Introducing what will hopefully be a useful resource to some readers out there and more generally for birders visiting Senegal or The Gambia!
Until recently, the only comprehensive sets of sound recordings of West African birds were limited to CD collections that are only available commercially, often at a high price – and some are no longer for sale. The most comprehensive of these is the African bird sounds CD set by sound recorder pioneer Claude Chappuis, published nearly 20 years ago accompanied by an extensive booklet, covering 1043 species. As Françoise Dowsett-Lemaire wrote in her extensive review in the African Bird Club Bulletin, this work marks “a landmark in African bioacoustic publications, one that will (and must) be widely used in the field and which will remain unsurpassed for many years to come.”
The only other relevant audio guide for West Africa published so far is the Bird Song of The Gambia & Senegal CD set produced by Cive Barlow and colleagues in 2002, covering 265 species, but it is no longer available it seems; similar initiatives have covered e.g. East Africa (East African Bird Sounds by Brian Finch) and Zambia (Bob Stjernstedt’s Sounds of Zambian Wildlife).
But who still uses CDs? Digital field guides under the form of Android apps or e-books have made their appearance in recent years, and these often contain a range of sounds for each species – Borrow & Demey’s Birds of Senegal and The Gambia being the most comprehensive, but it’s only available as an Apple Book for iOS devices.
And then there’s xeno-canto.
We’ve often referred to this amazing resource on this blog, but what exactly is xeno-canto? The open-access initiative called the xeno-canto project was established in 2005 by Xeno-canto Foundation, aiming to popularise bird sound recording worldwide, improve accessibility of bird sounds, and increase knowledge of bird sounds. Initially focused on the Neotropics, it soon expanded to all other world regions, including Africa in 2008.
The collection continues to grow substantially: at the time of writing there are 31,275 recordings of 1,974 species for Africa (just over two years ago, in October 2016 there were “just” 19,813 recordings of 1,841 species). Needless to say, much more than any of the audio guides mentioned above, “XC” truly revolutionised the way birders and researchers alike can freely share, access, and use sound recordings. All for free.
Now for the audio guide:
It’s actually a simple xeno-canto “set”, available through this link:
The selection of 746 sound recordings included in this set cover 450 species, or 66% of the total number recorded in Senegal (677). This is about three quarters of the 600 or so regular species in the country, i.e. excluding vagrants and birds with uncertain status. Vagrants as well as scarce species that typically do not usually call or sing when encountered in Senegal (e.g. Honey Buzzard), or otherwise silent non-breeding visitors (e.g. harriers and other raptors, Palearctic ducks, storks, seabirds), were not included in the set.
There are of course still a few missing species, including several for which there are no recordings at all available on xeno-canto, most notably White-crested Tiger Heron, Beaudouin’s and Brown Snake Eagles, Denham’s Bustard, Cassin’s Honeybird, African Hobby, Sennar Penduline Tit and Crimson Seedcracker. Hopefully these will be added in the near future, in which case I will of course add them to the set. Likewise, for others such as Greater Painted-Snipe (no recordings from Africa on xeno-canto!), Red-headed Quelea and a few other scarce songbirds there are no decent recordings.
The sounds included in this set were for the main part recorded in Senegal or The Gambia, and where not possible I tried to prioritise recordings from neighbouring countries. This is relevant for particular subspecies that show vocal differences between taxa, but also because there may be regional dialects within populations. I chose to include my own recordings where possible, simply because I’m in full control of these and can make sure that sound types, subspecies and other attributes are appropriately registered, and these sounds definitely won’t be deleted.
Do keep in mind that many species have a large repertoire of call types – advertising song, territorial song, subsong, contact call, flight call, warning calls, etc. – and not all are represented in this collection. Also, some species exhibit a great deal of individual variation, and then there’s those that weave in mimicry of other species such as robin-chats. Additional details on behaviour, habitat, background species and other relevant information are provided for many of the recordings.
The recording set is accessible to anyone – no app, no account needed – from any internet -enabled device, while recordings can be downloaded as mp3 files for offline use (but please… take it easy on the “tape-luring”, i.e. attracting birds with playback of their calls or song as a means to see the bird). Thank you xeno-canto.
Please do note the Creative Commons license which stipulates that material can be freely redistributed with modifications and for non-commercial purposes, with acknowledgement of authorship (or “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike”, CC BY-NC-SA). Some recordings by other recordists may be published under a slightly different CC license.
Using the audio guide is pretty easy:
- Go to this URL: www.xeno-canto.org/set/2242
- Browse the list of species, by searching on the vernacular or scientific name (note that xeno-canto is available in many languages: scroll to the bottom of the page to switch to another language). See sample screenshot of a search for sunbirds here.
- Change the format of the list if a format other than “Concise” is preferred (Detailed, Codes, Sonograms)
- Download recordings as mp3 files, by clicking the download button
- For each species, access additional sounds, range map, and links to external resources (AVoCet, Macauley Library by the Cornell Lab, HBW, BirdLife, etc.)
Finally, while writing about bird sound recording I can’t not mention The Sound Approach collective which has done so much in recent years to put the importance of bird vocalisations in identification and taxonomy on the forefront, and to firmly establish birders’ interest in sound recording. It’s only after reading their highly acclaimed The Sound Approach to Birding (2006) that I started to better understand bird vocalisations and that I became a fairly active sound “recordist”. Still one of my favourite bird books! Maybe one of these days I’ll write up something about sound recording and sound birding. After all, up to 80% of birdwatching is actually… bird listening!
Une compilation de sons d’oiseaux du Sénégal, ce “jeu” xeno-canto contient des enregistrements de chants et différents types de cris pour une sélection d’espèces, soit 746 enregistrements couvrant 450 espèces. Les visiteurs rares et les migrateurs qui sont généralement silencieux dans les quartiers d’hivernage ne sont pas inclus. Il manque bien sûr plusieurs espèces, mais on espère que des enregistrements pour celles-ci deviennent prochainement disponibles et on les ajoutera alors au jeu. De même, plusieurs espèces existent bien dans la collection xeno-canto mais il n’y a pas actuellement des enregistrements de bonne qualité.
