Thursday, 8 December 2016

Atar road out of Nouakchott

Last weekend was the first time I failed to add to my Mauritanian list but that didn't make the birding bad.

Mohamed Vall and I journeyed 80 kilometres up the Atar road out of Noaukchott on Saturday. Atar is north east and inland. I expected different habitat from more westerly routes out of the city which are more saline. The hope was to see desert lark and prehaps other semi-desert species such as long-legged buzzard or even golden eagle.

We failed on all of them. We almost certainly have to go further out of the city.

Nevertheless, birding was interesting.

Just outside the city on the east side of the main road was a wadi with several sub-alpine warbler and a western orphean warbler. The green area was hidden from the main road behind sand banks as is often the case. 

A few kilometres later on the other side of the road was a small loose cluster of trees and some sign of non-halophilic vegetation (vegetation which showed we were out of the more saline area). We went off road to investigate.

some Sudanese golden sparrow

A mobile flock of Sudanese golden sparrow was a good sign.

three sudanese golden sparrow

A couple of hoopoe were also present.

hoopoe lark

Hoopoe lark was the only lark species in the area.

In the densest area of trees and bushes good views were had of a second western orphean warbler. This one was female and the previous one had been male. The distribution map in the Birds Of West Africa show this species to winter south of Nouakchott all across the southern eigth of the country. However this area is well north of that zone yet I suspect these were wintering birds. It's very late for any further warbler migration.

A family of fulvous babbler was a pleasant surprise. This was the first time I have seen them close to the city.

one fulvous babbler

Both birds in the pictures are juveniles as is indicated by the yellow gapes to their bills.

another fulvous babbler

Two northern wheatear were observed as well as a smart male dark-throated black-eared wheatear.

black-eared wheatear

From this angle and distance it is difficult to tell apart from a male desert wheatear. However there was a clear and considerable gap between the black on the wing and on the head when viewed side on.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

This area marks the northern limited of the resident blue-cheeked bee-eater in Mauritania.

cream-coloured courser

Further up the Atar road we came across two separate groups of cream-coloured courser. This was one of a small set of birds that I had on my list but not previously managed to photograph. This time it was relatively easy. The birds were settled.

upright cream-coloured courser

Not far past the second group of courser the habitat turned from semi-desert (with isolated patches of grassland) more fully into desert. We didn't venture further.

bar-tailed lark from the rear

On the way back, Mohamed Vall spied a lark while driving. We managed to park up and track it on foot.

We eventually identified it as a bar-tailed lark.

bar-tailed lark 1

From my observations, bar-tailed lark appears to be low density in the semi-desert areas north of the city. We have looked very hard for desert lark with no success. Indeed the terrain looks much more suitable for bar-tailed lark anyway. The land is almost all flat and rarely even rocky.

bar-tailed lark 2

Yet, the atals of Mauritanian birds has a sprinkling of records of desert lark in the very areas that we can't find anything but bar-tailed lark. Is it too arrogant of me to believe that these observations could be misidentifications? Time will tell.

I thank Mohamed Vall once again for driving and as my birding companion.

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