Friday 29 December 2017

Back in Nouakchott

It has been notably cooler in Nouakchott this winter compared with last. This is following the weather pattern down western Europe from the UK southward through Spain and the Canary Islands to Mauritania. Here in Nouakchott, this has also included sand in the air straight off the Sahara for days on end.

My first birding back in Nouakchott after my holiday was in one such sandstorm taking place at the waste water site.

It was tough birding with poor visibility and difficult on the throat. After finishing the session, I went out and bought some surgical masks for future birding this winter.

One difficult bird was a first winter wheatear. I took it to birdforum as I suspected it was an Isabelline wheatear.

There was mixed opinion there but most of the expert opinion supported my view.

probable Isabelline wheatear 1

Here are links to pictures to a heavyweight supporter of Isabelline.

Here is a comment from a bird illustrator who is one of the best identifiers in the game "The centres to the coverts and tertials seem to be a touch too brown for Northern and the primary tips can fall closer to the tail tip on Isabelline".

Mauritania falls within the wintering range of Isabelline wheatear but I suspect it is quite scarse as this is my first probable sighiting in two winters. I am surprised how often it is claimed in western Sahara though it is has much more birding.

The day after day of (sandy) winds from the east would make sightings more likely too.

probable Isabelline wheatear 2

I am very confident now that the majority of chiffchaff wintering at the site are actually Iberian chiffchaff.

Iberian chiffchaff 1

Not all Iberian chiffchaff are as apparently obvious as the one shown. It has the beautiful lemon on the front end of its supercilium and a lemon sprinkling on the top half of its undersides.

Iberian chiffchaff 2

If it weren't for the sandstorm, the lemon would be clearer still.

southern grey shrike

Most of the time even the southern grey shrike stayed out of exposed positions.

spur-winged lapwing

Two guarenteed birds over the summer and autumn have been spur-winged lapwing and blue-cheeked bee-eater. The former were present but surprisingly quiet. The latter, as predicted, have left and I don't expect them back until July next year. 

As I have said before, blue-cheeked bee-eater is not resident in Mauritania contrary to the distribution map in Birds of Western Africa.

Kentish plover

A large flock of Kentish plover were present. For once they exceeded the numbers of common ringed plover.


Other waders on the main pool included ruff, wood sandpiper and dunlin.

Eurasian teal

Before I left for my break in early December, there were 16 Eurasian teal at the site. There were exactly the same number of the same species present nearly three weeks later.


Some birds were difficult to identify than usual for another reason other than the visibility. Some were adopting unusual poses to reduce exposure to the wind.

The ruff were mostly in a hunched posture. The usually long neck was nowhere to be seen.


The chiffchaff were in two clusters. In the second cluster I found them more difficult to separate. I suspect a mixed group.

little ringed plover

Little ringed plover is nowhere near as common as common ringed plover but two were observed.

At times they were being bullied by a lone common ringed plover. As it was not with the main group of common ringed plover and because its supercilium was weak I spent a lot of time trying to see if I could make it a semi-palmated plover.

common ringed plover

It was not. There was no sign of a yellow eye-ring and the webbing on the feet did not match. I am not particularly fond of tracking waders but it can be rewarding.

wood sandpiper

It was not an easy day for the waders as this close group of wood sandpiper (and a dunlin) will testify. It was not easy for this birder either.

I am hoping for more comfortable birding this weekend Mohamed Vall and I go south.

Species seen at the waste water site on December 23rd
Eurasian Teal  
Common Moorhen  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Kentish Plover  
Common Ringed Plover  
Little Ringed Plover  
Little Stint  
Green Sandpiper  
Wood Sandpiper  
Laughing Dove 
Namaqua Dove 
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Common Kestrel
Southern Grey Shrike  
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow  
Common Chiffchaff  
Iberian Chiffchaff  
Sardinian Warbler  
Fulvous Chatterer  
Northern Wheatear  
Isabelline Wheatear  
White Wagtail (alba)  
House Sparrow  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  

Monday 25 December 2017

Spotted sandpiper and other birds on Gran Canaria

On my way back to Nouakchott in mid-December I stopped off on Gran Canaria for a few days before returning to work.

Las Palmas on Gran Canaria is a popular place for weathly Mauritanians to visit and expats based in that country. It is well connected by air to Nouakchott and is less than two hours away.

I know I will be there again. So on this stopover, I stayed close to Las Palmas and enjoyed the food, drink and obtained a medical as well as doing some important shopping.

