Monday 24 October 2016

The fishing port is still bringing new birds

I have been visiting the area near the fishing port of Nouakchott every Sunday for a month. Each time I go I fear that the birds will be the same. However, each time there has been some significant change.

There was change once again last Sunday when I visited with Dr Mohamed Vall.

The waders were mostly similar. There were still plenty of common ringed plover, sanderling, dunlin and red knot. However the gulls were somewhat different.

This may have been contributed to by the breezy conditions out to sea. Many gulls had come to shore to shelter.

Mediterranean gull among the lesser black backed gull

Much of the change was with the medium sized gulls. Gone were the Audouin's gull.

However, the number of medium sized gulls overall had increased. Nestled among some lesser black-backed gull we spied the first Mediterranean gull I have seen in Mauritania. It's all white tail and wing tips make it stand out easily.

a second Mediterranean gull

It was not alone. In the "estuary" area where the artifical lagoons empty out into the sea were plenty of medium sized gulls. Two Mediterranean gull were present there.

Mediterranean gull

Much of the time these gulls were lying down presumably to shelter from the wind. I took my chance for pictures when ever they rose.

Mediterranean gull 2

The largest number of these medium sized gulls were actually black-headed gull. I had only seen one in the country until then. Though it was entirely expected that numbers would increase as the northern winter came on.

black-headed gull 1

Some of the black-headed gull were less marked on the head than others. I had some doubt as to whether grey-hooded gull could be ruled out.

black-headed gull 2

Although the vast majority of grey-hooded gull breed further south from Senegal downwards, a few breed in Banc d'Arguin further north. So it should be entirely possible to locally see either birds from the north or the south on dispersal.

These birds, though, were definitely black-headed gull. The dark coloured eye is probably the easiest way to separate those grounded birds which have light head markings.

a second black-headed gull

Some of the birds with dark and heavy head markings were more obvious like the bird above.

slender-billed gull

The third species of medium sized gull at the estuary were slender-billed gull. I have been seeing this species and in some cases quite possibly the same birds at this place on every visit.

Caspian tern

The only tern around on land this time was Caspian tern though a royal tern was observed at sea.

western reef heron

Patience with birding is often the key. Towards the end of the session, a western reef heron briefly landed at the estuary and made my second country addition of the day.

On the way back to the car, several white wagtail and one black-eared wheatear added interest.

And finally just before we got into the car, a lone sand martin flew over, flying south fast. This made a third addition. 

This place keeps delivering.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Near the teapot roundabout

This is another weekend spent in the Nouakchott area though a long distance trip is being planned.

Yesterday I visited the north western outskirts of the city with Dr Mohamed Vall who is my regular birding partner in Mauritania.

On my way to work every weekday, I pass near a cluster of trees and bushes which look a good prospective for migrants. There are very few such clusters north of the city and I suspected that migrants which had just crossed the Sahara would welcome this spot.

Inded there were plenty of migrant passerines there when we finally investigated on Saturday morning. However, arguably the best sighting near the bushes were a pair of stone curlew.

stone curlew 1

My first edition of Birds of Western Africa shows this species as a winterer in its map. However the Atlas of Mauritanian Birds says there is some evidence of breeding near Nouakchott. There is stronger breeding evidence further north in the country. 

These two birds looked very comfortable. The site looks good for residency. It has bushes to shade from the sun and flat land to run at during the night.

stone curlew 2

Birding around the trees and bushes was good. There were more than one of each of spotted flycatcher, whinchat, pied flycatcher, chiffchaff and common redstart. There was also a single bluethroat.

pied flycatcher

I don't know whether any pied flycatcher winter here but more likely we are seeing wave after wave of migrants.

common redstart

The same goes for common redstart. In both cases their main wintering range starts right on the Senegal River which is the border with Senegal.

namaqua dove

Other than the migrant passerines, the trees and bushes held three more species: namaqua dove, laughing dove and desert grey shrike.

desert grey shrike

Most desert grey shrike here are proving to be of the local sub-species elegans (desert areas) or leucopygos (semi desert areas) but I haven't looked carefully for the differences between these two similar and overall light-looking sub-species. However a few are obviously algeriensis. This sub-species is so obviously darker especially the underparts which are grey. Their sightings suggests some limited migration by these North African coastal birds. 

Having said all this none of the birds seen yesterday were algeriensis.

The cluster of trees and bushes is only about two kilometres from the coast. So we elected next to drive as close to the coast as we could. Then we birded on foot in the land next to the sea and taking in the beach as well.

