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Two Laughing Gulls, and other unexpected birds at Technopôle

Another visitor from North America showed up recently at Technopole: a superb adult Laughing Gull (Mouette atricille) was found by Miguel Lecoq and Ignacio Morales over the Easter weekend. First seen on 21.4, it was still present two days later when it was also heard calling. Amazingly, later that same week (25.4), Miguel found an immature (2nd year) in the same place!

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Laughing Gull / Mouette atricille (I. Morales)

 

Identification is pretty straightforward, the main field characters being nicely visible here: dark grey mantle, almost entirely black outer primaries, narrow white trailing edge to secondaries and tertials, back hood with white “eye lashes”, fairly long dark crimson red bill, and rather long dark red to blackish legs. The young bird is also very distinct and is relatively easy to pick out amongst the numerous other gulls that are present at Technopole at the moment: Slender-billed Gulls mostly, but also Grey-headed Gulls (the immatures of which superficially resemble Laughing Gull), and still some Black-headed, Audouin’s and Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Goeland railler, Mouettes à tête grise et rieuse, Goelands d’Audouin et brun).

Proper rare bird record shot:

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Laughing Gull / Mouette atricille (M. Lecoq)

 

This is the fourth American species to be seen in Senegal in less than two weeks, once again highlighting the potential of the country to find vagrant gulls and waders: the overwintering Lesser Yellowlegs (Chevalier à pattes jaunes) was last seen on 8.4, followed by a 2nd year Franklin’s Gull (Mouette de Franklin) on 13.4, the American Golden Plover (Pluvier bronzé) from Palmarin (15.4), and now Larus atricilla. And this is by just a small handful of active observers… just imagine what else there is to be found, if only there were more birders here.

There are just five previous records of Laughing Gull:

  • An adult in the Saloum delta on 18.3.85 (Dupuy, A.R. (1985) Sur la présence au Sénégal de Larus atricilla. Alauda 53. Two years earlier, a possible sighting in the same place of a bird apparently paired with Grey-headed Gull, could not be confirmed and should thus be ignored.
  • An adult at Guembeul (near Saint-Louis) on 12.1.95 (Yésou P., Triplet P. (1995) La mouette atricille Larus atricilla au Sénégal. Alauda 63)
  • A 2nd winter in the Saloum delta on 28.12.05, see picture below (A. Flitti; Recent Reports, Bull. Afr. Bird Club 13)
  • One flying past the Ngor seawatch site on 7.10.08 (P. Crouzier, P. J. Dubois, J.-Y. Fremont, E. Rousseau, A. Verneau; Recent Reports, Bull. Afr. Bird Club 16)
  • An adult at Saint Louis on 10.1.14; a 2nd winter possibly also present (M. Beevers; Recent Reports, Bull. Afr. Bird Club 21)

 

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Laughing Gull / Mouette atricille, Saloum, Dec. 2005 (A. Flitti)

 

Elsewhere on the continent, there are records from Morocco, Mauritania, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau (first records is yet to be published), and possibly elsewhere – most recently, an imm. photographed at the Bijol Islands in Gambia in December 2018. It’s an annual vagrant to western Europe, even in unexpected locations such as on this lake in the Swiss Alps where an adult overwintered in 2005/2006:

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Laughing Gull / Mouette atricille, Merligen, Dec. 2006 (B. Piot)

 

Unlike Franklin’s Gull, which has been recorded in all months except for November, with most records in May, July and August, Laughing Gull is obviously a species that is more to be expected in winter, with all records so far occurring between October and April.

Other good birds found during Miguel’s frequent visits these past few days include two other additions to the Technopole list: Golden Oriole on 25.4 (Loriot d’Europe), and Pallid Swift on 23.4 (Martinet pâle). A late Mediterranean Gull (Mouette mélanocéphale) was also a good record, as was the count of 606 Sanderlings.

 

The site list now stands at 237 species. Which one will be next?

 

Update!

I wrote the preceding paragraphs yesterday, and since then I’ve been – at long last – back to Technopole, as I was up north last weekend and travelling abroad for work this past week. Well, we got the answer: species number 238 is Plain Martin (also known as Brown-throated Martin; Hirondelle paludicole). We had a single bird feeding over the water – often at close range – along with a couple of Barn Swallows (Hirondelle rustique) and several Little Swifts (Martinet des maisons), nicely showing its features. This is a rarely reported species from Senegal, and as it turns out the first eBird observation for the country! It’s rather patchily distributed throughout West Africa, being more common in Morocco, East Africa, and Southern Africa. Considered a non-breeding visitor to Senegal and Gambia, I could only find six old records from Senegal: Morel & Morel list four, followed by one in Jan. 1992 in the Djoudj and one from Mekhe in August 1992. Last year, Bruno Bargain found several at Kambounda (Sédhiou, Casamance), on 2.12.18, but other than those there do not seem to be any recent observations. Very nice sighting and an unexpected addition to my Senegal list – and a cool lifer for Miguel!

