Archive by Author | bram

Technopole mid-May – more surprises!

It really just doesn’t stop at the moment. Each visit to Technopole brings new birds, including several pretty good ones.

An adult Franklin’s Gull seen on 14/5 was one of these. This American gull used to be a regular Technopole visitor in 2011-2013, with up to five different birds roaming the peninsula. There was at least one record in 2014 (6-16/3/14, P. Robinson; J.-F. Blanc), then again an adult seen three times between 15/3 and 3/5/15 (J.-F. Blanc; BP). Finally, the most recent record was in June 2016 when an adult was photographed by visiting Dutch birders (details on observado). All these records may well refer to a single bird that’s still hanging around in West Africa, maybe even the same as the one seen on the beach in Nouakchott last month by resident birder Rob Tovey.


Franklin’s Gull / Mouette de Franklin

American Golden Plover has been present for more than a month now, with two immatures still present on 14/5 and one on 21/5 (but none this morning 25/5). This time I only managed a distant record shot…


American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

Remember that fine Red-necked Phalarope that was present on 22-23/4? Well, a month later (21/5), we found another one! It was still present this morning. Same type of bird (a male or female moulting into breeding plumage), but obviously not the same individual since pictures show that this new one has more of a white eye-brow than the first one and appears less dark overall, suggesting a later moult stage. Here again, only a blurry picture as the bird was seen relatively far out and was mostly feeding in a shallow pool behind one of the gull flocks. When feeding, it rapidly spinned around on itself in typical phalarope fashion, a well-known behaviour that I’d never had the privilege of watching. Check!


Red-necked Phalarope / Phalarope à bec étroit

Besides the Franklin’s Gull, three new birds for the season were noted, all migrants that seem to be scarce yet regular visitors to Technopole at this time of the year: first of all a Yellow-billed Stork feeding in a group of egrets and herons that also included an African Spoonbill. Both species were still there this morning. The stork flew off soon after we’d found it, only to land in the reed-fringed pool just on the other side of the track (Pikine side). We went over to have a look and soon noticed a second bird, also a young individual. The two pictures below each show a different bird.

As we were watching the nearby gulls and waders, Miguel noticed that a flock of 18 Greater Flamingos were present on the far south end of the main lake, right next to the road. These are the first I see here since last year’s raining season. Feeding conditions are now pretty good it seems, with low water levels, so let’s see how many others will join them in coming weeks (and why not with a Lesser Flamingo mixed in the flock!).


Yellow-billed Stork / Tantale ibis


Yellow-billed Stork / Tantale ibis

The number of waders is less impressive now than a month ago, but still: with several dozens Common Ringed Plovers, Sanderlings and Greenshanks along with a few hundred Black-winged Stilts (including the first chicks of the year, only a few days old!), a few Black-tailed and even three Bar-tailed Godwits and Ruffs, one doesn’t get bored here. Especially when the now regular Peregrine swoops in from time to time and causes birds to move around a lot…


Black-winged Stilts chicks / Echasses blanches poussins

At one point, a mixed flock landed on a mudflat right in front of us: mostly Sanderlings and Ringed Plovers, but also a few Curlew Sandpipers, a lone Little Stint, and at one point eight Kittlitz’s Plovers settled down. The pictures below highlight the great variation in plumage types among these little waders, ranging from drab winter-plumaged or immature birds to full-blown summer adults. The Sanderlings in particular are really exquisite at the moment. One bird was colour-ringed but just wouldn’t show its left leg, making it impossible to get a proper reading (bird in the center in the first picture below).


Sanderling & Little Stint / Bécasseaux sanderling & minute


Common Ringed Plover & Little Stint / Grand Gravelot et Bécasseau minute


Curlew Sandpiper / Bécasseau cocorli


Curlew Sandpiper & Common Ringed Plover / Bécasseau cocorli & Grand Gravelot


Kittlitz’s & Common Ringed Plovers / Gravelot pâtre & Grand Gravelot

There were also a few colour-ringed Sandwich Terns (blue and yellow rings) and Slender-billed Gulls but only a couple of the latter were close enough to be read. On these last few visits there have been up to 10 tern species, including a splendid adult White-winged Tern and one species that was new to my Technopole list: Roseate Tern! First a first-summer bird on 14/5, then this morning when I noticed four fine adults as they flew off from within one of the tern roosts, only to disappear high up towards Yoff… great sighting though of a species that I usually see migrating past Ngor.

Talking of which – this morning I scanned the ocean for about an hour at the Calao in Ngor. Things are really quiet now – not even a single Skua – but then when you least expect them to show up, two Great Shearwaters passed by and flew around a bit. Quite distant, but close enough to recognize the sharply demarcated dark hood. While there are a few records from June, as far as we know this would be the first May record for Senegal.

