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Wet season visitors, Popenguine & co.

Every year during the wet season, the Sahel undergoes an impressive transformation, the landscape turning all lush green in the space of just a few weeks. Four visits to the northern Petite Côte area in just as many weeks were a nice opportunity to see this extremely rapid transition from ultra-dry to completely soaked terrain. And with it of course the associated changes in bird life.

On our first excursion to Popenguine mid-August, shortly after the onset of the first few rains, the reserve was still bone dry, only the baobabs being all green & leafy while grasses has only just begun to sprout.

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Exactly one month later, this is what the same area looked like (the same baobab tree can be seen in both pictures):

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Impressive, right? It never ceases to amaze me how fast everything grows here once the rains arrive!

For now, back to mid-August when all was dry, and when the highlights of our visit were a juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo (locally hatched?)…

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Great Spotted Cuckoo / Coucou-geai juv.

 

… a female Standard-winged Nightjar (on transit, looking for greener pastures? August is breeding season here for the species…)…

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Standard-winged Nightjar / Engoulevent à balanciers f.

 

… and finally this juvenile Peregrine Falcon circling briefly above the cliffs before disappearing towards the village – an early record here, though perhaps not that surprising given that the species breeds early in the Mediterranean, even if the pair that winters in Dakar every year typically shows up around mid-October only.

 

 

Fast-forward ten days, after copious showers in the preceding days, and the lagoons of the region were now completely filled – in particular the Yene lagoon which I’ve never seen this high:

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Few waterbirds were around but this will surely change in coming weeks; a Knob-billed Duck amongst the White-faced Whistling Ducks was the most notable species here (Canard à bosse, Dendrocygne veuf). Should be interesting to see how the birdlife evolves here in the next few months, and what species will show up this year (last year with the lack of rains the site was pretty disappointing, should be far more interesting this year!!).

A stroll on one of the hills above Toubab Dialaw produced several Savile’s Bustards and Singing Bush Larks, while Mottled Spinetails were flying above the small escarpment… Klaas’s and Diederik Cuckoos were heard near the village (Outarde de Savile, Alouette chanteuse, Martinet d’Ussher, Coucous de Klaas et didric).

The bustards were particularly vocal and obviously occur in good densities here, with at least 4-5 birds responding to one another. Recording here on xeno-canto; picture of habitat below. This rather sought-after Sahel special is clearly easy to find here, even if rather disturbed habitat, particularly during the rains but they may sing – albeit the shorter version of their song, and less regularly – throughout the dry season as well. They’re often difficult to spot and even a careful approach to a singing bird will usually result in just a brief glimpse, a bird flushed from low bushes, or no sighting at all… Senegal and to a lesser extent The Gambia currently remain pretty much the only easily accessible countries to find this species.

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A male Sahel Paradise Whydah in full breeding plumage was encountered along the track leading to Diass:

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Sahel Paradise Whydah / Veuve à collier d’or m. ad.

 

Back to Popenguine on Sept. 8th, this time round for a very enjoyable bike tour through the bush between the villages of Popenguine, Ndayene and Toubab Dialaw (with Teranga Bike Adventure, highly recommended!) which provided a different kind of birding experience. Again Savile’s Bustard and Singing Bush Larks which are both very vocal at the moment, a Black-headed Lapwing breeding record (adult with chick), a Green Sandpiper flushed from a small pool along one of the tracks, a few Gull-billed Terns feeding over moist grassland, a Broad-billed Roller, Yellow-billed Oxpecker feeding on a donkey, a Gosling’s Bunting, and so on (Outarde de Savile, Alouette chanteuse, Vanneau à tête noire, Chevalier culblanc, Sterne hansel, Rolle violet, Piqueboeuf, Bruant d’Alexander).

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Black-headed Lapwing / Vanneau à tête noire (Yene, Dec. 2017)

 

Last Sunday, Popenguine nature reserve again: the usual suspects such as Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin (the resident ssp. minor, “African Scrub Robin”), Stone Partridge, Helmeted GuineafowlSenegal Batis, several Sahel Paradise Whydahs including males in display flight and a few females, one of which was clearly interested in a pair of Green-winged Pytilias which is the host species of this brood parasite (Agrobate roux, Poulette de roche, Pintade de Numidie, Pririt du Senegal, Veuve a collier d’or, Beaumarquet melba). Woodland Kingfisher and Klaas’s Cuckoo had joined the ranks of the intra-African migrants that move north with the rains and that occur in Popenguine (Martin-chasseur du Sénégal, Coucou de Klaas).

