Monday, 19 September 2016

Zaatar allotments

On Saturday morning I went to the Zaatar allotments in an eastern area of Nouakchott. I had identified it as a potential birding site from google earth where it appears as a green mass. One of my local colleagues verifed it was a farming area and also kindly drove me there despite overnight rain causing flooding chaos on the roads. I am very grateful for this.

I then birded alone for four hours walking around the labyrinth of small paths through the allotments. Unlike farming areas in other countries I have birded, this area is very labour intensive. I felt it my duty to explain what was doing time and time again to bewildered but friendly farmers.

The allotments are almost exclusively horticultural plots with a few bushes and trees as dividers. 

I was satisfied with the results of my efforts.

I added six species to my steadily growing country list. Two of them were shrikes.

desert grey shrike

The first one was a desert grey shrike and contrary to all expectation it is clearly not of the (most interior and/or most southerly) sub-species elegans. It is too dark, lacking in white and having grey underparts. It looks a classic algeriensis. One theory, which has been put forward after consultation, is that some of that sub-species may move south for the winter. 

juvenile woodchat shrike

The second shrike sighting was more predicable. It is well known that woodchat shrike cross the Sahara and Arabian deserts on a very broad front. My first one was a juvenile.

some of the Zaatar allotments

A third addition was tree pipit. Three of them were foraging in a field. This is another broad front migrant though many stop just after crossing the deserts. I suspect I will have sightings all through the winter as well as the passage seasons.

tree pipit

Another addition was common nightingale. Although I got good views I failed to obtain a photograph. In compensation I managed photos of the distantly related common redstart. I had seen one the week before in the city but failed to photograph it then. This time there were at least seven scattered around the allotments.

female common redstart

Warblers mostly kept them selves to the bushes and trees. Once again I was privileged to get prolonged and close views of a western Bonelli's warbler.

western Bonelli's warbler

It is difficult to understand how it can be confused with a willow warbler.

western Bonelli's warbler 2

Willow warbler was actually the most common warbler on site so comparisons could easily be made anyway.

willow warbler

Two whitethroat were observed which was the fifth addition to the list. The western sub-species of this bird are so much more deeply coloured that the more washed out eastern sub species I have been more used to seeing in the gulf.

pied flycatcher (nominate)

Once again pied flycatcher were abundant. I counted no fewer than 19! Yet I checked e-bird and found that I was the first person to record this species on that datebase in Mauritania. I will soon find out wheather this is due to a unique time of year that I am birding or the unusual geography of my records i.e the city.

Most observed birds were nominate though a few had no white in their tail and are suspected to be Iberian.

susepected Iberian pied flycatcher

No candidate Atlas sub-species have been seen yet.

spotted flycatcher

Only two spotted flycatcher sightings were made. I am not used to this being a lesser seen flycatcher on migration.

namaqua dove

Another unusal aspect of the site was that Namaqua dove for once was the most common dove even beating out laughing dove.

The final addition of the day was a briefly seen squacco heron flying over without stopping. I still don't know what attracted it to this area.

On Sunday, I went west to the fishing port on the coast. Here I added a whopping 16 species to my Mauritania list. 

I will blog about that visit next.

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