tuntrip4

Tunisia, March 7-15, 1999

Participants: William Oliver, Charles Oliver, Simon Rix

Itinerary

7th March, 1999 Leave Tunis Airport around 1530 - travel to Cap Bon
Barrage Bezirk
Barrage El Oudiane (shallow end)
Kelibia
8th March, 1999 Kelibia
Barrage Mlabi
Barrage El Oudiane (shallow and dam ends)
Korba area
Sidi Jdidi
Enfida
Selbkhet Halk El Menzel
El Jem
9th March, 1999 El Jem
Thyna Saltpans
travel to Douz
Jemna Pools
10th March, 1999 Douz tip
El Hessai
Jemna Pools
Zaafrane Pools
Blidette Lake
Circuit west of Douz
Ghidma pools
11th March, 1999 Douz
Zaafrane Pools
Blidette Lake
route to Tamerza
12th March, 1999 Tamerza
Mides
Seldja Gorge
Sbeitla
13th March, 1999 Sbeitla
route to Makhtar
Barrage Siliana
Dougga
Ain Draham
14th March, 1999 Ain Draham
Cap Serrat
Lake Ichkeul
Lac Bizerte
Bizerte
15th March, 1999 Bizerte
Return Tunis Airport 1500

Please send details of any updates/interesting sightings/new sites to me at the address at the top of this report.

I would suggest the purchase of Michelin map number 958 (Algeria/Tunisia). This is the best of a bad lot of maps! I will treat each site in the order that we visited it.

Barrage Bezirk (Cap Bon)

In Menzel Bouzelfa take the left turn (coming from Tunis) signposted to Takelsa. Follow this road for approx. 5 km and then take a right turn just after a bridge signposted "Barrage Bezirk". This will take you up to the dam of a small reservoir. You have to walk the last 100 metres as the road is blocked by a no entry sign. White-headed Duck have been seen here.

  • Ferruginous Duck 3
  • Pochard 30
  • Great Crested Grebe
  • Coot 10
  • Greenshank 1
  • Golden Oriole 1 fem

Barrage El Oudiane/Lebna (Cap Bon)

This lake was excellent. The shallow end straddles the C43 road between Menzel Bouzelfa and Menzel Temine approx. 7 km before Menzel Temine. The km post marked "Menzel Temine 7, Menzel Bouzelfa 36" is right by the lake. You can approach the dam end from the C27 road between Korba and Menzel Temine just north of the km post "Menzel Temine 7" signposted "Barrage Lebna".

  • Glossy Ibis 18
  • Great White Egret 3+
  • Bluethroat 1 male
  • Ferruginous Duck 2 (shallow end); 7 (dam end)
  • Teal, Shoveler, Pochard
  • Cattle, Little Egret
  • Sedge, Cetti's Warbler
  • Little, GC Grebe
  • Cormorant 16
  • Lapwing, Snipe

We also saw a migrating flock of approx. 1000 White Stork passing north up Cap Bon. I would strongly recommend that future visitors spend a day at the top of Cap Bon (El Haouaria and vicinity) in spring or autumn - I reckon you could see good numbers of migrants in suitable conditions!

Kelibia (Cap Bon)

Head for the harbour and castle areas in the town. The small marsh along the shore just south of the harbour is worth looking at. We had huge numbers of Cory's Shearwaters less than 100 metres offshore both feeding around fishing boats and resting on the sea. If you have time it may be worth trying to persuade local fishermen to take you out for a better look.

  • Cory's Shearwater 3000+
  • Mediterrenean S'wtr 50+
  • Gannet 1
  • various waders etc.
  • Med, Slender-billed Gull
  • common passerines

Barrage Mlabi (Cap Bon)

In Menzel Temine head north towards Tazoghrane. This road was hard to find but it ran from the last roundabout as you head north-east out of Menzel Temine towards Kelibia. Just after the km post "Menzel Temine 4" turn right signposted "Kefchemi". This road crosses a ford (under the dam for Barrage Mlabi) and then turns left. The lake is then on your left. There is a small farm at the dam end, and the farmer opened his gate and let us drive down to the lake.