La plupart des enregistrements proviennent du Sénégal ou des pays voisins, et pour l’essentiel il s’agit de mes propres prises de son. A noter que de nombreuses espèces ont un large répertoire de types de sons (chant territorial, “subsong”, cri de contact, cri de vol, cris d’alarme, etc.), et que toutes ne sont pas représentées dans cette collection. En outre, certaines espèces présentent de nombreuses variations individuelles, puis il y a celles qui imitent d’autres espèces telles que les cossyphes. Des détails supplémentaires sur le comportement, l’habitat, les espèces en arrière-plan et d’autres informations pertinentes sont fournis pour de nombreux enregistrements.
Ce jeu d’enregistrements est librement accessible à chacun – pas besoin d’installer d’application, pas besoin de compte utilisateur – et ce depuis n’importe quel appareil avec connexion internet ; les prises de son peuvent être téléchargés en format mp3 pour utilisation hors connexion (mais attention de ne pas abuser de la repasse pour faire sortir les oiseaux !).
Veuillez noter la licence Creative Commons qui stipule que le matériel peut être librement redistribué avec des modifications et à des fins non commerciales, avec mention de l’auteur (ou “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike”, CC BY-NC-SA). Certains enregistrements d’autres auteurs peuvent être publiés sous une licence CC légèrement différente.
L’utilisation du guide audio est simple :
- Allez à la page www.xeno-canto.org/set/2242
- Parcourez la liste d’espèces, en cherchant sur le nom français ou scientifique (à noter que xeno-canto est disponible en plusieurs langues : allez jusqu’au bas de la page pour modifier la langue). Capture d’écran en guise d’exemple d’une recherche sur les souimangas ici.
- Modifiez le format de la liste si vous préférez un format autre que “Concis” (Détaillé, Codes, Sonogrammes)
- Téléchargez les enregistrements en format mp3, en cliquant le bouton de téléchargement
- Pour chaque espèce, accédez à des sons supplémentaires, la carte de répartition, et des liens vers des ressources externes (AVoCet, Macauley Library par the Cornell Lab, HBW, BirdLife etc.)
A visit to Popenguine nature reserve a couple of weeks ago quickly turned into a exciting few hours watching a good variety of raptors – something we’re not much used to in this part of Senegal, where there are few sites that are good for raptors, and most of the time anything else than a Yellow-billed Kite, Osprey or Hooded Vulture will qualify as a good record. Here’s a short overview, in order of appearance!
As always, several Ospreys were to be seen in the reserve; a few birds usually spend the night on the mighty baobabs that dot the Popenguine savanna, and all day long Ospreys can be seen flying around the cliffs or fishing out at sea. Later that same day at the lagoon just south of Toubab Dialaw, we had a good count of some 29 birds, all visible at the same time (Balbuzard). Popenguine of course also had a few Yellow-billed Kites patrolling the area (Milan à bec jaune).
As we were looking for a Common Rock Thrush we’d briefly spotted on a ridge ahead of the footpath, we noticed first an immature Peregrine Falcon flying around, then a European Hobby – the latter a scarce migrant through Senegal so always a good find. Hobby was already seen at Popenguine around the same time last year by Miguel. This time round it looked like it was an actively migrating individual, just like a Common Kestrel that briefly made an appearance shortly after (Faucons pèlerin, hobereau et crécerelle).
Next up was a Marsh Harrier circling in the distance, again probably a bird on its way to wintering grounds further south (Busard des roseaux). I’ve always thought that Popenguine would be a fairly strategic site to look for actively migrating raptors and other birds. Should be interesting to spend a few days here in October-November and February-March!
This Short-toed Eagle on the other hand was probably one of the 2-3 birds that typically spend the winter in the area around Popenguine and Guereo.
Far less expected than the previous species was a Bonelli’s Eagle, spotted by Gabriel as it arrived from the north-east and made its way towards the cliffs, at one point circling together with a couple of Ospreys. Initially we weren’t quite sure about its identity, wondering whether a juvenile African Hawk-Eagle could be ruled out, and a bit puzzled by the very pale appearance of this eagle. Luckily I managed a few record shots, a bit distant and hazy but they should do the trick. The plumage seems to still be within the variation of worn juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle, and African Hawk-Eagle can probably be ruled out based on the overall pale appearance, less dense barring on underwing, and absence of a clear dark band on the greater underwing coverts. A bit puzzling is the moult contrast on with fresh inner primaries growing, so maybe it is a second-year bird after all? Opinions welcome!
Yet another addition to my Senegal list – the next species will be number 500 🙂
I was actually expecting to see this species one day in the Djoudj, Trois-Marigots or elsewhere in the lower Senegal valley, the only area with more or less regular records in winter (mainly by Frédéric, who year after year has documented the presence of a few birds around Saint Louis and who nicely summarised the current knowledge about this scarce species in West Africa, in this post on Ornithondar).
After we’d reached the top of the cliffs, next up was this Eurasian Griffon which appeared to be actively migrating along the coastline, just like a second bird we’d see a couple of hours later that same morning near Yène.
Barely a few minutes later, Gabriel strikes again with a young Lanner making a brief appearance, just as we were heading back towards the reserve entrance (Faucon lanier). That’s four species of falcons, not bad! In previous years we’ve also had Barbary Falcon near the cliffs, and surely Red-necked Falcon and Grey Kestrel must also occur at least occasionally, while in the wet season it may be possible to encounter African Hobby.
We thought we’d seen pretty much everything when at the last minute a Shikra was seen dashing over the pond (all but dry!), bringing our morning’s total to 11 birds of prey.
