Western Sahara, annexed by Morocco in 1975, is a vast expanse of desert. This region has only opened up for independent travelers, and birdwatchers, in recent years and being situated at the southwestern corner of the Palaearctic region there have been several exciting discoveries here since. Most of these discoveries have been done in the desert between Dakhla and Aousserd, in sites next to the road connecting these two towns. The highlights here are the Cricket Warbler and Sudan Golden Sparrow; this is the only place in the Western Palaearctic where you can see these two species that belong to the African sahel region. At least the Cricket Warbler appear to be fairly common here, while the Sudan Golden Sparrow can be found in flocks with Desert Sparrows, mainly in Oued Jenna. The site information describes several localities between Dakhla and Aousserd where you can also see other interesting species as Spotted and Crowned Sandgrouse, Thick-billed Lark and Desert Sparrow, as well as other desert birds that are more difficult in the rest of Morocco.
Dakhla is the regional capital of Western Sahara. There can be good birdwatching around this town, either waterbirds in and around Dakhla Bay (mostly gulls and terns, but also shorebirds), or seabirds seen from the shore to the west of the town. Dakhla is also the starting point for explorations of the inland regions between Dakhla and Aousserd (there are no accommodations in the inland, so you will have to return to Dakhla every day, or camp in the wild).
The most interesting birdwatching sites along the coast are wetlands, of which the Khenifiss lagoon and Dakhla Bay probably are the most well-known. Khenifiss is described in some detail and a bird that you should be looking for here is the Kelp Gull, as this southern gull has been seen here on multiple occasions over the past few years (but do not confuse with the Great Black-backed Gull which breed (!) at Khenifiss).
In the Tan-Tan section three smaller sites (river mouths) between Tan-Tan and Khenifiss are described; Oued Chebeika, Oued Ouma Fatma and Oued El Ouaar. The Khenifiss lagoon and the sites near Tan-Tan are technically speaking not in Western Sahara, but in Morocco proper. Still the information about these sites are included here for convenience (I am assuming here that most birders visiting these sites are underway to Western Sahara from southern Morocco). With the same logic I included information about birding around the south Moroccan town of Guelmim here. This desert area was famous for some very good birds years ago, notably Tawny Eagle. The findings of the previous years are less exciting, but this area can none the less be superb for desert birds and Streaked Scrub Warbler is often found here.
Near the city of Laayoune is a small river that can be worthwhile to check, even better is an oasis, Saquiat al Hamra, just outside town that can be very good for birds. If there is water in the oued there can be good numbers of waterbirds there, else you should only expect desert species.
Dakhla is a small town that lies near the end of a 45 km long and sandy peninsula about 550 km to the south of Laayoune. This peninsula defines Dakhla Bay, a very important wetland for migrating and wintering waterbirds. Dakhla is used by most birders as a handy base for the exploration of desert species of the Dakhla - Aousserd road (following section), but you should spend one or two days exploring this area, not only for the local speciality, the Royal Tern!
Two good places where you get a good view of the action in the bay are at Km 16 and Km 24 north of Dakhla town, these sites can be productive for both terns and waders. But there are numerous other places around the bay where you can get good views of the birds. Just keep in mind that the tidal flats can be huge at low tide and the birds thus far away. It is probably best to check the bay at rising tide when the waders are concentrating close to the shore, and a telescope is anyway a necessity to do this site any justice.
It is estimated that about one fifth of the shorebirds that winter in Morocco are to be found around Dakhla Bay and the most numerous species are Red Knot, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwit. Dakhla Bay is also extremely important for gulls and terns. In winter hundreds of Caspian Terns are present and these flocks should be carefully checked for Royal Terns. During the migration the Royal Tern can be quite numerous with dozens of birds in February/March and in late summer/early fall hundreds have been recorded. Lesser Crested Tern is also a regular sight around Dakhla, and the large flocs of Sandwich Tern should be checked for this species. Punta la Sarga (Lassarga) at the southernmost tip of the peninsula is a good place to watch roosting gulls and terns.
The most abundant gull is the Lesser Black-backed Gull (tens of thousands in winter), but also Audouin's Gull show up here in impressive numbers, and in winter hundreds can be seen here daily (sometimes the numbers of Audouin's Gulls here are in the low thousands). Dozens of Slender-billed Gulls can also be seen here in winter.
