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…
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.
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.
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 Babbler, Green Crombec, Green Hylia, Little Greenbul, Guinea Turaco, Grey-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:
A few scarce Palearctic migrants were seen, including Booted Eagle, European Bee-eater, House Martin, Grasshopper 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).
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.
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.
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!
Enfin, un grand merci à Bruno et sa petite famille pour l’accueil à Kantène!
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!
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
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!
A visit to Popenguine nature reserve a couple of weeks ago quickly turned into a exciting few hours watching a good variety of raptors – something we’re not much used to in this part of Senegal, where there are few sites that are good for raptors, and most of the time anything else than a Yellow-billed Kite, Osprey or Hooded Vulture will qualify as a good record. Here’s a short overview, in order of appearance!
As always, several Ospreys were to be seen in the reserve; a few birds usually spend the night on the mighty baobabs that dot the Popenguine savanna, and all day long Ospreys can be seen flying around the cliffs or fishing out at sea. Later that same day at the lagoon just south of Toubab Dialaw, we had a good count of some 29 birds, all visible at the same time (Balbuzard). Popenguine of course also had a few Yellow-billed Kites patrolling the area (Milan à bec jaune).
As we were looking for a Common Rock Thrush we’d briefly spotted on a ridge ahead of the footpath, we noticed first an immature Peregrine Falcon flying around, then a European Hobby – the latter a scarce migrant through Senegal so always a good find. Hobby was already seen at Popenguine around the same time last year by Miguel. This time round it looked like it was an actively migrating individual, just like a Common Kestrel that briefly made an appearance shortly after (Faucons pèlerin, hobereau et crécerelle).
Next up was a Marsh Harrier circling in the distance, again probably a bird on its way to wintering grounds further south (Busard des roseaux). I’ve always thought that Popenguine would be a fairly strategic site to look for actively migrating raptors and other birds. Should be interesting to spend a few days here in October-November and February-March!
This Short-toed Eagle on the other hand was probably one of the 2-3 birds that typically spend the winter in the area around Popenguine and Guereo.
Far less expected than the previous species was an African Hawk-Eagle, spotted by Gabriel as it arrived from the north-east and made its way towards the cliffs, at one point circling together with a couple of Ospreys. Initially we weren’t quite sure about its identity and tentatively id’d this bird as a Bonelli’s Eagle, wondering whether a juvenile African Hawk-Eagle could be ruled out, and were a bit puzzled by the very pale appearance of this eagle. Luckily I managed a few record shots, a bit distant and hazy but they should do the trick. The plumage seemed to still be within the variation of worn juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle, but moult should not start until the second year and this bird shows clear moult contrast on with fresh inner primaries growing. Simon was the first to point out, after this post was originally published, that it looked more like African Hawk-Eagle. I eventually sent out the picture for comments, and Dick Forsman kindly responded, confirming that it’s an African Hawk-Eagle: “It is overall lighter below, the juvenile remiges (primaries + secondaries) are too light and too poorly barred below for a juv. Bonelli’s and the replaced inner primary shows just a dark tip without any further barring. Note also the translucent primaries in the images with blue sky, another pro-spilogaster feature.” Thanks Dick! (post updated Dec. 27)
African Hawk-Eagle is reasonable common it seems through the southern half of Senegal, and is a classic sighting e.g. in the Niokolo-Koba area. There are some records from the Saloum delta and even from the middle Senegal valley (as per Morel & Morel and Sauvage & Rodwell), but as far as I know this is the first from the Petite Côte.
I’m still hoping to see Bonelli’s Eagle one day in the Djoudj, Trois-Marigots or elsewhere in the Senegal valley, the only area with more or less regular records in winter (mainly by Frédéric, who year after year has documented the presence of a few birds around Saint Louis and who nicely summarised the current knowledge about this scarce species in West Africa, in this post on Ornithondar).
After we’d reached the top of the cliffs, next up was this Eurasian Griffon which appeared to be actively migrating along the coastline, just like a second bird we’d see a couple of hours later that same morning near Yène.
