Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Tunisia Trip Report

TUNISIA 19th - 26th December 2010

Derek Charles and Dennis Weir.

Why Tunisia is the obvious question?? We have Mr Thomas Cook to thank for that! He offered us a half board deal flying out of Belfast for £124. We couldn't really look over that. The hire car from AVIS was more expensive than that. We stayed in the Hotel Janene in Sousse and used this as a base. We went to the south of the Country and stayed a night in Douz, Gabes and Matmata.
Our flight was delayed 5 hours due to snow in Ireland and the hire car office was closed so we had to pick it up next morning via a Taxi from the hotel.

In short Tunisia is a complete dump, litterly a dump. Everywhere we went rubbish was strewn everywhere and plastic bags are in every field, hedge, ditch etc, even when we where well into the desert. Its an absolute shame and disgrace. There appears to be no goverment control of waste collection or even a dump where people can take their rubbish. Its just thrown outside their doors.
The land is under extreme pressure as well. There are miles and miles and miles of Olive Groves again even into the Desert. Overgrazing also appears to be a problem. Drainage of water from wetland sites is also endemic and many sites we visited where dry. Huge areas of the country are complete wastelands and you can go for 50 miles and the ONLY birds that you see are Sparrows and Stralings. Indicator species like Birds of Prey, insects and mammals are virtually non-existant.
On the plus side when you do run into pockets of birds there are some great species to see. The people are very friendly, we never ever felt under any threat even in the far south and close to the Libyan Border. We didn't realy get any hassle from beggers or people trying to sell us trinkets. The Police and Army were also very polite and friendly and despite being stopped at least 20 times we never had any problems at all and no attempt was made to extort money.
Food was ok and better than most African countrys and most decent hotels had a bar. The slow manner and pace which Tunisians do everything can be a bit frustrating at times. Girls and women when encountered which wasn't that often would not look or smile at you and would be a lot less friendly than the men.
Only really bad point was the Customs people trying to "steal" my binoculars as we entered the country. They were in a bag so were not obvious but basically they tried to steal them off me. Dennis and i held our ground and eventually they gave them back but it was a bit scary. They said binoculars were banned! They are not and are gear were always in full show when stopped by Army and Police and there was no problem. We even birded close to an Army base in the Desert and ended up giving a soldier a lift! They were curious but no problem at all with Binoculars, Scopes or Cameras.
The other thing to watch out for is the driving. Basicaly ignore road signs and the only rule is to drive as fast as you can and overtake as quickly as you can even if there is on-coming traffic. If i had of beed driving i would have adopted a defensive stratedgy but Dennis was driving and he adopted a might as well join them stratedgy! This made for an exciting ride if you are not of a nervous disposition. However he got us back to the airport safely but how he managed it in that chaos i will never know. Also pedestrians appear entitled to walk across and along the road just whenever they feel like it.

There is not that much recent information on birds and sites in Tunisia but Dave Allen and Andrea Corso gave us much invaluable information and Dave also helped out via phone while we were in the Countyr. Our thanks goes to them both


Hergla Lagoon and north to Hammamet. Also visited Monastir Saltpans

Drive to Douz and birded on way. Also Shidma Ponds and Desert area.

Birded from Douz into the Desert at Ksaar Ghilane. Also from Ksar Ghilane to Matmata

Toujane Hills and then done a recce to Libyan border. Birded around Zaris and spent night in Gabes

Saltpans at SFAX and visited El Jem Roman Collesium

Hergla Lagoon and north to the Mountains around Zaghaoun

Morning around the Monastir Saltpans.

Species of interest

Shelduck: Between 5000 and 10000 were on Hergla Lagoon

Marbled Teal: Approx 2000 on Shidma (or chidma) Pond. This is a small area of water and what makes this area attractive is not immediately obvious!

Ferruginous Duck: Male and 2 Female on a small dam near Zaghaoun. We found this completely by chance.

Red Breasted Merganser: 3 at Zaris Port. We have included this as they do not appear to be common in this area.

White Headed Duck: 105 at the dam at Zaghaoun. This is the only place we encounted this species and Ferruginous Duck (and Pochard!)

Barbary Partridge: Just seen twice both times around Zaghaoun. 4 birds in total. Both times it was on small hills, with small bush's on stony ground.

Black Necked Grebe: Seen on most areas of open water. At least 2000 were on Hergla Lagoon throuhout and around 500 were at the Tyna Saltpans at Sfax.

Scopolis Shearwater: Just one seen from hotal balcony. Virtually no seawatching was undertaken!

