New species for Senegal (and Africa!)
First apologies to our small readership for the two months gap in postings due to absence and work. On returning to Senegal, the big rarity news almost passed me by, but fortunately a past visiting birder put me in touch with Alexander Hiley, who has very kindly let us use his photos of his find of short-billed dowitcher whilst holidaying. He located the bird on 14 October on a saline lagoon near Le Teranga campement, Gandiole on the Langue de Barbarie.
Either of the two american species of dowitcher, long- or short billed, would have been new for Senegal, but short-billed is much the rarer of the two to cross the Atlantic. For example, all time totals for three relatively well watched North-West European countries are 3 (Britain) 3 (Ireland) and 2 (France). Perhaps the weather of autumn 2012 was a bit more favorable for the species’ crossing, as it accounted for 3 of these 8, plus Sweden’s first bird and this one – Africa’s first.
Separation of the two species is not easy. A detailed identification article describes the pair as “easiest to separate in juvenile plumage” and this one is a juvenile, but all things are relative! I have cropped one of the photos to show the most decisive juvenile feature; the so-called “tiger stripe” pattern on the tertials (feathers above the tail).
Short-billed dowitcher is a common species where it should be, breeding in Canada with its eastern population migrating through the Caribbean and central america to Brazil. It is given the dull conservation classification of Least Concern by Birdlife. October is towards the tail end of the migration of immatures, though it could have turned up in Senegal and remained undetected for months.
I guess one could attempt a calculation of the probability of Senegal now having only one third of the number of records as Britain, given the huge disparity in the number of hours of observation by birders attuned to spot rare waders in the two countries. What was the relative contribution of happy chance and more american waders reaching here than Europe? With more than 100 white-rumped sandpipers getting half way across the Atlantic to the Azores this October, I wonder how many went unnoticed in Senegal’s little stint flocks?
Thank again to Alexander for the images and have a look at some more of his photos from his Senegal trip on his web site Galleries page.