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Technopôle numéro 221…

…un Phalarope à bec étroit!

Je m’attendais bien à voir un Phalaropus un jour au Technopole, mais je pensais logiquement que ce serait celui à bec large, dont la présence au Sénégal et particulièrement à Dakar n’aurait rien de vraiment exceptionnel puisqu’il est régulier en tout cas lors du passage d’automne. De temps en temps, le Phalarope à bec large se montre dans les lagunes et marais salants un peu à l’interieur des terres, comme p.ex. en novembre dernier à Palmarin. Son cousin à bec étroit par contre est une vraie rareté en Afrique de l’Ouest… inutile de dire donc que j’étais bien content quand je me suis retrouvé devant un des ces oiseaux, de surcroît en plumage nuptial. La derniere fois que j’ai vu un phalarope nuptial c’était en… mai 1995 lorsqu’une femelle avait fait escale dans mes terres natales, près d’Anvers.

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Red-necked Phalarope / Phalarope à bec étroit

La photo ci-dessus est prise à bonne distance (80-100m?), avec le zoom digital poussé au maximum… mais on reconnait bien l’oseau: plumage gris/blanc à l’exception de la bande marron partant de derrière l’oeil et descendant par les côtés du cou vers les flancs, contrastant avec la gorge blanche; même à cette distance on distingue le bec fin et assez long. Lors de ses quelques nerveux deplacements en vol, j’ai pu voir la barre alaire étroite mais assez nette. Il s’agissait probablement d’un mâle car la coloration ne me paraissait pas très vive (les phalaropes font partie des rares espèces d’oiseaux dont la femelle a un plumage plus coloré que les mâles). Mais apparemment il est aussi possible que ce soit une femelle de 2e année, car certains individus acquièrent déjà leur plumage nuptial lors de leur 1er été – difficile donc d’en dire plus à cette distance.

Curieux d’en savoir plus sur son statut dans le pays, j’ai fouillé les sources habituelles… mais n’ai trouvé que quelques mentions d’apparitions du Phalarope à bec étroit au Sénégal:

  • Morel & Morel ne mentionnent qu’une seule donnée, de “8 sujets à l’embouchure de la Somone, 9 déc. 1983 (A. Dupuy)”. La localité, la date, et surtout le fait qu’il y avait huit individus ensemble, plaident bien plus en faveur du Phalarope à bec large. En l’absence de documentation mieux vaut donc ne pas prendre en compte cette observation ancienne.
  • Sauvage & Rodwell incluent deux observations bien plus plausibles dans leur mise à jour de 1998: des isolés le 30/10/91 à la Pointe des Almadies, et un le 13/4/92 au Lac Retba (=Lac Rose).
  • Un individu est signalé par un observateur de passage lors du PAOC, pendant une séance de seawatch à Ngor le 18/10/17: “1st-winter bird came in and landed just past breaking waves […]. Smaller; more dainty than Red [=Grey Phalarope] with finer bill, darker underwing in flight, less contrasting wing stripe. Appeared darker overall, even when distant and coming in” – cette obs semble donc plutôt crédible.
  • J’attends des infos pour 10 individus signalés eux aussi sur eBird par deux ornithos espagnols, il y aurait des photos… mais me semble peu probable vu l’effectif.

Et ailleurs?

En Mauritanie, il y a trois observations d’oiseaux isolés (Cap Blanc 21/10/66, Nouadhibou 7/4/80, f. nuptiale le 17/6/88 au Banc d’Arguin; Isenmann et al. 2010). Il y a une seule observation en Gambie (Banjul, octobre 1993). Ailleurs en Afrique de l’Ouest je n’ai trouvé que quelques observations: une du Niger (21/10/89), une du Tchad (22/9/14), quatre obs récentes du Ghana (janvier, juillet, deux fois en décembre). Soit moins de 15 données en tout et pour tout, c’est pas beaucoup! Plus au sud, en Namibie et en Afrique du Sud, ce phalarope est également rare, mais il y est tout de même vu assez régulièrement, peut-etre surtout grâce à une meilleure pression d’observation comparé à l’Afrique de l’Ouest et centrale.

On peut se demander si cet oiseau, et de manière générale les quelques individus observés en Afrique de l’Ouest, ne seraient pas plutôt d’origine néarctique qu’européenne, car les populations nichant en Europe passent l’hiver dans l’Océan indien, et les néarctiques se retrouvent dans le Pacifique. Notre phalarope en escale à Dakar aurait ainsi passé l’hiver de ce côté de l’Atlantique, de la même manière que les Pluviers bronzés ou Bécasseaux roussets par exemple. Et il serait donc en route de ses quartiers d’hiver en Afrique australe vers le Haut-Arctique canadien ou le Groenland (tout ça n’est que speculation bien sur – don’t quote me on this one).

