Sunday, 15 January 2017

North Nouakchott Lake or bust

I am without private transport for the next three weeks. Unless I take a long distance minibus I am grounded in Nouakchott.

Furthermore, Noaukchott is short of public birding sites. The embassies and government buidings are mostly very green but out of bounds. The small public areas had plenty of passage birds in autumn but are thin pickings at the moment. The waste water disposal site north of the city was ruined at least temporarily by the disposal of highly contaminated waste. The salt marshes are very low outside the rainy season. Cinqueieme gardens is deemed dangerous. 

That leaves the fishing port and North Noaukchott Lake. The latter is within walking distance of my home and is excellent birding. However its not going to change every day. Nevertheless it is the lake or bust.

I visited the lake both on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.

little grebe

As ever, the sheer numbers of little grebe, common coot and common moorhen hit you as soon as you arrive.

common coot

On my last visit, all the ducks had gone so I was pleased on Friday to count 14 northern pintail

black-headed gull and northern pintail

I spent a lot of time once again looking through the gulls trying to find expections to the black-headed gull and Mediterranean gull.

black-headed gull 1

One exception I found was a black-headed gull starting to produce it's dark chocolate coloured head found in breeding plumage.

black-headed gull 2

This change in plumage is at least four weeks premature and is quite unusually early.

lesser black-backed gull

The other exception was a lesser black-backed gull. It was probably the same one I saw on Tuesday afternoon.

yellow wagtail

A yellow wagtail of the iberiae sub species was also seen again as on Tuesday though it was in a different place and so might be a different bird.

One important bird which wasn't seen on Friday but was on Tuesday was the dwarf bittern. A thorough search of the same area produced no sign. Though I did find a number of chiffchaff and my first bluethroat at the site for several weeks.


I returned to the site on Saturday morning.

African swamphen

It is lovely to see African swamphen close up but the birds here are relatively tame and do allow this. I saw two but not a juvenile which I had seen on Friday. That juvenile was the first proof I have had that this species breeds here.

In news about other larger birds, the duck population has continued to re-bound. I saw five wigeon and one common teal in addition to Saturday's pintail. The ducks clearly have a second place which they travel to and from. It is most likely central lake which is more saline but equally as large. Unfortunately it is adjacent to three embassies and so I can't watch there.

cattle egret at the lake

On Saturday I caught up with the spotted redshank which has been seen on and off. It was with three greenshank.

wood sandpiper

Wood sandpiper and common ringed plover remain the most numerous waders.

common snipe

There have been a small number of common snipe on site all winter. I suspect there are three. 

On Saturday, I observed Sudanese golden sparrow at the lake for the first time. They seemed to be attracted to the lake to drink. This is not really a city bird and was still outnumbered by house sparrow yesterday.

male Sudanese golden sparrow

Most of the males are now in breeding plumage. I suspect breeding in Nouakchott starts soon though I have no idea yet whether they continue to breed into the rainy season (summer).

female Sudanese golden sparrow 1

This female fooled me when it flew off in a different direction to the males it was with and ended up with a flock of house sparrow.

female Sudanese golden sparrow 2

I am still getting used to the colour variations of Sudanese golden sparrow based on season and gender.

yellow backed male 1

One male got my attention. It did not have a fully chestnut back. Indeed it had a yellow rump and a mottled chestnut and yellow back. In many ways it looked how I would imagine an Arabian golden sparrow-Sudanese golden sparrow hybrid to look.

yellow backed male 2

A goolge search provided me with a similar bird labelled Sudanese golden sparrow and it was from Burkina Faso. My new working assumption is that this colour is within normal variation for a male bird.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Dwarf bittern at the lake

Late on Tuesday afternoon, I made a spontaneous decision to go birding to North Noaukchott Lake. It is very unusual for me to go birding midweek at the moment.

I am glad I did. 

The bad news was that inexplicably all the ducks have gone. Their numbers were well down on Saturday now there are currently none.

