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Technopole Express (4/6/17)

Petit post rapide pour partager quelques images des deux stars d’aujourd’hui, vu lors de mon passage dominical classique au Technopole:

D’abord ce Bec-en-ciseaux adulte, une espèce convoitée vue rarement au Technopole. Paul l’a vue en juillet/août 2012 et 2013, puis si je me souviens bien, Bass Diallo a pu en voir un en fin de saison sèche 2015 (à vérifier!).

Posé au milieu des Goélands railleurs, Sternes caugeks et autres laridés, le Bec-en-ciseaux s’envole parfois sur de petites distances avant de se reposer.  Lors d’un envol général de tout le groupe, il est parti plus haut, seulement pour retourner se poser de l’autre côté du plan d’eau. Apparemment un adulte car les parties supérieures sont tout à fait noires et le bec n’a pas l’extrêmité foncée des oiseaux immatures.

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African Skimmer / Bec-en-ciseaux africain

Belle coche locale en tout cas, d’un oiseau que je n’avais vu qu’une seule fois avant dans la sous-région, un seul individu dans le port de Conakry il y a plus d’une dizaine d’années… puis une trentaine d’oiseaux en un lieu plus classique, l’embouchure de la Rusizi au Burundi en 2011. Pour plus d’infos sur cette espèce au Sénégal, voir l’article de Paul de juillet 2012.

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African Skimmer / Bec-en-ciseaux africain

En observant ce beau spécimen de Rynchops flavirostris, tout d’un coup un Phalarope à bec étroit apparaît dans le champ de vue de mon téléscope: il est toujours là! Au moins 15 jours de présence (première obs. ici le 21/5)… pas pressé le Phalarope.

Cette fois j’ai pu me rapprocher un peu plus, donc photos pas trop floues (même si je ne gagnerai pas de concours photo avec, c’est bien mieux que les précédentes!). Voir ce post pour plus de détails sur cette espèce rarement vue en Afrique de l’Ouest.

 

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Red-necked Phalarope / Phalarope à bec étroit

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Red-necked Phalarope / Phalarope à bec étroit

 

Voilà pour l’essentiel. La plupart des limis sont partis maintenant et il ne restait plus qu’un seul Grand Gravelot, quelques Aboyeurs, quatre Barges à queue noire (estivantes? également deux Barges rousses dimanche dernier), 5-6 Pluviers argentés, et un Chevalier stagnatile avec une patte cassée, présent depuis deux semaines maintenant. Le plumage de cet oiseau (de 2e a.c.?) est inhabituel et un peu déconcertant au premier abord, étant bien plus brun uni que ses congénères.

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Marsh Sandpiper / Chevalier stagnatile

 

Les Guifettes noires etaient plus nombreuses que ces dernières semaines, avec une bonne centaine d’individus, essentiellement des oiseaux de 2e année mais tout de même quelques adultes. Et une jeune Guifette leucoptère dans le tas!

Les deux jeunes Tantales ibis sont toujours là, et le nombre de Flamants roses continue d’augmenter lentement mais sûrement (37 inds. maintenant), alors que celui des Pelicans gris et surtout blancs a carrément explosé: plus de 400 individus. La semaine passée il y avait encore trois Hirondelles de fenêtre et une de rivage, mais ce matin plus aucun passereau migrateur.

Côté nicheurs, rien de bien nouveau: toujours quelques poussins d’Echasse blanche mais j’ai l’impression qu’il y a une forte prédation, notamment par les Milans qui semblent particulièrement intéressés par les jeunes limicoles. Comme la semaine passée, il y a six Gravelots pâtres en ce moment: vont-ils tenter de nicher? Plus anecdotique, l’observation de cette Cisticole des joncs en train de construire un nid très bien dissimulé dans les herbes denses au pied d’un petit palétuvier.

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Zitting Cisticola / Cisticole des joncs

 

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Le nid de la Cisticole se situe au pied de ce buisson, au milieu de l’image

 

 

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.

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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…

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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!

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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!).