Seabird watching can also be rewarding from the Dakhla peninsula. I haven't got much information about any serious seabird watching here, but the anecdotal evidence I have from birders visiting Dakhla in the winter months looks promising, with several records of European and Leach's Storm Petrels and even Band-rumped Storm Petrel. Watching for pelagic birds will naturally be more rewarding in late summer/fall and according to Bergier & Bergier there can be huge numbers of Cory's Shearwater and Northern Gannet, and Great, Manx and Sooty Shearwater, Leach's Storm Petrel and skuas and jaegers have all been recorded. I would be grateful for any additional information about pelagic birds seen from Dakhla peninsula to fully map its potential. Punta la Sarga is a good vantage point for seabirds where you can see movement over the ocean as well as the mouth of Dakhla Bay.
Little Swifts can sometimes be seen over Dakhla town, and passerines seen on the peninsula include Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Red-rumped Wheatear and Black Wheatear.
One interesting option if driving to Dakhla from the north is to stop at Oued Karaa (Chtoukan, Tchoukan), as there were sightings of up to three Pied Crows near the petrol station here for several years. The last reports I have seen were from 2011 (two birds), but keep this exciting species in mind if driving through this area (or stopping at the gas station). Birds seen here by groups looking for the crows are Cream-colored Courser, Barbary Falcon, Brown-necked Raven (common), African Desert Warbler, Black and Red-rumped Wheatears and Trumpeter Finch. Oued Karaa is 165 kms to the north of Dakhla.
Birds around Dakhla
Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Red Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Little Swift, Eurasian Collared Dove, Laughing Dove, Lesser Kestrel, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Thekla Lark, Western Yellow Wagtail, Northern Wheatear, Desert Wheater, Red-rumped Wheatear and Black Wheatear.
Punta la Sarga (winter/spring):
Northern Gannet, European Storm Petrel, Leach's Storm Petrel, Band-rumped Storm Petrel, Yellow-legged Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Audouin's Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern and Sandwich Tern.
Punta la Sarga (late summer/fall):
Great Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Northern Gannet, Great Skua, Pomarine Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, Royal Tern, Lesser Crested Tern and Sandwich Tern.
Black Kite, Cream-colored Courser, Eurasian Hoopoe, Barbary Falcon, Brown-necked Raven, Pied Crow, Sedge Warbler, African Desert Warbler, Common Nightingale, Bluethroat, Black Wheatear, Northern Wheatear, Red-rumped Wheatear, Desert Wheatear and Trumpeter Finch.
The most common marine mammals that can be seen in Dakhla bay are Common Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus, دلفين شائع قاروري الأنف) and Atlantic Humpback Dolphin (Sousa teuszii), both are seen regularily. Killer Whales (Orcinus orca, حوت قاتل) are occasionally seen here as well.
It would be very interesting to obtain reports of any offshore trips from Dakhla for both seabirds and marine mammals as the potential seems huge!
Food and accommodation:
Dakhla is the regional capital and one of its main economic activities is tourism (it has become a centre for aquatic sports as kite- and windsurfing); therefore finding suitable hotels and restaurants in different price ranges is not a problem.
Dakhla can be reached from southern Morocco on the main N1 road; this is a daunting 1,200 km drive from Agadir. The road is generally speaking in excellent condition, but tend to be rather monotonous. Fortunately you can have some very good birding along this road, see later sections for details. About 35 km north of Dakhla town you leave the N1 for the P1100 leading to Dakhla, at the southern tip of the peninsula.
Oued Karaa, the Pied Crow site, is about 165 kms to the north of Dakhla. The gas station is next to the N1 road and thus easy to find.
There is an international airport in Dakhla, so if short of time (or with Dakhla and Aousserd as sole interest) this is a viable option.
Dakhla - Aousserd
(الداخلة - أوسرد )
The road between Dakhla and Aousserd (N3, appr. 214 km) is for many keen birders the main reason to visit Western Sahara. The road has fairly recently been opened up for visitors (like the rest of Western Sahara) and it turns out to hold some very nice birds. The biggest surprise in recent years was probably the discovery of Cricket Warblers here. This Sahelian species is known from nowhere else in the Western Palaearctic, but after its discovery here in 2007 it turns out to be quite common. The warbler is rather conspicious in areas of long grass and scrub, and it start to appear after about 90 km after the junction with the N1 (ie the start of the road). The best areas appear to be at Km 41, the Oued Jenna wadi and a small acacia scrub at Km 3 (Please note that all distances are measured from Aousserd).
Another major rarity here is the Sudan Golden Sparrow, another Sahelian species that has been seen here the last few years (although much more difficult to find than the Cricket Warbler). The most recent sightings are from Oued Jenna where they can be found in flocks of Desert Sparrows. The Desert Sparrow is, by the way, common in the interior part of this road. Occasionally in winter flocks with 100-200 birds can be seen, but more commonly small flocks are seen (most are seen after Km 100). Oued Jenna is, again, probably the most reliable site with a rather constant occurence.
