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A New Shade of Pink (Technopole #223)

Yesterday’s weekly Technopole visit once again turned up a new species for the site. I’d been scanning and counting the numerous waders on the SW end of the main lake for over an hour, when I turned my attention the flock of Greater Flamingos that were feeding nearby. Two ringed birds proved to be tricky to read, one ring being very faded and the other one, also on an adult bird, was largely covered in mud – more on this further down in this post. I then started to count the flock, and after reaching the 200 mark (there were a total of 289 birds, so nearly 120 more than last week), I noticed a much hoped-for different shade of pink, darker and more intense: an adult Lesser Flamingo!

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Lesser Flamingo / Flamant nain

 

The noticeably smaller size, bright orange eye, and largely uniform dark crimson bill (or is it vermilion?) bill quickly confirmed the ID.

As far as I know, this is the first record of the species at Technopole, though of course that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t already occurred here: it may well have gone unnoticed or else unreported (which given the lack of any sort of bird observation recording system or central database would not be surprising! More on that in another post…)

It’s definitely not an unexpected addition (as predicted a few months ago), given that the species must regularly migrate along Senegal’s coast between the  Senegal and Saloum deltas. However, neither Morel & Morel nor Sauvage & Rodwell mention the species from the Dakar atlas square. This bird obviously got mixed in with a group of Greater Flamingos, possibly on their way down to the Saloum or moving between post-breeding dispersal areas in the region (Lac Rose, and soon maybe Lac Tanma when it will start filling up).

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Lesser Flamingo / Flamant nain

Lesser Flamingo is listed as a Near-Threatened species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. In short, the “NT” category typically includes declining or otherwise vulnerable species that in the medium to longer term are faced with the risk of extinction; as such they are likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future. Despite having a vast range in the Old World, covering large parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian subcontinent, Phoenicopterus (or Phoeniconaias) minor breeds only in a handful of sites in the world, with just six main colonies located in Mauritania, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, the Tanzanian Rift Valley, and NW India. Other sites may be used irregularly, e.g. in Kenya and Pakistan.

Its global population is still pretty substantial with some 2-3 million individuals, mostly in East Africa, but it is extremely vulnerable to changes in conditions of those very few sites, whether induced by climate change or by a range of human disruptions to the environment. For instance, the IUCN species’ fact sheet tells us that “the proposed large-scale soda ash extraction at Lake Natron, the most important breeding colony, although currently on hold, would be disastrous for this species and, were this to happen, the species may qualify for uplisting to a higher threat category.” Read up a little bit more about this conservation issue and the actions that BirdLife and partners have taken here. Excessive predation by Jackals, African Wolves and even Warthogs and Honey Badgers may result in poor or even complete failure of breeding success. And at least in Mauritania poaching is also a problem.

The West-African population is thought to number about 15,000-25,000 birds (compared to over a million for East Africa), concentrated in the lower Senegal valley with the most regular breeding site being the lagoons of Aftout es Sâheli in the Diawling NP in southern Mauritania. Up to 46,500 birds have been counted in the Senegal delta (Feb. 1990), but breeding is not annual: according to Isenmann et al. it occurred only in 1965, 1988 (though all attempts failed that year), 2000, 2005, and 2010; it was suspected but not confirmed in 1998, 1999 and 2007. More recently, the species has bred at least in 2014 (a bit more info is available on the Diawling NP’s website, and see this video from the parc).

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Lesser Flamingo / Flamant nain

Its movements, and generally speaking its overall ecology, are largely dictated by feeding conditions as it is a highly specialised species; as a result, birds tend to respond rapidly to changing water levels and food availability (spirulina and other blue-green algae, small invertebrates). Fun fact: the Lesser Flamingo’s bill contains up to 10,000 microscopic lamellae!

At least one of the ringed Greater Flamingos was Spanish: I don’t have full details as I’m yet to submit the sighting, but judging by the code (white ring with black inscription “2|CZR”) it’s a bird that was ringed in 2013 at the Laguna de Fuente de Piedra in Malaga, which is also the origin of one born in 2014 and seen in June 2015 at Technopole. Coincidentally, the three ringed birds from the Camargue that I found last year were seen on the same date as yesterday’s birds: 6 August.

