Thursday, 8 December 2016

Atar road out of Nouakchott

Last weekend was the first time I failed to add to my Mauritanian list but that didn't make the birding bad.

Mohamed Vall and I journeyed 80 kilometres up the Atar road out of Noaukchott on Saturday. Atar is north east and inland. I expected different habitat from more westerly routes out of the city which are more saline. The hope was to see desert lark and prehaps other semi-desert species such as long-legged buzzard or even golden eagle.

We failed on all of them. We almost certainly have to go further out of the city.

Nevertheless, birding was interesting.

Just outside the city on the east side of the main road was a wadi with several sub-alpine warbler and a western orphean warbler. The green area was hidden from the main road behind sand banks as is often the case. 

A few kilometres later on the other side of the road was a small loose cluster of trees and some sign of non-halophilic vegetation (vegetation which showed we were out of the more saline area). We went off road to investigate.

some Sudanese golden sparrow

A mobile flock of Sudanese golden sparrow was a good sign.

three sudanese golden sparrow

A couple of hoopoe were also present.

hoopoe lark

Hoopoe lark was the only lark species in the area.

In the densest area of trees and bushes good views were had of a second western orphean warbler. This one was female and the previous one had been male. The distribution map in the Birds Of West Africa show this species to winter south of Nouakchott all across the southern eigth of the country. However this area is well north of that zone yet I suspect these were wintering birds. It's very late for any further warbler migration.

A family of fulvous babbler was a pleasant surprise. This was the first time I have seen them close to the city.

one fulvous babbler

Both birds in the pictures are juveniles as is indicated by the yellow gapes to their bills.

another fulvous babbler

Two northern wheatear were observed as well as a smart male dark-throated black-eared wheatear.

black-eared wheatear

From this angle and distance it is difficult to tell apart from a male desert wheatear. However there was a clear and considerable gap between the black on the wing and on the head when viewed side on.

blue-cheeked bee-eater

This area marks the northern limited of the resident blue-cheeked bee-eater in Mauritania.

cream-coloured courser

Further up the Atar road we came across two separate groups of cream-coloured courser. This was one of a small set of birds that I had on my list but not previously managed to photograph. This time it was relatively easy. The birds were settled.

upright cream-coloured courser

Not far past the second group of courser the habitat turned from semi-desert (with isolated patches of grassland) more fully into desert. We didn't venture further.

bar-tailed lark from the rear

On the way back, Mohamed Vall spied a lark while driving. We managed to park up and track it on foot.

We eventually identified it as a bar-tailed lark.

bar-tailed lark 1

From my observations, bar-tailed lark appears to be low density in the semi-desert areas north of the city. We have looked very hard for desert lark with no success. Indeed the terrain looks much more suitable for bar-tailed lark anyway. The land is almost all flat and rarely even rocky.

bar-tailed lark 2

Yet, the atals of Mauritanian birds has a sprinkling of records of desert lark in the very areas that we can't find anything but bar-tailed lark. Is it too arrogant of me to believe that these observations could be misidentifications? Time will tell.

I thank Mohamed Vall once again for driving and as my birding companion.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

North Bay, Nouadhibou

The area north of the airport in Nouadhibou has water bodies close to the sea just as the area south does. However these aren't refilled with every tide. The water is separated from the sea by sandbanks. This creates a difference in the two habitats.

Furthermore there is a large rubbish dump with organic waste next to the water's edge.  These factors meant the mix of species at the two locations was significantly different when visited a week ago Monday morning.

red-rumped swallow

Indeed in the rubbish dump, I added two species to my Mauritanian country list. Several red-rumped swallow were hawking for flies.

two red-rumped swallow

There were so many flies the swallows soon had time to rest. The bird on the left is an adult while the one on the right is a juvenile bird.

house martin

Not to be outdone a smaller number of house martin were hawking an adjacent part of the same rubbish dump. Occasionally the two species would overlap their flight paths. The house martin rested less often. Thanks are due to Mohamed Vall for noticing the one above.

The dump also held several white wagtail and a couple of northern wheatear. The presence of two yellow wagtail so far north surprised me.

Two Audouin's gull

Elsewhere we continued our search in Nouadhibou for rare gulls. Sadly the best we managed once again were a few Audouin's gull. There was no sign of common gull or little gull for example.