Besides all these hooked beaks, as always the nature reserve held quite a few other good bird, such as Gosling’s Bunting, Green-winged Pytillia, Sahel Paradise-Whydah, Blue Rock Thrush, and Northern Anteater Chat. In the end we saw two different Common (=Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrushes, a scarce migrant in Senegal, see this post on our first encounter with the species, in February 2016 at… Popenguine! Also a decent flock of Pallid Swifts and a few White-throated Bee-eaters, both pretty good bonus species, while two Pygmy Kingfishers including at least one dark-billed juvenile provided proof that the species is breeding here.
Complete eBird checklist available here.
The bird list for the Popenguine reserve now stands at some 198 species, at a minimum that is: I listed more than 20 other species as being most likely present, but which apparently remain to be confirmed. More on that over here.
Oh and then there were the butterflies – pure magic! Thousands and thousands of butterflies everywhere, especially along the track up the cliffs. With every footstep, small clouds of butterflies would explode, while a constant stream of butterflies was passing by the cliffs. Our visit clearly took place during peak migration season of Painted Lady which were the vast majority, and to a lesser extent some pieridae. And loads of dragonflies! Difficult to capture on camera but if you look carefully at the image below you’ll get a bit of a sense of what I’m trying to explain here.
(continued from our first blog post on this road trip)
After leaving Gamadji Sare behind, we made our way towards Podor with a few stops en route. A nightjar sheltering from the heat (and predators) was flushed by Vieux near forêt de Golette, just minutes after he casually mentioned that those bushes look good for nightjars! We were hoping for one of the rarer species of course, but it turned out to be a Long–tailed Nightjar after all, apparently a (young?) bird in very fresh plumage. Also several Knob-billed Ducks here, a Short-toed Eagle, Spotted Thick-knee, Vieillot’s Barbet and so on.
At the scenic Podor quay we had a Marsh Harrier, at least two House Martins and several Red-chested Swallows, some of which were on the opposite side of the river, meaning these were in Mauritanian territory: not insignificant since apparently there aren’t any solid records from our northern neighbour, despite the fact that the species surely must breed on the Mauritanian side of the Senegal delta. Just like in January, we also saw the species further downstream at Dagana. A Montagu’s Harrier and a Black Kite were seen just south of town.
Continuing our westbound journey, we cris-crossed the rice paddies with a few quick stops en route, including an emergency stop near Fanaye Dieri for a raptor which initially puzzled us both, and which turned out to be a young Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle. This seems to be a (very) scarce wet season visitor to northern Senegal and to southern Mauritania where breeding has been confirmed.
At Dagana, the main feature was the constant stream of herons and Long-tailed Cormorants en route to their nigh roost (or in case of the Black-crowned Night-Herons, en route to their nightly feeding grounds). The roost is located in the swamps just east of Dagana, and hosts what must be several thousands of birds. Three Glossy Ibises flew into Mauritania, while Greater Swamp Warblers were singing on the northern river bank. An evening walk produced Nightingale, Barn Owl, Long-tailed Nightjar and more.
Day 4: Big Day! Dagana to Saint-Louis via Richard Toll and the lower delta
October 6 happened to be the first “October Big Day” organised by Cornell – more on this eBird page.
Pre-breakfast birding at Bokhol “forest”, then from Dagana to Richard Toll with a couple of stops en route and a visit to the sand quarry where I wanted to check on the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater colony: with some 500 nest holes, probably at least half being active nests, this is an impressive sight. Bonus species here were Northern Anteater Chat, Cricket Warbler, and especially two Standard-winged Nightjars flushed from “broom bushes” which were a real surprise here (but once again both were female type… so alas no standards!). The picture of the quarry shows the habitat of the latter two species in the background. Along the track into the sugar cane plantations, more White-throated Bee-eaters, both bishops, Black-rumped Waxbills, and a fine Pin-tailed Whydah.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… at Bokhol, the fields were rather quiet and unlike in Gamadji Sare the previous morning we barely had any northern songbirds. The forest held goodies such as Senegal Batis, more Orphean Warblers, Fork-tailed Drongo, Brubru, a Red-necked Falcon with prey, and a much less expected Klaas’s Cuckoo singing in the distance (appears to be a rare breeder during the wet season in northern Senegal). Full species list here. Another Whinchat and a few other migrants were seen just west of Dagana.
Negotiating our way out of Richard Toll, we continued on to Ross Bethio, more specifically the ponds along the track to the Djoudj NP. This is where Vieux found a Lesser Jacana back in July: only the fifth record for the country (and second in the north), this was an exciting find of course, further highlighting the potential of this site which has received little attention from birders let alone from the National Park authorities – though the good news is that from this year on, the site is included in the monthly waterbird counts conducted by the Djoudj park staff. Full story on the jacana record on Ornithondar, merci Frédéric. During our visit there were loads of herons and whistling ducks, pelicans, several Black Storks and Yellow-billed Storks, more Eurasian Coots, etc. More unusually, we spotted several Marbled Ducks, counting at least 11 of these cool ducks. This appears to be an early date, and a rare record outside the nearby Djoudj NP: almost all observations tend to be from the same area in the national park, at the Grand Lac, typically between December and February. We’d already seen Little Grebes, but now Vieux also spotted a Black-necked Grebe, an adult coming out of its breeding plumage. Again an early date of an uncommon species in Senegal, typically seen in mid-winter in the north. All in all some 78 species were seen here, see eBird checklist.
The long drive through the delta along the Djoudj track was pretty uneventful, and we only stopped briefly at Saint-Louis to watch a group of Black-tailed Godwits which unfortunately were feeding knee-deep in the lagoon, so no colour-rings could be seen. The Saint-Louis sewage works are always a hit, but too often they are ignored by visiting and local birders alike: I was thus keen to show Vieux this site even if we had just about half an hour left. As always, plenty of birds here, best of all being a Great Reed Warbler. We said our goodbyes here, and I continued onto Zebrabar where I’d spend the night, picking up several wader species new for the trip list as well as Brown Babbler on the camp grounds.
