Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The way to Aleg

On Saturday September 30th, 6 days later than originally planned, Mohamed Vall and I made the long day trip to Aleg.

We started soon after dawn and made a short stop 90 minutes later just north west of Idini. We chose a place with more vegetation than surrounding areas otherwise it was not expected to be special.

There were warblers including lesser whitethroat and garden warbler in the shrubs. There was also a Rufous bush-robin. However the most significant finding was white-throated bee-eater.

white-throated bee-eater

It had rained in the area a week before and we suspect the white-throated bee-eater moved north in response. Eitherway, it is the furthest north than I have seen this species in Mauritania.


cream-coloured courser

Apart from a pit stop in Boutlimit, we didn't stop again until Kendolek. Kendolek is a village midway between Boutlimit and Aleg. More to the point, Mohamed Vall had learned from friends that it had a watering hole which attracted birds.

We explored the green and treed valley first before coming back to the watering hole which is close to the village.

In the valley we counted no fewer than 26 cream-coloured courser presumably attracted by the lush green grass growing after the week before's rains.

Most were resting in the shade of bushes and reluctant to move anywhere.

black kite (yellow-billed)

No much else was interesting in the valley but just before we reached the watering hole, we briefly spotted an Egyptain vulture. We though we had lost it but we caught up with it again at the pool.

It was not the only bird of prey there. There were four yellow-billed kite present.

The trees surrounding the water were good birding. Birds included a pair of African grey woodpecker. This is still the only woodpecker I have seen in the country. It is most widespread by far.

Sudanese golden sparrow

Other birds at the pool ranged from a flock of Sudanese golden sparrow to a migrant nightingale.

It was gone midday and it was already hot. We pressed on and next stop was Lake Aleg.

The obvious thing to notice was that the lake was huge. I don't think it was normal size for that time of year. There were reports a month before of a seriously large rainfall in the Aleg and Boghe areas which cost several lives. One much less serious consequence was the size of the lake.

We attempted to get close to the lake from the south side which is forested. All the forest was under water. If we had had a boat or even good wading boots, I suspect the birding in there would have been superb. However we had neither.

European turtle dove

We had to make do with walking around the muddy edges trying to look inward.

Birds easily seen included European turtle dove and black-headed lapwing. The latter is a southern bird associated with wet areas and moving north with the rains.

black-headed lapwing

We had no choice but to travel through the town and approach the lake again, this time from the north.

The northern approach is almost flat and treeless. As soon as we arrived at the north side we could see that the lake was very large. The problem was that we couldn't get close to the water's edge without going through tens of metres of muddy or very shallow water.

Even with a scope we could only make out the larger birds. There were clearly plenty of both glossy ibis and sacred ibis. Two great white egret were clear too.

A large group of black-winged stilt were the closest birds of all. There appeared to be a small number of storks but we couldn't see them well and they wouldn't fly our way even with marsh harrier occassionally stirring things up.

white faced whistling duck and fulvous whistling duck

I could see a large group of ducks but they were directly into the sun. So I elected to wade into the water to get closer. After a difficult 40 minutes I got close enough to be sure that they contained a large number of fulvous whistling duck as well as white-faced whistling duck and three spur-winged geese.

Fulvous whistling duck was an addition to my country list. It is highly localised in West Africa for reasons I don't understand. However it made the trip worthwhile for that bird alone.

Given how warm the water was and my lack of protection. I have bought anti-bilhazria pills which I will use at first sign of illness. I probably wouldn't risk this sort of wading again.


possible Seebohm's wheatear

One of the last birds seen was another difficult wheatear. The amount of grey on the back makes me support a Seebohm's wheatear rather than black-eared wheatear or desert wheatear. I didn't see it well enough to determine this one with certainty. I will say however that mud flats would favour black-throated northern wheatear (aka Seebohm's) over desert wheatear.

The trip back was long and it was way past midnight before we arrived back in Nouakchott. 


