Wednesday 30 November 2016


Last weekend was a long one as Mauritania celebrated its independence day on Monday. This was an opportunity to take a birding trip away from Nouakchott.

I travelled with Dr. Mohamed Vall to the north western coastal city of Nouadhibou. We travelled by bus and walked some potential birding sites around the city.

The trip got off to a good start when the bus made a ten minute stop at the midway town of Chemi. I spotted an usual sparrow some distance away and headed towards it. I was very happy to find a small number of desert sparrow.

desert sparrow at Chemi

This was a lifer and an addition to my country list before we had really started birding. 

The only other birds seen in the town were house sparrow and brown-necked raven.

Our bus journey had taken up much of Saturday though we had some time left in the day. We birded the suburb of Cansado just outside the main city of Nouadhibou until it got dark. It was a dull and cloudy late afternoon so we came back again around midday on Sunday too. This blog reports on findings from both days there.

black kite

Much of the birding at Cansado centred around the rubbish dump not least because we spotted three black kite as we pulled up in the small town. They were at the dump.

a second black kite

These birds were not yellow-billed kite which is the resident sub-species in the south of the country. Instead they were nominate birds which are migrants from further north in the Maghreb and Spain.

Egyptian vulture courtesy of Mohamed Vall

During our Sunday visit they were joined briefly by a sub-adult Egyptian vulture. This was my first sighting of this species in Mauritania. Thanks are due to Mohamed Vall who obtained photos and has given me permission to reproduce noe here.

grey heron

Other larger birds in the area were a flock of cattle egret and a single grey heron. Three little egret were seen at the near-by coast too.

cattle egret

Dotted around the town were several European collared dove and a smaller number of laughing dove.

European collared dove

Clusters of trees and bushes are very scarse in the town. However one such cluster held three European turtle dove.

European turtle dove

In the same cluster, a male sardinian warbler made a brief appearance. It was the only warbler we saw all trip.


Nearly all the other birds on land were passerines. A single hoopoe was an exception.

male northern wheatear

White wagtail were everywhere. Northern wheatear was also common especailly near the rubbish dump but not only so.

Nouadhibou is the southern most place in the range of black wheatear but it overlaps there with white-crowned wheatear.

juvenile white crowned wheatear

We found a bird on Sunday but it turned out to be a juvenile white-crowned wheatear. The black on the under-belly does not extend beyond the legs. The tail pattern does not include a black hortizontal line at the bottom. These features rule out black wheatear.

white-crowned wheatear

Black-wheatear would not be expected at sea level anyway.

very young house sparrow

Spanish sparrow is probably a rare visitor to Mauritania and all house sparrow were studied carefully but with no success.

Cansado town was one of three areas birded around Nouadhibou. There will be a blog for each one. These will follow next.

Friday 25 November 2016

Lovely ducks at the lake

This morning was a holiday from work. I took the opportunity to visit Nouakchott lake which is within walking distance of my house.

I have said in previous posts that I expected more types of ducks to appear as the winter progressed.

This morning I found out it had happened.

marbled duck

In among the many predominantly northern shoveller were a group of six marbled duck. They spent most of their time sleeping but would occasionally move particularly if a coot encroached on them.

marbled duck early morning

The world population of this species is vulnerable but the western population is in a worse position. Only about 100 pairs are believe to breed in Spain these days and the north west African breeders have declined too.

four marbled duck and a coot

They are known to winter in the Sahel region of sub-Saharan Africa where they can find water. However, it is classified by most sources as a vagrant in Mauritania. All records I can find are from the Senegal River delta. I suspect, though, that these birds will stay.

all six marbled duck sleeping

Marbled duck was a lifer and species 177 on my Mauritanian list.

a pair of common teal

The second new duck for me in Mauritania was common teal. This one had really been expected for some time. 

common teal

Two wigeon first seen two weeks ago are still present and the lake.

male wigeon

Pintail numbers have dropped, at least temporarily.

northern pintail

Mallard is usually the last dabbling duck to arrive at southern places and I have yet to see one. The diving ducks: Pochard and Tufted duck are also usually late arrivals or at least that was the pattern in Dhofar, Oman which is at a similar latitude. So there may be more ducks yet.