  • White-headed Duck 1 fem
  • Ferruginous Duck 1 male
  • Black-necked Grebe 40+
  • Pochard 9
  • Tufted Duck 3
  • Shoveler, Wigeon
  • Long-legged Buzzard 2
  • White Stork - another migrating flock of 700+

Korba (Cap Bon)

There are a series of lagoons north and south of this town (these can be seen from the main road).

  • Greater Flamingo 186
  • Spoonbill 7
  • Black-necked Grebe 1
  • common wildfowl

Sidi Jdidi

This site is very close to Hammemet itself. Follow the signs for the motorway from Hammemet town. Cross over the motorway following the signs for Zaghouan. After about 10 km you come to the village of Sidi Jdidi. The lake is by the road just past the village. We saw Moussier's Redstart on the hillside on the other side of the road from the lake. We did not continue to Zaghouan but I would recommend it - people have seen good numbers of birds of prey around there.

  • White-headed Duck 3 (1m, 2f)
  • Ferruginous Duck 3
  • Pochard
  • Black-necked Grebe
  • Moussier's Redstart 1m

En route from Sidi Jdidi to Enfida we saw a Black-shouldered Kite hovering by the side of the motorway. Quite a number of people have seen these birds in the Cap Bon area so keep your eyes peeled!

Enfida

This is a well known stake-out for Little Swift. We stopped in the middle of town and saw at least 3 birds immediately. The best place to wait is by the old church (now a museum).

Sebkhet Halk El Menzel

This is a large salt lake on the coast north of Sousse. A lot of the lake can be seen from various roads that go around its shores. Take the motorway exit to Hergla north of Sousse. Go through the town and follow the coast south. The salt lake is on the inland side of the road. At the end of the lake turn right signposted "Sidi Bou Ali" and this goes along the southern shore of the lake which was the best on our visit. We would have liked to spend more time here but it had started to get dark ...

  • Greater Flamingo 1000+
  • Spoonbill 70+
  • Little Stint 1000s
  • Ruff, Avocet, Dunlin, Sanderling, Black-tailed Godwit, Kentish Plover etc.

Thyna saltpans

This is an excellent site to drop in on on the way down to Douz. Coming out of Sfax towards the south you will pass through the small town of Thyna. Pass a minaret on your left and then you will see a Shell garage on your right. Immediately opposite the Shell garage turn left. This is a quite rough dirt track. At the end of the houses/shacks bear right. This part of the track is very sandy and bumpy but is passable with care. After a bit the track reaches the saltpans and becomes much better quality. You can just drive around the raised embankments of the saltpans and watch from the car!

  • Marsh Sandpiper 5
  • Curlew 9
  • Whimbrel 1
  • Temminck's Stint 3
  • Shelduck 5
  • Spoonbill 100+
  • Greater Flamingo 1000s
  • Lanner 2
  • Avocet 1000s
  • Black-tailed Godwit 1000s
  • common waders

We stopped for lunch south of Sfax and had a flock of 13 Common Cranes fly over. We were very surprised to see these birds since we had expected all of them to have left by 9th March.

Gabes to Kebili road

This road had been given to us as good for desert species. We did quite well but not as well as some others had in earlier winters. I suggest stopping along this road - it looked good but we were in a rush!

At Km post (Kebili 59 km; Gabes 58km):

  • Red-rumped Wheatear 1m
  • Trumpeter Finch 5
  • Little Ringed Plover 2
  • Green Sandpiper 1

Jemna Pools

Heading south from Kebili to Douz you pass through the small town of Jemna. South of the town there is a palmery. At the end of the palms turn right (down a ramp) and follow this track and then bear right to reach some magnificent pools behind the palmery. Be careful of mosquitoes here in the evening!

  • Marbled Duck 152
  • Shelduck 64
  • Ruddy Shelduck 7
  • Shoveler 150+
  • Pintail 100+
  • Teal 2
  • Ruff 20+
  • Marsh Sandpiper 8
  • Wood Sandpiper 1
  • Spotted Redshank 3+
  • Greenshank 1
  • Little Stint 150+

El Hessai

This is reputed to be a spot for Desert Sparrow but we (like most others) failed to see them! We were also hassled by the children here. It is reached by following the road out of Douz past the Hotel Roses des Sables (on the right) and then ignore the loop road to the big hotels (on the left) and continue until the road stops. We saw at least 5 Fulvous Babblers in the area just before the village. A walk into the desert beyond the village produced very little except a singing Hoopoe Lark.

