Thursday 16 November 2017

First mallard and other good birds

Last Saturday I went to the waste water site north of Nouakchott once again. It is now my most regular site and it has been a long time since I have failed to see at least forty species there.

Saturday was no exception. Once again it provided an addition to my Mauritanian list too.

This time it was a mallard.

mallard swimming

Mallard is extremely uncommon south of the Sahara in West Africa. Records in Mauritania have been restricted to autumn in Nouadhibou and Banc d'Arguin and winter in the Senegal River delta. It is a vagrant elsewhere in West Africa.

mallard resting

It was not the only duck at the main water area. There were three northern pintail and about 15 common teal

The mallard, however, was not mixing with them. It was actually less timid and stayed long after the other ducks had taken to the air. 

northern pintail

For the first couple of hours at the site, the weather was very dusty and visibility was very poor. However I could see, through the haze, that one of the northern pintail was more reluctant to fly than the others. I wonder if it was ill or just had a different temperament. 

Before concentrating on the ducks, I spent time observing the waders.

kentish plover

Kentish plover was the most numerous wader for the first time since parts of last winter.

thin dunlin

One dunlin caused me identification headaches. It was thinner than usual and made me consider curlew sandpiper. However it didn't have long legs and the supercilium was weak. Furthermore it's bill wasn't exceptionally long. 


Ruff were present once again.

litte ringed plover

Little ringed plover is much rarer at the site than common ringed plover. This time two of the former and around ten of the later were observed.

ringed plover

I don't recall seeing any gulls at the site before. A black-headed gull arrived and left within five minutes.

black-headed gull

White wagtail will be around all winter. I haven't seen any yellow wagtail here recently but pipits are still coming and going.

red-throated pipit

I saw one red-throated pipit and two tree pipit which was exactly the same count as two weeks ago. i doubt they were the same birds though.

three blue-cheeked bee-eater

Another similarity with two weeks ago was a wave of blue-cheeked bee-eater coming through on passage. When they passed through, I was left with the same count of around six blue-cheeked bee-eater which have been local since the summer.

namaqua dove

No turtle dove seem to be left from the autumn migration. The only doves seen this time were laughing dove and Namaqua dove.


The diversity of passerines was still high. A rather battered looking whinchat was found.

northern wheatear

Both black-eared wheatear and northern wheatear were on site. One beautiful male black-eared wheatear escaped my camera sadly.

The mix of warblers has been constantly changing all autumn. No garden warbler or willow warbler were seen this time.

It has reached the stage of the year where most warbler species now seen are those which can stay all winter.

There were many common chiffchaff. Some birds were almost certainly Iberian chiffchaff

Concernig the latter species, it now appears that it does winter in south west Mauritania as confirmed in the Atlas of Mauritanian birds and contrary to other sources which say this happens only in northern Senegal and Northern Mali. 

Iberian chiffchaff 1

The bird in this two pictures is believed to be an Iberian chiffchaff as identified by two Spain based birders. 

The leg colour is intermediate between a typical common chiffchaff and typical willow warbler as is the primary projection. Plumage colours and facial pattern are good for Iberian chiffchaff too.

Iberian chiffchaff

One or two European reed warbler still remain. However the second most common warbler at the moment is now blackcap.

blackcap 1

It is easy to see this species out in the open though they are a little more cautious than the two types of chiffchaff.


While looking at the warblers in one spot with low bushes near mud and shallow water, a very young Fulvous babbler appeared briefly. I have little doubt that the species breeds at the site and probably inside the thick bushes at that spot.

young Fulvous babbler 1

This bird looked like a fledgling.

young fulvous babbler 2

As always I went back towards the car under the canopy of the avenue of trees. Here I saw European pied flycatcher and several common redstart. There was also a sub-alpine warbler and one sardinian warbler

European pied flycatcher inside the trees

Sadly the European scops owl I had been seeing was now just a pile of feathers. It had been attacked and eaten either by a cat or bird of prey. The attrition rate of this species in winter was known to be high when I birded in Oman. It looks like it might be here too.

I won't let this sad event detract from an otherwise good birding session.

