Lots going on at Technopole at the moment, and hardly any time to write… pretty much as usual.
So here’s a quick update and a few pics, starting with some of the highlights:
- The two obliging Buff-breasted Sandpipers are still present, seen each time in the area behind the fishermen’s cabin. The country’s 7th or 8th record, and also by far the longest staying birds.
- This may be getting boring now and a bit of a déjà-vu, but yet again a Lesser Yellowlegs showed up in Dakar. This one was photographed on 8/2/18 by J. Dupuy and posted on observation.org; as far as I know this is the 8th record for Senegal and the third for Technopole (after singles in August 2015 and January 2016). Yesterday morning, a visit with French birders Gabriel and Etienne allowed us to relocate the bird, a very nice adult coming into breeding plumage:
- Almost just as good, and another first for Technopole (232 species on the list now), was this Common Shelduck – not totally unexpected given the small influx that took place this winter, but still a very good record and always nice to see this pretty duck showing up on my local patch. Unlike its name suggests, it’s definitely not common in Senegal, as there appear to be only about nine previous (published) records, two of which were also obtained this winter.
- Along the same lines, another scarce species showed up at Technopole recently, possibly still the same as the one I saw at the end of December: a Jack Snipe on 12 & 19/2. Only a few Garganeys are present at the moment, but Northern Shovelers are still numerous these days. At east three Eurasian Teal were with the preceding species (two males on 27/10, and a pair on 10/2).
- Remember that influx of Short-eared Owls? Well it looks like it’s not finished yet, with the discovery of no less than seven (maybe even more!) Short-eared Owls roosting together, on 3/2, by Edgar and Jenny Ruiz (at least two birds were still in the same place on 18/2).
Switching categories now – ring reading! Even with such a diversity and sheer numbers of ducks, waders, terns, gulls to go through, we’re still paying attention to ringed birds. And making very modest contributions to our knowledge of migration strategies, survival rates, and much more – one bird at a time. Since the start of the year we’ve been able to read about 50 rings of more than 40 different birds, mostly Audouin’s, Lesser Black-backed and Slender-billed Gulls, but also a few more original species:
- The flock of 170-180 Avocets that are still present contains at least two colour-ringed birds, both from SW Spain where they were ringed as chicks in… 2005! That’s nearly 13 years for both birds – a respectable age, though it seems that this species can live way longer that that: the record for a British (& Irish) Avocet is nearly 24 years (impressive… though not quite as much as a that 40-year old Oystercatcher!). Interestingly, “RV2” had already been seen at Technopole five years ago, by Simon, but no other sightings are known for this bird.
- A few Black-tailed Godwits are still around though the majority has now moved on to the Iberian Peninsula from where they will continue to their breeding grounds in NW Europe. Reading rings has been difficult recently as birds tend to either feed in deeper water, or are simply too far to be read. This one below is “G2GCCP”, a first-winter bird that hatched last spring in The Netherlands and which will likely spend its first summer here in West Africa. Note the overall pale plumage and plain underparts compared to the adult bird in the front, which has already started moulting into breeding plumage.
- Mediterranean Gulls are again relatively numerous this winter, with some 8-10 birds so far. As reported earlier, one bird was ringed: Green RV2L seen on 21 & 27/1, apparently the first French Med Gull to be recovered in Senegal.
- The Caspian Tern “Yellow AV7” is probably a bird born in the Saloum delta in 2015 – awaiting details.
- The regular Gull-billed Tern U83, ringed as a chick in 2009 in Cadiz province, seems to be pretty faithful to Technopole: after four sightings last winter, it’s again seen on most visits since the end of January.
A morning out to Lac Rose on 11/2 with visiting friends Cyril and Gottlieb was as always enjoyable, with lots of good birds around:
- The first Temminck’s Courser of the morning was a bird flying over quite high, uttering its typical nasal trumpeting call. The next four were found a little further along, while yet another four birds were flushed almost from under the car, allowing for a few decent pictures:
- The now expected Greater Short-toed Larks were not as numerous as last year, with a few dozen birds seen, sometimes side by side with Tawny Pipit. No Isabelline nor any Black-eared Wheatears this time round, but one of the Northern Wheatears was a real good fit for the leucorrhoa race from Greenland (& nearby Canada and Iceland).
- As usual, a few Singing Bush Larks were about, though not very active and as always quite difficult to get good views of as they often remain close to cover, even sheltering under bushes.
- Quite surprisingly, we saw lone Sand Martins (twice), a House Martin, and especially Red-rumped Swallow – the latter a long-awaited addition to my Senegal list. Already on the move, or are these hirundines overwintering in the area?
- A final stop on the edge of the plain, where the steppe transitions into the dunes on one side and a seasonal pond (now dry) on the other. Here we found a couple of species that I’d seen in the same spot before, particularly two that have a pretty localised distribution in western Senegal it seems: Yellow-fronted Canary, and Splendid Sunbird. Also seen here were another Red-necked Falcon, Mottled Spinetail, Vieillot’s Barbet, etc.
- And plenty of gulls by the lake! First time I see this many gulls here, with at least 800 birds, mainly Audouin’s (ca. 350) and some 500 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Lots of ringed birds of course, but most were too far and we didn’t take the time to go through the entire flock.