Alas no Laughing Gull this morning, but we did see the Frankin’s Gull again. Also another Pallid Swift, as well as new sightings of a colour-ringed German Gull-billed Tern (Sterne hansel) and a Norwegian Common Ringed Plover (Grand Gravelot), plus now two different Med’ Gulls. Let’s try again on Wednesday morning, who knows maybe the gull will be back. It may actually have been around for a few weeks now, as there was a possible sighting at Technopole on March 30th. It’s quite possible that the adult is hanging out by the harbour or elsewhere in the baie de Hann or even Rufisque, and will show up again at Technopole.

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Franklin’s Gull / Mouette de Franklin (BP)

 

 

 

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Trois-Marigots: Gallinule Galore

A recent early morning visit to the Trois-Marigots area, just outside Saint Louis in the lower Senegal delta, quickly turned into a proper gallinule fest, with dozens – hundreds probably! – of rallidaeMoorhens, African Swamphens, Black Crakes, and even a few of the much hoped for Allen’s Gallinule. No crakes this time round, but all in all a pretty spectacular sight in a great setting. Below are a few images taken during our visit, all but the last one taken from the Tylla digue which crosses the second of the the Trois-Marigots. Vieux and I mainly birded a stretch of just a few hundred meters for the first couple of hours, with new birds showing up all the time.

With habitat like this, what would you expect?

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Trois-Marigots at Tylla

 

Rails of course, but also African Pygmy-Goose, Purple Heron, Black HeronLittle Bittern, African Fish-Eagle, Marsh Harrier, various Acrocephalus warblers, Winding CisticolaZebra Waxbill, and so on.

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African Swamphen / Talève d’Afrique

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Black Crake / Râle à bec jaune

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Black Crake / Râle à bec jaune

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Black Crake / Râle à bec jaune juv.

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Common Moorhen / Gallinule poule-d’eau

 

Allen’s Gallinule is pretty local in Senegal, being most regularly reported from Djoudj and from Trois-Marigots, though it also occurs in Casamance and probably elsewhere (still waiting for it to show up one day at Technopole!). We saw at least two adults, including one with a bright blue frontal shield. The second bird, pictured below, was somewhat duller but the obvious red eye indicates that it is also in breeding plumage, making it likely that the species breeds here at Trois-Marigots.

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Allen’s Gallinule / Taleve d’Allen

 

And here’s that obligatory Pygmy-Goose picture, which I have to say I was quite pleased with:

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African Pygmy-Goose / Anserelle naine

 

This one a bit less so, but nevertheless, always great to get a reasonable picture of a nervous warbler that just would not sit still… While most wintering warblers are long gone by now, there were still quite a few of these Sedge Warblers around, plus several Eurasian Reed Warblers, two Willow Warblers, and just one Bonelli’s Warbler. For the most part these are probably birds from the northern part of their breeding range.

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Sedge Warbler / Phragmite des joncs

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Complete eBird checklist here, plus this one from the now bone-dry savanna between the first (also dry by now) and second marigots: Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Temminck’s Courser, Cut-throat, Pygmy Sunbird, etc. For more on Trois-Marigots and its crakes – including the rarely seen Little Crake – see this post, and of course many other notes by Frederic Bacuez on Ornithondar.

A brief visit to the Lampsar near Makhana village, on the opposite side of the route nationale, paid off with quite a few additional species such as fly-over Glossy Ibises, Collared Pratincoles, several waders including two Little Ringed Plovers, and most notably a small colony of Black-winged Stilts, with at least four birds incubating. There were probably several more, given that some of the nests were relatively well concealed as can be seen on the picture below. Checklist here.

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Black-winged Stilt / Echasse blanche

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Staying on our swamp theme, here are a few more pictures from the Easter weekend which we spent at Zebrabar at the Langue de Barbarie national park. The Saint Louis STEP (sewage farm) was even more smelly than usual, but as always held some good birds such as this River Prinia and Greater Painted Snipe, two species that were also encountered at Trois-Marigots.

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River Prinia / Prinia aquatique

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Greater Painted Snipe & Wood Sandpiper / Rhynchée peinte & Chevalier sylvain

 

Finally, I should mention that Vieux recently found Senegal’s 6th or 7th Lesser Jacana, more precisely at the Lampsar lodge on March 16th. He’d found the previous one just last summer during a waterbird count near Ross Bethio on July 15th. The species is probably a fairly regular yet scarce visitor to Senegal, but its precise status is yet to be defined. Once again Vieux shows that he’s one of the most skilled – and most active – birders in the country!

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Lesser Jacana / Jacana nain, Lampsar, March 2019 (V. Ngom)

 

 

 

 

American Golden Plover at Palmarin

Quick post to report yet another American vagrant, after the Franklin’s Gull from last Saturday and the Lesser Yellowlegs from just a week ago, both at Technopole.

This morning at Palmarin in the western Saloum delta, I found an American Golden Plover (Pluvier bronzé), likely a second year bird, feeding on the edge of a shallow lagoon together with a few other waders. It’s almost getting a bit of a standard spring sighting here in Senegal: this is the third consecutive year with records in April, and the species has been near-annual since 2012. Prior to this only three records were known, though it’s not clear whether this reflects a true increase in the number of “AGPs” that make it to West Africa or just a result of increased observer coverage – probably the latter. The Palmarin bird brings the total to 14 records involving at least 17 birds.