North West of Idini
White-throated Bee-eater  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Willow Warbler  
Cricket Longtail  
Garden Warbler  
Lesser Whitethroat  
Rufous Bush-Robin  

Kendolek
Egyptian Vulture  
Black Kite (Yellow-billed)  
Common Redshank      
Cream-coloured Courser     
Namaqua Dove  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Grey-headed Kingfisher  
White-throated Bee-eater  
Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark  
Willow Warbler  
Common Nightingale  
European Pied Flycatcher  
Northern Wheatear  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  

Lake Aleg
White-faced Whistling-Duck  
Fulvous Whistling-Duck  
Spur-winged Goose  
Grey Heron (Grey)  
Great White Egret  
Glossy Ibis  
Sacred Ibis  
Western Marsh Harrier  
Black-winged Stilt  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Black-headed Lapwing  
European Turtle Dove  
Laughing Dove  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
White-throated Bee-eater  
Lanner Falcon  
Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Barn Swallow  
Willow Warbler  
Black Bush-Robin  
Rufous Bush-Robin      
European Pied Flycatcher  
Northern Wheatear  
Desert Wheatear  
Greater Blue-eared Starling  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  
Red-billed Quelea  


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Instead of Aleg

On Sunday 24th October, the idea was to start very early and make a day trip to Lake Aleg. This is 230 kilometres south east of Nouakchott. I was hopeful for rainy season birds there.

However we didn't get more than 5 kilometres out of the city before the clutch mechanism broke.

Despite this set back, Mohamed Vall and I managed some local birding.

We limped in second gear to Mohamed Vall city home and near-by Boudida allotments.

common whitethroat

The birding was not wonderful there as Sunday morning seems to be peak time for people to work on their allotments and so there was much disturbance.

Nevertheless in the short time there, we saw a common whitethroat which despite its name isn't common in Mauritania.

western olivaceous warbler

Other warblers included western olivaceous warbler and garden warbler.

After that, in third gear, we drove to a garage in Ksar. Here a mechanic tried to replace part of the clutch mechanism.

By pure fluke there was a deep but small urban pool at the end of the garage complex.

It is like a mini F-nord lake. It is one fiftieth of its the size but complete with reeds and deep water. It was also full of trash.

little grebe

While the mechanic spent two-three hours trying to replace the car part, I stayed at the pool, seeing what would appear.

Early on, I noticed a little grebe with a juvenile. This close to proof that it had bred there.

juvenile little grebe

Clambering over an island mostly made of trash were two squacco heron.

squacco heron 1

They didn't notice me but carried on clambering for a while before flying round the corner. I could not see them then as a partly submerged building blocked my view.

squacco heron 2

There is one large tree at the left side of the pool. This held reasonable birds too. A willow warbler and a garden warbler hopped around it. There were also a laughing dove and a turtle dove in there from time to time.

However for me, the best bird there was a nightingale. It kept to the lower reaches and walked out occasionally.

common nightingale

It took me a long time to notice but on another of the trash islands, a common snipe was hiding.

common sandpiper (l), snipe (c) and litte stint (l)

As ever, the noisiest birds were spur-winged lapwing. Mohamed Vall has visited the mechanic before and can remember seeing them on previous visits. This suggests they are resident near-by.

spur-winged lapwing (behind)

Despite the small size of the plot, a western reef heron was present.

western reef heron

Yet another single bird of a species was a black-winged stilt.

black-winged stilt

I saw two common ringed plover.

common ringed plover

Towards the end of my visit, the common snipe finally moved.

common snipe

The nightingale hopped out into the open again.

\
nightingale

The water must be fresh and good enough to drink as a sucession of doves did so including three turtle dove

European turtle dove

In the end, the mechanic failed to repair the car and we had to take a taxi home.

Well, there was still a third of a day left and we had both freed up the whole day for birding. We decided to take a taxi to the fishing port.


whimbrel

There were plenty of waders. Many were sanderling and dunlin. However there were four whimbrel.

black tern (front) and white winged tern (rear)

There was a large flock of about thirty black tern at the "estuary" of the man-made lagoons. In among them two other terns stood out.

white winged tern

One was a white-winged tern while the other was a second year whiskered tern.

whiskered tern

There is some satisfaction in seeing all three marsh terns in one place.

great white pelican flying

I turned my attention out to sea for a short while. It is almost a hopeless task looking out to sea in the afternoon at the fish market. The sun is in the west as is the sea. There is very little chance of seeing anything on the water. Nevertheless, a big bird like a great white pelican can't be missed.

great white pelican swimming

After a few minutes, I returned to the lagoons and especially inwards where a few gulls and other terns had clustered together.

Caspian tern (rear) and lesser black backed gull (front)

The gulls were mostly lesser black-backed gull and Audouin's gull. Though there was also one Mediterranean gull and one lesser black-headed gull too.

mixed gulls and terns

A little tern and sandwich tern joined the cluster at one stage. The little tern was absolutely dwarfed by all the others.

