Ah, Wassadou!! On a déjà parlé à quelques reprises du campement de Wassadou, site maintenant bien établi sur le circuit ornitho sénégalais, notamment ici et là. Après avoir découvert trop brièvement ce coin fabuleux en février dernier, un long weekend en juin a été l’occasion d’y retourner en compagnie de Miguel puis de Gabriel qui nous a rejoint sur place. Que du bonheur! J’avais donc envie de vous présenter un peu plus ce petit coin de paradis et de partager quelques photos prises sur place.
Voici en vrac quelques espèces, à commencer par les rapaces. Il y a ici une incroyable diversité de rapaces diurnes, tous visibles depuis la terrasse naturelle du campement surplombant le fleuve Gambie. Dès le milieu de la matinée, vers 10-11h, il suffit de s’installer sur le promontoire, et le défilé commence: Aigles de Wahlberg, ravisseur et huppard, Pygargue vocifère, Buse d’Afrique, Busautour des sauterelles, Circaète brun, Autour unibande, Epervier shikra, Balbuzard pêcheur, Bateleur, bien sur les Gymnogènes et aussi cet autre rapace unique en son genre, le Vautour palmiste.
Ainsi en juin nous avons pu observer pas moins de 14 rapaces différents. Sur les quelques 227 espèces contactées ces dernières années à Wassadou et dans les environs immédiats du campement, il y a pas moins de 28 rapaces, plus 4 faucons – impressionnant! Il y a d’ailleurs toujours de quoi voir lorsqu’on scrute le ciel: avec un peu de chance, on verra la Cigogne épiscopale ou un Jabiru, et parmi les nombreux martinets se cachent peut-etre quelques Martinets marbrés, espèce connue dans le pays uniquement du PNNK et dont nous avons pu voir plusieurs individus en juin.
Le Pluvian fluviatile est sans doute l’une des stars du site, et de plus il est généralement facile à voir ici, en train de parcourir les bancs de sable des abords du fleuve. J’imagine qu’au plus fort de la saison des pluies (août/septembre-octobre), lorsque la Gambie déborde parfois largement de ses berges pour inonder le campement même, ces oiseaux sont alors absents mais sinon le reste de l’année ils semblent bien fidèles au poste. Idem d’ailleurs pour le Grébifoulque, cet autre oiseau spectaculaire qu’on aura le plaisir de voir à Wassadou.
Autre spécialité locale, le Vanneau à tête blanche est plus difficile à voir et il faut parfois attendre un peu avant de le voir surgir de nulle part, lui aussi fréquentant les berges et zones exondés du fleuve. Comme le Pluvian, ce limicole s’observera le plus facilement lors d’une sortie en pirogue.
Les martin-pêcheurs sont particulièrement bien représentés à Wassadou, toutes les espèces régulières du Sénégal peuvent être vues ici. Le Martin-chasseur à poitrine bleue est commun, lançant son chant étonnant à longueur de journée. Toujours discret et imprévisible, le Martin-pêcheur azuré a été observé à plusieurs reprises ces dernières années et est à rechercher dans l’ombrage des buissons surpblombant la rivière aux alentours du campement, ou s’observera furtivement lors d’un déplacement d’une rive à une autre. Les Guêpiers à gorge rouge nichent dans les berges, et en saison sèche il est possible de voir des Guêpiers écarlates survolant la zone, parfois en effectifs impressionnants.
On continue avec une espèce phare d’un tout autre registre, la Tourterelle de l’Adamoua. Découverte en Gambie et au Sénégal il y a une trentaine d’années seulement (Baillon 1992), cette tourterelle est relativement facile à trouver lors des sorties en pirogue sur la Gambie, de préférence tôt le matin ou le soir lorsque les oiseaux viennent s’abreuver. Et avec un peu de chance on la croisera dans la ripisylve aux alentours du campement, comme l’oiseau ci-dessous:
Parmi les passereaux les plus remarquables, citons entre autres le Noircap loriot, l’Apalis à gorge jaune, Prinia à ailes rousses, Gobemouche des marais, Gobemouche drongo, Tchitrec bleu, Hyliote à ventre jaune, Souimanga violet, Amarantes pointé et masqué (même celui de Kulikoro a été signalé non loin d’ici). Le Combassou de Wilson et la Veuve togolaise ont tous les deux été rapportés sur eBird. Du côté des hivernants, en février dernier on a eu entre autres le Rossignol philomèle, l’Hypolais obscure, le Phragmite des joncs, et de manière bien moins attendu un Pouillot ibérique chanteur – tous le long du fleuve. C’est là également qu’il faut rechercher la Bergeronnette pie, espèce très répandue en Afrique subsaharienne mais plutôt localisée au Sénégal, qui comme plusieurs autres espèces atteint ici sa limite septentrionale dans le pays.
Des choucadors de toutes sortes font des va-et-vient continus en quête d’eau et de nourriture autour du campement, comme ce Choucador à queue violette photographié en juin dernier.
On termine notre tour d’horizon trop rapide avec la fabuleuse Chouette-pêcheuse de Pel, phantome du fleuve qu’on pourra tenter de voir au crépuscule lors d’une sortie en pirogue, parfois à quelques centaines de mètres seulement du campement. En juin dernier, nous entendons un jeune crier chaque soir, et on a la chance de d’abord voir ce qu’on suppose être un adulte (photo d’en-tête), puis plus en aval le jeune vient se poser non loin de nous (photo ci-dessous): ces oiseaux sont présents depuis la fin de l’an dernier au moins et il donc probable qu’ils aient niché dans les environs immédiats du campement. Notons encore que parmi les nocturnes, on pourra entendre le Petit-duc africain, et à la tombée de la nuit il est parfois possible de voir des engoulevents chasser au-dessus de la rivière (à longue queue et à balanciers).
