Saturday, 17 February 2018

Banc d'Arguin

Three weeks ago, my work organised a weekend trip to Banc d'Arguin National Park. After 18 months in Mauritania this was actually my first visit. All 294 species achieved on my country list before that day were outside this National Park. Ironically for many foreign ornithologists this is the main place in Mauritania they visit.

The complication was that this was not a birding trip. It was a weekend away organised for all staff. 

Nevertheless, I took as much advantage of the visit as possible and had several hours birding on the Saturday and Sunday.

We entered the park by turning off north of Chemi. We headed off road to Cap Tafarit where we had a late lunch.

I managed some birding in the area. It wasn't exceptional.

On the beach were a few Caspian tern and one grey plover. The most notiable bird though was cream-coloured courser. Two were twice seen running up and down the side of the beach.

Caspian tern

There was a Banc d'Arguin sub-species of grey heron (monicae) present. I have seen that the main difference between it and the nominate sub-species is the very light colour of the grey areas of the mantle and wings. This is consistent with the illustration in the book "Birds of Banc d'Arguin". Some confusion arises as there is a photograph of a monicae sub species in where the black on the head pattern has almost disappeared and the bird is very nearly absolute white overall. I don't believe the head pattern is a reliable field mark and the bird in is at the extreme of variation of monicae.

The legs are generally pinker too on monicae than a compariably aged or seasoned nominate bird.

The bird below was so pale I thought it was great white egret when I first turned round a corner to see it in the distance. This is not reflected adequately in the picture.

grey heron (monicae)

I studied the grey plover for some time. I couldn't make it into an American golden plover. It is always worth looking hard at waders on the Mauritanian coast. The coast sticks out into the Atlantic and, American vagrants are seen regularly despite the lack of birders.

grey plover

A notable bird at Cap Tafarit was long-tailed cormorant. There were two present. Cap Tafarit is towards the northern end of the park and must mark something of a northern limit to the range of long-tailed cormorant in West Africa.

long-tailed cormorant

Our party moved off to Iwik in late afternoon.

There was only about 40 minutes of daylight on arrival. I managed to bird most of it.

stone curlew

This was time enough to see a stone curlew. Apparently this species is a regular sighting at Iwik.

I went to the small fishing village soon after dawn.

On the way there I looked out towards the shallow inlet and the sea grass. Many Flamingo, grey heron (nominate and monicae) were easiest to pick out. On the shore were several whimbrel searching out crabs to eat.

great white pelican

Only a single great white pelican was bobbing up and down in the water at the village.

beach at Iwik

On the beach were lesser black-backed gull and slender-billed gull as well as sanderling and bar-tailed godwit.

At one stage a flock of around 40 western reef heron landed just in front of me. They were a mix of colour morphs though the photo captures only dark morph.

western reef heron

The pale looking bird in the left of the photo was another monicae grey heron. It too had a black head pattern.

While looking out to sea, I soon noticed that there were European storm petrel in shore. This was bird 295 on my Mauritanian list and a bird I had hoped to see on a boat trip organised for staff. Instead I got it from the shore. Indeed as I had to join the boat trip I left the petrels behind without a good photo. It was agonising but I had to be sociable with my work colleagues.

The boat was moving too fast for easy bird watching. I had hoped to see a grey phalarope but I wasn't lucky. Sandwich tern, Caspian tern and Gull-billed tern were no substitute. Distant views of many tens of flamingo and great white pelican weren't either.

Two dolphins which followed the boat for five or ten minutes were the real highlight.

When we returned to shore, the rest of our work group moved off to our accoommodation or to walk close to it. I stayed where the boat was moored.

European storm petrel 1

It didn't take long before I caught up with the European storm petrel again. My fear was that they would have moved on while I was at sea. They hadn't.

European storm petrel 2

Spaeaking to Mohamed Vall on my return to Nouakchott, he told me that they are very regular at this particular place every January and early February.

European storm petrel 3

It seems the addition of this storm petrel to my list was the very least I could have expected.

On the way back home we stopped at Gare du Nord service station. I knew from past experience that this was a good place to see desert sparrow. A quick walk round the back and there they were. Two house sparrow were also in with a flock of a dozen desert sparrow.

house and desert sparrow

The next blog covers a short stop I made at Maspalomas, Gran Canaria where the birding wasn't great but I still made five addtions to my Spanish list.  Gran Canaria is the nearest rest and recreation to Nouakchott. I suspect I will visit it many times over the next few years.

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