Palmarin 18-19/2


Another family trip to Palmarin, another report with a few interesting observations and some pictures to share. To start, a pleasant surprise was a pair of Four-banded Sandgrouse that were flushed from an uncultivated field, then landed just a few meters away and allowed for close-up views (but alas no picture). Could they be breeding here? This is the first time, in five visits (August, twice in November, January, and now February), that I’ve seen the species in the Palmarin area or anywhere in Senegal for that matter.

The same goes for a first-winter Southern Grey Shrike which is another addition to my Palmarin list, and which is more likely a scarce or irregular winter visitor here. Typically seen in the north – Djoudj, Ndiael, Richard-Toll etc. – it is apparently scarce this far south. Even around Dakar there seem to be only a handful of records, including one at Technopole a few years ago that was found by Paul Robinson. However, Simon Cavaillès and friends regularly see the species in the Ndiafatte / Kousmar region and it’s been reported as far south as Tambacounda, but there are only a couple of records from The Gambia.

We’ll try to get back to the topic of subspecies identification in this taxon as it’s not a straightforward matter. According to what can be seen on the pictures below (on which the bird appears somewhat darker than in the field) my bird from Palmarin would fit ssp. elegans which breeds across the Sahara: pale plumage, lots of white in wing, grey rump, large size.


Southern Grey Shrike / Pie-grièche méridionale


Southern Grey Shrike / Pie-grièche méridionale

My second Eastern Olivaceous Warbler in Senegal was seen early Sunday morning while feeding in a tree, tail flicking and nicely showing its narrow bill and overall pale appearance. See this post for a discussion of the my first record (in French)

Numerous Common Whitethroats, a few Barn Swallows which are obviously on the move and should have started heading back to Europe. A male Whinchat was near Joal: are they already on the move, or would they winter in this area? Most of the Yellow Wagtails that were seen appeared to belong to the Iberian subspecies, such as this male:


“Spanish” Yellow Wagtail / Bergeronnette printanière ssp. iberiae

A few OspreysMontagu’s and Marsh Harriers were around and a Short-toed Eagle was near Samba Dia, but in general not many raptors were seen. Single Grey and Common Kestrels, and also what appeared to be a family of Black-winged Kite with at least one young.

Waders were as usual well represented, though many were in distant flocks which I didn’t have the time to check thoroughly: Grey Plover, Common Ringed Plover, numerous Bar-tailed Godwits and Avocets, a single Oystercatcher, a few Turnstones and Whimbrels plus the usual Greenshanks, Redshanks, Wood Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers, hundreds of Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers, etc.

On the local front, Bruce’s Green Pigeons, Purple Rollers, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were around, while a few Sudan Golden Sparrows at Diakhanor were also a first for me in Palmarin. Red-billed Queleas were particularly numerous, just like in Dakar at the moment, with low thousands moving south at Diakhanor on 19/2 and several smaller flocks scattered throughout the area (though considering that this is supposedly the most abundant bird species on the planet and that they can gather in huge flocks, these numbers are still on the low side!).

Below is a small sample of some of the local birds seen during the weekend.


Abyssinian Roller / Rollier d’Abyssinie


Yellow-crowned Gonolek / Gonolek de Barbarie


Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling  / Choucador à oreillons bleus


Red-billed Quelea / Travailleur à bec rouge


(Header picture by Jane Piot!)

Technopole, 12 February

I went back to Technopole last Sunday, expecting some new birds to be around given that northbound migration has now picked up for several species – and wasn’t disappointed!

First stop was on the main lake near the fisherman’s cabin, where a dozen or so Eurasian Spoonbills were present. One of the first birds I checked was ringed: green “V020”, pictured below, which turned out to be a Danish bird born in 2013. Further scrutiny of the 50+ Spoonbills that were around yielded seven ring readings and a few more ringed birds that could not be read; as per these are birds from the Netherlands, France, Spain and maybe other countries.


Eurasian Spoonbill / Spatule blanche

Continuing on the same theme, I found an adult Gull-billed Tern with a coded ring (white “U83”), a Spanish bird – and a far less common ring recovery than the spoonbills! This turned out to be only the first re-sighting of this bird ringed as a chick in 2009 at Las Mesas (SE of Madrid). The small flocks of gulls and terns also held an adult Royal Tern and a 2nd winter Mediterranean Gull, a new individual this season which by the way has not seen many Med Gulls yet – more are likely to show up in coming weeks. A group of 13 Garganeys was probably refueling on its way back to Europe. The usual Pink-backed and now also ca. 50 Great White Pelicans were scattered throughout the lake, as were several groups of Little Grebe (80-100 ind.) and a handful of Sacred Ibises.

