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

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

Too many birds, not enough time, right?

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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White-crested Helmet-Shrike / Bagadais casqué

 

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

 

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Cricket Warbler / Prinia à front écailleux

 

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

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

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

 

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Zebra Waxbill / Bengali zébré

 

 

 

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Senegal birding and the UK Birdfair 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

WestAfrica_biomes_map

 

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

Little grey Woodpecker / Pic gris

Little grey Woodpecker / Pic gris, Gandiolais (BP)

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

LittleGreyWoodpecker_map

 

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

Sahel Paradise Whydah / Veuve a collier d'or

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

 

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

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

RedbilledTropicbird_ilesdelaMadeleine_20180102_IMG_7920

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

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

 

(post by Paul, with contributions from BP)

 

 

 

Short-eared Owl in Senegal

An unexpected sighting of a Short-eared Owl (Hibou des marais) migrating past Ngor this morning prompted me to have a closer look at the status of this bird in Senegal, and to attempt to assemble past records and available information about its distribution. It also so happens (a coincidence?) that there were several more records in recent weeks, including one seen just yesterday in the Saloum delta, and one early November in Senegal’s Far East, at Boundou nature reserve. Today’s post will be a rather short one, without any pictures to share – unfortunately (you do get lots of references instead!). [correction! I managed to take a few pics at the end of December, so I’ve inserted them here]

This morning, towards the end of a very quiet seawatch session, I noticed an unusual bird coming in over the ocean from a north-westerly direction, maybe about a kilometer away from land. It was easily identified as a Short-eared Owl thanks to its distinctive shape and plumage: pale plumage, long wings with pale yellow “hands” and a distinctive black comma on the underwing and dark primary tips, which distinguish it from Marsh Owl. It made slow progress, turning to the south and eventually reaching Ngor island, but proceeded without landing and seemed to continue towards the Almadies area (if I’d been at home, I may have seen it from my balcony!!). Could it perhaps have crossed from the Cape Verde islands, or hopped on a ship somewhere to the north of Dakar, and took off upon seeing the Mamelles in the distance?

In summary, Short-eared Owl is a scarce but seemingly regular (and likely annual) winter visitor to Senegal. Most observations are from the north, at Djoudj and Richard-Toll, with a scattering of records from elsewhere in the country: Dakar, Popenguine, Saloum, Boundou.

The earliest available reference is of course by Morel & Morel (who else?), who report to have seen it “on several occasions” around Richard-Toll, but don’t give much other detail other than that it is mainly seen on “autumn” and “spring” passage, with a mid-winter record in January 1978. The only record away from their study site that they mention is of a specimen collected at Sangalkam in the Dakar region, not far from Lac Rose, on 3/2/76 by Blancou.

In the early nineties, Short-eared Owl was regularly observed in the Djoudj national park, with at least 20 records “between 23 October and 29 March: three singles, 1990-91; 12 records in 1991-92 (max. 6 on 10 Dec 1991); five, 1992-93 (max. 3, Jan 1993). Previously only one record was known from the Djoudj (Dupuy 1971)” Elsewhere in Senegal,  Sauvage & Rodwell add a single record of one bird at Palmarin in January 1992, but there’s also one from 27/2/91 at Popenguine which they seemingly were unaware of at the time (O. Benoist on eBird).

As is quite often the case it seems, there follows a gap in published data during the late nineties and first decade of the 21st century, and we need to fast-forward almost 20 (!) years until the next published records, listed below. All are of single birds between early November and late January.

So just seven records from 2010-2016… and now for 2017:

  • 3/11/17 in the Boundou nature reserve (T. Riviere & E. Tanguy on eBird), one of several recent additions to the reserve’s bird list
  • 6/11/17 near Palmarin (J. Hooijmeijer, T. Jager)
  • 30/11/17 at Kousmar, Kaolack (M. J. Valencia & C. Clemente on eBird)
  • 1/12/17 at Palmarin (T. de Kruif on Observado.org)
  • 2/12/17 at Ngor, actively migrating
  • 14/12/17 at Guereo, roosting under a bush near the Somone lagoon (J. Buvat on Observado.org)
  • 25/12/17 near Gandiol (south of Saint-Louis), roosting in a flood plain of the Guembeul area. See header picture and here.
  • 31/12/17 at Technopole, Dakar, bringing this autumn’s total to eight birds

 

Addenda: several more Short-eared Owls were reported in January-March 2018:

  • no less than three birds were seen near Palmarin on 22/1/18 by visiting Swiss birders C. Ruchet and Y. Menétrey,
  • on the same day (22/1), one was found dead on the N2 road near the Ndiael Fauna Reserve (Daniel & Alix Mignot)
  • seven (!) were at Technopole on 3/2 (E. & J. Regala Ruiz). In subsequent weeks, at least up to late March, up to six birds were regularly reported here. These are also the first February and March records it seems
  • one was at Iles de la Madeleine on 25/2 (E. & J. Regala Ruiz)
  • one in Djoudj NP on 27/2 (M. Demeulemeester on Observado.org)

That’s now 13 records of at least 21 birds, and definitely a proper influx.