Even without these specialities birding along the Dakhla - Aousserd road can be very rewarding as several desert species that are difficult to find elsewhere in Morocco are common to abundant here. This is especially true for the larks. Small flocks of Thick-billed Lark are frequently seen and the water hole at Gleb Djiane and Km 41 have both in recent years proven to be good for this nomadic species. The Bar-tailed Lark is common here and small flocks or single birds can be seen along the road; the most sightings are from the last 100 km before Aousserd. Also Black-crowned Sparrow-Larks are frequently seen here and again Oued Jenna and Km 41 appear to be the most reliable sites. The Greater Hoopoe-Lark is common throughout the desert. It should be noted that there are also frequent sightings of Dunn's Lark from this road. As far as I know there are no regular sites, but it has been reported from the area around Km 77 - Km 75 and also around Km 41.
Fulvous Babbler and African Desert Warbler are two other desert species that many birders will be looking for. The Fulvous Babbler is frequently seen at Oued Jenna, but it has also been recorded at Km 41 and elsewhere along the road.The Desert Warbler is more irregular and unpredictive however. Recent sightings have been at km 75, km 68 and Km 18. Other passerines regularily seen along the Dakhla - Aousserd road are Southern Grey Shrike, Brown-necked Raven, Spectacled Warbler and Desert Wheatear; Subalpine and Sardinian Warblers are often seen here in winter. Other good birds here include Long-legged Buzzard, Lanner Falcon, Barbary Falcon, Cream-colored Courser and Great Spotted Cuckoo (winter).
For sandgrouse you shouldn't miss the waterhole at Gleb Djiane; both Spotted and Crowned Sandgrouse can be expected here and there are reports of Pharaoh Eagle-Owl.
It should not be forgotten that in this far southwestern corner of the Western Palaearctic region new discoveries seem likely. Who knows what other species' of bird from the Sahel will be discovered here in the near future. There are already reports of African Collared Dove from Aousserd (two birds seen at Km 8, March 2nd 2011, Ref. 39) and this is definitely a bird to look out for. It would also be interesting to explore areas beyound Aousserd, unfortunately this area can probably only be birded from the tarmac road because of the unfortunate situation with uncleared mines.
What follows are brief descriptions of the most important sites along the Dakhla - Aousserd road, the sites are describe from west to east. Please note that the Km markers are from Aousserd towards Dakhla.
Gleb Djiane (Gleb Jdiane) is a small waterhole to the left of the N3 road (coming from Dakhla) 22 kms from the N1/N3 junction. The waterhole is important as a regular site for both Spotted and Crowned Sandgrouse and flocks of both can be expected here in the morning. It is important to note that the sandgrouse are not necessarily seen at dawn, but more often between 8.30 a.m and 10 a.m. The sandgrouse also come in to drink in the evening.
Of other resident birds the most interesting are probably Thick-billed Lark, Temminck's Lark and Trumpeter Finch, and migrant passerines and waders have also been seen here. Of raptors Long-legged Buzzard and both Lanner Falcon and Barbary Falcon have been reported. A report of a calling Pharaoh Eagle-Owl at Gleb Djiane in Dec 2012 (Ref. 37) is also of great interest.
Km 75 - Km 77 is a little visited area, but some impressive birds have been seen here, and a stop here is probably well justified. The most important bird seen here is Dunn's Lark (>1 sighting spread over several years), but there are also records of Temminck's Lark. Greater Hoopoe-Lark and Bar-tailed Lark appear to be common here. This is also a site where the Cricket Warbler has been recorded as well as African Desert Warbler and Tristram's Warbler.
Km 41 is one of the most reliable sites for the Cricket Warbler and is thus visited by most people birding the Dakhla - Aousserd road. As a result a long list of birds have been seen here and the most interesting, apart from the Cricket Warbler, are probably Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Thick-billed Lark and Desert Sparrow (several sightings of all of these). Most other desert species in the area have also been seen at Km 41, and interesting wintering birds include Great Spotted Cuckoo. In the desert just before km 41 (driving to the east) good birds in the past have included Dunn's Lark.
