Thursday, 11 May 2017

A new venue and new birds

A new work colleague of mine is a keen angler. He told me he had heard there was an old wharf reaching out into the sea where he could go fishing. 

I realised this could be a good venue for pelagic birding.

Having found the wharf on the map, I went there directly after birding the waste water site last Saturday.

I estimate that the wharf intrudes up to 300 metres into the sea.

There were plenty of terns. I saw Caspian tern, gull-billed tern, royal tern but particularly many black tern. The latter is a passage bird still coming through in numbers at the moment.

black tern out to sea

Once again this was evidence that black tern migrate along the coast. In contrast I have seen the other two marsh terns: white winged tern and whiskered tern migrate inland. 

Caspian tern

There were relatively few gulls. Actually the three lesser black-backed gull is quite a high total this late in the season. The other gull was a grey-hooded gull. This was only my second sighting of this bird in Mauritania. It is scarse outside the Senegal River estuary and Banc d'Arguin.

great cormorant

Apart from three sanderling on the beach before I walked onto the wharf the only other species I had seen were house sparrow on the wharf and great cormorant. The latter species was mostly resting on the sea or on the wharf itself.

record shot of Eurasian curlew

Suddenly, almost out of nowhere, two Eurasian curlew flew directly over the wharf, determinedly flying north, presumably on migration. They were at the far seaward end of the wharf and I doubt I would have noticed them from land.

They unexpectedly made species 258 on my country list. I had targetted bridled tern or brown booby for this session. Eurasian curlew wasn't even a consideration.

At around 3.45 pm I gave up for the day reasonably well satisfied. I wish I had known about the wharf in winter when the seas are busier.

The next morning, Sunday I walked from my home to North Noaukchoot lake. Instead of general birding, I went looking specifically for anything odd. So for example the African swamphen got less attention than usual.

little stint (l), common ringed plover (c), sanderling (r)

There were fewer waders than at any other time I have been visiting. I expect even fewer as we head towards summer. Nevertheless, sanderling are rarely seen at the site and they were arguably the largest number this time. There were no wood sandpiper at all and it has been numerous all winter.

I checked the lone common ringed plover thoroughly mostly because it was a lone bird.

common ringed plover

I couldn't make it into a semipalmated plover despite signs of some webbing on the toes. However I am now completely on my guard for any American vagrants.

young white crowned wheatear 1

Slightly unusual was the sighting of a young white-crowned wheatear at the site. This is the furthest into the city that I have seen one.

white-crowned wheatear 2

My attention to detail on this session paid off with a close look at the sparrows.

There are usually flocks of both house sparrow and Sudanese golden sparrow around a couple of lake side trees and on semi-submerged dead bushes near them. I have seen a red-billed quelea among them in the past.

yellow-crowned bishop with two Sudanese golden sparrow

This time they were joined by three putative yellow-crowned bishop.

yellow-crowned bishop with Sudanese golden sparrow

All three bishops found in Mauritania are similar in non-breeding and female plumage. The birds at the lake are quite heavily streaked on the flanks and upper breast. This is consistent with yellow-crowned bishop.

two yellow-crowned bishop and a Sudanese golden sparrow

I had initially ruled out yellow-crowned bishop as it is the shortest of the three bishops at 11cm which compares with 13-14 cm for a Sudanese golden sparrow.

However although the birds above don't look smaller overall than the sparrows they seem to be shorter but fatter.

two yellow-crowned bishop

As far as I know, no yellow-crowned bishop has ever been recorded in the city though the same was true of dwarf bittern, Allen's gallinule and African swamphen until recently and all have been seen at this site.

The bishops could be escapes or dispersal or a mix of both. Only time and much more data will tell. I last saw one in Rosso which is only 200 kilometres in direct flight.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Strong passage still at the waste water site

On Saturday morning, I went to the waste water site north of the city for the first time for two weeks. I was interested to know whether there was still some passage.

The good news was that there was.

However early on, my attention was drawn away from the passage and towards the large number of speckled pigeon on site. Indeed the count of 24 was my highest in Mauritania. 

ten speckled pigeon

Ten of them grouped together in a small space on the largest tree on the site.

six speckled pigeon and a golden oriole

Six more were towards the top of the tree and I photographed them too. It was only when I got home several hours later and inspected the photo that I noticed a golden oriole "photobombing" in the bottom left corner.

wide angle shot showing two golden oriole

Having found one golden oriole in one photo, I checked the others. The wide angle picture above shows two of them. One is in the bottom left while the other is in the far centre right.

I will say more on the golden oriole later in the blog.

Kentish plover

The diversity of the waders alongside the waste water pools was the least I had seen since I started coming to the site. There were only three species though their numbers were relatively high. There were: little stint, Kentish plover and Common ringed plover.

common ringed plover 1

One common ringed plover looked unusual. These days I am on the look out for strange looking waders given the success with a pectoral sandpiper at this same site.

