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Ngor spring migration: April 2018

Quick update on this past month’s seawatch sessions from Ngor, as there have been a few good species lately. As usual, most of these are from short sessions at the Calao, with a few from Pointe des Almadies and from a mini-pelagic on April 22nd. Here’s a rather dull species list, but given that still fairy little is known about the phenology of spring seabird migration off Dakar, I thought it would be worthwhile reviewing them here. I don’t really have any recent pictures to illustrate these records, except for a really poor header picture of a Sabine’s Gull actively migrating past the Pointe, and a few older pics that I’m recycling in this blog post.

So here we go:

Cape Verde Shearwater (Puffin du Cap-Vert): the first few birds were seen on 3.3 (min. 2), then ca. 20 on 16-17.3, and a regular presence was noted throughout April when seen during most sessions from 4th, typically 50-100 birds feeding offshore, at most ca. 490 birds on 27th (but just a handful the next day and none seen on 29th!).

Scopoli’s Shearwater (Puffin de Scopoli): at least one during our boat trip on 22.4, with Cory’s or Scopoli’s noted from Ngor on 28th (as well as on March 3rd & 11th).

Sooty Shearwater (Puffin fuligineux): first seen on 16.3, then again singles on 31/3 and 7/4, and at least three birds on 20th. Not much… and note that we didn’t see a single bird  during our boat trip.

European Storm-Petrel (Océanite tempête): after a good presence during the first half of February, the species was seen again on 22.4 from the boat, with a minimum of two birds.

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel (Océanite de Wilson): at least six were seen on 22.4, again during our boat trip. Unidentified storm-petrels migrating past the Calao on 7th (min. 8), 11th (3), 20th (3) and 29th (1) were likely this species, though others can’t be ruled out – when seen from land, these birds can be incredibly difficult to identify due to either the distance or the very brief sightings as they always fly low over the water surface and are typically seen only for a second or two before they disappear again in between waves.

Northern Gannet (Fou de Bassan): at most ca. 175 on 31.3, with numbers gradually decreasing throughout April. Curiously, no marked NE-ward passage was noted.

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Northern Gannet / Fou de Bassan, Ngor, April 2017

 

Grey (Red) Phalarope (Phalarope à bec large): four migrating on 29th was a good spring record! Other than these, the only waders seen during this period were a few groups of Whimbrel (Courlis corlieu).

Long-tailed Skua (Labbe à longue queue) single adults passing through on 20, 21 & 25.4, two on 26th, and an immature flew past on 29th. Pomarine and Arctic Skuas were seen in small numbers on most days, many of which were flying NE (though rarely more than five in any one session).

Lesser Black-backed Gull (Goéland brun): usually present in small numbers, either feeding in the surf or migrating past Ngor. There was obviously a peak around mid-March, with 107 passing through in just 40 minutes on 16.3, and 52 in half an hour the next day.

Audouin’s Gull (Goéland d’Audouin): typically between one and five birds seen on any one session, but on 16.3 there were 27 (incl. three adults) migrating past in 40 minutes and 14 the following day (in 30 minutes) – thus coinciding with the peak of the previous species.

Sabine’s Gull (Mouette de Sabine): after the first five on 4.4, becomes increasingly frequent towards the end of the month, with a max. of ca. 40 during our 22.4 boat trip, and 31 on 27th in just one hour. Actual numbers must be quite a bit higher as this species mostly passes through far out, typically in small groups. Sometimes a few birds would migrate closer to shore, and occasionally some would be feeding or resting just in front of the Calao. Other gull species included a surprising flock of 31 Grey-headed Gulls flying NE on 27th, and six Slender-billeds at Pointe des Almadies the following day.

Bridled Tern (Sterne bridée): one passing to the NE at fairly short range on 26.4 was a very nice surprise, as I’d only seen the species once before here (and more generally, away from the Iles de la Madeleine breeding grounds). It also appears to be an early date for the species, as it is typically seen in May-July. My only previous Ngor record was of three birds flying SW on 10 June ’16. Sauvage & Rodwell give the range of 27/4 – 9/7 for PNIM, and A. R. Dupuy recorded the species no less than eleven times from Pointe des Almadies from 26 May to 14 July ’92.

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Bridled Tern / Sterne bridee, Iles de la Madeleine, June 2017

 

Lesser Crested Tern (Sterne voyageuse): seen in small numbers throughout the month, with a good max. of at least 178 birds passing through on 9th, in just 65 minutes. African Royal Tern (Sterne royale) was seen on most days, typically in small numbers. Much less frequent were Caspian Tern (Sterne caspienne; singles on 31.3 and 28.4) and Little Tern (Sterne naine; one on 6.4, and a group of 16 migrating on 29th).

Roseate Tern (Sterne de Dougall): first seen on 31.3, then regular until the middle of the month with a max. of no less than 56 on 9th in just over an hour. Also singles on 26th and 28th. Most birds were actively migrating, with a few feeding locally with the mixed tern flock.

Arctic Tern (Sterne arctique): the first four birds were seen on 16.3, becoming regular from the end of March and seen on most sessions in April, max. ca. 70 on 24th though numbers probably higher as 1) species difficult to count, and many common/Arctic terns noted.

White-winged Tern (Guifette leucoptère): one flew past on 16.3, and a fine adult in summer plumage was feeding among the numerous Black Terns on 28.4 (Guifette noire). The latter species is seen pretty much during every session, with a maximum towards the end of the month: probably more well over 1,200 birds on 28th. An adult Whiskered Tern (Guifette moustac) was seen on 22nd, flying NE.

That’s about it for now.

On the raptors front, Osprey has been a regular sighting, as always during winter, until 31.3 at Ngor, after which one was seen on 13.4 at Mamelles and on 14.4 at PNIM. A few young birds may still hang around of course. The wintering pair of Peregrines was last seen on 20.4 roosting on the Diarama hotel, and two birds were seen roosting in the Mamelles cliff on 22.4 – pretty intriguing!

 

 

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Technopole 29/4: Goélands dominicains & co.

Sortie dominicale de routine au Technopole avant-hier 29/4, avec comme presque toujours quelques observations intéressantes à la clé.

A commencer par ces trois Goélands dominicains (Kelp Gull), espèce rarement observée au Technopole et à Dakar de manière générale : en scannant un groupe de laridés essentiellement composé de Goélands d’Audouin (quelques 85 inds. en tout, un bel effectif pour le site; Audouin’s Gull), un oiseau costaud sort du lot et lorsque j’arrive à voir son bec massif, je peux confirmer qu’il s’agit bien de Larus dominicanus, pas de doute possible cette fois. Un individu adulte ou presque, de taille nettement supérieure aux quelques Goélands bruns (Lesser Black-backed Gull) dans le même groupe, au bec énorme, un manteau bien sombre, et des pattes grises très claires tirant vers le vert. L’iris sombre est conforme à la ssp. vetula (Goéland du Cap, Cape Gull). A côté de lui se tiennent deux immatures avec la même structure et des pattes de la même couleur que l’adulte, soit trois Dominicains en tout. Les deux jeunes ont un âge similaire, ayant un plumage de type “2e cycle”, donc dans ce cas précis ce seraient des oiseaux nés en 2016. A part la taille et la forme du bec, la couleur des pattes est diagnostique et permet de rapidement repérer l’espèce au milieu de groupes de Goélands bruns, qui ont des pattes jaunes (adultes et subadultes) ou roses (immatures). Les trois oiseaux sont visibles sur la photo ci-dessous.