Barely a few minutes later, Gabriel strikes again with a young Lanner making a brief appearance, just as we were heading back towards the reserve entrance (Faucon lanier). That’s four species of falcons, not bad! In previous years we’ve also had Barbary Falcon near the cliffs, and surely Red-necked Falcon and Grey Kestrel must also occur at least occasionally, while in the wet season it may be possible to encounter African Hobby.
We thought we’d seen pretty much everything when at the last minute a Shikra was seen dashing over the pond (all but dry!), bringing our morning’s total to 11 birds of prey.
Besides all these hooked beaks, as always the nature reserve held quite a few other good bird, such as Gosling’s Bunting, Green-winged Pytillia, Sahel Paradise-Whydah, Blue Rock Thrush, and Northern Anteater Chat. In the end we saw two different Common (=Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrushes, a scarce migrant in Senegal, see this post on our first encounter with the species, in February 2016 at… Popenguine! Also a decent flock of Pallid Swifts and a few White-throated Bee-eaters, both pretty good bonus species, while two Pygmy Kingfishers including at least one dark-billed juvenile provided proof that the species is breeding here.
Complete eBird checklist available here.
The bird list for the Popenguine reserve now stands at some 198 species, at a minimum that is: I listed more than 20 other species as being most likely present, but which apparently remain to be confirmed. More on that over here.
Oh and then there were the butterflies – pure magic! Thousands and thousands of butterflies everywhere, especially along the track up the cliffs. With every footstep, small clouds of butterflies would explode, while a constant stream of butterflies was passing by the cliffs. Our visit clearly took place during peak migration season of Painted Lady which were the vast majority, and to a lesser extent some pieridae. And loads of dragonflies! Difficult to capture on camera but if you look carefully at the image below you’ll get a bit of a sense of what I’m trying to explain here.
(continued from our first blog post on this road trip)
After leaving Gamadji Sare behind, we made our way towards Podor with a few stops en route. A nightjar sheltering from the heat (and predators) was flushed by Vieux near forêt de Golette, just minutes after he casually mentioned that those bushes look good for nightjars! We were hoping for one of the rarer species of course, but it turned out to be a Long–tailed Nightjar after all, apparently a (young?) bird in very fresh plumage. Also several Knob-billed Ducks here, a Short-toed Eagle, Spotted Thick-knee, Vieillot’s Barbet and so on.
At the scenic Podor quay we had a Marsh Harrier, at least two House Martins and several Red-chested Swallows, some of which were on the opposite side of the river, meaning these were in Mauritanian territory: not insignificant since apparently there aren’t any solid records from our northern neighbour, despite the fact that the species surely must breed on the Mauritanian side of the Senegal delta. Just like in January, we also saw the species further downstream at Dagana. A Montagu’s Harrier and a Black Kite were seen just south of town.
Continuing our westbound journey, we cris-crossed the rice paddies with a few quick stops en route, including an emergency stop near Fanaye Dieri for a raptor which initially puzzled us both, and which turned out to be a young Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle. This seems to be a (very) scarce wet season visitor to northern Senegal and to southern Mauritania where breeding has been confirmed.
At Dagana, the main feature was the constant stream of herons and Long-tailed Cormorants en route to their nigh roost (or in case of the Black-crowned Night-Herons, en route to their nightly feeding grounds). The roost is located in the swamps just east of Dagana, and hosts what must be several thousands of birds. Three Glossy Ibises flew into Mauritania, while Greater Swamp Warblers were singing on the northern river bank. An evening walk produced Nightingale, Barn Owl, Long-tailed Nightjar and more.
Day 4: Big Day! Dagana to Saint-Louis via Richard Toll and the lower delta
October 6 happened to be the first “October Big Day” organised by Cornell – more on this eBird page.
