We’re continuing our little series on the status of some lesser known passerines that spend the winter in Senegal. This time round we’re looking at Iberian Chiffchaff (Pouillot ibérique), yet another drab songbird that can be tricky to identify unless of course it’s singing. We won’t go much into its identification in this post; a lot has been written on the topic, though unfortunately the standard West Africa field guides lack sufficient detail and may oversimplify the matter somewhat. In addition, few if any of the local guides really know how to identify the species in the field, and not all visiting birders pay much attention to these LBJs.
There are a few subtle differences in plumage, but generally it’s not easy to identify these birds on plumage and “jizz” alone.. so maybe it’s useful after all to summarise key characteristics here. Lars Svensson, in what is still one of the main reference papers on Iberian Chiffchaff identification (2001), neatly listed the following field characters in comparison with Common Chiffchaff:
- As a rule, the entire upperparts of ibericus are purer moss green than on Common Chiffchaff, lacking the brown tinge on crown and mantle usually present in collybita in freshly moulted plumage in early autumn a very slight brownish tinge can be found on the greenish upperparts of some Iberian Chiffchaffs
- More tinged yellowish-green on sides of head and neck, and has no buff or brown hues at all, or only very little of it behind the eye and on ear-coverts. The breast is whitish with clear yellow streaking
- Typically, has vivid lemon yellow undertail-coverts, contrasting with a rather whitish centre to the belly
- Supercilium on average more pronounced and more vividly yellow, particularly in front of and above the eye
- On average, the legs are a trifle paler brown on Iberian than on Common Chiffchaff, though many are alike
- Bill is very slightly stronger [though I find this one of very little use in the field!]
Clearly these are mostly subtle differences and when identifying on plumage alone, a combination of characters should typically be used. Confusion with Willow Warbler is not unlikely, even by experienced birders, and I’m assuming that at least some Iberians are noted as Willow Warbler, especially in mid-winter in northern Senegal when Willow Warbler should in fact be rare, as it winters chiefly in the forest zone further south. The longer wings, pale underparts and paler legs can indeed result in striking similarities between Willow and Iberian. A good pointer to separate these two is that the latter typically dips its tail while feeding, whereas Willow, Warbler characteristically flicks its wings while moving its tail sideways.
The two pictures below were taken by Frédéric Bacuez near Saint-Louis, on 18.4.16 (top) and 20.1.13 (bottom), and while it’s probably impossible to be certain, I do tend to believe these are Iberian Chiffchaffs.
The vocalisations on the other hand are far more reliable and are indeed always ideal in order to confirm an Iberian Chiffchaff, particulary the song. While there’s some variation and there may be some “mixed singers”, the difference with Common Chiffchaff is usually obvious (though maybe a bit less so on this one from Wassadou). It’s worthwhile pointing out though that besides the quite distinctive song, a good yet undervalued criterion is the call of the species – see this nice summary on the Turnstones blog (and also Collinson & Melling 2008, who state that the call “in sharp contrast to that of Common Chiffchaff, is downwardly inflected, from 5 to 3 kHz, transcribed as ‘piu’ or ‘peeoo’, perhaps reminiscent of the call of Siskin” – now compare with my recording from Technopole (same bird as in the song recording): I wouldn’t say this sounds like a Siskin – and even less like a Bullfinch! – and at 3.5-6 kHz the frequency is clearly a bit higher as can be seen on the sonogram below (click to enlarge).
Status & Distribution in Senegal
Up to not so long ago, most authors considered Iberian Chiffchaff to be a resident or partial migrant, mostly due to lack of reliable identification criteria at the time. Svensson (again!) provided the most comprehensive overview of our knowledge of the wintering areas in his 2001 paper, concluding that it is “a long-distance migrant which winters primarily in tropical Africa“. This assumption was however based on very few specimens and even fewer reliable field observations. One of these is of a bird “singing like an Iberian Chiffchaff” by Yves Thonnerieux from northern Ghana, and the only two specimens from wintering grounds are from Mali in 1932 (Segou) and 1955 (Bamako); both were found by Svensson in the museum of natural history in Paris (MNHN). A third specimen was collected in January 1955 in Tunisia, suggesting that some birds may winter north of the Sahara; Svensson also showed that the species is present during spring migration in Morocco (at least late March – early April).
With increased “observer awareness” and better reporting systems, recent years have seen a clear increase in field observations from West Africa, described further below. Combined with the absence of any winter records from the Iberian peninsula, I think it’s quite well established now that indeed most if not all Iberian Chiffchaffs winter south of the Sahara.