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Yellow-billed Stork / Tantale ibis

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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…

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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).

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Sanderling & Little Stint / Bécasseaux sanderling & minute

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

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Curlew Sandpiper / Bécasseau cocorli

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

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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.

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:

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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.

Identification

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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:

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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.

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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!?

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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).

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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:

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Cape Verde Shearwater / Puffin du Cap-Vert

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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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GOLDEN PLOVER!

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.

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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!

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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.

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

Identification

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Black Tern / Guifette noire

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White-winged Tern / Guifette leucoptère

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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!

Combien de Vautours charognards à Dakar?

Le Vautour charognard connaît l’un des déclins les plus drastiques de tous les oiseaux africains, accusant des chutes d’effectifs impressionnants. Au point de disparaître quasiment entièrement de certaines régions! C’est le cas par exemple du Niger ou du Mali, et de manière plus globale en Afrique de l’Est et australe hors des parcs nationaux et autres espaces protégés suffisamment vastes. La généralisation de ce déclin à travers la majeure partie de son aire a récemment justifié l’inclusion de ce vautour, tout comme plusieurs autres, sur la liste rouge d’espèces menacées d’extinction dans la catégorie « CR » (en danger critique d’extinction) par BirdLife International.

Ce vautour au nom peu imaginatif (car appartenant à un groupe d’oiseaux dont quasiment tous les membres sont charognards!), aussi connu sous le nom tout aussi peu évocateur de “Percnoptère brun”, est encore relativement commun à Dakar. On les voit effectivement un peu partout survolant la ville, y compris chez moi aux Almadies, près du bureau à Sacré-Cœur, sur les lampadaires de l’autoroute ou encore le long de la Corniche entre les Mamelles et le Plateau… Il suffit généralement de scruter le ciel pendant 10-15 minutes pour en voir au moins un ou deux en train de tourner à la recherche de nourriture ou en route vers un dortoir nocturne.

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Hooded Vulture / Vautour chargnard, baie de Hann, août 2016

Au premier abord on pourrait donc se dire que tout va bien. Et ben non… il se trouve que l’espèce a fortement régressé ici comme ailleurs sur le continent. Mais dans quelles proportions au juste ?

Depuis début 2016, Wim Mullié, Theo Peters et votre serviteur se sont intéressés de plus près au sujet, au point d’entamer des dénombrements aussi systématiques que possible et de rassembler toute information connue à propos de ce sympathique vautour. Wim en particulier a été instrumental dans la mise en œuvre de cette petite étude, qui a résulté en une presentation orale lors du congrès pan-africain d’ornithologie qui s’est tenu à Ngor en octobre dernier. Et surtout, un article sera publié prochainement dans la revue d’ornithologie africaine Ostrich. Nous avons pu estimer la population actuelle et il nous a été possible d’effectuer certaines comparaisons avec des données historiques, notamment celles obtenues par Jean-Marc Thiollay à la fin des années 60. De plus, nous avons cherché à identifier les causes probables du déclin accusé par le Vautour charognard à Dakar.

Hooded Vulture / Vautour charognard

Hooded Vulture / Vautour charognard adulte, photographié depuis mon balcon

Donc justement, qu’en est-il de la situation actuelle ? Sur la base de multiples comptages aux dortoirs répartis à travers la ville effectués avant, pendant et vers la fin de la saison des pluies, nous estimons que l’effectif total se situe actuellement autour des 400 individus. En 1969, l’estimation faite par Jean-Marc – certes assez grossière, mais selon nous reflétant la bien la situation de l’époque – était de pas moins de 3000 individus ! C’est dire que le déclin est drastique.

La diminution progressive, peut-être même exponentielle, a sans doute commencé il y a plusieurs décennies, car déjà au milieu des années 90 Jean-Marc a noté des disparitions locales et des déclins importants dans plusieurs régions de l’Afrique de l’Ouest. Une étude menée par Jean-Pierre Couzi (lui aussi l’un des sept co-auteurs de notre publication) sur les oiseaux charognards et « détritivores » de Dakar avait abouti à environ 500 oiseaux, bien qu’il soit probable que l’effectif réel était plus élevé que cela.

