Birding Latitude 15º: The Sudanian Savanna
Early January we spent a night at one of the Lompoul “desert” camps with visiting friends, while a trip up North last November provided the opportunity to make a few en-route birding stops in this poorly known region of the Grande Côte, off the beaten birding tours track. Here are some of the highlights.
Lompoul is quite a well-known tourist attraction, and what is sold as a desert with “authentic” Mauritanian tents, camel rides and the 4×4 or quad tours (not the type of activity one would expect from an ecolodge!!) is obviously not necessarily my destination of choice… but the children all like it of course and it has to be said that one does get a bit of a Saharan feeling here. The vast stretches of sand dunes are impressive, and the sunsets are quite stunning: indeed quite a special place, albeit rather surreal.
That said, there are of course very few birds in the dunes…
…but lots of good stuff in the endless bush country around it!
I really love this type of landscape so I was keen to find out what birds are around, even more so after sampling a few of the local specials during our roadside birding stops back in November when we encountered the impressive Lappet-faced Vulture and the elegant Dark-chanting Goshawk:
Also seen in the area roughly between Kebemer and Darou (NE of Mboro) were Black Scimitarbill, Green Wood-Hoopoe, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Mottled Spinetail, Striped Kingfisher, obliging Northern Anteater Chats, delicately patterned Speckle-fronted Weavers, the spectacular Sahel Paradise-Whydah, and so on. Many of these were seen or heard during a particularly productive picnic break along the new Lompoul road during our travel from Dakar to the Djoudj (more on the northbound road trip with Frédéric Bacuez, including several pictures of the landscape and a full list of birds, on Ornithondar).
But let’s get back to Lompoul: in the dunes, we had a lone Tawny Pipit flying over, and a small group of what were probably Greater Short-toed Larks. The scarce trees here typically hold Subalpine Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, Beautiful Sunbird and of course the ever-present Laughing Doves. The Eucalyptus growth and scrub bordering the dunes has some additional migrants like Common Chiffchaff (or was it an Iberian?), plus goodies such as Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin – presumably the resident African (sub-)species – Green Bee-eater, Long-tailed Nightjar and Spotted Thick-knee. I also came across one of the few snakes I’ve seen so far in Senegal, the Elegant Sand Racer (Psammophis elegans), an inoffensive long and thin snake. Got close-up views in far more natural habitat than the empty swimming pool of the abandoned Hôtel du Lac at Mboro where Fred and I found one in November (it was still there last week!). Shortly before nightfall, a group of 14 Black Kites flew low over the tented camp, so I assume they came in to roost for the night somewhere nearby.
Further away from the dunes, out in the savanna, Bush Petronia was a real surprise given that western Senegal is not known to be part of the species’ range. I encountered several small flocks (3-5 inds.) including at least one singing male, and even managed to get a reasonable sound recording despite the windy conditions. This species – apparently now dubbed the rather unlyrical and unimaginative Russet-browed Bush-Sparrow (HBW) – is known for its nomadic habits, wandering widely outside the breeding season and thus rather unpredictable to find. I actually only saw it for the first time barely a year earlier, near Bamako. Fred confirmed that he hasn’t seen any of these little sparrows (quite literally… they’re called Petit Moineau in French) in the Saint-Louis and Gandiol hinterland, which is fairly similar to the habitat in Lompoul. I did find however a mention of Bush Petronia from Trois-Marigots in a Birding Breaks trip report, on 16.01.10. [side note: it’s a shame really that most tour companies do not report their sightings anywhere other than in what are often very approximate trip reports. At a minimum, important records should be notified to the African Bird Club for inclusion in the “Recent Reports” so that they can be easily retrieved and referred to]
The same area held quite a few other savanna specials: a male Savile’s Bustard quietly walking on the edge of a field, Wattled and Black-headed Lapwings, Striped Kingfisher, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Senegal and Yellow-bellied Eremomelas, Fork-tailed Drongo, Senegal Batis, Brubru, Green-winged Pytillia, Sudan Golden Sparrow, a Speckle-fronted Weaver, and several White-rumped Seedeaters. A Red-necked Falcon hunting over the hills was rather unexpected as there are few palm trees around. On the Palearctic migrants front, I saw Common Redstart, Bonelli’s Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Western Orphean and Subalpine Warblers, plus a group of 9 Eurasian Griffons (with one Rüppell’s Vulture) and a probable Common Kestrel.
Last but not least, in November we – well, my Swiss friends really – found an unexpected roadkill on the Lompoul-Kebemer road, close to the village of Diokoul, ca. 7 km west of Kebemer: a Golden Nightjar! This poorly known and rarely seen species in Senegal is probably on the edge of its distribution range here. It’s been reported from the Far North (Richard-Toll/Podor) and the Ferlo area, but also from further south in the Khelkom region where a French group saw and recorded at least one bird last year. Maybe one day I’ll hear or even see this spectacular nightjar, hopefully in a better shape than this unfortunate individual…
Rather surprisingly for a road with very little traffic, we encountered quite a few other road kill (mainly on 18/11/16 with Cyril and Manolo), including two rarely seen mammals: Pallid Fox and Genet. Also a Spotted Thick-knee, numerous Abyssinian Rollers, Laughing Dove, Chestnut-bellied Starling, and surely several others that went unnoticed or which we didn’t stop to identify.