Once again I recently had the chance to spend a few days in Casamance. In Bruno’s expert company, we targeted a number of little-explored forests in the south-west of the region, hoping to find some of the region’s special forest dwellers. Many of these are active and very vocal at this time of the year, and intra-African migrants such as cuckoos are now moving north with the rains. With the national park still being off-limits, we concentrated on some of the smaller forest in the Ziguinchor and Oussouye areas. We weren’t disappointed: in just three days in the field, we recorded no less than 186 species, not bad considering that we spent most of our time in various forests where diversity is not generally very high and birds can be difficult to detect. Our surveys also allowed to fill in a few more gaps in the distribution maps of the Casamance bird atlas, and we collected some interesting breeding records for a number of species.
In order of appearance:
Shortly after my arrival, a late afternoon stroll around the village of Kantène, just outside Ziguinchor, turned up the usual suspects as well as a couple of Pale Flycatchers and the first of many cuckoos of the trip: singing African and Diederik Cuckoos, both recently arrived in anticipation of the raining season, during which they breed in Senegal. Just warming up, getting ready for the next few days!
July 4: the forests around Oussouye
The next morning we got up ridiculously early so as to be in the Boukitingo forest shortly after dawn, the start of a full day out birding pretty much non stop around Oussouye. A pre-dawn pitstop at the Etome bridge brought a surprise under the form of a singing White-backed Night Heron, a poorly known species here that Bruno had already seen on a couple of occasions around Ziguinchor, even managing to find a nest at a disused gravel pit. The forest itself held cool birds such as Ahanta Francolin, White-spotted Flufftail, Black-throated Coucal, Puvell’s and Brown Illadopsis, White-tailed Alethe, Green Hylia, Green Crombec, Olive Sunbird – all species that in Senegal are largely restricted to the westernmost forests of Casamance. The flufftails, coucals and illadopsises were particularly vocal, as were African, Klaas’s and Diederik Cuckoos. We got decent views of the two illadopsis species, both usually difficult to see, and even the Alethe made a brief appearance! Perhaps best of all in terms of new records was at least one White-throated Greenbul, one of these very little-known species in Senegal that apparently hasn’t been reported for many years. Difficult to spot in the dark understorey of the forest, we only good poor views but luckily the bird was quite vocal, allowing us to confirm its identity later on (listen here). A pair of Red-breasted Swallows was a bonus as we emerged from our 3-hour tour of this part of the forest – eBird checklist here..
Moving on, a few stops en route to Elinkine produced several additional species including Piping Hornbill, Whistling Cisticola, Northern Black Flycatcher, two Lanner Falcons, Plain-backed Pipit (a small group with several juvs.). Mid-afternoon we visited the wetland near Kagnout where Cuckoo Finch was found last winter, and added more good stuff to the list: African Hobby, Greater Painted Snipe, Collared Pratincole, our first returning Wood Sandpipers of the season as well as five Black-tailed Godwits, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Quailfinch, and an adult Lesser Moorhen soon followed by two Red-headed Queleas – for both species, my first records in Senegal and just two of several additions to my country list. The queleas were in a large flock of Yellow-crowned Bishops, while two Yellow-mantled Widowbirds were seen on the edge of the marsh. Alas no Cuckoo Finches, maybe next time!
Next stop was a protected forest patch roughly half-way between Mlomp and Oussouye and located just witin one of the lesser explored atlas squares. Here we again had White-spotted Flufftail and Black-throated Coucal singing and more of the same as around Boukitingo, plus a pair of Western Square-tailed Drongos, Blue Malkoha, African Emerald Cuckoo, and Red-tailed Leaflove. This site clearly has a lot of potential and will hopefully be further explored in coming months.
July 5: Kamobeul/Essil forest, Boutoute wetland
There wasn’t a great deal of activity in the forest, but we did see or hear some good species such as Ahanta Francolin, African Emerald Cuckoo, Piping and African Pied Hornbills, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Western Nicator, Grey-headed Bristlebill, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Puvel’s Illadopsis, and the unique Capuchin Babbler (nest-building; the westernmost race is now often considered a separate species, aka Grey-hooded Capuchin Babbler, Phyllanthus atripennis). Full list here.
The grasslands held several pairs of African Wattled Lapwings including at least one with a young chick. Also here were a flock of Pin-tailed Whydahs, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, two Violet-backed Starlings, and this beautiful snake, Philothamnus irregularis, aka the Common Bush Snake or Irregular Green Snake.
A short visit late afternoon to the wetlands near Boutoute just outside Ziguinchor – a local hotspots that would merit proper protection – was quite rewarding, and the 76 species that we recorded in less than an hour nicely illustrate the sheer diversity of its birdlife. Two of these were very much unexpected here: first a small group of obliging Bar-breasted Firefinches feeding near the cultivated plots at the entrance of the area, and towards the end of our small tour a Great Spotted Cuckoo. A singing African Emerald Cuckoo was also a nice addition to the site list.
