Saturday, 3 June 2017

Still passage in early June

I visited the waste water site north of the city today. I started out early morning to avoid the heat. I finished at noon when it was just becoming difficult.

The good news is that there was still some passage.

Spotted flycatcher is a late migrant generally so it was no surprise to see at least four of them present.

spotted flycatcher

There were, however, late migrants of species which I would have expected all to have gone by now.

woodchat shrike

A rather dishevelled woodchat shrike was one of them.

yellow wagtail

Another was a single yellow wagtail.

common ringed plover

A single common ringed plover and a single little stint stood out among the dozen or so kentish plover near the main water.

kentish plover

I suspect kentish plover breed here. Though I haven't seen any young birds I have seen distraction behaviour from the adults when they pretend to be injured to move predators away from their young.

There are still migrant warblers coming through. I worked hard to find them. In the shade of the main avenue of trees I picked out a western Bonelli's warbler and two common whitethroat. There was also a late chiffchaff moving from one low bush in a marshy area to another.

A few barn swallow were the other migrants on site.

spur-winged lapwing

One bird that may be attempting to colonise the area is spur-winged lapwing. They never used to be any here. Now each time I come I see one or two. They seem to need permanent water sites but this one is fairly new.

Sudanese golden sparrow with red-billed quelea

As always in the Noaukchott area I studied the sparrow flocks and once again the local flock of Sudanese golden sparrow was carrying a lone red-billed quelea.

The other main birds at the site were larks and doves. Large numbers of crested lark were there from the start. I didn't see a single black-crowned sparrow-lark before ten in the morning. Then they were around continuously as they came back and forth to drink.

This place is very attactive to Namaqua dove, laughing dove and speckled pigeon. This time there were three feral pigeon as well.

speckled pigeon

While seeing twenty or more laughing dove or Namaqua dove is not exceptional, seeing twenty speckled pigeon is.

more speckled pigeon

Everytime recently here, I have seen these types of numbers of speckled pigeon.

Namaqua dove

I don't know what the birding in Nouakchott for the rest of June will be like. Surely all the palearctic migrants are through. It could be very dull before I leave for the summer. Just maybe, some of the rainy season birds will arrive early. I will know soon enough.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Little bittern at North Nouakchott Lake

It was one of those cooler days in Noaukchott today so I went out straight from work to North Nouakchott Lake.

I am really glad I did. It is often difficult to raise oneself on Friday afternoon after a full week's work.

The reason I am so glad is because I saw my first little bittern in Mauritania at the lake.

I flushed it from the open as I walked round but tracked it in flight and worked very hard to refind it. I wasn't going to let this one go.

little bittern 1

Luckily it had dropped down at the front of one of the reed beds. Sometimes little bittern fly into the beds and are lost.

little bittern 2

It was not immediately recognisable to me. It has a browner face and neck than the nominate species I am used to.

little bittern 3

I deduce from this that this is not a migrant but a dispersed bird of the African sub-species payesii.

 little bittern showing a chestnut-brown neck

I got very good views of the bird and it allowed me close. You can clearly see from the above photograph that it has the chestnut-brown neck characteristic of payesii.

The distribution maps show it normally only disperses as far north as the Senegal River Delta so this is well out of its known range. North Nouakchott Lake is developing a track record for finding birds doing this. The closest similar result was a dwarf bittern seen there in January.

northern pintail

Another odd bird for the location was a northern pintail. This is almost certainly the same bird as was observed two weeks ago. My guess is it will now try to over-summer.

mostly Eurasian coot

The uniqueness of this lake should not be understated. It is the only place in sub-Saharan Africa where Eurasian coot breed.

mostly little grebe

The lake has a high density at the moment of young coot, little grebe, moorhen and African swamphen. Though the coot and Swamphen breed at other times of the year as well.

adult African swamphen

There were no migrant waders at all this time. Indeed the only waders were the resident spur-winged lapwing.

spur-winged lapwing

The only migrants of any type were three barn swallow, one sand martin and a very late common swift.

red-billed quelea

Once again I inspected the sparrow flocks for oddities and came up with one red-billed quelea.

