L’association APALIS et l’atlas des oiseaux de Casamance

 

Bruno Bargain nous présente l’association APALIS et leur travail remarquable d’inventaire et de cartographie des oiseaux de Casamance.

 

L’association APALIS a vu le jour courant 2016 avec pour objet principal de soutenir et relayer les activités du GEPOC, l’association-sœur en Casamance, qui a pour vocation d’étudier et de conserver les oiseaux de cette région ainsi que les milieux dont ils dépendent et plus généralement à valoriser son patrimoine ornithologique.

Ce n’est qu’en 2017 qu’APALIS a réellement pris son essor, avec la mise en ligne de son site internet « Oiseaux de Casamance » qui a commencé à la faire connaître (site bilingue français-anglais).

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Depuis lors, nous avons cherché à améliorer cet outil pour le rendre plus attractif et en particulier pour restituer rapidement les observations faites sur le terrain via les cartes de répartition par espèce ou par maille. Il manque encore un module qui permettra à tout observateur la saisie en ligne de ses données, mais d’ores et déjà ce site a permis d’enregistrer de nouvelles adhésions et a commencé à susciter des rencontres fructueuses en Casamance d’ornithologues amateurs et professionnels au-delà du cercle restreint initial.

 

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Bateleur femelle adulte (J-P Thelliez)

 

L’avifaune de Casamance est riche d’au moins 531 espèces :

  • 318 s’y reproduisent potentiellement, la plupart sont sédentaires, d’autres effectuent des déplacements au sein de la zone tropicale ;
  • plus de 115 migrent depuis la zone paléarctique vers la Casamance durant la période internuptiale ;
  • le reste concerne des espèces d’occurrence plus ou moins occasionnelle.

 

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Long-crested Eagle / Aigle huppard (J-P Thelliez)

 

Cette belle diversité s’explique par la grande variété des habitats – dunes et plaines côtières, lagunes, cours d’eau, mangroves et marais, rizières et autres zones cultivées, savane arborée… et surtout, la présence de forêts guinéennes encore relativement bien conservées.

L’objectif prioritaire de notre association est, faut-il le rappeler, l’inventaire atlas des oiseaux de Casamance. Pour y arriver, il faut parcourir à différentes périodes de l’année, l’ensemble des 330 carrés 10×10 de la région, ce qui représente un travail colossal pour une poignée d’observateurs ! Durant l’année qui vient de s’écouler, plusieurs missions de quelques jours ont permis d’augmenter significativement le nombre de carrés prospectés. Par ailleurs, plusieurs ornithos africains et européens ont rejoint récemment notre petit groupe de départ, ce qui permet d’envisager une accélération de notre connaissance de l’avifaune régionale. La base de données d’APALIS compte actuellement plus de 20 000 lignes d’informations.

L’atlas est accessible directement à travers ce lien, ou bien depuis la page d’accueil du site Oiseaux de Casamance. La carte ci-dessous donne une idée du niveau de couverture actuel et de l’effort de prospection: la couleur de chaque carré représente le nombre d’observations, alors que le chiffre indique le nombre d’espèces trouvées dans la maille.

 

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De plus, nous sommes conscients que nous devons aussi affiner les connaissances sur les périodes de reproduction des différentes espèces du territoire, les dates d’arrivée et de départ des migrateurs intra-africains et des migrateurs paléarctiques. Nous avons également démarré le dénombrement de quelques espèces coloniales (hérons, cormorans, spatules…) autour de Ziguinchor. Et nous avons en projet d’étendre ces comptages à toutes les colonies de la Basse Casamance en utilisant un drone (un dossier sera déposé dans les prochaines semaines à diverses fondations pour obtenir un financement). Un autre projet, en cours, consiste à inventorier les oiseaux de la partie casamançaise du Parc du Niokolo Koba durant un cycle annuel. Bref, le travail et les idées ne manquent pas !

