Sunday, 8 January 2017

Rings and crests

On Saturday I went to the fishing port near Nouakchott with Mohamed Vall. The main purpose was to search for Thekla lark of which I will say more later.

While there we looked out for seabirds and waders as usual. The best were two great white pelican flying over. Otherwise it was mostly the basic mix of lesser black-backed gull, yellow legged gull, black-headed gull and slender-billed gull. Even Mediterranean gull was missing this time.

Likewise with waders, the main ones were sanderling, little stint and common ringed plover

Details of other common birds seen were also come later in the blog.

However, first I can tell you that we found not one but two ringed birds.

ringed slender-billed gull 1

The first one was a slender-billed gull. reading the rings identifies the bird as having originated in southern Spain.

ringed slender-billed gull 2

There were eight slender-billed gull at the lagoon on Sunday. There has never been a large number since I arrived in September nevertheless it has always been present.

six slender-billed gull

Close-by was a ringed little stint.

ringed little stint 1

The rings show this bird originated in Norway.

ringed little stint 2

I have now seen four ringed birds since arriving in Mauritaina. The other two were a spoonbill from southern France and a common ringed plover from Wales.

However, our main reason to go to the fishing port area was to investigate past claims of thekla lark there. There are are two records on the atlas of Mauritanian birds and one on e-bird. The latter one has pictures. My own view is that the pictures are inconcusive but I do understand that a balance of opinion supported thekla lark at the time.

My main cyncism stems from the terrain. I know thekla lark well from my time in Libya. It preferred more natural and stony surroundings than crested lark. It was also only found at elevation.

The terrain at the fishing port is saline semi-desert. This has very little similarity with the Libyan habitat. I don't know what habitat it uses in Western Sahara (southern Morocco) though which is the closest proven breeding area.

Here are some pointers I use to find thekla lark:
more streaked breast
shorter bill with a convex lower mandible
often more patterned back
fanned rather than peaked crest
even tamer than crested lark,
pecking rather than digging for food
occasionally perching on bushes.

There are other features too. Colour doesn't help down here as the non-nominate sub species overlap colourless.

crested lark A

One of the first larks we saw was crested in all ways. Not only was it poorly streaked and had a long bill but it was digging a big hole looking for food!

crested lark B (picture 1)

Another typical crested lark was bird B. It had a long bill and weak streaking. It also had a peaked crest as shown in the second picture.

crested lark B (picture 2)

We saw many similar crested lark in the area.

A slightly better candidate was bird C. At least it had heavy streaking on the breast. It also wasn't digging for food but pecking.

crested lark C (picture 1)

Unfortunately it was missing feathers on its crest. However the bill looks too long and the lower mandible is not convex.

crested lark C (picture 2)

The back was reasonably patterned though. Furthermore it was very tame.

crested lark C (picture 3)

Nevertheless not enough features match thekla lark to convince me. I will look for thekla lark every time I vist the port from now on but I don't find this very exciting work.

cattle egret

Other birds of note at the fishing port included a flock of cattle egret.They have been present rummaging through the rubbish dumps for several visits now.

western reef heron

Four grey heron and a single reef heron were around the lagoons. At least one of the grey heron looked good for the "pallid heron" sub-species which breeds on the Banc d'Arguin.

little ringed plover

Little ringed plover have been much less common than common ringed plover all winter but I seemed to be picking a few more up in the Noaukchott area recently.

Finally on the fishing port, other birds in the scrub near the crested lark were cricket longtail and a sardinian warbler.

After a late breakfast we moved on to Zaatar allotments. I haven't been there since late September. There were many more warblers there than at the fishing port.

We saw sardinian warbler again but also spectacled warbler, sub-alpine warbler, blackcap and especially chiffchaff.

Both house sparrow and Sudanese golden sparrow were present as were white wagtail, blue-naped mousebird and northern wheatear. There was no sign of any rare late palearctic passerine such as stonechat though.

booted eagle

The best and most surprising bird was a booted eagle seen towards the end. This rounded off the session well.

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