As can be seen in my hazy pictures below, the bird stood out mainly thanks to its very white supercilium extending behind the ear coverts, the dark smudge across the breast, and of course long wings extending well beyond the tail tip. As it flew a short distance, I could clearly see the greyish underwing.

More on the identification and on the occurrence of the species in Senegal in this post from last November and also here.

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

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The same small lagoon just north of Ngalou village also held quite a few Slender-billed Gulls and several Caspian, Royal and Sandwich Terns (+ one Lesser Crested), six Avocets, three Black-tailed Godwits and a few other waders, though generally there aren’t loads of birds around at the moment (which is all relative of course: far out in the lagoons, there were hundreds of Little Stints and other small waders, just very far out… and at Diakhanor about a dozen Bar-tailed Godwits were seen).

Unlikely that anyone would go out to twitch the plover, but you never know so here’s a Google Maps link to the precise location where I saw the bird.

Besides the waders, a few remaining Lesser Black-backed and Audouin’s Gulls as well as two small groups of Barn Swallows, a couple of Yellow Wagtails and a few Western Olivaceous Warblers were the only other northern migrants still around.

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Below are a few pictures of other species seen during the 24 hours we spent at Palmarin.

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Black-winged Kite / Elanion blanc

 

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Bruce’s Green Pigeon /  Colombar waalia

 

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Slender-billed Gull / Goéland railleur

 

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Spot the Yellow-billed Oxpecker hitching a ride (Piqueboeuf à bec jaune) (J. Piot)

 

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Unsuccessful attempt at reading a Caspian Tern with yellow ring (in any case a local bird) (J. Piot)

 

Let’s see if this spring any American Golden Plovers turn up at Technopole again…

 

 

The Great Re-Tern

April is Tern month!

From mid-March into May, lots of terns pass through Dakar on their way back home from the wintering grounds further south – some as far as South Africa! – and the first half of April is definitely peak time for many species. When conditions are right, literally thousands of these elegant birds may pass through on a single day, and sites such as Technopole can hold several hundreds of birds at any one time. So much that in the past week, I’ve had the chance to see 12 out of the 14 tern species that are known to occur in Senegal, the only ones missing being Bridled and the rare Sooty Tern.

On Monday 8.4 at Technopole, decent numbers of terns were about, mainly Sandwich Tern (+300, likely quite a bit more) with a supporting cast of the usual Caspian and Gull-billed Terns (the former with several recently emancipated juveniles, likely from the Saloum or Casamance colonies), but also several dozen African Royal Tern, a few Common Terns, at least two Lesser Crested, and as a bonus two fine adult Roseate Terns roosting among their cousins. And as I scanned one of the flocks one last time before returning back home, an adult Whiskered Tern in breeding plumage, already spotted the previous day by Miguel. I managed to read four ringed Sandwich Terns but far more were wearing rings, but were impossible to read.

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Gulls & Terns at Technopole

 

Yesterday 13.4, we went back to our favourite urban hotspot mainly in order to see if we could read some more of these rings. The main roost is close to the northern shore of the main lagoon, quite close to golf club house, which makes it possible to get close enough to the birds to read most rings. We saw most of the same tern species (except Roseate), with the addition of a fine moulting White-winged Tern and a small flock of Little Terns migrating over our heads. The first colour-ringed bird we saw was actually a Gull-billed Tern, but not the usual Spanish bird (“U83”) ringed in 2009 and seen several times herein the past three winters. This bird was even more interesting, as it was ringed in the only remaining colony in northern Europe, more precisely in the German Wadden Sea. Awaiting details from the ringers, but it’s quite likely that there are very few (if any!) recoveries of these northern birds this far south. It may well be the same bird as one that we saw back in November 2018 at lac Mbeubeusse, though we didn’t manage to properly establish the ring combination at the time.

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Colour-ringed Gull-billed Tern & Black-winged Stilts / Sterne hansel & Echasse blanche

 

So, back to our ring readings: all in all, we managed to decipher an impressive 14 Sandwich Tern rings – blue, white, yellow & red! – of birds originating from no less than four countries: Ireland, UK, Netherlands, and one from Italy (to be confirmed). Most of these are chicks that were born in summer 2016 and that logically spent their first two years in the Southern Hemisphere, and are now returning back to their breeding grounds for the first time. In addition, a Black-headed Gull with a blue ring proved to be a French bird ringed as a chick in a colony in the Forez region (west of Lyon) in 2018, while a Spanish Audouin’s Gull was a bird not previously read here. I’ll try to find some time to write up more on our ring recoveries, now that my little database has just over 500 entries!