 

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Pied Hornbill / Calao longibande (J-P Thelliez)

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Au Sénégal, le Calao longibande a une répartition restreinte à la Basse Casamance

 

Le poids d’une association et la qualité de ses actions dépendent du nombre et du dynamisme de ses membres. Nous vous invitons donc à nous rejoindre nombreux, via notre site internet. Votre contribution financière sera bien utile pour acquérir un minimum de matériel pédagogique. Et si vous avez l’opportunité de venir en Casamance, vos observations de terrain pourront être orientées et facilitées en prenant contact avec nous par mail avant votre séjour. Vos données viendront enrichir la base de données.

Une lettre électronique faisant état de la vie et des actions de l’association, de l’actualité ornithologique et de l’avancement de l’atlas est envoyée deux fois l’an à chaque adhérent.

 

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Red-throated Bee-eater / Guêpier à gorge rouge (J-P Thelliez)

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Le Guêpier à gorge rouge est un nicheur assez répandu en Moyenne et Haute Casamance

 

Si vous avez l’occasion de visiter la Casamance – peut-être que ce petit billet vous aura donné envie! – n’hésitez pas à prendre contact avec l’association avant votre voyage afin de voir s’il y a des especes particulieres à rechercher ou de savoir quelles zones à couverture encore insuffisante sont à cibler. Une manière de combiner l’utile à l’agréable et de contribuer à l’amélioration de notre connaissance des oiseaux du Sénégal. Et faites comme moi, adhérez à APALIS! – BP

 

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Yellow-throated Longclaw / Sentinelle à gorge jaune (BP)

 

 

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Cinereous Vulture in West Africa: from vagrant to regular visitor?

Cinereous Vulture is considered a rare vagrant to sub-Saharan Africa, with just a handful of observations from the western Sahel, mainly from Senegal but also at least one from Mali. Last winter several new records were obtained from the region, including two from Senegal and the first observations from The Gambia and Mauritania.

Last winter’s records from Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania were described in a series of three posts on the MaghrebOrnitho blog (highly recommended for anyone interested in birds of NW Africa!), while the previous record, from 2013, was reported on SenegalWildlife. However, the first Senegalese record of the species was never published and it’s only recently that it was uploaded onto eBird, now also with photographic documentation. It was seen north of Diourbel on 6 January 1987 by a British group. As such, it’s probably a good thing to set the record straight, and recap all known records from Senegal.

 

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Cinereous Vulture / Vautour moine, January 1987 (P. Thompson)

 

The 1987 observation was reported to François Baillon, who at the time was running the French overseas research institute (ORSTOM, now IRD) in Mbour. In a hand-written letter he confirmed that there were no previous records from Senegal, adding that he has seen a great diversity of raptors in this central region of Senegal, including Egyptian Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, White-headed Vulture (now very rare here!), Lanner, Peregrine, Lesser Kestrel, Short-toed Eagle, Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle, Booted Eagle & Bonelli’s Eagle. Of note is that the same group also saw a group of Mottled Swifts during their tour, right by the Gambian border on January 3rd 1987 (“20+ feeding over bush fire. The birds were seen immediately after crossing into Senegal and may well have crossed into Gambia as well.”) – prompting Baillon to mention that he has regularly seen Mottled Swifts in the Niokolo-Koba in January & February 1986 as well as in February 1987 near the river Gambia. Anyway, back to our vultures…

As it turns out, this first country record was also the first for Africa south of the Sahara, given that it predates the record of a Spanish-ringed bird found dead in Mali’s Sikasso region on 19 January 1995. This means that there are now at least seven observations from Senegal, listed here in chronological order:

1) 1987: an immature north of Diourbel on 6.1.87, pictured above (N. Lethaby,  P. Thompson et al.)

2) 2005: a bird ringed in Spain was recovered in Senegal in January 2005 (in HBW; no precise date is given and no further location info is available, though I assume that it’s the Mbour area as shown on the map with ring recoveries in this publication by de la Puente and colleagues, 2012).

