Tuesday 29 August 2017

Away from Keur Macene

Keur Macene is three hours drive away from Nouakchott but it is only 200 kilometres distance. This is because the road south of Nouakchott is truly appalling. We got two flat tyres on our journey on Saturday.

Although the entrance to Diawling National Park is only 30 minutes further on from Keur Macene, the two places are connected by a road which is almost as bad as the main Nouakchott-Rosso road. This makes Diawling just too far for a day trip from Nouakchott even with the 6 a.m start we made. 

There are a few large water birds that only Diawling National Park or the area around the border crossing at Diema can give. These are most notably lesser flamingo and pink-backed pelican. Neither are yet on my country list.

The question was, other than these two, can Keur Macene provide the same water birds as Diawling? Well, from yesterday's blog you can see I saw no yellow-billed stork, Marabou stork or giant kingfisher. Of course we could just have been unlucky. So they are still not yet on my country list.

However, looking at woodland birds we did much better.

I reported on the dideric cuckoo, seen on the way out, in the last blog.

On the way back home, we stopped three times within 15 kilometres of Keur Macene at places which looked like the most natural woodland habitat.

white-throated bee-eater

The best stop was 13 kilometres out of the town. However before then we had stopped 9 kilometres out. A typical bird was white-throated bee-eater there but the special one was dark chanting goshawk. We flushed a pair as we walked around.

dark chanting goshawk

This is classically one of the target woodland birds of visitors to Diawling. It was my first sighting in Mauritania.

beautiful sunbird

In the woodland at the 13 kilometre marker, the diversity of birds was good. There was a high density of beautiful sunbird. This appears to be the favoured host for Klaas cuckoo in Mauritania. Indeed we saw two cuckoos fighting over head but which moved off too fast for us to be assured that they were Klaas cuckoo rather than Dideric cuckoo. The former is extremely likely but not at a high enough confidence level for me to add to the list.

buffalo weaver

Also at the same place were buffalo weaver, Vitelline masked weaver and the only red-billed quelea of the trip. All three species were in breeding plumage.

Buffalo weaver was one of three different essentially black birds observed at there. The other two were black bush robin and northern ant-eater chat.

Tawny-flanked prinia

We had been hearing prinia calls all day in different places. It was only here that I finally saw one. It was the expected tawny-flanked prinia.

More generally, small passerines were difficult to locate all day. Two others seen were northern crombec and a migrant spectacled warbler.

greater blue-eared starling

The dominant starling of this area is greater blue-eared starling.

grey-headed kingfisher 1

Arguably the best bird in woodland at the 13 kilometre mark was a grey-headed kingfisher. It is known that this bird breeds in countries further south and pushes up into Mauritania as a dispersal in the rainy season. No breeding apparently takes place here. This bird made number 267 on my Mauritanian list.

grey-headed kingfisher

Based on the sightings of dideric cuckoo, grey-headed kingfisher and dark chanting goshawk, it appears it is not necessay to go as far south as Diawling for most of the National Park's woodland birds. Some large water birds and small land-based passerines such as quailfinch and African stonechat are another issue.

Overall, it had been a successful day and much was learned about the range of some birds.

Species seen North East of Keur Macene
Dark Chanting-Goshawk    
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Dideric Cuckoo  
Western Red-billed Hornbill  
Grey-headed Kingfisher  
White-throated Bee-eater  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Abyssinian Roller  
Woodchat Shrike  
Pied Crow  
Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow  
Northern Crombec  
Spectacled Warbler  
Black Scrub-Robin  
Northern Anteater-Chat  
Greater Blue-eared Starling  
Yellow-billed Oxpecker  
Beautiful Sunbird  
White-billed Buffalo-Weaver  
Vitelline Masked-Weaver  
Red-billed Quelea  

Sunday 27 August 2017

Keur Macene

Mohamed Vall and I made the long day trip to Keur Macene on Saturday. We headed towards the easiest and quickest place to reach from Nouakchott near the Senegal River.

We hoped for rainy season birds which push up north in large numbers in August and September. Ironically we chose a day when Nouakchott, which we left behind, got 40% of its annual rainfall in one day.

We were not disappointed. Even as we drove through Tiguent, only 100 kilometres south of Nouakchott, I could hearing Dideric cuckoo calling from time to time.

We didn't start birding until we turned off the main Rosso road and on to the Keur Macene road.

This new road conveniently has milestones every kilometre. Next to the one marking 25 kilometres to Keur Macene we saw our first Dideric cuckoo. Unfortunately it flew off before I could take a photo.