And elsewhere in Dakar…
- A “Pallid Heron” Ardea (cinerea) monicae was found by Gottlieb and Cyril at Parc de Hann on 13/2 (but not relocated yesterday…). A rare Dakar record!
- Seawatch sessions at Ngor continue to deliver good species, most notably good views of several European Storm-Petrels these past couple of weeks. Lots have been seen along the Petite Cote (Saly, Somone, Toubab Dialaw) recently, and especially at the Gambia river mouth where several dozen birds were counted.
Visite de routine du dimanche matin au Technopole, avant-hier avec Miguel.
Tout comme ces dernières semaines, il y a plein de monde sur notre hotspot urbain favori: très nombreux limicoles profitant des conditions de nourrissage idéales en ce moment, plusieurs centaines de canards dans la partie la plus profonde du plan d’eau central, un groupe de flamants, spatules, des pélicans des deux espèces, des centaines de laridés, etc. etc.
Janvier, c’est le mois du comptage international des oiseaux d’eau Wetlands, donc on s’est dits que ce serait intéressant de faire un décompte aussi complet que possible. Pas facile! Il y a des groupes d’oiseaux dans tous les sens, pour certains en partie cachés par la végétation et les îlots, et de surcroît tout ce monde bouge en continu, dérangés à tour de rôle par des rapaces (notamment un Busard des roseaux et un Faucon crécerelle), chiens et pêcheurs. On prend chacun quelques espèces ou on se partage la zone en secteurs afin de faciliter le dénombrement, qui nous occupera bien pendant plus de trois heures.
On commence par les plus faciles: cinquante-cinq Pélicans gris, trente-deux blancs (Great White & Pink-backed Pelican), dix-neuf Spatules blanches (Eurasian Spoonbill), cinq Bihoreaux (Black-crowned Night-Heron), puis juste à côté au pied des palétuviers une Foulque (! Eurasian Coot), douze Flamants,… Les limis ensuite, avec l’Echasse blanche (Black-winged Stilt) en tête: 1’420 individus! J’avais estimé leur nombre à la louche, lors de mes précédentes visites, à 700-900 Echasses, mais n’avais jamais pris le temps de faire une comptage proprement dit. Effectif impressionnant!! Sur la photo ci-dessous il y en a à peu près 200…
Toujours beaucoup de Pluviers argentés (min. 49) et d’Avocettes (107); au moins 18 Gavelots pâtres, 6-7 Petits Gravelots et 665 (!) Grands Gravelots. (Grey Plover, Avocet, Kittlitz’s, Little Ringed & Common Ringed Plover)
Environ 300 Barges à queue noire (Black-tailed Godwit), apparemment en légère augmentation par rapport au début du mois, avec plusieurs individus qui commencent à arborer leur livrée nuptiale. Pas moins de 830 Combattants variés (Ruff)… puis là tout d’un coup, devant nous, deux délicats limicoles surgissent de nulle part: des Bécasseaux roussets! (Buff-breasted Sandpiper!)
Ils se laisseront bien observer même si leur comportement nerveux fait qu’ils sont difficiles à suivre et à photographier, courant rapidement sur la vase sans jamais s’arrêter. Ils se nourrissaient essentiellement sur la vase sèche en bordure des ilots enherbés, un peu derrière la cabane des pêcheurs. Nos deux yankees disparaissent aussi subitement qu’ils ne sont apparus, pour revenir d’un coup au même endroit un peu plus tard. Je suis d’ailleurs persuadé que lors de ma précédente visite j’ai vu passer un de ces oiseaux en vol: ne l’ayant vu que brièvement et l’oiseau ayant disparu loin au fond, je n’ai pas osé l’annoncer comme tel… donc j’étais bien content de pouvoir confirmer!
C’est la septième ou huitième donnée pour le pays, selon si on considère l’oiseau vu en janvier dernier au Lac Rose comme nouvel arrivant ou bien comme l’un des trois individus trouvés en décembre 2017. Petit résumé des précédentes observations ici.
On continue le comptage avec les bécasseaux: 75 Cocorlis, au moins 242 Minutes (sans doute bien plus!), et un minimum de huit Variables, une douzaine de Sanderlings, et enfin six Maubèches. Chez les chevaliers, le Sylvain est le plus nombreux (+40), suivi par les Aboyeurs, Stagnatiles, Gambettes, Guignettes et l’habituel Culblanc (ce dernier dans le même coin qu’une Rhynchée peinte, déjà vue la semaine précédente). (Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Dunlin, Sanderling, Knot, Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Greater Painted-Snipe)
Maintenant au tour des mouettes, goélands et sternes – douze espèces en tout, essentiellement des Goélands railleurs (450) et bruns (près de 200; Slender-billed & Lesser Black-backed Gull). Avec comme souvent quelques trucs plus rares dans le tas: un Goéland leucophée (Yellow-legged Gull) adulte, quatre ou cinq Mouettes mélanocéphales (Mediterranean Gull), tous de premier hiver, dont un oiseau porte une bague verte avec inscription blanche! On arrive tout juste à la déchiffrer, RV2L. Cet oiseau bagué en tant que poussin en juillet 2017 sur l’ile de Noirmoutier (Vendée, France) fournirait du coup la première reprise de bague pour l’espèce au Sénégal. Un autre oiseau français avait déjà été contrôlé en Gambie en mars 2015, mais pour le reste il n’y a apparemment pas de reprises de Mouettes mélanocéphales en Afrique de l’Ouest. On est ici vraiment en limite de l’aire d’hivernage régulier donc très peu d’oiseaux sont vus au Sénégal, pour la plupart des individus dans leur premier hiver en région dakaroise. Cette espèce coloniale très étudiée en Europe – un peu comme les Goélands d’Audouin du bassin méditerranéen – cela devait arriver tôt ou tard qu’un oiseau bagué pointe le bout du bec chez nous.