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En tout, il y avait le weekend dernier pas moins de 21 espèces de limicoles au Technopole… le phalarope étant d’ailleurs la 37e espèce de limi vue sur le site. Les effectifs étaient assez impressionnants, surtout samedi en fin de journée: il devait y avoir au moins 600 à 700 limicoles de toutes sortes!

Parmi les plus intéressants, signalons un Bécasseau variable (Dunlin) tout seul parmi les minutes, cocorlis et sanderlings, deux Gravelots pâtres (Kittlitz’s Plover) parmi les nombreux Grands Gravelots (Common Ringed Plover), un Courlis corlieu (Whimbrel) passant en vol, cinq Combattants (Ruff) et autant de Barges à queue noire (Black-tailed Godwit; rare donnée d’avril).

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Et surtout, les trois Pluviers bronzés (American Golden Plover) trouvés le lundi 17/4 qui étaient toujours présents samedi 22; le lendemain matin par contre je n’ai retrouvé qu’un des deux juvéniles, l’individu le plus sombre:

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American Golden Plover & Little Stint / Pluvier bronzé & Bécasseau minute

L’adulte continue de muer vers son plumage nuptial, ayant acquis encore un peu plus de plumes noires sur le ventre et les flancs. Difficile par contre de prendre des photos l’après-midi… les visites matinales sont bien plus propices à l’observation et la photographie des limis du Technopole: pas de contre-jour, et moins de vagues de chaleur.

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

En plus de ce beau cortège de limicoles il y a toujours une bonne diversité chez les laridés en ce moment, avec sept espèces vues lors des deux visites: il reste encore quelques Goélands bruns (Lesser Black-backed Gull) immatures et encore 2 Audouins (Audouin’s Gull), ca. 250 Goélands railleurs, +50 Mouettes à tête grise et autant de rieuses (Slender-billed, Grey-headed & Black-headed Gulls), et encore une Mouette mélanocéphale  (Mediterranean Gull) le 23/4 et aussi toujours le jeune Goéland cendré (Common Gull) trouvé en février, vu le 22/4.

Egalement beaucoup de sternes et guifettes: quelques Sternes caspiennes, 30-50 hansels, plusieurs dizaines de caugeks, une dizaine de royales, une Sterne naine posée les deux jours et dix en migration active le 22/4, puis une Sterne arctique de 2e année le matin du 23/4… et de nouveau les trois espèces de Guifettes (deux Moustacs en migration active le 22/4, et au moins deux Leucoptères évoluant avec les Guifettes noires). (Caspian, Gull-billed, Sandwich, Royal, Little, Arctic, Whiskered, White-winged, and Black Terns)

Les passereaux paléarctiques semblent tous avoir quitté le site; juste encore quelques Hirondelles de rivage (Sand Martin), 1-2 Bergeronnettes printanières (Yellow Wagtail). Hier aussi au moins quatre Martinets noirs (Common Swift).

Curieux de savoir quelle sera la 222e espece!?

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Spur-winged Lapwing / Vanneau éperonné

Shearwaters off Ngor, 15/04

First of all let me apologise for the stream of mostly blurred pictures that is about to follow. I’m pretty pleased with the picture above, but found it really difficult to get decent shots of moving birds from a moving boat, one hand on the camera and the other holding on to the boat… and this despite the fact that the ocean was really quite calm when we set out on a mini-pelagic last weekend.

We didn’t see a huge variety of birds but what lacked in diversity was made up for by the quality of our encounters and by the good numbers of shearwaters – mostly Cape Verde but also quite a few Scopoli’s Shearwaters and probably some Cory’s too. Three species of Skuas (Long-tailed, Arctic, Pomarine) were seen, but only a few Northern Gannets are left, while four storm petrels were seen too briefly to be sure (probably Wilson’s). Other than that a single Audouin’s Gull, two migrating Black Terns and of course Royal and Sandwich Terns, albeit in small numbers. Oh and a lone Barn Swallow migrating low over the waves. In 2015, a similar boat trip on almost exactly the same date (18/4) produced quite a few more storm petrels (European, Wilson’s, Madeiran), two additional shearwater species (Manx and Sooty) as well as several Sabine’s Gulls.

I should really go out more on these boat trips as there’s always something interesting to see, and it really is a unique experience to find oneself surrounded by seabirds feeding around you. Last week’s trip is also a good opportunity to review some of the ID challenges with our Calonectris shearwaters, so here we go:

Cape Verde Shearwater Calonectris edwardsii

By far the most numerous bird of the trip, with at least 200 birds spread mostly between two groups. When seen at close range this is also one of the easier ones to identify: a medium-sized shearwater superficially similar to Cory’s/Scopoli’s, but clearly smaller and more slender, with a longer tail and overall plumage being more uniform brown and darker above. Its bill is rather fine, mostly grey without any yellow tones; some may even appear almost pinkish (see 3rd picture down).