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Sahel Paradise Whydah / Veuve à collier d’or f.

 

Several Gosling’s Buntings were singing at the top of the Cap de Naze cliffs, with one bird posing quite nicely at short range:

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Gosling’s Bunting / Bruant d’Alexander

 

Migrant songbirds have now started to arrive from Europe: at least three Sand Martins were flying overhead, clearly heading south, when I arrived by the pond which by now is completely filled with water; I heard a Tree Pipit, saw 4-5 migrating Barn Swallows, while the acacias and bushes held a few Melodious Warblers, Willow Warblers, a Common Whitethroat, and even a fine Nightingale. (Hirondelles de rivage et rustique, Pipit des arbres, Hippolais polyglotte, Pouillot fitis, Fauvette grisette, Rossignol philomèle).

The Popenguine eBird checklists along with other recent records from the area – including a surprising African Crake seen by Miguel – can be found here.

Plenty more to come!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Petite revue de la bibliographie ornithologique sénégalaise, 2016-2019 (Troisième partie)

Cette troisième et dernière partie de notre petite série sur la littérature ornithologique sénégalaise concerne la documentation des divers ajouts à l’avifaune du pays. Les publications qui suivent décrivent donc les « premières » pour le pays, par ordre chronologique de publication.

Ces articles ont été publiés dans l’un ou l’autre des deux revues de prédilection pour ce type de notes, soit le Bulletin de l’African Bird Club et Malimbus de la Socété d’ornithologie de l’Ouest africain (à laquelle, en passant, chaque ornitho qui s’interésse à l’avifaune du Sénégal ou de manière plus large de l’Afrique de l’Ouest devrait adhérer!).

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Pour une liste complète des nouvelles espèces de ces douze dernières années, voir ce billet; voir aussi les parties I et II de notre revue bibliographique.

 

  • Première mention du Merle obscur pour le Sénégal: Benjumea & Pérez 2016. First record of Eyebrowed Thrush Turdus obscurus for Senegal and sub-Saharan Africa. Bull. ABC 23: 215-216.

Découverte fortuite incroyable, le 10/12/15 dans un jardin d’hôtel, par deux ornithos espagnols en marge d’une de leurs missions d’étude dans le PN de la Langue de Barbarie. Il s’agit de la deuxième mention de cette espèce sibérienne sur le continent africain, alors qu’elle hiverne normalement en Asie du sud-est, la première provenant de Merzouga au Maroc en décembre 2008. Comme quoi presque n’importe quel migrateur à longue distance d’origine paléarctique peut se retrouver égaré dans nos contrées… et comme quoi, ça sert de toujours avoir un appareil photo à portée de main!

 

  • Delannoy 2016. Les premières observations de l’Alouette à queue rousse Pinarocorys erythropygia au Sénégal. Malimbus 38: 80-82.

La première observation documentée de cette alouette peu connue a été faite dans le Boundou du 10 au 12 novembre 2015, suivant deux observations antérieures non encore publiées formellement, toutes deux du Niokolo-Koba: la première en février 1985, la deuxième en novembre 1992.

C’est donc une alouette à rechercher en hiver dans le sud-est du pays, mais son apparition est probablement très aléatoire, étant une espèce à caractère erratique qui se trouve ici tout à fait en limite de son aire “hivernale” régulière. Elle fréquente les savanes arborées ouvertes tout comme des zones cultivées, affectionnant particulièrement des zones récemment brûlées.

 

  • Première observation de la Bergeronnette à longue queue au Sénégal: Pacheco, Ruiz de Azua & Fernández-García 2017. First record of Mountain Wagtail Motacilla clara for Senegal. Bull. ABC 24: 88-89.

Cette mention de Dindéfélo en mars 2015 reste pour le moment la seule pour le pays, bien qu’il soit possible que cette bergeronnette soit un visiteur non-nicheur plus ou moins régulier dans l’extrême sud-est du pays, dans les contreforts du Fouta-Djallon. A rechercher aux abords du fleuve Gambie et des ruisseaux de vallons autour de Kédougou.

