Monday 26 February 2018

Heuglin's wheatear at the waste water site

My first birding in Mauritania in nearly three weeks was at the waste water site. This is effectively my local patch these days. 

I don't expect new birds in the Nouakchott area any more as I have birded it intensively for over 18 months. However, it does still happen. 

It came in the form of a very scruffy Heuglin's wheatear

Heuglin's wheatear 1

I had already seen two northern wheatear and one Isabelline wheatear on site. This one immediately appeared different.

It's upright stance was reminiscent of an Isabelline wheatear but very little else was.

Heuglin's wheatear 2

It reminded me more  closely to the red-breasted wheatear I used to see in south west Saudi Arabia but was more slender and slightly smaller.

Some characteristics that I picked up on included the white throat and orange breast.

Heuglin's wheatear 3

It has the Heuglin's characteristic brown back and the orange from breast extends low down as seen on the flanks in the above picture.

Heuglin's wheatear 4

The white supercilium is weak but present.

Heuglin's wheatear 5

The tail pattern is visible in the fifth picture and is consistent with this species.

Heuglin's wheatear 6

On returning home on Sunday, I immediately sent these pictures to Nik Berrow who is co-author of the book "Birds of Western Africa". He supports the identification.

distribution of Heuglin's wheatear (source: BirdLife International)

The distribution of the bird includes Nouakchott towards its north west edge. However, it is either quite rare in the far west of its range or I and others have been overlooking it.

Near-by at the waste site I found a good concentration of warblers. This is in a corner of the site with much less water than the main body but, crucially, bushes right up to the water and mud's edge. 

spectacled warbler 1

Sardinian warbler has been the most common sylvia warbler all winter and yet in this session I failed to see a single one. Instead I got my first photos of a spectacled warbler in Mauritania.

spectacled warbler 2

A western sub-alpine warbler also obliged.

western sub-alpine warbler

Completing the types of sylvia warblers was a single female blackcap.

female blackcap

However, the most numerous warblers at this spot, once again were common chiffchaff and Iberian chiffchaff in roughly equal proportions.

A lone yellow wagtail was also found near-by whereas the rest of the site had only white wagtail.

yellow wagtail

A flock of Sudanese golden sparrow and a small number of house sparrow were also attracted to the same small corner of the site. 

Sudanese golden sparrow

A young southern grey shrike was one of the noisiest birds around.

southern grey shrike

There have been two or three hoopoe on site all winter. I suspect they have been the same birds.


Laughing dove is usually the main dove but in autumn for a couple of weeks it can be European turtle dove. In summer it can be speckled pigeon. This time the namaqua dove numbers rivalled those of laugihng dove.

Namaqua dove

The group of common teal have finally left the main body of water. The waders were nothing special though the ruff numbers are up and a small minority are turning into breeding plumage.

greenshank and little stint

The only greenshank is shown with several little stint in the main water body.

In all I saw 30 species which is up from the mid-winter lows and a sign of what is soon to come as spring approaches.

Wednesday 21 February 2018

Epilogue from Laayoune

On Saturday I made a short but slightly different second visit to the oasis at Laayoune, Western Sahara. I paid more attention to the bushes and cliffs in the wadi rather than the water body.

I saw 41 species which was down on the 54 species seen on Thursday. Nevertheless six were different and so additions to my new Western Saharan list.

It soon became obvious while looking at the cliffs how many black wheatear there were in the area.

black wheatear 1

The last time I saw this bird was up the Jebel Nafusa in Libya and that was almost ten years ago.

black wheatear 2

A first year white-crowned wheatear can look very similar as the white crown is missing. However, the black on the underbelly goes back further on a black wheatear. Also there is a thick black terminal band which is missing on a white-crowned wheatear.

black wheatear 3

In this bird, the black terminal was the first feature I noticed. It is visible in the photograph above.

stone curlew

My first addition to the Western Saharan list was a stone curlew which I flsuhed while walking. As is typical with stone curlew, it didn't fly very far.

glossy ibis

While I saw many glossy ibis on Thursday's visit, I failed to photograph them well.


Dunlin was the second addition of the day. I am confident none were present on Thursday.

Soon afeter, unfortunately, I found I had forgotten to recharge the battery on my camera. It went dead.

speck of a woodchat shrike

And typically, I saw three more additions to a country list in quick succession with the camera out of action. These were sub-alpine warbler, thekla lark and woodchat shrike. I tried to use my smart phone to record the woodchat shrike. It is the speck in the middle of the picture.

Camera failure apart, it had been a good birding session.

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Laayoune, Western Sahara

I was in Laayoune, Western Sahara for four days last week. I have visited many oases in the Sahara over the years but this is the largest one.

On Thursday, I visited the oasis and stayed for over five hours. It could have been longer but I had to get back to the hotel.

I saw 54 species on an overcast day. 

