Trip Report: Cap Bon Area (Tunisia), April 26 - May 3, 2000

Dirk Raes, Belgium;

Having been home for just two days (after guiding a birding tour to Mallorca), I left Brussels-International for Monastir, Tunisia with some 30 birders. The Belgian ornithological society De Wielewaal asked the travel-agency Ro-Travel ( to organize one of their yearly birding-trips with me as guide.

So the unknown Cap Bon was on the list this year. The area is not that well know to birders and if yes, then mostly during autumn for wintering ducks. Our people left with great expectation and as you'll read it, it was worthwhile.

After an early-morning flight of about 2.30hours, during the landing you can already see the first birds: Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) in the Salinas of Monastir. During the bus trip towards Hammamet (we stayed in the Hotel Hammamet) already a Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola) and several Eurasian Hoopoes (Upupa epops) were spotted. If you decide to go to Hammamet, choose one of the hotels towards the old center. These hotels have nice gardens with a lot of green. The new Hammamet-sud area is total bird-unfriendly. We choose the Hammamet Hotel, very well situated 9100m from the beach), with a swimming-pool, extremely good buffet-food, friendly people and above all some nice birds in the garden. Totallly new for the group and immediately seen in the hotel garden were Blue Tit of the racial variation ultramarinus (Parus caeruleus ultramarinus), Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis), Spotless Starling (Sturnus unicolor) and Common Bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus). These four birds can been seen from your room, or just go out in the garden or into the street !!!

During the morning we took a walk along the beach and spotted the first Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea), several Gannets (Morus bassanus) and also some fishing Little Terns (Sterna albifrons), and during the afternoon a visit to the Cultural Center of Hammamet (about 1km. towards Hammamet-Center) and worth a visit. It's a garden with some trees and scrubs looking towards the sea. The area is very nice, calm and very interesting for birds. A quickly passing Hobby (Falco subbuteo), a Barbary Dove (Streptopelia roseogrisea risoria), a Hoopoe (Upupa epops) and - of course - the Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melanocephala) were the most outstanding observations of that day. This arrival was promising!!!

On the next day - the 27th of April - we went to the Soliman lagoon. This lagoon is just north of the village of Soliman, north side of Cap Bon. You can enter the area by a small road, leaving the C26-road, at the point where a little concrete industrial plant is aside the C26. This road brings you along gardens and later towards the lagoon. During the preparation of this trip (March 2000) I saw two Black-Shouldered Kites (Elanus caeruleus) in this area, unfortunately not this time. The wind was probably the reason, indeed at 50km/h it was very disturbing that day. Surely we lost a lot of observations, not pleasant for a guide neither. Anyway, the most significant were extremely good observations of Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus), Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta), Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea), Little Stint (Calidris minuta) - from this day on we should see hundreds, definitively heavy migration - Calandra Lark (Melanocorypha calandra), Fan-tailed Warbler (Cisticola juncidis), Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor algeriensis) and a probable Trumpeter Finch (Bucanetes githagineus). Most remarkable was the migration of 42 Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus), 1 Black Kite (Milvus nigrans) and 135 Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber). Worth mentioning for the site are 11 Marbled Ducks (Marmaronetta angustirostris) and Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia). As already said, the wind had an negative effect on our bird-list. The guide was starting to panic!!

Friday the 28th of April, some wind but also some rain, not ideal for visiting El Haouaria, at the end of Cap Bon. Our local guide wanted to visit with the group the tourist area like ceramic and textile shops, but with me as a group guide he had it difficult, birding but no ceramics, and probably his pocket-money gone. Up to El Haouaria with a superb visit of Les Grottes and good views over the sea. Within 1.5hour some 180 Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus), 1 Black Kite (Milvus migrans) and 1 Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), that is the famous migration at Cap Bon. Then a state of panic in the group about where to look first: Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus), Barbary Falcon (Falco pelegrinoides) or Peregrine (Falco peregrinus - still under dipute!!], Moussier's Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri), Blue Rock Trush (Monticola solitarius), Pied Wheatear (Oenanthe pleschanka) or Little Owl (Athene noctua race lilith)? Great moments! We ate lunch in the restaurant Les Grottes, from where the Moussier's Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri) was easy to see. In the afternoon, a walk in the area didn't bring us anything better. A short visit to the Fauconerie (yearly El Haouaria organizes the days of the Sparrowhawk with a show on trained birds). Back to Hammamet, a nice day but again due to the weather not the "big list".

