Saturday, 17 March 2018

Keur Macene in early spring

Having gone out birding locally last Saturday, this was followed up with a much longer trip on Sunday. It was originally planned to head to Mzela. 

However, Mohamed Vall and I went all the way down to Keur Macene. This is the closest southern wetland to Nouakchott but it is still a four hour journey on mostly very poor roads.

We went there pretty much directly. On arrival we found that although some of the wetland next to the village had dried up since the New Year, most of it was intact.

Our first bird was a perched long-tailed cormorant. With eyes closed and with a bill and face pattern that of a young bird, it was surprisingly difficult to separate from great cormorant. The thick neck, normally consistant with great cormorant, was obvious but was a distraction. I suspect the bird had just swallowed something.

The long tail and short bill length point to long-tailed cormorant.

long-tailed cormorant

Squacco heron were scattered all over. Less numerous were great white egret.

great white egret

Near-by was a black heron.

black heron

In the same small area at the eastern edge of the water mass were also purple heron and western reef heron.

young purple heron

African jacana were scrambling over the lilies and both Sudanese golden sparrow and black-headed weaver were in the trees. A sinlge Vielot's barbet was briefly also seen.

pied kingfisher

We made our way westward by car stopping at certain points. New birds for the day included pied kingfisher and an over-heating tree-pipit trying to keep cool under a tamerisk bush.

tree pipt 1

I look very hard at most pipits. Both grassland pipit and meadow pipit are possible in Mauritania and I have seen neither yet. This particular bird was easily separated from a meadow pipit unfortunately. The streaking on the flanks was weak. The lower mandible was pink and the head pattern was much better for tree pipit.

tree pipit 2

I try to make sure with any suspect bird. I walked all round the tamerisk bush giving it a wide berth to lookat the pipit from the rear. 

tree pipit from the rear

The streaking on the back was relatively weak. All in all it made for a standard tree pipit.

Soon after we found we couldn't take the car any further west but we could follow the water westward on the north side on foot.

Keur Macene's water is a relict of a previous route of the main Senegal River. Indeed it looks like a river and is as wide as the Senegal River. It just doesn't flow directly into the sea and it is only seven kilometres long. Having said that we have yet to walk all seven kilometres and it ends to the west near Chott Boul. That lake is supposed to be the best place in the country for wintering ducks and for breeding lesser flamingo. I will make sure I get there despite its poor accessibilty, on foot if necessary.

What was particularly good about the water at Keur Macene is that the north bank is not blanket reeds like alongside the Senegal River. There are sandy and muddy approaches directly to the water.

immature African jacana

On one such muddy bank we came across a potential lesser jacana. However, it turned out to be a young African jacana which was noticeably smaller than the adults near-by.

the north bank at Keur Macene

In a small stand of reeds we could see inside well enough to pick out a sedge warbler.

Senegal thick-knee and  caspian tern

On another muddy bank, a family of Senegal thick-knee were enjoying the water next to some Caspian tern.

sacred ibis

Further down we sighted two sacred ibis. Both of us had only seen this bird at Lake Aleg in Mauritania before.

It was a ridiculously hot day for early March. Temperatures reached 41C. This and time meant we had to turn round much earlier than this stretch of water merits.

We chose to walk back to the car through adjacent scrub and woodland running parallel to the water. The most noticeable birds here were large numbers of red-billed quelea including an estimated five hundred in one tree and also a black-crowned night heron.


We also found a family of warthogs.

We gave ourselves enough to time for a couple of short stops on the way back to Nouakchott.

At one, at Tigoumatine, the unexpected happened and I added species 299 to my country list.

There is a house on the edge of the village with an exceptional garden. The owner maintains brightly coloured flowering plants. He was around and he speaks good English. He explained that he normally puts out water for the birds on hot days. 

In fact what he has done is create a micro-habitat more akin to the edge of a village in Senegal.

Birds kept flying to his water from three near-by trees. The birds included weavers.

birds drinking at Tigoumatine 1

At first I thought the weavers were the relatively common black-headed weaver. Identifying non-breeding weavers is tough though.

birds drinking at Tigoumatine 2

I am told the weavers are village weaver. Two reasons are the deep red eye and the size as seen against a Sudanese Golden Sparrow in the third picture. However the red eye alone is probably not enough since a few non-breeding male black-headed weaver can have a red eye this pale (the females have pale eyes all year and the males normally have dark eyes).

