Garden butterflies & moths

Coffee Bee Hawkmoth (Cephonodes hylas), Dakar, Oct. 2016 (B. Piot)

All sorts of insects abound during and just after the raining season in Dakar, in particular butterflies which all of a sudden become much more conspicuous than during the rest of the year, alongside numerous dragonflies, crickets and grasshoppers, preying mantises, various beetles, antlions and many more.

I don’t know much about either butterflies or moths, but was curious to find out what these two specimens, found in our small garden in recent weeks, are called.

First up is a real neat, pretty large butterfly not dissimilar to Europe’s Common Yellow Swallowtail Papilio machaon. This one doesn’t posses the distinct swallowtail extensions, but it turned out to be a swallowtail nevertheless: Citrus Swallowtail P. demodocus. Apparently also called Christmas Swallowtail (in Southern Africa?) and common throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.


Citrus Swallowtail (Papilio demodocus)

Citrus Swallowtail


Next up, a hawk-moth which very much reminded me of some European species of Hemarus moths with their typical transparent wings. This one is called the Coffee Bean (or Pellucid or Oriental Bee) Hawk-moth Cephonodes hylas. It was found one morning resting on tiles. As I picked it up, it rapidly “fluffed” out its surprising black abdominal tufts while vibrating its wings, then took off.


Coffee Bean Hawk-moth

Wikipedia tells me that it’s found from Africa all the way to Australia and Japan, via the Near East, the Indian Subcontinent and South-East Asia. Pretty impressive for such a tiny creature!

There’s probably many more butterflies and moths to come given that there are plenty of caterpillars at the moment, and last year in November we experienced an impressive contant flow of migrating pieridae, with literally millions of butterflies to be seen all over town (even out at sea!).

By the way I still owe you a few posts – trip to Casamance, last week’s PAOC, exciting seabirds, Hooded Vultures and more – but just need to find time to write it all up…

September Seabirds

The majority of systematic seabird counts in Dakar have been conducted in October (see e.g. Dubois et al. 2009 and the Seawatching in Senegal website) when diversity and intensity of south-bound passage at sea is usually highest. Many species migrate much earlier of course, some leaving their breeding grounds already in July or early August, so it’s no surprise that seawatch sessions earlier in the season can be productive too even if the number of birds passing through is less important. Last year I made just a handful of visits to Ngor and Pointe des Almadies in September, but this year I managed to squeeze in quite a few sessions so far, often short (45 minutes to an hour and a half, usually around 8-9am) but sufficient to get a better sense of what’s passing through at this time of the year.

Below are some of the highlights, based on three visits in August (5/8, 19/8 and 26/8) and eight between 9 and 26 September.

Except for one session from Ngor island on 19/8, all observations were made from the terrace of the Calao Club Hotel just north of the Ngor bay. This spot provides a slightly elevated view point with convenient shelter from the sun, and access to decent (though overpriced) coffee. It has recently been upgraded, providing more space and a less run-down feel than before – just in time for the PAOC which will take place later this month and which should see a substantial number of birders come to the terrace throughout the week of the conference.


Best days were 13/9 for waders, after a morning of intensive showers and under continued light rain, while for true “pelagics” (Sooty Shearwater, skuas, Sabine’s Gull) best were 25 and 26/9 when winds were relatively strong (5-6 Bf?) from the NW.


  • Cape Verde Shearwater (Puffin du Cap-Vert): at least three shearwaters probably belonging to this species on 5/8, but no others so far. This species is usually more numerous in late winter and spring, though this is highly variable from year to year it seems.
  • Sooty Shearwater (Puffin fuligineux): one on 9/9 (evening), at least 61 (+ 5 sp.) on 16/9, 17 (+ 4 sp.) on 21/9, only 3 on 23/9  but then a decent 108 on 25/9 (in 85 mins.) and an impressive 131 on 26/9 in just 45 mins. On the latter date I couldn’t stay any longer unfortunately, and even if the strength of the winds gradually diminished over the course of the morning one can imagine that on 25-26/9 there must have been close to if not more than a 1000 of these neat shearwaters passing by.


  • Oystercatcher (Huîtrier pie): 8 on 18/9, 3 on 23/9
  • Common Ringed Plover (Grand Gravelot): singles on 21 and 23/9
  • Whimbrel (Courlis corlieu): 8 migrating on 13/9 and 3 on 16/9, in addition to the 2-3 local birds feeding amongst the volcanic rocks on most days
  • Common Redshank (Chevalier gambette): ca. 10 on 13/9 under light rain
  • Common Sandpiper (Chevalier guignette): no active migrants, but usually 2-5 birds feeding on the rocks in front of Le Calao.
  • Dunlin (Bécasseau variable): a flock of about 25 birds on 9/9, and 2+8 on 13/9
  • Sanderling (Bécasseau sanderling): a flock of ca. 40 on 19/8, 3 on 13/9
  • Turnstone (Tournepierre à collier): min. 5 on 9/9


  • “large” Skua sp. (“grand” Labbe sp.): one on 25/9 was too far out and too fast to say much about this bird other than that it appeared fairly slim / small compared to Great Skua. Could well have been a South Polar Skua, which is thought to be the more frequent of the Catharacta skuas off Dakar.
  • Arctic Skua (Labbe parasite): one on 19/8, 11 on 16/9, 5 21/9, 1 23/9, 26 on 25/9
  • Pomarine Skua (Labbe pomarin): at least 10 on 9/9, 26 on 16/9, 3 on 21/9, 2 on 23/9, 13 on 25/9
  • Long-tailed Skua (Labbe à longue queue): at least 4 on 9/9, 3 on 25/9
  • Unidentified skua sp. (Labbe indéterminé): 1 Arctic / Long-tailed on 19/8, ca. 15 Arctic/Pomarines on 9/9, just one on 13/9, 7 on 21/9, 44 on 25/9 (resulting in a total of 87 skuas), and 33 on 26/9 when the majority of these were probably Arctic Skuas.


