Monday, 14 November 2016

North beyond the city

I teamed up with Dr. Mohamed Vall again on Saturday. While we didn't make a long trip we did investigate the area up to 50 kilometres north of Nouakchott off the Nouadhibou road.

Our first stop was barely two kilometres outside the city. We saw a large set of trees and turned off the road to investigate them. Trees north of the city are rare. The trees lined a dirt track. We parked up and walked down the track.

It didn't take us long to realise we had stumbled upon something different. First we saw a Eurasian spoonbill walking along the road in front of us. Then a vehicle carrying waste water passed us on its way up the track.

We had worked out that this was a waste water disposal area.

Eurasian spoonbill

Most waste water in the city disppears into cesspits but a proportion goes into sceptic tanks. I read a World Bank report that five private companies operate in the city to dispose of the waste water. This site is probably the main disposal area for one of thse companies.

Although not large by Saudi or Omani standards, there were enough pools and volume of water to attract plenty of passerines and waders.

Two birds we tracked early on arrival were two tree pipit.

A wheatear caught my eye. It was deeply coloured.

deeply coloured northern wheatear

I sought expert advice from Nik Borrow who is one of the few Sahel experts in the world.

The overall brown back, deep rufous-buff undersides and dark centres to the median coverts gave me reasons to believe it might be a Heuglin's wheatear

Heuglin's wheatear is not very well documented in the literature. I presume that is because it is found mostly in the Sahel region of Muaritania, Mali, Niger and Chad. These places have never had many scientific birders.

However initial correspondence with Nik suggests it is a northern wheatear afterall.

deeply coloured northern wheatear

Moving on from the wheatear we found several little stint and common ringed plover wading at the water's edge. Blue-cheeked bee-eater were numerous and we had a common kestrel for some time.

Blue-cheeked bee-eater

Yet the main interest was with the passerines. There was a lot more than house sparrow.

Eurasian reed warbler were moving from bush to bush. However, three blackcap darting back and forth from the largest tree into small bushes close by were more interesting still.

female-type blackcap

One of the blackcap was a female-type while the other two were male. I say female type because I am not sure whether the apparent black fleck at the front of the head is true. If so then it is a juvenile moulting into an adult male.

This species too was an addition to my country list. The waste water site was reeping dividends.

male blackcap

A wryneck was found which was initally associating with the house sparrow before it moved off to eat some ants.


Chiffchaff was the most numerous warbler on site.


Bluethroat would be expected in this type of habitat and was duly seen.

young ortolan bunting 

An ortolan bunting was less expected at least by the e-bird database which thinks it is a rarity in Mauritania at this time of year. In contrast the Birds of Western Africa has western Mauritania as part of the winter distribution of this species.

Actually the e-bird database is improving all the time given the low amount of data it had until recently.

ortolan bunting drinking

This small site is going to be a magnet for birds. I wish I had known about it during the main autumn passage.

very young black-crowned sparrow lark

The rest of the day north of the city was not quite successful. Our next stop a few kilometres further up the Nouadhibou road near more trees yielded a flock of black-crowned sparrow lark, blue-cheeked bee-eater, a reed warbler (out of place for sure), two chiffchaff and two hoopoe.

Two of the black-crowned sparrow lark flew ceaselessly above our heads in an attempt to distract us from a very young bird.

Next we headed to the coastal village of Bellewakh. The idea was to look for seabirds but the sea was as calm as a mill pond and very few passed by. A Caspian tern, a lesser black backed gull and a couple of distant unidentifed terns were all that was seen out to sea.

Our luck got much better when we inspected the villagers' rubbish dumps on the edge of the village. 

common redstart

A pied flycatcher and common redstart were readily seen. I had thought all these had passed through the area to their known wintering grounds by now.


A whinchat and a tawny pipit added to the mix.

tawny pipit

However the strangest sight by far were four cream-coloured courser rummaging in the rubbish. Unfortunately we didn't notice them until they decided to fly off.

On return to the city, we popped into North Nouakchott Lake for Mohamed Vall to have his first prolonged view of this newly discovered spot.

All the birds I had seen on Friday were there again but with one important addition.

black-necked grebe

A black-necked grebe had arrived. It is so rarely seen in Mauritaina that it is not on the e-bird list for the country. Though a few are known to winter even further south in the Senegal River delta every year.

It was a fine ending to the day and the 170th bird on my Maurtianian list.

Thanks are once again due to Dr Mohamed Vall for his company and driving.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting Ortolan record! We published a review of all available records in 2014, with a special emphasis on records in Mauritania >

    cheers, Marco