Trip up North: Gandiol & the “PNLB” (30/3-3/4)
Last week’s school holidays and a cancelled road trip to the Gambia and Casamance (border closed to road traffic!) were a perfect opportunity to return to the Gandiol area, just south of Saint-Louis. We first stayed a couple of nights at the pleasant Niokobokk guest house, then 2 nights camping at our favourite Zebrabar. Rather than writing a long report, here’s an overview in pictures, in chronological order:
- Acacia bush between Gandiol village and Niokobokk: a Brubru (more heard than seen), a Yellow-billed Oxpecker feeding between a donkey’s ears, a busy pair of Northern Crombecs, 1 or 2 Woodchat Shrikes, numerous Common Whitethroats, several Common Redstarts, etc.
- Niokobokk: A probable Iberian Chiffchaff in the garden of the guest house. Poor picture, but the well marked supercilium, whitish belly, pale legs (compared to Common Chiffchaff), shortish primary projection (compared to Willow Warbler) are more or less visible here. Unfortunately this bird didn’t call or sing, so I’m not 100% certain about this bird’s ID even if plumage, location and date all point in the Iberian direction.
- Guembeul reserve: Daniel, Charlie and I paid an afternoon visit to Guembeul, where we were met by local guide Pape who just like on our first visit last year was very enthusiastic and obviously quite knowledgeable about the area’s bird- and wildlife. Of interest were +250 Avocets, a single Lesser Flamingo, +60 Greater Flamingos, 2 Little Terns… but also Warthog, Patas Monkey, Striped Ground Squirrel on the mammal front.
- An entire morning out in the field with Frédéric Bacuez, Saint-Louis resident (well, almost!) birder and blogger, was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip. Fred’s knowledge of the birdlife and more generally of the biodiversity, geography and culture of the region is unique, making it was most definitely a privilege to be out birding together. Even more so because our excursion was highly successful in finding our main target: the little-known and elusive Little Grey Woodpecker, of which Fred recently found an active nest in an impressive baobab, somewhere in the “arrière-pays gandiolais” south of the Guembeul special fauna reserve. His blog Ornithondar contains a number of posts on this find, including a comprehensive report of our excursion together. It only took a short wait for the tiny Sahelian Woodpeckers as they are sometimes called to appear near their favourite tree.
We enjoyed watching, photographing and recording a fine adult male with a female or young bird, staying closely together while feeding in the acacia trees. After a while, the latter flew onto the branch containing the nest hole. As it approached, just before entering the cavity, another young or female left the nest: it seems that the local family continues using their nest hole even after the young have fledged.
A recording of the male calling loud & clear followed by constant softer contact (or begging?) calls is available on Xeno-canto. Seems that my recording is the only one that is publicly available, as the species was so far not represented in the extensive sound library, neither is it available in the AVoCet nor the Macaulay libraries.
A supporting act of various Palearctic passerines – Common Whitethroats everywhere, a single Subalpine Warbler, Orphean Warbler, Common Redstart, Bonelli’s Warbler – and a few “good” local species – Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Little Tern (a presumed pair performing their aerial display), Little Green Bee-eater, Senegal Batis – further made our mourning out all the more enjoyable. A quick stop at the sewage ponds on the way back from Saint-Louis added a few more to the list, in particular River Prinia and Greater Swamp Warbler.
- Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie (aka PNLB): the usual suspects around Zebrabar: a good diversity of waders of all sorts (Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Curlew and Whimbrel, etc.), noisy Royal, Caspian, Gull-billed, Sandwich and Common Terns; Slender-billed, Grey-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls; Brown Babbler; Western Olivaceous Warbler; Little Weaver.
- Gandiolais bush east of Mouit village: a late afternoon visit produced another Orphean Warbler, at least a dozen or so Common Whitethroats feeding for the most part on “prickly pear cactus” (Barbary Fig), more Sudan Golden Sparrows, and so on.
- A quick early morning walk around Zebrabar produced more of the same, plus an adult Peregrine Falcon (one of very few raptors seen in the area), another White Wagtail, more Senegal Batises, and a Bar-tailed Godwit to mention but a few.
- The return journey to Dakar took us once again through vulture country: from Potou to roughly Mboro, sightings of Hooded, White-backed and to a lesser extent Ruppell’s Vultures were fairly regular albeit in small numbers. Also seen were a roadside European Roller – a nice change from the common Abyssinian Roller – and several Mottled Spinetails between Kebemer and Mboro. A quick stop near one of the small Mboro lakes, pictured below, provided a snapshot of the potential of this area which I hope to explore more in coming weeks or months: an impressive density of African Swamphen, African Jacana, and Moorhen was remarkable, while a White-faced Whistling Duck, a pair of Little Grebes, an Intermediate Egret, Squacco Heron, a Black-headed Heron, Black-winged Stilt, Wood Sandpiper, and Palm Swift added more flavour. The Black-headed Heron was all the more surprising as this was the 2nd of the trip, after one flying over the new Lompoul road on our way northward, while the species is not known to regularly occur in the Niayes stretch between Dakar and the Senegal River. Also on the way up on 30/3, a pair of Bearded Barbets near Gokho village (north of Lac Tanma) was of interest as there are apparently few records this far north.
All in all, about 135 bird species were seen during this trip, once again confirming the sheer diversity of this part of Senegal.