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More gulls & terns

 

Others local highlights from these past few days are the Lesser Yellowlegs still at Technopole on 8.4 (but not seen yesterday… maybe it has finally moved on), also a superb breeding plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit, still a few Avocets, plenty of Ruff, Little Stint, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper and Dunlin, many of which in full breeding attire. And on 13.4, once again a Franklin’s Gull, but also a rather late Mediterranean Gull and what was probably the regular adult Yellow-legged Gull seen several times since December. Three Spotted Redshanks were also noteworthy as this is not a regular species at Technopole. The Black-winged Stilts are breeding again, and the first two chicks – just a couple of days old – were seen yesterday, with at least two more birds on nests; a family of Moorhen was also a good breeding record.

Full eBird checklist from 13.4 here.

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A sleepy Franklin’s Gull / Mouette de Franklin

 

Earlier this week at the Calao was just about as good in terms of tern diversity: again the usual Sandwich Terns which are passing through en masse at the moment, with some LCT’s in the mix, several dozen Common Terns and the odd Roseate Tern hurriedly yet graciously flying past the seawatch spot, and of course more Royal Terns en route to Langue de Barbarie or Mauritanian breeding sites, a lone Caspian Tern, and this time round an even less expected White-winged Tern (and just two Black Terns). Oh and also the first Arctic Tern of the season! The first birds in spring are typically seen at the end of March or first half of April; earliest dates (2015-2018) are 16.3.18 and 25.3.16. The numbers of migrating terns were really impressive here on Saturday 6.4: a rough estimate puts the number of Sandwich and Common Terns passing through at 500 and 1200, respectively, in just two hours.

At Ngor, regular morning sessions have yielded the usual Pomarine and Arctic Skuas, Northern Gannets, as well as a handful of Cape Verde Shearwaters feeding offshore on most days. Sooty Shearwaters passed through in good numbers on 6.4, while last Friday (12.4) was best for Sabine’s Gull: 73 birds in just one hour, so far my best spring count. Also several Long-tailed Skuas and the other day a South Polar or (more likely) a Great Skua was present, a rare spring sighting. All checklists for the recent Calao counts can be found on this eBird page.

 

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Greenshank & Black-winged Stilt / Chevalier aboyeur & Echasse blanche

 

 

Cuckoo Finch, New to Senegal

Following the addition of Turati’s Boubou (Ziguinchor, October 2018) and Willcocks’s Honeyguide (Dindefelo, January 2019), another scarce Afro-tropical species was recently added to the avifauna of Senegal: Cuckoo Finch, Anomalospiza imberbis (in French: Anomalospize parasite). Three birds were found on 17 February in moist grassland north of Oussouye in Basse-Casamance, by Bruno Bargain, Gabi Caucal and Adrien de Montaudouin.

While not necessarily straightforward in the field, their identification could be confirmed based on a few pictures that the team were able to obtain: small, compact drab-yellow finch with a short yet deep conical bill, short tail with pointed central rectrices, pale central crown stripe, small beady black eye, long pale claws. The two-toned bill (pale base of lower mandible contrasting with darker upper mandible) is typical of juveniles, while the yellowish underparts and throat suggest that this bird is a young male.

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Cuckoo Finch / Anomalospize parasite imm. male, Kagnout, Feb. 2019 (G. Caucal)

 

Several birds were seen again a couple of weeks later by Bruno, including two singing males: it’ll be interesting to see whether this little group is resident here and whether more will be found in nearby locations in coming months… there’s definitely a lot of potential, with quite a bit of suitable habitat elsewhere in the area.

As with the boubou, the discovery of this species in SW Senegal was to be expected given that it has been seen several times in recent years just across the border in Gambia, prompting me to include the Cuckoo Finch on our list of the birds of Senegal with a question mark (“presence to be confirmed”) when I initially compiled the list last year. The checklist is accessible through this new page that was recently added to the Resources section of this website. Cuckoo Finch is species number 679 on the national list! (though to be fair, this includes five for which definite proof is lacking, and which remain to be confirmed)

Cuckoo Finch is indeed a widespread yet local and uncommon species throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, and particularly in West Africa its status and patchy distribution remain poorly known. It occurs in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire as well as in southern Mali, and probably also in Guinea and Guinea-Bissau though as far as I know there are no records in these two countries. In Gambia it was first recorded in 1969, on 24 September by O. Andrew. The only further details I found on this record are in Morel & Morel (1990), who state that “about a dozen were seen well in Sept.-Oct. 1969 near Banjul”. It then took more than 40 years for the next record to be obtained, more precisely at Kartong Bird Observatory where three birds were caught and ringed on 24 Feb. 2013; in subsequent years the species was again caught or seen on a few occasions at KBO, at most 14 birds on 27 April 2014, and again several birds in May-October 2017. All were non-breeding or young birds, with no evidence of local breeding (O. Fox, J, Cross).

Given these more or less regular sightings at Kartong, which lies right on the border with Casamance, it would make sense if the species were also present around Abene, Kafountine, Diouloulou or other nearby locations. We’ll try to explore some of these sites in coming months, particularly during the breeding season, i.e. during the rains. The finders are currently writing up a note to formally publish their discovery.

