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.

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