To further refine its status in West Africa, we turn to our usual suspects: Morel & Morel provide a single record, presumably obtained by themselves, of a singing bird at Richard Toll on 22-24.2.87 (this is probably the unpublished record “from tropical Africa” that Svensson refers to). This can safely be assumed to be the first published record for Senegal; identification was apparently largely based on song since they write that they compared the song with recordings by Claude Chappuis. It’s quite easy to miss out on this observation though, as ibericus (or brehmi as it used to be known) is only referred to in the annex of Les Oiseaux de Sénégambie (1990), as their sighting was obviously too recent to be included in the near-final manuscript of their book. Of course, the species was at the time still considered to be “just” a subspecies of Common Chiffchaff. Rather curiously, the Morels refer to a significant proportion of Scandinavian Common Chiffchaffs (ssp. abietinus) – up to half! – though we now know that these populations tend to winter in eastern Africa, heading in a south-easterly direction in autumn. Could it be that these were actually Iberian Chiffchaff rather than abietinus?
Moving on, Rodwell and colleagues (1996) refer to three records of calling (singing?) birds in the Djoudj NP in Jan 1990, Jan 1991 and Feb 1992. Sauvage & Rodwell (1998) do not provide any additional records: up to the mid-nineties, ibericus was obviously still considered a rare to scarce winter visitor to northern Senegal. More than a decade later, Borrow & Demey still consider the species’ distribution in Senegal as “inadequately known”, and their map only shows the lower Senegal valley.
As is the case with quite a few other little known taxa that were recently elevated to species rank – think Moltoni’s Warbler, Seebohm’s Wheatear, Atlas Flycatcher – these past few years our knowledge has greatly increased, and it is clear that Iberian Chiffchaff is indeed quite frequent in northern Senegal. Recent reports mainly come from the Djoudj NP – obviously a key wintering site, with decent densities – and from around Richard Toll and Saint-Louis (e.g. Bango, Trois-Marigots, Langue de Barbarie, and see picture above). There are however a number of recent records elsewhere that suggest that the species is more widespread: last winter I was lucky to find a singing bird at Technopole which is thought to be the first record from Dakar; there are also a few reports from the Somone lagoon, though not sure that these are reliable (I have suspected the species here before, but never been able to confirm based on call or song). Rather intriguingly, the species was also seen several times along the Gambia river at Wassadou these past two years: first in December 2017, then more than two months later at least one singing bird that we found on 24.2.18, and again this winter (7.1.19). Finally, another singing bird was reported near Kounkane, Velingara, on 28.1.18 (G. Monchaux) – to our knowledge the first record from Casamance. The observations in these southern locations suggest that the species is more widespread and that it can turn up anywhere in Senegal.
In Mauritania, it appears that up to recently the only records were obtained during extensive field work conducted by the Swiss Ornithological Station, with several birds captured both in spring and in autumn 2003 (Isenmann et al. 2010). There are several more recent reports from around Nouakchott mainly, presumably of birds passing through. In addition to the two aforementioned specimens from Mali, the only other record from that country that I’m aware of is of a singing bird that I recorded in a hotel garden in Bamako, where it was singing for at least a week in January 2016. Burkina Faso should also be part of the regular range, though there again there are just a couple of records, most recently a singing bird reported by van den Bergh from the Bängr-Weeogo park in Ouagadougou in December 2011.
The Xeno-canto range map, which is largely based on BirdLife data, is probably the most accurate when it comes to the winter range (though not for the breeding range, the species being absent from most of central and eastern Spain). It should also include all of northern Senegal, or at a minimum, the lower and middle river valley, particularly the Djoudj NP which is omitted from the map below. I’m not sure that the species has been reliably recorded from Gambia even though there are several unverified observations on eBird. Further north, there are several winter records from Western Sahara between early December and early February, mainly at coastal sites (Bergier et al. 2017), suggesting that not all Iberian Chiffchaffs cross the Sahara. Spring migration is noted from mid-February to mid- or end of April.
Iberian Chiffchaff should be present in Senegal and generally throughout its winter quarters from about October to early or mid-April; the earliest observation I could find is one of a bird reported singing east of Richard Toll on 27.10.15. A Danish group reported two birds in Djoudj in early November 2017, but other than that almost all records are from December – February during the peak orni-tourist season.
Paulo Catry and colleagues (including our friends Miguel and Antonio!) showed marked differential distance migration of sexes in chiffchaffs, with females moving further south than males. Their study did not distinguish between Common and Iberian Chiffchaff, but because south of the Sahara (Djoudj mainly), sex-ratios were more male-biased than predicted by a simple latitude model, their findings suggest that among the chiffchaffs wintering in West Africa, a large proportion is composed of Iberian birds, providing further support that these birds are long distance migrants. The ringing data from Djoudj also showed that chiffchaffs display differential timing of spring migration, with males leaving the winter quarters considerably earlier than females [typically, male migrant songbirds arrive a little earlier on the breeding grounds than females, presumably so they can hold and defend a territory by the time the females arrive].