My birding was light and I went to just two local places. One was Doramas Park and the other was El Confital. The park is a large ornamental garden on a hillside while El Confital is the rocky coast just north of the city's western beaches. Both are within walking distance of my hotel (Hotel Dona Louisa).

El Confital gave me a notable success. I found a spotted sandpiper.

spotted sandpiper 1

This American rarity was a lifer for me.

spotted sandpiper 2

It is very similar to a common sandpiper in winter. Though it has brighter yellow legs, a shorter body and tail and, sometimes a few light spots remaining in the lower flank. This bird had these.

spotted sandpiper 3

It wasn't easy to pick it out but my observation benefitted from the fact that there were so relatively few birds down the coast that I gave each one special attention.

spotted sandpiper 4

I actually found two common sandpiper in very similar terrain in other places along my walks. 

common sandpiper 1

On inspecting the pictures afterwards, there appears to be at least one other difference between the species that I can use for future reference. The white eye ring is split quite comprehensively in the spotted sandpiper but barely notched in the common sandpiper.

common sandpiper 2

Elsewhere and on both days that I walked El Confital, there was a lone little egret.

little egret

Rocky coastal pools almost the world over are a magnet for ruddy turnstone. I was not surprised to see them here.

ruddy turnstone

Crabs are the favourite food of whimbrel. The coastline is covered in them. Nevertheless seeing 21 whimbrel one day and 25 the next day on the same rock was quite special. It is certainly the most I have ever seen in one place.

some of the whimbrel

On the inland scrub at El Confital, it is easy to find Berthelot's pipit.

Berthelot's pipit

This resident of the Canaries and of Madeira was another lifer. Also inland I found a common kestrel both days.

yellow-legged gull

There were very few other birds on the rocks. I found a lone whimbrel one day. On both days there were a pair of adult yellow-legged gull.

El Confitil comes to an end in the north at a restricted military zone. I could see several more yellow-legged gull resting there. I suspect this undisturbed area would be good birding.

There are no house sparrow on the Canaries. However, there are Spanish sparrow. I didn't see in the more urbanised areas. Nevertheless, in the trees on the edge of the city where it meets El Confital starts there was a small flock. They ventured onto the buildings there from time to time.

Spanish sparrow on building

I found them forming a mixed flock with Island canary at one place too.

male spanish sparrow in breeding plumage

The other place I visited was Doramas Park (Parque Doramas). The birds were quite different.

African collared dove

Tame African collared dove are among the most conspicuous.

common moorhen

Another tame bird was a solitary moorhen in one of the ornamental ponds.

male blackbird

The trees and bushes had a high density of blackbird.

canary islands chiffchaff

Canary islands chiffchaff are readily glimpsed but it took me a long time to see one well.

young canary

My first canary was probably a juvenile rather than a female. They look difficult to separate from juvenile serin. However the pink bill was a good marker.

Las Palmas from Paque Doramas

As I climbed up Paque Doramas, I found it easier to pick out island canary.

male island canary

I eventually got excellent views of a male. 

Canary island chiffchaff

I also had fine views of a Canary Island chiffchaff too. It has a darker and more olive back than a typical common chiffchaff and characteristic strong buff undersides.

The park was very noisy because of not only rose-ringed parakeet but also monk parakeet.

monk parakeet

This is the first time I have seen this introduced but now self-sustaining population anywhere.

grey wagtail

One of the pecularities of the Gran Canaria to me was a lack of white wagtail and yet I saw five grey wagtail in both the park and in El Confital. I am not complaining though.

After Gran Canaria I returned to work in Nouakchott. I managed some birding last weekend and finally added the first bird to my Mauritanian list for six weeks. I will blog about that next.

December 15th El Confital
Little Egret  
Common Sandpiper  
Spotted Sandpiper  
Yellow-legged Gull  
Common Kestrel (Canary Is.)  
Grey Wagtail  
Berthelot's Pipit  

December 14th El Confital
Little Egret  
Ruddy Turnstone  
Yellow-legged Gull  
Feral Pigeon  
Common Kestrel (Canary Is.)  
Grey Wagtail  
Berthelot's Pipit  
Spanish Sparrow  

December 14th Parque Doramas
Common Moorhen  
Feral Pigeon  
African Collared Dove  
Ring-necked Parakeet  
Monk Parakeet  
Common Chiffchaff  
Canary Islands Chiffchaff  
Eurasian Blackbird  
Grey Wagtail  
Island Canary  

Sunday 24 December 2017

Hotel Baobab, Bamako

I found Hotel Baobab on where pictures and comments on its gardens looked promising. There are larger and more expensive hotels with bigger gardens but I felt good about this choice.