3) 2005: an immature between Louga and Touba on 23.2.05, reported by Vroege (2013): Immature Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus in Senegal in February 2005. ABC Bull. 21: 223-224. See also this article, in Dutch with English summary.

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Cinereous Vulture / Vautour moine, February 2005 (K. de Vet)

 

4) 2007: an immature photographed at Nianing (south of Mbour), on 13.1.07 by Talamelli (2007a, 2007b). This observation was incorrectly assumed to be the first record for Senegal.

5) 2013: an immature near Tiom in the Khelcom area (north of Kaffrine) on 23.1.13, with a hundred or so other large vultures at a carcass (L. Majorel, L. Puch et al.),  reported on this very blog here though at the time incorrectly referred to as the second record for Senegal.

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Cinereous Vulture / Vautour moine, January 2013 (L. Puch)

 

6) 2018: one near Fatick on 30.1.18, photographed by Julio Rabadán González (two photos on observation.org), see also last picture in this post.

7) 2018: one at Sagata (east of Kebemer, along the road to Doyene Dakhar) on 26.2.18 photographed by a Dutch tour group, different from the Fatick bird – see the MaghrebOrnitho post for more details on this and the previous observation.

Just two days prior to the Sagata observation, a Cinereous Vulture was filmed and photographed while feeding with other vulture species at a vulture feeding station run (apparently illegally so!) by a Spanish group, the first record for Gambia. And the first for Mauritania was photographed just a couple of months earlier, on 9.12.17 in the Banc d’Arguin area. The latter was ringed as a chick in the Sierra de Guadarrama near Madrid on 13 July 2017.

The map below shows all of the above observations, i.e. all records from sub-Saharan Africa plus the one from Mauritania (the location of the Malian record is approximate as no precise locality was given).

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Records of Cinereous Vulture in West Africa (map data: OpenStreetMap 2018)

 

With at least three birds involved between The Gambia, Senegal and Mauritania, last winter’s records likely reflect a real increase in numbers rather than just an effect of any hypothetical better observer coverage. This trend is fairly obvious in Morocco, particularly at Tanger on the African side of the Strait of Gibraltar, where no less than four birds were seen on a single day last year, on November 10… Even more impressive, the same day the team counted some 2,700 Eurasian Griffons here – that must have been quite a sight!! Further details here. It’s actually quite possible that some of the recent West African sightings were of one or several of these four birds seen at Jebel Moussa. Formerly considered an accidental visitor to Northwest Africa after going extinct as a breeding bird, Aeypius monachus is now seen as “a regular migrant and wintering species in small numbers” according to MaghrebOrnitho.

Cinereous Vulture – formerly often referred to as Eurasian Black Vulture – is classified as Near Threatened, mainly because the global population is relatively small (7,800-10,500 pairs, roughly equating to 15,600-21,000 mature individuals) and because there have been continued declines in the Asian parts of its range. In contrast, the European population is doing pretty well it seems, particularly in Spain which has seen increases possibly over 30%, with estimated total breeding population of some 2,440 pairs. After having seen the species for the first time in northern Greece many years ago, I was fortunate to see some of the Spanish birds during a visit to Madrid last January, right on the outskirts of the city while waiting for the local Spanish Imperial Eagles (which eventually did show up – a long overdue lifer… and a potential vagrant to West Africa!). A reintroduction scheme in southern France lead to the establishment of a small population there, and the species is becoming a regular summer visitor to the western Alps during post-breeding dispersal.

This massive all-dark vulture is pretty straightforward to identify and should be easy to pick up among the local vultures and wintering Eurasian Griffons, which they often seem to associate with. The few records so far show that the species can show up pretty much anywhere north of The Gambia, though the “Vulture Triangle” centered roughly on Louga, as well as a central belt stretching from Mbour to the Khelcom, are clearly more likely to yield more observatins. Let’s see if the current trend continues, which given the increase in Western European populations seems rather likely.

