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Pelagic trip off Ngor

Why would two Portuguese, a Mauritanian, a Cape-Verdian, a French, an American and a Belgian set off on a boat trip one morning in October? Seabirds of course! With Gabriel in town, Bruce over from the US, Miguel and Antonio as motivated as ever to get out of the office and to have some of their BirdLife colleagues strengthen their seabird id skills, it was time to organise our now annual autumn pelagic, on October 1st.

Conditions were perfect to get out on our small boat (organised through Nautilus Diving: merci Hilda!) though probably a bit too calm for active seabird migration. We chose to head straight west to the edge of the continental shelf, rather than try the “trawler area” off Kayar as this is quite a bit more distant from Ngor. Needless to say that expectations were high as is always the case during these rare opportunities to get close views of the treasured tubenoses – storm petrels, shearwaters – skuas and maybe some Grey Phalaropes or Sabine’s Gulls.

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Ngor plage

 

A Manx Shearwater zooming past the boat was one of the first pelagic species we got to see, followed by quite a few Sooty Shearwaters (Puffin fuligineux).

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Sooty Shearwater / Puffin fuligineux (BP)

 

Further out, Wilson’s Storm Petrel became the dominant species, with a few dozen birds seen – and probably many more that went undetected – particularly around the upwelling area. Almost all were obviously actively migrating, and we managed to get some good views of several of them as they zoomed past our boat. Of course, several storm petrels remained unidentified, but we did manage to get decent views of at least two European Storm Petrels (though alas no pictures!). The toes projecting beyond the tail that are diagnostic of Wilson’s are more or less visible on the pictures below.

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Wilson’s Strom Petrel / Océanite de Wilson (A. Araujo)

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Wilson’s Strom Petrel / Océanite de Wilson (B. Mast)

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Wilson’s Strom Petrel / Océanite de Wilson (B. Mast)

 

Up next: skuas, or jaegers as our American friends call them. We didn’t see many, with just three Pomarines and just as few Arctic Skuas, as well as an obliging Long-tailed Skua. The latter was an interesting bird that we aged as a third-summer moulting into third-winter plumage. It briefly joined two Pomarine Skuas (second-year birds?) allowing for nice comparisons of size and structure.

 

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Long-tailed Skua / Labbe à longue queue (BP)

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Long-tailed Skua / Labbe à longue queue (BP)

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Long-tailed Skua / Labbe à longue queue (A. Araujo)

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Long-tailed & Pomarine Skuas / Labbes à longue queue & pomarin (B. Mast)

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Pomarine Skuas / Labbes pomarins (B. Mast)

 

Rounding up our seabirds is this Red (Grey…) Phalarope (Phalarope à bec large), the only one we saw during the trip but somehow Bruce managed to get a picture:

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Red Phalarope / Phalarope à bec large (B. Mast)

 

As seems to be quite often the case during these pelagic trips, some landbirds were also encountered, in our case European Turtle Dove (Tourterelle des bois) of which we twice saw singles migrating over the ocean (in October 2016, the PAOC pelagic recorded at least three species of passerines, including a migrating Bluethroat). One of our doves had a very worn and messy plumage, probably a moulting young bird:

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European Turtle Dove / Tourterelle des bois (B. Mast)

 

Our complete eBird checklist, expertly compiled by Miguel, can be found here. We really ought to add the Osprey that can just about be seen sitting on top of the Almadies lighthouse, but which was noticed only later on this neat picture by Bruce of the lighthouse – Africa’s westernmost building, constructed some time in the 19th century (precise date seems unknown?) on a reef that lies just off the Pointe des Almadies.

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Le phare des Almadies… and an Osprey (B. Mast)

 

 

Many thanks to Antonio and Bruce for sharing their pictures!

 

 

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Suivi de la migration d’automne à Ngor: août et septembre 2018

Depuis un peu plus de deux mois on a repris nos habitudes au Calao de Ngor cet automne (ai-je vraiment arrêté depuis l’an dernier?), pour voir ce que donne le cru 2018 pour ce qui est de la migration d’automne des oiseaux de mer. Le printemps avait déjà été pas mal, avec entre autres de beaux passages de Sternes voyageuses et de Dougall, de Mouettes de Sabine, et quelques espèces plus rares comme le Fou à pieds rouges, le Puffin de Macaronésie / de Barolo ou encore le Puffin majeur. Ayant eu un peu plus de temps libre et moins de voyages que d’habitude, j’ai donc repris le suivi régulier depuis fin juillet. J’étais curieux notamment de mieux suivre les mouvements en août et septembre, et finalement j’ai un peu mieux pu suivre ces deux mois que l’an dernier: entre le 30/7 et le 30/9, j’ai pu assurer une présence lors de 41 jours, pour environ 55 heures de suivi (2017: 40.5 heures sur 31 jours). A propos de notre suivi de l’an dernier, un article sur le suivi de la migration en 2017 est en cours de rédaction et sera partagé ici en temps voulu!

Les années se suivent mais se ne ressemblent pas: certaines espèces sont visiblement plus communes certaines années, et les conditions météo varient pas mal également. Ainsi, le mois d’août 2018 a été marqué par plusieurs jours de vent favorable (= vent soutenu de l’ouest a nord-ouest), et notamment le Labbe à longue queue a été bien plus nombreux a passer devant les cotes dakaroises qu’en 2017 et 2016. Idem pour les Phalaropes à bec large qui comme le labbe voient eux aussi s’établir un nouveau record journalier.

