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Spring bird migration-trip: back from Africa to Europe:

The epic birding trip: Transsahara

March 2022



Nomads in Mauritania still cross the Sahara with their camels.

With the Silk Road, the Orient Express and the Trans-Americana, the Trans-Sahara is one of the epic historical journeys. For humans still quite a journey, for millions of birds an annual routine job.

Birds from Europe spread over large parts of Africa in winter. Until the Cape of Good Hope. But most don't go that far. They cross the sandpit and then for most of them it is good enough.

The Senegal Delta is the first large area where they find fresh water after crossong the dry desert. Relatively this area has the most wintering birds of Africa.

Waders are satisfied with the Banc d'Arguin a few hundred kilometers earlier on the trip. A shallow part of the Atlantic Ocean near the Sahara. The tidal flats are strongly reminiscent of their favorite European spot, the Wadden Sea.

This Transsahara odyssey does not start like the previous caravans from Marrakech. Our starting point is on the other side of the desert. We start from Gambia. A country that is popular with bird watchers because of its many birds and compact size.

Ile de Kousmar, Senegal

The Gambia is completely enclosed by much larger Senegal. Just like the Gambia, it is also a popular birding country known for some very special spots. One of which is Ile de Kousmar, the roosting place of tens of thousands swallow-tailed kites. After visiting this place on our way to the north we cross the savannah with the giant baobab trees.

Soon the vegetation is getting sparse. The dense tropical vegetation as we've seen in the Gambia gives way to large baobab trees, which in turn exchange their place for acacias. Lots of intensive livestock farming which of course attracts vultures. We will see many, sometimes divided in up to seven species!

The pelican colony in Djoudj

The north side of Senegal is bordered by the Senegal River. A popular place for birds. Not only the endemics, but also a whole lot of migrants from Europe who, after their journey across the Sahara, will find here the first green an wetland with fresh water after crossing the dry Sahara.

Djoudj is therefore an unique ornithological place. There are only two places in the world that are more ornithologically interesting than this park. We stay here for a full day from early in the morning until late at night. When we cross the river the next day, we are will arrive in the third country of our trip: Mauritania. The north bank does not differ much from Djoudj and the Mauritanian park Diawling can well be compared with it.

Iwik, Banc d'Arguin.

Meanwhile, the acacia trees have turned into shrubs, which contrasts nicely with the red-yellow sand that appears in ever larger areas between the acacia trees and tamarisk bushes. The first sand dunes appear not far from the border. When we pass the town of Tiguent, halfway between the border and the capital Nouakchott, we officially enter the Sahara-desert.

The Banc d'Arguin is located on the ancient location of the delta of a disappeared river that brought water from a then humid Sahara to the ocean. Due to the countless shallows, mudflats with seagrass and the nutrient-rich water, the area is very popular with waders. For many species, the Banc d'Arguin is the southernmost link of the East Atlantic migratory route. With a wooden sailboat with a Latin sail we sail to the high-tide refuges to observe the movements of the hundreds of thousands of bar-tailed godwits, whimbrels and knots from short distance.

Nouadhibou, Baie d'Etoile.

Nouadhibou is the last city in Mauritania that we will visit. At the southernmost tip of the Cap Blanc peninsula we may see the rare monk seal and perhaps the allotments, as before, have another surprise in store.

Western Sahara is the next country. Occupied by Morocco, but its legitimacy is disputed by many countries, including all European countries. From 1975 to 1989 a bitter battle was fought here between the Moroccan army and the West Saharan liberation army Polisario. A ceasefire came into effect in 1991, but it was canceled by the Polisario in October 2020.

Oued Jenna, Western Sahara.

It is therefore questionable whether we will get permission to travel to Oued Jenna, a wadi with a lot of birds that only can be seen here in the Western Palearctic, about 200 km deep in the desert. But also only 25 km from the frontline. Not that much happens over there, but it is conceivable that the Moroccans do not tolerate prying eyes. So this will probably be an uncertain part of the program.