At 9 kilometres from Keur Macene we heard another, got out of the car and traced it.

Dideric cuckoo 1

It was constantly calling, making finding it relatively easy.

Dideric cuckoo 2

I can tell you Dideric cuckoo is common and widespread down this road in August. It mostly parasitises weavers. Away from water bodies and towns, this mostly means Vitelline masked weaver in Mauritania.

Dideric cuckoo became number 265 on my country list.

Other easily seen birds on the way down the side road were white-throated bee-eater. Three yellow-billed oxpecker on a couple of donkeys was a surprise.

woodchat shrike

While searching for that Dideric cuckoo we came across a woodchat shrike which could comfortably winter in this area. Many do winter in southern Mauritania.

We didn't bird the road outside Keur Macene intensively on the way out. We left that for the way back and what we saw will be in the next blog.

Instead we spent the morning and the beginning of the afternoon, birding the wetlands around the town of Keur Macene.

white throated bee-eater

We walked about 8 kilometres in a circular route. White throated bee-eater and blue-cheeked bee-eater were easy to see.

black-headed weaver

Black-headed weaver were very common. Though the males were in breeding plumage, nest building has only just started. In one mixed flock we observed a northern red bishop male and a couple of females.

great white egret

In the water itself three great white egret were seen early.

black-winged stilt and African jacana

In a flooded field on the other side of a road near our parked car were black-winged stilt, African jacana and glossy ibis.

yellow-crowned bishop

There was so much to look at and we had hardly left the parked car. Another look in the direction of the weavers and we could see they were also yellow-crowned bishop present.

African fish eagle

Moving our eyes back to the main water body and we could see an African fish eagle and a single white-faced whistling duck beyond the great white egret.

pied kingfisher

Finally we started the long walk round the water. An early sighting was a pied kingfisher. In the water near-by was the first of several long-tailed cormorant.  

long-tailed cormorant

A pair of Malachite kingfisher gave us good views as we walked round.

Two Malachite kingfisher

This is proving to be a relatively common bird in the south except in the driest months.

Malachite kingfisher

We observed several African mourning dove. We also heard but never saw Vinaceous dove.

African mourning dove

The locals pump out water out of the main water body to create paddy fields at this time of year. These fields have theirown birds which we didn't have time to fully investigate. Nevertheless we did pick out common tern, white-winged black tern and barn swallow overhead and cattle egret on the ground.

striated heron

Striated heron loves flooded fields. It was hard to miss them.

purple heron

Looking again at the main water body, the side areas held purple heron and a few waders though I would expect their numbers to increase over winter. The most common wader was wood sandpiper.

Abyssinian roller

Other notable birds towards the end of our circuit were Abyssinian roller and Senegal coucal.

Nile Monitor

Birds weren't the only fauna seen. Twice we came across a Nile Monitor and twice a family of warthog were observed.

Ironically, I added no new species to my country list at the wetlands despite the variety and quanity of birds present.

We searched the woodland just north of the town on the way home. Here, two more species were added. Counting the Dideric cuckoo, all three additions to the list which were found on the trip were in these woodlands.

I will blog about them next.

Species seen at Keur Macene wetlands on August 26th
White-faced Whistling-Duck  
Spur-winged Goose  
Long-tailed Cormorant  
Great Cormorant  
Grey Heron  
Purple Heron  
Great White Egret  
Cattle Egret  
Squacco Heron  
Striated Heron  
Glossy Ibis  
African Fish-Eagle  
Black-winged Stilt  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
African Jacana  
Common Sandpiper  
Green Sandpiper  
Wood Sandpiper  
White-winged Black Tern  
Common Tern  
Speckled Pigeon  
African Mourning Dove  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Senegal Coucal  
Pallid Swift  
Malachite Kingfisher  
Pied Kingfisher  
White-throated Bee-eater  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Woodchat Shrike  
Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow  
Beautiful Sunbird  
Black-headed Weaver  
Northern Red Bishop  
Yellow-crowned Bishop  

Thursday 24 August 2017

Greater painted snipe north of Nouakchott

Last Saturday I went to the waste water site just north off of Nouakchott and just off the Nouadhibou road.

This is my newly favoured local site given the demise of F-Nord Lake.

It did not disappoint. I observed 35 species during a morning session there. Furthermore there was quality as well as quantity.