ShortearedOwl_Technopole_20171231_IMG_7729

Short-eared Owl / Hibou des marais (Technopole, 31/12/17)

Surely there are other old (and new) records that are hidden in note books, travel reports, trip lists etc., and that were never reported to the ABC for inclusion in the Recent Reports round-up. And maybe even a few birds seen by local birders, eco-guides and park rangers but that were even less likely to have ever been reported, for lack of a proper bird records database. For instance, it has been mentioned from the Ndiael reserve (between Saint-Louis and Richard-Toll), but I didn’t find any records yet. It also turns out that the species has apparently been seen quite regularly in the Khelcom area in recent year, by Dutch researchers working on Montagu’s Harriers here. A shame though that they never reported or published their sightings.

Regardless, what stands out here is the good run of recent records, particularly this year. A coincidence, a real increase of the species, or better coverage and especially better reporting of data by observers? I tend to lean to the latter, since it’s unlikely that there is a real increase in numbers given its overall rather precarious conservation status in Europe. Short-eared Owl is known to have highly fluctuating population trends and tends to be a nomadic species in many areas, responding to abundance of rodents in both the breeding and wintering areas, so it certainly looks like it’s been a good year for them. Let’s see if other records resurface, or if more are seen in coming months. [note 31/12: several more birds have been seen since I originally wrote this, and one can definitely talk about a proper influx this autumn!]

What about elsewhere in West Africa?

The species is thought to be a regular winter visitor to Mauritania, where it is “recorded in small numbers on both passages (October/November and March/April)”. Isenmann et al. (2010) also mention that in winter the species is seen in open areas around wetlands and in coastal areas (northwards to the Banc d’Arguin). There are at least 12 records from Cape Verde, in August and October-March, from most islands but also including two records of birds “seen from ships at sea between the islands” (Hazevoet 2014), so these were likely of actively migrating birds, just like mine this morning at Ngor.

Short-eared Owl is thought to be a regular winter visitor along the Niger river in Mali (Lamarche 1980 even considers it “rather common” in the Delta Central) and around lake Chad in Nigeria and Chad. At the same latitude, Niger may also be part of its more or less regular range, as there are at least four known records. It is quite rare in The Gambia where there are a handful of observations, surprisingly perhaps mostly from the Upper River Division. The ABC Recent Reports mention one exception, of a bird disturbed while roosting at Pirang, close to Banjul, on 16 February 2003. Olly Fox kindly supplied two recent records from Kartong Bird Observatory, on the coast right on the border with Casamance: 30/10/15 and 24/11/17, both of singles flushed from dry grass/scrub amongst dune vegetation. At least one other was reported from The Gambia later on. The species was also reported in January or February 2018 from Guinea-Bissau for the first time – details will be added later.

Borrow & Demey show records of vagrants in Guinea and in Liberia, with one record each: a very old one from the Fouta-Djallon (Maclaud 1906, see Morel & Morel 1988, Liste des oiseaux de Guinée), while the observation in Liberia was of a bird “hunting insects every evening 18 November to 10 December 1983 on a road passing through a high grass savanna clearing at Tuzon” (Gatter 1998, Birds of Liberia). There also is one record further south, in Cameroon on 14/1/08, of what was obviously a vagrant, flushed “on a lava flow in the southern foothills of Mt Cameroon” (Riegert et al. 2008. The first record of Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus in SW Cameroon. Malimbus 30).

So let’s see if there will be more records this year – I certainly hope so, as it’s always a pleasure to see this special owl, wherever in its wide range that may be (it is indeed an extremely widespread species, with a more or less continuous breeding range throughout Eurasia, in North America, and even the Caribbean and South America).

 

ShortearedOwl_Gandiol_20171225_IMG_7228

 

Post updated with records supplied by Simon Cavaillès, Oliver Fox, Jos Hooijmeijer, Miguel Demeulemeester, Edgar Ruiz and others (many thanks!)

 

 

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 birds¹, 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!

 

¹ The oldest bird we have is “FDA”, ringed as a chick in June 1988 (!) at Islas Columbretes, Castellon, and seen in 2015 and 2017 in Palmarin, and in Dec. 2017 in The Gambia.

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.

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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.

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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. At Lac Rose, ca. 350 birds were seen on 11/2/18, suggesting that this is still an important roosting site for the species, at least during part of the northern winter.
  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Pin-tailed Whydah / Veuve dominicaine

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Black-headed Weaver / Tisserin mélanocéphale

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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!)

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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.

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Agama agama

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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.

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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) :

LevaillantsCuckoo_Toubacouta_20170617_IMG_2539  BluebreastedKingfisher_Toubacouta_20170618_IMG_2613

GreyheadedKingfisher_Toubacouta_20170618_IMG_2610  AfricanPygmyKingfisher_Toubacouta_20170619_IMG_2675

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

BluebelliedRoller_Toubacouta_20170618_IMG_2552

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

WhitecrestedHelmetshrike_Toubacouta_20170619_IMG_2648

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).

StripedGroundSquirrel_Toubacouta_20170617_IMG_2545

GambianSunSquirrel_Toubacouta_20170617_IMG_2560

 

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