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Audouin’s Gull in Senegal (part II)

(in case you missed the first part, you may want to read this post first)

Ring recoveries

Thanks to the important research and conservation efforts targeting Audouin’s Gull, a substantial proportion of the population carry colour-rings, to the extent that in any given group one encounters here in Senegal (and elsewhere of course), there are bound to be some ringed birds, usually up to around 15% of all birds. As far as I know this is far more than for any other species that spends the winter here in Senegal; only Black-tailed Godwit comes close (often 5-10%) and maybe Osprey. For instance at Palmarin last month I managed to read 32 rings out of a total of ca. 400 birds, out of which some 200-250 were either close enough to read rings, or were standing (rather than sitting, in which case rings aren’t visible). That’s roughly 13 to 16% of individuals carrying coded rings!

The first mention that I found of a colour-ring recovery is from Delaporte & Dubois (1990) who on 26/1/88 at Saint-Louis observed a bird ringed as a chick in spring 1981 on the Chafarinas islands. Del Nevo and colleagues also noted that many of the birds they counted were ringed, e.g. on 30/9/92, no less than 24 (14%) of 167 birds were ringed: 18 had a darvic [=plastic ring with alphanumerical code] and six had a metal ring only. In 1994 in Palmarin, a Scandinavian team were able to read 16 colour-ringed birds from Spain (out of at least 456; Bengtsson 1994), while Sauvage & Rodwell mention nine colour-ringed birds originating from Spain, in Saint-Louis. The Dutch 1997 expedition managed to read nine rings, out of the 858 gulls that they counted, noting that “these birds presumably all originated from the Ebro Delta, Spain” (and certainly not from the Canary Islands as stated by Triplet 2014! The species doesn’t even breed there… not sure where this error originated).

The rings (or “bands” for our American friends) are either white with a black inscription (3 or 4 alphanumerical characters), or blue with a white 4 character code, and can often be read with a telescope or a good camera. White rings are used in Spain (starting with letters A, B, C or a number) and Italy (I or K), while blue rings are in use in Portugal (with first character P). French birds have a combination starting with F (since 2013; prior to this Italian rings were used); Moroccan ones with M.  The images below show an Italian and two Spanish birds (“BDCT” appears twice, photographed in Aug. 2016 and Sept. 2017).

 

Origin of wintering birds in Senegal

I now have close to 50 ring “recoveries” related to 44 birds, most of which are from Palmarin (39), the others being from Technopole. Adding other sightings in Senegal of these same birds (mostly by Ngoné Diop), we have a total of 103 recoveries.

Here’s a quick summary of their origin:

  • As can be expected, the vast majority are from Spain, particularly from the Ebro delta which accounts for about a third of all birds for which I know the origin (15 out of 44). Six are from Valencia (PN de l’Albufera, Salinas de Torrevieja), three from Tarragona (Salinas de Sant Antoni), three from the tiny Isla de Alboran between Morocco and Spain, and two each from the Balearic islands (Mallorca and Menorca), from Murcia (Parque Regional San Pedro del Pinatar and Isla Grosa), the Laguna de la Mata in Alicante, and the Chafarinas islands.
  • Six birds are from Portugal, but I’m still awaiting information for full details of the five most recent birds (all from Palamarin early September); thanks to Ngoné I know that at least four birds (and likely all six) originate from the colony on Ilha da Barreta (the southernmost tip of the country, near Faro).
  • Earlier this month I found my first Italian gulls at Palmarin, three adults (ICTD, ILBJ and K7T). I have not yet received details from the ringing scheme, other than that K7T was ringed in 1998 – so far my oldest bird! Ngoné kindly provided me with info for ICTD and ILBJ as these were already known to her, which allowed me to include Cagliari (Sardinia) and Isola del Giglio on the map below; I will add further info here when it becomes available [Olly Fox kindly informed me that K7T was seen at the Kartong Bird Observatory in The Gambia in November 2016; it was born on Isola dei Cavoli off southern Sardinia].

AudouinsRingSites_2017

 

At least one Corsican bird has been found in The Gambia (Recorbet et al. 2011) and Ngoné has recorded a few French birds in Palmarin. One can assume that some Moroccan birds may also winter in Senegal, and maybe Algerian and Tunisian birds as well. Not quite sure where the Eastern Mediterranean populations spend the winter, but I read that at least some remain around their breeding grounds.

Here’s an example of the “life history” of one of our oldest birds, 45P from Spain, pictured in the header image of this post. It was ringed as a chick in 1999 on the Chafarinas islands, and was seen in The Gambia during the 2004/05, 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2011/12 winters, then in October 2014, October 2015, and September 2017 it was spotted in Palmarin (plus a few times on its native island, in April-June). Could it be that many Audouin’s Gulls spend the initial 4-5 months of the non-breeding cycle in Senegal, then move to The Gambia for the remaining 2-3 months of the northern winter?

 

Age composition

The age composition of our wintering Audouin’s Gulls varies considerably between areas and apparently also through the season. This was first documented by del Nevo et al.: “Adult birds dominated both surveys and proportionately more adults than first year birds were present during September 1992 than in February 1991. Our observations are consistent with the view that adult Audouin’s Gulls tend to arrive in Senegambia before first year birds; the ratios of first year to adult were 0.1:1 in September and 0.54:1 during February.” Delaporte & Dubois reported an overall proportion of 15% of immatures. These ratios have likely changed now, at least in terms of the seasonality now that some immatures can spend their first summer in the region. Ngoné and colleagues reported estimates of 278 adults and 167 immatures (= 37,5%) in Palmarin for the 2013-2015 period. They also found that adults, 3rd and 2nd winter birds arrive earlier than 1st winter birds, a difference which “is probably due to differences in experience among age classes.”