The taxi driver dropped me off at the far east of the oasis. When I left the taxi I wondered what all the fuss was about as all I could see was a dry but very wide bed and some patches of tamarisk.

However, my initial disappointment was ameliorated slightly by the sight of a white-crowned wheatear.

young white-crowned wheatear

I headed west. I soon came across a first area of water. It had reeds. Those reeds held no fewer than five sedge warbler

sedge warbler

I presume they were a passage group with such a number in a confined area.

common snipe

Other noteable birds here were common snipe and yellow wagtail.

yellow wagtail

I found it interesting that there were more yellow wagtail at the oasis than white wagtail despite its northern location and still being winter.

black winged stilt

The further west I walked the more water there was in the wadi. The water was deep enough for black-winged stilt

northern shoveller

I found my first ducks. There was a group of northern shoveller and also a single Eurasian teal.

Eurasian teal

Ironically it was the only Eurasian teal I saw on site.

greater flamingo

In the middle part of the oasis there were large numbers of greater flamingo, common moorhen and glossy ibis.

common moorhen

There were several ruddy shelduck.

ruddy shelduck

Laayoune is certainly one of the most important sites for wintering marbled duck. I saw well over 50. They were most prevlaent in the mid sector and the western end of the oasis.

marbled duck

As well as black-winged stilt, its cousin, pied avocet, was present.

pied avocet

The deepest water is on the western side of the oasis and in particular on the southern bank.

Here the water was deep enough to attract black-necked grebe.

black-necked grebe

A similar number of little grebe were observed and the two species associated.

black-necked grebe (l) little grebe (r)

While there were several tens of gulls present, for the most part they were either black-headed gull or lesser black-backed gull.

black-headed gull

Birds of prey seen were initially restricted to marsh harrier and common kestrel.

marsh harrier

I made a small detour away from the water's edge to a near-by wooded area. Here were no fewer than three black redstart.

squacco heron

The diversity continued. Grey heron and squacco heron had a preference for this western side.

Audouin's gull

On a rock in relatively deep water was an Audouin's gull. It was the only one of a third species of gull observed at the site.

two gulls

Audouin's gull is not trivially separated from immature Mediterranean gull. Size is one of the easiest indicators. Here you can see it is it much larger than black-headed gull whereas as a Mediterranean gull is only marginally so. 

marsh harrier with kill

As I walked further west, I spotted a marsh harrier with a kill. It seemed to be a male northern shoveller.

hybrid pochard x ferruginous duck

The water was deep enough in places to attract common pochard.This is a diving duck and requires deeper water than dabbling ducks. There are relatively few sites in the Sahara which they are attracted to. The bird above was with four common pochard ia a hybrid. Thanks to those who commented. I checked with experts who have identified the type of hybrid. Unfortunately I can't reply to comments to the blog anymore. Somehow google have produced a recent bug preventing me from doing so!

Eurasian spoonbill

Eurasian spoonbill were numerous.


Over the deep water at the western end, a pair of osprey flew over a few times. I still don't know whether the water contains fish.

Eurasian coot

This western end kept giving more and more species. There were tens of Eurasian coot. However four white stork, near-by, were a surprise.

white stork

They were found at the extreme western part of the water body. I made my way back after I saw them. I went back with a brisk walk as time was now limited. I didn't get much chance to bird. However a flock of cattle egret were too large and numerous to miss.

cattle egret

The birding had fully lived up to expectations but even with five hours, it felt a bit rushed. I thought it was worth a second look two days later. That time my birding concentrated on the adjacent bushes and cliffs to the water. I was rewarded with a further six species not seen on Thursday. I will blog about that next.

54 species seen on Thursday 15th February at Laayoune
Ruddy Shelduck  
Northern Shoveller  
Common Pochard  
Marbled Duck  
Tufted Duck  
Little Grebe  
Black-necked Grebe
Greater Flamingo
White Stork  
Grey Heron  
Little Egret  
Cattle Egret  
Squacco Heron  
Glossy Ibis  
Eurasian Spoonbill  
Western Marsh Harrier  
Common Moorhen  
Eurasian Coot  
Black-winged Stilt  
Pied Avocet  
Common Ringed Plover  
Little Ringed Plover  
Black-tailed Godwit  
Little Stint  
Common Snipe  
Common Sandpiper  
Green Sandpiper  
Wood Sandpiper  
Common Redshank  
Black-headed Gull  
Audouin's Gull  
Yellow-legged Gull  
Lesser Black-backed Gull  
Feral Pigeon  
Collared Dove  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Common Kestrel  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Barn Swallow  
Common House Martin  
Common Chiffchaff  
Iberian Chiffchaff  
Sedge Warbler  
Black Redstart  
European Stonechat  
White-crowned Wheatear  
Black Wheatear  
Black-eared Wheatear  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
White Wagtail 
House Sparrow