 

  • Observations remarquables du Sénégal, dont la première de l’Engoulevent pointillé: Blanc et al. 2018. Noteworthy records from Senegal, including the first Freckled Nightjar Caprimulgus tristigma. Bull. ABC 25: 58-61.

En plus de la description des observations de l’engoulevent, espèce maintenant considérée comme résidente à Dindéfélo et sans doute dans des milieux similaires dans les environs, les auteurs rapportent des données nouvelles concernant l’Engoulevent doré (dans le Khelkom), à Dindéfélo le Drongo occidental (encore le Drongo de Ludwig à l’époque, auparavant connu uniquement de la Casamance), le Traquet de Heuglin (nicheur sur le plateau de Dande) ainsi que le très discret Sénégali à ventre noir, et enfin le Bihoreau à dos blanc et le Martin-pêcheur azuré au bord du fleuve Gambie à Mako. Ces deux derniers sont depuis plusieurs années assez régulièrement observés dans cette région, notamment autour de Wassadou.

Avec l’espèce précédente, le Trogon narina et deux indicateurs différents, Dindefelo détient clairement la palme en tant que hotspot pour la découverte de nouvelles espèces pour le pays.

 

  • Première donnée du Fou à pieds rouges au Sénégal: Moran et al. First record of Red-footed Booby Sula sula for Senegal. Bull. ABC 25: 213-215.

Le 19/10/16, un Fou à pieds rouges immature a été photographié à environ 10 milles marins au nord de Dakar, lors d’une sortie en mer en marge du PAOC, observation que nous avions déjà rapportée ici. Depuis, pas moins de quatre mentions supplémentaires sont connues, toutes autour de la presqu’île du Cap-Vert: un oiseau en janvier 2018 au PNIM, puis trois fois à Ngor en 2018-2019 dont quelques oiseaux ayant stationné pendant plusieurs semaines ou même mois (deux ind. en mai-juin 2018, un en novembre 2018, et un vu régulièrement en juin-août 2019 dont encore ce 12/8 comme les quatres jours précédents!).

Avec l’augmentation des effectifs aux Iles du Cap Vert on peut s’attendre à d’autres observations dans le futur.

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Red-footed Booby / Fou à pieds rouges, au large de Dakar, Oct. 2016 (B. van Gemerden)

 

  • Première observation d’une Frégate superbe pour le Sénégal: Piot & Lecoq 2018. First record of Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens for Senegal. Bull. ABC 25: 216-218.

Notre observation de fin avril 2017 reste pour le moment la seule confirmée pour le pays. Bien qu’il puisse s’agir d’une des deux dernières femelles des Îles du Cap-Vert (où l’espèce ne niche plus depuis 1999), une origine néotropicale semble plus probable. Le site de reproduction le plus proche de l’Afrique de l’Ouest est l’île de Fernando de Noronha, situé au nord-est du Brésil à environ 2’650 km de Dakar. D’autres données de frégates dans la sous-région concernent des observations en Gambie (Frégates superbes en 1965 et 1980, puis une frégate sp. en 2005) et au Ghana (Frégate aigle-de-mer F. aquila en 2010, espèce aussi notée aux iles du Cap-Vert en 2017 et donc également d’apparition possible dans les eaux sénégalaises). A quand la prochaine mention dans le pays?

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Magnificent Frigatebird / Frégate superbe f., PNIM, April 2016 (BP)

 

  • Première donnée du Pipit farlouse au Sénégal: Piot 2018. First record of Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis for Senegal. Malimbus 40: 67-69.

Le 1er janvier 2018, j’ai la chance de trouver un Pipit farlouse aux abords de la lagune de Yène sur la Petite Côte non loin de Dakar. Bien que l’identification ait été confirmée par les cris caractéristiques de l’espèce, plusieurs personnes semblent toujours douter de l’identité de cet oiseau, me disant qu’il s’agit plutôt d’un Pipit à gorge rousse… Le plumage assez contrasté de cet oiseau de permier hiver peut effectivement faire penser à cette espèce, mais d’autres critères et notamment l’absence de stries sur le croupion (visibles sur photo, comme celle-ci) permettent d’éliminer le Pipit à gorge rousse, tout comme le cri d’ailleurs qui est très différent. L’espèce étant connue du sud de la Mauritanie, l’apparition d’un Pipit farlouse égaré au Sénégal n’est pas bien étonnante.

