Sunday 7 January 2018

Day one on Diawling trip

During the long weekend over New Year, I went birding with Mohamed Vall to the south of the country.

The centre piece of the trip was a two-night stay in Diawling National Park. It was my first visit there. 

The whole journey was a total success. Over 135 species were seen including more than 125 in the park. Twelve species were added to my Mauritanian list increasing it from 280 to 292 using the ebird-Clements count.

We started out at dawn on Saturday 30th December.

We had an early and unexpected result. Barely 90 kilometres out of Nouakchott and near the side of the road was a barbary falcon.

barbary falcon 1

It is relatively rare in Mauritania though breeding has been reported sporadically in parts of Banc d'Arguin to the north as reported in The Birds of Banc d'Arguin. The Atlas of Muaritanian birds has it more widespread. Both sources are in stark contrast with The guidebook "Birds of Western Africa" which shows just three records in country. Though two of these records are very close to where this bird was seen. It was, of course, an addition to my country list.

barbary falcon 2

At the 130 kilometre mark, we halted the car a second time for a second bird of prey.

dark chanting goshawk

It was a dark chanting goshawk. Indeed it is one of the furthest north records of this bird in Mauritania. These were two good birds and we hadn't even started birding yet.

Our first birding stop was short and it was at Kaur Macene.

african jacana

For someone new to Mauritania it could be seen as a good place but for Mohamed Vall and it was only so-so this time round. It is the first large fresh water in the south nearest to Nouakchott. It has plenty of species but we had expected a wintering duck population. For some reason there were none.

I suspect the water body has competition from near-by Diawling and Chott Boul.

Of course, there were plenty of other water birds including African jacana.

dark morph western reef heron

Despite its name western reef heron can be found inland.  Here there were a few.

squacco heron 

Squacco heron winters in very large numbers in the south west corner of Mauritania. It was certainly very common in Kaur Macene.


In constrast, we only observed one hamerkop

yellow-billed kite

Yellow-billed kite are semi-migratory in Mauritania, they receed south with the water and that recession continues way past December. Nevertheless at this time of year, there were plenty at Kaur Macene.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

The book "Birds of Western Africa" says blue-cheeked bee-eater are resident in Mauritania. I have been saying on this blog that they all migrate by early December and come back in July. We are both wrong. They are definitely migratory in Nouakchott and all the way down south to Kaur Macene but from then on in the south west, we kept seeing them. I may still be right about the central south and south east though as trips there in late winter did show any.

African mourning dove

African mourning dove is the dominant dove of the wetter parts of south west Mauritania. 

The road from Kaur Macene to Diawling is not good. We travelled slowly and were birding as we moved. We noticed that yellow-billed kite were soon replaced by marsh harrier as the default medium sized bird of prey.


We picked up an osprey.

We arrived at the eco-lodge at Diawling at around 1.30 pm where we met up with a ranger called Abdullah who is a mutual friend of Mohamed Vall. The cooking of a late lunch was arranged for 4pm so we went out birding straightaway.

We headed back the way we came but slowly. The main area of birding that afternoon is known as Bassin Bell (or Bell Basin in English).

greater flamingo

One of our target birds was lesser flamingo. However, at first, at least only greater flamingo were seen.

Egyptian goose and Spur winged goose

It is immediately apparent that Diawling at this time of year has great diversity of water birds. Spur-winged goose and Egyptian goose were observed as we drove by.

black-headed gull and grey-hooded gull

There are two very small fishing hamlets where local people bring the catch in to dry. These are a magnet for very many birds. A mixed group of black-headed gull and grey hooded gull was seen at the first hamlet. I will write more about what can be seen at these hamlets in this blog and the next. They are important places.

After the hamlets there are expanses of open water at the moment. They mostly dry up by spring. However, they held thousands of ducks last weekend.

common shelduck with a shoveller

Eight common shelduck were observed. This is a major rarity in Mauritania but it appears there has been an irruption of them in West Africa this winter. Two have been observed as far south as Dakar.

hundreds of garganey

The diversity of ducks wasn't high despite the large numbers. The vast majority were northern shoveller and especially garganey.

Despite careful scrutiny, I couldn't find a single teal with garganey.

In another stretch of open water, Abdullah pointed out some distance flamingos. They turned out to be lesser flamingo. Along with the common shelduck, this was another addition to my country list.

distant lesser flamingo

Closer to the shore were twenty or so pied avocet.

pied avocet

Going eastward from Bell Basin, open water gives way more to marshland and some grassland. 

marsh harrier

Marsh land here meant several marsh harrier.

African darter

On a pile of deadwood in one of the marshes, several African darter came and went. African darter was also new for me in Mauritania. This period of the session was a purple patch of birding.

black heron

Eventually we turned round and headed back towards the eco-lodge. We made a short stop at one of the hamlets to admire the large number of black heron. We thought we had seen a yellow-billed stork flying above there but didn't get a good enough view to be sure. These hamlets are apparently good places to see giant kingfisher but we didn't get any joy with this one.

Nile crocodile at Diawling

Abdullah pointed out a Nile Crocodile on the edge of the water on the way back. We kept a safe distance and it vindicated my earlier birding when I had been avoiding the water's edge throughout.

African stonechat

African stonechat is common especially in tamerisk along the road. This was another addition to the country list. It had been a very productive session.

We arrived back at the lodge a little after four p.m to find our pre-ordered late lunch waiting for us. The cooking and the service at the lodge was seriously good.

common bulbul

After eating and a shower we had about one hour's day light. We elected to bird in the woodland around the lodge. A family of common bulbul were right outside our chalet and two striped kingfisher were in the nearest large tree.

female Senegal batis (photo: Mohamed Vall)

Arguably the best bird in this short walk near the lodge was a Senegal Batis.

little weaver

There were weavers around but none of the elusive village weaver which has evaded me in Mauritania so far. It is only found in the far south. Among the weavers we did see and which were identified was little weaver. Note the small size and the greenish hues to the crown and back.

The Saturday had given me six additions to my country list. I would have settled for one more on the Sunday. Instead there were five. I will blog about that next.

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