SOMALILAND & DJIBOUTI BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 1 Our tour begins around midday at Hargeisa airport in the capital of Somaliland, where we will stay for two nights.
We have our first opportunity to find the restricted-range Somali Bulbul at Hargeisa and will also see a few widespread northeast African birds in the city this afternoon. We plan to take it easy after the long journey here and before our first early start tomorrow.
Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 2 Today we will head for an area of rocky hills to the northeast of the city where we can hope to find a small herd of the dainty and delightful Beira. This delicate antelope is something of a rarity and can often be difficult to find in its fragmented remaining range, but here we have an excellent chance of seeing them. The striking, near-endemic Somali Wheatear is easy to see in this area and we should see the first of many restricted-range Somali Bee-eaters. We may well encounter some Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse and African Collared Dove, and possibly Black Scrub Robin.
We shall then explore open plains where we should find our first near-endemic Little Brown Bustards alongside the enormous Kori Bustard, the restricted-range Somali Courser, Double-banded Courser, the restricted-range Gillett’s and Somali Short-toed Larks, and Desert and Thekla Larks.
Other species that we may well see today include Marabou Stork, Hooded Vulture, Eastern Chanting and Gabar Goshawks, African Hawk-Eagle, Lanner Falcon, Crested Francolin, Buff-crested Bustard, Crowned Plover, Namaqua, Ring-necked, African Mourning and Laughing Doves, Speckled Pigeon, Orange-bellied Parrot, White-bellied Go-away Bird, Little and Nyanza Swifts, White-throated Bee-eater, Eurasian Hoopoe, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Yellow-breasted Barbet and Greater Honeyguide.
Passerines include Crested Lark, Tawny Pipit, Barn Swallow, Rufous Scrub Robin (including the resident Afrotropical form, which is sometimes split as African Scrub Robin), Isabelline Wheatear, Blackstart, Northern Crombec, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Ménétries’s Warbler, Banded Parisoma, Desert Cisticola, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, the restricted-range Pale Prinia, African Grey and Spotted Flycatchers, the restricted-range Grey-headed Batis, Northern Grey Tit, Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit, the restricted-range Nile Valley and Shining Sunbirds, Eurasian Golden Oriole, the restricted-range Somali Fiscal, Southern Grey and Rufous-tailed Shrikes, Northern White-crowned Shrike, Brubru, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Slate-coloured Boubou, Fork-tailed Drongo, the restricted-range Dwarf Raven, Golden-breasted, Superb, Greater Blue-eared and Wattled Starlings, the restricted-range White-crowned Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, the restricted-range Swainson’s and Somali Sparrows, Red-billed and White-headed Buffalo Weavers, the restricted-range Rüppell’s Weaver, Masked and Vitelline Masked Weavers, African Silverbill and White-bellied Canary.
Desert Warthog, Salt’s Dikdik and Dorcas Gazelle may also be seen.
Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 3 Today we shall head eastwards to the Burco (or Burao) region for a three nights stay. (We may be camping for part of the time well beyond Burco close to where Collared Lark can be found.)
The bush country in this region is rich in birdlife and first thing in the morning we should encounter Spotted Thick-knee, Northern Red-billed and Eastern Yellow-billed Hornbills, Red-and-yellow Barbet, the restricted-range Dodson’s Bulbul, White-browed Scrub Robin, the restricted-range Somali Crombec, Red-fronted Warbler, Brown-tailed Apalis, Grey Wren Warbler, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird, the restricted-range Magpie Starling, Yellow-spotted Petronia and Somali Bunting. The more thickly vegetated wadis provide refuge for species such as Little Bee-eater, Rufous-crowned Roller, Nubian Woodpecker and Chestnut Weaver.
We shall spend some time birding the open plains between Hargeisa and Burao. First, we shall visit the Tuuyo Plains which have a rather different character to those visited on the previous day. The tussocks and clumps of spiky vegetation provide perching places for Greater Kestrel and good cover for the endemic Somali Lark and the endemic Lesser Hoopoe Lark, and sometimes large congregations of Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Larks. Further on, the more degraded Aroori Plains are favoured by the restricted-range Blanford’s Lark and by Short-tailed Lark.
Somaliland & Djibouti: Days 4-5 During our time in the Burco region we will head southeastwards to a stony area with dense thorny thickets. In this inhospitable landscape, we will look for the diminutive Philippa’s Crombec, a localized near-endemic Somali species that happily appears to be quite common in this area, and we should also find the restricted-range Arabian Warbler and the white-bellied form of the Variable Sunbird.