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Meadow Pipit / Pipit farlouse, Yene, Jan. 2018 (BP)

 

En plus de ces sept publications, plusieurs autres sont sous presse ou sont sur le point d’être soumis et seront publiés dans les mois à venir : l’Indicateur de Wahlberg vu plusieurs fois en 2018 (Caucanas et al.), le Gonolek de Turati en 2018 (Bargain & Piot) et l’Anomalospize parasite en février 2019 (Bargain, Caucal & de Montaudouin) tous les deux découverts en Casamance, et enfin la Tourterelle turque en 2016 (BP).

Il y a aussi quelques premières obs encore non encore publiées formellement, notamment nos Martinets horus (rédaction prévue!) de l’an dernier et l’Indicateur de Willcocks de février dernier. Tout comme des mentions un peu moins récentes d’oiseaux qui pour le moment ont été observés une seule fois dans le pays (Epervier d’Europe, Milan royal, Grue cendréeBécasseau d’Alaska) mais dont je doute qu’une publication verra un jour le jour, bien malheureusement…

Quoiqu’il en soit, je vous tiens bien entendu au courant de la suite!

 

Je me permets de terminer en faisant un peu de pub pour une autre publication sur les oiseaux du Sénégal, dans un tout autre registre de celles qui précèdent mais toute aussi intéressante : un recit de voyage naturaliste sous forme de magazine auto-édité par mes amis Frédéric et Jérémy. Truffée de superbes photos, des textes riches en informations pertinentes et anecdotes diverses, c’est bien plus qu’un simple rapport de voyage, où chacun trouvera quelque chose à son goût. De Dakar au Djoudj en passant par les Trois-Marigots, le Gandiolais, et bien d’autres encore!

A decouvrir (et à commander) ici

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Petite revue de la bibliographie ornithologique sénégalaise, 2016-2019 (Deuxième partie)

Si les publications passées en revue dans la première partie étaient en grande partie issues d’études scientifiques menées par des chercheurs académiques, les articles présentés ici sont pour la plupart rédigés par des ornithologues de terrain et de passionnés d’oiseaux fréquentant régulièrement le pays ou qui, comme moi, ont la chance d’y résider et de pouvoir apporter des contributions, certes modestes, à nos connaissances de l’avifaune. Finalement il y aura encore une troisième partie, sinon cet article serait un peu trop long et risquerait de devenir un peu trop ennuyeux!

On s’intéresse ici donc essentiellement au statut et à la répartition des oiseaux du Sénégal, avec dans l’ordre taxonomique les publications suivantes, toujours pour la période 2016-2019:

  • Mortalité massive de Puffins majeurs le long de la côte de la Gambie en juin 2011, et observations récentes au Sénégal: Barlow, Piot & Fox 2018. Great Shearwater Ardenna gravis mass mortality in The Gambia in June 2011, recent observations from Senegal, and evidence for migration patterns. Malimbus 40: 10-20.

Au moins 103 Puffins majeurs sont trouvés rejetés sur 7 km de plages en Gambie en juin 2011, constituant les premières données de l’espèce pour ce pays. Les mesures biométriques à partir de 18 crânes sont présentées et nous résumons les observations publiées pour le Sénégal, la Mauritanie et les îles du Cap-Vert, tout en rapportant de nouvelles informations pour le Sénégal (issues de mes suivis de la migration devant Ngor!). Les mouvements de Puffins majeurs suivis par satellite depuis les sites de reproduction de l’Hémisphère Sud vers l’Atlantique Nord ainsi que leurs stratégies de nourrissage au cours de leur migration sont discutés. La faim est proposée comme cause probable de la mort des oiseaux échoués.