Pour plus d’infos sur l’identification des Goélands dominicains, voir notamment cet article de Jiguet et al. paru dans Birding World (2002), et aussi ici pour ce qui est des oiseaux de premier cycle.

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Audouin’s, Lesser Black-backed & Kelp Gulls / Goélands d’Audouin, brun & dominicain

 

Clive Barlow et Tim Dodman se sont penchés sur la population ouest-africaine, dont le petit noyau se trouve dans le delta du Saloum où l’espèce niche de manière régulière depuis 1980 au moins, lorsqu’un couple présumé mixte G. dominicain x G. brun fut trouvé sur l’Ile aux Oiseaux. Par la suite, des nidifications par des couples purs sont prouvées dès 1983 par Erard et al. Quelques individus fréquentent régulièrement la Gambie et la Mauritanie, et s’y reproduisent parfois, peut-etre aussi en Guinée-Bissau? Et avec l’intérêt grandissant que portent les ornithos européens au Sahara occidental – ou Sahara atlantique marocain, selon quel point de vue politique on adopte! – l’espèce est vue plus ou moins régulièrement en très petits effectifs plus au nord sur le continent, et il y a même quelques observations récentes au Portugal et en France. Clive et Tim émettent l’hypothèse que notre petite population isolée soit établie par quelques oiseaux égarés depuis l’Afrique australe (Afrique du Sud / Namibie), et que cette population soit maintenant autonome sans qu’il n’y ait de mouvements réguliers entres les populations australes et celle d’Afrique de l’Ouest. Il y aurait ainsi entre 20 et 50 couples dans la région. Une étude génétique est en cours ou du moins est-elle prévue, sauf erreur.

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Kelp Gull / Goéland dominicain

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Kelp Gull / Goéland dominicain ad. & imm. (même oiseau que sur la photo précédente

 

En région dakaroise, ce goéland hautement côtier est assez régulièrement signalée par des observateurs de passage, mais je ne suis pas sûr que toutes les observations soient réellement fiables… D’après mes propres données de ces trois dernières années le Goéland dominicain est très peu fréquent. Cela dit, je ne suis pas un larophile et si je faisais plus attention à ce groupe difficile que sont les grands goélands, j’en verrais probablement plus souvent!

Ainsi, Niklas Holmström et collègues en signalent pas moins de 20 entre le 13 et le 27/10/03 devant Ngor, mais un seul entre le 3 et le 16/10/05. Une équipe danoise en compte même 57 en « en migration vers le sud » du 22 au 29/10/04 – vraiment étonnant vu que l’espèce n’est présente qu’en très faibles effectifs plus au nord, et qu’en plus ils ne signalent aucun Goéland brun alors que c’est l’espèce dominante à cette période. En 2010, on passe à des effectifs plus raisonnables me semble-t-il, avec trois individus entre le 30/9 et le 8/10 (R. Lebrun) et autant du 25 au 31/10/10 (P. Crouzier & co.). Plus récemment, un Goeland dominicain est rapporté le 24/2 de Ngor par un groupe de naturalistes belges.

Pour ma part, ma seule autre observation au Technopole datait du 6/8/17, d’un immature que j’avais identifié comme dominicain et dont je reprends une des photos floues ci-dessous (l’autre est ) – commentaires bienvenus! Puis avec Manuel en février dernier on a également soupçonné un dominicain, mais trop loin et pas de photos pour confirmer l’identité de l’oiseau. Idem les 11 et 30/8/17 lorsque des probables dominicains passent devant Ngor.

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Probable Kelp Gull / Goéland dominicain (6/8/17)

 

Autre observation intéressante, celle d’un probable Heron « pâle », la sous-espèce monicae du Héron cendré qui ne niche qu’au Banc d’Arguin et peut-être ailleurs sur les côtes en Mauritanie et que certains considèrent même comme une espèce à part entière (“Pallid” or “Mauritanian” Heron). L’aspect très clair était frappant, et malgré la distance on arrive à bien voir les petites stries noires, fines et courtes, sur le cou qui comme le reste des parties inferieures parait presque aussi blanc que la Grande Aigrette. Le manteau était d’un gris pâle à l’exception d’une tache plus sombre à « l’épaule ». Il y a juste le dessin de la tête qui peut sembler un peu top contrasté pour un monicae classique, mais en regardant de près les quelques photos d’oiseaux mauritaniens cela semble encore rentrer dans la normale pour cette sous-espèce. Pour compliquer la chose, il y aurait des oiseaux intermediaires, et peut-être que c’est donc aussi le cas pour notre oiseau du Technopole (visibement un adulte nuptial). Bien entendu je suis preneur d’autres avis!

GreyHeron-monicae_Technopole_20180429_IMG_1851

Grey Heron / Heron cendré ssp. monicae (?)

 

Il doit s’agir d’un des ardéidés les plus rares au monde, la population totale ne comptant que quelques milliers d’individus, avec une aire de répartition très restreinte. Si c’est bien un mauritanien, alors il s’agirait de ma première observation d’un oiseau manifestement rare à Dakar. Ces derniers mois il y a eu au moins deux autres observations dans la région : un le 13/2 au parc de Hann (Gottlieb Dandliker, Cyril Schönbächler; photo ci-dessous) et un le 24/2 aux Iles de la Madeleine (M. Demeulemeester et al.). Monicae est plus fréquente en hiver dans les zones côtières du nord du pays, notamment autour de la Langue de Barbarie et Saint-Louis, mais même là le taxon reste d’observation plutôt aléatoire. Les observations d’Ornithondar permettent d’en savoir plus sur le taxon dans le Bas-Delta, et de comparer les photos avec l’oiseau du Technopole: articles bien instructifs ici et .

Tout cela pour dire qu’en gros, aussi bien l’identification que le statut et la distribution au Sénégal restent encore à préciser! On trouvera quelques infos résumées sur la page dédiée au Héron cendré sur le site du groupe HeronConservation.

PallidHeron monicae - Parc de Hann - 20180213 - G Dandliker

Grey Heron / Heron cendré ssp. monicae, Parc de Hann 13/2/18 (G. Dandliker)

 

Troisième espèce inattendue, vue par chance alors que j’étais en train de quitter le site : six Bengalis zébrés (Zebra [Orange-breasted] Waxbill). Ce sympathique petits passereau avait été vu pour la première fois au Technopole en janvier-mars 2017, et depuis j’ai pu en voir également à Yène, plus précisément le 1er janvier dernier. On peut donc supposer que ce nicheur du Bas-Delta sénégalais et du Saloum soit un erratique plus ou moins régulier dans la région dakaroise.