Pretty much the first bird that I saw after setting up my spotting scope behind the golf club house was a Common Sandpiper that caught my attention because of its distinctive yellowish legs and fairly uniform appearance of upperparts. Could it be a Spotted Sandpiper? It was pretty distant and soon settled partly hidden by a group of Senegal Thick-knees where it started preening, making it hard to get a good look (and pictures). After it vanished I found it again later towards the opposite end of the pool and got a few more poor shots. I never managed to see any pattern on the tertials, and it seemed to have a fairly short tail – but no spots (which would be normal at this time of the year) and didn’t get to see its wing bar and didn’t hear it call… so it will probably remain an Actitis sp. for ever after! Comments welcome of course.

img_8180-2  img_8143-2

A much more straightforward bird to identify was this 1st winter Common Gull roosting among the other gulls and a few terns: medium-sized, slender gull with a relatively dark grey mantle, fairly short and slim bi-coloured bill, largely white and unstreaked head and underparts; Ring-billed Gull could be easily excluded. On the picture below, note the presence of Slender-billed and Black-headed Gull, Caspian and Gull-billed Tern (and spot the Whiskered Tern!) and of course the Black-winged Stilts in the background.


Common Gull / Goéland cendré

Of note is its very worn plumage, which seems typical of those vagrant gulls from Europe. The first Technopole Common Gull was pretty much in the same state, and so was last year’s Little Gull. Not sure whether this is indicative of a bird’s overall physical condition, but it struck me that these worn gulls are a bit of a recurring theme here.


Common Gull / Goéland cendré

Apparently this would be Senegal’s 4th record only, and second for Technopole. Previous observations are from 10/1 (a 1st winter bird) and 18/1/94 (probably the same bird together with another 1st winter and an adult bird) at Saint-Louis by Pierre Yésou and Patrick Triplet, followed nearly 20 years later by a third record, this time from February 2013 (again a 1st winter) at Technopole by Jean-Francois Blanc (the blog post incorrectly refers to this as the second record: technically speaking the two Saint-Louis dates should be treated as two separate records given that two new birds were found on the second date).

There are several “occasional” sightings from Mauritania (Banc d’Arguin mainly, cf. Paul Isenmann’s The Birds of the Banc d’Arguin 2006 which I happened to come across in the library at my boys’ school today!), but it is probably not a regular visitor here given that even in much better watched Morocco the species seems to be really scarce. A couple of old records exist from The Gambia, but I’m not sure whether there are any recent sightings – awaiting further info from our southern neighbours.


Common Gull / Goéland cendré

No less than seven gull species were present at Technopole on Sunday though I didn’t thoroughly check the large Lesser Black-backed Gull flock which was at the far end of the western pool. The Common Gull was my 10th gull species for the site; only Ring-billed Gull is missing (it’s on the list, but I haven’t managed to find out when it was sighted here).

With only 13 species, wader diversity was a bit lower than is often the case, with Black-tailed Godwits now having left the site, and none of the Calidris sandpipers except for Little Stint being around yet. Quite unusual was the sudden arrival of at least a hundred Wood Sandpipers, possibly a group of migrants that just arrived or that were disturbed in another part of the area. Most of the usual herons were seen, including a Little Bittern quickly dashing between two reedbeds east of the golf course. On the raptors front, there were singles of Osprey, Peregrine (not seen very often here) and Red-necked Falcon.


Great Egret / Grande Aigrette

Among the wintering or migrant songbirds, there were still one or two White Wagtails around, plenty of Yellow Wags, a single Chiffchaff, several Subalpine and Sedge Warblers, and two Woodchat Shrikes.

All in all, 87 species were seen in a single morning: not bad for an urban wetland!


White-breasted Cormorant / Cormoran à poitrine blanche

Back in Almadies, I once again saw the aberrant Common Ringed Plover with a leucistic plumage, just like last year on the beach near the Méridien hotel. This very distinctive individual was first seen in February 2016 (see this blog post for initial account and a picture of the bird); it was present on the same beach on 5 May and 30 October 2016. Interesting case of site fidelity in a wintering shorebird – and no need for hard-to-read colour rings or expensive geolocators or other tracking devices… Curious to see when and where it shows up again in coming years!

Encore une nouvelle espèce pour le Technopôle: le Bengali zébré

Décidément la liste d’espèces du Technopôle n’en finit pas de se rallonger, parfois avec des espèces plutôt inattendues !

Samedi matin lors une visite éclair pour montrer le site à quelques ornithos de passage à Dakar, on a eu la surprise de trouver une petite douzaine de Bengalis zébrés (Zebra Waxbill, aka Orange-breasted Waxbill) en train de se nourrir au bord du sentier un peu après le club house.

Au Sénégal, la répartition de ce petit granivore se limite principalement a la basse-vallee du fleuve Sénégal où il est encore relativement fréquent, p.ex. dans le Djoudj, les Trois-Marigots ou le Ndiael. Bien que censée être présente également dans le delta du Saloum (et en Gambie), je ne l’y ai pas encore observée lors de nos diverses visites effectuées à toutes saisons – et ce contrairement à l’Astrild-caille, qui souvent partage le même habitat et qui reste relativement commun dans le Saloum. Essentiellement sédentaire, le Bengali zébré est connu pour entamer des mouvements nomadiques en dehors de la saison de nidification, donc il n’est pas si surprenant d’en rencontrer en dehors de l’aire habituelle (les Morel ne nous apprennent pas grand-chose sur sa présence dans la région de Dakar : l’espèce est juste indiquée comme étant présente dans le carré atlas ; Borrow & Demey indiquent juste une croix un peu au NE de la péninsule). Si ça se trouve une petite population pourrait subsister dans la région des niayes, p.ex. à Mbaouane ou autour de Mboro.