Difficile de s’arrêter en fait… car comme si tout cela ne suffisait pas encore, il y a encore un autre oiseau tout aussi unique et au statut quasi-mythique au sein de l’avifaune africaine: le Bihoreau à dos blanc! Déja vu furtivement par mes amis genevois en février, il nous a fallu un peu de temps lors de notre visite la plus récente pour comprendre que les grognements et roucoulements parvenant de la végétation dense juste en bas du promontoire, là où se jette un ruisseau dans le fleuve, n’étaient rien d’autre que le cri (ou chant?) de ce héron nocturne si discret et si peu connu au Sénégal. Et dont ce cri n’est pas mentionné dans les guides de terrain (et on l’apprendra plus tard, cette vocalisation n’était pas encore disponible dans les principales banques de données de sons d’oiseaux). Je vous invite donc à découvrir deux enregistrements faits avec mon modeste Olympus LS-12, ici avec les Babouins en arrière-plan. On les attendra à la tombée de la nuit, et effectivement: trois bihoreaux quittent leur cachette en criant pour aller se nourrir au bord de la rivière – on en verra un dans la pénombre juste en face du campement, visiblement en train de pêcher à l’affût depuis une branche au bord de l’eau. Le lendemain au petit matin, les oiseaux ont déjà regagné leur “dortoir”, mais un dérangement (sans doute par des singes) fait décoller un adulte qui part alors vers l’amont. Jean-Francois Blanc et collègues ont d’ailleurs rapporté la présence du Bihoreau à dos blanc plus en aval de l’autre côté du PNNK, à Mako en mars 2016, suggérant – avec raison – que “cette espece discrète pourrait etre sous-détectée le long de la Gambie au Sénégal”. Et tout récemment, Gabriel l’a trouvé au bord de la Falémé dans la réserve du Boundou!
Et puisqu’on parle de nocturnes, voici les Mégadermes à ailes orangées vus en février dernier à deux pas du resto du campement.
Wassadou c’est donc bien plus que les oiseaux! Deux Hippopotames ont élu domicile devant le campement, tout comme quelques Crocodiles du Nil. A l’aube et au crépuscule, avec un peu de chance on verra le Guib harnaché, le Céphalophe à flancs roux voire d’autres ongulés venir boire. Les Singes verts sont omniprésents, deux troupes de bruyants Babouins de Guinée rôdent dans la ripisylve et passent la nuit dans les fromagers au bord de l’eau. Le Colobe de Temminck (Piliocolobus (badius) temminckii), taxon classé En Danger par l’UICN, endémique à la sous-région puisqu’il est restreint à la partie occidentale des forêts de la Haute-Guinée: le sud du Sénégal, la Gambie, la Guinée-Bissau et le nord de la Guinée. Au Sénégal, il y aurait “probablement moins de 400-500 individus dans le PN du Delta du Saloum, et probablement moins de 100 dans la population du PNNK et du nord-ouest de Guinée” (IUCN).
C’est simple: en vous posant sur la terrasse, une bière ou un jus dans la main, les jumelles dans l’autre, le téléscope posé devant la chaise longue. Ou à côté du hamac, c’est selon les envies. On peut donc facilement passer quelques heures ici, mais une ballade dans la brousse environnante permettra de pleinement apprécier la richesse du coin: en suivant le sentier longeant le fleuve en partant vers l’amont du campement, on pourra trouver toute une série d’oiseaux, notamment divers passereaux, et il est possible d’accéder au bord de l’eau à quelques endroits. Et bien sûr, ne pas oublier de prévoir au moins une sortie en pirogue!
Il faut prévoir un minimum de deux nuits sur place, plus si possible – d’autant plus si on a envie de faire une excursion dans le parc du Niokolo-Koba (où l’on pourra également passer une ou deux nuits, au campement du Lion ou à Simenti).
Comment rejoindre Wassadou?
Le campement se situe juste en face du Niokolo-Koba (la Gambie fait office de frontière du parc ici), à 2-3 kilomètres du goudron Tambacounda – Kédougou, plus précisément ici. Et contrairement au PNNK, pas besoin de 4×4 pour rejoindre le site! Par contre, il faut bien compter 8 heures de route depuis Dakar. L’établissement dispose d’une dizaine de cases simples mais corrects (ne vous fiez pas à l’apparence du site internet du campement, qui a besoin d’un serieux relooking).
I have a bit of a confession to make. I’m a bit of an obsessive lister, always counting and collecting birds, new ones if at all possible. Or rare ones. I have a Life List, a Senegal List, Africa, Western Palearctic, a Technopole list. A list of colour-ring recoveries. And so on. Maybe not as far as keeping year lists or garden lists or self-found lists or lists of birds seen while writing up blog posts, but still I’m pretty much counting species all the time. I won’t go through great lengths to “tick” new birds and I don’t take the whole listing thing too seriously, neither will I keep track of my buck-per-bird expenditure rates (yes, it seems that some birders calculate this), but still… lots of obsessive listing.
I’m sure that some of our readers will recognise this – do we need group therapy? Maybe it’s just human (male?) nature, to be collecting and classifying things. Some of these lists may actually be quite useful especially when covering little-known regions as I sometimes get the chance to do on my work trips (think South Sudan, Somaliland, Burundi…), but for the most part they’re just my own little checklists sitting in an old Access database… time to upgrade, right?
Luckily there’s still lots of new species to be counted, we’re not quite done yet – I’ve only seen less than a quarter of the world’s birds, mostly in Africa (ca. 1,370 species, Wilson’s Indigobird a couple of weeks ago near Lac Togo being the most recent addition), so there are still many new ones to discover.
By now, my Senegal list stands at about 495 species, after three and a half years of pretty active birding in the country. But how “good” is 495? How many species have been reliably recorded in Senegal? This may be an easy question, but the answer is certainly not so straightforward. First of all, what taxonomic reference to follow? Depending on which reference one uses, certain subspecies are elevated to species rank while others are not, and with current tendencies to split species it can be hard to keep up with the understandably dynamic nature of bird taxonomy.
Several years of “service” in the Swiss national rare bird committee and a French regional records committee taught me a bit of discipline in keeping count of records and numbers for rare or scarce species, in ensuring appropriate documentation, in reassessing status of vagrants and scarce migrants, keeping track of changes in taxonomy and advances in identification criteria, and so on. And then there’s the status categories: “A” (species occurs naturally in the wild, seen at least once in modern ornithological history, eg. since 1950), “B” (same as A but not recorded since the cut-off year), “C” (introduced exotic species that have established autonomous breeding populations), “D” (the dreaded uncertain origin category), and finally “E” (escapes). Only species that are in the A, B or C categories are part of a country’s national list. In Senegal, the only established exotic species appears to be House Sparrow (unless Eurasian Collared Dove is also introduced or escaped, though this is far from certain; wild Rock Doves apparently still exist in the Kédougou escarpments).