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Zebra Waxbill / Bengali zébré

 

Pour le reste, il y a de nouveau un petit groupe de Flamants roses (10 ind.), les premiers poussins d’Echasses blanches – juste trois pour le moment, déjà vus le 21/4 – et plusieurs adultes en train de couver; également un poussin de Vanneau éperonné; quelques Bécasseaux variables et surtout une bonne présence de Sanderlings (+150) et de Sternes caugeks notamment; une Hirondelle de rivage retardataire; et toujours quelques Spatules blanches et d’Afrique (Greater Flamingo, Black-winged Stilt, Spur-winged Lapwing, Dunlin, Sanderling, Sandwich Tern, Sand Martin, Eurasian & African Spoonbill). Sinon assez peu de limicoles, la plupart des chevaliers, pluviers, combattants et autres bécasseaux étant de retour en Europe maintenant: on attend déjà leur retour, d’ici deux mois à peine pour les avant-coureurs. Par contre, il y a toujours autant de Bihoreaux gris: une bonne trentaine (Black-crowned Night-Heron).

Le Souimanga cuivré est vu à chaque sortie en ce moment, et la semaine passée il y avait également un superbe mâle de Souimanga éclatant, photo ci-dessous (Copper & Splendid Sunbird).

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Splendid Sunbird / Souimanga éclatant

 

 

Identification of Kordofan Lark and Status in Senegal

Kordofan Lark (Mirafra cordofanica) is a poorly documented African lark species occurring in the Sahel. In West Africa it is known from Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso and its status in Senegal is considered to be that of a vagrant. A recent observation by a Belgian tour group led by Miguel Demeulemeester in March 2018 gives us a good opportunity to have a closer look at this species’ identification and its occurrence in Senegal.

Despite the quite broad range occupied by Kordofan Lark, which covers eight countries, it appears to be a highly localized resident. It is quite remarkable to note that there is not a single picture or video available on the Internet Bird Collection, nor are there any sound recordings on xeno-canto and other online sound libraries! It is probably the only bird species found in Senegal in that case. This is probably because the countries where the species is regular are not top birding destinations nowadays. A thorough internet search only takes you to a set of pictures taken in Niger by Tim Wacher, though it appears that these birds are actually Dunn’s Lark and not Kordofan as initially thought – see further down for a discussion of identification. The pictures taken by Jan Heip are therefore a very good contribution to the online presence of this scarce lark. As it turns out, they may well be the only pictures available online!

Kordofan Lark in Senegal

The first record of the species has been published by Morel & Roux (1962). Since this first observation a few more records have been added, which in most cases are not documented.

  • Collected or observed 4 or 5 times in grassland close to Richard Toll, April to June 1960 (Gérard Morel)
  • One close to Bakel, January 1983 (H. Schifter in Morel & Morel 1990)
  • At least one in the Richard Toll area, during a visit from 30 December 1993 to 5 January 1994 which “produced single records of Golden Nightjar, Little Grey Woodpecker and Kordofan Bushlark […] (per TG).” (Recent Reports, African Bird Club)
  • One record of a single bird NE of Louga (15°41´N, 16°7´W) on 30 July 2004, during North-South transects as part of a study on bird population densities along two precipitation gradients in Senegal and Niger (Petersen et al. 2007)
  • 4 individuals, Ndiaël, 4 December 2004 (Richard Cruse in Recent Reports, African Bird Club Bulletin)
  • 1 individual, southern part of Ndiaël, 14 February 2006 (Richard Cruse in Recent Reports, African Bird Club Bulletin)
  • One individual feeding close to Richard Toll, March 1st 2018 (Miguel Demeulemeester et al.)

There have been a couple of claims in the past years that refer to other lark species, and probably undisclosed genuine observations as well, as most observations of guided tours remain in notebooks. Most Kordofan Lark records from Senegal should be considered with care when they are not documented.

Kordofan Lark in surrounding countries

In Mali the species is reported as uncommon but widely distributed from 15°N to 23°N by B. Lamarche (1980), adding that the species undertakes local movements with evidence of breeding from May to July near Tombouctou. In mid-June 2004, several Kordofan Larks were in song in sand dunes south-west of Gao, where the spiky grass Schoenefeldia gracilis was dominant (Robert Dowsett & Francoise Lemaire; ABC Bulletin). Similarly, L. Fishpool recorded the song in June in NE Burkina Faso, by a bird “perched on a bush 2m above ground, on sandy soil (mainly of reddish tint)”. This recording was included in the legendary set of sound recordings of African birds by Claude Chappuis (2000).

For Mauritania the following information is given by Isenmann et al. (2010). The Kordofan Lark is thought to be a resident breeder in the Sahelian part of the country. Gee (1984) only found this lark 50-60 km north of Rosso where it was rather common and probably breeding (displaying and diversion behaviours). This location is close to the Senegalese border, and all observations of Kordofan Lark in northern Senegal most likely refer to birds breeding in this area, as there is not yet any evidence of breeding in Senegal. In fact, the species is so poorly known that its nest and eggs remain undescribed.

Identification

As written by Nik Borrow & Ron Demey in their reference bird guide, Kordofan Lark is a “small, pale sandy-rufous lark with stout whitish bill and distinctive tricoloured tail pattern (rufous, black and white). When fresh upperpart feathers fringed buff with narrow blackish subterminal crescents”. Its structure is rather similar to Singing Bush-Lark, but the plumage is noticeably different. The picture shows a head and breast pattern that nicely fits the plate in Borrow & Demey, with limited well-defined brownish streaking on the upper breast, sandy-brown head with paler supercilium and nape and a white throat patch extending below the ear coverts. The bird also shows a few fresh scapulars with a neat white fringe and a subterminal dark bar, typical of the species. Its bill also perfectly corresponds with the description given in the Handbook of the Birds of the World, describing the bill as “pale whitish horn, slightly darker tip and dorsal side of upper mandible“. The juvenile is said to have “broader pale feather fringes on back and wing-coverts, heavier dark spotting on breast“.

To sum up, the main characters to look at are the bicoloured bill, brown-rufous upperparts, pattern of fresh upperparts feathers, upperbreast streaking, pale supercilium and the tricoloured tail. These characters are a unique combination amongst larks from the desert.

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Kordofan Lark / Alouette du Kordofan (Jan Heip)

Kordofan Lark / Alouette du Kordofan (Jan Heip) – with a tick hooked to the rear crown

 

The group of birds photographed by Tim Wacher show a very pale plumage without breast streaking or contrasting upperparts, an entirely pale bill except for the tip, and no rufous tones in the plumage. At first sight the tail pattern (and length) fits Kordofan, but it lacks the rufous central tail feathers that should be obvious here, and which are clearly visible on the Richard Toll bird. The central tail feathers in the birds below appear more sandy brown than rufous/rusty. These birds also don’t show any white-tipped mantle feathers. As already suspected by Tim, the features shown by these birds thus correspond much more with Dunn’s rather than Kordofan Lark – including the tail pattern, which is quite similar to what can be seen here for example. It’s important to point out (thank you Tim!) that the tail of Dunn’s Lark can apparently also show a considerable variation in length, and that the white margins visible in the photos from Niger are not always evident (or present?).