The differences in “immature-to-adult” ratio between Palmarin and Technopole are striking, and I wish I knew what causes this. Immatures are by far outnumbering adults at Technopole, as opposed to the high proportion (70-80%?) of adults further south, particularly in the Saloum delta. Interestingly, this may not have always been the case: Oro & Martinez mention that juveniles winter further south than older 2-3y gulls, in the Senegambia region: “After the breeding season, 2-3y and older gulls were recovered mainly at the E and S Iberian Peninsula coasts. During the winter season these gulls moved southwards, especially to the Atlantic coast of Morocco. Juveniles behaved differently, moving further south than 2-3y and 4y or older gulls, reaching the Senegambia coast in high percentages (81,8%).” Is it possible that this was at a time when a new generation of young birds was in process of establishing an overwintering tradition in Senegal and The Gambia, returning in subsequent winters? That would explain why there are currently more adults than juveniles.

Two ringed individuals show how birds wintering in Senegal will typically spend their first year around the Cap-Vert peninsula, before moving on to the Saloum delta once they are older: BNH5 was ringed as a chick in June 2011 in the Ebro delta, after which it was seen at Technopole in July 2012, but during its third winter in Dec. 2013 (N. Diop), and again in Sept. 2017, it was in the Palmarin lagoons. AWNV, born in 2010 in Mallorca, was first at Technopole while in its second summer (July 2012), while in 2015 and 2016 it was in Palmarin. Some birds already move to Palmarin during their 2nd winter (e.g. BWU9), or even 1st winter (BPZ9, seen by Simon in January 2013, then by Ngoné in December of the same year and in Oct. 2015, and last month I saw it again. Talk about site fidelity!

All ringed birds recovered from Technopole were at most two years old, though of course there are some older birds and every now and then a full adult will show up. BYPB is a typical first-year bird, seen here in March 2017.

AudouinsGull_Technopole_20170312_IMG_0486

Audouin’s, Lesser Black-backed, Yellow-legged & Slender-billed Gulls

 

Among the ringed birds that I have found there are quite a few old individuals, the oldest being nearly 20 years old. Indeed, Audouin’s Gull is a long-lived species with a high adult survival rate (and relatively low fertility). The oldest bird I have is from Italy, at 19 years, while from Spain there’s 45P and 66P, both born in 1999; Ngoné had already seen both in 2014 and 2015 in Palmarin; 45P and was again at Palmarin earlier this month, while I saw 66P there last year at the end of August last year.

AudouinsGull_Palmarin_20160820_IMG_4780_edited

66P, seen here in a rather unflattering position in August 2016 at Palmarin, was ringed as a chick in June 1999 in the Ebro colony

 

The little chart below shows the distribution by age at the time of the last sighting, for 43 birds for which I have the ringing year (birds are typically ringed as chicks, usually in June, so we know their precise age). One can clearly see the predominance of birds in their first year (= juveniles and 1st winter), though this is hardly surprising given that these all correspond to Technopole recoveries. I don’t know how to explain the near-absence of two- and three-year old birds.

AudouinsGull - Age graph

Ngoné’s systematic visits to Palmarin have resulted in some 500 ring readings, which of course allow for a more thorough analysis than my anecdotal observations. Through modeling the team has estimated annual survival rates and the size of the wintering population in Palmarin, which are summarised in this informative  poster presented at PAOC just about a year ago. There are of course also a few interesting individual stories in the lot, such as two Spanish birds that were ringed on the 15th and the 19th of June 2015 respectively, and that were seen within a few weeks after they left their colony (25/8/15 and 15/9/15).

To be continued…

 

Many thanks to Ngoné Diop for her input!

 

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Audouin’s Gull in Senegal: status, trends & origin (part I)

When I started birding nearly 30 years ago, Audouin’s Gull was one of those near-mythical birds, endemic to the Mediterranean and listed as an Endangered species on the IUCN Red List. Plus, it’s a real pretty gull, much more attractive than the standard “large white-headed gull”. Fortunately, this highly coastal species has seen substantial increases in its breeding population and has (re)conquered new localities, mostly during the nineties.

It is now found in Portugal (where it didn’t used to breed 30 years ago), Spain (where the bulk of the population breeds), France (Corsica), Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey. The largest colonies are in the Ebro delta (14,177 in 2007) and the Chafarinas islands off NW Morocco (2,700 pairs in 1997). The Ebro colonies now represent about two thirds of the global population, so it is particularly of note that the species wasn’t even breeding there in 1980: Audouin’s Gull established itself in 1981 when 36 pairs bred, with as many as 4,300 in 1990, +10,000 pairs in 1993… and now certainly more than 15,000 (I didn’t immediately find any recent figures).

The species’ global population is now thought to number 63,900-66,900 individuals, with 21,300-22,300 breeding pairs: to write that this is “a significant increase from an estimated population of 1,000 pairs in 1975” certainly is an understatement… This remarkable feat is thought to be a result of the increased availability of effectively protected areas during the 1980s and of discarded fish from trawlers, particularly around the Ebro delta. Although it may still be vulnerable due to its small number of colonies, it was downlisted to “Least Concern” during the 2015 revision of the Red List, previously being considered Near Threatened (2004), “Lower Risk/conservation dependent” (1994), and Threatened (1988) (IUCN). Quite a conservation success story.