Waterbirds were plenty, likely because there aren’t many places with fresh water left at this time of the year, and included several Allen’s Gallinules, Moorhens, African Swamphens, Greater Painted-Snipes, Spur-winged Geese and a Green Sandpiper to name but a few. A few West African Swallows (sometimes considered a race – domicella – of Red-rumped Swallow) were feeding together with Wire-tailed and Red-chested Swallow, as were some 15 Fanti Sawwings. Short-winged Cisticola and Oriole Warbler were also noteworthy.
July 6: Mpak bush, farmland and remnant forest
A cool Long-crested Eagle was one of the first birds that we saw after reaching this largely unexplored site – just a stone-throw away from the border with Guinea-Bissau – shortly after dawn. We soon encountered some similar forest dwellers to those seen in other locations the previous couple of days: Western Nicator, Grey-headed Bristlebill, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Puvel’s Illadopsis, Yellow-breasted Apalis etc. A Western Bluebill was heard only, singing just one of its characteristic strophes in thickets but remaining invisible. In the same area we enjoyed watching a pair of Blue Malkohas, for once rather well showing themselves and possibly nesting in a vine-covered tree, while Diederik, Klaas’s, African and Red-chested Cuckoos were all singing around us.
Making our way through a small patch of secondary forest, we heard a now familiar sound: Turati’s Boubou! This was actually one of our targets, keen to find out whether it occurs away from Djibelor. Check. We even ended up with some decent views but boy are these birds secretive and difficult to spot, in stark contrast with their vocal activity. In typical Laniarius fashion, pairs were actively dueting, sometimes even three birds together. On the sonogram, one can clearly see the double low plaintive whistle given by the male, and the female “responding” with a harsh slow chatter. Listen here and here to get an idea. With at least 3 or 4 pairs/territories in the area, we more than doubled the known population of the species in Senegal. It’s highly likely that more searches between Ziguinchor and the border will reveal more territories.
The overgrown farmland held a good variety of birds, including Red-winged Warbler, Whistling & Singing Cisticola, and a rather unexpected Moustached Grass Warbler that revealed itself only later, thanks to Miguel who correctly identified what we assumed was Whistling Cisticola singing, on this recording. African Firefinch was seen in two locations; this is one of those birds that up to recently was still considered as unconfirmed in Senegal, but which in fact appears to be rather widespread (though nowhere common) in Casamance and possibly the Kedougou regions. New birds kept popping up left and right, and we ended up with a very respectable 80 species in this area.
Our excitement was only tempered by the sad state of the forest here, much degraded and still actively being logged and cleared for agriculture. At one point as we were heading towards a remnant patch of large trees, a couple of villagers (hunters? contraband loggers? rebels…?) made us turn back, maybe not wanting any intruders to see the forest being cleared right there on the spot. Probably best not to argue when one of them is carrying a gun… On the flip side, it’s probably as a result of the ongoing logging that suitable habitat is created for Turati’s Boubou, allowing it to gradually spread north from Guinea-Bissau whereas up to 10-20 years ago most areas between Ziguinchor and the border were proper forest.
These depressing Google Earth images illustrate how much has changed in recent years in this very area: note how in March 2008 there’s still a continuous dark belt of what seems like largely healthy forest running diagonally from SW to NE, while in April 2019 there are only a few patches are left in the SW corner of the area. Unfortunately this is the sad state of many of Senegal’s forests, protected or not, and more widely throughout the region. We roughly covered from the top right corner (close to a small village) to the central part of this area, which is where the boubous were found.
At this point, the rains arrived, concluding our highly satisfying and pretty successful exploration. Hopefully there’ll be more opportunities in the near future to investigate other forests and further our knowledge of Casamance’s birdlife.
There’s a handful of bird species here in Dakar that remain rather enigmatic, and whose status and patterns of occurrence remain to be fully understood. One of these is the Yellow-throated Longclaw (Macronyx croceus), a member of the pipits and wagtails. Longclaws are a genus that is entirely restricted to Africa where eight different species are known, some of which have small or patchy distribution ranges. The Yellow-throated Longclaw is certainly the most widespread species, but here in Senegal we’re right at the edge of its range: while nowhere common, it’s probably quite widespread in Basse-Casamance (Ziguinchor, Oussouye, Cap Skirring/Diembering, Kafountine/Abene… even Sedhiou a bit further inland). There are just a handful of observations from north of the Gambia, where the species is apparently on the decline, at least in coastal areas where very few recent sightings it seems. The scant information that we have is mostly based on old records from the Dakar peninsula, more on these later. It’s clear though that this is a very little known species that at best is obviously scarce and localised, and while I certainly have it somewhere in the back of my mind when visiting lac Rose, I didn’t think I’d ever see it here.
Until yesterday morning, when I came across not one but two of these cool “sentinels” as they’re called in French: first one on the margins of the Mbeubeusse wetlands (99% dry now!), a bird flying over a reedbed and landing out of sight quite a distance away. A rather frustrating sighting but just decent enough to confirm the id: broad wings, medium-long tail with white corners, vivid yellow throat and breast with black markings on side of throat. I may have heard it singing shortly before I saw it but not sure as it called only once and Crested Larks can sound a bit similar!
