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Iberian Chiffchaff in West Africa

We’re continuing our little series on the status of some lesser known passerines that spend the winter in Senegal. This time round we’re looking at Iberian Chiffchaff (Pouillot ibérique), yet another drab songbird that can be tricky to identify unless of course it’s singing. We won’t go much into its identification in this post; a lot has been written on the topic, though unfortunately the standard West Africa field guides lack sufficient detail and may oversimplify the matter somewhat. In addition, few if any of the local guides really know how to identify the species in the field, and not all visiting birders pay much attention to these LBJs.

There are a few subtle differences in plumage, but generally it’s not easy to identify these birds on plumage and “jizz” alone..  so maybe it’s useful after all to summarise key characteristics here. Lars Svensson, in what is still one of the main reference papers on Iberian Chiffchaff identification (2001), neatly listed the following field characters in comparison with Common Chiffchaff:

  1. As a rule, the entire upperparts of ibericus are purer moss green than on Common Chiffchaff, lacking the brown tinge on crown and mantle usually present in collybita in freshly moulted plumage in early autumn a very slight brownish tinge can be found on the greenish upperparts of some Iberian Chiffchaffs
  2. More tinged yellowish-green on sides of head and neck, and has no buff or brown hues at all, or only very little of it behind the eye and on ear-coverts. The breast is whitish with clear yellow streaking
  3. Typically, has vivid lemon yellow undertail-coverts, contrasting with a rather whitish centre to the belly
  4. Supercilium on average more pronounced and more vividly yellow, particularly in front of and above the eye
  5. On average, the legs are a trifle paler brown on Iberian than on Common Chiffchaff, though many are alike
  6. Bill is very slightly stronger [though I find this one of very little use in the field!]
IberianChiffchaff_Gandiol_IMG_2750_edited

Iberian Chiffchaf / Pouillot ibérique, Gandiol, 31 March 2016 (BP). Note yellowish supercilium, undertail and flank streaks, dull greenish upperparts, pale brown legs, whitish belly, and apparently also pale bill base

 

Clearly these are mostly subtle differences and when identifying on plumage alone, a combination of characters should typically be used. Confusion with Willow Warbler is not unlikely, even by experienced birders, and I’m assuming that at least some Iberians are noted as Willow Warbler, especially in mid-winter in northern Senegal when Willow Warbler should in fact be rare, as it winters chiefly in the forest zone further south. The longer wings, pale underparts and paler legs can indeed result in striking similarities between Willow and Iberian. A good pointer to separate these two is that the latter typically dips its tail while feeding, whereas Willow, Warbler characteristically flicks its wings while moving its tail sideways.

The two pictures below were taken by Frédéric Bacuez near Saint-Louis, on 18.4.16 (top) and 20.1.13 (bottom), and while it’s probably impossible to be certain, I do tend to believe these are Iberian Chiffchaffs.

 

Bango, April 2016 (© F. Bacuez)

2013 01 20 9h30. Pouillot fitis apr_s le bain, dans l'eucalyptus. Photo par Fr_d_ric Bacuez, IMG_9104 (2)

Iberian Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler? I tend to think it’s an ibericus (© F. Bacuez)

 

The vocalisations on the other hand are far more reliable and are indeed always ideal in order to confirm an Iberian Chiffchaff, particulary the song. While there’s some variation and there may be some “mixed singers”, the difference with Common Chiffchaff is usually obvious (though maybe a bit less so on this one from Wassadou). It’s worthwhile pointing out though that besides the quite distinctive song, a good yet undervalued criterion is the call of the species – see this nice summary on the Turnstones blog (and also Collinson & Melling 2008, who state that the call “in sharp contrast to that of Common Chiffchaff, is downwardly inflected, from 5 to 3 kHz, transcribed as ‘piu’ or ‘peeoo’, perhaps reminiscent of the call of Siskin” – now compare with my recording from Technopole (same bird as in the song recording): I wouldn’t say this sounds like a Siskin – and even less like a Bullfinch! – and at 3.5-6 kHz the frequency is clearly a bit higher as can be seen on the sonogram below (click to enlarge).