Day 5: final bit of birding at Langue de Barbarie et Guembeul lagoons
Up before dawn, I first went to the floodplain south of Guembeul: Savile’s Bustards singing in all directions, a flock of spoonbills of both species frantically feeding, and a good mix of warblers (Melodious, Subalpine, Bonelli’s, Common Whitethroat). The lagoons held Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits (including a ringed bird from northern Germany), lots of Little Stints, Dunlins, Curlew Sandpipers, and so on. A Pallid Swift was seen near Guembeul, and the lagoons near the STEP held a handful of Shovelers and White-faced Whistling-Ducks, including a family with some 11 ducklings, with Little Grebes also showing signs of local breeding.
Time to head back home… uneventful drive, with just a few quick stops between Mouit and Louga whenever I encountered vultures such as this one:
Quick note to report Senegal’s 12th and 13th American Golden Plovers, a species that is now near-annual here but which always remains a good find.
We found the first of the season last weekend at lac Mbeubeusse (north of Keur Massar) which we visited early afternoon on our way back from a very enjoyable trip to Popenguine – more on that visit in an upcoming post. Both the date (3 November) and the location are rather typical for this wader: out of the 11 previous records, eight are from the Dakar region, and three were obtained between mid-October and mid-December. Paul had already seen a bird in the same location back in March 2013: needless to say that lac Mbeubeusse ought to be visited much more frequently than just a handful of times per year: pretty much every visit is bound to turn up something good. As always we can only speculate about the number of Nearctic vagrants that pass through Senegal every year or that end up spending the winter here…
After spotting what looked like a suspicious Pluvialis plover (= anything but a Grey Plover), based on the fairly contrasted plumage, seemingly long-bodied and long-legged appearance combined with a small-ish bill, we had to wait a while, gradually approaching the lake’s edge, before we could confirm that it was indeed a “Lesser” Golden Plover (= American or Pacific GP). The important primary projection with wing tips reaching well beyond the tail, bronzy rump and lower back, dark-capped head with distinctive pale supercilium and forehead, and most significantly at one point the bird stretched its wings upwards which allowed us to see the grey underwing. Everything else about the bird was pretty standard for a first-year American Golden Plover. Bingo!
To get a sense of the potential of lac Mbeubeusse for waders and other waterbirds, check out our eBird checklist: other good birds here included hundreds of Northern Shovelers and many Garganeys, Ruffs, Little Stints and Common Ringed Plovers, several Curlew Sandpipers and Dunlins, quite a few Audouin’s Gulls, a few terns including all three species of Chlidonias marsh terns, 124 Greater Flamingos, at least one Red-rumped Swallow, etc. etc. All this with Dakar’s giant rubbish tip as a backdrop, spewing black smoke and gradually covering the niaye in a thick layer of waste on its western edge… quite a sad contrast with all the bird life. And definitely not the most idyllic birding hotspot!
Number 13 was found by Mark Finn barely a week later, on Friday Nov. 9th, at one of the lagoons near Pointe Sarène, south of Mbour. As I happened to spend the weekend at nearby Nianing and was planning on visiting Sarène anyway, I went there the following day and easily located the bird, an adult moulting into winter plumage. Unlike the previous bird, it was actively feeding on the shores of a seasonal pond surrounded by pastures and fields, along with several other waders including Ruff, Redshank, Greenshank, Redshank. Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Turnstone, Common Sandpiper, and Common Snipe. This appears to be the first record along the Petite Côte south of Dakar, at a site that has great potential for shorebirds and other migrants: around Nianing, Sarène and Mbodiène are several seasonal lakes that fill up during the rains, as well as coastal saltwater (or brackish) lagoons as can be seen on the map below. The marker shows where the AGP was feeding on Saturday.
Despite being a bit distant I managed some decent record shots of the bird, but unfortunately my camera was stolen later in the weekend… so these pictures are lost forever to humanity. Not that I would have won any prizes with them. So no more blurred pictures from the field on this blog for a little while.
The Sarène bird looked pretty much like this one, just slightly less black on the chest:
Anyway, as I think we’ve already mentioned in the past, “AGP” is the most frequent Nearctic wader in Senegal and more generally in West Africa, followed by Buff-breasted Sandpiper (nine Senegalese records so far) and Lesser Yellowlegs (eight). See this post for a list of the first eight known AGP records for Senegal. Since then (spring 2017), the following sightings are to be added:
- April-May 2017: an adult and two 2nd c.y. birds from 17.4 – 1.5 at least, with a fourth bird (= technically an additional record) up to 21.5., at Technopole (BP, Theo Peters, Wim Mullié, Miguel Lecoq, Ross Wanless, Justine Dosso)
- 8 April 2018: an adult or 2nd c.y. at Technopole (BP) – photos above and more info here.
- 3 November 2018: one 1st c.y. at lac Mbeubeusse, Dakar (BP, Gabriel Caucanas, Miguel Lecoq, Ross Wanless)
- 9-10 November 2018: one ad. at Sarène, Thiès region (M. Finn et al., BP)
Out of these 12 records, eight are from Dakar (mostly Technopole of course!), just one from the north – the first country record, in 1979 – and two are from Basse-Casamance where the species may well winter, at least occasionally. And six of these records are from just the past four years: one in 2015, four birds in 2017, and now already three birds this year. American Golden Plovers tend to mainly show up in spring (April-May) and in autumn (Oct.-Nov.) as shown in this little chart below; it’s also in spring that they linger the longest: in spring 2017, Technopole saw a continued presence during five weeks, involving at least four different birds. Note that birds that stayed for several days across two months are counted in both months.