The second bird was found barely an hour later at lac Rose, right at the Bonaba Café on the northern shores of the lake, and “performed” much better than the first! Upon arriving at this site, I could clearly hear it singing for several minutes on end; it even allowed me to get quite close so I could document this bird on camera (and on sound recorder: a sample of its simple yet rather melodious one-note song here.
These are the old records known from the Dakar area:
- August 1968 – “seen several times in coastal region 20 km east of Dakar” (M.P. Doutre; Morel & Morel) – this may well be near lac Malika or Mbeubeusse
- 9 April 1977 – 2 singing, Lac Rose (W. Nezadal on eBird)
- January 1984 – “Dakar” (Paul Géroudet in M&M)
- February 1990 – one seen “north of Dakar” within the Dakar atlas square, but this could be anywhere between Guediawaye and Kayar… (Sauvage & Rodwell 1998)
- 17 February 1991 – 1, Lac Malika (O. Benoist on eBird)
More recently, there’s an observation of no less than five birds on 18 Jan. 2011 at lac Rose seen during a tour organised by Richard Ottvall for the Swedish AviFauna group. Almost five years later, another mention from the same site, unfortunately without any further comments other than that it was on 20 November 2014 at lac Rose (near the southern edge, not far from Le Calao lodge), by J. Nicolau during a scouting visit for Birding Ecotours. The only other recent record north of the Gambia that I came across was of two birds in the Saloum delta (though where precisely?) on 8 January 2017 (J. Wehrmann on observation.org).
Could it be that there are just a few birds that are mostly escaping us – some relictual population from greener days when rains were plentiful here? It’s hard to believe though that if they were present year-round, that we haven’t come across them since we do visit Lac Rose and Mbeubeusse fairly regularly, in all seasons. Or are they present only certain years, and if so at what time of the year? The series of observations from the late sixties up to early nineties is certainly intriguing and would suggest that the species was fairly well established in the Niayes region, especially when one factors in the even lower observer pressure than currently. With records from January (2), February (2), April (1), June (the two in this report), August (1) and November (1) it seems that they can be expected pretty much at any time of the year. More investigations are needed of course and we’ll see if we can find out more in coming months.
Some other good birds from the weekend…
Also on the lake shore were a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls with a second summer Yellow-legged Gull in the mix, some 33 Audouin’s Gulls (i.e. far less than last year at the end of June), Little Terns at colony, a female Greater Painted Snipe (first time I see this species here) and a few other waders (nine Sanderling, 40+ Common Ringed Plovers. a few Greenshanks and Grey Plovers, one Redshank), as well as at least three Brown Babblers – my first in the Dakar region I believe (Goélands brun, leucophée, d’Audouin; Sternes naines, Rhynchée peinte, Sanderling, Grand Gravelot, Chevaliers aboyeur, Pluvier argenté, Gambette, Cratérope brun).
A brief walk and a quick scan of the steppe to the north-east revealed a few Singing Bush Larks and the usual loose flocks of Kittlitz’s Plovers (31 birds including at least 2 small chicks and an older juv.), though no Temminck’s Coursers were seen this time round. Also here was another Osprey and a few Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, which were also heard around the lake (Alouette chanteuse, Gravelot pâtre, Balbuzard pêcheur, Guêpier de Perse).
At Mbeubeusse, apart from the Longclaw the surprise du jour was a fly-over pair of Spur-winged Geese (Oie-armée de Gambie), no doubt looking for fresh water…
Target of the day however was Black-winged Stilt – well, in addition to a few others such as the gull flock I wanted to check on – as I was keen on gathering more breeding data. More on this in a later post, but here’s already a picture of an adult with one of its chicks, from Mbeubeusse where there’s hardly any water left in the small pond close to the main road (= near the end of the Extension VDN). Just like last year, several families and nests were found at Lac Rose, and this morning at Technopole I managed to do a fairly extensive count of the number of families and nests. The breeding season is still in full swing and I hope that many of the birds that are still incubating will see their eggs hatch: with low water levels, predation by feral dogs, Pied Crows, Sacred Ibises etc. may be even more of a risk than usual. Overall it certainly seems that there are fewer nests and fewer grown chicks than last year – again, more on this later!
Not a target but always a pleasure to watch these highly underrated doves:
Other stuff of interest from this morning’s visit to Technopole – shortly after the first rain of the season (a very small shower only, but nevertheless: first rain since early October!) – were four Broad-billed Rollers which just like last year seem to favour the area to the NW of the main lake, again Diederik Cuckoo singing, the same Yellow-legged Gull as the previous day at Lac Rose, close to 1,500 Slender-billed Gulls including the first juveniles of the year, as well as the first Black-tailed Godwits of the “autumn”: these are birds that have just arrived back from western Europe, most likely failed breeders. (Rolle violet, Coucou didric, Goélands leucophée et railleur, Barge à queue noire)
Full list here.
Visitors to Technopole should know that there is now a poste de contrôle (check point) near the entrance, just after the Sonatel building, manned by rangers from the DPN (National Park Service). This is the first tangible sign that the newly acquired protected status of the site is actually making a difference; hopefully their presence will help prevent illegal dumping and may give potential visitors more of a sense of security. Please do stop and explain that you’re there to watch birds (they will ask anyway, and if you don’t stop they’ll tell you off on the way out). Do note that entrance remains free to all, and that there’s no entrance fee.
