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Visiting the new Algerian Nuthatch breeding site

In spring 2018, Moulaï and Mayache discovered a new breeding site of the Algerian Nuthatch. The latest similar discovery was in the early 1990s.

Karim Hadddad and his colleague Saber Dekkiche and local guide Ryad M. visited the newly discovered site on 24 September 2018. Karim shared with us the following detailed trip report.

Larbaâ Forest or Ghabet Ezzen, Oudjana, Algeria, 24 Sep. 2018 (Karim Haddad).
Larbaâ Forest or Ghabet Ezzen, Oudjana, Algeria, 24 Sep. 2018 (Karim Haddad). In the background, we can see a part of Oudjana and the city of Tahir farther north.

The Algerian Nuthatch is the only species endemic to Algeria. Until this year, the species was only known in four sites isolated from one another. The species was first discovered at Mount Babor in 1975. The second site was within Taza National Park in the Guerrouch Forest (June 1989). The third and fourth sites were discovered in 1990 in the Tamentout and Djimla forests respectively. Finally, it is in the forest of Oudjana in 2018 that the latest one was found, and I hope it will not be the last.

My first meeting with an Algerian Nuthatch was in 2016 in the Bouafroune forest, Djimla. It was on 20 May 2016 that we, Algerian birdwatchers, gathered from different regions of the country to see and take photographs of the Algerian Nuthatch. That day, our dream was to see for the first time the only endemic bird of Algeria. We wandered in the forest all day long. We separated in groups and took different routes to find new species. By the end of the day, many had left because we were all hundreds of kilometres away from our respective homes; but our group stayed in the forest because one friend had gotten lost and could not find his way back to the car. Three brave guys went to look for him and eventually returned with him. At the same time, together with two local guys, I was able for the first time to take pictures, shoot a video and record the voice of the bird in this forest. The joy was indescribable. Moreover, since then, I found a new dream – find the Algerian Nuthatch in a biotope where no one had found it before.

My close friend, Saber, said he knew more places to see this bird. While we were going, our other friend, Abdelwahab B., made a post on Facebook stating that this bird can be found in the forest between Oudjana and Shahna. For us, this was the main motivation for an immediate trip. After I saw Abdelwahab B. had made a successful visit in this fifth biotope for the Algerian Nuthatch, I contacted him immediately to make an appointment in the new forest of the Algerian Nuthatch. However, unfortunately, he was very busy and I did not want to bother him any longer.

Therefore, I decided to leave with Saber, since he knew the place and had already been there before. Saber phoned his old friend Ryad, who lives near the forest. The appointment for our meeting was set for 24 September.

The trip to the new Algerian Nuthatch site

As always, our ornithological trips began in the early morning. On 24 September 2018, we departed from Constantine at 4:00 and stopped at 5:30 for breakfast, and at 7:30 we were near Riyadh’s house.

He met us at his home, and we went directly to Larbaâ forest (Ed. note: it’s the same forest named as Ghabet Ezzen by Moulaï and Mayache). When we went to the oak forest, we could see and hear many Rock Doves (Columba livia), Blackbirds (Turdus merula), Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto), Sardinian Warblers (Sylvia melanocephala), Common Stonechats (Saxicola rubicola), plus a group of Spanish Sparrows (Passer hispaniolensis).

When we entered the dark forest with cork oak trees (Quercus suber) to explore it, the Algerian Nuthatch could not be heard, because this period of the year is quiet and the young birds follow the adults so that they can feed them and avoid danger. While we were among the tall Algerian oak (Quercus canariensis) with clear water running below them, the Coal Tits ssp. ledouci, which has yellow underparts, came to meet us first. After 10 minutes at an altitude of 952 m we saw our first Algerian Nuthatches: at exactly 09:09 three birds appeared on a tree, then four on another tree and two on a third tree. It was as if they had prepared a special performance for us. It was a great show and we watched them for two hours. We did not explore the whole forest, so we found the Algerian Nuthatch at an altitude between 900 m and 1050 m.

Algerian Nuthatch / Sittelle Kabyle (Sitta ledanti), Larbaâ Forest, Oudjana, Algeria, 24 Sep. 2018 (Karim Haddad).
Algerian Nuthatch / Sittelle Kabyle (Sitta ledanti), Larbaâ Forest, Oudjana, Algeria, 24 Sep. 2018 (Karim Haddad).

Then we decided to be acquainted with the flora of the forest. By 12 o’clock, together and cheerfully, we took our lunch alongside the stream. After we had had lunch and had rested, we started watching other bird species. The first bird that we saw was the African Blue Tit (Cyanistes teneriffae). We did not see many Great Tits (Parus major) and European Robins (Erithacus rubecula), but the Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla) was present where the Nuthatch fed themselves.

