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.


4 responses to “New species for Senegal (and Africa!)”

  1. Bacuez says :


    Je suis l’administrateur de Ornithondar, “l’autre” blog ornitho du Sénégal… et je suis heureux de reprendre cette formidable info sur mon site ! Néanmoins, si la mention documentée (avec brio) par Alexander ne fait pas de doute et nous permet d’ajouter avec bonheur le short-billed dowitcher à la liste des accidentels du Sénégal, je dois vous signaler qu’une observation de notre limicole, malheureusement sans photo, a déjà eu lieu, en… 1976, près de Cape Coast, au Ghana (cf.
    Merci pour votre blog, on se sent moins seul…
    Frédéric Bacuez,

  2. paulauvirage says :

    Thanks to Frederic Bacuez and do visit his fine Senegal blog. It is true that there is another claimed short-billed dowitcher record for Africa, from Ghana in 1976. The record is listed as “uncertain” in the recent African Bird Club Ghana birds list. So,although the Senegal record may not yet be officially accepted (to be honest I don’t know the ABC process for “officially” accepting records), it seems likely that the Senegal record will becoem the first accepted for Africa.


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