Sunday, 10 September 2017

Most species seen yet at the waste water site

On yesterday's visit to the waste water site, I recorded 40 species which is the most I have ever seen there. Of course, most were passage birds and a sign that passage is full-on at the moment.

In this blog I will go through various categories of bird seen rather than recount chronologically. 

I will start with the doves.  Large numbers of speckled pigeon were present in spring but not since I returned after the summer break. Yesterday they were back.

speckled pigeon

There was the largest group of European turtle dove I have ever seen. I counted 18. However they were extraordinarily shy. If one saw me, the flock would move on at least 50 metres.

turtle dove and laughing dove

One exception was a very young turtle dove, though well hidden it did allow reasonable approach.

turtle dove

Both laughing dove and Namaqua dove have been present on every single visit to the site.

three Namaqua dove and a laughing dove

Warblers were collectively the largest group of birds yesterday. The big majority were willow warbler.

willow warbler from the rear

Many were obviously first year birds.

same willow warbler from the front

I am still looking intently for Iberian chiffchaff for the simple reason that there are over 1,000,000 according to Birdlife International and most must fly through Mauritaina to reach their wintering grounds in Senegal and Western Mali.

problematic warbler 1

The identification of Iberian chiffchaff outside their breeding grounds is problematic. There should actually be more of them than willow warbler in this region. Yet they are rarely identified except from a mist net.

problematic warbler 2

Something must be happening. The most likely scenario is they are being over looked for willow warbler. The problematic bird (see photos) was chosen from all the phylloscopus at the site as having the most characteristics in common with Iberian chiffchaff as seen in the breeding area. There is a lemon underside with a white belly. The supercilium appears to have a lemon tinge. The bill fits the orange tinges of Iberian chiffchaff. The legs are a bit dark for a typical willow warbler and are the amber colour which is the commonest leg colour of the Iberian chiffchaff.

problematic warbler 3

And yet three people from Iberia on BirdForum say this bird is a willow warbler. The main reasons they cite are a supercilium that is too long and a primary projection that is too long. 

It may be too early to see Iberian chiffchaff here but it must happen soon. I can't believe they all fly over Mauritania and go directly without pause to near-by Senegal and Western Mali. It is a zero sum game, they can't dematerialise and reappear in spring in their breeding grounds.

I rarely resort to sound tracks. They are for bird tours and used much more by obsessive people. My main aversion is to the use of songs, which can be particularly harmful in the breeding season. Yet I have developed an particular obsession here to know where the Iberian chiffchaff are and what they look like after leaving their breeding grounds. I have downloaded the call of the Iberian chiffchaff. Let's see what next weekend brings.

blurred garden warbler

I had more success additing to my list with a different warbler. I found my first garden warbler in Mauritania. The warbler is otfen over-looked simply because it is non-descript.

Garden warbler from below

Western olivaceous warbler were still to be found. Most were next to a small sheltered pond surrounded by over-hanging bushes.

sedge warbler

Sedge warbler has an even greater affinity for water. Two were observed in the same bush at the main water's edge.

Before looking at the water birds themselves, I will finish off the rest of the land birds. 

golden oriole 1

Three golden oriole were observed. They were shy as usual.This is still the only place I have seen them in Mauritania.

golden oriole 2

Hoopoe like ground with earth insects and grubs. It is no surprise I regularly see them at this site in passage seasons.


Plenty of European pied flycatcher and spotted flycatcher were scattered around the site. On average the European pied flycatcher was in less exposed positions.

spotted flycatcher

In the wooded areas were the first common redstart of the season.


Likewise, a whinchat was also the first of the season.

tree pipit

I have yet to see a red-throated pipit in Mauritania. Although there was pipit close to the mobile flock of yellow wagtail, it was a tree pipit.

cattle egret

Turning to the "water birds", the glossy ibis are down to one though four grey heron made an appearance. Two cattle egret flew over but were only seen once.

Similarly, two gull-billed tern hestitated over the water for a couple of minutes before continuing their flight south. A single black tern did the same.

little stint

There were almost as many dunlin as little stint for once. Less common redshank this week meant less alarm among the waders when I got close.

first year dunlin

I have found no evidence of breeding among the spur-winged lapwing. Nor have I anywhere in the city despite their numbers.

spur-winged lapwing

Provided majorly contimated water isn't added, the greenery at the edges of the water will continue to grow. If the cover increases, breeding of 
the watervarious species becomes a possibility. As ever this is dependent on man.

the water

Species seen on Spetember 9th at the waste water site

Grey Heron (Grey)  
Cattle Egret (Western)  
Glossy Ibis  
harrier sp.  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Kentish Plover  
Common Ringed Plover  
Little Stint  
Common Sandpiper  
Green Sandpiper  
Common Greenshank  
Wood Sandpiper  
Common Redshank  
Gull-billed Tern  
Black Tern  
Speckled Pigeon  
European Turtle Dove 
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Eurasian Hoopoe (Eurasian)  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Woodchat Shrike  
Eurasian Golden Oriole  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Willow Warbler  
Western Olivaceous Warbler  
Sedge Warbler  
Garden Warbler  
Spectacled Warbler  
Spotted Flycatcher  
European Pied Flycatcher  
Common Redstart  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
Tree Pipit  
House Sparrow  

Saturday, 2 September 2017

F-Nord lake: not dead yet

So F-Nord lake isn't completely pumped out. I went there on Friday to see what remained of the best and only fresh water birding site in the city.

