Sunday, 15 January 2017

North Nouakchott Lake or bust

I am without private transport for the next three weeks. Unless I take a long distance minibus I am grounded in Nouakchott.

Furthermore, Noaukchott is short of public birding sites. The embassies and government buidings are mostly very green but out of bounds. The small public areas had plenty of passage birds in autumn but are thin pickings at the moment. The waste water disposal site north of the city was ruined at least temporarily by the disposal of highly contaminated waste. The salt marshes are very low outside the rainy season. Cinqueieme gardens is deemed dangerous. 

That leaves the fishing port and North Noaukchott Lake. The latter is within walking distance of my home and is excellent birding. However its not going to change every day. Nevertheless it is the lake or bust.

I visited the lake both on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.

little grebe

As ever, the sheer numbers of little grebe, common coot and common moorhen hit you as soon as you arrive.

common coot

On my last visit, all the ducks had gone so I was pleased on Friday to count 14 northern pintail

black-headed gull and northern pintail

I spent a lot of time once again looking through the gulls trying to find expections to the black-headed gull and Mediterranean gull.

black-headed gull 1

One exception I found was a black-headed gull starting to produce it's dark chocolate coloured head found in breeding plumage.

black-headed gull 2

This change in plumage is at least four weeks premature and is quite unusually early.

lesser black-backed gull

The other exception was a lesser black-backed gull. It was probably the same one I saw on Tuesday afternoon.

yellow wagtail

A yellow wagtail of the iberiae sub species was also seen again as on Tuesday though it was in a different place and so might be a different bird.

One important bird which wasn't seen on Friday but was on Tuesday was the dwarf bittern. A thorough search of the same area produced no sign. Though I did find a number of chiffchaff and my first bluethroat at the site for several weeks.


I returned to the site on Saturday morning.

African swamphen

It is lovely to see African swamphen close up but the birds here are relatively tame and do allow this. I saw two but not a juvenile which I had seen on Friday. That juvenile was the first proof I have had that this species breeds here.

In news about other larger birds, the duck population has continued to re-bound. I saw five wigeon and one common teal in addition to Saturday's pintail. The ducks clearly have a second place which they travel to and from. It is most likely central lake which is more saline but equally as large. Unfortunately it is adjacent to three embassies and so I can't watch there.

cattle egret at the lake

On Saturday I caught up with the spotted redshank which has been seen on and off. It was with three greenshank.

wood sandpiper

Wood sandpiper and common ringed plover remain the most numerous waders.

common snipe

There have been a small number of common snipe on site all winter. I suspect there are three. 

On Saturday, I observed Sudanese golden sparrow at the lake for the first time. They seemed to be attracted to the lake to drink. This is not really a city bird and was still outnumbered by house sparrow yesterday.

male Sudanese golden sparrow

Most of the males are now in breeding plumage. I suspect breeding in Nouakchott starts soon though I have no idea yet whether they continue to breed into the rainy season (summer).

female Sudanese golden sparrow 1

This female fooled me when it flew off in a different direction to the males it was with and ended up with a flock of house sparrow.

female Sudanese golden sparrow 2

I am still getting used to the colour variations of Sudanese golden sparrow based on season and gender.

yellow backed male 1

One male got my attention. It did not have a fully chestnut back. Indeed it had a yellow rump and a mottled chestnut and yellow back. In many ways it looked how I would imagine an Arabian golden sparrow-Sudanese golden sparrow hybrid to look.

yellow backed male 2

A goolge search provided me with a similar bird labelled Sudanese golden sparrow and it was from Burkina Faso. My new working assumption is that this colour is within normal variation for a male bird.

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