The single most important site along the Dakhla - Aousserd road is the Oued Jenna wadi, 24 kms west of Aousserd and you should really spend some time here (It has been stated that this area is safe for mines, but you should check with local authorities to make sure). Oued Jenna is known as a reliable site for the Cricket Warbler and most visiting birders see them here. The wadi is also a very good spot for Desert Sparrow and flocks of up to 200 birds have been seen here. What is important is that you should check these flocks carefully for the Sudan Golden Sparrow as a pair was present here at least in the winter/spring of 2014 (seen in the wadi a few hundred meters south of the road).
Wrt other desert species there are few reports of larks, with the Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark being the sole exception; Oued Jenna seems to be by far the most reliable site along the Dakhla - Aousserd road for this tricky species. Oued Jenna also seems to be a very reliable site for Fulvous Babbler. There do also tend to be fairly good numbers of wintering warblers with Common Chiffchaff and Subalpine Warbler the two most common, but also several records of Western Orphean Warbler and Sardinian Warbler. Of wintering non-passerines the Great Spotted Cuckoo is one of the most common.
Km 8 - Aousserd:
I give this last part of the road special mention as it seems that both Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Cricket Warbler and Desert Sparrow occur regularily here. There are several patches of acacia scrub (i.e at Km 8, Km 6, Km 5 and Km 3) that all seem to hold these species.
Birds between Dakhla and Aousserd
Long-legged Buzzard, Crowned Sandgrouse, Spotted Sandgrouse, Laughing Dove, Pharaoh Eagle-Owl, Lanner Falcon, Barbary Falcon, Thick-billed Lark, Temminck's Lark and Trumpeter Finch.
Km 77 - Km 75:
Brown-necked Raven, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Desert Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Dunn's Lark, Temminck's Lark, Cricket Warbler, African Desert Warbler, Tristram's Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Northern Wheatear and Desert Wheatear.
Great Spotted Cuckoo, Southern Grey Shrike, Brown-necked Raven, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Thick-billed Lark, Cricket Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Fulvous Babbler and Desert Sparrow.
Long-legged Buzzard, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Lanner Falcon, Southern Grey Shrike, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Pale Crag Martin, Common Chiffchaff, Cricket Warbler, Western Orphean Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Fulvous Babbler, Desert Wheatear, Desert Sparrow and Sudan Golden Sparrow.
Km 8 - Aousserd:
Great Spotted Cuckoo, Southern Grey Shrike, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Cricket Warbler, Spectacled Warbler and Desert Sparrow.
Spotlighting, ie looking for mammals using powerful torches from a car, is a very good way of seeing shy, nocturnal species and one report mentions Aousserd road as possibly the best location for this in the Western Palaearctic!
Interesting mammals that can be seen here (by spending time and effort!) are Desert Hedgehog (Paraechinus aethiopicus , قنفذ حبشي), Lesser Egyptian Jerboa (Jaculus jaculus, يربوع مصري صغير), Lesser Gerbil (Gerbillus gerbillus ), Sand Rat (Psammomys obesus , فأر الرمل السمين), African Savanna Hare(Lepus microtis), Rüppels Fox (Vulpes rueppelli, ثعلب روبل), Fennec (Vulpes zerda, فنك) and Saharan Striped Polecat (Ictonyx libycus). There are even sightings of Sand Cat (Felis margarita, قط الرمال).
No permits are needed for birding along the Aousserd road.
Food and accommodation:
There are no places along the Aousserd road with accommodation, and unfortunately there is no accommodation in Aousserd either. You should be able to buy some snacks or light meals in Aousserd, though. This means that, unless you are prepared to camp out, you have no other option than Dakhla.
The Dakhla - Aousserd road is the N3, branching off from the N1 at the coast just east of Dakhla and going southeast to Aousserd (214 km). From Aousserd the road goes southwest nearly to the Mauretanian border. The km stones are counted from Aousserd to Dakhla, as are the kilometer references given above.
(كلميم , Goulimine, Guelmin)
This section covers a number of sites near the main N1 road between Guelmim and Tan Tan. The sites are a number of wadi's less than 40 km from Guelmim and some sandy plains that are good for desert birds.
This is a wadi less than 6 km from Guelmim and the best area is said to be some pools a few hundred meters to the west of the bridge (where you can park). There are tracks both north and south of the wadi that you can follow, but the track to the south is generally more productive (and is closer to the wadi). Birds you can see here include Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin and Western Olivaceous Warbler, as well as more common birds of the Moroccan country side. This is also a site where Fulvous Babbler is frequently seen. In the migration seasons many migrants are attracted by the river and the vegetation around the pools can be very good.