Il semble toutefois que l’espèce soit en diminution dans nos contrées notamment en raison de la disparition progressive des prairies humides, son habitat de prédilection – il n’y a qu’à se rendre dans le delta du Sénégal pour se rendre compte de ce désastre environmental. Elle pourrait également souffrir du commerce – illégal – d’oiseaux à destination de l’Europe, phénomène apparemment bien réel comme en témoigne cette arrestation toute récente à l’aéroport de Dakar

Pas eu le réflexe de sortir l’appareil assez rapidement, mais je tenais tout de même à inclure une photo de ces petits oiseaux fort sympathiques – un grand merci donc à Frédéric Bacuez (ornithondar) pour avoir mis à disposition ce cliché d’un mâle près du nid, pris tout récemment dans les Trois-Marigots (cliquez sur la photo pour accéder à l’article original) :


Orange-breasted Waxbill / Bengali zébré (F. Bacuez)

Pour le reste, signalons également un Héron mélanocéphale (Black-headed Heron), espèce qui semble de plus en plus courante dans la région des niayes bien que généralement sous forme d’individus isolés, cette fois un immature; au moins deux Spatules blanches (Eurasian Spoonbill) dont une baguée a priori hollandaise; un Faucon chiquera au comportement territorial agressant Milans à bec jaune (Yellow-billed Kite) et Corbeaux pies (Pied Crow) dans la zone où il a niché l’an dernier; deux Bergeronnettes grises (White Wagtail) et autant d’Hirondelles de Guinée (Red-chested Swallow).

Après mon départ Gabriel a pu compter au moins 220 Goélands railleurs (Slender-billed Gull; dont 4 baguées couleur) et a trouvé une Mouette mélanocéphale (Mediterranean Gull) – peut-être la même depuis fin décembre – et deux espèces plus typiques de la saison humide: un Epervier shikra et un Martin-chasseur à tête grise (Grey-headed Kingfisher), entre autres.

Enfin, une Pie-grièche à tête rousse (Woodchat Shrike) était une première pour moi en ce lieu, bien que cette espèce soit l’un des passereaux paléarctiques les plus répandus au Sénégal.

Pour en revenir à la liste du Technopôle, celle-ci compte maintenant au moins 220 espèces, un chiffre tout à fait correct pour un site de 7 hectares à peine, de surcroît en pleine ville. Peu après notre arrivée à Dakar en février 2015, j’ai repris le tableau que Paul Robinson avait compilée en son temps, en y ajoutant petit à petit les espèces nouvellement constatées ainsi que quelques données manquantes comme la Bergeronnette citrine et quelques autres égarés. J’ai également inclus une indication du statut, nidification et autres notes.

Ce travail est atuellement en cours et qui sait aboutira peut-être un jour en la publication d’un article sur l’avifaune du Technopôle; pour l’instant la liste est disponible sur demande et elle sera certainement mise à disposition sur ce site dans un futur proche.


Intermediate Egret / Aigrette intermédiaire, l’une des 13 especes d’ardéidés présentes au Technopôle

Quel sera le prochain ajout?

Ce n’est que spéculation bien sûr, mais il est certain que plusieurs espèces occasionnelles seront vues dans les mois et années à venir. Pour ne citer que quelques candidats potentiels, il y a par exemple le Canard à bosse, le Flamant nain, l’Elanion blanc, diverses marouettes (de Baillon, poussin, ponctuée), les Vanneaux à tête noire (déjà observe p.ex. a Ngor) et du Sénégal, ou encore le Coucou didric et le Tchagra à tête noire. On peut aussi s’imaginer que la Tourterelle turque finisse par s’implanter au Technopôle étant donné la proximité du parc de Hann, pour l’instant toujours le seul site connu du pays. La présence de deux nocturnes qui devraient logiquement chasser sur le site plus ou moins régulièrement, l’Effraie et le Petit-duc à face blanche¹, sera plus difficile à établir. Parmi les migrateurs paléarctiques “manquants”, citons le Guêpier d’Europe, le Martinet pâle, le Pouillot de Bonelli et le Pipit rousseline.

Bref… il y a encore de quoi découvrir sur ce hotspot urbain et chaque visite a le potentiel d’augmenter encore nos connaissances de l’avifaune du site.