Pre-breakfast birding at Bokhol “forest”, then from Dagana to Richard Toll with a couple of stops en route and a visit to the sand quarry where I wanted to check on the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater colony: with some 500 nest holes, probably at least half being active nests, this is an impressive sight. Bonus species here were Northern Anteater Chat, Cricket Warbler, and especially two Standard-winged Nightjars flushed from “broom bushes” which were a real surprise here (but once again both were female type… so alas no standards!). The picture of the quarry shows the habitat of the latter two species in the background. Along the track into the sugar cane plantations, more White-throated Bee-eaters, both bishops, Black-rumped Waxbills, and a fine Pin-tailed Whydah.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… at Bokhol, the fields were rather quiet and unlike in Gamadji Sare the previous morning we barely had any northern songbirds. The forest held goodies such as Senegal Batis, more Orphean Warblers, Fork-tailed Drongo, Brubru, a Red-necked Falcon with prey, and a much less expected Klaas’s Cuckoo singing in the distance (appears to be a rare breeder during the wet season in northern Senegal). Full species list here. Another Whinchat and a few other migrants were seen just west of Dagana.
Negotiating our way out of Richard Toll, we continued on to Ross Bethio, more specifically the ponds along the track to the Djoudj NP. This is where Vieux found a Lesser Jacana back in July: only the fifth record for the country (and second in the north), this was an exciting find of course, further highlighting the potential of this site which has received little attention from birders let alone from the National Park authorities – though the good news is that from this year on, the site is included in the monthly waterbird counts conducted by the Djoudj park staff. Full story on the jacana record on Ornithondar, merci Frédéric. During our visit there were loads of herons and whistling ducks, pelicans, several Black Storks and Yellow-billed Storks, more Eurasian Coots, etc. More unusually, we spotted several Marbled Ducks, counting at least 11 of these cool ducks. This appears to be an early date, and a rare record outside the nearby Djoudj NP: almost all observations tend to be from the same area in the national park, at the Grand Lac, typically between December and February. We’d already seen Little Grebes, but now Vieux also spotted a Black-necked Grebe, an adult coming out of its breeding plumage. Again an early date of an uncommon species in Senegal, typically seen in mid-winter in the north. All in all some 78 species were seen here, see eBird checklist.
The long drive through the delta along the Djoudj track was pretty uneventful, and we only stopped briefly at Saint-Louis to watch a group of Black-tailed Godwits which unfortunately were feeding knee-deep in the lagoon, so no colour-rings could be seen. The Saint-Louis sewage works are always a hit, but too often they are ignored by visiting and local birders alike: I was thus keen to show Vieux this site even if we had just about half an hour left. As always, plenty of birds here, best of all being a Great Reed Warbler. We said our goodbyes here, and I continued onto Zebrabar where I’d spend the night, picking up several wader species new for the trip list as well as Brown Babbler on the camp grounds.
Day 5: final bit of birding at Langue de Barbarie et Guembeul lagoons
Up before dawn, I first went to the floodplain south of Guembeul: Savile’s Bustards singing in all directions, a flock of spoonbills of both species frantically feeding, and a good mix of warblers (Melodious, Subalpine, Bonelli’s, Common Whitethroat). The lagoons held Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits (including a ringed bird from northern Germany), lots of Little Stints, Dunlins, Curlew Sandpipers, and so on. A Pallid Swift was seen near Guembeul, and the lagoons near the STEP held a handful of Shovelers and White-faced Whistling-Ducks, including a family with some 11 ducklings, with Little Grebes also showing signs of local breeding.
Time to head back home… uneventful drive, with just a few quick stops between Mouit and Louga whenever I encountered vultures such as this one:
Quick note to report Senegal’s 12th and 13th American Golden Plovers, a species that is now near-annual here but which always remains a good find.
