Sunday, 20 May 2018

Achrem and Kiffa

Much of Mauritania is flat lowland. The main exceptions are the Adrar and Zouarat areas in the north and parts of Assaba in the south. As we drove east in early April towards Kiffa, we finally started to see hills where three regions meet: Braka, Tagant and Assaba. The first hill was an isolated Inselberg at Achrem.

We took the opportunity to stop and walk off road 500 metres to the foot of the Inselberg. It was a good decision. There weren't many birds in the trees and rocks there but what there was high quality.

gosling's bunting

There were several gosling's bunting. This area is right on the northern extremity of their range presumably because this hill is the extreme north of the range of hills.

distant Neumann's starling

The prize species though was Neumann's starling. Once again the pair that were seen were on the northern edge of their range. Indeed the Inselberg was north of the main road and so in Tagant region. We believe this is the first time they have ever been recorded in Tagant albeit only 400 metres into the region.

Neumann's starling

Neumann's starling became number 302 on my Mauritanian list. It had been a definite target for the Kiffa trip.

Achrem's Inselberg

Following this stop, we pressed on to Kiffa. Indeed we didn't arrive until dusk.

On Sunday 1st April, we spent all morning in Kiffa. Though the city is actually the second largest in the country, it is sprawling and rural parts impinge into it everywhere. 

The most important greenery from our perspective was the central green wadi than runs straight through the city. It was there that will did most of our city birding.

However, we didn't even have to leave the hotel for our first observations. 

little weaver

Both little weaver and pygmy sunbird were seen in the hotel's very small garden.

greater blue-eared glossy starling

On the wires before we even reached the central wadi, we saw greater blue-eared starling and pied crow.

pied crow

Plenty more pied crow were seen in the air over the wadi as well as brown-necked raven and black kite.

The best bird of prey, however, was a single gaber goshawk seen darting in and out of a large tree.

In my experience in south west Saudi Arabia this species gives weavers in particular a hard time.

Sudanese golden sparrow

We saw many more Sudanese golden sparrow than house sparrow.

In the thickest wooded area, there were common redstart in the shade and a pair of Vieillot's barbet higher up.

pair of Vieillot's barbet

The calls between pairs of this species a are often very loud and always distinctive.

Vieillot's barbet

A subsidiary wadi which had been over grazed and so most of its cover was only Sodom's apple (almost inedible), had more birds than expected.

female northern wheatear

Two northern wheatear were observed there along with hoopoe, woodchat shrike, rufous bush robin and yellow wagtail.

African grey hornbill

An African grey hornbill perched on one of the Sodom's apple too.

northern grey headed sparrow

There were a few trees in the side wadi. One was very large and several northern grey headed sparrow were seen there and which made forages out to the ground.

spur-winged lapwing

The birding potential in the rainy season must be very good in Kiffa. It gets more rain for its latitude than anywhere else in Mauritania. Despite the poor rains in 2017, there were even a few small pools left over in the main wadi. The one above attracted over 25 spur-winged lapwing. The city is definitely worth another trip in July to October.

Near Kiffa, there are two permanent lakes. We visited the smaller of the two on the way back towards Nouakchott on Monday 2nd April. I will blog about that next.

Species seen at Achrem Inselberg on Saturday 31st March
Laughing Dove  
Pied Crow  
Brown-necked Raven  
White-crowned Wheatear  
Neumann's Starling  
Gosling's Bunting  

Species seen at Kiffa on Sunday 1st April
Cattle Egret  
Gabar Goshawk  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Feral Pigeon  
African Collared Dove  
Laughing Dove  
Blue-naped Mousebird  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
African Grey Hornbill  
Vieillot's Barbet  
Common Kestrel
Black Kite 
Woodchat Shrike  
Pied Crow  
Brown-necked Raven  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Cricket Longtail  
Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin  
Common Redstart  
Northern Wheatear  
Isabelline Wheatear  
Long-tailed Glossy Starling  
Chestnut-bellied Starling  
Greater Blue-eared Starling  
Pygmy Sunbird  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
House Sparrow  
Northern Grey-headed Sparrow  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  
Little Weaver  
Red-billed Quelea  

Aleg and Mal

At the very beginning of April, I visited Kiffa in the east of the country for the first time. It was a long journey and it required a day off work to make a very long weekend out of it.