On arrivera également à déchiffrer les bagues de deux Goélands railleurs, un Goéland d’Audouin, une Sterne hansel (U83, déjà vu l’hiver dernier) – tous espagnols – et une Barge à queue noire hollandaise. (colour-ringed Slender-billed & Audouin’s Gulls, Gull-billed Tern, Black-tailed Godwit)
Ensuite les canards, d’habitude faciles à compter au Technopole car ils sont rarement présents en nombre. Cette saison c’est différent: depuis octobre, on voit plus de Sarcelles d’été (Garganey) que ces dernières années, et depuis le début du mois il y a une quantité inhabituelle de Canards souchets (Northern Shoveler). En effet, on arrive à environ 420 souchets et 110 sarcelles – là aussi, de beaux effectifs pour le site! A mettre en relation avec le manque d’eau sur d’autres zones? J’allais presque oublier les Grèbes castagneux (Little Grebe), pour lesquels on fait encore péter le score: pas moins (et en fait plutôt plus) de 527 individus.
Apres tout cela, on en a enfin terminé avec les oiseaux d’eau, pour un bilan de plus de 6’000 individus de 61 espèces différentes. Qui dit mieux?
En plus des passereaux hivernants classiques – Bergeronnettes printanières, Pouillots véloces, Fauvettes passerinettes, Phragmites des joncs – il y avait ce matin aussi un Traquet motteux. (Yellow Wagtail, Common Chiffchaff, Western Subalpine Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Northern Wheatear)
Sinon bonne présence de l’Hirondelles de Guinée, avec une troupe considérable (+38!) qui évoluent au-dessus de la zone, et dont plusieurs individus semblent collecter de la boue pour le nid. Aussi quatre Toureterelles masquées, quelques Martinet des palmes et une petite troupe d’Erémomèles a dos vert, trois espèces assez rarement vues au Technopole. (Red-chested Swallow, Namaqua Dove, Palm Swift, Senegal Eremomela)
Terminons enfin avec une espèce très commune et généralement ignorée par les ornithos (moi en premier), alors qu’elle fait partie d’une des famille d’oiseaux les plus remarquables de la planète: les corvidés. Extrêmement intelligents, ces oiseaux sont connus pour leur esprit curieux, joueur et inventif – au point où il y a des espèces, comme le Corbeau calédonien qui détiendrait la palme des oiseaux les plus smart, fournissant l’un des très rares exemples d’animaux sachant fabriquer et utiliser des outils (avec des modeles variables d’une région à une autre! Et qui disait que “Culture” était un trait purement humain?). A ce sujet, je vous recommande vivement l’excellent The Genius of Birds par Jennifer Ackerman. Mais je divague… là, on observe le manège de deux Corbeaux pies posés non loin et qui semblent s’intéresser de près à un bout de plastique (?). Simple curiosité, envie de jouer, ou intérêt purement culinaire?
New Year, New Birds! Apparently I found another new species to Senegal – needless to say that this resulted in a rather successful day out birding. Which left me wondering, rather pointlessly, how many country firsts have been found on the first day of the year.
So I first went to Lac Rose, and more specifically the steppe to the NE of the lake as this area had produced a lot of good birds last winter, including three or even four Buff-breasted Sandpipers. I was keen to go back and see if any of the “specials” were around again this winter. One of the first birds I found in the short grass was Greater Short-toed Lark, so things were off to a good start.
As I started walking on the far end of the steppe, I found a very pale wheatear: a textbook Isabelline Wheatear, just like last year in January.
The same area held three Tawny Pipits and a few other birds, though not the hoped-for Temminck’s Coursers.
Towards the end of my visit I came across this Southern Grey Shrike – cool bird, but a bit too flighty to allow for decent pictures.
Also around were several Kittlitz’s Plovers (+ Common Ringed and Kentish on the lake shores), at least four Quailfinches thus confirming the species’ presence in the Niayes IBA, a Black-headed Heron, Vieillot’s Barbet dueting in the distance, and so on.
Next up: the Yène-Tode lagoon. While on my previous visit, barely two weeks earlier (17/12), there was still a good amount of water, by now the lake has all but dried up: just a little trickle here and a small pool there, with just a handful of Black-winged Stilts, Spur-winged Lapwings, a lone Knot, Common Sandpiper and a few other waders. With all the waterbirds gone, I didn’t think I’d see much on this visit, but was soon proved to be very wrong!
