Sunday, 3 December 2017

Winter species at the waste water site

The day after visiting F-Nord lake I went to the waste water site the day after. By mid and late November much but not all of the autumn passage has gone through.

One of the sights of winter is the arrival of sardinian warbler. When many species of warbler have gone through, it arrives late and generally stays.

Sardinian warbler

On this visit to the waste water site, I counted no less than six of them having seen my first one that day on immediate arrival and very near the parked car.

Sardinian warbler 2

Of all the warblers that visit the site, this one is mostly likely to be seen on the ground or in very low bushes.


On this visit, I was with Mohamed Vall who spotted the first kestrel. By the end of the session we had seen at least five.

We soon walked over to the main water body.

young yellow wagtail

At the grassy southern edge, there have been several white wagtail for weeks. Some times there are also small numbers of pipits and yellow wagtail.

I have yet to see a grey wagtail in Mauritania. Some young yellow wagtail and grey wagtail are hard to separate. Despite its yellow vent, the bird above is a yellow wagtail. It's tail is too short and there are signs of olive tones in the mantle.

small ruff 1

We spent a long time looking at one particular wader. It was foraging ever closer to us and came within two metres as we stood dead-still. We thought it was too small to be a ruff and were prepared to consider American vagrants.

small ruff 2

Analysis of the pictures when we returned home proved it was only a ruff. However it's behaviour was strange and it's size was at the extreme small end of the range. 

blue-cheeked bee-eater

On this visit, there were apparently no wave of migrant blue-cheeked bee-eater. There were just the five or six of them present that have been local since July. 

common redstart

Some common redstart were still passing through. Actually Nouakchott is close to their wintering grounds which basically start about 150 kilometres south.

Sudanese golden sparrow

We see more Sudanese golden sparrow around the city and its outskirts in winter than at other times of year. They are starting to appear regularly at the waste water site now.

African silverbill

The site is the furtherest north in Mauritania, I have seen African silverbill. They are not seen every week though, so it can't be easily said whether they are dispersive or local birds.

Iberian chiffchaff

On our walk around the site, we eventually came to the area with low bushes next to shallow water where a small minority of the truckers dump their used waste water. This has been good for passerines for weeks.

This time it held Iberian chiffchaff, common chiffchaff and blackcap as well as one very late passage garden warbler. The first three warblers can winter here.

young Namaqua dove

Though the site is very good for migrants, a very young Namaqua dove was a reminder that some breeding does occur here.

Species at the waste water site
Northern Pintail  
Eurasian Teal  
Grey Heron (Grey)  
Eurasian Spoonbill 
Common Moorhen  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Kentish Plover  
Common Ringed Plover  
Little Stint  
Common Snipe  
Common Sandpiper  
Green Sandpiper  
Wood Sandpiper  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
European Scops Owl  
Little Swift  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Common Kestrel (Common)  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Brown-necked Raven  
Crested Lark  
Common Chiffchaff  
Iberian Chiffchaff      
Eurasian Blackcap  
Garden Warbler  
Sardinian Warbler   
Common Redstart  
Northern Wheatear  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
White Wagtail (alba)  
Tree Pipit  
House Sparrow  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Slowly disappearing F-Nord Lake

Just over a week ago I returned to F-Nord lake. As I had suspected, it continues to be drained. The level is now about 60 cms lower than it used to be. It appears the authorities want to drain it completely. This is a sad loss of the best birding site in the city.

I am not going there very often any more as I feel too much upset.

Ironically, there is short period when the reeds are growing more fulsome and the muddy areas which have appeared are attracting more waders. In the end though it will be gone.

It wasn't difficult to see the local African swamphen around the reeds.

African swamphen

Eurasian coot are still breeding her too.

Eurasian coot

There is no doubt the numbers of little grebe are down. Of all the local breeders this is the one that requires the deepest waters.

little grebe

The fourth of the local breeders is common moorhen. Their numbers seem little affected yet.

black-headed gull and northern shoveller

Gulls are attracted here all winter but ducks much more so in early winter i.e November and December. It has been best to arrive early in the morning before the ducks are fully awake. They disperse out of the lake as the morning progresses. I can't say with any certainty where they go.

Northern Shoveller, common teal and pintail were the vast majority of ducks there last week.

pintail (foreground)

The teal in particular disappear from F-Nord Lake. I am seeing plenty at the waste water site. I suppose it is feasible that the birds are commuting between the two places.


It was unusual to see five immature greater flamingo at the lake.

greater flamingo

Most gulls were black-headed gull. A few Mediterranean gull can also be present and there were three this time.

black-headed gull

The most common wader for much of the year has been wood sandpiper followed by little stint. There are always others. This time they included at least two dunlin.


