2019 Western Sahara

I met up with John Dixon, Matt Eade and Jake Everitt at Stansted. John and I had a few trips together under the belt but I’d never met the other two. Luckily, especially considering the amount of time we spent cramped up in a car, they proved to be excellent and very amusing company. 

We arrived at Agadir at 1940. The hire car company then spent some time trying to persuade us to ‘upgrade’ from our Dacia Duster to  a Jeep Renegade. He was very insistent that it was a bargain but we weren’t budging. After he gave up and we signed the paperwork we went outside to find our car - a Jeep Renegade!

It then took us about an hour to get out of the car park as we hadn’t been given a ticket by the hire car company. When we went back to the office it was closed. Eventually we got out by paying for 24 hours. £3! 

Not what we wanted before a 16+ hour drive! This was broken up by lots of police checks. The night time bit was only enlivened by a red fox and nearly driving into a camel. 

When daylight arrived we did see northern wheatear, brown-necked raven, gannets, Audouin's gulls and a hoopoe lark which was determined that I was not going to get a decent photo.

We arrived in Dhakla at about 1330 and had a snooze and food and then set out spot-lighting. For some reason I hadn’t worked out that our planned spotlighting route - Dhakla to Awsard was 267km. So that meant over 500km a night between our 1157km journeys each way to and from the airport. This now was looking a little mad!

17 - 20 February Dhakla - Asward nights

By both day and night we were very wary of going off the road.

Cutting to the chase: the main target was sand cat. We failed to see it. Or at least I believe we didn’t see it. There was some discussion over one cat but for me it was an African wildcat. 

Talking of African wildcats. There was no dispute over this one.

Generally the theme of night drives were brief views of things. This combined with the obvious problems of photography at night meant my photos aren’t great. 

I was desperate to see fennec fox; we saw a couple but sadly I got no photos and only frustrating views of this superb animal. We also saw a few Ruppell’s foxes but they were a similar story. These were both new species for me as was African golden wolf which gave better views but was scared off by someone’s flash before I got a photo - luckily I did make up for this later in the year in Ethiopia.

For some reason we saw 9 lesser Egyptian jerboa on the first night but considerably fewer on other nights. Very smart but they didn’t hang around either. 

This pharaoh eagle-owl was a very pleasing sight.

17 -20 February Dhakla - Asward daytimes

Our intention was very much to become nocturnal. I know some birders love saying that they survived six months on two hours sleep a night but I’ve never got the birding as an act of masochism thing so we’d spotlight from dusk, getting back about 0300 - 0400. Then bed, having a reasonable sleep, and then food and out early afternoon. 

This gave us a chance for some good birding including a couple of new species for me. 

My first ‘lifer’ was cricket warbler. We saw four on our first afternoon out and some others later.

On the second I saw another new species for me: Dunn’s lark 

The third day out got me two new species. Sadly neither of them were very cooperative for photos. This African desert warbler didn’t hang around for very long.

And this black-crowned sparrow lark was rather distant.

One bird I can never see enough of is cream-coloured courser. We saw quite a few.

Bar-tailed desert larks were common but I still struggled to get a decent photo.

red-rumped wheatear

desert wheatear

Thekla lark

Sadly I failed to get photos of 5 desert sparrows that we saw.

Near Dahkla we failed to find the hoped for humpback dolphins. The highlights here were probably West African crested tern, which unfortunately I failed to get a photo of. We also saw greater flamingos,

Caspian tern

and Audouin’s gulls.

Probably the best insect seen was striped hawk-moth. Quite a few were seen both during the day and at night.desert locust

southern green shield bug

Unfortunately I would have been better off saving my money rather than buying The Amphibians and Reptiles of the Western Sahara but we did see Western Sahara fringe-toed lizard Acanthodactylus aureus.

21 February

Despite having failed to see the sandcat we decided to leave early to break up the nightmare journey. The first complication was we had developed a slow puncture; rather alarming when you have a 1000+ km journey ahead of you! Even more alarming when none of the garages in town have a source of air! Luckily asking one of the campervan owners solved the problem.

We more or less travelled non-stop to Laayoune where we were delighted to find there was a place in town to buy beer.

22 February


After a very pleasant breakfast we popped to the local river seeing c. 40 spoonbills, c.40 marbled ducks, Kentish plover, black-winged stilt, glossy ibis and ruddy shelduck. 

About 140 km north of Laayoune we stopped for 111 spoonbills flying past, also seeing greater flamingos and vagrant hawkers.

We got a bit lost trying to find La Palmeraie de Massa in Sous Massa National park. We did see a Saharan frog while lost.

We arrived at the hotel after ten and it looked shut up, which was a bit alarming. Luckily smiling faces appeared and not only could we still get food but beer as well. We soon drank them out of beer and so moved onto the wine. We were all in remarkably high spirits considering this was basically a ‘dip’ and also considering the huge amount of time we’d spent cooped up in a car.

I would very much recommend this hotel, and not just because of the booze.

Souss Massa National Parc

Highlights included black-crowned tchagra,

Maghreb magpie,

and the truly superb Moussier’s redstart.

Sadly an Egyptain mongoose and great spotted cuckoo were only seen briefly.

Northern bald ibis was a new species for everyone for me and we struggled to find them. With time running out we quickly hired someone and were shown them. Annoyingly not only were we running out of time but a fog was descending. 114 were seen.

It was then time to fly home. Someone where to revisit for another try.