Nous avons également pu contribuer des données récentes obtenues à Ngor à deux autres articles récents traitant d’observations d’oiseaux de mer en Gambie, rédigés par nos collègues gambiens Clive Barlow et Geoff Dobbs :

  • Barlow 2017. First proof of Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus in The Gambia, May 2012. Malimbus 39: 56-58 [Première preuve pour le Puffin fuligineux en Gambie, en mai 2012]
  • Barlow & Dobbs 2019. New observations of five species of pelagic seabirds in The Gambia in early 2018, with information from previous years. Malimbus 41: 32-40 [Nouvelles observations de cinq espèces d’oiseaux de mer en janvier-février 2018 en Gambie].
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Great Shearwater / Puffin majeur, Ngor, Nov. 2017 (BP)

 

  • Le Grèbe castagneux, aujourd’hui une espèce reproductrice résidente en Gambie, avec une aire de reproduction au Sénégal étendue: Barlow, Piot & Bargain 2018. Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis now a breeding resident in The Gambia, with an expanded breeding range in Senegal. Malimbus 40: 47-54.

Nous rapportons ici l’historique du Grèbe castagneux en Gambie et au Sénégal, en fournissant des données nouvelles sur la reproduction et de nouveaux sites de nidification depuis 2001. L’utilisation de plans d’eau artificiels en tant que sites de nidification contribue à l’extension de la saison de reproduction ainsi que de l’aire de répartition dans cette région.

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Sites de nidification du Grèbe castagneux au Sénégal et en Gambie

 

  • Taille de la population et phénologie de reproduction du Phaéton à bec rouge aux Iles de la Madeleine: Diop et al. 2019. Population Size and Breeding Phenology of Red-Billed Tropicbirds (Phaethon aethereus) on Iles de la Madeleine, Senegal. Waterbirds 42: 100-106.

La phénologie de reproduction et la répartition dans les sites de nidification des phaétons ont fait l’objet d’un suivi du 6 juin 2014 au 18 mai 2016 dans le PN des Îles de la Madeleine, avec des visites tous les 15 jours pour enregistrer les nids actifs et leur contenu. Ngoné et ses collegues trouvé jusqu’à 76 sites de nidification mais seulement 49 étaient actifs en 2014-2015 et 45 en 2015-2016. Les phaétons se reproduisent tout au long de l’année, mais le nombre de nids actifs a culminé d’octobre à janvier, ce qui peut être lié au caractère saisonnier de l’upwelling océanique. Les nids ont été regroupés dans quatre zones et leur répartition et leur occupation peuvent être liées à la direction du vent pendant le pic de reproduction saisonnier d’octobre à mai. Le succès de reproduction était généralement élevé (62,9% en 2014-2015 et 47,3% en 2015-2016) par rapport aux autres colonies se reproduisant dans des eaux moins productives. Étant donné la singularité et la petite taille de cette population, une surveillance, une gestion et une protection stricte sont nécessaires pour garantir sa viabilité.

  • Effectif exceptionnel de Vautours percnoptères observé au Sénégal en novembre 2017, avec historique et actualisation de son statut au Sénégal et en Gambie: Caucanas, Piot, Barlow & Phipps 2018. A major count of the Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus in Senegal in November 2017, with notes on its history and current status in Senegal and The Gambia. Malimbus 40: 55-66.

Nous rapportons l’observation d’un groupe de 30 Percnoptères d’Egypte le 26/11/17 dans la RNC du Boundou, soit le groupe le plus important jamais documenté au Sénégal et en Gambie et l’un des plus importants pour le Sahel. En déclin rapide dans la plus grande partie de son aire de répartition, nous dressons un état des lieux des observations et données obtenues par suivi GPS depuis la première mention en 1913, et nous proposons qu’elle soit considérée comme migratrice peu fréquente ne nichant pas dans ces deux pays, étant régulière seulement dans l’extrême est du Sénégal.

  • Déclin d’une population urbaine de Vautours charognards sur 50 ans à Dakar: Mullié et al. 2017. The decline of an urban Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus population in Dakar, Senegal, over 50 years. Ostrich 88: 131-138.

