Tuesday 28 February 2017

Return to Mederdra

On Saturday, I returned to active birding in Mauritania following a break between semesters in the UK and Spain.

I went south to Mederdra with Mohamed Vall for a very full day trip from dawn until after dusk.

It was eventful and very rewarding. I added four species to my Mauritanian list.

However the trip didn't start well when I discovered my camera was broken. Luckily for me Mohamed Vall stepped in and all the pictures on this blog are courtesy of him.

The zoom is not as powerful so I have compensated as best I can by showing smaller than usual bird sizes. I am still very grateful for his help in being able to record what we saw.

I will try to replace or repair the camera in the near future.

Fulvous babbler

We visted three distinct areas around this southern inland but wooded town.

The first area was new to us both. It was directly west of the town in a valley containing the town's rubbish dump and a small tanning place for dead animals as well as open woodland.

The rubbish dump attracted plenty of Sudanese golden sparrow as well as a family of fulvous babbler.

The tanning unit and rubbish dump were twin attractions for both brown-necked raven and yellow-billed kite.

yellow-billed kite

Below I am seen walking towards a tree which held a maximum of ten resting yellow-billed kite at one stage.

Me walking towards a tree full of yellow-billed kite

Elsewhere in the valley were a few Namaqua dove and a group of several African collared dove which were all accidentally flushed from a single tree when we walked past.

Namaqua dove

Chestnut-bellied starling were every where but we came across one small group of greater blue-eared starling too.

greater blue-eared starling

Black bush robin were common too.

black-bush robin

While the birds were varied and numerous in this valley we failed to see anything new.

We had more luck with our second stop. This was north west of the town and two kilometres out.

striped kingfisher

Here we reacquainted ourselves with striped kingfisher. We had seen this species on our previous visit to Mederdra and close to where a pair were seen this time. Incidentally, so far it is the only place in Mauritania that I have seen this bird.

black-eared wheatear

It was now the heat of the day and we weren't hopfel to add to the list. We were picking up relatively few birds which included northern wheatear and black-eared wheatear. The one above was a tricky identifcation. The colours suggested desert wheatear which is just possible at the southernmost edge of its winter range. However I could see no hint of a join of the black face with the black on the wing.

Suddenly it all started to work out. We observed two woodpeckers some distance apart.

African grey woodpecker 1

One was a female African grey woodpecker while the other was a male.

African grey woodpecker 2

The female was more obliging. We got prolonged views and Mohamed Vall obtained photos. This was the first addition to the list.

African grey woodpecker 3

We paid particular attention to the small passerines in the woods. Western orphean warbler was common. We picked up at least two clear Western Bonelli's warbler as well.

Western bonelli's warbler

We interrupted our views of passerines for a pair of hoopoe which intervented.


When we returned to the passerines we kept seeing yellow-bellied eremomela.

yellow-bellied eremomela

It must have been hidden in plain sight during our visit in October. We saw eight this time. Surely we missed them last time by not looking closely enough at the small birds.

woodchat shrike

As well as the European warblers, other evidence of wintering palearctic birds came in the form of woodchat shrike.

striped kingfisher

After a break to eat, we resummed for our third and final session at the small farm, one kilometre north west of the previous site. We found two more of both striped kingfisher and African grey woodpecker.

The farmer had fenced off some grassland to prevent livestock other than his own from grazing. This meant natural long grassland. I had expected larks and we got them.

singing bush lark 1

Four singing bush lark were sighred over the fence in the middle of the field. Luckily for us they flew close to the edge and we got better views.

singing bush lark 2

I know from experience in Saudi Arabia and Oman that this species likes long grass on farms. It was true to form.

distant record shot of green wood hoopoe

We had given up birding for the day when we were walking through a small settlement near the parked car. We could not believe our eyes. Two juvenile green wood hoopoe were moving from tree to tree within the settlement. They were separated in identification from adult black wood hoopoe by their obviously larger size.

Unfortunately we couldn't get close. They were very timid. However it was an amzing end. The range map doesn't show them within 75 kilometres and to the south east.

Despite the difficulties, this was one of my best one day's birding in Mauritania. I am very grateful to Mohamed Vall for making it possible.