Finishing off with some essential ibericus reading…
- Collinson & Melling, 2008. Identification of vagrant Iberian Chiffchaffs – Pointers, pitfalls and problem birds. British Birds 101.
- Svensson, L. 2001. The correct name of the Iberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus ibericus Ticehurst 1937, its identification and new evidence of its winter grounds. Bull. B. O. C. 121.
Just like last year we’re bringing our readers a summary of the past year, reviewing some of the ornithological highlights and discoveries made in Senegal, and recycling some of the pictures and posts that appeared on this website during the past 12 months.
2018 certainly has been a busy year!
We’ll start with the best of all: the discovery of what appears to be an isolated (?) population of Horus Swifts (Martinet horus), some 3,000 km from the nearest known breeding sites and more than 1,600 km from the nearest observations of the species (in northern Ghana). This is probably one of the least expected range extensions uncovered in West Africa in recent years, and something we’re of course quite excited (and rather proud!) of. We found these birds during an epic 4-day trip up north together with Frédéric Bacuez and visiting birder Filip Verroens from Belgium, in early January. Needless to say, the year started off with a bang! Read up the full story here and on Frédéric’s Ornithondar blog (in French). A few of these neat swifts were seen again in February by Frédéric and Daniel Nussbaumer, then in October by Vieux Ngom and myself when some 50 birds were present, again showing signs of local breeding and confirming that these birds are most likely residents here, and just last week a group of visiting American birders saw about 25 birds at Gamadji Sare.
Just a few days earlier, in fact on the first day of the year, we’d already found another species new to Senegal: a Meadow Pipit (Pipit farlouse) at the Yene-Tode lagoon just south of Dakar. This find was a bit more controversial – but probably more expected than those swifts! – in the sense that the pipit shows a fairly unusual plumage for Meadow Pipit and certain characters fit Red-throated Pipit better. However, the unstreaked rump and especially the diagnostic call, which was heard loud & clear several times at close range (but unfortunately not sound-recorded), safely rule out Red-throated Pipit, several of which were present in the area at the same time. Full story, description and many pictures here.
Continuing on the same theme, this past year saw the addition of two more species to the Senegal list: Brown-backed Honeybird – which had already been reported from Wassadou in 2015 but was not documented – and Turati’s Boubou. The former was found by Gabriel Caucanas and friends first at Dindefelo, then at Wassadou and later in the Niokolo-Koba NP (more info here), the latter by resident Casamance birder Bruno Bargain back in October. Both were more or less to be expected and back in July we’d actually predicted that the boubou would be found in Casamance some time soon, given that it is known to occur just across the border in Guinea-Bissau. We’ll write up more about this species in due course, and I hope to soon visit the Ziguinchor area again and see (and record) this little-known species – stay tuned!
With no less than four new species, 2018 definitely boosted the national list which now stands at a respectable 678 species; more on this in a blog piece we wrote on the topic of the national list, which contains a link to a handy spreadsheet with all species seen in Senegal, with English, French and scientific names.
Of course there were also the usual lot of vagrants, mostly Nearctic waders in the Dakar region and especially at Technopole, pretty much as usual!
- Common Shelduck (Tadorne de Belon): eight in the Djoudj NP on 17/1 were likely the same group as seen in the Diawling just across the border in Mauritania on 30/12, while one at Technopole on 18-19/2/18 confirmed the small influx that occurred during the ‘17/’18 winter: 8th and 9th records!
- Red-footed Booby (Fou à pieds rouges): one was photographed at Iles de la Madeleine on 26/1 but was only identified later on, while at Ngor up to two adults were seen on several occasions in spring (17/5-22/5, and again on 11 and 22/6) and one was seen twice in autumn (13 & 15/11). These are the 2nd to 4th records for this tropical seabird, which was seen for the first time in October 2016 only.
- Cinereous (=Black) Vulture (Vautour moine): an imm. west of Fatick on 30/1 and one (different bird) on 26/2 near Sagata, east of Kebemer. These observations coincide with the first records for The Gambia (Feb. ‘18) and Mauritania (Dec. ‘17). We also reported the first record of the species, which had not yet been published so far – more details on the status of this increasing Palearctic vagrant in this piece.
- American Golden Plover (Pluvier bronzé): one at Technopole on 8 April, followed by two autumn birds, at lac Mbeubeusse on 3/11 and barely a week later a different bird at Pointe Sarene near Nianing on 9-10/11. Read more on this species in Senegal here.
- European Golden Plover (Pluvier doré): one at Île de Saloulou (Basse Casamance) on 3/1.
- Lesser Yellowlegs (Chevalier à pattes jaunes): the 8th record was one at Technopole seen by a visiting birder on 8/2 and relocated on 19/2
- Baird’s Sandpiper (Bécasseau de Baird): the second for Senegal (and first properly documented) was found at Technopole on 25/3 and seen again on 8/4.
- Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Bécasseau rousset): two birds stayed for a remarkably long time at Technopole, being present from 13/1 (at least one) up to 19/2 at least, then again on 25/3 though this was probably a new bird given that regular visits earlier in the month failed to relocate the two long-stayers; these are the 8th and 9th records.
- Red-necked Phalarope: (Phalarope à bec étroit): one at Djoudj on 27/2 is the 6th record at least, though it’s quite possible that the species is a more regular visitor than the handful of confirmed records suggest.
- Franklin’s Gull (Mouette de Franklin): one was seen five times between 20/5 and 20/9 at Technopole; we summarised the status and trends of the species in this post.
As usual there are also several African vagrants to be reported, such as Lesser Jacana (Jacana nain) seen on 31/1 and 17/2 (three birds!) at Médina Afia near Manda, Kolda dept., and at Ross Bethio on 15/7 – there are only a handful of previous records, including just one in the north (more on status of this species in this post by Ornithondar). A Pharaoh (= Desert) Eagle-Owl (Grand-duc ascalaphe) filmed at Richard Toll on 20/1 was the third record. Six Senegal Lapwings were found at Kamobeul (Ziguinchor) on 30/9 – apparently the first record in 38 years! Three other species with uncertain status in Senegal – true vagrants or scarce but regular visitors? – were seen in the Niokolo-Koba area: Mottled Swift in February and June; a Forbes’s Plover in June and an Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle on 6/3 (Martinet marbré, Pluvier de Forbes et Aigle d’Ayres) .
A special mention goes to the Kordofan Lark (Alouette du Kordofan) that was photographed at Richard Toll on 1/3 by a group of lucky Belgian birders; this is the first record in several years, and the first pictures to be made available online for this species, prompting us to discuss ID criteria and status in Senegal of this enigmatic Sahel special, see this blog piece co-authored with Simon Cavaillès – by far the most read article on the blog, with more than 500 views since its publication in April.
Several winter visitors were seen in higher than usual numbers or reached areas further south than their usual wintering grounds, such as Short-eared Owl (Hibou des marais; seen in six locations during January-March including a group wintering at Technopole, following the influx in Nov.-Dec.). Other scarce winter visitors included a Little Gull (Mouette pygmée) at Ngor on 12/1, while a group of five Cream-coloured Coursers (Courvite isabelle) near Maleme Hodar (Kaffrine) on 1/3 were possibly the southernmost record ever. Other examples include a Spectacled Warbler (Fauvette à lunettes) near Kaolack on 3/3, a “Desert” Grey Shrike (now surprisingly lumped again with Great rather than Southern Grey Shrike; Pie-grièche grise) in the Boundou reserve on 15/3, and five House Buntings (Bruant du Sahara) at Richard Toll on 1/3.
As usual, a few birds were spotted outside of their regular range in the country: several Pallid Herons on the Cap-Vert peninsula; an African Hawk-Eagle that gave us a bit of an ID challenge at Popenguine (3/11); a Greyish Eagle-Owl photographed at Trois-Marigots on 10/1 (only a couple of previous records from N Senegal, see story on Ornithondar); a Grey Phalarope on 25/2 at Médina Afia (a rare inland record!); a singing Klaas’s Cuckoo near Dagana on 6/10; a Broad-billed Roller at Bango (Saint-Louis) on 31/8; Grey-rumped Swallow at Technopole (7/7); an early Lesser Whitethroat at lake Tanma on 25/9; a Cricket Warbler near Gueuol (north of Kébémer) on 21/11 (Aigle fascié, Grand-duc du Sahel, Phalarope à bec large, Coucou de Klaas, Rolle violet, Hirondelle à croupion gris, Fauvette babillarde, Prinia à front écailleux). In the Djoudj, a Brown Snake-Eagle was reported on 5/12. Familiar Chat and Green Turaco were reported from the Niokolo-Koba NP for the first time, where further observations of Mali Firefinch were made (Traquet familier, Turaco vert, Amarante du Koulikoro). Several species were found for the first time in Casamance, including Glossy Ibis, Singing Bushlark, Plain Martin, Great Reed Warbler – details will follow shortly on this website (Ibis falcinelle, Alouette chanteuse, Hirondelle paludicole, Rousserolle turdoïde). Away from the better known wintering grounds in the north of the country, an Iberian Chiffchaff (Pouillot ibérique) was singing at Wassadou on 25/2, and the Technopole bird found on 31/12/17 continued its presence until 7/1 at least.
