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The Algerian Nuthatch twitch: easier than you think

The Algerian Nuthatch (Sitta ledanti) is a dream species for every Western Palearctic birder, especially so since the 1990s with the start of what they call in Algeria the “Black Decade”. However, although the security situation in the whole country has improved greatly since many years now, many WP birders still hesitating to visit Algeria citing mainly the ‘security reports’ published by the foreign ministries of their countries.

Thankfully not all birders follow ‘literally’ these reports, and some started again to visit the country. The following trip report by two young Dutch birders, Diedert Koppenol and Lonnie Bregman, is an example. With birding trips like this one, hopefully more WP birders will follow suit not only to see the Algerian Nuthatch but also to see other species such as the Red-billed Firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala), the African Silverbill (Euodice cantans) and the many North African endemics.

Note: for privacy reason, I removed the name of the Algerian birder and replaced his true name by ‘DZ birder’ (DZ is the ISO country code for Algeria). If anyone wishes to contact him, please send an email and I am happy to provide his name and details.

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Preparation for the birding trip

Ever since we saw the page of the Algerian Nuthatch in our bird guide and knew (or thought?) that a visit to Algeria was too dangerous, we had the agreement that we would travel straight away if it ever became safe. In August last year, Max Berlijn shared a link on the forum to a photo of Peter Kaestner. The photo showed an Algerian Nuthatch, with only the words “Easy twitch from Constantine” as a caption. Easy twitch?!

We immediately sent Peter an e-mail and were given the answer that it was indeed an easy twitch and that he was surprised that no more WP-birders went there! He brought us into contact with local birdwatcher ‘DZ birder’. According to him, ‘DZ birder’ was crucial in finding the right and accessible place and negotiating with the police at the many checkpoints along the way. Peter had been checked 20 times in one day. Another point to take into account was the fact that binoculars are seen as weapons of war and you cannot take them into the country, but ‘DZ birder’ did have a few to lend. You can, however, take a camera with you.

At first the flight tickets were rather expensive and the plan ended up in the fridge. But when we looked again a few months later we found tickets that were considerably cheaper. We decided to take action and e-mailed ‘DZ birder’. He told us that we were more than welcome and that it was completely safe. In other places on the internet, too, we read that the situation in the region had improved in recent years. The tickets were for June and that was a great time according to ‘DZ birder’.

From Schiphol to Constantine

Early in the morning of Friday 1 June we left Schiphol, and after a long journey with transfers to Paris and Algiers we arrived at Constantine in the afternoon. ‘DZ birder’ and his brother picked us up and we immediately left for a forest outside the city where we could already get some North African species. African Blue Tit was common and there was also Atlas Flycatcher. Also, in terms of subspecies, it was interesting with many Atlas Chaffinches and Great Spotted Woodpecker ssp. numidus, which has a black-red chest band. After we had seen enough, we drove back to Constantine. The center of the city is surrounded by an impressive ravine where Peregrine Falcon ssp. brookei and Jackdaw ssp. cirtensis are breeding. This endemic subspecies of Jackdaw only occurs in the vicinity of this city and differs from ours by, for example, a less light-colored nape.

Birding at Djimla Forest

The next morning we were picked up by ‘DZ birder’ at 4 o’clock in the morning. The trip to the Djimla Forest lasted three hours and along the way we passed beautiful mountainous landscapes that were a lot greener than we expected. The climate was pleasant: sunny and cooler than in the Netherlands. We also saw some birds such as Blue Rock Thrush, Melodious Warbler and Common Bulbul. After parking the car we had to walk 20 minutes to get to the forest. ‘DZ birder’ knew a nest and when we arrived we immediately saw a nuthatch on the tree! We were able to follow both parents perfectly as they flew back and forth to feed the young. The plan to see this enigmatic species was simply successful!

We also saw the local subspecies cervicalis of the Eurasian Jay and heard Levaillant’s Woodpecker call. When we had looked at the Algerian Nuthatch long enough and had taken some record photos for home, we went further into the forest to see the woodpeckers. This did not work, but there were dozens of Atlas Finches and Atlas Flycatchers and even more Algerian Nuthatches which also called frequently. Also, we found several Coal Tit ssp. ledouci here, which has yellow underparts and yellow cheeks. It also gives a really different call from the ones in the Netherlands.

During the rest of the day, we did some birding along the coast where we mainly saw Southern European birds such as Western Swamphen and Booted Eagle. There were also reed warblers, which belong now to the African Reed Warbler (ssp. ambiguus). However, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the exact status of these birds. The day ended with a traditional meal after sunset, in connection with Ramadan.

Algerian Nuthatch / Sittelle kabyle (Sitta ledanti), Djimla Forest, Algeria, 2 June 2018 (Lonnie Bregman)
Algerian Nuthatch / Sittelle kabyle (Sitta ledanti), Djimla Forest, Algeria, 2 June 2018 (Lonnie Bregman).

The next morning we were taken by ‘DZ birder’ to the airport early and we flew back home. It was a very successful trip and very comfortable thanks to the good care of ‘DZ birder’. Moreover, we did not feel unsafe for a moment, even less than we had imagined ourselves. We, unlike Peter, have not even been stopped by the police. All in all, the weekend cost us around € 500, including tickets, visas, accommodation and the help of ‘DZ birder’. We encourage everyone to go this way as well and search for this long time untickable species!

Observed species:

In total we saw 68 species. You can find more details about our observations together with GPS locations in this link at observation.org. You can set “species group” to “mammals”, “reptiles and amphibians” or “butterflies” for the few animals we saw other than birds.

Diedert Koppenol & Lonnie Bregman

This report was first published in Dutch at ‘Dutch Birding’. It was translated and sent to Diedert for proof reading.

Thanks to the birders for the report, and for using the photographs.

Habitat of the Algerian Nuthatch, Djimla Forest, Algeria, 2 June 2018 (Lonnie Bregman)
Habitat of the Algerian Nuthatch, Djimla Forest, Algeria, 2 June 2018 (Lonnie Bregman).

3 thoughts on “The Algerian Nuthatch twitch: easier than you think”

  1. Just finished a fantastic walk in the forest with DZ birder and had close encounters w 7 Algerian Nuthatch as well as all other Atlas endemic. It was spectacular.
    Apparently I’m the first Norwegian to have seen this species. Ever.

    Not stopped by police
    But customs took my binoculars at ALG airport and I will pick them up tomorrow when departing back to Dubai. They had no problems with my Canon 100-400 mm lens.

    1. Congratulation Tommy for your fantastic trip!

      Looking at the list of WP birders who have seen the Algerian Nuthatch in netfugl.dk, we can see that birding Algeria to see this species has really taken off in 2019. Do you think that what was invoked in the introduction of this blog is the reason?


      1. Shukran, Mohamed.
        As a pilot with Emirates, flying regularly to ALG, I actually found Mr DZ birder myself, but researching the bird found your fantastic site! Well done on this, and Mr DZ told me about you on our long drive to Algiers right now. He has gone beyond any normal guiding duty today, a star man!

        Hope to meet you, as Morocco is high on my want-to-go-back-to countries.

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