Black-headed Lapwing / Vanneau a tete noire

Black-headed Lapwing / Vanneau à tête noire (ici au Lac Tanma)

¹ A propos de Petit-duc: la semaine dernière Simon et moi en avons entendu un chanter aux Almadies, depuis notre terrasse… ce qui montre que ce hibou peut fréquenter des zones urbaines

Technopole & Lac Rose (again)

Back in town after a trip to Niamey (Cricket Warbler! Egyptian Plover! Greater Swamp Warbler and more!) we headed out to Le Calao du Lac Rose where we spent the weekend. No birding on Saturday, but as is often the case hotel grounds have some good stuff to offer.

There are the usual Senegal Parrots, Little Bee-eatersRed-billed Firefinches, Beautiful Sunbirds and so on, but this time it was a small mammal that stole the show: two ochre-coloured, medium-sized bats with huge ears and a distinctive “nose”. I found them while walking past a bougainvillea bush in which they were roosting, where they allowed for real good views in broad daylight. They turned out to be Yellow-winged Bats, a widespread species that I’d already seen roosting in bamboo growth in the Plain du Sô near Cotonou. More on bats will follow here in due course.


Yellow-winged Bat Lavia frons

While looking for the bats after they’d moved to a Casuarina tree, I spotted a Northern White-faced Owl observing us from a bit higher up. Seen first in fading light (1st picture) we found it again in the same place the next morning (2nd picture). Somehow this bird had extremely long eartufts and was much greyer in the face than what I’ve seen on other individuals; see also the species gallery on the African Bird Image Database hosted by the ABC.


Northern White-faced Owl / Petit-duc à face blanche


Northern White-faced Owl / Petit-duc à face blanche

On Sunday, an early morning visit to the dunes and nearby niaye was fairly uneventful; this site is probably quite interesting during and just after the raining season when the depression fills up. Besides the usual suspects, a male Green-winged Pytillia was seen in a group of granivores, which also held a Yellow-fronted Canary, just like on my previous visit here. Other scarcer species seen were Black-headed Heron once again, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, and Splendid Sunbird.

While looking for Buff-breasted Sandpipers (no sign of them – they all seem to have left by now!), I did find a Temminck’s Courser on the NE end of the plain, not far from the dunes that I’d just been exploring. Not the hoped for Cream-coloured Courser but a courser nevertheless – and definitely my best views of the species so far. I took a few pictures after which it flew off, uttering its typical toy trumpet call… and soon to be followed by a second individual that must have been sitting in the short grass nearby. Didn’t get good views of the second courser, but it may well have been a young bird.


Temminck’s Courser / Courvite de Temminck

Barely five minutes later I found two more coursers, this time closer to the “sandpiper field”. Light was better by now and although they stayed within 30-40 meters I managed to get a few good pics with our trusted Canon Powershot SX60 HS:


Temminck’s Courser / Courvite de Temminck


Temminck’s Courser / Courvite de Temminck

At least two Singing Bushlarks and what were probably a few Greater Short-toed Larks were also around. The lake itself held a few Audouin’s and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, some Gull-billed Terns and a few Common Terns. Fairly few waders were around, mostly Little Stints and Common Ringed Plovers, while on the beach the main species was Sanderling. Both locations also had several Ospreys which spend the winter around lac Rose in decent numbers (15-20 birds?).

Meanwhile at Technopole – where I hadn’t been in about 3 weeks – there weren’t many new birds around except maybe for an increase in the number of European Spoonbills (ca. 35) and Little Stints (ca. 90). Other birds of note seen during my most recent visit (23/1) included a female Marsh Harrier and a White-winged Tern, the latter a “site tick” for me; the harrier is, surprisingly perhaps, only an irregular visitor to Technopole. Just like on my previous visit, a single Mediterranean Gull was present among the range of other gulls, which have finally started building up in numbers: Lesser Black-backed Gulls mostly, but also up to ca. 35 Audouin’s and a few dozen each of Black-headed, Grey-headed and Slender-billed Gulls.

Black-tailed Godwits now number around 150 which is half of the number about a month ago: it’s quite possible that part of the wintering birds have already left for the Iberian rice fields where they typically refuel before continuing to northwestern Europe. This time round I managed to read colour rings on one bird only, but on previous visits I’ve had up to nine different ringed birds within the same flock, including Dutch, English and German breeders. Two Bar-tailed Godwits seemed more closely associated with a loose group of 16 Grey Plovers, with most of the regular waders also concentrating on the pools behind the golf club house (the majority of gulls though were on the westernmost lake, which is again accessible).

The only bird I managed to get a decent picture of was this adult Red-necked Falcon perched in a baobab:


Red-necked Falcon / Faucon chicquera

Subalpine and Sedge Warblers were actively singing, while Common Redstart, Chiffchaff, and Common Whitethroat, were far less conspicuous.

Birding Latitude 15º: The Sudanian Savanna

Early January we spent a night at one of the Lompoul “desert” camps with visiting friends, while a trip up North last November provided the opportunity to make a few en-route birding stops in this poorly known region of the Grande Côte, off the beaten birding tours track. Here are some of the highlights.