It’s been a while since Technopole last featured here, mostly for a lack of birds… With water levels now extremely low – the main pond only has a few shallow patches of water left – and as a result bird numbers are very low. Just a few hundred Black-winged Stilts, and Spur-winged Lapwings, 100-200 Slender-billed Gulls, the odd Audouin’s and a few oversummering Black-headed Gulls, a few lone waders here and there, 6-8 Greater Flamingos and that’s about it. Luckily there’s always something to see at Technopole, and even if overall numbers of migrants are low at the moment, there’s always some of the local species for which it’s now breeding season!
But more about the gulls first.
One of the previous winter’s Mediterranean Gulls remained up to 10 June at least but only allowed for a few poor records shots, rather unusually a 2nd summer (rather than 1st summer) bird. Apparently the first June record for Senegal, of what in the past 10-20 years has become a regular winter visitor in small numbers to the Dakar region. The last Yellow-legged Gull (Goéland leucophée) was seen on 2 May, also a rather late date.
Actually I just realised that I hadn’t shared some of the better pictures of the star bird of the spring here: the 2nd c.y. Laughing Gull, which ended up staying from 25 April until 22 May at least. With the exception of the adult bird this spring (which was seen only twice by two lucky Iberian observers 🙂 on 21-23 April), all previous records were one-day-wonders.
And while we’re at it, here’s the stunning adult Franklin’s Gull in breeding plumage, which unfortunately didn’t linger and was seen just once, on 30 April, at fairly long range hence the hazy pictures:
This bird is from the following day, probably the 2nd summer seen several times between 13 April and 2 May:
Several Black-winged Stilts are still on the nest, but breeding success appears to be low (because water levels are too low, making the nests more vulnerable?). Only a handful of little stiltlets are seen on each visit, and hardly any older juvs. are around. Wondering whether those at Lac Rose may be more successful this year…
Greater Painted-Snipe (Rhynchée peinte) may also be breeding as a pair was seen on 23 June and a male two weeks earlier in the same area (past golf club house on edge of lake near the small baobab!).
And this year there are quite a few Little Bitterns around, quite obviously more than in previous years, with sightings including several singing birds and pairs in at least five locations. I guess the number of territories all over the Grande Niaye de Pikine could easily exceed 10-12 pairs/singing males. Here’s a rather poor picture of a pair seen on our most recent visit, just before it flew off:
Little Grebe (Grèbe castagneux) was once again confirmed to be breeding, though later than in previous years: an adult with a still downy juv. (aged 1-2 weeks?) was on the small pond past the golf course on 10 June, in the same site as in previous years. Previous records in central and northern Senegal were during Dec. – April (read up more about the breeding status of Little Grebe in Senegal & Gambia in this paper that we published in Malimbus last year)
Another nice surprise last Sunday (23/6) was the first Diederik Cuckoo (Coucou didric) of the season in these parts of the country: a singing bird flew high over the pond coming from the Pikine side, then was heard again later on in the tree belt near the football field. Almost as good as hearing the first Common Cuckoo in early April, back “home” in Geneva!
We’re almost there! In the end, there’s been quite a lot to catch up on since early May…
This colour-ringed Gull-billed Tern which I think I’ve mentioned before is indeed from the small colony of Neufelderkoog in northern Germany – the only site where the species breeds north of the Mediterranean region – and as it turns out it’s only the second-ever resighting of one of their birds in Africa. The first was that of a first-winter bird seen in February 2017 in Conakry, Guinea. Our bird ended up staying at least 16 days, from 13 – 28 April. It was ringed on 18 July 2017 by Markus Risch (“WRYY”: white-red/yellow-yellow) and was a late or replacement brood, and the bird was among the latest fledglings of all.
This Common Ringed Plover was around for some time in April / early May, ringed in Norway (details yet to be submitted).
Also on the ringing front, we’re still waiting to hear back for some of the 40-50 Sandwich Tern ring readings Miguel and I managed to make this spring. One of the most recent birds, seen on May 1st, was ringed in June 2017 at Hodbarrow RSPB reserve in Cumbria (UK), and was already spotted on 25/11/17 at Kartong in Gambia (4,720 km, 148 days). While 2nd c.y. birds all stay in Africa during their first summer, third calendar-years such as this one may already migrate back to Europe.
Rounding off the overview with the most recent addition to the Technopole list: African Wattled Lapwing (Vanneau du Sénégal), which surprisingly had not been seen so far, at least not as far as I know – seems like the species actively avoids dense urban areas, since they are regular just outside Dakar but obviously a bit of a vagrant here in town. One was seen flying past, calling a few times, on 10 June.
Species number 239!
Let’s see if we can manage to find 240 in the next few weeks.
Une récente visite de terrain pour le projet d’assainissement que mon ONG met en œuvre en Casamance a été l’occasion de faire un peu d’ornitho, au gré des déplacements dans les villages et du temps libre le matin et le soir autour des hôtels. Et bien sûr j’ai également noté plus ou moins méticuleusement les rapaces, rolliers et autres calaos le long des trajets en voiture, contribuant ainsi, certes de manière modeste, aux travaux d’atlas de Casamance dont on a déjà parlé à plusieurs reprises ici.