So, in order to answer our question of the number of species occurring in Senegal, let’s start by identifying an appropriate taxonomic reference. The IOC (International Ornithological Committee) is nowadays usually considered the standard authority, being followed by many countries and authors. The Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) is another reference, I guess a bit more progressive than IOC, and was adopted by BirdLife and the IUCN. I won’t go into reviewing the differences between these and other lists such as Howard & Moore or Sibley, though we should mention that the African Bird Club follows IOC which as such should be an obvious choice here. Unfortunately, the ABC is not very good at remaining up-to-date to the extent that the current version dates back to 2010 – and at the time of writing, the page to download country checklists was non functional… The ABC now also has new “Dowsett country lists” which are largely based on the more conservative Howard & Moore taxonomy. More than anyone else, the Dowsetts are of course a major reference in their own right when it comes to African birds, and it would be great to have up-to-date checklists for each country. To make matters more complex, the ABC also links to checklists by their “partner” iGoTerra; unfortunately, their Senegal list is highly unreliable as it contains about a dozen species that have never been recorded in Senegal as well as several obvious missing species… and I assume that it’s the same for other countries. Really surprising (and disappointing) that the ABC endorses these lists. Similarly, other country checklists, e.g. the Avibase list, contain several serious errors and should be avoided. As such, we hope that the Senegal list that we’re making available here will be of use to local and visiting birders alike.
Either way, we settled on the IOC list – the choice of which can of course be debated, but it seems to make sense given that ABC is following it and that there is no proper reference committee for Africa (such as the AERC for Europe, though they’re not quite as authoritative as they ought to be, with many national committees following different standards). Anyway… let’s move on.
So, I took the African Bird Club country list for Senegal as a starting point, and updated it as per the latest IOC version. As our regular readers will surely know, quite a few species have been added to the national list in recent years, so these were of course included in the list. Several species on the ABC list are marked as uncertain, since at the time no proper documentation existed, such as Blue-throated Roller and Black-and-white Mannikin. I’ve removed those that seem unlikely, as well as Tropical Boubou which is yet to be confirmed (and I replaced Red-fronted Warbler, which was included in error, by Cricket Warbler). I’ve added Vieillot’s Black Weaver based on the account that Lesson described this species in 1840 based on a specimen from Casamance (it’s on the Gambian list, but not on the ABC list for Senegal). Here again, in the absence of a national or regional rare birds committee, these are personal choices and I’d be happy to revise these if there’s a good case to do so.
Below are the new species seen in the last 12 years, in chronological order. Those marked with a * were formally documented, typically through publications in the ABC Bulletin or in Malimbus; records with a ° symbol await publication or will be written up shortly:
- Western Sandpiper (15.1.07, Langue de Barbarie, Saint-Louis; N. Borrow et al.)
- Black Guillemot* (11.10.08, Ngor, Dakar; Crouzier et al.)
- Lesser Jacana (29.07.09, at a reservoir near Kédougou; ABC Recent Reports)
- Common Crane (22-25.03.10, Djoudj NP; ABC Recent Reports)
- Narina Trogon* (13.4.10, Dindéfélo, Kédougou; Aransay et al. 2012)
- Red Kite (23.2.12, Toubacouta, Fatick; ABC Recent Reports)
- Pacific Golden Plover* (10.5.12, Delta du Saloum, Fatick; Cavaillès et al.)
- Short-billed Dowitcher* (4.10.12, Gandiol, Saint-Louis; A. Hiley)
- Eurasian Sparrowhawk (27.01.14, Tiougoune/Lompoul-sur-Mer, Thiès; J. Wright et al.)
- Mountain Wagtail* (6.3.15, Dindéfélo, Kédougou; Pacheco et al. 2017)
- Eyebrowed Thrush* (10.12.15 Gandiol, Saint-Louis; R. Benjumea & B. Pérez 2016)
- Freckled Nightjar* (21.3.16 Dindéfélo, Kédougou; J.-Y. Blanc et al. 2018)
- Eurasian Collared Dove° (May 2016, Dakar; BP)
- Red-footed Booby° (16.10.16, Dakar, N. Moran et al.)
- Magnificent Frigatebird° (29-30.4.17, Iles de la Madeleine, Dakar; M. Lecoq & BP; G. Caucanas)
- Meadow Pipit° (1.1.18, Yène-Tode, Dakar; BP)
- Horus Swift° (5-6.1.18, Gamadji Sare, Podor; F. Bacuez, BP, F. Verroens)
- Brown-backed Honeybird° (21.1.18 Dindéfélo, Kédougou; G. Caucanas et al.)
On average, that’s just one or two additions per year – though note how 2012, 2016 as well as 2018, only half-way through, already stand out with no less than three new species. Also note how four out of these 18 records were also new to sub-Saharan Africa or even the African continent as a whole: Western Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Black Guillemot, Eyebrowed Thrush. The records of Eurasian Collared Dove and Horus Swift, both possibly/probably breeding, constitute major range extensions in West Africa. The fact that another four of the above records are from the Dindéfélo area is also quite remarkable: it just shows how a previously largely ignored border area harbours several species that just creep into the country. Dakar, being relatively well watched in recent years, also stands out as a national “hotspot”, as is the Gandiol/Langue de Barbarie area to a lesser extent.
Add to this list the Canary Islands endemic Plain Swift, which thanks to geolocators was recently shown to transit through Senegal on its way to the newly discovered wintering grounds in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea (Norton et al. 2018) – a nice example of modern technology solving one of the many remaining mysteries in the field of migration. Eleonora’s Falcon is another species that was confrmed to occur thanks to satellite tracking programs (Gschweng et al. 2008) but that is yet to be seen in natura.
Then there are two special cases, both of hybrids: a Greater x Lesser Spotted Eagle, that was GPS-tracked from its Central European breeding grounds into Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia; neither of the parents have been confirmed from Senegal as “pure” birds, but does this mean that this bird somehow needs to make it to the national list? To a lesser extent, the Woodchat x Red-backed Shrike seen last year is also an interesting case since the latter parent species has never been recorded in Senegal, though there are records from nearby Mauritania. Logically, hybrids should not be included on the national list, but I’d be happy to be convinced otherwise.