  • Lesser Black-backed Gull (Goéland brun): 2 on 21/9, 6 23/9 and 25/9, 2 26/9 – always immatures either flying S or feeding out at sea.
  • Sabine’s Gull (Mouette de Sabine): 4 on 16/9, 1 on 21/9, and ca. 16 on 26/9 including a group of about 12 birds together. Almost always during W/NW winds, flying quite far out at sea and often low over the waves. Probably more numerous further out at sea.


  • Gull-billed Tern (Sterne hansel): 2 on 19/8 from Ngor island. This species appears to be rarely seen migrating at sea, preferring brackish and freshwater lakes.
  • Caspian Tern (Sterne caspienne): regularly 3-5 birds which are not necessarily actively migrating; highest count 13 on 18/9
  • Royal Tern (Sterne royale): seen in small numbers during each session but migrating birds were not always obvious as small groups and singles regularly fly past in both directions, or would feed out at sea. Low maximum of 25 on 13/9.
  • Sandwich Tern (Sterne caugek): only small numbers so far, with a maximum of ca. 40 in 40 minutes on 9/9 (evening), and 138 on 13/9.
  • Lesser Crested Tern (Sterne voyageuse): singles seen on 13/9, 16/9, 23/9 (flying NE on the latter date)
  • Arctic Tern (Sterne arctique): at least 85 on 19/8 in ca. 35 minutes, and more than 30 on 9/9; smaller numbers on other days.
  • Common Tern (Sterne pierregarin): seen in variable numbers, but difficult to count as several birds often feed out at sea and fly back and forth, and because many birds would remain unspecified Common/Arctic Terns.
  • Roseate Tern (Sterne de Dougall): regular sightings of small numbers: at least 1 on 9/9, 4 on 13/9, 1 on 18/9, 2 on 21/9 (flying NE), and 2 on 23/9.
  • Little Tern (Sterne naine): 6 on 13/9, lower numbers (1-4) on several other dates
  • Black Tern (Guifette noire): seen on most days, with a max. of at least 98 in an hour on 5/8 and 250 on 16/9 in 50 mins., 50 on 18/9.

Sandwich Tern / Sterne caugek


A real surprise was a juvenile Barbary Falcon which was well seen on 18/9, first hunting over the bay, then eating a prey (an unidentified passerine) on one of the cranes next to the Calao. Tricky bird to id but especially the finely streaked underparts except for lower vent and undertail covers, yellow cere, fairly narrow “moustache” and pale ear covers, and general slim structure set it apart from Peregrine, which is usually seen here from mid-October onward.

Osprey: singles seen regularly from 26/8 onward, so far only singles.

Pied Flycatchers were seen on 18/9 in the hotel gardens, which usually also hold a few good local migrants or residents, e.g. Shikra and Senegal Eremomela.

Last but not least, I had 3 sightings of unidentified dolphins moving NE – always a nice change from our feathered friends even if it’s usually pretty hard to get good views given the distance and brief (and very partial!) appearances above the surface.


Technopole: 211 & 212

Last Sunday, not one but two new species were added to the Technopole list, which now stands at an impressive 212.

First was a Eurasian Curlew flying over while calling loudly, but apparently didn’t stop – possibly because not much suitable habitat is left at the moment, with water levels being very high right now.

Second were two European Turtle Doves perched in an acacia tree, one of which I managed to get a distant record shot of. This non-breeding visitor to Senegal was recently “uplisted” to the status of Vulnerable on the global Red List of Endangered Species because it has seen important declines in many parts of its European breeding grounds – sadly, this is something I’ve been able to witness first-hand over the course of the past 20 years in the Geneva area. Previously it was considered to be of Least Concern… now it’s just 2 categories away from being Critically Endangered.


European Turtle Dove / Tourterelle des bois


It may be surprising that neither of these two migrants had been seen so far at Technopole, especially the Curlew since a small number regularly spend the non-breeding season along the Petite Cote, mainly at the Somone lagoon. Both species surely must have occurred here before, but maybe because the site isn’t much visited at this time of the year they had gone unnoticed so far.

Other than these, things were rather quiet, the main lake mostly being occupied by the regular cormorants, herons and egrets. Pelicans of both species are present again albeit in low numbers, while 2 Whiskered Terns, ca. 6 Black Terns, and several Caspian and Gull-billed Terns were flying around or roosting. There are now very few waders on site: a single Bar-tailed Godwit, a few Greenshanks, Common Redshanks and Common Sandpipers, a Wood Sandpiper and Green Sandpiper, a handful of Common Ringed Plovers accompanied by 2-4 Curlew Sandpipers, and that’s about it.