Birds on land included crested lark, northern wheatear, a yellow wagtail and a tawny pipit.

bar-tailed lark lengthways

We also came across a confiding bar-tailed lark. It's identity stumped me. The first reason was it was so confiding. I have rarely been able to get close to this species especially on foot. Second it usually has an angelic face but this one didn't not appear so. 

bar-tailed lark

At the beach were several lesser black-backed gull and a few yellow-legged gull but also 25 oystercatcher. This species proved to be the fourth addition to my country list that day and an unexpected bonus.

distant views of oystercatcher

Finding good birding sites in the Nouakchott area is not easy. Most are parts of embassies or government departments.

Having finished with the north west area just outside the city, we tried to find new sites outside in the south west near the main port.

cattle egret

We found nothing new but just the same city waste dump in the Riyadh area that we had visited last weekend. We did come across a stray cattle egret though.

As a final search we followed tracks to a small sand quarry. There was not much variety of birds here. However we stumbled upon a blue-cheeked bee-eater colony.

blue-cheeked bee-eater colony

It was busy and birds were coming in and out of the holes regularly. However we did not get close to get good photos. Disturbing such a colony at such a crucial time could really affect it. Birders have to avoid these temptations.

slightly closer view of the colony

The land in south west Mauritania is very flat so you have to wonder just how dependent this species is on human quarrying.

Monday 17 October 2016

Another Sunday near the fishing port

I normally do domestic chores on Sunday morning but get restless to bird by the afternoon. However it is still too hot to bird watch in most areas in the afternoon. One exception is on the coast itself where the sea breeze ameliorates.

So for the third Sunday running I wnet to the coast just south of the fish market.

Also since I thought that the birds might not have changed much around the artifical lagoons in the past week, I elected to do some sea watching for the first time.

It isn't easy as there is not headland jutting out into the sea. However the results weren't bad.

immature northern gannet

One success was the sighitng of an immature northern gannet flying north.

white-breasted cormorant

Another was a great cormorant of the sub-species lucidus flewing south. This sub-species is often called white-breasted cormorant.

white-breasted cormorant 2

Both the gannet and the cormorant were new to my Mauritanian list and so justified my decision to look seaward.

gulls in the ocean 1

My seawatching into the distant open coean was less successful. I was looking in particular whether any gulls other than yellow-legged gull or lesser black-backed gull was resting on the surface.

The zoom on my camera is actaully greater than the zoom on my binoculars so a review of my photos was needed before I was sure that nothing unusual was captured this time.

gulls in the ocean 2

I concentrated on the browner looking birds which on review appear all to be immature large white headed gulls. Though I can't really explain why their impression is so brown.

yellow-legged gull

In comparison (see above)  you can see how grey they typically appear close up.

I am sure future sea watching will bring more rewards.

After sea-watching I went inland to where many gulls and terns had been resting in previous weeks. The pools they had been resting in have all dried up and been replaced with a layer of salt.

Yet many of the same birds were still parked on the same space. Others had more back just a few metres onto to earthen ground.

Audouin's gull

This week there was no sign of royal tern or lesser crested tern but Caspian tern numbers were much higher.

terns and gulls

Next I looked at the lagoons. As expected there were no new species though I managed good photos of several birds.


A whimbrel put on a good display preening.


Dunlin were highly variable not just because of the possible sub-species but also because a few were not yet fully in winter plumage.

red knot

Red knot numbers have increased once again both in the lagoon and along the beach.

black-eared wheatear

Finally I walked in some scrub back to my lift. Two birds were most noticeable. One was a pale throated black-eared wheatear.

The other was a cricket warbler. It was too fast and small for me this time. It reminded me in structure and behaviour of graceful prinia, common in the Gulf, but with a longer tail.

This was another lifer and a good end to the session.

Around but not in the city

On Saturday I linked up with Dr Mohamed Vall again. This time we didn't make a long distance trip. Instead we visited four sites on the edge of the city, Nouakchott.

Our first stop was not glamorous, we made it to the city waste dump in the Riyadh district on the southern edge of the city.

I had hoped for birds of prey and perhaps storks but there were none of either. There simply isn't a high enough proportion of organic material in the waste.

However, there was compensation in seeing other birds including an addition to my steadily growing country list.

The site obviously held many wintering northern wheatear. Some were highly coloured and may well be of the Greenland sub species though it is difficult to be sure in autumn.

northern wheatear

However, luckily for me, nominate and Greenland northern wheatear was not the only wheatears present.

male Seebohm's wheatear

One of the northern wheatear appears to be a "Seebohm's wheatear". This sub species breeds in the Atlas mountains of Morrocco but is known to winter mostly in south west Mauritania. The bird I saw has a close resemblance to a male desert wheatear but  "the shortish tail and primary projection seemingly reaches way past the uppertail coverts. Also the rich orange-buff patch on the upper-breast contrasts a lot with the rest of the underparts". Thanks to Tibaud on BirdForum for his analysis which confirms my initial view. 

black-eared wheatear

Poking its head just above one pile of rubbish was my first black-eared wheatear in the country too.

white wagtail

Other than the wheatears the selection of birds was quite limited. However, white wagtail were everywhere. 