Lompoul is quite a well-known tourist attraction, and what is sold as a desert with “authentic” Mauritanian tents, camel rides and the 4×4 or quad tours (not the type of activity one would expect from an ecolodge!!) is obviously not necessarily my destination of choice… but the children all like it of course and it has to be said that one does get a bit of a Saharan feeling here. The vast stretches of sand dunes are impressive, and the sunsets are quite stunning: indeed quite a special place, albeit rather surreal.

That said, there are of course very few birds in the dunes…


…but lots of good stuff in the endless bush country around it!


I really love this type of landscape so I was keen to find out what birds are around, even more so after sampling a few of the local specials during our roadside birding stops back in November when we encountered the impressive Lappet-faced Vulture and the elegant Dark-chanting Goshawk:

Dark Chanting Goshawk / Autour sombre

Dark Chanting Goshawk / Autour sombre

Also seen in the area roughly between Kebemer and Darou (NE of Mboro) were Black Scimitarbill, Green Wood-Hoopoe, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Mottled SpinetailStriped Kingfisher, obliging Northern Anteater Chats, delicately patterned Speckle-fronted Weavers, the spectacular Sahel Paradise-Whydah, and so on. Many of these were seen or heard during a particularly productive picnic break along the new Lompoul road during our travel from Dakar to the Djoudj (more on the northbound road trip with Frédéric Bacuez, including several pictures of the landscape and a full list of birds, on Ornithondar).


Northern Anteater Chat / Traquet brun


But let’s get back to Lompoul: in the dunes, we had a lone Tawny Pipit flying over, and a small group of what were probably Greater Short-toed Larks. The scarce trees here typically hold Subalpine Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, Beautiful Sunbird and of course the ever-present Laughing Doves. The Eucalyptus growth and scrub bordering the dunes has some additional migrants like Common Chiffchaff (or was it an Iberian?), plus goodies such as Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin – presumably the resident African (sub-)species – Green Bee-eater, Long-tailed Nightjar and Spotted Thick-knee. I also came across one of the few snakes I’ve seen so far in Senegal, the Elegant Sand Racer (Psammophis elegans), an inoffensive long and thin snake. Got close-up views in far more natural habitat than the empty swimming pool of the abandoned Hôtel du Lac at Mboro where Fred and I found one in November (it was still there last week!). Shortly before nightfall, a group of 14 Black Kites flew low over the tented camp, so I assume they came in to roost for the night somewhere nearby.

Further away from the dunes, out in the savanna, Bush Petronia was a real surprise given that western Senegal is not known to be part of the species’ range. I encountered several small flocks (3-5 inds.) including at least one singing male, and even managed to get a reasonable sound recording despite the windy conditions. This species – apparently now dubbed the rather unlyrical and unimaginative Russet-browed Bush-Sparrow (HBW) – is known for its nomadic habits, wandering widely outside the breeding season and thus rather unpredictable to find. I actually only saw it for the first time barely a year earlier, near Bamako. Fred confirmed that he hasn’t seen any of these little sparrows (quite literally… they’re called Petit Moineau in French) in the Saint-Louis and Gandiol hinterland, which is fairly similar to the habitat in Lompoul. I did find however a mention of Bush Petronia from Trois-Marigots in a Birding Breaks trip report, on 16.01.10. [side note: it’s a shame really that most tour companies do not report their sightings anywhere other than in what are often very approximate trip reports. At a minimum, important records should be notified to the African Bird Club for inclusion in the “Recent Reports” so that they can be easily retrieved and referred to]

The same area held quite a few other savanna specials: a male Savile’s Bustard quietly walking on the edge of a field, Wattled and Black-headed Lapwings, Striped Kingfisher, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Senegal and Yellow-bellied Eremomelas, Fork-tailed Drongo, Senegal Batis, Brubru, Green-winged Pytillia, Sudan Golden Sparrow, a Speckle-fronted Weaver, and several White-rumped Seedeaters. A Red-necked Falcon hunting over the hills was rather unexpected as there are few palm trees around. On the Palearctic migrants front, I saw Common Redstart, Bonelli’s Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Western Orphean and Subalpine Warblers, plus a group of 9 Eurasian Griffons (with one Rüppell’s Vulture) and a probable Common Kestrel.

Last but not least, in November we – well, my Swiss friends really – found an unexpected roadkill on the Lompoul-Kebemer road, close to the village of Diokoul, ca. 7 km west of Kebemer: a Golden Nightjar! This poorly known and rarely seen species in Senegal is probably on the edge of its distribution range here. It’s been reported from the Far North (Richard-Toll/Podor) and the Ferlo area, but also from further south in the Khelkom region where a French group saw and recorded at least one bird last year. Maybe one day I’ll hear or even see this spectacular nightjar, hopefully in a better shape than this unfortunate individual…


Golden Nightjar / Engoulevent doré male

Rather surprisingly for a road with very little traffic, we encountered quite a few other road kill (mainly on 18/11/16 with Cyril and Manolo), including two rarely seen mammals: Pallid Fox and Genet. Also a Spotted Thick-knee, numerous Abyssinian Rollers, Laughing Dove, Chestnut-bellied Starling, and surely several others that went unnoticed or which we didn’t stop to identify.