Pools and desert west of Douz

We did a circuit west of Douz. Take the road west from Douz towards Zaafrane, El Faouar and Redjim Maatoug. I will describe each area in turn.

"Pool A"

Turn right approximately 200 metres after the km post marked "Douz 5; El Faouar 36". We visited this site and found it to be rather poor although we did see 5 Glossy Ibis, 30 Black-winged Stilt, 3 Fulvous Babbler, 2 Snipe, Green Sandpiper, 1 Spectacled Warbler and 2 Tree Pipit. We waited past dusk in the hope of Egyptian Nightjar but had no luck. These birds are known to occur in the Douz area, and this looked good habitat but we may have been a little early in the year.

"Pool B"

Turn right at the "Douz 7" kilometre post signposted to Nouil - if you turn left you will go to Zaafrane and El Faouar. At the "Douz 11" km post you will see a lake on your left. You can take a track around the lake by turning left opposite a sign marked "Warning Natural Gas Pipeline 036". This track takes you all the way around the lake and gives you good views.

  • Marbled Duck 273
  • Pintail 10+
  • Teal 20+
  • Shoveler 3

After this lake we continued through the village of Nouil (where we saw a male Subalpine Warbler) and turned right soon after the village to Blidette.

Blidette lake

Go through the village of Blidette and follow the signs for Kebili. You will see the lake on your right just before the km post marked "El Faouar 44; Kebili 21". This lake had extraordinary numbers of Marbled Duck!!

  • Marbled Duck up to 1000
  • Shoveler 300+
  • Ruddy Shelduck 4
  • Little Egret 30+
  • Desert Wheatear pair
  • Pintail, Wigeon
  • Brown-necked Raven 2

We then returned to Nouil and turned right (west) towards Bechini and Redjim Maatoug.

Between the villages of Nouil and Bechini we stopped to admire a male Tristram's Warbler. These birds winter in the desert, breeding in the apello pine forests of the mountains.

We then stopped to explore the desert around the area of the junction where the road from Degache splits to go to Redjim Maatoug and to El Faouar. A particularly good areas was approximately 300 metres the Degache side of the junction. In this area we saw 5 Hoopoe Lark, 2 Scrub Warblers and a pair of Desert Wheatears.

Ghidma pools

This lake is just west of the village of Ghidma which lies between El Faouar and Zaafrane. The lake is on the north side of the road and can be reached by a track 200 metres west of the km stone marked "Douz 25; El Faouar 16".

  • Marbled Duck 130+
  • Ferruginous Duck 17
  • Coot 30+
  • Pochard 10+
  • Moorhen 2
  • Pintail, Shoveler, Teal
  • Shelduck 5

This lake looked very good with a lot of cover - it is a shame we did not have more time to explore further as it was already late afternoon!

Lake west of Zaafrane

We found this lake totally by chance since it is not visible from the road! Approximately 2 km west of Zaafrane (on the road from Ghidma) the km stones are along the old road which is slightly north of the present road. The lake is just west of the stone marked "Douz 15; El Faouar 25". You can see it by climbing the sandy hill on the north side of the road.

  • Marbled Duck 28
  • Shelduck 10+
  • Pintail 150+
  • White Stork 3
  • Shoveler, Coot

The following day we travelled north west across the Chott El Jerid towards Tamerza. After crossing the Chott turn right in the village of El Mehassan (signposted Gafsa) and then at the main road turn left towards Tozeur. The road to Tamerza is then on the right. I would suggest stopping in all suitable habitat and walking around. Just after the left turn (towards Tozeur) there is a bridge over a wadi where we had superb views of Trumpeter Finch coming to drink.

  • House Bunting 2 (in El Mehassan village)
  • Northern Wheatear 5+
  • Red-rumped Wheatear 5+
  • Trumpeter Finch 30+
  • White-crowned Black Wheatear 1
  • Short-toed Lark 50+
  • Spectacled Warbler 2

We then followed the road towards Tamerza up into the mountains. Birding was good all along this road - again it is best to stop in suitable habitat.