All I had to do was stand or sit for hours and see what turned up. The birding up until about 1 pm turned out the best. After this on both days, birding activity thinned out.

One of the first new species (for me in Mali) seen was bronze mannikin.

male bronze mannikin

I had seen this species in Dakar, Senegal a few years ago.

two male Bronze mannikin

I had forgotten that the female was quite different and it took me some time to realise I only had one species.

female bronze mannikin

Despite being a medium sized garden, more than half the birding activity was found in a cluster of four trees. I presume this was some sort of critical mass of cover for some species.

Le Baobab

It was in one of these trees that I observed a male village indigobird though I did see it or another one later in another part of the garden.

male village indigobird 1

This bird is a host parasite mostly with red-billed firefinch.

male village indigobird 2

I spotted a couple of definite female village indigobird in the garden too.

female village indigobird

However, the bird below did not obviously look like a female village indigobird to me. I suspect it is a female or immature of one of two whydahs which can be found in the Bamako area. Village indigobird and the two whydahs are all in the Vadua family and the famales and especially juveniles are difficult to separate. I had no takers when I posted three pictures of the bird below on birdforum so it will remain unidentified.

unidentified Vadua

At the other extreme, one of the easiest birds to recognise in the garden was common bubul. The only western palearctic wintering bird in the garden was a noisy western olivaceous warbler. This was not a tricky identification either.

common bulbul

I referred to a pale eyed weaver seen in the botanic gardens in a previous blog. I got better views and photographs of this weaver in the gardens of Le Baobab hotel.

Heuglin's masked weaver 1

It is Heuglin's masked weaver. Apart from the pale eye, the the streaks in the wing and the wing bar appear to me to be yellower and less buff than the similar Vitelline masked weaver.

Heuglin's masked weaver 2

It is towards the north western edge of it's range and is one bird I won't see in Mauritania.

first village weaver 

A much larger weaver in the garden was village weaver.

second village weaver

One of the birds had retained some breeding plumage.

red-billed firefinch

Given the number of village indigobird seen in the garden, it was no surprise to start seeing red-billed firefinch too.

African silverbill

Very briefly, two species passed through the garden. Neither stayed long and niether was seen on more than one occasion despite one and a half days birding in the garden. The first was African silverbill. It was seen in a distant tree.

northern grey headed sparrow

The second was northern grey headed sparrow. This was the only species of sparrow observed in the city. So far it appears Bamako has not been cursed with the invasion of house sparrow which is colonising Africa from the north. 

male beautiful sunbird

There were more regular visits from sunbirds. Very few were males in full or even partial breeding plumage. The beautiful sunbird above was an exception.

female-type beautiful sunbird

I have not done enough research to know whether this one above is a female beautiful sunbird or immature male. Certainly the throat looks darker than the illustration of females.

female scarlet-chested sunbird

While I had seen scarlet-chested sunbird in breeding plumage at the National Park, here was one female.

Finally, I will look at some of the larger birds observed in or around the garden.

pied crow

Pied crow never came in but was seen on near-by houses and flying over.

laughing dove

Once again, laughing dove was everywhere. As said before, this maybe the city's most common bird. It is certainly the city's medium/large bird.

distant shikra

It was worth keeping an eye out for birds flying over head especially just to the north of the gardens where the River Niger flows. I picked out some plain martin that way. I also got lucky observing a shikra. Interestingly it was in with the plain martin

Mali agama

Even in the hotel gardens there was other interesting wildlife. I caught up with a Mali agama again. I had seen one before on the road to Atar in Mauritania.

Overall on my trip to Mali I saw 65 species. I don't think that was too bad considering my safety first approach to site choice.

I was on a two week holiday which took me to Gran Canaria on the way back to Nouakchott. I saw a vagrant there. I will blog about that birding next.

Seen in or from the gardens of Hotel le Baobab
Black Kite (Yellow-billed)  
Feral Pigeon  
Speckled Pigeon  
Laughing Dove  
Senegal Coucal  
Little Swift  
Pied Crow  
Plain Martin  
Common Bulbul  
Western Olivaceous Warbler  
Scarlet-chested Sunbird  
Beautiful Sunbird  
Northern Grey-headed Sparrow  
Vitelline Masked-Weaver  
Heuglin's Masked-Weaver 
Village Weaver  
Red-billed Firefinch  
Bronze Mannikin  
African Silverbill  
Village Indigobird