11 Feb 2014

11 Feb 14 - A Western Palearctic Mega

After an overnight spotlightling drive we arrived at Oued Jenna (km 191) on the Aoussard Road at first light. During my day off birding on the 9th, I had been looking at Patrick Bergier's excellent Go South website, which is the essential site to check for birding & mammal trips to Morocco & the Western Sahara. A recent update on this site mentioned a pair of Sudan Golden Sparrows had been seen at Oued Jenna on the 1st Feb in a 200 strong flock of Desert Sparrows. When we visited the site on the 8th, Richard & John had seen this flock (while I was sorting out the sound equipment), but they quickly moved off as they were highly mobile. We then focused our attention on looking for the Cricket Longtails. After that we only saw a few individual Desert Sparrows. Having driven through the night, I decided to get a short kip before heading out to look for the Sudan Golden Sparrows. As Richard & John had managed a short nap while I was doing the last part of the drive to Oued Jenna, they went straight out looking. As I was waking up they returned to say they were still around.
Male Sudan Golden Sparrow & Desert Sparrows: The bright yellow colour made them easy to pick out
Keeping on to the Sudan Golden Sparrows wasn't easy as the flocks were highly mobile & birds were quickly dropping down from the grass to feed on the ground or flying off to join other Desert Sparrow flocks. After a while, I picked up the pair in one of the Acacias. As I was watching them, I realised there was a second male & when the flock flew to another Acacia, a third male also flew out. Therefore, I had 2 additional males as well as the original pair & I had just found 2 more Western Palearctic rarities. When I mentioned this to Richard & John, they said they had thought that there was more than 1 male, so we agreed to a team find for the extra birds.
Desert Sparrow: 2 males feeding on the ground
Desert Sparrow: Male showing its wing pattern
Desert Sparrows: No yellow Sparrows in this flock
Sudan Golden Sparrow: Male. They are right on the edge of their range in the Western Sahara with their range being Mauritania to Senegal & Burkina Faso and across to Sudan & North Eithiopia. However, I suspect their rarity level of about 1 small party a year in the Western Sahara, would probably prove they are more regular if there was more birders going to the Western Sahara
Sudan Golden Sparrow: The female is to the right of the obvious male & there is a second male more hidden in the bottom right of the photo. When they flew a third male also flew out with the party, making a total of 4 birds
Having had my fill of this bonus World tick, I carried on to explore more of Oued Jenna. Frustratingly, I saw a Dove fly out of the area & into Acacias on the other side of the road which didn't look right for a Collared Dove. We had a good look in the area, but only managed to find about 30 Collared Doves. So I will never know if I threw something better away as African Collared Doves are occasional rare visitors to Oued Jenna. But there were other interesting birds in the area which we hadn't seen on the 8th, including 2 Great Spotted Cuckoos, a party of Fulvous Babblers & 3 Southern Grey Shrikes.
Fulvous Babbler: This is the maroccana subspecies which occurs from Southern Morocco to SW Libya. There are 3 other subspecies across its Sub Saharan range
Southern Grey Shrike: This is the elegans subspecies which occurs to the South of the Atlas from Mauritania to the Eygptian Sinai 
It was now late morning & we started the long journey back to Dakhla with a few short roadside stops to look for Dunn's Lark. Unfortunately, we had no joy with the Lark & didn't manage to see any additional species apart from a couple of Temminck's Horned Larks that John found. The wind was getting stronger as we got closer to the Dakhla end of the road & was starting to blow sand onto the road. The highlight of the journey back was some interesting scenery photos.
The wind was starting to blow sand onto the road in a few places
I wonder how old this Acacia was: It seemed to be existing in an area with virtually no other vegetation
The road passed through this sandstone ridge
We also passed this interesting large sandstone rock
As the road drops into Dakhla Bay, it passed over this wide flat sand plain: Soon after it passes the bay where the kite surfers were photographed on the first afternoon

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