Species seen at the waste water site
Northern Pintail  
Eurasian Teal  
Glossy Ibis  
Common Buzzard  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Kentish Plover  
Common Ringed Plover  
Little Ringed Plover  
Little Stint  
Common Snipe  
Wood Sandpiper  
Black-headed Gull  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Eurasian Wryneck  
Common Kestrel  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow  
Common House Martin  
Common Chiffchaff
Iberian Chiffchaff  
Eurasian Reed Warbler  
Eurasian Blackcap  
Subalpine Warbler  
Sardinian Warbler  
Fulvous Babbler  
Bluethroat (White-spotted)  
European Pied Flycatcher  
Common Redstart  
Northern Wheatear  
Black-eared Wheatear  
White Wagtail 
Tree Pipit  
Red-throated Pipit  
House Sparrow 

Wednesday 15 November 2017

European golden plover ends a good day

Ten days ago, Mohamed Vall and I stayed near the city of Nouakchott to go birding. However, instead of visiting the waste water site as has become usual, we went south and west.

We went to the water treatment plant south of Riyadh district followed by a western journey a few kilometres to the old wharf and finally further up the coast to just south of the fishing port.

This triangular journey bought some good birds. However, none was as good as one at the final leg of the journey near the fishing port.

In the artifical lagoons here, there was a European golden plover.

European golden plover

It stood out. It was not mixing with the five grey plover also present. Instead, if anything it was showing an affinity to be with the two red knot on site.

golden plover (left) and red knot (right)

European golden plover is rare in West Africa. It is seen occasionally in winter in Banc d'Arguin as well as the odd one in the Nouakchott area but certainly not every winter. Indeed Nouakchott is the furthest south in the continent of Africa that European golden plover is not a vagrant.

European golden plover from the rear

A list of all the other species seen in the lagoons or near-by is given at the end of the blog.

Four hours earlier we had started out at the water purification plant in Riyadh district.

We were very happy to see that the water mass there had more than doubled since our last visit. A fresh water site the size it now is should start to attract more and more birds. On the other hand it is also attracting more camels and cattle as well as picnickers.

Highlights including a sudden flight into the air of two European scops owl seemingly fighting over space in a small but heavily leafed tree.

They were lucky that the lanner falcon seen later was not around at that time.

speckled pigeon at the water purification plant

Laughing dove and Namaqua dove are always present but this may have been a first for speckled pigeon.

Temminck's stint

The waders proved to be a non-standard mix. This was only the second time in 15 months that I have seen a Temminck's stint in the Nouakchott area.

western reef heron

Despite the apparent contrast of dark legs with yellow feet, the three white birds were western reef heron rather than little egret.

spotted redshank 1

This fresh water environment was a good home for a passage spotted redshank. This is far less common than the aptly named common redshank.

spotted redshank 2

The second leg of the triangle was the area near and on the old wharf.

blue-naped mousebird

One of the types of bush in the coastal scrub was in berry and was a magnet for several birds. These included blue-naped mousebird and Sudanese golden sparrow.

Sudanese golden sparrow

The best bird from on  the wharf itself was a young northern gannet. The wharf extends 250 metres into the sea and promise more than it has so far delievered.

young northern gannet

Last weekend, I returned to the usual birding spot at the waste water site. An addition to my Mauritanian list was made from an unexpected quarter. I will blog about that next.

Species at the water plant
Eurasian Teal  
Western Reef-Heron  
Temminck's Stint  
Spotted Redshank  
Common Greenshank  
Wood Sandpiper  
Speckled Pigeon  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
European Scops Owl  
Little Swift  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Lanner Falcon  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Crested Lark  
Northern Wheatear  
House Sparrow  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  

Species at the old wharf
Northern Gannet  
Great Cormorant  
Lesser Black-backed Gull  
Caspian Tern  
Common Tern  
Sandwich Tern  
House Sparrow

In coastal scrub near-by
Blue-naped Mousebird
Sudanese  Golden Sparrow
Garden Warbler

Species south of the fishing port
Grey Heron (Grey)  
Cattle Egret  
Grey Plover  
European Golden Plover  
Common Ringed Plover  
Ruddy Turnstone  
Red Knot  
Mediterranean Gull  
Audouin's Gull  
Yellow-legged Gull  
Lesser Black-backed Gull  
Caspian Tern  
Common Tern  
Sandwich Tern  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Crested Lark  
Spectacled Warbler  
Northern Wheatear  

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Back to the waste water site

Two weeks ago, I returned to the waste water site north of Nouakchott after a two week break. I went with Mohamed Vall.

Once again, there was considerable change on the previous visit.

One fixture was the five or six blue-cheeked bee-eater which have been around ever since I returned from my summer break.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

We didn't linger so long at the western side of the site as I normally do. We went more directly to the main body of water.

