Sunday 25 March 2018

300 down and more to come

Last Sunday I went to the fishing port for the first time in over three weeks and as often I started out there at the big dump.

This is a smelly place where the contents are mostly rotting fish. It is not pleasant birding but birds are guaranteed.

There were plenty of wagtails about and yellow wagtail outnumbered white wagtail. This only happens during the two passage season.

A few common chiffchaff and several house sparrow were the other main small passerines.

yellow wagtail

I always find it strange to see sanderling away from the water's edge but a large number of them were attracted to the dump as well as a few little stint.

mostly sanderling

Every time I have visited the dump there have been cattle egret present. The numbers vary but this time there were over thirty.

cattle egret

There are major drainage works going on over the city at the moment. Places are being pumped out and the water redirected. F-Nord lake is the biggest casualty. The best birding site in the city is its death throngs. Elsewhere the lagoon south of the fish market has very little water feeding it any more. I don't know what the grand plan is or where the water is being diverted to. If the underground water is going out to sea somehow it will clearly help people in areas blighted by salty rising damp. However, there are major environmental effects too as the lakes disappear.

ruddy turnstone

A single ruddy turnstone was one of only two waders at the far end of the lagoon which has previously been fed by drained water from elsewhere.

western reef heron

A western reef heron was seen standing on the drying bed of the lagoon as it makes its way to the sea.

grey heron "pallid heron"

A grey heron of the local sub-species was the only bird apart from a flock of sanderling where the lagoon meets the sea.

Until recently, many gulls and terns would rest here. By their absence, I was forced to spend more time than usual seawatching. As it happens, this was serendipitous. Out to sea was an Arctic skua. It can be separated from Pomarine skua with care without pictures. Arctic Skua is not as well-built. It doesn't have a barrel chest. It has narrower arms too which help make it look longer winged than Pomarine skua.

distant shot of Arctic skua

I failed to get a good photo and the only one I got was after it had moved further out to sea. I don't like adding new species to my Mauritania list without good photos but I am sure another opportunity to photograph this species will arise in the future. Either way, it made number 300.

black-headed gull and lesser black-backed gull gull out to sea

It was a rough day at sea. Some fishermen couldn't launch their boats over the incomeing waves. Gulls and terns were not on land. Gulls which were resting were doing it on the ocean surface well off land where the sea was calmer.

incoming waves

I returned to my pick point via the dump. here was not much change since 90 minutes earlier. Though there were even more barn swallow hawking and a single sand martin with them.

barn swallow

On Saturday I went out to the drinking water treatment plant in Riyadh district and then along the coast again. Mohamed Vall and I added yet another bird to our respective country lists. I will blog about that next.

Thursday 22 March 2018

Winter ebbs away at the waste water site

I had only seen four European bee-eater over a period of 18 months until last Saturday. I visited my local patch which is the waste water site. It is here that I had seen all four previous birds.

This time I saw no fewer than 17 albeit in three waves throughout the morning.

European bee-eater with bee

It would appear that more migrate through Nouakchott in spring than do in autumn though it might take me another annual cycle to confirm that.

two European bee-eater

Barn swallow are crossing the country in vast numbers at the moment. However, they sometimes rest when they have fed well and that normally means next to water.

barn swallow

Occasionally, the main body of water holds something interesting. However, the other parts of the site near the water are usually more so. It is important to look though.


There were plenty of ruff present in a bewildering array of plumages and sizes as is typical of this species at this time of year.

black-winged stilt

Black-winged stilt aren't regular at the site though this time one was present. The poor bird got mobbed the spur-winged lapwing ever time it flew.

Namaqua dove

Kentish plover was the most numerous of the small plovers this time. The best bird at the main water this time was a passing male pallid harrier which flew over briefly before continuing north. 

little ringed plover

Once again, little ringed plover were seen away from the main water body and on mud in the eastern corner of the site.

young southern grey shrike

Yet again, this corner produced several of the best birds. A young southern grey shrike looked on.

tree pipit 1

Another tree pipit was passing through.

tree pipit 2

This one was far more lively than the one seen at Keur Macene the week before. The cooler weather probably helped.

The area with bushes next to a water's edge has been providing common chiffchaff, Iberian chiffchaff and various sylvia warblers all winter. 

This time there were also the first sedge warbler and western olivaceous warbler at the site since last autumn.

first sighting of the western olivaceous warbler

Western olivaceous warbler can be distinctive with its long bill and seemingly stretched body.

western olivaceous warbler

I moved round to a different position to get better views. Luckily, it stayed out while I did so.

western olivaceuos warbler

It is easily separated from eastern olivaceous warbler by its lack of tail flicking alhough eastern olivaceous warbler doesn't venture as far west as Nouakchott. The one bird it is close to is European reed warbler.