Other comments include that one weaver "clearly has a very heavy bill, with the top of the culmen flowing out of the forehead which unlike black-headed weaver, village weaver "lacks" a proper forehead". 

Thanks are due to all four experts who were consulted.

birds drinking at Tigoumatine 3

We also went into the near-by wadi which is good for birds in the rainy season. We saw virtually nothing.

pied crow

In fact there were only pied crow on the last buildings before the wadi and blue-naped mousebird, a common redstart and a northern wheatear were the only other birds which were positively identified there.

chestnut-bellied starling

Our last stop was very brief and it was to photogrpah chestnut-bellied starling. This is one of the most northerly of the Sahel breeding birds. When we start seeing them as we travel out of Nouakchott we know we have left the semi-desert and entered the Sahel. Very generally this means a much higher density of birds from then on, at least in natural surroundings.

Species seen at Keur Macene
Long-tailed Cormorant  
Grey Heron  
Purple Heron  
Great White Egret  
Western Reef-Heron  
Black Heron  
Cattle Egret  
Squacco Heron  
Black-crowned Night-Heron  
Sacred Ibis  
Senegal Thick-knee  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Common Ringed Plover  
Wood Sandpiper  
Gull-billed Tern  
Caspian Tern  
Speckled Pigeon  
African Collared Dove  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Pied Kingfisher  
Vieillot's Barbet  
Woodchat Shrike  
Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Sand Martin  
Barn Swallow  
Common Bulbul  
Sedge Warbler  
Zitting Cisticola  
Tawny-flanked Prinia  
Northern Wheatear  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
White Wagtail 
Tree Pipit  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  
Black-headed Weaver  
Red-billed Quelea 
Red-billed Firefinch  

Saturday, 10 March 2018

European bee-eater at the waste water site

It was back to my local patch today. These days this means the waste water site just north of Nouakchott.

There was some passage but no warblers yet.

The most notable passage bird was a single European bee-eater. I have only seen four in 18 months in Mauritania and all of them have been at the same place.

European bee-eater 1

It stopped briefly to catch dragonflies before continuing north.

European bee-eater 2

Once again much of the best birding came from the smaller pools to the east of the site rather than the main lake.

first yellow wagtail

There was a small of flock of yellow wagtail feeding near where the bee-eater was seen.

second yellow wagtail

This was undoubtedly a passage group as only rarely are single birds seen at the site in winter. Nouakchott is just north of its normal wintering range.

woodchat shrike

Three woodchat shike were scattered around the site outnumbering the local southern grey shrike.

white wagtail

Similarly yellow wagtail outnumbered white wagtail. This is a spring phenomenon.

Meanwhile back at the main lake, the spur-winged lapwing were even noisier and aggressive than usual.

spur-winged lapwing

The wintering common teal are now a distant memory.

common redshank

Among the waders, I observed my first common redshank this year.

wood sandpiper

The habitat is very good for wood sandpiper and they only go missing in summer.

five grey heron

Five skittish grey heron kept flying away from me.

mostly kentish plover

Common ringed plover, kentish plover and little ringed plover were on site in significant numbers.

barn swallow

As with the trip up north last weekend, barn swallow are flying through in large numbers at the moment. I also saw my first sand martin of the year and two presumably local little swift.

Mohamed Vall and I are trying our luck at Amzela tomorrow. This is the closest place with a decent number of natural trees to the south of the city. I will blog about this next.

Species seen at the waste water site on March 10th
Grey Heron  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Kentish Plover  
Common Ringed Plover  
Little Ringed Plover  
Little Stint  
Wood Sandpiper  
Common Redshank  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Little Swift  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
European Bee-eater  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Woodchat Shrike  
Crested Lark  
Sand Martin  
Barn Swallow  
Common Chiffchaff  
Iberian Chiffchaff  
Spectacled Warbler  
Common Redstart  
Northern Wheatear  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
White Wagtail  
House Sparrow  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  

Friday, 9 March 2018

Akjoujt to Atar

On the way to Zouerat last weekend, Mohamed Vall and I stayed at Atar on Friday night and again on Saturday night on the way back.

We managed a birding session on the west side of the town on the Sunday morning before the main journey back to Nouakchott.

Twenty-two species were seen. These are listed at the end of the blog.

black bush robin

Black bush robin were singing and paired off. The song is every bit as beautiful as European blackbird.

record shot of eastern olivaceous warbler

It only took fifteen minutes of birding before I made an addition to my country list. An Eastern olivaceous warbler was hopping around in a tall tamerisk bush at the side of a dry river bed.