Shortly after getting out the car, I located a small flock of Yellow Wagtails feeding on a green patch in what used to be the lagoon just a few weeks earlier. A pipit amidst the wagtails was either going to be a Tree or (more likely) a Red-throated Pipit, so I got the bird in the scope… and was a bit puzzled at first that it didn’t fit either species?! As I approached, it flew off and called a few times, confirming my suspicion: a Meadow Pipit!! It landed a hundred meters or so further in more dense vegetation. I knew this was a good species for the country and wanted to get better views and maybe even a few pictures (I didn’t quite realise it had never been confirmed in Senegal before!), so I went after it, flushed it and again heard the diagnostic hurried hiist-ist-ist-ist flight call. It returned to the original spot, and this time round I got really good views plus a few record shots:
Note the dense streaking on a pale buffy background with streaks clotting together on middle of breast, general lack of warm tones (as would be the case for Tree Pipit), fine bill with diffuse yellowish base, absence of clear pale lines on the mantle (as in Red-throated), the “gentle” expression with fairly pale lores, an indistinct supercilium and narrow-ish submoustachial (what a word!) stripe. The rump was clearly unstreaked (thus ruling out Red-throated Pipit) and while I didn’t manage any good pictures of the hind toe, it did appear quite long and pictures show it to be only moderately curved (ruling out Tree Pipit). These pipits are no easy birds to identify on plumage, but luckily the call is so typical and unlike any other pipit that it allowed for a safe ID while I was watching the bird, and I was lucky to get a few decent shots. A few people have asked me to provide more pictures, so here they are – all are originals without any editing except for cropping.
This bird was obviously in a fresh plumage, and can be aged as a first-winter bird based on the shape and colour of the median coverts: the ‘tooth’ on the dark centre with a clear white tip (Svensson 1992) is quite visible in the pictures.
Meadow Pipit is of course a common species throughout much of Europe, be it as a breeding bird or on passage or as a winter visitor. Its non-breeding range covers western Europe and most of the Mediterranean Basin, extending along the Atlantic coast down to the Canary Islands and Morocco. In Mauritania it is considered to be scarce but regular, reaching as far as the Senegal river delta, more or less as shown on the map below (borrowed from xeno-canto). Surely it must occur at least irregularly in northern Senegal, given its status in nearby Mauritania?
While relocating the Meadow Pipit, I also flushed no less than eight Red-throated Pipits as well as three Common Quails. Two Collared Pratincoles were hanging out by the last puddles; the Marsh Harriers and most of the Ospreys are now gone, but there were still at least two Short-toed Eagles in the area, with another two along the track back to Rufisque. Two Mosque Swallow were also around, while two Zebra Waxbills were rather unexpected, given that they’re not supposed to occur in the Dakar region (see last year’s post on the sighting of a group at Technopole). Tawny Pipit was another addition to the site’s ever-growing list.
Following a very successful morning yesterday at Technopole (Short-eared Owl! Iberian Chiffchaff! Jack Snipe!) I stopped by to have a closer look at the numerous waders, given that yesterday I’d forgotten my telescope at home… Nothing out of the ordinary to report today, just tons of waders, gulls (incl. two Mediterranean Gulls) and lots of Caspian Terns (+150, and now also 27 Greater Flamingos (nine were present yesterday). And I relocated the Iberian Chiffchaff quite easily as it’s singing regularly, and tends to keep to a single bush – more on this in another post.
Oh and happy new year!
And Yène delivers again!
I went back to our little hotspot on Sunday morning to see what new there was to be found – and whether I could relocate three vagrant ducks that Miguel and colleagues spotted here the previous weekend (my first proper Sengalese twitch!). The lagoon is quite literally shrinking by the day at the moment, so not very much water is left by now – meaning that all waders and other remaining water birds were fairly concentrated in a small-ish area, not all of which is visible from the main viewpoints.
There were tons of waders so it took some time to go through them and count or estimate each species, resulting in the following totals:
- A few hundred Black-winged Stilts (2-300?), still five Avocets
- More than 320 Common Ringed Plovers, again at least two Little Ringed Plovers, but also a couple of Kentish and at least 39 Kittlitz’s Plovers; also several Grey Plovers
- At least 70 Marsh Sandpipers was a pretty high count, even for Senegalese standards (I actually can’t remember ever seeing so many – at one point, about 50 birds were feeding in a single group). Unusually, Marsh Sandpiper was actually the most abundant Tringa wader. Technopole also has more than usual at the moment. There were about 30 Wood Sandpipers, and a handful each of Greenshanks, Redshanks, and Green Sandpipers.
- About 60 Ruff scattered throughout
- 200 Sanderling, 120 Little Stints, ca. 30 Dunlin, one Curlew Sandpiper
- One Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit each
- Three Common Snipes
The Pintails, Garganeys, Shovelers and even the White-faced Whistling Ducks seem to have left as the lagoon is probably too shallow now. Instead there are now three Common Shelducks! I didn’t see them at first, but after about half an hour of sifting through the waders, they were suddenly there, actively feeding on the opposite end of the lagoon and seemingly feeling quite at home here! Maybe they’ll end up staying for a few more days or weeks, until the lagoon dries up.
Not a species I thought I would ever see here: despite its name, it’s definitely not common in Senegal! With only six published records it should be considered a real vagrant to the country. The regular winter range of Tadorna tadorna extends along the Moroccan coast, with very small numbers reaching as far south as Mauritania, though apparently the species remains pretty rare even in the Banc d’Arguin NP. Olivier Girard very conveniently summarised the status of the species in West Africa, in a short paper published in the African Bird Club Bulletin in 2009¹. In his overview, he lists 28 records, almost half of which are from Mauritania, and just five from Senegal. One was apparently overlooked despite being published in the well-known “Annotated check-list of birds occurring at the PNOD, 1984-1994” by Rodwell and colleagues, while the location of another record is incorrect.