Black-tailed godwit was also present. As a very general rule, black-tailed godwit shows a preference for fresher water sites around here and bar-tailed godwit more saline.

black-tailed godwit

The lower water levels are suiting common snipe at the moment.

common snipe

I saw my last European turtle dove of the autumn migration at the lake though you only need to go 150 kilometres south of the city to seeing fully wintering birds.
European turtle dove

Last winter, a black-necked grebe stayed all through. This one found a small patch of deeper water last week. I can guarentee it won't stay as long as last year's bird.

black-necked grebe

Thursday, 16 November 2017

First mallard and other good birds

Last Saturday I went to the waste water site north of Nouakchott once again. It is now my most regular site and it has been a long time since I have failed to see at least forty species there.

Saturday was no exception. Once again it provided an addition to my Mauritanian list too.

This time it was a mallard.

mallard swimming

Mallard is extremely uncommon south of the Sahara in West Africa. Records in Mauritania have been restricted to autumn in Nouadhibou and Banc d'Arguin and winter in the Senegal River delta. It is a vagrant elsewhere in West Africa.

mallard resting

It was not the only duck at the main water area. There were three northern pintail and about 15 common teal

The mallard, however, was not mixing with them. It was actually less timid and stayed long after the other ducks had taken to the air. 

northern pintail

For the first couple of hours at the site, the weather was very dusty and visibility was very poor. However I could see, through the haze, that one of the northern pintail was more reluctant to fly than the others. I wonder if it was ill or just had a different temperament. 

Before concentrating on the ducks, I spent time observing the waders.

kentish plover

Kentish plover was the most numerous wader for the first time since parts of last winter.

thin dunlin

One dunlin caused me identification headaches. It was thinner than usual and made me consider curlew sandpiper. However it didn't have long legs and the supercilium was weak. Furthermore it's bill wasn't exceptionally long. 


Ruff were present once again.

litte ringed plover

Little ringed plover is much rarer at the site than common ringed plover. This time two of the former and around ten of the later were observed.

ringed plover

I don't recall seeing any gulls at the site before. A black-headed gull arrived and left within five minutes.

black-headed gull

White wagtail will be around all winter. I haven't seen any yellow wagtail here recently but pipits are still coming and going.

red-throated pipit

I saw one red-throated pipit and two tree pipit which was exactly the same count as two weeks ago. i doubt they were the same birds though.

three blue-cheeked bee-eater

Another similarity with two weeks ago was a wave of blue-cheeked bee-eater coming through on passage. When they passed through, I was left with the same count of around six blue-cheeked bee-eater which have been local since the summer.

namaqua dove

No turtle dove seem to be left from the autumn migration. The only doves seen this time were laughing dove and Namaqua dove.


The diversity of passerines was still high. A rather battered looking whinchat was found.

northern wheatear

Both black-eared wheatear and northern wheatear were on site. One beautiful male black-eared wheatear escaped my camera sadly.

The mix of warblers has been constantly changing all autumn. No garden warbler or willow warbler were seen this time.

It has reached the stage of the year where most warbler species now seen are those which can stay all winter.

There were many common chiffchaff. Some birds were almost certainly Iberian chiffchaff

Concernig the latter species, it now appears that it does winter in south west Mauritania as confirmed in the Atlas of Mauritanian birds and contrary to other sources which say this happens only in northern Senegal and Northern Mali. 

Iberian chiffchaff 1

The bird in this two pictures is believed to be an Iberian chiffchaff as identified by two Spain based birders. 

The leg colour is intermediate between a typical common chiffchaff and typical willow warbler as is the primary projection. Plumage colours and facial pattern are good for Iberian chiffchaff too.

Iberian chiffchaff

One or two European reed warbler still remain. However the second most common warbler at the moment is now blackcap.

blackcap 1

It is easy to see this species out in the open though they are a little more cautious than the two types of chiffchaff.


While looking at the warblers in one spot with low bushes near mud and shallow water, a very young Fulvous babbler appeared briefly. I have little doubt that the species breeds at the site and probably inside the thick bushes at that spot.

young Fulvous babbler 1

This bird looked like a fledgling.

young fulvous babbler 2

As always I went back towards the car under the canopy of the avenue of trees. Here I saw European pied flycatcher and several common redstart. There was also a sub-alpine warbler and one sardinian warbler

European pied flycatcher inside the trees

Sadly the European scops owl I had been seeing was now just a pile of feathers. It had been attacked and eaten either by a cat or bird of prey. The attrition rate of this species in winter was known to be high when I birded in Oman. It looks like it might be here too.

