Saturday 12 May 2018

Harmattan pushes huge number of birds to the coast

Since I was promoted last September it has been increasingly difficult to fit my birding in. The birding is still taking place but it the blog that is suffering. I have back log of six posts at the moment.

I can't even promise to catch up. Nevertheless, here is one from the end of March. 

I met up with Mohamed Vall who drove us south of the city on a day of fierce winds blowing in from the Sahara. However, before we left the city, I asked Mohamed Vall to park up in front of the Algerian embassy. Here we found a small flock of red-billed firefinch. Indeed it was the same flock I had seen the evening before, coming back from the supermarket.

The cluster of embassies there: Algerian, Russian, German and the old American have always promised to hold a different set of birds from the rest of the city. This is the stronghold of Senegal Parrot, a bird normally only seen in Mauritania on the Senegal River. Likewise it seems red-billed firefinch are also found way further north than is natural and to the same micro-habitat.

female red-billed firefinch in Nouakchott

Forty minutes later we were out of the city and at the water treatment plant, south of Riyadh district.

There was plenty of passage as expected. Ten black kite were among the passage birds. They lingered around the site for some time.

black kite

The artificial lake was the largest we have ever seen it. Black-crowned sparrow lark were visiting mostly to drink.

black-crowned sparrow lark

However, resident birds were far out-numbered by migrants.

black kite resting

For a short while with the kites was a harrier. It was probably a female Montagu's harrier but I cannot be categorical so that species was not added to my country list.

yellow wagtail

The passerine migrants were also interesting. Yellow wagtail are easily seen. However, warblers often require more work.

sedge warbler

Scattered around the site were several warblers including Iberian chiffchaff, common chiffchaff, blackcap and sedge warbler.

northern wheatear

One of the two male northern wheatear was of the Greenland sub-species.

northern wheatear

It was good to see speckled pigeon drop in for a drink.

speckled pigeon

Common swift and barn swallow were passing through. The latter landed for rest in large numbers.

barn swallow

Passage osprey can be seen at inland sites like this one at that time of year. Unfortunately this lake doesn't hold any fish.


As I mentioned before, the lake was as large as we have ever seen it. It was worth a picture.

fresh water lake at the water processing plant

We had worked the lake hard for nearly two hours and could tell that the easterly winds which had been bringing so many European bee-eater up the coast this season, had also brought more other passage westward to the Nouakchott area.

WE headed back to Nouakchott but our birding wasn't over. We went straight to the coast road north of the port. Along the way we found a Montagu's harrier trying to make progress north against strong north easterly winds. This time we could positively identify the bird (it was a male). It even hesitated to stop and land. I am sure it would have done so if it hadn't been mobbed by four brown-necked raven. Ironically they don't come into the city normally. I suspect the same winds had forced them to seek some sort of shelter.

Montagu's harrier became bird 301 on my country list.

brown-necked raven

After seeing the harrier we tried our luck on the old wharf. We could see many passerines in the distance actually flying up the coast above the sea. They had been pushed that far west.

resting house martin 1

We got especially good views of a house martin resting on the wharf.

house martin resting 2

Despite (or because of?) the very difficult weather, the birding had been good.

The next three blogs recount the visit Mohamed Vall and I made east. We went all the way to Kiffa in the east of the country over a long weekend. It was my first visit to Assaba. The journey was eventful. There were two additions to my Mauritanian list on the way and there are very few birding records in Kiffa itself.

Water treatment plant, Riyadh district 24 March 2018
Black-crowned Night-Heron  
harrier sp.  
Black Kite (Black)  
Common Moorhen  
Little Ringed Plover  
Little Stint  
Green Sandpiper  
Wood Sandpiper  
Speckled Pigeon  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Common Swift  
Little Swift  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
European Bee-eater  
Common Kestrel  
Woodchat Shrike  
Pied Crow  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow  
Common House Martin  
Willow Warbler  
Common Chiffchaff  
Iberian Chiffchaff  
Eurasian Blackcap  
Common Whitethroat  
Northern Wheatear (Greenland)  
Northern Wheatear (Eurasian)  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
White Wagtail 
Tree Pipit  
House Sparrow  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  

South of the old wharf, Nouakchott  24 March 2018
Western Marsh Harrier  
Montagu's Harrier  
Common Kestrel  
Brown-necked Raven  
Barn Swallow  

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