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Hooded Vulture / Vautour charognard sur bassin petrolier, Hann, août 2016

Les raisons de ce déclin drastique (plus de 85% !) sont sans doute multiples, mais trois d’entre elles ressortent comme étant probablement les plus importantes :

  • La disparition des sites de nidification et de nourrissage en raison de l’urbanisation galopante et incontrôlée mais aussi de meilleures pratiques d’hygiène (en particulier dans les abattoirs – pour le reste j’en conviens c’est un concept tout relatif lorsqu’on voit les tas de déchets en ville comme à la campagne),
  • L’empoisonnement – intentionnel ou non – surtout à travers des poisons destinés aux chiens errants, dont une campagne à grande échelle a été initiée par les autorités en 2010 pour combattre la rage : entre 2011 et 2016, plus de 21 000 chiens ont ainsi été éradiqués au moyen d’appâts empoisonnés par la strychnine.
  • La capture de vautours pour les besoins de la médecine traditionnelle et pour utilisation comme fétiches (rien que sur la Petite Côte, ceux-ci seraient utilisés contre la lèpre, les maux d’estomac et des reins, les parasites, pour se rendre invulnérable, pour réussir un examen et/ou se faire promouvoir, ou encore pour voir le futur… et ce autant chez les Sérère que les Wolof et les Bambara).

Cela dit, ce sont pour l’essentiel des hypothèses, et beaucoup de questions restent sans réponse: les raisons évoquées méritent d’être confirmées par des études plus poussées. Il reste beaucoup à apprendre sur cette espèce, aussi bien dans les zones où elle est en diminution que dans celles où il en reste encore beaucoup. Heureusement que ces zones existent encore, même pas trop loin d’ici : en Gambie, en Casamance, en Guinée-Bissau et à Conakry il reste énormément de Vautours charognards. Henriques-Baldé a estimé l’effectif bissau-guinéen à pas moins de 76 000 individus, et personnellement j’ai pu voir à quel point il y a des dizaines voire des centaines d’oiseaux à Ziguinchor, le Cap Skirring ou encore à Conakry. Plus de 3000 subsistent dans la région de Banjul. A l’autre opposé du spectre, j’ai pu constater l’absence ou la quasi-absence des Vautours charognards à Bamako, Ouagadougou ou encore Niamey.

Tout n’est donc pas perdu à Dakar et il est peut-être possible de ralentir la disparition de l’espèce dans nos cieux… mais il faudra y mettre les moyens et faire vite: préserver les sites de repos et de nidification, arrêter l’empoissonnement, stopper le commerce des parts de vautours (et surtout la demande de la part des consommateurs !), assurer la disponibilité de nourriture et ce particulièrement à travers une collaboration avec les abattoirs. Autant dire que le futur est loin d’être rose pour cet oiseau si caracteristique des villes sénégalaises

Je me trompe peut-être, mais je n’ai pas encore vu beaucoup d’actions de la part des quelques rares acteurs capables de les mettre en œuvre au niveau national voire régional – BirdLife surtout, mais aussi NCD et les diverses autorités compétentes. Des symposiums, dépliants, ateliers et autres déclarations politiques ne suffiront pas : ‘faudrait qu’ils se réveillent rapidement car bientôt ce sera trop tard…

Hooded Vulture / Vautour charognard

Hooded Vulture / Vautour charognard adulte au Technopole, avril 2016

Pour en savoir plus…

Buij R, et al. (2016): Trade of threatened vultures and other raptors for fetish and bushmeat in West and Central Africa. Oryx 50: 606-616.

Jallow et al. (2016): High population density of the Critically Endangered Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus in Western Region, The Gambia, confirmed by road surveys in 2013 and 2015. Malimbus 38: 23-28.

Ogada et al. (2015): Another Continental Vulture Crisis: Africa’s Vultures Collapsing toward Extinction. Conservation Letters 9: 89-97.