A Dakar, comme dans de nombreux centres urbains de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, les Vautours charognards ont toujours été des charognards urbains caractéristiques. Le récent déclin dans d’autres parties de l’Afrique a motivé, en 2015, son inscription sur la Liste rouge de l’UICN comme espèce menacée « En danger critique d’extinction ». Comme nous l’avons déjà rapporté, nous avons mené une enquête sur son statut actuel à Dakar afin d’effectuer une comparaison avec les données disponibles depuis un demi-siècle. Une forte baisse (>85%) a été notée, la population estimée passant de 3’000 individus en 1969 à seulement 400 en 2016. Ce déclin correspond aux chutes constatées ailleurs en Afrique mais contraste avec les populations apparemment stables de la Gambie à la Guinée. Les causes probables sont 1) une urbanisation galopante entraînant une perte de sites d’alimentation et une réduction de la disponibilité de nourriture, 2) un empoisonnement accru de chiens sauvages due à une recrudescence de la rage et 3) une disparition accrue des arbres appropriés pour la nidification et le repos.

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Hooded Vulture / Vautour charognard, Technopole, June 2019 (BP)

 

  • Voies de migration de la population méditerranéenne de la Sterne voyageuse: Hamza et al. 2017. Migration flyway of the Mediterranean breeding Lesser Crested Tern Thalasseus bengalensis emigrates. Ostrich 88: 53-58.

Un programme de baguage a été mis en place de 2006 à 2012 dans les colonies de Libye, soit les seules sites en Méditerrannée. A partir d’un total de 1354 couvées baguées à l’aide de bagues métalliques et/ou couleurs, 64 ont été retrouvées le long de leur voie migratoire ou sur leur aire d’hivernage.

Cependant, les auteurs écrivent que « le Sénégal et la Gambie sont au cœur de l’aire d’hivernage, » affirmation erronée rectifiée par Dowsett & Isenmann 2018 (Wintering area of the Libyan breeding population of Lesser Crested Tern. Alauda 86: 65-68) qui démontrent que la principale zone d’hivernage se trouve en Guinée-Bissau et en Sierra Leone. Bien que quelques dizaines à quelques centaines d’oiseaux hivernent bel et bien en Sénégambie, l’essentiel des nicheurs libyens hiverne donc un peu plus au sud. Cela n’enleve cependant en rien la conclusion de Hamza et collègues, comme quoi « la conservation de cette population particulièrement localisée et menacée ne réclame pas seulement une protection des sites de reproduction mais également celle des escales migratoires et des sanctuaires d’hivernage»

Lesser Crested Tern / Sterne voyageuse

Lesser Crested Tern / Sterne voyageuse portant une bague posée en Libye, Ngor, May 2013 (P. Robinson)

 

  • Un afflux de Hiboux des marais en Afrique de l’Ouest pendant l’hiver 2017/18: Piot 2019. An influx of Short-eared Owls Asio flammeus in West Africa in winter 2017/18.  Bull. ABC 26: 206-212 [publication prévue dans le prochain numéro, en septembre].

Pendant l’automne 2017 et l’hiver 2017/18, un afflux sans précédent a eu lieu en Afrique de l’Ouest et particulièrement au Sénégal ; des observations ont également été réalisées en Gambie, en Guinée-Bissau et en Mauritanie. Entre début novembre 2017 et mi-avril 2018, 22 observations concernant au moins 24 oiseaux ont été rapportées: ceux-ci ont peut-être hiverné plus au sud que d’habitude en raison des rudes conditions hivernales en Europe de l’Ouest. Les effectifs fluctuent probablement aussi en fonction des densités d’acridiens au Sahel, où une part importante du régime alimentaire peut être constituée d’insectes. L’espèce devrait y être considérée comme un migrateur régulier et un hivernant localement peu commun en petit nombre, avec des variations interannuelles importantes. La rareté des observations dans la région est probablement due aux habitudes crépusculaires et nocturnes de l’espèce, et aussi à une présence très limitée d’observateurs.

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Short-eared Owl / Hibou des marais, Technopole, Dec. 2017 (BP)

 

  • L’étude par géolocalisateurs révèle que le Martinet unicolore des Canaries hiverne en Afrique de l’Ouest équatoriale: Norton et al. Geolocator study reveals that Canarian Plain Swifts Apus unicolor winter in equatorial West Africa. Publié sur le site de l’African Bird Club (je suppose qu’un article formel suivra; cliquez le lien pour obtenir le PDF).