As far as we know, no other records have been published nor have any been reported to the ABC, on eBird, or on observado.org since Girard’s summary. As such, these should be all previous Shelduck records for Senegal:
- Seven, Delta du Senegal, 27/12/73 (Morel & Morel)
- Two immatures at Djoudj NP, 21/1/74 (Morel & Morel)
- Two on 12-28/2/90 in the Djoudj NP (M. Fouquet in Rodwell et al. 1996)
- 15 in the Djoudj NP, Januart 1996 (Yesou et al. 1996)
- One in Djoudj NP, Jan. 1997 (Triplet et al. 1997)
- Two on 5/1/97 at Yène-Todé lagoon (= in Dakar region and not “Siné-Saloum” as incorrectly stated by Girard.
And so now, more than 20 years later, we have three first-year birds from 9 to 17/12/17 at Yène-Todé, again!
It’s intriguing that there are so many more old records, given that observer coverage surely must have improved in the last 20-30 years – and that mid-winter waterbird counts are systematically conducted in the Djoudj and most other large wetlands (I really ought to get access to the database with past counts, as there don’t seem to be any published reports available?). What’s more, Shelducks have been on the increase in many parts of their Western European range, so one would logically expect more birds to show up in this part of the world. Maybe milder winters push fewer birds to the southern end of their range, or the populations that have increased are more sedentary than others? In better-watched Mauritania, at least during the first decade of the 21st century, there are just six records listed since 2000, one of which was near the border with Senegal in the Aftout es Saheli in January 2007, while elsewhere in the delta, Shelducks were seen in December 1995 and three times between Nov. ’98 and Jan. ’99: not much!! Three records each are known from Mali, Ghana and Niger, with one from Guinea (January 2006).
Addendum 2/2/18: eight birds were seen at the Grand Lac in the Djoudj NP on 17/1 (C. Ruchet, Y. Menétrey, I. Ndiaye), quite possibly the same group that was sighted on 30/12/17 in the Diawling on the other side of the border.
So what else was about? Glossy Ibis is still present (at least 3 ind.), and now no less than 28 European Spoonbills, most of which arrived from the NW and landed in the central part of the lagoon. As usual there were several Osprey and Marsh Harriers, plus an immature Short-toed Eagle hunting around the lake’s edge, a pair of Red-necked Falcons roosting on a tree, and a Common Kestrel (and on 9/12, Miguel & co. had a fine Barbary Falcon).
The flock of gulls and terns held the usual Caspian, Royal, Sandwich and Common Terns, but just a few Audouin’s Gulls, LBBGs, Slender-billed, Grey-headed and Black-headed Gulls this time round.
Just like on my last visit, Red-throated Pipit was present on the lagoon’s edge: I first heard its sharp pssiiiii call in the SE corner, then briefly saw (and heard) what was probably a second bird, a few hundred meters further. Two Tree Pipits were also present.
Other migrant songbirds included Yellow Wagtails of course, plus Northern Wheatear, Subalpine Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, and Woodchat Shrike.
All in all, another very enjoyable morning out at Yène!
A Technopole pit-stop on the way back to Dakar resulted in yet more waders, with still some 300 Black-tailed Godwits around (just one ring could be read, as most birds were feeding or resting in deeper water) and lots of other waders. On my previous visit, we managed to read six rings, mostly in this flock of BTGs feeding on land:
The water levels are already quite low and I’d reckon that they are about the same as in April 2017: let’s hope that the site doesn’t completely dry up by the end of the dry season!!
More of a surprise was an adult African Spoonbill (also two Europeans) resting on one of the islets, its deep crimson face just about visible. Surprising, because it’s not a frequent visitor to Technopole, and so far my only records have been in April and May.
A Common Moorhen with a very young chick, confirming local breeding of the species. Other than that, lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls (+300), a few Audouin’s Gulls, a White-winged Tern feeding among the Black Terns, at least two Knot, lots of Ruff, etc. An adult male Peregrine Falcon may be the same bird that I see almost daily on the Diarama hotel.
¹ Girard, O. 2009. Le Tadorne de Belon Tadorna tadorna en Afrique de l’Ouest. Bull ABC 16: 180-183.
Quatre semaines déjà depuis ma dernière visite au Technopole: il était grand temps de rattraper ça! Retour sur le site donc ce matin, pour deux heures bien remplies sur place en agréable compagnie de Miguel. Un peu rapide comme visite mais on voulait encore passer au Calao voir ce qui se passe en mer aujourd’hui.
Grands Gravelots, Bécasseaux minutes, variables et sanderlings, quelques sternes et goélands, un Balbu qui se pose dans l’eau pendant quelques instants, un petit groupe de Flamants roses en train de se nourrir, puis tiens!… un Phalarope à bec large répéré par Miguel, d’abord au bord d’un tout petit îlot, pas trop loin de nous, puis il s’envole pour se poser hors de vue. Peu après, on le voit réapparaître lorsqu’il rejoint une bande de Guifettes noires: étonnante similarité en termes de plumage! Les nuances de gris/noir, le dessous blanc, même la “virgule” grise sur le haut des flancs, l’épaule noire… presque tout y est, comme s’ils avaient enfoui la même livrée. Notre oiseau était sans doute un adulte, d’après les quelques plumes rousses restant sur l’arrière des flancs. Il se tenait dans le secteur de la cabane à pecheurs.
