Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Epilogue from Laayoune

On Saturday I made a short but slightly different second visit to the oasis at Laayoune, Western Sahara. I paid more attention to the bushes and cliffs in the wadi rather than the water body.

I saw 41 species which was down on the 54 species seen on Thursday. Nevertheless six were different and so additions to my new Western Saharan list.

It soon became obvious while looking at the cliffs how many black wheatear there were in the area.

black wheatear 1

The last time I saw this bird was up the Jebel Nafusa in Libya and that was almost ten years ago.

black wheatear 2

A first year white-crowned wheatear can look very similar as the white crown is missing. However, the black on the underbelly goes back further on a black wheatear. Also there is a thick black terminal band which is missing on a white-crowned wheatear.

black wheatear 3

In this bird, the black terminal was the first feature I noticed. It is visible in the photograph above.

stone curlew

My first addition to the Western Saharan list was a stone curlew which I flsuhed while walking. As is typical with stone curlew, it didn't fly very far.

glossy ibis

While I saw many glossy ibis on Thursday's visit, I failed to photograph them well.


Dunlin was the second addition of the day. I am confident none were present on Thursday.

Soon afeter, unfortunately, I found I had forgotten to recharge the battery on my camera. It went dead.

speck of a woodchat shrike

And typically, I saw three more additions to a country list in quick succession with the camera out of action. These were sub-alpine warbler, thekla lark and woodchat shrike. I tried to use my smart phone to record the woodchat shrike. It is the speck in the middle of the picture.

Camera failure apart, it had been a good birding session.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Laayoune, Western Sahara

I was in Laayoune, Western Sahara for four days last week. I have visited many oases in the Sahara over the years but this is the largest one.

On Thursday, I visited the oasis and stayed for over five hours. It could have been longer but I had to get back to the hotel.

I saw 54 species on an overcast day. 

The taxi driver dropped me off at the far east of the oasis. When I left the taxi I wondered what all the fuss was about as all I could see was a dry but very wide bed and some patches of tamarisk.

However, my initial disappointment was ameliorated slightly by the sight of a white-crowned wheatear.

young white-crowned wheatear

I headed west. I soon came across a first area of water. It had reeds. Those reeds held no fewer than five sedge warbler

sedge warbler

I presume they were a passage group with such a number in a confined area.

common snipe

Other noteable birds here were common snipe and yellow wagtail.

yellow wagtail

I found it interesting that there were more yellow wagtail at the oasis than white wagtail despite its northern location and still being winter.

black winged stilt

The further west I walked the more water there was in the wadi. The water was deep enough for black-winged stilt

northern shoveller

I found my first ducks. There was a group of northern shoveller and also a single Eurasian teal.

Eurasian teal

Ironically it was the only Eurasian teal I saw on site.

greater flamingo

In the middle part of the oasis there were large numbers of greater flamingo, common moorhen and glossy ibis.

common moorhen

There were several ruddy shelduck.

ruddy shelduck

Laayoune is certainly one of the most important sites for wintering marbled duck. I saw well over 50. They were most prevlaent in the mid sector and the western end of the oasis.

marbled duck

As well as black-winged stilt, its cousin, pied avocet, was present.

pied avocet

The deepest water is on the western side of the oasis and in particular on the southern bank.

Here the water was deep enough to attract black-necked grebe.

black-necked grebe

A similar number of little grebe were observed and the two species associated.

black-necked grebe (l) little grebe (r)

While there were several tens of gulls present, for the most part they were either black-headed gull or lesser black-backed gull.

black-headed gull

Birds of prey seen were initially restricted to marsh harrier and common kestrel.

marsh harrier

I made a small detour away from the water's edge to a near-by wooded area. Here were no fewer than three black redstart.

squacco heron

The diversity continued. Grey heron and squacco heron had a preference for this western side.

Audouin's gull

On a rock in relatively deep water was an Audouin's gull. It was the only one of a third species of gull observed at the site.

two gulls

Audouin's gull is not trivially separated from immature Mediterranean gull. Size is one of the easiest indicators. Here you can see it is it much larger than black-headed gull whereas as a Mediterranean gull is only marginally so. 

marsh harrier with kill

As I walked further west, I spotted a marsh harrier with a kill. It seemed to be a male northern shoveller.

tufted duck

The water was deep enough in places to attract tufted duck.This is a diving duck and requires deeper water than dabbling ducks. There are relatively few sites in the Sahara which they are attracted to.

Eurasian spoonbill

Eurasian spoonbill were numerous.


Over the deep water at the western end, a pair of osprey flew over a few times. I still don't know whether the water contains fish.