We found the first of the season last weekend at lac Mbeubeusse (north of Keur Massar) which we visited early afternoon on our way back from a very enjoyable trip to Popenguine – more on that visit in an upcoming post. Both the date (3 November) and the location are rather typical for this wader: out of the 11 previous records, eight are from the Dakar region, and three were obtained between mid-October and mid-December. Paul had already seen a bird in the same location back in March 2013: needless to say that lac Mbeubeusse ought to be visited much more frequently than just a handful of times per year: pretty much every visit is bound to turn up something good. As always we can only speculate about the number of Nearctic vagrants that pass through Senegal every year or that end up spending the winter here…
After spotting what looked like a suspicious Pluvialis plover (= anything but a Grey Plover), based on the fairly contrasted plumage, seemingly long-bodied and long-legged appearance combined with a small-ish bill, we had to wait a while, gradually approaching the lake’s edge, before we could confirm that it was indeed a “Lesser” Golden Plover (= American or Pacific GP). The important primary projection with wing tips reaching well beyond the tail, bronzy rump and lower back, dark-capped head with distinctive pale supercilium and forehead, and most significantly at one point the bird stretched its wings upwards which allowed us to see the grey underwing. Everything else about the bird was pretty standard for a first-year American Golden Plover. Bingo!
To get a sense of the potential of lac Mbeubeusse for waders and other waterbirds, check out our eBird checklist: other good birds here included hundreds of Northern Shovelers and many Garganeys, Ruffs, Little Stints and Common Ringed Plovers, several Curlew Sandpipers and Dunlins, quite a few Audouin’s Gulls, a few terns including all three species of Chlidonias marsh terns, 124 Greater Flamingos, at least one Red-rumped Swallow, etc. etc. All this with Dakar’s giant rubbish tip as a backdrop, spewing black smoke and gradually covering the niaye in a thick layer of waste on its western edge… quite a sad contrast with all the bird life. And definitely not the most idyllic birding hotspot!
Number 13 was found by Mark Finn barely a week later, on Friday Nov. 9th, at one of the lagoons near Pointe Sarène, south of Mbour. As I happened to spend the weekend at nearby Nianing and was planning on visiting Sarène anyway, I went there the following day and easily located the bird, an adult moulting into winter plumage. Unlike the previous bird, it was actively feeding on the shores of a seasonal pond surrounded by pastures and fields, along with several other waders including Ruff, Redshank, Greenshank, Redshank. Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Turnstone, Common Sandpiper, and Common Snipe. This appears to be the first record along the Petite Côte south of Dakar, at a site that has great potential for shorebirds and other migrants: around Nianing, Sarène and Mbodiène are several seasonal lakes that fill up during the rains, as well as coastal saltwater (or brackish) lagoons as can be seen on the map below. The marker shows where the AGP was feeding on Saturday.
Despite being a bit distant I managed some decent record shots of the bird, but unfortunately my camera was stolen later in the weekend… so these pictures are lost forever to humanity. Not that I would have won any prizes with them. So no more blurred pictures from the field on this blog for a little while.
The Sarène bird looked pretty much like this one, just slightly less black on the chest:
Anyway, as I think we’ve already mentioned in the past, “AGP” is the most frequent Nearctic wader in Senegal and more generally in West Africa, followed by Buff-breasted Sandpiper (nine Senegalese records so far) and Lesser Yellowlegs (eight). See this post for a list of the first eight known AGP records for Senegal. Since then (spring 2017), the following sightings are to be added:
- April-May 2017: an adult and two 2nd c.y. birds from 17.4 – 1.5 at least, with a fourth bird (= technically an additional record) up to 21.5., at Technopole (BP, Theo Peters, Wim Mullié, Miguel Lecoq, Ross Wanless, Justine Dosso)
- 8 April 2018: an adult or 2nd c.y. at Technopole (BP) – photos above and more info here.
- 3 November 2018: one 1st c.y. at lac Mbeubeusse, Dakar (BP, Gabriel Caucanas, Miguel Lecoq, Ross Wanless)
- 9-10 November 2018: one ad. at Sarène, Thiès region (M. Finn et al., BP)
Out of these 12 records, eight are from Dakar (mostly Technopole of course!), just one from the north – the first country record, in 1979 – and two are from Basse-Casamance where the species may well winter, at least occasionally. And six of these records are from just the past four years: one in 2015, four birds in 2017, and now already three birds this year. American Golden Plovers tend to mainly show up in spring (April-May) and in autumn (Oct.-Nov.) as shown in this little chart below; it’s also in spring that they linger the longest: in spring 2017, Technopole saw a continued presence during five weeks, involving at least four different birds. Note that birds that stayed for several days across two months are counted in both months.