IberianChiffchaff_Technopole_20173112_call_sonogram_XC397677

 

 

Status & Distribution in Senegal

Up to not so long ago, most authors considered Iberian Chiffchaff to be a resident or partial migrant, mostly due to lack of reliable identification criteria at the time. Svensson (again!) provided the most comprehensive overview of our knowledge of the wintering areas in his 2001 paper, concluding that it is “a long-distance migrant which winters primarily in tropical Africa“. This assumption was however based on very few specimens and even fewer reliable field observations. One of these is of a bird “singing like an Iberian Chiffchaff” by Yves Thonnerieux from northern Ghana, and the only two specimens from wintering grounds are from Mali in 1932 (Segou) and 1955 (Bamako); both were found by Svensson in the museum of natural history in Paris (MNHN). A third specimen was collected in January 1955 in Tunisia, suggesting that some birds may winter north of the Sahara; Svensson also showed that the species is present during spring migration in Morocco (at least late March – early April).

With increased “observer awareness” and better reporting systems, recent years have seen a clear increase in field observations from West Africa, described further below. Combined with the absence of any winter records from the Iberian peninsula, I think it’s quite well established now that indeed most if not all Iberian Chiffchaffs winter south of the Sahara.

To further refine its status in West Africa, we turn to our usual suspects: Morel & Morel  provide a single record, presumably obtained by themselves, of a singing bird at Richard Toll on 22-24.2.87 (this is probably the unpublished record “from tropical Africa” that Svensson refers to). This can safely be assumed to be the first published record for Senegal; identification was apparently largely based on song since they write that they compared the song with recordings by Claude Chappuis. It’s quite easy to miss out on this observation though, as ibericus (or brehmi as it used to be known) is only referred to in the annex of Les Oiseaux de Sénégambie (1990), as their sighting was obviously too recent to be included in the near-final manuscript of their book. Of course, the species was at the time still considered to be “just” a subspecies of Common Chiffchaff. Rather curiously, the Morels refer to a significant proportion of Scandinavian Common Chiffchaffs (ssp. abietinus) – up to half! – though we now know that these populations tend to winter in eastern Africa, heading in a south-easterly direction in autumn. Could it be that these were actually Iberian Chiffchaff rather than abietinus?

Moving on, Rodwell and colleagues (1996) refer to three records of calling (singing?) birds in the Djoudj NP in Jan 1990, Jan 1991 and Feb 1992. Sauvage & Rodwell (1998) do not provide any additional records: up to the mid-nineties, ibericus was obviously still considered a rare to scarce winter visitor to northern Senegal. More than a decade later, Borrow & Demey still consider the species’ distribution in Senegal as “inadequately known”, and their map only shows the lower Senegal valley.

As is the case with quite a few other little known taxa that were recently elevated to species rank – think Moltoni’s Warbler, Seebohm’s Wheatear, Atlas Flycatcher – these past few years our knowledge has greatly increased, and it is clear that Iberian Chiffchaff is indeed quite frequent in northern Senegal. Recent reports mainly come from the Djoudj NP – obviously a key wintering site, with decent densities – and from around Richard Toll and Saint-Louis (e.g. Bango, Trois-Marigots, Langue de Barbarie, and see picture above). There are however a number of recent records elsewhere that suggest that the species is more widespread: last winter I was lucky to find a singing bird at Technopole which is thought to be the first record from Dakar; there are also a few reports from the Somone lagoon, though not sure that these are reliable (I have suspected the species here before, but never been able to confirm based on call or song). Rather intriguingly, the species was also seen several times along the Gambia river at Wassadou these past two years: first in December 2017, then more than two months later at least one singing bird that we found on 24.2.18, and again this winter (7.1.19). Finally, another singing bird was reported near Kounkane, Velingara, on 28.1.18 (G. Monchaux) – to our knowledge the first record from Casamance. The observations in these southern locations suggest that the species is more widespread and that it can turn up anywhere in Senegal.

In Mauritania, it appears that up to recently the only records were obtained during extensive field work conducted by the Swiss Ornithological Station, with several birds captured both in spring and in autumn 2003 (Isenmann et al. 2010). There are several more recent reports from around Nouakchott mainly, presumably of birds passing through. In addition to the two aforementioned specimens from Mali, the only other record from that country that I’m aware of is of a singing bird that I recorded in a hotel garden in Bamako, where it was singing for at least a week in January 2016. Burkina Faso should also be part of the regular range, though there again there are just a couple of records, most recently a singing bird reported by van den Bergh from the Bängr-Weeogo park in Ouagadougou in December 2011.