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Cape Verde Shearwater / Puffin du Cap-Vert

The upperparts aren’t as contrasted and largely lack obvious grey in the wings and back compared to Cory’s/Scopoli’s, and do not display a distinctive dark “M” (or W, depending how you see things!) across the wings as on Scopoli’s, only a slightly darker band across the arm:

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Cape Verde Shearwater / Puffin du Cap-Vert

Under strong light they do sometimes look paler and may show a slightly mottled back:

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Cape Verde Shearwater / Puffin du Cap-Vert

Especially on swimming birds, the dark head can be fairly distinctive and may even be reminiscent of Great Shearwater. The size difference with Cory’s is striking when seeing the two species together but of course this is much harder when watching these birds from land while they are feeding out at sea or flying a kilometer away from the shore. The Cory’s Shearwater in the picture below (yellow bill with dark tip, pale grey head) looks huge compared to the Cape Verdes, which suggest Cory’s rather than Scopoli’s – but see further down for a discussion on separation of these two closely related (sub-)species.

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Cape Verde Shearwater (& one Cory’s / Scopoli’s) / Puffin du Cap-Vert (& un P. cendré / de Scopoli)

Cape Verde’s underwing pattern is intermediate between Cory’s and Scopoli’s Shearwaters, usually showing a sharp demarcation between the dark primaries and underwing coverts. The paler inner webs on the primaries make the hand look more grey than black, though this is visible only under good light conditions and is less distinctive than on Scopoli’s.

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Cape Verde Shearwater / Puffin du Cap-Vert

Cape Verde Shearwater considered a globally threatened species, under the category Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, owing to its moderately small population and range size. There are said to be around 10,000 breeding pairs (= ca. 30,000 birds in total), largely limited to just three islands of the Cape Verde archipelago. The population is thought to be declining owing mainly to uncontrolled levels of harvest. Indeed, “present-day harvests for food and bait have reached unprecedented levels and the threat this poses is augmented through motor-vessel use by fishermen […]. Currently, an estimated 5,000 chicks are taken from their nests on Raso and Branco each year. The species may also suffer predation from introduced species such as cats.” (BirdLife International, 2016).

If the 2001 estimate of 30,000 Cape Verde Shearwaters still holds true, then I saw about 18% of the world population this morning (24/4) while having coffee at the Calao terrace in Ngor, when at least 5,500 birds were visible from the Calao terrace, either passing through towards the NE, or feeding out at sea. A week ago I estimated about 1,100-1,200. Sure, some of these were Scopoli’s Shearwaters, though based on the few birds that were close enough to identify and going by our sightings from the boat about a week earlier these would account for 5-10% only. The species arrives on its breeding grounds from February-March, but egg-laying and incubation take place in May-July so the birds that are at Ngor at the moment may still head to Cape Verde – unless they’re all non-breeding birds of course. The species’ presence off Dakar seems rather unpredictable, but late winter and spring (Feb.-May, even June) is obviously the most reliable period to see them here; in certain years there are also good numbers in November (cf. Senegal Seawatching website).

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Scopoli’s Shearwater Calonectris diomedea

There were probably 10-20 birds in total, mixed in with the Cape Verde Shearwaters and mostly seen sitting on the ocean surface, and as such I have less useful pictures to share here. A shame because I’m not entirely sure that there weren’t any Cory’s Shearwater C. borealis as well, given that some birds looked really large and heavy-billed. Both species – formerly considered subspecies of Cory’s – share the same overall appearance of a large, grey-headed shearwater with a flashy yellow bill. Differences between the two are subtle and as such one would require good views or photographs in order to positively identify these birds; those see at a distance or under poor conditions are best left as Cory’s/Scopoli’s Shearwater.

The underwing pattern of Scopoli’s Shearwater is probably the most reliable field character, with the hand being less black and lacking the clear demarcation between the withe primary coverts and the dark primaries, which have white inner webs. This is often hard to see as flying birds are constantly shifting and often hold their wings down, hence the need for good pictures. Another feature of Scopoli’s is that is has a single black spot near the base of P10, whereas Cory’s has two on the outermost primary coverts (the 2nd one being detached from the dark edge of the wing – again, difficult to see other than on photographs). The size difference between Cory’s (which is slightly larger) and Scopoli’s is not very useful given that there is overlap and apparently much variation.

The picture below shows two Scopoli’s and one Cape Verde Sheawater: note the pale “hand” on the bird in the background, and yellow bill clearly visible on the bird in the front

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Scopoli’s Shearwater / Puffin de Scopoli

A good feature to pick up Scopoli’s among a group of Cape Verde Shearwaters, besides an obvious size difference and the yellow bill, is the much paler appearance of the head, mantle, and side of breast.