Tout d’abord de Ziguinchor à Kolda, avec escale dans la commune de Samine, puis deux nuits passées à l’hôtel Le Firdou que nous avions déjà visité en mai 2017, m’ont permis de retrouver des espèces bien sympathiques que je ne vois pas à Dakar, telles le Guêpier à gorge rouge, le Martin-chasseur géant ou encore le Grébifoulque (Red-throated Bee-eater, Giant Kingfisher, African Finfoot). Déjà vue en 2017 ici, une femelle de cette dernière espèce est vue à chaque fois, sauf le dernier matin lorsque c’est un mâle adulte qui se nourrit dans la Casamance, qui en cette fin de saison sèche n’est plus qu’un ruisseau ici. L’une des techniques de la femelle consistait à méthodiquement secouer des feuilles de nénuphars et autres débris végétaux avec le bec, visiblement afin de déranger les insectes pour aussitôt les picorer. (pour un peu plus d’infos sur le régime alimentaire de cet oiseau remarquable, voir notre note brève dans Malimbus sur l’observation d’un Grébifoulque se nourrissant sur le dos d’un hippopotame, l’an dernier à Wassadou)
Toujours au bord de la rivière, quelques espèces moins attendues sont observées, notamment ce mâle de Blongios nain qui pourrait bien nicher sur place (les tons châtains du cou et de la poitrine indiquent qu’il s’agit de la sous-espèce africaine payesii et non d’un hivernant européen attardé).
Ou encore cette Talève d’Allen, autre espèce paludicole peu connue en Casamance et dont les observations récentes se comptent sur les doigts d’une main.
Parmi les autres oiseaux vus au Firdou, citons encore le Palmiste africain, le Faucon ardoisé (couple avec comportement suggérant la présence d’un nid), le Grand Indicateur, l’Apalis à gorge jaune (première mention en Moyenne-Casamance semble-t-il), les Astrilds à queue de vinaigre et à joues orange, et cerise sur le gâteau ce couple de Gangas quadribandes qui viennent boire chaque soir au bord de la Casamance sur la rive juste en face de la terrasse, et dont j’ai même pu enregistrer les cris étonnants. (Palm-nut Vulture, Grey Kestrel, Greater Honeyguide, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Lavender & Orange-cheeked Waxbills, Four-banded Sandgrouse). Liste complète ici.
Peu d’oiseaux sont vus lors du long trajet de Kolda à Kafountine, avec escales à Sédhiou et Marsassoum pour visiter des ménages et rencontrer nos maçons et équipes locales; même les Vautours charognards étaient relativement peu nombreux ! Arrivés à Kafountine, on s’installe à l’excellent Esperanto Lodge pour trois nuits. Situé au bord de la lagune à deux pas de la plage, bien au calme quelques km au nord du village, c’est un vrai petit paradis et une base idéale pour explorer la brousse aux alentours. De plus, l’accueil y est bien chaleureux, les repas sont délicieux, et les chambres sont tout à fait agréables. Sans parler des hamacs accrochés aux palmiers dans le jardin luxuriant. Autant dire que je vous le recommande vivement ! Un séjour de de 3 ou 4 jours devrait permettre de bien explorer la zone et d’organiser des visites à la réserve ornithologique de Kalissaye ou à la héronnière de Kassel située au sud de Kafountine. Le patron Eric se fera un plaisir d’organiser les sorties. Dans le coin bibliothèque à côté du bar, une vieille copie du Serle & Morel – premier guide ornitho « moderne » pour l’Afrique de l’Ouest – avec les coches locales témoigne de l’intérêt qu’on porte ici à la nature et en particulier aux oiseaux !! Pour ma part, en quelques sorties matinales et crépusculaires j’ai pu observer 122 espèces d’oiseaux aux environs immédiats du lodge, c’est dire le potentiel de la zone.
Parmi les plus remarquables, citons les Touracos vert et violet, le Calao siffleur, le Guêpier à queue d’aronde, les Pics tacheté et cardinal, les Cisticoles siffleuses et chanteuses, l’Euplecte monseigneur, Noircaps loriots, les Gladiateurs soufré et de Blanchot, plusieurs Gobemouches drongo, Echenilleur à épaulettes rouges, des Hirondelles fanti et ainsi de suite (Guinea & Violet Turacos; Piping Hornbill, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater; Buff-spotted & Cardinal Woodpeckers; Whistling & Singing Cisticolas; Black-winged Bishop, Oriole Warbler, Grey-headed & Orange-breasted Bush-Shrikes; Northern Black Flycatcher, Fanti Saw-wing). Egalement les deux espèces de Tchitrec dont un male qui pourrait bien être un hybride mais malheureusement pas de photo… (African & Red-bellied Paradise-Flycatchers, incl. a possible hybrid)
Les Spréos améthystes, migrateurs intra-africains fraichement arrives dans la région, étaient particulièrement actifs, avec plusieurs males chanteurs mais toujours un peu loin pour des photos correctes – celle ci-dessous ne rend pas du tout le plumage éclatant de ce joli étourneau!