Sudanese golden sparrow

Other species which I don't always see at the lake were western reef heron (2) and squacco heron (2).

Little bittern is species 260 on my Mauritanian list and is a fillip to me as I am grounded in Nouakchott until the end of Ramadan. 

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Westward walk again

I am pretty much confined to Nouakchott during Ramadan as it is too tiring for my Muslim friends to take me long distance by car.

This means I am birding a few sites in the city more intensely than ever. Actually some of my best finds have been when I have been restricted to a few places over a prolonged period. I hope this holds true over the next month.

It is now also usually hot though temperatures vary considerably from day to day.

On Saturday I started out early to avoid as much heat as possible. I walked out west towards the coast on a now well-used birding route for me.

The first stop was the central lake. This is a natural lake which has been landscaped and extra water pumped in from elsewhere. However the rising water level and increased salinity, presummably of the pumped water, has destroyed the reed beds.

This is bound to effect the diversity of birds there adversely.

There were still many hirundines flying over. Red-rumped swallow were the most numerous though there were nearly as many barn swallow as well as house martin and sand martin.

white wagtail

The flat area with its patches of water next to the lake was interesting. One bird here was a white wagtail. This bird is very late for migration.

kittlitz's plover

Near one of the small pools was a kittlitz's plover. The lake itself housed only a few black-winged stilt and black-headed gull this time.

Next, I moved on to the west Nouakchott pools. Here, I finally found evidence that Kentish plover breed in Nouakchott with a chick sighted.

Kentish plover with chick

In the few scattered bushes at the one side of the pools was a mixed flock of house sparrow and Sudanese golden sparrow. It also contained at least one red-billed quelea.

red-billed quelea (front)

No matter where you are in Mauritania it is always worth looking hard at these sparrow/finch/weaver flocks. They are often multi-species and a rarity can turn up.

young house sparrow (bottom)

There are many young house sparrow around at the moment.

ruddy turnstone

The larger waders at the pools were spur-winged lapwing, ruddy turnstone and a single black-tailed godwit.

black-tailed godwit 1

I had seen a single one here a week before. This may be the same bird.

black-tailed godwit 2

From certain angles, the bird looked a little thin and that may be the reason it has stayed if it is the same bird.


Plenty of sanderling are still in Nouakchott and are only just started to adopt summer plumage.

I eventually moved on westward from the pools. I saw a couple of barn swallow on the wires between the pools and the coast.

barn swallow

It was still morning when I reached the coastal lagoon south of the fishing port.

Unfortunately it was a disappointment. Whereas the weekend before there had been large numbers and varied gulls, terns and waders, this time it was almost empty.  

audouin gull

Four Audouin gull, a few sanderling and a common ringed plover was all that met me. I think the low numbers were because the water supply through the pipes at the far end was very low and as a result the water levels in the lagoon were very low too.

To compensate for the lack of birds at the lagoon, I investigated the scrub further south. I don't do this regularly.

fulvous babbler

I was rewarded with the sight of two young fulvous babbler which were continually calling to each other.

second fulvous babbler

The one bird was hampered by being tail-less.

Looking out to sea I could see some large white headed gull which were more than likely lesser black-backed gull. One Caspian tern was also seen.

slender-billed gull

Having finished with the scrub, I returned to the lagoon and noticed the water level had risen as the water supply through the pipes had increased. It was too soon for many birds to have returned but there were more than when I first arrived. Some slender-billed gull were now there and two black tern had also arrived.

It now getting hot and I had a long walk back. It was a shame as I suspected more birds were going to return.

hoopoe lark

There was still some birding near the fishing port to be done. Hoopoe lark were easy to see. The usual rubbish dump of fish waste gave me many cattle egret, crested lark and two late yellow wagtail.

Overall it had been a satisfactory but not spectacular birding session.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Fine gulls at the fishing port

Saturday May 20th was the second exceptionally cool day in a row so I went birding for a very long session on foot.