Following a good harvest of ring readings a few weeks ago in the Saloum delta, I wanted to find out a bit more about its history, trends, abundance and distribution in Senegal – and decided to turn it into a blog post here. This wasn’t too difficult given that a ton of research has been done on Audouin’s Gull, resulting in decent knowledge on its population dynamics and structure, distribution, breeding ecology, dispersal, feeding and migratory strategies, etc. The main challenge was to identify the most relevant resources and to distill everything into something relatively concise. And for once there’s even fairly abundant literature on the species in its wintering grounds here in West Africa.

First, let’s have a look at historical records of Audouin’s Gull in Senegal, and see if we can reconstruct the trends for the country.

audouins

Part of a flock of Audouin’s Gulls at Technopole (P. Robinson)

 

The ’60s and ’70s – the first records for Senegal

We automatically turn to our rapidly deteriorating copy of Morel & Morel (1994), who only list a handful of records – essentially, the first four records for the country:

An immature collected at Saint-Louis, 11/5/61 and an adult seen on Gorée island (Dakar) on 13/3/64; one photographed at “the entry of the Sine-Saloum” [wherever that may be! I assume near the Saloum river mouth?] on 1/2/75, and one record near Dakar at the end of December 1981.

Dupuy (1984) adds the observation of an adult in the north of the Saloum delta on 13/12/80 but this record was either overlooked, or not retained by M&M. Interestingly, De Smet & Van Gompel (1979) did not encounter the species even though they covered large chunks of the coast between lac Tanma and the western Saloum delta, as well as the Senegal river delta, during the 1978/79 winter. This seems to confirm that Audouin’s Gull at the time was still a rare or very scarce visitor here – something which was about to change very soon.

The ’80s and ’90s – establishment of a wintering tradition

Moving on, Sauvage & Rodwell (1998) consider Audouin’s Gull to be “frequent at PNLB (Langue de Barbarie NP) and Saint-Louis, Jan.-Apr. with max. 17 birds, Jan. 1994, nine ringed in Spain. Up to 10 were wintering around Saint-Louis, 1990-91.” It is “frequent to common Dakar off Pointe des Almadies and Toubab Dialao, Jan.-Mar., max. 104 (four ads.), Toubab Dialao, Jan. 1992. Frequent to abundant Saloum delta. Max. 321 wintering.” The latter figure, obtained in 1985 (Baillon 1989) is significant as it is the first mention of a substantial number of birds in Senegal, and can likely be linked to the “explosion” of the Ebro delta colony. In Jan.-Feb. 1988, Delaporte & Dubois counted gulls all along the Senegambian coast, from the Mauritanian border to Casamance, and counted 81 Audouin’s Gulls (6 near Saint-Louis, 3 along the Petite Cote, 72 around Palmarin) though they estimate a total of 130 birds. They also mention the presence of 185 in the northern Saloum (probably Palmarin/Joal-Fadiout) on 6/12/88. Del Nevo et al. (1994) conducted counts in February 1991 and in September-October 1992, noting a total of 459 birds in Senegal and 72 in Gambia (1991), and 276 in Senegal the following year, mainly at Sangomar and Joal-Fadiouth.

A few eBird records from the early nineties provide some more context for that decade, in particular the count of no less than 470 birds at the Somone lagoon on 28/2/91, with two at Mbodiene (south of Mbour) a couple of days earlier, and 12 at Plage de Hann (Dakar) on 18/2/91 (O. Benoist). Bengtsson (1995) reports a minimum of 456 near Palmarin in Nov.-Dec. 1994. Based on these records, it looks like the species became a regular winter visitor to Senegal in the early to mid ’80s, and rapidly established a number of traditional wintering areas during that decade.

The next comprehensive figures are reported by Schepers et al. (1998) based on waterbird counts from January 1997 in the Saloum delta and along the Petite Côte. The team counted a total of 858 Audouin’s Gulls between Dakar and the delta, with the majority (673) found in the Saloum, and 185 along the Petite Côte. They estimated the wintering population to number around 1,000 birds, while in 1988 the same areas (incl. Saint-Louis) held at least 80, but more likely at least 130 Audouin’s Gulls (Delaporte & Dubois 1990, though Baillon & Dubois in 1991 estimated the number of wintering birds to be around 500, without providing further details). Regardless, these numbers suggest that Ichtyaetus audouini continued to increase in numbers throughout the late eighties and nineties, and confirmed that Senegal plays an important role for the species during its non-breeding cycle.

AudouinsGull_Palmarin_20170903_IMG_4366

2000 – 2017 – stability

Fast-forward a few years to the first decade of the 21st century: hardly any published data! The only citations of the species that I could find are from seawatch sessions and a few trip reports. For instance from 2006, when a Swedish team counted migrating birds off Ngor, from 10–14 and 25–26 November: 28 Audouin’s Gulls were noted on three separate days (Strandberg & Olofsson 2007). A year later, a more comprehensive migration study at Ngor, with impressive numbers of seabirds counted from 5-28 October, resulted in a total of 692 birds. In the Senegal delta, a maximum of c.15 birds were counted in 2002 (Triplet et al. 2014).

In January 2011, some 50 Audouin’s Gulls were counted by Ottvall et al. at Lac Rose, providing “more evidence of the increasing numbers […] wintering along the coast north of Dakar.” Later that year, Paul Robinson reports two 2nd calendar years from Lac Tanma, which seems to be the first mention of the species here (I’ve seen two birds on 28/8/16 here, but not during other visits in 2015-17). Paul also recorded the species in Popenguine, where on 12/2/12 the pond had “a few” Audouin’s gulls amongst the gulls.

In July 2012, Paul counted c.150 Audouin’s Gulls at Technopole, noting that these were “all sub-adult birds from 2010 and 2011, represents a real increase in summering birds south of the Sahara and a West African summer record count. Several had Spanish rings.” Indeed, Audouin’s Gull can now be seen year-round in Senegal.