New breeding records include what appears to be the first confirmed breeding for the Dakar region of Little Tern in June at Lac Rose with at least 14 nests; in the same location we found a nest of Plain-backed Pipit, while a Quailfinch at lac Mbeubeusse on 18/11 suggests that the species may be breeding in the niayes region (Sterne naine, Pipit à dos uni, Astrild-caille). Successful breeding of White-backed Night-Herons (Bihoreau à dos blanc) was confirmed in two locations in Casamance and breeding is also likely along the Gambia river at Wassadou where Pel’s Fishing Owl (Chouette-pêcheuse de Pel) must also have bred. Black-winged Stilts (Echasse blanche) bred once again at Technopole where low water levels created decent conditions in April-June. And a nice breeding record was that of a female Standard-winged Nightjar found incubating two eggs at Pointe Sarène on 4/8 (Engoulevent à balanciers).
A few unseasonal visitors were noted, e.g. early Marbled Ducks and a Black-necked Grebe near Djoudj on Oct. 6th, Western Olivaceous and Melodious Warblers as well as a Woodchat Shrike and even two European Bee-eaters in June; an adult Sabine’s Gull at Ngor on 30/7 (first July record it seems?), and summer Yellow-legged Gulls at Lac Rose (Sarcelle marbrée, Grèbe à cou noir, Hypolaïs obscure et polyglotte, Pie-grièche à tête rousse, Guêpier d’Europe, Mouette de Sabine, Goéland leucophée). Up north, a White-throated Bee-eater and a Pygmy Sunbird were photographed in January near Saint-Louis (Guêpier à gorge blanche, Souïmanga pygmée).
We also continued our seabird migration monitoring efforts during 2018, both in spring and in autumn. Spring migration was summarised in two posts (covering April and May) but the autumn totals are yet to be published. Highlights included decent numbers of Long-tailed Skua (500!) and Grey Phalaropes (1,256!) seen in August when fairly strong north-westerlies created ideal conditions to see these highly pelagic migrants from the coast; both species saw new day records for West Africa it seems. Other good ones included at least 19 Barolo/Boyd’s Shearwaters in Aug.-Sept., a Sooty Tern on 17/9 and several Bridled Terns, while Great Shearwaters passed through in modest numbers around mid-November (Puffin de Barolo/Macaronésie, Sterne fuligineuse, Sterne bridée, Puffin majeur). A pelagic trip on October 1st yielded reasonable numbers of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (Océanite de Wilson), some shearwaters and skuas, but no rarities this time round. A visiting birder was lucky to see a White-faced Storm Petrel on 3/12 at Iles de la Madeleine, while an observation of Band-rumped Storm Petrel was reported far offshore off Saint-Louis on 25/9 (Océanites frégate et de Castro).
On the ring recovery front, we managed to read some 100 colour rings, mainly of Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gulls (41 & 19, resp.) but also several Greater Flamingos from Spain, a Common Ringed Plover from Portugal, and the first mentions of Avocet in our database (two birds from Spain) as well as a French Mediterranean Gull (“RV2L”) which appears to be the first recovery of this species from Senegal (Goélands d’Audouin et railleur, Flamant rose, Grand Gravelot, Avocette, Mouette mélanocéphale). I now have some 420 ring recoveries in my little database: maybe this year I’ll find time to write up some of the key findings.
A few blog posts on birding sites and other topics were published in 2018, namely the following:
- Senegal as a destination for birders, written up by Paul Robinson following his visit to the UK Bird Fair in 2017
- Blog posts on the birds of Dindefelo and Wassadou following visits to these two major birding hotspots in the south-east of the country
- The Casamance Bird Atlas by the association APALIS
- Birding the Niokolo-Koba: guest blog by John Rose and Dimitri Dagone
- The formal protection of Technopole back in October was of course a major event
- A xeno-canto audio guide to the birds of Senegal
- Last but certainly not least, the last blog piece of the year covered the description of a new species of Square-tailed Drongo
We’ve also been pretty active writing up more formal pieces on birds in Senegal, with several articles published in 2018. This post is actually getting a bit too long so I’ll write about these recent publications in a forthcoming article. For now, go out birding!
Finally, thanks to all our readers for their support and encouragement throughout the year, which has seen a further increase in number of page views (almost 25,000) and website visitors. Oh and do let me know if I forgot anything in the above review, which is just an informal overview – nothing official here!
A visit to Popenguine nature reserve a couple of weeks ago quickly turned into a exciting few hours watching a good variety of raptors – something we’re not much used to in this part of Senegal, where there are few sites that are good for raptors, and most of the time anything else than a Yellow-billed Kite, Osprey or Hooded Vulture will qualify as a good record. Here’s a short overview, in order of appearance!
As always, several Ospreys were to be seen in the reserve; a few birds usually spend the night on the mighty baobabs that dot the Popenguine savanna, and all day long Ospreys can be seen flying around the cliffs or fishing out at sea. Later that same day at the lagoon just south of Toubab Dialaw, we had a good count of some 29 birds, all visible at the same time (Balbuzard). Popenguine of course also had a few Yellow-billed Kites patrolling the area (Milan à bec jaune).
