Thursday, 8 March 2018

Choum to Zouerat

Last weekend, Mohamed Vall and I went north to Zouerat from Nouakchott. It is over 750 kilometres from the capital and promised different species from the rest of the country. We went in search of black redstart, European stonechat, thick billed lark, Magreb wheatear and Tristram's warbler

We saw none of them.

However, as is often the case in birding you can be rewarded with unexpected findings if you put in the hours and visit enough different places. Two new species were seen but not from the target list.

This blog is about the northern half of the journey from Choum northward. Here one new species was seen. The next blog is about the Akjoujt to Atar area en route where another one was found.

The first stop having decended the Adrar hills on the way north was a wide wadi with plenty of trees 20 kilometres south of Choum.

It is north of the 21st parallel and the easiest place to see blue-naped mousebird in the western palearctic. It is the furthest north this species is found in the world.

male Moltoni's warbler

There were many western sub-alpine warbler in the trees and bushes. We were looking for Tristram's warbler among them. We couldn't find one. Instead a beautiful male Moltoni's warbler gave us good views. It is easily separated by it's dirty salmon-pink underparts. These are quite different from the orange-rusty underparts of western sub-alpine warbler. We were privileged as few Moltoni's warbler are seen wintering. This bird was only slightly marred by the yellow pollen on its forehead and throat.

This bird also shows the relatively pale areas around the neck and above the rump which Moltoni's warbler apparently shows.

western sub-alpine warbler

Two western sub-alpine warbler in the same wadi are shown in the pictures above and below. They have orange-rusty underpartds.

second western sub-alpine warbler

The wadi had nearly as many sardinian warbler as western sub-alpine warbler.

desert sparrow

Desert sparrow were present and there was at least one southern grey shrike.

brown-necked raven (courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

A pair of brown-necked raven were seen on the edge of the long wadi. Brown-necked raven were common almost all the way along our 1500 kilometre journey to Zouerat and back.

We had stayed in Atar overnight and started out for Zouerat before dawn. Time was precious as we aimed to possibly make the trip to Zouerat from Atar as a day trip on the Saturday. 

We did try to walk from the wadi towards the rocky hills but turned back having seen nothing special. It is a shame as the hinterland to these hills is known to have thick-billed lark. Bar-tailed lark and hoopoe lark had been observed in the wadi though.

We travelled on towards Zouerat. Our next stop was over 150 kilometres further north when we found another green wadi just 12 kilometres from Fderick.

In some ways, the most remarkable feature of this wadi was its lack of birds. It is probably too far north for wintering western sub-alpine warbler. Indeed we saw only three warblers: two sardinian warbler and a chiffchaff.

white crowned wheatear 1

While white-crowned wheatear were easily seen, a male black-eared wheatear was arguably the best bird in the wadi.

white-crowned wheatear 2

Two types of shrike were present. There was a southern grey shrike.

southern grey shrike

There was also a woodchat shrike. On the journey, over the weekend, we saw many. It is an early, plentiful migrant across Mauritania.

woodchat shrike

One surprise about this wadi was the lack of any doves. This was in stark contrast with our next stop in the small town of Fderik.

In the town's small holdings there were many European collared dove and laughing dove.

In the strong light I found it difficult to conclude whether the collared doves were European or African.  I heard only European collared dove calls but I was uncertain about all birds. A photo of Mohamed Vall's proves my uncertain birds were also European collared dove. There were no African collared dove in Fderik. It would have represented the furthest north they had been seen.

European collared dove

There was a blue rock-thrush sheltering from the sun in one garden.

blue rock-thrush

There were two types of sparrow in the town. These were house sparrow and Sudanese golden sparrow.

Between Fderik and Zouerat was a larger farm than the small holdings at Fderik. It mostly consisted one of one large wheat field. This is a very uncommon crop in Mauritania outside the Senegal River Valley. Unfortunately, it had recently been cropped. Nevertheless, notably birds included hoopoe and northern wheatear.

The town of Zouerat itself was a little disppointing birdwise. We inspected the allotments but saw mostly laughing dove, house sparrow as well as migrant woodchat shrike. There was at least one chiffchaff but no breakthrough as we had hoped.

High above the town though were five black kite and fifteen or so brown necked raven.

It was 3.30pm and we had to make a decision whether to stay the night and have a very long journey back to Nouakchott on the next day which was Sunday or head south to stay in Atar. We elected to head south. We will never know what we missed in Zouerat. 

Leaving at 3.30pm gave us a chance to make a short stop or two on the way back.

We actually stopped only 8 kilometres out of town. This stop was a rocky wadi heading up to the hills.

For a remote rocky place, we were surprised how many laughing dove we saw in the bushes. Barn swallow also passed us by.

soiled white-crowned wheatear 1

We got excited momentarily at seeing a wheatear with an orange undertail and rump. However, we soon worked out that it was a white-crowned wheatear that had been soiled by the red dust in the area. Zouerat is a large iron ore mining area and red dust is everywhere in the hills.

soiled white crowned wheatear 2

The rocky wadi is shown in a picture below.

rocky wadi near Zouerat

One final bird at the wadi was house bunting. It was the only place we saw it in Tiris province.

house bunting

It is very common near Atar. We saw many there. I will blog about Atar and Akjoujt next.

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