Tuesday 20 December 2016

All over the city

On Saturday, Mohamed Vall and I again teamed up. We birding at different places around the city. Some were new and some were already known.

First stop was the fresh lake in North Nouakchott near the Mauricentre. We looked hardest at ducks. The good news was that numbers were up considerably from the last visit two weeks ago.

marbled duck

The six marbled duck were still present.

male wigeon

Wigeon have increased from two to six. Some of the males are now close to breeding plumage.

northern shoveller

The most common duck all winter has been northern shoveller. I counted at least 20 there now.

male northern shoveller

Northern pintail is still the second most numerous duck.

male common teal

Teal has hit a new winter high of three.

female common teal

The bad news is that despite the rise in numbers of five species, no new species of duck have arrived.

spotted redshank

Elsewhere at the lake, two black-eared grebe are still there. Several chiffchaff (but no other) warblers were observed. One African swamphen was seen.

Finally there was a spotted redshank. This was only my second sighting in the country.

After the lake we headed east down the Aleg road but only 24 kilometres. This was to the main city rubbish dump. A stop on the way proved fruitless.

The dump itself is out of bounds though one can walk round the perimeter. I did this and was disappointed but not necessarily surprised there were no birds of prey. 

Sudanese golden sparrow

Mobile flocks of African silverbill and Sudanese golden sparrow could be seen in trees outside the dump. Namaqua dove and laughing dove were observed too.

Namaqua dove

Mohamed Vall went further away from the dump into the main wadi and found cricket longtail. Peering into the dump I could only see little swift and barn swallow flying over the rubbish. Two desert grey shrike were on bushes inside the complex.

We saw enough to know that the rubbish dump is probably not worth another visit this winter.

spotted flycatcher 1

With the whole afternoon left we headed north to the small waste water dump north of the city. This was not as productive as it had been probably because recently more industrial waste water than domestic had changed the environment there. A few hardy wood sandpiper and little stint as well as one common ringed plover were the only birds attracted to the water. The blackcap and other warblers were nowhere to be seen.

Nevertheless both a spotted flycatcher and common redstart were observed in the avenue of trees along the road to the dump. 

spotted flycatcher 2

The flycatcher was a big surprise. Why is one still here in mid December? Surely it should be in tropical Africa.

The final stop of the day was the fishing port which is actually a short journey from the waste water site.

The made-made lagoons have been altered so they retain water more completely and only a trickle goes into the sea at any one time. This meant the water levels there were up. However it has probably had little effect on the types of birds present. 

Here I saw my first "pallid heron" which is a sub-species of grey heron that breeds in Banc d'Arguin National Park to the north. 

 "pallid" grey heron 

Once again I inspected the assembled gulls for any rarities. Sadly none were seen. Lesser black-backed gull was by far the most common followed by black-headed gull and yellow legged gull. Slender-billed gull and Mediterranean gull were a small minority.

Mediterranean gull

i thought all our hard work had paid off, almost at the end of our birding day. Mohamed Vall noticed a long winged dark bird out to sea. Intially we thought it might be an arctic skua but closer views and review of photos showed it was another immature northern gannet.

record shot of a northern gannet

This was an good end to a long day in the field.

Monday 19 December 2016

Dar el Barka

Last Monday, Dr. Mohamed Vall and I made the long trip back from Kaedi to Nouakchott. We took the Boghe to Rosso road for part of the journey. It runs parallel with the Senegal River. This area remains green in the dry season and offers some of the best birding in the country then.

However our first stop was between Kaedi and Rosso in the early morning when we spotted a thick forest (as opposed to the more common open woodland)  at the side of the road.

At the edge of the forest were plenty of Sudanese golden sparrow. I find that some male birds of this species in the south can be in breeding plumage even now while none seen in the Nouakchott area show so much yellow.

Sudanese golden sparrow

Inside the forest we saw two woodchat shrike and several sub-alpine warbler representing typical wintering species. A common redstart was also seen. This is less typical but I have observed enough in the south this winter to realise southern Mauritania is within its wintering range.

northern wheatear

One of the two northern wheatear at the edge of the forest was deeply coloured. This marks it out as either from Greenland or Iceland or Fenno-Scandinavia. 