Côté hivernants, il ne reste plus que quelques limicoles dans le « lac » quasiment à sec, puis 2-3 Balbuzards sans doute estivants, et des Martinets noirs passant en petit nombre le long de la côte (Osprey, Common Swift). De manière plus étonnante peut-être, j’observe plusieurs Fauvettes des jardins à deux endroits dans les buissons près du lodge, sans doute au moins quatre individus différents témoignant d’un passage toujours en cours en cette deuxième décade de mai (Garden Warbler).
Nous bouclons notre boucle à Ziguinchor, non sans avoir fait une brève escapade à la forêt de Djibelor. Toujours pas réussi à voir ces fameux Gonoleks de Turati (juste entendu, comme la dernière fois…), mais nous levons un Turnix d’Andalousie dans la zone où Bruno a pu attester la nidification il y a quelques mois, et on entend très nettement le chant caractéristique du Malcoha à bec jaune, espèce très localisée au Sénégal et que je n’avais pas encore vu ici (Turati’s Boubou, Common Buttonquail, Blue Malkoha).
Si tout va bien je retournerai bientôt en Casamance, cette fois pour continuer la recherche d’espèces forestières dans la région d’Oussouye et pourquoi pas pour tenter de retrouver les Anomalospizes. Bruno a encore tout récemment trouvé un Engoulevent à épaulettes noires, Coucals à ventre blanc, l’Alèthe à huppe rousse, l’Akalat brun et j’en passe (Black-shouldered Nightjar, Black-throated Coucal, White-tailed Alethe, Brown Akalat). Et me signale que le Jabiru est toujours présent vers la héronnière de Kassel, tout comme quatre Cigognes épiscopales! (Saddlebill, Woolly-necked Stork)
A day off and not much going on at Technopole recently (water levels are too low, most migrants have moved on) means that I finally have some time to write up this long overdue post. At long last I managed to “catch up” as they say on a very special bird, part quail, part plover – or is it half lark, a quarter courser and a quarter chameleon? Either way, our third attempt to find the unique Quail-Plover (Turnix à ailes blanches) finally paid off with some superb sightings of two different birds, nearly three weeks ago somewhere south of Touba/Mbacke in central Senegal’s barren bush country. I’m pretty sure that this diminutive bird, which of course is neither a plover, nor a quail or lark (let alone a chameleon), easily ranks in the top 10 of most wanted birds to be found in Senegal. Secretive yet not shy, it’s notoriously hard to find in the vast expanse of suitable habitat throughout central Senegal. and earlier attempts back in February and June 2018 failed to turn up any Quail-Plovers.
So, we set off ridiculously early (well maybe not for most birders, but for me 5.30am is VERY early) one Saturday morning and took the shiny new highway to Touba (merci la cooperation chinoise, Senegal now has an additional 1 billion or so Euros in debts to reimburse). Within no time we reached Touba and zoomed through the usually very busy town of Mbacke, all being quiet as it’s Ramadan season here. A few kilometres past the surprisingly clean town of Tip, for Senegalese standards that is, we took what looked like a more or less driveable track heading in the direction of a known spot for Quail-Plover. I somehow managed to get a pretty impressive puncture thanks to a sharp piece of bone (I’m guessing a goat’s femur, see below: opinions welcome), but by 8.30 we were out in the field, birding with a purpose.
Endlessly kicking bushes and slaloming one’s way through the bush country seems to be the only way to nail down this ghost bird. Preferably in a large group, definitely not on your own or with just one mate…
Not really sure whether we really stood any chance, and hopes slowly diminishing as we kicked along without much of a result for about an hour, Miguel finally started frantically gesturing some distance away. Sure enough, he’d found one!
A short sprint later I finally saw what must be one of the most unique birds I’ve ever seen:
We ended up watching this bird for at least half an hour as it slowly moved from one bush to another, typically rocking back-and-forth just like a chameleon, at times feeding but always keeping a watchful eye on us. We finally moved on, both of us all ecstatic of course, like two boys who just received their most wanted Christmas present. Barely five minutes later, I flushed a second bird, which again was very cooperative and allowed for great views from close-up, though it seemed more alert and more shy than the first bird, presumably its partner.
A typical Sahel species, the “Lark Buttonquail” is indeed most closely related to the buttonquails (Turnicidae), hence its French name. It was first described in 1819 by Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot based on a specimen from Senegal; its distribution runs from here and southern Mauritania in a fairly narrow belt throughout the Sahel all the way to Sudan, with what seems like a disjunct population in southern Ethiopia and arid country in Kenya.
To give a sense of how little is known about the species, here are some excerpts from the HBW Alive species page:
- Voice: Apparently silent when flushed; otherwise a very soft, low whistle given from ground has been described, but context seems unknown.