Ngoné and colleagues estimated the Palmarin “winter” population to number 445 individuals (278 adults, 167 immatures) based on the modelling they performed on their monthly counts and ring recoveries from the end of 2013 up to end 2015. This seems rather on the low end given that at peak times in October they recorded up to around 700 birds, and that in recent years it’s easy to find more than 300 birds together in the lagoons along the Samba Dia road – surely there are many others scattered throughout the western Saloum delta, e.g. around Sangomar and further south. More on the findings of their study, which was presented under the form of a poster at last year’s PAOC, will be discussed further down.

Current distribution in Senegal

The winter range of the species in Senegal probably hasn’t changed much in the last 20-30 years, with the following areas being regularly used by Audouin’s Gulls:

  • La Grande Côte: Langue de Barbarie and elsewhere in the Senegal delta around Saint-Louis (shores, beach and lagoons), though never in large numbers, with a maximum of c.65 birds in Jan. 2013 (Triplet et al. 2014). On the southern end of the coast, the species is regularly seen at Lac Rose and sometimes at Lac Tanma. It probably also occurs along the beach throughout (I need to ask Wim about this!), especially around the larger fishing towns and villages: Kayar, Mboro, Lompoul, etc.
  • Cap-Vert peninsula: Regular at Lac Rose (e.g. c.60 on 8/8/15, 2 on the beach on 22/1/17, 5 on 14/5/17) and Technopole, where most numerous in January-March, but records from all months except for September (when I rarely visit Technopole); so far my highest count has been a modest 50 birds on 12/3/17. Birds are also regularly seen from Ngor, either migrating or, more often, feeding out at sea. In autumn and winter, one should be able to see Audouin’s Gull pretty much all along the coast from the Pointe des Almadies along Yoff all the way to Lac Rose. I really need to check out the Hann bay from time to time, as there are often lots of gulls and terns. The species has also been reported from Yene-Bargny where is likely still a regular visitor, and may well be numerous at times (in autumn maybe? Birds may favour Technopole later in winter).
  • La Petite Côte: the Somone lagoon seems to be the most regular site, but birds also show up at least irregularly at Popenguine and Mbodiene, and likely feeds off-shore along the entire coast here.
  • Saloum delta: this is of course the main wintering area, that likely holds about 80% of the Senegalese wintering population. Birds are typically concentrated in the lagoons to the north of Palmarin, and do not gather far inland. It should also occur further south in the delta but I have no data from there.
  • Coastal Casamance: the only record I know of is of two birds on 12/10/16 flying north along the beach at Diembering. There certainly are more records (though none on eBird nor observado.org) as Casamance must be the far end of their regular range, given the absence of sightings in nearby Guinea-Bissau.

In terms of population size, my own conservative guestimate puts the current number on 800-1,000 birds, so not any different than the 1,000 birds estimated to winter in Senegal in January 1997, which logically reflects the species’ stable global population trend.

AudouinsGull_Palmarin_20170903_IMG_4376

Audouin’s & Lesser Black-backed Gulls with Caspian Terns at Palmarin, Sept. 2017

 

Elsewhere in West Africa

Isenmann et al. (2010) enumerate lots of records for Mauritania, but little or no info is provided on the evolution of the wintering population in the country, probably because of a lack of historical data. The current status is that of a regular migrant and wintering bird, with at least several hundreds of birds along the coast. Far more birds are said to winter along the Western Sahara coastline. The Gambia is also part of its regular winter range, mainly on and around the Bijol Islands, Tanji Bird Reserve. In 2007/08, about 500 Audouin’s Gulls were counted there. The first Gambian record, as per Morel & Morel, is of a bird at the Bakau Lagoon on 21/2/82.

Surprisingly, the species hasn’t yet been seen in Guinea-Bissau, which is most likely right outside the regular winter area, but surely a few individuals must reach the NW corner of the country, and particularly the Bijagos, given that they are recorded at least from time to time (it would seem) in Casamance and that Gambia is less than a 100 km away from the border. My Oct. 2016 observation near Diembering was barely 20 km from the border and both birds were moving north… In Guinea, the first record was obtained just last year by gull expert Peter Adriaens, a first-winter near Cap Verga on 28/10. The lack of other records from Guinea (and Guinea-Bissau) most likely reflects the absence of observers in the country, rather than a real absence of Audouin’s Gull which surely must at least from time to time reach Guinean waters. This is not the case in relatively well-watched Ghana, where the species is a true vagrant: a first-winter on 13/1/14 was quite an unexpected first for the country, as it had not previously been reported south of Senegambia (Kelly et al. 2014). [note that the species certainly doesn’t winter in Gabon, contra BirdLife International’s species fact sheet].

AudouinsGull_Palmarin_20170903_IMG_4329

 

Now, I still wanted to talk about the origin of wintering birds in Senegal and summarise current knowledge based on ringing recoveries, but my blog post is already getting a bit long… that part will have to wait for a second installment, hopefully a week or two from now.

 

 

La Tabaski à Palmarin

Le weekend dernier, c’était la grande fête de la Tabaski ici. Les villes du pays se vident, tout le monde rentre au village, et un demi million de moutons sont sacrifiés. Nous en avons donc profité pour s’éclipser pendant quelques jours dans le delta du Saloum, plus précisement à Palmarin où nous avons passé trois nuits dans l’agréable écolodge à Diakhanor. Petit récit en images.