I spent much of the early winter separating Iberian chiffchaff from common chiffchaff at the site. The former is actually more common than the latter. I didn't spent enough time on this bird to tell.

woodchat shrike

On the way back to the car I observed my fifth woodchat shrike.

stone curlew

On the last stretch, I took a short cut through the sandy areas and benefitted by accidentally flushing a stone curlew.

The next day, on Sunday I visted the coast for the first time in three weeks. Here I achieved my milestone of 300 species in Mauritania. I will blog about this next.

Species seen at the waste water site
Pallid Harrier  
Black-winged Stilt  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Kentish Plover  
Common Ringed Plover  
Little Ringed Plover  
Little Stint  
Common Snipe  
Green Sandpiper  
Wood Sandpiper  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
European Bee-eater 
Southern Grey Shrike  
Woodchat Shrike 
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow  
Common Chiffchaff  
Iberian Chiffchaff  
Western Olivaceous Warbler  
Sedge Warbler  
Eurasian Blackcap  
Subalpine Warbler  
Common Whitethroat  
Common Redstart  
Northern Wheatear  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
White Wagtail 
Tree Pipit  
House Sparrow 
Sudan Golden Sparrow

Saturday 17 March 2018

Keur Macene in early spring

Having gone out birding locally last Saturday, this was followed up with a much longer trip on Sunday. It was originally planned to head to Mzela. 

However, Mohamed Vall and I went all the way down to Keur Macene. This is the closest southern wetland to Nouakchott but it is still a four hour journey on mostly very poor roads.

We went there pretty much directly. On arrival we found that although some of the wetland next to the village had dried up since the New Year, most of it was intact.

Our first bird was a perched long-tailed cormorant. With eyes closed and with a bill and face pattern that of a young bird, it was surprisingly difficult to separate from great cormorant. The thick neck, normally consistant with great cormorant, was obvious but was a distraction. I suspect the bird had just swallowed something.

The long tail and short bill length point to long-tailed cormorant.

long-tailed cormorant

Squacco heron were scattered all over. Less numerous were great white egret.

great white egret

Near-by was a black heron.

black heron

In the same small area at the eastern edge of the water mass were also purple heron and western reef heron.

young purple heron

African jacana were scrambling over the lilies and both Sudanese golden sparrow and black-headed weaver were in the trees. A sinlge Vielot's barbet was briefly also seen.

pied kingfisher

We made our way westward by car stopping at certain points. New birds for the day included pied kingfisher and an over-heating tree-pipit trying to keep cool under a tamerisk bush.

tree pipt 1

I look very hard at most pipits. Both grassland pipit and meadow pipit are possible in Mauritania and I have seen neither yet. This particular bird was easily separated from a meadow pipit unfortunately. The streaking on the flanks was weak. The lower mandible was pink and the head pattern was much better for tree pipit.

tree pipit 2

I try to make sure with any suspect bird. I walked all round the tamerisk bush giving it a wide berth to lookat the pipit from the rear. 

tree pipit from the rear

The streaking on the back was relatively weak. All in all it made for a standard tree pipit.

Soon after we found we couldn't take the car any further west but we could follow the water westward on the north side on foot.

Keur Macene's water is a relict of a previous route of the main Senegal River. Indeed it looks like a river and is as wide as the Senegal River. It just doesn't flow directly into the sea and it is only seven kilometres long. Having said that we have yet to walk all seven kilometres and it ends to the west near Chott Boul. That lake is supposed to be the best place in the country for wintering ducks and for breeding lesser flamingo. I will make sure I get there despite its poor accessibilty, on foot if necessary.

What was particularly good about the water at Keur Macene is that the north bank is not blanket reeds like alongside the Senegal River. There are sandy and muddy approaches directly to the water.

immature African jacana

On one such muddy bank we came across a potential lesser jacana. However, it turned out to be a young African jacana which was noticeably smaller than the adults near-by.

the north bank at Keur Macene

In a small stand of reeds we could see inside well enough to pick out a sedge warbler.

Senegal thick-knee and  caspian tern

On another muddy bank, a family of Senegal thick-knee were enjoying the water next to some Caspian tern.

sacred ibis

Further down we sighted two sacred ibis. Both of us had only seen this bird at Lake Aleg in Mauritania before.

It was a ridiculously hot day for early March. Temperatures reached 41C. This and time meant we had to turn round much earlier than this stretch of water merits.

We chose to walk back to the car through adjacent scrub and woodland running parallel to the water. The most noticeable birds here were large numbers of red-billed quelea including an estimated five hundred in one tree and also a black-crowned night heron.


We also found a family of warthogs.

We gave ourselves enough to time for a couple of short stops on the way back to Nouakchott.

At one, at Tigoumatine, the unexpected happened and I added species 299 to my country list.

