Marsh Terns, Ducks & More Waders (28/8)
Last Sunday I went to Lac Tanma – first visit since January – and, of course, Technopole. I picked up Miguel Lecoq who recently arrived in Dakar to work for BirdLife (yes! a new birder in town!), and we headed straight for Lac Tanma to see what was about there at the start of the raining season. This shallow seasonal lake has started to fill up and conditions were pretty good for waders, even if some were a bit distant: a few dozen Wood Sandpipers and Black-winged Stilts, several Greenshanks and Common Redshanks, a Marsh Sandpiper, a few Common Sandpipers, Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Common Ringed and Kittlitz’s Plover (including a still downy juvenile, confirming local breeding), Ruff, a lone Whimbrel, and a bunch of Common Pratincoles. The latter appear to also breed in the area or at least in the vicinity of the lake: out of about 15-20 birds, at least 8 were juveniles. Also present were the resident Spur-winged and African Wattled Lapwings as well as Senegal Thick-knees, a Black-winged Kite, and a flock of about 95 Greater Flamingos including 30 juveniles.
Only a handful of ducks are present at the moment: 4 White-faced Whistling Ducks and a single Garganey, which appears to be an early date for the species in Senegal. Later on in the season, when water levels further rise and aquatic vegetation develops, the lake becomes an important stop-over site for Garganeys and Shovelers.
Best of all was at least one White-winged Tern, nicely showing its distinctive black underwing coverts as it was flying around the lake. There may have been more, though most of the other marsh terns (which mainly were roosting quite far out) were Black Terns. Besides the waders and terns (including Gull-billed and Caspian), a few Lesser Black-backed and Audouin’s Gulls and 5 or 6 Ospreys, the only other northern migrant that was seen was a single Sand Martin. Along the road back to Mbayakh, a Broad-billed Roller flew past, while Shikra was another wet season visitor that was seen near the lake.
Another surprise was this small group of what turned out to be Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starlings rather than their more widespread counterpart, Greater BEGS. Both species are extremely difficult to separate based on adult plumage (when call is the best identification feature). These birds remained silent, but thanks to the 3 juveniles in the flock it was possible to clinch the ID, as Lesser shows brownish underparts whereas Greater youngsters are entirely dark.
At Technopole, the main surprise was a flock of 11 Fulvous Whistling Ducks, a vagrant here which I hadn’t seen before in the Dakar area. It’s reasonably common in the Senegal delta (though still massively outnumbered by the White-Faced WD’s) and apparently also in the south of the country, but it’s generally absent from central and western Senegal. Hazy rarity picture below. Another good one was Whiskered Tern, with one or two birds feeding among the Black Terns. Chlidonias hat trick today!
As expected, water levels here have substantially risen in the last two weeks, leaving only small sand banks favourable for the smaller wader species. Still quite a few Ruff & co were present, but far fewer calidrids than on my previous visit. An Avocet was here again, while two Little Terns were another good record for Technopole as the species is seen only infrequently here. An Acrocephalus warbler was either a Eurasian or African Reed-Warbler. We both tended toward the latter but didn’t get good enough views, and as it turns out it seems that many Palearctic insectivores are ahead of schedule this year, as reported by Fred Bacuez from Saint-Louis. By now some at least should have reached Dakar!
Greater Flamingos are still present in moderate numbers, but we didn’t find any more ringed birds unlike the 3 French birds early August for which I now received details from the Tour du Valat research station in the Camargue: all were ringed as chicks in the sole French colony, but in different years (2013, 2014 and 2015). Ring recoveries from French birds in Senegal are apparently pretty rare, unlike in Mauritania where there are fairly regular sightings of French, Spanish, Italian and Algerian birds (and even one from Turkey!).
The previous morning I did a car transect from Dakar’s main slaughterhouse (route de Rufisque at Dalifort), which already early morning was bustling with activity, to Bel-Air and the Hann bay, looking for roosting Hooded Vultures. My count is part of an effort lead by Wim Mullié to get a better sense of the current status of the species in Dakar. As with almost all other vulture species, the Hooded Vulture has declined substantially in most if not all parts of its range, and is now considered to be Critically Endangered. BirdLife International recently “uplisted” the species’ conservation status as it has increasingly become clear that Hooded Vultures are declining at an alarming rate over much of its range, at the point where it is considered to be at serious risk of extinction: Hooded Vulture populations are thought to be dwindling with an estimated 83% decline (range 64-93%) over three generations, or a period of about 53 years (Ogada et al. 2015). This may be difficult to believe in places such as Conakry (where I’m writing this post from), which still has what seems to be a healthy Hooded Vulture population – e.g. this morning I counted at least 75 birds roosting in the city’s CBD, and later saw about 60 flying around in scattered groups. Same in Bissau or Banjul where the species is still very common.
There are several important sites where our local vultures spend the night – especially UCAD, Dakar’s main university campus – but it appears that there are also lots of singles or small groups that spend the night in scattered places, usually in filaos (Casuarina equisetifolia, Australian Pine Tree) or on buildings ,and almost always near the waterfront. Saturday’s little transect was moderately successful, finding a total of 15 birds in 3 sites.
More on this topic to follow in due time; the Dakar results are to be announced at the upcoming Pan-African Ornithological Congress (PAOC 14) in October, after which I’ll write more about our local vultures.
In Parc de Hann, the now usual Eurasian Collared-Doves were singing in their usual spots, just like a Blue-breasted Kingfisher and Splendid Sunbird which are two other “specials” of the site. The heronry is now full of young egrets and cormorants and is noisy as ever!