Spent a week at the Riu El Mansour Mahdia from 26/5/2013 to 2/6/2013. Didn’t do any research beforehand. It was intended as a relaxing break with whatever birdwatching was on hand. I wasn’t expecting much but the birdwatching turned out to be excellent. The entire area from the airport to Mahdia which is a one and a half hours drive is far from attractive. Lots of scrubby littered countryside, endless olive groves and untidy towns and villages. The hotel is set in the unappealing tourist zone. Fortunately it was very handy for an excellent network of paths which covered a great birdwatching area. It was also close to a railway station which was good for getting to the attractive old town of Mahdia, a bird rich salt lagoon called Sebkha Moknine and the impressive town centre of Monastir. The hotel was wonderful. Great food, drink AI package and brilliant friendly staff.
Anyone who has been to Morocco will be pleasantly surprised by the lack of any hassle whatsoever from the Tunisians.
You could go anywhere and not be bothered at all. The only exceptions were the beach sellers who took ‘no’ for an answer and just left you alone after that.
Easily reached by the hourly train from the Mahdia Tourist Zone station.It cost the princely sum of 25p[sterling equivalent]. The trains ran on time and you can get a timetable from the station. It is an enormous salt lagoon seen from the station. It’s about a 5 minute walk from there. By May it had largely dried out but it was a top spot for birds. There were an impressive 18 Black-winged Stilt near the lagoon edge.
Amongst some very tall reeds I saw 2 Stone Curlew straight away. There was also a Kentish Plover and a Redshank about. A huge roost of around 300 Yellow-legged Gulls were in the middle of the lagoon. I counted 8 Zitting Cisticolas nearby as well as 4 Yellow Wagtails. In the surrounding fields there were 8 Crested Lark, 4 Hoopoe, 2 Great Grey Shrike, 3 Kestrel and several Sardinian Warbler,S panish Sparrow, Laughing Dove, Greenfinch, House Martin, Swift, Barn Swallow and Spotless Starling.
The Dar Fraj Apartments track.[including the recreational park]
This area was accessed by crossing the road from the hotel and walking behind the Dar Fraj Apartments.Taking a north easterly course it met the Botanical gardens track which then crossed the railway. Beyond there I walked toward the Mahdia back road taking a northerly course until the track turned east and met the Mahdia back road.
This too turned out to be an excellent bird rich area. The first birds I chanced upon behind the apartments were 2 noisy Black-eared Wheatear and 2 European Beeater. The Great Grey Shrikes started her. In all there were 14 Great Grey Shrike along the way.
Just past the railway line I saw a Rufous Bush Robin. Other birds seen were 7 Hoopoe, 5 Crested Lark, 8 Serin, 2 Little Owl sitting on walls, 8 Spotted Flycatcher, 3 Linnet, 3 Kestrel, Laughing Dove, Collared Dove, Blackbird, House Martin, Swift and Barn Swallow. The were a striking number of Greenfinch, Spotless Starling and Spanish Sparrow swirling around and feeding. As usual Sardinian Warblers could be seen or heard along the route.
The Hotel and Beach
Fortunately there were strong north easterly winds for two days. This blew in a few Cory’s Shearwater probably from the Cap Bon area. I saw a juvenile Gannet dive bombing on the horizon.
A Caspian Tern sauntered past one afternoon close to the beach. There were daily sightings of small groups of Common Tern close to the shore. After 3 pm every day a steady stream of Yellow-legged Gulls passed on a north easterly direction over the sea. Once all the sun beds had been abandoned in the evening the Spotted Flycatchers emerged along the beach. They used the coconut umbrellas and sun beds as launching pads. I counted 5 Spotted Flycatcher along a 500 yard stretch. Spotted Flycatcher were here there and everywhere during the week. One evening a Turtle Dove raised its head above the parapet amongst some dense vegetation on the edge of a hotel garden. There were 3 Spotted Flycatcher in the hotel grounds, a Serin, several Sardinian Warbler, Laughing Dove and the usual hoards of Greenfinch and Spanish Sparrow. I cannot recall having seen or heard so many Greenfinch as I witnessed around the Mahdia area.
More of a sight seeing trip to an impressive town centre. It cost an amazing £1.75 return for a 40 km journey by train from the tourist zone station. To pay homage to Monty Python and The Life of Brian which was filmed at the Rabat we looked around the impressive fortress. It was the only place I saw a substantial number of Swift. Around 30 were swirling around the tower. The Bourgiba Mausoleum is certainly inspiring. There were 2 Sardinian Warbler and 2 Spotted Flycatcher in the gardens as well as the usual ranks of Greenfinch and Spanish Sparrow. Yellow-legged Gulls were out at sea as well as 2 Common Tern close in.
The last bird I saw As we approached the airport was a White Stork. All in all I was very impressed with the bird watching. It was hassle free and getting around was straightforward using the excellent Mahdia to Monastir train.