Thursday, 27 April 2017

Westside walk

Last Friday afternoon, I walked all the way from my home in Tavragh Zeina in central Nouakchott to the fishing port.

Fortified by the previous weekend's finding of a pectoral sandpiper, I took a route which guarenteed me views of the maximum number of waders.

First I passed by the central lake. This man-made and surrounds the future Senegalese embassy. Discretion is needed here as the authorities are very sensitive to cameras in this area.

waders at the central lake

This is the only water body in the city where black-winged stilt breed and can be guarenteed to be seen all year round.It is also favoured by ducks in winter even more so than North Nouakchott lake.

However on this visit, no special birds were seen. Black-winged stilt were plentiful and the typical winter birds of sanderling, little stint and common ringed plover were added to by a few dunlin and curlew sandpiper on passage. I gave the waders some considerable scrutiny but rarities were not found each time.

Next, I moved on to west Nouakchott pools. These are saline whereas the Central Lake is only slightly brackish.

There seems to be an attempt to pump much of the water out of the pools at the moment though how successful this will be when there is some summer rain is in doubt.

ruddy turnstone

Nevertheless this had the effect of reducing waders numbers. Birds not seen at the central lake but were at the pools included ruddy turnstone and a single ruff.

ruff (right)

Common greenshank appears to be loyal to this site even though water levels are down.

greenshank (left) with curlew sandpiper (right)

Kentish plover were well in evidence. One chick confirmed that this is a breeding site for this species.

Kentish plover

There are always a small number of spur-winged lapwing present including one which is very tame. Every time I visit it allows me very close.

spur-winged lapwing

The walk from central Nouakchott to the fishing port is over 4 kilometres. The central lake and west Nouakchott pools are conveniently about one third and two thirds along the journey, so the walk rarely feels onerous except in the mid-afternoon heat.

The area south of the fish port had much less gull activity than in the winter. The large majority of wintering gulls have gone.

mostly sanderling and black tern

It is always hit or miss whether there is anything really interesting at the lagoons south of the fish market.

This time the main interest was the very large number of sanderling present and about twenty black tern on passage.

common tern

It is always worth looking hard at the mix of terns. Both Caspian tern and common tern were also seen in low numbers.

black tern in various plumages

From my observations around the country and over three seasons now, it appears that black tern migrate along the coast whereas the other two marsh terns: whiskered tern and white-winged black tern migrate mostly inland.

For example at inland Lac Aleg three weeks previously there were only whiskered tern and white-winged black tern. Whereas south of the fish market (on the coast) last Friday there was only one white-winged black tern but many black tern. This appears to be a typical pattern.

This birding last Friday, while enjoyable, threw up nothing special. In stark contrast the birding over Saturday and Sunday was very interesting indeed. I will blog about these next.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Vagrant pectoral sandpiper at the waste water site

Last Sunday Mohamed Vall and I visited the waste water site north of the city. We saw heavy passage (see last blog).

I concentrated on the warblers and spent little time on waders.

However I did take photos of just one wader which I thought looked a little different. I then looked at the photo on the camera screen and dismissed the bird as a ruff

I should have trusted my initial instincts.

Thanks are due to Bram Piot in Dakar, Senegal and Marco Thoma for correctly identifying the bird as a pectoral sandpiper having seen one picture on yesterday's blog.

pectoral sandpiper

It has a streaked breast, pale base to the bill and an attenuated tail. There are other features which separate it from a ruff.

pectoral sandpiper

As far as I can tell this is only the second record of a pectoral sandpiper in Muaritania. The first one was also near Nouakchott. American vagrants should be very possible given how far Mauritania sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

In correspondence, Colin Cross from The Gambia pointed out that the American rarity, solitary sandpiper is a much more common occurence in West Africa than pectoral sandpiper. He also observed that the opposite is the case in Europe.

Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology

I can only assume that is because pectoral sandpiper takes a slightly more northerly route back to its breeding range.

Either way I need to be more on my guard for Nearctic vagrants such as American golden plover, solitary sandpiper and buff-breasted sandpiper in the future.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Heavy passage at the waste water site

It had been two weeks since our last visit to the waste water site north of the city. Even then there was noticable passage. Both European bee-eater and European roller were added to my country list.