The authorities had started pumping it out. The level had reduced and I had assumed it would all be gone as part of the drive to remove standing water throughout the city.

Whether the heavy rain last week (when 40% of a year's rain fell in one day) has topped the water up or the authorities have decided to allow the lake to remain at the new lower level, I still don't know. I can see that the three low lying houses have already repainted their walls suggesting they believe levels will never rise again.

Either way, I enjoyed the birding while I could.

squacco heron

Large birds are generally the most easily seen and there was some variety of heron family members. Three squacco heron may not sound many but it is the largest number I have observed at this site.

little egret

There are often a reef heron or two on site but rarely do I see its close cousin, little egret.

glossy ibis

Two glossy ibis and a single grey heron were the other members of the extended heron family present.

coot chicks

This may be the only place south of the Sahara in West Africa where coot are present all year round and where they regularly breed. There doesn't seem to be a set breeding season. I have seen young chicks in February, other spring months and now again at the beginning of September. 

It is not the only place in sub-Saharan Africa where they have bred. I am told that they have bred in Northern Senegal though I don't know the scale or regularity. I wonder if sub-Saharan breeding is actually wider spread. It would be interesting to know whether any of the pools off the Niger river in Mali support them too. It is a known wintering ground and I would imagine the conditions are similar.

several coot

There is a high probability that the coot seen at this time of year where born here.

little grebe (left)

Little grebe prefer water at least one metre in depth. I predict they will be the first of the four breeding water birds to leave here if the water goes lower.

African swamphen

None have left yet. African swamphen can still be seen in or close to the reeds.

garganey (left) and moorhen (right)

Moorhen are still present in seemingly their usual numbers too. The one above was swimming next to a garganey. Indeed the garganey was not the only duck on site.

northern pintail

There was also a northern pintail. Before I left for the summer in June, one of each of these species had been seen during that month and I speculated whether they would over-summer. I don't know whether this were the same two birds or not. However, I saw neither species on my first visit back after the summer.

marbled duck

One duck that is definitely new was a marbled duck. The lake had up to six in the early winter last year so this species wasn't a surprise though the timing was. There again no two years are the same.

mostly little stint

Given the lower levels of the lake, a larger number of waders was expected this cycle. There were certainly larger numbers of little stint and even wood sandpiper than I have seen before.

common ringed plover

Several common ringed plover and the odd common sandpiper added to the mix.

common greenshank (left)

Common greenshank and ruff are not observed so commonly at the lake. This is particularly true of ruff.


Woodchat shrike was expected and seen. Southern grey shrike was much less expected. This one looked like the sub-species algeriensis. As I observed last winter, a few seem to migrate across the Sahara to here. 

southern grey shrike

There were a small number of terns and gulls present. Three black tern were hawking over the water. This is by far the most common marsh tern to migrate along the coast near Nouakchott.

black tern

I was most surprised to see two juvenile black-headed gull.

black-headed gull 1

Last year it was four weeks later until I noticed the first one.

black-headed gull 2

I spotted four types of warbler. More than half were willow warbler. These were mostly out in the open.

first year willow warbler

Deep in one of the few trees that overhang the water I found a western olivaceous warbler. In some reeds I fleetingly saw a European reed warbler.

sedge warbler

I got prolonged views of two sedge warbler albeit from distance and in two quite different parts of the lake. Last winter I saw one or two all winter long. I study them all for aquatic warbler but I have always drawn a blank. I think I deserve one for the effort especially as thier main wintering ground worldwide is only 200 kilometres way on the Senegal River delta.

In birding, everything comes in the end if you are patient and persistent enough.

Species seen at F-Nord lake on September 2nd
Northern Pintail  
Marbled Duck  
Little Grebe  
Grey Heron 
Little Egret  
Squacco Heron  
Glossy Ibis  
African Swamphen  
Common Moorhen  
Eurasian Coot  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Common Ringed Plover  
Little Stint  
Common Sandpiper  
Common Greenshank  
Wood Sandpiper  
Black-headed Gull  
Black Tern  
Speckled Pigeon  
Laughing Dove  
Little Swift  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Woodchat Shrike  
Willow Warbler  
Western Olivaceous Warbler  
Sedge Warbler  
Eurasian Reed Warbler  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
House Sparrow  

Friday, 1 September 2017

Back at the waste water site

We have a long weekend this week for Eid. I took advantage of this yesterday with a Thursday morning visit to the waste water site north of the city.

There was plenty of passage and I recorded the most species I ever have at this site.

The first bird seen was a Namaqua dove which is resident. 