The sparsely vegetated plains to the south of the wadi (between the road and the agricultural fields) used to be excellent for Streaked Scrub Warbler, although there seems to be few reports from the last years. Other birds of dry habitats can also be seen here, including Little Owl, Thekla Lark, Red-rumped Wheatear and Desert Wheatear. Many of these can also be seen in the somewhat drier parts of the wadi to the east of the road.
By following the main road you get to the next wadi, Oued Boukila, 11 kms from Guelmim. Oued Boukila nowadays seems to get more attention than Oued Sayed. This is another site where Streaked Scrub Warbler has been reported, but I have no information about sightings the last few years. Apparently the wadi to the east of the bridge was the preferred place for the Streaked Scrub Warbler.
Oued Boukila can none the less be a good site well worth a stop. Typical birds of dry habitats as Eurasian Stone-curlew, Lanner Falcon, Spectacled Warbler, Red-rumped Wheatear and Trumpeter Finch have all been seen here in recent years and there is also a recent (2014) sighting of African Desert Warbler.
There is an area with sparsely vegetated, sandy plains that can be good for larks and other desert species, starting about 30 km south of Guelmim and stretching for tens of kilometers towards Tan Tan. The best area appears to be the stretch between Km 30 and Oued Bou Issafène.
Coming from the north a stop at Km 30 might be productive as Streaked Scrub Warbler has been reported here. Some years ago this area could be excellent, with lots of desert species, and up to several Tawny Eagles in one day. But apparently this is something of the past (certainly wrt to the eagles) and I don't know if this place is any better than other parts of the road (but probably not worse either). The best advise is to stop anywhere here that looks promising and investigate.
Of other desert birds that you can see along this road the larks are particularily well represented and Thick-billed Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Desert Lark, Thekla Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Temminck's Lark and Greater Hoopoe-Lark can all be numerous.
Other birds regularily seen along this road are Long-legged Buzzard, Lanner Falcon and Cream-colored Courser. Sandgrouse are also fairly common here and with some luck you can see Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Spotted Sandgrouse and Crowned Sandgrouse in this general area (most likely in flight, as I have no information about waterholes where they come to drink).
Oued Bou Issafène:
The road runs parallel to this wadi between Km 37 and Km 40 and can be checked for migrants. Bergier & Bergier lists some species that apparently have been recorded here in the past: Eurasian Wryneck, Tawny Pipit, Common Nightingale, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Bluethroat, Black-eared Wheatear, Common Whitethroat, Spectacled Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Western Orphean Warbler, Woodchat Shrike and Ortolan Bunting. I don't have any recent information about this site, and it would certainly be interesting to receive some updated information about Oued Bou Issafène.
Breeding birds here include Cream-colored Courser, Rock Dove, Thekla Lark and Black Wheatear and it is supposed to be good for Streaked Scrub Warbler.
Birds around Guelmim
Little Grebe, Common Moorhen, Thekla Lark, Common Bulbul, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Red-rumped Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Western Olivaceous Warbler and Fulvous Babbler.
Long-legged Buzzard, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Lanner Falcon, African Desert Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Spectacled Warbler, Red-rumped Wheatear, Corn Bunting and Trumpeter Finch.
Long-legged Buzzard, Lanner Falcon, Cream-colored Courser, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Spotted Sandgrouse, Crowned Sandgrouse, Thick-billed Lark, Bar-tailed Lark, Desert Lark, Thekla Lark, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Temminck's Lark, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Red-rumped Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Streaked Scrub Warbler and Trumpeter Finch.
Oued Bou Issafène:
Cream-colored Courser, Rock Dove, Eurasian Wryneck, Thekla Lark, Tawny Pipit, Common Nightingale, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Bluethroat, Black-eared Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Streaked Scrub Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Spectacled Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Western Orphean Warbler, Woodchat Shrike and Ortolan Bunting.
Food and accommodation:
There is a limited selection of cheap hotels in Guelmim.
All these sites can be reached on the main N1 road going south from Guelmim to Tan Tan. The distances are measured from the bridge over the Oued Oum Laachar wadi at the western outskirts of Guelmim.
Guelmim is about 200 km south of Agadir.
In this section I briefly describe a few sites from Oued Draa north of Tan Tan to Oued el Ouaar some 70 kms south of Tan Tan. All sites can be reached from the main N1 road leading south towards Laayoune and Dakhla and are useful places to stop for birders traveling to Western Sahara by car.
In addition to the oueds mentioned here the fishing village of El Ouatia (Tan Tan Plage) can be good for watching seabirds and the harbour can be good for gulls and terns. From about 10 kms south of El Ouatia the coastline is dominated by steep cliffs and these cliffs are very good for Lanner Falcon and Barbary Falcon.
