Djoudj and encore Technopole (Second documented Senegal record for common gull)
The final week of February I spent at Djoudj, for a training course at the Station Biologique. Many things have been written about the spectacle of Djoudj and I cannot avoid at least one photo (above) of the famous masses of white-faced whistling ducks that roost during the day on the lake behind the Station Biologique. However, there is less information on where to find some of Senegal’s rarer species within the reserve. I had very little time to birdwatch, but evening walks along the embankment north of the Station Biologique lake produced two nice species. Just before you enter the reserve along the dirt road, the lake is on your left and the bank I refer to is on the other side, accessible by walking past the Station Biologique and turning left along it, towards the village.
The lovely African pygmy goose was here in small numbers each evening, in the reed-fringed ditch to the right of the track. It is a species often on visiting birders’ wish lists and this must be the easiest place to find it, though I do not know if it is present year-round. Also along the ditch, iniitaillly confusing calls proved to be river prinia, a very localised, though perhaps under-recorded, species of Sahel wetlands that is confined in Senegal to the Senegal River Delta. It was a quite showy species compared to other warblers in the reeds, climbing up reed stems whilst calling. The pictures in identification books do not do justice to the (usually) much greyer plumage, though care is needed, as the Senegal’s other ornitho-blogger Frédéric Bacuez nicely explains. However it is the song that picks it out. Annoyingly, I did not think to take a video clip, later finding that there are no public recordings of the song on the internet at xeno-canto or the Cornell Laboratory Macauley Library.
Back at Dakar’s Technopole today (3 March), the water levels have dropped sufficiently for it to be possible again to walk out onto the marsh behind the Sonatel office and for the gull flocks to have moved back to the main, western lake. Whilst I was out of Dakar visiting birder Jean-François Blanc had two great finds and species 186 and 187 for Technopole: this second winter common gull (below, with summer-plumaged black-headed gulls)) and a yelllow-legged gull. Yellow-legged gull is a regular “winter” visitor at St. Louis at the southern edge of the Hydrobase beach (thanks to Frédéric Bacuez for the information) and probably elsewhere – Clive Barlow records plenty on the beach at Tanji in The Gambia. Common gull is however a real rarity. The first documented record is of three birds (two first winter and one adult) at St. Louis in Janaury 1994. Technopole’s bird therefore appears to be record number two.
My visit failed to re-find either of these, but there were plenty of gulls, including the now expected 100+ Audouins, all second and third calendar year birds, plus at least four Mediterranean gulls; three 2nd calendar year (1st winter) and a lovely white 3rd calendar year (2nd winter) bird. With two years’ observations it now seems the species is a regular winter visitor to Dakar, perhaps at the southern edge of the range of wintering European immatures. It is commoner in Mauritania where it seems to follow the behavioural pattern of Audouin’s, foraging offshore, including at night. A group of 50 gull-billed terns were new in. There were no surprises amongst the waders, but it was good to see some of the little stints turning into breeding plumage, with rust-brown wing feathers.