Tuesday 30 May 2017

Westward walk again

I am pretty much confined to Nouakchott during Ramadan as it is too tiring for my Muslim friends to take me long distance by car.

This means I am birding a few sites in the city more intensely than ever. Actually some of my best finds have been when I have been restricted to a few places over a prolonged period. I hope this holds true over the next month.

It is now also usually hot though temperatures vary considerably from day to day.

On Saturday I started out early to avoid as much heat as possible. I walked out west towards the coast on a now well-used birding route for me.

The first stop was the central lake. This is a natural lake which has been landscaped and extra water pumped in from elsewhere. However the rising water level and increased salinity, presummably of the pumped water, has destroyed the reed beds.

This is bound to effect the diversity of birds there adversely.

There were still many hirundines flying over. Red-rumped swallow were the most numerous though there were nearly as many barn swallow as well as house martin and sand martin.

white wagtail

The flat area with its patches of water next to the lake was interesting. One bird here was a white wagtail. This bird is very late for migration.

kittlitz's plover

Near one of the small pools was a kittlitz's plover. The lake itself housed only a few black-winged stilt and black-headed gull this time.

Next, I moved on to the west Nouakchott pools. Here, I finally found evidence that Kentish plover breed in Nouakchott with a chick sighted.

Kentish plover with chick

In the few scattered bushes at the one side of the pools was a mixed flock of house sparrow and Sudanese golden sparrow. It also contained at least one red-billed quelea.

red-billed quelea (front)

No matter where you are in Mauritania it is always worth looking hard at these sparrow/finch/weaver flocks. They are often multi-species and a rarity can turn up.

young house sparrow (bottom)

There are many young house sparrow around at the moment.

ruddy turnstone

The larger waders at the pools were spur-winged lapwing, ruddy turnstone and a single black-tailed godwit.

black-tailed godwit 1

I had seen a single one here a week before. This may be the same bird.

black-tailed godwit 2

From certain angles, the bird looked a little thin and that may be the reason it has stayed if it is the same bird.


Plenty of sanderling are still in Nouakchott and are only just started to adopt summer plumage.

I eventually moved on westward from the pools. I saw a couple of barn swallow on the wires between the pools and the coast.

barn swallow

It was still morning when I reached the coastal lagoon south of the fishing port.

Unfortunately it was a disappointment. Whereas the weekend before there had been large numbers and varied gulls, terns and waders, this time it was almost empty.  

audouin gull

Four Audouin gull, a few sanderling and a common ringed plover was all that met me. I think the low numbers were because the water supply through the pipes at the far end was very low and as a result the water levels in the lagoon were very low too.

To compensate for the lack of birds at the lagoon, I investigated the scrub further south. I don't do this regularly.

fulvous babbler

I was rewarded with the sight of two young fulvous babbler which were continually calling to each other.

second fulvous babbler

The one bird was hampered by being tail-less.

Looking out to sea I could see some large white headed gull which were more than likely lesser black-backed gull. One Caspian tern was also seen.

slender-billed gull

Having finished with the scrub, I returned to the lagoon and noticed the water level had risen as the water supply through the pipes had increased. It was too soon for many birds to have returned but there were more than when I first arrived. Some slender-billed gull were now there and two black tern had also arrived.

It now getting hot and I had a long walk back. It was a shame as I suspected more birds were going to return.

hoopoe lark

There was still some birding near the fishing port to be done. Hoopoe lark were easy to see. The usual rubbish dump of fish waste gave me many cattle egret, crested lark and two late yellow wagtail.

Overall it had been a satisfactory but not spectacular birding session.

Monday 29 May 2017

Fine gulls at the fishing port

Saturday May 20th was the second exceptionally cool day in a row so I went birding for a very long session on foot.

I walked from my house to the coast. The birding was good but I will start with what was seen at the coastal lagoons rather than in chronological order as the lagoons had the most challenging and rewarding birding of the day.

At the lagoons was a remarkable mix of gulls. There were over-summering birds and summer arrivals which was a mix quite different from what I had been seeing since September.

First and foremost was a probable kelp gull.

This should not be a shock. They have been creeping up the West African coast with new breeding sites over the past 20 years. They were first spotted in the northern summer in Senegal in the 1990s. They are now known to winter, over-summer and breed in small numbers in Banc d'Arguin north of Nouakchott. They now appear to breed in western Sahara. 

probably kelp gull 1

I have asked for help on the identification of this bird which has been surprisingly difficult to obtain. There is little expertise volunteering itself which knows how to compare both northern hemisphere and "southern hemisphere gulls".