Also known as Parasitic Weaver, the “unusual finch” as per its scientific name is the unique representative of its genus, having previously been linked to weavers and even canaries. It is now included in the viduids as it is most closely related to the whydahs and indigobirds (see e.g. Lahti & Payne 2003). Just like these birds, it is a brood parasite, laying its eggs in nests of cisticolids (cisticolas and prinias), apparently up to c. 30 eggs per season (!), in batches of 1-4 eggs per “set”. Zitting Cisticola and Tawny-flanked Prinia may be the most likely host species in Senegal and Gambia.

There’s of course a lot more to be said about this peculiar songbird, for instance how females adopted a mimetic strategy to fool its hosts: Feeney et al. (2015) demonstrated how “female Cuckoo Finch plumage colour and pattern more closely resembled those of Euplectes weavers (putative models) than Vidua finches (closest relatives); that their Tawny-flanked Prinia hosts were equally aggressive towards female Cuckoo Finches and Southern Red Bishops, and more aggressive to both than to their male counterparts; and that prinias were equally likely to reject an egg after seeing a female cuckoo finch or bishop, and more likely to do so than after seeing a male bishop near their nest.” Fun fact: I happened to meet Claire Spottiswoode, one the co-authors of the paper and specialist of brood parasites, on their southern Zambian study site while they were conducting field work in March 2013… but I failed to find any Cuckoo Finches!

For some more on parasitic birds, here’s a good start.

Plenty of other good birds were seen in Casamance last month, including the first White-tailed Alethe (Alèthe à huppe rousse) in many many years, Lesser Moorhen (Gallinule africaine), Ovambo Sparrowhawk (Epervier de l’Ovampo), Bluethroat (Gorgebleue à miroir), Forbes’s Plover (Pluvier de Forbes), European Golden Plover (Pluvier doré), Yellow-legged & Kelp Gulls (Goélands leucophée et dominicain), and quite a few more scarce species. With a bit of luck, Gabi and Etienne will find some time to write up the highlights of what was once again an epic trip across Senegal.

Meanwhile in Dakar, seabird spring migration is in full swing, with the first Long-tailed Skuas, Sooty Shearwaters, Roseate Terns and so on passing through in recent weeks (Labbe à longue queue, Puffin fuligineux, Sterne de Dougall). More on this in due course.

 

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Forbes’s Plover / Pluvier de Forbes, Casamance, Feb. 2019 (B. Bargain)

 

Many thanks to the finders for allowing me to write up this post, and to Olly Fox for providing info on the Kartong records.

 

Turati’s Boubou new to Senegal, and other recent records from Casamance

Last month I was lucky to be able to sneak out to Casamance for a few days, a region I hadn’t visited since May 2017 when I paid a brief visit to Kolda. Together with Bruno Bargain, resident birder in Ziguinchor, we explored several areas and managed to see a good number of interesting birds. But before going through the highlights of our trip, it’s about time we gave a few more details about the discovery of a new species for Senegal: Turati’s Boubou, found last October by Bruno near Ziguinchor. This West African endemic appears to be resident in small numbers in at least one locality, but it’s likely that it is actually well established in a few other forests of Basse-Casamance.

This latest addition to the national list was expected, so not a big surprise – but still significant, given that this species was so far only known to occur in Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Our assumption that it should be present in Casamance was based on the fact that the species is present just across the border in northern Guinea-Bissau, and that suitable habitat exists in Basse-Casamance which up to recently was one of the least well known regions, ornithologically speaking, of Senegal. A member of the Malaconotidae, Turati’s Boubou is not uncommon within its restricted range, but its secretive habits make it difficult to find – something I experienced first-hand last month when trying to catch a glimpse of one of the Ziguinchor birds: impossible! Outside of the breeding season (likely just before and during the rains, i.e. May/June – October) they don’t appear to be very vocal and don’t necessarily respond to playback. We heard at least two birds singing briefly – a typical ghost-like boubou song – and while at one point one bird was calling just a few meters away in dense undergrowth at the edge of a remnant forest patch, it just did not want to show itself. Next time! The only recording I managed to obtain was of this call, which when we first heard it was a perfect match of the call recorded by Ron Demey in western Guinea, assumed to be that of a female (included in Claude Chappuis’s CD set). Bruno so far obtained just a single picture but was lucky to get good views of several birds, including an supposed pair (at least three different birds have been found since the first sighting on October 10th. Update 13.02: here’s a picture taken just this morning by Bruno, after an hour of patiently waiting for the bird to show…

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Turati’s Boubou / Gonolek de Turati, Ziguinchor (© B. Bargain)

 

More field work is of course needed to get a better sense of this little known species’ breeding cycle, distribution and population size in Casamance; I certainly hope to be able to contribute to this effort in coming months. So for now, here’s just a picture of the habitat in which these birds were found: note the dense undergrowth in otherwise fairly open, dry forest.

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Boubou habitat…

 

Of note is that there is at least one unsubstantiated record of Tropical Boubou in Casamance and as a result the species is often listed – incorrectly in my view – as occurring in Senegal: this sighting may in fact relate to Turati’s Boubou which Tropical resembles fairly closely. Even its vocalisations are extremely similar – Chappuis wrote that “it is barely possible to distinguish the two species acoustically” – so it wouldn’t be surprising were this actually Turati’s.