Other species included the distinctive Great Spotted Woodpeckers ssp. numidus, complete with red breast spotted with black. We had a good view of the Eurasian Jay ssp. cervicalis with its very distinctive white face and black cap. We also saw a Levaillant’s Woodpecker that showed itself nicely while flying and looking for food on the tree. Coming out of the forest around 850 m, a raptor flew over us but we could not identify it because we were not allowed to bring our binoculars out of our backpacks since the whole area is militarized.

Our observations finished at 15:30 with a European Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) which passed over our heads to join the forest, Common Swifts (Apus apus) and Alpine Swift (Tachymarptis melba). We also watched the southward migration of Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) over an open area not far from the house of our local guide and friend.

Ryad kindly fed us at his family home, where we enjoyed a delicious home cooked Jijilian, courtesy of his wife.

At 16:30, we took the road back to Constantine.

Larbaâ Forest or Ghabet Ezzen

Located south-east of Jijel, north of Djimla and south of Oudjana, the Larbaâ Forest extends between 800 and 1200 m above sea level. From Constantine, it takes about three hours and thirty minutes. From Algiers, it takes about seven hours.

The forest consists mainly of Algerian oak (Quercus canariensis), as well as many cork oaks (Quercus suber) but very few trees of Afares oak (Quercus afares). We also noted the presence of several other families of trees, such as the bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), wild cherry (Prunus avium) and poplar (Populus sp.). Ed. note: Moulaï and Mayache reported in their article that the old forest of the area is composed mainly by Afares oak and some trees of field maple (Acer campestre), Mediterranean hackberry (Celtis australis) and field elm (Ulmus campestris) here and there. It’s not known if this difference in the tree composition of the forest is because the two teams visited two different areas of the forest.

Algerian oak (Quercus canariensis), Larbaâ Forest, Oudjana, Algeria, 24 Sep. 2018 (Karim Haddad).
Algerian oak (Quercus canariensis), Larbaâ Forest, Oudjana, Algeria, 24 Sep. 2018 (Karim Haddad).
Afares oak (Quercus afares), Larbaâ Forest, Oudjana, Algeria, 24 Sep. 2018 (Karim Haddad).
Afares oak (Quercus afares), Larbaâ Forest, Oudjana, Algeria, 24 Sep. 2018 (Karim Haddad).

Due to the fact that in the circumference of this zone there are permanent military posts, the forest is in good condition and all living creatures are safe there. Many places in the forest are not passable because the trees regenerate densely and naturally. Water is present in sufficient quantities. If we compare this new biotope with the known sites, this one is a paradise of fauna and flora. In this new Oudjana forest, there are Algerian oak trees and some cork oaks that reach heights greater than 30 meters and girth greater than 3.80 meters.

The opposite cases were in the forests of Guerrouche, Tamentout and Bouafroune, which I visited and where I took photographs of the Algerian Nuthatch: they are all in poor condition and very sick. Unfortunately, there were no signs of regeneration, because the pressure of overgrazing is too strong.

The first responsible for this degradation are the local and national authorities, the second are the local residents of the region who need to answer their needs and assure the survival of their flocks.

After the Algerian authorities recently decided to set up a tourism and leisure site in the Nuthatch’s forests, an international petition was filed on Avaaz by the Environmental Association AquaCirta, a letter was hand-delivered to the Minister of the Environment, a meeting was held with forest conservation of the wilaya of Jijel and another with the environmental direction of Jijel; and finally, a petition from the citizens of Djimla was made. Despite all these actions, we have not seen any positive results. Forest degradation continues and the recreational projects in the forests of Djimla and Tamentout have not been cancelled but reconfirmed.

Algerian Nuthatch / Sittelle Kabyle (Sitta ledanti), Djimla Forest, Algeria, 7 Oct. 2018 (Karim Haddad).
Algerian Nuthatch / Sittelle Kabyle (Sitta ledanti), Djimla Forest, Algeria, 7 Oct. 2018 (Karim Haddad).

Karim Haddad
Ornithological tour leader
Field Guide/Association Environmentale AquaCirta
Cité Boussouf, Constantine 25000, Algeria
Email adresse: karim241267@yahoo.fr
Cell. Ph: +213 550 577 118

Read more about the species:

– A study showed that the Algerian Nuthatch has declined at the Guerrouch forest, one of the strongholds of the species. The study provided also new elements of the breeding biology of the species.

New breeding site of the Algerian Nuthatch discovered in 2018.

Algerian Nuthatch habitat at Bouafroune Forest (Djimla) threatened by a “recreational forest” project (2020).

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