D’abord les limicoles, avec ce couple de Rhynchées peintes vues dans une flaque d’eau douce dans le secteur des lagunes. De l’eau, il y en a cette année! Bien plus que l’an dernier à la même époque, au point où les quelques villages de la commune sont en grande partie inondés… L’oiseau très coloré de gauche est la femelle: le dimorphisme sexuel est inversé chez cette espèce si particulière, le mâle se chargeant de l’incubation pendant que Madame va voir ailleurs.

PaintedSnipe_Palmarin_20170903_IMG_4094

Greater Painted-Snipe / Rhynchée peinte

Comme toujours, les limis sont nombreux: quelques centaines de Bécasseaux cocorlis, dizaines de variables, quelques Sanderlings, les Chevaliers gambettes, guignettes, aboyeurs, sylvains et stagnatiles, Grands Gravelots, Barges rousses et à queue noire (dont deux hollandaises avec bagues couleurs), quelques Tournepierres, un Huîtrier pie, 2-3 Courlis cendrés et beaucoup de corlieux.

Whimbrel_Palmarin_20170903_IMG_3996

Whimbrel / Courlis corlieu

 

Chez les laridés, c’est bien sûr le Goéland brun qui domine, suivi de près par les Audouins dont une estimation grossière résulte en un total respectable d’au moins 400 oiseaux dont pas moins de 32 (!) individus bagués. La plupart sont espagnols, mais cette fois je trouve aussi trois italiens et cinq portugais. Je reviendrai sur l’évolution de la distribution de cette espèce au Sénégal dans un autre article, disposant maintenant d’une bonne centaine de données de lectures de bagues.

AudouinsGull_Palmarin_20170903_IMG_4376

Audouin’s Gull / Goéland d’Audouin & co.

 

Suite à la saison de nidification, il y a à cette époque de l’année enormement de Sternes caspiennes à Palmarin, avec par exemple environ 3’100 individus dans la lagune de Diakhanor le matin du 2/9 – et c’est sans compter les centaines voire milliers d’oiseaux dans les lagunes juste au nord de Ngallou au petit matin du 4/9, dont une partie est visible sur la photo d’en-tête.

Assez peu de rapaces sont vus: 2-3 Faucons chicqueras, un Elanion blanc, onze Vautours de Ruppell au dortoir à Ngallou, un Gymnogène le long de la route Joal – Samba Dia (où l’on voit également une Ombrette, exactement au même endroit que l’an dernier en novembre).

RueppellsVulture_Palmarin_20170904_IMG_4577

Ruppell’s Vulture / Vautour de Ruppell

 

Ensuite quelques passeraux, à commencer par cette Veuve dominicaine en plumage nuptial, tout comme les autres viduidés (veuves) et les plocéidés (tisserins, euplectes). Les rectrices de cet individu sont encore en train de pousser et peuvent facilement atteindre le double de la longueur de l’oiseau.

PintailedWhydah_Palmarin_20170903_IMG_4309

Pin-tailed Whydah / Veuve dominicaine

BlackheadedWeaver_Palmarin_20170904_IMG_4593

Black-headed Weaver / Tisserin mélanocéphale

LittleWeaver_Palmarin_20170902_IMG_4067

Little Weaver / Tisserin minule

 

Deux Gobemouches noirs seront les seuls passereaux migrateurs nordiques que j’observe, dont un individu qui m’a paru assez inhabituel car présentant un plumage encore très “jeune”, étant nettement tacheté, et avec pas mal de blanc au bout des moyennes couvertures: Gobemouche noir classique, ibérique, de l’Atlas? Difficile à dire à ce stade, mais je vais essayer de creuser la matière un peu plus lorsque j’en trouverai le temps. (J’écris ces quelques lignes depuis Bamako, où il y a visiblement pas mal de Gobemouches noires en escale en ce moment!)

PiedFlycatcher_Palmarin_20170902_IMG_4032

European (?) Pied Flycatcher / Gobemouche noir (?) juv.

 

Pour terminer deux reptiles fort sympathiques: une femelle d’Agame des colons (ou “Margouillat“), et ce qui semble être une Couleuvre sifflante, trouvée dans un arbre de l’écolodge grâce au vacarme des Bulbuls des jardins, Souimangas à poitrine rouge et autres Barbions à front jaune.

Agamaagama_Palmarin_20170902_IMG_4008

Agama agama

Psammophissibilans_Palmarin_20170902_IMG_4029

Psammophis sibilans

Et pour une fois, on finit par un poisson… sauf erreur une espèce de la famille des Tetraodontidae, qu’on trouve assez régulièrement échoué sur les plages sénégalaises.

IMG_4246 (2)

 

Toubacouta avant les pluies

Toubacouta, enfin !

Si mon article précédent avait comme sujet les sites hors sentiers battus, celui-ci vous présente un des spots assez classiques des circuits ornithologiques, et que je n’avais jusqu’à présent pas eu l’occasion de découvrir: les environs de Toubacouta. On se trouve ici tout juste sous la latitude 14° N, soit en pleine zone de transition entre la savane sèche et les forêts guinéennes qu’on trouve au sud du fleuve Gambie. Du coup, plusieurs espèces se trouvent ici en limite septentrionale de leur aire de repartition, comme le Touraco vert (Guinea Turaco) ou encore le Loriot doré (African Golden-Oriole). Certaines remontent depuis la Casamance ou de la Gambie en saison des pluies, comme l’Hirondelle fanti (Fanti Sawwing) dont plusieurs individus seront vus lors du séjour. On est ici d’ailleurs tout proche du petit pays voisin, aberration de l’histoire coloniale: à peine 25 km jusqu’à la frontière. J’ai donc passé deux nuits à Toubacouta (ou Toubakouta), site touristique plutôt agréable surtout en cette basse saison, situé en bordure de mangrove du vaste parc national du delta du Saloum.