Another target of my short trip was Western Square-tailed Drongo, aiming to obtain sound recordings of this newly described cryptic species which is now included in the reference list maintained by the International Ornithological Committee (IOC 9.1) as a valid species, Dicrurus occidentalis. More on this discovery in this recent blog post. The latest IOC list, published just last week, also includes another taxonomic change in the Dicruridae that affects the Senegal list: the two subspecies of Fork-tailed Drongo D. adsimilis ranging from west to north-central Africa are now elevated to Glossy-backed Drongo D. divaricatus (Fork-tailed Drongo sensu strictu is found in central, eastern and southern Africa). More on the recent taxonomic revisions in a later post…

Anyway, back to Casamance: thanks to Bruno’s excellent field knowledge, we easily found Western Square-tailed Drongo in two locations, and several decent recordings were obtained. While more material is needed, we hope that these will eventually contribute to further our knowledge of vocal differences between occidentalis and its “sister species” Sharpe’s Drongo D. sharpei. As usual, my recordings can be found here on xeno-canto.

Western Square-tailed Drongo / Drongo occidental

Western Square-tailed Drongo / Drongo occidental, Tionck-Essil

 

During our 72 hours in the field (16-19.01), we specifically targeted a few sites in atlas squares with no or very few records so far, particularly in the area between Bignona and Tionck-Essil where we spent one night in a campement villageois (more on the Casamance bird atlas further down and in this article). All in all we collected close to 400 records of some 175 species, which just highlights the richness of Basse-Casamance.

Birding from dawn to dusk – brilliant!

In addition to the boubou and drongo, some of the highlights were Spotted Honeyguide (lifer! recording of its distinctive song here), Ovambo Sparrowhawk (poorly known and rarely reported species in Senegal), Woolly-necked Stork (a bird flying in from mangroves near Elana), great views and good recordings of Ahanta Francolin which seems to be far more widespread and less of a forest specialist than field guides suggest. And of course, a range of other typical forest species that in Senegal are largely restricted to this part of the country: Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Piping Hornbill, Grey-hooded Capuchin BabblerGreen Crombec, Green Hylia, Little Greenbul, Guinea TuracoGrey-headed Bristlebill, Puvel’s Illadopsis, Olive Sunbird, etc. (Indicateur tacheté, Epervier de l’Ovampo, Cigogne épiscopale, Francolin de l’Ahanta, Pic tacheté, Calao siffleur, Phyllanthe capucin, Crombec vert, Hylia verte, Bulbul verdâtre, Touraco vert, Bulbul fourmilier, Akalat de Puvel, Souimanga olivâtre).

Obtaining good views – or any views at all for that matter – of these forest specials was often difficult, so I don’t really have any good pictures to share. The two below illustrate quite well how challenging this can be in the forest, especially with my bottom-of-the-range camera:

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The rusty tail of Red-tailed Leaflove / Bulbul à queue rousse, Djibelor…

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A blurry Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher / Tchitrec à ventre roux, a fairly common forest dweller in Casamance

 

A few scarce Palearctic migrants were seen, including Booted EagleEuropean Bee-eater, House MartinGrasshopper Warbler – the latter in dense grasses on the edge of dry rice paddies near Ziguinchor, a rare record this far south although the species is probably regular in winter (Aigle botté, Guêpier d’Europe, Hirondelle de fenetre, Locustelle tachetée).

This African Pygmy Goose was one of at least nine birds seen on a pond close to those same extensive rice paddies, where they seem to have bred. Other birds in this area, which we visited late afternoon on my first day in town, included Giant Kingfisher, Purple Heron, Piping Hornbill, Quailfinch, Lanner, Whinchat, and so on (Martin-pêcheur géant, Héron pourpré, Calao siffleur, Astrild-caille, Faucon lanier, Tarier des prés).

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African Pygmy Goose / Anserelle naine near Borofaye, Ziguinchor

 

Similar habitat often holds pairs of Abyssinian Gound Hornbill which appears to still pretty common in Casamance, allowing me to finally see this impressive bird – by some considered to be one of the ugliest birds roaming our planet, though I beg to differ! – which somehow had managed to elude me so far in Senegal. I’d only ever seen it in Awash NP in the Ethiopian Rift Valley, many years ago… We found a small family group feeding in fields just east of Bignona, and another two birds a few kilometers further along the road to Elana. In the end I saw or heard several birds I hadn’t seen before in Senegal, including 4 lifers, bringing my country list to 507 species by the end of the trip. With the addition of Turati’s Boubou, the national list now stands at 677.

