The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Africa

SOMALILAND & DJIBOUTI

Monday 12th October – Wednesday 28th October 2020

Leader: Mark Beaman.

17 Days Group Size Limit 6
Tuesday 12th October – Thursday 28th October 2021

Leader: Mark Beaman.

17 Days Group Size Limit 6

SOMALILAND & DJIBOUTI: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Somaliland & Djibouti birding tours are an exciting journey ‘off-the-beaten-track’ in the Horn of Africa. Enjoy some splendid birds during our Somaliland & Djibouti birding tour, including a fine suite of endemics you either cannot see elsewhere or would have difficulty in doing so, while pioneering a new birdwatching destination. Somaliland is the former British colony of British Somaliland that was merged, against the will of its people, with Italian-ruled Somalia on decolonization and has since broken free of its troubled neighbour. Mega-specialities include Archer’s Buzzard, Archer’s Francolin, Little Brown and Heuglin’s Bustards, Somali Pigeon, Somali, Collared and Lesser Hoopoe Larks, Somali Wheatear, Somali Thrush, Philippa’s Crombec, Somali Starling, Somali Sparrow, Somali Golden-winged Grosbeak and Warsangli Linnet. During our exploration of Djibouti at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden we will be looking for a further suite of specialities, including the endemic Djibouti Francolin, Crab-plover, Sooty and White-eyed Gulls, White-cheeked Tern, Somali Bulbul and Arabian Golden Sparrow.

For those adventurous enough to join this unusual and pioneering tour, we have put together a really comprehensive birding tour to both Somaliland and Djibouti to look for the endemics and other restricted-range specialities of the region.

Warlords, pirates, chaos and lawlessness are all associated with Somalia. What isn’t widely appreciated is that the territory in the northwest that was once British Somaliland has since 1991 been separated from the rest of Somalia as ‘The Republic of Somaliland’. Although the territory‘s separate status is not yet recognized by the international community, this largely peaceful enclave doesn’t take kindly to being associated with Somalia‘s descent into anarchy. Somaliland is a pro-western Muslim country that is keen to welcome foreigners.

Outside of the towns, Somaliland is almost devoid of people and we can expect to travel through some amazing uninhabited and wilderness scenery with wide open vistas, volcanic desert landscapes, sweeping beaches and fragrant juniper forests as we make our way through this rarely visited country.

Our Somaliland & Djibouti birding tour starts at the Somaliland capital city of Hargeisa, from where we will visit an area of rocky hills that is home to the rare Beira Antelope. The small herd is monitored and so we stand a good chance of seeing this delightful creature. The dapper, near-endemic Somali Wheatear thrives here and we should also find Somali Bee-eater before continuing driving over a succession of expansive plains where we should look out for our first near-endemic Little Brown Bustards, as well as endemic or restricted-range Somali, Gillett‘s, Lesser Hoopoe, Somali Short-toed and Blanford’s Larks, White-crowned Starling and Somali Sparrow.

While exploring the thorn bush countryside around Burco (or Burao) we will be on the lookout for Philippa’s and Somali Crombecs, Arabian Warbler, Red-naped Bush-shrike and Northern Grosbeak-Canary before continuing into some remote and amazing red-sand country, punctuated with some impressive red termitaria, as we approach the Ethiopian border. This is the known area for finding Collared Lark, and the handsome Heuglin’s Bustard becomes more and more likely as we progress.

Next we shall embark on a long drive across the Ban Cade Plains, where we can resume our bustard and lark quest and perhaps also encounter numbers of Spotted Sandgrouse before reaching the town of Ceerigaabo (or Erigavo).

Our goal in this distant region is the Daallo Forest Reserve that lies in the centre of northern Somaliland on the Golis Range escarpment. It is prime habitat for the endemic Archer’s Buzzard (split from Augur), Somali Thrush, Somali Golden-winged Grosbeak and Warsangli Linnet. Archer’s Francolin (sometimes split from Orange River) also occurs, but can be difficult to locate, while other restricted-range species include Brown-rumped Seedeater.