Lac Rose: Rousset, Traquets et Alouettes


Retour au Lac Rose dimanche dernier pour voir si par chance nos trois limicoles américains seraient toujours présents… On avait déjà fait un crochet rapide une semaine auparavant sans retrouver les limicoles sympathiques, mais pas eu la possibilité de scanner toute la steppe par faute de temps. Avant-hier matin par contre, j’ai rapidement retrouvé un Bécasseau rousset (Buff-breasted Sandpiper)dans la même zone que le 18/12. Tout seul cette fois, il se nourrissait tout aussi activement que lors de ma première observation. On peut supposer qu’il s’agit de l’un des 3 individus de fin décembre (mais alors qu’est-il arrivé aux deux autres? Seraient-ils toujours dans le coin, ou ont-ils continué leur chemin?). Pour vous donner une idée de l’habitat fréquenté par ce bécasseau, voici une photo; l’oiseau se trouve tout en bas à droite sur l’image.


Buff-breasted Sandpiper / Bécasseau rousset dans sa steppe

Avant de passer aux autres observations marquantes de la matinée – et il y en a! – c’est l’occasion de refaire le point sur les données de Tringytes subruficollis au Sénégal, car depuis mon dernier post j’ai trouvé une observation ancienne passée inaperçue, et Frédéric Bacuez a pu observer un oiseau le mois dernier près de Saint-Louis. La donnée ancienne a été publiée dans la revue Malimbus mais n’a curieusement pas été repérée par Borrow & Demey (2015) qui ne mentionnent que la première observation de 1985 (Ron me confirme qu’il s’agit d’un simple oubli). En effet, pas moins de 5 Bécasseaux roussets ont été découverts le 2 décembre 1994 par une expédition organisée par la Danish Ornithological Society, dont quatre ensemble “en train de se nourrir sur une prairie rase et dans des gouilles peu profondes proches de la plage”. Le 5e individu se trouvait environ 1 km plus au nord et a été observé simultanément par d’autres membres du groupe (Bengtsson K. 1997: Some interesting bird observations from Mauritania and Senegal, Malimbus 19:96-97).

Dans l’ordre chronologique, on a donc les six données suivantes, pour un total de 11 oiseaux:


Buff-breasted Sandpiper / Bécasseau rousset, 8/1/17

Si le nombre d’espèces dans la steppe est assez faible, j’ai la chance de trouver encore quelques espèces intéressantes, dont deux nouvelles pour moi au Sénégal. D’abord un Traquet oreillard (Black-eared Wheatear)qui se laisse brièvement observer – mais malheureusement pas photographier – au sommet d’un tamaris et qui sera revu un peu plus loin encore, tout comme quelques Traquets motteux (Northern Wheatear). Concernant ces derniers, pas encore eu l’occasion de me pencher sur l’identification de la sous-espèce leucorhoa du Groenland ; un article paru dans le dernier Ornithos permettra peut-être d’y voir plus clair.


Northern Wheatear / Traquet motteux m.

Je m’attendais un peu à trouver de l’Alouette calandrelle (Greater Short-toed Lark) dans ce milieu, mais pas en nombre si important : plus d’une centaine ! Ces grands groupes sont classiques dans le nord du pays, mais ce serait la première fois qu’un tel effectif est rapporté dans la région de Dakar. Peut-être que le froid – c’est tout relatif bien sûr, mais il faisait seulement 22 degrés ce matin – les a poussés plus au sud que d’habitude. Ou bien, et c’est sans doute plus probable, la zone est un site d’hivernage régulier mais faute d’être parcourue par les ornithologues, n’a pas été détectée comme tel jusqu’à maintenant.

Je continue de parcourir la steppe : au moins deux Pipits rousselines (Tawny Pipit), deux Alouettes chanteuses (Singing Bush-Lark), plusieurs Bergeronnettes printanières (Yellow Wagtail; surtout des flavissima) et une Bergeronnette grise (White Wagtail) complètent le tableau, mais les gravelots sont cette fois moins nombreux, avec juste une poignée de Gravelots pâtres (Kittlitz’s Plover) et 2-3 Grands Gravelots (Common Ringed Plover) parcourant les pelouses rases (sur les vasières du lac, je verrai aussi quelques Gravelots à collier interrompu (Kentish Plover), tout comme des Bécasseaux sanderlings et minutes (Little Stint), deux Tournepierres (Turnstone), un Chevalier aboyeur (Greenshank)).


Yellow Wagtail / Bergeronnette printanière ssp. flavissima, m.