Some birders had commented previously that the swamphen at the lake didn't obviously look like African swamphen. Well at least some most definitely do. One I saw today was classic with its large area of green on the back.

African swamphen

Others though are more ambiguous and there may be some western swamphen genes in the local population.

less obvious swamphen

I was on the look out as normal for anything unusual. One grebe caught my eye. The bill looked exceptionally long.

little grebe 1

However, I couldn't make the bird into anything other than an immature little grebe.

little grebe 2

Elsewhere the spur-winged lapwing were ever present. The little swift were joined by two common swift.

spur-winged lapwing

I didn't spend much time warbler hunting this time round. Chiffchaff don't require a close look at the reed beds as most of the others so a few were easily encountered despite special attention.

chiffchaff 1

More surprisingly one of the warblers in the open was a lingering willow warbler.

chiffchaff 2

I hope to go to Nouadhibou in the north of the country this weekend. I don't know the best places around that city but there must be possibilities of some more northerly species if I can get to them.

Monday 21 November 2016

Back to the fish market

I didn't have too much expectation before my visit to the lagoons south of the fish market yesterday. These small man-made lagoons have no vegetation and are fed with saline water pumped out from the near-by areas of the city. It is hardly Banc d'Arguin. Nevertheless it has previously exceeded my expectations with a variety of waders as well as a chance to seawatch albeit without a headland.

Once again I came away more satisfied than expected. The last few minutes provided arguably the highlight but more about that later.

My main plan was to observe as many gulls as possible looking out for common gull, sabine gull and grey-hooded gull which are all much rarer than the others I have seen so far.

northern gannet diving

This meant looking out to sea for part of the time as gulls moved backwards and forwards from the coast to ocean.

As I was doing this on one occasion, an immature northern gannet flew across and dived.

northern gannet rising

The young birds can look very similar to young brown booby. The streaks on the breast are one of the features that separates them.

black-headed gull (l) and Mediterranean gull

My gull watching did not pay dividends this time. The medium sizes gulls were all slender-billed gull, Mediterranean gull or black-headed gull. Many of them were in moult. Most large gulls were lesser black-backed gull with a small number of yellow-legged gull.

Caspian tern

This was a little disappointing. I was also slightly disppointed only to see Caspian tern. The number of tern has decreased steadily since my first visit in September.

On the other hand, I hadn't expected to see any ducks in the lagoons.


However there were seven northern pintail and one northern shoveller. These have proved to be the two common ducks in Nouakchott at other water bodies so far this winter.


Whimbrel have been present on every visit.

whimbrel (l) with grey plover

Nine grey plover were counted this time.

seven grey plover

Other waders included several little stint, many common ringed plover and a few greenshank, green sandpiper, wood sandpiper and common sandpiper. I really don't understand why I have yet to see marsh sandpiper in Mauritania.

little stint

Two sanderling were on site of which one spent most of its time sleeping.

resting sanderling

Walking round the sandy and barren edges to the lagoons were two yellow wagtail. These are late migrants and the place is unsuitable for them other than as a one day stop over.

yellow wagtail

The most ironic part of this birding session came when I had run out of time and starting walking back to where a car was waiting to pick me up.

I had not added any new bird to my country list.

Then I noticed a lonely lark flying high above me and away. I wasn't going to let this opportunity go. I tracked it in my binoculars to see it land. It landed over 50 metres from me and hid in a very low bush.

I slowly walked towards it and luckily it walked into the open. 

greater short-toed lark 1

It was a lone greater short-toed lark. More to the point it was my first in Mauritania.

greater-short toed lark 2

I had gone to the coast to seek sea birds and had ended up with a lark.

In some ways this is a metaphor for why I love birding.

Sunday 20 November 2016

Grounded in the city

I have had transport problems this weekend and Dr Mohamed Vall couldn't join me so my expectations have been low. 