Last Sunday there was heavy passage. 

female pied flycatcher

I had expected to see pied flycatcher given the large numbers that passed through Nouakchott last autumn. I was right.

male pied flycatcher

Once again there were woodchat shrike present. There have been waves of this species passing though for six weeks now. Very many winter in southern Mauritania and they will be included in those passing through.

woodchat shrike

More common redstart were also observed but whinchat were the first seen in the Noaukchott area this season.


However it was the warbler passage which was the most significant. No few than seven types were observed. The numbers present were probably much higher than observed as we didn't go into the densest areas of trees.

Melodious warbler was probably the least common.

We spent considerable time next to the main body of dumped water. Only three warblers were easily seen there.

willow warbler

Willow warbler were in the very short scrub and on surrounding ground.


Blackcap kept making forays out of a near-by large tree onto exposed dead bushes in the middle of the water. This gave excellent and prolonged views. However I was a little disappointed there were no garden warbler with them. This species has still evaded me in Mauritania.

sedge warbler

There was a third warbler observed over the water. It was sedge warbler.  It appeared to have some sort of damage or moult to its tail but otherwise seemed quite healthy.

rear view of sedge warbler 1

Views were extremely good for a species which is often hidden in reeds. It's relative, Aquatic warbler, should also be possible at this site on passage.

rear view of sedge warbler 2

Many barn swallow were hawking over the water and at least each of red-rumped swallow and house martin were present.

barn swallow

On the last visit two weeks before a lone European bee-eater was seen. This time there was a lone blue-cheeked bee-eater. This was the first time I or my birding partner, Mohamed Vall, had seen one in Mauritania since December 10th.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

It is easy to find the cleanest parts of the water body which is very contaminated overall. You just need to follow the waders.


Little stint was the most numerous and ruff was arguably the most interesting.

red-billed quelea

Along with the house sparrow and Sudanese golden sparrow, some red-billed quelea ventured out on to the exposed dead bushes. This was arguably the most interesting observation of the day. This is the furthest north I have ever seen them. 

The other most interesting observation were Eurasian golden oriole which were sighted during our walk back to Mohamed Vall's car. This was an addition to my country list. Unfortunately though we caught up with them three times, they evaded the camera each time.

Namaqua dove

The site is very active at the moment. Come the summer the few resident birds such as Namaqua dove, larks and sparrows will probably have it to themselves.

Species seen at the waste water site
Common Ringed Plover  3
Little Ringed Plover  1
Ruff  2
Little Stint  16
Common Sandpiper  3
Common Greenshank  1
Wood Sandpiper  3
Cream-coloured Courser  2    
Speckled Pigeon  11
Laughing Dove  12
Namaqua Dove  16
Common Swift  4
Eurasian Hoopoe  2
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  1
Woodchat Shrike  5
Eurasian Golden Oriole  4    
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  8
Crested Lark  5
Barn Swallow  26    
Red-rumped Swallow  1
Common House Martin  1
Willow Warbler  12    
Common Chiffchaff  1
Western Bonelli's Warbler  2    
Western Olivaceous Warbler  1
Melodious Warbler  2   
Sedge Warbler  1
Eurasian Blackcap  7
European Pied Flycatcher  8
Common Redstart  2
Whinchat  4
Northern Wheatear  2
Western Yellow Wagtail  7
Tawny Pipit  1
Tree Pipit  2
House Sparrow  8
Sudan Golden Sparrow  14
Red-billed Quelea  6

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Dar El Barka revisited

A week ago Monday, Mohamed Vall travelled the 800 kilometres back to Nouakchott in one day. It was obviously a long day. Nevertheless we made time for one main stop and we chose Dar el Barka in Brakna and next to the Senegal River.

Before that we were lucky enough to see five chestnut-bellied sandgrouse flying over a farming area at Lexeiba, Gorgol. The sandgrouse truned out to be the last addition to my country list during the trip though Dar El Barka had interest.

There is a semi-circle of wide water at Dar El Barka will doesn't quite link up directly with the Senegal River itself. 

We concentrated our time around this rather than other good looking habitat in the area (i.e the river itself, a dense forest and a waterlogged smaller woodland).

Many birds were seeking cover as it was hot day and we were there at the hottest time of day too.

flying hamerkop (courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

Hamerkop were plentiful. I suspect they came from the dense forest which we didn't have chance to explore. Most of the time they sought cover.

