Return of the Waders

As I’m still getting used to the often subtle seasonal changes in the region’s bird life, I was rather surprised to find that several species of waders have already started returning from their European breeding grounds.

On my previous Technopole visit on 18 June, I only noted about a dozen or so Common Ringed Plovers, several Black-tailed Godwits (31 to be precise), a single Curlew Sandpiper, two Common Redshanks and one Wood Sandpiper.

Barely a week later, on 26 June, godwit numbers had almost doubled, while new arrivals were two Avocets, a male Ruff and a lone Green Sandpiper.

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Among the 55 Black-tailed Godwits, no less than four were colour-ringed, for which I now have the life history of three birds thanks to a quick response by Jos Hooijmeijer (Conservation Ecology Group, University of Groningen). While it’s been established thanks to satellite-tracking research projects that the species can take as little as 48 hours to cover the distance separating its Dutch breeding grounds from the West-African winter quarters, it’s still surprising to see that at least some birds barely make use of stop-over sites in SW Europe or Morocco.

All three birds were ringed as adults in the Dutch province of Friesland between 2012 and 2015, and all three were sighted in Friesland this spring. “B3YYBB” was last seen on its breeding grounds as early as May 2nd, “Y5RRLB” on May 24th, and “B4YRYL” on June 10th. Only the latter had been spotted in Senegal before, last November in the Djoudj.

As I was reading these rings (which required a lot of patience, as birds were mostly resting on one leg) I noticed that one of them (Y5) had a long antenna protruding off its back, while another (B3) had an unusual blue ring with a small extension: this turned out to be a geolocator. As already mentioned in my previous post on CR godwits, the King of the Meadows website provides up-to-date data on movements of several Black-tailed Godwits. One can see for example that the first birds to arrive on their wintering grounds reached Guinea-Bissau and Casamance on 20 and 29 June, respectively. According to Jos, this year’s breeding season has been particularly dire in the Netherlands, which may explain these early arrivals.

Continuing on the same theme, one of the Redshanks was also ringed, but because the red flag ring was entirely covered in mud, it was impossible to read any letter/number combination if there was one  In any case, it seems that this is a bird ringed in 2014 under a Scottish ringing scheme (as per www.cr-birding.org) – full details will be added later if I receive them. This would appear to be a first ring recovery at Technopole for this species.

As usual, our favourite Dakar hotspot held a great deal of other birds, resulting in a nice mix of local and migratory species. In addition to the aforementioned migrant waders, Black-winged Stilts were particularly numerous (+700!) with now a minimum of three occupied nests, at least 40 Senegal Thick-knees, Spur-winged Lapwings present everywhere as always, while a female Greater Painted-Snipe was, for once, well visible on an islet of the main lake. The latter also held a juvenile Kittlitz’s Plover, confirming local breeding as it was probably unable to fly – in any case, it didn’t take off as I approached within a few meters, but rather ran away along the shore, and overall impression was of a very young bird.

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Kittlitz’s Plover / Gravelot pâtre juv.

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Kittlitz’s Plover / Gravelot pâtre juv.

After Paul found a dead chick at Technopole in early July 2012, this appears to be only the second breeding record for the country away from the Senegal river delta, though as Paul pointed out it’s most likely that other records went undocumented or simply that other breeding attempts went unnoticed. I’d imagine that the species is a regular breeder at e.g. Lake Tanma¹ and in the Saloum Delta.

Gulls and terns are of course less numerous than in winter, yet there was still a good mix of species with Royal, Gull-billed, Caspian, Sandwich, Common, and Black Terns, in addition to several dozen Grey-headed Gulls and probably around a 100 Slender-billed Gulls (one of which with a yellow ring with black inscription: still awaiting further details, but it seems to be a bird from the Saloum delta).

 

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Pink-backed Pelican / Pélican gris

 

Other usual suspects included a high count of Little Grebes with a minimum of 400 birds on the main lake, several Red-chested Swallows, a couple of Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starlings, breeding Red-billed Queleas, and (on 18/6) Grey-headed Kingfisher and several Little Bitterns, including a singing bird.

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Long-tailed Cormorant / Cormoran africain

 

Finally, at Parc de Hann I counted at least 6 Eurasian Collared-Doves, with added bonus species of Blue-breasted KingfisherSplendid Sunbird and Sudan Golden Sparrow, while at least 42 Hooded Vultures was a good count for this species. A pair of Squacco Herons on its nest in the heronry was an additional breeding species for the park.

 

¹ Breeding at Lac Tanma was confirmed on 28/8/16 when at least one young juvenile, still with some down feathers on the head, was seen on the shores of this seasonal lake.

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