Comme d’hab’, voici donc une liste comme toujours un peu longue et ennuyeuse, agrémentée de quelques photos d’archives.

  • Océanites

Océanite de Wilson (Wilson’s Storm Petrel): au moins 159 oiseaux sont vus entre le 31/7 et le 23/8, avec un max. de 105 en 30′ de suivi le 13/8.

  • Puffins

Puffin du Cap-Vert (Cape Verde Shearwater): 97 ind. passent le 11/8 en 2h40′, suivi d’un isolé sur place le lendemain et deux oiseaux le 20/8.

Puffin fuligineux (Sooty Shearwater): comme en 2017, les premiers oiseaux apparaissent des les premiers jours de septembre, mais cette année les effectifs restent très modestes jusqu’à fin septembre: seulement 87 oiseaux du 2/9 au 30/9 alors que dans la même période l’an dernier il en passent 393 pour un effort comparable.

 

Sooty Shearwater / Puffin fuligineux
Puffin fuligineux / Sooty Shearwater  (Ngor, avril 2015)

Puffin des Anglais (Manx Shearwater): seuls six oiseaux sont détectés pour le moment, sans doute en raison de l’absence de bonnes conditions météo pour les puffins courant septembre, mois qui devrait marquer le pic du passage de cette espèce.

Puffin “d’Audubon” (Audubon’s Shearwater): à l’inverse, ce puffin généralement très pélagique a été vu bien plus que ces dernières années, avec 19 oiseaux pour le moment. Le premier oiseau passe le 11/8, puis le lendemain c’est un Puffin de Barolo qui est observé en migration active, assez près du rivage permettant son identification. Encore un Barolo ou Macaronésie le 28/8, et le 17/9 il y en a pas moins de 14 qui défilent en deux heures dont quelques groupes de 3-4 oiseaux migrant ensemble. Encore deux le 28/9, et peut-être qu’il en suivra encore quelques-uns dans les semaines à venir.

  • Fous

Fou de Bassan (Northern Gannet): un oiseau de 1ère année passe le 23/9 déjà (2017: premier le 18/9, puis un seul en octobre avant le véritable debut du passage début novembre).

Fou brun (Brown Booby): deux le 26 (un adulte et un imm.) et un imm. les 28 et 29/9 étaient probablement des oiseaux locaux en excursion de pêche depuis les îles de la Madeleine.

  • Limicoles

Comme je le disais dans l’intro, l’une des surprises de cette saison a été le passage important de Phalaropes à bec large (Red Phalarope) en août: alors que je n’avais noté aucun oiseau avant le 11/8, ce jour-la j’en dénombre pas moins de 825 en 2h40′ de suivi le matin, plus encore 35 en 40′ le soir – apparemment un nouveau record journalier pour le Sénégal, à en croire les chiffres a notre disposition. Plus rien les jours suivants, jusqu’au 18/8 lorsque quelques 65 oiseaux passent en deux groupes – toujours aussi difficiles à estimer! – 37 le 20/8, etc. jusqu’au 2/9. Encore 55 le 17/9, pour un total tout à fait honnête de 1256 oiseaux. Sans doute que plusieurs milliers sont passes au total, loin au large ou invisible entre les vagues. Parmi les autres limicoles, retenons le Courlis corlieu (Whimbrel) avec 415 ind., deux Barges rousses (Bar-tailed Godwit), 28 Huîtriers pies (Oystercatcher) dont 13 ce matin, deux groupes de Bécasseaux maubèches (Red Knot), quelques Tournepierres (Turnstone), un Combattant varié (Ruff), deux Grands Gravelots (Common Ringed Plover) et quelques Chevaliers gambettes et guignettes (Common Redshank & Common Sandpiper).

  • Laridés

Mouette de Sabine (Sabine’s Gull): un avant-coureur passe le 30/7 déjà, constituant peut-être bien la premiere observation de juillet pour le site. Passage plus ou moins régulier bien qu’en effectifs très faibles – comme il se doit en août et septembre – du 11 au 22/8 lors d’une période de vents favorables, puis sept le 1/9 et en tout 31 en 2h45 de suivi les 17-18/9. Encore cinq le 24/9 puis plus rien depuis! On attendra donc le gros passage de la deuxième moitie d’octobre pour cette espèce. Peu d’autres laridés pour le moment, mais tout de même à signaler un Goéland leucophée adulte (ou presque) le 23/8.

  • Sternes & Guifettes

Sterne naine (Little Tern): 129 individus pour le moment, soit le même ordre de grandeur que l’an dernier à la même periode (idem pour la Sterne caspienne (Caspian Tern), avec 27 oiseaux au compteur).

Guifette noire (Black Tern): avec 4402 oiseaux, c’est pour l’instant la deuxième espèce la plus nombreuse: pas mal d’oiseaux vers la mi-août, puis petit max. horaire de 460 le 18/9. Au moins une Guifette leucoptère (White-winged Tern) est identifiée le 11/8.

Une Sterne bridée (Bridled Tern) est vue en vol vers le NE le 9/8, suivi d’un individu vers le SW deux jours plus tard, et deux oiseaux (adulte et juv.) sur place le 22/8 – probablement des oiseaux ayant niche aux iles de la Madeleine ou au moins 3-4 couples ont été vus en juillet dernier. Plus surprenante, une jeune Sterne fuligineuse (Sooty Tern) passe vers le SW le matin du 17/9, ma première obs de l’espèce ici et en fait première obs tout court – coche √ 🙂

 

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Sterne bridée / Bridled Tern (Iles de la Madeleine, June 2017)

Sterne de Dougall (Roseate Tern): avec 133 Dougall dénombrés, on dépasse déjà d’un tiers l’effectif total de l’an dernier, avec un maximum de 41 oiseaux en 2h de suivi le 17/9. Toujours sympa de voir cette belle espèce, dont le statut de conservation en Europe est plutôt précaire avec des effectifs ne dépassant pas les 1900 couples au début des années 2000, essentiellement aux Açores et en Irlande.

