Tuesday, 20 September 2016

South of the fish market

On Sunday I made a visit to the fish market on the coast west of Nouakchott.

Hundreds of longboat-shaped fishing boats were moored up and there were plenty of fish on sale, some of which were extremely large.

Yet strangely, there was hardly a bird in this immediate area apart from a few house sparrow.

Moving south 150 metres down the coast, it was a different story with several locations producing a different array of birds.

The first location was a smelly rubbish dump based on partially on fish parts and broken shells but with pools surrounding it.

bar-tailed godwit

Bar-tailed godwit were patrolling the pools and some of the wet earth.


Sanderling were there in numbers.

ruddy turnstone

Ruddy turnstone were also present.

Welsh common ringed plover 1

Common ringed plover are proving to be abundant all over west Nouakchott including near the fish market at the coast.

One of them was ringed and flagged. If I have understood the rings correctly this is a Welsh bird. I have written to the contact sending pictures and await verification.

Welsh common ringed plover 2

A young Kittlitz's plover is good evidence that this species breeds here.

juvenile Kittlitz's plover

While walking a little further down the coast to a cleaner area, a large flock of Eurasian spoonbill flew past and laso travelling south. 

Eurasian spoonbill

In this place, there are three sand-banked small lagoons managed by the environment ministry which are designed to attract birds.

black tern

Black tern were certainly attracted to it.


Whimbrel were there.


On a small island in one lagoon, a large number of sanderling were huddled together. 

little tern

A much smaller tern was easily picked out there. Little tern is the only option.

pied avocet

Another single bird was a pied avocet which was swimming rather than wading.

I was surprised that gulls and sea-faring terns were not seen at the ocean's edge.

Counter-initutively, by scanning all around,  I found a large number 500 metres inland from the lagoons. I had been looking in the wrong direction.

greater flamingo

As I walked towards the cluster of gulls and terns, three adult greater flamingo passed over.

I used a wall as a backcloth to approach the gulls so as not to spook them.

lesser black backed gull

The larger gulls were all lesser black-backed gull.  One medium sized gull was a black-headed gull.

Audouin's gull

The big surprise was the presence of 14 Audouin's gull. Such a large number may be explained by a probably affinity to the fish port and market. This gull is unusally dependent on fish for its diet.

Sandwich tern and Royal tern

I am on the look out for lesser crested tern which are known to winter on the Mauritanian coast and in particular Libyan birds, a few of which are ringed.

They are known to associate with closely related sandwich tern. Well, I found several sandwich tern. However the orange-billed tern seen with them near the fish market were both the larger Royal tern.

Walikng back towards the fish market through the coast scrub turned up a small number of warblers, crest lark and an unexpected hoopoe lark.

hopooe lark

Two desert grey shrike were observed on bushes and they were of the expected elegans sub-species in contrast to the unexpected algeriensis seen the day before at Zaatar allotments.

desert grey shrike

At a small pool, my first curlew sandpiper in country was seen.

curlew sandpiper

The last new bird of the session was a shy northern wheatear.

northern wheatear

No fewer than 16 species were added to my country list so I was well satisfied.
List of birds seen. New additions to my Mauritiania list are in bold.

Greater Flamingo  
Grey Heron  
Eurasian Spoonbill  
Pied Avocet  
Kittlitz's Plover  
Common Ringed Plover  
Bar-tailed Godwit  
Ruddy Turnstone  
Curlew Sandpiper 
Little Stint  
Common Greenshank  
Common Redshank  
Black-headed Gull  
Audouin's Gull 
Lesser Black-backed Gull  
Little Tern  
Caspian Tern  
Black Tern  
Royal Tern  
Sandwich Tern  
Laughing Dove  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Greater Hoopoe-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Willow Warbler  
Western Bonelli's Warbler  
Spotted Flycatcher  
Pied Flycatcher  
House Sparrow  

Monday, 19 September 2016

Zaatar allotments

On Saturday morning I went to the Zaatar allotments in an eastern area of Nouakchott. I had identified it as a potential birding site from google earth where it appears as a green mass. One of my local colleagues verifed it was a farming area and also kindly drove me there despite overnight rain causing flooding chaos on the roads. I am very grateful for this.

I then birded alone for four hours walking around the labyrinth of small paths through the allotments. Unlike farming areas in other countries I have birded, this area is very labour intensive. I felt it my duty to explain what was doing time and time again to bewildered but friendly farmers.

The allotments are almost exclusively horticultural plots with a few bushes and trees as dividers. 

I was satisfied with the results of my efforts.

I added six species to my steadily growing country list. Two of them were shrikes.

desert grey shrike

The first one was a desert grey shrike and contrary to all expectation it is clearly not of the (most interior and/or most southerly) sub-species elegans. It is too dark, lacking in white and having grey underparts. It looks a classic algeriensis. One theory, which has been put forward after consultation, is that some of that sub-species may move south for the winter. 

juvenile woodchat shrike

The second shrike sighting was more predicable. It is well known that woodchat shrike cross the Sahara and Arabian deserts on a very broad front. My first one was a juvenile.

some of the Zaatar allotments

A third addition was tree pipit. Three of them were foraging in a field. This is another broad front migrant though many stop just after crossing the deserts. I suspect I will have sightings all through the winter as well as the passage seasons.

tree pipit

Another addition was common nightingale. Although I got good views I failed to obtain a photograph. In compensation I managed photos of the distantly related common redstart. I had seen one the week before in the city but failed to photograph it then. This time there were at least seven scattered around the allotments.

female common redstart

Warblers mostly kept them selves to the bushes and trees. Once again I was privileged to get prolonged and close views of a western Bonelli's warbler.

western Bonelli's warbler

It is difficult to understand how it can be confused with a willow warbler.

western Bonelli's warbler 2

Willow warbler was actually the most common warbler on site so comparisons could easily be made anyway.

willow warbler

Two whitethroat were observed which was the fifth addition to the list. The western sub-species of this bird are so much more deeply coloured that the more washed out eastern sub species I have been more used to seeing in the gulf.

pied flycatcher (nominate)

Once again pied flycatcher were abundant. I counted no fewer than 19! Yet I checked e-bird and found that I was the first person to record this species on that datebase in Mauritania. I will soon find out wheather this is due to a unique time of year that I am birding or the unusual geography of my records i.e the city.

