Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The day of the cuckoos

Last Sunday, Dr. Mohamed Vall and I teamed up for the first time since my return to Mauritania following my summer break.

We went south to the closest place to Nouakchott which is consistantly affected by summer rains. This is Amzela which is just over 70 kilometres south of Nouakchott.

On our visit last October there were birds which are not seen any further north.

We hoped for the same this time round.

The signs were good. The watering hole had water and this is caused by rain unlike most surface water in Nouakchott.

There are several large trees clustered around the watering hole and most are natural.

The first tree we approached was a good start. A migrant pied flycatcher was making sorties.

pied flycatcher

At the top of the tree a Viellot's barbet was calling loudly.

Viellot's barbet

As we moved slowly round the large pool, not one but two cuckoos flushed from a distant tree. They flew in opposite directions. One was a great spotted cuckoo. The other was a pied cuckoo

These were exactly the type of birds we had hoped for.

We had seen a great spotted cuckoo at Lake Ganky in late October last year. This one could either have been a European migrant going south or a rainy season African breeder heading north!

We never did get prolonged looks as it was very furtive.

pied cuckoo from below

The pied cuckoo was a really good find. It is out of range according to the distribution maps but was an entirely reasonable find once you know that Amzela is the northern most point of wetland Sahel habitat in the country.

We diverted our attention from the bird to search more widely away for the water and trees for a while.

northern anteater chat

Noisy northern anteater chat were seen and heard out in the open. This is certainly on the northern edge of their range too. Blue-cheeked bee-eater were hawking overhead but were reluctant to land.

I was keen to get good pictures of the pied cuckoo so we returned to it soon enough.

While "stalking" it we came across green-backed camaroptera and nightingale low in the same very large tree that it was in at the time.

pied cuckoo 1

Finally it afforded good photographs. This was number 263 on my Mauritanian list. 

pied cuckoo 2

Elsewhere there was a flock of 12 white-billed buffalo weaver. A solitary greater blue-eared starling joined them from time to time.

white-billed buffalo-weaver

Amzela always has very large numbers of Namaqua dove. This time, one stood out. It appeared to be a partially leucistic bird.

Leucistic namaqua dove (right)

A quick search on the internet gave me no incidences of this phenomenon but I cannot believe this is the first time this has been observed.

Leucistic namaqua dove 2

It was part of a large group and seemed to be accepted by them well enough.

leucistic namaqua dove 3

There were plenty of migrant warblers present. These included willow warbler and western bonelli's warbler. Most warblers were seen in the trees.

sedge warbler

However, a few were in adjacent bushes including a sedge warbler in tamarisk.

hoopoe

Other notable birds were hoopoe and black bush robin.


rear view of black bush robin

No red-billed quelea and only one Sudanese golden sparrow was observed this time. Plenty had seen on previous visits. These associate with African silverbill at Amzela. The silverbill were around in numbers.

African silverbill

Just before we left we came across 20 Namaqua dove in one bush.

Namaqua dove in a bush

Half way back towards the city is the water plant in Riyadh district. There is a very short artifical river coming out of the back of the plant. Though the cover is mostly Sodom's apple, this spot can attract many birds particularly those seeking water.

Since our last visit, clearly some city people have now discovered this spot. There were too many people there to allow birds to settle as well as they wanted. A visit in a weekday could probably be more fruitful.

cattle egret


Nevertheless it attracted grey heron, squacco heron, little egret and cattle egret as well as a variety of waders. We estimate there were at least 120 Namaqua dove in amongst the grass and Sodom's apple.

Crucially though we spotted a Eurasian cuckoo twice. It never really settled and was last seen continuing its migration south.

It was, however, species 264 on my Mauritanian list. Sunday was truly the day of the cuckoos.




