Yene and the Barngy-Rufisque lagoons
South of Dakar, a scatter of lagoons along the 70km of coast between Rufisque and Mbodiene form La Petite Cote Important Bird Area. This is a mixed bag of tidal, brackish and freshwater wetlands, the more northerly ones of which are an accessible half day’s birdwatching from the capital. Optimistically, depending on the traffic bottleneck of Rufisque, 40 minutes’ drive from central Dakar will get you to the first lagoons.
We tried this on Saturday morning and I hope my colleagues can add some more photographs to my one! The first lagoons are opposite Senegal’s main cement works at Rufisque. Heading from Dakar, there are several points where you can park on the right off the main road, after the cement works roundabout and before the next settlement of Bargny. The lagoons can be viewed from the beach.
The beach here presents a busy scene, the industry of which I do not fully understand. Along with fishing with hand-pulled nets offshore, for finger-length fish, is sorting and smoking of fish and sorting and collecting of shells or stones, all occupying several hundred people on this day.
The two lagoons we looked at, between the beach and main road just north of Bargny, had about 2000 waders and terns, mostly sanderling (at least 1600), with a few ringed plover, European oystercatcher, redshank, ruddy turnstone, little stint, dunlin, black-winged stilt and common, royal and black terns. The terns were also feeding offshore around the fishing nets and two or three osprey were also offshore.
Dunlin Calidris alpina. See the black marks on the side of the breast, characteristic of a juvenile. Possibly, from its medium bill length, the commoner (in West Africa) schinzii sub-species which breeds in Iceland and western Europe, though I can not find much helpful published information on separating autumn juvenile sub-species.
The count of sanderling is notable. This is a high arctic breeding species and the NE Canada/Greenland/Svalbard population of 123,000 birds winters along eastern atlantic beaches from Europe to South Africa. The magic 1% (c1200 birds) used by conservationists as one criterion to select Important Bird Areas and key wetlands (“Ramsar Sites”) is therefore met for the Rufisque-Bargny lagoons. Looking at Birdlife International’s web site, there are only four other IBAs reaching the criterion for sanderling for sub-Saharan West Africa; the species is very much more abundant at Mauritania’s Banc d’Arguin and Guinea Bissau’s Archipeligo dos Bijagos (both huge wetlands with 20000+ sanderling), whilst 3-5000 bird occur at the Amansuri wetland (Ghana) and Sierra Leone River estuary. There are then further important sites with low thousands in Namibia and South Africa.
Has the fifth most important West African wintering site for sanderling really been discovered on a Saturday morning drive? The honest answer is “who knows”? The global January waterbird counts have hugely improved the knowledge of waterbird numbers and distribution in Africa, but there remain plenty of gaps. Good counts have previously been reported from these lagoons. The last published account of an attempt to count waders along most of Senegal’s coast, by two Belgian birders in 1978/79, gave a rough estimate of 6000 sanderling for Senegal, of which c2000 were along the beach at Joal, 70km further south. Rufisque/Bargny is not mentioned, though this was in late December and January when many rain fed lagoons are dry, as was the case with our other lagoon today at Yene, 10km south along the coast from Bargny.
Yene was spectacular for waterbirds in December 2010, a year with twice the volume of rains of this one. It may just be the reduced rainfall this year, though with the rains still progressing it was surprising to see no standing water here and just a few dogs wandering over the dusty lake bed.