I won't let this sad event detract from an otherwise good birding session.

Species seen at the waste water site
Northern Pintail  
Eurasian Teal  
Glossy Ibis  
Common Buzzard  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Kentish Plover  
Common Ringed Plover  
Little Ringed Plover  
Little Stint  
Common Snipe  
Wood Sandpiper  
Black-headed Gull  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Eurasian Wryneck  
Common Kestrel  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow  
Common House Martin  
Common Chiffchaff
Iberian Chiffchaff  
Eurasian Reed Warbler  
Eurasian Blackcap  
Subalpine Warbler  
Sardinian Warbler  
Fulvous Babbler  
Bluethroat (White-spotted)  
European Pied Flycatcher  
Common Redstart  
Northern Wheatear  
Black-eared Wheatear  
White Wagtail 
Tree Pipit  
Red-throated Pipit  
House Sparrow 

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

European golden plover ends a good day

Ten days ago, Mohamed Vall and I stayed near the city of Nouakchott to go birding. However, instead of visiting the waste water site as has become usual, we went south and west.

We went to the water treatment plant south of Riyadh district followed by a western journey a few kilometres to the old wharf and finally further up the coast to just south of the fishing port.

This triangular journey bought some good birds. However, none was as good as one at the final leg of the journey near the fishing port.

In the artifical lagoons here, there was a European golden plover.

European golden plover

It stood out. It was not mixing with the five grey plover also present. Instead, if anything it was showing an affinity to be with the two red knot on site.

golden plover (left) and red knot (right)

European golden plover is rare in West Africa. It is seen occasionally in winter in Banc d'Arguin as well as the odd one in the Nouakchott area but certainly not every winter. Indeed Nouakchott is the furthest south in the continent of Africa that European golden plover is not a vagrant.

European golden plover from the rear

A list of all the other species seen in the lagoons or near-by is given at the end of the blog.

Four hours earlier we had started out at the water purification plant in Riyadh district.

We were very happy to see that the water mass there had more than doubled since our last visit. A fresh water site the size it now is should start to attract more and more birds. On the other hand it is also attracting more camels and cattle as well as picnickers.

Highlights including a sudden flight into the air of two European scops owl seemingly fighting over space in a small but heavily leafed tree.

They were lucky that the lanner falcon seen later was not around at that time.

speckled pigeon at the water purification plant

Laughing dove and Namaqua dove are always present but this may have been a first for speckled pigeon.

Temminck's stint

The waders proved to be a non-standard mix. This was only the second time in 15 months that I have seen a Temminck's stint in the Nouakchott area.

western reef heron

Despite the apparent contrast of dark legs with yellow feet, the three white birds were western reef heron rather than little egret.

spotted redshank 1

This fresh water environment was a good home for a passage spotted redshank. This is far less common than the aptly named common redshank.

spotted redshank 2

The second leg of the triangle was the area near and on the old wharf.

blue-naped mousebird

One of the types of bush in the coastal scrub was in berry and was a magnet for several birds. These included blue-naped mousebird and Sudanese golden sparrow.

Sudanese golden sparrow

The best bird from on  the wharf itself was a young northern gannet. The wharf extends 250 metres into the sea and promise more than it has so far delievered.

young northern gannet

Last weekend, I returned to the usual birding spot at the waste water site. An addition to my Mauritanian list was made from an unexpected quarter. I will blog about that next.

Species at the water plant
Eurasian Teal  
Western Reef-Heron  
Temminck's Stint  
Spotted Redshank  
Common Greenshank  
Wood Sandpiper  
Speckled Pigeon  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
European Scops Owl  
Little Swift  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Lanner Falcon  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Crested Lark  
Northern Wheatear  
House Sparrow  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  

Species at the old wharf
Northern Gannet  
Great Cormorant  
Lesser Black-backed Gull  
Caspian Tern  
Common Tern  
Sandwich Tern  
House Sparrow

In coastal scrub near-by
Blue-naped Mousebird
Sudanese  Golden Sparrow
Garden Warbler

Species south of the fishing port
Grey Heron (Grey)  
Cattle Egret  
Grey Plover  
European Golden Plover  
Common Ringed Plover  
Ruddy Turnstone  
Red Knot  
Mediterranean Gull  
Audouin's Gull  
Yellow-legged Gull  
Lesser Black-backed Gull  
Caspian Tern  
Common Tern  
Sandwich Tern  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Crested Lark  
Spectacled Warbler  
Northern Wheatear