Voici l’une de mes photos floues en guise de documentation de cette première observation technopolienne (vous l’aurez compris, c’est donc la 223e espèce vue sur le site).
Cette observation, plus attendue que celles de son cousin à bec étroit au printemps dernier, intervient en plein dans la période de migration postnutiale de l’espèce. Nicheur de la toundra arctique (les plus proches se trouvent dans le NE du Canada et en Islande), cet oiseau hiverne au large dans l’Atlantique et le Pacifique. Il est apparemment présent par milliers devant les côtes ouest-africaines. D’ailleurs j’en ai observé un l’autre jour depuis la terasse du Calao, filant plein SO, plus certainement au moins un groupe de quelques dizaines d’individus il y a quelques jours, mais trop loin pour certifier l’espèce à coup sûr.
Pour le reste, une jeune Spatule blanche, deux voire trois Faucons chicqueras, un Tournepierre, deux Chevaliers stagnatiles, deux Mouettes rieuses parmi les Goélands railleurs, un seul Goéland brun, quelques Sternes naines et… une Sterne de Dougall de 1er été. Ce plumage n’est pas illustré dans les guides de terrain classiques, mais au moins dans Olsen & Larsson (Les Sternes d’Europe et d’Amérique du Nord, 1994; en Néerlandais) on a une description assez complète qui semble confirmer notre identification. La structure de l’oiseau, ressemblant globalement à la Sterne pierregarin mais avec un bec bien plus long, plus droit et plus fin, et une queue relativement longue (non visible sur la photo), semble caractéristique, tout comme l’allure en vol. Le plumage plus blanc, notamment sur le manteau et les ailes, le bec tout sombre (juste la base est d’un rouge écarlate très foncé), et les pattes rouges sombres correspondent également. Les oiseaux de 1er été sont censés etre “pratiquement comme des adultes”, mais certains individus, comme le nôtre, ont encore les petites couvertures sombres. Curieusement cet individu a une petite pointe pâle (jaune?) au bout du bec, rappelant ainsi la Sterne caugek.
Autre sterne, autre gabarit, mais plumage assez similaire: un adulte (à gauche) et un jeune (de dos) de Sterne naine, ici au repos parmis les Bécasseaux variables:
Pour une fois, la Talève d’Afrique se montre à découvert:
Les premières Mouettes rieuses sont maintenant de retour, ici l’un des deux oiseaux en compagnie de deux Sternes hansels:
Et donc ce Balbu de 2e année qui est venu se poser un moment dans l’eau, juste derrière la Club House.
Au Calao, près d’une heure et demie de suivi permet de comptabiliser quelques Puffins fuligineux, Labbes arctiques et pomarins (27 au total), sept espèces de sternes (en majorité des arctiques: +500), un Fou brun, un jeune Goéland d’Audouin, et deux espèces bien moins attendues: d’abord un Héron pourpré seul qui atterrit derrière l’îlot, puis un 2e individu venant du nord (donc depuis le large!) avec trois Hérons cendrés; peu après c’est une Huppe fasciée qui prend exactement le même chemin que celle vue en début de semaine: arrivée du large, elle passe entre l’îlot et l’île de Ngor, puis est perdue de vue (s’est-elle posée sur l’île?). Comme quoi y a pas que les oiseaux marins qui passent devant Ngor!
Et pas que les oiseaux d’ailleurs: hier un petit groupe de dauphins, et ce matin pour la 4e fois depuis fin août il y avait deux baleines, cette fois bien plus au large que les fois précédentes. Difficile de se prononcer sur l’espèce… peut-être le Rorqual de Brydes, ou encore Sei, ou Fin, voire la Baleine de Minke (Petit Rorqual)… Si je m’y connais un peu en oiseaux, c’en est autrement pour le mammifères marins sur lesquels j’ai tout à apprendre! Le peu que je peux en dire c’est que lorsque les baleines viennent à la surface, toujours très rapidement, on ne voit qu’une petite partie du dos, montrant une nageoire dorsale bien distince et nettement courbée vers l’arrière. Une seule fois un individu a sorti la queue avant de plonger. Le souffle est peu volumineux et de forme plutot triangulaire; en général ils se montrent à plusieurs reprises en l’espace de quelques minutes, puis disparaissent pendant 15-20 minutes avant de refaire surface un peu plus loin.
Yesterday, Gabriel and I paid a visit to Lac Tanma – our first of the season and of what will hopefully be a series of regular visits there.
We’d barely arrived near the lake, after a couple of failed attempts to find a driveable track towards the lake (too muddy!), when we noticed a shrike sitting on top of a thorny bush. The overall appearance was that of a fairly large, greyish shrike, but quite a few things were just wrong for a Southern Grey Shrike (which given the time of the year would have been surprising to see here, as it typically shows up between December and February/March).
Suspecting a hybrid, we took a number of pictures before the bird flew off, which allowed us to compare with photographs and descriptions of known hybrids. I vaguely remembered that a few years back (it turns out this was in 2010) a similar hybrid had been reported from the French Jura, and that there was a drawing of another French bird in the excellent Shrikes – A Guide to the Shrikes of the World (Lefranc & Worfolk 1997).