Species seen at Amzela on August 13th
Little Stint  
Common Sandpiper  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Great Spotted Cuckoo  
Pied Cuckoo  
Blue-naped Mousebird  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Vieillot's Barbet  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Woodchat Shrike  
Pied Crow  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Willow Warbler  
Common Chiffchaff 
Western Bonelli's Warbler  
Western Olivaceous Warbler  
Melodious Warbler  
Sedge Warbler  
Eurasian Reed Warbler (Eurasian)      
Green-backed Camaroptera (Grey-backed)  
Cricket Longtail  
Black Scrub-Robin  
Common Nightingale  
European Pied Flycatcher  
Northern Anteater-Chat  
Greater Blue-eared Starling  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  
White-billed Buffalo-Weaver  
African Silverbill  

Species seen outside the water plant, Riyadh district, Nouakchott on August 13th
Great White Pelican  
Grey Heron  
Little Egret  
Cattle Egret (Western)  
Squacco Heron  
Little Stint  
Common Sandpiper  
Green Sandpiper  
Wood Sandpiper  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Common Cuckoo  
Blue-naped Mousebird  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Woodchat Shrike  
Pied Crow  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow  
House Sparrow  

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Even heavier passage at the waste water site

I returned to the waste water site on Saturday 12th August. There was even more passage than the week before. Yet again e-bird would not accept that several species could be present this early. I had to add seven species which were not available on the drop down list.

At the same place as last week and next to where the car is parked up, a juvenile woodchat shrike was present.


woodchat shrike 1

It may well have been the same one as a week before. However, that is not guaranteed. There were four on site on Saturday and three were juveniles.

woodchat shrike 2

There were once again several western bonelli's warbler and melodious warbler around.

western bonelli's warbler

I had better views of the western bonelli's warbler than the week before. It is a pleasure to see so many so easily.

western bonelli's warbler

More willow warbler and chiffchaff were also coming through.


Very soon aferwards I spotted my first Eurasian pied flycatcher of the season. I met four of these too. One was a first year of either the iberian sub species or Atlas flycatcher. I didn't get the necessary pictures so the latter species is still not on my Mauritanian list.

The water body had more activity. Eight grey heron had arrived along with one glossy ibis which wasn't associating with them.

grey heron taking flight

Common redshank were still present. Both they and grey heron are skittish birds but I had more success than the week before at seeing the array of water birds without them flying off. It may be that I was more careful this time.

spur-winged lapwing

The spur-winged lapwing mobbed two brown-necked raven that turned up. It makes a change for ravens to be on the receiving end of a mobbing.

soiled dunlin

I am always on the look out for any single waders. This time there was a solitary juvenile dunlin. It looked like its head was a bit soiled.

common sandpiper

The least skittish of all the likely sandpipers is common sandpiper.

black-winged stilt

Black-winged stilt have not been a common visitor to this site.

wood sandpiper

By constrast wood sandpiper is one of the most common.

common redshank

One of the common redshank finally stayed still long enough for its photo to be taken.

the water body

After looking at the water for a while, I dived into some trees and stayed completely still to see what would come to me.

nightingale 1

I was rewarded with two nightingale and a rufous bush robin.

nightingale 2

I saw a small number of chiffchaff under the trees near the nightingaleAll the world's population of Iberian chiffchaff apparently migrate through Mauritania to their winter grounds just a little way south. And yet I still haven't positively identifed one. I will keep looking. 

chiffchaff

Even ones with strong supercilia and with a very pale belly like the one above, still have buff hues on the upperparts. I am beginning to wonder how many iberian chiffchaff have the steroetypical bright yellow supercilium, green upper parts and white belly? Are these colours all buffer in autumn?

western orphean warbler 1

On my way back to the car in an area where I had seen western bonelli's warbler, was an obviousy larger warbler. A western orphean warbler took a long time to come out into an exposed position but with patience it did.

western orphean warbler 2

This was fine end to a good birding session.

The next day I teamed up with Mohamed Vall. We went south to Amzela and the water plant in Riyadh district. I ended up with two additions to my country list. I will blog about this next.