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Scopoli’s Shearwater / Puffin de Scopoli (at least 5 birds here)

The upperwing is clearly more contrasted than Cape Verde, with a dark zigzag across the otherwise grey wing, and mottled brown/grey saddle. This is especially true for Scopoli’s which is said to be greyer than Cory’s:

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Scopoli’s Shearwater / Puffin de Scopoli

As mentioned earlier, some birds looked really massive, including the thick bill, but I could not get any conclusive Cory’s – only a few suspected birds such as the one below. A shame that the underwing pattern isn’t clearly visible on this one:

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Scopoli’s or Cory’s Shearwater / Puffin de Scopoli ou cendré?

Further reading on separating diomedea and borealis can be had here and here, among others. There’s nothing much to be found on the occurrence in West Africa given that most records are of “Cory’s Shearwater” in the old sense, without distinction between the two species as currently recognised. Most records are from October-November and again around April, but the numbers are quite variable from one year to another. In 2016, we witnessed a strong passage of presumed Scopoli’s throughout November, but no birds could be labelled as obvious Cory’s.

Scopoli's Shearwater / Puffin de Scopoli

Scopoli’s Shearwater / Puffin de Scopoli

Skuas – another tricky ID category – may follow in a later post!

(post updated 24/4)

More Americans in Dakar

Yesterday Wim, Theo and I visited our favourite urban hotspot once again. I hadn’t been to Technopole since April 2nd and was keen to find out what new birds were around with spring migration still in full swing.

Our Easter Monday visit proved to be pretty rewarding, mainly thanks to the presence of no less than three (!) American Golden Plovers, with a supporting cast of hundreds of other waders and of course various terns and gulls. Conditions are now really good for most waders. Besides the Black-winged Stilts (which seem to have started breeding again) and Spur-winged Lapwings, there were lots of Little Stints (100-200?), a few Curlew Sandpipers, a flock of ca. 40-50 Sanderlings that arrived from the south and settled on an islet), still quite a few Greenshanks but less Wood Sandpipers than a few weeks ago, a few Common Redshanks, singles of Common Sandpiper and Ruff, still two Avocets, only two Grey Plovers, several dozen Common Ringed and two Kittlitz’s Plovers.

As we were scanning through these waders, this bird popped in view:

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GOLDEN PLOVER!

But which one?

European, American and Asian Golden Plover are all possible here, but all three are rare to extremely rare vagrants to Senegal. European was quickly eliminated based on structure alone: long legs, elongated rear due to long wings, generally slender appearance. It then flew off a short distance and landed out of sight, but luckily we saw the bird several times at fairly close range in the following two hours.

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé (= P. dominicain)

While we were watching this bird, I spotted another intriguing plover in the background, though this one was a young bird (2nd calendar year) that lacked any black on its face or underparts: another golden plover!

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

And then a little while later this one: similar to the previous bird, but overall appearance was more uniform brown. This bird hadn’t started moulting its mantle or coverts yet, unlike the individual above.

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

Identification

Young birds especially can be tricky to separate from Grey Plovers, so we made sure to get good views of the underwing pattern even if structure alone – identical to the adult bird – made it clear that we were watching a total of three different Golden Plovers. Both youngsters lacked the distinctive black “armpit” patch of Grey Plover but rather showed pale grey axillaries as can be seen below.

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

We also paid attention to silhouette and structure in flight, and found that the adult bird had toes that were marginally (but clearly!) extending beyond the tail tip – a feature that’s typically associated with Pacific Golden Plover, but which appears to be variable and as such may not be highly useful. We heard at least one bird calling, a high-pitched kleeuu. No recording unfortunately… I should just have left the recorder on while we were watching these birds! At least we managed to get a few decent pictures (I took well over a hundred pics…).

In the end, after examining our pictures back home, we concluded that all three were American Golden Plovers: wings projecting substantially beyond the tail tip, tertials ending well before the tail tip, leaving at least 3-4 (5?) primary tips visible; relatively short and fine bill; the call which more closely resembled recordings of Pluvialis dominica. Supporting characteristics in favour of American are, for the young birds, the very limited amount of golden “spangling” on the mantle and scapulars; the broad whitish supercilium; the larger, more diffuse “ear spot” and prominent “loral smudge”. The very coarse mottling of the moulting adult is said to fit American better than Asian Golden Plover, and the blotches on the rear flank and on undertail coverts also point towards the Yankee origin.