I walked from my house to the coast. The birding was good but I will start with what was seen at the coastal lagoons rather than in chronological order as the lagoons had the most challenging and rewarding birding of the day.

At the lagoons was a remarkable mix of gulls. There were over-summering birds and summer arrivals which was a mix quite different from what I had been seeing since September.

First and foremost was a probable kelp gull.

This should not be a shock. They have been creeping up the West African coast with new breeding sites over the past 20 years. They were first spotted in the northern summer in Senegal in the 1990s. They are now known to winter, over-summer and breed in small numbers in Banc d'Arguin north of Nouakchott. They now appear to breed in western Sahara. 

probably kelp gull 1

I have asked for help on the identification of this bird which has been surprisingly difficult to obtain. There is little expertise volunteering itself which knows how to compare both northern hemisphere and "southern hemisphere gulls".

The bill is strong and the bird is robust as expected from a kelp gull which it is worth remembering is not rare in Mauritania anymore. Its just that I hadn't seen one.

Here is an extract of one set of comments which addresses the issue that a vagrant (south of Banc d'Arguim) greater black-backed gull was the other main possibility.

" the bill structure easily excludes any sort of LBBG and my interpretation of the moult is that the tertials and inner primaries look recently renewed and fresh whilst the outer primaries look rather worn - could a 3cy GBBG look as worn as this on the primaries by May? Also, the bird is very dark and grubby on the head for any summer GBBG I would think".

probable kelp gull 2

As I said the collection of gulls was really remarkable. There were at least five lesser black-backed gull present. 

lesser black-backed gull

I had only seen one grey-hooded gull at this spot since I arrived in country. On May 20th there were four. Though a few remain all winter at Banc d'Arguin it is beginning to look like most are summer visitors.

grey-hooded gull with waders

Furthermore there were six immature Audouin gull in the group alongside several Caspian tern.

E-bird does not accept any Audouin gull in May and no more than two lesser black-backed gull. These observations have broken e-bird's filters. 

Audouin and lesser black-backed gulls with Caspian tern

I also looked very hard at the terns which which were present. I was especially looking for arctic tern or roseate tern in with the common tern but I had no luck.

common tern

There was nothing unusual in the group of black tern either.


Four whimbrel were the most notable waders.

Earlier I had walked to the coast via the central lake next to the new Senegalese embassy that is still being built. The authorities are very sensitive about this site so caution is required.

house martin

Like the day before, this was a day of large-scale hirundine migration. The difference was that at this site at least the birds were mostly house martin and red-rumped swallow whereas at North Nouakchott Lake the day before they had been barn swallow and sand martin.

red-rumped swallow

Luckily for me several were resting so I got good and prolonged views.

red-rumped swallow and house martin

As well as a small number of over-summering black-headed gull, I found a single grey-hooded gull. This was my first indication in the day of their arrival for the summer. Of course, I saw the four at the lagoons later.

grey-hooded gull with an itch

This bird actually gave me the best views I have had of this species in Mauritania.

grey-hooded gull

The salt pools which I called West Nouakchott pools was the next big stop before the lagoons.It too had more birds than I had observed in recent weeks. 

common ringed plover

The numbers of the more common waders such as common ringed plover broke the e-bird filters again and I was asked by the database to justify my large numbers. What can I say but that this site is known for its high denstiy of waders and that they are still coming through.

ruddy turnstone

There was a good mix including ruddy turnstone and a single late black-tailed godwit.

curlew sandpiper

Not much summer plumage was peeking thorugh on the curlew sandpiper.

common ringed plover with sanderling (r)

On the other hand, I saw my first sanderling here in Mauritania in breeding plumage. Given the large numbers present, it was no surprise to see one this advanced.

wood sandpiper

I had not seen a wood sandpiper in three weeks in Nouakchott but one late one was one of the last birds I saw at the pools.

I made the same walking trip again on Sunday May 28th. I will blog about that next.