Namaqua dove

Moments later the fun started. I spotted a a hepatic (brown) common cuckoo. Sadly, I moved towards it too quickly and it disappeared not to be traced again. This form of cuckoo is quite common in the Middle East but much rarer in West Africa apparently.

I walked on along the south side of the avenue of trees which run west to east towards the waste water. This is my habitual route. It allows me to see towards the trees with the sun behind me. I save going under the trees until the way back when the temperatures have risen. 

spotted flycatcher

A spotted flycatcher was another sign of passage and I had barely walked 30 metres.

first year willow warbler

The first of many willow warbler was a bright first-year bird. I counted  at least 20 willow warbler by the end and yet ebird has this species down as rare in Mauritania at this time. I had to add the species to the list. Indeed more generally ebird doesn't think many types of warbler come through Mauritania in August. 

female black-crowned sparrow-lark

On my walk, as usual,  I deviated from the avenue of trees to get to the water's edge. Just before the first water is a grassy area where I can see larks and hopefully pipits and wagtails later in the year.

This time I only came across a female-type black-crowned sparrow lark.

On the way there, a European roller flew over. This was the second really good bird which escaped my camera.

spur-winged lapwing

Even before I reached the water's edge, the spur-winged lapwing had raised the alarm.

This caused a chain reaction with some common redshank panicking loudly.

black-tailed godwit

Other waders have a more placid temperament. I observed my first black-tailed godwit since retruning from my summer break. 

blue-cheeked bee-eater

Walking round the water, allowed me good views of the site's blue-cheeked bee-eater.

glossy ibis

Once again, the site held glossy ibis. This time there were two.

common ringed plover

On this visit, there were no Kentish plover or little ringed plover. A single common ringed plover was in the muddy areas. They can be many of all three species at different times in the muddy and sandy areas next to the main water.

western bonelli's warbler

By far the most numerous warbler was willow warbler, both in the trees and in the euphorbia bushes near the water. One exception in the bushes was a lone western bonelli's warbler. This was one looks to be late as that warbler was the most numerous three weeks ago.

purple heron

There were no grey heron this time but there was a purple heron. It was the first time I had seen one in the Nouakchott area.


At the eastern side of the site are three or four smaller pools. Here I finally caught up with an extremly wary whimbrel. At this eastern side, I normally turn round to walk westward along the avenue of trees. This is when I will go under the trees in places.

I have just turned to head west, when a great spotted cuckoo flew over. This was the third good bird of the day which escpared my camera and wasn't seen again. 

pied flycatcher 1

In among the trees it became obvious that several pied flycatcher were on site.

pied flycatcher 2

From the tail pattern, none of them were candidate Atlas flycatcher or even the Iberian sub-species of pied flycatcher. These birds most likely came from the UK or France.

willow warbler 1

There is a small pool actually in the avenue of trees. This continues to be a good place to stop and patiently look for warblers to appear. Willow warbler were well seen and close up.

willow warbler 2

There was at least one European reed warbler and three western olivaceous warbler there too.

western olivaceous warbler 1

The longer I stayed and without moving, the more the warblers came out. A western olivaceous warbler gave the best views of all.

western olivaceous warbler 2

I was checking all the willow warbler for the possibility of Iberian chiffchaff. All the population of this species apparently winters in West Africa yet there have been very few positive identifications.

It has a leg colour intermediate between a typical willow warbler and common chiffchaff. It has intermediate face pattern and wing length too though in all cases, on average it is closer to common chiffchaff.

Apparently it has much less buff tones on its upper parts than nominate common chiffchaff. It often has a distinctive bright yellow aspect to the front of its supercilium.

probable willow warbler 1

I understand it always has a yellow undertail and the belly is usually lighter than surrounding underparts.

The bird in the pictures above and below was a candidate for Iberian chiffchaff to me. However I really don't like the apparently pale undertail. It is in all probability a willow warbler with dark legs.

probable willow warbler 2

Having said this, either they overfly Mauritania-Senegal-The Gambia or the species is being overlooked.

Continuing my walk under the trees, a nightingale was observed. I find this bird is much easier to see on passage than in its breeding areas.


It was another good day at the waste water site. If the water stays as large an area as it is at the moment and doesn't get poisoned, the next few months could be very interesting.

Species seen at the waster water site on August 31st
Great White Pelican  
Purple Heron  
Glossy Ibis  
Black-winged Stilt  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Common Ringed Plover  
Black-tailed Godwit  
Little Stint  
Common Sandpiper  
Wood Sandpiper  
Common Redshank  
Speckled Pigeon  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Great Spotted Cuckoo  
Common Cuckoo  
Pallid Swift  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
European Roller  
Woodchat Shrike  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow  
Willow Warbler 
Western Bonelli's Warbler  
Western Olivaceous Warbler  
Eurasian Reed Warbler  
Western Orphean Warbler  
Common Whitethroat  
Spotted Flycatcher  
Common Nightingale  
European Pied Flycatcher 
House Sparrow