The Réserve Naturelle de Popenguine
The cap de Naze cliffs, where blue rock-thrush was seen on the vertical section and eurasian crag martins were overhead
Sunday afternoon of 12 February took us a 1.5 hour drive south out of Dakar along the Petite Côte to the Réserve Naturelle de Popenguine. Statutorily protected since 1986, it is 1009ha of regenerating savanna in an otherwise poorly wooded part of Senegal, with picturesque coastal cliffs and a rolling, shrub landscape. To a European eye bought up on Mediterranean holidays it looks both attractive and entirely right, though both regions were no doubt once more wooded. A freshwater lake adds variety.
The Mediterranean echo is also in the bird life. For birders, Popenguine’s cliffs, known as cap de Naze, are best known as the only reliable place in Senegal and one of the few in West Africa to see two Palearctic migrants; Eurasian crag martin and blue rock-thrush, which we duly found, though with only very distant views of a male of the latter.
Eurasian crag martin
The two have almost identical European breeding ranges, over the Iberian peninsula, southern France, the Alps, the Caucasians and Greece; see here and here . Both are mountain and cliff species for which cap de Naze must look like a home from home. Neither are rare or declining (they have the global conservation category of “Least Concern”), but their elusive status in West Africa gives an interesting story.
Eurasian crag martin was first thought not to cross the western Sahara when the two major early reviews of the bird migration in Africa were written; Moreau’s “The Pealearctic-African Bird Migration Systems” (1972) and Curry-Lindahl’s “Bird migration in Africa” (1981). It was best known from the Nile valley. However, birds were discovered in Popenguine from 1979 and then seen regularly, Popenguine becoming the first discovered West African wintering site after four isolated records elsewhere in Senegal, and there are now also observations from Mauritania and Mali. The Senegal birds, to add confusion, were first thought to be the similar african resident, rock martin, an even rarer bird in Senegal, only known from the Dindefelo reserve in the rocky south-east near the border with Guinea. Tha majority of crag martins do remain north of the Sahara.
Blue rock-thrush is also a species for which most birds remain in Europe or North Africa. It is a little more widespread in West Africa than Eurasian crag martin, but also confined to mountainous habitats and cliffs. In Senegal, apart from one record in the south east, it is a species of the coastal cliffs around the Dakar region and at Popenguine, though also sometimes seen on coastal buildings. Popenguine is the most regular site for observations.
Aside for these two, our best find was a few cinnamon-breasted rock buntings, a typical,but not widespread species of rocky savanna, whilst black-crowned tchagra and rufous scrub robin are always nice to hear and see and the most abundant Palearctic migrants in the scrub were woodchat shrike and subalpine warbler.
Greater painted snipe
The pool had a few Audouin’s gulls amongst the gulls and two surprisingly confiding greater painted snipe, usually a difficult species to photograph.