Species seen at the waste water site on August 13th
Grey Heron  
Glossy Ibis  
Black-winged Stilt  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Dunlin  
Little Stint  
Common Sandpiper  
Green Sandpiper  
Wood Sandpiper  
Common Redshank  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Eurasian Hoopoe 
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Common Kestrel  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Woodchat Shrike  
Brown-necked Raven  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow      
Willow Warbler      
Common Chiffchaff      
Western Bonelli's Warbler    
Melodious Warbler      
Western Orphean Warbler  
Spectacled Warbler  
Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin      
Common Nightingale  
European Pied Flycatcher  

Monday, 14 August 2017

Lots of early warbler passage

While F-Nord lake is dying as a birding site due to drainage, the waste water site just north of the city is currently thriving. However, it needs to make sure that one large container of very contaminated waste doesn't poison the water as has happened before.

This site doesn't have the reeds of F-Nord Lake but it does have rows of non-endemic trees planted as sand breaks sometimes in the past and it does have water water itself. For many birds it is the first greenery having crossed the Sahara. In short it is a migrant trap.

It also attracts several local species too.

Even as early as August 6th, the autumn migration was strongly in evidence. Indeed I had to fight the e-bird database by adding no fewer than 6 species than the database felt shouldn't be here yet.

woodchat shrike

Barely out of the car, I spotted my first migrant and it was a juvenile woodchat shrike.
Namaqua dove

After nearly two months peace, the resident birds such as Namaqua dove are sharing the water and trees again.

western bonelli's warbler 1

I was surprised just how many warblers have already arrived. I counted eleven different western bonelli's warbler in different parts of the site.

western bonelli's warbler 2

There was cluster of four melodious warbler in one area. They were easy to see as they favoured a couple of leafless bushes.

first melodious warbler

All these birds were adults.

second melodious warbler

It was pleasure watching this species for five or ten minutes.

third melodious warbler

I first saw a spur-winged lapwing at the site in early Jume,. Their numbers have steadily grown. They appear to be colonising the site though I haven't seen any chicks.

spur-winged lapwing

I observed my first hoopoe of the autumn migration. It will not be the last.

hoopoe

Blue-cheeked bee-eater is a rainy season bird to southern Mauritania up to Nouakchott but not too far further north. This site is one of their furthest northern outposts south of the Sahara.

two blue-cheeked bee-eater

There is some evidence they may be experimenting with breeding at the site. A major breeding site for them south of the city was destroyed last winter by quarrying.

possible blue-cheeked bee-eater holes

There were more warblers as I moved round the site and not all were in or around the main avenues of trees.

The first willow warbler of the season were observed.

young melodious warbler 1

The only first winter melodious warbler I saw was out in the open and on a wire fence.

young melodious warbler

Birding the main water body was tricky. A flock of common redshank made it so. They were so flighty they went up with any movement. They managed to scare the other waders with them. The best was a single whimbrel.

wood sandpiper

True to form, wood sandpiper was the least easily scared of the common waders.

crested lark

I was at the lake in the morning when it was still relatively cool. I find that on morning vistis I often see very few larks. Crested lark is guaranteed though. On hotter days and in the afternoons, other larks are more prevalent as they come to drink.

laughing dove

I have on occasions seen up to twenty speckled pigeon on site. This time there were none. Instead larger numbers than usual of laughing dove were flocking.

reed warbler

It was good to see a reed warbler. Having no reeds to gravitate to it was easier to see than often is the case.

desert grey shrike

One of the last birds seen on site was a young desert grey shrike. It had a reddish hue to the tail which led me to give it more attention than usual but I couldn't make it into anything else.

The follwing Saturday, I went to the site again. This time the passage was very large and even more varied. I will blog about this next.


Species seen at the waste water site on August 6th
Common Ringed Plover  
Whimbrel  
Little Stint  
Common Sandpiper  
Green Sandpiper  
Wood Sandpiper  
Common Redshank 
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove
Hoopoe  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Desert Grey Shrike  
Woodchat Shrike  
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow 
Willow Warbler  
Western Bonelli's Warbler  
Western Olivaceous Warbler
Eurasain Reed wWrbler  
Melodious Warbler