A summary of a birding trip to Oued Dahab region by The Sound Approach team that focused mainly on sound recording as well as general birding.
Written by Arnoud B. van den Berg.
As there were reports of rain from Dakhla-Aousserd three months earlier, we visited the area on 10-19 December 2017 for The Sound Approach, ie, together with Killian Mullarney and with help from Mohamed Lamine Samlali.
Since no birders had been in the region in the previous months and weeks, it was uncertain what to expect. We soon discovered that the rain had been very local, missing Oued Jenna and Aousserd village. Consequently, there was no water and hardly any bird activity around these well-known birding sites, although there were still many Cricket Warblers (Spiloptila clamans), Fulvous Babblers (Turdoides fulvus) and a higher than usual number of Spectacled Warblers (Sylvia conspicillata).
Desert west of Aousserd
In treeless desert 120-150 km west of Aousserd, however, a thin layer of grasses and quite a lot of larks and Cream-colored Coursers (Cursorius cursor) gave evidence of rain in recent months. On three visits to this area, we watched and heard a daily maximum of 20 Dunn’s Larks (Eremalauda dunni), up to 14 Thick-billed Larks (Ramphocoris clotbey), more than 200 Temminck’s Larks (Eremophila bilopha), c 200 Bar-tailed Larks (Ammomanes cinctura), a loose flock of 100 singing Greater Short-toed Larks (Calandrella brachydactyla) and up to 80, many singing, Hoopoe Larks (Alaemon alaudipes).
In the evening of 13 December, a Pharaoh Eagle-Owl (Bubo ascalaphus) flew off the road near the Jmiaaya wadi. On 15 December, c 120 km west of Aousserd, a Great Spotted Cuckoo (Clamator glandarius) perched in a tree. Single Tawny Pipits (Anthus campestris) were photographed at two sites at 110 and 160 km west of Aousserd on 15 and 18 December. Two Eurasian Stone-curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus) were photographed c 160 km west of Aousserd on 15 and 18 December. A Eurasian Robin (Erithacus rubecula) at the entrance of the Ajida chicken farm near Gleib Jediane on 18 December may have been the southernmost ever for Western Sahara.
On the Laglate mountain south-west of Oued Jenna, we found two Desert Larks (Ammomanes deserti), five Trumpeter Finches (Bucanetes githagineus), a flock of Desert Sparrows (Passer simplex), two Cricket Warblers, a family of Fulvous Babblers with a fledgling, and a flock of 10 Pale Crag Martins [Rock Martins] (Ptyonoprogne obsoleta presaharica). A flock of five non-singing Dunn’s Larks was flushed 20 km west of Aousserd. At the Aousserd village itself, on 14 December, three Thekla’s Larks (Galerida theklae), a Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius) and a pair of Pale Crag Martins were noteworthy. Our stay here was cut short by a day, as military demanded us to leave the area and return to Dakhla.
At Dakhla Bay, we watched up to 29 roosting African Royal Terns (Sterna albididorsalis) on 17 December. Among many other birds were, eg, 500 Caspian Terns (Hydroprogne caspia), 300 Sandwich Terns (S. sandvicensis), more than 100 Audouin’s Gulls (Larus audouinii), some 50 first-winter Mediterranean Gulls (Larus melanocephalus), 15 Slender-billed Gulls (L. genei) and 19 species of wader. On 12 December, two single Common Shelducks (Tadorna tadorna) flew south over the southern tip of the peninsula.
Arnoud B. van den Berg / The Sound Approach.
Other Saharan beauties?
As you can see above, there are still no Golden Nightjar (Caprimulgus eximius) and Sudan Golden Sparrow (Passer luteus) yet at Aousserd. Hopefully they will appear by next month or February.
Note on the taxonomy of the Royal Tern:
The split of the West African Royal Tern (Thalasseus albididorsalis) from the American Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus) was proposed by Collinson et al. 2017. See this blog-post for more details: African Royal Tern should be split from the American species.
And what about the choice between the genus Sterna and Thalasseus? Within the terns (Tribe: Sternini), the ‘crested terns’ are separated from the genus Sterna and placed in their own unique genus Thalasseus based on the study of Bridge et al. 2005. This treatment is followed my most taxonomic authorities like the ‘IOC World Bird List’, but the ‘Dutch Birding’ still includes the ‘crested terns’ in the genus Sterna thus the name used by Arnoud above.
Bridge, E.S., Jones, A.W. & Baker, A.J. 2005. A phylogenetic framework for the terns (Sternini) inferred from mtDNA sequences: implications for taxonomy and plumage evolution. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 35: 459-469.
Second birding and sound recording trip, March 2018
The Sound Approach week at Oued Jenna and Aousserd between 17 and 23 March 2018 was hampered by extremely bad weather. Almost every day and night, the wind was too strong for sound-recording, also bringing a lot of dust and sand in the air, and temperatures were as low as 12°C in the morning. Despite this, we enjoyed some nice birds.
All lark species were seen but not one individual was singing. So, there was less song activity than in December. I do not know if this was caused by the weather or by the absence of rain for too many months.
Black-crowned Finch-Larks (Eremopterix nigriceps), which were difficult to find in December, were now numerous in flocks of up to 30 at Oued Jenna. Dunn’s Larks (Eremalauda dunni) were again easily seen along the road between Dakhla and Aousserd but they were not vocal this time.
Also at Aousserd, we photographed a ‘short-billed’ Maghreb Lark (Galerida macrorhyncha) at exactly the same spot where we briefly sound-recorded three individuals in mid-December 2017 (see photo below). Despite images and sounds, the identification is still regarded as uncertain; and some suggested G. macrorhyncha randonii or even G. cristata senegallensis, which would be new for Western Sahara.
[Editor’s note: last month, we raised the question of the identity of the Galerida larks occurring around Aousserd. For more details, read: “Taxonomic status of ‘long-billed’ Crested Larks in the Aousserd region” So, the larks that Arnoud named as ‘short-billed’ Maghreb Lark are the same birds that we named as ‘long-billed’ Crested Lark. These are two faces of the same coin, but to which taxon (species or subspecies) these larks truly belong will remain unknown without a genetic study].
At Oued Jenna, not only migratory passerines but also, eg, a few Booted Eagles (Aquila pennata), two Lanner Falcons (Falco biarmicus) and several male Marsh Harriers (Circus aeruginosus) were present.
At Dakhla Bay, a roosting flock of up to 30 African Royal Terns (Sterna albididorsalis) was present but we had no other orange-billed tern species. A foraging Reef Heron (Egretta gularis) on the flats of Dakhla Bay on 17 March deserves a special mentioning
By: A. B. van den Berg, with K. Mullarney & Christien Bosman.