 

 

 

 

 

Many thanks to Mohamed Amezian (MaghrebOrnitho) for making available a great deal of info on the species, and to Nick Lethaby and Paul Thompson for sharing their 1987 observation.

 

 

 

 

Technopole updates – waders, gulls, and a hybrid heron

It’s been a while since I last talked about Technopole on this blog, so here’s a quick update on recent sightings at our favourite Dakar hotspot. I’ve been fortunate to visit several times in the last few weeks, most recently on August 22nd and September 2nd. At the end of August, the site was the driest it’s been in many years: barely any water left on what I usually refer to as the “central lake”. Only some shallow water remained on the far south end along the main road, and even less in the north-east corner close to the golf club house. Even the level of the large reed-fringed lake on the north-east side has dropped substantially.

As a result, there are far fewer birds around than would usually be the case at this time of the year, when the first rains start filling up the lakes again. There are now very few waders, herons and cormorants, hardly any ducks and fairly few gulls and terns (which is more usual during late summer). With the rains finally arriving in Dakar – though just four or five decent showers so far – the site has rapidly started filling up in the past two weeks and is becoming more attractive once again.

This is what it looked like roughly between June and the end of August: hardly any water!!

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Despite the low water levels, diversity remains pretty high, with still some 70-75 species typically seen on recent visits. The highlight on Aug. 22nd was yet again a Franklin’s Gull among the flock of Slender-billed Gulls, most likely the same 2nd c.y. bird as in May and June, seen here for the fourth time (see this piece about the species’ status in Senegal and more broadly in West Africa).

Great White Pelicans are particularly numerous this year, with an impressive 650-700 birds present at the moment. They most likely come from the Djoudj colony; unlike in previous years the species is also present daily at Ngor, though in much lower numbers than at Technopole. And a few days ago I even had four flying over the house at Almadies, yet another garden tick.

Besides the ever-present Black-winged Stilts and Spur-winged Lapwings, (both still with several older chicks and quite a few locally hatched juveniles), Ruff is now the most numerous wader, though there are 30-40 birds only… compare with the ∼500 Ruffs counted last year in August! Also just four Black-tailed Godwits (also a Bar-tailed on Aug. 12th), single Whimbrel, Marsh Sandpiper, Dunlin, 4-5 Little Stints and just a handful of Sanderlings, while the first Curlew Sandpipers were seen on Sept. 2nd. On the same day, a Little Ringed Plover was present near the fishermen’s hut – there don’t seem to be many “autumn” records at Technopole of this species. A Kittlitz’s Plover was seen again on Aug. 22nd, following several records in previous months: could the species have bred at Technopole? In June we found a nest containing two eggs and several additional terrtitories near Lac Rose.

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Marsh Sandpiper / Chevalier stagnatile

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Scruffy Sanderling…  a moulting adult (Bécasseau sanderling ad. en mue)

 

On July 7th, a presumed hybrid Little Egret x Western Reef Heron was seen along the track leading to the golf course: interesting bird, as it may mean that there are mixed broods at the Parc de Hann colony, unless of course it was born in the Somone or another heronry. Or that it may be breeding there at the moment, as our bird was obviously an adult in breeding plumage, judging by the pink-reddish feet, bluish lores and long feathers extending from the back of the head. While difficult to judge, the bill length and shape also seems to be more like Little Egret. In addition to the features in the pictures below – in particular the whitish head, central neck and lower belly – we noted a fair amount of white on the wing, mainly towards the base of the outer hand.

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Presumed hybrid Little Egret x Western Reef Heron / probable hybride Aigrette garzette x Aigrette des récifs

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Head shot of same bird

Now compare with this typical Western Reef Heron, photographed during my most recent visit to Technopole:

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Western Reef Heron / Aigrette des récifs

Our bird corresponds to presumed hybrids found in southern Europe and in Morocco, though we can’t rule out the possibility that it is in fact a rare dark morph Little Egret, as these do seem to exist… mcuh remains to be learned about these egrets! For more on the identification of Western Reef Heron and Little Egret, see Dubois and Yésou’s article in British Birds (1995).