The excellent news is that I spotted a dwarf bittern.

dwarf bittern 1

Dwarf bittern's normal range in Mauritania is in the Senegal River delta and the far south of the country in Guidimaka provincial stretch of the Senegal River. However it is known to wander and one once made it to the Canaries.

dwarf bittern 2

This immature bird was in some very tall reeds. I flushed it by accident as I walked towards them. Luckily for me it flew into one of only three trees on the site. It stayed in an exposed position. The only downside of my viewing is that it was close to dusk.

Befoehand and given the lack of ducks, my attention had been drawn to the large numbers of gulls. I am still searching for some rare gulls which have been known in the capital coastal area.

lesser black-backed gull 1

No rarities were seen despite my intense efforts. I did see a lesser black-backed gull on this site for the first time. Previously I have only seen them on the coast.

lesser black-backed gull 2

Once again the most numerous gull was black-headed gull. Also once again no slender-billed gull were observed at this inland site.

black-headed gull (left)

The second most common gull was Mediterranean gull. Many of these and also of the black-headed gull are starting to acquire breeding plumage. This will make spotting of any exceptions in a group much easier.

Mediterranean gull (centre)

Others are still in winter plumage though at least for the moment.

Mediterranean gull

There has always been some turnover of wader species every time I have visited the lake. This time six ruff were on site for the first time.


A yellow wagtail of the sub species iberiae was present as well as several white wagtail.

yellow wagtail 1

I understand a few of this sub-species attempt to stay in North West Africa in coastal areas during the winter. I suspect this one was been forced down by the mid-winter cold snap up there.

yellow wagtail 2

Notably resident birds seen again included speckled pigeon and African swamphen.

speckled pigeon

This has been a good place to consistantly see the locally breeding blue-cheeked bee-eater. However contrary to many guide books, this bird is not resident. I have not seen one anywhere in the city since December 10th. Nor did Mohamed Vall and I see any as far south as our trip to Rosso more than two weeks ago.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Rings and crests

On Saturday I went to the fishing port near Nouakchott with Mohamed Vall. The main purpose was to search for Thekla lark of which I will say more later.

While there we looked out for seabirds and waders as usual. The best were two great white pelican flying over. Otherwise it was mostly the basic mix of lesser black-backed gull, yellow legged gull, black-headed gull and slender-billed gull. Even Mediterranean gull was missing this time.

Likewise with waders, the main ones were sanderling, little stint and common ringed plover

Details of other common birds seen were also come later in the blog.

However, first I can tell you that we found not one but two ringed birds.

ringed slender-billed gull 1

The first one was a slender-billed gull. reading the rings identifies the bird as having originated in southern Spain.

ringed slender-billed gull 2

There were eight slender-billed gull at the lagoon on Sunday. There has never been a large number since I arrived in September nevertheless it has always been present.

six slender-billed gull

Close-by was a ringed little stint.

ringed little stint 1

The rings show this bird originated in Norway.

ringed little stint 2

I have now seen four ringed birds since arriving in Mauritaina. The other two were a spoonbill from southern France and a common ringed plover from Wales.

However, our main reason to go to the fishing port area was to investigate past claims of thekla lark there. There are are two records on the atlas of Mauritanian birds and one on e-bird. The latter one has pictures. My own view is that the pictures are inconcusive but I do understand that a balance of opinion supported thekla lark at the time.

My main cyncism stems from the terrain. I know thekla lark well from my time in Libya. It preferred more natural and stony surroundings than crested lark. It was also only found at elevation.

The terrain at the fishing port is saline semi-desert. This has very little similarity with the Libyan habitat. I don't know what habitat it uses in Western Sahara (southern Morocco) though which is the closest proven breeding area.

Here are some pointers I use to find thekla lark:
more streaked breast
shorter bill with a convex lower mandible
often more patterned back
fanned rather than peaked crest
even tamer than crested lark,
pecking rather than digging for food
occasionally perching on bushes.