Arrivée le samedi après-midi après 4h de route depuis Dakar en passant par Kaolack, séance d’observation dans la brousse au sud du village en fin de journée, puis ornitho intensive quasi toute la journée du dimanche : d’abord la « palmeraie » de Sandicoly, ensuite la brousse entre Sandicoly et Sokone, sieste en début d’après-midi, incursion dans champs et vergers autour de Keur Mama Lamine, pour finir la journée dans la forêt de Sangako. Le lendemain, sortie matinale dans un autre secteur de la forêt avant de reprendre le chemin du retour, avec escales rapides du côté de Keur Wally Ndiaye et un crochet à la station de l’IRD de Mbour pour y examiner la dizaine de Fauvettes passerinnettes de la collection du centre.

Résultat des courses, quelques 145 espèces observées, dont plusieurs que je n’avais pas encore eu le plaisir de voir au Sénégal. Entre autres, cinq espèces de coucou, quatre rolliers, sept (!) martins-pêcheurs, Guêpier à queue d’aronde (Swallow-tailed Bee-eater), Grand Indicateur (Greater Honeyguide), Irrisor noir (au nid ! Black Scimitar-bill), Petit-duc africain et plusieurs Chevêchettes perlées (African Scops Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet), un couple de Courvites de Temminck (Temminck’s Courser), Echenilleur à épaulettes rouges, Bulbul à gorge claireSpréo améthyste, Zosterops jaune, Tisserin masqué, etc. etc. (Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Yellow-throated LeafloveViolet-backed Starling, Yellow White-eye, Heuglin’s Masked Weaver)

La première sortie de terrain, en compagnie de Carlos, guide ornitho polyglotte très compétent basé à Toubacouta, nous a permis d’observer plusieurs espèces typiques du coin. Parmi celles-ci, cet Autour unibande qui s’est posé un moment dans un arbre alors que nous étions en train de suivre le manège de deux Coucous de Klaas mâles en train de s’affronter.

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Lizard Buzzard / Autour unibande

Ci-dessous: Coucou de Levaillant, Martins-chasseurs à poitrine bleue et à tête grise, Martin-pêcheur pygmée (cliquez sur les photos pour agrandir ; Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Blue-breasted, Grey-headed, African Pygmy Kingfishers) :

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GreyheadedKingfisher_Toubacouta_20170618_IMG_2610  AfricanPygmyKingfisher_Toubacouta_20170619_IMG_2675

Rollier à ventre bleu (Blue-bellied Roller) à l’ombre d’un palmier:

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L’étonnant Bagadais casqué (White-crested Helmetshrike) :

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Choucador pourpré (Purple Starling) :

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Pic à taches noires (Fine-spotted Woodpecker), qui semble plutot commun ici:FinespottedWoodpecker_Toubacouta_20170619_IMG_2693

Comme d’hab’ j’ai cherché à enregistrer les piafs du coin autant que possible – voir (et surtout écouter) les prises de son sur xeno-canto (lien direct ici). J’étais particulièrement content de mon enregistrement de ces deux Noircaps loriots (Oriole Warbler) chantant en duo.

Côté mammifères, j’ai eu la surprise de voir mes premiers Babouins sénégalais dans la mangrove de Sandicoly. Plus classiques, quelques Singes “rouges” (patas) et une famille de Phacochères sont vus dans la forêt de Sangako.

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Egalement plusieurs obs des deux écureuils les plus répandus au Sénégal: Ecureuil terrestre (= E. fouisseur, Striped Ground Squirrel) et – arboricole celui-ci – de Gambie (Gambian Sun Squirrel).

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La prochaine fois, on ira faire un tour dans la mangrove à la recherche du rare Onoré à huppe blanche (White-crested Tiger-Heron), Souimanga brun (Mangrove Sunbird) et autres spécialités de cette partie du delta. Rendez-vous pris pour fin novembre!

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Enfin, si vous passez à Toubacouta je vous conseille vivement de prendre contact avec Carlos, guide unique en son genre avec une très bonne connaissance de la faune locale, qui vous fera un plaisir de vous faire découvrir cette partie du pays – voire au-delà, ayant parcouru une bonne partie des sites ornithos sénégalais. Me contacter si vous souhaitez avoir ses coordonnées.

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Observations faites du 17 au 19 juin

 

Palmarin 18-19/2

Another family trip to Palmarin, another report with a few interesting observations and some pictures to share. To start, a pleasant surprise was a pair of Four-banded Sandgrouse that were flushed from an uncultivated field, then landed just a few meters away and allowed for close-up views (but alas no picture). Could they be breeding here? This is the first time, in five visits (August, twice in November, January, and now February), that I’ve seen the species in the Palmarin area or anywhere in Senegal for that matter.

The same goes for a first-winter Southern Grey Shrike which is another addition to my Palmarin list, and which is more likely a scarce or irregular winter visitor here. Typically seen in the north – Djoudj, Ndiael, Richard-Toll etc. – it is apparently scarce this far south. Even around Dakar there seem to be only a handful of records, including one at Technopole a few years ago that was found by Paul Robinson. However, Simon Cavaillès and friends regularly see the species in the Ndiafatte / Kousmar region and it’s been reported as far south as Tambacounda, but there are only a couple of records from The Gambia.

We’ll try to get back to the topic of subspecies identification in this taxon as it’s not a straightforward matter. According to what can be seen on the pictures below (on which the bird appears somewhat darker than in the field) my bird from Palmarin would fit ssp. elegans which breeds across the Sahara: pale plumage, lots of white in wing, grey rump, large size.