Sternes pierregarin et Sterne arctique (Common & Arctic Terns): 8760 ind., en flot plus ou moins continu depuis le démarrage du suivi. La Sterne arctique était visiblement l’espèce dominante en août et début septembre, mais actuellement la tendance est en train de s’inverser, et la Pierregarin devrait logiquement être la plus commune courant octobre et novembre.

Sterne voyageuse (Lesser Crested Tern): au moins 187, généralement en groupes de 2-3 oiseaux suivant les Sternes caugeks, rarement plus d’une dizaine par heure.

Sterne caugek (Sandwich Tern): Troisième espèce la plus nombreuse, avec 2429 migrateurs pour le moment, dont 2000 passent dans la 2e moitié de septembre.

Sterne royale africaine (African Royal Tern): déjà 897 oiseaux, soit un peu plus du double de l’an dernier. Environ 45% de cet effectif défile pendant la dernière décade d’août, avec des maxima de 136/heure le 25.

  • Labbes

Labbe à longue queue (Long-tailed Skua): au moins 478 individus! Le passage débute soudainement le 10/8 – jour d’observation des premiers labbes – avec au moins neuf en 1h30, suivis le lendemain par un bel effectif de 70 oiseaux en 2h40 de suivi et quasiment tous les jours par quelques-uns ou quelques dizaines de migrateurs jusqu’au 22/8. Ensuite rien pendant quatre jours, puis reprise modeste tout à la fin du mois pour culminer le 2/9 avec un effectif impressionant de 217 individus en 1h15 de suivi. Sauf erreur c’est un nouveau record journalier pour le Sénégal, établi en à peine une heure d’observation: combien sont passés en tout ce jour-la? Sans doute plus d’un millier… Cette espèce est bien connue pour ses fluctuations d’effectifs d’année en année: sur les sites de nidification en fonction de l’abondance de nourriture, et visiblement sur les sites d’observation côtiers comme Ngor en fonction des vents pouvant pousser les migrateurs plus près des rivages. En 2017, je n’avais eu que 126 individus; même en prenant en compte l’absence de suivi à la mi-août et pendant plusieurs jours en septembre, il est clair que c’était une “petite” année à Labbes à longue queue, contrairement à 2018.

 

 
Labbe parasite (Arctic Skua): 266 individus au compteur, auxquels il convient d’ajouter sans doute une bonne partie des 82 labbes “sp.”; Seuls six Labbes pomarins (Pomarine Skua) pour le moment, avec le premier certain le 30/8.

Labbe de McCormick (South Polar Skua): un oiseau typique passe assez près du bord le 20/9.

 

Pendant les trois mois qui restent pour cette saison 2018 j’aurai un peu moins de temps que l’an dernier pour suivre ce spectacle de la migration: avis aux amateurs qui souhaiteraient venir en renforts!

Puis il faudrait que je trouve le temps de vous parler de nos sorties récentes au lac Tanma, à la lagune de Yène, et le lac Rose… Mais avant toute chose, demain matin on a prévu une sortie en mer au large de Ngor! Compte-rendu et photos à suivre, si tout va bien.

Ngor spring migration: May 2018

 

Following on our April summary, here’s a brief update on results from last month’s short but regular seawatch sessions from Ngor, as usual all from the Club Calao terrace. Managed a total of 10 sessions between May 10th and May 26th, with more good stuff to report on, including a lifer!

Again, no pictures other than a few old ones that I’m recycling here… and yet again a pretty dull species list.

 

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel (Océanite de Wilson): unidentified storm-petrels were regularly seen in small numbers, and most likely referred to this species.

Cape Verde Shearwater (Puffin du Cap-Vert) were seen in good numbers on most days, feeding off Ngor or flying NE, with a max. of at least 540 birds in one hour on 26th. Not as many as last year when the maximum counted on a single day exceeded 5,000 birds (!), but the pattern of appearance and behaviour of birds is very much in line with the previous season.

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Cape Verde Shearwater / Puffin du Cap-Vert, off Ngor, April 2018

 

Cory’s / Scopoli’s Shearwater (Puffin cendré / de Scopoli): at least three on 26th when there was a remarkable diversity of shearwaters, with five species noted. Probably also a few on 11th, 14th and 15th but too far or seen too briefly to positively identify.

Two to five Great Shearwater (Puffin majeur) seen flying NE amidst the other shearwaters on 26th – remarkably similar to last year’s record of two birds on May 25th, noted as “apparently migrating north” and thought to be the first May record – see the short paper we published in the latest volume of Malimbus on a “wreckage” of Great Shearwater in the the occurrence in Senegal & Gambia (Barlow et al. 2018), PDF available here on my ResearchGate page.

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Great Shearwater / Puffin majeur, off Kayar, Nov. 2017

 

Sooty Shearwater (Puffin fuligineux): a few seen on 18th, 21st and 26th, with at least 12 birds on the latter date: these records suggest that this Southern Hemisphere breeder is slightly more numerous later in spring.