So now for the list: with the recent additions, and following the latest IOC taxonomy, we end up with at least 671 species. The full list is available HERE as a handy Google spreadsheet – of course it’s work in progress and I’d be happy to receive contributions. You’re more than welcome to download the list as an Excel file and use it as a checklist for the country. I did include a small number of species for which there are unconfirmed older records but that are likely to be present; these are marked with a ? in the list, and if confirmed would bring the total to 676 species. One of these is likely extinct in the wild by now: Common Ostrich, marked with an “E” (and Secretarybird probably shares the same fate though could still show up as a wanderer). Vagrants are listed as “V” in the list; for some of these – e.g. Little Gull – it’s not quite clear whether they should be considered as true vagrants or whether they are merely rare migrants that do in fact make it to Senegal on a more or less regular basis.
For those who tend to prefer the HBW/BirdLife taxonomy, the Senegal list should be at least 664 species – quite surprisingly this is quite a few species less than the IOC list, due to several splits that aren’t recognised by HBW (Boyd’s & Barolo Shearwaters are treated as part of Audubon’s Shearwater, White-breasted Cormorant is a ssp. of Great Cormorant, Yellow-billed Kite is rather suprisingly considered conspecific with Black Kite, Barbay Falcon part of Peregrine Falcon, African Reed Warbler a ssp. of Eurasian Reed Warber, and Atlas Flycatcher a ssp. of Pied Flycatcher). The only additional species is Seebohm’s Wheatear which surprisingly is not recognised by IOC, despite it being very distinctive from Northern Wheatear. Other splits do not directly affect the number of species on the Senegal list, though names may differ (e.g. Black-faced Firefinch is now known as Vinaceous Firefinch Lagnosticta vinacea, endemic to West Africa). When I find the time, I’ll also include a link to the HBW country checklist.
There are probably a few other species missing from the list, as not everyone goes through the effort of writing up notes or publishing pictures of potential first records. For instance, what would be the first record of Cinereous Vulture was only just recently uploaded to eBird and while it certainly seems like a credible observation, I’m awaiting further details from the observers. Likewise, there’s only one formally published record of Citrine Wagtail, but I found a reference to another observation that pre-dates the 1999 Technopole bird, which was mentioned along with a succinct (but in my view sufficient) description in the waterbird expedition report by Schepers and colleagues (27.1.97 at Djiffer, Saloum), and found out recently that a British tour operator that regularly visits Senegal has a few records of the species from Nianing. Once again, a real shame that the commercial birding companies rarely contribute to our knowledge of the areas that they visit. Corrections are more than welcome of course.
What will be the next species to be added to the country list? One can surely make a few predictions in terms of what species are likely to be added in the future – think various American vagrants with Ring-necked Duck and White-rumped Sandpiper being the most obvious candidates (and why not Wilson’s Phalarope or Solitary Sandpiper, or a Forster’s Tern or maybe even a Stilt Sandpiper), tropical seabirds such as Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel, Fea’s and Black-capped Petrels or Masked Booby, various desert passerines (Dunn’s Lark in particular should be sought for in the far north, White-crowned Wheatear is also a good possibility in winter), songbirds from northern Europe and Siberia such as Richard’s and Olive-backed Pipits or even Little Bunting, all of which have been reported from Mauritania. The lists goes on and on really – lots of potential to find new stuff!
Key areas to search for northern and American vagrants are of course the coastal wetlands, while the northern border regions should be targeted for winter vagrants and desert species. Finding new seabirds will likely require pelagic trips and a decent amount of luck¹ – and it’s likely that seabird monitoring programs that use satellite tracking will turn up some new species in Senegalese waters. For those lucky to go out birding in Casamance, chances are that Turati’s Boubou and Preuss’s Cliff Swallow are already established in a few localities and that they are just waiting to be discovered. Quailfinch Indigobird may well occur but apparently remains to be confirmed. And for those making it to the far south-east, why not search for Rock Pratincole which should occur at least occasionally along the Gambia river (or even along the Falémé), or try for low-density species that occur not too far out in Mali or Guinea of the likes of West African Seedeater and Cabani’s Bunting, and that may well just creep over the border into Senegal.
And then there are of course those species that one may expect the least, such as our Horus Swifts earlier this year – an incredible range extension (if confirmed to be regular) of some 1,600 km at least. Or Damara Tern, known from a single recent record from Mauritania (in 2006, Isenmann & Benmergui 2018). Only time will tell – what’s clear is that there’s still lots to discover.
Now, time to get out there and find new birds. And keep listing.
Bram, with useful contributions by Simon and Frédéric – merci à eux!
¹ and chum.
During our most recent excursions, we obviously looked out for those colourful Afro-tropical migrants that typically arrive in June-July, moving north with the rains – think cuckoos, rollers, kingfishers, etc. We saw some of course, especially at Wassadou but even in the bone-dry landscapes of Gossas and Diourbel, where we had migrants such as Diederik Cuckoo and Grey Hornbills.
Less expected were a number of breeders from the Western Palearctic that are now supposed to be in full breeding mode, so I thought it would be interesting to review these here. Of course, numerous “WP” species that winter in Senegal can be seen here year-round, but these are mostly waterbirds such as Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-tailed Godwit, Audouin’s Gull and other waders, gulls and terns. Many young birds of these species will actually remain in West Africa during their first summer, and from the end of June it’s quite normal to see early returnees, particularly for waders that failed their breeding season and left Europe early.
A Western Marsh Harrier (Busard des roseaux), probably a young female, flew over the flock of Greater Flamingos and other waterbirds that we’d just been counting at Lac Mbeubeusse, one of the niayes wetlands on the Cap-Vert peninsula, then landed in a reedbed. Some summer observations are known from both Senegal (“a few birds summer”, Morel & Morel) and Mauritania (June-August; Isenmann et al.), and Barlow & Wacher mention that occasional non-breeders are seen “during the rains” (a rather vague way to refer to summer, which doesn’t really tell us whether the records were actually during summer or whether they refer to regular migrants in September & October!).
Also here on the same day (23.6) was at least one immature Purple Heron (Héron pourpré) which may be either an oversummering bird of European origin, or a wandering African bird – I’m yet to figure out whether the species breeds anywhere nearby, though it’s clear that in potential breeding areas such as Technopole the species is absent during ~March to early August (further south, I have records from May-June, in Kolda and Toubacouta).