Moving further south, the vegetation gradually changes into a mosaic of dense thorn bush interspersed by more open areas with tussock grass and punctuated with huge, red, pillar-like termitaria favoured by the Horn of Africa form of the Little Owl. The sandy soils also turn to a strong red colour, making for a fascinating landscape. The main species to find here will be the striking, restricted-range Collared Lark and we shall be searching the area where after several decades of apparent absence we rediscovered the species during our pioneering tour in 2010. Also restricted to these red soils is the striking nominate race of Foxy Lark, but this species prefers the bushier areas where the attractive, restricted-range Red-naped Bushshrike is also easy to find. The restricted-range Yellow-vented Eremomela and Scaly Chatterer, and also Pygmy Batis, have ranges that extend into this area and we should also encounter Pygmy Falcon, Blue-naped Mousebird, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Lilac-breasted Roller, Ethiopian Swallow, Upcher’s Warbler, Hunter’s Sunbird, Green-winged Pytilia and Straw-tailed Whydah.
Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 6 Today we head north-east across the wide expanses of the Ban Cade Plains. These desolate wastelands are impressively bleak with no landmark for mile after mile and Egyptian and Lappet-faced Vultures and Tawny Eagle scour the open countryside for food. A different subspecies of Lesser Hoopoe Lark can be found here and we have another good chance for the nominate race of Somali Lark. Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark are regularly encountered in this area. At certain times of the year, Spotted Sandgrouse can be numerous and we may find migrants such as Desert Wheatear and Common Whitethroat. This is an excellent area for the restricted-range Heuglin’s Bustard.
Eventually, we will reach El Afweyn, where we will spend two nights.
Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 7 We have a full day today to explore the Ban Cade plains without the need to cover long distances.
Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 8 We continue across the Ban Cade plains, stopping to bird en route. As we near Ceerigaabo, where we will spend five nights, a few Cape Rooks appear and the town is also home to a pair of Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls.
Somaliland & Djibouti: Days 9-12 Daallo Forest Reserve lies in the centre of northern Somaliland on the Golis Range escarpment. These limestone mountains rise steeply from the coastal plain and the evergreen forest is comprised mainly of juniper. This forest is surrounded by semi-desert grassland and shrub that thins to sparsely vegetated sandy plains nearer the sea.
The area is prime habitat for four endemics – Archer’s Buzzard, Somali Thrush, Somali Golden-winged Grosbeak and Warsangli Linnet – and the restricted-range Somali Starling. The thrush and starling present no problem to us as they are common. However, numbers of the linnet and the grosbeak appear to fluctuate with the seasons and these two may require persistence, while the buzzard is inexplicably scarce, though we can expect to see two or three individuals during our visit.
This different habitat introduces a range of new species and we should also see such special, restricted-range birds as Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, Hemprich’s Hornbill, Abyssinian Wheatear and Brown-rumped Seedeater, although the shy Archer’s Francolin (now increasingly treated as a species distinct from Orange River Francolin) is more difficult to find than the numerous Yellow-necked Spurfowl. Other species of interest include Little Rock Thrush and Brown Woodland Warbler.
During our 2010 tour, we discovered a population of scops owls in the forest that appear to have calls similar to Arabian Scops Owl. Planned field research and DNA work is to be carried out on these birds and there is always the possibility that a new taxon is involved. During our 2012 tour, a new species of cisticola for Somaliland was discovered here, and this may also prove to be a new taxon.
Other species that we shall be looking out for include Yellow-billed Kite, Verreaux’s Eagle, Common Kestrel, Barbary Falcon, African Olive Pigeon, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Red-eyed Dove, White-browed Coucal, Alpine Swift, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Black-throated Barbet, Cardinal Woodpecker, Red-rumped Swallow, Pale Crag Martin, Tree Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Long-billed Pipit, Common Redstart, Common Nightingale, Common Rock Thrush, Common Chiffchaff, Grey-backed Camaroptera, African Paradise Flycatcher, Abyssinian White-eye, Black-crowned Tchagra, Fan-tailed Raven and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.
During our stay in this area, we will also drive down the escarpment towards Maydh. The drive will take us through a range of habitats from the juniper forests on the top through the impressive dragon’s blood tree ‘forests’ and the thorny scrub where Frankincense trees grow out of the bare rocks. We have time to make a lot of stops and this journey probably gives us our best chance of seeing the striking Somali Golden-winged Grosbeak and the inexplicably uncommon Archer’s Buzzard.
Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 13 Today we will return to Burco for an overnight stay.
Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 14 Today we will travel northwestwards out of Burco towards the coastal town of Berbera, where we will overnight.