Northern Crombec was singing along the main track; Grey-headed Kingfisher is still present as it was calling in the gardens below Camberene. Three Red-necked Falcons were in the area where they nested earlier this year.

I’ll try to upload the complete list of birds of our favourite urban wetland, which was initially compiled by Paul Robinson, once I’ve had the chance to include status of each species. Since early 2015, I’ve added a handful of species so far: besides the two most recent additions, there’s been Egyptian Goose, Lesser Yellowlegs, Temminck’s Stint, and Spotted Flycatcher.

No doubt will there be a few others to come, including some that occur on the peninsula but which apparently haven’t been recorded at Technopole yet, e.g. Double-spurred Francolin (which I think was calling somewhere in the distance on my most recent visit, but not clearly enough to be sure – to be confirmed), Black-billed Wood Dove and Black-crowned Tchagra. Of note is that only a few raptor species are on the list, which also lacks in crakes (no Spotted, Baillon’s or Little Crakes so far!) and a few Palearctic migrants (e.g. Pallid Swift, European Bee-eater). And surely there must be some more vagrant American waders (Pectoral Sandpiper!) and gulls (Bonaparte’s Gull?) to be found.

Which one will show up next?



The Black Crowned Crane seen by Paul on 11 July 2012 – so far the only Technopole record, and species “182” for the site



Where does Moltoni’s Warbler overwinter?

A recent observation of a Moltoni’s Warbler Sylvia subalpina near Gandiol (Saint-Louis) made me have a closer look at the occurrence of the species in Senegal and more generally in the species’ wintering areas.

This Sylvia warbler was recently recognised as a distinct species by several authors (Brambilla et al. 2008, Svensson 2013, and see also Shirihai 2001) and is now generally accepted as such by the various taxonomic authorities. Previously, it was regarded as a subspecies of Subalpine Warbler S. inornata (= new name for S. cantillans after the taxonomic reshuffle), but differences in plumage and especially vocalisations justify its elevation to species rank.


Male Moltoni’s Warbler / Fauvette de Moltoni, Mallorca, April 2015 (P. Walser)

To summarize the current taxonomic status, which can be rather confusing owing to different scientific names being used in recent years, what used to be Subalpine Warbler S. cantillans is now widely considered as three separate species, following Svensson’s 2013 papers:

  • Western Subalpine Warbler S .inornata, with subspecies iberiae (Iberian Penninsula, S France) and inornata (Maghreb)
  • Moltoni’s Warbler S. subalpina (monotypic)
  • Eastern Subalpine Warbler S. albistriata with ssp. cantillans (S Italy) and albistriata (SE Europe)

“Subalpine Warbler” (in the old sense!) is a common non-breeding visitor in many parts of the Sahel, and is often the most abundant Palearctic passerine, including in northern and coastal Senegal and parts of Mali. At least here in Senegal, the majority are clearly Western Subalpines, but what about Moltoni’s? Its breeding grounds are quite well known: western Mediterranean islands (Sardinia, Corsica, Balearic Islands) and part of central and northern Italy, where locally sympatric with Western Subalpine. However, it quickly became clear that very little is known about the species’ distribution in winter and during migration in Africa.

Borrow & Demey show only a handful records on the distribution map in their field guide (2nd ed. 2014), in Nigeria, nothern Cameroon, and SE Mauritania. The Handbook of the Birds of the World and BirdLife, in typical fashion, haven’t adopted this fairly obvious split so far, though HBW does state that Moltoni’s Warbler is a non-breeding visitor to the “W Sahel”. Neither Morel & Morel nor Sauvage & Rodwell mention the species in their publications, though this is hardly surprising given that at the time Moltoni’s was “just” a little-known subspecies of Subalpine Warbler (that said, the Morels did recognise the inornata subspecies from NW Africa, which is likely a regular visitor to Senegal). Unfortunately, Ottosson et al. (2001) do not make any mention of subspecies involved even though they captured no less than 3,394 Subalpine Warblers in the Djoudj between 1987-1996 (out of 5,607 Sylvia warblers).

The only published records that I found of Moltoni’s Warbler for Sub-Saharan Africa all come from the African Bird Club‘s “Recent Reports”:

  • The earliest and so far most detailed reference comes from Nigeria: “among the Subalpine Warblers Sylvia cantillans mist-netted in Dagona Bird Sanctuary, northern Nigeria, in February 2007, the great majority proved to be of the subspecies moltoni […], with the rest being of the nominate race. Whereas the latter were very fat and not in moult, the former lacked any fat and were moulting their wing feathers. Adult S. c. cantillans and S. c. albistriata undergo a complete moult in their breeding quarters and the juveniles a partial one, whereas the moult of moltoni is very complex, with adults undergoing a complete moult either in their breeding or winter quarters, and the juveniles a complete moult in Africa. Previously, nothing was known concerning the wintering range of moltoni“.
  • In Benin, the first record was obtained just recently “in the far north-east at Kandi, Kargui and Karimama (Bello Tounga) on 18–21 November 2015, with singing individuals producing the characteristic rattle call.”