Still at Mbeubeusse – a decent birding site I’d never visited before despite being not far from Dakar! Never too late… – we also saw a winter-plumaged Knot (Bécasseau maubèche), feeding together with a group of Grey Plovers and a handful of Greenshanks and Redshanks. (Pluvier argenté, Chevaliers aboyeur et gambette). While the latter three species are more or less to be expected at this time in Senegal, the summer record of Calidris canutus may be noteworthy.
Two subadult Yellow-legged Gulls (prob. 3rd c.y.; Goéland leucophée) were at Lac Rose on 23.6, resting together with a group of some 500 Lesser Black-backed and 200 Audouin’s Gulls (Goélands bruns et d’Audouin), several of which were ringed including a Portuguese bird that I’d already seen back in April at Technopole. Also in the group were two or three Kelp Gulls (Goéland dominicain). Yellow-legged Gull is rather scarce here at any time of the year so it was a nice surprise to see these; apparently the species has been “recorded in all seasons” in Senegambia (Barlow & Wacher). Both birds seemed to be typical nominate birds (i.e. from southern Europe) rather than atlantis birds from the Macaronesian islands.
A week earlier at Wassadou and along the road from Tambacounda to the Niokolo-Koba, we noted a good presence of Common & Pallid Swifts (Martinets noir et pâle), which appears to be not unusual at this time of the year since non-breeding birds are said to move north with the rains from their “wintering” grounds over the forest zone of West Africa. There are however few June records (e.g. Barlow & Wacher give a presence of Pallid Swift from July-September and November-January). Even more exciting was the presence of several Mottled Swifts (Martinet marbré) at Wassadou, the first June record of a “difficult” bird in the region – there appear to be less than 10 records for Senegal in total, all of which are from the Niokolo-Koba area. The one below was seen by my Swiss friends in the PNNK earlier this year.
Perhaps more surprisingly than the preceding species, two European Bee-eaters (Guêpier d’Europe) were feeding and flying around pretty much all afternoon on 23.6 in Almadies, Ngor, regularly calling in the process and as such giving away their presence above and near my house. I’d never seen the species before in Dakar (though I have seen them not far, along the Petite Côte in autumn), so this was a highly unexpected record. Paul Isenmann and colleagues mention that the species is present in Mauritania from July/August to October, and March to May/June, but I didn’t find any references to summer records in Senegal or Gambia. Probably just a coincidence, but earlier the same day we saw our first Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters in the Dakar region, at Lac Rose (Guêpier de Perse). Perhaps these were birds en route to their breeding grounds in northern Senegal?
A single House Martin (Hirondelle de fenêtre) at Wassadou on 15 & 16.6 was also remarkable: a very late migrant, an oversummering bird, or a wanderer that decided not to bother going all the way to Europe? The species has been recorded Oct. – June and I’ve seen birds as late as 28/5 at Technopole, but it’s clear that there are very few records from late June and July.
A Melodious Warbler (Hypolaïs polyglotte) photographed by Gabriel in the Niokolo-Koba park, at campement du Lion, on 17.6 is another rare mid-summer record of a species that typically arrives from mid-August and depart by May at the latest. Gabriel recently saw the species in the Boundou community nature reserve as well, so it seems that quite a few are staying around during summer. More generally, one can only wonder how many of these Palearctic passerines are here at the moment. Putting things in perspective, the observations in this post are all by just 3 active resident birders in the country…
A few kilometres further north, Miguel and I observed a Western Olivaceous Warbler (Hypolaïs obscure) at Wassadou, feeding in bushes on the edge of the Gambia river, on 16.6. This is of course a common to very common winter visitor throughout the country, and there are records from all month, so maybe not as surprising as the previous species. Now often called Isabelline Warbler, it is also known to be summering at Nouakchott (June-July) with no noticeable break between pre- and postnuptial passages (spring: March – May/early June, autumn: July-October; Isenmann et al. 2010).
A couple of days later near Diourbel, we had a Woodchat Shrike (Pie-grièche à tête rousse), apparently a first-summer male: the forehead is extensively black and mantle seems mostly jet-black (both features indicative of males), while the moult limit between the adult-type dark wing feathers and juvenile brownish unmoulted primary coverts and flight feathers are typical of 2nd calendar year birds (more on ageing & sexing the species here, from Blasco-Zumeta & Heinze’s excellent series on the topic). The presence of this species in Senegal is fairly similar to Western Olivaceous Warbler. An adult Great Spotted Cuckoo (Coucou-geai) earlier that day near Gossas was assumed to be an African rather than a northern migrant, though we can’t be sure of course; the date is consistent with the arrival of this cuckoo on its Sahelian breeding grounds (a couple of weeks later I had another adult, actively calling, though a bit further east: along the Niger river near Niamey).
Voilà for now; for me it’s time to migrate north for a couple of weeks (though no breeding for me this summer); I’ll be back towards the end of the month. And maybe find some time to finish a few blog posts that have been dormant in my draft folder for a while now… Thanks for reading!
Following on our April summary, here’s a brief update on results from last month’s short but regular seawatch sessions from Ngor, as usual all from the Club Calao terrace. Managed a total of 10 sessions between May 10th and May 26th, with more good stuff to report on, including a lifer!
Again, no pictures other than a few old ones that I’m recycling here… and yet again a pretty dull species list.
Wilson’s Storm-Petrel (Océanite de Wilson): unidentified storm-petrels were regularly seen in small numbers, and most likely referred to this species.
Cape Verde Shearwater (Puffin du Cap-Vert) were seen in good numbers on most days, feeding off Ngor or flying NE, with a max. of at least 540 birds in one hour on 26th. Not as many as last year when the maximum counted on a single day exceeded 5,000 birds (!), but the pattern of appearance and behaviour of birds is very much in line with the previous season.
Cory’s / Scopoli’s Shearwater (Puffin cendré / de Scopoli): at least three on 26th when there was a remarkable diversity of shearwaters, with five species noted. Probably also a few on 11th, 14th and 15th but too far or seen too briefly to positively identify.
Two to five Great Shearwater (Puffin majeur) seen flying NE amidst the other shearwaters on 26th – remarkably similar to last year’s record of two birds on May 25th, noted as “apparently migrating north” and thought to be the first May record – see the short paper we published in the latest volume of Malimbus on a “wreckage” of Great Shearwater in the the occurrence in Senegal & Gambia (Barlow et al. 2018), PDF available here on my ResearchGate page.