Cattle Egret: Around 500 were on what was supposed to be a rubbish tip at Eudfida north of Sousse

Great White Egret: At least 15 at Tyna Saltpans, Sfax

White Stork: 8 birds near Eufida

Spoonbill: Seen at most wetland sites, around 60 were at the Saltpans, Tyna Sfax.

Flamingo: Large numbers at all wetland sites.

Marsh Harrier: 7 individuals seen including one deep in the desert which was an unusual site!

Long Legged Buzzard: 6 birds seen all in the south. Two different juveniles showed in the desert areas close to Douz.

Black Winged Kite: One seen hovering close to the Motorway near Eufida. A bonus bird as they are normally only encountered in more Northern Areas.

Lanner: 3 different adults seen all south of Gabes. Two different birds were found sitting on pylons and allowed close views.

Crane: Common around Hergla Lake and surrounding areas. Perhaps around 1000 seem to be wintering.

Stone Curlew: Just one bird seen on farmland south of Sfax.

Dotteral: 3 different groups of between 8 and 30 birds deep in the Desert south of Douz. This came as a shock! They must over-winter in the desert

Wood Sandpiper: Just one on a sewage pool at Hergla

Spotted Redshank: At least 15 at Tyna Saltpans

Marsh Sandpiper: Again surpriseinly common at most wetland sites. At least 60 at Tyna Saltpans Sfax, with most being fairly tame.

Grey Phalarope: Major surprise was one at Tyna Saltpans, Sfax. We also had 2 other distant Phalaropes on Sfax Saltpans nearby but we couldn't access this site. It is felt these were also likely Grey Phalaropes.

Slender Billed Gull: The common gull of the region seen at all coastal locations. At least 2000 were in a roost at Zaris Harbour

Aoudouins Gull: Just 3 single adults, 2 near Sousse and an adult at Monastair Saltpans.

Caspian Gull: Two 1st winters near Hergla.

Great Black Headed Gull: A 1st winter on a sandbank south of Zaris.

Baltic Gull: One possible adult at the gull roost at Zaris. However it was not ringed.

Gull Billed Tern: One at Monastair Saltpans.

Caspian Tern: Common at all coastal locations. Around 45 birds seen in and around Zaris

Whiskered Tern: 5 juveniles at Tyna Saltpans, Sfax.

Laughing Dove: Abundant

Little Owl: Around 15 birds including one individual in the desert.

Pallid Swift: 3 birds near Sfax.

Lesser Short Toead Lark: Common in desert areas.

Desert Lark: About 10 birds around Matmata.

Bar Tailed Dert Lark: 2 singles near Bir Soltane on the "pipeline" road south of Douz.

The pipeline road is 32 KM east from Matmata on the road to Douz. The pipeline road runs due south into the desert

Calandra Lark: 3 birds were on fields aroun Lake Hergla

Thick Billed Lark: 8 birds around the Bieber Camp on the pipeline road. The Bieber Camp is a collection of concrete homes on the right hand side about 5km from the junction on the Matmat - Douz road.

Temmincks Lark: About 20 birds around the Bieber Camp

Hoopoe Lark: Fairly common in the desert areas.

Crag Martin: Around 60 birds on the dam near Zaghaoun

Pied Wagtail: 2 different males seen

Redstart: One female near the junction of the pipeline road on the Douz - Matmata road

Mouissiers Redstart: Fairly common in all habitats

Mgahreb Wheatear: Common in desert areas.

Black Wheatear: Common in most suitable habitat ie rocky-hilly areas.

Desert Wheatear: Common in desert areas (funny enough!)

Red Rumped Wheatear: Just 2 birds on the pipeline road

Scrub Warbler: At least 5 birds seen in the desert

Tristams Warbler: One male seen near Bieber Camp. A couple of other skulking immatures were suspected!

Reed Warbler: A couple of individuals were heard and seen in a reedbed between Douz and Gidma

African Blue Tit: Just one seen at El Jem

Grey Shrike: Very common in all habitats. Max day count was 58

Brown Necked Raven: We encountered these regularly in desert areas, normally pairs but we had up to 11 in one flock.

Rock Sparrow: Common around Matmat and Toujane

Desert Sparrow: At leat 4 were easily found at the well known site at Ksar Kilane on the piepline road.

Trumpeter Finch: Fairly Common in desert areas.

House Bunting: Fairly common in south of country especially around Matmata and Toujene.

Corn Bunting: Just one bird which surprised us

We ended up with 141 species which was a reasonable total considering we never visited the North of the Country. If anyone wants any more detail on the sites visited or species seen contact

Thanks again to Dave Allen and Andrea Corso who made things a lot easier for us.