A set of pools near the centre housed ringed plover, a single grey plover and two grey heron. The heron were the only large birds seen.

hoopoe lark

Two types of lark present were crested lark and a few hoopoe lark.

black-headed weaver

The second stop was some fields and trees also in the Riyadh district but back towards the city.

We had noticed it was a greener area than normal on our two previous weekend's travel down this road. We had vowed to investigate it for birds one day and this was our chance.

Mohamed pointed out that the type of trees present had been planted and were not usually good for birds but are used as a quick fix to contain sand encroachment.

Indeed the birding wasn't too good to begin with. Only house sparrow, white wagtail, laughing dove, namaqua dove and crested lark were observed. However a northern wheatear was picked up and then in the largest tree was a desert grey shrike and a black-headed weaver.

The weaver was an unexpected sighting. This particular weaver is normally found only on the Senegal River in the far south of the country. It has certainly wandered.

Our third stop was at Bouhdida allotments as we travelled anti-clockwise round the edge of the city. This is a market gardening area similar to Zataar allotments but further out from the centre.

The gardens held the predicable white wagtail and house sparrow though a late common redstart was also observed.

The prize bird by far though was a plain nightjar asleep high in a row of tall trees. If I hadn't heard the constant chatter of one or more acrocephalus warbler up there, I would never have looked so carefully.  It was an exciting find.

plain nightjar

Thanks are particulrly due to Andrew Bailey for his help with identification. 

plain nightjar 2

A key feature is the row of black spots on the scapulars which are best seen on the third picture but are present on all three pictures. It also shows "spangled coverts, with shiny, copper coin-like feathers" and this is best seen in picture 2.

plain nightjar 3

This was a lifer for both me and Mohamed Vall. I had missed it when I worked and lived in Saudi Arabia. It can be found in the south west of that country.

In West Africa, Nouakchott is the far north of its known range.

Our last stop was on a continuation of our travel anti-clockwise round the city. We ended up in the gardens of the faculty of science of Nouakchott university.

Here were the usual birds such as blue-cheeked bee-eater, white wagtail, speckled pigeon and northern wheatear

Just as we were walking to the exit, a wryneck flew straight passed us and landed on a path. It flew off again but we traced it to a piece of ground where it was searching for ants.

wryneck on path

This migrant made bird 130 on my country list which is starting to look quite healthy.

wryneck looking for ants

My thanks to Dr Mohamed Vall for driving us around once again on another successful Saturday.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Central lake, Nouakchott

A colleague at work tipped me off that there was a lake with reeds near the Tunisian embassy. He also said it was full with birds. 

I took the first opportunity to visit it on Friday afternoon. 

The first bit of bad news is that it is now quite disturbed as it is being redeveloped as the site for a new Senegal embassy. Sadly it looks like the only fresh water lake in the city is about to disappear. Furthermore I was asked to leave the site (very diplomatically by the way) by the authorities as it is embassy land.

All the other news is good. The site is currently still teeming with birds and I was asked to leave just as I finished my session anyway. 

It was the first time I have seen any ducks in Mauritania. 

northern pintail

 Northern pintail were  numerous.

four northern pintail

However careful looks among the ducks showed that two northern shoveller were there too.

Having looked at my set of photos of this group, I realised there was a Temminck's stint with them. These species has a stronger preferrence for fresher water than little stint and sightings of it in Nouakchott are few.

northern shoveller

This is classic habitat for spur-winged lapwing and several were dotted around the area.

spur-winged lapwing

However the site is best remembered for the sheer volume and variety of waders.

mixed waders

The picture above illustrates some of the variety. There are: ruff, sanderling, little stint, dunlin, common redshank, wood sandpiper and common sandpiper all in close proximity.

common redshank with little stint

I checked all the common redshank but couldn't find a spotted redshank among them. I was hoping for the latter species given the habitat is better than most in the city for it.

Kittlitz's plover

Among the less numerous birds were two Kittlitz's plover.

pied avocet

Two pied avocet and a Eurasian spoonbill also appeard briefly.

ruddy turnstone

Only one ruddy turnstone was seen but the terrain is not perfect for them.

white wagtail

Moving away from the main lake to the surroundings, many white wagtail were on the ground. They are arriving for the winter down here  in big numbers now.

reed beds

At the back of the lake are some thick reed beds. It is difficult to see what is in them and impossible to walk into them. However I found three common snipe and a common moorhen with perseverance. These were the first of either species I have encountered in Mauritania.

It is shame I am not allowed to visit this site again. I suspect more varied ducks in particular will arrive for the winter soon.