Sand Cat, Western Sahara by Chris Townend

Tour Dates: Thursday 2nd – Thursday 9th April 2020 (Dakhla to Dakhla)
Tour Price: £1,799 plus flight
Estimated Flight Price: London to Dakhla approx. £400 return
Deposit: £450 per person
Conservation Donation from Wise Birding: £150 – £200
Minimum Number: 5 people
Maximum Group Size: 5 people

Target Species
Mammals: Sand Cat, Fennec Fox, Ruppell’s Fox, African Golden Wolf, Desert Hedgehog, African Savannah Hare, Lesser Egyptian Jerboa and Atlantic Humpback Dolphin
Birds: Cricket Warbler, Greater Hoopoe Lark, Desert Sparrow, Lanner Falcon and maybe Pharaoh Eagle Owl
Other: A good selection of reptiles including Sand and Horned Vipers and also numerous Gecko species

Tour Summary
This tour is focused primarily on seeing mammals in this wonderfully scenic and remote corner of North Africa. The itinerary will involve spending most of our time searching for mammals during the hours of darkness and we will be resting during the day. This will give our best chance of seeing most of the key mammals that inhabit this fascinating region. The Western Sahara has to be the best place in the world to have a reasonable chance of seeing Sand Cat and this will certainly be very high on our target list! We also have an excellent chance of seeing Fennec Fox & Ruppell’s Fox, the recently described African Golden Wolf, as well as trickier species like Sahara Striped Polecat & Fat-tailed Gerbil. If the weather conditions allow (it can often be windy), we will take a boat trip on our first morning searching the bay for the critically endangered Atlantic Humpback Dolphin. This species is endemic to the tropical to subtropical coast of west Africa, from the western Sahara to Angola and is mainly found in shallow coastal and estuarine waters for which Dakhla Bay is perfect.
Though our time looking for wildlife during the day will be limited, we will still see some of the commoner birds and reptiles that can be found here, such as Desert Sparrow, Desert Wheatear, Cricket Warbler, Greater Hoopoe Lark, Bar-tailed Lark and Spiny-tailed Lizard.
We have access to a basic house for most of our stay in the desert (clean but simple) and there is no need to camp.

ACCOMMODATION: 7 nights in Western Sahara
A good quality hotel in Dakhla, a night in a large Saharawi tent and a simple desert house.
Desert house has shared bathroom/toilet facilities, beds, running water and solar electricity.
1 night Dakhla, 1 night Saharawi tent, 4 nights Desert House, 1 night Dakhla
Inclusive Meals: Breakfast on day 2 to Dinner on Day 7

Previous Trip Reports

DAY 1: Dakhla
Arrive into Dakhla on a late evening flight and transfer to our comfortable hotel with close access to Dakhla Bay. Overnight Dakhla Bay Hotel

DAY 2: Dakhla Bay – Desert Camp near Bir Anzarane
Today, if the weather allows, we will spend our first morning exploring Dakhla Bay bay by boat. We will be in the bay for around 3 hours looking for the critically endangered Atlantic Humpback Dolphin. Sightings in recent years have become less, possibly due to the increase in kitesurfing. However, our recent tours have had success from land with sightings in March 2018 and April 2019. Obviously, our chances from sea are far greater and we will try our best to get a sighting of these interesting mammals. During the boat trip, we are also likely to see Caspian Tern and African Royal Tern. After lunch, we will then head inland to the desert area around Bir Anzarane where our camp will already be set up and waiting for us. The evening will be spent spotlighting for the many mammal species that are possible in this area. This is the best area on the tour for Fennec Fox and our local guide has spent many weeks monitoring these animals at their dens, so we have an excellent chance of finding this great looking mammal. Overnight in Saharawi Tents

Fennec Fox, Western Sahara by Dakhla Rovers

DAYS 3: Desert Camp – Aousserd
After a long night spotlighting we will return to camp for breakfast and then spend most of the day resting. During the afternoon, we may do a little birding in the near vicinity of the camp before an early evening meal. Once our team of guides has packed our tents away, we will then head off across the desert for another spotlighting session as we head towards the mammal rich, Aousserd Road. This route will take us across a network of desert tracks passing some prime Sand Cat habitat until we reach the Aousserd Road. We will continue spotlighting along the Aousserd until the early hours of the morning and then arrive at our house in Aousserd where we will be based for the next four nights. Overnight Desert House

Sand Cat, Western Sahara by Chris Townend

DAYS 4 – 6: Aousserd Region
During the next three nights we will try and get into a routine of becoming nocturnal! Our routine will involve sleeping through the mornings until around lunchtime. After lunch we may take some short trips out to explore nearby sites for the reptiles and birds that can be easily found in the area. Reptiles such as Spiny-tailed Lizard and Dumeril’s Fringe-toed Lizard should be found easily and birds like Desert Sparrow, Fulvous Babbler, Desert Wheatear & Cricket Warbler as well as migrants such as European Bee-Eater, Black Kite and Marsh Harrier. We will also try for Pharaoh Eagle Owl on one afternoon.
After an early evening meal and some rest we will then head out each evening spotlighting around some of the impressive rocky massifs where we sometimes see Ruppell’s Fox and African Golden Wolf. We will vary our routes dependent on mammal activity spotlighting on dirt tracks and along the Aousserd Road. Dependent on our success with Sand Cat we will target the known hotspot areas and will also be looking for other species such as Desert Hedgehog, Lesser Egyptian Jerboa, Fat-tailed Gerbil and African Wildcat. If the temperatures are warm enough, both Sand Viper and Horned Viper are possible. Overnight Desert House

Lesser Egyptian Jerboa, Aousserd Road by Chris Townend

DAY 7: Aousserd Region – Dakhla Bay
Our departure time will depend on how long the previous night’s spotlighting session lasted. We will then slowly return along the Aousserd Road towards Dakhla. We will make some stops along the way for any bird interest and if we have time, we may visit a private oasis which can often be good for migrant birds.
By early evening we will be back in Dakhla and if time allows we may see some of the feeding Greater Flamingos and numerous waders for which the bay has been designated as an international site of importance. Once checked into our Dakhla hotel we will have a final meal at our hotel.
Overnight Dakhla Bay Hotel

DAY 8: Airport transfer
Early in the morning we will take the short transfer of 10 minutes to Dakhla airport for our return flight back to the UK where the tour concludes.

Please note this is a flexible itinerary which may need to be adjusted slightly dependent on arrival / departure times, weather conditions and the most recent information from our local guides

Leaders: Wise Birding leader plus local guide Nico Calcagno
Included in cost: All accommodation, bottled water, morning boat trip in Dakhla Bay, ground transport and services of leaders
Not included in cost: International airfare, travel insurance, drinks other than water and any airport/visa fees
Accommodation: Clean and comfortable hotel in ensuite rooms in Dakhla on the first and last nights. Shared Saharawi large tents on night 2. A shared house with separate rooms in Aousserd for the other four nights. Basic but clean and comfortable
Food: Packed lunches and/or evening meals in the field dependent on our itinerary. Breakfast from day 2 to Evening meal on day 7.
Single Supplement: Approx. £50
Transport: 4×4 vehicles throughout tour
Difficulty: Easy with the majority of birding done in close proximity to our vehicle.
Climate: Surprisingly pleasant temperatures during the day of around 15-20 degrees centigrade. Though be prepared for colder temperatures at night with wind in the desert.
Tour Start Point: Dakhla airport, Western Sahara
Tour End Point: Dakhla airport, Western Sahara
Suggested Airlines: Royal Air Maroc

Western Sahara landscape by Chris Townend