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Greater Flamingo / Flamant rose

Other than that, there was an interesting gull that will require a bit more work, and probably better pictures, in order to establish its ID. I’m suspecting Kelp Gull because of the massive bill and the large, stocky appearance, but am by no means a gull expert and will want to consult a few others first (contributions welcome!). I’ll get back to this one in due time – if it is indeed a Kelp rather than Lesser Black-backed Gull, one of which was present nearby, then it would mean yet another potential addition to the site list.

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Kelp Gull? / Goéland dominicain?

 

As I mentioned, I’d been counting waders for the first hour or so, which I continued doing on the opposite end of the pool close to the golf club house, where more birds were feeding. This resulted in some pretty good numbers especially for Ruff with a minimum of 598 (!) birds, at least one of which was colour-ringed with a yellow flag in combination with other rings – unfortunately it flew off shortly after I’d found it, never to be seen again… probably a Dutch bird. Some of the males were still largely in breeding plumage, such as this one:

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Ruff / Combattant varié

 

Another wader highlight was the very decent diversity of calidris sandpipers: two summer-plumaged adult Dunlins (probably the nominate ssp.), no less than seven Knots (my highest count here), with a supporting cast of several Curlew Sandpipers (9), Sanderlings (11) and Little Stints (12). There were now only 22 Black-tailed Godwits and just one Marsh Sandpiper, while the four Avocets seem to have finally moved on. Two Common Sandpipers on the other hand were most likely newly arrived birds.

 

[Note (13/8/17): it turns out that the Lesser Flamingo had already been photographed on August 3rd by J-M Dupart, but apparently was not identified at such at the time; I triple-checked my pictures of the flock that was present on 29/7 but it definitely wasn’t present at the time.]

La RNC du Boundou: observations d’oiseaux en saison sèche 2016/2017

Bien loin des portes de Dakar ou de Saint-Louis, il y a un petit coin du Sénégal qui résiste à l’indifférence environnementale généralisée: la réserve naturelle communautaire du Boundou.

Nous en avions déjà parlé l’an dernier lorsque Jean Delannoy avait établi la liste commentée des oiseaux de la réserve, agrémentée d’une petite présentation et de quelques beaux clichés d’espèces phares du site: (re-)lisez l’article ici.

Four-banded Sandgrouse / Ganga quadribande

Four-banded Sandgrouse / Ganga quadribande (J. Delannoy)

Cette fois, c’est Gabriel Caucanas, volontaire de Solidarité Internationale au Conservatoire de la RNC du Boundou, qui nous présente un rapport ornithologique de la saison sèche 2016/2017.

Si la lecture d’un tel rapport, qui se limite souvent à une longue liste d’espèces pleine de dates, d’effectifs maximaux et autres données de nidification, vous parait rébarbative, détrompez-vous! Ce rapport est vraiment très accessible et est très agréable à lire. Et de plus il est richement illustré, présentant bon nombre des espèces vues au cours de la période. Merci donc au Chargé d’appui à l’éducation, à l’environnement, au développement local et aux suivis écologiques!

De plus, une telle liste présente bien sur un intéret ornithologique certain. Pas moins de 28 nouvelles espèces ont été ajoutées à la liste des oiseaux de la RNCB cette saison. Au total, 195 espèces ont été observées du mois d’octobre 2016 au mois de mai 2017. La liste des oiseaux de la réserve compte ainsi 234 espèces au 1er juin 2017.

L’observation la plus marquante est peut-être bien celle d’un piaf plutot inattendu: le Moineau domestique! Au moins un couple a été observé et photographié dans le village de Sansanding du 12 décembre au 23 avril, ce qui semble constituer une nouvelle extension de son aire de répartition connue. Espèce commune à Dakar et dans bon nombre de localités côtières, il n’en est pas autant à l’intérieur des terres où le moineau ne semble pas encore bien implanté. Parmi les  autres “premières” pour le site se trouvent bon nombre de migrateurs paléarctiques, mais aussi quelques africains, migrateurs (Blongios de Sturm, Least Bittern), erratiques (Courvite à ailes bronzées, Bronze-winged Courser) et résidents (Gladiateur de Blanchot, Grey-headed Bush-shrikeBruant à ventre jaune, Brown-rumped Bunting).

Vous pouvez consulter le rapport complet (en format PDF) directement sur le site de la RNCB.