Sooty Shearwater (Puffin fuligineux): a few seen on 18th, 21st and 26th, with at least 12 birds on the latter date: these records suggest that this Southern Hemisphere breeder is slightly more numerous later in spring.
Boyd’s / Barolo Shearwater (Puffin de Boyd / Macaronésie): one on 21st seen at fairly close range was identified as Barolo Shearwater – for once it was close enough and I was able to follow it over quite a distance. Probably a bird en route to its breeding grounds. Another one, also flying north-east, was either baroli or boydi. The taxonomic situation of these small black and white shearwaters is complex and seems to be constantly changing. with BirdLife and HBW now treating both taxa as subspecies of Audubon’s Shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri). Either way, these are apparently quite rare spring records, though Dupuy (1984) lists what was then known as “Little Shearwater” as an uncommon offshore “summer” visitor. Boyd’s Shearwater breeds exclusively on the Cape Verde islands (only about 5,000 pairs!), while Barolo’s breeds further north on the Macaronesian islands where it is known from Madeira, the Azores, the Selvagems, and the Canary Islands, with a total breeding population of the same order of magnitude.
Northern Gannet (Fou de Bassan): seen in small numbers on most days; all but one were immature birds (and one on 15th may actually have been a Cape Gannet, but I couldn’t rule out a 4th year Northern Gannet as I didn’t see the underwing pattern…).
Red-footed Booby (Fou à pieds rouges): a species I’d never seen before but somehow expected to show up one day at Ngor, two were seen feeding in the surf just beyond the Ngor islet on 17th, nicely showing their pink (not red!) feet, bluish bill and uniform brown plumage. One was seen again the following day and what I assume are the same two birds (both dark morph adults or near-adults) on 22nd, when they appeared to take off from the islet where they may have spent the night. Third record for Senegal! More on this species, which will likely show up more frequently in coming years, in this recent post.
Brown Booby (Fou brun): just one record so far, of an immature (2nd c.y.) on 14th. Looks like the Iles de la Madeleine birds – if they are indeed still present – don’t wander around the peninsula too much.
A few Great While Pelicans were regularly seen, flying about or resting out at sea (and once on the islet), and on 26th a Pink-backed Pelican made an appearance (Pélicans blancs et gris).
Other than an Oystercatcher on 20th and three Whimbrels on 11th (and a few Common Sandpipers), no more waders were seen during May (Huîtrier pie, Courlis corlieu, Chevalier guignette).
Long-tailed Skua (Labbe à longue queue): following several records in the latter half of April, at least three were identified on 11th, one on 18th, and one on 26th – confirming that spring migration of this species occurs up to the end of May off Senegal. Pomarine and Arctic Skuas were much scarcer than in April, with just three records for the former and five for the latter species.
Audouin’s Gull (Goéland d’Audouin): up to three birds seen in any one session, though no notable active migrants as was the case in April; all were immature birds.
Sabine’s Gull (Mouette de Sabine) were recorded up to May 22nd, with four records of 1-9 actively migrating birds. Other gull species included 10 Grey-headed Gulls flying NE on 20th, and three Slender-billed Gulls on 22nd. A single Lesser Black-backed Gull was seen on 22nd, when a probable Kelp Gull was also present.
Single Bridled Tern (Sterne bridée) were seen feeding and flying around quite close to shore on 11th and 15th, bringing the total to three birds so far this season.
Lesser Crested Tern (Sterne voyageuse): seen twice (17th & 20th), unlike African Royal Tern (Sterne royale) which remained present in decent numbers throughout. Caspian Tern (Sterne caspienne) was seen just once, on 22nd.
Roseate Tern (Sterne de Dougall): following a decent passage in April, just one seen on 17th, though others may have passed through further offshore amidst Common and Arctic Terns (Sternes pierragarin et arctique). These two species were seen almost daily, but again in much smaller numbers than in April.
Three Whiskered Terns (Guifette moustac) flew past on 11th, followed by two White-winged Terns (Guifette leucoptère) on 21st. Black Terns (Guifette noire) were less numerous than in April, except on May 11th when about 300 birds were counted.
Let’s see what June brings! Assuming that I manage to make it out to the Calao…
Yet another species was added to Senegal’s bird list recently. What follows is an account of recent observations of Brown-backed Honeybird by Gabriel Caucanas and friends, with some edits and additional information I managed to dig up – merci Gabriel!
January 20th 2018. We arrived in Dindefelo after 3 nights inside the Niokolo Koba National Park. Our team of French naturalists (Solenne Lefevre, Carine Lelaure, Geoffrey Monchaux, Valentin Motteau, Eric Sansault and myself) arrived at dusk at the “campement villageois” where our guide, Banna, had booked us for the night. The journey Simenti-Dindefelo was very long and we had many expectations for this wonderful place, as usual for birders. Will we find everything we are supposed to see, in just a single morning? No stress!
January 21st. About a hundred meters after the start of the path towards the waterfall: Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Northern Puffback. Following the path inside the gallery-forest, we added Green Turaco, Narina’s Trogon, African Blue Flycatcher, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike… Even for me, living in Tambacounda for more than one year at that moment, discoveries went on as we saw Red-chested Goshawk, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Green-headed Sunbird, and even a pair of Mali (Kulikoro) Firefinches with two juveniles. What a pleasant walk!
Just like almost every wooded place in Senegal, many Common Bulbuls were foraging and singing along the path. One bulbul-like individual however attracted our attention. After a few seconds of watching the bird, we all agreed that it seemed a little bit smaller than a Common Bulbul with a bill clearly curved at the end, convex. Moreover the undertail was white and the tail seemed heart-shaped ended. Thirty meters above us, the bird sat quietly during a few minutes, looking around, perched on a thin branch. As none of us was a sub-saharan bird specialist, we were not able to identify the species. Fortunately, one of us managed to take a reasonably good picture of the bird. Nothing described in the book seemed to fit to this bird apart from Brown-backed Honeybird… but even if I knew that several new species for the country had been found recently in this gallery forest, no observation was confirmed for Senegal. Our trip in Senegal continued the following days, first around Dande, then in the Boundou Community Nature Reserve and Casamance for the luckier of us. Days were passing without giving us a chance to have time to identify the bird.