The Xeno-canto range map, which is largely based on BirdLife data, is probably the most accurate when it comes to the winter range (though not for the breeding range, the species being absent from most of central and eastern Spain). It should also include all of northern Senegal, or at a minimum, the lower and middle river valley, particularly the Djoudj NP which is omitted from the map below. I’m not sure that the species has been reliably recorded from Gambia even though there are several unverified observations on eBird. Further north, there are several winter records from Western Sahara between early December and early February, mainly at coastal sites (Bergier et al. 2017), suggesting that not all Iberian Chiffchaffs cross the Sahara. Spring migration is noted from mid-February to mid- or end of April.

IberianChiffMap_XC

 

Iberian Chiffchaff should be present in Senegal and generally throughout its winter quarters from about October to early or mid-April; the earliest observation I could find is one of a bird reported singing east of Richard Toll on 27.10.15. A Danish group reported two birds in Djoudj in early November 2017, but other than that almost all records are from December – February during the peak orni-tourist season.

Paulo Catry and colleagues (including our friends Miguel and Antonio!) showed marked differential distance migration of sexes in chiffchaffs, with females moving further south than males. Their study did not distinguish between Common and Iberian Chiffchaff, but because south of the Sahara (Djoudj mainly), sex-ratios were more male-biased than predicted by a simple latitude model, their findings suggest that among the chiffchaffs wintering in West Africa, a large proportion is composed of Iberian birds, providing further support that these birds are long distance migrants. The ringing data from Djoudj also showed that chiffchaffs display differential timing of spring migration, with males leaving the winter quarters considerably earlier than females [typically, male migrant songbirds arrive a little earlier on the breeding grounds than females, presumably so they can hold and defend a territory by the time the females arrive].

Finishing off with some essential ibericus reading…

 

 

 

 

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Year in review: 2018

Just like last year we’re bringing our readers a summary of the past year, reviewing some of the ornithological highlights and discoveries made in Senegal, and recycling some of the pictures and posts that appeared on this website during the past 12 months.

2018 certainly has been a busy year!

We’ll start with the best of all: the discovery of what appears to be an isolated (?) population of Horus Swifts (Martinet horus), some 3,000 km from the nearest known breeding sites and more than 1,600 km from the nearest observations of the species (in northern Ghana). This is probably one of the least expected range extensions uncovered in West Africa in recent years, and something we’re of course quite excited (and rather proud!) of. We found these birds during an epic 4-day trip up north together with Frédéric Bacuez and visiting birder Filip Verroens from Belgium, in early January. Needless to say, the year started off with a bang! Read up the full story here and on Frédéric’s Ornithondar blog (in French). A few of these neat swifts were seen again in February by Frédéric and Daniel Nussbaumer, then in October by Vieux Ngom and myself when some 50 birds were present, again showing signs of local breeding and confirming that these birds are most likely residents here, and just last week a group of visiting American birders saw about 25 birds at Gamadji Sare.

HorusSwift_GamadjiSare_20181005_IMG_3642

Horus Swift / Martinet horus

 

Just a few days earlier, in fact on the first day of the year, we’d already found another species new to Senegal: a Meadow Pipit (Pipit farlouse) at the Yene-Tode lagoon just south of Dakar. This find was a bit more controversial – but probably more expected than those swifts! – in the sense that the pipit shows a fairly unusual plumage for Meadow Pipit and certain characters fit Red-throated Pipit better. However, the unstreaked rump and especially the diagnostic call, which was heard loud & clear several times at close range (but unfortunately not sound-recorded), safely rule out Red-throated Pipit, several of which were present in the area at the same time. Full story, description and many pictures here.

MeadowPipit_Yene_20180101_IMG_7862 (2)

Meadow Pipit / Pipit farlouse

 

Continuing on the same theme, this past year saw the addition of two more species to the Senegal list: Brown-backed Honeybird – which had already been reported from Wassadou in 2015 but was not documented – and Turati’s Boubou. The former was found by Gabriel Caucanas and friends first at Dindefelo, then at Wassadou and later in the Niokolo-Koba NP (more info here), the latter by resident Casamance birder Bruno Bargain back in October. Both were more or less to be expected and back in July we’d actually predicted that the boubou would be found in Casamance some time soon, given that it is known to occur just across the border in Guinea-Bissau. We’ll write up more about this species in due course, and I hope to soon visit the Ziguinchor area again and see (and record) this little-known species – stay tuned!