A few more hazy pictures from the Mbeubeusse bird:
Ever since our first expedition to the Moyenne Vallée back in January I’ve been keen to return to this little-known part of Senegal, mainly to see whether our Horus Swifts would be still around and to find out what the rains season would bring here. Early October I had the chance to finally head back out there: here’s a glimpse of our five-day road trip to the Far North.
Where to start? We’ll take it in chronological order!
Day 1: Dakar to Lampsar lodge via Trois-Marigots
A pit stop at the lac Tanma bridge and a couple of brief stops at Mboro produced a few waders and Greater Swamp Warbler (niaye near the abandoned Hotel du Lac), African Swamphen and Levaillant’s Cuckoo (ponds at the start of the road to Diogo; Rousserolle des cannes, Talève d’Afrique, Coucou de Levaillant). From there it was pretty much non-stop all the way to the Trois-Marigots, an important wetland complex just past Saint-Louis. All lush and teeming with bird life following abundant rains in previous weeks, I could have easily spent half a day here but unfortunately could only spare a couple of hours before moving on to the Lampsar lodge.
Herons, egrets, ducks, waders, bishops and weavers were everywhere, many of them in full breeding attire and actively singing and displaying while Marsh Harriers (Busard des roseaux) were hunting over the wetlands. Two adult Eurasian Coots were the most unexpected species, and I already got a good flavour of things to come in the next few days: Spur-winged Geese flying around, noisy River Prinias everywhere, a distant singing Savile’s Bustard, lots of Collared Pratincoles, a Brubru, Woodchat Shrike, etc. etc. (Oie-armée, Prinia aquatique, Outarde de Savile, Glaréole à collier, Brubru, Pie-grièche a tête rousse)
Just like at Trois-Marigots, Yellow-crowned and Northern Red Bishops were very active in the fields around the Lampsar lodge, where quite a few northern songbirds were noted during a short walk at dusk: Western Olivaceous Warbler, Common Redstart, Garden Warbler, White Wagtail and many Yellow Wagtails – at least 135 flying towards a night roost on the other side of the Lampsar river (Euplectes vorabé et monseigneur, Hypolais obscure, Rougequeue à front blanc, Fauvette des jardins, Bergeronnettes grises et printanières). The Lampsar lodge certainly seems like a good base to explore this part of the Senegal delta, being located close the Djoudj and other birding hotspots in the area.
Day 2: Ndiael, Richard-Toll, Thille Boubacar to Gamadji Sare
Two Black-crowned Cranes were calling opposite the lodge at dawn, while Greater Swamp Warbler was singing along the Lampsar; the rice paddies and surrounding farmland held Winding Cisticola, River Prinia, and several waders including Common Snipe (Grue couronnée, Rousserolle des cannes, Cisticole roussâtre, Prinia aquatique, Bécassine des marais).
But we were just warming up… time to get serious. Vieux Ngom joined me at Lampsar from where we set off for the Ndiaël fauna reserve. Vieux is one of Senegal’s most enthusiastic and skilled birders, based out of the Djoudj as an eco-guide and is a great companion in the field – it was an absolute pleasure to spend the next few days in his company!
So, the Réserve Spéciale de Faune de Ndiaël: I’d only visited a couple of times before, and this was my first visit during the rains. The usually barren plains and dry acacia scrub were now all green, full of water, ponds with water lilies, acacias blooming, dragonflies hunting and butterflies fluttering everywhere… and birds of course: several Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese, a Knob-billed Duck, hundreds of White-faced Whistling Ducks (and one Fulvous Whistling Duck), two distant Black Storks and a Black-headed Heron, a couple of European Turtle-Doves, vocal Woodland Kingfishers (Ouette d’Egypte, Oie-armée, Canard à bosse, Dendrocygnes veufs et fauves, Cigognes noires, Héron mélanocéphale, Tourterelle des bois, Martin-chasseur du Sénégal). More Collared Pratincoles, a Montagu’s Harrier, and as we were watching the ducks and waders near the marigot de (N)yéti Yone, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse started to appear in small flocks, flying hurriedly over the plain (Glaréole à collier, Busard cendré, Ganga à ventre brun). On the way back along the track, a few of these birds were bathing and drinking from small roadside pools. Oh and sparrow-larks everywhere, mainly Chestnut-backed but also a few Black-crowned Sparrow-larks. Over a hundred Sand Martins were feeding over the plain, with several Common Swifts also passing through (Moinelettes à oreillons blancs et à front blanc, Hirondelle de rivage, Martinet noir).
Next up: Richard Toll, where we paid a brief visit to the aerodrome area, known to attract some good species in winter but rarely visited at this time of the year (this actually applies to pretty much all sites we explored). Our first Southern Grey Shrikes were seen here, as were Green Bee-eater, Tree Pipit, Singing Bush-Lark, Chestnut-bellied Starling, and more (Pie-grièche méridionale, Guêpier de Perse, Pipit des arbres, Alouette chanteuse, Choucador à ventre roux).
Time to move on… with just 110 km to cover until Gamadji Sare, we could afford making a few more stops en route. First of all at the wetland past Thille Boubacar, where a quick scan from the bridge by Ndiayene Pendao produced two Egyptian Plovers (Pluvian). The pond on the other side of the river, which back in January had yielded quite a lot of good birds, was harder to access because its surrounding were all flooded, making it difficult to get decent views of the main water body. So no Pygmy Geese this time round. Several Black Herons and African Darters were around, while a European Pied Flycatcher and a few Subalpine Warblers were feeding in the acacia woodland (Héron ardoisé, Anhinga, Gobemouche noir, Fauvette passerinette).
An adult Short-toed Eagle was seen flying over the road, and a couple more stops produced our first Cricket Warblers of the trip, more singing Black-crowned Sparrow-larks, breeding Sudan Golden Sparrows, and Vieux was lucky to see a Fulvous Babbler (Circaète Jean-le-Blanc, Prinia à front écailleux, Moinelette à front blanc, Moineau doré, Cratérope fauve). Alas no Golden Nightjar which we searched for in an area where it is known to winter.