- Food and feeding: little specific information […] at least partly nocturnal […]
- Breeding: Little known […] possibly monogamous […]
- Movements: Poorly understood […]
- Status and conservation: Not globally threatened. Uncommon to locally common […] in Senegal, may have become less common since 1930s […] Perhaps only a vagrant to Gambia (three recent records) […]
Our observations don’t add much to the above; we did see one of the birds feeding as it was walking slowly and every now and then quickly pecking either small insects (ants?) or seeds or other vegetable matter from the ground. When initially flushed, both birds silently flew a short distance (10-15 meters for the first, maybe 30 m for the second bird) and immediately took cover at the base of a bush. Interestingly, we found these birds in exactly the same spot as where it was reported back in January, suggesting it is present here and highly site faithful at least throughout the dry season.
Most recent observations in Senegal are made by tour groups on their regular circuit, who usually dedicate a stop (or two or three, depending on success rates!) between the north and the Saloum delta or Wassadou to their quest for the Quail-Plover. Abdou ‘Carlos’ Lo almost certainly has seen the most of these birds in the last few years, and has found the species in several spots now, so thanks certainly must go to Carlos here. There are also a few recent records from near Toubacouta, from Palmarin and from the Trois-Marigots reserve (see this post by Ornithondar, with as always a good summary of the status of not only Quail-Plover, but also its relative the Common Buttonquail). Morel & Morel mainly recorded the species around Richard-Toll, while Sauvage & Rodwell mention records from the late 80s and early 90s from Popenguine, Mbour (ORSTOM field station), the Niokolo-Koba NP, and Kaffrine.
Here’s the second bird again, showing much less white in the wing and a very crisp plumage:
Of course, there are other birds to be seen here, even if diversity is pretty low especially at this time of the year, with most migrants gone and wet season visitors not arrived yet. Savile’s Bustard, Singing Bush Lark, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, and Desert Cisticola are the most notable other inhabitants of this region (Outarde de Savile, Alouette chanteuse, Erémomèle à croupion jaune, Cisticole du désert). A single Melodious Warbler (Hypolaïs polyglotte) was the only Palearctic migrant still around. See complete eBird checklists here and here.
Third time lucky, as they say.
Another visitor from North America showed up recently at Technopole: a superb adult Laughing Gull (Mouette atricille) was found by Miguel Lecoq and Ignacio Morales over the Easter weekend. First seen on 21.4, it was still present two days later when it was also heard calling. Amazingly, later that same week (25.4), Miguel found an immature (2nd year) in the same place!
Identification is pretty straightforward, the main field characters being nicely visible here: dark grey mantle, almost entirely black outer primaries, narrow white trailing edge to secondaries and tertials, back hood with white “eye lashes”, fairly long dark crimson red bill, and rather long dark red to blackish legs. The young bird is also very distinct and is relatively easy to pick out amongst the numerous other gulls that are present at Technopole at the moment: Slender-billed Gulls mostly, but also Grey-headed Gulls (the immatures of which superficially resemble Laughing Gull), and still some Black-headed, Audouin’s and Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Goeland railler, Mouettes à tête grise et rieuse, Goelands d’Audouin et brun).
Proper rare bird record shot:
This is the fourth American species to be seen in Senegal in less than two weeks, once again highlighting the potential of the country to find vagrant gulls and waders: the overwintering Lesser Yellowlegs (Chevalier à pattes jaunes) was last seen on 8.4, followed by a 2nd year Franklin’s Gull (Mouette de Franklin) on 13.4, the American Golden Plover (Pluvier bronzé) from Palmarin (15.4), and now Larus atricilla. And this is by just a small handful of active observers… just imagine what else there is to be found, if only there were more birders here.
There are just five previous records of Laughing Gull:
- An adult in the Saloum delta on 18.3.85 (Dupuy, A.R. (1985) Sur la présence au Sénégal de Larus atricilla. Alauda 53. Two years earlier, a possible sighting in the same place of a bird apparently paired with Grey-headed Gull, could not be confirmed and should thus be ignored.
- An adult at Guembeul (near Saint-Louis) on 12.1.95 (Yésou P., Triplet P. (1995) La mouette atricille Larus atricilla au Sénégal. Alauda 63)
- A 2nd winter in the Saloum delta on 28.12.05, see picture below (A. Flitti; Recent Reports, Bull. Afr. Bird Club 13)
- One flying past the Ngor seawatch site on 7.10.08 (P. Crouzier, P. J. Dubois, J.-Y. Fremont, E. Rousseau, A. Verneau; Recent Reports, Bull. Afr. Bird Club 16)
- An adult at Saint Louis on 10.1.14; a 2nd winter possibly also present (M. Beevers; Recent Reports, Bull. Afr. Bird Club 21)
Elsewhere on the continent, there are records from Morocco, Mauritania, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau (first records is yet to be published), and possibly elsewhere – most recently, an imm. photographed at the Bijol Islands in Gambia in December 2018. It’s an annual vagrant to western Europe, even in unexpected locations such as on this lake in the Swiss Alps where an adult overwintered in 2005/2006:
Unlike Franklin’s Gull, which has been recorded in all months except for November, with most records in May, July and August, Laughing Gull is obviously a species that is more to be expected in winter, with all records so far occurring between October and April.