I had expected western paleartic migrants and I got them. However there was one Afro-tropical migrant which had arrived from the other direction which stole the show. More about that later.

spur-winged lapwing

Early on, I visited the row of trees that held so many warblers the week before. Migrant passerine windfalls can be very patchy and the week before had been a good one. On Saturday I found only one western orphean warbler in the same place as many warblers the week before. This was not a good start but things improved after this.

I moved out of the avenue of trees towards the main water body a little disheartened. As I walked there, the now usual noisy reception from a number of spur-winged lapwing greeted me.

They make it difficult to approach without scaring the other birds.

black-winged stilt

A few black-winged stilt were dotted about.

common swift

In the early morning there was alot of action above the water. A group of common swift passed through on their way south. They stayed for about an hour. A similar number of barn swallow lingered longer. Just before I left the site two more common swift arrived.

glossy ibis

There were an even larger number of redshank present than the week before. Though I spent my time trying to get a good look at a group of ibis. They all turned out to be glossy ibis but I scrutinised them thoroughly for potential northern bald ibis. The latter bird sometimes wanders into Mauritania from the north.

four glossy ibis

I admit I didn't even notice at the time that one much rarer bird had photobombed my pictures of the four glossy ibis.

greater painted-snipe on the right

Lo and behold, a greater painted-snipe had been present.

greater painted-snipe (left)

It is well out of range. The Senegal River boundary with Senegal is the normal northern extremity of their range though I do know of one previous report in Nouakchott.

greater painted-snipe (right)

The habitat reminds me of the Sabya waste water site in south west Saudi Arabia where my birding colleagues and I proved they bred.

two glossy ibis and a greater painted-snipe

They can wander as witnessed when I found one at Raysut water treatment plant in Salalah, Oman. It almost feels like deja vu.


The variety of waders contributed to the large number of species seen. Greenshank were present in deeper water as were common ringed plover on muddy sections.

blue-cheeked bee-eater 

Constant sorties from blue-cheeked bee-eater distracted me from my wader watch from time to time.

mixed waders

The picture above shown some of the variety of waders. There is a redshank, two wood sandpiper, two little stint and a dunlin all on one small island.

Having thoroughly searched for more rare waders, I moved back to the trees. This time I started my search at the far eastern end of the avenue. It was more successful than my previous look into trees that day.

western olivaceous warbler

This was the week of the western olivaceous warbler. It was the most common warbler.

close-up of the head of a western olivaceous warbler

There is a very dirty small pond which is surrounded by overhanging bushes along the avenue back towards the car. This was the place where my main variation of warbler types came from this time. There were at least two western olivaceous warbler, a reed warbler, a sedge warbler and a willow warbler there.

Near-by I was scanning the bee-eaters again and one proved to be a European bee-eater. This was only my second in Mauritania and both have been at this site.

European bee-eater 1

I saw it in four different places but I still think it was just one bird. There were no calls and no sign of two together.

European bee-eater 2

I did a second circuit of the main water body. I was happy to get close views of one of the dunlin.


Ruff were also present.

two ruff

One of the glossy ibis finally allowed me very close.

glossy ibis

A very early yellow wagtail of the sub-species iberiae was walking along the grass.

yellow wagtail 1

It is good to see grass growing in a few patches. In the last few weeks there hasn't been an off-load of really contaminated water which scorches and kills this type of green growth.

yellow wagtail 2

The last wader I saw before I left was a ruff with some remnants of breeding plumage.

another ruff

I hope to go south this coming weekend. If so there will be a good chance of finding new rainy season birds. Let's see.

Species seen at the waste water site, Nouakchott
Glossy Ibis  
Black-winged Stilt  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Common Ringed Plover  
Greater Painted-Snipe  
Curlew Sandpiper  
Little Stint  
Common Sandpiper  
Green Sandpiper  
Common Greenshank  
Wood Sandpiper  
Common Redshank  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Common Swift  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
European Bee-eater  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Woodchat Shrike  
Brown-necked Raven  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow  
Willow Warbler 
Common Chiffchaff 
Western Olivaceous Warbler  
Melodious Warbler  
Sedge Warbler  
Eurasian Reed Warbler  
Western Orphean Warbler  
Western Yellow Wagtail  

Wednesday 16 August 2017

The day of the cuckoos

Last Sunday, Dr. Mohamed Vall and I teamed up for the first time since my return to Mauritania following my summer break.

We went south to the closest place to Nouakchott which is consistantly affected by summer rains. This is Amzela which is just over 70 kilometres south of Nouakchott.

On our visit last October there were birds which are not seen any further north.

We hoped for the same this time round.

