TRANSFER FROM BOUMALNE DADES TO MERZOUGA’S ERG CHEBBI DUNE SYSTEM, WITH SEVERAL BIRDING STOPS ALONG THE WAY
WEATHER: clear sky and sunshine all, a cold breeze kept the temperature down, top temp. 22C
We had a long day on the road ahead of us but even before breakfast we were out birding. We set off at 6am heading back to the stoney plains, our first stop was 10 minutes away as we made a second attempt at seeing sandgrouse near the Tagdilt Track.
We dipped again on the sandgrouse, in fact not many species were seen at all, Desert and Red-rumped Wheatears and not much else. We continued along the road back to the ‘oasis’ where we had quite a few birds yesterday. Today was just as good with plenty of sightings, we added Common Whitethroat to the trip list but watched may other species seen yesterday.
After breakfast we began our journey in a south-easterly direction toward Erfoud via Goulmima, we planned a few stops along the way, in fact only 20 minutes into the journey we stopped at a rock quarry was our first destination.
The quarry is a regular site for Pharaoh Eagle Owl and last year we also found Maghreb Wheatear there. We spent a short time searching a rock face but the owl was not in its usual place, so we widened our sreach and found an adult Pharaoh Eagle Owl siting next to a small cave.
We also found Desert Lark, Tawny Pipit, Desert Wheatear, Common Kestrel and a ‘Greenland’ race of Northern Wheatear, what a colourful bird!
Back in the bus we tried to put some miles behind us but we stopped three times for birds of prey sightings, we logged Long-legged Buzzard, Marsh Harrier and what was most definitely a male Lesser Kestrel.
Eventually we arrived at our first scheduled birding walk, it was a wadi just east of Goulmima where we hoped to see a number of species. The wadi spread out in front of us, it stretched for many kilometers, consisting of a mosaic of a million clumps of grass, the flat landscape was broken only by dense leafless, thorny bushes dotted here and there, a hot, hostile environment that looked lifeless.
But it wasn’t without life we saw plenty, a dozen or so species of birds, a Cape Hare, 3 different butterflies, lizards and lots of small wasps and bees were visiting patches of brightly coloured flowers. Our main target bird was the Streaked Scrub Warbler, a wren-like species with a very long tail that often hopped along the sand visiting the grass clumps looking for insects. We found Grey Shrike, (Lanius elegans), also Desert Wheatear, Bar-tailed Lark (our first of the trip), several Spectacled Warblers, Subalpine Warbler but unfortunately we dipped on the Scrub Warbler. A bonus sighting was that of three Thick-billed Larks, they allowed close approach and gave stunning views.
We had walked about two kilometers before we turned back, it was very hot by now and the cool breeze had dropped so most of us were flagging. Back at the bus we made a short attempt to see the Scrub Warbler on the other side of the road but failed again, we did find Common Whitethroat, Common Redstart and another Spectacled Warbler.
Next we drove back into Goulmima we then turned south and headed out of town towards Erfoud. Our next stop was at a small river where for the last four years the construction of new bridge has greatly disturbed the environment, the bridge is now finished! Nevertheless, it is my favourite place where you can find Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. The river was still in flow, more of a trickle really but several pools were visible from the bridge.
We immediately found a single Black-crowned Night-Heron sitting out on a rock near one of the larger pools. The a Moroccan Wagtail appeared but not much else was seen until we set off walking along the river bank.
A couple of Bonelli’s Warblers were seen in some giant pampas grass just before we turned a bend and had views over a large shallow pool, this held Little Egret, Purple Heron, several Grey Herons and a couple of Little-ringed Plovers. A Sedge Warbler was found close by and another Bonelli’s Warblers gave superb close views as did a pair of White-crowned Wheatears, as we all stood perfectly still looking over the pools.
Further exploration produced little more, we never got to see the Bee-eaters, perhaps later in the trip!
We hit the road in earnest now, making our way down through Erfoud and onto the ‘new’ desert road that is now completely tarmac all the way down to Merzouga. The huge Erg Chebbi sand dunes sat on the horizon ahead of us like a creased, golden blanket, the dunes became more imposing as we drew near, stretching for many kilometers and rising many meters above us. Our Auberge Hotel for the first night is about 15km away from the dunes, it has extensive gardens with plenty of scrub, trees and hedges.
After quickly checking-in there was a little time to go birding so some of the group went for a short walk. Many birds were flitting about in the scrub, we found: Eurasian Hoopoe, Woodchat Shrike, Bar-tailed Desert Lark, Desert Wheatear, White-crowned Wheatear and Subalpine Warbler.
A flock of some 40+ European Bee-eaters dropped into the trees, obviously looking for a roost for the night and one of the last birds seen was a Western Olivaceous Warbler.
Dinner was taken out in the courtyard, it was delicious, everyone was in a good mood, perfect ambiance, it was great to sit outside in a nice warm temperature for dinner.