Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Atar and near-by villages

My first visit to Adrar took place last weekend. I teamed up with Mohamed Vall once again.

All four resident species which were targetted before we started out were added to my list and another species was a less expected bonus. On all counts it was a great success for both of us.

We stayed at Auberge Bab Sahara in Atar having arrived after dusk on Friday. We can recommend this accommodation to all.

We birded straight out of the Auberge on Saturday morning up the dry river bed and near-by farmland on the western side of the town.

The first successful addition to my list was African rock martin. Several were observed hawking for insects over some rubbish left in the river bed. They were feeding continually and in the end we left before the birds.

African rock martin

Earlier we had seen both fulvous babbler and Blue-naped mousebird in the early morning.

Fulvous babbler

Atar is only 80 kilometres south of the border of the Western Palearctic as defined by many. Indeed the area north of Atar is the only place in the western palearctic where blue-naped mousebird can be found.

blue-naped mouse bird

Three types of lark were easily seen. These were black-crowned sparrow-lark, crested lark and bar-tailed lark. However desert lark which was one of our resident target birds was not observed in this area.

black-crowned sparrow lark

White-crowned wheatear is clearly common here. However the wheatear population is currently swollen with migrant northern wheatear and black-eared wheatear.

white-crowned wheatear

In total 24 species were seen in Atar and they were varied. The full list is given at the end of the blog. 

However the remaining resident targets of trumpeter finch, house bunting and desert lark were nowhere to be seen in Atar itself.

We decided to head out south west to look in less urban and more hilly habitat for these in the afternoon.

distant shots of black kite

Having just gone through the police checkpoint on the southern edge of the town, 14 black kite were noticed flying north. We stopped and had a few minutes view before they disappeared on continued migration. This was an unexpected bonus sighting.

Midway between Atar and Hamdoun, 10 kilometres out of town, we elected to bird up the rocky hills and their associated wadis. After a lot of effort our first desert lark was finally tracked down. (Incidentally I birded the same place the next day while Mohamed was occupied and saw six of them). We were particularly disappointed in not seeing any trumpeter finch there on the Saturday.

Our next plan was to explore the village of Hamdoun which is half way down the plateau which Atar rests on.

Here we found more blue-naped mousebird as well as both black bush-robin and rufous bush-robin. Given the presence of palm plantations, it was no surprise that laughing dove a.k.a palm dove were very common. 

laughing dove

Mohamed Vall asked a local farm worker if there was any permanent water near-by. The worker directed us to some pools just off the main road. Permanent water is a scarse commodity and I knew from experience it is good to just sit and watch what comes to it.

Hamdoun pools

This proved to be a good decision. A pair of little ringed plover landed. They were presumably on passage.

little ringed plover (photo courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

What followed were both of our remaining resident target species. Several trumpeter finch landed to drink while two house bunting were seen too.

trumpeter finch (photo courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

Mohamed Vall had more success with pictures there and I am grateful for permission to use two of them.

With this success we returned to Atar for a very late lunch near the bus station. It was here we heard Eurasian collared dove while eating. Scanning around, we could see them on top of street lights from time to time.

Eurasian collared dove is expanding its range in north west Africa. I suspect sloppy identification by some who claim African collared dove in central and northern Mauritania. Just because it is a collared dove in Africa doesn't mean one can relax about identification. In Nouakchott for example, Eurasian collared dove outnumbers African collared dove at least 15 fold. Further north than Nouakchott, I find African collared dove very rarely.

Eurasian collared-dove (also courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

On Sunday morning we headed back towards Nouakchott but not without a few hours birding on the way. This included an early diversion to the tourist village of Terjit.

Here we saw all four of our original target species in one place. We got better pictures of all except for African rock martin too.

desert lark

Desert lark greeted us almost where we parked the car.

house bunting at Tergit

Over 20 house bunting were observed including five in one person's occupied house. They really live up to their name.

trumpeter finch at Terjit

Trumpeter finch were scattered in shaded places in the upper part of the village as well as on the rocks near the water cascades.

It was beyond the water cascades that we found yet another addition to the list. This one was not a predictable resident. It was a male blue rock thrush. Unfortunately we failed to obtain a clear picture.

white-crowned wheatear at Terjit

Other birds continued to interest us in the village though. White-crowned wheatear were seen throughout. A flock of blue-naped mousebird flew past.

sub-alpine warbler at Terjit

Like elsewhere in the district, a sub-alpine warbler was found.

After 90 minutes in Terjit we pressed on with our homeward journey only to stop soon after at a green wadi with varied trees and bushes at Yagref.

The stop at Yagref give me mixed emotions. On the positive side we got good views of house bunting again. Incredibly we came across a second male blue rock thrush and this one was drinking very close to our hiding place.

blue-rock thrush at Yagref

On the down side, I heard what sounded like an owl calling in a tree. It sounded like some kind of alarm. As I got close to the tree two black bush robin flew out. Then a European scops owl flew out the back. I didn't see it but Mohamed Vall did. I wonder if the black bush robin had been mobbing it. Either way, I won't count it on my Mauritanian list without sight. This is my standard. Mohamed Vall can claim it though!

To add more to my misfortune, we had heard a flock of bee-eaters pass over while we had been deep in cover. They could easily have been European bee-eater which would also have been new to my country list. Such is the fine divide between pass and failure.

However all was not lost. The next blog will tell of our outward and homeward journeys especially in the Akjoujt area. Here the sightings included a true vagrant.

Species seen within Atar town
Eurasian Collared-Dove 
Laughing Dove 
Namaqua Dove 
Blue-naped Mousebird 
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Woodchat Shrike  
Bar-tailed Lark  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Rock Martin  
Barn Swallow  
Common Chiffchaff  
Cricket Longtail  
Western Orphean Warbler  
Subalpine Warbler  
Fulvous Babbler
Black Scrub-Robin 
Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin 
White-crowned Wheatear  
Wheatear  
Black-eared Wheatear  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
House Sparrow  
Sudan Golden Sparrow

Seen in Terjit
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Blue-naped Mousebird  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Desert Lark  
Rock Martin  
Subalpine Warbler  
Blue Rock-Thrush     
White-crowned Wheatear  
House Bunting  
Trumpeter Finch  
House Sparrow  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  

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