For Mauritania, I received this information from V. Salevski, who participated in several ringing campaigns run by the Swiss Ornithological Institute in the early 2000s both in Mauritania and Senegal: “I do not recall that I ever identified Moltoni’s Warbler in the field, but I recall that at least one was mistnetted in Tichitt, Mauritania, in autumn 2003. I myself assigned the respective bird(s) to Moltoni’s Warbler due to its moult pattern.” The location seems to corresponds with the record shown in Birds of Western Africa.

There are no known records from The Gambia, nor from Guinea-Bissau, nothing from Mali either and I didn’t find any info on Burkina Faso, Niger or Chad (comm. pers. C. Barlow, M. Lecoq, M. Crickmore, J. Brouwer). The West African Bird Database (WABDaB) does contain a handful of “Subalpine/Moltoni’s Warbler” records from Chad mainly, but none of these are sufficiently documented to ascertain the presence of Moltoni’s there.

Now what about Senegal? So far, I managed to uncover only 4 records, all from the north:

  • 1 near Richard-Toll early December 2013 (Birdquest; source: tour report by C. Kehoe)
  • two records of what were maybe two different males, 22 March 2014, Djoudj NP (J.-F. Blanc)
  • 1 male south of Djoudj, 7 April 2015 (J.-F. Blanc)
  • at least one near Gandiol, 11 September 2016 (pers. obs.)

Getting back to the original question of where Moltoni’s spends the winter: we still don’t really know, but it’s likely that its non-breeding range largely overlaps with Western Subalpine throughout the Western Sahel. It’s quite possible that the species is a regular migrant to Senegal even if the country may be just on the edge of its winter range, as one can imagine that there are greater densities further east, in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, northern Nigeria and Cameroon, and (western?) Chad. It’s quite possible that Moltoni’s also creeps into Ghana, Togo and Benin – as mentioned earlier, at least in the latter country it was recently confirmed to occur, but it’s not clear yet how regular the species is there. Unfortunately much of this region is off-limits to birders and researchers due to the prevailing security situation, so it will likely take some time before we find out more from this part of the Sahel. It’s clear though that at least in Senegambia the species is largely outnumbered by Western Subalpine Warbler, whereas this would seem to be the opposite in Nigeria.

The scant records listed here suggest that in Senegal it occurs throughout the non-breeding season, at least from early September to mid-April, and that it is not just a migrant transiting through in autumn and winter.  Further north, in Morocco (which unlike West Africa is fairly well covered by skilled observers), the taxon is considered an accidental visitor by the Moroccan Rare Birds Committee, and so far has been detected during spring migration only. The first record dates back to March 2008 from Merzouga while the second bird was trapped on 18 March 2013; there’s at least one additional observation, also from March (in Larache, 2016). These records suggest that some of the Moltoni’s – likely part of those that spend the winter in Senegal and probably southern Mauritania – migrate along the coast, while those that winter further east cross the Sahara through Algeria and Tunisia where they are “common” during migration (Svensson 2013), and possibly western Libya.

The species is said to arrive approx. 3 weeks later than Western Subalpine on its Mediterranean breeding grounds (Barriocanal & Robson 2011), but I didn’t find any info on differences in autumn departure dates. Moult strategy certainly seems to be different, but more research is needed. The Nigeria record seems to confirm that Moltoni’s depart later from West Africa than Western Subalpine, which in February had already completely moulted and were “very fat” as opposed to the Moltoni’s on the same site.

Ron Demey commented that if up to now there are so few definite records then this has everything to do with the fact that the taxon was just recently split from S. cantillans. Probably few birders are aware of the criteria, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Moltoni’s were widespread in the Sahel.

Ron is certainly quite right… but the question remains as to how widespread, and how abundant Moltoni’s Warbler is in its winter quarters. Does the range overlap completely with Western Subalpine, or may they have specific requirements in terms of habitat?  Are migration routes, timing and strategies different from Western Subalpine? I hope that more existing records will surface, and that birders visiting the region will pay more attention to the various Fauvettes passerinnettes in future, further helping to gain a better understanding of this little-known bird in West Africa. Pretty much the same applies to a number of other species pairs or recently split taxa, e.g. Atlas / Pied Flycatcher, Common / Iberian Chiffchaff, Western / Eastern Olivaceous Warbler to name but the most relevant that spring to mind.

And actually I don’t mind really – still lots to learn and lots of exciting discoveries in prospect!


A vagrant Moltoni’s Warbler in autumn, Helgoland, Oct. 2009 (J. Bisschop)


Some references on Moltoni’s Warbler…

Of note is that Moltoni’s Warbler was initially designated as Sylvia moltonii by Italian ornithologist Orlando back in 1937, only later emerging that Sylvia subalpina took precedence (Baccetti et al 2007). Professor Dr. Edgardo Moltoni (1896-1980) was an eminent Italian ornithologist and director of the Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano (Natural History Museum, Milan). Among other feats, he described Zavattariornis stresemanni (Moltoni 1938), the unique Stresemann’s Bushcrow endemic to southern Ethiopia.

Finally, thanks to all correspondents who provided information for this note, and to Jan and Paul for providing pictures!


Langue de Barbarie & Gandiol, 10-12/9

Le long weekend de la Tabaski, nous l’avons passé au Zebrabar, l’occasion de découvrir le parc national de la Langue de Barbarie et “l’arrière-pays” du Gandiolais en saison d’hivernage.

