Saturday 13 January 2018

Rewarding weekend in Nouakchott

Last weekend's birding got off to a fairly dull start but ended with a bang.

On Friday afternoon, I went to the waste water site. This was the first visit for nearly two weeks but the weather was again dusty and visibilty was poor. The birding wasn't too good either.

The 16 common teal had become the 9 common teal.

The passerines had become mostly limited to common chiffchaff, Iberian chiffchaff, sardinian warbler and Sudanese golden sparrow. These are not bad birds for someone first arriving in Mauritania but are the bare mininum I have come to expect at this site in winter.

Sudanese golden sparrow

There have been three or more kestrel on the site for a few weeks now. They were still there.

common kestrel

There were also three different marsh harrier there at various times though I believe one of them, at least, moved on during the session. I doubt any of them will stay as long as the kestrel. There is no history of long staying marsh harrier at the site. Though I could be proved wrong in my prediction.

marsh harrier

I spent nearly four hours at the site. Given the paucity of passerines this time, I concentrated on the waders. Unfortunately there were no rarieties. It can't happen every time or else they wouldn't be rarities. My main strategy is to look for American vagrants given my previous success here with pectoral sandpiper.

little stint

I spent some time with the bird on the left above. It appears flatter, squatter than the more obvious little stint on the right. It has a slightly longer bill. The black lore is almost broken by a paler area. The tail looks attentuated. The breast band looks quite dense. The mantle has dark elements. However I am told it is still a little stint

Having never seen a Baird's sandpiper, which I was considering, I found working out of a book and without practical experience to be tricky. It would appear a real Baird's sandpiper must have shorter legs and an even more attentuated tail with more obvious primary extention beyond the tail to be worth consideration. You live and learn.


All the ruff were obvious ruff. This time I spent no time considering the couple of potential American vagrants with similarities.

On Saturday morning, I teamed up with Mohamed Vall. We had a very successful day.

First we went to the fishing port area. At the waste dump, there were many white wagtail and a single yellow wagtail as well as several cattle egret. However, the range of plovers made for the most interest.

I had previously believed all Kittlitz's plover left Nouakchott in winter. However, an adult and the juvenile below were seen.

Kittlitz's plover

My new hypothesis is the vast majority migrate the short distance south but if there is some late breeding than the family is obliged to stay on. This looks like a case of late breeding. Either way the sightings were my first winter ones of Kittlitz's plover in two such seasons here.

barn swallow

Throughout the day, we were seeing barn swallow in the city. We didn't work out which way they were migrating.

cream-coloured courser

An unusual bird to see in the city, which was at the dump, was a cream-coloured courser. I have seen them visit dumps in villages before but not within an urban area.

Mediterranean gull (centre)

Next we headed off to the coast for some sea watching. There were an extremely large number of lesser black-backed gull. However, we set about looking at the minority gulls. These were Audouin gull, Black-headed gull and Mediterranean gull. We didn't see an obvious yellow-legged gull or any slender-billed gull this time. It was beginning to look like a below average session.

However, things turned round when we decided to walk north up the coast and straight through the fishing port and out the other side. The area directly in front of the fishing port had very little as usual.

Yet, the coastal strip just south of the port gave us good views of several terns. They were mostly common tern with the odd sandwich tern and Caspian tern. We spent quite some time trying to pick out any arctic tern without success.

common tern

The real success was just north of the fishing port, where we came across a great skua. It's white flashes on the upper wing and lower wing were noticed straightaway and made it a fairly easy identification even from distance. Somehow I managed a photo from 500 metres away with my bridge camera. This obviously large bird was terrorising a common tern at the time.

You can see why people say it gives the appearance of common buzzard.

great skua with a common tern

Great skua became species 293 on my Mauritanian list.

On the way back home, we stopped off at central lake. This is the one in the west of Tevragh Zeina where I recommend discretion when birding as it is close to embassies. Sometimes security prevents birding. Nevertheless, we birded the area of deepest water away from the road.

Very surprisingly, there were eight Eurasian crag martin foraging for insects over the water. 

Eurasian crag martin

They are darker and certainly duskier than the African rock martin which is found in the Adrar region of the country. The latter bird does n't migrate either.

dark underwing coverts of Eurasian crag martin

Mohamed Vall and I took a long time trying to capture the dark underwing coverts in a picture. This is a good feature to help separate from African rock martin.

The distribution map in Birds of Western Africa shows Eurasian crag martin wintering down the Mauritanian coastal districts but this was my first sighting.

Within the space of an hour, my Mauritanian list had gone up again. This time to 294. It has been a long time since I have seen two new species in the city.

little grebe

The authorities have been messing with the water compartments, salinity and levels at this lake since I arrived nearly one and a half years ago. It is wonder that birds like little grebe haven't deserted the place. They need deep water and found it in just one small compartment. Long may there hang on in there.