This bird had a very weak supercilium more like a semipalmated plover. However it also had a black band below the collar much broader than is typical even for a common ringed plover. For a semipalmated plover it should be even narrower. I was left to conclude it is a common ringed plover in a high state of alertness causing it to stretch its neck.

common ringed plover 2

Both Sudanese golden sparrow and house sparrow are attracted to this place. 

Sudanese golden sparrow

Checking the little stint, I found all were fairly standard. There was no hint of anything unusual. Most were now close to breeding plumage.

little stint

Each time I visit now I am seeing fulvous babbler though the numbers vary. This time I only saw two young birds (told by the yellow gape).

fulvous babbler

However it was the passerine and wader passage I really came to see rather than resident birds. 

western olivaceous warbler

Two of both western olivaceous wabler and the related melodious warbler were observed. Both were on later than average passage.

Two spotted flycatcher were also seen.

None of these were close to the water but were in or around the avenue of trees leading to the water.

yellow wagtail

A single yellow wagtail was close to the water though.


Two female blackcap flitted between cover and the dead open bushes in the middle of the water.

tree pipit

The last passage bird seen near the water was a tree pipit. They have been seen regularly in small numbers in both the autumn and spring here unlike red-throated pipit which remains a target species for me in Mauritania.

Having finished at the water, I walked down the avenue of trees for the last time in that session. It was here and then that I glimpsed three golden oriole. I cursed my luck that I had failed again to photograph them.

However as I have already written I had already photographed them earlier without knowing they were present.  This was only notced once I returned home.

I had two more birding sessions over the weekend. One was at a newly found birding site in the city. It also provided an additional species to my country list. I will write about this next.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Saint-Louis, Senegal

May Day was a public holiday in Mauritania. It meant I could make a long weekend of a visit to the jazz festival in Saint-Louis, Senegal.

I was with non-birding friends most of the time. However we did separate on Sunday morning. I went birding north east of the corniche and alongside the Senegal River estuary.

I had only been birding in the Dakar area of Senegal before so it was no surprise that I added 11 species to the one hundred accumulated there some six years ago.

One of these extra species was a sand martin among the barn swallow hawking for insects under the main bridge which crosses the river.  It was seen while walking with my friends to the jazz on the Saturday. I wasn't even birding then. 

The rest of this blog recounts the Sunday morning session.

All over the city and over the mangroves are plenty of yellow-billed kite. I saw them at the start of my walk and continually after. This is in constrast from all but the most southerly parts of Mauritania where they retreat graduately after the rainy season.

yellow-billed kite

In the estuarine waters towards the beginning of my walk, they were a few pelican. They proved to be of two species. Care was definitely needed to identify which ones.

great white pelican

The pinkish hued bird above is actaully a great white pelican. The bare pink skin around the eye and the large yellow pouch are characteristic.

pink-backed pelican

This greyish bird above is a pink-backed pelican. The pouch is not as broad and it is much lighter coloured. There is a noticeable black lore in front of the eye too.

What is remarkable is that I got the identification completely the wrong way round in the field.

Great white pelican is new to my Senegal list. The sad news is I have yet to see a pink-backed pelican in Mauritania but this one was less that two kilometres from the border.

Caspian tern were observed in the air near-by. This was another first for me in Senegal.

grey heron

You rarely see grey heron wading in the sea and they weren't here either. You have to keep reminding yourself that this is an estuary and the water is not fully saline.

Turing off the corniche and walking inland down a major branch of the river with mangroves either side was my next move.

There were blue-naped mousebird in the gardens affronting the river.

blue-naped mousebird

Spur-winged lapwing were scattered along the narrow roadway running parallel with the water.

spur-winged lapwing

However much of the birding activity was not on the road or the landward side of it but on the riverward side.

Malachite kingfisher

A malachite kingfisher was seen in a small clump of reeds while a pied kingfisher flew over the water.

African mourning dove

An African mourning dove was in a tree next to the clump of reeds and a couple of namaqua dove were close-by.

pied crow

Several pied crow were on the wires next to the road or taking part in eternal battles with yellow-billed kite.

little bee-eater

On the edge of some mangroves, I came across a small group of little bee-eater.

great white egret

The deep fresh water suits gret white egret and there were plenty of them.

I ventured into the grassier parts of the mangroves but still got muddy and wet feet as well as lower trousers. However it was worth it.

I found that the mangroves were teeming with passerines. I identified two species which were probably representative of the large majority of birds there. These were African reed warbler and tawny-flanked prinia.They were several prinia nests scattered around too.

Both species were new to me in Senegal.

My road carried on straight as the river veered left. I was left to cross a main road over which there was a set of mud flats leading to an outlet to the sea.

I knew there were many waders and spoonbill there as well as a few gulls. However, I was facing directly into the sun and could not make most of the birds out. I was particularly aggreived not to be able to make out the type of spoonbill.

grey-hooded gull

I could make out the closest birds and they were a mix of black-headed gull and grey-hooded gull.

I made my biggest mistake of the session in trying to cross to the other side of the mud flats to get the sun behind me. It started well when I flush four Senegal thick-knee. However the bridge of tyres that someone had placed for people to walk on lead to nowhere. I slipped and muddied more of myself.