Boyd’s / Barolo Shearwater (Puffin de Boyd / Macaronésie): one on 21st seen at fairly close range was identified as  Barolo Shearwater – for once it was close enough and I was able to follow it over quite a distance. Probably a bird en route to its breeding grounds. Another one, also flying north-east, was either baroli or boydi. The taxonomic situation of these small black and white shearwaters is complex and seems to be constantly changing. with BirdLife and HBW now treating both taxa as subspecies of Audubon’s Shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri). Either way, these are apparently quite rare spring records, though Dupuy (1984) lists what was then known as “Little Shearwater” as an uncommon offshore “summer” visitor. Boyd’s Shearwater breeds exclusively on the Cape Verde islands (only about 5,000 pairs!), while Barolo’s breeds further north on the Macaronesian islands where it is known from Madeira, the Azores, the Selvagems, and the Canary Islands, with a total breeding population of the same order of magnitude.

Northern Gannet (Fou de Bassan): seen in small numbers on most days; all but one were immature birds (and one on 15th may actually have been a Cape Gannet, but I couldn’t rule out a 4th year Northern Gannet as I didn’t see the underwing pattern…).

Red-footed Booby (Fou à pieds rouges): a species I’d never seen before but somehow expected to show up one day at Ngor, two were seen feeding in the surf just beyond the Ngor islet on 17th, nicely showing their pink (not red!) feet, bluish bill and uniform brown plumage. One was seen again the following day and what I assume are the same two birds (both dark morph adults or near-adults) on 22nd, when they appeared to take off from the islet where they may have spent the night. Third record for Senegal! More on this species, which will likely show up more frequently in coming years, in this recent post.

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Red-footed Booby / Fou à pieds rouges off Kayar, Oct. 2016 (B. van Gemerden)

 

Brown Booby (Fou brun): just one record so far, of an immature (2nd c.y.) on 14th. Looks like the Iles de la Madeleine birds – if they are indeed still present – don’t wander around the peninsula too much.

A few Great While Pelicans were regularly seen, flying about or resting out at sea (and once on the islet), and on 26th a Pink-backed Pelican made an appearance (Pélicans blancs et gris).

Other than an Oystercatcher on 20th and three Whimbrels on 11th (and a few Common Sandpipers), no more waders were seen during May (Huîtrier pie, Courlis corlieu, Chevalier guignette).

Long-tailed Skua (Labbe à longue queue): following several records in the latter half of April, at least three were identified on 11th, one on 18th, and one on 26th – confirming that spring migration of this species occurs up to the end of May off Senegal. Pomarine and Arctic Skuas were much scarcer than in April, with just three records for the former and five for the latter species.

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Long-tailed Skua / Labbe à longue queue imm. off Ngor, April 2017

 

Audouin’s Gull (Goéland d’Audouin): up to three birds seen in any one session, though no notable active migrants as was the case in April; all were immature birds.

Sabine’s Gull (Mouette de Sabine) were recorded up to May 22nd, with four records of 1-9 actively migrating birds. Other gull species included 10 Grey-headed Gulls flying NE on 20th, and three Slender-billed Gulls on 22nd. A single Lesser Black-backed Gull was seen on 22nd, when a probable Kelp Gull was also present.

Single Bridled Tern (Sterne bridée) were seen feeding and flying around quite close to shore on 11th and 15th, bringing the total to three birds so far this season.

Lesser Crested Tern (Sterne voyageuse): seen twice (17th & 20th), unlike African Royal Tern (Sterne royale) which remained present in decent numbers throughout. Caspian Tern (Sterne caspienne) was seen just once, on 22nd.

Roseate Tern (Sterne de Dougall): following a decent passage in April, just one seen on 17th, though others may have passed through further offshore amidst Common and Arctic Terns (Sternes pierragarin et arctique). These two species were seen almost daily, but again in much smaller numbers than in April.

Three Whiskered Terns (Guifette moustac) flew past on 11th, followed by two White-winged Terns (Guifette leucoptère) on 21st. Black Terns (Guifette noire) were less numerous than in April, except on May 11th when about 300 birds were counted.

Let’s see what June brings! Assuming that I manage to make it out to the Calao…

 

Ngor spring migration: April 2018

Quick update on this past month’s seawatch sessions from Ngor, as there have been a few good species lately. As usual, most of these are from short sessions at the Calao, with a few from Pointe des Almadies and from a mini-pelagic on April 22nd. Here’s a rather dull species list, but given that still fairy little is known about the phenology of spring seabird migration off Dakar, I thought it would be worthwhile reviewing them here. I don’t really have any recent pictures to illustrate these records, except for a really poor header picture of a Sabine’s Gull actively migrating past the Pointe, and a few older pics that I’m recycling in this blog post.

So here we go:

Cape Verde Shearwater (Puffin du Cap-Vert): the first few birds were seen on 3.3 (min. 2), then ca. 20 on 16-17.3, and a regular presence was noted throughout April when seen during most sessions from 4th, typically 50-100 birds feeding offshore, at most ca. 490 birds on 27th (but just a handful the next day and none seen on 29th!).

Scopoli’s Shearwater (Puffin de Scopoli): at least one during our boat trip on 22.4, with Cory’s or Scopoli’s noted from Ngor on 28th (as well as on March 3rd & 11th).

Sooty Shearwater (Puffin fuligineux): first seen on 16.3, then again singles on 31/3 and 7/4, and at least three birds on 20th. Not much… and note that we didn’t see a single bird  during our boat trip.

European Storm-Petrel (Océanite tempête): after a good presence during the first half of February, the species was seen again on 22.4 from the boat, with a minimum of two birds.