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African Harrier-Hawk / Gymnogene (G. Caucanas)

 

Remarquablement bien suivi, ornithologiquement parlant, Boundou, c’est bien plus que les oiseaux: on avait déjà mentionné la présence de la Gazelle à front roux, du Lion, duLéopard, de l’Hippopotame ou encore du Ratel. Mais ça ne s’arrête pas là… preuve en est ce superbe Serval que Gabriel a eu la chance de voir en juin dernier. Que je suis jaloux! Faudra vraiment que je réussisse à me rendre sur place un de ces jours…

Serval_GabrielCaucanas_juin2017_RNCBoundou

Serval (G. Caucanas)

 

Magnificent Frigatebird – first record for Senegal

Birding in Dakar just seems to be getting better by the day at the moment: after the American Golden Plovers and Red-necked Phalarope at Technopole, a record number of Cape Verde Shearwaters and lots of other good birds at Ngor (incl. 40 Sabine’s Gulls a few day ago), on Saturday morning we were fortunate to see a new species for Senegal: Magnificent FrigatebirdFrégate superbe.

Miguel Lecoq and I started our morning at Technopole (where else?) where we enjoyed the waders, terns and gulls that are still present in good numbers. We found all three American Golden Plovers, plus a new bird (we saw all four birds simultaneously) as well as several other good ones including Peregrine Falcon causing havoc among the waterbirds – at one point chasing one of the AGPs over a long distance, with several extremely close failed attempts at catching this bird – and Lesser Crested Tern.

We then made our way through the Saturday morning traffic to the plage de Soumbedioune as we wanted to visit the Iles de la Madeleine national park, mainly to see what was going on with the Brown Boobies. The park staff was exceptionally efficient this time round, and in no time we were on the boat making our way to the island. A Sandwich Tern, then an Arctic Skua flying close by the boat, a bit further a group of feeding Cape Verde Shearwaters, and then…. a bird high up in the sky which I initially took for a skua because it appeared all dark with a long tail. When I got my binoculars onto it, I immediately recognised the distinctive silhouette of a frigatebird and called it out, though I couldn’t quite believe what I saw. Miguel quickly got onto it while I fumbled with the camera to get a few desperate pictures to make sure that we could document the record and to aid with identification, as this is not always a straightforward matter with these birds. We got as close as possible to the bird which was soaring quite high up, and ultimately managed to get a few distant and mostly blurry record shots:

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Magnificent Frigatebird / Frégate superbe

After we arrived on the island, we picked the bird up again as it was still patrolling the area between the Madeleines and the mainland. Luckily we had a telescope with us which allowed for slightly better views, although it remained far out. Towards the end of our tour of the island we spotted it once again, meaning that it had been hanging out in the area for at least two hours. This morning I also learned (by chance) that a visiting birder saw it yesterday, behaving much in the same way as it did on Saturday. It would be great if someone could make it to the islands one evening or early morning to find out whether it spent the night in one of the baobabs there.

Identification

Four species of Frigatebirds should be considered as options off West Africa, though two of these (Greater and Lesser Frigatebird) are Indican Ocean species that are yet to be recorded along Africa’s western coastlines. The two others are Magnificent and Ascension Frigatebird. Luckily this was a female bird; males of the latter two species and of Greater Frigatebird may be impossible to identify given how close they are in plumage, requiring detailed and close-up views.

While its size was difficult to judge, the impression was of a large, heavy bird with a distinctive silhouette formed by the long, narrow wings and a long and deeply forked tail. Barely beating its wings, it soared and glided slowly between the island and the mainland, every now and then “dipping” down a short distance. Our bird appeared entirely black except for a contrasting white breast and pale bill. The breast patch did not visibly extend onto the underwing, and while it seemed rather rounded in the field, pictures show that its shape is very much in line with what is typical for adult female Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens.

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Magnificent Frigatebird / Frégate superbe

 

Status & Distribution

Magnificent Frigatebird is a fairly widespread tropical seabird, occurring both in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Unlike Ascencion Frigatebird which only breeds on one island, there are many colonies of Magnificent throughout its range, including in the Caribbean Sea, along the coast of Brazil, the Galapagos Islands, etc. The nearest site is on the Cape Verde islands, but it appears to be all but extinct there now: it used to breed regularly in small numbers, but now there are said to be only two females left at this relict site (maybe even just one at the moment, in the event that our bird came from Cape Verde!). Given how few birds remain there, a Neotropical origin is more likely. The second closest site to West Africa is Fernando de Noronha NP (Pernambuco, NE Brazil), which lies about 2,650 km from Dakar.

