The undoubtedly very large seabird migration off Dakar is often a bit far offshore, other than terns and some attendant skuas, to have the immediacy of a wildlife spectacle, so it is always a treat to get into a boat and amongst seabirds.
We set out in a small 4-5 person pirogue from Ouakam, where there is an artisanal fishing fleet hauled out on the beach. It is just round the corner from the volcanic rocks of Mamelles, so the southern limit of the Cap Vert Important Bird Area. Our trip was therefore unintentionally a meander offshore of half (10km) of the IBA. Leaving the sheltered bay, the cliffs of Mamelles rise abruptly.
The expanding population of great cormorants of the sub-Saharan african sub-species ludidus from the Iles de la Madeleine, recently estimated at over 800 pairs, has spilled onto these cliffs and a few unoccupied nest can be seen.
The calm waters south of pointe des Alamdies, sheltered by the Cap Vert peninsula from the dominant northerly winds, had a few common, Sandwich and royal terns and the surprise of a marabou stork flying over Mamelles.
It is just beyond the rocky reef off Pointe des Almadies , as the swell increases, that pelagic birds appear. Birds were not obviously migrating, but there were plenty around. Frequent singles of Wilson’s storm-petrel and small groups of black tern eluded the camera, but Cory’s and Cape Verde shearwater were easier.
Cory’s “scopoli” shearwater
The white fingers extending into the black primary tips identify the scopoli sub-species of Cory’s shearwater, of mostly Mediterranena origin. This is the main wintering sub-species off Senegal.
Cape Verde and a Cory’s (nearest bird) searwater.
Both shearwaters were in mixed feeding groups; sitting waiting, weaving backwards and forwards low over the water in tight flocks or feeding by head dipping. CapeVerde shearwater was much more numerous. The distinct smaller bill and proportionately larger black under-wing area can be seen above and below.
Cape Verde shearwaters.
One brief surfacing of tuna attracted birds and there was a more prolonged feeding frenzy above a large group of more than 20 bottle-nosed dolphins, seen here with the distinct Mamelles skyline.
Bottle-nosed dolphins and Cape Verde shearwaters
A small number of sooty shearwaters amongst the other species totaled about 10 for the day.
Pomarine skuas were numerous, arctic skuas occasional and perhaps the higlight was three sightings of adult long-tailed skuas with full tails and their elegant, pale grey upper plumage.
We were back on the local birdwatching patch of Dakar’s Technopole on Saturday 8 April for a brief afternoon visit. The shallow lake and marshland west of the Sonatel offices, usually the most interesting for birds, is now dry over large areas. Waders and wildfowl are few, though there were still some garganey and shoveler and several adult moorhen looking very unlikely to cross the Sahara. More abundant were gulls, predominantly a few hundred slender-billed gulls, most adults coming into breeding plumage,, with still c60 Audouin’s gulls, 95% second calendar year birds and no adults, and one second year Mediterranean gull. The only remaining terns were gull-billed and Caspian.
Two surprise species, on an island with a few pink-backed and great white pelicans, were an immature marabou stork and two adults and an immature yellow-billed stork. They were distant , but as new species for Technopole (177 and 178), their photos are included here.
Juvenile yellow-billed stork in flight
Immature marabou stork
Back home, a check of the literature showed both to be new for the one degree (c 100 x 100 km) square of Dakar, covering the lakes of the Niayes and the Petite Côte north of Mbour. The 1 degree square is the scale at which the distribution of birds was mapped for all records up to around 1980 by Gérard and Marie-Yvonne Morel. This was updated at the same scale for records up to 1994 here. After that, records become dispersed, so any statement that a species has not been recorded could be wrong. Both are wandering species with their nearest breeding locations several hundred kilometres away, in Djoudj (yellow-billed stork, or is it now breeding in the Delata du Saloum?) and The Gambia (marabou stork). Further proof that every migrant species eventually finds Technopole!