The signs were good. The watering hole had water and this is caused by rain unlike most surface water in Nouakchott.

There are several large trees clustered around the watering hole and most are natural.

The first tree we approached was a good start. A migrant pied flycatcher was making sorties.

pied flycatcher

At the top of the tree a Viellot's barbet was calling loudly.

Viellot's barbet

As we moved slowly round the large pool, not one but two cuckoos flushed from a distant tree. They flew in opposite directions. One was a great spotted cuckoo. The other was a pied cuckoo

These were exactly the type of birds we had hoped for.

We had seen a great spotted cuckoo at Lake Ganky in late October last year. This one could either have been a European migrant going south or a rainy season African breeder heading north!

We never did get prolonged looks as it was very furtive.

pied cuckoo from below

The pied cuckoo was a really good find. It is out of range according to the distribution maps but was an entirely reasonable find once you know that Amzela is the northern most point of wetland Sahel habitat in the country.

We diverted our attention from the bird to search more widely away for the water and trees for a while.

northern anteater chat

Noisy northern anteater chat were seen and heard out in the open. This is certainly on the northern edge of their range too. Blue-cheeked bee-eater were hawking overhead but were reluctant to land.

I was keen to get good pictures of the pied cuckoo so we returned to it soon enough.

While "stalking" it we came across green-backed camaroptera and nightingale low in the same very large tree that it was in at the time.

pied cuckoo 1

Finally it afforded good photographs. This was number 263 on my Mauritanian list. 

pied cuckoo 2

Elsewhere there was a flock of 12 white-billed buffalo weaver. A solitary greater blue-eared starling joined them from time to time.

white-billed buffalo-weaver

Amzela always has very large numbers of Namaqua dove. This time, one stood out. It appeared to be a partially leucistic bird.

Leucistic namaqua dove (right)

A quick search on the internet gave me no incidences of this phenomenon but I cannot believe this is the first time this has been observed.

Leucistic namaqua dove 2

It was part of a large group and seemed to be accepted by them well enough.

leucistic namaqua dove 3

There were plenty of migrant warblers present. These included willow warbler and western bonelli's warbler. Most warblers were seen in the trees.

sedge warbler

However, a few were in adjacent bushes including a sedge warbler in tamarisk.


Other notable birds were hoopoe and black bush robin.

rear view of black bush robin

No red-billed quelea and only one Sudanese golden sparrow was observed this time. Plenty had seen on previous visits. These associate with African silverbill at Amzela. The silverbill were around in numbers.

African silverbill

Just before we left we came across 20 Namaqua dove in one bush.

Namaqua dove in a bush

Half way back towards the city is the water plant in Riyadh district. There is a very short artifical river coming out of the back of the plant. Though the cover is mostly Sodom's apple, this spot can attract many birds particularly those seeking water.

Since our last visit, clearly some city people have now discovered this spot. There were too many people there to allow birds to settle as well as they wanted. A visit in a weekday could probably be more fruitful.

cattle egret

Nevertheless it attracted grey heron, squacco heron, little egret and cattle egret as well as a variety of waders. We estimate there were at least 120 Namaqua dove in amongst the grass and Sodom's apple.

Crucially though we spotted a Eurasian cuckoo twice. It never really settled and was last seen continuing its migration south.

It was, however, species 264 on my Mauritanian list. Sunday was truly the day of the cuckoos.

Species seen at Amzela on August 13th
Little Stint  
Common Sandpiper  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Great Spotted Cuckoo  
Pied Cuckoo  
Blue-naped Mousebird  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Vieillot's Barbet  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Woodchat Shrike  
Pied Crow  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Willow Warbler  
Common Chiffchaff 
Western Bonelli's Warbler  
Western Olivaceous Warbler  
Melodious Warbler  
Sedge Warbler  
Eurasian Reed Warbler (Eurasian)      
Green-backed Camaroptera (Grey-backed)  
Cricket Longtail  
Black Scrub-Robin  
Common Nightingale  
European Pied Flycatcher  
Northern Anteater-Chat  
Greater Blue-eared Starling  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  
White-billed Buffalo-Weaver  
African Silverbill  

Species seen outside the water plant, Riyadh district, Nouakchott on August 13th
Great White Pelican  
Grey Heron  
Little Egret  
Cattle Egret (Western)  
Squacco Heron  
Little Stint  
Common Sandpiper  
Green Sandpiper  
Wood Sandpiper  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Common Cuckoo  
Blue-naped Mousebird  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Woodchat Shrike  
Pied Crow  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow  
House Sparrow