A few more hazy pictures from the Mbeubeusse bird:
Ever since our first expedition to the Moyenne Vallée back in January I’ve been keen to return to this little-known part of Senegal, mainly to see whether our Horus Swifts would be still around and to find out what the rains season would bring here. Early October I had the chance to finally head back out there: here’s a glimpse of our five-day road trip to the Far North.
Where to start? We’ll take it in chronological order!
Day 1: Dakar to Lampsar lodge via Trois-Marigots
A pit stop at the lac Tanma bridge and a couple of brief stops at Mboro produced a few waders and Greater Swamp Warbler (niaye near the abandoned Hotel du Lac), African Swamphen and Levaillant’s Cuckoo (ponds at the start of the road to Diogo; Rousserolle des cannes, Talève d’Afrique, Coucou de Levaillant). From there it was pretty much non-stop all the way to the Trois-Marigots, an important wetland complex just past Saint-Louis. All lush and teeming with bird life following abundant rains in previous weeks, I could have easily spent half a day here but unfortunately could only spare a couple of hours before moving on to the Lampsar lodge.
Herons, egrets, ducks, waders, bishops and weavers were everywhere, many of them in full breeding attire and actively singing and displaying while Marsh Harriers (Busard des roseaux) were hunting over the wetlands. Two adult Eurasian Coots were the most unexpected species, and I already got a good flavour of things to come in the next few days: Spur-winged Geese flying around, noisy River Prinias everywhere, a distant singing Savile’s Bustard, lots of Collared Pratincoles, a Brubru, Woodchat Shrike, etc. etc. (Oie-armée, Prinia aquatique, Outarde de Savile, Glaréole à collier, Brubru, Pie-grièche a tête rousse)
Just like at Trois-Marigots, Yellow-crowned and Northern Red Bishops were very active in the fields around the Lampsar lodge, where quite a few northern songbirds were noted during a short walk at dusk: Western Olivaceous Warbler, Common Redstart, Garden Warbler, White Wagtail and many Yellow Wagtails – at least 135 flying towards a night roost on the other side of the Lampsar river (Euplectes vorabé et monseigneur, Hypolais obscure, Rougequeue à front blanc, Fauvette des jardins, Bergeronnettes grises et printanières). The Lampsar lodge certainly seems like a good base to explore this part of the Senegal delta, being located close the Djoudj and other birding hotspots in the area.
Day 2: Ndiael, Richard-Toll, Thille Boubacar to Gamadji Sare
Two Black-crowned Cranes were calling opposite the lodge at dawn, while Greater Swamp Warbler was singing along the Lampsar; the rice paddies and surrounding farmland held Winding Cisticola, River Prinia, and several waders including Common Snipe (Grue couronnée, Rousserolle des cannes, Cisticole roussâtre, Prinia aquatique, Bécassine des marais).
But we were just warming up… time to get serious. Vieux Ngom joined me at Lampsar from where we set off for the Ndiaël fauna reserve. Vieux is one of Senegal’s most enthusiastic and skilled birders, based out of the Djoudj as an eco-guide and is a great companion in the field – it was an absolute pleasure to spend the next few days in his company!
So, the Réserve Spéciale de Faune de Ndiaël: I’d only visited a couple of times before, and this was my first visit during the rains. The usually barren plains and dry acacia scrub were now all green, full of water, ponds with water lilies, acacias blooming, dragonflies hunting and butterflies fluttering everywhere… and birds of course: several Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese, a Knob-billed Duck, hundreds of White-faced Whistling Ducks (and one Fulvous Whistling Duck), two distant Black Storks and a Black-headed Heron, a couple of European Turtle-Doves, vocal Woodland Kingfishers (Ouette d’Egypte, Oie-armée, Canard à bosse, Dendrocygnes veufs et fauves, Cigognes noires, Héron mélanocéphale, Tourterelle des bois, Martin-chasseur du Sénégal). More Collared Pratincoles, a Montagu’s Harrier, and as we were watching the ducks and waders near the marigot de (N)yéti Yone, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse started to appear in small flocks, flying hurriedly over the plain (Glaréole à collier, Busard cendré, Ganga à ventre brun). On the way back along the track, a few of these birds were bathing and drinking from small roadside pools. Oh and sparrow-larks everywhere, mainly Chestnut-backed but also a few Black-crowned Sparrow-larks. Over a hundred Sand Martins were feeding over the plain, with several Common Swifts also passing through (Moinelettes à oreillons blancs et à front blanc, Hirondelle de rivage, Martinet noir).