Oued Draa is the longest river in Morocco and flows into the Atlantic just north of Tan Tan. The river can be birded where the N1 crosses the river about 19 kms northeast of Tan Tan. As there is generally water in the river here during the migration seasons (and in the winter months) this site is particularily good for migrants. Birds recorded here in late winter/spring include European Turtle Dove, Western Yellow Wagtail, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Northern Wheatear, European Stonechat, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Willow Warbler and Woodchat Shrike.
This is not an exhaustive list, but apparently a site with good potential.
Breeding birds here include Thick-billed Lark, Black Wheatear and Moussier's Redstart. Red-rumped Wheatear is quite common. There are also records of Cream-colored Courser, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Trumpeter Finch and even Mourning Wheatear.
It is possible to bird the river from the bridge, but a better option is to take a track running parallel to the river on the northern side and stop at suitable sites. It is in theory possible to drive all the way to the mouth of the river and bird at suitable sites, but I have no recent information as to the state of the track (you might need a 4W drive).
Oued Chbika (Oued Chebeika):
Oued Chbika is a lagoon some 30 km south of El Ouatia with a nice variation in habitat. The lagoon is divided in two by the N1 and the larger part to the south can be very good for waterbirds and waders. In winter the lagoon should be checked for grebes and ducks, with wintering Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe and Black-necked Grebe. Most of the common Palaearctic ducks should also be present. The mudflats and marshes fringing the lagoon can hold Glossy Ibis and numerous waders including Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover (breeding), Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank and Spotted Redshank. Whiskered and Black Terns can frequently be seen hunting above the lagoon.
To the north of the bridge you have less open water, but a sandy beach which can be terrific for gulls and terns. Of the gulls you can expect Slender-billed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Audouin's Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Yellow-legged Gull. The Lesser Black-backed Gull is the most numerous gull in winter, but up to a thousand Audouin's Gulls have been recorded here in one day. Terns are also common; Sandwich Terns can be present here in impressive numbers (thousands), but also Caspian Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Common Tern and Little Tern. Royal Tern makes a fairly regular appearance here, the Lesser Crested Tern less so (the Royal Tern apparently most numerous in late summer).
Off-shore you can normally see huge flocks of wintering Common Scoters here, thousands have been recorded here in the past.
The are good patches of desert along this coast road and it can be worthwhile to stop and have a look if the habitat looks promising. There are frequent reports of Streaked Scrub Warbler along this road and other desert species seen here are Lanner Falcon, Barbary Falcon, Cream-colored Courser, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Black Wheatear, Desert Wheatear and Trumpeter Finch. Spotted and Crowned Sandgrouse are also fairly common here, and can sometimes be seen drinking at the various lagoons.
Oued Ouma Fatma & Oued el Ouaar:
These two river mouths can be found further south from Oued Chbika (57 km and 67 km respectively from El Ouatia). The avifauna is roughly the same as in Oued Chbika, but the numbers of birds here are generally lower.
Birds around Tan Tan
Common Moorhen, Cream-colored Courser, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Black-winged Stilt, Common Sandpiper, European Turtle Dove, Thick-billed Lark, Barn Swallow, Sand Martin, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Western Yellow Wagtail, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin, Northern Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Red-rumped Wheatear, Moussier's Redstart, European Stonechat, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Subalpine Warbler, Willow Warbler, Woodchat Shrike and Trumpeter Finch.
Oueds Chebeika, Ouma Fatma & el Ouaar:
Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Common Shelduck, Ruddy Shelduck, Eurasian Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Common Scoter, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, European Golden Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Common Snipe, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank, Spotted Redshank, Slender-billed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Audouin's Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Little Tern, Whiskered Tern, Black Tern, Spotted Sandgrouse and Crowned Sandgrouse.
Desert areas near N1:
Long-legged Buzzard, Lanner Falcon, Barbary Falcon, Cream-colored Courser, Eurasian Stone-curlew, Little Owl, Spotted Sandgrouse, Crowned Sandgrouse, Moussier's Redstart, Black Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Streaked Scrub Warbler and Trumpeter Finch
According to Bergier & Bergier this region is famous for mammals and they mention records of Golden Jackal (Canis aureus, ابن آوى الذهبي), Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes, ثعلب أحمر), Saharan Striped Polecat (Ictonyx libycus), Striped Hyena (Hyaena hyaena, ضبع مخطط), African Wildcat (Felis silvestris, قط ليبي), Wild Boar (Sus scrofa, خنزير بري) and two endemic rodents, Saharan Shrew (Crocidura tarfayensis) and Occidental Gerbil(Gerbillus occiduus). I have not, however, seen any mention of mammals in recent trip reports from this area. Any recent sightings of mammals would be most welcome.
