More Americans in Dakar
Yesterday Wim, Theo and I visited our favourite urban hotspot once again. I hadn’t been to Technopole since April 2nd and was keen to find out what new birds were around with spring migration still in full swing.
Our Easter Monday visit proved to be pretty rewarding, mainly thanks to the presence of no less than three (!) American Golden Plovers, with a supporting cast of hundreds of other waders and of course various terns and gulls. Conditions are now really good for most waders. Besides the Black-winged Stilts (which seem to have started breeding again) and Spur-winged Lapwings, there were lots of Little Stints (100-200?), a few Curlew Sandpipers, a flock of ca. 40-50 Sanderlings that arrived from the south and settled on an islet), still quite a few Greenshanks but less Wood Sandpipers than a few weeks ago, a few Common Redshanks, singles of Common Sandpiper and Ruff, still two Avocets, only two Grey Plovers, several dozen Common Ringed and two Kittlitz’s Plovers.
As we were scanning through these waders, this bird popped in view:
But which one?
European, American and Asian Golden Plover are all possible here, but all three are rare to extremely rare vagrants to Senegal. European was quickly eliminated based on structure alone: long legs, elongated rear due to long wings, generally slender appearance. It then flew off a short distance and landed out of sight, but luckily we saw the bird several times at fairly close range in the following two hours.
While we were watching this bird, I spotted another intriguing plover in the background, though this one was a young bird (2nd calendar year) that lacked any black on its face or underparts: another golden plover!
And then a little while later this one: similar to the previous bird, but overall appearance was more uniform brown. This bird hadn’t started moulting its mantle or coverts yet, unlike the individual above.
Young birds especially can be tricky to separate from Grey Plovers, so we made sure to get good views of the underwing pattern even if structure alone – identical to the adult bird – made it clear that we were watching a total of three different Golden Plovers. Both youngsters lacked the distinctive black “armpit” patch of Grey Plover but rather showed pale grey axillaries as can be seen below.
We also paid attention to silhouette and structure in flight, and found that the adult bird had toes that were marginally (but clearly!) extending beyond the tail tip – a feature that’s typically associated with Pacific Golden Plover, but which appears to be variable and as such may not be highly useful. We heard at least one bird calling, a high-pitched kleeuu. No recording unfortunately… I should just have left the recorder on while we were watching these birds! At least we managed to get a few decent pictures (I took well over a hundred pics…).
In the end, after examining our pictures back home, we concluded that all three were American Golden Plovers: wings projecting substantially beyond the tail tip, tertials ending well before the tail tip, leaving at least 3-4 (5?) primary tips visible; relatively short and fine bill; the call which more closely resembled recordings of Pluvialis dominica. Supporting characteristics in favour of American are, for the young birds, the very limited amount of golden “spangling” on the mantle and scapulars; the broad whitish supercilium; the larger, more diffuse “ear spot” and prominent “loral smudge”. The very coarse mottling of the moulting adult is said to fit American better than Asian Golden Plover, and the blotches on the rear flank and on undertail coverts also point towards the Yankee origin.
Occurrence in Senegal
This observation appears to be the 9th for Senegal¹, with previous eight records listed as follows:
- 28/05/1979, one caught on the northern shores of Lac de Guiers (Saint-Louis) by Bernard Treca (Morel & Morel)
- 10-16 and 29/10/2005, a juvenile at Technopole (Holmström et al.; W. Faveyts; two pictures here), probably the same bird
- 16-17/10/2006, one photographed at Ziguinchor (ABC Bulletin Recent Reports)
- 23/6/2012, an adult in breeding plumage at Technopole (Marc van Roomen)
- 22/11/2012, two at Lac Tanma (Thies), by Paul Robinson (detailed account and pictures here)
- 11/02/2013, one at Diembering (Basse-Casamance), by Simon Cavaillès and Jean-François Blanc (picture here)
- 07/03/2013, one at Lac Mbeubeusse (Dakar), Paul Robinson (details and pictures here)
- 22/04-09/05/2015, one at Technopole, Jean-François Blanc (22/4) & Bram Piot (26/4 & 9/5; ABC Bulletin Recent Reports)
The increase in number of records in recent years is interesting of course, but most likely reflects a much better observer coverage of suitable stop-over sites for waders, particularly in the Dakar area since the start of the decade. All records are from between mid-October and the end of May, and one can assume that the species is now a regular though very scarce visitor to Senegal. With records from several other countries in the subregion, American Golden Plover appears to be the most regular Nearctic vagrant to West Africa. In neighbouring Gambia, there are at least five records (1984, 1997, 2005, 2013, 2016), while the first (and so far only?) for Mauritania was in the Diawling NP, just across the border with Senegal, in February 2004 (two birds).
The only record of Pacific Golden Plover for Senegal was from mid-May in the Saloum delta, more precisely from the Ile aux Oiseaux where Wim, Simon and others saw a neat adult on 10/5/12 (see their short note in Malimbus 35, 2013, and picture below).
Back to yesterday’s sightings: in addition to the various waders already mentioned, other good birds included a Mediterranean Gull among the Slender-billed, Grey-headed and Black-headed Gulls (the latter now in low numbers only), as well as all three species of marsh tern: +10 Black, 3-4 White-winged, at least one Whiskered Tern – almost all still in winter plumage or moulting into 1st summer plumage. Also a single European Spoonbill, ca. 10 Sand Martins, but otherwise few other northern migrants.
Never a dull moment birding in Dakar… let’s see what our next visit brings!
Addendum 03/05/17: the three American Golden Plovers were still present on May 1st, and were joined by a fourth bird (another 2nd year) on 29/4 and 1/5 – unless this new bird was already present when we first found the plovers. And the next visit… well it brought a superb Red-necked Phalarope!
¹ Post updated 15/1/18 with the June 2012 record