Friday, 17 March 2017

Vagrant skylark near Akjoujt

Journeying to and from Atar, Mohamed Vall and I stopped twice on the way up and twice on the way back down. All stops were at Akjoujt or within 100 kilometres south.

The highlight by far was the stop on the way back at a large, natural open woodland about 30 kilometres south of the city. It is a remarkable site surrounded by semi-desert. Though it was the last stop of all over the weekend, we could admire its potential for a longer visit. Western orphean warbler, sub-alpine warbler and woodchat shrike were testimony to it's potential for passage birds.

However it was the sighting of a Eurasian skylark which made it so exciting on the day.

Eurasian skylark 1

There are only three records of skylark in Mauritania as far as I know. All are at Cap Blanc on the border with Western Sahara and near Nouadibou.

Eurasian skylark 2

However given how under-birded central and northern Mauritania is coupled with the fact it is not uncommon on the northern edge of the Sahara desert (this is close to the southern edge), I wonder if it isn't actually that rare. Time should tell.

Eurasian skylark 3

I don't know how far south it has been recorded in East Africa but this may just be the furthest south one has ever been recorded on the continent. Yet in Arabia, they are regularly found at this latitude.

skylark 4

When first seen, it was loosely associating with the only other lark we saw in the open woodland. That was bar-tailed lark. It dwarfed it for size and was obviously much darker. They looked an odd couple.

bar-tailed lark

A little earlier we had struggled to find any birding sites around the town of Akjoujt itself. The best we managed was the rubbish dump near the gold and iron mine. Here the brown-necked raven were mobbing two passing birds of prey. One was a black kite and the other was a smart adult male marsh harrier.

marsh harrier at Akjoujt

On the way out we had stopped at two sites further south. One was 100 kilometres south of Akjoujt while the other was 85 kilometres. The one was more open woodland while the more northerly one was flat dried grassland with a couple of scattered trees.

western Bonelli's warbler (courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

The woodland area had the expected passage warblers: western orphean warbler, sub-alpine warbler and chiffchaff. Western Bonelli's warbler was not really unexpected either.

black-eared wheatear

Both northern wheatear and black-eared wheatear were present. The males are easier to identify at this time of year in their breeding plumage.

The sparrows were worth a good look. The majority were Sudanese golden sparrow but at least two were desert sparrow.

Indeed the other stop in grassland, 15 kilometres further north gave us a whole flock of desert sparrow. It was a pleasure to see so many in close contact. 

desert sparrow

They were often mixing with black-crowned sparrow-lark. Other species there included hoopoe lark and cricket longtail.

hoopoe lark

The trip overall was a complete success. All target resident species were seen and two bonus birds were also added to the country list of which one was a vagrant.

I am grateful once again to Mohamed Vall for his companionship at birding, his photos when needed and his driving.

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