We’re including the pictures here for comparison purposes, and also because Dunn’s Lark is likely to be found at some point in northern Senegal, given its nomadic habits and that it occurs not far over the border with Mauritania.

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Dunn’s Larks / Alouette de Dunn, Niger (Tim Wacher)

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Dunn’s Lark / Alouette de Dunn, Niger (Tim Wacher)

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Dunn’s Lark / Alouette de Dunn, Niger (Tim Wacher)

 

Beware also of the possible confusion with rusty females of Black-crowned Sparrow Lark, which can look superficially similar, but show a different tail pattern and proportions. The shorter tail and legs combined with a proportionally large head give a plump silhouette to the bird. Sparrow-larks are also smaller and more compact, and their upper breast is not streaked.

Black-crowned Sparrow Lark / Moinelette à front blanc f., Khelkom, Senegal (Jean-François Blanc)

 

The only other Mirafra species occuring in Senegal is the Singing Bush Lark Mirafra cantillans. This species is fairly common in dry savanna and grassland, and shares some characteristics with Kordofan Lark. The bill can be similarly coloured, the tail can appear tricoloured as well (though less obviously so, and less neatly separated, than in Kordofan – check out variations below) and upper breast is also streaked. In adult plumage the upperparts of Singing Bush Lark is scaly, identification is then straightforward. But in fresh plumage Kordofan Lark shows a scaly plumage as well, thus separating both species can become tricky.

Then what to look at? Global coloration of upperparts seems to be the clue, ground colour being cold sandy-brown for Singing Bush Lark and cinnamon-rufous for Kordofan Lark. Pay also attention to the fresh upperparts feather pattern, Kordofan Lark showing a clear dark subterminal band absent in Singing Bush Lark (this dark line remains on the photographed Kordofan Lark, which shows a fairly worn plumage; this detail is probably only visible at close range). Singing Bush Lark, at least in fresh plumage, typically has a more contrasted head pattern and appears more mottled overall, especially on the mantle and shoulders, with stronger breast streaking than Kordofan.

Singing Bush Lark / Alouette chanteuse, Lac Rose, Senegal (Bram Piot)

Singing Bush Lark / Alouette chanteuse, Richard-Toll, Senegal (Simon Cavaillès)

 

Obviously, much is still to be learnt about the various Sahelian larks, be it in terms of identification, status & distribution, or ecology!

 

A few references

Fishpool L., Oueda G. & Compaoré P. (2000). Kordofan Bush Lark Mirafra cordofanica and Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti, additions to the avifauna of Burkina Faso. Malimbus 22: 49-54.

Gee, J.P. (1984). The birds of Mauritania. Malimbus 6: 31-66.

Isenmann P., Benmergui M., Browne P., Ba A.D., Diagana C.H., Diawara Y. & El Abidine ould Sidaty Z. (2010). Birds of Mauritania – Oiseaux de Mauritanie. Société d’Etudes Ornithologiques de France, Paris, 408 p.

Lamarche B. (1980). Liste commentée des oiseaux du Mali. 2eme partie: Passereaux. Malimbus 3: 73-102.

Morel G., Roux, F. (1962). Données nouvelles sur l’avifaune du Sénégal. L’Oiseau et la Revue Française d’Ornithologie 32: 28-56.

Petersen B.S., Christensen K.D., Jensen F.P. (2007). Bird population densities along two precipitation gradients in Senegal and Niger. Malimbus 29: 101-121.

 

With thanks to Jean-Francois Blanc, Miguel Demeulemeester, Jan Heip, Tim Wacher.

 

Simon & Bram

Technople 8/4: American Golden Plover again, and Baird’s vs. White-rumped Sandpiper

Routine Technopole visit this morning, with a a few good birds to report and (most importantly) a correction to be made.

With water levels now very low, most waders, gulls and terns are now concentrated in the SW part of the main lake and along its northern edge. After an initial scan from behind the fishermen’s cabin (African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Stork), I made my way to where most of the smaller waders were feeding, and soon located an American Golden Plover, an adult moulting into breeding plumage. The contrasted plumage, long wings (clearly extending beyond the tail tip), and smaller and more slender build than Grey Plover made the identification pretty straightforward, even at long range as in the record shot below:

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American Golden Plover & Grey Plovers / Pluviers bronzé & argentés

 

This is now the fourth record in three years at Technopole, all of which have been in spring (8/4-21/5) and all birds so far have stayed for several days or weeks, so it’s likely that this one will hang around a bit longer. And going by last year’s series of observations, it may well be joined by other AGP’s in coming weeks – no doubt are there several birds wintering in (West) Africa each year, and some of these will pass through the Dakar penninsula. Previous Technopole records were in June 2012 (M. van Roomen) and October 2005 (Nillson et al., W. Faveyts) and there’s also an observation from lac Mbeubeusse in March 2013, by Paul Robinson.

The image below is a bit less distant, and clearly shows the dark upperparts speckled with fresh golden mantle feathers, a contrasting white supercilium wrapping around the ear coverts, an “open” face due to pale lores, the thin bill and especially the very long primaries, extending well beyond the tail. Note also the black feathers appearing on the lower breast.

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

 

Despite not having relocated the White-rumped Sandpiper during my two previous visits, I still had this bird in the back of my mind, so was pleased to see it again, this time not too far. I was determined to see the white rump as we hadn’t clearly seen it two weeks ago, and as such a slight doubt remained as to whether we could safely rule out Baird’s. It didn’t take long for the bird to fly off, and now I clearly saw the rump: no white!!! This was confirmed when the bird took off a second time. So it was a Baird’s Sandpiper after all… which means we somehow got tricked into believing we saw white on the rump during our initial observation (wishful thinking? a Curlew Sandpiper?), at least that’s assuming that we’re talking about one and the same bird here. It does explain why we felt that several features on the pictures from 25/3 were pro-Baird rather than White-rumped Sandpiper.

So, still no Calidris fuscicollis in Senegal, but we’re pretty happy with Calidris bairdii as well – I’d never seen either species before, and Baird’s has been seen only once before in Senegal, in 1965 (!), though I still need to find out exactly when, where and by whom.

I’ve updated and renamed the original post with some more details.

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Baird’s Sandpiper / Bécasseau de Baird

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Baird’s Sandpiper / Bécasseau de Baird

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Baird’s Sandpiper / Bécasseau de Baird

 

Other than these, there are a couple of Dunlins around, still several Curlew Sandpipers (some now in full breeding plumage), a Spotted Redshank, a couple hundred Common Ringed Plovers, a handful of Sanderling (much less than just over a week ago), a Whimbrel, a Greater Painted-Snipe, etc.