Visite à Kolda, Moyenne Casamance

La semaine passée j’ai eu l’occasion de passer quelques jours dans la ville de Kolda, capitale de la région du même nom, pour une visite d’appui à l’un de nos projets. J’en ai bien sûr profité pour observer un peu les oiseaux, essentiellement sur le terrain de l’hôtel Le Firdou où nous étions logés. Situé au bord de la Casamance en bordure sud de la ville, les oiseaux étaient bien entendu au rendez-vous: plus de 90 espèces vues en trois jours, et ce uniquement sur le terrain du Firdou.

Chaque jour apportait d’ailleurs son lot de nouvelles espèces: comme quoi ça paie de revisiter une même zone, même de surface réduite, plusieurs fois de suite. La rivière attire bien sûr bon nombre d’oiseaux (et pas des moindres… voir plus bas!), tout comme le jardin et ses nombreux manguiers et anacardiers. La brousse de l’autre côté de la rivière doit certainement héberger d’autres espèces mais n’était pas vraiment accessible… même si la Casamance est plutôt un ruisseau ici qu’un grand fleuve comme c’est le cas à Ziguinchor, surtout en cette fin de saison sèche –

Par où commencer? Peut-être par cet impressionant Martin-pêcheur géant (Giant Kingfisher), un mâle immature, vu plusieurs fois aux abords de l’eau, tout comme le Martin-pêcheur pie, le bruyant Martin-chasseur à poitrine bleue ainsi qu’un couple de Martin-pêcheurs huppés tout excités (Pied, Blue-breasted and Malachite Kingfishers). C’était d’ailleurs la première fois que j’ai pu entendre et enregistrer le chant de ce dernier, qui comme notre Martin-pêcheur d’Europe ne doit pas se faire entendre très souvent!


Giant Kingfisher / Martin-pêcheur géant

Toujours sur le plan d’eau, il y avait tous les jours quelques Cormorans africains (Long-tailed Cormorant), Jacanas à poitrine dorée (African Jacana; probablement trois couples, bien territoriaux!), 2-3 Poules d’eau (Common Moorhen), plusieurs Râles à bec jaune (Black Crake) et même un Chevalier guignette (Common Sandpiper) retardataire ou estivant…


Black Crake / Râle à bec jaune


African Jacana / Jacana à poitrine dorée

… mais aussi et surtout ce Grébifoulque d’Afrique (African Finfoot), oiseau unique en son genre (literalement!) qui fait partie de ces espèces tant convoitées par les birders. Et dont pour une fois le nom francais un peu barbare décrit bien cette étrange créature: mi-grèbe, mi-rallidé, tout aussi bizarre dans son apparence que dans son comportement. Perso j’ai eu la chance de l’observer au Kenya, en Zambie et au Liberia, et maintenant donc aussi au Sénégal! Je l’ai trouvé deux matinées de suite en train de se nourrir, discret comme tout mais heureusement pas trop farouche. A priori une femelle, voire un mâle immature?


African Finfoot / Grébifoulque d’Afrique

Bien que répandu à travers le continent, Podica senegalensis n’est nulle part commun et en raison de ses moeurs discrètes et un habitat souvent difficile d’accès, on ne trouve pas beaucoup d’infos concernant sa répartition au pays qui a donné lieu à son nom scientifique: les Morel font état d’une petite population sur les rives nord du Lac de Guiers (aujourd’hui disparue il me semble) et de sa présence en Basse-Casamance, et ils mentionnent quelques données de Tambacounda et Kédougou; Sauvage & Rodwell le signalent en plus du Niokolo-Koba et de la rivière Koulountou (limite régions de Kolda et Tambacounda). Le seul site sénégalais qui fournit des observations plus ou moins régulières est le campement de Wassadou sur le fleuve Gambie, escale obligatoire dans le circuit orni-touristique pour les visiteurs en route pour le Niokolo-Koba ou Kédougou (peut-être également Mako plus en amont, au SE du PNNK). Le Grébifoulque est pour l’instant absent de l’atlas de Casamance, bien qu’il soit certainement assez répandu dans cette partie du pays, vu à quel point il est régulièrement contacté en Gambie toute proche.

Bien plus en vue, les ardéidés étaient au rendez-vous même si toujours en effectifs faibles, généralement à l’unité ou par 2-3 individus : Crabier chevelu, Héron noir, Aigrette des récifs, Aigrette intermédiaire, Héron gardeboeufs, Héron strié, pourpré, cendré, Bihoreau gris. (Squacco, Black, Striated, Purple & Grey Herons, Western Reef & Cattle Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Heron). Une Ombrette (Hamerkop) ne fera que passer en vol, le premier soir.


Squacco Heron / Crabier chevelu

Peu de rapaces sont notés mais c’est peut-être surtout lié au fait que je n’ai observé que les matins tôt et généralement l’heure précédant le coucher du soleil… boulot oblige! Seulement une poignée de Vautours charognards (Hooded Vulture; quel contraste avec la Basse-Casamance!) et une fois deux Gyps vus sans jumelles, probablement des Vautours africains. Aux alentours du lodge, présence de l’Autour sombre (Dark-chanting Goshawk), Autour unibande (Lizard Buzzard), Milan à bec jaune, Pygargue vocifère (entendu un peu en amont), et un adulte de Vautour palmiste, toujours aussi imposant malgré son apparence clownesque. A l’aéroport de Kolda, un Busautour des sauterelles sera la 400e espèce que je vois au Sénégal (eh oui je tiens une liste!!).