Resident birds were also in evidence. A passing lanner falcon caused some commotion including among the namaqua dove and laughing dove.

young red-cheeked cordonbleu

Black bush-robin were scattered through the undergrowth. For a moment I thought I glimpsed a black-crowned tchagra but I didn't get good enough views to claim it.

Young and adult red-cheeked cordonbleu was pretty conclusive evidence of local breeding.

northern crombec (courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

However the prize bird in the forest was a northern crombec.  It is one of only two African warblers found in Mauritania and it apparently barely ranges into the country. Thanks are due to Mohamed Vall for allowing me to reproduce his picture.

After this forest stop, we had to press on. Our next (and last major) stop was at Dar el Barka only 75 kilometres west of Rosso. We had been tipped off by a policemen at one of the road checkpoints that this place has water all year round as was good for birds. We accpeted his local knowledge and diverted off the main road a few kilometres to get there.

As we diverted off, we crossed a tributary of the Senegal River. 

great white egret

We only stayed a few minutes but it enough time to get better pictures of great white egret than the day before.

facial close-up of great white egret

Close up, the bare skin of the great white egret's gape line extends in a dagger shape behind the eye unlike an intermediate egret. I find this useful to confirm identification in places where both species can occur.

We arrived at Dar El Barka village without knowing exactly where the water was. However we headed to an area we could see with thick and varied trees. As we got close we realised that these trees were standing in water and that the area around had been flooded in a much larger lake in the rainy season.

The policeman's tip off looked good almost straightaway as seven black stork took to the skies moments after we parked the car. This yet another new species for me in Mauritania.

black-headed lapwing

The flooded forest was quite magical. Black-headed lapwing and spur-winged lapwing were present around the edges.

little green bee-eater and blue-cheeked bee-eater were hawking for insect prey.

common snipe

Waders included little stint, common greenshank and a common snipe.


A group of garganey were swimming while a single juvenile knob-billed duck was resting.

juvenile knob-billed duck

A solitary long-tailed cormorant was also resting but in the sun rather than the shade.

long-tailed cormorant

Sudanese golden sparrow were in many of the bushes around the site.

black stork

Black stork are very shy but they never left the area preferring to soar effortlessly until we left.

flying hamerkop

While we were watching them a hamerkop flew by. Unlike the stork it was bold enough to land within the woodland.

little ringed plover

While we were searching for the hamerkop, we came across a little ringed plover.


When we finally found the hamerkop there were four. I have no idea how that happened.

Near-by we finally found a malachite kingfisher. I had seen a flash of blue earlier but not been able to identify which kingfisher it was. We got short but good views. A photo escaped both of us.

Time was moving on and we had a long way to go to get home. We decided only to stop if we saw an interesting bird rather than stopping at interesting places.

Of course it was large birds we saw from a car moving at 80 kilometres an hour.

Black kite and cattle egret were the most regularly seen. A couple of marsh harrier were observed in one place as well.

The only time we actually stopped was to look at snake eagles. Several were perched on electricity pylons all along the road to Rosso. This strip is clearly a very important winter ground for short-toed snake eagle.

a short-toed snake eagle

A pair of short toed-snake eagle was particularly interesting. I suspect these birds are the resident Beaudouin's snake eagle not short-toed snake eagle.

pair of potential Beaudouin's snake eagle

First and foremost there were two birds together. Short-toed snake eagle should be solitary in winter. Beaudouin's snake eagle is normally solitary too. However November to March is the breeding season for this bird in West Africa. So two preening birds sitting side by side is consistant with that.

pair of potential Beaudouin's snake eagle 2

Second, although the views aren't good, the underparts don't look heavily hortizotally streaked like one would expect with short-toed snake eagle.

snake eagle flying off (courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

Thirdly, Mohamed Vall obtained a photograph when one of the birds flew off. The tail pattern is strong and this is more characteristic of Beaudouin's snake eagle than short-toed snake eagle. For the moment I am not claiming this species but I am seeking expert advice.

Solitary short-toed snake eagle continued to be seen on pylons right up to Rosso.

a final short-toed snake eagle

This was the last birding we did on the three day trip. From Rosso to Nouakchott it was a case of driving for home.

It was an excellent experience. I added 20 species to my Mauritanian list and saw much more of the country. I am grateful as ever to Mohamed Vall for his company, driving and extra pair of eyes.