As we were looking for a Common Rock Thrush we’d briefly spotted on a ridge ahead of the footpath, we noticed first an immature Peregrine Falcon flying around, then a European Hobby – the latter a scarce migrant through Senegal so always a good find. Hobby was already seen at Popenguine around the same time last year by Miguel. This time round it looked like it was an actively migrating individual, just like a Common Kestrel that briefly made an appearance shortly after (Faucons pèlerin, hobereau et crécerelle).
Next up was a Marsh Harrier circling in the distance, again probably a bird on its way to wintering grounds further south (Busard des roseaux). I’ve always thought that Popenguine would be a fairly strategic site to look for actively migrating raptors and other birds. Should be interesting to spend a few days here in October-November and February-March!
This Short-toed Eagle on the other hand was probably one of the 2-3 birds that typically spend the winter in the area around Popenguine and Guereo.
Far less expected than the previous species was an African Hawk-Eagle, spotted by Gabriel as it arrived from the north-east and made its way towards the cliffs, at one point circling together with a couple of Ospreys. Initially we weren’t quite sure about its identity and tentatively id’d this bird as a Bonelli’s Eagle, wondering whether a juvenile African Hawk-Eagle could be ruled out, and were a bit puzzled by the very pale appearance of this eagle. Luckily I managed a few record shots, a bit distant and hazy but they should do the trick. The plumage seemed to still be within the variation of worn juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle, but moult should not start until the second year and this bird shows clear moult contrast on with fresh inner primaries growing. Simon was the first to point out, after this post was originally published, that it looked more like African Hawk-Eagle. I eventually sent out the picture for comments, and Dick Forsman kindly responded, confirming that it’s an African Hawk-Eagle: “It is overall lighter below, the juvenile remiges (primaries + secondaries) are too light and too poorly barred below for a juv. Bonelli’s and the replaced inner primary shows just a dark tip without any further barring. Note also the translucent primaries in the images with blue sky, another pro-spilogaster feature.” Thanks Dick! (post updated Dec. 27)
African Hawk-Eagle is reasonable common it seems through the southern half of Senegal, and is a classic sighting e.g. in the Niokolo-Koba area. There are some records from the Saloum delta and even from the middle Senegal valley (as per Morel & Morel and Sauvage & Rodwell), but as far as I know this is the first from the Petite Côte.
I’m still hoping to see Bonelli’s Eagle one day in the Djoudj, Trois-Marigots or elsewhere in the Senegal valley, the only area with more or less regular records in winter (mainly by Frédéric, who year after year has documented the presence of a few birds around Saint Louis and who nicely summarised the current knowledge about this scarce species in West Africa, in this post on Ornithondar).
After we’d reached the top of the cliffs, next up was this Eurasian Griffon which appeared to be actively migrating along the coastline, just like a second bird we’d see a couple of hours later that same morning near Yène.
Barely a few minutes later, Gabriel strikes again with a young Lanner making a brief appearance, just as we were heading back towards the reserve entrance (Faucon lanier). That’s four species of falcons, not bad! In previous years we’ve also had Barbary Falcon near the cliffs, and surely Red-necked Falcon and Grey Kestrel must also occur at least occasionally, while in the wet season it may be possible to encounter African Hobby.
We thought we’d seen pretty much everything when at the last minute a Shikra was seen dashing over the pond (all but dry!), bringing our morning’s total to 11 birds of prey.
Besides all these hooked beaks, as always the nature reserve held quite a few other good bird, such as Gosling’s Bunting, Green-winged Pytillia, Sahel Paradise-Whydah, Blue Rock Thrush, and Northern Anteater Chat. In the end we saw two different Common (=Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrushes, a scarce migrant in Senegal, see this post on our first encounter with the species, in February 2016 at… Popenguine! Also a decent flock of Pallid Swifts and a few White-throated Bee-eaters, both pretty good bonus species, while two Pygmy Kingfishers including at least one dark-billed juvenile provided proof that the species is breeding here.
Complete eBird checklist available here.
The bird list for the Popenguine reserve now stands at some 198 species, at a minimum that is: I listed more than 20 other species as being most likely present, but which apparently remain to be confirmed. More on that over here.
Oh and then there were the butterflies – pure magic! Thousands and thousands of butterflies everywhere, especially along the track up the cliffs. With every footstep, small clouds of butterflies would explode, while a constant stream of butterflies was passing by the cliffs. Our visit clearly took place during peak migration season of Painted Lady which were the vast majority, and to a lesser extent some pieridae. And loads of dragonflies! Difficult to capture on camera but if you look carefully at the image below you’ll get a bit of a sense of what I’m trying to explain here.
Quick note to report Senegal’s 12th and 13th American Golden Plovers, a species that is now near-annual here but which always remains a good find.