This is what our bird looked like:
In typical shrike fashion, this bird had a distinctive black “Zorro mask” with an otherwise grey head and largely grey back (faintly mottled brown); white scapulars; black wings with a fairly large, elongated off-white patch at the base of the primaries; entirely pale salmon-pink underparts (from the throat all the way to the vent); and a white rump contrasting with its long black tail. In the field we noted some narrow pale borders to tertiaries, but these are not well visible in the pictures.
While a lot of hybrids between two bird species typically resemble both parents in one way or another, showing intermediate characteristics, this is not the case here. Our bird superficially looks like a Southern Grey Shrike, but clearly isn’t one: the buffish underparts especially, but also the seemingly all-dark tail (no white outer rectrices) and the lack of distinct white markings on the tertials and secondaries. Moreover, the structure and size – even though our bird seemed quite large – were not right for Southern Grey which is larger and more powerful (cf. a couple of pictures taken last winter in Palmarin). The same pretty much applies to Lesser Grey Shrike, which in addition has a black mask that extends to the forehead and lacks the white scapulars.
So who are the parents? Based on comparisons with pictures of hybrid shrikes and with the drawing and description in Lefranc & Worfolk, these types of birds are considered to be hybrid Woodchat x Red-backed Shrikes. The former is the most common Palearctic shrike species in Senegal, while the latter doesn’t usually occur in West Africa. The black mask, grey head, and “pinkish-white” underparts are typical of Red-backed, while the white scapulars, rump and wing patch are indicative of Woodchat. The grey back is a bit odd but has also been observed on other presumed hybrids with these two species as parents, and the faint brownish mottling hints at a hybrid origin. Another option would be a hybrid Woodchat x Lesser Grey Shrike, though there’s apparently only one such suspected bird that has been observed, in Hungary in 1979 (Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, McCarthy 2006). Much less likely, and one would expect at the minimum a black front on such hybrids¹.
Now compare our bird with the painting of a hybrid noted in France in 1995, fig. 26g:
Comments on the identification of this bird are more than welcome of course!
As far as I know, this is the first record of such a hybrid in (West) Africa; all other published data are from birds on migration or on breeding grounds in Europe. In recent years there’s been one such bird in Switzerland (April 2014), one in the French Lot department (May 2014), while hybrid males have bred (successfully!) with female Red-backed Shrikes in 2005 in South-East Belgium (short note available in PDF here), and in 2010 and 2011 in France. Pictures of the 2010 Jura bird can be found e.g. here and here. At least 12 mixed pairs have been found in France, but it seems that nothing is known on the whereabouts of these birds outside the breeding season: do they migrate to East Africa just like Red-backed Shrikes, or can they be found anywhere in Woodchat Shrike’s wintering grounds? Lefranc & Worfolk describe the latter as “a vast belt running across the African continent just south of the Sahara and largely north of the huge forest areas”. Our observation would suggest that they can show up anywhere in that area.
Other than our peculiar shrike, we had a pretty good morning out birding, with close to 100 species seen. Lac Tanma didn’t hold an awful lot of waders (a few hundred only, mostly Black-winged Stilts) but we did confirm breeding once again of Kittlitz’s Plover, while a female Knob-billed Duck also showed signs of breeding as it was seen flying around several times (and sometimes calling, which is associated with courtship behaviour). There were about 250 Greater Flamingos (and ca. 220 more at lac Mbaouane), several Gull-billed, Caspian, and White-winged Terns, but very few herons. A surprise find was that of three Spotted Thick-knees on the edge of the lake’s floodplain, quite close to the main road. Several Diederik, African and Jacobin Cuckoos were seen or heard, as were a few Broad-billed Rollers (another wet season visitor) and a single Purple (=Rufous-crowned) Roller. As usual, Mosque Swallows were hawking insects above the lake shore and the baobab forest; the latter also had a singing Hoopoe and several Woodland and Grey-headed Kingfishers. Besides the shrike, the only European songbirds that we spotted were two Melodious Warblers.
A Purple Heron at a small marsh near the village of Beer was my first of the season; we also found African Swamp-hen, Red-eyed Dove, and African Thrush here. Lac Mbaouane was visited only briefly and we just scanned the NW side of the lake, which had a few dozen Common Ringed Plovers and some Little Stints, while a few Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were flying over and a Red-necked Falcon dashed over the lake as it was hunting.
(Regular readers will wonder what’s happening at Technopole. Well, I paid my first visit in three (!) weeks this morning, together with Theo. Water levels are rising with every shower, so conditions are getting less ideal for waders. Still a few hundred Ruffs, some Curlew Sandpipers, ca. 50 Sanderling and a few Little Stints, a handful of Black-tailed and a single Bar-tailed Godwit, Marsh, Green, Wood & Common Sandpipers, Greenshank, Redshank, a few migrating Whimbrels, etc. Also Shikra, a Hoopoe, and again a Broad-billed Roller to name but the most interesting records. The most unusual record this past week was actually one from Almadies: a Hadada Ibis flying over our house one morning! More on that one later, if I get the chance to write something up.)
¹ N. Lefranc mentioned that a mixed pair senator x minor was found in France last year. And that so far, no hybrid or mixed pairs senator x meridionalis have been recorded.