Sunday 18 December 2016

Lake Ganky

Last Sunday afternoon, Mohamed Vall and I were at furthest distance from Nouakchott on our birding trip to the south.

We took the Mbout road east out of Kaedi. We knew there was a large lake to the south east of this road and visited it three times in three different places. I call the lake Lake Ganky after one of the towns near-by. I don't know it's real name.

We also birded close to the road, stopping off several times. Indeed our first stop by the side of the road was still in the early day light. It was made because we saw a mixed flock foraging.

Three birds were speckle-fronted weaver.

speckle-fronted weaver

These were the tamest birds there. The main flock was a mix of chestnut-bellied starling and white-billed buffalo weaver. Though some long-tailed starling were seen briefly.

white-billed buffalo weaver

Both weavers were additions to my Mauritanian list. Speckle-fronted weaver was also a lifer.

woodchat shrike

The south of Mauritania is part of the range for wintering woodchat shrike. Woodland east of Kaedi has a significant concentration.

Soon after this top by the road, we headed south towards the lake for the first time. We soon found that it was impossible to reach the shore line as the receeding water has created mud falts which are deep in places.

Nevertheless, we observed three new birds for me in Mauritania there. These were Egyptian goose, black-headed heron and great white egret. None were photographed though opportunties occured later.

Rather surprisingly a large white headed gull was seen. This is unusual so far in land.

lesser black-backed gull 1

It was identified as a lesser black-backed gull when I referred it to Birdforum though that was own initial idea too.

lesser black-backed gull 2

Close-by was a group of waders, terns and spur-winged lapwing.

wood sandpiper 1

I really don't undstand why I haven't seen marsh sandpiper in Mauritania yet. This looked another good spot. However a potential bird I tracked turned out to be a thin wood sandpiper.

wood sandpiper

Our second foray towards the lake was no more than 6 kilometres further down the road. We learnt yet again that we couldn't get to the shore line. However it was the birds back away from the shore that held our interested there.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

Blue-cheeked bee-eater is resident in the Nouakchott area. I am not so sure about Kaedi but I do know it is a wintering area for some from north of the Sahara.

Great spotted cuckoo is both resident and wintering (again from north of the Sahara) in the far south of the country. We saw one briefly at this stop but couldn't re-find it.

flock of white-billed buffalo weaver

We caught up with white-billed buffalo weaver again in a sizable flock.

red-billed quelea

However, nothing can beat red-billed quelea for flocking. We observed our only red-billed quelea flock of the trip here. It was relatively small. There were only about 200 birds in it.

We didn't travel more than 50 kilometres out of Kaedi. At our furthest point out of town, our attempt to find the western edge of the lake failed. We walked off the main road southwards as we had done for the previous two stops. We never found it. Prehaps it had already ended further east. Prehaps it was just further back. 

African fish eagle 1

However, we were rewarded by finding an immature African fish eagle. There also a fly-by of an African harrier-hawk too.

African fish eagle 2

It took us over one and a half hours to walk off the road, looking for a lake we could not find and returing to the car. The find of the African fish eagle just about made it worthwhile.

black-headed lapwing

Seeing a small party of black-headed lapwing added some interest on the way back to the car.

long horn cattle

The people in this area speak minority languages especially Pula. Pula speakers typically keep long horn cattle and around Kaedi they are usually pale coloured.

After this long stop, we headed back towards Kaedu stopping briefly a couple of times near the road.

speckle-fronted weaver

We caught up with some more speckle-fronted weaver at one of these.

Finally, we made one last attempt to visit the lake as the day was ebbing away. We chose a point where we could see the lake close to the road and the land near the lake looked relatively less muddy.

I think we wish we had found this access point earlier. Long-tailed cormorant were coming in to roost along with a much smaller number of great cormorant. Waders numbers were high. Little stint, wood sandpiper and greenshank were the most numerous. Caspian tern were plentiful.

Egyptian goose

Both Egyptian goose and great white egret seen at the beginning of the day were finally photographed there albeit as record shots.

great white egret

Black-headed heron again evaded our cameras.

The final moments of daylight were metaphorically lit up with a display from a pied kingfisher diving relentlessly for fish.

On Monday we made the very long journey back to Nouakchott. However we did have time for one reasonable birding session between Boghe and Rosso. I will blog about this next.