D’autres ajouts étaient le Râle perlé (White-spotted Flufftail; entendu un seul matin), les bruyants Touracos violets (Violet Turaco), le Guêpier à gorge rouge (Red-throated Bee-eater), le Prinia à ailes rouges (Red-winged Warbler), la Cisticole chanteuse (Singing Cisticola; encore bien discrète), le Gladiateur de Blanchot (Grey-headed Bushshrike; comme toujours invisible mais très audible!), les sympathiques Chevêchettes perlées (Pearl-spotted Owlet). Egalement une poignée d’espèces vues jusqu’ici à quelques reprises seulement, comme l’Hirondelle fanti (Fanti Saw-wing), toujours aussi élégante. La donnée de Râle perlée est intéressante car il n’y a apparemment que peu d’observations du Sénégal, alors qu’il est régulier en Gambie. Cette quasi-absence d’infos est probablement à mettre en relation avec le fait que l’espèce chanterait surtout en ce moment (mai-juin selon Morel & Morel) et que l’essentiel de l’activité ornithologique a lieu pendant l’hiver nordique lorsque ces flufftails sont soit absents, soit silencieux.

A propos de chant: les nombreux Cossyphes à tete blanche et Merles africains (White-crowned Robin-Chat, African Thrush) et dans une moindre mesure les quelques Bulbuls à gorge claire (Yellow-throated Leaflove) du jardin étaient bien vocaux, tout comme un Coucou africain (African Cuckoo) entendu chanter tous les jours dans la brousse sur la rive gauche. En tout, seize espèces enregistrées dont quelques-unes nouvelles pour ma petite collection sonore, à découvrir sur xeno-canto.


Observations faites du 16 au 19/5/17.

Technopole encore et encore (29/4 et 1/5)

Au risque de devenir un poil répétitif, petit post rapide en images en guise de compte-rendu de deux sorties matinales récentes au Technopole, en compagnie de Miguel Lecoq.

Le cortège de limicoles continue d’être bien varié, grâce au mélange agréable de nicheurs locaux (les Echasses blanches sont de plus en plus nombreuses à couver ; Black-winged Stilt), oiseaux en escale prolongée (Pluviers bronzés, mais aussi Barges à queue noire p.ex. ; American Golden Plover, Black-tailed Godwit) et apparitions d’un jour (dont un Bécasseau maubèche le 1/5 ; Knot).

Ci-dessous l’une des Echasses sur son nid, construit sur l’un des nombreux ilôts du plan d’eau « ouest », derrière la Sonatel.


Black-winged Stilt / Echasse blanche

Alors que je n’avais revu qu’un seul Pluvier bronzé le 23/4, cette fois on compte pas moins de quatre individus, tous vus simultanément. Sauf erreur c’est le plus grand groupe vu en Afrique continentale. La première photo ci-dessous montre le nouvel individu – sans doute un oiseau de 2e année, mais au stade de mue plus avancé que les deux autres jeunes (en particulier l’oiseau le plus sombre aux parties supérieures très unies, cf. 2e photo). L’adulte continue d’acquérir son plumage nuptial : comparez la 3e photo avec celle-ci p.ex., prise deux semaines auparavant lorsque nous avions trouvé ces pluviers.


American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé


American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé


American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

Lors des deux visites, un mâle adulte de Faucon pèlerin est vu à plusieurs reprises en train de chasser sur le site, semant la panique parmi les limis, mouettes et sternes. Le 29/4, il prend comme cible l’un de nos Pluviers bronzés : s’en suivent une poursuite impressionnante lors de laquelle le pluvier évite de justesse le faucon, parfois à quelques centimètres près ! Le Pèlerin finit par abandonner, ouf. Deux jours plus tard, le même individu (il lui manque une rémige dans l’aile droite) arrive droit sur nous avec une petite proie dans les serres : difficile de dire quoi au juste, sans doute un petit passereau (moineau, tisserin ?) qu’il commence à manger ou du moins à déplumer en plein vol. Petit snack qui ne lui suffit visiblement pas, car un peu plus tard il est de retour et s’en prend de nouveau aux limicoles et laridés. Serait-ce le même mâle que celui qui traine toujours à Ngor ? Et quelle sous-espèce… un minor local pour ma part, auquel cas il faudra bien surveiller le Diarama de Ngor ou encore le secteur des Mamelles pour constater une éventuelle nidification locale (en 2015, j’avais vu un adulte à fin aout aux Mamelles – intriguant !). De toute manière cela commence à faire tard pour un calidus de la toundra arctique, et l’oiseau est plutôt petit, assez sombre et possède des « moustaches » bien larges. Sujet à creuser, une fois de plus… lorsque je trouverai le temps.


