Kulikoro Firefinch in SE Senegal
Thanks to José María Fernández-García for this guest blog on the little known endemic of SE Senegal and SW Mali. It was one of a number of exciting bird finds by their team that support their proposed classification of Dindefelo, best known for its chimpanzees, as an Important Bird Area.
In 2011, several bird surveys were carried out in Dindefelo Natural Reserve, a community-managed reserve promoted by the Jane Goodall Institute (www.ecosenegal.org). These field surveys were intended to provide a first checklist of the reserve’s species, in order to assess natural values for conservation. Dindefelo is located in Kedougou region, some 700 km from Dakar. In fact, it lies at the foothills of the Fouta Djallon massif and is very close to the Guinean border.
On April 26, we mist-netted a firefinch, which was identified as a Kulikoro (Mali) Firefinch Lagonosticta virata. The notable features to tell this bird from other firefinches were the bluish bill and the black undertail coverts. The most similar firefinch is the Blue-billed L. rubricata, but our bird had a slender bill and less white spots on breast-sides. As the bird was examined in the hand, we also noticed that its outer primaries were broad, not emarginated. Guides and handbook, somewhat vaguely, describe the typical habitat as “scrubby rocky hillsides and thickets”, which in general terms suits the Dindefelo landscape.
This record is noteworthy because, to my knowledge, only two observations in Senegal have been published so far, both from the Southeast area between Tambacounda and Kedougou. The first one was an identification of a museum skin collected in 1966 (R. Payne, Malimbus 19) and the second a pair of birds observed on November 2009 (Bulletin of the African Bird Club). There is at least one more claimed observation, but the specific identification remains unclear.
Kulikoro Firefinch is a West-African endemic, as it is only known to occur worldwide in Southern Mali and Southeastern Senegal. This presumed limited distribution highlights the conservation concern for this species, and BirdLife International considers its presence as an indicator to classify “endemic bird areas”. Anyway, the geographic range, ecology and conservation status of the Kulikoro Firefinch are little known (R. Payne, Bulletin of the African Bird Club 12), so that “every record counts” to make a better picture.
Text and photos: José María Fernández-García and Nerea Ruiz de Azua