Tuesday, 1 November 2016


Last weekend I made a long trip to the south of the country with Dr Mohamed Vall. We arrived at Aleg 240 kilometres south east of Nouakchott on Friday evening ready for a full day's birding in the area on Saturday.

We got up early and were on our way to Lake Aleg shortly after dawn.

We had two additions to my country list within half an hour. The first was yellow-billed kite. More than twenty were seen flying around the road.

Next seen was fulvous babbler as we moved the car off the road and attempted to drive close to the lake as possble.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

It wasn't possible to drive up to the lake side. There is 50-100 metres of marsh land between the dry land and the water's edge. Unfortunately this meant we couldn't see what was on the water.

Nevertheless we picked up birds anyway. Blue-cheeked bee-eater were numerous in the trees.

At the edge of the marsh both cattle egret and glossy ibis were grazing. The latter was another addition.

glossy ibis and cattle egret

African swamphen are too large to hide themselves in the tall grass in the wetland. This was a fourth addition already and it was only mid morning.

African swamphen

The most numerous bird around our relatively dry vantage point was yellow wagtail.

yellow wagtail

Although we couldn't see what was on the water, some of the water birds came towards us. The best find of this type was a group of spur-winged goose. This was a fifth addition and a lifer.

spur-winged goose

At least two marsh harrier were patrolling the part of the lake near us. This was yet another addition.

northern wheatear 1

Having failed to find a way closer to the water on foot we eventually turned our attention to the scattered trees and land further back from the water.

Northern wheatear were common. A few required special attention including the one above to be sure of the species. This one had some similarity with heuglin's wheatear though it was concluded in the end to probably be a northern wheatear.

northern wheatear 2

Most were more straightforward identifications like the bird above.

Occasionally we came across resting yellow-billed kite.

yellow-billed kite

A brown rat was an unpleasent surprise find under a small cluster of trees.

brown rat

In this area, the most numerous birds were no longer yellow wagtail.  They were Sudanese golden sparrow and a lesser number of red-billed quelea. Another family of fulvous babbler were observed as were a few chestnut-bellied starling.

yellow-billed kite in flight

We had mixed emotions at this stage, we had worked hard and walked long but not found a way close to the water's edge. However, despite this new birds had been seen. 

Yet we suspected others on or over the water which we could not reach.

We elected to head back to the edge of the town of Aleg where we had seen a water course heading north. We presummed this was feeder to the lake and so following it might give us a back way to the open expanse.

The first omens were good. We spotted three yellow-billed kite flying around and several cattle egret heading back and forth along the "river".

squacco heron

A squacco heron was spotted in one of the riverside trees.

river leading to lake Aleg

About two kilometres up stream we came across a flcok of red-billed quelea about 2000 birds strong. Watching them move around was like a liquid being poured such was thier density.

red-billed quelea

We watched for over half an hour as a pair of lanner falcon tracked the red-billed quelea flock. At one time about 300 quelea were isolated on a small bush. Both lanner falcon swooped down next to the bush but made no effort to pick any quelea off. We assumed the falcons weren't hungry and were playing with the quelea. It was a fascinating time.

In the end we moved on up the river.

common sandpiper

More species were seen including , common greenshank, common sandpiper and spur-winged lapwing.

spur-winged lapwing

Two more birds of prey were sighted. One was a pale morph booted eagle. The other was an osprey. Both were more additions to my Mauritanian list.

booted eagle

A single little egret was the only one seen all day.

little egret

The river got stronger and wider. It also started to head more westward. However the lake was not in sight and it was getting very hot in the midday sun. Furthermore there was obviously no track fro cars. We reluctantly gave up on this route and the lake.  

There is clearly more to see.

In the late afternoon, we went 10-15 kilometres east of Aleg to try out luck in different habitat. We picked out more wooded areas along the main road heading out of town towards Kiffa. In no case were the woods very large. This is the northern edge of Sahel.

Sudanese golden sparrow were common but other birds captured more interest.

Black bush robin were sighted in the more densely wooded areas.

desert wheatear

Several desert wheatear were observed. These were my first in Mauritania.

fulvous babbler

We finally manged to photograph some fulvous babbler.

However the strangest sighting was an African grey hornbill which constantly calling. It was well north of its expected range and its calls will almost certainly remain unanswered.

African grey hornbill

It was the tenth addition to my list and a fitting end to the day.

I am extremely grateful to Mohamed for his company, driving and help.

On Sunday we headed further south to the edge of Bogue before taking the road to Rosso along the northern side of the Senegal river valley. We went one better than Saturday. Eleven species were added to my country list. I will blog about this next.

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