Birds seen at Mederdra

Black Kite (Yellow-billed)  14    
African Collared-Dove  10
Laughing Dove  6
Namaqua Dove  11
Blue-naped Mousebird  8
Eurasian Hoopoe  3
Green Woodhoopoe  2
Striped Kingfisher  4
Abyssinian Roller  1
African Grey Woodpecker  4
Common Kestrel  1
Black-crowned Tchagra  1
Southern Grey Shrike  2
Woodchat Shrike  5
Brown-necked Raven  20
Singing Bushlark  4
Barn Swallow  3
Northern Crombec  1
Willow Warbler  5
Western Bonelli's Warbler  2
Cricket Longtail  2
Yellow-bellied Eremomela  8
Western Orphean Warbler  6
Subalpine Warbler  1
Fulvous Chatterer  7
Black Scrub-Robin  8
Redstart  1
Wheatear  5
Black-eared Wheatear  3

Chestnut-bellied Starling 30
Greater Blue-eyed Starling 4
House Sparrow  6
Sudan Golden Sparrow  110    
Vitelline Masked-Weaver  3
African Silverbill  12

Saturday 11 February 2017

Upton Warren

I was in the UK for family reasons earlier in the week. However I managed to find time for a morning's birding at Upton Warren nature reserve.

It was a cold and misty day which is quite typical of early February in the UK but quite a shock to the system for someone who spends most of his year in West Africa.

This reserve has two main water bodies:  Moors Pool which is deep water and The Flashes which are shallow. There is also a boating lake between and some adjacent woodland.

I spent most of my time at Moors Pool. I had no time left for The Flashes.

tufted duck

Ducks were to be expected. The most numerous one was northern shoveller closely followed by tufted duck. Two common teal and a gadwell were also present. I have seen all of these species in both Saudi Arabia and Oman and both shoveller and teal in Mauritania. It seems strange to observe them in a quite different climate.

Other smaller water fowl were European coot and common moorhen.

common shelduck

There were larger water fowl there too. Three common shelduck, five greylag goose and several Canada goose were seen. Though the greylag goose disappeared early presumable to feed in local fields.

Canada goose

The largest birds of all were two mute swan.

mute swan

The most numerous bird of all was northern lapwing. I suspect the flock was over 150 birds. I last time saw this species was in Riyadh!

some of the northern lapwing

I have seen many species of lapwing but this one is still the favourite.

a few lapwing

The waders were a seemingly odd combination. The oddest to me was a single oystercatcher but I am told there are regular at this inland site during migration.


Twelve curlew were the second "wader" species. I am told these may be fairly local birds. Birds which breed in the Welsh moorlands are apparently just as likely as more distant migrants.

a sleeping curlew

The third wader was common snipe.There were at least eight on site while I was there.

common snipe

There were over 50 black-headed gull and five herring gull at the lake.

black-headed gull

A single little egret patiently stayed in place all the time I was there.

little egret

A grey heron looked more relaxed than those seen in the Middle East and North Africa probably because it isn't shot at in the UK.

grey heron

Great cormorant were seen at both the Moors Pool and the large boating lake. Indeed though the boating lake isn't in the reserve it proved to be the only location that I saw great crested grebe.

great crested grebe

Birders don't normally go to the reserve for woodland birds but the leafless trees and bushes made sightings easier and very attractive to people like me who rarely visit the UK.

European robin

Passerines seen included plenty of blackbird, as well as great tit, European robin, long-tailed tit, wren, bullfinch and dunnock. Wood pigeon were everywhere.


A redwing in a near-by field was the last addition to my day list.


In total I saw 33 species in the session. It was pleasant change from Sahel birding.

Friday 10 February 2017

Return to Amzela

Mohamed Vall returned from his research away and that meant transport was available for us both to venture some birding outside the city of Nouakchott. The nearest place south with natural trees and some grassland is Amzela which is 70 kilometres away.

It was there that we went last Sunday.

There was some distinct sign of passage. A barn swallow and two house martin were refuelling with food all morning while we were there.

However, a bigger indication of more mainstream passage was the presence of a rufous bush-robin.

Rufous bush robin on ground

I didn't see any rufous bush robin in autumn so it is possible they take a different route in the two seasons. I need more information to tell.

Rufous bush robin up tree

A woodchat shrike was also present. it is likely this is a passage rather than a wintering bird but not certain. They winter not much further south for sure.

distant woodchat shrike

Not to be outdone, there was also a local desert grey shrike in the area.

desert grey shrike

I was a little surprised to see some many red-billed quelea at Amzela. There presence shows how unusual Amzela is.

red-billed quelea with African silverbill 1

red-billed quelea with African silverbill 2

Flocks of red-billed quelea, African silverbill and Sudanese golden sparrow were present. They mostly mixed too.

Vieillot's barbet (left) 1

While the focus on the above photograph is on the Vieillot's barbet you can see blurred images of all three of those flocking species represented in the four birds.