Talking of herons, here’s a breeding-plumaged Great Egret: note the entirely black legs and feet as well as the mostly dark bill, with just the some yellow still apparent on part of the lower mandible. The bare skin around the eye and on the lores could be described as pale turquoise, though it transitions from light green to more bluish tones. Quite amazing how these birds completely change the colour of their bill and legs during breeding season!

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Great Egret / Grande Aigrette

 

Besides the above waterbirds, Technopole of course holds lots of good other birds: at the moment, there are a few Broad-billed Rollers that appear to be breeding, and other wet-season visitors such as Woodland Kingfisher and Diederik Cuckoo are also around. And while breeding wasn’t confirmed this year, Red-necked Falcon is still seen on most visits, usually flying around or actively hunting. Zebra Waxbill was more of a surprise, as I’d only seen this species on a few occasions in winter. The lack of rain may have prompted these birds to wander about and somehow make it to Technopole.

Last Sunday I paid an early morning visit to Yène-Tode, but despite the recent rains the lagoon is still largely dry and didn’t hold many birds… The first few puddles had formed, but I reckon it’ll take several more decent showers before the lagoon fills up again. The highlight were two Spur-winged Geese, a species that is rarely seen in the Dakar region and that somehow manages to largely avoid Technopole. To be continued!

 

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White-faced Whistling-Duck / Dendrocygne veuf (Technopole 2.9)

 

 

Les oiseaux de Wassadou

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 . 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 huppardPygargue vocifère, Buse d’AfriqueBusautour des sauterelles, Circaète brun, Autour unibandeEpervier shikra, Balbuzard pêcheur, Bateleur, bien sur les Gymnogènes et aussi cet autre rapace unique en son genre, le Vautour palmiste.

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Palm-nut Vulture / 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.

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Wahlberg’s Eagle / Aigle de Wahlberg

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.

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Egyptian Plover / Pluvian fluviatile (A. Barbalat)

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.

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White-crowned Lapwing / Vanneau à tête blanche

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.

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Blue-breasted Kingfisher / Martin-chasseur à poitrine bleue

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:

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Adamawa Turtle-Dove / Tourterelle de l’Adamoua

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 bleuHyliote à ventre jauneSouimanga 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.

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African Pied Wagtail / Bergeronnette pie

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.

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Bronze-tailed Starling / Choucador a queue violette

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).

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Pel’s Fishing-Owl / Chouette-pêcheuse de Pel

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.

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Yellow-winged Bat / Mégaderme à ailes orangées

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).

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Western Red Colobus / Colobe de Temminck

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Western Red Colobus / Colobe de Temminck

Où observer?

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!

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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).

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Green Monkey / Singe vert

 

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).

 

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Popenguine encore

Avec un peu (même beaucoup) de retard, voici un bref compte-rendu de nos visites les plus récentes à la réserve de Popenguine. D’abord en février puis début avril et de nouveau il y a quelques jours pour ce qui était pour moi une première visite en juillet sur le site. La visite de février en compagnie agréable de mes amis genevois (17/2), la deuxième en solo lors d’un séjour au lodge de Dalaal Diam en bordure de la lagune de Somone (3/4), et la plus récente avec David, ornitho de passage à Dakar (29/7).

Comme d’habitude, chaque sortie apporte son lot de surprises et de nouvelles connaissances sur ce coin, et notamment lors de l’hivernage il y a des chances de trouver des espèces intéressantes, la plupart des visites précédentes ayant eu lieu pendant la saison sèche.