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

Occurrence in Senegal

This record appears to be the 9th for Senegal, with previous eight records listed as follows:

  • 28/05/1979, one caught on the northern shores of Lac de Guiers (Saint-Louis) by Bernard Treca (Morel & Morel)
  • 10-16/10/2005, a juvenile at Technopole (Holmström et al., two pictures here)
  • 16-17/10/2006, one photographed at Ziguinchor (ABC Bulletin Recent Reports)
  • 22/11/2012, two at Lac Tanma (Thies), by Paul Robinson (detailed account and pictures here)
  • 11/02/2013, one at Diembering (Basse-Casamance), by Simon Cavaillès and Jean-François Blanc (picture here)
  • 07/03/2013, one at Lac Mbeubeusse (Dakar), Paul Robinson (details and pictures here)
  • 26/04-09/05/2015, one at Technopole, Bram Piot (ABC Bulletin Recent Reports)
  • 18/12/2016, one at Technopole, Bram Piot (see here)

The increase in number of records in recent years is interesting of course, but most likely reflects a much better observer coverage of suitable stop-over sites for waders, particularly in the Dakar area since the start of the decade. All records are from between mid-October and the end of May, and one can assume that the species is now a regular though very scarce visitor to Senegal. With records from several other countries in the subregion, American Golden Plover appears to be the most regular Nearctic vagrant to West Africa. In neighbouring Gambia, there are at least five records (1984, 1997, 2005, 2013, 2016), while the first (and so far only?) for Mauritania was in the Diawling NP, just across the border with Senegal, in February 2004 (two birds).

The only record of Pacific Golden Plover for Senegal was from mid-May in the Saloum delta, more precisely from the Ile aux Oiseaux where Wim, Simon and others saw a neat adult on 10/5/12 (see their short note in Malimbus 35, 2013, and picture below).

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Pacific Golden Plover / Pluvier fauve, Delta du Saloum, May 2012 (S. Cavailles)

Back to yesterday’s sightings: in addition to the various waders already mentioned, other good birds included a Mediterranean Gull among the Slender-billed, Grey-headed and Black-headed Gulls (the latter now in low numbers only), as well as all three species of marsh tern: +10 Black, 3-4 White-winged, at least one Whiskered Tern – almost all still in winter plumage or moulting into 1st summer plumage. Also a single European Spoonbill, ca. 10 Sand Martins, but otherwise few other northern migrants.

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Black Tern / Guifette noire

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White-winged Tern / Guifette leucoptère

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White-winged Tern / Guifette leucoptère

Never a dull moment birding in Dakar… let’s see what our next visit brings!

More records from Diembering, Casamance

Early March we went back to Diembering (or Djembering, Diembereng, Djembereng…), six months after our first visit back in October. We once again stayed at the excellent Akine Dyioni Lodge nested in the dunes between the village and the ocean, just a stone’s throw from the beach.

Among the ca. 140 species that were seen during our stay, some of the highlights included Buff-spotted Woodpecker at the Ecoparc, Yellow-throated Longclaw in the fields to the NE of the village, Oriole Warbler in the lodge gardens though far more discrete than back in October when they were regularly seen and heard, and last but not least the unusual Capuchin Babbler in the Ecoparc (links will take you to my recordings on xeno-canto, all from Diembering). Our visit to the Ecoparc was much appreciated by the entire family, expertly guided by Jean-Michel. If you ever make it to the Cap Skirring area, make sure to visit the forest, and why not try their delicious thiebou diene or even stay the night there to fully take advantage of the forest life! Find out how one visionary community member achieved this rare conservation success story here.

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Yellow-throated Longclaw / Sentille à gorge jaune

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Yellow-throated Longclaw / Sentille à gorge jaune

Two species that I’d suspected last time but heard only too briefly were now confirmed: Green Crombec, Yellow-breasted Apalis – plus other forest “specials” already seen or heard last time, such as Ahanta FrancolinPied Hornbill, Little Greenbul, Grey-headed Bristlebill, Green Hylia and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher.

During a very pleasant bike tour in the Cap Skirring and Kabrousse area, two raptor species that are apparently scarce in Casamance were seen: a male Pallid Harrier seemingly migrating north along the coast, and a small group of Lesser Kestrels feeding high up in the sky, possibly also on the move. Other raptors of interest include Palm-nut Vulture, Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle (carrying a small snake, barely visible on the picture below), Lizard Buzzard, and Red-necked Falcon.

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Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle / Circaète de Beaudouin

Most birds were far less conspicuous, and singing less frequently, compared to our previous visit which was towards the end of the breeding season for many species. Short-winged Cisticola is one of these, which was only heard once this time, just like Yellow-throated Leaflove.

This female or young Northern Puffback was one of several seen in the area.

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Northern Puffback / Cubla de Gambie

Palearctic migrants included Red-throated and Tawny Pipit and of course Yellow Wagtails (iberiae mostly), Common Redstart, Common Whitethroats and several other warbler species: a single Subalpine, a couple of Bonelli’s, lots of Willow, a few Western Olivaceous and at least one Eurasian Reed Warbler. European Bee-eaters were seen daily in small numbers.

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European Bee-eater / Guêpier d’Europe

All four local roller species were around, and unlike in October there were now lots of White-throated Bee-eaters; also a pair of Giant Kingfishers near the lodge.