There are other features too. Colour doesn't help down here as the non-nominate sub species overlap colourless.

crested lark A

One of the first larks we saw was crested in all ways. Not only was it poorly streaked and had a long bill but it was digging a big hole looking for food!

crested lark B (picture 1)

Another typical crested lark was bird B. It had a long bill and weak streaking. It also had a peaked crest as shown in the second picture.

crested lark B (picture 2)

We saw many similar crested lark in the area.

A slightly better candidate was bird C. At least it had heavy streaking on the breast. It also wasn't digging for food but pecking.

crested lark C (picture 1)

Unfortunately it was missing feathers on its crest. However the bill looks too long and the lower mandible is not convex.

crested lark C (picture 2)

The back was reasonably patterned though. Furthermore it was very tame.

crested lark C (picture 3)

Nevertheless not enough features match thekla lark to convince me. I will look for thekla lark every time I vist the port from now on but I don't find this very exciting work.

cattle egret

Other birds of note at the fishing port included a flock of cattle egret.They have been present rummaging through the rubbish dumps for several visits now.

western reef heron

Four grey heron and a single reef heron were around the lagoons. At least one of the grey heron looked good for the "pallid heron" sub-species which breeds on the Banc d'Arguin.

little ringed plover

Little ringed plover have been much less common than common ringed plover all winter but I seemed to be picking a few more up in the Noaukchott area recently.

Finally on the fishing port, other birds in the scrub near the crested lark were cricket longtail and a sardinian warbler.

After a late breakfast we moved on to Zaatar allotments. I haven't been there since late September. There were many more warblers there than at the fishing port.

We saw sardinian warbler again but also spectacled warbler, sub-alpine warbler, blackcap and especially chiffchaff.

Both house sparrow and Sudanese golden sparrow were present as were white wagtail, blue-naped mousebird and northern wheatear. There was no sign of any rare late palearctic passerine such as stonechat though.

booted eagle

The best and most surprising bird was a booted eagle seen towards the end. This rounded off the session well.

Allen's gallinule in Nouakchott

My first visit to North Noaukchott lake for two weeks took place on Friday afternoon. I was joined after a while by Mohamed Vall.

This time he brought his scope. It proved to be invaluable as he picked up an unusual bird at the edge of some distant reeds.

Allen's gallinule 1

It turned out to be an immature Allen's gallinule. What's more it allowed close approach and stayed on a low lying wall for over five minutes.

Allen's gallinule 2

In Mauritania it is only regular in the Senegal River delta area. However there is a recent record of one roaming as far north as Dakhla in western Sahara which is directly north of Mauritania.

Allen's gallinule 3

North Noaukchott Lake is fresh water and should be attractive to such a species.Time will tell whether this is just a roaming bird.

Otherwise the lake held very similar species to two weeks ago. All five duck species were still present: marbled duck, wigeon, northern shoveller, pintail and teal. Though in each case numbers were down.


Only one each of wigeon and marbled duck were observed this time.

northern shoveller

Northern shoveller remains the most numerous duck.

common teal

Two common teal remain. I still have hopes of the cold weather in Morocco and Spain driving mallard, pochard or tufted duck down before the winter is out.

common sandpiper

While duck numbers are down, waders are up. There are more common sandpiper, wood sandpiper and green sandpiper around than all winter at the moment. Three common snipe were observed too. However more common ringed plover were present than any other wader this time.

common ringed plover

Cattle egret have been an ever presnt all winter. Often there has been a European spoonbill partly associating with them. I don't know whther it has been the same bird each time.

European spoonbill

I could only locate one of the two black-necked grebe which have been wintering here. Though this has happened before, only for me to see two the next time.

black-necked grebe

Not long before we left, a mixed flock of gull arrived. Most as ever were black-headed gull with a few Meditteranean gull mixed in.

Mediterranean gull

I am beginning to wonder what birds will be present at the lake in spring and in the summer. When the wintering birds leave, what will be left and what if anything will arrive?