I went with Mohamed Vall and we set off from Nouakchott on Friday lunchtime.

We got as far as Aleg on Friday night. This meant we could bird Aleg early on the Saturday morning. Of course, our first choice then was to head out to Lake Aleg. However, here we got a big surprise. The lake was bone dry and for the first time in living memory.

Last year's rains had been very weak but this proved just how weak.

Instead of the lake we resorted to birding the edge of the town, not venturing into the woodland as we hadn't time. We didn't expect much.

Seeing two male Seebohm's wheatear was more interesting than expected. There are actually not uncommon in southern Mauritania in winter. I suspect they are over-looked/misidentified for black-eared wheatear as well. 

An alternative name for Seebohm's wheatear is black-throated wheatear. This is quite helpful in separating it from black-eared wheatear. Yes, the black does run further down the throat. The back on a male is more uniformly grey or grey-brown too.

Northern wheatear (Seebohm's)

Near-by were plenty of Sudanese golden sparrow and the odd yellow wagtail.

greater blue-eared glossy starling

Aleg is about as far north in west Africa that you can expect to see greater blue-eared glossy starling.

Perhaps this isn't the perfect place to put this but we also visited Aleg on the Monday morning on the way back from Kiffa. While everything else in this series of blogs is in chronological order, it seems appropriate to put our finds from Monday in Aleg here.

So, on the way back on the Monday,we chose a completely different habitat at Aleg to go to. This proved to be very interesting.

It started out with us seeing a kestrel kill a southern grey shrike.

kestrel killing a southern grey shrike

I know that kestrels prefer to kill birds larger than sparrow sized but this is the first time I have seen or heard of them taking out shrike.

kestrel and dead southern grey shrike

What was most surprising about the woodland was the variety of birds normally expected further south except in the rainy season. This was especially true as it had been such a poor rainy season last year.

black bush robin

Black bush robin was one of those birds. African grey hornbill was another.

Long-tailed nightjar

Long-tailed nightjar was a real shock. It was well out of its recorded range.

red-cheeked cordonbleu 

Red-cheeked cordonbleu was yet another surprise.

rufous scrub-robin

There were passage birds as well. These included common redstart, northern wheatear and rufous bush-robin.

Only 80 kilometres from Aleg is Lake Mal. Until two years ago, it was a difficult cross-country journey there. However, a brand new road has been built east of Aleg going south to Mal. It was too big a target to miss on our way out to Kiffa. So we took the detour on the Saturday morning.

Lake Mal is typically five times bigger than Lake Aleg. Crucially, despite the poor rainy season in 2017, it was not empty. It pretty low though.

Nevertheless, it was worth the hiking off the road to seek out the remaining water.

part of Lake Mal

I counted at least 50 collared pratincole in the area I walked through. There must have been many more.

collared pratincole

A sign we were in the south of Mauritania was the presence of Abyssinian roller and blue-cheeked bee-eater. The latter bird is not seen in the centre of the country until July.

Abyssinian roller

Much of our effort was spent trying to see and identify the ducks which were mostly in the middle of the water. This was unfortunately separated from us by lots of treacherous mud. We couldn't approach close.

knob-billed duck

We did pick out Egyptian goose, spur-winged goose, knob-billed duck and garganey. Unfortunately, there were no ferruginous duck. This species is a known wintering bird at Lake Mal and would have been an addition to my country list. I suspect we just missed it by a week or two.

garganey and black-winged stilt

There were plenty of waders, yellow wagtail and various egret and heron but no storks.

spotted redshank

One of the waders was spotted redshank. This bird migrates in large numbers but is just as likely to be seen inland as on the coast in Mauritania.

The next blog is about going further east towards Kiffa. It was new ground for me.