BrownbackedHoneybird_Wassadou_IMG_1053_Caucanas

Brown-backed Honeybird / Indicateur de Wahlberg (G. Caucanas)

 

With no less than four new species, 2018 definitely boosted the national list which now stands at a respectable 678 species; more on this in a blog piece we wrote on the topic of the national list, which contains a link to a handy spreadsheet with all species seen in Senegal, with English, French and scientific names.

Of course there were also the usual lot of vagrants, mostly Nearctic waders in the Dakar region and especially at Technopole, pretty much as usual!

  • Common Shelduck (Tadorne de Belon): eight in the Djoudj NP on 17/1 were likely the same group as seen in the Diawling just across the border in Mauritania on 30/12, while one at Technopole on 18-19/2/18 confirmed the small influx that occurred during the ‘17/’18 winter: 8th and 9th records!
  • Red-footed Booby (Fou à pieds rouges): one was photographed at Iles de la Madeleine on 26/1 but was only identified later on, while at Ngor up to two adults were seen on several occasions in spring (17/5-22/5, and again on 11 and 22/6) and one was seen twice in autumn (13 & 15/11). These are the 2nd to 4th records for this tropical seabird, which was seen for the first time in October 2016 only.
  • Cinereous (=Black) Vulture (Vautour moine): an imm. west of Fatick on 30/1 and one (different bird) on 26/2 near Sagata, east of Kebemer. These observations coincide with the first records for The Gambia (Feb. ‘18) and Mauritania (Dec. ‘17). We also reported the first record of the species, which had not yet been published so far – more details on the status of this increasing Palearctic vagrant in this piece.
  • American Golden Plover (Pluvier bronzé): one at Technopole on 8 April, followed by two autumn birds, at lac Mbeubeusse on 3/11 and barely a week later a different bird at Pointe Sarene near Nianing on 9-10/11. Read more on this species in Senegal here.
  • European Golden Plover (Pluvier doré): one at Île de Saloulou (Basse Casamance) on 3/1.
  • Lesser Yellowlegs (Chevalier à pattes jaunes): the 8th record was one at Technopole seen by a visiting birder on 8/2 and relocated on 19/2
  • Baird’s Sandpiper (Bécasseau de Baird): the second for Senegal (and first properly documented) was found at Technopole on 25/3 and seen again on 8/4.
  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Bécasseau rousset): two birds stayed for a remarkably long time at Technopole, being present from 13/1 (at least one) up to 19/2 at least, then again on 25/3 though this was probably a new bird given that regular visits earlier in the month failed to relocate the two long-stayers; these are the 8th and 9th records.
  • Red-necked Phalarope: (Phalarope à bec étroit): one at Djoudj on 27/2 is the 6th record at least, though it’s quite possible that the species is a more regular visitor than the handful of confirmed records suggest.
  • Franklin’s Gull (Mouette de Franklin): one was seen five times between 20/5 and 20/9 at Technopole; we summarised the status and trends of the species in this post.

 

As usual there are also several African vagrants to be reported, such as Lesser Jacana (Jacana nain) seen on 31/1 and 17/2 (three birds!) at Médina Afia near Manda, Kolda dept., and at Ross Bethio on 15/7 – there are only a handful of previous records, including just one in the north (more on status of this species in this post by Ornithondar). A Pharaoh (= Desert) Eagle-Owl (Grand-duc ascalaphe) filmed at Richard Toll on 20/1 was the third record. Six Senegal Lapwings were found at Kamobeul (Ziguinchor) on 30/9 – apparently the first record in 38 years! Three other species with uncertain status in Senegal – true vagrants or scarce but regular visitors? – were seen in the Niokolo-Koba area: Mottled Swift in February and June; a Forbes’s Plover in June and an Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle on 6/3 (Martinet marbré, Pluvier de Forbes et Aigle d’Ayres) .