And at long last, we arrived at Gamadji Sare, just in time for another hour’s worth of birding – No Time to Loose! – and of course we were more than eager to find out whether those mystery swifts were still going to be around. I’d barely walked through the back door of the Jardins du Fouta hotel, and there they were: a handful of Horus Swifts were flying over the river, confirming our suspicions that the species is well established here and that our sightings from January (and Fred’s in February) were not of some vagrant groupe of birds. At least 10 birds were seen several times, often flying close to the cliff’s edge while calling excitedly, and entering disused Blue-cheeked Bee-eater nest holes as night was falling. Unlike in January, the bee-eater colony was in full swing, with dozens of birds noisily feeding young in and out of the nest holes.
Horus Swift: check!
A short walk along the Doué river produced migrants such as Orphean and Bonelli’s Warblers, Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, and more Black Scrub Robins and Cricket Warblers (Fauvette orphée, Pouillot de Bonelli, Gobemouches noirs et gris, Agrobate podobé, Prinia à front écailleux).
Birding non-stop… what a day!
Day 3: Gamadji Sare, Podor and Dagana
Difficult for things to get even better than the previous day, right?
We spent some more time studying the swifts and observing their behaviour and trying to count them. Not an easy feat as the numbers kept fluctuating, with small groups appearing and disappearing constantly, and at one point there were some Pallid and Little Swifts mixed in with the Horus Swifts. In the end, we settled on a conservative minimum of about 45 birds, probably even more like 50 to 60! So more than double than our estimate in January. Trying to get some decent pictures proved to be even more difficult, most of my pictures resembling this:
Or even this:
More on the swifts may follow in an upcoming post. In any case, it’s pretty clear now that the species is well established and it would be surprising if they didn’t in fact breed here. And that other sites along the Senegal and Niger rivers and their tributaries are probably waiting to be discovered.
Further along the river bank we saw pretty much the same species as the previous evening, plus Hamerkop, Lanner, Pallid Swift, Gosling’s Bunting to name but a few (Ombrette, Lanier, Martinet pâle, Bruant d’Alexander).
A quick breakfast and some birding in the gardens which held Red-throated Bee-eater – just when we thought they were no longer around – and an unexpected Wryneck among many others; we then decided to go out to the rice paddies and the fields just to the north-east of the village (Guêpier à gorge rouge, Torcol fourmilier). Not really knowing what to expect, we weren’t disappointed: Bluethroat! Whinchat! Dwarf Bittern! …all species that in Senegal are tricky to see in one way or another (Gorgebleue à miroir, Tarier des prés, Blongios de Stürm!). The bittern was particularly cooperative: after it was accidentally flushed by Vieux, it landed on top of a bush, showing off its unique plumage – nice to finally catch up with this little beauty in Senegal (bringing my country list to 498 species!).
All in all, we got to see no less than 90 species in a single morning, all within walking distance from the guesthouse: pretty impressive I say. See the complete eBird checklist here.
We were now half way through our little expedition so it was already time to return west, to Dagana via Podor. This section, as well as days 4 (Foret de Bokhol, Richard-Toll again, Ross Bethio to Gandiol) and 5 (Langue de Barbarie and the Gandiol area, back to Dakar) will be covered in an upcoming Part II of this post… Thanks for reading up to here!
John Rose et Dimitri Dagorne nous présentent les résultats d’un récent périple dans le Niokolo-Koba, le dernier d’une série d’inventaires menés par un petit groupe de passionnés du parc. Merci à eux!
Le Parc National du Niokolo-Koba (PNNK) est une aire protégée de 913 000 hectares, retranchée au sud-est du Sénégal à la frontière de la Guinée. Depuis sa création en 1954 il fut le théâtre de nombreux tourments : braconnage, invasion de plantes exotiques, exploitation destructrice des ressources naturelles, tensions avec les habitants expulsés. Mais les efforts accrus de conservation depuis plusieurs années semblent avoir redonné un souffle de vie à ce qui est à présent un des rares grands sanctuaires de biodiversité d’Afrique de l’Ouest.
Pendant cinq ans (2012-2017) l’association française COMETE International (dissoute le 27/1/18), en se coordonnant avec d’autres organismes d’appui comme l’Association des Naturalistes des Yvelines (ANY), le Centre Ornithologique Île-de-France (ex-CORIF, absorbé par la LPO), l’African Bird Club, l’association sénégalaise NCD, et l’UNESCO, a soutenu les efforts des communautés locales pour la valorisation du parc et le développement durable des zones alentour. C’est avec la coopérative des guides du Parc National du Niokolo-Koba (GIE NIOKOLO) qu’ont été ainsi menées une quinzaine d’inventaires ornithologiques avec la collaboration des autorités du parc (Direction des Parcs Nationaux) et une demi-douzaine de voyages touristiques équitables, activités qui relevaient au total environ 4 000 observations de 259 espèces d’oiseaux dans la partie centrale “touristique” du PNNK et ses proches alentours.
Le but principal du voyage actuel, parrainé sur le plan scientifique par l’ANY, était de prospecter les zones du PNNK pas encore explorées dans le cadre de ce projet. Il a été planifié par deux membres de l’équipe scientifique du projet (Dimitri et John) et rejoint par un troisième naturaliste amateur, Jean-Jacques Pailler. Les zones ciblées dans l’est, le sud et l’ouest du parc ne sont accessibles qu’en fin de saison sèche (avril jusqu’à mi-juin) quand les gués sur le fleuve Gambie sont navigables, et nous avons visé la période tardive juste au début des pluies pour éviter le plus fort de la canicule, et pour pouvoir observer des migrateurs intra-africains venant des forêts guinéennes et équatoriales.
