18/12: Nearctic Waders
As if one Nearctic wader weren’t enough, today I was lucky to find two transatlantic vagrant species. We had planned a family weekend at Lac Rose which we haven’t visited in a long time, but a change in plans meant that we had to cancel our reservation at the Gite du Lac Rose. As I had my mind set on a few sites that I wanted to explore near Lac Rose, I decided to make the trip there this morning – and wasn’t disappointed!
I’ll report on some of the more interesting sightings in an upcoming post (think Tawny Pipit, Singing Bushlark, Brown Babbler etc.), but for now I just want to share a few pictures of no less than three BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS. I found these pretty birds while scanning a grassy plain where I’d seen a few Kittlitz’s Plovers, 32 to be precise, while on my way back to the lake (I’d been exploring the area to the north-east of the lake). The sandpipers appeared to loosely associate with this flock, and were constantly feeding in hurried fashion. I was of course hoping to find something special in this area, say a Cream-coloured Courser that came down with the cold weather of the last few days, or more Greater Short-toed Larks, but didn’t think I’d come across three of these beauties.
Could they be new arrivals, or have they been hanging around here for a while now? It may well be that they end up spending a few weeks in the area, given the late date for passing migrants, plus the habitat here seems to be just perfect for this species, and definitely more typical than the mudflats at Palmarin where we found Senegal’s second Buff-breasted Sandpiper barely three weeks earlier. In fact, could it be that this is exactly the same spot where the country’s first record was obtained in April 1985?
Getting decent pictures was tricky – first because of the distance (I spotted the group while counting the plovers, from the car), then because of the wind and especially the restlessness of all three birds, which just wouldn’t stop moving. The picture above is the only one of reasonable quality that shows all three birds together, and it quite nicely illustrates today’s windy conditions.
The obliging sandpipers allowed for a fairly close approach, up to approx. 20 meters at times, and the only time they flew up was when a local dog – perhaps realising that I was somehow particularly interested in these three little birds – decided to start chasing the sandpipers! Luckily it lost interest after a couple of minutes, and the trio settled again and continued feeding.
All content to have found not one but three American sandpipers close to home, and wondering just how many vagrant waders show up in Senegal every year, I decided to make a real quick stop at Technopole on the way back home. Main purpose was to check whether I could relocate last week’s Jack Snipe, but of course things rarely go according to plan here… This time, while doing a quick scan of the waders behind the golf club house, a fairly dark Pluvialis plover caught my attention. It was partially concealed in a group of Black-tailed Godwits, but the contrasting plumage with a pale supercilium, dark cap and obvious “smudge” across the breast all shouted American Golden Plover!
I eventually managed to get better views, including of the wing tip, revealing an important primary projection and primaries extending beyond the tail tip. Getting good views was tricky but I ended up getting a few usable pictures, which I thought at the time should be sufficient to document this potential 10th record for Senegal, if I counted correctly.
However… looking back at these pictures now more than a year later (I’m updating this post in April 2018), I’m much less confident and I feel that the bird is too grey, too bulky and especially the bill is too heavy for American Golden Plover. Probably a slightly unusual Grey Plover after all?
No more time to go look for the snipe, though as it turned out I ended up getting back home more than an hour later than planned thanks to two flat tires which took a while to get fixed at a local vulcanisateur in nearby Pikine. Surely the odds of getting two flat tires at the same time (and obviously with just one spare tire in the boot) are close to those of finding an American wader species in Senegal… lucky day!
I won’t be able to return to either site before the end of the year, but it may well be that both the sandpipers and the plover stick around for a while.
To be continued, hopefully.
…and continued it has! A few days ago (this edit was made on 25.12) , I learned that Frédéric Bacuez (ornithondar) found a Buff-breasted Sandpiper on 8.12 though it was positively identified only on 21.12 when Fred saw it again in the same spot, in the lower Senegal delta close to St. Louis. Which means that in the space of 4 weeks, a total of 5 of these sandpipers were spotted in Senegal, bringing the total to 4 national records. Real influx, or just pure luck (being in the right place at the right time kind of thing)? It doesn’t seem like autumn 2016 was particularly “good” for the species in Europe, but in France, about a dozen were reported in September – slightly more than usual I believe – though there were just two (at least) in the Azores this autumn. As usual, several were reported in Spain, including at least one in the Canary Islands (Tenerife, 29.10). The Netherlands had at least 8 records between the end of July and October (as per Dutch Birding).
Another addendum (Jan. 5th) is needed here as I just came across another Buff-breasted Sandpiper record, this one from 1994, and which was overlooked by Borrow & Demey (2015) – and which probably was published too late to include in Sauvage & Rodwell’s paper (1998). Indeed, five birds were seen near Palmarin on 2.12.94 by an expedition organised by the Danish Ornithological Society, as published in Malimbus 19:96-97: “Four of them were feeding together on short grassland and in some shallow ponds close to the shore. The fifth was observed simultaneously c. 1 km to the north, by other members of our group. The birds were very unafraid and we could approach to 20 m.” (Kenneth Bengtsson 1997: Some interesting bird observations from Mauritania and Senegal). Strictly speaking, these observations would qualify as two separate records, meaning that with this new information, we now have 3 old records (1965 and 1994) and 3 from 2016, bringing the national total to 6 records involving 11 birds.