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Abyssinian Ground Hornbill / Bucorve d’Abyssinie, near Bignona

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Plain-backed Pipit / Pipit à dos uni, near Elana

 

I’d like to highlight once again the fabulous work that Bruno and colleagues from the APALIS association are doing in Casamance: with very limited means – but with a great deal of passion and perseverance – they are slowly but surely putting together a comprehensive picture of the distribution and abundance of birds across the region, currently covering some 450 species. Not an easy feat considering how remote and inaccessible many parts of this remarkable region of Senegal are; Casamance is arguably the most diverse and in many ways the most pleasant and most exciting part of the country, and I for one certainly wish I were able to spend more time there. The latest APALIS newsletter (in French, available here as a PDF) contains multiple interesting records and new discoveries, such as the first records in nearly 40 years in the region of White-crested Tiger Heron (with a brilliant picture!), Senegal Lapwings (six near Kamobeul on 30.9.18; despite its name this is a real rarity in Senegal!), and Winding Cisticola; the first regional records of Glossy Ibis, Sun Lark, Singing Bush Lark, Brown-throated Martin, Great Reed Warbler, confirmed breeding of White-backed Night-Heron, and much more (Onoré à huppe blanche, Vanneau terne, Cisticole du Nil, Ibis falcinelle, Cochevis modeste, Alouette chanteuse, Hirondelle paludicole, Rousserolle turdoïde, Bihoreau à dos blanc). The most significant records will be included in the next “Recent Reports” of the African Bird Club bulletin, to be published in March.

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Senegal Lapwing / Vanneau terne, near Ziguinchor, Sept. 2018 (J.-P. Thelliez)

In addition to the routine atlassing field work, our friends are now embarking on a project to survey some of the main heronries and other water bird colonies, using a drone to take aerial pictures of the colonies located in dense inaccessible mangroves, thus enabling estimates of the number of nests for each species. The association is currently raising funds to finance the purchase and operating costs of the drone, so please chime in, every bit helps! Link to fundraising campaign here. And please consider supporting APALIS by becoming a member, which at just 15 Euros is just a, well, bargain 😉

And of course, if you have the opportunity to visit Casamance, please get in touch so we can make sure that your observations get incorporated into the database; Bruno can offer advice about where to go or which birds to target more specifically. Nearly three times the size of Gambia, with a good range of different habitats represented, there’s something for everyone. Any birder coming to Senegal should definitely consider visiting this region, and more generally try to get off the beaten birding track – forget about Djoudj, Richard Toll, the Saloum or even Wassadou (and yes even Technopole): Casamance is the place to be!

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White-fronted Black Chat / Traquet à front blanc, in a cashew nut tree (Anacardier) near Ziguinchor

 

Enfin, un grand merci à Bruno et sa petite famille pour l’accueil à Kantène!

 

 

27/1/19, journée folle au Technopole

Il y a des jours comme ça!

Après une sortie déjà bien mémorable en compagnie de Simon le 24/1, lorsque nous observons entre autres des Canards chipeaux et un siffleur – tous deux des nouvelles espèces pour le site que Simon avait trouvées la veille – puis d’un Bécasseau de Temminck, Miguel et moi avons pris le temps de bien fouiller notre local patch dimanche dernier. Arrivés à l’aube sur les lieux, nous sommes repartis cinq heures plus tard avec pas moins de 111 espèces au compteur. Pas mal du tout, si l’on considère qu’une visite typique en hiver apporte généralement 70 à 80 espèces. De plus, la journée a été exceptionnelle aussi bien point de vue quantité – il devait y avoir facilement 4’000 oiseaux au Technopole ce jour-là – qu’en termes de qualité, avec plusieurs oiseaux rares et tout à fait inattendus.

Voici donc, in order of appearance, une sélection d’espèces rencontrées:

  • Tourtelette d’Abyssinie (Black-billed Wood Dove): un juv. dans le coin nord-est du site était une petite surprise, cet oiseau n’ayant apparemment jamais encore été signalé auparavant au Technopole. En même temps, une Tourterelle vineuse (Vinaceous Dove) chantait dans le cordon boisé juste derrière: espèce numéro 233 pour le site!
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Black-billed Wood Dove / Tourtelette d’Abyssinie juv.

 

  • Hibou des marais (Short-eared Owl): on pensait qu’ils ne reviendraient pas un deuxième hiver de suite, mais les revoilà! Au moins deux de ces hiboux qui nous avaient gracié de leur présence l’hiver dernier, alors qu’un afflux important se déroulait en Afrique occidentale, étaient de nouveau présents sur leur dortoir favori dans un groupe d’acacias. Ils y avaient déjà été répéres fin décembre par deux observateurs, donc tout indique qu’ils resteront encore jusqu’à fin mars ou début avril avant de repartir pour nicher en Europe.

