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Tunisian Holiday

May 27 – June 3rd (half term) 2001; John Newnham

This was a week half term break as much for relaxing and swimming booked as a standard package via Going Places in mid Feb 2001. 

Sunday May 27th:-  Left LGW @ 0710 arriving on time in Monastir – good coach transfers to hotel (Kanta in El Port Kantaoui) less than 1hr from airport but travelled extensively through built up area of Sousse. The saline lagoons with stilts and flamingoes looked interesting but not explored. Afternoon & evening swam and familiarized ourselves with hotel. In grounds Palm Dove; Serins; Sardininan Warblers; Spanish Sparrows & Great-Grey Shrike all in first afternoon.

Hotel very comfortable and Port El Kantaoui very smart, clean, hassle free and clearly kept for European tourists - very unlike the rest of Tunisia seen by us.

Monday May 28th:- 0600-0800 walk N of hotel complex into small area of olive groves/ sandy paths and agriculture – odd smell in the area which presumably came from camels as this area was used for tourist camel treks later in the day. Plenty of common species to see – GG Shrikes; Sardinian Warblers; Hoopoes, Bee-eaters; Serins etc. Afternoon took Tuk-Tuk (form of three wheeler taxi) into Sousse and explored the Medina (interesting but hassle ++) – little opportunity to bird.

Tuesday May 29th:-  Morning walk as above then rest of day lounged in hotel grounds (hire car not available).

Wednesday May 30th:- Brief walk in am along foreshore – apart from numerous GG Shrikes on Golf Course nothing of note. After am water polo match (Robert) we drove north through Chollot Melliah to the saline lagoon just 5-6 km south of Hergla. (Sebkhet Halt el Menzel according to MPH). Excellent area and in all I visited this on 5 occasions (3 early mornings and 2 pms and only 15 minutes from the hotel). The far side (N) looked most interesting with several sizable flocks of waders seen but too far to identify. When the traffic on the coast road became too intense it was possible to find areas to view from on the road to Siddi Bou Ali. Without MPH’s tip on this site my birding list would have been very lean. Drove on to Hergla; Enfida (did not stop for Little Swifts – forgot and got engrossed with field containing several White Storks). Took route to Zriba and Zaghouan (just as MPH described – narrow road with loads of fast trucks heading straight for oncoming traffic). The plains totally parched and overgrazed by multiple flocks of sheep & goats. In Zaghouan town centre (before clocktower) left turning to the Temple d’Eau (looked at temple and here excellent views of Moussiers Redstart, Chaffinches and Woodchat). Found small road (inside temple gates) which led out into country – we stopped in shade by side of road (in peace and quiet) and watched several raptors soaring and found Blue Rock Thrush and more Moussier’s; I guess this was MPH’s military/forest road and it certainly would have been worth longer exploration than we had time for. The route back was to Zriba and a better (truck free) road to the north to Boufficha (a lake on this road looked very interesting but time and light were running out!). The toll road A1 was well worth the 1.400 dinars!

Thursday May 31st:- Morning (0500- 0800) at saline lagoons and environs; after water polo headed south for El Gem to see the Roman Ampitheatre (plan to then go across to Kairouan but time ran short). Major mistake going costing us an extra hour on journey time by going through Sousse, Messadine and M’saken rather than taking toll road (albeit SP to Tunis) from El Kantaoui. Tiring journey with “hair-raising” driving and suicidal overtaking - poor scenery apart from distant view of Sebket Sidi el Hani. Architecture impressive and worth looking at – if strictly birding best forgotten! Return journey much less trouble and back in an hour.

Friday June 1st:- Morning (0600-0800) at saline lagoons again. Usual swimming etc in am then drove inland through Kaala Kebra to Sebket Kelbia. We got lost in Kaala Kebri and ended up going down a narrow street the wrong way! Thankfully a well spoken (French only) Tunisian helped us to the right road (I should have read MPH’s letter more thoroughly). Found the National Nature Reserve at Sebket Kelbia – the lake was much shrunken and all we could get to was like a desert but interesting. Later drove though some more interesting scenery via Kondar and Nadour.  Found Moussiers Redstart here also but no raptors (or others). Returned to Enfida stopped outside Police station for easy views of a party of Little Swifts then back to the saline lagoon for the evening (different light and different birds to be seen).

Saturday June 2nd: - Morning (0600 –0800) at saline lagoon – full of surprises as Curlew and Arctic Skua added to trip list! Car (Citroen Saxo 1.1) returned. Day spent either on beach, in hotel grounds or wandering around marina at Port.

Sunday June 3rd:-  Left hotel @ 0800 for 1110 return flight (2 hours sitting in plane before taking off @ 1310 was a little irritating).