Peregrine Falcon / Faucon pèlerin


Peregrine Falcon / Faucon pèlerin

Un Pipit des arbres (Tree Pipit) en escale le 1er mai était tout à fait inattendu : non seulement c’est une espèce peu vue au Technopole, mais aussi c’est une date déjà bien tardive pour un oiseau qui s’installe typiquement courant avril dans ses sites de nidification européens. Peut-être un oiseau scandinave ? On peut d’ailleurs en supposer autant pour les hirondelles vues en escale ces derniers jours : Hirondelles de rivage surtout, mais aussi quelques rustiques et une Hirondelle de fenêtre (Sand Martin, Barn Swallow, House Martin).


Tree Pipit / Pipit des arbres


Tree Pipit / Pipit des arbres

Il y a un peu moins d’ardéidés ces derniers temps, avec très peu d’Aigrettes des récifs, Crabiers chevelus et autres Hérons ardoisés. (Western Reef, Squacco, Black Heron). Sans doute en lien avec la baisse du niveau d’eau, qui en ce moment est presque aussi bas que le niveau de début août 2016, soit juste avant les pluies de « l’hivernage » dakarois. C’est à se demander s’il restera de l’eau tout court d’ici trois mois !


Intermediate Egret / Aigrette intermédiaire

Et enfin voici une image pour vous donner une petite idée de l’état actuel du site :


Magnificent Frigatebird – first record for Senegal

Birding in Dakar just seems to be getting better by the day at the moment: after the American Golden Plovers and Red-necked Phalarope at Technopole, a record number of Cape Verde Shearwaters and lots of other good birds at Ngor (incl. 40 Sabine’s Gulls a few day ago), on Saturday morning we were fortunate to see a new species for Senegal: Magnificent FrigatebirdFrégate superbe.

Miguel Lecoq and I started our morning at Technopole (where else?) where we enjoyed the waders, terns and gulls that are still present in good numbers. We found all three American Golden Plovers, plus a new bird (we saw all four birds simultaneously) as well as several other good ones including Peregrine Falcon causing havoc among the waterbirds – at one point chasing one of the AGPs over a long distance, with several extremely close failed attempts at catching this bird – and Lesser Crested Tern.

We then made our way through the Saturday morning traffic to the plage de Soumbedioune as we wanted to visit the Iles de la Madeleine national park, mainly to see what was going on with the Brown Boobies. The park staff was exceptionally efficient this time round, and in no time we were on the boat making our way to the island. A Sandwich Tern, then an Arctic Skua flying close by the boat, a bit further a group of feeding Cape Verde Shearwaters, and then…. a bird high up in the sky which I initially took for a skua because it appeared all dark with a long tail. When I got my binoculars onto it, I immediately recognised the distinctive silhouette of a frigatebird and called it out, though I couldn’t quite believe what I saw. Miguel quickly got onto it while I fumbled with the camera to get a few desperate pictures to make sure that we could document the record and to aid with identification, as this is not always a straightforward matter with these birds. We got as close as possible to the bird which was soaring quite high up, and ultimately managed to get a few distant and mostly blurry record shots:


Magnificent Frigatebird / Frégate superbe

After we arrived on the island, we picked the bird up again as it was still patrolling the area between the Madeleines and the mainland. Luckily we had a telescope with us which allowed for slightly better views, although it remained far out. Towards the end of our tour of the island we spotted it once again, meaning that it had been hanging out in the area for at least two hours. This morning I also learned (by chance) that a visiting birder saw it yesterday, behaving much in the same way as it did on Saturday. It would be great if someone could make it to the islands one evening or early morning to find out whether it spent the night in one of the baobabs there.


Four species of Frigatebirds should be considered as options off West Africa, though two of these (Greater and Lesser Frigatebird) are Indican Ocean species that are yet to be recorded along Africa’s western coastlines. The two others are Magnificent and Ascension Frigatebird. Luckily this was a female bird; males of the latter two species and of Greater Frigatebird may be impossible to identify given how close they are in plumage, requiring detailed and close-up views.

While its size was difficult to judge, the impression was of a large, heavy bird with a distinctive silhouette formed by the long, narrow wings and a long and deeply forked tail. Barely beating its wings, it soared and glided slowly between the island and the mainland, every now and then “dipping” down a short distance. Our bird appeared entirely black except for a contrasting white breast and pale bill. The breast patch did not visibly extend onto the underwing, and while it seemed rather rounded in the field, pictures show that its shape is very much in line with what is typical for adult female Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens.