Other good birds found during Miguel’s frequent visits these past few days include two other additions to the Technopole list: Golden Oriole on 25.4 (Loriot d’Europe), and Pallid Swift on 23.4 (Martinet pâle). A late Mediterranean Gull (Mouette mélanocéphale) was also a good record, as was the count of 606 Sanderlings.
The site list now stands at 237 species. Which one will be next?
I wrote the preceding paragraphs yesterday, and since then I’ve been – at long last – back to Technopole, as I was up north last weekend and travelling abroad for work this past week. Well, we got the answer: species number 238 is Plain Martin (also known as Brown-throated Martin; Hirondelle paludicole). We had a single bird feeding over the water – often at close range – along with a couple of Barn Swallows (Hirondelle rustique) and several Little Swifts (Martinet des maisons), nicely showing its features. This is a rarely reported species from Senegal, and as it turns out the first eBird observation for the country! It’s rather patchily distributed throughout West Africa, being more common in Morocco, East Africa, and Southern Africa. Considered a non-breeding visitor to Senegal and Gambia, I could only find six old records from Senegal: Morel & Morel list four, followed by one in Jan. 1992 in the Djoudj and one from Mekhe in August 1992. Last year, Bruno Bargain found several at Kambounda (Sédhiou, Casamance), on 2.12.18, but other than those there do not seem to be any recent observations. Very nice sighting and an unexpected addition to my Senegal list – and a cool lifer for Miguel!
Alas no Laughing Gull this morning, but we did see the Frankin’s Gull again. Also another Pallid Swift, as well as new sightings of a colour-ringed German Gull-billed Tern (Sterne hansel) and a Norwegian Common Ringed Plover (Grand Gravelot), plus now two different Med’ Gulls. Let’s try again on Wednesday morning, who knows maybe the gull will be back. It may actually have been around for a few weeks now, as there was a possible sighting at Technopole on March 30th. It’s quite possible that the adult is hanging out by the harbour or elsewhere in the baie de Hann or even Rufisque, and will show up again at Technopole.
A recent early morning visit to the Trois-Marigots area, just outside Saint Louis in the lower Senegal delta, quickly turned into a proper gallinule fest, with dozens – hundreds probably! – of rallidae: Moorhens, African Swamphens, Black Crakes, and even a few of the much hoped for Allen’s Gallinule. No crakes this time round, but all in all a pretty spectacular sight in a great setting. Below are a few images taken during our visit, all but the last one taken from the Tylla digue which crosses the second of the the Trois-Marigots. Vieux and I mainly birded a stretch of just a few hundred meters for the first couple of hours, with new birds showing up all the time.
With habitat like this, what would you expect?
Rails of course, but also African Pygmy-Goose, Purple Heron, Black Heron, Little Bittern, African Fish-Eagle, Marsh Harrier, various Acrocephalus warblers, Winding Cisticola, Zebra Waxbill, and so on.
Allen’s Gallinule is pretty local in Senegal, being most regularly reported from Djoudj and from Trois-Marigots, though it also occurs in Casamance and probably elsewhere (still waiting for it to show up one day at Technopole!). We saw at least two adults, including one with a bright blue frontal shield. The second bird, pictured below, was somewhat duller but the obvious red eye indicates that it is also in breeding plumage, making it likely that the species breeds here at Trois-Marigots.
And here’s that obligatory Pygmy-Goose picture, which I have to say I was quite pleased with:
This one a bit less so, but nevertheless, always great to get a reasonable picture of a nervous warbler that just would not sit still… While most wintering warblers are long gone by now, there were still quite a few of these Sedge Warblers around, plus several Eurasian Reed Warblers, two Willow Warblers, and just one Bonelli’s Warbler. For the most part these are probably birds from the northern part of their breeding range.
Complete eBird checklist here, plus this one from the now bone-dry savanna between the first (also dry by now) and second marigots: Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Temminck’s Courser, Cut-throat, Pygmy Sunbird, etc. For more on Trois-Marigots and its crakes – including the rarely seen Little Crake – see this post, and of course many other notes by Frederic Bacuez on Ornithondar.
A brief visit to the Lampsar near Makhana village, on the opposite side of the route nationale, paid off with quite a few additional species such as fly-over Glossy Ibises, Collared Pratincoles, several waders including two Little Ringed Plovers, and most notably a small colony of Black-winged Stilts, with at least four birds incubating. There were probably several more, given that some of the nests were relatively well concealed as can be seen on the picture below. Checklist here.
Staying on our swamp theme, here are a few more pictures from the Easter weekend which we spent at Zebrabar at the Langue de Barbarie national park. The Saint Louis STEP (sewage farm) was even more smelly than usual, but as always held some good birds such as this River Prinia and Greater Painted Snipe, two species that were also encountered at Trois-Marigots.
Finally, I should mention that Vieux recently found Senegal’s 6th or 7th Lesser Jacana, more precisely at the Lampsar lodge on March 16th. He’d found the previous one just last summer during a waterbird count near Ross Bethio on July 15th. The species is probably a fairly regular yet scarce visitor to Senegal, but its precise status is yet to be defined. Once again Vieux shows that he’s one of the most skilled – and most active – birders in the country!