The bill is strong and the bird is robust as expected from a kelp gull which it is worth remembering is not rare in Mauritania anymore. Its just that I hadn't seen one.

Here is an extract of one set of comments which addresses the issue that a vagrant (south of Banc d'Arguim) greater black-backed gull was the other main possibility.

" the bill structure easily excludes any sort of LBBG and my interpretation of the moult is that the tertials and inner primaries look recently renewed and fresh whilst the outer primaries look rather worn - could a 3cy GBBG look as worn as this on the primaries by May? Also, the bird is very dark and grubby on the head for any summer GBBG I would think".

probable kelp gull 2

As I said the collection of gulls was really remarkable. There were at least five lesser black-backed gull present. 

lesser black-backed gull

I had only seen one grey-hooded gull at this spot since I arrived in country. On May 20th there were four. Though a few remain all winter at Banc d'Arguin it is beginning to look like most are summer visitors.

grey-hooded gull with waders

Furthermore there were six immature Audouin gull in the group alongside several Caspian tern.

E-bird does not accept any Audouin gull in May and no more than two lesser black-backed gull. These observations have broken e-bird's filters. 

Audouin and lesser black-backed gulls with Caspian tern

I also looked very hard at the terns which which were present. I was especially looking for arctic tern or roseate tern in with the common tern but I had no luck.

common tern

There was nothing unusual in the group of black tern either.


Four whimbrel were the most notable waders.

Earlier I had walked to the coast via the central lake next to the new Senegalese embassy that is still being built. The authorities are very sensitive about this site so caution is required.

house martin

Like the day before, this was a day of large-scale hirundine migration. The difference was that at this site at least the birds were mostly house martin and red-rumped swallow whereas at North Nouakchott Lake the day before they had been barn swallow and sand martin.

red-rumped swallow

Luckily for me several were resting so I got good and prolonged views.

red-rumped swallow and house martin

As well as a small number of over-summering black-headed gull, I found a single grey-hooded gull. This was my first indication in the day of their arrival for the summer. Of course, I saw the four at the lagoons later.

grey-hooded gull with an itch

This bird actually gave me the best views I have had of this species in Mauritania.

grey-hooded gull

The salt pools which I called West Nouakchott pools was the next big stop before the lagoons.It too had more birds than I had observed in recent weeks. 

common ringed plover

The numbers of the more common waders such as common ringed plover broke the e-bird filters again and I was asked by the database to justify my large numbers. What can I say but that this site is known for its high denstiy of waders and that they are still coming through.

ruddy turnstone

There was a good mix including ruddy turnstone and a single late black-tailed godwit.

curlew sandpiper

Not much summer plumage was peeking thorugh on the curlew sandpiper.

common ringed plover with sanderling (r)

On the other hand, I saw my first sanderling here in Mauritania in breeding plumage. Given the large numbers present, it was no surprise to see one this advanced.

wood sandpiper

I had not seen a wood sandpiper in three weeks in Nouakchott but one late one was one of the last birds I saw at the pools.

I made the same walking trip again on Sunday May 28th. I will blog about that next.

Saturday 27 May 2017

A cool afternoon at the lake

The weekend before this one was very cool for late May. I normally don't bird on Friday afternoons except during mid-winter but the cool weather was too good an opportunity to pass.

So I walked out to North Nouakchott Lake where I birded in comfort for over two hours.

The birding was good. It started well with the sighting of a very late northern pintail. It has been a month since I last saw a duck at the lake.

northern pintail

I look very hard at all gulls and terns these days and have had some success with rarities. In the summer months there are less around but spotting an odd one is that much easier.

black-headed gull

However, all the gulls I identified at the lake were black-headed gull. Most looked in under average condition.

spur-winged lapwing

I spent two hours making just one circle round the lake. The weather was a rare opportunity to bird intensively. I caught the attention of the resident spur-winged lapwing on a number of occasions. They are territorial at the moment though I saw no nests.

Sudanese golden sparrow

Sudanese golden sparrow are not always present but when they are they often mix with house sparrow and other finches or weavers. It is the possibility of small numbers of these finches and weavers that makes me look at these groups intently. Last time there were a few yellow-crowned bishop which was a real surprise so far north.

barn swallow

I have little doubt that hirundine migration is late this year. It reached its maximum though Nouakchott last weekend. At the lake there were ten or so barn swallow but twice that number of sand martin.

sand martin

In the reeds I spotted a European reed warbler and in near-by bushes, two melodious warbler.