Outside the breeding season it is largely sedentary, with some dispersal of immature and non-breeding birds. It has reached Western Europe on a number of occasions, including Ireland, the UK, Denmark and Spain; there even are records from Alaska and Newfoundland which shows how far this ocean wanderer can disperse.

In West Africa, there are 2-3 older records from The Gambia, and there’s an unconfirmed record at sea off Nouakchott in April (year?) but this was not retained by Isenmann et al. in their Birds of Mauritania (2010). Likewise, the species is said to have been seen a few years ago in Dakar off Cap Manuel but this record has not been published and as far as I’m aware there are no photographs – trying to find out more about this. The Gambian records are from March 1965 and October 1980, with an additional unidentified Frigatebird seen from the coast in 2005. I could not find any records from Guinea-Bissau, Guinea or Liberia. As such, our sighting may represent the third record only for mainland West Africa, though it’s very likely that the species shows up from time to time in these waters without being noticed.

IlesdelaMadeleine_20172904_IMG_1838

 

It’s not every day that one gets to add a bird species to a country list, so one can only imagine our excitement! In addition, this was a very unexpected “lifer” for me (I had seen Greater and Lesser Frigatebird before, but each only once); Miguel had his lifer with the American Golden Plovers earlier that day. Even Falou, the eco-garde that accompanied us, seemed pleased with seeing a rare bird that he only knew from wildlife documentaries on TV.

Prior to Fregata magnificens, the most recent additions to the Senegal list were Red-footed Booby (Oct. 2016), Eurasian Collared Dove (May 2016), Freckled Nightjar (March 2016), Eye-browed Thrush (Dec. 2015), Mountain Wagtail (March 2015, see the latest Bulletin of the African Bird Club), and Short-billed Dowitcher (October 2012). Maybe one day I’ll find time to update the list with these and other additions… if only I could take a few months off work!

And the Brown Boobies? Well we saw at least seven birds! More on these in another post. Other birds seen on or around the island are the following:

  • Cape Verde Shearwater
  • White-breasted Cormorant (still a few juvs. on nests, but most of the breeding activity is over now)
  • Long-tailed Cormorant (four birds)
  • Northern Gannet (at least one imm., far out at sea)
  • Red-billed Tropicbird (a few birds flying around; we didn’t seek out any nests so as to avoid disturbance)
  • Osprey (at least four birds)
  • Yellow-billed Kite (a few dozen birds, including one on a nest in one of the cliffs)
  • Whimbrel
  • Common Sandpiper
  • Ruddy Turnstone (like previous species, just one bird)
  • Pomarine Skua (2-3 birds)
  • Arctic Skua (4-5 birds)
  • Royal Tern
  • Sandwich Tern
  • Arctic Tern (ca. 5 birds migrating)
  • Laughing Dove
  • Speckled Pigeon
  • Western Red-billed Hornbill
  • Pied Crow
  • Northern Crombec

What next? It’s hard to imagine that things will get even better henceforward, but surely there will be more surprises and more additions to the bird list in coming months and years.

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Technopôle numéro 221…

…un Phalarope à bec étroit!

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

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Red-necked Phalarope / Phalarope à bec étroit

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

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

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

Et ailleurs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

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

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

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

Curieux de savoir quelle sera la 222e espece!?

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Spur-winged Lapwing / Vanneau éperonné

More Americans in Dakar

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

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

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

AmericanGoldenPlover_Technopole_20170417_IMG_1402

GOLDEN PLOVER!

But which one?

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

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

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

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

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

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

Identification

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

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

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

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

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American Golden Plover / Pluvier bronzé

Occurrence in Senegal

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

  • 28/05/1979, one caught on the northern shores of Lac de Guiers (Saint-Louis) by Bernard Treca (Morel & Morel)
  • 10-16 and 29/10/2005, a juvenile at Technopole (Holmström et al.; W. Faveyts; two pictures here)
  • 16-17/10/2006, one photographed at Ziguinchor (ABC Bulletin Recent Reports)
  • 22/11/2012, two at Lac Tanma (Thies), by Paul Robinson (detailed account and pictures here)
  • 11/02/2013, one at Diembering (Basse-Casamance), by Simon Cavaillès and Jean-François Blanc (picture here)
  • 07/03/2013, one at Lac Mbeubeusse (Dakar), Paul Robinson (details and pictures here)
  • 22/04-09/05/2015, one at Technopole, Jean-François Blanc (22/4) & Bram Piot (26/4 & 9/5; ABC Bulletin Recent Reports)
  • 18/12/2016, one at Technopole, Bram Piot (see here)