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel (Océanite de Wilson): at least six were seen on 22.4, again during our boat trip. Unidentified storm-petrels migrating past the Calao on 7th (min. 8), 11th (3), 20th (3) and 29th (1) were likely this species, though others can’t be ruled out – when seen from land, these birds can be incredibly difficult to identify due to either the distance or the very brief sightings as they always fly low over the water surface and are typically seen only for a second or two before they disappear again in between waves.

Northern Gannet (Fou de Bassan): at most ca. 175 on 31.3, with numbers gradually decreasing throughout April. Curiously, no marked NE-ward passage was noted.

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Northern Gannet / Fou de Bassan, Ngor, April 2017

 

Grey (Red) Phalarope (Phalarope à bec large): four migrating on 29th was a good spring record! Other than these, the only waders seen during this period were a few groups of Whimbrel (Courlis corlieu).

Long-tailed Skua (Labbe à longue queue) single adults passing through on 20, 21 & 25.4, two on 26th, and an immature flew past on 29th. Pomarine and Arctic Skuas were seen in small numbers on most days, many of which were flying NE (though rarely more than five in any one session).

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Goéland brun): usually present in small numbers, either feeding in the surf or migrating past Ngor. There was obviously a peak around mid-March, with 107 passing through in just 40 minutes on 16.3, and 52 in half an hour the next day.

Audouin’s Gull (Goéland d’Audouin): typically between one and five birds seen on any one session, but on 16.3 there were 27 (incl. three adults) migrating past in 40 minutes and 14 the following day (in 30 minutes) – thus coinciding with the peak of the previous species.

Sabine’s Gull (Mouette de Sabine): after the first five on 4.4, becomes increasingly frequent towards the end of the month, with a max. of ca. 40 during our 22.4 boat trip, and 31 on 27th in just one hour. Actual numbers must be quite a bit higher as this species mostly passes through far out, typically in small groups. Sometimes a few birds would migrate closer to shore, and occasionally some would be feeding or resting just in front of the Calao. Other gull species included a surprising flock of 31 Grey-headed Gulls flying NE on 27th, and six Slender-billeds at Pointe des Almadies the following day.

Bridled Tern (Sterne bridée): one passing to the NE at fairly short range on 26.4 was a very nice surprise, as I’d only seen the species once before here (and more generally, away from the Iles de la Madeleine breeding grounds). It also appears to be an early date for the species, as it is typically seen in May-July. My only previous Ngor record was of three birds flying SW on 10 June ’16. Sauvage & Rodwell give the range of 27/4 – 9/7 for PNIM, and A. R. Dupuy recorded the species no less than eleven times from Pointe des Almadies from 26 May to 14 July ’92.

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Bridled Tern / Sterne bridee, Iles de la Madeleine, June 2017

 

Lesser Crested Tern (Sterne voyageuse): seen in small numbers throughout the month, with a good max. of at least 178 birds passing through on 9th, in just 65 minutes. African Royal Tern (Sterne royale) was seen on most days, typically in small numbers. Much less frequent were Caspian Tern (Sterne caspienne; singles on 31.3 and 28.4) and Little Tern (Sterne naine; one on 6.4, and a group of 16 migrating on 29th).

Roseate Tern (Sterne de Dougall): first seen on 31.3, then regular until the middle of the month with a max. of no less than 56 on 9th in just over an hour. Also singles on 26th and 28th. Most birds were actively migrating, with a few feeding locally with the mixed tern flock.

Arctic Tern (Sterne arctique): the first four birds were seen on 16.3, becoming regular from the end of March and seen on most sessions in April, max. ca. 70 on 24th though numbers probably higher as 1) species difficult to count, and many common/Arctic terns noted.

White-winged Tern (Guifette leucoptère): one flew past on 16.3, and a fine adult in summer plumage was feeding among the numerous Black Terns on 28.4 (Guifette noire). The latter species is seen pretty much during every session, with a maximum towards the end of the month: probably more well over 1,200 birds on 28th. An adult Whiskered Tern (Guifette moustac) was seen on 22nd, flying NE.

That’s about it for now.

On the raptors front, Osprey has been a regular sighting, as always during winter, until 31.3 at Ngor, after which one was seen on 13.4 at Mamelles and on 14.4 at PNIM. A few young birds may still hang around of course. The wintering pair of Peregrines was last seen on 20.4 roosting on the Diarama hotel, and two birds were seen roosting in the Mamelles cliff on 22.4 – pretty intriguing!

 

 

Un nouveau fou aux Iles de la Madeleine…

Les fous des Iles de la Madeleine, j’en avais déjà parlé ici, en décembre 2016, pour faire le point sur le statut du Fou brun dans la région. Ce superbe oiseau marin est, depuis, signalé quasiment lors de chaque sortie au “PNIM” et plus particulièrement entre octobre et mai, et on le voit de temps en temps passer ou pêcher devant Ngor. Pas encore d’indices probants de sa nidification, mais ce n’est peut-être qu’une question de temps… voir plus bas.

Cette fois, c’est d’un autre fou dont il s’agit, et pas de celui que vous pensez – des Fous de Bassan, il y en a plein qui passent l’hiver dans les eaux dakaroises, et en ce moment même on les voit facilement de part et d’autre de la péninsule, que ce soit à Ngor ou devant les Mamelles.