Arrivés à l’aéroport de Dakar dans la soirée du 31 mai 2018, nous nous faisons conduire le lendemain dans notre pickup 4×4 à Dialacoto, grand village chef-lieu de la commune de ce nom situé à 480 km de Dakar et à une dizaine de kilomètres de l’entrée principale du PNNK. Le lendemain nous expérimentons, en compagnie de neuf guides du GIE NIOKOLO, un nouveau circuit ornithologique pédestre dans la forêt de Diambour juste au nord de Dialacoto (carte du circuit ici). La savane boisée, bien que proche des activités humaines, offre un sentiment d’immersion dans une nature isolée. Paysages métamorphosés par les saisons, à cette période sèche nous observerons un total de 37 espèces d’oiseaux dont le Bucorve d’Abyssinie, l’Amadine cou-coupé, un groupe d’Hirondelles à ventre roux, et un vol de 61 Pélicans blancs se dirigeant vers le nord (probablement vers le Parc National des Oiseaux de Djoudj qui est leur principal lieu de reproduction) (Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Cut-throat, Rufous-chested Swallow, Great White Pelican). Ce circuit fait dorénavant partie de l’offre de tourisme ornithologique des guides ainsi familiarisés.
Après une nuit tranquille passée au campement Chez Ibrahima à la frontière du parc, nous pénétrons enfin les terres du PNNK, accompagnés de notre guide du GIE Banna Kanté et du lieutenant Assane Fall, mis à disposition par la Direction des Parcs Nationaux au vu du caractère scientifique de notre mission. Arrivés à Simenti sur le fleuve Gambie, nous étions contents de voir que l’hôtel, seul lieu d’hébergement confortable à l’intérieur du parc avant sa fermeture deux ans auparavant, était en train d’être remis en état pour réouverture pour la prochaine saison touristique (la saison sèche, de décembre à mai). Le tableau qui se présente à nous à la mare de Simenti adjacente est révélateur d’une saison 2017/18 particulièrement aride. Ce plan d’eau peu profond, qui accueille normalement un cortège d’échassiers et de limicoles pataugeant entre les crocodiles, était réduit à quelques pièces d’eau et bains de boue pour phacochères. Nous terminerons la journée au Campement du Lion géré par le GIE, où les murmures de la faune nocturne berceront notre sommeil.
Dès l’aube de notre deuxième jour dans le parc, installés sur un rocher en bord du fleuve Gambie, nous accompagnerons l’éveil de la savane. A quelques mètres de nous les couleurs encore ternes d’une Rhynchée peinte (Greater Painted-Snipe) s’illuminent doucement sous les premières lueurs de la journée. Il est l’heure de poursuivre nos inventaires, et confortablement installés dans la benne du 4×4, nous traversons le Gambie au Gué de Damantan pour atteindre pour la première fois la moitié sud du PNNK. Notre méthode d’inventaire est de rouler à moins de 15 km/h en nous arrêtant le temps nécessaire d’identifier chaque oiseau rencontré. Nous saisissons ainsi les données géolocalisées sur le terrain, au moyen des applis smartphone eBird pour toutes les espèces et celle de l’observatoire participatif African Raptor DataBank pour les rapaces.
Notre premier inventaire matinal de 32 km, sur la piste entre le Gué de Damantan et Barka Bandiel, était ponctué par un arrêt au mausolée d’un imam vénéré à Damantan, ce village évacué lors d’un agrandissement du parc qui reste toujours un important site de pèlerinage. Pour l’inventaire suivant, nous suivions sur 30 km la piste jusqu’à Oubadji, avant que nous soyons obligés d’atteindre en hâte au crépuscule ce dernier village à la frontière extérieure du Parc. Le campement communautaire, où nous avons passé la nuit, est aussi rudimentaire dans son confort que son cadre est merveilleux. Le petit déjeuner en plein air du lendemain nous offrira un spectacle matinal de nombreux oiseaux dont le Coucou de Klaas, le Cubla de Gambie, et le Touraco violet (Klaas’s Cuckoo, Northern Puffback, Violet Turaco).
Peu après avoir quitté Oubadji, nous observons notre première nouvelle espèce d’oiseau pour le PNNK (par rapport aux inventaires précédents), un choucador (“merle métallique”) perché au sommet d’un petit arbre : un Choucador de Swainson.
Nous poursuivons en traversant de nouveau le Gambie au Gué de Malapa, qui n’est en vérité qu’une traversée non balisée du très large lit desséché et rocailleux du fleuve. Puis nous suivons vers l’est la rive droite du fleuve qui forme la frontière sud du parc. C’est alors que nous ferons une observation très rare de trois Amarantes de Kulikoro, oiseau réputé jusqu’à très récemment d’être absent du PNNK. La peine pour la traversée et la distance nous séparant de notre prochain campement nous contraignent à arrêter notre inventaire après 66 km de piste très difficiles et à finir le trajet de nuit ; nous bivouaquerons au plateau du Mont Assirik à la station de recherche sur les chimpanzés, grâce à une autorisation spéciale des autorités du parc.
Nous consacrons notre quatrième jour dans le PNNK à explorer à pied les abords du Mont Assirik, la seule zone où les visiteurs sont autorisés à se déplacer à pied. Nous partirons à l’ascension du sommet, point culminant du parc à 311 mètres. Perdus dans nos comptes par les nombreuses nuées de passereaux multi-spécifiques s’enchaînant aux sommets des arbres, nous observons 11 Loriots dorés (African Golden Oriole) dont un groupe de sept en vol bas. Autre observation notable : quatre Pluviers de Forbes déambulant autour d’une petite pièce d’eau. Sur le chemin du retour, juste avant d’arriver au campement, un tourbillon de vent est soudain tombé sur nous, apportant à seulement quelques mètres un jeune Bateleur des savannes.