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Southern Grey Shrike / Pie-grièche méridionale

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Southern Grey Shrike / Pie-grièche méridionale

My second Eastern Olivaceous Warbler in Senegal was seen early Sunday morning while feeding in a tree, tail flicking and nicely showing its narrow bill and overall pale appearance. See this post for a discussion of the my first record (in French)

Numerous Common Whitethroats, a few Barn Swallows which are obviously on the move and should have started heading back to Europe. A male Whinchat was near Joal: are they already on the move, or would they winter in this area? Most of the Yellow Wagtails that were seen appeared to belong to the Iberian subspecies, such as this male:

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“Spanish” Yellow Wagtail / Bergeronnette printanière ssp. iberiae

A few OspreysMontagu’s and Marsh Harriers were around and a Short-toed Eagle was near Samba Dia, but in general not many raptors were seen. Single Grey and Common Kestrels, and also what appeared to be a family of Black-winged Kite with at least one young.

Waders were as usual well represented, though many were in distant flocks which I didn’t have the time to check thoroughly: Grey Plover, Common Ringed Plover, numerous Bar-tailed Godwits and Avocets, a single Oystercatcher, a few Turnstones and Whimbrels plus the usual Greenshanks, Redshanks, Wood Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers, hundreds of Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers, etc.

On the local front, Bruce’s Green Pigeons, Purple Rollers, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were around, while a few Sudan Golden Sparrows at Diakhanor were also a first for me in Palmarin. Red-billed Queleas were particularly numerous, just like in Dakar at the moment, with low thousands moving south at Diakhanor on 19/2 and several smaller flocks scattered throughout the area (though considering that this is supposedly the most abundant bird species on the planet and that they can gather in huge flocks, these numbers are still on the low side!).

Below is a small sample of some of the local birds seen during the weekend.

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Abyssinian Roller / Rollier d’Abyssinie

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Yellow-crowned Gonolek / Gonolek de Barbarie

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Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling  / Choucador à oreillons bleus

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Red-billed Quelea / Travailleur à bec rouge

 

(Header picture by Jane Piot!)

Palmarin again

Trying to catch up with recent trips, this post will focus on our short stay in Palmarin, from Nov. 24-26, when I joined visiting friends from Geneva at the tail end of their 2-week trip. Of course I wish I could have joined them for the entire length of the trip (they saw no less than 320-ish species!) but I was already fortunate enough to spend a couple of days up North in the Djoudj and Saint-Louis, then to join them a week later in the Saloum delta.

In addition to the unexpected observation of a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, we saw a good number of other interesting species here, confirming once again the importance of the area for a vast range of both Afrotropical and Palearctic species. Among the highlights were the adult Saddle-billed Stork that I already mentioned in the previous post; a small colony of African Spoonbills with several chicks in the nest, high up in a lone baobab; the thousands of waders – an impressive 28 species including several Knot, a Grey Phalarope, and a handful of White-fronted Plovers; even more gulls (Audouin’s and Lesser Black-backed of course, but also a Kelp Gull and a Yellow-legged Gull both picked up by Bastien); Northern White-faced Owl; the usual Quailfinches; and this time round also some great sightings of the local Spotted Hyenas:

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Spotted Hyena / Hyene tachetee

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African Spoonbill / Spatule d’Afrique ad. on nest

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White-fronted Plover / Gravelot a front blanc ad. m.

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White-fronted Plover / Gravelot a front blanc, juv.?

Quailfinch was one of the species the group was particularly keen on seeing, which wasn’t all too difficult given how frequent these tiny birds are here, as long as one is in suitable habitat. Seeing them properly, and not just flying over in typical hurried fashion, was more of a challenge but we did ultimately succeed. In the process, we found two extremely well camouflaged nests, each containing several eggs.

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Quailfinch / Astrild-caille (A. Barbalat)

Quite a few vultures were encountered in the Palmarin / Samba Dia / Joal area, mostly Hooded, White-backed and Ruppell’s Vultures, but also a couple of immature Eurasian Griffons, including the one below, and a single Palm-nut Vulture.

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Eurasian Griffon / Vautour fauve imm.

In addition to the vultures, lots of other raptors were spotted: Osprey and Yellow-billed Kites of course, and Montagu’s and Marsh Harriers, Black-shouldered KiteBeaudouin’s Snake-Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, African Harrier-Hawk, ShikraGabar and Dark-chanting Goshawks, Peregrine, Barbary Falcon, Grey Kestrel, and finally Red-necked Kestrel.

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Red-necked Falcon with prey (a weaver sp.) / Faucon chicquera (A. Barbalat)

Several European passerines that spend the winter over here were found to be actively moulting (though admittedly this was seen only after studying the pictures!). In the examples below, note the fresh tail feathers and primaries that are still growing on this young Woodchat Shrike, and the regenerating primaries in the Melodious Warbler underneath.

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Woodchat Shrike / Pie-grieche a tete rousse 1st c.y.

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Melodious Warbler / Hypolais polyglotte

Just like in November 2015, several Red-throated Pipits were found, in exactly the same spot as last year. I suspect that this is a fairly localised and scarce species in Senegal, as I haven’t see them anywhere else yet. This area also held a surprise pair of Greater Short-toed Larks, a species that doesn’t usually comes this far down south (they’re regular in the north, e.g. at Ndiael fauna reserve). Along the same lines, the observation of a Tufted Duck near Diofior on 24/11 was a good record this far south in Senegal.

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Red-throated Pipit / Pipit à gorge rousse (A. Barbalat)

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Greater Short-toed Lark / Alouette calandrelle

A much more common migrant is Yellow Wagtail, mainly flavissima from the British Isles but flava and iberiae also seem to be present in Palmarin. This individual, a moulting male, had  an unusually contrasting plumage.