Même s’il ne s’agit pas d’une étude sénégalaise, elle a toute son importance pour nous: en effet, le suivi par géolocalisateurs a montré que le Martinet unicolore hiverne dans la zone forestière de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, et que l’espèce fait partie de l’avifaune du Sénégal. C’était sans doute l’une des grandes découvertes de ces dernières années – tout comme nos Martinets horus, dont un article portant sur notre étonnante trouvaille de janvier 2018 est en cours de préparation.

En juillet 2013, 16 Martinets unicolores, espèce endémique des Canaries qu’on pensait lagement sedentaire (ailleurs, vu seulement dans les régions cotières du nord-ouest de l’Afrique), ont été équipés de géolocalisateurs dans deux colonies de reproduction sur Tenerife. (Un géolocalisateur, minuscule appareil électronique pesant moins d’un gramme, mesure l’intensité du rayonnement solaire et l’heure, et enregistre ces données pendant une année; au retour de l’oiseau, celles-ci permettent de reconstituer son itinéraire). Parmi ces 16 individus, deux ont par la suite été retrouvés dans la colonie. Les deux oiseaux ont passé la majeure partie de l’hiver dans les forêts de l’est du Libéria. Ils ont quitté la colonie en octobre et novembre respectivement, et ont parcouru au moins 2’600 km pour hiverner, passant toute la période d’hivernage jusqu’en mars-avril 2014 dans les forêts de la Haute-Guinée au Libéria, en Guinée et en Côte d’Ivoire. La route migratoire prénuptiale comprenait le passage dans plusieurs pays où l’espèce n’avait là non plus jamais encore été signalée, dont le Sénégal, la Gambie, la Guinée-Bissau et la Sierra Leone. L’étude souligne l’importance de l’écosystème forestier de la Haute-Guinée pour au moins certains Martinets unicolores, les oiseaux passant plus de la moitié de l’année dans ce hotspot de biodiversité. Elle montre également qu’il devrait donc être possible d’observer cette espèce in natura au Sénégal, notamment en automne et au printemps, même si l’identification sera forcément délicate.

  • La Fauvette de Moltoni au Sénégal et en Afrique de l’Ouest: Piot & Blanc 2017. Moltoni’s Warbler Sylvia subalpina in Senegal and West Africa. Malimbus 39: 37-43.

Récemment élevée au rang d’espèce après la révision taxonomique du complexe des Fauvettes passerinettes, l’aire d’hivernage de la Fauvette de Moltoni était en grande partie inconnue. A la suite d’observations récentes au Sénégal, où sa présence a été enregistrée annuellement depuis 2013, nous avons passé en revue les observations faites en Afrique de l’Ouest : celles-ci suggèrent que l’espèce est largement répartie dans le Sahel, du Sénégal au Nigéria. Il semble que l’espèce soit plus abondante à l’est de cette zone, cependant l’aire de répartition précise et son abondance nécessitent plus de recherches, tout comme ses stratégies de mue et de migration.

  • Rose et al. 2016. Observations ornithologiques au Sénégal. Malimbus 38: 15-22.

Cinq observations d’espèces rares ou peu communes sont décrites, toutes de janvier 2015, dont on peut cependant se poser la question si une publication était réellement nécessaire, car leur simple inclusion dans la rubrique des observations récentes de l’ABC aurait sans doute suffi. Quoiqu’il en soit, les auteurs relatent les observations d’un Onoré à huppe blanche dans le delta du Saloum (où l’espèce est maintenant assez régulièrement vue, à Toubacouta), d’un Hibou des marais aux Îles de la Madeleine, d’un Engoulevent du désert au Djoudj, d’un Martin-pêcheur azuré au Niokolo-Koba, et d’un Sirli du désert dans le Ndiael. La prédation d’un Héron garde-bœufs par un Aigle martial, ainsi que l’histoire de vie d’une Barge à queue noire baguée, sont également rapportées.

Black-tailed Godwits / Barges a queue noire

Dutch and English colour-rigned Black-tailed Godwits / Barges à queue noire baguées aux Pays-Bas et en Angleterre, Technopole Jan. 2016 (BP)

 

Deux autres notes courtes sont également à mentionner ici, la première traitant de notre observation d’une pie-grièche hybride du lac Tanma en 2017 (Piot & Caucanas 2019. A hybrid shrike Lanius in Senegal; publication prévue dans le prochain bulletin de l’ABC), l’autre d’une observation de plusieurs Travailleurs à bec rouge à env. 100 km au large de la côte sénégalaise, soit la donnée la plus éloignée du continent jusqu’à présent (Quantrill, R. 2017. Red-billed Queleas Quelea quelea at sea off Senegal. Bull. ABC 24: 216).