Returning to Burao, we shall head north, stopping en route to look for Sombre Rock Chat before reaching the port of Berbera where we shall visit some attractive rocky gorges near the town that are home to the localized endemic Somali Pigeon.

This tour will build on the experience gained during our pioneering expeditions to this rarely-visited region and will be a truly unique experience that allows a chance to visit one of the ornithologically least-known destinations in Africa. To ensure the security of foreign guests, it is a requirement in Somaliland that armed tourism police escort us. To the best of our knowledge, there has never been an incident affecting tourist visitors travelling outside the capital, but the authorities feel responsible for tourists and this is their rule.

For the last part of the tour we will explore the tiny but stable country of Djibouti, a former French colony near the mouth of the Red Sea that still has a French military presence. Djibouti is the most important port in the Horn of Africa due to its strategic position at the narrowest part of the Red Sea and at the mouth of the Rift Valley. Despite its small size of approximately 23,200 square kilometres, it has an impressive bird list of over 360 species.

During our visit to this small country, we will be targeting the country‘s only endemic, the Djibouti Francolin, which is found in the Forêt du Day in the Goda Mountains. Additional, restricted-range specialities such as White-eyed Gull, Somali Bulbul and Arabian Golden Sparrows should be easily seen. Other good birds include Sooty Gull, White-cheeked Tern, the stunning Crab-plover (the sole member of its family) and Gambaga Flycatcher.

Birdquest has operated Somaliland & Djibouti birding tours since 2010.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels and guesthouses used range from good to basic. Road transport will be by 4×4 (SUV) vehicles and road conditions vary from good to bad.

Walking: The walking effort is easy for the most part during our Somaliland & Djibouti birding tour, but occasionally moderate.

Climate: The weather is generally hot and dry. It is sometimes humid on the coast. Some rain is possible at this season.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Somaliland & Djibouti birding tour are quite good.


PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include this flight: Hargeisa-Djibouti.

Deposit: £530, $690, €600.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2020: £4760, $6190, €5500. Hargeisa/Djibouti City.
2021: provisional £4760, $6190, €5500. Hargeisa/Djibouti City.

Single Supplement: 2020: £360, $470, €410.
Single Supplement: 2021: £360, $470, €410.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

SOMALILAND & DJIBOUTI BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 1  Our tour begins this afternoon at Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, where we will stay for two nights.

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 see, 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 Burco (or Burao) for a three nights stay. 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 (split from Common), White-browed Scrub Robin, the restricted-range Somali Crombec, Red-fronted Warbler, Yellow-breasted Apalis (the form here is sometimes split as 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 that 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 turns 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 is regularly encountered in this area. At certain times of 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 Ben 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 four nights, a few Cape Rooks appear and the town is also home to a pair of Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls.

Somaliland & Djibouti: Days 9-11  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 (sometimes split from Orange River) that occurs here is always much more difficult to find than the far more common 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 12  Today we will return to Burco for an overnight stay.

Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 13  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 (split from House).

Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 14  Today we will drive back to Hargeisa, from where we will take a flight northwestwards to Djibouti city, situated on the Gulf of Aden near the mouth of the Red Sea, where we will stay overnight. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration this afternoon and 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 (split from Common), 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).

Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 15  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.

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 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 Lac 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 destination is the Goda Mountains on the northern side of the Gulf of Tadjoura, where we will stay for two nights.

Somaliland & Djibouti: Day 16  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 effect on the birdlife will be remains 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. In any event, our chances of seeing either is very low as they are extremely rarely reported.

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.

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 17  After some final birding we will return to Djibouti airport, where our tour ends this afternoon.

SOMALILAND & DJIBOUTI TOUR REPORT 2012

View Report

SOMALILAND & DJIBOUTI TOUR REPORT 2010

by Nik Borrow

View Report

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