  • Desert Wheatear 2 males
  • White-c Blk W'ear 4+
  • Red-rumped Wheatear 3+
  • Mourning Wheatear 4
  • Long-legged Buzzard 1

Tamerza area

We stayed in the very plush Tamerza Palace hotel. In and around the hotel were up to 5 House Buntings. We also visited the famous tourist spot of the Cascades where we had excellent views of a pair of Bonelli's Eagles as well as a male Blue Rock Thrush, 3+ Alpine Swifts and several House Buntings. The famous village of Mides on the Algerian frontier produced Black Wheatear, Blue Rock Thrush and House Bunting.

Seldja Gorge area

This is a well known site near the town of Metlaoui on the Gafsa-Tozeur road. Coming from Gafsa just south of Metlaoui turn right on a track signposted "Seldja 7". This whole area is very good. The road eventually splits - the left turn goes to the village and the right turn to the gorge. It is worth walking the desert on the approach road to the gorge - in this way we found our only Thick-billed Larks of the trip.

  • Little Swift 8 (in gorge)
  • Desert Lark 1
  • Thick-billed Lark 4
  • Hoopoe Lark 2 heard
  • White-cr Blk W'ear 5+
  • Black Wheatear 2
  • Mourning Wheatear pair
  • Trumpeter Finch 20+
  • Northern Wheatear sev.
  • Short-toed Lark 100+
  • Lesser ST Lark 10+

Sbeitla

Around the Roman ruins of Sufetula we saw Blue Rock Thrush, 3+ Black Wheatear, and several House Buntings.

We then travelled across country to Makhtar and Dougga. A particularly good road for birds was the road from Rouhia to Makhtar (the C71 and then turn east on the P4). The P4 passes through a rocky valley before crossing a small pass and descending to Makhtar. The valley looked good for Tristram's Warbler breeding but we did not see any - this may well have been because the birds had not yet returned to their breeding grounds.

  • Moussier's Redstart 2
  • Barbary Falcon 1
  • Raven common
  • Crag Martin 5+
  • prob. Lesser Kestrel

Dougga

Eventually we arrived at the magnificent Roman ruins of Dougga. This was the best site we found for Moussier's Redstart. We saw at least 20 birds here. We also saw Rock Sparrow and Black Wheatear at this site.

Ain Draham forest

This is the only substantial deciduous (oak) forest in Tunisia and is right in the north-west of the country on the Algerian frontier. It is the only area in Tunisia for Levaillant's Green Woodpecker. We stayed in the brand new Hotel La Forêt approximately 5 kilometres south of the village of Ain Draham on the road to Jendouba. You could hear the woodpeckers from the hotel!

The area where we actually saw the woodpeckers was at the junction of the Ain Draham to Jendouba road and a road which is signposted to the left (east) (coming from Ain Draham) to Ben Methir. We explored the woods around this junction.

  • Levaillant's Green Woodpecker 1 seen (several heard)
  • Great Sp. Woodpecker 3
  • Short-toed Eagle 4+
  • Booted Eagle 2
  • Black Kite
  • Long-legged Buzzard
  • Blue, Great, Coal Tit
  • Jay, Woodpigeon
  • Sparrowhawk
  • Mistle Thrush
  • Chaffinch

Cap Serrat

This was the only place where we saw Common Bulbul. Follow the road along the north coast of Tunisia from Tabarka to Bizerte. Just east of the village of Sejenane turn left (north) signposted "Cap Serrat 13". There is a beach at the end of the road. Just before the beach there is a small river on the right. We found at least 4 Common Bulbul in the scrub beside the river. Cirl Buntings were also here as well as a few Cory's Shearwaters on the sea.

Lake Ichkeul

We found Lake Ichkeul desparately disappointing - the only birds of note being 3 Osprey, 2 Great White Egret and a Moussier's Redstart.

Bizerte

We stayed in the the Hotel Petit Mousse north of Bizerte along the Corniche. A quick seawatch from the front of the hotel produced both Caspian Tern and Audouin's Gull. The hotel garden is supposed to be a site for Common Bulbul but we did not see any!

It is worth looking in Bizerte harbour itself for gulls. Several people have seen Audouin's and we saw at least 40 Mediterrenean Gulls many of which were in full summer plumage.

 

William Oliver, 7a Hendham Road, Wandsworth, London, SW17 7DH, England; who@gouldens.com