I have seen tens of western olivaceous warbler in Nouakchott but eastern olivaceous warbler is only seen further east in the country. Actually eastern olivaceous warbler is a misnomer. While 90% of the population breeds in Eastern Europe and the Near East, 10% breed in North Africa away from the Atlantic.

It is on average a shorter distant migrant than western olivaceous warbler so birds can winter in places like Atar.

The constant dipping of its tail helped separate it easily.

roosting laughing dove

There were not as many species observed as in April last year on my previous visit but then passage was in full flow. Doves were very common this time and laughing dove in particular.

On the last visit we didn't seen a single house bunting in the town (though we did outside). This time they were everywhere.

house bunting

White-crowned wheatear were plentiful last time and again this.

young white-crowned wheatear

Some of both the white-crowned wheatear and the house bunting were very tame.

house bunting

We saw bar-tailed lark again. However, it was two crested lark that took my attention for a while.

crested lark 1

Crested lark are not at all common in Adrar. I have read in apparently authoritive sources that the dominant clade of crested lark in Mauritania is relatively long billed. These birds were not and that assumption is clearly too simple.

crested lark 2

Despite the short bill, no other characteristic fitted thekla lark which is a rare visitor to Mauritania.

crested lark

We managed some birding in the area on the way up on the Friday evening just before dusk. Indeed the stop at the wadi east of Yagref was our only stop that day.

The wadi is just below the Adrar hills. Desert lark which we had only seen up in the hills in April was down in the wadi in March. I suspect some altitudinal movement with temperature.

desert lark

Two species normally associated with further south were present. These were Namaqua dove and blue-naped mousebird.

Namaqua dove

Blue-naped mousebird was reported in the last blog even further north in Choum where it has made it into the western palearctic.

Along with the discovery of African grey woodpecker at Ouadane, these two species draw hard-core western palearctic listers to Adrar as the only place in that ec0-region where these species are found.

blue-naped mousebird

Nearer to Nouakchott is Akjoujt. It was not visited on the way up but was on the way back.

On the Sunay, we stopped at the east side allotments for the first time. These watered parcels of land surely have great potential as a migrant trap in passage.

barn swallow

They were a magnet for early migrating barn swallow.

woodchat shrike

A migrating woodchat shrike had found the place too.


A more local southern grey shrike was also observed.

southern grey shrike

A small number of sardinian warbler and chiffchaff were present.

Our last stop on the way back was a large woodland 30 kilometres south of Akjoujt. It had been good birding a previous visit last April and again in October. However, it appears to be much better in the passage seasons. This time Sudanese golden sparrow and European collared dove were the only numerous birds. A tawny pipit was most significant migrant.

tawny pipit (courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

It was an ambitious trip. Going to Zouerat and back in two and a half days meant we had to make some hard decisions. We got enough right and I got two additions to my Mauritanian list. Only two species remain before I break the elusive 300. I am not sure anyone has done that in Mauritania before.

Special thanks are due to Mohamed Vall who did all the driving.

Species seen at Atar on 4th March
Feral Pigeon  
Collared Dove  
Laughing Dove  
Blue-naped Mousebird  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Woodchat Shrike  
Brown-necked Raven  
Bar-tailed Lark  
Crested Lark  
African Rock Martin  
Barn Swallow  
Red-rumped Swallow  
Eastern Olivaceous Warbler  
Lesser Whitethroat  
Fulvous Babbler  
Black Scrub-Robin  
White-crowned Wheatear  
Northern Wheatear  
White Wagtail   
House Bunting  
House Sparrow  
Sudan Golden Sparrow 

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Choum to Zouerat

Last weekend, Mohamed Vall and I went north to Zouerat from Nouakchott. It is over 750 kilometres from the capital and promised different species from the rest of the country. We went in search of black redstart, European stonechat, thick billed lark, Magreb wheatear and Tristram's warbler

We saw none of them.

However, as is often the case in birding you can be rewarded with unexpected findings if you put in the hours and visit enough different places. Two new species were seen but not from the target list.

This blog is about the northern half of the journey from Choum northward. Here one new species was seen. The next blog is about the Akjoujt to Atar area en route where another one was found.

The first stop having decended the Adrar hills on the way north was a wide wadi with plenty of trees 20 kilometres south of Choum.