Lesser Jacana 15 July 2018 Djoudj - Vieux Ngom - edited

Lesser Jacana / Jacana nain (V. Ngom)

 

A special mention goes to the Kordofan Lark (Alouette du Kordofan) that was photographed at Richard Toll on 1/3 by a group of lucky Belgian birders; this is the first record in several years, and the first pictures to be made available online for this species, prompting us to discuss ID criteria and status in Senegal of this enigmatic Sahel special, see this blog piece co-authored with Simon Cavaillès – by far the most read article on the blog, with more than 500 views since its publication in April.

KordofanLark_RichardToll_20180301-261A2963_1

Kordofan Lark / Alouette du Kordofan (J. Heip)

 

Several winter visitors were seen in higher than usual numbers or reached areas further south than their usual wintering grounds, such as Short-eared Owl (Hibou des marais; seen in six locations during January-March including a group wintering at Technopole, following the influx in Nov.-Dec.). Other scarce winter visitors included a Little Gull (Mouette pygmée) at Ngor on 12/1, while a group of five Cream-coloured Coursers (Courvite isabelle) near Maleme Hodar (Kaffrine) on 1/3 were possibly the southernmost record ever. Other examples include a Spectacled Warbler (Fauvette à lunettes) near Kaolack on 3/3, a “Desert” Grey Shrike (now surprisingly lumped again with Great rather than Southern Grey Shrike; Pie-grièche grise) in the Boundou reserve on 15/3, and five House Buntings (Bruant du Sahara) at Richard Toll on 1/3.

Courvite isabelle - Maleme Hodar 20180301 - Alain Barbalat

Cream-coloured Courser / Courvite isabelle (A. Barbalat)

As usual, a few birds were spotted outside of their regular range in the country: several Pallid Herons on the Cap-Vert peninsula; an African Hawk-Eagle that gave us a bit of an ID challenge at Popenguine (3/11); a Greyish Eagle-Owl photographed at Trois-Marigots on 10/1 (only a couple of previous records from N Senegal, see story on Ornithondar); a Grey Phalarope on 25/2 at Médina Afia (a rare inland record!); a singing Klaas’s Cuckoo near Dagana on 6/10; a Broad-billed Roller at Bango (Saint-Louis) on 31/8; Grey-rumped Swallow at Technopole (7/7); an early Lesser Whitethroat at lake Tanma on 25/9; a Cricket Warbler near Gueuol (north of Kébémer) on 21/11 (Aigle fascié, Grand-duc du Sahel, Phalarope à bec large, Coucou de Klaas, Rolle violet, Hirondelle à croupion gris, Fauvette babillarde, Prinia à front écailleux). In the Djoudj, a Brown Snake-Eagle was reported on 5/12. Familiar Chat and Green Turaco were reported from the Niokolo-Koba NP for the first time, where further observations of Mali Firefinch were made (Traquet familier, Turaco vert, Amarante du Koulikoro). Several species were found for the first time in Casamance, including Glossy Ibis, Singing Bushlark, Plain Martin, Great Reed Warbler – details will follow shortly on this website (Ibis falcinelle, Alouette chanteuse, Hirondelle paludicole, Rousserolle turdoïde). Away from the better known wintering grounds in the north of the country, an Iberian Chiffchaff (Pouillot ibérique) was singing at Wassadou on 25/2, and the Technopole bird found on 31/12/17 continued its presence until 7/1 at least.

New breeding records include what appears to be the first confirmed breeding for the Dakar region of Little Tern in June at Lac Rose with at least 14 nests; in the same location we found a nest of Plain-backed Pipit, while a Quailfinch at lac Mbeubeusse on 18/11 suggests that the species may be breeding in the niayes region (Sterne naine, Pipit à dos uniAstrild-caille). Successful breeding of White-backed Night-Herons (Bihoreau à dos blanc) was confirmed in two locations in Casamance and breeding is also likely along the Gambia river at Wassadou where Pel’s Fishing Owl (Chouette-pêcheuse de Pel) must also have bred. Black-winged Stilts (Echasse blanche) bred once again at Technopole where low water levels created decent conditions in April-June. And a nice breeding record was that of a female Standard-winged Nightjar found incubating two eggs at Pointe Sarène on 4/8 (Engoulevent à balanciers).