After finishing with the lagoons, we walked a while down the coastal scrub. In a tretch of around one kilometre we saw no fewer than 28 European pied flycatcher. A few willow warbler, common redstart, cricket longtail and spotted flycatcher made up the rest.

Mohamed Vall and I did go to Aleg in the end but the next weekend. I will blog about that and other sessions soon.


Boudida
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Blue-naped Mousebird
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Barn Swallow  
Willow Warbler  
Common Chiffchaff  
Western Olivaceous Warbler  
Garden Warbler  
Common Whitethroat  
Spotted Flycatcher  
European Pied Flycatcher  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
White Wagtail
House Sparrow 

Ksar pool
Little Grebe 
Western Reef-Heron
Squacco Heron  
Black-winged Stilt  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Common Ringed Plover  
Little Stint  
Common Snipe  
Common Sandpiper  
Common Greenshank  
Wood Sandpiper  
European Turtle Dove  
Collared Dove  
Laughing Dove  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Willow Warbler  
Common Chiffchaff
Garden Warbler  
Common Nightingale  
European Pied Flycatcher  
Western Yellow Wagtail 
House Sparrow 

South of fish market 
Great White Pelican  
Kentish Plover  
Common Ringed Plover 
Whimbrel  
Ruddy Turnstone  
Sanderling  
Dunlin  
Little Stint 
Common Redshank  
Black-headed Gull  
Mediterranean Gull  
Audouin's Gull  
Lesser Black-backed Gull  
Black Tern  
White-winged Black Tern  
Whiskered Tern  
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow 
Willow Warbler 
Cricket Longtail  
Spotted Flycatcher  
European Pied Flycatcher 
Common Redstart  
Northern Wheatear  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
White Wagtail 
House Sparrow  

Bonanza at waste water site

On Saturday September 23th, I set off to the waste water site again. This has become my local patch since F-Nord lake became compromised by water being pumped away.

To the contrary, the waste water site is getting bigger as more tankers turn up to pour their waste water away.

Of course, this site has much dirtier water than F-Nord lake but flies can attract birds too. 

While I was waiting for my driver to take me to the site, I looked over a few trees in my road for the illusive Iberian chiffchaff which had been a target species for me in September.

You may recall that all the population must fly Mauritania to reach their wintering grounds. And yet precious few have been seen anywhere outside spring and summer.

willow warbler outside my house

There were willow warbler but nothing that looked like the chiffchaff.

northern wheatear

I knew it was going to be a good day as there was so much bird activity right where the car dropped me at the waste water site.

There were northern wheatear in the semi desert around the site.

house sparrow

Willow warbler, European reed warbler, garden warbler and house sparrow were making forays out of deep cover into the piles of cut branches. Of course the house sparrow were the least shy.

European turtle dove

This site is clearly very attractive to migrating European turtle dove. Visit after visit during the autumn they have been present in numbers though usually really shy.

southern grey shrike (algeriensis) 

Another less well know migrant is the what I believe is algeriensis sub-species of southern grey shrike. I see a few throughout the winter in the Nouakchott area. These birds are dark like algeriensis but have a slight hint of an eyebrow which is not shown in the major European guidebook. What is certain is they are not the local sub-species which has almost white lower parts.

Namaqua dove

There are very few resident birds at the site. One is Namaqua dove.

spotted flycatcher

Wave after wave of both spotted flycatcher and European pied flycatcher keep coming through.

spotted flycatcher in flight

No obvious atlas flycatcher has been seen. I suspect I will need to wait until the spring to find one. They are more difficult to pick out in non-breeding plumage which they have at this time of year.

European pied flycatcher

It is hard to believe that I failed to see even one garden warbler in my first year in Mauritania. Yet I have been picking them up on every trip to the waste water site since my first one on September 9th. They can be overlooked but not once one makes an effort to look hard at the warblers.

garden warbler

Further on among the walk down the avenue of trees, I got even better views of a spotted flycatcher and a European pied flycatcher.

spotted flycatcher

Not only are the pied flycatcher worth looking at for atlas flycatcher but spotted flycatcher are worth looking for the poorly marked Mediterranean flycatcher. However ebird and Clements do not yet classify the latter as a separate species. It must surely come this way to winter though.