Pas trop le temps d’un long récit, même si comme toujours il y avait plein de choses à voir; la liste complète se trouve en bas de l’article. 124 espèces en tout! Je vous présente donc rapidement quelques photos, à commencer par ces magnifiques Guêpiers de Perse, espèce particulièrement commune en ce moment. Plusieurs familles sont vues, dont celle-ci avec 2-3 jeunes encore nourris par les parents, que Theo et moi avons pu observer pendant de longues minutes. Les adultes apportaient surtout sinon exclusivement des libellules, pour la plupart de taille moyenne genre Sympetrum.


Blue-cheeked Bee-eater / Guêpier de Perse ad. et juv.

Et les jeunes:

bluecheekedbeeeater_pnlb_20160911_img_5185_edited         bluecheekedbeeeater_pnlb_20160911_img_5178_edited

Dans la zone se trouvait également l’une des trois Pie-grièches à tête rousse observées pendant le weekend, une jeune de l’année au plumage bien terne comparée aux adultes:


Woodchat Shrike / Pie-grièche à tête rousse juv.

A la station de lagunage de Saint-Louis, cet adulte d’Epervier shikra est resté posé dans un arbre sec alors que je passais à côté: ce n’est que plus tard en passant en revue les photos que j’ai constaté qu’il tenait dans ses serres une queue de reptile, apparemment un serpent voire un scinque.


Shikra / Epervier shikra ad. avec proie

Au même endroit, comme toujours les Prinias aquatiques se faisaient entendre et pour une fois aussi bien voir et photographier. Espèce assez peu documentée, ces quelques photos d’un même individu chanteur montrent bien la couleur froide et globalement très grise du plumage comparée au Prinia modeste, aussi les lores noires, mais pour le reste c’est difficile! Heureusement que le chant des deux espèces est assez différent. Le plumage étant tellement proche, l’identification des oiseaux silencieux est généralement impossible, d’autant plus que le Prinia modeste a un plumage assez variable, et certains individus sont très gris notamment en période de reproduction. Bien que l’aquatique ait une nette preference pour les roselières, les deux espèces peuvent se côtoyer dans la même zone comme c’est justement le cas de la station de lagunage: Prinia aquatique dans la roselière et aux abords immédiats des plans d’eau, le cousin modeste dans les zones plus sèches et dans les haies bordant les champs.

riverprinia_stlouis_20160910_img_5141_edited   riverprinia_stlouis_20160910_img_5138_edited

Dans l’arrière-pays, je tombe sur ce groupe de Barges à queue noire en train de se nourrir frénétiquement dans une mosaïque de mares temporaires, entre tamaris et acacias. Deux oiseaux avec des bagues couleurs se tiennent parmi elles, alors qu’une troisième barge baguée, elle aussi aux Pays-Bas, est vue le lendemain dans une autre (?) troupe d’une bonne centaine d’oiseaux.


La Barge rousse, bien moins fréquente, est présente dans les lagunes saumâtres du parc même. En tout, pas moins de 24 espèces de limicoles sont observés pendant notre séjour, auxquelles ont peut encore ajouter le Vanneau à tête noire vu à plusieurs reprises pendant le trajet.


Bar-tailed Godwit / Barge rousse

Retour dans la brousse, où ce Coucou-geai a bien voulu poser (au loin!) à côté d’un Rollier d’Abyssinie. Un autre individu sera vu le 12/9 peu après le départ pour Dakar, près de Gandiol.


Great Spotted Cuckoo / Coucou-geai

Non loin de là, j’ai le plaisir de découvrir un chant unique que je ne connaissais pas encore, et il m’a fallu un moment pour repérer la source: une Outarde de Savile posée a l’ombre d’un acacia avant de disparaître en douce dans la brousse. Sans aucun doute l’un des points forts du weekend! Cette petite outarde sahélienne serait encore bien répandue dans la moitie nord du pays, bien qu’on la trouve aussi ça et là sur la Petite Côte et dans le Saloum. J’avais eu l’occasion de la voir aux Trois-Marigots en mai 2014, mais plus rien depuis. Ici, au moins trois mâles se répondaient par leur chant résonnant et surtout étonnant pour une espèce autrement très discrète, que je vous laisse découvrir comme d’habitude sur xeno-canto. Même le rendu visuel du chant est joli!


Sonogramme du chant de l’Outarde de Savile

Une heure plus tard dans le même coin c’est un TUII-ti qui se fait entendre: le cri de contact (ou est-ce une variation du chant?) de l’Outarde de Savile. C’est alors que je me suis souvenu d’un cri enregistré il y a quelques mois dans la lagune de la Somone et que j’avais par erreur attribué au Courvite de Temminck qui passait en vol au même moment… correction faite! Au moins une autre outarde est entendue le lendemain matin au sud du village de Mouït.

Toujours dans cette zone, un autre cri particulier attire mon attention: au moins une Fauvette de Moltoni! Details à suivre, mais il s’agirait d’une rare mention sénégalaise bien que ce taxon récemment élevé au rang d’espèce hiverne probablement de maniere régulière dans le Sahel occidental.