En effet, il s’avère qu’un fou photographié le 26 janvier dernier par un groupe d’ornithos canadiennes (équipe 100% féminine, c’est assez rare chez les ornithos pour le souligner!), était en fait un Fou à pieds rouges (Red-footed Booby), et non un Fou brun (Brown Booby) comme initialement identifié. C’est grâce à une remarque laissée par un utilisateur d’eBird ayant mis en doute l’identité (« semble avoir les pieds étonnamment rouges pour un Fou brun! »), que la donnée est passée dans la liste à valider sur eBird, liste que je scrute de temps en temps en tant que vérificateur pour le Sénégal.

Et effectivement, l’oiseau pris en photo montre bien un Fou à pieds rouges, un individu de forme sombre – et qui du coup ressemble pas mal au Fou brun (et dont un oiseau était présent le même jour). Il se tenait sur la fameuse balise rouge et blanche qui sert très souvent de reposoir au Fous bruns, situé un peu au nord-est des îles.

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Red-footed Booby / Fou à pieds rouges (D. Thériault)

 

L’identification est relativement facile ici, d’une part parce qu’on voit encore tout juste les pattes roses, d’autre part parce que le plumage est brun uniforme y compris sur le ventre, sans contraste (même flou) comme chez les Fous bruns immatures. De plus, le bec relativement court et peu épais pour un sulidé, avec une base rosée et un cercle orbital bleu, est typique pour l’espèce. Notre oiseau montre également un front légèrement bombé, alors que chez le Fou brun il n’y a quasiment pas de front: la base du bec épais est dans la prolongation directe de la calotte, rendant la tête moins rondouillarde que chez le brun.

L’âge par contre est moins facile à déterminer: très probablement un immature, car le bec n’est pas bleu mais plutôt gris sur fond rose et peut-être que la couleur des pattes (rose et non rouge vif) est également un signe d’immaturité.

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Red-footed Booby / Fou à pieds rouges (M. O’Neill)

 

A comparer maintenant avec le Fou brun immature : ci-dessous, un oiseau d’un voire deux ans, ici en avril 2017 en compagnie de deux adultes. Les critères le distinguant du Fou à pieds rouges de forme sombre sont notamment la couleur des pattes et du bec, le contraste entre d’une part le ventre plus clair et d’autre part la poitrine et le dessus sombres, ainsi que la coloration générale plus sombre et moins pâle que son cousin à pieds rouges.

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Brown Booby / Fou brun imm. (gauche) et adultes (avril 2017)

 

C’est seulement la deuxième donnée de l’espèce au Sénégal, donc c’est loin d’être anodin comme observation! La précédente date d’octobre 2016, lorsqu’un oiseau est observé au cours d’une sortie en mer en marge du PAOC, à une vingtaine de kilomètres au large de Yoff – les détails de cette première observation pour le pays seront publiés dans le prochain bulletin de l’African Bird Club, à paraitre en septembre et que l’on partagera en temps voulu (Moran N. et al., First record of Red-footed Booby Sula sula for Senegal, voir photo ci-dessous).

 

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Red-footed Booby / Fou à pieds rouges, oct. 2016 (B. van Gemerden)

 

Le Fou à pieds rouges est une espèce marine tropicale plutôt répandue, et est classée non menacée par l’UICN bien que la population globale soit considérée comme étant en déclin. Les colonies les plus proches se trouvent sur l’île d’Ascension dans l’Atlantique Sud et sur l’archipel Fernando de Noronha (NE du Brésil). Il hiverne sur des îles tropicales sur tous les océans, en gros entre les deux tropiques.

Jusqu’à récemment l’espèce était un visiteur rare aux Îles du Cap-Vert, mais en octobre 2016, au moins 17 individus étaient présents à Raso, puis en octobre 2017 apparemment une centaine!! Autant dire que c’est l’explosion des effectifs, même si aucune nidification certaine n’a été rapportée pour le moment – du moins pas à notre connaissance. On peut donc s’attendre à d’autres observations dans les eaux sénégalaises à l’avenir, et j’espère bien sûr le voir un jour passer devant le Calao ou encore au PNIM. [addendum du 17/5/18: ce matin j’ai eu la chance d’en voir deux en train de pêcher longuement devant Ngor, non loin du rivage! Je ne pensais pas que je verrais l’espèce aussi rapidement…]

Ailleurs dans la région, Sula sula a été vu devant les côtes mauritaniennes (au moins un en oct.-nov. 2012), et des individus ont été signalés aux iles Canaries, aux Açores, et à Madeire. L’espèce est très rare plus au nord, avec p.ex. tout juste deux observations en France (un sur le lac de Sainte-Croix dans les Alpes-de-Haute-Provence en juillet 2011, puis un en juin 2017 en Bretagne dans la colonie des Fous de Bassan des Sept-Iles – voir l’article sur Ornithomedia). Ou encore cet oiseau trouvé épuisé sur une plage de l’East Sussex en septembre 2016, le premier pour la Grande-Bretagne.

Je reviens encore brièvement sur les Fous bruns, car samedi dernier (14/4) lors d’une visite aux Iles de la Madeleine nous avons pu observer de nouveau au moins sept individus : cinq posés dans leur falaise habituelle des îles Lougnes¹ (trois adultes, un subadulte, et un jeune au plumage similaire à celui de la photo d’avril 2017), puis encore deux adultes sur la fameuse balise marine, en train de parader lorsque nous passons à côté en bateau… Situation très similaire voire identique donc à celle d’avril-mai 2017, et toujours aussi intriguante: à quand la première nidification de l’espèce? Ci-dessous encore une photo médiocre de quatre de ces oiseaux dans leur falaise, prise lors de notre visite la plus récente, pour vous donner une idée.

