Algerian Nuthatch - August 2018

Published by Phil Gregory (info AT s2travel.com.au)

Participants: Phil Gregory and local guide Karim

Comments

Aug 21 Gatwick to Algiers 0925-1215, then 6 hour wait for flight to Constantine 1825 where met by Karim and visited a small park by his house for Scops Owl (heard)

Aug 22 Forest de Bouafrane (Djimla) dep 0400 arrive 0700, leave 1100; trip to coastal littoral around Jijel, to two marsh sites and Port Maria for Barbary Macaque, return to Constantine late pm

Aug 23 Parc de Djebel Ouahch 0730-1130; Gorge du Rhumel pm with a visit to a new housing estate for Black Wheatear and a dry marsh for an abortive White-headed Duck attempt. The small park in Constantine gave us a sighting of Scops Owl that evening.

Aug 24 Depart Constantine for Algiers 0745, one hour flight, and depart for Gatwick 1245 where met by Sue and Kaja and Cagou at 1530.

The trip came together after I saw some Dutch birders had made a successful visit here in July, so despite unease about the security situation I thought it worth seizing the chance to go see the Algerian Nuthatch, so long off limits. My flight tickets were utterly frustrating, routing me via Algiers rather than direct to Constantine, then with a 6-hour layover in Algiers so I got no birding the first day. We should have organized our own as this agent only did them via Expedia anyway, we could have got them at half the price and far more direct. The agent also had me down with a one-hour connection time when I flew back from Constantine to Algiers, not even putting me on the first flight of the day. Luckily Karim had a relative in the airline and they swapped my “non-transferable” Expedia purchased ticket to the one I should have been on, just as well as the queues for check-in, immigration and security were all long and very slow.

Aug 21 Karim met me at the airport at Constantine after my long layover in Algiers, and we went to a small park near his house where a Scops Owl was calling loudly, an African tick and a species I had not yet seen- happily we saw it 2 nights later. You are not allowed to bring binoculars into Algeria, though curiously enough I had no trouble at all with my bridge camera, video and tape recording gear. Karim loaned me a pair of ancient orange-lensed Hanimex that had a close focus of about 10 m, they took some adjusting to but more or less worked out. It was the Id Al Adha holiday over my entire stay, so almost no food places were open and Karim kindly fed me at his family home, where I enjoyed delicious Algerian home cooking courtesy of his mum and enjoyed meeting his siblings and parents.

Aug 22 The next morning Karim picked me up at 4 am for the three-hour 120 km drive on good tar roads to the Bouafrane (Djimla) Forest, which comprises large ancient lichen covered Quercus oak species, though sadly with no sign of regeneration as grazing pressure is too high. After parking it was a twenty-minute walk uphill to get into the forest, seeing African Blue Tit, Common Stonechat and Wryneck en route. The Algerian Nuthatch had finished breeding so was initially elusive, though when we heard the distinctive rasping disyllabic call it proved easier. We heard lots of calls and I saw at least 5 birds, which were a delightful pale lavender grey above, the males with a blackish forehead patch. There was also a seldom-given single tooting call; an example is on both xenocanto and the IBC site, along with the regular call.

Other species included the very distinctive white-faced and black-capped Eurasian Jay ssp. cervicalis, and a couple of non-breeding plumage Atlas Pied Flycatchers. I had a good view of a Levaillant's Woodpecker plus another in flight, and heard several more, whilst the distinctive local Great Spotted Woodpeckers ssp. numidus also showed nicely, complete with black breast band. African Blue Tits were quite frequent, also my first African Coal Tits ssp. ledouci, which have yellow underparts and cheeks and a very different call. Coal Tit is long overdue for splitting up, as several taxa are clearly very different. Great Tit was very sparse here, but I did see a couple of Short-toed Tree Creepers and heard Wood Pigeon, both African ticks for me. There was also a good view of single Sylvia warbler, which I initially thought to be Lesser Whitethroat due to the greyish head and lack of rusty in the wings, but that species does not occur here and I presume it must be some sort of Subalpine Warbler.

Coming out of the forest around 1100 we saw a single Griffon Vulture, later joined by a pale Booted Eagle, before heading off about 100 km to the littoral plain around Jijel. I was mainly after Barbary Macaque, which proved elusive but came very good eventually at Port Maria with a troop of some 6 animals sat in forest by the main road. I was amazed by their size, by far the biggest macaque I have ever seen. We also stopped at 2 marshy areas east and west of Jijel, but dipped Western Swamphen though Ferruginous Duck was a nice find, also White Storks, which have many nests on the pylons here, Zitting Cisticola, and 2 taxonomically challenged Reed Warbler, apparently the appropriately named ambiguus, formerly included in Eurasian Reed Warbler but recently reassigned to whatever passes for African Reed Warbler these days.

Aug 23 We went up to the Biological Reserve of Djebel Ouahch above the city, in quest of some African ticks - I duly nailed Red Crossbill race poliogyna, Firecrest and Robin and saw another Atlas Flycatcher plus African Blue Tit and lots of Blackbirds and Wood Pigeons, my first Turtle Dove for years, plus a splendid pair of Sardinian Warblers and a few Western Bonelli’s Warbler.

Karim then took me to see a forlorn Black Wheatear marooned in a soon-to-be-developed area in some huge housing estates, and we tried a nearby site for White-headed Duck, which had unfortunately dried up. Then it was back to the spectacular Gorge du Rhumel that bisects the city, with great looks at the endemic cirtensis race of Jackdaw and large noisy flocks of Alpine Swift coming in late afternoon, their calls a typical sound of the city. Another attempt for Scops Owl proved successful with a calling bird close by, albeit too close to focus on!

Overall it was a very pleasant trip and I liked Algeria. I felt perfectly safe throughout and we had no hassles from police checks. I was in the good hands and nice company of Karim who was a splendid host, my thanks to him for expediting my trip. Also thanks to Diedert Koppenol and Lonnie Bregman for their inspiring trip report on Birdforum. The security and tourism situation in fast-developing Algeria is uncertain and one does need caution. Karim is available to help people find Algerian Nuthatch etc. so if you have any further questions, feel free to contact me so I can out you in touch with him, he needs to keep a low profile as he does not want to attract too much attention.

Phil Gregory
oreornis@gmail.com
ornithological writer/tour leader/tour facilitator
Field Guides / Sicklebill Safaris / Cassowary House / Cassowary Tours
PO Box 387
Kuranda
Queensland 4881
Australia

Ph: +61 7 40 937 318

Email: info@s2travel.com.au
Website1: http://www.sicklebillsafaris.com OR www.birder.travel
Website 2: http://www.cassowary-house.com.au
Website 3: http://www.cassowarytours.com.au