More seabirds off Almadies and Yoff, 7 May

Whilst intensive observation of seabird migration off Dakar’s Cap Vert peninsula is an almost annual event now with visiting birders  for a week or two in October or early November , described in detail at the Seawatching in Senegal web site, there is still very little information from other seasons. The same web site provides data  from only one spring visit, 21-28 April 1992, when 26 hours from land and 33 hours at sea resulted in  highlight totals of c10,000 black terns, 224 Sabine’sgulls, 96 roseate  terns and   27 long-tailed skuas. The last three are both attractive and difficult species to find on migration, so with this in mind we planned a few short “balades en mer” during May.

The sea on 7 May, with the Le Corbusier Hôtel Ngor in the background

May 7th started with a one minute pirogue trip to the small, uninhabited Ile de Teunguène, off the fishing village of Yoff Tonghor. A few black terns, both adults and second year birds, were in the bay between  the village and isle amongst other expected species.  From land the volcanic rocks, exposed at low tide, often have abundant terns, but today there were few and we  had almost  abandoned the visit after  30 minutes when the distinctive flight feathers showed a Sabine’s gull, which proceeded to land on the rocks. Too distant for good photos with my camera, I nevertheless attach a  few  here.

This  bird’s plumage is unfamiliar to me. With the combination of adult features (no dark upper tail band) and lack of a full grey head that  might be expected at this time of year, it is either still developing breeding plumage or perhaps a second year bird. The upper wings were the smart grey, white and black of a full adult and the yellow tip  to the bill was surprisingly distinct. As this is a species more  often seen well offshore (the April 1992 totals recorded 10% from land and 90% at sea), the bird’s presence  on the rocks was notable and it may be the first Sabines to have set foot on Senegal’s  land mass!

A further surprise was to find a roseate  tern on the same rocks.

We next took a small pirogue for 2.5 hours from Ouakam, a small fishing harbour to the south of the volcanic hill of Mamelles, out beyond Pointe des Alamadies and to opposite Ile de Ngor. There  is an abrupt  change from very little other than terns (many sub-adult sandwich and common terns and a few royal terns, often in pairs) south of the reefs of the Pointe, to the appearance and then almost  constant presence of petrels, skuas and shearwaters.

The approximate route. My intention to add gps points to sightings was abandoned when the hand-held gps failed.

Wilson’s storm-petrel was  the only petrel and never  numerous. For most birds  there was no clear  direction of movement and many birds may simply have been foraging offshore. This was  certainly true of shearwaters, which we encountered in groups resting offshore, feeding or searching for  food with head-ducking. Of a very approximate 1000 shearwaters, some 80% were Cory’s shearwaters, all those  seen well enough being the  “Scopoli” sub-species, most of which are Mediterranean breeders and the main sub-species to winter here. 10% were Cape Verde shearwater. Ten or so sooty shearwaters were mixed in with the flocks.

Continuing the article’s visual theme of out-of focus photographs, two of the  sooty shearwaters.

An 8:2 split would also be approximately correct for pomarine and arctic skuas, most sub-adults, but with a few lovely full plumaged pale phase adults for  both species. However, the hoped for long-tailed skuas also appeared. There were at least 3 full tailed adults and I suspect we under-recorded the number of sub-adults.

Adult long-tailed skua



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