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  

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