Next up: Richard Toll, where we paid a brief visit to the aerodrome area, known to attract some good species in winter but rarely visited at this time of the year (this actually applies to pretty much all sites we explored). Our first Southern Grey Shrikes were seen here, as were Green Bee-eater, Tree Pipit, Singing Bush-Lark, Chestnut-bellied Starling, and more (Pie-grièche méridionale, Guêpier de Perse, Pipit des arbres, Alouette chanteuse, Choucador à ventre roux).
Time to move on… with just 110 km to cover until Gamadji Sare, we could afford making a few more stops en route. First of all at the wetland past Thille Boubacar, where a quick scan from the bridge by Ndiayene Pendao produced two Egyptian Plovers (Pluvian). The pond on the other side of the river, which back in January had yielded quite a lot of good birds, was harder to access because its surrounding were all flooded, making it difficult to get decent views of the main water body. So no Pygmy Geese this time round. Several Black Herons and African Darters were around, while a European Pied Flycatcher and a few Subalpine Warblers were feeding in the acacia woodland (Héron ardoisé, Anhinga, Gobemouche noir, Fauvette passerinette).
An adult Short-toed Eagle was seen flying over the road, and a couple more stops produced our first Cricket Warblers of the trip, more singing Black-crowned Sparrow-larks, breeding Sudan Golden Sparrows, and Vieux was lucky to see a Fulvous Babbler (Circaète Jean-le-Blanc, Prinia à front écailleux, Moinelette à front blanc, Moineau doré, Cratérope fauve). Alas no Golden Nightjar which we searched for in an area where it is known to winter.
And at long last, we arrived at Gamadji Sare, just in time for another hour’s worth of birding – No Time to Loose! – and of course we were more than eager to find out whether those mystery swifts were still going to be around. I’d barely walked through the back door of the Jardins du Fouta hotel, and there they were: a handful of Horus Swifts were flying over the river, confirming our suspicions that the species is well established here and that our sightings from January (and Fred’s in February) were not of some vagrant groupe of birds. At least 10 birds were seen several times, often flying close to the cliff’s edge while calling excitedly, and entering disused Blue-cheeked Bee-eater nest holes as night was falling. Unlike in January, the bee-eater colony was in full swing, with dozens of birds noisily feeding young in and out of the nest holes.
Horus Swift: check!
A short walk along the Doué river produced migrants such as Orphean and Bonelli’s Warblers, Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, and more Black Scrub Robins and Cricket Warblers (Fauvette orphée, Pouillot de Bonelli, Gobemouches noirs et gris, Agrobate podobé, Prinia à front écailleux).
Birding non-stop… what a day!
Day 3: Gamadji Sare, Podor and Dagana
Difficult for things to get even better than the previous day, right?
We spent some more time studying the swifts and observing their behaviour and trying to count them. Not an easy feat as the numbers kept fluctuating, with small groups appearing and disappearing constantly, and at one point there were some Pallid and Little Swifts mixed in with the Horus Swifts. In the end, we settled on a conservative minimum of about 45 birds, probably even more like 50 to 60! So more than double than our estimate in January. Trying to get some decent pictures proved to be even more difficult, most of my pictures resembling this:
Or even this:
More on the swifts may follow in an upcoming post. In any case, it’s pretty clear now that the species is well established and it would be surprising if they didn’t in fact breed here. And that other sites along the Senegal and Niger rivers and their tributaries are probably waiting to be discovered.
Further along the river bank we saw pretty much the same species as the previous evening, plus Hamerkop, Lanner, Pallid Swift, Gosling’s Bunting to name but a few (Ombrette, Lanier, Martinet pâle, Bruant d’Alexander).