This paid dividends as Mohamed Vall saw his first ever red-throated pipit. It was made easier by the presence of two tree pipit to compare against.

red-throated pipit

It was darkly streaked on its back and the heavily patterned rump was easy to see.

red-throated pipit 2

The three parallel strong streaks at the side of both flanks were also obvious.

red-throated pipit 3

I had recently removed my previous record of red-throated pipit in Mauritania for lack of certainty so this one became a new addition as my total had gone back by one. 

It is painful to remove records but you can only be true to yourself.

Eurasian spoonbill 1

Still at the main body of water, we kept on inspecting the waders but nothing unusual appeared.

A Eurasian spoonbill caught our attention though.

Eurasian spoonbill 2

This is a young bird with a pink bill but there is no other resemblance to African spoonbill which is still not on my country list.

I have yet to visit either national park. A trip to Diawling in the south west corner of the country is the best bet to see this species.

This may be organised soon.

Eurasian spoonbill 3

We left the main water relatively quickly this time.

While walking down the sandy road eastward, Mohamed Vall pointed out a raptor just north of the site in a tree.

short-toed eagle 1

It turned out to be a short-toed eagle. This is not the first time this autumn that the site has attracted this species. However, they are not known to winter here. They do winter in large numbers though only 200 kilometres south along the Senegal River.

short-toed eagle 2

On returning back to the main site after our detour, we spent longer than usual in the eastern part where there are small pools with close cover.

A few of the delivery trucks dump their water here rather than at the main pool. It would be a shame if they ever stopped doing that as this creates a different habitat to the main pool which has more water but less tree cover.

northern wheatear

There is often a good mix of passerines in this area and they are not necessarily warblers. Ortolan bunting was seen here again. A deeply coloured northern wheatear was an interesting sight. I suspect it is Greenland or Iceland in origin.

Fulvous babbler

A young fulvous babbler was reluctant to move from under a tree as the temperatures started to rocket. It was a hot day.

Egyptian vulture

For a second time, Mohamed Vall called me over and for a second time it was for a bird of prey.

This time Mohamed Vall had picked up on a young Egyptian vulture.

This was the first time I had seen one in the Nouakchott area though I had read last year that a tagged one had spent all winter just outside the city. It had moved around quite a bit but by its tracking, it could easily have crossed this site.

blackcap (back)  with garden warbler (front)

After this excitement, I moved on to spend time and patience observing warblers in a damp and shaded area.

It was interesting to see the closely related garden warbler and blackcap side by side.

Blackcap though can winter in the Nouakchott area whereas all garden warbler are on passage to go further south.

European reed warbler

Once again the waste water site had plenty of Eurasian reed warbler. The beauty of this site is the ability to see this species in the open. It doesn't have long grass or reeds to hide in.

garden warbler

The warblers were so busy feeding, I found if I just stood still they would forget about me. You can see that I am looking down on this garden warbler because it came so close.


Late October was the first time that chiffchaff arrived in big numbers. It was also the first time they outnumbered willow warbler.

a close European reed warbler

It wasn't just garden warbler that came up close. It was a privilege to see European reed warbler and blackcap do the same.

female blackcap

I have spent a lot of time this autumn trying (and in the end succeeding) in separating a small number of Iberian chiffchaff from willow warbler.

common chiffchaff with white belly

Some white bellied, lemon vented and lemen supercilium birds that Saturday may also have been Iberian chiffchaff. One certainly looked very good. However without calls it requires considerable photographic effort and I didn't priotise it this time round.

common chiffchaff with yellow belly 2

The bird above was not the one I considered closest. That one had the same features plus lighter legs and less grey tones around the head than the photographed bird.

Overall, it was another good day. I had to wait another week until I birded again. Mohamed Vall and I went to other sites around the city that time and I managed to add another bird to my Mauritanian list. I will blog about that next.

Species at the waste water site
Little Egret  
Eurasian Spoonbill  
Egyptian Vulture  
Short-toed Eagle  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Kentish Plover  
Common Ringed Plover  
Little Stint  
Green Sandpiper  
Wood Sandpiper  
European Turtle Dove  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
European Scops Owl  
Little Swift  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Common Kestrel  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Crested Lark  
Sand Martin 
Barn Swallow  
Willow Warbler  
Common Chiffchaff  
Iberian Chiffchaff   
Eurasian Reed Warbler      
Eurasian Blackcap  
Garden Warbler  
Spotted Flycatcher  
European Pied Flycatcher  
Common Redstart  
Northern Wheatear  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
White Wagtail (alba)  
Tree Pipit  
Red-throated Pipit  
Ortolan Bunting  
House Sparrow  
Sudan Golden Sparrow