On February 4th, I visited Wassadou camp. Many interesting birds were around, as usual for this place: Adamawa Turtle-Dove, African Blue Flycatcher, African Finfoot, Cardinal Woodpecker (a pair carrying food into a hole in a branch of Ceiba pentandra) and the two regular Hippopotamus. Then around 4 pm, a strange bird, again bulbul-like, was foraging and gleaning insects from branches a few meters above me in one of the huge Kapok trees close to the “deck”. What a surprise! It looked exactly the same as the bird we saw a few days earlier in Dindefelo: black curved bill, brownish head, greyish above becoming white on belly, rounded heart-shaped tail and undertail coverts white ending more greyish… Definitely not a bulbul! I again read the page about honeyguides in the Birds of the Senegal and the Gambia (Borrow and Demey, 2011). Yes, it could fit for Prodotiscus regulus, but nothing was said about the heart-shaped tail that I noticed in both birds. How could this be? A new species for Senegal seen twice in less than twenty days, some 200 km away from each other? I was confused… maybe I was just seeing a common bird that I was unable to recognise.
March 10th, Wassadou one more time: White-headed Lapwing, African Pied Wagtail, Shining-blue Kingfisher, Oriole Warbler, Western Banded Snake-eagle… We decided to stay the night. Around 5pm, as I was standing near the deck, I noticed the same mystery bird foraging in the same Kapok tree! But this time, I managed to take decent pictures of it, and I had to admit it was clearly fitting Prodotiscus regulus. Back home, I sent pictures from Wassadou and Dindefelo to Bram and Simon who were able to confirm the identification. Simon added that one claim had been made by two Spanish birders on 30 Jan 2015 at Wassadou, but with no further documentation nor a formal publication (the record was mentioned with a brief description in their trip report, and was included in the ABC Recent Reports).
As such, the records from Dindefelo and Wassadou are the first documented observations for Senegal.
Brown-backed Honeybird, also known as Wahlberg’s Honeybird or Sharp-billed Honeybird (or Honeyguide) is a widespread species across the continent, occurring throughout East and Southern Africa, with a much more fragmented distribution in West Africa. It’s known to be a local “wanderer” within its vast range and as such it’s always quite an unpredictable bird to find, and it’s not clear whether there are any regular migration patterns.
Following his observations from Mali – the first for the country – Marco Thoma identified only 10 other published records for the species in West Africa, with several new ones obtained in recent years from across the region. The closest to Senegal was a single record from Gambia in Sept. 2006, less than 100 km away from Wassadou, then three birds near Bamako in Mali (Jan. 2010), one in Liberia (Mt. Nimba, Jan. 1968), one in Côte d’Ivoire (May 1989). At least four records are known from Ghana where the species was found in 2009 for the first time, followed by singles in 2011 and 2013 (both in January), and a bird seen in Mole NP in March 2016. Further east, there are records from Togo (Aug. 1969), Benin (first record on 21 May 2015), several in Nigeria and Cameroon, etc. It was added to the Guinean list earlier this year by Simon Cavaillès, and the second record for Guinea-Bissau was obtained just recently by Gabriel Caucal and Etienne Rogeau at Madina de Boé (Gabu region), on 6 Feb 18. It’s clearly an overlooked species, and one can expect more observations to be made in years to come (Simon even mentioned this to me [BP] following his record from Guinea – look out for the species in Senegal! How right was he, as always!).
The species is thought to breed in May-September in West Africa: except for a record of a juvenile seen in Nigeria in December, we haven’t come across any breeding records from the region, and while there are observations from pretty much all months, most recent records are from January to March it seems (this could of course be largely related to the much higher observer presence during the northern winter months). Just like other honeyguides and honeybirds – the Indicatoridae – it is a brood parasite, as nicely illustrated by this picture of a fledgling Brown-backed Honeybird being fed by a Bar-throated Apalis. Besides Yellow-breasted Apalis which occurs in both Dindefelo and Wassadou, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Yellow White-eye and various sunbird species are other potential hosts for Brown-backed Honeybird.
Fun fact: during the night of March 10th at Wassadou, I saw two Common Genets, an African Civet and heard Pel’s Fishing Owl calling several times. In the early morning, we saw it, from the boat!
Finally, going back to our subject of interest: I (BP) was lucky to see this elusive species on several occasions, in southern Rwanda for the first time (in a group of other species mobbing a snake, picture here), Harare, and most recently in Cape Town’s famous Kirstenbosch botanical garden, where I managed to record its song. And maybe one day I’ll get to see it in Senegal!
Addendum (4.6) – it turns out that my Swiss friends who spent several days at Wassadou in February also saw the honeyguide, though it wasn’t identified as such. A few blurry pictures taken of a brownish bird in the very same Kapok tree on Feb. 22nd, dug up by Alain, allow us to confirm that it was indeed the Brown-backed Honeybird.
A few references
Roy, K. (2009) First record of Wahlberg’s Honeybird Prodotiscus regulus for The Gambia, Bull. ABC 16(1): 90-91
Valentine, G. (2013) First record of Wahlberg’s Honeybird Prodotiscus regulus for Ghana, Bull. ABC 20 (1): 70
Gabriel (& Bram)
A new observation of a Franklin’s Gull at Technopole, on May 20th, prompted me to have a closer look at the records of this American species in Senegal and more generally across West Africa. I’ve been compiling records of Nearctic vagrants for some time now, which I may use one day to write up a formal publication on the topic – the list currently includes 83 records of 18 different species and some patterns are starting to emerge.
No less than 21 of these records are of Franklin’s Gulls, though these correspond to at least 36 different observations (one record can refer to a bird seen over several dates). As such, this is by far the most frequent American vagrant seen in Senegal. It’s actually been annual at Technopole since 2011, year that saw the arrival of three different birds. In the following three years, at least five different birds were regularly seen, to the extent that Franklin’s Gull became an expected feature at Technopole during that period (I was lucky to see one of these birds in July 2012, during a visit with Paul). It’s been quite difficult to determine how many records there actually are, as it’s not always clear when multiple records relate to a single bird, and whether the recent spring sightings at Technopole (2015 – 2017) may also be all of just one returning adult.