On commence par le plus fort et le moins attendu: un Turnix mugissant, levé lors de la sortie en février (Common [aka Small] Buttonquail). Pas tout à fait sûr de ce que c’était lorsque l’un de nous l’a fait décoller, on part à sa recherche: pas facile de le relocaliser! Ce n’est qu’en passant à moins d’un mètre de l’oiseau qu’il s’extrait à toute vitesse de sa planque, pourtant bien camouflé… Lors du deuxième envol on a vu que ça ne pouvait être qu’un turnix et non une caille, vu sa taille très réduite. Afin de s’assurer qu’il s’agissait bien d’un Turnix mugissant (= T. d’Andalousie) et pour permettre à tout le monde de le voir, on l’a relocalisé encore une fois avant de le laisser tranquille.

Turnix d'Andalousie

Common Buttonquail / Turnix mugissant (A. Barbalat)

 

Cet hémipode – du Grec “demi pied” en raison de l’absence de doigt arrière, genre Pic tridactyle – figurait déjà sur la liste des oiseaux de la réserve établie en 1984-’86 par Charles Rouchouse, mais je doute qu’il y ait eu beaucoup d’observations depuis. C’est sans doute un oiseau assez répandu au Sénégal, juste pas facile à voir!

En avril, la surprise vient d’une espèce encore plus répandue mais que je ne vois que rarement, et encore moins sur le nid: un Grand-duc de Verreaux qui semble en train de couver dans une anfractuosité de la falaise (Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl). La photo ci-dessous a été prise du haut de la falaise à bonne distance du nid donc sans dérangement aucun (on devine tout de même ce qui doit être un œuf à droite sous l’oiseau!).

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Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl / Grand-duc de Verreaux

 

Cette observation est intéressante, car le site de nidification en falaise et non dans un vieux nid arboricole d’une autre espèce serait plutôt inhabituel pour ce hibou géant. Malheureusement je n’ai pas eu l’occasion d’y retourner assez rapidement pour voir ce qu’il en est de cette nichée (à Ndiaffate près de Kaolack, un famille locale avait déjà quitté l’arbre de nidification lorsque nous y sommes passés à la mi-juin).

 

Ensuite quelques classiques de la réserve, comme ce Beaumarquet melba:

Beaumarquet melba

Green-winged Pytillia / Beaumarquet melba (A. Barbalat)

 

Ou encore les Marinets des baobabs (= M. d’Ussher, Mottled Spinetail), Traquets bruns, (Northern Anteater Chat), le Rollier varié (Purple Roller), les Erémomèles à dos vert,  le Bruant d’Alexander (Gosling’s Bunting – plutôt discret en février et avril, chantant timidement en juillet), et j’en passe.

Le début de la saison des pluies marque l’arrivée de plusieurs migrateurs intra-africains: dimanche dernier, on a ainsi noté quelques Coucous didricsMartin-pêcheurs pygmés et Martin-pêcheurs du Senegal (Diederik Cuckoo, Pygmy & Woodland Kingfishers). Avec l’ajout de cette dernière, la liste des oiseaux de la réserve s’établit à au moins 189 espèces et plus probablement plutôt 200 à 210 (je vous avais dit que j’aime les listes!)

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African Grey Hornbill / Calao a bec noir

 

En hiver – à ne pas confondre avec le terme hivernage, utilisé pour désigner la saison des pluies ici – on a bien sur eu du Monticole bleu avec juste un mâle vu en février et au moins une femelle en avril, et environ cinq Hirondelles de rochers en février, ces dernières n’étant logiquement plus présentes début avril (Blue Rock Thrush & Crag Martin).

Monticole bleu

Blue Rock Thrush / Monticole bleu (Alain Barbalat)

 

Comme toujours aussi bien l’Agrobate podobé que l’Agrobate roux (Black & Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robins) fréquentent Popenguine, tous les deux apparemment nicheur. L’Agrobate roux semble atteindre ici plus ou moins sa limite meridionale sur les cotes sénégalaises; au moins un chanteur était encore présent en juillet, et cet individu photographié en avril avait tout l’air d’être un authentique africain, soit la ssp. minor qui niche à travers le Sahel.