Bird List with abbreviated notes:-

Great Crested Grebe

Up to 15 on saline lagoon on each trip

Cory’s Shearweater

1N off Hergla on June2

Mediterranean Shearwater

2S off Hergla on June 2


1 on fish pool on June 2

Little Egret

Up to 3 on fish pools/saline lagoon June 1&2

Grey Heron

1-2 on fish ponds each visit

White Stork

12 in field near Enfida on 30 May – no nests seen


Up to 12 on saline lagoon each morning visit

Greater Flamingo

1000+ saline lagoon; 100+ Monastir lagoons from airport


20+ saline lagoons

Egyptian Vulture

3 in vicinity of Zaghouan May 30

Marsh Harrier

1 over reeds near Bouficha jausting c Long-legged Buzzard

Long-legged Buzzard

2 near Zaghouan + above on May 30

Booted Eagle

2-3 pale forms near Zaghouan on May 30

Bonelli’s Eagle

1 near Zaghouan on May 30

Lesser Kestrel

2 over El Gem on May 31


Singles seen most days including in hotel grounds


1 near Zaghouan on May 30


Distant views on interesting lake between Zriba & Bouficha

Black-winged Stilt

Saline lagoons in small numbers (both Monastir & Hergla)


Large breeding colony saline lagoons (? 100prs – some young)

Stone Curlew

Seen Hergla (two sites) on May 31 & June 1 (borders lagoon)

Collared Pratincole

Numerous around lagoon on May 31; few on 2 June

Ringed Plover

Single bird over El Kantaoui on May 28

Kentish Plover

Several pairs on saline lagoon and nearby beach

Little Stint

Party of 6 on lagoon June 1 (? Flocks on far shore this sp)


1 on shores lagoon May 30


1 flew N over lagoon June 2


1 feeding on lagoon June 1

Arctic Skua

1 chasing Slender-billed Gulls & Little Terns lagoon on June 2

Slender-billed Gull

50+ regular lagoon; seen offshore @ El Kantaoui

Lesser Black-backed Gulls

Regularly small numbers(imms) around fishing ponds

Herring Gull

As above but also offshore (yellowed legged variants)

Great Black-backed Gull

Few imms around fishing pools

Gull-billed Tern

Excellent views @ fishing pools June1&2

Caspian Tern*

Ad S close in at Hergla then seen fishing in pools on June 1

Sandwich Tern

Imm at fishing pools June 1 (? Others well offshore)

Common Tern

Regularly passing offshore and fishing in El Kantaoui marina

Little Tern

Commonest tern – large numbers fish pools/saline lagoons

Rock Dove

1 near Zaghouan on May 30

Turtle Dove

Small numbers seen / heard on most days

Laughing Dove *

Numerous – hotel grounds quite confiding

Little Owl

One sitting on wires @ Hergla on 2 June



Pallid Swift

In places outnumbering above

Little Swift *

One hotel 27 May; 6 Enfida on 1 June


1-2 seen on most days in various places


1-2 seen on most days in various places including hotel

Calandra Lark

1 (only) seen flying low over car near Nadour on June 1

Crested Lark

Numerous around lagoon and on arable land

Sand Martin

1 with other hirundines near el Kantaoui on 28 May



House Martin

Numerous – nesting on hotel

Moussier’s Redstart *

Stunning males @ Water Temple on May 30 & near Ain Garci on 1 June; several females also seen in same vicinities

Black-eared Wheatear

1 near Zaghouan on May 30

Blue Rock Thrush

1 near Zaghouan on May 30


Regularly seen including hotel; different song to UK!

Fan-tailed Warbler

2-3 seen/heard in typical habitats

Olivaceous Warbler

Two singles only near El Kantaoui and Zaghouan

Sardinian Warbler

Only numerous warbler- hotel grounds

Spotted Flycatcher

Regularly encountered – hotel grounds

Blue Tit

1-2 most days (including family party) – different calls to UK and all var ultramarines

Great Grey Shrike

Numerous on coastal belt – daily in hotel (8 on golf course May 29)

Woodchat Shrike

Only seen inland where quite numerous @ Zaghuoan


Several in region of Zaghuaon – not seen at coast

Spotless Starling


House Sparrow

Quite the most numerous bird – admixed with Spanish

Spanish Sparrow

Numerous – well marked males in hotel ground


N.African subspecies seen mainly inland


Numerous – at least 3 singing males in hotel grounds


Few most days


Only 1 seen in cage in Sousse Medina!! – none in wild

Thoughts: clearly most spring passage over as very few strictly European migrants seen. Surprisingly few raptors even on the plains and apart from something large being mobbed on the far shore of the saline lagoons on June 2nd the only larger raptors were seen in the vicinity of Zaghouan. Loads of sparrows and Crested Larks but few other finches or lark species.

JAN 5/6/01