Lake Mal on Saturday 31st Match
White-faced Whistling-Duck  
Knob-billed Duck  
Egyptian Goose  
Spur-winged Goose  
Grey Heron  
Great White Egret  
Little Egret  
Cattle Egret  
Glossy Ibis  
Black-winged Stilt  
Spur-winged Lapwing  
Common Ringed Plover  
Little Stint  
Common Snipe  
Spotted Redshank  
Common Greenshank  
Wood Sandpiper  
Collared Pratincole 
Gull-billed Tern  
Sterna sp.  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater  
Abyssinian Roller  
Common Kestrel  
Woodchat Shrike  
Brown-necked Raven  
Barn Swallow  
Common House Martin  
Northern Wheatear  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
Sudan Golden Sparrow

Woodlands west of Aleg on Monday 2nd April
Pallid Harrier  
Black Kite (Black)  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Long-tailed Nightjar  
Blue-naped Mousebird  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
African Grey Hornbill  
Common Kestrel  
Lanner Falcon  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Woodchat Shrike  
Brown-necked Raven  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Barn Swallow  
Willow Warbler  
Cricket Longtail  
Black Scrub-Robin  
Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin  
Common Redstart  
Northern Wheatear  
Desert Wheatear  
Chestnut-bellied Starling  
Greater Blue-eared Starling  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  
Red-cheeked Cordonbleu  

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Harmattan pushes huge number of birds to the coast

Since I was promoted last September it has been increasingly difficult to fit my birding in. The birding is still taking place but it the blog that is suffering. I have back log of six posts at the moment.

I can't even promise to catch up. Nevertheless, here is one from the end of March. 

I met up with Mohamed Vall who drove us south of the city on a day of fierce winds blowing in from the Sahara. However, before we left the city, I asked Mohamed Vall to park up in front of the Algerian embassy. Here we found a small flock of red-billed firefinch. Indeed it was the same flock I had seen the evening before, coming back from the supermarket.

The cluster of embassies there: Algerian, Russian, German and the old American have always promised to hold a different set of birds from the rest of the city. This is the stronghold of Senegal Parrot, a bird normally only seen in Mauritania on the Senegal River. Likewise it seems red-billed firefinch are also found way further north than is natural and to the same micro-habitat.

female red-billed firefinch in Nouakchott

Forty minutes later we were out of the city and at the water treatment plant, south of Riyadh district.

There was plenty of passage as expected. Ten black kite were among the passage birds. They lingered around the site for some time.

black kite

The artificial lake was the largest we have ever seen it. Black-crowned sparrow lark were visiting mostly to drink.

black-crowned sparrow lark

However, resident birds were far out-numbered by migrants.

black kite resting

For a short while with the kites was a harrier. It was probably a female Montagu's harrier but I cannot be categorical so that species was not added to my country list.

yellow wagtail

The passerine migrants were also interesting. Yellow wagtail are easily seen. However, warblers often require more work.

sedge warbler

Scattered around the site were several warblers including Iberian chiffchaff, common chiffchaff, blackcap and sedge warbler.

northern wheatear

One of the two male northern wheatear was of the Greenland sub-species.

northern wheatear

It was good to see speckled pigeon drop in for a drink.

speckled pigeon

Common swift and barn swallow were passing through. The latter landed for rest in large numbers.

barn swallow

Passage osprey can be seen at inland sites like this one at that time of year. Unfortunately this lake doesn't hold any fish.


As I mentioned before, the lake was as large as we have ever seen it. It was worth a picture.

fresh water lake at the water processing plant

We had worked the lake hard for nearly two hours and could tell that the easterly winds which had been bringing so many European bee-eater up the coast this season, had also brought more other passage westward to the Nouakchott area.

WE headed back to Nouakchott but our birding wasn't over. We went straight to the coast road north of the port. Along the way we found a Montagu's harrier trying to make progress north against strong north easterly winds. This time we could positively identify the bird (it was a male). It even hesitated to stop and land. I am sure it would have done so if it hadn't been mobbed by four brown-necked raven. Ironically they don't come into the city normally. I suspect the same winds had forced them to seek some sort of shelter.

Montagu's harrier became bird 301 on my country list.

brown-necked raven

After seeing the harrier we tried our luck on the old wharf. We could see many passerines in the distance actually flying up the coast above the sea. They had been pushed that far west.

resting house martin 1

We got especially good views of a house martin resting on the wharf.

house martin resting 2

Despite (or because of?) the very difficult weather, the birding had been good.

