The majority of systematic seabird counts in Dakar have been conducted in October (see e.g. Dubois et al. 2009 and the Seawatching in Senegal website) when diversity and intensity of south-bound passage at sea is usually highest. Many species migrate much earlier of course, some leaving their breeding grounds already in July or early August, so it’s no surprise that seawatch sessions earlier in the season can be productive too even if the number of birds passing through is less important. Last year I made just a handful of visits to Ngor and Pointe des Almadies in September, but this year I managed to squeeze in quite a few sessions so far, often short (45 minutes to an hour and a half, usually around 8-9am) but sufficient to get a better sense of what’s passing through at this time of the year.
Below are some of the highlights, based on three visits in August (5/8, 19/8 and 26/8) and eight between 9 and 26 September.
Except for one session from Ngor island on 19/8, all observations were made from the terrace of the Calao Club Hotel just north of the Ngor bay. This spot provides a slightly elevated view point with convenient shelter from the sun, and access to decent (though overpriced) coffee. It has recently been upgraded, providing more space and a less run-down feel than before – just in time for the PAOC which will take place later this month and which should see a substantial number of birders come to the terrace throughout the week of the conference.
Best days were 13/9 for waders, after a morning of intensive showers and under continued light rain, while for true “pelagics” (Sooty Shearwater, skuas, Sabine’s Gull) best were 25 and 26/9 when winds were relatively strong (5-6 Bf?) from the NW.
- Cape Verde Shearwater (Puffin du Cap-Vert): at least three shearwaters probably belonging to this species on 5/8, but no others so far. This species is usually more numerous in late winter and spring, though this is highly variable from year to year it seems.
- Sooty Shearwater (Puffin fuligineux): one on 9/9 (evening), at least 61 (+ 5 sp.) on 16/9, 17 (+ 4 sp.) on 21/9, only 3 on 23/9 but then a decent 108 on 25/9 (in 85 mins.) and an impressive 131 on 26/9 in just 45 mins. On the latter date I couldn’t stay any longer unfortunately, and even if the strength of the winds gradually diminished over the course of the morning one can imagine that on 25-26/9 there must have been close to if not more than a 1000 of these neat shearwaters passing by.
- Oystercatcher (Huîtrier pie): 8 on 18/9, 3 on 23/9
- Common Ringed Plover (Grand Gravelot): singles on 21 and 23/9
- Whimbrel (Courlis corlieu): 8 migrating on 13/9 and 3 on 16/9, in addition to the 2-3 local birds feeding amongst the volcanic rocks on most days
- Common Redshank (Chevalier gambette): ca. 10 on 13/9 under light rain
- Common Sandpiper (Chevalier guignette): no active migrants, but usually 2-5 birds feeding on the rocks in front of Le Calao.
- Dunlin (Bécasseau variable): a flock of about 25 birds on 9/9, and 2+8 on 13/9
- Sanderling (Bécasseau sanderling): a flock of ca. 40 on 19/8, 3 on 13/9
- Turnstone (Tournepierre à collier): min. 5 on 9/9
- “large” Skua sp. (“grand” Labbe sp.): one on 25/9 was too far out and too fast to say much about this bird other than that it appeared fairly slim / small compared to Great Skua. Could well have been a South Polar Skua, which is thought to be the more frequent of the Catharacta skuas off Dakar.
- Arctic Skua (Labbe parasite): one on 19/8, 11 on 16/9, 5 21/9, 1 23/9, 26 on 25/9
- Pomarine Skua (Labbe pomarin): at least 10 on 9/9, 26 on 16/9, 3 on 21/9, 2 on 23/9, 13 on 25/9
- Long-tailed Skua (Labbe à longue queue): at least 4 on 9/9, 3 on 25/9
- Unidentified skua sp. (Labbe indéterminé): 1 Arctic / Long-tailed on 19/8, ca. 15 Arctic/Pomarines on 9/9, just one on 13/9, 7 on 21/9, 44 on 25/9 (resulting in a total of 87 skuas), and 33 on 26/9 when the majority of these were probably Arctic Skuas.
- Lesser Black-backed Gull (Goéland brun): 2 on 21/9, 6 23/9 and 25/9, 2 26/9 – always immatures either flying S or feeding out at sea.
- Sabine’s Gull (Mouette de Sabine): 4 on 16/9, 1 on 21/9, and ca. 16 on 26/9 including a group of about 12 birds together. Almost always during W/NW winds, flying quite far out at sea and often low over the waves. Probably more numerous further out at sea.
- Gull-billed Tern (Sterne hansel): 2 on 19/8 from Ngor island. This species appears to be rarely seen migrating at sea, preferring brackish and freshwater lakes.
- Caspian Tern (Sterne caspienne): regularly 3-5 birds which are not necessarily actively migrating; highest count 13 on 18/9
- Royal Tern (Sterne royale): seen in small numbers during each session but migrating birds were not always obvious as small groups and singles regularly fly past in both directions, or would feed out at sea. Low maximum of 25 on 13/9.
- Sandwich Tern (Sterne caugek): only small numbers so far, with a maximum of ca. 40 in 40 minutes on 9/9 (evening), and 138 on 13/9.
- Lesser Crested Tern (Sterne voyageuse): singles seen on 13/9, 16/9, 23/9 (flying NE on the latter date)
- Arctic Tern (Sterne arctique): at least 85 on 19/8 in ca. 35 minutes, and more than 30 on 9/9; smaller numbers on other days.
- Common Tern (Sterne pierregarin): seen in variable numbers, but difficult to count as several birds often feed out at sea and fly back and forth, and because many birds would remain unspecified Common/Arctic Terns.
- Roseate Tern (Sterne de Dougall): regular sightings of small numbers: at least 1 on 9/9, 4 on 13/9, 1 on 18/9, 2 on 21/9 (flying NE), and 2 on 23/9.
- Little Tern (Sterne naine): 6 on 13/9, lower numbers (1-4) on several other dates
- Black Tern (Guifette noire): seen on most days, with a max. of at least 98 in an hour on 5/8 and 250 on 16/9 in 50 mins., 50 on 18/9.
A real surprise was a juvenile Barbary Falcon which was well seen on 18/9, first hunting over the bay, then eating a prey (an unidentified passerine) on one of the cranes next to the Calao. Tricky bird to id but especially the finely streaked underparts except for lower vent and undertail covers, yellow cere, fairly narrow “moustache” and pale ear covers, and general slim structure set it apart from Peregrine, which is usually seen here from mid-October onward.
Osprey: singles seen regularly from 26/8 onward, so far only singles.
Pied Flycatchers were seen on 18/9 in the hotel gardens, which usually also hold a few good local migrants or residents, e.g. Shikra and Senegal Eremomela.
Last but not least, I had 3 sightings of unidentified dolphins moving NE – always a nice change from our feathered friends even if it’s usually pretty hard to get good views given the distance and brief (and very partial!) appearances above the surface.