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.

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