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Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin / Agrobate roux (ssp. minor)

Par contre, cet autre agrobate vu début avril semble plutot être un oiseau de la sous-espèce nominale, soit un hivernant venu du bassin méditerrannéen. Malgré le contre-jour, on voit une nette barre subterminale noire bien large, critère principal pour le distinguer de la (sous-)espèce minor.

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Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin / Agrobate roux (ssp. galactotes)

 

En tournant le regard vers la mer, en février on a eu quelques Fous de BassanSternes voyageuses et royales, au moins deux Labbes “pomasites” (= pomarin ou parasite!), quelques Goélands d’Audouin, etc. (Northern Gannet, Lesser Crested & Royal Tern, Skuas, Audouin’s Gull).

Dans le ciel, quelques rapaces hivernants avec notamment un Faucon pèlerin et ce Circaète Jean-le-Blanc, mais à part quelques Balbuzards (sans doute des jeunes estivant sur la Petite Côte) et Milans à bec jaune il n’y avait point de rapaces lors de notre visite le 29/7, peut-etre trop matinale pour les rapaces! (Peregrine, Short-toed Eagle, Osprey, Yellow-billed Kite)

 

Circaète Jean-le-blanc

Short-toed Eagle / Circaète Jean-le-Blanc imm. (A. Barbalat)

 

Donc comme toujours pas mal d’oiseaux avec une belle diversité à la clé, mais la réserve a soif… la petite pluie de fin juin n’a pas suffi pour véritablement démarrer l’explosion de verdure et de vie qui, on l’espère, ne tardera pas à venir ces prochaines semaines. L’étang n’est plus qu’un fond de de vase qui n’attend que la pluie – et avec elle, les oiseaux!

 

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Vue depuis le Cap de Naze vers le sud: le village de Guéréo

 

Pour une présentation plus complète de la réserve naturelle de Popenguine, voir cet article

 

Of lists, listing and listers: how many bird species in Senegal?

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?

Baird's Sandpiper / Becasseau de Baird

Baird’s Sandpiper / Bécasseau de Baird, Technopole – Senegal’s second record (and first documented) and a personal lifer

 

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.

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Adamawa Turtle Dove / Tourterelle de l’Adamoua, one of Senegal’s “specials” that can reliably be seen in the south-east

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.

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Pel’s Fishing Owl / Chouette pecheuse de Pel – one of the most recent additions to my own Senegal list, and a much anticipated lifer.

 

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:

2018 01 5, 14h38. Doué de Gamadji Saré. © Photo par Frédéric Bacuez, IMG_7122 (3)

One of the Horus Swifts / Martinet horus found in January 2018 at Gamadji-Sare (F. Bacuez)

 

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.

Woodchat x Red-backed Shrike / Pie-grieche a tete rousse x ecorcheur

Woodchat x Red-backed Shrike / Pie-grieche à tête rousse x écorcheur, Lac Tanma, Aug. 2017

 

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.

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Senegal’s first Meadow Pipit / Pipit farlouse (Yene-Tode, 1.1.18)

 

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.

Thongbird

 

Bram, with useful contributions by Simon and Frédéric – merci à eux!

 

¹ and chum.

Unseasonal visitors…

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).

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Purple Heron / Héron pourpré imm., Mbeubeusse, June 2018

 

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.

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Mottled Swift / Martinet marbré, Niokolo-Koba NP, 20.2.18 (P. Albrecht)

 

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?

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European Bee-eater / Guêpier d’Europe (seen here on wintering grounds in coastal Casamance, March 2017)

 

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…

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Melodious Warbler / Hypolaïs polyglotte, Niokolo-Koba, June 2018 (G. Caucanas)

 

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).

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Woodchat Shrike / Pie-grièche à tête rousse, near Diourbel, June 2018

 

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!