It is north of the 21st parallel and the easiest place to see blue-naped mousebird in the western palearctic. It is the furthest north this species is found in the world.

male Moltoni's warbler

There were many western sub-alpine warbler in the trees and bushes. We were looking for Tristram's warbler among them. We couldn't find one. Instead a beautiful male Moltoni's warbler gave us good views. It is easily separated by it's dirty salmon-pink underparts. These are quite different from the orange-rusty underparts of western sub-alpine warbler. We were privileged as few Moltoni's warbler are seen wintering. This bird was only slightly marred by the yellow pollen on its forehead and throat.

This bird also shows the relatively pale areas around the neck and above the rump which Moltoni's warbler apparently shows.

western sub-alpine warbler

Two western sub-alpine warbler in the same wadi are shown in the pictures above and below. They have orange-rusty underpartds.

second western sub-alpine warbler

The wadi had nearly as many sardinian warbler as western sub-alpine warbler.

desert sparrow

Desert sparrow were present and there was at least one southern grey shrike.

brown-necked raven (courtesy of Mohamed Vall)

A pair of brown-necked raven were seen on the edge of the long wadi. Brown-necked raven were common almost all the way along our 1500 kilometre journey to Zouerat and back.

We had stayed in Atar overnight and started out for Zouerat before dawn. Time was precious as we aimed to possibly make the trip to Zouerat from Atar as a day trip on the Saturday. 

We did try to walk from the wadi towards the rocky hills but turned back having seen nothing special. It is a shame as the hinterland to these hills is known to have thick-billed lark. Bar-tailed lark and hoopoe lark had been observed in the wadi though.

We travelled on towards Zouerat. Our next stop was over 150 kilometres further north when we found another green wadi just 12 kilometres from Fderick.

In some ways, the most remarkable feature of this wadi was its lack of birds. It is probably too far north for wintering western sub-alpine warbler. Indeed we saw only three warblers: two sardinian warbler and a chiffchaff.

white crowned wheatear 1

While white-crowned wheatear were easily seen, a male black-eared wheatear was arguably the best bird in the wadi.

white-crowned wheatear 2

Two types of shrike were present. There was a southern grey shrike.

southern grey shrike

There was also a woodchat shrike. On the journey, over the weekend, we saw many. It is an early, plentiful migrant across Mauritania.

woodchat shrike

One surprise about this wadi was the lack of any doves. This was in stark contrast with our next stop in the small town of Fderik.

In the town's small holdings there were many European collared dove and laughing dove.

In the strong light I found it difficult to conclude whether the collared doves were European or African.  I heard only European collared dove calls but I was uncertain about all birds. A photo of Mohamed Vall's proves my uncertain birds were also European collared dove. There were no African collared dove in Fderik. It would have represented the furthest north they had been seen.

European collared dove

There was a blue rock-thrush sheltering from the sun in one garden.

blue rock-thrush

There were two types of sparrow in the town. These were house sparrow and Sudanese golden sparrow.

Between Fderik and Zouerat was a larger farm than the small holdings at Fderik. It mostly consisted one of one large wheat field. This is a very uncommon crop in Mauritania outside the Senegal River Valley. Unfortunately, it had recently been cropped. Nevertheless, notably birds included hoopoe and northern wheatear.

The town of Zouerat itself was a little disppointing birdwise. We inspected the allotments but saw mostly laughing dove, house sparrow as well as migrant woodchat shrike. There was at least one chiffchaff but no breakthrough as we had hoped.

High above the town though were five black kite and fifteen or so brown necked raven.

It was 3.30pm and we had to make a decision whether to stay the night and have a very long journey back to Nouakchott on the next day which was Sunday or head south to stay in Atar. We elected to head south. We will never know what we missed in Zouerat. 

Leaving at 3.30pm gave us a chance to make a short stop or two on the way back.

We actually stopped only 8 kilometres out of town. This stop was a rocky wadi heading up to the hills.

For a remote rocky place, we were surprised how many laughing dove we saw in the bushes. Barn swallow also passed us by.

soiled white-crowned wheatear 1

We got excited momentarily at seeing a wheatear with an orange undertail and rump. However, we soon worked out that it was a white-crowned wheatear that had been soiled by the red dust in the area. Zouerat is a large iron ore mining area and red dust is everywhere in the hills.

soiled white crowned wheatear 2

The rocky wadi is shown in a picture below.

rocky wadi near Zouerat

One final bird at the wadi was house bunting. It was the only place we saw it in Tiris province.

house bunting

It is very common near Atar. We saw many there. I will blog about Atar and Akjoujt next.