The next three blogs recount the visit Mohamed Vall and I made east. We went all the way to Kiffa in the east of the country over a long weekend. It was my first visit to Assaba. The journey was eventful. There were two additions to my Mauritanian list on the way and there are very few birding records in Kiffa itself.

Water treatment plant, Riyadh district 24 March 2018
Black-crowned Night-Heron  
harrier sp.  
Black Kite (Black)  
Common Moorhen  
Little Ringed Plover  
Little Stint  
Green Sandpiper  
Wood Sandpiper  
Speckled Pigeon  
Laughing Dove  
Namaqua Dove  
Common Swift  
Little Swift  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
European Bee-eater  
Common Kestrel  
Woodchat Shrike  
Pied Crow  
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark  
Crested Lark  
Barn Swallow  
Common House Martin  
Willow Warbler  
Common Chiffchaff  
Iberian Chiffchaff  
Eurasian Blackcap  
Common Whitethroat  
Northern Wheatear (Greenland)  
Northern Wheatear (Eurasian)  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
White Wagtail 
Tree Pipit  
House Sparrow  
Sudan Golden Sparrow  

South of the old wharf, Nouakchott  24 March 2018
Western Marsh Harrier  
Montagu's Harrier  
Common Kestrel  
Brown-necked Raven  
Barn Swallow  

Sunday, 25 March 2018

300 down and more to come

Last Sunday I went to the fishing port for the first time in over three weeks and as often I started out there at the big dump.

This is a smelly place where the contents are mostly rotting fish. It is not pleasant birding but birds are guaranteed.

There were plenty of wagtails about and yellow wagtail outnumbered white wagtail. This only happens during the two passage season.

A few common chiffchaff and several house sparrow were the other main small passerines.

yellow wagtail

I always find it strange to see sanderling away from the water's edge but a large number of them were attracted to the dump as well as a few little stint.

mostly sanderling

Every time I have visited the dump there have been cattle egret present. The numbers vary but this time there were over thirty.

cattle egret

There are major drainage works going on over the city at the moment. Places are being pumped out and the water redirected. F-Nord lake is the biggest casualty. The best birding site in the city is its death throngs. Elsewhere the lagoon south of the fish market has very little water feeding it any more. I don't know what the grand plan is or where the water is being diverted to. If the underground water is going out to sea somehow it will clearly help people in areas blighted by salty rising damp. However, there are major environmental effects too as the lakes disappear.

ruddy turnstone

A single ruddy turnstone was one of only two waders at the far end of the lagoon which has previously been fed by drained water from elsewhere.

western reef heron

A western reef heron was seen standing on the drying bed of the lagoon as it makes its way to the sea.

grey heron "pallid heron"

A grey heron of the local sub-species was the only bird apart from a flock of sanderling where the lagoon meets the sea.

Until recently, many gulls and terns would rest here. By their absence, I was forced to spend more time than usual seawatching. As it happens, this was serendipitous. Out to sea was an Arctic skua. It can be separated from Pomarine skua with care without pictures. Arctic Skua is not as well-built. It doesn't have a barrel chest. It has narrower arms too which help make it look longer winged than Pomarine skua.

distant shot of Arctic skua

I failed to get a good photo and the only one I got was after it had moved further out to sea. I don't like adding new species to my Mauritania list without good photos but I am sure another opportunity to photograph this species will arise in the future. Either way, it made number 300.

black-headed gull and lesser black-backed gull gull out to sea

It was a rough day at sea. Some fishermen couldn't launch their boats over the incomeing waves. Gulls and terns were not on land. Gulls which were resting were doing it on the ocean surface well off land where the sea was calmer.

incoming waves

I returned to my pick point via the dump. here was not much change since 90 minutes earlier. Though there were even more barn swallow hawking and a single sand martin with them.

barn swallow

On Saturday I went out to the drinking water treatment plant in Riyadh district and then along the coast again. Mohamed Vall and I added yet another bird to our respective country lists. I will blog about that next.