Unlike earlier in the week, I didn’t see any Mediterranean Gulls and the majority of Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls seem to have left the area by now. The various flocks of terns held Arctic, Common, Caspian, African Royal, Lesser Crested, Sandwich, and Gull-billed Terns! A few Black Terns were flying around (while Roseate and Little Terns were seen in the last few days from Ngor, so that’s almost all regular tern species that are present in Dakar at the moment). A few Eurasian Spoonbills are still around, including one on 1/4 with a white ring “AVLV” from the Camargue program – awaiting details on this bird’s life history.

A Marsh Harrier hunting over the area was probably one of two birds that spent the winter at Technopole, while a kestrel passing through quite high was visibly actively migrating and may well have been a Lesser Kestrel, though not sure.

Still lots of Black-crowned Night-Herons, but with the water levels being so low there aren’t many other herons around, just a few of each of the regular species incl. a few Black Herons. And most of the northern songbirds are gone now, with just a few Yellow Wagtails still around. A pair of Copper Sunbirds was singing and feeding in mangroves not far from the Club House, and has been seen several times in the same area in recent weeks. Also still lots of Sudan Golden Sparrows, while the Black-headed Weavers are now in full breeding plumage and are actively nest-building, and Northern Crombec has been heard singing on most recent visits.

 

 

 

Baird’s Sandpiper – Second Record for Senegal

This post – including its title – was modified on 8/4 after we found what is supposed to be the same bird, and re-identified it as Baird’s Sandpiper rather than White-rumped. 

Last Sunday (25/3), during a routine Technopole visit with Miguel and Antonio, we picked up an odd looking sandpiper among a group of Common Ringed Plovers. Slightly yet noticeable larger than the numerous Little Stints that are currently present, it mainly stood out by its peculiar elongated shape, due to its long wings projecting well beyond the tail tip: could it be a Baird’s or White-rumped Sandpiper?

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Spot the intruder

 

Adrenaline levels rising fast, we quickly tried to get some pictures while studying the bird. When it moved next to a Little Stint, we could clearly see that this was not just another oddly shaped Little Stint but something different, and that it could only be one of those two American waders. It was closer in size to Common Ringed Plover, appearing intermediate between Little Stint and Dunlin. The bird was actively feeding now, probing for food in the mud, and we could see the moderately long and clearly down-curved bill (longer than Little Stint, but shorter than Dunlin), a faintly streaked breast, white underparts, brown-grey upperparts with some new scapulars in an otherwise seemingly very worn plumage. And then that elongated body shape combined with short black legs giving it a silhouette and posture unlike any other calidrids I’d seen thus far.

Then it took off – maybe because of yet another Peregrine blitz – and even though views were brief and quite distant, we each thought that we saw that the rump was mostly white (in fact it’s the uppertail coverts, but “White-uppertailcovered Sandpiper” somehow doesn’t sound quite right). This clinched the id for us even though none of use were fully familiar with the subtle differences between Baird’s and White-rumped, other than the difference in uppertail / rump pattern. I found what was most likely the same bird again on 8/4 (after not seeing it on two previous visits), and this time got much better views including of the rump in flight, which was not white at all: Baird’s Sandpiper!! So not a White-rumped after all… It just shows how one false impression in the field can lead to wrong conclusions, and that you should not take our id’s for granted! And that we still have lots to learn. It also explains why we were confused and felt that the bird looked more like Baird’s, but given that we thought we saw a white rump we could only announce it as a fuscicollis… Maybe when we saw the bird flying, rather in the distance, we were in fact somehow looking at a Curlew Sandpiper.

The distant pictures that follow show an overall fairly brown sandpiper with a diffuse yet clearly demarcated breast band and otherwise white underparts, a feature that actually fits Baird’s more than White-rumped. However, the pictures may be somewhat misleading as the impression in the field was of a slightly paler and colder-toned bird with less uniform plumage – for instance, the upper breast was finely streaked, incl. on the upper flanks. Some mantle feathers had already moulted and the crown was very finely streaked. That said, it appears that White-rumpeds in winter can have quite a bit of variation, some birds being browner overall and (almost) lacking any streaks on the flanks that are otherwise considered to be typical of the species – we found pictures of a few such birds online, e.g. here (IBC) as well as in this useful series of Baird’s and White-rumped from their wintering grounds in Argentina (beware though of the second Baird’s picture, which I think is actually a White-rumped Sand’). We suspect that this was a first-winter bird starting to moult into its first summer plumage, though without better pictures we can’t rule out that it was a full adult.

The bill shape appears subtly different from one picture to another, but the first photograph is probably the most accurate: fairly thick at the base and slightly curved. This fits Baird’s quite well, though many birds appear to have a more straight bill than this one (another reason why we were lead to believe it was White-rumped!).

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Baird’s Sandpiper / Bécasseau de Baird

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Baird’s Sandpiper / Bécasseau de Baird

 

The long wings, crossed like scissors, are quite well visible on this picture, as is the overall “flat” appearance of the species. The whitish supercilium extends well beyond the eye, a pro-fuscicollis feature, but apparently still ok for Baird’s. One may expect the primary projection to be longer, but there again there seems to be quite a bit of individual variation.

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Baird’s Sandpiper / Bécasseau de Baird

 

Unfortunately, the rump can’t quite be seen in this picture:

WhiterumpedSandpiper_Technopole_20180325_IMG_1451

 

A useful discussion on separation of Baird’s and White-rumped Sandpipers, even if it mainly focuses on birds in summer and autumn when most likely to show up in the UK, is to be found here. The European and North American field guides were surprisingly unhelpful when it comes to describing the variation in winter plumage of both species. I thus turned to Faansie Peacock’s excellent field guide to the Waders of Southern Africa, which provides a more relevant Southern Hemisphere perspective on wader identification. Along with the author’s other publications (LBJs, Pipits of Southern Africa) this easily ranks among the finest bird guides that are currently available¹. Let’s just hope that ornithodippiasis doesn’t get the better of him and that he can author many more books.

Anyway.

We moved to the main track as we were hoping to relocate our sandpiper given that it seemingly had landed in the area. After careful scrutiny of the numerous Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers and Common Ringed Plovers (and finding a Buff-breasted Sandpiper in the process!), we ended up seeing it just as we were about to give up. Even worse pictures followed (distance, heat haze are the usual excuses) and the bird settled down to sleep, so we eventually moved on as we still wanted to check the other side of the main lake (where we saw Short-eared Owl and Copper Sunbird; other good birds at Technopole included an imm. Yellow-billed Stork, African Spoonbill, and Mediterranean Gull).

Here’s a picture from this morning 8/4, where the bill appears less curved and thinner at the end, and it clearly is all black (which all fits Baird’s perfectly):

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Baird’s Sandpiper / Bécasseau de Baird

Baird’s is a rare vagrant to Africa, with just a single claim from Senegal (Dec. 1965 in or near the Djoudj, as per Borrow & Demey, but I could not find the original reference so far), one from The Gambia (Nov. 1976), plus a record from November 1987 in Nouakchott but which was not retained by Isenmann et al. As such it seems that our bird is the first record for the subregion.

