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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Western Sahara

In Search of the Golden Nightjar

Thursday 14 March to Wednesday 20 March 2019
with Steve Rooke as leader
featured image

Cricket Warbler is a speciality of the region. Photo: Dan Brown

Remote corners of the Western Palearctic hold a particular fascination for birders, and none more so than the Western Sahara. Recent visits to this region by groups of birders revealed several stunning Golden Nightjars, a species better known from further south in places like Cameroon. In addition, there are some other Western Palearctic gems such as Dunn’s Lark, Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, and Cricket Longtail. We’ll spend the start and and of our short tour on the coast at Dakhla, itself a mecca for birds. In between we’ll be based on the edge of the Saharan Desert where, as well as looking for Golden Nightjar, we’ll have the chance to look for night creatures such as Pharaoh Eagle Owl, Fennec Fox, African Golden Wolf, Sand Cat, and Saharan Striped Polecat. Daytimes will be spent exploring the dry acacia-filled oueds (river valleys) and the dramatic massifs that erupt from the desert floor in an aread reminiscent of the East African savannas. There is also the chance of migrants heading north and even some exciting strays from sub-Saharan Africa—recent discoveries have ranged from White-throated Bee-eater and African Crake to Upland Sandpiper and Lesser Scaup—so anything is possible. The shallow coastal bay formed by the Dakhla spit hosts a huge variety of terns, gulls, and waders, and we’ll search for species such as Royal Tern, Kelp Gull, and Western Reef Egret among the commoner Audouin’s Gulls, herons, and egrets. 

Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Dakhla. Night in Dakhla. 

Day 2: We’ll spend the first part of the day birding around the tip of the Dakhla Peninsula. We can expect to find a huge gathering of gulls and terns here, and careful searching may reveal unusual species such as Kelp Gull and Royal Tern. The mudflats also hold hundreds of waders and, with luck, Western Reef Egret. Later we’ll begin our journey inland to Aousserd and may have time for our first attempt at finding Golden Nightjar before we reach our accommodation. Night in Aousserd.

Days 3–4: We’ll begin the day early, before it gets light, amidst the scattered acacias of Oued Jenna. Here we’ll be listening for the distinctive call of Golden Nightjar, perhaps the key species of the tour. These birds are on the very edge of their range and appear to be more numerous in some years than others. Local weather plays a big part in the success or otherwise of finding this bird. In particular it will help our cause if there has been some recent rain. 

Our plans for the rest of the tour will remain flexible and are dependent on our success at Oued Jenna on the first night. During the daytime we’ll explore the desert environs around Oued Jenna and back toward the coast. These habitats are varied and can be rich in birds. The acacia grasslands hold species such as the engaging Cricket Longtail and Desert Sparrow, and occasionally Sudan Golden Sparrow, while the trees can be full of migrants, from Subalpine and Western Bonelli’s Warblers to Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Golden Oriole. In areas of open sand flanked by grasslands, we’ll look for Black-crowned Sparrow-lark and the distinctive Hoopoe Lark, while the stony hamada landscape should produce Thick-billed, Temminck’s, Bar-tailed, and Desert Larks, and with some searching, African Dunn’s Lark. Cream-colored Coursers can be widespread, but as with any desert species their numbers and range can fluctuate tremendously depending on climatic conditions. Desert Warblers are few and far between, but with enough searching we should locate them. 

During visits to the oases we’ll endeavor to track down Crowned and Spotted Sandgrouse as well as any new migrants. In 2016 Namaqua Dove bred here for the first time and an Allen’s Gallinule took up residence for a few weeks, and this area has in recent times turned up a variety of vagrants, from White-throated Bee-eater to Lesser Scaup. We’ll also check out the impressive massifs for a resident Pharaoh Eagle Owl, Lanner, and Golden Eagle; passing raptors can include Short-toed and Booted Eagles, Griffon Vulture, and occasionally even vagrant Ruppell’s and White-backed Vultures. Along the coast migrating Montagu’s Harriers and Black Kites can sometimes be very much in evidence. 

When in the desert we will not ignore the other mammals we may encounter, which could include the charismatic Fennec Fox, Lesser Egyptian Jerboa, Saharan Striped Polecat, Sand Cat, Ruppells’ Fox, and the recently described African Golden Wolf during our nocturnal excursions. 

Day 5-6: We’ll return to the coast on Day 5 to sample more of the rich birding in and around the massive lagoon. We’ll check the huge mudflats for gulls, terns, waders, and herons, and we’ll explore some of the few agricultural areas in the country. Many of these have been heavily planted and are vital stopover points for migrants. Almost any Western European migrant is possible and there is always the chance of vagrants, which in the past have included Reed Cormorant, Lesser Flamingo, Grey-headed Gull, and African Crake. In addition we should find good numbers of Audouin’s Gull, Gull-billed Tern, Great Flamingo, and a plethora of waders. With luck we may even catch a glimpse of the endangered Atlantic Humpback Dolphin in the lagoon. 

Day 7: The tour concludes this morning in Dakhla. 

Updated: 01 June 2018


  • 2019 Tour Price : $2,550
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $180
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This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

This tour is limited to six participants with one leader.

*The cost of the flights from London to Dakhla and return, included in the tour cost above, is an estimate and may change prior to tour invoicing.