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

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

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

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

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Black Tern / Guifette noire

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White-winged Tern / Guifette leucoptère

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White-winged Tern / Guifette leucoptère

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

Addendum 03/05/17: the three American Golden Plovers were still present on May 1st, and were joined by a fourth bird (another 2nd year) on 29/4 and 1/5 – unless this new bird was already present when we first found the plovers. And the next visit… well it brought a superb Red-necked Phalarope!

Combien de Vautours charognards à Dakar?

Le Vautour charognard connaît l’un des déclins les plus drastiques de tous les oiseaux africains, accusant des chutes d’effectifs impressionnants. Au point de disparaître quasiment entièrement de certaines régions! C’est le cas par exemple du Niger ou du Mali, et de manière plus globale en Afrique de l’Est et australe hors des parcs nationaux et autres espaces protégés suffisamment vastes. La généralisation de ce déclin à travers la majeure partie de son aire a récemment justifié l’inclusion de ce vautour, tout comme plusieurs autres, sur la liste rouge d’espèces menacées d’extinction dans la catégorie « CR » (en danger critique d’extinction) par BirdLife International.

Ce vautour au nom peu imaginatif (car appartenant à un groupe d’oiseaux dont quasiment tous les membres sont charognards!), aussi connu sous le nom tout aussi peu évocateur de “Percnoptère brun”, est encore relativement commun à Dakar. On les voit effectivement un peu partout survolant la ville, y compris chez moi aux Almadies, près du bureau à Sacré-Cœur, sur les lampadaires de l’autoroute ou encore le long de la Corniche entre les Mamelles et le Plateau… Il suffit généralement de scruter le ciel pendant 10-15 minutes pour en voir au moins un ou deux en train de tourner à la recherche de nourriture ou en route vers un dortoir nocturne.

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Hooded Vulture / Vautour chargnard, baie de Hann, août 2016

Au premier abord on pourrait donc se dire que tout va bien. Et ben non… il se trouve que l’espèce a fortement régressé ici comme ailleurs sur le continent. Mais dans quelles proportions au juste ?

Depuis début 2016, Wim Mullié, Theo Peters et votre serviteur se sont intéressés de plus près au sujet, au point d’entamer des dénombrements aussi systématiques que possible et de rassembler toute information connue à propos de ce sympathique vautour. Wim en particulier a été instrumental dans la mise en œuvre de cette petite étude, qui a résulté en une presentation orale lors du congrès pan-africain d’ornithologie qui s’est tenu à Ngor en octobre dernier. Et surtout, un article sera publié prochainement dans la revue d’ornithologie africaine Ostrich. Nous avons pu estimer la population actuelle et il nous a été possible d’effectuer certaines comparaisons avec des données historiques, notamment celles obtenues par Jean-Marc Thiollay à la fin des années 60. De plus, nous avons cherché à identifier les causes probables du déclin accusé par le Vautour charognard à Dakar.

Hooded Vulture / Vautour charognard

Hooded Vulture / Vautour charognard adulte, photographié depuis mon balcon

Donc justement, qu’en est-il de la situation actuelle ? Sur la base de multiples comptages aux dortoirs répartis à travers la ville effectués avant, pendant et vers la fin de la saison des pluies, nous estimons que l’effectif total se situe actuellement autour des 400 individus. En 1969, l’estimation faite par Jean-Marc – certes assez grossière, mais selon nous reflétant la bien la situation de l’époque – était de pas moins de 3000 individus ! C’est dire que le déclin est drastique.

La diminution progressive, peut-être même exponentielle, a sans doute commencé il y a plusieurs décennies, car déjà au milieu des années 90 Jean-Marc a noté des disparitions locales et des déclins importants dans plusieurs régions de l’Afrique de l’Ouest. Une étude menée par Jean-Pierre Couzi (lui aussi l’un des sept co-auteurs de notre publication) sur les oiseaux charognards et « détritivores » de Dakar avait abouti à environ 500 oiseaux, bien qu’il soit probable que l’effectif réel était plus élevé que cela.