Eurasian coot

This western end kept giving more and more species. There were tens of Eurasian coot. However four white stork, near-by, were a surprise.

white stork

They were found at the extreme western part of the water body. I made my way back after I saw them. I went back with a brisk walk as time was now limited. I didn't get much chance to bird. However a flock of cattle egret were too large and numerous to miss.

cattle egret

The birding had fully lived up to expectations but even with five hours, it felt a bit rushed. I thought it was worth a second look two days later. That time my birding concentrated on the adjacent bushes and cliffs to the water. I was rewarded with a further six species not seen on Thursday. I will blog about that next.

54 species seen on Thursday 15th February at Laayoune
Ruddy Shelduck  
Northern Shoveller  
Eurasian Teal  
Marbled Duck  
Tufted Duck  
Little Grebe  
Black-necked Grebe
Greater Flamingo
White Stork  
Grey Heron  
Little Egret  
Cattle Egret  
Squacco Heron  
Glossy Ibis  
Eurasian Spoonbill  
Western Marsh Harrier  
Common Moorhen  
Eurasian Coot  
Black-winged Stilt  
Pied Avocet  
Common Ringed Plover  
Little Ringed Plover  
Black-tailed Godwit  
Little Stint  
Common Snipe  
Common Sandpiper  
Green Sandpiper  
Wood Sandpiper  
Common Redshank  
Black-headed Gull  
Audouin's Gull  
Yellow-legged Gull  
Lesser Black-backed Gull  
Feral Pigeon  
Collared Dove  
Eurasian Hoopoe  
Common Kestrel  
Southern Grey Shrike  
Barn Swallow  
Common House Martin  
Common Chiffchaff  
Iberian Chiffchaff  
Sedge Warbler  
Black Redstart  
European Stonechat  
White-crowned Wheatear  
Black Wheatear  
Black-eared Wheatear  
Western Yellow Wagtail  
White Wagtail 
House Sparrow  

Sunday, 18 February 2018


During my week off work, the birding at Maspalomas was the least memorable but that was circumstance (I know it can be very good on the islands). It was only a stop-over for me before my main birding trip to Laayoune in Western Sahara.

Indeed I birded out of my lodgings and didn't head for any known hotspots near-by in the interior. 

However, I did make it to Charca Malpalomas which is a saline lagoon in the dunes. Furthermore, I added five species to my small but growing Spanish list so it wasn't all bad.

There were relatively few species at Charca but one of them was a Mediterranean gull which was an addition.

Mediterranean gull 1

I am not alone in finding it difficult to separate immature Mediterranean gull from Audouin's gull. I know this was personal correspondence. 

If I am lucky there will be a black-headed gull present which sets the size comparison up. Audouin's is obviously larger but Mediterranean gull is marginally so.

Mediterranaean gull 2

Both can have a dark mask though no Audouin's gull has one quite as large as the one in this bird. The line of bleached brown juvenile wing coverts marks it out as Mediterranean gull too.

Mediterranean gull 3

Also, the mantle is very pale. I must say that I don't find the sloping head on an Audouin's gull as easy to judge as it is often made out.

Audouin's gull

There was an adult Audouin's gull present.

lesser black-backed gull

Lesser black-backed gull was another addition.

yellow-legged gull

There were also black-headed gull and yellow-legged gull present. So that make four types of gull among the only eight or so there.


At the far side of the lagoon were three greenshank. These were also additions to my Spanish list which has reached the mediocre heights of 91. However, that will change over the years with me having a relatively new second home near Valencia.

African collared dove

Just like an earlier visit to Las Palmas, last year, I found many more African collared dove than European collared dove. This is in stark contrast to records from some other visiting birders.

However, I am confident. I have large scale experience in separating these birds in Dhofar, Oman, south west Saudi Arabia and Nouakchott, Mauritania. I have worked in all three countries and there are few other places where they naturally overlap.

I implore visiters to look closely at these doves. Having said that I have only visited two urban areas in Gran Canaria. The situation may different elsewhere.

The pure white vent and under belly is characteristic of African collared dove. It is also more feminine and slightly smaller.

African collared dove

I understand that the African collared dove are introduced and were domesticated. They are sometimes called barbary dove. This domestication seems to have introduced genes which give them more colour variation than wild birds. In that sense they are a little like feral pigeon. The bird above is a good example.

laughing dove

While on the subject of doves, I found four laughing dove. I believe this is by far the easiest place to get this species on a Spanish list.


Birding the dunes near the lagoon proved impossible. There were too many nudists around. I felt overdressed especially with my binoculars.

 INear the dunes, it was good to see blackbird and quite tame ones too.

Spanish sparrow

Spanish sparrow are the default sparrow on the island.

