Thursday, 11 May 2017

A new venue and new birds

A new work colleague of mine is a keen angler. He told me he had heard there was an old wharf reaching out into the sea where he could go fishing. 

I realised this could be a good venue for pelagic birding.

Having found the wharf on the map, I went there directly after birding the waste water site last Saturday.

I estimate that the wharf intrudes up to 300 metres into the sea.

There were plenty of terns. I saw Caspian tern, gull-billed tern, royal tern but particularly many black tern. The latter is a passage bird still coming through in numbers at the moment.

black tern out to sea

Once again this was evidence that black tern migrate along the coast. In contrast I have seen the other two marsh terns: white winged tern and whiskered tern migrate inland. 

Caspian tern

There were relatively few gulls. Actually the three lesser black-backed gull is quite a high total this late in the season. The other gull was a grey-hooded gull. This was only my second sighting of this bird in Mauritania. It is scarse outside the Senegal River estuary and Banc d'Arguin.

great cormorant

Apart from three sanderling on the beach before I walked onto the wharf the only other species I had seen were house sparrow on the wharf and great cormorant. The latter species was mostly resting on the sea or on the wharf itself.

record shot of Eurasian curlew

Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, two Eurasian curlew flew directly over the wharf, determinedly flying north, presumably on migration. They were at the far seaward end of the wharf and I doubt I would have noticed them from land.

They unexpectedly made species 258 on my country list. I had targetted bridled tern or brown booby for this session. Eurasian curlew wasn't even a consideration.

At around 3.45 pm I gave up for the day reasonably well satisfied. I wish I had known about the wharf in winter when the seas are busier.

The next morning, Sunday I walked from my home to North Noaukchoot lake. Instead of general birding, I went looking specifically for anything odd. So for example the African swamphen got less attention than usual.

little stint (l), common ringed plover (c), sanderling (r)

There were fewer waders than at any other time I have been visiting. I expect even fewer as we head towards summer. Nevertheless, sanderling are rarely seen at the site and they were arguably the largest number this time. There were no wood sandpiper at all and it has been numerous all winter.

I checked the lone common ringed plover thoroughly mostly because it was a lone bird.

common ringed plover

I couldn't make it into a semipalmated plover despite signs of some webbing on the toes. However I am now completely on my guard for any American vagrants.

young white crowned wheatear 1

Slightly unusual was the sighting of a young white-crowned wheatear at the site. This is the furthest into the city that I have seen one.

white-crowned wheatear 2

My attention to detail on this session paid off with a close look at the sparrows.

There are usually flocks of both house sparrow and Sudanese golden sparrow around a couple of lake side trees and on semi-submerged dead bushes near them. I have seen a red-billed quelea among them in the past.

yellow-crowned bishop with two Sudanese golden sparrow

This time they were joined by three putative yellow-crowned bishop.

yellow-crowned bishop with Sudanese golden sparrow

All three bishops found in Mauritania are similar in non-breeding and female plumage. The birds at the lake are quite heavily streaked on the flanks and upper breast. This is consistent with yellow-crowned bishop.

two yellow-crowned bishop and a Sudanese golden sparrow

I had initially ruled out yellow-crowned bishop as it is the shortest of the three bishops at 11cm which compares with 13-14 cm for a Sudanese golden sparrow.

However although the birds above don't look smaller overall than the sparrows they seem to be shorter but fatter.

two yellow-crowned bishop

As far as I know, no yellow-crowned bishop has ever been recorded in the city though the same was true of dwarf bittern, Allen's gallinule and African swamphen until recently and all have been seen at this site.

The bishops could be escapes or dispersal or a mix of both. Only time and much more data will tell. I last saw one in Rosso which is only 200 kilometres in direct flight.

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