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Hooded Vulture / Vautour charognard sur bassin petrolier, Hann, août 2016

Les raisons de ce déclin drastique (plus de 85% !) sont sans doute multiples, mais trois d’entre elles ressortent comme étant probablement les plus importantes :

  • La disparition des sites de nidification et de nourrissage en raison de l’urbanisation galopante et incontrôlée mais aussi de meilleures pratiques d’hygiène (en particulier dans les abattoirs – pour le reste j’en conviens c’est un concept tout relatif lorsqu’on voit les tas de déchets en ville comme à la campagne),
  • L’empoisonnement – intentionnel ou non – surtout à travers des poisons destinés aux chiens errants, dont une campagne à grande échelle a été initiée par les autorités en 2010 pour combattre la rage : entre 2011 et 2016, plus de 21 000 chiens ont ainsi été éradiqués au moyen d’appâts empoisonnés par la strychnine.
  • La capture de vautours pour les besoins de la médecine traditionnelle et pour utilisation comme fétiches (rien que sur la Petite Côte, ceux-ci seraient utilisés contre la lèpre, les maux d’estomac et des reins, les parasites, pour se rendre invulnérable, pour réussir un examen et/ou se faire promouvoir, ou encore pour voir le futur… et ce autant chez les Sérère que les Wolof et les Bambara).

Cela dit, ce sont pour l’essentiel des hypothèses, et beaucoup de questions restent sans réponse: les raisons évoquées méritent d’être confirmées par des études plus poussées. Il reste beaucoup à apprendre sur cette espèce, aussi bien dans les zones où elle est en diminution que dans celles où il en reste encore beaucoup. Heureusement que ces zones existent encore, même pas trop loin d’ici : en Gambie, en Casamance, en Guinée-Bissau et à Conakry il reste énormément de Vautours charognards. Henriques-Baldé a estimé l’effectif bissau-guinéen à pas moins de 76 000 individus, et personnellement j’ai pu voir à quel point il y a des dizaines voire des centaines d’oiseaux à Ziguinchor, le Cap Skirring ou encore à Conakry. Plus de 3000 subsistent dans la région de Banjul. A l’autre opposé du spectre, j’ai pu constater l’absence ou la quasi-absence des Vautours charognards à Bamako, Ouagadougou ou encore Niamey.

Tout n’est donc pas perdu à Dakar et il est peut-être possible de ralentir la disparition de l’espèce dans nos cieux… mais il faudra y mettre les moyens et faire vite: préserver les sites de repos et de nidification, arrêter l’empoissonnement, stopper le commerce des parts de vautours (et surtout la demande de la part des consommateurs !), assurer la disponibilité de nourriture et ce particulièrement à travers une collaboration avec les abattoirs. Autant dire que le futur est loin d’être rose pour cet oiseau si caracteristique des villes sénégalaises

Je me trompe peut-être, mais je n’ai pas encore vu beaucoup d’actions de la part des quelques rares acteurs capables de les mettre en œuvre au niveau national voire régional – BirdLife surtout, mais aussi NCD et les diverses autorités compétentes. Des symposiums, dépliants, ateliers et autres déclarations politiques ne suffiront pas : ‘faudrait qu’ils se réveillent rapidement car bientôt ce sera trop tard…

Hooded Vulture / Vautour charognard

Hooded Vulture / Vautour charognard adulte au Technopole, avril 2016

Pour en savoir plus…

Buij R, et al. (2016): Trade of threatened vultures and other raptors for fetish and bushmeat in West and Central Africa. Oryx 50: 606-616.

Jallow et al. (2016): High population density of the Critically Endangered Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus in Western Region, The Gambia, confirmed by road surveys in 2013 and 2015. Malimbus 38: 23-28.

Ogada et al. (2015): Another Continental Vulture Crisis: Africa’s Vultures Collapsing toward Extinction. Conservation Letters 9: 89-97.

More records from Diembering, Casamance

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

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

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Yellow-throated Longclaw / Sentille à gorge jaune

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Yellow-throated Longclaw / Sentille à gorge jaune

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

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

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Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle / Circaète de Beaudouin

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

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

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Northern Puffback / Cubla de Gambie

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

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European Bee-eater / Guêpier d’Europe

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

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White-throated Bee-eater / Gueêpier à gorge blanche

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Blue-bellied Roller / Rollier à ventre bleu

 

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

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

 

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

 

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Hooded Vulture / Vautour charognard