Magnificent Frigatebird / Frégate superbe


Status & Distribution

Magnificent Frigatebird is a fairly widespread tropical seabird, occurring both in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Unlike Ascencion Frigatebird which only breeds on one island, there are many colonies of Magnificent throughout its range, including in the Caribbean Sea, along the coast of Brazil, the Galapagos Islands, etc. The nearest site is on the Cape Verde islands, but it appears to be all but extinct there now: it used to breed regularly in small numbers, but now there are said to be only two females left at this relict site (maybe even just one at the moment, in the event that our bird came from Cape Verde!). Given how few birds remain there, a Neotropical origin is more likely. The second closest site to West Africa is Fernando de Noronha NP (Pernambuco, NE Brazil), which lies about 2,650 km from Dakar.

Outside the breeding season it is largely sedentary, with some dispersal of immature and non-breeding birds. It has reached Western Europe on a number of occasions, including Ireland, the UK, Denmark and Spain; there even are records from Alaska and Newfoundland which shows how far this ocean wanderer can disperse.

In West Africa, there are 2-3 older records from The Gambia, and there’s an unconfirmed record at sea off Nouakchott in April (year?) but this was not retained by Isenmann et al. in their Birds of Mauritania (2010). Likewise, the species is said to have been seen a few years ago in Dakar off Cap Manuel but this record has not been published and as far as I’m aware there are no photographs – trying to find out more about this. The Gambian records are from March 1965 and October 1980, with an additional unidentified Frigatebird seen from the coast in 2005. I could not find any records from Guinea-Bissau, Guinea or Liberia. As such, our sighting may represent the third record only for mainland West Africa, though it’s very likely that the species shows up from time to time in these waters without being noticed.



It’s not every day that one gets to add a bird species to a country list, so one can only imagine our excitement! In addition, this was a very unexpected “lifer” for me (I had seen Greater and Lesser Frigatebird before, but each only once); Miguel had his lifer with the American Golden Plovers earlier that day. Even Falou, the eco-garde that accompanied us, seemed pleased with seeing a rare bird that he only knew from wildlife documentaries on TV.

Prior to Fregata magnificens, the most recent additions to the Senegal list were Red-footed Booby (Oct. 2016), Eurasian Collared Dove (May 2016), Freckled Nightjar (March 2016), Eye-browed Thrush (Dec. 2015), Mountain Wagtail (March 2015, see the latest Bulletin of the African Bird Club), and Short-billed Dowitcher (October 2012). Maybe one day I’ll find time to update the list with these and other additions… if only I could take a few months off work!

And the Brown Boobies? Well we saw at least seven birds! More on these in another post. Other birds seen on or around the island are the following:

  • Cape Verde Shearwater
  • White-breasted Cormorant (still a few juvs. on nests, but most of the breeding activity is over now)
  • Long-tailed Cormorant (four birds)
  • Northern Gannet (at least one imm., far out at sea)
  • Red-billed Tropicbird (a few birds flying around; we didn’t seek out any nests so as to avoid disturbance)
  • Osprey (at least four birds)
  • Yellow-billed Kite (a few dozen birds, including one on a nest in one of the cliffs)
  • Whimbrel
  • Common Sandpiper
  • Ruddy Turnstone (like previous species, just one bird)
  • Pomarine Skua (2-3 birds)
  • Arctic Skua (4-5 birds)
  • Royal Tern
  • Sandwich Tern
  • Arctic Tern (ca. 5 birds migrating)
  • Laughing Dove
  • Speckled Pigeon
  • Western Red-billed Hornbill
  • Pied Crow
  • Northern Crombec

What next? It’s hard to imagine that things will get even better henceforward, but surely there will be more surprises and more additions to the bird list in coming months and years.


Technopôle numéro 221…

…un Phalarope à bec étroit!

Je m’attendais bien à voir un Phalaropus un jour au Technopole, mais je pensais logiquement que ce serait celui à bec large, dont la présence au Sénégal et particulièrement à Dakar n’aurait rien de vraiment exceptionnel puisqu’il est régulier en tout cas lors du passage d’automne. De temps en temps, le Phalarope à bec large se montre dans les lagunes et marais salants un peu à l’interieur des terres, comme p.ex. en novembre dernier à Palmarin. Son cousin à bec étroit par contre est une vraie rareté en Afrique de l’Ouest… inutile de dire donc que j’étais bien content quand je me suis retrouvé devant un des ces oiseaux, de surcroît en plumage nuptial. La derniere fois que j’ai vu un phalarope nuptial c’était en… mai 1995 lorsqu’une femelle avait fait escale dans mes terres natales, près d’Anvers.


Red-necked Phalarope / Phalarope à bec étroit

La photo ci-dessus est prise à bonne distance (80-100m?), avec le zoom digital poussé au maximum… mais on reconnait bien l’oiseau: plumage gris/blanc à l’exception de la bande marron partant de derrière l’oeil et descendant par les côtés du cou vers les flancs, contrastant avec la gorge blanche; même à cette distance on distingue le bec fin et assez long. Lors de ses quelques nerveux deplacements en vol, j’ai pu voir la barre alaire étroite mais assez nette. Il s’agissait probablement d’un mâle car la coloration ne me paraissait pas très vive (les phalaropes font partie des rares espèces d’oiseaux dont la femelle a un plumage plus coloré que les mâles). Mais apparemment il est aussi possible que ce soit une femelle de 2e année, car certains individus acquièrent déjà leur plumage nuptial lors de leur 1er été – difficile donc d’en dire plus à cette distance.