Saturday the 29th of April, a major weather improvement and a visit towards Zaghouan, west/south-west of Hammamet and also towards mountains. But before that you should visit the new dam/barrage of Oued Rmel. To arrive at the best place, just continue the road towards Zaghouan, after a village called Bouachir turn right into the C35 road and at the small bridge just wait!! This place and its immediate surroundings are very productive. From the bridge we saw Great Crested (Podiceps cristatus), Little (Tachybaptus ruficollis) and Black-necked Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis). Everywhere some Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta) and migration of White Stork (Ciconia ciconia). Also some Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) and several Gull-billed (Sterna nilotica), Whiskered (Chlidonias hybridus) and Black Terns (Chlidonias niger) were seen. Different species of waders and plovers and regular Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola) hawking over the water. A Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) and some Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) passed by. Just before leaving a couple of Marbled Ducks (Marmaronetta angustirostris) were diving into the reed. The place is just great, we'll be back !!

For lunch we went to Zaghouan, more specifically Le Temple des Eaux. This place, on the backside of the city and at the foot of the mountains was an old Roman Nymphaeum. Take your pick-nick, sit down at the little restaurant, order a drink and then try to eat. Impossible, too much to see! A short overview: Red Kite (Milvus milvus), min. 2 Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus), 3 Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus), min. 4 Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus), some 12 Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) hunting like Lesser Kestrel, Peregrine (Falco peregrinus), min. 3 male Moussier's Redstart (Phoenicurus moussieri). Time left to eat?? After this "lunch" we went for a walk along the road behind the restaurant, with most rewarding a Barbary Partridge (Alectoris barbara). On the way back we stopped near the ruins of a Roman Forum (not mentioned on any map) and, apart from this cultural stop, saw some birds like Alpine Swift (Apus melba), Bee-eater (Merops apiaster) and Golden Oriole (Oriolus oriolus - male). A family to which we didn't pay enough attention during the trip was the of the sparrows of which today we saw the Spanish Sparrow (Passer hispaniolensis). Ending this great day on the beach of Hammamet with Mediterranean Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan) is just great!

Sunday the 30th of April, the last day of the month and very good weather for birding. Salinas of Korba, north of Hammamet and Barrage Lebna, known from their ducks in winter, but I didn't promise my group that they would be all that great. Wait, read and see !!

The Salinas of Korba are just north of Hammamet direction El Haouaria. You should consider the position of the sun when visiting this place. Just after Korba you can stop along the road and walk between the fields towards this great birding area. A first look showed us that some 570 Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) were still present. Also a lonely Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) and one Great Egret (Egretta alba) on a dike. A few Shelducks (Tadorna tadorna) and 3 Marbled Ducks (Marmaronetta angustirostris) passed by. On migration were a Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) and one male Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus). Black-winged Stilts (Himantopus himantopus) were everywhere, breeding and alarming, and a beautiful Stone Curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) flew over. All the time about ten Slender-billed Gulls (Larus genei) flew over our heads, worthwhile to see such a small group. Going a little bit further along this road you can stop alongside and walk towards a fishermen's house on the other side of the Salinas and along the beach. In the middle of this road (thus also in the middle of the salinas) we continued to fill in our list with Gull-billed Tern (Sterna nilotica), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola), about 50 Little Stints (Calidris minuta), Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) and totally black Spotted Redshanks (Tringa erythropus). Between this all some Sandwich Terns (Sterna sandvicensis), Little Terns (Sterna albifrons) and a few Whiskered Terns (Chlidonias hybridus) flew over. Question to look into the sky!! For a real change, ten to twelve Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola) were hawking over the water. A nest with several juv. Great Grey Shrikes (Lanius excubitor algeriensis) was near our pick-nick place, the beach, and also a Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator badius) was present. During lunch several hundreds Swallows (Hirundi rustica) migrated. I have to say that this place was difficult to leave, it was just great.