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White-throated Bee-eater / Gueêpier à gorge blanche

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Blue-bellied Roller / Rollier à ventre bleu

 

Lavender Waxbill was a long-awaited addition to my Senegal list. Also lots of Black-rumped Waxbills (one flock was made up of more than a hundred birds!) and perhaps more surprisingly Quailfinch (up to about a dozen in the dry rice paddies) and a few Cut-throats.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning here that a pretty interesting – and ambitious – atlas project is under way for Casamance, by the French association Apalis: find out more on the Oiseaux-Casamance website. Below are a couple of screenshots of the the maps that are now available online, which should soon incorporate my records from Diembering and elsewhere in the region. The first map shows overall coverage with number of species per atlas square, whereas the second is an example of a species’ distribution and breeding status, in this case Palm-nut Vulture. If you have any data from Casamance, please make sure to contribute! There are still lots of gaps and even in fairly well covered areas such as Cap Skirring (red square on the coast, near the Guinea-Bissau border) there’s a good chance that you will have seen additional species.
CasamanceAtlas_Squares_Capture

CasamanceAtlas_VautourPalmiste_Capture

 

Maybe one day we’ll have an online atlas for all of Senegal… I’ll keep you posted 🙂

 

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Hooded Vulture / Vautour charognard

Un python… urbain!

Voir un python a l’état sauvage a toujours été un de mes (nombreux) vieux rêves de naturaliste, mais jusqu’ici ce serpent m’avait toujours échappé – même au PN du Djoudj où ils sont généralement faciles à trouver… J’étais donc plus qu’agréablement surpris lorsque j’ai enfin pu en trouver un, tout à fait par hasard, lors d’un passage au parc forestier de Hann dimanche dernier. Comme souvent avec les serpents, ce sont les oiseaux qui m’ont permis de le repérer, et plus particulièrement les Choucadors à longue queue, Bulbuls des jardins et autres Calaos à bec rouge, tous émettant des cris d’alerte incessants et suivant de plus ou moins près notre python.

Intrigué par le vacarme et suspectant la présence d’un serpent, je le trouve facilement alors qu’il se déplace lentement mais sûrement sur le substrat de feuilles et branches sèches, dans le bois non loin du petit lac au coeur de ce parc urbain. A peine dix mètres plus loin, un groupe d’étudiants sont installés mais n’ont pas l’air de noter le vacarme des oiseaux, ni le serpent. Je le suis donc tranquillement et j’arrive à prendre quelques photos même si la lumière n’est pas terrible ici.

La seule espèce de python présente en Afrique de l’Ouest est le Python de Seba (African Rock Python), considéré comme vulnerable et inclus dans l’Annex II de CITES. Il s’agit visiblement d’un jeune individu, mesurant environ 1m20, 1m50 maximum. Sachant que les plus gros adultes peuvent atteindre 5 voire 6 mètres de long, j’étais là devant un exemplaire encore très modeste.

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African Rock Python / Python de Seba

Arrivé sur un tas de branches, il s’arrête de progresser, mettant bien en évidence le dessin délicat sur toute sa longueur, comme s’il avait été peint. Quel bel animal. Et quel plaisir de le voir enfin dans la nature, et non en cage ou dans un enclos comme dans le temple des pythons de Ouidah au Benin, haut-lieu du culte vaudou, que j’avais visité en octobre 2015. Le python y est vénéré, considéré sacré même… malheureusement cela n’empêche pas que la douzaine de pythons qui habitent dans ce fameux “temple” vivent dans des conditions assez exécrables. Une fois par année, on les laisse se promener dans la ville pendant un festival. Ici au Sénégal, je suis sûr que le python a tout intérêt à ne pas trop se montrer car les gens auront vite fait de le décapiter sur le champ. Comme ailleurs dans la région on ne se pose pas la question de savoir si c’est un serpent dangereux… serpent c’est serpent!

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African Rock Python / Python de Seba

Je n’ai aucune idée si sa présence en ville est courante ni s’il s’agit d’un individu réellement sauvage ou bien au contraire échappé de captivité – le reptilarium est juste à côté mais j’espère que leurs reptiles y sont bien gardés car il y a plusieurs serpents hautement venimeux dans leur collection…S’il est présent ici alors pourquoi pas aussi au Technopole, étant donné sa prédilection pour les zones humides.

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African Rock Python / Python seiba

Quoiqu’il en soit, c’est sûr qu’il y a de quoi manger pour des serpents de ce calibre, même en pleine ville: comme pour le Varan (West African Monitor) qui est également présent au parc de Hann et au Technopole, j’imagine qu’il mange ici surtout des rats et autres rongeurs, peut-être aussi de jeunes oiseaux. Les pythons adultes s’en prennent à des proies plus grandes: peut-être chats voire chiens et chèvres en milieu urbain?

