Birding the Sahara: go after the rains

By | 13 October 2012

Many desert birds are nomadic and their movements are governed mainly by local rainfall which is scarce and occasional in the Sahara. Their breeding biology is also adapted to this nomadic life by breeding opportunistically in any season following enough rainfalls that allows vegetation to grow (and insects to proliferate).

It’s known that annual plants in the deserts respond with extremely rapid growth to the short periods of resource abundance (rain), this consequently engender rapid growth in animal life (insects, other arthropods…). Desert birds are well adapted to take advantage of all these plentiful resources to reproduce and rear their chicks.

The region of Oued Ed-Dahab has witnessed an important amount of rainfall during the last week of September. To have an idea about this, please see these photographs of Barrage Boulariah near Aousserd (in facebook) taken a few days ago by members of Association ‘Nature Initiative’.

From the human point of view, according to the local stockbreeders these rains will undoubtedly have beneficial effects on the region that have some 70.000 heads of livestock and 25.000 camels.

From the birding point of view, the September rains will have likewise a beneficial effect on the birds of the area, especially the Saharo-Sahelian species like Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, African Dunn’s Lark, Cricket Warbler, Desert Sparrow and many other birds that are fund also in more northern latitudes of North Africa (Desert Lark, Thick-billed Lark, Fulvous Babbler…). All these species were found breeding in our visit to the region of Oued Dahab (from Dakhla, Aousserd to near the border with Mauritania) in 21-28 October 2010 following autumn rains exactly like this year.

Birds found breeding (adults collecting nesting material, eggs, broods, juveniles):

  • African Dunn’s Lark – Eremalauda dunni – Alouette de Dunn
  • Desert Lark – Ammomanes deserti – Ammomane isabelline
  • Thick-billed Lark – Ramphocoris clotbey – Alouette de Clotbey
  • Cricket Warbler – Spiloptila clamans – Prinia à front écailleux
  • Fulvous Babbler – Turdoides fulva – Cratérope fauve Turdoides fulvus
  • Desert Sparrow – Passer simplex – Moineau blanc
  • Trumpeter Finch – Bucanetes githagineus – Roselin githagine
Birds singing, flight-displaying or alarming (most of them have most likely also bred as suggest latter observations by other birders):
  •  Cream-coloured Courser – Cursorius cursor – Courvite isabelle (see all winter breeding records by this species in Morocco and elsewhere in the Canary Islands, Socotra Island, Oman…)
  • Black-crowned Sparrow-lark – Eremopterix nigriceps – Moinelette à front blanc
  • Bar-tailed Lark – Ammomanes cincturus – Ammomane élégante
  • Hoopoe Lark – Alaemon alaudipes – Sirli du désert (a shepherd saw nests of this species)
  • Desert Wheatear – Oenanthe deserti – Traquet du désert
  • White-crowned Black Wheatear – Oenanthe leucopyga – Traquet à tête blanche
  • Desert Grey Shrike – Lanius elegans elegans – Pie-grièche du désert

For more details about these observations (with GPS coordinates, a map of the itinerary…) see this report:

Qninba A., Radi M., Amezian M., Ibn Tattou M., Khayya M.L., Samlali M.L., Khalil M.L. & Hammia A. 2011. Nidifications automnales d’oiseaux sahariens dans la région d’Oued Ad-Dahab – Lagouira  (Maroc méridional)Go-South Bull.  8: 21-34.

ALL photographs (except the second one which is mine) were taken by Mohamed Radi (GREPOM).

Unfledged juvenile of Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti)

Unfledged juvenile of Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti)

Eggs of Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti payni)

Eggs of Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti payni)

2 chicks of African Dunn’s Lark (Eremalauda dunnii dunni)

2 chicks of African Dunn’s Lark (Eremalauda dunnii dunni)

Juvenile of Desert Sparrow (Passer simplex)

Juvenile of Desert Sparrow (Passer simplex)

Juvenile of Fulvous Babbler (Furdoides fulva)

Juvenile of Fulvous Babbler (Furdoides fulva)

African Dunn’s Lark (Eremalauda dunni dunni)

African Dunn’s Lark (Eremalauda dunni dunni)

Black-crowned Sparrow-lark (Eremopterix nigriceps)

Black-crowned Sparrow-lark (Eremopterix nigriceps)

Typical habitat with Acacia raddiana and Panicum turgidum at Oued Jenna, Aousserd

Typical habitat with Acacia raddiana and Panicum turgidum at Oued Jenna, Aousserd

Panicum turgidum, Oued Jenna, Aousserd

Panicum turgidum seeds is a food source for seed-eaters like Desert Sparrow (note that the small dot in the sand is a Black-crowned Sparrow-lark !!)

spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx flavifasciata)

spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx flavifasciata)

Sunrise in the Sahara desert, south-west of Aoussed

Sunrise in the Sahara desert, south-west of Aoussed

Part of our camp (the other car and tents are not visible), me with red jumper near the car packing my tent. Midway between Aousserd and Mauritania, 27 October 2010.

Part of our camp (the other car and tents are not visible), me with red jumper near the car packing my tent. Midway between Aousserd and Mauritania, 27 October 2010.

2 thoughts on “Birding the Sahara: go after the rains

  1. RAGOT

    nous sommes ornithologues et souhaitons venir dans la région d’Aoussed en mars prochain. Nous viendrons en avion puis louerons un véhicule.
    Nous avons vu sur internet qu’il y a un hôtel à Aousserd (hotel barbas), mais nous s’arrivons pas à avoir leur N° de téléphone (2 N° trouvés sur des guides, n’étaient plus valables).
    Cet hotel existe-t-il toujours ? comment les contacter pour réserver une chambre ?

    Connaissez-vous un autre hotel ? si oui, comment les contacter.
    MERCI DE NOUS REPONDRE VITE.

    Reply

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