During the afternoon I brought the group to the Barrage Lebna, a place know in winter for its hundreds of ducks and coots. It's an agricultural area which uses water from a Barrage, thus water in spring could provide birds. But, after such a great birding morning, I didn't promise that much to people: "It won't be that good!!", I said !!! Already from the bus - a guide is quite privileged as he is sitting in front - I spotted 2 Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus). Using the microphone to announce this, I never had a group so quickly out of my bus. And then the fiesta started: a third Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) appeared. To make a list of the egrets: at one moment surely 7 or 8 Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides) together, min. 29 Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) and a Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea). A male White-headed Duck (Oxyura leucocephala) was by himself on the reed, pointing out a breeding female. Another male Montagu's Harrier (Circus pygargus) was on migration, while a flock of Bee-eaters (Merops apiaster) came down into a tree. A Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) was - in our opinion - uncommon in this place, and a magnificent Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator badius) was sitting about 15m from the group. Therefore, as your read this, with birding you never know. Nobody wanted to leave this place, as you can expect.

Monday 05 May: a "rest" day by visiting Kairouan, the fourth city of the Islam. Beautiful place, worth a visit, high culture and great place for taking pictures. Birders had a great time when they spotted very well Pallid Swift (Apus pallidus) close to Common Swift (Apus apus), and this in the Medresse of Kairouan. The little streets and the open-market provided the so necessary change from birding, and during the late afternoon we made a stop for a "quickie birding" along the road. Signpost km. 30 along the road Kairouan-Enfidha is the place to be. Just out of the bus over 25 Red-footed Falcons (Falco vespertinus) hunting insects: all ages, males and females, flying low and high - never seen such a spectacle. Apart from a few Stone Curlews (Burhinus oedicnemus), some Black-bellied Sandgrouse (Pterocles orientalis) and a Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae), nothing special!!! It was also 30°C hot, with this temperature you cannot expect much better!!!

As I said on Saturday the 29th of April, "we'll be back" - today the 2nd of May that is! Yes, we went again to the undiscovered area of the new dam/barrage of Oued Rmel. Remember, after a village called Bouachir turn right till the small bridge and wait! Yes, again the same and hereby the results. To be correct after lunch we went for a walk towards the lake, and at about 3pm we spent again about one hour on this magic bridge with as to close down the trip a Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) at about 35m in a shrub and then flying over. But now the list of that day: The egrets with Squacco Heron (Ardeola ralloides), Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) and an against-the-sun flying Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) were quite worth to be spotted. The group of 12 Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) and the 2 Marbled Ducks (Marmaronetta angustirostris) were the same as some days before. Raptors can be mentioned with Black Kite (Milvus milvus), close views of Egyptian Vulture (Neophron pernopterus), Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus), Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus), Booted Eagle (Hieraaetus pennatus), a couple of Short-toed Eagles (Circaetus gallicus), a Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus) and a Peregrine (Falco peregrinus). Worthwhile staying on that bridge, isn't? Also worth mentioning were the Gull-billed Terns (Sterna nilotica) feeding on the fields and several Calandra Larks (Melanocorypha calandra). These last ones are really fat birds. Some Alpine Swifts (Apus melba) passed over together with all other swallows. During the pick-nick a Rufous Bush Chat (Cercotrichas galactotes) came very close, and also a Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) and a Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) were close to that famous bridge. For the different waders (see the list of Walter) the very best place is after the bridge; walk inside the vegetation and follow the water-line along the reed. Depending on the water level you will walk between olive trees which are dead due to the high water level in winter. Very nice was also the observation of a butterfly called Plain Tiger (Danaus Chrysippus).

Let me end by giving an impression (from the bridge). Cap Bon and its surroundings, staying in Hammamet, are more than worth a visit. Tunisian people are extremely friendly, our group always felt safe, the hotel was great, and of course as you could read, birding was great. With this report of our visit we are very pleased to help with an update for a new Avifauna of Tunisia.

If you have more questions about this or other trips guided by me, just e-mail me, most welcome:

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; August 9, 2000; updated May 27, 2001