A quick breakfast and some birding in the gardens which held Red-throated Bee-eater – just when we thought they were no longer around – and an unexpected Wryneck among many others; we then decided to go out to the rice paddies and the fields just to the north-east of the village (Guêpier à gorge rouge, Torcol fourmilier). Not really knowing what to expect, we weren’t disappointed: Bluethroat! Whinchat! Dwarf Bittern! …all species that in Senegal are tricky to see in one way or another (Gorgebleue à miroir, Tarier des prés, Blongios de Stürm!). The bittern was particularly cooperative: after it was accidentally flushed by Vieux, it landed on top of a bush, showing off its unique plumage – nice to finally catch up with this little beauty in Senegal (bringing my country list to 498 species!).
All in all, we got to see no less than 90 species in a single morning, all within walking distance from the guesthouse: pretty impressive I say. See the complete eBird checklist here.
We were now half way through our little expedition so it was already time to return west, to Dagana via Podor. This section, as well as days 4 (Foret de Bokhol, Richard-Toll again, Ross Bethio to Gandiol) and 5 (Langue de Barbarie and the Gandiol area, back to Dakar) will be covered in an upcoming Part II of this post… Thanks for reading up to here!
Why would two Portuguese, a Mauritanian, a Cape-Verdian, a French, an American and a Belgian set off on a boat trip one morning in October? Seabirds of course! With Gabriel in town, Bruce over from the US, Miguel and Antonio as motivated as ever to get out of the office and to have some of their BirdLife colleagues strengthen their seabird id skills, it was time to organise our now annual autumn pelagic, on October 1st.
Conditions were perfect to get out on our small boat (organised through Nautilus Diving: merci Hilda!) though probably a bit too calm for active seabird migration. We chose to head straight west to the edge of the continental shelf, rather than try the “trawler area” off Kayar as this is quite a bit more distant from Ngor. Needless to say that expectations were high as is always the case during these rare opportunities to get close views of the treasured tubenoses – storm petrels, shearwaters – skuas and maybe some Grey Phalaropes or Sabine’s Gulls.
A Manx Shearwater zooming past the boat was one of the first pelagic species we got to see, followed by quite a few Sooty Shearwaters (Puffin fuligineux).
Further out, Wilson’s Storm Petrel became the dominant species, with a few dozen birds seen – and probably many more that went undetected – particularly around the upwelling area. Almost all were obviously actively migrating, and we managed to get some good views of several of them as they zoomed past our boat. Of course, several storm petrels remained unidentified, but we did manage to get decent views of at least two European Storm Petrels (though alas no pictures!). The toes projecting beyond the tail that are diagnostic of Wilson’s are more or less visible on the pictures below.
Up next: skuas, or jaegers as our American friends call them. We didn’t see many, with just three Pomarines and just as few Arctic Skuas, as well as an obliging Long-tailed Skua. The latter was an interesting bird that we aged as a third-summer moulting into third-winter plumage. It briefly joined two Pomarine Skuas (second-year birds?) allowing for nice comparisons of size and structure.
Rounding up our seabirds is this Red (Grey…) Phalarope (Phalarope à bec large), the only one we saw during the trip but somehow Bruce managed to get a picture:
As seems to be quite often the case during these pelagic trips, some landbirds were also encountered, in our case European Turtle Dove (Tourterelle des bois) of which we twice saw singles migrating over the ocean (in October 2016, the PAOC pelagic recorded at least three species of passerines, including a migrating Bluethroat). One of our doves had a very worn and messy plumage, probably a moulting young bird:
Our complete eBird checklist, expertly compiled by Miguel, can be found here. We really ought to add the Osprey that can just about be seen sitting on top of the Almadies lighthouse, but which was noticed only later on this neat picture by Bruce of the lighthouse – Africa’s westernmost building, constructed some time in the 19th century (precise date seems unknown?) on a reef that lies just off the Pointe des Almadies.
Many thanks to Antonio and Bruce for sharing their pictures!