European pied flycatcher

There was a huge number of willow warbler at the site on September 23th. However I was after Iberian chiffchaff which probably migrates through at the same time. I have been searching for this species on every visit during the autumn.

Iberian chiffchaff 1

I was armed this time with a taped call. At one place two birds seemed to come closer when the tape was played. I got photographs of one. The first picture is a bit blurred.

Iberian chiffchaff 2

I submitted the photos to Bird Forum as I had done twice before. The first two times, the verdict was willow warbler. However for this bird the feedback was that it was indeed an Iberian chiffchaff.

This species simply had to be here. It migrates through Mauritania to winter just soth of the Senegal River.

European turtle dove

All of these sightings that day and I still hadn't arrived at the pools. More European turtle dove distracted me.

common redstart

A detour under some trees delayed me further. The flycatchers were sharing the low levels with common redstart.

white wagtail

Finally I arrived at the pools for a first encounter. Yellow wagtail and white wagtail fringed the water on the adjacent wetland.

A very confiding collared pratincole was a pleasant surprise.

collared pratincole 1

This is the first one I have seen in the Noaukchott area.

collared pratincole 2

There is a muddy area on the western edge of the pools. This is usually good for ringed plover.

common ringed plover

Over the water is most likely place to see the few summer-breeding blue-cheeked bee-eater. Back on September 23rd, there was no sign of any passage from north of the Sahara. The behaviour of these birds was residential.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

I got my usual reception from the spur-winged lapwing. They always make me feel unwelcome with their noise and vague attempts to mob me.

spur-winged lapwing

This was the day when I saw the largest number of glossy ibis at the site that I have ever seen.

glossy ibis

After a first pass at the pools, I ventured out into near-by scrub land. There was a wheatear I struggled to identify. It appears to be a Seebohm's wheatear (also known as Black-throated northern wheatear).

male Seebohm's wheatear

Most of the population of Seebohm's wheatear winter in southern Mauritania or northern Senegal. However most birds are likely to be mistaken for a desert wheatear or black-eared wheatear.


male Seebohm's wheatear 2

The bill in a seebohm's wheatear has been described as thin like a hooded wheatear. This is a helpful feature. I also think I can see considerable grey in the back of this bird. The jizz doesn't match the other two species either.

sedge warbler

I don't particulrly enjoy seeking out rare warblers on days when there are so many about or when it is hot. It's seriously hard work looking through many tens to find the Iberian chiffchaff or in the case of sedge warbler looking for aquatic warbler. The Senegal River delta is a major wintering place for European-breeding aquatic warbler so some must come this way. I studied this sedge warbler for several minutes. This was not least because its central crown had paler and stronger streaks than most sedge warbler. However I could n't make these into a single strong pale crown stripe. The overall upper parts colour was too dark for aquatic warbler as well.

willow warbler

I continued to search the willow warbler not realising I had already found a probable Iberian chffchaff.

Before I returned to the car, I made one more pass by the pools.

whinchat

I picked up a whinchat near the water.

dunlin

Good views of some dunlin didn't lead to an identification of anything rare.

sub-alpine warbler

At a bush near the water was sub-alpine warbler.

wood sandpiper

Once again a review of the female and juvenile ruff didn't lead to spotting any similar looking American vagrants.

dunlin (l) and ruff (r)

The pools are getting larger. If this continues and the cover keeps growing this place is going to be extremely good birding into the future.

the pools



Species seen at the waste water site on September 23rd

Grey Heron 
Purple Heron  
Glossy Ibis
Western Marsh Harrier  
Black-winged Stilt  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Kentish Plover  
Common Ringed Plover  
Whimbrel  
Ruff  
Curlew Sandpiper  
Dunlin  
Little Stint  
Common Snipe  
Common Sandpiper  
Common Greenshank  
Wood Sandpiper  
Common Redshank  
Collared Pratincole  
European Turtle Dove 
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Lanner Falcon  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Willow Warbler  
Common Chiffchaff
Iberian Chiffchaff
Western Olivaceous Warbler  
Sedge Warbler  
Eurasian Reed Warbler  
Eurasian Blackcap  
Garden Warbler  
Western Orphean Warbler  
Subalpine Warbler  
Spectacled Warbler  
Spotted Flycatcher  
Common Nightingale  
European Pied Flycatcher  
Common Redstart  
Whinchat  
Northern Wheatear     
Western Yellow Wagtail  
White Wagtail     
Tree Pipit  
Ortolan Bunting  
House Sparrow