Curieux d’en savoir plus sur son statut dans le pays, j’ai fouillé les sources habituelles… mais n’ai trouvé que quelques mentions d’apparitions du Phalarope à bec étroit au Sénégal:

  • Morel & Morel ne mentionnent qu’une seule donnée, de “8 sujets à l’embouchure de la Somone, 9 déc. 1983 (A. Dupuy)”. La localité, la date, et surtout le fait qu’il y avait huit individus ensemble, plaident bien plus en faveur du Phalarope à bec large. En l’absence de documentation mieux vaut donc ne pas prendre en compte cette observation ancienne.
  • Sauvage & Rodwell incluent deux observations bien plus plausibles dans leur mise à jour de 1998: des isolés le 30/10/91 à la Pointe des Almadies, et un le 13/4/92 au Lac Retba (=Lac Rose).
  • Un individu est signalé par un observateur de passage lors du PAOC, pendant une séance de seawatch à Ngor le 18/10/17: “1st-winter bird came in and landed just past breaking waves […]. Smaller; more dainty than Red [=Grey Phalarope] with finer bill, darker underwing in flight, less contrasting wing stripe. Appeared darker overall, even when distant and coming in” – cette obs semble donc plutôt crédible.
  • J’attends des infos pour 10 individus signalés eux aussi sur eBird par deux ornithos espagnols, il y aurait des photos… mais me semble peu probable vu l’effectif.

Et ailleurs?

En Mauritanie, il y a trois observations d’oiseaux isolés (Cap Blanc 21/10/66, Nouadhibou 7/4/80, f. nuptiale le 17/6/88 au Banc d’Arguin; Isenmann et al. 2010). Il y a une seule observation en Gambie (Banjul, octobre 1993). Ailleurs en Afrique de l’Ouest je n’ai trouvé que quelques observations: une du Niger (21/10/89), une du Tchad (22/9/14), quatre obs récentes du Ghana (janvier, juillet, deux fois en décembre). Soit moins de 15 données en tout et pour tout, c’est pas beaucoup! Plus au sud, en Namibie et en Afrique du Sud, ce phalarope est également rare, mais il y est tout de même vu assez régulièrement, peut-etre surtout grâce à une meilleure pression d’observation comparé à l’Afrique de l’Ouest et centrale.

On peut se demander si cet oiseau, et de manière générale les quelques individus observés en Afrique de l’Ouest, ne seraient pas plutôt d’origine néarctique qu’européenne, car les populations nichant en Europe passent l’hiver dans l’Océan indien, et les néarctiques se retrouvent dans le Pacifique. Notre phalarope en escale à Dakar aurait ainsi passé l’hiver de ce côté de l’Atlantique, de la même manière que les Pluviers bronzés ou Bécasseaux roussets par exemple. Et il serait donc en route de ses quartiers d’hiver en Afrique australe vers le Haut-Arctique canadien ou le Groenland (tout ça n’est que speculation bien sur – don’t quote me on this one).


En tout, il y avait le weekend dernier pas moins de 21 espèces de limicoles au Technopole… le phalarope étant d’ailleurs la 37e espèce de limi vue sur le site. Les effectifs étaient assez impressionnants, surtout samedi en fin de journée: il devait y avoir au moins 600 à 700 limicoles de toutes sortes!

Parmi les plus intéressants, signalons un Bécasseau variable (Dunlin) tout seul parmi les minutes, cocorlis et sanderlings, deux Gravelots pâtres (Kittlitz’s Plover) parmi les nombreux Grands Gravelots (Common Ringed Plover), un Courlis corlieu (Whimbrel) passant en vol, cinq Combattants (Ruff) et autant de Barges à queue noire (Black-tailed Godwit; rare donnée d’avril).


Et surtout, les trois Pluviers bronzés (American Golden Plover) trouvés le lundi 17/4 qui étaient toujours présents samedi 22; le lendemain matin par contre je n’ai retrouvé qu’un des deux juvéniles, l’individu le plus sombre:


American Golden Plover & Little Stint / Pluvier bronzé & Bécasseau minute

L’adulte continue de muer vers son plumage nuptial, ayant acquis encore un peu plus de plumes noires sur le ventre et les flancs. Difficile par contre de prendre des photos l’après-midi… les visites matinales sont bien plus propices à l’observation et la photographie des limis du Technopole: pas de contre-jour, et moins de vagues de chaleur.