PlainbackedPipit_LacRose_chicks_20180729_125652

Plain-backed Pipit / Pipit à dos uni

A few unseasonal visitors were noted, e.g. early Marbled Ducks and a Black-necked Grebe near Djoudj on Oct. 6th, Western Olivaceous and Melodious Warblers as well as a Woodchat Shrike and even two European Bee-eaters in June; an adult Sabine’s Gull at Ngor on 30/7 (first July record it seems?), and summer Yellow-legged Gulls at Lac Rose (Sarcelle marbrée, Grèbe à cou noir, Hypolaïs obscure et polyglotte, Pie-grièche à tête rousse, Guêpier d’Europe, Mouette de Sabine, Goéland leucophée). Up north, a White-throated Bee-eater and a Pygmy Sunbird were photographed in January near Saint-Louis (Guêpier à gorge blanche, Souïmanga pygmée).

We also continued our seabird migration monitoring efforts during 2018, both in spring and in autumn. Spring migration was summarised in two posts (covering April and May) but the autumn totals are yet to be published. Highlights included decent numbers of Long-tailed Skua (500!) and Grey Phalaropes (1,256!) seen in August when fairly strong north-westerlies created ideal conditions to see these highly pelagic migrants from the coast; both species saw new day records for West Africa it seems. Other good ones included at least 19 Barolo/Boyd’s Shearwaters in Aug.-Sept., a Sooty Tern on 17/9 and several Bridled Terns, while Great Shearwaters passed through in modest numbers around mid-November (Puffin de Barolo/Macaronésie, Sterne fuligineuse, Sterne bridée, Puffin majeur). A pelagic trip on October 1st yielded reasonable numbers of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels (Océanite de Wilson), some shearwaters and skuas, but no rarities this time round. A visiting birder was lucky to see a White-faced Storm Petrel on 3/12 at Iles de la Madeleine, while an observation of Band-rumped Storm Petrel was reported far offshore off Saint-Louis on 25/9 (Océanites frégate et de Castro).

On the ring recovery front, we managed to read some 100 colour rings, mainly of Audouin’s and Slender-billed Gulls (41 & 19, resp.) but also several Greater Flamingos from Spain, a Common Ringed Plover from Portugal, and the first mentions of Avocet in our database (two birds from Spain) as well as a French Mediterranean Gull (“RV2L”) which appears to be the first recovery of this species from Senegal (Goélands d’Audouin et railleurFlamant rose, Grand Gravelot, Avocette, Mouette mélanocéphale). I now have some 420 ring recoveries in my little database: maybe this year I’ll find time to write up some of the key findings.

MediterraneanGull_Technopole_20180127_IMG_8943 (2)

Mediterranean Gull / Mouette mélanocéphale “RV2L”

A few blog posts on birding sites and other topics were published in 2018, namely the following:

We’ve also been pretty active writing up more formal pieces on birds in Senegal, with several articles published in 2018. This post is actually getting a bit too long so I’ll write about these recent publications in a forthcoming article. For now, go out birding!

Finally, thanks to all our readers for their support and encouragement throughout the year, which has seen a further increase in number of page views (almost 25,000) and website visitors. Oh and do let me know if I forgot anything in the above review, which is just an informal overview – nothing official here!

 

 

Description of a new species of Square-tailed Drongo

It’s not every day that a new bird species is described from West Africa, but thanks to some remarkable detective work by Jérôme Fuchs and colleagues, we now know that the “Square-tailed Drongos” occurring in West African forests should be considered a separate species. The researcher from the French National Museum of Natural History and his co-authors from Guinea, Denmark and the US describe what they named Western Square-Tailed Drongo Dicrurus occidentalis in a paper published earlier this year in the journal Zootaxa: Taxonomic revision of the Square-tailed Drongo species complex (Passeriformes: Dicruridae) with description of a new species from western Africa. The full paper is available on ResearchGate and a nice summary is to be found on this site. The abstract is reproduced below.

In summary, Western Square-tailed Drongo is genetically distinct from its “sister species” Sharpe’s Drongo D. sharpei which occurs further east, but cannot be safely identified in the field. The only morphological differences as per current knowledge are bill shape and size: culmen length, bill width and bill height were found to be sufficiently different from Sharpe’s. The authors provide a detailed description of the holotype, a bird collected by Raymond Pujol and Jean Roché on 18 December 1959 in Sérédou in the  N’zérékoré region of Guinea. According to the authors, Western Square-tailed Drongo and Sharpe’s Drongo diverged about 1.3 million years ago, resulting in substantial genetic divergence (6.7%).