However so far I am more than happy with the results despite the lack of long distance transport and the sand storm during Saturday which affected visibility as well as breathing.

On Saturday I used my local driver to drop me off at the newly found waste water site just north of the city. Here I stayed in progressively worse weather for five hours. 

I recommend working a small area hard for a prolonged period. It's a technique which has produced good results for me in the past despite the preconception that everything can be seen on first pass.

Well I found four new birds for my Mauritanian list and not one of them in the first 90 minutes.

A common rock thrush proved the easiest. It popped up every now and again on the few tall and large piles of gravel dotted around the site.

common rock thrush

An hour or two later I noticed a bird of prey flying out of one of the trees outside the waste water site. I acted quickly and got one photo as it flew off into the distance.

common buzzard

It turned out to be a common buzzard. This is a known but uncommon winter visitor down the Mauritanian coast. 

This observation reminded me of an argument I would have in the Gulf. I believe some of the "steppe buzzard" I would see there were actually nominate. However it was argued that they don't come as far south as Riyadh and into Oman. So if they don't why do such birds from Western Europe go as far south as Mauritania and northern Senegal? What I find in under-birded areas in particular is that the received wisdom is often wrong.

The other two new birds were sardinian warbler and spectacled warbler.

male Sardinian warbler

Both warblers are known to winter in south west Mauritania so it was only a matter and time and effort in the field before I saw them.

I spent a lot of time following a flock of house sparrow around the site. This is because I am pretty sure there was a single male Spanish sparrow among them. Indeed I got an extremely blurred picture.

Unfortunately I failed to meet up with it a second time and will not make the claim because my photographic evidence is slim. Surprisingly neither the Atlas of Mauritanian Birds or Birds of Western Africa have records of it in this country. Nor is it mentioned in The Birds of Banc d'Arguin. However I suspect there are a few down here each winter. Let's see if I find one more conclusively.

At the waste water site, the house sparrow always return to a thick bush and an adjacent large tree when threatened. That tree also has up to four blackcap and two chiffchaff which use it as a launching point for forays out.

male blackcap

I only managed a picture of one of the female blackcap as the duststorm started brewing up.

female blackcap

Indeed the poor visibility affected photography all day.

tree pipit

Among the other birds, two tree pipit which had been there the previous weekend were still present.


Four hoopoe were seen throughout the day.

brown-necked raven

Around midday two brown-necked raven arrived.

namaqua dove

Namaqua dove and laughing dove are plentiful around the area. I wonder if only they and the house sparrow are actually resident at the site.

The previous afternoon, on Friday I walked to north Noakchott lake.

two black-necked grebe

The black-necked grebe population has doubled to two. This is a long way south for this bird to winter. We used to get a similar small number wintering in Dhofar, Oman which is on roughly the same latitude.

northern shoveller

I looked over the ducks intensely but there were no new species. However the winter has a long way to go.


The two wigeon have separated. The male was asleep in a completely different part of the lake from the female. That bird was seen swimming among the (mostly sleeping) northern shoveller.

cattle egret

The cattle egret and black-headed gull populations are currently getting larger.

I always try to track any individuals who don't mix with the other birds to see if they are actually different.

I was tracking the one below.

first winter black-headed gull

It was only a first winter black-headed gull and it flew off. I thought I picked it up again and took a last photo in its new place.

Thanks to Andrew Bailey for pointing out it was a different bird. Indeed it is a first winter Meditteranean gull.

first winter Mediterranean gull

The moral is to look closely at all in your set of pictures especially if the bird moves.

The tall grass and reed beds that you can see behind the cattle egret house sedge warbler, chiffchaff and European reed warbler at the fringes.

I worked them very hard on Friday and also found two Savi's warbler. The rusty undertail and vent were the first hints I was on to somthing different. This was a lifer.

Today I will try my luck south of the fish market on the coast. I haven't been there for four weeks. My expectations aren't high but let's see if I am surprised.