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West African Monitor / Varan ouest-africain au parc de Hann, mai 2016

 

Et les oiseaux, justement ? J’allais presque les oublier… rien de bien particulier à signaler au parc de Hann pour cette visite : les habituels Souimangas splendides (Splendid Sunbird), Crombecs sitelles (Northern Crombec), quelques Moineaux dorés (Sudan Golden Sparrow), et une probable Tourterelle turque (Eurasian Collared Dove) seulement vue en vol.

Au Technopole où j’avais commencé la matinée, il y avait entre autres une Spatule blanche (Eurasian Spoonbill) baguée d’Allemagne (ile de Mellum en Mer des Wadden) et un Goéland brun (Lesser Black-backed Gull) danois (en attente de réponse), trois Guifettes noires (Black Tern) et autant d’Avocettes, et peut-être surtout : mon premier Bihoreau gris (Black-crowned Night Heron) ici, enfin ! Cette dernière espèce y est certainement régulière mais simplement très discrète, du moins pendant la journée. L’an dernier je l’ai vu une fois au parc de Hann, mais étonnamment la majorité de mes observations proviennent de chez moi aux Almadies, où j’en entends régulièrement un ou deux passer en vol au crépuscule ces dernières semaines. C’était pareil en 2016, avec des observations exactement à la même période en février-mars : d’où viennent-ils, et où vont-ils se nourrir ?? A chaque fois ils semblent venir du côté de la Corniche / Mamelles et se diriger vers Ngor… mais j’ai vraiment de la peine à imaginer où ils se reposent en journée et quels seraient leurs lieux de gagnage nocturnes.

Toujours aux Almadies, 15 Hérons mélanocéphales (Black-headed Heron) se dirigeant bas vers le nord ou nord-est tout près de la Pointe des Almadies, le soir du 20/3, étaient visiblement en migration active.

Voila pour le moment… prochain post: la côte sud de la Casamance.

 

Technopole – lingering vagrants & more rings

It’s been a while since my last update from Technopole, which I was fortunate to visit quite regularly these past few weeks, taking advantage of not travelling much at the moment (something that will end soon, having trips to DRC, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, and Morocco lined up for the next two months).

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So, what’s about at Technopole? Water levels continue to drop, rendering the main lake more and more attractive for a range of species. The panorama above attempts to give a bit of a feel of the area for our readers (click image to enlarge). Lots of gulls and a good range of waders are the key features at the moment, the following being some of the highlights:

  • Garganey: a single male on 25/2. Besides a few White-faced Whistling Ducks, there are hardly any ducks around these days.
  • African Swamphen: this is a fairly common resident here, but a very discrete one… so seeing an adult carry plant material for its nest, on 3/3, was a good breeding record.
  • Avocet: one on 25/2 and 3/3. Fairly scarce visitor to Technopole.
  • Kittlitz’s Plover: two birds on 12/3 were new for the season: my previous record here dates back to early August 2016, before the rains. It seems that this is mostly a dry season visitor to Technopole, possibly an irregular breeder when conditions are right (including last year, when a very young bird was seen in June though no adults were observed in previous months).
  • Yellow-legged Gull: an adult on 3/3 and at least two (adult and 3rd winter) on 12/3. Last winter only one bird was seen here.
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Yellow-legged Gull / Goéland leucophée

  • Common Gull: the same bird as on 12 February – Senegal’s fifth – was seen again on 3/3, when I showed visiting birder Bruce Mast around. The very worn plumage makes it straightforward to identify this as the same individual, which may hang out around the harbour or the Hann bay when not at Technopole (addendum 5/4:/17 Jean-François Blanc saw what was most likely the same bird on 24/3, meaning it will have been around for at least six weeks).
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Common Gull / Goéland cendré

  • Mediterranean Gull: two on 25/2 (1st and 2nd winter), and Miguel Lecoq reported two first winters on 4/3 meaning that so far at least three birds are around.
  • Little Tern: an adult on 3/3, shortly resting with the other terns and gulls (and at one point sitting next to a Caspian Tern, nicely illustrating the huge size difference between the two species). The (near-) absence of black on the tip of the bill indicates that this is the local guineae subspecies. Not a frequent visitor to Technopole – my only other record was last year I only saw two on 28 August. They seem to be more regular at Ngor in September, though still far from common.
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Little Tern / Sterne naine ssp. guineae

  • Whiskered Tern: an adult in breeding plumage was present on 3/3, bringing the total number of tern species seen that day to six.
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Whiskered Tern / Guifette moustac (and seven other species!)