White-rumped Sandpiper is equally rare, with most continental records from South Africa during winter. In West Africa, there appear to be just a handful of records: one from Cote d’Ivoire (Oct.-Nov. 1988), and two from Ghana (Dec. 1985 & 2012). Given that it’s relatively frequent in Western Europe in autumn, and that in the Cape Verde and other East Atlantic islands the species is also quite regular, surely they must be pretty much annual visitors to West Africa. More generally, one can only speculate how many American and other vagrants truly pass through Senegal each year.

Both species are long-distance migrants, breeding in the Nearctic tundra, and spending the winter in South America.

The same goes for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper; this bird was likely one of the two that were seen on most visits between 13/1 and 19/2, but then again it may also have been a new bird that was just passing through.

 

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Buff-breasted Sandpiper / Bécasseau rousset

 

So now we just need to find a proper Calidris fuscicollis, and finally add it to the national list.

In fact, how many bird species have been sighted in Senegal thus far? We’ll try to answer that question in a future blog post!

 

¹ Peacock, F. 2016. Chamberlain’s Waders. The Definitive Guide to Southern Africa’s Shorebirds. 256 p., Pavo Publishing. See the author’s website for more info. 

 

Dindéfélo!

Dindéfélo, enfin!

Le mois dernier, j’ai rejoint la bande de copains genevois pour la 2e moitié de leur virée dans le Grand Sud-Est sénégalais. Suite à un voyage ornitho mémorable en novembre 2016, de Dakar au Djoudj et à Richard Toll et de Kousmar à Palmarin en passant par Toubacouta, tout le monde avait envie de découvrir cette autre partie du Sénégal, celle des régions de Tambacounda et Kédougou.

Après une mise en forme dans les environs de la Somone et de Popenguine où l’on a passé le weekend ensemble (Turnix mugissant! Bécasseau de Temminck! Loup africain!), l’équipe est partie en direction du sud-est, avec l’escale obligatoire à Kousmar. Suivent cinq jours dans le Niokolo-Koba et au campement de Wassadou – on y reviendra dans un futur article, si on arrive à boucler un rapport de voyage rapidement (on vous doit encore un rapport de 2016!!).

Dindéfélo donc. Après avoir rejoint le groupe et notre excellent guide Carlos à Wassadou, on prend la route pour ce petit haut-lieu de l’ornithologie sénégalaise. Situé dans les contreforts du Fouta-Djalon – le toit de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, où prennent source tous les grands fleuves de cette partie du continent – la réserve naturelle communautaire de Dindéfélo n’est qu’à deux pas de la frontière avec la Guinée. Les forêts de galerie, falaises abruptes et plateaux de latérite, le tout entouré d’une savane arborée relativement bien préservée, recèlent toute une série d’oiseaux qu’on ne trouve pas ailleurs dans le pays. C’est loin de Dakar (14h de route!), mais ça en vaut plus que la peine. Les attentes étaient donc nombreuses et ambitieuses: allait-on voir le Trogon, les Traquets à ventre roux, Rufipenne de Neumann et autres Anaplectes? Aura-t-on la chance de tomber sur l’Amarante de Kulikoro (= A. du Mali), de trouver la Cisticole de Dorst? Et surtout, les Chimpanzés seront-ils au rendez-vous?

On a donc débarqué le samedi soir au campement villageois de Dindéfélo (il y en a plusieurs, celui-ci se trouve en bordure du village au départ du sentier pour les cascades), juste à temps pour faire un petit tour dans les environs du campement avant la tombée de la nuit: Tchitrec bleu, Gobemouche drongo, Pririt à collier, Petit-duc africain étaient là pour nous accueillir (African Blue Flycatcher, Northern Black Flycatcher, Common Wattle-eye, African Scops Owl).

Le lendemain, c’est l’excitation collective générale: on part à la découverte de la réserve. On est nombreux (11!) donc on s’éparpille forcément, chacun y a va à son rythme et selon ses envies. Avant même d’arriver dans la forêt proprement dite, d’aucuns auront vu le Coucou de Klaas, l’Echenilleur à épaulettes rouges, d’autres une Hyliote à ventre jaune, Souimanga violet, Apalis à gorge jaune, ou encore Gladiateurs souffré et de Blanchot, Choucador à queue violette et j’en passe (Klaas’s Cuckoo, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-Shrike, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Violet-backed Sunbird, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Grey-headed & Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Bronze-tailed Starling). Dans la forêt, au niveau du dernier groupe de laveurs de linge (comme l’écrivait l’ami Simon, avec une ambiance sonore agitée! et surtout, pas trop top pour faire des enregistrements), Cyril et moi apercevons un Trogon narina: on prévient le reste du groupe et tout le monde aura la chance de voir cette espèce si convoitée par les ornithos, trouvée seulement en 2010 pour la première fois dans le pays, ici même à Dindéfélo (Aransay et al. 2012). Au moins quatre individus seront vus lors de notre séjour, tous dans le vallon des chutes de Dindéfélo.

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Narina’s Trogon / Trogon narina

 

Dans le même registre, deux autres espèces nouvelles pour le Sénégal ont été observées pour la première fois à Dindéfélo ces dernières années: l’Engoulevent pointillé en mars 2016 par J.-F. Blanc et cie. (avec enregistrement de Marc Thibault ici), et la Bergeronnette à longue queue en avril 2015 (Pacheco et al. 2017). Il en est de même pour d’autres groupes faunistiques, avec p.ex. la première donnée de la Genette de Johnston ou encore ce serpent et ces amphibiens nouveaux trouvés par Monasterio et al. (2016).

Une escale à la chute d’eau permet de très bien voir un Autour de Toussenel adulte longuement posé près des cascades, et dans les falaises tout près on voit une dizaine d’Hirondelles isabellines (qui je vois ont été splittées par HBW, sous le nom d’Hirondelle de Fischer Ptyonoprogne rufigula). Parmi les autres spécialités locales, on verra le Traquet familier, le Barbion à croupion jaune, le Touraco vert, et le Souimanga à tête verte (Red-chested Goshawk, Rock Martin, Familiar Chat, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Guinea Turaco, Green-headed Sunbird).

Sur le plateau de Dande, où on passera la nuit dans le sympathique campement local du petit village peulh, on verra notre première Mésange gallonnée et le premier Mahali à calotte marron de la semaine (White-shouldered Black Tit, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Weaver). Un Petit-duc à face blanche (Northern White-faced Owl) se fait brièvement entendre le soir, et on aura la chance d’apercevoir un Gallago lors d’une excursion nocturne dans les environs du village.

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On passe la matinée sur ce curieux plateau parsemé de termitières “champignons” créant un paysage assez unique, avec de belles observations de Cochevis modeste, particulièrement nombreux ici, le Bruant d’Alexander, encore des Traquets familiers, et ainsi de suite. (Sun Lark, Gosling’s Bunting, Familiar Chat).

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Sun Lark / Cochevis modeste

 

La surprise du jour viendra d’une Gorgebleue peu farouche, se nourrissant entre les termitières dans un coin on ne peut plus sec… vraiment inattendu vu la localité et le milieu: sans doute un migrateur en escale, déjà en route pour rejoindre ses quartiers d’été en Europe de l’Ouest. (L’autre surprise sera un peu moins agréable: une attaque d’abeilles sauvages, à l’aube près de la grotte de Dande. Disons que la course qui s’en suit nous a bien réveillés!).