Food and accommodation:
There are numerous hotels and restaurants in Tan Tan and also in El Ouatia, so this should not be any problem if you choose to stay overnight in this area. There was a luxurious hotel just north of the Oued Draa, the Ksar Tafnidilt, which would have been a perfect place to stay, but unfortunately they seem to be out of business.
All sites mentioned here are easy to reach on the main N1 road. Near the rivers you can generally park close to the bridge and bird the area on foot. At Oued Ouma Fatma you can take a track forking off from the main road where it climbs the cliffs at the southern edge and park at the top of the cliffs.
(متنزه اخنيفيس الوطني, Khniffiss)
Khenifiss National Park was established in 2006 (nature reserve since 1960) to protect the local desert, wetlands and coastal dunes ecosystems. The central portion of the park is the Khenifiss lagoon and this is also the part with the greatest ornithological importance.
The major attraction the last few years is the surprising appearance of Kelp Gulls here. The first Kelp Gulls were seen in February 2008 and in 2009 and 2010 there appeared to be several breeding pairs. Further investigations showed that most of these were actually Great Black-backed Gulls of a hitherto unknown, isolated population (only a couple of thousand kms south of the nearest population!). None the less birds photographed May 2009 and July 2010 are accepted as Kelp Gull and also photo's of birds after 2010 seem to show this species at Khenifiss. So apparently Kelp Gulls occur here, perhaps even breed, and although outnumbered by the Great Black-backed Gull reason enough to have a decent look at all large, dark-backed gulls at Khenifiss! The gulls breed on an island near the warden's house and can be checked from the top of the cliffs here.
Have a look at this blog post at MoroccanBirds for a discussion of Kelp and Great Black-backed Gulls at Khenifiss.
Even if you are not a gull fanatic Khenifiss NP has a lot to offer. The lagoon is an important nesting ground for some species, notably Ruddy Shelduck, Marbled Duck, Slender-billed Gull and Audouin's Gull. Moreover European Shag (of the endemic subspecies riggenbachi) has bred in the area in the past and you should keep the possibility of this very hard-to-find bird open.
Even though the lagoon is important as a breeding ground it is possibly even more important as a wintering ground for Palaearctic species; it is estimated that about 20.000 birds winter here. Most of the wintering birds are waders, while ducks are much less common. The most common waders are Eurasian Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit, but also Dunlin, Red Knot and Eurasian Curlew are present in good numbers. Other common waders are Grey Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Common Greenshank and Common Redshank. Of large 'wading birds' Greater Flamingo (hundreds) and Eurasian Spoonbill are common and White Stork, Little Egret, Grey Heron and Purple Heron are regular. Gulls are abundant in winter and the most numerous are Audouin's Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull. In late summer dozens of Royal Terns can be present, while common terns in winter are Caspian Tern and Sandwich Tern. A few Western Osprey winter annually and Western Marsh Harrier, Long-legged Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Lanner Falcon and Peregrine Falcon can often be seen hunting over the lagoon or surrounding desert.
The variety of passerines is not as impressive as for waterbirds, but Streaked Scrub Warbler is said to be common in the sparse vegetation in the dry areas and one good spot is around the parking lot near the warden's house. Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Black Wheatear, Desert Wheatear and Trumpeter Finch all breed in this area. More important than the local breeders is the impressive variation of passerines that can be found here during migration (see list below for an indication of the species you can expect).
Birds in Khenifiss NP
Northern Pintail, Black-necked Grebe, Greater Flamingo, White Stork, Great Cormorant, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Little Egret, Western Cattle Egret, Eurasian Spoonbill, Western Osprey, Western Marsh Harrier, Pied Avocet, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling, Dunlin, Slender-billed Gull, Audouin's Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Kelp Gull, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern and Sandwich Tern.
Warden's house and surrounding desert:
Long-legged Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Desert Wheatear, Black Wheatear, Streaked Scrub Warbler and Trumpeter Finch.
Common Cuckoo, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, European Bee-eater, Barn Swallow, Sand Martin, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, Common Nightingale, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, Northern Wheatear, Subalpine Warbler, Sardinian Warbler, Garden Warbler, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, European Pied Flycatcher and Woodchat Shrike.
To enter the Khenifiss NP you need a permit, which you can get in the village of Sidi Akhfennir, about 25 kms north of the lagoon. This permit seems to be needed only if you intend to go into the national park on a boat trip; it is acceptable to stop at the warden's house and bird the surroundings without a permit. From the warden's house you also have a good view of the lagoon, including of the island nearby with the breeding gulls.