We found the first of the season last weekend at lac Mbeubeusse (north of Keur Massar) which we visited early afternoon on our way back from a very enjoyable trip to Popenguine – more on that visit in an upcoming post. Both the date (3 November) and the location are rather typical for this wader: out of the 11 previous records, eight are from the Dakar region, and three were obtained between mid-October and mid-December. Paul had already seen a bird in the same location back in March 2013: needless to say that lac Mbeubeusse ought to be visited much more frequently than just a handful of times per year: pretty much every visit is bound to turn up something good. As always we can only speculate about the number of Nearctic vagrants that pass through Senegal every year or that end up spending the winter here…
After spotting what looked like a suspicious Pluvialis plover (= anything but a Grey Plover), based on the fairly contrasted plumage, seemingly long-bodied and long-legged appearance combined with a small-ish bill, we had to wait a while, gradually approaching the lake’s edge, before we could confirm that it was indeed a “Lesser” Golden Plover (= American or Pacific GP). The important primary projection with wing tips reaching well beyond the tail, bronzy rump and lower back, dark-capped head with distinctive pale supercilium and forehead, and most significantly at one point the bird stretched its wings upwards which allowed us to see the grey underwing. Everything else about the bird was pretty standard for a first-year American Golden Plover. Bingo!
To get a sense of the potential of lac Mbeubeusse for waders and other waterbirds, check out our eBird checklist: other good birds here included hundreds of Northern Shovelers and many Garganeys, Ruffs, Little Stints and Common Ringed Plovers, several Curlew Sandpipers and Dunlins, quite a few Audouin’s Gulls, a few terns including all three species of Chlidonias marsh terns, 124 Greater Flamingos, at least one Red-rumped Swallow, etc. etc. All this with Dakar’s giant rubbish tip as a backdrop, spewing black smoke and gradually covering the niaye in a thick layer of waste on its western edge… quite a sad contrast with all the bird life. And definitely not the most idyllic birding hotspot!
Number 13 was found by Mark Finn barely a week later, on Friday Nov. 9th, at one of the lagoons near Pointe Sarène, south of Mbour. As I happened to spend the weekend at nearby Nianing and was planning on visiting Sarène anyway, I went there the following day and easily located the bird, an adult moulting into winter plumage. Unlike the previous bird, it was actively feeding on the shores of a seasonal pond surrounded by pastures and fields, along with several other waders including Ruff, Redshank, Greenshank, Redshank. Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Turnstone, Common Sandpiper, and Common Snipe. This appears to be the first record along the Petite Côte south of Dakar, at a site that has great potential for shorebirds and other migrants: around Nianing, Sarène and Mbodiène are several seasonal lakes that fill up during the rains, as well as coastal saltwater (or brackish) lagoons as can be seen on the map below. The marker shows where the AGP was feeding on Saturday.
Despite being a bit distant I managed some decent record shots of the bird, but unfortunately my camera was stolen later in the weekend… so these pictures are lost forever to humanity. Not that I would have won any prizes with them. So no more blurred pictures from the field on this blog for a little while.
The Sarène bird looked pretty much like this one, just slightly less black on the chest:
Anyway, as I think we’ve already mentioned in the past, “AGP” is the most frequent Nearctic wader in Senegal and more generally in West Africa, followed by Buff-breasted Sandpiper (nine Senegalese records so far) and Lesser Yellowlegs (eight). See this post for a list of the first eight known AGP records for Senegal. Since then (spring 2017), the following sightings are to be added:
- April-May 2017: an adult and two 2nd c.y. birds from 17.4 – 1.5 at least, with a fourth bird (= technically an additional record) up to 21.5., at Technopole (BP, Theo Peters, Wim Mullié, Miguel Lecoq, Ross Wanless, Justine Dosso)
- 8 April 2018: an adult or 2nd c.y. at Technopole (BP) – photos above and more info here.
- 3 November 2018: one 1st c.y. at lac Mbeubeusse, Dakar (BP, Gabriel Caucanas, Miguel Lecoq, Ross Wanless)
- 9-10 November 2018: one ad. at Sarène, Thiès region (M. Finn et al., BP)
Out of these 12 records, eight are from Dakar (mostly Technopole of course!), just one from the north – the first country record, in 1979 – and two are from Basse-Casamance where the species may well winter, at least occasionally. And six of these records are from just the past four years: one in 2015, four birds in 2017, and now already three birds this year. American Golden Plovers tend to mainly show up in spring (April-May) and in autumn (Oct.-Nov.) as shown in this little chart below; it’s also in spring that they linger the longest: in spring 2017, Technopole saw a continued presence during five weeks, involving at least four different birds. Note that birds that stayed for several days across two months are counted in both months.
A few more hazy pictures from the Mbeubeusse bird:
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).
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.
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!
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!
New Year, New Birds! Apparently I found another new species to Senegal – needless to say that this resulted in a rather successful day out birding. Which left me wondering, rather pointlessly, how many country firsts have been found on the first day of the year.