If not, we'll have to enjoy ourselves on the coast. No problem. Dakhla has many interesting bird spots and we also know where to find the spots further to the north. The region's largest town, Laayoune, has a number of permanent waterholes that are home to many birdlife, including one of the largest concentrations of marbled ducks.

Cliffs along the Western Saharean coast.

During the long stretches along the coast of Western Sahara, we are regularly accompanied by migratory birds that, like us, are on their way from Africa to Europe. Black kites, barn swallows and storks fly in large numbers along the coast. Other birds hop from oasis to oasis in the interior of Mauritania and Algeria. Areas that are currently out of reach for tourists for security reasons.

Khenifiss is another park by the sea where there's a lot of birlife to be seen. We have now arrived in the undisputed Morocco. In the gorge of oued Zahar we look for birds of prey in mid-air above the gorge and near the oasis of Azoueroualt we can find many desert species.

We have now arrived in Mediterranean Morocco. The first trees, eucalyptus and argan, appear. The soil is again covered with grasses, although the vegetation still mainly consists of succulents such as euphorbias and wild Indian-figs.

Bold Ibis in Massa ornithological reserve

The park of the same name at the mouth of the river Massa is the last park we will visit on this trip. It is best known for being the last habitat of the bald-headed ibis. Our local guide Rachid will surely know where we can find this remarkable and extremely rare bird species.

For most participants, the trip ends at Agadir and they will fly back to Europe from here. Those who are not yet ready can ride along with us to the place where we will park the cars this summer at Las Cabezas de San Juan south of Seville. On our way to Spain we check with Merja Zerga to see if we can spot the swamp owl. Leaving Africa on the ferry to Spain gives a special sense of fulfilment to this trip giving the fact we started on the other side of the great desert.



Daily schedule

day

From - To

Country

Program

Dag 1: 

Amsterdam - Gambia

EU/Gambia

Arrival - 02:00

Dag 2: 

Marakissa

Gambia

Birding with a guide in Western-Gambia

Dag 3: 

Marakissa - Tendaba

Gambia

Rit Marakissa - Tendaba with birding moments

Dag 4: 

Tendaba - Kaolack 

Gambia/SEN

Boattrip mangroves; border crossing; Ile de Kousmar

Dag 5:

Kaolack - Djoudj

Senegal

Ride from Kaolack to Djoudj (birding moments, vultures)

Dag 6:

Djoudj - Djoudj

Senegal

Whole day birding Djoudj NP

Dag 7: 

Djoudj - Birette

Senegal/MAU

Bordercrossing, stay in Diawling NP

Dag 8: 

Birette - Nouakchott

Mauritanië

Morning Diawling NP, drive to Nouakchott

Dag 9: 

Nouakchott - Iwik

Mauritanië

Ride to Iwik (partially offroad) with birding moments

Dag 10: 

Iwik - Nair - Iwik

Mauritanië

Boattrip to Nair, Banc d'Arguin

Dag 11: 

Iwik - Nouadhibou

Mauritanië

Ride Iwik to Nouadhibou with birding moments

Dag 12: 

Nouadhibou - Barbas

Mauritanië/WSA

Morning Cap Blanc; afternoon border crossing, desertbirding

Dag 13: 

Barbas - Oued Jenna

Wsahara

Ride to Oued Jenna with birding moments

Dag 14: 

Aousserd - Dakhla

Wsahara

Ride to Dakhla with birding moments

Dag 15: 

Dakhla - Laayoune

Wsahara

Ride to Laayoune with birding moments

Dag 16: 

Laayoune - Tiznit

Wsahara/MOR

Saguia al Hamra, Khenifiss drive to Tiznit

Dag 17: 

Tiznit - Massa - Agadir

Marokko

Visit NP Massa. Flight to Europe.

Dag 18:

Agadir - Asilah

Marokko

Ride to Asilah with birding moments Merja Zetga

Dag 19:

Asilah - Las Cabezas

Marokko/SPA

Crossing Mediterranian

Dag 20:

Sevilla - Amsterdam 

Spanje/EU

Flight home from Seville



Clic below for expanded day program
(will follow soon)