La surprise du jour viendra d’un autre habitué des milieux steppiques : un Traquet isabelle (Isabelline Wheatear) ! Ce migrateur venu de l’extrême sud-est de l’Europe (Grèce/Bulgarie) ou du Proche-Orient est probablement peu fréquent au Sénégal. Hors régions frontalières avec la Mauritanie, où le Traquet isabelle est censé être régulier en hiver, Sauvage & Rodwell (1998) font état de seulement cinq données de 1-5 inds. hivernant dans les régions de Louga et Podor, une de Dakar et une de Kaffrine, entre décembre et avril. Plus récemment, Enrico Leonardi, ornitho de passage à Dakar, a pu en observer un au Technopole le 12 octobre dernier, donc à une date très hâtive pour cette espèce.

L’identification de ce traquet n’est pas forcément aisée, mais on a ici un oiseau tout à fait typique dont l’identité ne devrait pas faire de doute:

  • Coloration générale d’un beige très clair, sans contrastes importants entre le dessus et le dessous ou entre les ailes et le reste des parties supérieures
  • Posture verticale, haut sur pattes
  • Alula sombre contrastant avec les couvertures alaires pales
  • Couvertures alaires (grandes et moyennes) très peu contrastées, avec des centres à peine plus sombres
  • Lores sombres
  • Sourcil blanc bien marqué à l’avant de l’œil, mais pas à l’arrière
  • Queue relativement courte

Le seul critère diagnostique qui manque ici c’est le pattern de la queue et notamment l’étendue du noir au bout de la queue, qu’on devine toutefois sur la 2e photo (cliquez sur les onglets pour voir les images). A mon avis les photos ne sont pas suffisamment nettes pour déterminer l’âge ou le sexe, mais j’ai l’impression d’avoir affaire à un oiseau au plumage frais. Les lores ne semblent pas franchement noires, donc ce serait plutôt une femelle.


Isabelline Wheatear / Traquet isabelle

isabellinewheatear_lacrose_img_7777  isabellinewheatear_lacrose_img_7784

isabellinewheatear_lacrose_img_7792  isabellinewheatear_lacrose_img_7802

Qui sait, peut-être que le prochain traquet que je trouverai sera celui du désert… ou bien un seebohmi venu de l’Atlas marocain ?

Quoiqu’il en soit, le fait de se retrouver devant un méli-mélo de migrateurs venus de 3 voire 4 continents etait bien sympa! Rousset de l’Arctique canadien; Calandrelles, Rousseline et Oreillard du bassin méditerranéen; Traquet isabelle des portes de l’Asie… sans compter les afro-tropicales comme le Gravelot pâtre.

Birding the Niayes – Lac Rose, Mbaouane, Mboro

In recent weeks I’ve had the chance to pay a few visits to several of the Niayes wetlands, first at Mboro (twice, on Nov. 16 and 18), then Lac Tanma and the wetlands between Mbayakh and Kayar (Dec. 11), and finally near Lac Rose (Dec. 18). Lake Tanma has already featured several times in these pages, and Technopole is of course one of the most prominent and often visited sites, but little has been written about some of the other wetlands along the “Grande Côte”.


A typical cultivated Niayes depression near Kayar

Since they are considered an “IBA” (Important Bird Area) by BirdLife International, there’s a pretty good description of the area on BirdLife’s website, so rather than coming up with my own overview I’ll quote from those pages. The Niayes are “a string of permanent freshwater lakes and additional temporarily wet depressions (niayes) lying along a line running north-east from the outskirts of Dakar to around 60 km south-west of St Louis. The lakes lie behind the ridge of coastal sandy dunes, in shallow depressions at 1–4 m above sea-level, over a distance of c.150 km. They are replenished both by rainfall and from the underlying water-table, which lies close to the surface. The wetlands cover 40 km² at low water [i.e. during the dry season]; at high water, all the lakes can increase their surface area five-fold.”

As is the case with many other IBAs in Senegal, the Niayes face quite a number of threats and have no legal protected status: “The whole site is threatened by human encroachment and various forms of development, particularly those niayes such as Hann Mariste and Pikine-Guédiawaye [= Technopole!] that are within or close to Dakar and to the main road leading east and north out of the capital. One of the main threats is from drainage and land reclamation for building, which is proceeding very fast. Over-abstraction of water and various forms of pollution threaten the hydrology and water quality of the underlying water-table. In addition to their immediate conservation value, the niayes represent a huge educational resource (large numbers of easily visible, interesting birds, very close to dense urban centres), which will also be lost if the site is further degraded.”

The two images below, taken in opposite directions just a few minutes apart, nicely illustrate the effect the presence of water has on the landscape – and by extension on its wildlife: dry dunes with sparse thorny shrubs on one side, lush vegetation and cultivated fields on the other.