  • Barn Swallow: one passing through on 12/3
  • Copper Sunbird: a pair on 12/3 was my first record in a long time here. They were on the edge of the gardens in the NE corner. So far I’d only seen a single male on 17 and 24/4, presumably the same bird – more frequent visits to the vegetable garden areas would likely result in more observations as this must be a resident in the area.
  • Zebra Waxbill: surprisingly, what is probably the same group as on 28/1 was seen again on 3/3 in exactly the same spot, near the small baobab past the golf club house. This time we counted at least 16 birds and I even managed to get a few decent record shots.
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Zebra Waxbill / Bengali zebré males

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Zebra Waxbill / Bengali zebré female type

On the ring-reading front, new birds were added to the list on each visit, with 11 birds “read” on 12/3 alone: one French Spoonbill (+ another, probably Dutch, that flew off before I could make out the ring combination), two new Norwegian Lesser Black-backed Gulls, three Audouin’s Gulls, four Slender-billed Gulls, and the now usual Gull-billed Tern “U83” all from Spain. Except for the Spoonbill, all rings were read in the flock of gulls and terns that’s visible on the panorama shown at the top of this post. My recent post on ring recoveries from Technopole was updated with this new information.

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Two of the ringed birds of the day: Audouin’s Gull “BYPB” and Slender-billed Gull “R78”. Note the subadult Yellow-legged Gull on the left (scratching; head not visible)

More to follow shortly I hope – am going back to Technopole tomorrow morning. For today I have some more seawatching to do, with spring migration slowly picking up it seems, and good numbers of skuas (mostly Pomarines but also several Arctic Skuas and even an a-seasonal Long-tailed Skua last week), Northern Gannets and Cape Verde Shearwaters feeding off Ngor.

Palmarin 18-19/2

Another family trip to Palmarin, another report with a few interesting observations and some pictures to share. To start, a pleasant surprise was a pair of Four-banded Sandgrouse that were flushed from an uncultivated field, then landed just a few meters away and allowed for close-up views (but alas no picture). Could they be breeding here? This is the first time, in five visits (August, twice in November, January, and now February), that I’ve seen the species in the Palmarin area or anywhere in Senegal for that matter.

The same goes for a first-winter Southern Grey Shrike which is another addition to my Palmarin list, and which is more likely a scarce or irregular winter visitor here. Typically seen in the north – Djoudj, Ndiael, Richard-Toll etc. – it is apparently scarce this far south. Even around Dakar there seem to be only a handful of records, including one at Technopole a few years ago that was found by Paul Robinson. However, Simon Cavaillès and friends regularly see the species in the Ndiafatte / Kousmar region and it’s been reported as far south as Tambacounda, but there are only a couple of records from The Gambia.

We’ll try to get back to the topic of subspecies identification in this taxon as it’s not a straightforward matter. According to what can be seen on the pictures below (on which the bird appears somewhat darker than in the field) my bird from Palmarin would fit ssp. elegans which breeds across the Sahara: pale plumage, lots of white in wing, grey rump, large size.

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Southern Grey Shrike / Pie-grièche méridionale

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Southern Grey Shrike / Pie-grièche méridionale

My second Eastern Olivaceous Warbler in Senegal was seen early Sunday morning while feeding in a tree, tail flicking and nicely showing its narrow bill and overall pale appearance. See this post for a discussion of the my first record (in French)

Numerous Common Whitethroats, a few Barn Swallows which are obviously on the move and should have started heading back to Europe. A male Whinchat was near Joal: are they already on the move, or would they winter in this area? Most of the Yellow Wagtails that were seen appeared to belong to the Iberian subspecies, such as this male:

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“Spanish” Yellow Wagtail / Bergeronnette printanière ssp. iberiae

A few OspreysMontagu’s and Marsh Harriers were around and a Short-toed Eagle was near Samba Dia, but in general not many raptors were seen. Single Grey and Common Kestrels, and also what appeared to be a family of Black-winged Kite with at least one young.

Waders were as usual well represented, though many were in distant flocks which I didn’t have the time to check thoroughly: Grey Plover, Common Ringed Plover, numerous Bar-tailed Godwits and Avocets, a single Oystercatcher, a few Turnstones and Whimbrels plus the usual Greenshanks, Redshanks, Wood Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers, hundreds of Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers, etc.

On the local front, Bruce’s Green Pigeons, Purple Rollers, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were around, while a few Sudan Golden Sparrows at Diakhanor were also a first for me in Palmarin. Red-billed Queleas were particularly numerous, just like in Dakar at the moment, with low thousands moving south at Diakhanor on 19/2 and several smaller flocks scattered throughout the area (though considering that this is supposedly the most abundant bird species on the planet and that they can gather in huge flocks, these numbers are still on the low side!).

Below is a small sample of some of the local birds seen during the weekend.

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Abyssinian Roller / Rollier d’Abyssinie

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Yellow-crowned Gonolek / Gonolek de Barbarie

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Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling  / Choucador à oreillons bleus

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Red-billed Quelea / Travailleur à bec rouge

 

(Header picture by Jane Piot!)