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Brown Booby / Fou brun (avril 2018)

 

Samedi dernier il restait encore quelques Fous de Bassan, deux Courlis corlieux et deux Balbuzards, mais sinon peu d’oiseaux sur l’île. Lors de la traversée depuis Soumbedioune on a pu voir un Océanite de Wilson passer tout près, un Labbe pomarin, et plusieurs sternes (Dougall, arctique, pierregarn, caugek, voyageuse et royale) ainsi que quelques Guifettes noires en migration active (Northern Gannet, Whimbrel, Osprey, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, Pomarine Skua, Roseate, Arctic, Common, Sandwich, Lesser Crested, Royal & Black Terns). Et bien sûr les Phaétons à bec rouge, emblème du parc, dont la nidification bat encore son plein; on a d’ailleurs eu la chance de renconter l’experte Ngoné Diop en train de faire le suivi de la colonie, qui abriterait cette saison au moins 40-50 couples nicheurs (Red-billed-Tropicbird).

 

Merci aux observateurs tout d’abord: Hélène Gauthier, Marie O’Neill, Lorraine Plante, Diane Thériault. Et à Nick Moran et Barend van Gemerden pour avoir fourni les photos et la version finale de l’article sur la première observation sénégalaise. Et enfin, à tout seigneur tout honneur: c’est Brennan Mulrooney qui à signalé la donnée sur eBird, sans quoi elle aurait bien pu passer à travers les mailles du filet!

 

¹ Les îles Lougnes sont cees îlots rocheux inaccessibles faisant partie du parc national, photo ici.

 

 

New Trip Report – the North, Saloum, Wassadou & Dakar

It’s always a pleasure to read good trip reports by birders who visit Senegal. More and more visitors now report their sightings through eBird or Observation.org, but few go through the effort of writing up their notes – despite best intentions, as I can sadly testify to myself.

Too many birds, not enough time, right?

A small Danish team visited Senegal last November, and I happened to meet them while seawatching at the Calao at the start of their visit, together with guide Carlos who expertly showed them a great deal of excellent birds – and then again towards the tail end when we briefly met up in Toubacouta. I recently received their trip report, one of the few good ones that were published on Senegal recently. There are useful sections on travel arrangements, weather, timing, pets, and resources (many thanks for mentioning this site!). And very importantly, a brief review of key places visited during the trip: Dakar, Trois-Marigots & Djoudj, Richard Toll, Kousmar, Wassadou & the Niokolo-Koba National Park, Toubacouta & Delta du Saloum, and finally Popenguine. Information on key species is provided along with some info on accommodation and access, and almost all are illustrated with pictures showing local habitats. Next up are species lists by site, followed by a comprehensive list of bird and mammal species seen.

Pretty much all the “specials” were found, both up North and in the Saloum and Niokolo-Koba areas. Also a few less expected birds, such as a high count of Stone-Curlews at Richard Toll (90! with 12 more at Trois-Marigots), a slightly out-of-range African Hobby at Trois-Marigots, a couple of Temminck’s Stints, Shining-blue Kingfisher at Wassadou (though apparently it’s quite regular there at the moment), and an Aquatic Warbler seen during the boat tour to the Djoudj pelican colony (they’re present of course, but seeing one is rare!). And a good breeding record of Fulvous Babbler – apparently one of the few confirmed in the country – with a bird on the nest at Richard Toll.

Oh and I almost forgot – the report is stuffed with brilliant pictures including many of the country’s iconic birds, such as this pair of perfect Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters seen near Toubacouta, or the stunning Cricket Warbler from Richard Toll further down (all pictures in this post by Morten Heegaard, Stig Jensen & Jon Lehmberg).

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Swallow-tailed Bee-eater / Guêpier à queue d’arronde

 

And make sure to read through to the very end, where you’ll find an enjoyable bonus section on the raptor roost at Ile de Kousmar near Kaolack. To quote the authors, “Why a lot more birders aren’t visiting this roost is a total mystery to us, and that some are even spending a night in Kaolack without coming here is simply beyond belief”. I, for one, am ashamed to say I have not made it to Kousmar yet: next winter, sans faute.

 

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White-crested Helmet-Shrike / Bagadais casqué

 

The report can be downloaded directly from here (PDF, 5 MB), or from the Cloudbirders site, which contains a number of other good trip reports on Senegal, many of which are from tours combined with Gambia. Many are fairly dull species lists, but among the more recent ones this report by Birdquest from February 2017 (Podor, Dindefelo, Wassadou, Saloum etc.) is worth a read for those planning a trip to Senegal even if it fails to provide any useful information on where to find the most wanted birds (and there are a few errors as well, e.g. Mali Firefinch is not restricted to Kedougou in Senegal, and Marbled Teal is very much a regular visitor to Djoudj). I guess that’s one of the differences between commercial tours that rush from one place to another (imagine spending just a single day in Dindefelo?!) and a bunch of passionate friends who are keen to share their explorations. Dieuredieuf, Morten, Stig & Jon!

 

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Cricket Warbler / Prinia à front écailleux

 

And since we’re talking trip reports – a really enjoyable report in very much a different style is this recent one from The Gambia: BIRDBLOG GAMBIA 2018. Woodsmoke…dust…many birds!

“The ironically named Singing Cisticola showed well, but sang very, very badly, however Scimitarbill and Grasshopper Buzzard rebalanced the cool scale”

Proof that birding trip reports don’t have to be boring reads – highly recommend it, I had a real good laugh!

