Monday, 17 October 2016

Another Sunday near the fishing port

I normally do domestic chores on Sunday morning but get restless to bird by the afternoon. However it is still too hot to bird watch in most areas in the afternoon. One exception is on the coast itself where the sea breeze ameliorates.

So for the third Sunday running I wnet to the coast just south of the fish market.

Also since I thought that the birds might not have changed much around the artifical lagoons in the past week, I elected to do some sea watching for the first time.

It isn't easy as there is not headland jutting out into the sea. However the results weren't bad.

immature northern gannet

One success was the sighitng of an immature northern gannet flying north.

white-breasted cormorant

Another was a great cormorant of the sub-species lucidus flewing south. This sub-species is often called white-breasted cormorant.

white-breasted cormorant 2

Both the gannet and the cormorant were new to my Mauritanian list and so justified my decision to look seaward.

gulls in the ocean 1

My seawatching into the distant open coean was less successful. I was looking in particular whether any gulls other than yellow-legged gull or lesser black-backed gull was resting on the surface.

The zoom on my camera is actaully greater than the zoom on my binoculars so a review of my photos was needed before I was sure that nothing unusual was captured this time.

gulls in the ocean 2

I concentrated on the browner looking birds which on review appear all to be immature large white headed gulls. Though I can't really explain why their impression is so brown.

yellow-legged gull

In comparison (see above)  you can see how grey they typically appear close up.

I am sure future sea watching will bring more rewards.

After sea-watching I went inland to where many gulls and terns had been resting in previous weeks. The pools they had been resting in have all dried up and been replaced with a layer of salt.

Yet many of the same birds were still parked on the same space. Others had more back just a few metres onto to earthen ground.

Audouin's gull

This week there was no sign of royal tern or lesser crested tern but Caspian tern numbers were much higher.

terns and gulls

Next I looked at the lagoons. As expected there were no new species though I managed good photos of several birds.


A whimbrel put on a good display preening.


Dunlin were highly variable not just because of the possible sub-species but also because a few were not yet fully in winter plumage.

red knot

Red knot numbers have increased once again both in the lagoon and along the beach.

black-eared wheatear

Finally I walked in some scrub back to my lift. Two birds were most noticeable. One was a pale throated black-eared wheatear.

The other was a cricket warbler. It was too fast and small for me this time. It reminded me in structure and behaviour of graceful prinia, common in the Gulf, but with a longer tail.

This was another lifer and a good end to the session.

Around but not in the city

On Saturday I linked up with Dr Mohamed Vall again. This time we didn't make a long distance trip. Instead we visited four sites on the edge of the city, Nouakchott.

Our first stop was not glamorous, we made it to the city waste dump in the Riyadh district on the southern edge of the city.

I had hoped for birds of prey and perhaps storks but there were none of either. There simply isn't a high enough proportion of organic material in the waste.

However, there was compensation in seeing other birds including an addition to my steadily growing country list.

The site obviously held many wintering northern wheatear. Some were highly coloured and may well be of the Greenland sub species though it is difficult to be sure in autumn.

northern wheatear

However, luckily for me, nominate and Greenland northern wheatear was not the only wheatears present.

male Seebohm's wheatear

One of the northern wheatear appears to be a "Seebohm's wheatear". This sub species breeds in the Atlas mountains of Morrocco but is known to winter mostly in south west Mauritania. The bird I saw has a close resemblance to a male desert wheatear but  "the shortish tail and primary projection seemingly reaches way past the uppertail coverts. Also the rich orange-buff patch on the upper-breast contrasts a lot with the rest of the underparts". Thanks to Tibaud on BirdForum for his analysis which confirms my initial view. 

black-eared wheatear

Poking its head just above one pile of rubbish was my first black-eared wheatear in the country too.

white wagtail

Other than the wheatears the selection of birds was quite limited. However, white wagtail were everywhere. 

A set of pools near the centre housed ringed plover, a single grey plover and two grey heron. The heron were the only large birds seen.

hoopoe lark

Two types of lark present were crested lark and a few hoopoe lark.

black-headed weaver

The second stop was some fields and trees also in the Riyadh district but back towards the city.

We had noticed it was a greener area than normal on our two previous weekend's travel down this road. We had vowed to investigate it for birds one day and this was our chance.