Puis au moins deux articles supplémentaires traitant du statut et de la distribution d’oiseaux au Sénégal sont prévues pour publication ces prochains mois, dans la revue Alauda : le premier sur les quartiers d’hiver et les voies de migration du Pouillot ibérique (Isenmann & Piot), le second sur les résultats de nos suivis 2017 et 2018 de la migration des oiseaux de mer à Ngor (première partie prévue en décembre, 2e partie en début d’année prochaine).

La troisième et dernière partie de notre petite série sur la literature ornithologique sénégalaise concernera la documentation des divers ajouts à l’avifaune du pays.

 

 

Iberian Chiffchaff in West Africa

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. Typically, has vivid lemon yellow undertail-coverts, contrasting with a rather whitish centre to the belly
  4. Supercilium on average more pronounced and more vividly yellow, particularly in front of and above the eye
  5. On average, the legs are a trifle paler brown on Iberian than on Common Chiffchaff, though many are alike
  6. Bill is very slightly stronger [though I find this one of very little use in the field!]
IberianChiffchaff_Gandiol_IMG_2750_edited

Iberian Chiffchaf / Pouillot ibérique, Gandiol, 31 March 2016 (BP). Note yellowish supercilium, undertail and flank streaks, dull greenish upperparts, pale brown legs, whitish belly, and apparently also pale bill base

 

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.

 

Bango, April 2016 (© F. Bacuez)

2013 01 20 9h30. Pouillot fitis apr_s le bain, dans l'eucalyptus. Photo par Fr_d_ric Bacuez, IMG_9104 (2)

Iberian Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler? I tend to think it’s an ibericus (© F. Bacuez)

 

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).

IberianChiffchaff_Technopole_20173112_call_sonogram_XC397677

 

 

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.

IberianChiffMap_XC

 

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…

 

 

 

 

Year in review: 2018

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.

HorusSwift_GamadjiSare_20181005_IMG_3642

Horus Swift / Martinet horus

 

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.

MeadowPipit_Yene_20180101_IMG_7862 (2)

Meadow Pipit / Pipit farlouse

 

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!

BrownbackedHoneybird_Wassadou_IMG_1053_Caucanas

Brown-backed Honeybird / Indicateur de Wahlberg (G. Caucanas)

 

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) .

Lesser Jacana 15 July 2018 Djoudj - Vieux Ngom - edited

Lesser Jacana / Jacana nain (V. Ngom)

 

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.

KordofanLark_RichardToll_20180301-261A2963_1

Kordofan Lark / Alouette du Kordofan (J. Heip)

 

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.

Courvite isabelle - Maleme Hodar 20180301 - Alain Barbalat

Cream-coloured Courser / Courvite isabelle (A. Barbalat)

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 uniAstrild-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).

PlainbackedPipit_LacRose_chicks_20180729_125652

Plain-backed Pipit / Pipit à dos uni

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 railleurFlamant 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.

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Mediterranean Gull / Mouette mélanocéphale “RV2L”

A few blog posts on birding sites and other topics were published in 2018, namely the following:

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!

 

 

Popenguine Raptor Fest (3.11.18)

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).

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Miguel and Ross searching the skies for falcons

 

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.

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Short-toed Eagle / Circaète Jean-le-Blanc

 

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).

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African Hawk Eagle / Aigle fascié

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African Hawk Eagle / Aigle fascié

 

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.

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Eurasian Griffon / Vautour fauve

 

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-WhydahBlue 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.

 

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Popenguine cliffs… & many butterflies

 

 

 

AGPs again

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…

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Lac Mbeubeuss(e)

 

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!

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

 

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 GarganeysRuffsLittle 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!

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Audouin’s Gull / Goéland d’Audouin

 

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, RedshankWood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, TurnstoneCommon 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:

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé (Technopole, April 2018)

 

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.

AGP_Chart_Nov2018

American Golden Plover records

 

A few more hazy pictures from the Mbeubeusse bird:

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

 

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé