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Popenguine Raptor Fest (3.11.18)

A visit to Popenguine nature reserve a couple of weeks ago quickly turned into a exciting few hours watching a good variety of raptors – something we’re not much used to in this part of Senegal, where there are few sites that are good for raptors, and most of the time anything else than a Yellow-billed Kite, Osprey or Hooded Vulture will qualify as a good record. Here’s a short overview, in order of appearance!

As always, several Ospreys were to be seen in the reserve; a few birds usually spend the night on the mighty baobabs that dot the Popenguine savanna, and all day long Ospreys can be seen flying around the cliffs or fishing out at sea. Later that same day at the lagoon just south of Toubab Dialaw, we had a good count of some 29 birds, all visible at the same time (Balbuzard). Popenguine of course also had a few Yellow-billed Kites patrolling the area (Milan à bec jaune).

As we were looking for a Common Rock Thrush we’d briefly spotted on a ridge ahead of the footpath, we noticed first an immature Peregrine Falcon flying around, then a European Hobby – the latter a scarce migrant through Senegal so always a good find. Hobby was already seen at Popenguine around the same time last year by Miguel. This time round it looked like it was an actively migrating individual, just like a Common Kestrel that briefly made an appearance shortly after (Faucons pèlerin, hobereau et crécerelle).

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Miguel and Ross searching the skies for falcons

 

Next up was a Marsh Harrier circling in the distance, again probably a bird on its way to wintering grounds further south (Busard des roseaux). I’ve always thought that Popenguine would be a fairly strategic site to look for actively migrating raptors and other birds. Should be interesting to spend a few days here in October-November and February-March!

This Short-toed Eagle on the other hand was probably one of the 2-3 birds that typically spend the winter in the area around Popenguine and Guereo.

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Short-toed Eagle / Circaète Jean-le-Blanc

 

Far less expected than the previous species was a Bonelli’s Eagle, spotted by Gabriel as it arrived from the north-east and made its way towards the cliffs, at one point circling together with a couple of Ospreys. Initially we weren’t quite sure about its identity, wondering whether a juvenile African Hawk-Eagle could be ruled out, and a bit puzzled by the very pale appearance of this eagle. Luckily I managed a few record shots, a bit distant and hazy but they should do the trick. The plumage seems to still be within the variation of worn juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle, and African Hawk-Eagle can probably be ruled out based on the overall pale appearance, less dense barring on underwing, and absence of a clear dark band on the greater underwing coverts. A bit puzzling is the moult contrast on with fresh inner primaries growing, so maybe it is a second-year bird after all? Opinions welcome!

Yet another addition to my Senegal list – the next species will be number 500 🙂

I was actually expecting to see this species one day in the Djoudj, Trois-Marigots or elsewhere in the lower Senegal valley, the only area with more or less regular records in winter (mainly by Frédéric, who year after year has documented the presence of a few birds around Saint Louis and who nicely summarised the current knowledge about this scarce species in West Africa, in this post on Ornithondar).

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Bonelli’s Eagle / Aigle de Bonelli

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Bonelli’s Eagle / Aigle de Bonelli

 

After we’d reached the top of the cliffs, next up was this Eurasian Griffon which appeared to be actively migrating along the coastline, just like a second bird we’d see a couple of hours later that same morning near Yène.

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Eurasian Griffon / Vautour fauve

 

Barely a few minutes later, Gabriel strikes again with a young Lanner making a brief appearance, just as we were heading back towards the reserve entrance (Faucon lanier). That’s four species of falcons, not bad! In previous years we’ve also had Barbary Falcon near the cliffs, and surely Red-necked Falcon and Grey Kestrel must also occur at least occasionally, while in the wet season it may be possible to encounter African Hobby.

We thought we’d seen pretty much everything when at the last minute a Shikra was seen dashing over the pond (all but dry!), bringing our morning’s total to 11 birds of prey.

Besides all these hooked beaks, as always the nature reserve held quite a few other good bird, such as Gosling’s Bunting, Green-winged Pytillia, Sahel Paradise-WhydahBlue Rock Thrush, and Northern Anteater Chat. In the end we saw two different Common (=Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrushes, a scarce migrant in Senegal, see this post on our first encounter with the species, in February 2016 at… Popenguine! Also a decent flock of Pallid Swifts and a few White-throated Bee-eaters, both pretty good bonus species, while two Pygmy Kingfishers including at least one dark-billed juvenile provided proof that the species is breeding here.

Complete eBird checklist available here.

The bird list for the Popenguine reserve now stands at some 198 species, at a minimum that is: I listed more than 20 other species as being most likely present, but which apparently remain to be confirmed. More on that over here.

Oh and then there were the butterflies – pure magic! Thousands and thousands of butterflies everywhere, especially along the track up the cliffs. With every footstep, small clouds of butterflies would explode, while a constant stream of butterflies was passing by the cliffs. Our visit clearly took place during peak migration season of Painted Lady which were the vast majority, and to a lesser extent some pieridae. And loads of dragonflies! Difficult to capture on camera but if you look carefully at the image below you’ll get a bit of a sense of what I’m trying to explain here.

 

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Popenguine cliffs… & many butterflies

 

 

 

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Northern Senegal after the rains, 3-7 Oct. (Part II)

(continued from our first blog post on this road trip)

After leaving Gamadji Sare behind, we made our way towards Podor with a few stops en route. A nightjar sheltering from the heat (and predators) was flushed by Vieux near forêt de Golette, just minutes after he casually mentioned that those bushes look good for nightjars! We were hoping for one of the rarer species of course, but it turned out to be a Longtailed Nightjar after all, apparently a (young?) bird in very fresh plumage. Also several Knob-billed Ducks here, a Short-toed Eagle, Spotted Thick-knee, Vieillot’s Barbet and so on.

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Long-tailed Nightjar / Engoulevent à longue queue

 

At the scenic Podor quay we had a Marsh Harrier, at least two House Martins and several Red-chested Swallows, some of which were on the opposite side of the river, meaning these were in Mauritanian territory: not insignificant since apparently there aren’t any solid records from our northern neighbour, despite the fact that the species surely must breed on the Mauritanian side of the Senegal delta. Just like in January, we also saw the species further downstream at Dagana. A Montagu’s Harrier and a Black Kite were seen just south of town.

Continuing our westbound journey, we cris-crossed the rice paddies with a few quick stops en route, including an emergency stop near Fanaye Dieri for a raptor which initially puzzled us both, and which turned out to be a young Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle. This seems to be a (very) scarce wet season visitor to northern Senegal and to southern Mauritania where breeding has been confirmed.

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Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle / Circaète de Beaudouin

 

At Dagana, the main feature was the constant stream of herons and Long-tailed Cormorants en route to their nigh roost (or in case of the Black-crowned Night-Herons, en route to their nightly feeding grounds). The roost is located in the swamps just east of Dagana, and hosts what must be several thousands of birds. Three Glossy Ibises flew into Mauritania, while Greater Swamp Warblers were singing on the northern river bank. An evening walk produced Nightingale, Barn Owl, Long-tailed Nightjar and more.

 

Day 4: Big Day! Dagana to Saint-Louis via Richard Toll and the lower delta

October 6 happened to be the first “October Big Day” organised by Cornell – more on this eBird page.

Pre-breakfast birding at Bokhol “forest”, then from Dagana to Richard Toll with a couple of stops en route and a visit to the sand quarry where I wanted to check on the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater colony: with some 500 nest holes, probably at least half being active nests, this is an impressive sight. Bonus species here were Northern Anteater Chat, Cricket Warbler, and especially two Standard-winged Nightjars flushed from “broom bushes” which were a real surprise here (but once again both were female type… so alas no standards!). The picture of the quarry shows the habitat of the latter two species in the background. Along the track into the sugar cane plantations, more White-throated Bee-eaters, both bishops, Black-rumped Waxbills, and a fine Pin-tailed Whydah.

 

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Blue-cheeked Bee-eater colony at Richard Toll, with Cricket Warbler habitat in the background

 

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Pin-tailed Whydah / Veuve dominicaine

 

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… at Bokhol, the fields were rather quiet and unlike in Gamadji Sare the previous morning we barely had any northern songbirds. The forest held goodies such as Senegal Batis, more Orphean Warblers, Fork-tailed Drongo, Brubru, a Red-necked Falcon with prey, and a much less expected Klaas’s Cuckoo singing in the distance (appears to be a rare breeder during the wet season in northern Senegal). Full species list here. Another Whinchat and a few other migrants were seen just west of Dagana.

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Green Bee-eater / Guêpier d’Orient at Bokhol

 

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Elegant Sand Racer (Psammophis elegans), Bokhol

 

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West African Ground Squirrel / Ecureuil fouisseur (Xerus erythropus)

 

Negotiating our way out of Richard Toll, we continued on to Ross Bethio, more specifically the ponds along the track to the Djoudj NP. This is where Vieux found a Lesser Jacana back in July: only the fifth record for the country (and second in the north), this was an exciting find of course, further highlighting the potential of this site which has received little attention from birders let alone from the National Park authorities – though the good news is that from this year on, the site is included in the monthly waterbird counts conducted by the Djoudj park staff. Full story on the jacana record on Ornithondar, merci Frédéric. During our visit there were loads of herons and whistling ducks, pelicans, several Black Storks and Yellow-billed Storks, more Eurasian Coots, etc. More unusually, we spotted several Marbled Ducks, counting at least 11 of these cool ducks. This appears to be an early date, and a rare record outside the nearby Djoudj NP: almost all observations tend to be from the same area in the national park, at the Grand Lac, typically between December and February. We’d already seen Little Grebes, but now Vieux also spotted a Black-necked Grebe, an adult coming out of its breeding plumage. Again an early date of an uncommon species in Senegal, typically seen in mid-winter in the north. All in all some 78 species were seen here, see eBird checklist.

The long drive through the delta along the Djoudj track was pretty uneventful, and we only stopped briefly at Saint-Louis to watch a group of Black-tailed Godwits which unfortunately were feeding knee-deep in the lagoon, so no colour-rings could be seen. The Saint-Louis sewage works are always a hit, but too often they are ignored by visiting and local birders alike: I was thus keen to show Vieux this site even if we had just about half an hour left. As always, plenty of birds here, best of all being a Great Reed Warbler. We said our goodbyes here, and I continued onto Zebrabar where I’d spend the night, picking up several wader species new for the trip list as well as Brown Babbler on the camp grounds.

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Black-winged Kite / Elanion blanc

 

Day 5: final bit of birding at Langue de Barbarie et Guembeul lagoons

Up before dawn, I first went to the floodplain south of Guembeul: Savile’s Bustards singing in all directions, a flock of spoonbills of both species frantically feeding, and a good mix of warblers (Melodious, Subalpine, Bonelli’s, Common Whitethroat). The lagoons held Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits (including a ringed bird from northern Germany), lots of Little Stints, Dunlins, Curlew Sandpipers, and so on. A Pallid Swift was seen near Guembeul, and the lagoons near the STEP held a handful of Shovelers and White-faced Whistling-Ducks, including a family with some 11 ducklings, with Little Grebes also showing signs of local breeding.

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Spur-winged Lapwing chick / poussin de Vanneau éperonné

 

Time to head back home… uneventful drive, with just a few quick stops between Mouit and Louga whenever I encountered vultures such as this one:

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Rüppell’s Vulture / Vautour de Rüppell

 

 

 

AGPs again

Quick note to report Senegal’s 12th and 13th American Golden Plovers, a species that is now near-annual here but which always remains a good find.

We found the first of the season last weekend at lac Mbeubeusse (north of Keur Massar) which we visited early afternoon on our way back from a very enjoyable trip to Popenguine – more on that visit in an upcoming post. Both the date (3 November) and the location are rather typical for this wader: out of the 11 previous records, eight are from the Dakar region, and three were obtained between mid-October and mid-December. Paul had already seen a bird in the same location back in March 2013: needless to say that lac Mbeubeusse ought to be visited much more frequently than just a handful of times per year: pretty much every visit is bound to turn up something good. As always we can only speculate about the number of Nearctic vagrants that pass through Senegal every year or that end up spending the winter here…

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Lac Mbeubeuss(e)

 

After spotting what looked like a suspicious Pluvialis plover (= anything but a Grey Plover), based on the fairly contrasted plumage, seemingly long-bodied and long-legged appearance combined with a small-ish bill, we had to wait a while, gradually approaching the lake’s edge, before we could confirm that it was indeed a “Lesser” Golden Plover (= American or Pacific GP). The important primary projection with wing tips reaching well beyond the tail, bronzy rump and lower back, dark-capped head with distinctive pale supercilium and forehead, and most significantly at one point the bird stretched its wings upwards which allowed us to see the grey underwing. Everything else about the bird was pretty standard for a first-year American Golden Plover. Bingo!

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

 

To get a sense of the potential of lac Mbeubeusse for waders and other waterbirds, check out our eBird checklist: other good birds here included hundreds of Northern Shovelers and many GarganeysRuffsLittle Stints and Common Ringed Plovers, several Curlew Sandpipers and Dunlins, quite a few Audouin’s Gulls, a few terns including all three species of Chlidonias marsh terns, 124 Greater Flamingos, at least one Red-rumped Swallow, etc. etc. All this with Dakar’s giant rubbish tip as a backdrop, spewing black smoke and gradually covering the niaye in a thick layer of waste on its western edge… quite a sad contrast with all the bird life. And definitely not the most idyllic birding hotspot!

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Audouin’s Gull / Goéland d’Audouin

 

Number 13 was found by Mark Finn barely a week later, on Friday Nov. 9th, at one of the lagoons near Pointe Sarène, south of Mbour. As I happened to spend the weekend at nearby Nianing and was planning on visiting Sarène anyway, I went there the following day and easily located the bird, an adult moulting into winter plumage. Unlike the previous bird, it was actively feeding on the shores of a seasonal pond surrounded by pastures and fields, along with several other waders including Ruff, Redshank, Greenshank, RedshankWood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, TurnstoneCommon Sandpiper, and Common Snipe. This appears to be the first record along the Petite Côte south of Dakar, at a site that has great potential for shorebirds and other migrants: around Nianing, Sarène and Mbodiène are several seasonal lakes that fill up during the rains, as well as coastal saltwater (or brackish) lagoons as can be seen on the map below. The marker shows where the AGP was feeding on Saturday.

 

Despite being a bit distant I managed some decent record shots of the bird, but unfortunately my camera was stolen later in the weekend… so these pictures are lost forever to humanity. Not that I would have won any prizes with them. So no more blurred pictures from the field on this blog for a little while.

The Sarène bird looked pretty much like this one, just slightly less black on the chest:

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé (Technopole, April 2018)

 

Anyway, as I think we’ve already mentioned in the past, “AGP” is the most frequent Nearctic wader in Senegal and more generally in West Africa, followed by Buff-breasted Sandpiper (nine Senegalese records so far) and Lesser Yellowlegs (eight). See this post for a list of the first eight known AGP records for Senegal. Since then (spring 2017), the following sightings are to be added:

  • April-May 2017: an adult and two 2nd c.y. birds from 17.4 – 1.5 at least, with a fourth bird (= technically an additional record) up to 21.5., at Technopole (BP, Theo Peters, Wim Mullié, Miguel Lecoq, Ross Wanless, Justine Dosso)
  • 8 April 2018: an adult or 2nd c.y. at Technopole (BP) – photos above and more info here.
  • 3 November 2018: one 1st c.y. at lac Mbeubeusse, Dakar (BP, Gabriel Caucanas, Miguel Lecoq, Ross Wanless)
  • 9-10 November 2018: one ad. at Sarène, Thiès region (M. Finn et al., BP)

Out of these 12 records, eight are from Dakar (mostly Technopole of course!), just one from the north – the first country record, in 1979 – and two are from Basse-Casamance where the species may well winter, at least occasionally. And six of these records are from just the past four years: one in 2015, four birds in 2017, and now already three birds this year.  American Golden Plovers tend to mainly show up in spring (April-May) and in autumn (Oct.-Nov.) as shown in this little chart below; it’s also in spring that they linger the longest: in spring 2017, Technopole saw a continued presence during five weeks, involving at least four different birds. Note that birds that stayed for several days across two months are counted in both months.

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American Golden Plover records

 

A few more hazy pictures from the Mbeubeusse bird:

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

 

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

 

 

 

Northern Senegal after the rains, 3-7 Oct. (Part I)

Ever since our first expedition to the Moyenne Vallée back in January I’ve been keen to return to this little-known part of Senegal, mainly to see whether our Horus Swifts would be still around and to find out what the rains season would bring here. Early October I had the chance to finally head back out there: here’s a glimpse of our five-day road trip to the Far North.

Where to start? We’ll take it in chronological order!

 

Day 1: Dakar to Lampsar lodge via Trois-Marigots

A pit stop at the lac Tanma bridge and a couple of brief stops at Mboro produced a few waders and Greater Swamp Warbler (niaye near the abandoned Hotel du Lac), African Swamphen and Levaillant’s Cuckoo (ponds at the start of the road to Diogo; Rousserolle des cannes, Talève d’Afrique, Coucou de Levaillant). From there it was pretty much non-stop all the way to the Trois-Marigots, an important wetland complex just past Saint-Louis. All lush and teeming with bird life following abundant rains in previous weeks, I could have easily spent half a day here but unfortunately could only spare a couple of hours before moving on to the Lampsar lodge.

Herons, egrets, ducks, waders, bishops and weavers were everywhere, many of them in full breeding attire and actively singing and displaying while Marsh Harriers (Busard des roseaux) were hunting over the wetlands. Two adult Eurasian Coots were the most unexpected species, and I already got a good flavour of things to come in the next few days: Spur-winged Geese flying around, noisy River Prinias everywhere, a distant singing Savile’s Bustard, lots of Collared Pratincoles, a BrubruWoodchat Shrike, etc. etc. (Oie-armée, Prinia aquatique, Outarde de Savile, Glaréole à collier, Brubru, Pie-grièche a tête rousse)

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Purple Heron / Heron pourpré

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Eurasian Coot / Foulque macroule

Just like at Trois-Marigots, Yellow-crowned and Northern Red Bishops were very active in the fields around the Lampsar lodge, where quite a few northern songbirds were noted during a short walk at dusk: Western Olivaceous Warbler, Common Redstart, Garden Warbler, White Wagtail and many Yellow Wagtails – at least 135 flying towards a night roost on the other side of the Lampsar river (Euplectes vorabé et monseigneur, Hypolais obscure, Rougequeue à front blanc, Fauvette des jardins, Bergeronnettes grises et printanières). The Lampsar lodge certainly seems like a good base to explore this part of the Senegal delta, being located close the Djoudj and other birding hotspots in the area.

Day 2: Ndiael, Richard-Toll, Thille Boubacar to Gamadji Sare

Two Black-crowned Cranes were calling opposite the lodge at dawn, while Greater Swamp Warbler was singing along the Lampsar; the rice paddies and surrounding farmland held Winding Cisticola, River Prinia, and several waders including Common Snipe (Grue couronnée, Rousserolle des cannes, Cisticole roussâtre, Prinia aquatique, Bécassine des marais).

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Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling / Choucador à oreillons bleus

But we were just warming up… time to get serious. Vieux Ngom joined me at Lampsar from where we set off for the Ndiaël fauna reserve. Vieux is one of Senegal’s most enthusiastic and skilled birders, based out of the Djoudj as an eco-guide and is a great companion in the field – it was an absolute pleasure to spend the next few days in his company!

So, the Réserve Spéciale de Faune de Ndiaël: I’d only visited a couple of times before, and this was my first visit during the rains. The usually barren plains and dry acacia scrub were now all green, full of water, ponds with water lilies, acacias blooming, dragonflies hunting and butterflies fluttering everywhere… and birds of course: several Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese, a Knob-billed Duck, hundreds of White-faced Whistling Ducks (and one Fulvous Whistling Duck), two distant Black Storks and a Black-headed Heron, a couple of European Turtle-Doves, vocal Woodland Kingfishers (Ouette d’Egypte, Oie-armée, Canard à bosse, Dendrocygnes veufs et fauves, Cigognes noires, Héron mélanocéphale, Tourterelle des bois, Martin-chasseur du Sénégal). More Collared Pratincoles, a Montagu’s Harrier, and as we were watching the ducks and waders near the marigot de (N)yéti Yone, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse started to appear in small flocks, flying hurriedly over the plain (Glaréole à collier, Busard cendré, Ganga à ventre brun). On the way back along the track, a few of these birds were bathing and drinking from small roadside pools. Oh and sparrow-larks everywhere, mainly Chestnut-backed but also a few Black-crowned Sparrow-larks. Over a hundred Sand Martins were feeding over the plain, with several Common Swifts also passing through (Moinelettes à oreillons blancs et à front blanc, Hirondelle de rivage, Martinet noir).

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Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse / Ganga à ventre brun

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Woodchat Shrike / Pie-grièche à tête rousse juv.

 

Next up: Richard Toll, where we paid a brief visit to the aerodrome area, known to attract some good species in winter but rarely visited at this time of the year (this actually applies to pretty much all sites we explored). Our first Southern Grey Shrikes were seen here, as were Green Bee-eater, Tree Pipit, Singing Bush-Lark, Chestnut-bellied Starling, and more (Pie-grièche méridionale, Guêpier de Perse, Pipit des arbres, Alouette chanteuse, Choucador à ventre roux).

Time to move on… with just 110 km to cover until Gamadji Sare, we could afford making a few more stops en route. First of all at the wetland past Thille Boubacar, where a quick scan from the bridge by Ndiayene Pendao produced two Egyptian Plovers (Pluvian). The pond on the other side of the river, which back in January had yielded quite a lot of good birds, was harder to access because its surrounding were all flooded, making it difficult to get decent views of the main water body. So no Pygmy Geese this time round. Several Black Herons and African Darters were around, while a European Pied Flycatcher and a few Subalpine Warblers were feeding in the acacia woodland (Héron ardoisé, Anhinga, Gobemouche noir, Fauvette passerinette).

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European Pied Flycatcher / Gobemouche noir

An adult Short-toed Eagle was seen flying over the road, and a couple more stops produced our first Cricket Warblers of the trip, more singing Black-crowned Sparrow-larks, breeding Sudan Golden Sparrows, and Vieux was lucky to see a Fulvous Babbler (Circaète Jean-le-Blanc, Prinia à front écailleux, Moinelette à front blanc, Moineau doré, Cratérope fauve). Alas no Golden Nightjar which we searched for in an area where it is known to winter.

And at long last, we arrived at Gamadji Sare, just in time for another hour’s worth of birding – No Time to Loose! – and of course we were more than eager to find out whether those mystery swifts were still going to be around. I’d barely walked through the back door of the Jardins du Fouta hotel, and there they were: a handful of Horus Swifts were flying over the river, confirming our suspicions that the species is well established here and that our sightings from January (and Fred’s in February) were not of some vagrant groupe of birds. At least 10 birds were seen several times, often flying close to the cliff’s edge while calling excitedly, and entering disused Blue-cheeked Bee-eater nest holes as night was falling. Unlike in January, the bee-eater colony was in full swing, with dozens of birds noisily feeding young in and out of the nest holes.

Horus Swift: check!

Mission accomplished.

 

A short walk along the Doué river produced migrants such as Orphean and Bonelli’s Warblers, Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, and more Black Scrub Robins and Cricket Warblers (Fauvette orphée, Pouillot de Bonelli, Gobemouches noirs et gris, Agrobate podobé, Prinia à front écailleux).

Birding non-stop… what a day!

Day 3: Gamadji Sare, Podor and Dagana

Difficult for things to get even better than the previous day, right?

We spent some more time studying the swifts and observing their behaviour and trying to count them. Not an easy feat as the numbers kept fluctuating, with small groups appearing and disappearing constantly, and at one point there were some Pallid and Little Swifts mixed in with the Horus Swifts. In the end, we settled on a conservative minimum of about 45 birds, probably even more like 50 to 60! So more than double than our estimate in January. Trying to get some decent pictures proved to be even more difficult, most of my pictures resembling this:

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Trust me it’s a Horus Swift

Or even this:

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At least I got its shadow

More on the swifts may follow in an upcoming post. In any case, it’s pretty clear now that the species is well established and it would be surprising if they didn’t in fact breed here. And that other sites along the Senegal and Niger rivers and their tributaries are probably waiting to be discovered.

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At least 16 Horus Swifts are visible in this picture! (click to enlarge)

Further along the river bank we saw pretty much the same species as the previous evening, plus HamerkopLanner, Pallid SwiftGosling’s Bunting to name but a few (Ombrette, Lanier, Martinet pâle, Bruant d’Alexander).

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White-throated Bee-eater / Guêpier à gorge blanche

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White Wagtail / Bergeronnette grise

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Gosling’s Bunting/ / Bruant d’Alexander

A quick breakfast and some birding in the gardens which held Red-throated Bee-eater – just when we thought they were no longer around – and an unexpected Wryneck among many others; we then decided to go out to the rice paddies and the fields just to the north-east of the village (Guêpier à gorge rouge, Torcol fourmilier). Not really knowing what to expect, we weren’t disappointed: Bluethroat! Whinchat! Dwarf Bittern! …all species that in Senegal are tricky to see in one way or another (Gorgebleue à miroir, Tarier des prés, Blongios de Stürm!). The bittern was particularly cooperative: after it was accidentally flushed by Vieux, it landed on top of a bush, showing off its unique plumage – nice to finally catch up with this little beauty in Senegal (bringing my country list to 498 species!).

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Dwarf Bittern / Blongios de Stürm

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Eurasian Reed Warbler / Rousserolle effarvatte

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Yellow-crowned Bishop / Euplecte vorabé

All in all, we got to see no less than 90 species in a single morning, all within walking distance from the guesthouse: pretty impressive I say. See the complete eBird checklist here.

We were now half way through our little expedition so it was already time to return west, to Dagana via Podor. This section, as well as days 4 (Foret de Bokhol, Richard-Toll again, Ross Bethio to Gandiol) and 5 (Langue de Barbarie and the Gandiol area, back to Dakar) will be covered in an upcoming Part II of this post… Thanks for reading up to here!

 

 

Pelagic trip off Ngor

Why would two Portuguese, a Mauritanian, a Cape-Verdian, a French, an American and a Belgian set off on a boat trip one morning in October? Seabirds of course! With Gabriel in town, Bruce over from the US, Miguel and Antonio as motivated as ever to get out of the office and to have some of their BirdLife colleagues strengthen their seabird id skills, it was time to organise our now annual autumn pelagic, on October 1st.

Conditions were perfect to get out on our small boat (organised through Nautilus Diving: merci Hilda!) though probably a bit too calm for active seabird migration. We chose to head straight west to the edge of the continental shelf, rather than try the “trawler area” off Kayar as this is quite a bit more distant from Ngor. Needless to say that expectations were high as is always the case during these rare opportunities to get close views of the treasured tubenoses – storm petrels, shearwaters – skuas and maybe some Grey Phalaropes or Sabine’s Gulls.

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Ngor plage

 

A Manx Shearwater zooming past the boat was one of the first pelagic species we got to see, followed by quite a few Sooty Shearwaters (Puffin fuligineux).

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Sooty Shearwater / Puffin fuligineux (BP)

 

Further out, Wilson’s Storm Petrel became the dominant species, with a few dozen birds seen – and probably many more that went undetected – particularly around the upwelling area. Almost all were obviously actively migrating, and we managed to get some good views of several of them as they zoomed past our boat. Of course, several storm petrels remained unidentified, but we did manage to get decent views of at least two European Storm Petrels (though alas no pictures!). The toes projecting beyond the tail that are diagnostic of Wilson’s are more or less visible on the pictures below.

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Wilson’s Strom Petrel / Océanite de Wilson (A. Araujo)

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Wilson’s Strom Petrel / Océanite de Wilson (B. Mast)

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Wilson’s Strom Petrel / Océanite de Wilson (B. Mast)

 

Up next: skuas, or jaegers as our American friends call them. We didn’t see many, with just three Pomarines and just as few Arctic Skuas, as well as an obliging Long-tailed Skua. The latter was an interesting bird that we aged as a third-summer moulting into third-winter plumage. It briefly joined two Pomarine Skuas (second-year birds?) allowing for nice comparisons of size and structure.

 

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Long-tailed Skua / Labbe à longue queue (BP)

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Long-tailed Skua / Labbe à longue queue (BP)

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Long-tailed Skua / Labbe à longue queue (A. Araujo)

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Long-tailed & Pomarine Skuas / Labbes à longue queue & pomarin (B. Mast)

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Pomarine Skuas / Labbes pomarins (B. Mast)

 

Rounding up our seabirds is this Red (Grey…) Phalarope (Phalarope à bec large), the only one we saw during the trip but somehow Bruce managed to get a picture:

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Red Phalarope / Phalarope à bec large (B. Mast)

 

As seems to be quite often the case during these pelagic trips, some landbirds were also encountered, in our case European Turtle Dove (Tourterelle des bois) of which we twice saw singles migrating over the ocean (in October 2016, the PAOC pelagic recorded at least three species of passerines, including a migrating Bluethroat). One of our doves had a very worn and messy plumage, probably a moulting young bird:

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European Turtle Dove / Tourterelle des bois (B. Mast)

 

Our complete eBird checklist, expertly compiled by Miguel, can be found here. We really ought to add the Osprey that can just about be seen sitting on top of the Almadies lighthouse, but which was noticed only later on this neat picture by Bruce of the lighthouse – Africa’s westernmost building, constructed some time in the 19th century (precise date seems unknown?) on a reef that lies just off the Pointe des Almadies.

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Le phare des Almadies… and an Osprey (B. Mast)

 

 

Many thanks to Antonio and Bruce for sharing their pictures!

 

 

Suivi de la migration d’automne à Ngor: août et septembre 2018

Depuis un peu plus de deux mois on a repris nos habitudes au Calao de Ngor cet automne (ai-je vraiment arrêté depuis l’an dernier?), pour voir ce que donne le cru 2018 pour ce qui est de la migration d’automne des oiseaux de mer. Le printemps avait déjà été pas mal, avec entre autres de beaux passages de Sternes voyageuses et de Dougall, de Mouettes de Sabine, et quelques espèces plus rares comme le Fou à pieds rouges, le Puffin de Macaronésie / de Barolo ou encore le Puffin majeur. Ayant eu un peu plus de temps libre et moins de voyages que d’habitude, j’ai donc repris le suivi régulier depuis fin juillet. J’étais curieux notamment de mieux suivre les mouvements en août et septembre, et finalement j’ai un peu mieux pu suivre ces deux mois que l’an dernier: entre le 30/7 et le 30/9, j’ai pu assurer une présence lors de 41 jours, pour environ 55 heures de suivi (2017: 40.5 heures sur 31 jours). A propos de notre suivi de l’an dernier, un article sur le suivi de la migration en 2017 est en cours de rédaction et sera partagé ici en temps voulu!

Les années se suivent mais se ne ressemblent pas: certaines espèces sont visiblement plus communes certaines années, et les conditions météo varient pas mal également. Ainsi, le mois d’août 2018 a été marqué par plusieurs jours de vent favorable (= vent soutenu de l’ouest a nord-ouest), et notamment le Labbe à longue queue a été bien plus nombreux a passer devant les cotes dakaroises qu’en 2017 et 2016. Idem pour les Phalaropes à bec large qui comme le labbe voient eux aussi s’établir un nouveau record journalier.

Comme d’hab’, voici donc une liste comme toujours un peu longue et ennuyeuse, agrémentée de quelques photos d’archives.

  • Océanites

Océanite de Wilson (Wilson’s Storm Petrel): au moins 159 oiseaux sont vus entre le 31/7 et le 23/8, avec un max. de 105 en 30′ de suivi le 13/8.

  • Puffins

Puffin du Cap-Vert (Cape Verde Shearwater): 97 ind. passent le 11/8 en 2h40′, suivi d’un isolé sur place le lendemain et deux oiseaux le 20/8.

Puffin fuligineux (Sooty Shearwater): comme en 2017, les premiers oiseaux apparaissent des les premiers jours de septembre, mais cette année les effectifs restent très modestes jusqu’à fin septembre: seulement 87 oiseaux du 2/9 au 30/9 alors que dans la même période l’an dernier il en passent 393 pour un effort comparable.

 

Sooty Shearwater / Puffin fuligineux
Puffin fuligineux / Sooty Shearwater  (Ngor, avril 2015)

Puffin des Anglais (Manx Shearwater): seuls six oiseaux sont détectés pour le moment, sans doute en raison de l’absence de bonnes conditions météo pour les puffins courant septembre, mois qui devrait marquer le pic du passage de cette espèce.

Puffin “d’Audubon” (Audubon’s Shearwater): à l’inverse, ce puffin généralement très pélagique a été vu bien plus que ces dernières années, avec 19 oiseaux pour le moment. Le premier oiseau passe le 11/8, puis le lendemain c’est un Puffin de Barolo qui est observé en migration active, assez près du rivage permettant son identification. Encore un Barolo ou Macaronésie le 28/8, et le 17/9 il y en a pas moins de 14 qui défilent en deux heures dont quelques groupes de 3-4 oiseaux migrant ensemble. Encore deux le 28/9, et peut-être qu’il en suivra encore quelques-uns dans les semaines à venir.

  • Fous

Fou de Bassan (Northern Gannet): un oiseau de 1ère année passe le 23/9 déjà (2017: premier le 18/9, puis un seul en octobre avant le véritable debut du passage début novembre).

Fou brun (Brown Booby): deux le 26 (un adulte et un imm.) et un imm. les 28 et 29/9 étaient probablement des oiseaux locaux en excursion de pêche depuis les îles de la Madeleine.

  • Limicoles

Comme je le disais dans l’intro, l’une des surprises de cette saison a été le passage important de Phalaropes à bec large (Red Phalarope) en août: alors que je n’avais noté aucun oiseau avant le 11/8, ce jour-la j’en dénombre pas moins de 825 en 2h40′ de suivi le matin, plus encore 35 en 40′ le soir – apparemment un nouveau record journalier pour le Sénégal, à en croire les chiffres a notre disposition. Plus rien les jours suivants, jusqu’au 18/8 lorsque quelques 65 oiseaux passent en deux groupes – toujours aussi difficiles à estimer! – 37 le 20/8, etc. jusqu’au 2/9. Encore 55 le 17/9, pour un total tout à fait honnête de 1256 oiseaux. Sans doute que plusieurs milliers sont passes au total, loin au large ou invisible entre les vagues. Parmi les autres limicoles, retenons le Courlis corlieu (Whimbrel) avec 415 ind., deux Barges rousses (Bar-tailed Godwit), 28 Huîtriers pies (Oystercatcher) dont 13 ce matin, deux groupes de Bécasseaux maubèches (Red Knot), quelques Tournepierres (Turnstone), un Combattant varié (Ruff), deux Grands Gravelots (Common Ringed Plover) et quelques Chevaliers gambettes et guignettes (Common Redshank & Common Sandpiper).

  • Laridés

Mouette de Sabine (Sabine’s Gull): un avant-coureur passe le 30/7 déjà, constituant peut-être bien la premiere observation de juillet pour le site. Passage plus ou moins régulier bien qu’en effectifs très faibles – comme il se doit en août et septembre – du 11 au 22/8 lors d’une période de vents favorables, puis sept le 1/9 et en tout 31 en 2h45 de suivi les 17-18/9. Encore cinq le 24/9 puis plus rien depuis! On attendra donc le gros passage de la deuxième moitie d’octobre pour cette espèce. Peu d’autres laridés pour le moment, mais tout de même à signaler un Goéland leucophée adulte (ou presque) le 23/8.

  • Sternes & Guifettes

Sterne naine (Little Tern): 129 individus pour le moment, soit le même ordre de grandeur que l’an dernier à la même periode (idem pour la Sterne caspienne (Caspian Tern), avec 27 oiseaux au compteur).

Guifette noire (Black Tern): avec 4402 oiseaux, c’est pour l’instant la deuxième espèce la plus nombreuse: pas mal d’oiseaux vers la mi-août, puis petit max. horaire de 460 le 18/9. Au moins une Guifette leucoptère (White-winged Tern) est identifiée le 11/8.

Une Sterne bridée (Bridled Tern) est vue en vol vers le NE le 9/8, suivi d’un individu vers le SW deux jours plus tard, et deux oiseaux (adulte et juv.) sur place le 22/8 – probablement des oiseaux ayant niche aux iles de la Madeleine ou au moins 3-4 couples ont été vus en juillet dernier. Plus surprenante, une jeune Sterne fuligineuse (Sooty Tern) passe vers le SW le matin du 17/9, ma première obs de l’espèce ici et en fait première obs tout court – coche √ 🙂

 

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Sterne bridée / Bridled Tern (Iles de la Madeleine, June 2017)

Sterne de Dougall (Roseate Tern): avec 133 Dougall dénombrés, on dépasse déjà d’un tiers l’effectif total de l’an dernier, avec un maximum de 41 oiseaux en 2h de suivi le 17/9. Toujours sympa de voir cette belle espèce, dont le statut de conservation en Europe est plutôt précaire avec des effectifs ne dépassant pas les 1900 couples au début des années 2000, essentiellement aux Açores et en Irlande.

Sternes pierregarin et Sterne arctique (Common & Arctic Terns): 8760 ind., en flot plus ou moins continu depuis le démarrage du suivi. La Sterne arctique était visiblement l’espèce dominante en août et début septembre, mais actuellement la tendance est en train de s’inverser, et la Pierregarin devrait logiquement être la plus commune courant octobre et novembre.

Sterne voyageuse (Lesser Crested Tern): au moins 187, généralement en groupes de 2-3 oiseaux suivant les Sternes caugeks, rarement plus d’une dizaine par heure.

Sterne caugek (Sandwich Tern): Troisième espèce la plus nombreuse, avec 2429 migrateurs pour le moment, dont 2000 passent dans la 2e moitié de septembre.

Sterne royale africaine (African Royal Tern): déjà 897 oiseaux, soit un peu plus du double de l’an dernier. Environ 45% de cet effectif défile pendant la dernière décade d’août, avec des maxima de 136/heure le 25.

  • Labbes

Labbe à longue queue (Long-tailed Skua): au moins 478 individus! Le passage débute soudainement le 10/8 – jour d’observation des premiers labbes – avec au moins neuf en 1h30, suivis le lendemain par un bel effectif de 70 oiseaux en 2h40 de suivi et quasiment tous les jours par quelques-uns ou quelques dizaines de migrateurs jusqu’au 22/8. Ensuite rien pendant quatre jours, puis reprise modeste tout à la fin du mois pour culminer le 2/9 avec un effectif impressionant de 217 individus en 1h15 de suivi. Sauf erreur c’est un nouveau record journalier pour le Sénégal, établi en à peine une heure d’observation: combien sont passés en tout ce jour-la? Sans doute plus d’un millier… Cette espèce est bien connue pour ses fluctuations d’effectifs d’année en année: sur les sites de nidification en fonction de l’abondance de nourriture, et visiblement sur les sites d’observation côtiers comme Ngor en fonction des vents pouvant pousser les migrateurs plus près des rivages. En 2017, je n’avais eu que 126 individus; même en prenant en compte l’absence de suivi à la mi-août et pendant plusieurs jours en septembre, il est clair que c’était une “petite” année à Labbes à longue queue, contrairement à 2018.

 

 
Labbe parasite (Arctic Skua): 266 individus au compteur, auxquels il convient d’ajouter sans doute une bonne partie des 82 labbes “sp.”; Seuls six Labbes pomarins (Pomarine Skua) pour le moment, avec le premier certain le 30/8.

Labbe de McCormick (South Polar Skua): un oiseau typique passe assez près du bord le 20/9.

 

Pendant les trois mois qui restent pour cette saison 2018 j’aurai un peu moins de temps que l’an dernier pour suivre ce spectacle de la migration: avis aux amateurs qui souhaiteraient venir en renforts!

Puis il faudrait que je trouve le temps de vous parler de nos sorties récentes au lac Tanma, à la lagune de Yène, et le lac Rose… Mais avant toute chose, demain matin on a prévu une sortie en mer au large de Ngor! Compte-rendu et photos à suivre, si tout va bien.

Technopole updates – waders, gulls, and a hybrid heron

It’s been a while since I last talked about Technopole on this blog, so here’s a quick update on recent sightings at our favourite Dakar hotspot. I’ve been fortunate to visit several times in the last few weeks, most recently on August 22nd and September 2nd. At the end of August, the site was the driest it’s been in many years: barely any water left on what I usually refer to as the “central lake”. Only some shallow water remained on the far south end along the main road, and even less in the north-east corner close to the golf club house. Even the level of the large reed-fringed lake on the north-east side has dropped substantially.

As a result, there are far fewer birds around than would usually be the case at this time of the year, when the first rains start filling up the lakes again. There are now very few waders, herons and cormorants, hardly any ducks and fairly few gulls and terns (which is more usual during late summer). With the rains finally arriving in Dakar – though just four or five decent showers so far – the site has rapidly started filling up in the past two weeks and is becoming more attractive once again.

This is what it looked like roughly between June and the end of August: hardly any water!!

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Despite the low water levels, diversity remains pretty high, with still some 70-75 species typically seen on recent visits. The highlight on Aug. 22nd was yet again a Franklin’s Gull among the flock of Slender-billed Gulls, most likely the same 2nd c.y. bird as in May and June, seen here for the fourth time (see this piece about the species’ status in Senegal and more broadly in West Africa).

Great White Pelicans are particularly numerous this year, with an impressive 650-700 birds present at the moment. They most likely come from the Djoudj colony; unlike in previous years the species is also present daily at Ngor, though in much lower numbers than at Technopole. And a few days ago I even had four flying over the house at Almadies, yet another garden tick.

Besides the ever-present Black-winged Stilts and Spur-winged Lapwings, (both still with several older chicks and quite a few locally hatched juveniles), Ruff is now the most numerous wader, though there are 30-40 birds only… compare with the ∼500 Ruffs counted last year in August! Also just four Black-tailed Godwits (also a Bar-tailed on Aug. 12th), single Whimbrel, Marsh Sandpiper, Dunlin, 4-5 Little Stints and just a handful of Sanderlings, while the first Curlew Sandpipers were seen on Sept. 2nd. On the same day, a Little Ringed Plover was present near the fishermen’s hut – there don’t seem to be many “autumn” records at Technopole of this species. A Kittlitz’s Plover was seen again on Aug. 22nd, following several records in previous months: could the species have bred at Technopole? In June we found a nest containing two eggs and several additional terrtitories near Lac Rose.

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Marsh Sandpiper / Chevalier stagnatile

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Scruffy Sanderling…  a moulting adult (Bécasseau sanderling ad. en mue)

 

On July 7th, a presumed hybrid Little Egret x Western Reef Heron was seen along the track leading to the golf course: interesting bird, as it may mean that there are mixed broods at the Parc de Hann colony, unless of course it was born in the Somone or another heronry. Or that it may be breeding there at the moment, as our bird was obviously an adult in breeding plumage, judging by the pink-reddish feet, bluish lores and long feathers extending from the back of the head. While difficult to judge, the bill length and shape also seems to be more like Little Egret. In addition to the features in the pictures below – in particular the whitish head, central neck and lower belly – we noted a fair amount of white on the wing, mainly towards the base of the outer hand.

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Presumed hybrid Little Egret x Western Reef Heron / probable hybride Aigrette garzette x Aigrette des récifs

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Head shot of same bird

Now compare with this typical Western Reef Heron, photographed during my most recent visit to Technopole:

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Western Reef Heron / Aigrette des récifs

Our bird corresponds to presumed hybrids found in southern Europe and in Morocco, though we can’t rule out the possibility that it is in fact a rare dark morph Little Egret, as these do seem to exist… mcuh remains to be learned about these egrets! For more on the identification of Western Reef Heron and Little Egret, see Dubois and Yésou’s article in British Birds (1995).

Talking of herons, here’s a breeding-plumaged Great Egret: note the entirely black legs and feet as well as the mostly dark bill, with just the some yellow still apparent on part of the lower mandible. The bare skin around the eye and on the lores could be described as pale turquoise, though it transitions from light green to more bluish tones. Quite amazing how these birds completely change the colour of their bill and legs during breeding season!

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Great Egret / Grande Aigrette

 

Besides the above waterbirds, Technopole of course holds lots of good other birds: at the moment, there are a few Broad-billed Rollers that appear to be breeding, and other wet-season visitors such as Woodland Kingfisher and Diederik Cuckoo are also around. And while breeding wasn’t confirmed this year, Red-necked Falcon is still seen on most visits, usually flying around or actively hunting. Zebra Waxbill was more of a surprise, as I’d only seen this species on a few occasions in winter. The lack of rain may have prompted these birds to wander about and somehow make it to Technopole.

Last Sunday I paid an early morning visit to Yène-Tode, but despite the recent rains the lagoon is still largely dry and didn’t hold many birds… The first few puddles had formed, but I reckon it’ll take several more decent showers before the lagoon fills up again. The highlight were two Spur-winged Geese, a species that is rarely seen in the Dakar region and that somehow manages to largely avoid Technopole. To be continued!

 

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White-faced Whistling-Duck / Dendrocygne veuf (Technopole 2.9)