Mohamed pointed out that the type of trees present had been planted and were not usually good for birds but are used as a quick fix to contain sand encroachment.

Indeed the birding wasn't too good to begin with. Only house sparrow, white wagtail, laughing dove, namaqua dove and crested lark were observed. However a northern wheatear was picked up and then in the largest tree was a desert grey shrike and a black-headed weaver.

The weaver was an unexpected sighting. This particular weaver is normally found only on the Senegal River in the far south of the country. It has certainly wandered.

Our third stop was at Bouhdida allotments as we travelled anti-clockwise round the edge of the city. This is a market gardening area similar to Zataar allotments but further out from the centre.

The gardens held the predicable white wagtail and house sparrow though a late common redstart was also observed.

The prize bird by far though was a plain nightjar asleep high in a row of tall trees. If I hadn't heard the constant chatter of one or more acrocephalus warbler up there, I would never have looked so carefully.  It was an exciting find.

plain nightjar

Thanks are particulrly due to Andrew Bailey for his help with identification. 

plain nightjar 2

A key feature is the row of black spots on the scapulars which are best seen on the third picture but are present on all three pictures. It also shows "spangled coverts, with shiny, copper coin-like feathers" and this is best seen in picture 2.

plain nightjar 3

This was a lifer for both me and Mohamed Vall. I had missed it when I worked and lived in Saudi Arabia. It can be found in the south west of that country.

In West Africa, Nouakchott is the far north of its known range.

Our last stop was on a continuation of our travel anti-clockwise round the city. We ended up in the gardens of the faculty of science of Nouakchott university.

Here were the usual birds such as blue-cheeked bee-eater, white wagtail, speckled pigeon and northern wheatear

Just as we were walking to the exit, a wryneck flew straight passed us and landed on a path. It flew off again but we traced it to a piece of ground where it was searching for ants.

wryneck on path

This migrant made bird 130 on my country list which is starting to look quite healthy.

wryneck looking for ants

My thanks to Dr Mohamed Vall for driving us around once again on another successful Saturday.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Central lake, Nouakchott

A colleague at work tipped me off that there was a lake with reeds near the Tunisian embassy. He also said it was full with birds. 

I took the first opportunity to visit it on Friday afternoon. 

The first bit of bad news is that it is now quite disturbed as it is being redeveloped as the site for a new Senegal embassy. Sadly it looks like the only fresh water lake in the city is about to disappear. Furthermore I was asked to leave the site (very diplomatically by the way) by the authorities as it is embassy land.

All the other news is good. The site is currently still teeming with birds and I was asked to leave just as I finished my session anyway. 

It was the first time I have seen any ducks in Mauritania. 

northern pintail

 Northern pintail were  numerous.

four northern pintail

However careful looks among the ducks showed that two northern shoveller were there too.

Having looked at my set of photos of this group, I realised there was a Temminck's stint with them. These species has a stronger preferrence for fresher water than little stint and sightings of it in Nouakchott are few.

northern shoveller

This is classic habitat for spur-winged lapwing and several were dotted around the area.

spur-winged lapwing

However the site is best remembered for the sheer volume and variety of waders.

mixed waders

The picture above illustrates some of the variety. There are: ruff, sanderling, little stint, dunlin, common redshank, wood sandpiper and common sandpiper all in close proximity.

common redshank with little stint

I checked all the common redshank but couldn't find a spotted redshank among them. I was hoping for the latter species given the habitat is better than most in the city for it.

Kittlitz's plover

Among the less numerous birds were two Kittlitz's plover.

pied avocet

Two pied avocet and a Eurasian spoonbill also appeard briefly.

ruddy turnstone

Only one ruddy turnstone was seen but the terrain is not perfect for them.

white wagtail

Moving away from the main lake to the surroundings, many white wagtail were on the ground. They are arriving for the winter down here  in big numbers now.

reed beds

At the back of the lake are some thick reed beds. It is difficult to see what is in them and impossible to walk into them. However I found three common snipe and a common moorhen with perseverance. These were the first of either species I have encountered in Mauritania.

It is shame I am not allowed to visit this site again. I suspect more varied ducks in particular will arrive for the winter soon.