Food and accommodation:
The nearest place with restaurants is Sidi Akhfennir. For accommodation you will have to go to Tarfaya in the south (80 kms) or El Ouatia/Tan Tan to the north (110 and 130 kms respectively).
The road to the warden's house of the national park can easily be reached from the main N1 road (signposted Naïla). The junction is 114 km south of El Ouatia and 172 kms north of Laayoune; from the junction it is about 2,5 kms to the warden's house.
Laayoune (pop. 196,000) is the largest city in Western Sahara and a handy stop-over site driving to and from Dakhla. You can also have some nice birding around the Saquiat al Hamra river, where good numbers of wintering and migrating birds can be seen. One option is to bird the area around the bridge leading into the city. If you have more time, at least, say, half a day, you can also drive southeast out of Laayoune, cross the river near the Lemseyed oasis and drive north and northwest again towards the main bridge east of the river. This circular road is surfaced all the way and is well worth the effort.
Driving south on the N5 you turn left towards Lemseyed oasis after 13 kms. Lemseyed is tiny but there is almost always some water there and the palmgroves and tamarisks can be teeming with migrants. Birds as Eurasian Reed Warbler, Common Grasshopper Warbler, Eurasian Blackcap, Moussier's Redstart, Blue Rock Thrush and Ring Ouzel can be seen here. There are also records of Tristram's Warbler from Lemseyed in winter.
Of the resident birds Fulvous Babbler is one of the more interesting, and this species is frequently seen in Lemseyed. Other residents here are Eurasian Stone-curlew, Lanner Falcon, Desert Lark, Black Wheatear and Red-rumped Wheatear.
You can stop near the river where you have a view of the open water and interesting waterbirds include Ruddy Shelduck (sometimes hundreds), Marbled Duck (dozens), Black-necked Grebe, Greater Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill and the usual waders. Any patches of vegetation should be checked for wintering passerines/migrants, and birds recorded here include Woodchat Shrike, Common and Iberian Chiffchaff, European Stonechat, Tawny Pipit and Red-throated Pipit. As said, one good vantage point for the river is the main bridge crossing over to Laayoune.
Driving back on the east side of the river, towards the main bridge, you will also drive through desert habitat and birds seen here are Spotted and Crowned Sandgrouse, Desert Lark, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Pale Crag Martin, Red-rumped Wheatear, Streaked Scrub Warbler and Trumpeter Finch.
Birds around Laayoune
Eurasian Stone-curlew, Lanner Falcon, Desert Lark, Black Wheatear, Red-rumped Wheatear, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Common Grasshopper Warbler, Eurasian Blackcap, Common Chiffchaff, Fulvous Babbler, European Robin, Moussier's Redstart, Blue Rock Thrush, Song Thrush and Ring Ouzel.
Saquiat al Hamra:
Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Marbled Duck, Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Greater Flamingo, White Stork, Little Egret, Western Cattle Egret, Glossy Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Eurasian Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Little Ringed Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Common Snipe, Black-headed Gull, Spotted Sandgrouse, Crowned Sandgrouse, Little Swift, Greater Hoopoe-Lark, Desert Lark, Pale Crag Martin, Tawny Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, Streaked Scrub Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Iberian Chiffchaff, Eurasian Reed Warbler, Eurasian Stonechat, Red-rumped Wheatear, Fulvous Babbler, Woodchat Shrike and Trumpeter Finch.
Saquiat al Hamra Bridge:
Ruddy Shelduck, Black-necked Grebe, Greater Flamingo, Western Cattle Egret, Eurasian Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Dunlin and Little Stint.
Western Sahara beeing a sensitive area there is often a heavy military presence around strategic places like bridges. This is also true for the main bridge over the Saquiat al Hamra where there is a checkpoint and there are also several other checkpoints around Laayoune. There are no permits needed, however, to bird this area and if you have id- and car-papers in order, there should not be any problems with the authorities.
Food and accommodation:
Food and accommodation is easily found in Laayoune.
Laayoune is easy to reach on the main N1 road and is about 300km southwest of Tan Tan and 530 km northeast of Dakhla.
To get to Lemseyed oasis follow the N5 out of Laayoune for 17.5 kms (as measured from the begin of the road at Boulevard Mohamed V in Laayoune) and turn left. The oasis is about 1 km from the main road. From Lemseyed you can continue on this road for about 32 km to reconnect with the N1 just north of the main bridge.