Après le déjeuner nous descendrons dans la Vallée de Stella légèrement en contrebas du campement pour poursuivre dans un étroit lit de rivière. La forêt galerie est dense, nos observations seront furtives et fragmentaires. Un œil sublimement maquillé, une crête verte et des ailes violettes, Dimitri reconnaît là le Touraco vert (Green Turaco). Une petite gorge d’un jaune éclatant sur un oiseau sombre, il s’agit d’une paire de Bulbuls à gorge claire (Yellow-throated Leaflove). Tous les deux sont des nouvelles espèces pour nous, l’observation du touraco loin de ses territoires de base à l’extérieur du parc est particulièrement significative. Dans les feuilles d’un palmier, un Noircap loriot occupé à la construction de son nid se laisse observer en toute indiscrétion. Posée dans une fourche cachée par un amas de branches, nous apercevons une Tourterelle d’Adamaoua (Adamawa Turtle-Dove).
Le lendemain matin, Dimitri a pu observer près du campement un Traquet familier, notre cinquième nouvelle espèce qui, bien qu’assez commune dans l’extrême sud-est du pays, n’a été observée auparavant qu’une seule fois dans le parc (par Geoffrey Monchaux en janvier 2018 dans la même zone). Il fallut quitter à regret le Mont Assirik pour retourner au Campement du Lion par une longue route en trois étapes d’inventaire dans le sud du PNNK, très, très sec, et décevante du côté ornitho.
Lors de notre dernière matinée au parc, nous observons aux abords du fleuve Gambie un Martin-pêcheur azuré, assez rare et surtout très discret, et un couple de Grues couronnées (Shining-blue Kingfisher & Black Crowned Crane). Nous prenons la route vers la sortie du PNNK pour nous retrouver au confort à l’hôtel de Wassadou, l’objet d’un récent rapportage dans ce blog. L’hôtel se trouve sur la rive droite du fleuve Gambie, la rive d’en face faisant partie du PNNK. Embarqués sur le fleuve le lendemain matin dans la petite pirogue à moteur de l’hôtel, nous observons de nouveau la Tourterelle d’Adamaoua et le Martin-pêcheur azuré, puis nous voyons perchée côté PNNK une magnifique Chouette-pêcheuse de Pel, notre sixième nouvelle espèce. Revenus à terre, nous observons une seconde chouette cachée sur la rive de la rivière Niériko qui se jette dans le Gambie au niveau de l’hôtel.
Dans le PNNK et ses proches alentours, nous avons observé 148 espèces d’oiseaux dont six nouvelles pour notre projet, soit un total de 265 espèces sur les quelques 360 signalées dans la littérature scientifique et archives d’observations (y compris les visiteurs passagers ou égarés). Une publication scientifique présentant les résultats du projet est en cours de préparation.
Nous partons en fin de matinée du 9 juin pour la Réserve Naturelle Communautaire de Boundou, située à environ 115 km au nord-est de Wassadou, que nous explorons pendant deux jours avant de reprendre la route pour l’aéroport via la Réserve Naturelle de Somone. Au total, nous aurons admiré lors de ce riche et intense voyage 193 espèces d’oiseaux, 21 de mammifères et plusieurs reptiles et invertébrés intéressants (voir les listes présentées dans le rapport complet disponible ici). Vos questions ou commentaires peuvent être postés ci-dessous ou adressés à John Rose.
Why would two Portuguese, a Mauritanian, a Cape-Verdian, a French, an American and a Belgian set off on a boat trip one morning in October? Seabirds of course! With Gabriel in town, Bruce over from the US, Miguel and Antonio as motivated as ever to get out of the office and to have some of their BirdLife colleagues strengthen their seabird id skills, it was time to organise our now annual autumn pelagic, on October 1st.
Conditions were perfect to get out on our small boat (organised through Nautilus Diving: merci Hilda!) though probably a bit too calm for active seabird migration. We chose to head straight west to the edge of the continental shelf, rather than try the “trawler area” off Kayar as this is quite a bit more distant from Ngor. Needless to say that expectations were high as is always the case during these rare opportunities to get close views of the treasured tubenoses – storm petrels, shearwaters – skuas and maybe some Grey Phalaropes or Sabine’s Gulls.
A Manx Shearwater zooming past the boat was one of the first pelagic species we got to see, followed by quite a few Sooty Shearwaters (Puffin fuligineux).
Further out, Wilson’s Storm Petrel became the dominant species, with a few dozen birds seen – and probably many more that went undetected – particularly around the upwelling area. Almost all were obviously actively migrating, and we managed to get some good views of several of them as they zoomed past our boat. Of course, several storm petrels remained unidentified, but we did manage to get decent views of at least two European Storm Petrels (though alas no pictures!). The toes projecting beyond the tail that are diagnostic of Wilson’s are more or less visible on the pictures below.
Up next: skuas, or jaegers as our American friends call them. We didn’t see many, with just three Pomarines and just as few Arctic Skuas, as well as an obliging Long-tailed Skua. The latter was an interesting bird that we aged as a third-summer moulting into third-winter plumage. It briefly joined two Pomarine Skuas (second-year birds?) allowing for nice comparisons of size and structure.
Rounding up our seabirds is this Red (Grey…) Phalarope (Phalarope à bec large), the only one we saw during the trip but somehow Bruce managed to get a picture:
As seems to be quite often the case during these pelagic trips, some landbirds were also encountered, in our case European Turtle Dove (Tourterelle des bois) of which we twice saw singles migrating over the ocean (in October 2016, the PAOC pelagic recorded at least three species of passerines, including a migrating Bluethroat). One of our doves had a very worn and messy plumage, probably a moulting young bird:
Our complete eBird checklist, expertly compiled by Miguel, can be found here. We really ought to add the Osprey that can just about be seen sitting on top of the Almadies lighthouse, but which was noticed only later on this neat picture by Bruce of the lighthouse – Africa’s westernmost building, constructed some time in the 19th century (precise date seems unknown?) on a reef that lies just off the Pointe des Almadies.
Many thanks to Antonio and Bruce for sharing their pictures!