There is a house on the edge of the village with an exceptional garden. The owner maintains brightly coloured flowering plants. He was around and he speaks good English. He explained that he normally puts out water for the birds on hot days. 

In fact what he has done is create a micro-habitat more akin to the edge of a village in Senegal.

Birds kept flying to his water from three near-by trees. The birds included weavers.

birds drinking at Tigoumatine 1

At first I thought the weavers were the relatively common black-headed weaver. Identifying non-breeding weavers is tough though.

birds drinking at Tigoumatine 2

I am told the weavers are village weaver. Two reasons are the deep red eye and the size as seen against a Sudanese Golden Sparrow in the third picture. However the red eye alone is probably not enough since a few non-breeding male black-headed weaver can have a red eye this pale (the females have pale eyes all year and the males normally have dark eyes).

Other comments include that one weaver "clearly has a very heavy bill, with the top of the culmen flowing out of the forehead which unlike black-headed weaver, village weaver "lacks" a proper forehead". 

Thanks are due to all four experts who were consulted.

birds drinking at Tigoumatine 3

We also went into the near-by wadi which is good for birds in the rainy season. We saw virtually nothing.

pied crow

In fact there were only pied crow on the last buildings before the wadi and blue-naped mousebird, a common redstart and a northern wheatear were the only other birds which were positively identified there.

chestnut-bellied starling

Our last stop was very brief and it was to photogrpah chestnut-bellied starling. This is one of the most northerly of the Sahel breeding birds. When we start seeing them as we travel out of Nouakchott we know we have left the semi-desert and entered the Sahel. Very generally this means a much higher density of birds from then on, at least in natural surroundings.

Species seen at Keur Macene
Long-tailed Cormorant  
Grey Heron  
Purple Heron  
Great White Egret  
Western Reef-Heron  
Black Heron  
Cattle Egret  
Squacco Heron  
Black-crowned Night-Heron  
Sacred Ibis  
Senegal Thick-knee  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Common Ringed Plover  
Wood Sandpiper  
Gull-billed Tern  
Caspian Tern  
Speckled Pigeon  
African Collared Dove  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Pied Kingfisher  
Vieillot's Barbet  
Woodchat Shrike  
Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Sand Martin  
Barn Swallow  
Common Bulbul  
Sedge Warbler  
Zitting Cisticola  
Tawny-flanked Prinia  
Northern Wheatear  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
White Wagtail 
Tree Pipit  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  
Black-headed Weaver  
Red-billed Quelea 
Red-billed Firefinch  

Saturday 10 March 2018

European bee-eater at the waste water site

It was back to my local patch today. These days this means the waste water site just north of Nouakchott.

There was some passage but no warblers yet.

The most notable passage bird was a single European bee-eater. I have only seen four in 18 months in Mauritania and all of them have been at the same place.

European bee-eater 1

It stopped briefly to catch dragonflies before continuing north.

European bee-eater 2

Once again much of the best birding came from the smaller pools to the east of the site rather than the main lake.

first yellow wagtail

There was a small of flock of yellow wagtail feeding near where the bee-eater was seen.

second yellow wagtail

This was undoubtedly a passage group as only rarely are single birds seen at the site in winter. Nouakchott is just north of its normal wintering range.

woodchat shrike

Three woodchat shike were scattered around the site outnumbering the local southern grey shrike.

white wagtail

Similarly yellow wagtail outnumbered white wagtail. This is a spring phenomenon.

Meanwhile back at the main lake, the spur-winged lapwing were even noisier and aggressive than usual.

spur-winged lapwing

The wintering common teal are now a distant memory.

common redshank

Among the waders, I observed my first common redshank this year.

wood sandpiper

The habitat is very good for wood sandpiper and they only go missing in summer.

five grey heron

Five skittish grey heron kept flying away from me.

mostly kentish plover

Common ringed plover, kentish plover and little ringed plover were on site in significant numbers.

barn swallow

As with the trip up north last weekend, barn swallow are flying through in large numbers at the moment. I also saw my first sand martin of the year and two presumably local little swift.

Mohamed Vall and I are trying our luck at Amzela tomorrow. This is the closest place with a decent number of natural trees to the south of the city. I will blog about this next.

Species seen at the waste water site on March 10th
Grey Heron  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Kentish Plover  
Common Ringed Plover  
Little Ringed Plover  
Little Stint  
Wood Sandpiper  
Common Redshank  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Little Swift  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
European Bee-eater  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Woodchat Shrike  
Crested Lark  
Sand Martin  
Barn Swallow  
Common Chiffchaff  
Iberian Chiffchaff  
Spectacled Warbler  
Common Redstart  
Northern Wheatear  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
White Wagtail  
House Sparrow  
Sudan Golden Sparrow