So I first went to Lac Rose, and more specifically the steppe to the NE of the lake as this area had produced a lot of good birds last winter, including three or even four Buff-breasted Sandpipers. I was keen to go back and see if any of the “specials” were around again this winter. One of the first birds I found in the short grass was Greater Short-toed Lark, so things were off to a good start.
As I started walking on the far end of the steppe, I found a very pale wheatear: a textbook Isabelline Wheatear, just like last year in January.
The same area held three Tawny Pipits and a few other birds, though not the hoped-for Temminck’s Coursers.
Towards the end of my visit I came across this Southern Grey Shrike – cool bird, but a bit too flighty to allow for decent pictures.
Also around were several Kittlitz’s Plovers (+ Common Ringed and Kentish on the lake shores), at least four Quailfinches thus confirming the species’ presence in the Niayes IBA, a Black-headed Heron, Vieillot’s Barbet dueting in the distance, and so on.
Next up: the Yène-Tode lagoon. While on my previous visit, barely two weeks earlier (17/12), there was still a good amount of water, by now the lake has all but dried up: just a little trickle here and a small pool there, with just a handful of Black-winged Stilts, Spur-winged Lapwings, a lone Knot, Common Sandpiper and a few other waders. With all the waterbirds gone, I didn’t think I’d see much on this visit, but was soon proved to be very wrong!
Shortly after getting out the car, I located a small flock of Yellow Wagtails feeding on a green patch in what used to be the lagoon just a few weeks earlier. A pipit amidst the wagtails was either going to be a Tree or (more likely) a Red-throated Pipit, so I got the bird in the scope… and was a bit puzzled at first that it didn’t fit either species?! As I approached, it flew off and called a few times, confirming my suspicion: a Meadow Pipit!! It landed a hundred meters or so further in more dense vegetation. I knew this was a good species for the country and wanted to get better views and maybe even a few pictures (I didn’t quite realise it had never been confirmed in Senegal before!), so I went after it, flushed it and again heard the diagnostic hurried hiist-ist-ist-ist flight call. It returned to the original spot, and this time round I got really good views plus a few record shots:
Note the dense streaking on a pale buffy background with streaks clotting together on middle of breast, general lack of warm tones (as would be the case for Tree Pipit), fine bill with diffuse yellowish base, absence of clear pale lines on the mantle (as in Red-throated), the “gentle” expression with fairly pale lores, an indistinct supercilium and narrow-ish submoustachial (what a word!) stripe. The rump was clearly unstreaked (thus ruling out Red-throated Pipit) and while I didn’t manage any good pictures of the hind toe, it did appear quite long and pictures show it to be only moderately curved (ruling out Tree Pipit). These pipits are no easy birds to identify on plumage, but luckily the call is so typical and unlike any other pipit that it allowed for a safe ID while I was watching the bird, and I was lucky to get a few decent shots. A few people have asked me to provide more pictures, so here they are – all are originals without any editing except for cropping.
This bird was obviously in a fresh plumage, and can be aged as a first-winter bird based on the shape and colour of the median coverts: the ‘tooth’ on the dark centre with a clear white tip (Svensson 1992) is quite visible in the pictures.
Meadow Pipit is of course a common species throughout much of Europe, be it as a breeding bird or on passage or as a winter visitor. Its non-breeding range covers western Europe and most of the Mediterranean Basin, extending along the Atlantic coast down to the Canary Islands and Morocco. In Mauritania it is considered to be scarce but regular, reaching as far as the Senegal river delta, more or less as shown on the map below (borrowed from xeno-canto). Surely it must occur at least irregularly in northern Senegal, given its status in nearby Mauritania?
While relocating the Meadow Pipit, I also flushed no less than eight Red-throated Pipits as well as three Common Quails. Two Collared Pratincoles were hanging out by the last puddles; the Marsh Harriers and most of the Ospreys are now gone, but there were still at least two Short-toed Eagles in the area, with another two along the track back to Rufisque. Two Mosque Swallow were also around, while two Zebra Waxbills were rather unexpected, given that they’re not supposed to occur in the Dakar region (see last year’s post on the sighting of a group at Technopole). Tawny Pipit was another addition to the site’s ever-growing list.
Following a very successful morning yesterday at Technopole (Short-eared Owl! Iberian Chiffchaff! Jack Snipe!) I stopped by to have a closer look at the numerous waders, given that yesterday I’d forgotten my telescope at home… Nothing out of the ordinary to report today, just tons of waders, gulls (incl. two Mediterranean Gulls) and lots of Caspian Terns (+150, and now also 27 Greater Flamingos (nine were present yesterday). And I relocated the Iberian Chiffchaff quite easily as it’s singing regularly, and tends to keep to a single bush – more on this in another post.
Oh and happy new year!