American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

En plus de ce beau cortège de limicoles il y a toujours une bonne diversité chez les laridés en ce moment, avec sept espèces vues lors des deux visites: il reste encore quelques Goélands bruns (Lesser Black-backed Gull) immatures et encore 2 Audouins (Audouin’s Gull), ca. 250 Goélands railleurs, +50 Mouettes à tête grise et autant de rieuses (Slender-billed, Grey-headed & Black-headed Gulls), et encore une Mouette mélanocéphale  (Mediterranean Gull) le 23/4 et aussi toujours le jeune Goéland cendré (Common Gull) trouvé en février, vu le 22/4.

Egalement beaucoup de sternes et guifettes: quelques Sternes caspiennes, 30-50 hansels, plusieurs dizaines de caugeks, une dizaine de royales, une Sterne naine posée les deux jours et dix en migration active le 22/4, puis une Sterne arctique de 2e année le matin du 23/4… et de nouveau les trois espèces de Guifettes (deux Moustacs en migration active le 22/4, et au moins deux Leucoptères évoluant avec les Guifettes noires). (Caspian, Gull-billed, Sandwich, Royal, Little, Arctic, Whiskered, White-winged, and Black Terns)

Les passereaux paléarctiques semblent tous avoir quitté le site; juste encore quelques Hirondelles de rivage (Sand Martin), 1-2 Bergeronnettes printanières (Yellow Wagtail). Hier aussi au moins quatre Martinets noirs (Common Swift).

Curieux de savoir quelle sera la 222e espece!?


Spur-winged Lapwing / Vanneau éperonné

Shearwaters off Ngor, 15/04

First of all let me apologise for the stream of mostly blurred pictures that is about to follow. I’m pretty pleased with the picture above, but found it really difficult to get decent shots of moving birds from a moving boat, one hand on the camera and the other holding on to the boat… and this despite the fact that the ocean was really quite calm when we set out on a mini-pelagic last weekend.

We didn’t see a huge variety of birds but what lacked in diversity was made up for by the quality of our encounters and by the good numbers of shearwaters – mostly Cape Verde but also quite a few Scopoli’s Shearwaters and probably some Cory’s too. Three species of Skuas (Long-tailed, Arctic, Pomarine) were seen, but only a few Northern Gannets are left, while four storm petrels were seen too briefly to be sure (probably Wilson’s). Other than that a single Audouin’s Gull, two migrating Black Terns and of course Royal and Sandwich Terns, albeit in small numbers. Oh and a lone Barn Swallow migrating low over the waves. In 2015, a similar boat trip on almost exactly the same date (18/4) produced quite a few more storm petrels (European, Wilson’s, Madeiran), two additional shearwater species (Manx and Sooty) as well as several Sabine’s Gulls.

I should really go out more on these boat trips as there’s always something interesting to see, and it really is a unique experience to find oneself surrounded by seabirds feeding around you. Last week’s trip is also a good opportunity to review some of the ID challenges with our Calonectris shearwaters, so here we go:

Cape Verde Shearwater Calonectris edwardsii

By far the most numerous bird of the trip, with at least 200 birds spread mostly between two groups. When seen at close range this is also one of the easier ones to identify: a medium-sized shearwater superficially similar to Cory’s/Scopoli’s, but clearly smaller and more slender, with a longer tail and overall plumage being more uniform brown and darker above. Its bill is rather fine, mostly grey without any yellow tones; some may even appear almost pinkish (see 3rd picture down).


Cape Verde Shearwater / Puffin du Cap-Vert

The upperparts aren’t as contrasted and largely lack obvious grey in the wings and back compared to Cory’s/Scopoli’s, and do not display a distinctive dark “M” (or W, depending how you see things!) across the wings as on Scopoli’s, only a slightly darker band across the arm:


Cape Verde Shearwater / Puffin du Cap-Vert

Under strong light they do sometimes look paler and may show a slightly mottled back:


Cape Verde Shearwater / Puffin du Cap-Vert

Especially on swimming birds, the dark head can be fairly distinctive and may even be reminiscent of Great Shearwater. The size difference with Cory’s is striking when seeing the two species together but of course this is much harder when watching these birds from land while they are feeding out at sea or flying a kilometer away from the shore. The Cory’s Shearwater in the picture below (yellow bill with dark tip, pale grey head) looks huge compared to the Cape Verdes, which suggest Cory’s rather than Scopoli’s – but see further down for a discussion on separation of these two closely related (sub-)species.


Cape Verde Shearwater (& one Cory’s / Scopoli’s) / Puffin du Cap-Vert (& un P. cendré / de Scopoli)

Cape Verde’s underwing pattern is intermediate between Cory’s and Scopoli’s Shearwaters, usually showing a sharp demarcation between the dark primaries and underwing coverts. The paler inner webs on the primaries make the hand look more grey than black, though this is visible only under good light conditions and is less distinctive than on Scopoli’s.