 

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Zebra Waxbill / Bengali zébré

 

 

 

Senegal birding and the UK Birdfair 2017

Last summer I had the chance to be in the UK for the Birdfair 2017. This is the largest annual market in Europe for birdwatchers. There is some overlap with bird conservation and many Birdlife partners are there, but this is primarily a place for the buying and selling of everything that birdwatchers desire; books, optics, but especially birdwatching holidays, and this is big business! Bird tour companies from many South American and African countries had flown in staff to advertise their holidays.

At the fair, South African birder Micheal Mills launched The Birder’s Guide to Africa, which aims to tell birders what is most distinctive about each country’s list of birds and where to go in Africa to most easily see each of the continent’s species. Whilst I do not agree with everything in some of the book’s West African chapters, it is a good start for a discussion of bird tourism in Senegal – which for many reasons would deserve a more prominent place on the Africa birding map (one of the many down-sides of taking very much of a quantitative, purely list-based approach to defining birding destinations, as is done by Michael Mills, is that many countries do get the recognition they deserve).

What is unique? Should more birders visit Senegal, and if so what should Senegalese bird guides do to encourage them? It should be said that I am talking about a certain type of birdwatching tourism – visiting places to make lists of unusual birds – which is the profitable market in which the Birdfair sells. From this perspective, the spectacles of Djoudj, the Sine Saloum and Kousmar are still important, but not enough if the birding guide cannot also find the country’s more unique species.

So, how visible was Senegal at the Birdfair? The short answer is almost invisible! Let’s avoid the historical and perhaps linguistic reasons why The Gambia features at the UK Birdfair, and look at all of West and North-West Africa. Geopolitics affects tourism and, correctly or not, many of the region’s countries are seen as more difficult places to organise tours. Unfortunately, these days large parts of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and northern Nigeria and Cameroon are off-limits to foreign visitors due to ongoing conflict and security concerns. Currently the two most advertised North-West/West African destinations for bird tours are Morocco and Ghana, as destinations for European, North American and South African birders, who are the three main groups.

Let’s take the African Bird Club country lists, which taxonomically almost follow the IOC World Bird List, and query the list. Which species regularly occur in Senegal, but not in Morocco or Ghana and also do not occur widely elsewhere in Africa? This query give Senegal at least 28 “special” species, which it would be a good investment for bird guides to be able to find. Please add your comments to this linked list, which is accessible for editing. Several more could – and probably should – be added, and it’s good to keep in mind that the national list stands at about 680 species (we hope to publish an updated list some time soon on this blog). 

Most of the species on this list are birds of the Sahel and the drier, northern regions of the Sudan savanna. The USGS’ excellent recent resources on West African land use shows the western section of the Sahel bio-climatic region, which extends to northern Ethiopia.   

WestAfrica_biomes_map

 

Little Grey (or Sahelian) Woodpecker is a classic example. Its patchy distribution, which does not go further east than western Sudan, includes northern Senegal where most recent West African observations have been made, though WaBDaB, which coordinates bird observations for Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, has a few records.

Little grey Woodpecker / Pic gris

Little grey Woodpecker / Pic gris, Gandiolais (BP)

For the average bird tour operator, Senegal is the easiest destination and there are places where it is often seen (Les Trois Marigots and near to Richard-Toll), but probably many to be discovered – for instance, it was reported just last week “well south of Louga” by a Swedish group. This and many of the Sahel specials are much more species of the Middle Valley described in Bram’s recent trip, than of the more famous Djoudj/St. Louis area and many are not on the Djoudj list.  

LittleGreyWoodpecker_map

 

Other species in the 23 with similarly narrow ranges include Cricket Warbler (present in southern Western Sahara, but very localised it seems); River Prinia (header picture – cryptic species only present in the Senegal River delta, River Niger and Lake Chad, though probably overlooked elsewhere); Sennar Penduline Tit; Golden Nightjar (most recent records from Western Sahara where confirmed breeding, and from Chad); Quail-Plover (hard to find, but there are apparently a couple of reliable sites); and the commoner Black Scrub Robin, Sahel Paradise Whydah and African Collared Dove.

Sahel Paradise Whydah / Veuve a collier d'or

Sahel Paradise Whydah / Veuve a collier d’or, Lac Tanma (BP)

 

A second cluster of specials occur in and near the Dindefelo reserve, Senegal’s most recent addition to the country’s Important Bird Areas list. This is the only place outside Mali where the Mali Firefinch is reasonably reliably seen. Other species with strange and small global ranges including Dindefelo are Adamawa Turtle-Dove and Neumann’s Starling. The Kedougou area, and Dindefello in particular, probably has more surprises in store and is likely to yield additional Guinean species that just creep into Senegal. 

Finally, the sea off Dakar makes the list. Away from the Cape Verde, the Cape Verde Shearwater is only reliably seen elsewhere in Africa, in season, off Dakar and the Iles de la Madeleine trio of Red-billed Tropicbird, Bridled Tern and the recent arrival Brown Booby are common enough in other tropical waters, but with few reliable places in Africa. The Tropicbirds are pretty much guaranteed at any time of the year, whilst the boobies and especially the terns and shearwaters are only present in certain seasons. 

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Red-billed Tropicbird / Phaéton à bec rouge, Iles de la Madeleine (BP)

And the message from this? Any Senegalese bird guide who gets to know when and where to find these species should have a profitable business and most of the species are far from the hotspots of Djoudj and the Sine Saloum! And to potential visitors – come over and explore, with or without a local guide: you won’t be disappointed.

 

(post by Paul, with contributions from BP)