Here’s one of the only pictures I could find online of what should now be considered D. occidentalis, from La Guingette forest near Bobo-Dioulasso in Burkina. There’s also this one in the Macaulay Library of a bird in the hand from central Nigeria in 1981.

Western Square-tailed Drongo / Drongo “occidental”, Burkina Faso (Paul van Giersbergen on Afbid)

 

And for comparison purposes, here’s one of D. ludwigii from South Africa:

Square-tailed Drongo / Drongo de Ludwig, South Africa (Alan Manson)

 

Western Square-tailed Drongo is known to occur in secondary forest and gallery forest from coastal Guinea to Nigeria, likely as far east as the Niger/Benue River system in Nigeria. It also occurs in Senegal and in nearby Gambia, more precisely in the forests of Basse-Casamance but also in the Dindefelo area where it was recently found. Of note is that the only publicly available sound recording of this taxon is from Dindefelo¹, made by Jean-François Blanc and friends in March 2016 when they found several Square-tailed Drongos on the edge of the Dande plateau (see Blanc et al. 2018. Noteworthy records from Senegal, including the first Freckled Nightjar, ABC Bull. 25 (1), for more details and a photograph of one of the drongos). There are several relevant recordings on Claude Chappuis’s CD set, one from SW Senegal and a few different call types from gallery forests in S Ivory Coast.

More sound recordings are needed to establish the extent of vocal differences between the various taxa within the Square-tailed Drongo “species complex”; it is mentioned in the species account on HBW that there are clear regional differences in vocalisations: in W Africa more muted calls compared with E birds, which have more “ringing” tone – not surprising now that it is clear that these are different species! As is often the case with closely related and morphologically very similar species, the song and calls are often sufficiently different to be useful to safely identify the species. I have some from Mozambique, but now just need to go to Casamance – another good excuse to make it out there¹.

Of course, I was now wondering whether any of the drongos that we saw in February in the Dindefelo forest and along the nearby Gambia river, were Square-tailed rather than Fork-tailed Drongo which is the default species throughout… but at least on the picture below Fork-tailed can be confirmed.

The “new” species also occurs further east, creeping into SW Mali and S Burkina Faso where some decent gallery forest still remains. In this respect, the distribution map in the paper isn’t very accurate and slightly misleading as it doesn’t include these two countries, and the range shown for Senegal is way too large. Hopefully the precise distribution, both in Senegal and elsewhere in West Africa, will be further refined in coming years.

Drongo brillant - Dindefelo Feb 2018 - Alain Barbalat

Fork-tailed Drongo / Drongo brillant, Dindefelo, Feb. 2018 (A. Barbalat)

 

Abstract:

We describe a new species of drongo in the Square-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus ludwigii) complex using a combination of biometric and genetic data. The new species differs from previously described taxa in the Square-tailed Drongo complex by possessing a significantly heavier bill and via substantial genetic divergence (6.7%) from its sister-species D. sharpei. The new species is distributed across the gallery forests of coastal Guinea, extending to the Niger and Benue Rivers of Nigeria. We suspect that this taxon was overlooked by previous avian systematists because they either lacked comparative material from western Africa or because the key diagnostic morphological character (bill characteristics) was not measured. We provide an updated taxonomy of the Square-tailed Drongo species complex.

 

¹ Update 2.1.19: in mid-January I managed to sneak out to Casamance for a few days, where I obtained several decent recordings of these drongos, now available on xeno-canto. I also managed a couple of decent pictures, one of which can be found here.

 

 

Au fond du PNNK

John Rose et Dimitri Dagorne nous présentent les résultats d’un récent périple dans le Niokolo-Koba, le dernier d’une série d’inventaires menés par un petit groupe de passionnés du parc. Merci à eux!

 

Le Parc National du Niokolo-Koba (PNNK) est une aire protégée de 913 000 hectares, retranchée au sud-est du Sénégal à la frontière de la Guinée. Depuis sa création en 1954 il fut le théâtre de nombreux tourments : braconnage, invasion de plantes exotiques, exploitation destructrice des ressources naturelles, tensions avec les habitants expulsés. Mais les efforts accrus de conservation depuis plusieurs années semblent avoir redonné un souffle de vie à ce qui est à présent un des rares grands sanctuaires de biodiversité d’Afrique de l’Ouest.

