Monday 17 October 2016

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.

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