The small lake just south of Mboro (near the ruins of Hotel du Lac, a couple of hundred meters off the main Mbayakh-Mboro road) is one of several wetlands around this busy little town, and a perfect spot for a quick stop while traveling from Dakar to northern Senegal (or for the return journey!). While we only scratched the surface, the lake can obviously be a very rewarding birding site both for local and migrant species. There are impressive densities of African Swamphen, African Jacana, Common Moorhen and Squacco Heron, and several Black-headed Herons have been seen here on every visit. In November, a handful of Pintails and White-faced Whistling-Ducks were here, as were a few waders: Black-winged Stilt, Wattled and Spur-winged LapwingsWood Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Common Snipe. Several Little Grebes were around, including at least one breeding pair. During a quick stop on 4/1/17, in addition to most of the species already listed there were 8 Shovelers, a Garganey and ca. 18 Ruff here.


Lake near Mboro (G. Dandliker)

The area is obviously quite good for raptors, with African Hobby (a presumed pair), Marsh Harrier, and Short-toed Eagle seen on both visits in November, as well as Black-winged Kite on Nov. 18th. While checking the sky for raptors, Mottled Spinetail could easily be seen among the Little Swifts, while the bushes on the slope above the lake held African species such as Purple Roller, Northern Anteater Chat, Piapiac, Yellow-billed Shrike, and Fork-tailed Drongo.

Also here was a Gambian Sun Squirrel Heliosciurus gambianus which was spotted by my friends shortly after I’d left the site. Unlike the Striped Ground Squirrel, it’s not an easy species to see in these parts of the country.


Gambian Sun Squirrel / Ecureuil de Gambie (G. Dandliker)



At “lake” Mbaouane (or Mbawan as it seems to be spelled locally) there are extensive moist grasslands as seen on the first picture in this post, and there’s a sort of oasis running from the town of Mbayakh to the lake. I’ve been wanting to visit for quite some time but it’s only recently that I decided to head out there. That morning I first went to Lake Tanma, but this has completely dried up by now, with only the two small ponds on either side of the bridge now holding some water. As a result, all the ducks, waders, gulls and terns have left the site, with only a lone Osprey to be seen where less than a month before there were thousands of birds. We’ll now need to wait until August next year for the lake to fill up again. (Birding was still good though: a Short-toed Eagle, a pair of Temminck’s Coursers, a juvenile Green-winged Pytillia, 2-3 Purple Rollers, plus the usual suspects and a young African Wolf all made up for the lack of waterbirds).

One of the first birds I saw after getting out of the car near Mbaouane was a Blue-bellied Roller, a species that I hadn’t seen so far in the Dakar area (my only record up to now was in Casamance). It’s likely a rare resident or maybe a wet season visitor up to this latitude and surely it’s at the edge of its range here. Morel & Morel mention that they can be seen up to around Thies, which is just a bit further inland. It turned out that there were two birds here, presumably a pair (in the picture below, one can see that the bird on the left has longer tail streamers; I assume this to be the male).


Blue-bellied Roller / Rollier à ventre bleu

Another interesting record here was that of a Quailfinch, which in typical fashion flew over hesitantly while uttering its distinctive call. This species is well known from the Saloum delta and is also present in the lower Senegal delta, albeit in lower densities it seems, but is not regularly recorded from the Niayes as far as I know (which admittedly is most likely a reflection of the absence of birders in this part of the country!). Regardless, the fact that this is largely a resident species and that December corresponds to the breeding season in Senegambia, one can assume that the species occurs routinely in the area.

Some of the other birds seen here were Purple and Black-headed Herons, while Mottled SpinetailRed-chested and Mosque Swallows were flying overhead.



Lac Rose

Also known as Lac Retba, this is a bit of an unusual Niayes lake in the sense that it is a permanent salt water body, well known for its salt industry. As such, bird life is quite different from the other wetlands in the region: besides a few gulls, Greater Flamingos and a few waders, few birds are present on the lake itself. During my recent visit to the place, there were no flamingos – only a single Audouin’s Gull, the usual Ospreys (probably 15-20 in total), but a decent gathering of waders was found towards the eastern edge of the lake: Common Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Grey Plover, Whimbrel, Little Stint, Sanderling, and Turnstone. Also here was a White Wagtail, while the plains to the north-east of the lake held Singing Bushlark, Chestnut-backed SparrowlarksTawny Pipit, Yellow Wagtails, etc.


Singing Bush Lark / Alouette chanteuse


Tawny Pipit / Pipit rousseline

I then made my way to the edge of the seasonal lakes (now all dried up) and the dunes even further towards Kayar, where a good mix of local species was to be found: Black-headed Heron, Double-spurred FrancolinVieillot’s Barbet, Grey Woodpecker, Brown Babbler, Splendid Sunbird, White-rumped and – more surprisingly – Yellow-fronted Canary to name but a few. Common Whitethroat was the only northern migrant here.


African Grey Hornbill / Calao à bec noir


African Grey Woodpecker / Pic goertan male


On the way back, a quick scan of a grassy field produced the surprise of the day under the form of three Buff-breasted Sandpipers loosely associating with a flock of Kittlitz’s Plovers – see my earlier post on this exceptional record, plus the bonus picture below.


Buff-breasted Sandpiper / Bécasseau rousset