The near-by dense forest may well be the reason that Vinaceous dove was the most common dove in the area. That in itself is very unusual.

two hamerkop under cover

With so much water and with wet grassland at the edges, it was no surprise to see a good scattering of both yellow wagtail and collared pratincole.

water bodies at Dar El Barka

No fewr than three types of bee-eater were present. These were little bee-eater, little green bee-eater and red-throated bee-eater. Like elsewhere in Mauritania no blue-cheeked bee-eater were seen. There is more and more evidence that it is not resident in Mauritania unlike the distribution map's claim in Birds of Western Africa. 

While blue-cheeked bee-eater may return in late spring, as a general point there are many more birds that are described in the maps as resident but look now as if they are only present in the rainy season and also just before and after it.

red-throated bee-eater

Red-throated bee-eater stubbornly refused to leave the shade so I have yet to obtain good photos of this bird.

spur-winged goose

The water was attractive to all four of  most common largest water fowl in South Mauritania: spur-winged goose, Egyptian goose, white-faced whistling duck and knob-billed duck.

Egyptian goose with knob-billed duck

We didn't have time to do the small birds justice. However of note were chestnut-bellied sparrow lark in the fields and a pair of pygmy sunbird on a beach seeking to drink.

pygmy sunbird (courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

In the long grass just before we left the water, a greater painted snipe was spotted.

greater painted snipe

Dar El Barka is a fascinating place. It is also just about possible to include it in a normal  weekend's birding based out of Rosso.

Species seen at Dar El Barka, Brakna
White-faced Whistling-Duck  80
Knob-billed Duck  18
Egyptian Goose  14
Spur-winged Goose  40
Long-tailed Cormorant  1
Hamerkop  9
Grey Heron  3
Little Egret  2
Cattle Egret  14
Squacco Heron  1
Striated Heron  1
Black-winged Stilt  7
Kittlitz's Plover  4
Common Ringed Plover  2
Greater Painted-Snipe  1
Common Snipe  1
Common Sandpiper  3
Common Greenshank  14
Collared Pratincole  9
Gull-billed Tern  1
White-winged Black Tern  1
Whiskered Tern  1
African Collared Dove  2
Vinaceous Dove  12
Laughing Dove  16
Namaqua Dove  5
African Palm-Swift  4
Eurasian Hoopoe  2
Pied Kingfisher  1
Red-throated Bee-eater  9
Little Bee-eater  3
Green Bee-eater  5
Woodchat Shrike  1
Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark  10
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  15
Barn Swallow  11   
Willow Warbler  2
Grey-backed Camaroptera  1
Common Redstart  2
Northern Wheatear  1
Pygmy Sunbird  4
Western Yellow Wagtail  10
Sudan Golden Sparrow  14
Black-headed Weaver  6
Red-billed Quelea  140

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Thick woodland in Guidimakha

A week ago Sunday, having spent all morning and part of the afternoon in Gouraye, we headed back to our lodgings in Selibaby.

We knew we had time for another stop and we noticed that weather had clouded over. Presumably it does this every afternoon in the deepest south of Mauritania ahead of the rainy season.

The first bit of good news is that we sighted a Beaudouin's snake eagle on an electricity pylon, 10 kilometres out of Gouraye. It was instantly recognisable, like a short-toed snake eagle but with a dark brown wash on all parts.

A few kilometres later we arrived at a bridge over an apparently dry river bed. However the woodland next to it looked particularly thick.

This proved to be a very good choice of place to stop.

Gosling's bunting

Under the road bridge were several Gosling's bunting. It is highly probable that they nest there.

A much biggest nest was seen once we got into the woodland. It was a hamerkop's nest.

hamerkop's nest

We soon came across some hamerkop. However a bigger discovery was that there was water in places along the stream's bed. This made the woodland much more interesting.

four hamerkop

The small passerines: red-cheeked cordonbleu, red-billed firefinch, black-headed weaver, red-billed quelea were scattered around the wood but were most easily seen drinking.

red-cheeked cordonbleu and black-headed weaver drinking (courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

red-billed firefinch

Near the water were a small number of western plantain-eater. This was yet another addition to my country list. It is a bird usually assocaited with Savannah which gives you an indication as to how dense and wet this piece of woodland was.

western plantain eater

Yellow-crowned gonolek is another bird only found in the south of the country but not as selectively as the plantain-eaters. 

yellow-crowned gonolek

There was a second edition to my list here too. It was brown babbler. Unfortunately the group evaded my camera though Mohamed Vall got a record shot.