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Bluethroat / Gorgebleue à miroir

 

Il est déjà temps de quitter le plateau, car les deux prochaines nuits on les passe de nouveau à Dindéfélo. Et surtout, on a rendez-vous avec des cousins dans l’après-midi: on part à la rencontre des Chimpanzés! Les trois sorties – les groupes sont limitées à trois personnes par sortie – sont organisées à travers le charmant centre d’accueil de la réserve, où l’on s’occupe des formalités pour payer la visite avec un écoguide de Ségou.

La descente de Dande à Dindéfélo permettra à une partie du groupe d’ajouter le Rufipenne de Neumann et l’Étourneau amethyste (Neumann’s & Violet-backed Starling) à la liste. Un ou deux Laniers évoluent à la limte des falaises et du plateau, tandis que quelques Vautours charognards, africains et de Ruppell nous passent par-dessus (Hooded, White-backed & Ruppell’s Vultures). Dans la même zone, quelques-uns d’entre nous aurons la chance d’observer le Crécerelle renard (Fox Kestrel), cette autre spécialité locale étroitement liée aux milieux rupestres.

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Pendant que le premier groupe part dans la vallée de Ségou, le reste de l’équipe s’en va explorer la brousse entre Dindéfélo et Ségou, à la recherche d’Amarantes masqués et de la Cisticole de Dorst notamment. On verra très bien ces deux espèces, avec en bonus une série prestigieuse d’espèces localisées ou très clairsemées et souvent difficiles à trouver au Sénégal: une ou deux Rémiz à ventre jaune, quelques Prinia à ailes rousses, un Bruant a ventre jaune, un couple de Traquets à front blanc et un de Pics à dos brun, et plusieurs Gobemouches pâles (Yellow Penduline-Tit, Red-winged Warbler, Brown-rumped Bunting, White-fronted Black Chat, Brown-backed Woodpecker, Pale Flycatcher). Deux autres visites dans le même secteur les jours suivants permettent d’ajouter entre autres l’Hirondelle à taches blanches, l’Amarante du Kulikoro et le Torcol fourmillier (Pied-winged Swallow, Mali Firefinch, Wryneck). Plusieurs de ces oiseaux fort sympathiques ont pu être enregistrées et surtout photographiées par mes amis mieux équipés (et surtout meilleurs photographes!) que moi, donc des photos devraient suivre encore pour la plupart. Pour les prises de sons, rendez-vous habituel sur xeno-canto (lien direct vers mes enregistrements de Kédougou ici).

 

Le soir au campement, j’entends un engoulevent chanter au loin, au pied des falaises: une écoute plus rapprochée le lendemain soir confirmera qu’il s’agit de l’Engouvelent pointillé, avec au moins deux chanteurs au loin mais encore bien audibles, au milieu du concert d’au moins six Petits-ducs africains qui se répondent (Freckled Nightjar, African Scops Owl).

Le vallon de Ségou est assez différent de celui de Dindéfélo, avec un milieu plus ouvert dans la première moitié du vallon, parsemé de rôniers, puis une alternance de forêt sèche et de bambous denses. Nos trois visites dans le secteur sont plutôt fructueuses: Beaumarquet aurore, (enfin! l’une de mes coches du séjour :-), Amarantes du Kulikoro et à ventre noir, Capucin pie, Tourterelle de l’Adamaoua (un chanteur), Buse d’Afrique, Mélocichle à moustaches pour ne citer que les plus marquants (Red-winged Pytillia, Mali & Black-bellied Firefinch, Magpie Mannikin, Adamawa Turtle-Dove, Red-necked Buzzard, Moustached Grass-Warbler). La diversité d’amarantes – et donc logiquement aussi de combassous, même si on n’a vu que le Combassou du Sénégal) – est impressionnante, avec pas moins de quatre espèces, sans compter l’Amarante pointé vue à plusieurs reprises par mes camarades à Wassadou. Et à propos d’amarantes: j’apprends que HBW a aussi splitté l’Amarante masqué en trois espèces distinctes, dont l’Amarante vineux pour Lagonosticta vinacea (Vinaceous Firefinch) qui du coup deviendrait donc un nouvel endémique régional, étant restreint à la Sénégambie, la Guinee-Bissau, la Guinée et le Mali.

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Red-necked Buzzard / Buse d’Afrique

 

C’est déjà mercredi, il est temps de quitter la zone car on a encore prévu une nuit à Kédougou afin de pouvoir visiter le secteur de Fombolimbi, situé à une vingtaine de kilomètres au sud-est du chef-lieu régional. Dans les falaises, sur le plateau et autour des affleurements rocheux on espère trouver encore quelques oiseaux typiques de ces milieux. Mais avant de rejoindre Kédougou, on fait d’abord escale près du fleuve Gambie, où l’on observera entre autres un couple de Mahalis nourrissant un jeune, BateleurCircaètes cendré et de Beaudouin, Busard des roseauxFaucon ardoiséMartin-chasseur strié, une famille de Poulettes de roches, etc. (Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Weaver, Bateleur, Western Banded & Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle, Grey Kestrel, Striped Kingfisher, Stone Partridge). Au bord du fleuve juste sous le hameau se trouve une colonie de Guêpiers à gorge rouge, accompagnés d’un Guêpier écarlate (Red-throated & Northern Carmine Bee-eaters). On n’a pas le temps de partir plus vers l’amont mais la zone semble très prometteuse et pourrait bien réserver quelques surprises encore.

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La sortie dans le secteur de Fongolimbi sera fructueuse: tout le monde aura la chance de voir le Traquet à ventre roux, un distant Aigle martial, un couple d’Anaplectes à ailes rouges (dans une petite ronde, comprenant aussi Bagadais casqués et Zosterops jaunes), et quelques Rufipennes de Neumann – ces derniers en toute fin de journée près du hameau de Thiéwoune, vraisemblablement en rassemblement avant de partir sur un dortoir dans les environs (Mocking Cliff Chat, Martial Eagle, Red-headed Weaver, White-crested Helmetshrike, Yellow White-eye, Neumann’s Starling). Sympa de voir ces derniers dans leur milieu naturel et non sur des immeubles au centre-ville de Bamako! Deux Pigeons bisets dans la falaise pourraient bien être des “vrais” bisets, mais on ne les verra que brièvement (Rock Dove).

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Northern Red-headed Weaver / Anaplecte à ailes rouges (selon HBW, qui distingue maintenant deux especes d’Analplectes au lieu d’une seule)

 

Et les Chimpanzés alors? Ce sera pour un prochain article!

Tout comme, peut-être, le compte-rendu de notre escale à Wassadou et la longue route de retour sur Dakar en passant par Kaffrine à la recherche du Turnix à ailes blanches dans les environs de Mbar (spoiler alert: on fera chou blanc!). Faut juste que je trouve le temps pour écrire, pas facile en ce moment!

