris Seen in a mixed flock with Spotless Starlings near Beni Khalid
Spotless Starling Sturnus unicolor The most common and numerous bird
House Sparrow Passer domesticus Widespread and numerous - hybrids noted
Spannish Sparrow Passer hispaniolensis Widespread and numerous (hybrid Italiae birds also noted)
Chaffinch Fringilla spodiogenys Good numbers of the striking North African race were noted in the North of the country
Serin Serinus menachensis Heard and seen commonly along roads and in Hammamet
Linnet Carduelis cannabina 2 at Dougga and a flock of about 30 at Beni Khalid
Greenfinch Carduelis chloris Several seen in Hammamet
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis Very few noted but several at Bou Salem
Corn Bunting Emberiza hortulana Numerous at Dougga in fields and 1 at Thyna

4. Summary

Tunisia is definitely worth another visit, probably to the South of the country where a visit to the desert would be easily possible. Cheap and easy to get around, it's highly recommended for a short break and some easy birding.  Hopefully, with some sunshine next time.  Time should be allowed to travel as this is quite time consuming and overnight stops at places like Ain Draham are recommended to maximize birding opportunities.


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