Resident African hoopoe were observed. This is ideal terrain for them.

African grey woodpecker (courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

A pair of African grey woodpecker were not easily scared by us. We had expected to see this species here when we surveyed the woodland before we went inside it. However, what we are beginning to question is why neither of us has seen any other type of woodpecker in the country.

Black-billed wood dove (courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

Another expected bird was black-billed wood dove. Indeed it looks better habitat (wettest and denser) than where we had seen them for the first time near Gouraye.

black bush robin

Of course more common birds of woodland were present such as black bush robin and namaqua dove.

We arrived back in Selibaby in the evening well satisfied.

Species seen at the woodland
Hamerkop  6
Grey Heron  1
African Collared Dove  3
Laughing Dove  11
Black-billed Wood-Dove  4
Namaqua Dove  8
Western Plantain-eater  6
Eurasian Hoopoe (African)  4
Western Red-billed Hornbill  5
Abyssinian Roller  3
African Grey Woodpecker  2
Common Kestrel  1
Ring-necked Parakeet  4
Yellow-crowned Gonolek  5
Common Bulbul  2
Willow Warbler  2
Brown Babbler  4
Long-tailed Glossy Starling  8
Gosling's Bunting  10
Northern Grey-headed Sparrow  6
Black-headed Weaver  4
Red-billed Quelea  75
Red-cheeked Cordonbleu  11
Red-billed Firefinch  8

Monday, 17 April 2017


The biggest single session on the trip to Guidimakha was a week ago on Sunday. It was at Gouraye which is 45 kilometres south west of Selibaby on the Senegal River. It is on the border with Senegal and only a few kilometres from Mali too.

We birded from about 8am though to 1pm with only a half hour break for drinks.

I suspected birding would be good before we even properly started. The first birds seen, on the edge of the town, were black-rumped waxbill up a tree.

black-rumped waxbill

They proved to be numerous around the town much more so than house sparrow.

village indigobird

We started walking west out of the town with the Senegal River immediately to our left. Ironically there were very few birds over the river itself though some great cormorant made a fly-by.

In the town along our path we across a small group of village indigobird foraging. I hadn't realised this parasitical bird even formed flocks.

gabar goshawk

An adult gabar goshawk was perched on a wire next to the river.

red-billed firefinch

As well as black-rumped waxbill, two other passerines were common around the gardens of the houses around the edge of the town. These were red-billed firefinch and red-cheeked cordonbleu.

red-cheeked cordonbleu

Further away from the town centre were several Gosling's bunting.

greater blue-eared starling

We continued along the side of the Senegal River out of the town. Some starlings caused identification problems but we later dedcued that they were just young greater blue-eared starling. These are blacker overall than adult birds including the size of the dark area on the face.

tawny-flanked prinia

We had seen a flock of tawny-flanked prinia in woods north of Selibaby on our way down on Saturday but failed to take photos. This time we saw two more which were much more accommodating.

white-billed buffalo weaver

In another tree were two white-billed buffalo weaver.

black-winged kite 1

A black-winged kite flew around but we lost sight of it quickly only for it to return minutes late and land conveniently. This was not only an addition to my Muaritanian list but also a lifer. I once believe I caught a glimpse of one in south west Saudi Arabia but not well enough to be sure.

black-winged kite 2

The western red-billed hornbill did not like the kite on their ground. I don't know whether anyone has reported them mobbing black-winged kite before but at one stage the kite was surrounded by no few than six hornbills.

hornbills mobbing a black-winged kite

Previous birding in Gouraye has descibed the area as a wetland. We could see that water must cover much of the area we were walking along for large parts of the year but we found little standing water. However we continued on our way.

We passed a herd of cattle but quickly noticed that one or two of the cattle had birds hanging from them. They were yellow-billed oxpecker. This is exactly the type of species we came to the deep south to find. It is known only in the wettest parts of the country but we weren't sure whether any would be around in the dry season.

yellow-billed oxpecker on a cow

A few tens of metres further along our way we discovered that the wetland had not all dried up. We had simply not travelled enough from the town. 

