Monday 19 December 2016

Dar el Barka

Last Monday, Dr. Mohamed Vall and I made the long trip back from Kaedi to Nouakchott. We took the Boghe to Rosso road for part of the journey. It runs parallel with the Senegal River. This area remains green in the dry season and offers some of the best birding in the country then.

However our first stop was between Kaedi and Rosso in the early morning when we spotted a thick forest (as opposed to the more common open woodland)  at the side of the road.

At the edge of the forest were plenty of Sudanese golden sparrow. I find that some male birds of this species in the south can be in breeding plumage even now while none seen in the Nouakchott area show so much yellow.

Sudanese golden sparrow

Inside the forest we saw two woodchat shrike and several sub-alpine warbler representing typical wintering species. A common redstart was also seen. This is less typical but I have observed enough in the south this winter to realise southern Mauritania is within its wintering range.

northern wheatear

One of the two northern wheatear at the edge of the forest was deeply coloured. This marks it out as either from Greenland or Iceland or Fenno-Scandinavia. 

Resident birds were also in evidence. A passing lanner falcon caused some commotion including among the namaqua dove and laughing dove.

young red-cheeked cordonbleu

Black bush-robin were scattered through the undergrowth. For a moment I thought I glimpsed a black-crowned tchagra but I didn't get good enough views to claim it.

Young and adult red-cheeked cordonbleu was pretty conclusive evidence of local breeding.

northern crombec (courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

However the prize bird in the forest was a northern crombec.  It is one of only two African warblers found in Mauritania and it apparently barely ranges into the country. Thanks are due to Mohamed Vall for allowing me to reproduce his picture.

After this forest stop, we had to press on. Our next (and last major) stop was at Dar el Barka only 75 kilometres west of Rosso. We had been tipped off by a policemen at one of the road checkpoints that this place has water all year round as was good for birds. We accpeted his local knowledge and diverted off the main road a few kilometres to get there.

As we diverted off, we crossed a tributary of the Senegal River. 

great white egret

We only stayed a few minutes but it enough time to get better pictures of great white egret than the day before.

facial close-up of great white egret

Close up, the bare skin of the great white egret's gape line extends in a dagger shape behind the eye unlike an intermediate egret. I find this useful to confirm identification in places where both species can occur.

We arrived at Dar El Barka village without knowing exactly where the water was. However we headed to an area we could see with thick and varied trees. As we got close we realised that these trees were standing in water and that the area around had been flooded in a much larger lake in the rainy season.

The policeman's tip off looked good almost straightaway as seven black stork took to the skies moments after we parked the car. This yet another new species for me in Mauritania.

black-headed lapwing

The flooded forest was quite magical. Black-headed lapwing and spur-winged lapwing were present around the edges.

little green bee-eater and blue-cheeked bee-eater were hawking for insect prey.

common snipe

Waders included little stint, common greenshank and a common snipe.


A group of garganey were swimming while a single juvenile knob-billed duck was resting.

juvenile knob-billed duck

A solitary long-tailed cormorant was also resting but in the sun rather than the shade.

long-tailed cormorant

Sudanese golden sparrow were in many of the bushes around the site.

black stork

Black stork are very shy but they never left the area preferring to soar effortlessly until we left.

flying hamerkop

While we were watching them a hamerkop flew by. Unlike the stork it was bold enough to land within the woodland.

little ringed plover

While we were searching for the hamerkop, we came across a little ringed plover.


When we finally found the hamerkop there were four. I have no idea how that happened.

Near-by we finally found a malachite kingfisher. I had seen a flash of blue earlier but not been able to identify which kingfisher it was. We got short but good views. A photo escaped both of us.

Time was moving on and we had a long way to go to get home. We decided only to stop if we saw an interesting bird rather than stopping at interesting places.

Of course it was large birds we saw from a car moving at 80 kilometres an hour.

Black kite and cattle egret were the most regularly seen. A couple of marsh harrier were observed in one place as well.

The only time we actually stopped was to look at snake eagles. Several were perched on electricity pylons all along the road to Rosso. This strip is clearly a very important winter ground for short-toed snake eagle.

a short-toed snake eagle

A pair of short toed-snake eagle was particularly interesting. I suspect these birds are the resident Beaudouin's snake eagle not short-toed snake eagle.

pair of potential Beaudouin's snake eagle

First and foremost there were two birds together. Short-toed snake eagle should be solitary in winter. Beaudouin's snake eagle is normally solitary too. However November to March is the breeding season for this bird in West Africa. So two preening birds sitting side by side is consistant with that.

pair of potential Beaudouin's snake eagle 2

Second, although the views aren't good, the underparts don't look heavily hortizotally streaked like one would expect with short-toed snake eagle.

snake eagle flying off (courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

Thirdly, Mohamed Vall obtained a photograph when one of the birds flew off. The tail pattern is strong and this is more characteristic of Beaudouin's snake eagle than short-toed snake eagle. For the moment I am not claiming this species but I am seeking expert advice.

Solitary short-toed snake eagle continued to be seen on pylons right up to Rosso.

a final short-toed snake eagle

This was the last birding we did on the three day trip. From Rosso to Nouakchott it was a case of driving for home.

It was an excellent experience. I added 20 species to my Mauritanian list and saw much more of the country. I am grateful as ever to Mohamed Vall for his company, driving and extra pair of eyes.