Yesterday’s weekly Technopole visit once again turned up a new species for the site. I’d been scanning and counting the numerous waders on the SW end of the main lake for over an hour, when I turned my attention the flock of Greater Flamingos that were feeding nearby. Two ringed birds proved to be tricky to read, one ring being very faded and the other one, also on an adult bird, was largely covered in mud – more on this further down in this post. I then started to count the flock, and after reaching the 200 mark (there were a total of 289 birds, so nearly 120 more than last week), I noticed a much hoped-for different shade of pink, darker and more intense: an adult Lesser Flamingo!
The noticeably smaller size, bright orange eye, and largely uniform dark crimson bill (or is it vermilion?) bill quickly confirmed the ID.
As far as I know, this is the first record of the species at Technopole, though of course that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t already occurred here: it may well have gone unnoticed or else unreported (which given the lack of any sort of bird observation recording system or central database would not be surprising! More on that in another post…)
It’s definitely not an unexpected addition (as predicted a few months ago), given that the species must regularly migrate along Senegal’s coast between the Senegal and Saloum deltas. However, neither Morel & Morel nor Sauvage & Rodwell mention the species from the Dakar atlas square. This bird obviously got mixed in with a group of Greater Flamingos, possibly on their way down to the Saloum or moving between post-breeding dispersal areas in the region (Lac Rose, and soon maybe Lac Tanma when it will start filling up).
Lesser Flamingo is listed as a Near-Threatened species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In short, the “NT” category typically includes declining or otherwise vulnerable species that in the medium to longer term are faced with the risk of extinction; as such they are likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future. Despite having a vast range in the Old World, covering large parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent, Phoenicopterus (or Phoeniconaias) minor breeds only in a handful of sites in the world, with just six main colonies located in Mauritania, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, the Tanzanian Rift Valley, and NW India. Other sites may be used irregularly, e.g. in Kenya and Pakistan.
Its global population is still pretty substantial with some 2-3 million individuals, mostly in East Africa, but it is extremely vulnerable to changes in conditions of those very few sites, whether induced by climate change or by a range of human disruptions to the environment. For instance, the IUCN species’ fact sheet tells us that “the proposed large-scale soda ash extraction at Lake Natron, the most important breeding colony, although currently on hold, would be disastrous for this species and, were this to happen, the species may qualify for uplisting to a higher threat category.” Read up a little bit more about this conservation issue and the actions that BirdLife and partners have taken here. Excessive predation by Jackals, African Wolves and even Warthogs and Honey Badgers may result in poor or even complete failure of breeding success. And at least in Mauritania poaching is also a problem.
The West-African population is thought to number about 15,000-25,000 birds (compared to over a million for East Africa), concentrated in the lower Senegal valley with the most regular breeding site being the lagoons of Aftout es Sâheli in the Diawling NP in southern Mauritania. Up to 46,500 birds have been counted in the Senegal delta (Feb. 1990), but breeding is not annual: according to Isenmann et al. it occurred only in 1965, 1988 (though all attempts failed that year), 2000, 2005, and 2010; it was suspected but not confirmed in 1998, 1999 and 2007. More recently, the species has bred at least in 2014 (a bit more info is available on the Diawling NP’s website, and see this video from the parc).
Its movements, and generally speaking its overall ecology, are largely dictated by feeding conditions as it is a highly specialised species; as a result, birds tend to respond rapidly to changing water levels and food availability (spirulina and other blue-green algae, small invertebrates). Fun fact: the Lesser Flamingo’s bill contains up to 10,000 microscopic lamellae!
At least one of the ringed Greater Flamingos was Spanish: I don’t have full details as I’m yet to submit the sighting, but judging by the code (white ring with black inscription “2|CZR”) it’s a bird that was ringed in 2013 at the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra in Malaga, which is also the origin of one born in 2014 and seen in June 2015 at Technopole. Coincidentally, the three ringed birds from the Camargue that I found last year were seen on the same date as yesterday’s birds: 6 August.
Other than that, there was an interesting gull that will require a bit more work, and probably better pictures, in order to establish its ID. I’m suspecting Kelp Gull because of the massive bill and the large, stocky appearance, but am by no means a gull expert and will want to consult a few others first (contributions welcome!). I’ll get back to this one in due time – if it is indeed a Kelp rather than Lesser Black-backed Gull, one of which was present nearby, then it would mean yet another potential addition to the site list.
As I mentioned, I’d been counting waders for the first hour or so, which I continued doing on the opposite end of the pool close to the golf club house, where more birds were feeding. This resulted in some pretty good numbers especially for Ruff with a minimum of 598 (!) birds, at least one of which was colour-ringed with a yellow flag in combination with other rings – unfortunately it flew off shortly after I’d found it, never to be seen again… probably a Dutch bird. Some of the males were still largely in breeding plumage, such as this one:
Another wader highlight was the very decent diversity of calidris sandpipers: two summer-plumaged adult Dunlins, no less than seven Knots (my highest count here), with a supporting cast of several Curlew Sandpipers (9), Sanderlings (11) and Little Stints (12). There were now only 22 Black-tailed Godwits and just one Marsh Sandpiper, while the four Avocets seem to have finally moved on. Two Common Sandpipers on the other hand were most likely newly arrived birds.
[Note (13/8/17): it turns out that the Lesser Flamingo had already been photographed on August 3rd by J-M Dupart, but apparently was not identified at such at the time; I triple-checked my pictures of the flock that was present on 29/7 but it definitely wasn’t present at the time.]