Vieillot's barbet 2

I still don't know the exact ranges of many of these species but I was shocked to find a grey-backed camaroptera so far north. It needs thick under-grown to thrive and there must be very few places in the northern edge of the Sahel where that can be found.

grey-backed camaroptera 1

This species can be easily over-looked. It took me four months to see my first but now I know where to look and its habits, it is picked up on almost all my southerly visits.

grey-backed camaroptera 2

The camaroptera was seen in the last few minutes of our morning at Amzela but it wasn't the end of the drama. A male lesser kestrel flew over-head for long enough for it to be identified without doubt. This is species 223 on my Mauritanian list.

On the way back into the city, we stopped off at the water purification plant in Riyadh district.  There is some water discharge there which makes for 50 metres or so of wide stream with a side channel too.

This is only 25 kilometres from the city centre. Wood sandpiper, common snipe, little stint and even yellow wagtail were predictable. The first three had also been seen on the last visit.

yellow-wagtail (iberiae)

Little ringed plover numbers in the Nouakchott are on the rise at the moment and five were present here. A rufous bush robin was in the hedge surrounding the water plant.

little ringed plover

I knew house sparrow and Sudanese golden sparrow were found here but once again the range of red-billed quelea surprised me. Does it reach the city itself? Surely I would have seen it. At the water plant, it is at the gates.

red-billed quelea and Sudanese golden sparrow

My next blog is from the UK where I have been visiting family and friends but found time for some birding at Upton Warren.

Thursday 9 February 2017

Fishing port keeps delivering

I went to the area just south of the fishing port once again last Saturday. It gave me an addition to my Mauritanian list proving there are still new birds for me to see in the Nouakchott area if I put in the effort. More about the new species will be later in the blog.

However the big prizes will only come when I take another trip to the south of the country.

At fishing port, there is usually a very smelly large pile of waste which can attract a cross section of birds. It's normally my start point when I visit this port. I get the worst over first.

This time the waste had attracted plenty of cattle egret, a northern wheatear, several white wagtail and a dozen or so little ringed plover. All but one of the little ringed plover were in adult breeding plumage. However, one was not. This is shown below.

non-breeding little ringed plover

I moved over to the artificial lagoon next. 


It had been a couple of months since I last saw a whimbrel there.

three ringed slender-billed gull

The same mix of gulls were present at the lagoon as in the past 10 weeks. That is a large number of black-headed gull and black-backed gull with lesser numbers of slender-billed gull, yellow-legged gull, Audouin's gull and Mediterranean gull. At one stage three ringed slender-billed gull were clustered closely together. By their rings, all are from southern Spain.

Six Caspian tern mingled with the gulls at times.

red knot

I had a longer species day list at the fishing port than at any time since late September which might be an early indication of birds on the move. Six red knot were the most I have seen there at any time.

ringed Audouin's gull

As ever I scan all gulls for rarities when I visit the lagoons. I still haven't been successful but I will one day. While scanning I noticed that one of Audouin's gull also had a ring and it was also from southern Spain.

A pale looking immature Mediterranean gull stood out but that was because it was the only one of its age group present.

Mediterranean gull

A single pied avocet was observed. It may well be the same bird as seen two weeks ago.

pied avocet

It's short walk from the centre of the lagoon to the Ocean's edge but the scrub on the way can be productive.

hoopoe lark

An inquisitive hoopoe lark was observed.

tawny pipit 1

A tame tawny pipit give very good views.

tawny pipit

Th coast was a little rougher than usual but it never gets very rough. So the chances of petrels, storm petrels and shearwaters coming in close to land are very low. This means the chance of seeing such birds from land are low too. It doesn't stop me trying but so far with no success.

western reef heron

A dark morph western reef heron was once again present as were three 'pallid heron'. There had never given me close views before. I had to rely on one at west Nouakchott pools for that.

grey heron of sub species Monicae a.k.a pallid heron

Large birds were also seen out to sea. Two great white pelican stayed in the area all the time I was there though they kept their distance.

great white pelican

A single great cormorant flew by once at speed not to be seen again.

great cormorant

However the prize bird of the day was a white-winged tern which flew repeatedly backwards and forwards over the coast where the lagoon empties out into the sea, shallow diving regularly.

white-winged tern 1

The white rump ruled out whiskered tern. The lack of a black shoulder band ruled out black tern. It fits a first winter white-winged tern well as was verified on birdforum.

white-winged tern 2

It has been two weeks since the last addition to my list. This had been the longest time since I arrived here.

As it happens another species was added the next day when Mohamed Vall and I visited Amzela. I will blog about that trip next.