Sardinian warbler

Spring must be in the air on Gran Canaria. This sardinian warbler was carrying nesting material.

Gran Canaria is my main flight hub for travel outside Mauritania so I will be visiting again. I hope to do some more serious birding one time soon.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Banc d'Arguin

Three weeks ago, my work organised a weekend trip to Banc d'Arguin National Park. After 18 months in Mauritania this was actually my first visit. All 294 species achieved on my country list before that day were outside this National Park. Ironically for many foreign ornithologists this is the main place in Mauritania they visit.

The complication was that this was not a birding trip. It was a weekend away organised for all staff. 

Nevertheless, I took as much advantage of the visit as possible and had several hours birding on the Saturday and Sunday.

We entered the park by turning off north of Chemi. We headed off road to Cap Tafarit where we had a late lunch.

I managed some birding in the area. It wasn't exceptional.

On the beach were a few Caspian tern and one grey plover. The most notiable bird though was cream-coloured courser. Two were twice seen running up and down the side of the beach.

Caspian tern

There was a Banc d'Arguin sub-species of grey heron (monicae) present. I have seen that the main difference between it and the nominate sub-species is the very light colour of the grey areas of the mantle and wings. This is consistent with the illustration in the book "Birds of Banc d'Arguin". Some confusion arises as there is a photograph of a monicae sub species in where the black on the head pattern has almost disappeared and the bird is very nearly absolute white overall. I don't believe the head pattern is a reliable field mark and the bird in is at the extreme of variation of monicae.

The legs are generally pinker too on monicae than a compariably aged or seasoned nominate bird.

The bird below was so pale I thought it was great white egret when I first turned round a corner to see it in the distance. This is not reflected adequately in the picture.

grey heron (monicae)

I studied the grey plover for some time. I couldn't make it into an American golden plover. It is always worth looking hard at waders on the Mauritanian coast. The coast sticks out into the Atlantic and, American vagrants are seen regularly despite the lack of birders.

grey plover

A notable bird at Cap Tafarit was long-tailed cormorant. There were two present. Cap Tafarit is towards the northern end of the park and must mark something of a northern limit to the range of long-tailed cormorant in West Africa.

long-tailed cormorant

Our party moved off to Iwik in late afternoon.

There was only about 40 minutes of daylight on arrival. I managed to bird most of it.

stone curlew

This was time enough to see a stone curlew. Apparently this species is a regular sighting at Iwik.

I went to the small fishing village soon after dawn.

On the way there I looked out towards the shallow inlet and the sea grass. Many Flamingo, grey heron (nominate and monicae) were easiest to pick out. On the shore were several whimbrel searching out crabs to eat.

great white pelican

Only a single great white pelican was bobbing up and down in the water at the village.

beach at Iwik

On the beach were lesser black-backed gull and slender-billed gull as well as sanderling and bar-tailed godwit.

At one stage a flock of around 40 western reef heron landed just in front of me. They were a mix of colour morphs though the photo captures only dark morph.

western reef heron

The pale looking bird in the left of the photo was another monicae grey heron. It too had a black head pattern.

While looking out to sea, I soon noticed that there were European storm petrel in shore. This was bird 295 on my Mauritanian list and a bird I had hoped to see on a boat trip organised for staff. Instead I got it from the shore. Indeed as I had to join the boat trip I left the petrels behind without a good photo. It was agonising but I had to be sociable with my work colleagues.

The boat was moving too fast for easy bird watching. I had hoped to see a grey phalarope but I wasn't lucky. Sandwich tern, Caspian tern and Gull-billed tern were no substitute. Distant views of many tens of flamingo and great white pelican weren't either.

Two dolphins which followed the boat for five or ten minutes were the real highlight.

When we returned to shore, the rest of our work group moved off to our accoommodation or to walk close to it. I stayed where the boat was moored.

European storm petrel 1

It didn't take long before I caught up with the European storm petrel again. My fear was that they would have moved on while I was at sea. They hadn't.

European storm petrel 2

Spaeaking to Mohamed Vall on my return to Nouakchott, he told me that they are very regular at this particular place every January and early February.

European storm petrel 3

It seems the addition of this storm petrel to my list was the very least I could have expected.

On the way back home we stopped at Gare du Nord service station. I knew from past experience that this was a good place to see desert sparrow. A quick walk round the back and there they were. Two house sparrow were also in with a flock of a dozen desert sparrow.

house and desert sparrow

The next blog covers a short stop I made at Maspalomas, Gran Canaria where the birding wasn't great but I still made five addtions to my Spanish list.  Gran Canaria is the nearest rest and recreation to Nouakchott. I suspect I will visit it many times over the next few years.