On essaiera aussi de revenir avec une mise à jour de la liste des oiseaux de la réserve et des environs de Dindéfélo, après intégration des diverses espèces nouvellement trouvées depuis l’inventaire de Fernández-García et al. en 2011. On notera ainsi une dizaine d’autres espèces qui n’avaient pas été trouvées à l’époque; quelques autres observateurs – dont Gabriel Caucal encore en décembre dernier – ont également pu compléter la liste qui s’établissait à 220 espèces à l’époque (ou peut-être 199, selon la liste détaillée). Actuellement elle compte au moins 237 espèces (dont 173 vues lors de notre séjour) et il y en a certainement d’autres encore à ajouter.

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Pour en savoir plus sur la réserve de Dindéfélo, rendez-vous sur dindefelo.net.

Technopole update, Lac Rose & more

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Lots going on at Technopole at the moment, and hardly any time to write… pretty much as usual.

So here’s a quick update and a few pics, starting with some of the highlights:

  • The two obliging Buff-breasted Sandpipers are still present, seen each time in the area behind the fishermen’s cabin. The country’s 7th or 8th record, and also by far the longest staying birds.
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Buff-breasted Sandpiper / Becasseau rousset

  • This may be getting boring now and a bit of a déjà-vu, but yet again a Lesser Yellowlegs showed up in Dakar. This one was photographed on 8/2/18 by J. Dupuy and posted on observation.org; as far as I know this is the 8th record for Senegal and the third for Technopole (after singles in August 2015 and January 2016). Yesterday morning, a visit with French birders Gabriel and Etienne allowed us to relocate the bird, a very nice adult coming into breeding plumage:
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Lesser Yellowlegs / Chevalier a pattes jaunes

  • Almost just as good, and another first for Technopole (232 species on the list now), was this Common Shelduck – not totally unexpected given the small influx that took place this winter, but still a very good record and always nice to see this pretty duck showing up on my local patch. Unlike its name suggests, it’s definitely not common in Senegal, as there appear to be only about nine previous (published) records, two of which were also obtained this winter.
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Common Shelduck / Tadorne de Belon

  • Along the same lines, another scarce species showed up at Technopole recently, possibly still the same as the one I saw at the end of December: a Jack Snipe on 12 & 19/2. Only a few Garganeys are present at the moment, but Northern Shovelers are still numerous these days. At east three Eurasian Teal were with the preceding species (two males on 27/10, and a pair on 10/2).
  • Remember that influx of Short-eared Owls? Well it looks like it’s not finished yet, with the discovery of no less than seven (maybe even more!) Short-eared Owls roosting together, on 3/2, by Edgar and Jenny Ruiz (at least two birds were still in the same place on 18/2).

Switching categories now – ring reading! Even with such a diversity and sheer numbers of ducks, waders, terns, gulls to go through, we’re still paying attention to ringed birds. And making very modest contributions to our knowledge of migration strategies, survival rates, and much more – one bird at a time. Since the start of the year we’ve been able to read about 50 rings of more than 40 different birds, mostly Audouin’s, Lesser Black-backed and Slender-billed Gulls, but also a few more original species:

  • The flock of 170-180 Avocets that are still present contains at least two colour-ringed birds, both from SW Spain where they were ringed as chicks in… 2005! That’s nearly 13 years for both birds – a respectable age, though it seems that this species can live way longer that that: the record for a British (& Irish) Avocet is nearly 24 years (impressive… though not quite as much as a that 40-year old Oystercatcher!). Interestingly, “RV2” had already been seen at Technopole five years ago, by Simon, but no other sightings are known for this bird.
  • A few Black-tailed Godwits are still around though the majority has now moved on to the Iberian Peninsula from where they will continue to their breeding grounds in NW Europe. Reading rings has been difficult recently as birds tend to either feed in deeper water, or are simply too far to be read. This one below is “G2GCCP”, a first-winter bird that hatched last spring in The Netherlands and which will likely spend its first summer here in West Africa.  Note the overall pale plumage and plain underparts compared to the adult bird in the front, which has already started moulting into breeding plumage.
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Black-tailed Godwit / Barge a queue noire

  • Mediterranean Gulls are again relatively numerous this winter, with some 8-10 birds so far. As reported earlier, one bird was ringed: Green RV2L seen on 21 & 27/1, apparently the first French Med Gull to be recovered in Senegal.
  • The Caspian Tern “Yellow AV7” is probably a bird born in the Saloum delta in 2015 – awaiting details.
  • The regular Gull-billed Tern U83, ringed as a chick in 2009 in Cadiz province, seems to be pretty faithful to Technopole: after four sightings last winter, it’s again seen on most visits since the end of January.

A morning out to Lac Rose on 11/2 with visiting friends Cyril and Gottlieb was as always enjoyable, with lots of good birds around:

  • The first Temminck’s Courser of the morning was a bird flying over quite high, uttering its typical nasal trumpeting call. The next four were found a little further along, while yet another four birds were flushed almost from under the car, allowing for a few decent pictures:
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Temminck’s Courser / Courvite de Temminck

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Temminck’s Courser / Courvite de Temminck

  • The now expected Greater Short-toed Larks were not as numerous as last year, with a few dozen birds seen, sometimes side by side with Tawny Pipit. No Isabelline nor any Black-eared Wheatears this time round, but one of the Northern Wheatears was a real good fit for the leucorrhoa race from Greenland (& nearby Canada and Iceland).
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Greater Short-toed Lark / Alouette calandrelle

  • As usual, a few Singing Bush Larks were about, though not very active and as always quite difficult to get good views of as they often remain close to cover, even sheltering under bushes.
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Singing Bush Lark / Alouette chanteuse

  • Quite surprisingly, we saw lone Sand Martins (twice), a House Martin, and especially Red-rumped Swallow – the latter a long-awaited addition to my Senegal list. Already on the move, or are these hirundines overwintering in the area?
  • A final stop on the edge of the plain, where the steppe transitions into the dunes on one side and a seasonal pond (now dry) on the other. Here we found a couple of species that I’d seen in the same spot before, particularly two that have a pretty localised distribution in western Senegal it seems: Yellow-fronted Canary, and Splendid Sunbird. Also seen here were another Red-necked Falcon, Mottled Spinetail, Vieillot’s Barbet, etc.
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Splendid Sunbird / Souimanga eclatant

  • And plenty of gulls by the lake! First time I see this many gulls here, with at least 800 birds, mainly Audouin’s (ca. 350) and some 500 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Lots of ringed birds of course, but most were too far and we didn’t take the time to go through the entire flock.

 

And elsewhere in Dakar…

  • A “Pallid HeronArdea (cinerea) monicae was found by Gottlieb and Cyril at Parc de Hann on 13/2 (but not relocated yesterday…). A rare Dakar record!
  • Seawatch sessions at Ngor continue to deliver good species, most notably good views of several European Storm-Petrels these past couple of weeks. Lots have been seen along the Petite Cote (Saly, Somone, Toubab Dialaw) recently, and especially at the Gambia river mouth where several dozen birds were counted.