Audouin's gull

The Audouin's gull were usually easy to pick out as they mostly rested at the edge of the main groups of lesser white headed gulls.

red knot and bar-tailed godwit

There were less waders than in central bay the day before.However (at the near-by coast) we came across a nice mixed group of red knot and bar-tailed godwit. The mixing of the two knot species with the two godwit species is a well known phenomenon but it was still good to see up close with one each of the knots and godwits.

three pintail

We were still on the look out for anything different. Three pintail were the only ones seen on the trip.


A solitary ruff was the only one of that species seen just before we finished birding.

The trip to Nouadhibou had been a success. If we had had more time or in a futrue visit, the allotments and Cap Blanc would be obvious additional places to go to. The allotments might have held elusive wintering northern passerines.

I am grateful for Mohamed Vall's company and the generosity of his network of friends in Nouadhibou. 

Monday, 5 December 2016

Central Bay, Nouadhibou

The single largest concentration of birds on Mohamed Vall's and my trip to Nouadhibou was undoubtably at central bay. The area is just south of the airport and just north of the fish factories.

There were literally thousands of birds. Mohamed said it reminded him of Banc d'Arguin National Park.

view of central bay

There were several hundred large white headed gulls. The proportion of yellow-legged gull to lesser black-backed gull was much higher than in the Nouakchott area, hundreds of kilometres south.

Despite an intensive look at the gulls no rarities were found.


There were nearly 100 Caspian tern present too which rested neatly adjacent to the gulls but hardly mixed with them at all.

some Caspian tern

A dozen great white pelican were a good sighting.

great white pelican

One bird was much more orange-pink than the others but it is not a pink-backed pelican which is actually a greyer bird. It bill colour didn't match either.

two great white pelican

They stayed in the bay all morning though they moved position regularly.

great white pelican

The waders were also looked at thoroughly though we regret not having a scope with us.

sanderling with a whimbrel

Little stint and common ringed plover were the most numerous waders.

bar-tailed godwit with grey plover (r)

Significant numbers of sanderlingdunlin and grey plover were present too. A few bar-tailed godwit and kentish plover were easily seen.


The inlet provided a few duck. All were northern shoveller except one common teal.

common teal

The inlet was the only place we came across black-winged stilt as well.

red knot

The mix of waders was quite different in front of the fish factories. A single red knot was seen along with several sanderling and many ruddy turnstone.

sanderling with ruddy turnstone

However it wasn't the waders that fascinated me in the fish factory area.

ruddy turnstone

Instead it was six sand martin which kept endlessly foraging for flies. I don't know whether they will winter this far north but the track they kept flying down had among the highest fly concentration I have ever experienced in my life. Birding doesn't always take you to scenic and fragrant places.

record shot of a sand martin

Ironically, central bay had the highest number of birds seen on the trip but it was the one place when I didn't add to my country list.

There are more bays north of the airport which collectively I describe as north bay. We visited there last Monday morning. Here two birds were indeed added to the list. I will blog about there next.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Cansado beach

Another area visited in the Nouadhibou peninsula last weekend was the beach north of Cansado towards the main city of Nouadhibou.

This is a stretch of coast which doesn't have low lying cliffs like Cansado itself. It is also has some strips of worn-down rock.

The beach had many lesser black-backed gull and yellow-legged gull like the rest of the peninsula.

one oystercatcher

However, given the terrain, it was not surprising to see several ruddy turnstone and a few oystercatcher.

another oystercatcher

Other waders included kentish plover, common ringed plover, grey plover and whimbrel.

caspian tern and sandwich tern

While Caspian tern are very common in the Noaudhibou area, this was the only place Mohamed Vall and I saw sandwich tern too.

common tern

Yet it was a single common tern which attracted our interest.

Many thousands migrate from northern and western Europe down the Western African coast towards the tropics and southern hemisphere for winter. However this was the first one I have seen in Mauritania. It looks like they don't stop off but prefer non-stop flying. This is the only reason I can think of as to why I haven't seen any before. Indeed the bird we observed at Cansado was not in good condition and this would explain why it came to coast.

common tern stretching 

This is in stark contrast to birds seen in the Gulf and which do linger on the coast on migration down East Africa. Indeed a few winter and over-summer in Oman on the same latitude as the parts of Muaritania where I have been searching for this species.

In the next blog we look at central Noaudhibou bay where there were literally thousands of birds.