Monday, 10 October 2016


Mederdra is newly opened up for traffic. The road from Tiguent to there is brand new and in good condition. It is ironic that it is in much better condition than the N2 Nouakchott to Rosso road which it meets at Tiguent. 

With the road, Mederdra is also opened up for birding too. Dr Mohamed Vall had already done some preliminary birding there and recommended it to me for Saturday. He kindly drove me there on a long day trip.

The area is classic Sahel and is much greener with many more trees than the terrain around Nouakchott.

No sooner had we parked the car than we spotted a striped kingfisher on a near-by tree.

striped kingfisher

This was my first lifer of the day.

spotted flycatcher

The first migrant seen was a spotted flycatcher. It was one of several observed on Saturday.

Three types of migrant warbler were later seen too. These were willow warbler, western orphean warbler and western sub-alpine warbler. The latter two may well winter there.

black bush-robin

Both black bush-robin and rufous bush-robin were present. The former can tolerate trees while the latter was only seen in the areas with low bush.

chestnut-bellied starling

Both chestnut-bellied starling and greater blue-eared starling were quite numerous especially near human habitation.

Abyssinian roller

It was good to see Abyssinian roller again. This bird was common around Jizan in Saudi Arabia which I visited a few times.

fine-spotted woodpecker

The area is sufficiently well wooded to support woodpeckers. The one we saw here was fine-spotted woodpecker.

striped kingfisher 1

We came across three striped kingfisher in total and each one was very confiding.

striped kingfisher 2

We spent considerable time admiring these birds.

juvenile woodchat shrike

Peppered around the woodland were a few woodchat shrike. These birds are almost certainly wintering here.

Vitelline masked weaver nests

As we walked around the woodland we kept meeting mobile small groups of Sudanese golden sparrow and lesser numbers of Vitelline masked weaver. They were often mixed species and included plenty of adults in breeding plumage.

adult male Vitelline masked weaver

We broke for a late lunch at the hottest time of day before returning briefly into birding action. We moved one kilometre way to a local farm where we obtained entry permission. We didn't have much time and elected to stay in the small orchard where bushes and small trees were being watered.

This attracted large numbers of sparrows. weavers and finches as well as the two starling species.

male Sudanese golden sparrow

In one group at water, there appeared to be at least one northern grey-headed sparrow among the Sudanese golden sparrow (see towards the right in the picture below).

Mostly Sudanese golden sparrow

At times there was a mix of Sudanese golden sparrow, Vitelline masked weaver and African silverbill drinking togather. Here was an opportunity for me to compare the weavers directly with the sparrows. The bird standing upright in the water (see below) is clearly a weaver and the bird to its immediate right is too. However one can note how superficially similar it is to the Sudanese golden sparrow on the far left.

mixed birds drinking

All the flocks of sparrows seen at Amzela had yellow-orange bills whereas it appears breeding female sparrows and weavers have pink bills (as in the photo). I think this further supports my view that the flock at Amzela are roaming juveniles. I am still learning and I hope to fully understand these birds better as time goes on.

northern grey-headed sparrow

Towards the end, it was confirmed that northern grey-headed sparrow was definitely present.

cut-throat finch

Two cut-throat finch were also observed. This was the nineth and last addition to my Mauritania list on the day.

tree pipit

With all the frantic drinking activity at the pools, a lone tree pipit was nearly overlooked.

My thanks go once again for Dr Mohamed Vall for driving us such a long way and for his company while birding. I know we both enjoyed this trip immensely.

Species seen at Mederdra    M= new to my Mauritanian list, L= lifer

Speckled Pigeon  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Striped Kingfisher  M.L
White-throated Bee-eater  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Abyssinian Roller  M
Vieillot's Barbet  
Fine-spotted Woodpecker  M,L
Woodchat Shrike  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Willow Warbler  
Western Orphean Warbler  M,L
Subalpine Warbler  
Spotted Flycatcher  
Black Scrub-Robin  M
Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin  M
Chestnut-bellied Starling  M
Greater Blue-eared Starling  
Beautiful Sunbird  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
Tree Pipit  
Northern Grey-headed Sparrow  M
Sudan Golden Sparrow  
Vitelline Masked-Weaver  
Cut-throat  M
African Silverbill