 

  • Bécasseau de Temminck (Temminck’s Stint): déjà vu le 24/1, il ne nous a pas fallu beaucoup de temps pour le retrouver dans le même secteur, se nourrissant en compagnie d’autre bécasseaux. Du coup, nous avons pu observer en cette seule matinée tous les Calidris réguliers du pays: Bécasseau maubèche, cocorli, variable, minute et sanderling – pas mal, non? De plus, ce n’est apparemment que la deuxième obs du Temminck au Technopole, la précédente datant de mai 2015. A peine visibles sur la photo, les pattes jaunâtres en combinaison avec le dessus et la poitrine bruns uniformes sont typiques de ce petit bécasseau, trop souvent confondu avec le Minute. Il est ici tout à fait en marge de son aire de répartition régulière, étant bien plus commun en Afrique de l’Est (au Sénégal, il semble hiverner en petit nombre dans le bas-delta notamment).
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Temminck’s Stint / Bécasseau de Temminck

 

  • Chevalier à pattes jaunes (Lesser Yellowlegs): alors que je cherchais à mieux observer un pluvier posé parmi les nombreux Grand Gravelots (c’était un argenté…) je vois un chevalier suspect tout près de la piste, se nourrissant activement dans la vase: bec sombre assez court à base légèrement jaune, dessus gris-brun uni, dessous blanc, croupion blanc, et surtout: des pattes jaunes flashant… encore un Tringa flavipes! Serait-ce le même que celui vu l’hiver dernier en février, peut-être même l’oiseau déjà vu en août 2015 et janvier 2016, voire également à Yene en novembre 2017?? En tout cas cette régularité d’observations est intriguante. Comme pour les bécasseaux, nous avons pu observer ce jour tous les chevaliers réguliers au Sénégal, car en plus des habituels des lieux il y avait également deux ou trois Chevaliers arlequins, peu communs ici (Spotted Redshank). En plus de quelques photos relativement nettes pour une fois, on a même réussi à faire un enregistrement de son cri, à écouter ici.
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Lesser Yellowlegs / Chevalier à pattes jaunes

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Lesser Yellowlegs / Chevalier à pattes jaunes

 

  • Goéland de la Baltique (Baltic Gull): probablement la plus grosse surprise du jour, on a été bien étonnés de voir un adulte on ne peut plus typique de cette sous-espèce nominale du Goéland brun: en comparaison directe avec ce dernier, notre oiseau s’en distinguait nettement par sa taille plus petite (sans doute s’agissait-il d’une femelle), son manteau très sombre, presque noir même, et surtout une projection primaire importante lui conférant un aspect bien plus élégant et plus allongé (un peu comme un Pluvier bronzé comparé au Pluvier argenté!). En vol, les ailes longues et plutôt étroites, avec très peu de blanc au bout des primaires externes, étaient frappantes. Malheureusement après un envol général l’oiseau n’a pas été revu, donc pas de photos à l’appui… Notre première obs au Sénégal, ce taxon est néanmoins connu pour hiverner en effectifs très modestes sur les côtes d’Afrique de l’Ouest (quelques individus? pas sûr même que ce soit un visiteur annuel). Sa présence ici, loin de ses quartiers d’hiver réguliers en Afrique de l’Est et l’ocean indien, a été confirmée grace à quelques lectures de bagues notamment en Gambie. Egalement présent dans le tas de centaines de goélands, au moins un Goéland leucophée (Yellow-legged Gull) de 1er hiver, un individu au manteau très clair.

 

  • Mouette mélanocéphale (Mediterranean Gull): une dizaine d’oiseaux au moins, soit un peu plus que d’habitude. Comme toujours, l’essentiel des effectifs hivernants est composé d’oiseaux de premier hiver. Pas vu d’oiseaux bagués cette fois-ci, mais on vient de me signaler – merci Renaud – que “RV2L” vu l’hiver dernier a été observé il y a tout juste quelques jours au Portugal.

 

  • Canard chipeau (Gadwall): les trois individus trouvés par Simon le 23/1 étaient toujours présents, bien que pas forcément faciles à répérer dans le tas d’anatidés, bien plus compact que quelques jours plus tôt: avec près de 400 Souchets et autant de Sarcelles d’été, cela fait du monde à fouiller… Il s’agit a priori de la première donnée sur la péninsule du Cap-Vert de cet hivernant rare au Sénégal, dont les quelques observations proviennent sauf erreur toutes du bas-delta. On n’a pas vu la femelle de Canard siffleur (Wigeon) cette fois alors qu’elle était assez bien visible les 23-24/1; là aussi il s’agirait d’une première pour le Technopole. Cela fait donc pas moins de 4 ajouts à la liste, et cela en moins d’une semaine.
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Gadwall / Canard chipeau

 

  • Mouette de Franklin (Franklin’s Gull): encore une obs de ce laridé néarctique! C’est presque devenu banal ici… Un peu loin comme souvent, au repos dans un groupe de Goélands railleurs et Mouette rieuses – bien nombreuses ce jour – j’ai tout de même fait une photo-preuve où l’oiseau, au manteau gris sombre et au capuchon déjà en grande partie noir, est tout juste reconnaissable au milieu du groupe. Entre la photo du Temminck et celle-ci, je ne sais pas laquelle gagnera au concours de la photo la plus pourrie du jour…
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Franklin’s Gull / Mouette de Franklin

 

Pour le reste, voir notre checklist eBird (merci Miguel!)

Une fois de plus, le Technopole confirme sa position de haut-lieu de l’ornithologie sénégalaise, et de hotspot urbain tout à fait exceptionnel. A voir ce que nous apporteront les prochaines visites!

 

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White-rumped Seedeater / Serin à croupion blanc