Les rolliers locaux sont actuellement en pleine mue, notamment des couvertures alaires, des scapulaires et des rectrices externes. L’absence de ces dernières leur confère d’ailleurs une allure de Rollier d’Europe assez déroutante, mais notez les secondaires bleues et non noires et la face plus blanche au moins chez les adultes. De plus, selon la position de l’oiseau et selon l’état d’avancement de la mue, on voit parfois les nouvelles rectrices partiellement cachées sous le reste de la queue, comme c’est le cas sur l’oiseau de la photo du Coucou-geai.


Abyssinian Roller / Rollier d’Abyssinie

Sinon pour le reste, je vous laisse juger à partir de la liste complète disponible ici en format PDF.



Marsh Terns, Ducks & More Waders (28/8)

Last Sunday I went to Lac Tanma – first visit since January – and, of course, Technopole. I picked up Miguel Lecoq who recently arrived in Dakar to work for BirdLife (yes! a new birder in town!), and we headed straight for Lac Tanma to see what was about there at the start of the raining season. This shallow seasonal lake has started to fill up and conditions were pretty good for waders, even if some were a bit distant: a few dozen Wood Sandpipers and Black-winged Stilts, several Greenshanks and Common Redshanks, a Marsh Sandpiper, a few Common Sandpipers, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Common Ringed and Kittlitz’s Plover (including a still downy juvenile, confirming local breeding), Ruff, a lone Whimbrel, and a bunch of Common Pratincoles. The latter appear to also breed in the area or at least in the vicinity of the lake: out of about 15-20 birds, at least 8 were juveniles. Also present were the resident Spur-winged and African Wattled Lapwings as well as Senegal Thick-knees, a Black-winged Kite, and a flock of about 95 Greater Flamingos including 30 juveniles.

Only a handful of ducks are present at the moment: 4 White-faced Whistling Ducks and a single Garganey, which appears to be an early date for the species in Senegal. Later on in the season, when water levels further rise and aquatic vegetation develops, the lake becomes an important stop-over site for Garganeys and Shovelers.

Best of all was at least one White-winged Tern, nicely showing its distinctive black underwing coverts as it was flying around the lake. There may have been more, though most of the other marsh terns (which mainly were roosting quite far out) were Black Terns. Besides the waders and terns (including Gull-billed and Caspian), a few Lesser Black-backed and Audouin’s Gulls and 5 or 6 Ospreys, the only other northern migrant that was seen was a single Sand Martin. Along the road back to Mbayakh, a Broad-billed Roller flew past, while Shikra was another wet season visitor that was seen near the lake.

Another surprise was this small group of what turned out to be Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starlings rather than their more widespread counterpart, Greater BEGS. Both species are extremely difficult to separate based on adult plumage (when call is the best identification feature). These birds remained silent, but thanks to the 3 juveniles in the flock it was possible to clinch the ID, as Lesser shows brownish underparts whereas Greater youngsters are entirely dark.


Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starlings / Choucador de Swainson


At Technopole, the main surprise was a flock of 11 Fulvous Whistling Ducks, a vagrant here which I hadn’t seen before in the Dakar area. It’s reasonably common in the Senegal delta (though still massively outnumbered by the White-Faced WD’s) and apparently also in the south of the country, but it’s generally absent from central and western Senegal. Hazy rarity picture below. Another good one was Whiskered Tern, with one or two birds feeding among the Black Terns. Chlidonias hat trick today!

As expected, water levels here have substantially risen in the last two weeks, leaving only small sand banks favourable for the smaller wader species. Still quite a few Ruff & co were present, but far fewer calidrids than on my previous visit. An Avocet was here again, while two Little Terns were another good record for Technopole as the species is seen only infrequently here. An Acrocephalus warbler was either a Eurasian or African Reed-Warbler. We both tended toward the latter but didn’t get good enough views, and as it turns out it seems that many Palearctic insectivores are ahead of schedule this year, as reported by Fred Bacuez from Saint-Louis. By now some at least should have reached Dakar!

Greater Flamingos are still present in moderate numbers, but we didn’t find any more ringed birds unlike the 3 French birds early August for which I now received details from the Tour du Valat research station in the Camargue: all were ringed as chicks in the sole French colony, but in different years (2013, 2014 and 2015). Ring recoveries from French birds in Senegal are apparently pretty rare, unlike in Mauritania where there are fairly regular sightings of French, Spanish, Italian and Algerian birds (and even one from Turkey!).


Fulvous Whistling Ducks / Dendrocygnes fauves


The previous morning I did a car transect from Dakar’s main slaughterhouse (route de Rufisque at Dalifort), which already early morning was bustling with activity, to Bel-Air and the Hann bay, looking for roosting Hooded Vultures. My count is part of an effort lead by Wim Mullié to get a better sense of the current status of the species in Dakar. As with almost all other vulture species, the Hooded Vulture has declined substantially in most if not all parts of its range, and is now considered to be Critically Endangered. BirdLife International recently “uplisted” the species’ conservation status as it has increasingly become clear that Hooded Vultures are declining at an alarming rate over much of its range, at the point where it is considered to be at serious risk of extinction: Hooded Vulture populations are thought to be dwindling with an estimated 83% decline (range 64-93%) over three generations, or a period of about 53 years (Ogada et al. 2015). This may be difficult to believe in places such as Conakry (where I’m writing this post from), which still has what seems to be a healthy Hooded Vulture population – e.g. this morning I counted at least 75 birds roosting in the city’s CBD, and later saw about 60 flying around in scattered groups. Same in Bissau or Banjul where the species is still very common.

There are several important sites where our local vultures spend the night – especially UCAD, Dakar’s main university campus – but it appears that there are also lots of singles or small groups that spend the night in scattered places, usually in filaos (Casuarina equisetifolia, Australian Pine Tree) or on buildings ,and almost always near the waterfront. Saturday’s little transect was moderately successful, finding a total of 15 birds in 3 sites.

More on this topic to follow in due time; the Dakar results are to be announced at the upcoming Pan-African Ornithological Congress (PAOC 14) in October, after which I’ll write more about our local vultures.


Hooded Vultures roosting on a hydrocarbon storage tank / Vautours charognards sur leur dortoir, un depot d’hydrocarbures


In Parc de Hann, the now usual Eurasian Collared-Doves were singing in their usual spots, just like a Blue-breasted Kingfisher and Splendid Sunbird which are two other “specials” of the site. The heronry is now full of young egrets and cormorants and is noisy as ever!


Cattle Egret / Heron garde-boeuf juv.





Delta du Saloum: Palmarin, 19-21 août

Nouvelle escapade familiale à Palmarin le weekend dernier, ma troisième visite ici en l’espace d’un an, et comme lors des passages précédents le séjour a été fantastique.

Les points forts du weekend? Surtout cette femelle d’Hyène tachetée avec ses petits vus de (très) près lors d’une sortie crépusculaire dans la réserve communautaire, ou plutôt au retour de notre excursion (en calèche!) du site d’observation habituel dont nous pensions rentrer bredouille une fois de plus… Alors qu’il fait déjà bien nuit, on aperçoit d’abord la femelle alors qu’elle se trouvait dans une flaque (pour s’abreuver?), puis au moins deux jeunes âgés peut-être de quelques semaines seulement.

Aussi quelques volatiles bien sûr: pas moins de vingt-trois espèces de limicoles, Sternes caspiennes en pagaille, quelques centaines de Goélands d’Audouin et Barges à queue noire (dont comme toujours plusieurs individus bagués), des Flamants roses et nains, au moins 5 Canards à bosse, un couple de Gymnogènes en pleine parade, deux Pipits à dos uni, etc. etc. Si les passereaux paléarctiques ne sont pas encore arrivés à cette latitude, les espèces locales sont en pleine activité, en particulier les 4 espèces de tisserins présentes ici (gendarme, tête noire, vitellin, minule) mais aussi les Euplectes vorabés et franciscains arborant leur flashant plumage nuptial. Pour le reste, les désormais classiques Colombars waalia, Barbicans de Vieillot et aussi cette fois deux Barbicans barbus (quel beau pléonasme!), Irrisor moqueur, Martinets d’Ussher, et ainsi de suite.

Je vous présente ici quelques images (cliquer sur les photos pour agrandir), et comme d’habitude mes enregistrements sont déjà sur xeno-canto. Pour plus d’infos sur la zone, voir nos précédents articles sur ce blog (novembre 2015 et janvier 2016)


Double-spurred Francolin / Francolin à doubles éperons

A commencer par ce délicat Francolin à doubles éperons, qui pour une fois n’était pas trop craintif et a bien voulu se laisser photographier. Ce francolin est très courant dans la zone, surtout semble-t-il à cette période lorsque des petits groupes traînent un peu partout dans les zones herbacées: peut-être des familles? Et très bruyant aussi… n’hésitant pas à émettre son chant rauque et urgent à tout moment de la journée.


Toujours sympa de voir les deux espèces de flamants côte à côte même si les deux groupes ne se mélangent visiblement pas: au centre de la photo les Flamants nains bien roses, à droite en arrière-plan les Flamants roses plus blanches (pas très logique tout ça je l’avoue!). Le devant de la scène est occupé par quelques Sternes caspiennes, une infime fraction du nombre total de caspiennes présentes dans la zone: au moins 1850 estimées le 21/8 dans les lagunes au nord de Ngalou! Et c’est sans compter les lagunes de Diakhanor et les environs de Djiffer un peu plus au sud sur la commune de Palmarin…


Lesser & Greater Flamingo, Caspian Terns / Flamants nains et roses, Sternes caspiennes


Un couple de Rhynchées peintes dans une mare au bord de la piste de Samba Dia. Photo pas très nette car prise d’assez loin et avec une lumière pas terrible, mais on y voit bien le dimorphisme sexuel marqué et inversé par rapport à la plupart d’autres espèces d’oiseaux: la femelle très colorée à gauche, le mâle plus terne à droite. C’est ce dernier qui s’occupe de la progéniture, comme c’est le cas également chez les phalaropes par exemple. Il y avait ici deux couples, avec un 5e oiseau vu près du lodge en bordure des micro-salins.