Most observed birds were nominate though a few had no white in their tail and are suspected to be Iberian.

susepected Iberian pied flycatcher

No candidate Atlas sub-species have been seen yet.

spotted flycatcher

Only two spotted flycatcher sightings were made. I am not used to this being a lesser seen flycatcher on migration.

namaqua dove

Another unusal aspect of the site was that Namaqua dove for once was the most common dove even beating out laughing dove.

The final addition of the day was a briefly seen squacco heron flying over without stopping. I still don't know what attracted it to this area.

On Sunday, I went west to the fishing port on the coast. Here I added a whopping 16 species to my Mauritania list. 

I will blog about that visit next.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

West Nouakchott

The western side of Nouakchott has a high water table in many places. I made my first visit to these part of the city on Tuesday afternoon which was the end of our Eid break from work.

In several places there are shallow brackish lakes and the larger ones attract waders.

I spent some time birding a small cluster of these larger lakes.

Ringed plover were common but associating with them were a smaller number of Kittlitz's plover.

Kittlitz's plover (left) with ringed plover (right)

Kittlitz's plover is at furthest north of its normal range. It was also a lifer.

young kentish plover

This is ideal terrain for Kentish plover and given the young age of several of the birds seen, they are breeding here.

spur-winged lapwing

The other "plover" present was spur-winged lapwing sometimes called spur-winged plover.

wood sandpiper

Only two types of sandpiper were observed. These were wood sandpiper and common sandpiper.

common sandpiper

I should expect easily to add green sandpiper and curlew sandpiper to my country list fairly soon. Other sandpipers are much rarer.

little stint

The most abundant wader of all on Tuesday afternoon was little stint.


There were a few sanderling too. I am not use to them actually wading rather than running around on sand near the water's edge.


Four dunlin were also sighted.

common redshank

As well as the spur-winged lapwing already mentioned, there were other larger waders present encouraged by the fact that the "lakes" were up to 30-40 cms deep in a few places.

Common redshank were easy to pick up. However a single greenshank was nearly missed as it was resting in the middle of the complex of pools and partially hidden.

black-winged stilt

The final larger wader was black-winged stilt.

At the edge of the lakes was a medium sized rubbish dump. I gave this a close look. Although most of the birds there were house sparrow, I was rewarded for my efforts by two migrants.


One was a spotted flycatcher but the other pleased me more. It was a whinchat.

This was an encouraging sighting as the passage season is still young.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

More on central Nouakchott

Early yesterday morning I strolled around the Tveragh Zeina district in central Nouakchott looking for good birding spots. It is where I am currently living and is the leafiest part of the city.

However birding is complicated by the fact it has several government buildings and is home to nearly all embassies. I have to exercise great discretion with my camera and binoculars.

I eventually found a new good spot with bushes, piles of recently cut trees and a small rubbish dump near-by. The combination may not look attractive but it is good for birds.

On the way I caught sight of a vitelline masked weaver as it disappeared into someone's garden. Indeed I suspect these well watered gardens are the reason that this weaver is in the city at the furthest north of its range. It was a lifer.

western olivaceous warbler 1

The bushes I chose as my main birding spot had at least three western olivaceous warbler darting in and out as well as at least two willow warbler.

A common redstart was also seen briefly twice but not photographed. There was probably a common nightingale there too but my view was too short to be sure so it won't be counted.

western olivaceous warbler 2

Near the bushes and high up in a garden I heard rose-ringed parakeet screaming. I took photos as I judged they were high enough and far enough away from the house's windows. I am very aware not to invade people's privacy.

rose-ringed parakeet

In adjacent bush to the main set of bushes and trees a pied flycatcher kept making forays.

pied flycatcher

A high leafless tree was used by blue-naped mousebird and afforded me my best views of this bird since arriving in the city.

blue-naped mousebird

Still in the same small spot, laughing dove, African collared dove and European collared dove were dropping down to ground to scrape for food.

I have now realised that both types of collared dove as abundant in the city. This is one of the few places in the world where their ranges overlap so extensively. 

African collared dove

By the shear volume of blue-cheeked bee-eater I have also concluded that the birds I have been seeing are indeed resident. 

blue-cheeked bee-eater

Elsewhere and earlier in the week, I spotted two additions to my country list at work which is on the northern edge of the city.

white-crowned wheatear

Two white-crowned wheatear were around on Tuesday. One was adult and one was a juvenile. I was a little surprised as the distribution map in my first edition of Birds of Western Africa shows them well east in the desert. 

crested lark

The second species was crested lark and this was much more predictable.

Yesterday afternoon I accompanied a work colleague on his flat hunt. It took me to west Nouakchott where I took the opportunity to bird watch after the business was concluded. In the salt lakes near-by were many waders and one was a lifer. I will blog about that next.