Thursday 11 January 2018

Day three: from Diawling to Rosso

On New Year's Day, Mohamed Vall and I returned to Nouakchott the long way round. We detoured by following the Senegal River up to Rosso before heading north.

We took all day to return. We passed both fishing hamlets in Diawling on the way out of the National Park for one last time but not without stopping at both.

We were still looking for giant kingfisher which is known to like these locations. Again we failed to spot one.

pied kingfisher

Some sort of compensation was had by the sight of three pied kingfisher in one bush.

three pied kingfisher

We got our best views of African spoonbill at the first hamlet too. Though these were still distant.

African spoonbill

In contrast a group of great white pelican came up close to shore.

great white pelican

The big attraction for the birds at the hamlets is clearly fish. For the gulls it is dried fish.

grey-hooded gull

The fishermen didn't seem to bother as a grey-hooded gull walked over some drying catch.

juvenile black-crowned night heron

Two other birds were seen eating live fish. The first was a juvenile black-crowned night heron.

long-tailed cormorant

The second was a long-tailed cormorant which was fishing in shallow water.

many African swamphen

Between the two hamlets, we found an area with a high density of African swamphen.

At the second hamlet, this time there were far closer views of a yellow-billed stork than elsewhere on the trip.

yellow-billed stork (left)

There was also an opportunity to see several black crake for longer than before.

black crake

The best bird came from an unexpected quarter. It was an African reed warbler which was foraging around and in a tamarisk bush.

African reed warbler 1

African reed warbler is difficult to separate from Eurasian reed warbler which winter in Diawling. While the bird looks very short winged supporting African reed warbler, it is the yellow juvenile gape that is also critical information. A bird born in Europe in May should not show this much gape but a bird born in the African rainy season in September would do so.

African reed warbler 2

Whilst these factors are already enough to clinch its identification, the fact that it chose tamarisk to spend 15 minutes while next to extensive reed beds is also of some import. African reed warbler will take to drier terrain than Eurasian reed warbler. I saw several  African reed warbler (and some tawny-flanked prinia) in similar Tamarisk just the other side of the Senegal River in Saint Louis in early May 2017.

African reed warbler 3

Sadly, the African reed warbler had a bad skin infection around the neck.
African fish eagle

Also at the second hamlet, we spotted a sub-adult African fish eagle.

African mourning dove

We got one last good close look at African mourning dove which is the dominant dove of the wetter parts of the park.

There is one final open stretch of water before the terrain becomes marshland, then grassland then semi-desert over a few kilometres (along the north east road out of the park).

black stork

Here we had our best views of wintering black stork.

Eurasian spoonbill and pied avocet

There were very large numbers of both Eurasian spoonbill and pied avocet. The numbers were the highest I have ever seen in my life for both species.


Try as we might, we never found any Palearctic small or medium duck other than garganey. The larger ones were common shelduck, northern shoveller and also northern pintail but on day one only.

gull-billed tern

Still no marsh terns were seen either, although Caspian tern, gull-billed tern and a small number of sandwich tern were regularly seen.

Finally outside the national park, we elected to take the river road to Rosso rather than the more northerly route through Kaur Macene. 

Much of the route to Rosso consisted of semi-desert with tamarisk on the left and impenetrable reed beds on the right.

It was only when we reached within 25 kilometres of Rosso that irrigation channels and farming began to provide a landscape amenable to most birds. At the very beginning of this new habitat we found a row of tall trees next to the River's reed beds. We managed to accidentally flush over 100 sleeping black-crowned night heron. It was also the only one of two places over the weekend where we found red-billed firefinch.

Our only other stop in this area west of Rosso was at an abandoned palm plantation where land remediation is not really complete. 

Despite this, we flushed no few than six long-tailed nightjar having just got out of the car. 

long-tailed nightjar 1

That made a total of nine birds in two different places on the weekend trip. I don't know whether we were just lucky.

long-tailed nightjar

The pools and very close by to them were the best places for birds at the old palm plantation. Other areas are still too degraded. More red-billed firefinch were observed. In the water, little stint, greenshank, ruff and marsh sandpiper were found. Marsh sandpiper is a Russian bird and not many come through Nouakchott from this very eastern breeding area. Yet in the south west corner of Mauritania they proved not uncommon. 

marsh sandpiper

Our final stop for the weekend was made after a light lunch in Rosso. It was just 12 kilometres north of the town on the Nouakchott road. Here is the limit of continous woodland out of Rosso. Further north there are increasingly isolated patches of natural woodland.

short-toed snake eagle (photo:Mohamed Vall)

The area from Rosso and eastward along the Senegal River is a major wintering place for short-toed snake eagle. Though we were at the extreme western edge of this strip, we saw one.

At our stop, we came across a watering hole which was almost dry but which is fairly obviously quite large in the rainy season and had lasted over three months since it finshed.

African silverbill

African silverbill were frequent drinkers there. A small flock of white-billed buffalo weaver were hiding in the adjacent trees.

Elsewhere laughing dove and Namaqua dove were numerous and obvious.