Here’s the most recent bird:
This year’s bird is clearly not a returning adult, as it appears to be a second calendar year (“first summer”) bird. Ageing Franklin’s Gull is not always straightforward – see K. M. Olsen’s comment in this short post by Paul – but I think this bird can be fairly safely identified as a second year bird, based on the head pattern (adults such as last year’s should have a completely black hood) combined with a small amount of white in the primary tips – and note active moult of primaries.
This is what we have in terms of records so far – corrections and additions welcome!
- 29.5.83 Delta du Saloum, Fatick, paired with Grey-headed Gull, sitting on nest (Erard et al. 1984)
- 17.1.86 Ile de Gorée, Dakar, first winter (F. Baillon) (Baillon & Dubois 1992)
- 24.4.86 Delta du Saloum, Fatick, among Grey-headed Gulls (C. Devisse) (Baillon & Dubois 1992)
- 3.12.88 Plage de Hann, Dakar, adult (J. J. Blanchon, P. J. Dubois, J. P. Pillion) (Baillon & Dubois 1992)
- 18.2.91 Plage de Hann, Dakar, first winter (P. J. Dubois, P. Le Maréchal et al.) (Baillon & Dubois 1992)
- 28.2.07 Saint-Louis, adult (J. Piette; H. Dufourny; ABC Recent Reports Vol. 14(2) & 15(1))
- Oct. 2008 Ngor, Dakar (French seawatch team)
- 26.1.11 Bao Bolon, Kaolack, 2nd year (R. Ottvall et al. – trip report here)
- 24.7 – 1.8.11 Technopole, two 2nd year (P. Robinson)
- 5.8.11 Technopole, 2nd year, different from previous two birds (P. Robinson)
- 29.10.11 Yoff, Dakar (P. Robinson)
- 11.2.12 Technopole (J.-F. Blanc, S. Cavaillès)
- 3.5 – 18.8.12 Technopole, up to three seen min. nine times (P. Robinson, S. Cavaillès, BP)
- 18.5.12 Almadies, Ngor, near lighthouse Pointe des Almadies, seen from boat (P. Robinson)
- 16.4 – 4.8.13 Technopole, up to four seen min. eight times (P. Robinson et al.), also one on 18.8 at lac Mbeubeusse (P. Robinson, G. Citegetse et al.)
- 6-16.3.14 Technopole, adult (P. Robinson; J.-F. Blanc)
- 15-20.3.15 Technopole, adult (BP; J.-F. Blanc)
- 3.5.15 Technopole, adult (BP) – possibly the same as in March, or a different bird (and treated as such in this list).
- 13.7.16 Technopole, adult (W. Hagemeijer, M. van Leeuwen; photo on observado.org)
- 14.5.17 Technopole, adult (BP)
- 20.5, 10.6 & 7.7.18 Technopole, 2nd year (BP, M. Lecoq, G. Caucanas)
There’s obviously a clear increase in the number of records in the last eight years, even since 2007 after which this neat gull was not seen during two years only. The arrival of up to five different immature birds in 2011-2014 is noteworthy and as far as we know this was unprecedented in Africa. With the exception of this year’s bird, it’s quite possible that the single adults seen at Technopole since 2014 all refer to one or more of these original five, spending the winter further south and moving back north through Senegal in spring.
The near-absence of records prior to 2011 doesn’t mean much, since observer coverage was much lower then, so it’s hard to say anything much about longer term trends: the increase in records is probably in a large part related to increased observer pressure, particularly in Dakar where the majority of records are from. This also makes more sense, rather than that it reflects a real increase in records, considering that Franklin’s Gull is a species that’s said to be declining, particularly in the U.S.
Below is an attempt to plot the number of observations (not records!) and the number of birds involved, based on available data up to early June.
Here’s one of the 2011 birds from Technopole, thought to be second year:
This one is from barely a week later, and is thought to be an adult moulting into winter plumage:
And here’s the adult in full breeding plumage from May 2012 at sea off Almadies. Besides the all-dark hood, note the greater amount of white in the wing tips compared to immature birds:
Trying to unravel any seasonal patterns is tricky with so few records, though in recent years it’s clear that most birds show up between March and August, with the most recent observations all from March, May and July. There are only a couple of October records, none from September and November, and at least since 2013 there’s no evidence of wintering birds (if there were any on the Dakar peninsula, we’d probably see them at least from time to time at Technopole!). On the chart below, I’ve included birds that were seen over multiple months in each of the months’ totals, hence the sum of records exceeding 21.
The breeding record from the Saloum delta is of course intriguing, and it’s not excluded that more attempts have occurred again since the 1983 record.
Records from elsewhere in West Africa are much rarer than in Senegal: in Mauritania, one was seen on 27.1.06, followed by a second record on 17.4.16, both at Banc d’Arguin (Bull. African Bird Club 23: 238), then a third on 23.4.17 in Nouakchott (see Robert Tovey’s account on the find here). In The Gambia, Franklin’s Gull was seen in 1984, on 17.1.02, and again on 8-9.2 until 15.3.05 at least; all records are from Banjul. The first for Ghana was an adult on 8.5.11 on the Sakumono lagoon on the outskirts of Accra.
Nine records are known from Morocco, the most recent one being a first-winter bird on 12.2.16 at Oued Souss (Agadir) – so clearly not one of the Senegal birds as these were all adults by then.
Elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, there are several records from South Africa, at least two from Mozambique, one from Congo-Brazzaville (one on 14.11.15 at the Kouilou-Niari River), at least one from Burundi, Uganda, Malawi, Namibia and Zambia, and the species is also listed as a vagrant to Ascension island and Tristan da Cunha. And the first for the Seychelles was seen on 7.5.17. They really do wander about!!
Franklin’s Gull – now known as Leucophaeus pipixcan – is a widespread colonial breeder on the prairies of northern North America, wintering mainly in coastal regions on the Pacific coast of South America (Colombia – Chile; range map xeno-canto). It’s a regular vagrant to Europe, and stragglers have been recorded as far as Kazakhstan, Australia and New Zealand, even Antarctica.
A few references
Baillon, F. & P.J. Dubois, 1992. Nearctic gull species in Senegal and The Gambia. Dutch Birding 14:49-503
Érard, C, Guillou, J.-J. & Mayaud, N., 1984. Sur l’identité spécifique de certains laridés nicheurs au Sénégal. Alauda 52:184-188