African jacana

A medium sized lake awaited us which was surrounded by trees. African jacana was the first "exotic" species we noticed there.

Intermediate egret

Then we had one of those magical minutes that birding very occasionally throws up.

Mohamed Vall was tracking a squacco heron. I followed his line of sight. I noticed a white heron very close-by. To my delight it was an intermediate egret (and not the more common great white egret).

facial close-up of intermediate egret

A close-up of the face showed a lack of the continuation of the yellow gape past the back of the eye found in the great white egret. This was a new bird for me in Mauritania.

Literally seconds later, I realised there were four greater painted snipe in front of the squacco heron and next to the Intermediate egret.

squacco heron and greater painted snipe

This was another addition to the country list.

I like the way that greater painted snipe just walk away from any perceived threat. 

greater painted snipe

A sizeable group of white-faced whistling duck were present at the far side of the lake. A thorough inspection lead to no fulvous whistling duck which remains a target in the country.

white-faced whistling duck

On the far side of the lake we walked into some woodland. There were sounds of several types of dove. One of which we did not recognise. It turned out to be black-billed wood dove which was another first for me in Mauritania.

black-billed wood dove (courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

The temperatures were rising and we decided to turn back. Very few extra species were observed on the way back into town though this time we saw a yellow-billed oxpecker on a donkey.

yellow-billed oxpecker on donkey

Once returned to the town centre, we needed half an hour's drinks break in a shaded shop before we could move on. We decided to go a little east of the main road this time. There was a second wetland here but of a different kind. This was more of a muddy marsh than a lake. 

knob-billed duck and other water birds

There were plenty of water birds including knob-billed duck. This was the only place in the area that we saw yellow-billed kite too.

It was hard work getting close to the birds. In some ways this water reminded me of Lake Aleg: muddy and distant from birds.

We left after an hour's observation there. 

Overall we saw no fewer than 64 species around the town and surrounding areas. It was everything we had hoped it would be.

However the birding trip was not over. Even the same day and on the way back to our night quarters in Selibaby we found another good birding spot with more additions to our lists. I will blog about that next.
Species seen at Gouraye   New additions to my Mauritanian list in bold

White-faced Whistling-Duck  20
Comb Duck  45
Great Cormorant  3
Grey Heron (Grey)  7
Purple Heron  1
Great White Egret  2
Intermediate Egret  3
Little Egret  11
Cattle Egret  18
Squacco Heron  1
Black-crowned Night-Heron  3
Osprey  2
Black-winged Kite  1
Gabar Goshawk  1
Black Kite (Yellow-billed)  2
Black-winged Stilt  5
Spur-winged Lapwing  22
Black-headed Lapwing  4
Greater Painted-Snipe  4
African Jacana  6
Ruff  4
Little Stint  12
Common Greenshank  3
Wood Sandpiper  4
Collared Pratincole  21
Gull-billed Tern  2
White-winged Black Tern  3
European Turtle Dove  2
Mourning Collared Dove  13
Vinaceous Dove  4
Laughing Dove  12
Black-billed Wood-Dove  2
Namaqua Dove  11
Senegal Coucal  4
African Palm-Swift  10
Eurasian Hoopoe (African)  4
Green Woodhoopoe  8
Pied Kingfisher  1
Little Bee-eater  4
Green Bee-eater  6
Abyssinian Roller  7
Ring-necked Parakeet  4
Woodchat Shrike  2
Pied Crow  4
Barn Swallow  35   
Common Bulbul  2
Tawny-flanked Prinia  2
Northern Wheatear  2
Long-tailed Glossy Starling  8
Chestnut-bellied Starling  20
Greater Blue-eared Starling  5
Yellow-billed Oxpecker  6
Western Yellow Wagtail  28
Gosling's Bunting  8
White-rumped Seedeater  12
House Sparrow  5
Northern Grey-headed Sparrow  5
Sudan Golden Sparrow  40
White-billed Buffalo-Weaver  2
Red-billed Quelea  160
Black-rumped Waxbill  35
Red-cheeked Cordonbleu  12
Red-billed Firefinch  9
Village Indigobird  5