Cape Verde Shearwater / Puffin du Cap-Vert

Cape Verde Shearwater considered a globally threatened species, under the category Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, owing to its moderately small population and range size. There are said to be around 10,000 breeding pairs (= ca. 30,000 birds in total), largely limited to just three islands of the Cape Verde archipelago. The population is thought to be declining owing mainly to uncontrolled levels of harvest. Indeed, “present-day harvests for food and bait have reached unprecedented levels and the threat this poses is augmented through motor-vessel use by fishermen […]. Currently, an estimated 5,000 chicks are taken from their nests on Raso and Branco each year. The species may also suffer predation from introduced species such as cats.” (BirdLife International, 2016).

If the 2001 estimate of 30,000 Cape Verde Shearwaters still holds true, then I saw about 18% of the world population this morning (24/4) while having coffee at the Calao terrace in Ngor, when at least 5,500 birds were visible from the Calao terrace, either passing through towards the NE, or feeding out at sea. A week ago I estimated about 1,100-1,200. Sure, some of these were Scopoli’s Shearwaters, though based on the few birds that were close enough to identify and going by our sightings from the boat about a week earlier these would account for 5-10% only. The species arrives on its breeding grounds from February-March, but egg-laying and incubation take place in May-July so the birds that are at Ngor at the moment may still head to Cape Verde – unless they’re all non-breeding birds of course. The species’ presence off Dakar seems rather unpredictable, but late winter and spring (Feb.-May, even June) is obviously the most reliable period to see them here; in certain years there are also good numbers in November (cf. Senegal Seawatching website).


Scopoli’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea

There were probably 10-20 birds in total, mixed in with the Cape Verde Shearwaters and mostly seen sitting on the ocean surface, and as such I have less useful pictures to share here. A shame because I’m not entirely sure that there weren’t any Cory’s Shearwater C. borealis as well, given that some birds looked really large and heavy-billed. Both species – formerly considered subspecies of Cory’s – share the same overall appearance of a large, grey-headed shearwater with a flashy yellow bill. Differences between the two are subtle and as such one would require good views or photographs in order to positively identify these birds; those see at a distance or under poor conditions are best left as Cory’s/Scopoli’s Shearwater.

The underwing pattern of Scopoli’s Shearwater is probably the most reliable field character, with the hand being less black and lacking the clear demarcation between the withe primary coverts and the dark primaries, which have white inner webs. This is often hard to see as flying birds are constantly shifting and often hold their wings down, hence the need for good pictures. Another feature of Scopoli’s is that is has a single black spot near the base of P10, whereas Cory’s has two on the outermost primary coverts (the 2nd one being detached from the dark edge of the wing – again, difficult to see other than on photographs). The size difference between Cory’s (which is slightly larger) and Scopoli’s is not very useful given that there is overlap and apparently much variation.

The picture below shows two Scopoli’s and one Cape Verde Sheawater: note the pale “hand” on the bird in the background, and yellow bill clearly visible on the bird in the front


Scopoli’s Shearwater / Puffin de Scopoli

A good feature to pick up Scopoli’s among a group of Cape Verde Shearwaters, besides an obvious size difference and the yellow bill, is the much paler appearance of the head, mantle, and side of breast.


Scopoli’s Shearwater / Puffin de Scopoli (at least 5 birds here)

The upperwing is clearly more contrasted than Cape Verde, with a dark zigzag across the otherwise grey wing, and mottled brown/grey saddle. This is especially true for Scopoli’s which is said to be greyer than Cory’s:


Scopoli’s Shearwater / Puffin de Scopoli

As mentioned earlier, some birds looked really massive, including the thick bill, but I could not get any conclusive Cory’s – only a few suspected birds such as the one below. A shame that the underwing pattern isn’t clearly visible on this one:


Scopoli’s or Cory’s Shearwater / Puffin de Scopoli ou cendré?

Further reading on separating diomedea and borealis can be had here and here, among others. There’s nothing much to be found on the occurrence in West Africa given that most records are of “Cory’s Shearwater” in the old sense, without distinction between the two species as currently recognised. Most records are from October-November and again around April, but the numbers are quite variable from one year to another. In 2016, we witnessed a strong passage of presumed Scopoli’s throughout November, but no birds could be labelled as obvious Cory’s.

Scopoli's Shearwater / Puffin de Scopoli

Scopoli’s Shearwater / Puffin de Scopoli

Skuas – another tricky ID category – may follow in a later post!

(post updated 24/4)

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.


American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé (= P. dominicain)

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!


American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

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.


American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé


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.


American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

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.


American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

Occurrence in Senegal

This record appears to be the 9th for Senegal, 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)
  • 16-17/10/2006, one photographed at Ziguinchor (ABC Bulletin Recent Reports)
  • 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)
  • 18/12/2016, one at Technopole, Bram Piot (see here)

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).

pluvier fauve

Pacific Golden Plover / Pluvier fauve, Delta du Saloum, May 2012 (S. Cavailles)

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.


Black Tern / Guifette noire


White-winged Tern / Guifette leucoptère


White-winged Tern / Guifette leucoptère

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!