I never did find a way across. This still rankles as I am sure I missed alot.

I had to turn round and head back the way I came.

Sudanese golden sparrow

En route there were some Sudanese golden sparrow. This is a common bird in Mauritania but not so much in Senegal. It was another Senegalese addition.

I walked through the mangroves a second time seeing more African reed warbler though one bird had a very rusty coloured rump. I suspect, but I am not certain, that it was a late-staying European reed warbler. These are known to winter in numbers in the river delta area.


The only waders I saw in the small pools within the mangroves were common greenshank.

squacco heron

One squacco heron was observed there as well. I was very surprised when I input my sightings in e-bird that this was the first one I had seen in Senegal. I wonder if I simply forgot to enter it when I was in Dakar a few years back. An over-sight?

boat on the Senegal River

I got better views of the African mourning dove on the way back.

African mourning dove

Towards the end of the mangroves, just before the corniche was reached there is a small cluster of trees. These were teeming with house sparrow, Sudanese golden sparrow and black-headed weaver.

black-headed weaver nest

This weaver builds a very large elongated nest. Some work was being done on them so I suspect the breeding season will begin soon (and ahead of the rains).

nest with black-headed weaver

I have not been serious yet about aquiring a large Senegal list. Mauritania remains my priority yet this was still a very enjoyable session. It left me wanting more time.

Species seen at the Senegal River estuary, Saint-Louis   (L) = new to my Senegal list

Long-tailed Cormorant  4 
Great Cormorant  7
Great White Pelican  1 (L)
Pink-backed Pelican  4
Grey Heron  4
Great White Egret  6
Western Reef-Heron  4
Cattle Egret  22
Squacco Heron  1  (L)
Black Kite (Yellow-billed)  12
Senegal Thick-knee  4
Spur-winged Lapwing  6
Common Greenshank  3
Grey-hooded Gull  2
Black-headed Gull  9
Gull-billed Tern  1  (L)
Caspian Tern  3   (L)
Black Tern  12
Mourning Collared Dove  2
Laughing Dove  14
Namaqua Dove  5 (L)
Little Swift  1   (L)
Eurasian Hoopoe  2  (L)
Malachite Kingfisher  1
Pied Kingfisher  3
Little Bee-eater  5
Pied Crow  8
Crested Lark  12
Sand Martin  1  (L)
Barn Swallow  14
Common Bulbul  6
African Reed-Warbler  5 (L)
Tawny-flanked Prinia  6 (L)
House Sparrow  18
Sudan Golden Sparrow  12 (L)
Black-headed Weaver  5
Red-billed Firefinch  2

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Vagrant Franklin's gull and more

My birding friend Markus Craig came over with the Big Year WP team two weeks ago. He stayed an extra day after the team moved on. That was Sunday April 23rd.

He came out birding with me and local birder Mohamed Vall and brought us good luck.

One of the sites we visited was the lagoons south of the fishing port. It was here that Markus was first to spot a vagrant Franklin's gull among a gull population severely depleted from the numbers seen all winter.

Franklin's gull 1

The bird was relatively tame and gave us good views even a second time after being partially displaced by a passing fisherman.

Franklin's gull 2

It is only Muaritania's only third authenticated Franklin's gull though the second one was only almost exactly one year earlier. That one was found by Eric Didner.

Franklin's gull 3

In correspondence with Bram Piot it appears that five were around the Dakar area in Senegal from 2012-15. They may be more frequent on the West African coast than the data suggests.

Franklin's gull 4

Though gull numbers were down, tern numbers are still increasing. Royal tern, Caspian tern, Gull-billed tern as well as several black tern and a single white-winged tern were observed.

Sanderling 1

Following the week before's pectoral sandpiper at the waste water site, we were still sensitised to the possiblity of another vagrant wader. We didn't find one although a very territorial sanderling put on a behavioural display I hadn't seen before which looked unusual at least to me.

We tried to fit it to a Baird's sandpiper but failed. I have since found images of a sanderling almost exactly matching the aggressive posture and look of the picture above.

Sanderling 2

Earlier we had been to the waste water site where the pectoral sandpiper had been the week before. 

curlew sandpiper

No exotic waders were present this time. A curlew sandpiper was the least usual.

wood sandpiper (right)

A wood sandpiper in an erect posture for a prolonged period drew our attention until we realised what it was.

Barn swallow and blackcap were often resting on the naked bushes in the middle of the water just as on the previous visit. Though no new warblers or hirundines were seen this time round.

Other passage birds included redstart, pied flycatcher and my first spotted flycatcher of the season.

spotted flycatcher

Five fulvous babbler were the largest number I have yet observed at this site.

fulvous babbler

Both woodchat shrike and desert grey shrike were present.

desert grey shrike

The resident birds are restricted to doves, larks, desert grey shrike and quite possibly fulvous babbler if this newly enlarged number stay around.

namaqua dove

It was good to see Markus again and I know Mohamed Vall and I were very pleased to have a third member on our birding session.