Greater Painted-Snipe / Rhynchee peinte



Black-tailed Godwit / Barge a queue noire

Ci-contre, l’une des trois Barges à queue noire dont j’ai pu relever la combinaison de bagues couleur et pour laquelle Jos Hooijmeijer m’a comme toujours très rapidement fait parvenir l’historique de vie. Il s’agit de l’oiseau “Y4RRYB”, bagué en tant qu’adulte en mai 2009 à Waast, Friesland (Pays-Bas) où il a été vu pour la dernière fois le 29 juin dernier. Si cet oiseau a souvent été vu en Espagne et quelques fois au Portugal, c’est sa première “reprise” en Afrique de l’Ouest. La deuxième barge a au moins 15 ans puisqu’elle a été baguée en tant qu’adulte dans la même région, en 2004. Vue presque chaque année aux Pays-Bas, Khady Gueye l’avait déjà repérée à Palmarin en octobre 2014. La troisième est nouvelle: elle a été équipée de ses belles bagues couleurs en avril dernier par les chercheurs hollandais dans le Noord-Holland – donc pour une fois en dehors de son bastion de la Frise – et n’avait été contrôlée qu’une fois depuis, sur le lieu de capture le 5 juin. En tout, il devait y avoir au moins 450 à 500 barges dans la zone, mais comme pour la Sterne caspienne le chiffre réel devrait se situer bien plus haut que ça! Palmarin est d’ailleurs bien connu pour être un site d’escale d’importance majeure, surtout en automne. D’ici, la plupart des oiseaux continueront jusqu’en Casamance et en Guinée-Bissau pour y passer l’hiver.

Toujours dans le même registre, j’ai pu lire les bagues de plusieurs Goélands d’Audouin espagnols. Ici les bagues portent une combinaison de chiffres et/ou de lettres, donc moins faciles à relever que les bagues couleurs comme sur les barges et d’autres limicoles, surtout lorsque les oiseaux sont un peu loin ou qu’il y a du vent. L’appareil photo peut aider, permettant souvent de confirmer (ou de corriger!) ce qu’on pense lire sur le terrain, voire de déchiffrer après-coup à l’écran. Ci-dessous quelques exemplaires, dont deux portant des bagues (66P et BDCT). Comme toujours, il s’agit d’oiseaux espagnols.


Si vous vous demandez encore à quoi peuvent bien servir tous ces efforts de marquage d’oiseaux, je vous conseille de lire l’article Bar-tailed Godwits: migration & survival publié tout récemment sur l’excellent blog Wadertales. C’est un bel exemple de la manière dont les reprises de bagues peuvent aider à mieux comprendre le cycle de vie, le taux de survie, les stratégies migratoires et de façon plus générale l’écologie d’espèces en déclin, en prenant le cas concret de la Barge rousse, autre espèce fréquentant la zone de Palmarin.  Ce blog très informatif a d’ailleurs déjà fait état de nos chères Barges à queue noire, plus particulièrement l’oiseau anglais qui avait séjourné début janvier au Technopôle, puis vu 4 semaines plus tard sur une rizière portugaise. Chaque lecture de bague contribue donc potentiellement un petit peu à notre connaissance des oiseaux!

Ensuite, voici un oiseau bien plus discret mais pas pour autant moins intéressant: deux Pipits à dos uni vus le long de la piste de la déviation temporaire à Joal, photographiés lors de notre retour de Palmarin. Ce n’est que ma deuxième observation au Sénégal après celle d’un juvénile vu en novembre 2013 lors d’une sortie au Lac Tanma avec Paul Robinson, et ce dans une zone où l’espèce ne doit pas être très courante puisqu’elle ne figure pas sur ce carré d’atlas de notre petit Morel & Morel (Oiseaux de Sénégambie, 1990). La différence de coloration entre les deux individus, que j’ai pris pour des adultes (plumage un peu usé et non frais comme chez un juv., qui aurait le dos légèrement tacheté), était frappante: un oiseau très clair avec les parties inférieures et le sourcil presque blancs, l’autre plus sombre avec un fond de plumage tirant sur le beige.

A propos du sourcil, même si ce n’est pas un critère d’identification utile, le nom scientifique de ce pipit est Anthus leucophrys, du Grecque leucos (blanc) et ophrys (sourcil). Comme l’indique son nom français (et anglais: Plain-backed Pipit), c’est surtout le manteau et le dos uniformes, sans stries ou taches, qui permet d’exclure d’autres espèces ouest-africaines. Le dos est généralement couvert par les ailes, mais le manteau est toujours bien visible!



West African Monitor / Varan ouest-africain (jeune)

Pour finir, ce tout jeune Varan ouest-africain qui a joué à cache-cache autour de notre bungalow. Ouest-africain? Eh oui, encore un “split” récent suite à une analyse génétique poussée qui a démontré que les varans de l’Afrique de l’Ouest sont suffisamment distincts de ceux du reste du continent, le Varan du Nil, pour en faire une espèce à part entière. Comme pour l’histoire de nos chacals qui sont en fait des loups africains, il s’agit là d’un cas de diversification cryptique décrit dans le détail dans cet article de Dowell et al. (2016) qui recommandent la reconnaissance des Varans d’Afrique de l’Ouest sous le nom de Varanus stellatus (Varan étoilé?). A l’opposé, le Varan orné V. ornatus est considéré comme synonyme du Varan du Nil et serait “seulement” un morphe phénotypique (disons une variante), dominante dans la zone forestière du continent.