European reed warbler

There is a large dump of rubbish near one bank of reeds. I suspect the flies in the rubbish and the cover afforded by the close-by reeds is a good combination for certain types of warbler as this spot has given me several good warblers this season.

black-headed gull

As I moved round the lake I came upon one black-headed gull which is attaining some degree of summer plumage unlike the others. However its tail feathers were still not in good condition. No fully fit black-headed gull appear to stay in Nouakchott over the summer.

red-billed quelea

My care with observing the sparrow flocks paid dividends again. This time the minorty member was a red-billed quelea.

African swamphen

I wasn't particularly looking to photograph the resident African swamphen as I have done so many times in the past but when one walks out in front of me I thought I might as well do it.

We rarely get birds of prey at the lake so a marsh harrier was a big surprise. It's entrance was announced by some very loud spur-winged lapwing. They then proceeded to mob it.

arrival of marsh harrier

It was not only the first I had seen one at the lake but also the first time anywhere near the city.

marsh harrier

It didn't stay long. I presume it was migrating.

squacco heron

With my session near finished, I spotted a squacco heron. I have seen one on and off for several omnths though I have no idea whether it is the same bird. Only once have I seen two there.

Melodious warbler

On one of the last bushes on the edge of the lake I finally managed to photograph a melodious warbler at the site. It was good end to a good session.

The next day, Saturday May 20th was also a very cool day for the time of year. I took the opportunity to walk all the way out to the coast. This time, unlike the weekend before, there were many birds and the mix was different from that which I have encountered before.

List of species seen at North Nouakchott Lake on 19th May
Northern Pintail  
Little Grebe  
Cattle Egret 
Squacco Heron  
Western Marsh Harrier 
African Swamphen  
Common Moorhen  
Eurasian Coot  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Black-headed Gull  
Speckled Pigeon  
Laughing Dove  
Little Swift  
Blue-naped Mousebird  
Woodchat Shrike  
Crested Lark  
Sand Martin  
Barn Swallow  
Red-rumped Swallow  
Common House Martin  
Melodious Warbler  
Eurasian Reed Warbler  
Spotted Flycatcher  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
House Sparrow  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  
Red-billed Quelea  

Friday 26 May 2017

The coast in mid May

Two weeks ago, Mohamed Vall and I went on to the coast having first birded the waste water site. 

The lagoons south of the fishing port had the least number of birds since I first started visiting. However they weren't without interest.

Audouin gull 1

It has become apparent to me that it is not uncommon for immature Audouin gull to over-summer near Nouakchott.

Audouin gull 2

It is a well-known phenomenon that many immature slender-billed gull over summer to the south of their breeding range from west to east.

slender-billed gull

Although some black-headed gull and a few lesser black-backed gull are doing the same, in those cases they look in poor condition. In other words it appears involuntatry for those species.Yet the Audouin gull and slender-billed gull usually look in good condition.

sanderling 1

That day there were very few waders. I had a few identification issues separating a sanderling from dunlin. For some reason there are very few dunlin here in winter. It is only really a passage bird here. The bird above and below has a particularly long bill but is a sanderling. Thanks to Bram Piot for noticing the lack of a hind toe and suggesting that all dunlin would have some black plumage blow by now.

sanderling 2

The number of black tern passing through along the coast is seemingly endless.

black tern

After finishing at the lagoons, we moved down the coast two kilomteres to the old wharf where we can bird watch 300 metres out into the ocean.

great white pelican 1

One of the best sights from the wharf was two flocks of great white pelican flying over. They breed in the Senegal River Delta and on Banc d'Arguin which are south and north of Nouakchott. Mohamed Vall says it is well known that they regularly fly between the two places.

great white pelican 2

Once again black tern were numerous around the wharf. Other terns were mostly Caspian tern and royal tern. My hopes of seeing a bridled tern were dashed again.

royal tern

A couple of lesser black-backed gull were the only gulls seen until the very end of our session. Then another gull turned up. I believe it was an Audouin gull.

probable Audouin gull

The following weekend, I visited the same spots again plus two extra water bodies on the way to coast. In contrast to this visit, the coast and the other water bodies were busy again and it was a different mix. I will blog about this soon.