Namaqua dove

Interesting birds included black-crowned tchagra.

black-crowned tchagra

We got close and prolonged views of a group of cricket longtail.

cricket longtail 1

This was effectively the last bird we sighted on an eventful long weekend south. I ended up with a Mauritanian list twelve higher at 292. The so called "line of shame" of 300 species (as invented in the UAE as the name of a target which proves one has extensively birded a Middle Eastern North African country) is within my grasp.

cricket longtail 2

I got even closer to the line of shame in Nouakchott last weekend. For the first time in months I added two birds to my country list in the city. I will blog about that next.

Monday 8 January 2018

Day two around Diawling

New Year's Eve was a big day in my birding achievements in Mauritania. I had six addtions to my country list the day before and was thinking that there was little that could be added on the second day in Diawling National Park.

I was very wrong. Mohamed Vall and I saw 114 species that day. Furthermore, five were additions to my country list taking it up to 291.

Things started quite slowly. We elected to bird straight out of the lodge in the morning and that took us into woodland.

African wattled lapwing

An early bird was African wattled lapwing. It wasn't new for me but it was for Mohamed. It was barely light so views weren't the best.

zebra waxbill

Also in the early light, a flock of zebra waxbill were observed.

Western red-billed hornbill

Western red-billed hornbill were noisy a long time before the first one was seen.

striped kingfisher

Striped kingfisher proved every bit as common as our fast encounter with two the evening before had suggested.

goat up a tree

As a diversion from birding for a couple of minutes, we were amused by a goat eating from the top of a tree.

black-billed wood dove

Black-billed wood dove is only found in the very south of the country and then only in fairly densely wooded areas. However, it quite common in one patch of the woodland walk.

Once again, I failed to find a village weaver among the various weavers in the woodland.

After more than half the morning in the woodland near the lodge, we ventured westwards towards the sea on foot. The terrain soon turned into salty semi-desert. Our best bird out of the very few there was a cream-coloured courser.

Retruning to the lodge and then into the car we drove south west towards the border crossing with Senegal at Diama. We didn't get very far before deciding to bird one or two spots just off the road.

northern ant-eater chat

New birds for the day came thick and fast. They included northern ant-eater chat and little bee-eater.

little bee-eater
I also spotted a wryneck.

In another place further down the road, we accidentally flushed three Long-tailed nightjar.

Long-tailed nightjar

You can't really go out looking for nightjars in daylight so this was a lucky find. It was also the first of five new birds on my Mauritanian list that day.

Thanks are due to Fretback in near-by Senegal for alerting me to my original but wrong identification as Eurasian nightjar. In my defence the distribution map in the first edition of Birds of Western Africa shows Eurasian nightjar as an isolated northern place for wintering Eurasian nightjar while long-tailed nightjar all move well south. It appears that both pieces of information are untrue. Some long-tailed nightjar stay in the Senegal River Delta area while all Eurasian nightjar are well south in winter. The moral is to identify first and trust judgement against maps.

As Fretback also pointed out this bird was resting on the ground which Eurasian nightjar seldom do.

We arrived at Lake Biretta. This is the last lake before the border bridge over the Senegal River at Diama.

some white-faced whistling duck

The best sighting here was over 500 white-faced whistling duck on the lakeside. We were hampered from birding an attractive looking grass field by surrounding marsh. I still wonder what birds that different habitat might have held.

After a quick lunch, we made a decision to go back east to Bell Basin, which we had visited the day before with Abdullah. It turned out to have been the right decision. 

African skimmer with Caspian tern

New birds came quickly once again. Looking way out into some of the open water, we spotted three African skimmer on a small sandbank.

African pygmy goose

In water between the two fishing hamlets, we found a small group of African pygmy goose

At the second hamlet we finally made a positive identification of a yellow-billed stork though we failed to get a photo. The stork, goose and skimmer were all new to my country list.

African stonechat

We headed north east towards the grassland areas we had briefly noticed the day before. African stonechat was once again common in the tamarisk we passed.

Warthogs are a frequent sighting in the park but most don't hold their ground on the road like this brave one. It waited for its partner who got separated from it when we drove by.


I wish we had had time to search the grassland more thoroughly. However, time was not on our side.

black crowned crane

Nevertheless two black crowned crane were too obvious to miss despite the distance between us and the crown acting as clever camouflage. This was the final addition to the list of the day.

It was not the end of the birding though as we turned off west towards the village of la dune de Ziré.

A yellow-billed stork provided the picture of the species we failed to get earlier.

yellow-billed stork

The scattered woodland in the dunes gave us the only blue-eared glossy starling and green-backed camaroptera of the trip within Diawling.

green-backed camaroptera

Turning back from the village towards the lodge, it was a race to get as far as possible before nightfall.

adult African fish eagle

We stopped just once to get good views of an adult African fish eagle.

It had been a very successful day. The next day, New Year's Day was not an anti-climax. I will blog about that next.