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Yellow Wagtail / Bergeronnette printaniere ssp. flavissima

On the local front, here’s a juvenile White-billed Buffalo-Weaver, lacking its distinctive white bill as  it’s still a very young bird, followed by a Yellow-billed Oxpecker (always a pleasure!).

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White-billed Buffalo-Weaver / Alecto a bec blanc juv.

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Yellow-billed Oxpecker / Piqueboeufs à bec jaune

This female Long-tailed Nightjar was flushed in the gardens of the Djidjack lodge (a place I’d highly recommend: friendly owners, great food, good accommodation, and a lush garden full of birds).

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Long-tailed Nightjar / Engoulevent a longue queue f.

Also there were at least two Northern White-faced Owls, a Pin-tailed Whydah (surprisingly perhaps, only my first in Senegal), the usual migrant passerines (Common RedstartWestern Olivaceous and Subalpine Warblers, but also Blackcap), Gambian Epauletted Fruit-bats, and much more.

We’ll be back!

(and finally, I can’t resist the urge to include another picture of the star bird)

becasseau-rousset

Buff-breasted Sandpiper / Bécasseau rousset (A. Barbalat)

Un bécasseau surprise

En route pour rejoindre la bande de copains suisses à Palmarin où ils concluent une tournée de 15 jours d’ornitho mémorables, je reçois un coup de fil de Cyril me disant qu’ils sont devant un Jabiru d’Afrique, posé dans une lagune. Cool, une espèce que je n’ai pas encore vue au Sénégal.

A peine quinze minutes plus tard, alors que je m’approche déjà de Joal, nouvel appel: comme si la cigogne ne suffisait pas, ils viennent de trouver un Bécasseau rousset!!

Needless to say, j’accélère un poil afin de rejoindre l’équipe sur place, et grâce à la nouvelle route goudronnée – et oui c’est ça aussi le progrès! – j’admire ce superbe limicole moins d’une demie heure plus tard…. quelle coche! C’est une espèce que j’ai toujours rêvée de voir un jour, mais je ne pensais pas que ce serait ici.

J’en oublie presque le Jabiru et le cortège d’autres echassiers présents en nombre: Flamants roses (et 4 nains) mais surtout toute une serie de limicoles – Avocettes, Becasseaux cocorlis, sanderling et minutes, Pluviers argentésGrands Gravelots, Gravelots pâtres, Gravelots à collier interrompu, Gravelots à front blanc, Barges à queue noire et rousses, …

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Buff-breasted Sandpiper / Becasseau rousset

 

Toujours présente le lendemain matin, la bête se laissera observer à faible distance, toujours occupée à se nourrir frénétiquement – un peu logique vu le long voyage depuis la toundra canadienne qu’elle a dû parcourir – en compagnie des divers gravelots et Sanderlings. Si le groupe de limis dans lequel le rousset se trouve est plutôt nerveux, après chaque envol ils reviennent dans la même zone près de la route pour se laisser admirer par sept observateurs heureux. Le soir, c’est un autre limicole arctique qu’on trouve non loin de là: un Phalarope à bec large.

Au final, le Becasseau rousset sera présent pendant au moins trois jours, soit du 24 au 26 novembre; à voir s’il aura été revu par l’équipe senegalo-hollandaise actuellement sur place à Palmarin pour le suivi des Barges à queue noire.

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Il s’agit de la deuxième¹ observation de l’espèce au Senegal, la première datant d’il y a plus de 30 ans… plus précisement du 22 avril 1985 lorsqu’un oiseau est vu au Lac Rose “sur une pelouse halophile […] en compagnie d’autres limicoles dispersés” par J. J. Guillou (Morel & Morel).

Si l’espèce est d’observation annuelle en Europe de l’Ouest, il n’en est pas de même sur le continent africain: Borrow & Demey font état d’à peine huit observations en Afrique de l’Ouest et Centrale jusqu’en 2014, dont seulement quelques données récentes: Gambie, Sierra Léone, Ghana, Benin, Gabon. Plusieurs observations supplementaires proviennent des îles de l’Atlantique Ouest au large des côtes africaines (Madère, Açores, Canaries et Cap Vert), bien plus propices à la découverte d’espèces néarctiques.

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Mes quelques photos médiocres – de bien meilleures devraient suivre dans un compte-rendu de voyage à venir – montrent tout de même assez bien les principaux critères d’identification de ce sympathique becasseau atypique: taille légèrement supérieure aux Sanderlings et gravelots (cf. photo ci-dessous), petite tête ronde peu marquée, bec noir presque droit et plutôt court (et qu’on compare parfois à un petit cigare!), pattes jaunes de longeur moyenne, corps élongé avec parties supérieures rappelant le Combattant varié.

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Ce que je ne savais pas, c’est que cette espèce etait naguère abondante en Amerique du Nord, alors qu’elle est maintenant considérée comme très peu commune, au point où elle a actuellement le statut de “quasi menacée” (NT). La raison serait la chasse importante au tournant des 19e et 20e siècles ainsi que la dégradation de son habitat sur les sites d’escale et même sur ses lieux d’hivernage, soit la pampa en Argentine. A espérer que l’oiseau de Palmarin retrouvera, d’une manière ou d’une autre, ses congénères d’ici le printemps prochain…

 

¹ Des recherches supplémentaires ont fait état de deux autres observations à Palmarin en décembre 1994, passées inaperçues jusqu’a maintenant. Notre observation constitue donc la 4e donnée pour le pays. Voir cet article sur notre blog pour les détails.