The road leads us through some interesting thorn bush country, and roadside stops will allow us the chance to find species such as Black-chested Snake Eagle, Three-streaked Tchagra, the restricted-range Shelley’s Starling, Red-headed Weaver and Purple Grenadier.
The scenic road gradually climbs over a pass and to the west lies the mountain range that includes Mount Wagar that reaches a height of 2004m (6575ft). The whole area has been proposed as a national park, supporting Afromontane vegetation similar to Daallo, and it was in this area in 2010 that we found the first record of Sombre Rock Chat from Somaliland for more than 100 years (and this rare species was found here again by us in 2012), so we shall be checking the same lava-covered slopes for this unusual bird.
As we descend, the countryside becomes more and more arid and we will explore a peaceful and undisturbed series of rocky gorges that are home to the localized endemic Somali Pigeon and also Striolated Bunting.
Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 15 After some final birding around Berbera we will drive back to Hargeisa for an overnight stay.
Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 16 Today is a travel day as we head northwards to the Djibouti border and thence travel a short way inside Djibouti territory to Djibouti City, situated on the Gulf of Aden near the mouth of the Red Sea, where we will stay overnight.
Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 17 The dramatic landscape of Djibouti is mainly volcanic, with some impressive basalt desert scenery and several ranges of mountains divided by deep valleys and sandy plains.
We may even find one of our first target birds near our hotel, the range-expanding Arabian Golden Sparrow. Common species around our hotel include the restricted-range Somali Bulbul, as well as Rose-ringed Parakeet, Graceful Prinia, Red-billed Firefinch and innumerable House Crows (the latter are thought to be a ship-borne self-introduction).
The mudflats that stretch out from the seafront of Djibouti city are well worth a look and here we may well see such interesting species as Western Reef Heron, the strange Crab-plover (a monotypic bird family), the restricted-range Sooty and White-eyed Gulls, and Saunders’s Tern.
Other species here are likely to include Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans, Striated and Grey Herons, African Sacred Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Western Osprey, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Common Ringed, Kentish, Lesser Sand, Greater Sand, Grey (or Black-bellied) and perhaps Pacific Golden Plovers, Spur-winged Lapwing, Sanderling, Little Stint, Curlew, Terek, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Ruff, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Lesser Black-backed Gull (of the form heuglini, sometimes split as Heuglin’s Gull), and Gull-billed, Caspian, Greater Crested, Lesser Crested and White-winged Terns.
Afterwards, we will drive along the scenic coastal road enjoying the views over the Gulf of Tadjoura, Ghoubet Kharab and the very scenic Lake Assal, stopping for anything of interest en route. In particular, we shall look for the restricted-range White-cheeked Tern and for White-crowned Wheatear.
Our ultimate destination is the Goda Mountains on the northern side of the Gulf of Tadjoura, where we will stay for two nights. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 18 The Forêt du Day consists of acacia at lower levels with degraded juniper forest dominating only on the higher tops that peak at 1783m (5850ft). Sadly, a fungal disease has attacked the forest and most of the trees are either dead or dying. Quite what the ultimate effects on the birdlife will remain to be seen. Some deep wadis cut through the mountains and these support the Bankoualé Palm, a near-endemic species.
These high slopes provide some welcome specks of greenery in the desiccated landscape and harbour the country’s only currently recognized endemic bird, the little-known Djibouti Francolin, which may take some diligent searching for, but has always been seen well on our previous visits.
It is not yet clear what species the seedeaters that live in this region belong to, as they show characters intermediate between White-throated and Yellow-throated Seedeaters – both previously thought to be endemic to Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Other species we will look for include Bonelli’s Eagle (here at an isolated outpost), the handsome White-throated Robin, the localized Gambaga Flycatcher, the restricted-range Ethiopian Boubou and Ortolan Bunting.
Mammals include Sacred (or Hamadryas) Baboon and possibly Ethiopian Klipspringer.
Intriguingly, two so-far-undescribed, possible new taxa have come to light in this region of Djibouti.
The first is a yellow-tailed and yellow-breasted version of Green-winged Pytilia that lacks any red in its plumage. As ‘normal’ Green-winged Pytilias occur not far away, this may represent a case of aberrant individuals rather than a new species (indeed there have been very few observations).
The second is even more intriguing and has been provisionally named ‘Tôha Sunbird’, which has only been observed once, in secondary acacia forest and scrub in 1985, with no photographs or specimens being obtained! If this is a good species, it has yet to re-appear!
Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 19 We will spend most of the day in the Goda Mountains before returning to Djibouti City for an overnight stay.
Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 20 We will have more time today for coastal birding around Djibouti City this morning. Our tour ends this afternoon at the airport.