Pendant cinq ans (2012-2017) l’association française COMETE International (dissoute le 27/1/18), en se coordonnant avec d’autres organismes d’appui comme l’Association des Naturalistes des Yvelines (ANY), le Centre Ornithologique Île-de-France (ex-CORIF, absorbé par la LPO), l’African Bird Club, l’association sénégalaise NCD, et l’UNESCO, a soutenu les efforts des communautés locales pour la valorisation du parc et le développement durable des zones alentour. C’est avec la coopérative des guides du Parc National du Niokolo-Koba (GIE NIOKOLO) qu’ont été ainsi menées une quinzaine d’inventaires ornithologiques avec la collaboration des autorités du parc (Direction des Parcs Nationaux) et une demi-douzaine de voyages touristiques équitables, activités qui relevaient au total environ 4 000 observations de 259 espèces d’oiseaux dans la partie centrale “touristique” du PNNK et ses proches alentours.

Le but principal du voyage actuel, parrainé sur le plan scientifique par l’ANY, était de prospecter les zones du PNNK pas encore explorées dans le cadre de ce projet. Il a été planifié par deux membres de l’équipe scientifique du projet (Dimitri et John) et rejoint par un troisième naturaliste amateur, Jean-Jacques Pailler. Les zones ciblées dans l’est, le sud et l’ouest du parc ne sont accessibles qu’en fin de saison sèche (avril jusqu’à mi-juin) quand les gués sur le fleuve Gambie sont navigables, et nous avons visé la période tardive juste au début des pluies pour éviter le plus fort de la canicule, et pour pouvoir observer des migrateurs intra-africains venant des forêts guinéennes et équatoriales.

Itinéraire Niokolo-Koba

 

Arrivés à l’aéroport de Dakar dans la soirée du 31 mai 2018, nous nous faisons conduire le lendemain dans notre pickup 4×4 à Dialacoto, grand village chef-lieu de la commune de ce nom situé à 480 km de Dakar et à une dizaine de kilomètres de l’entrée principale du PNNK. Le lendemain nous expérimentons, en compagnie de neuf guides du GIE NIOKOLO, un nouveau circuit ornithologique pédestre dans la forêt de Diambour juste au nord de Dialacoto (carte du circuit ici). La savane boisée, bien que proche des activités humaines, offre un sentiment d’immersion dans une nature isolée. Paysages métamorphosés par les saisons, à cette période sèche nous observerons un total de 37 espèces d’oiseaux dont le Bucorve d’Abyssinie, l’Amadine cou-coupé, un groupe d’Hirondelles à ventre roux, et un vol de 61 Pélicans blancs se dirigeant vers le nord (probablement vers le Parc National des Oiseaux de Djoudj qui est leur principal lieu de reproduction) (Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Cut-throat, Rufous-chested Swallow, Great White Pelican). Ce circuit fait dorénavant partie de l’offre de tourisme ornithologique des guides ainsi familiarisés.

Après une nuit tranquille passée au campement Chez Ibrahima à la frontière du parc, nous pénétrons enfin les terres du PNNK, accompagnés de notre guide du GIE Banna Kanté et du lieutenant Assane Fall, mis à disposition par la Direction des Parcs Nationaux au vu du caractère scientifique de notre mission. Arrivés à Simenti sur le fleuve Gambie, nous étions contents de voir que l’hôtel, seul lieu d’hébergement confortable à l’intérieur du parc avant sa fermeture deux ans auparavant, était en train d’être remis en état pour réouverture pour la prochaine saison touristique (la saison sèche, de décembre à mai). Le tableau qui se présente à nous à la mare de Simenti adjacente est révélateur d’une saison 2017/18 particulièrement aride. Ce plan d’eau peu profond, qui accueille normalement un cortège d’échassiers et de limicoles pataugeant entre les crocodiles, était réduit à quelques pièces d’eau et bains de boue pour phacochères. Nous terminerons la journée au Campement du Lion géré par le GIE, où les murmures de la faune nocturne berceront notre sommeil.

Dès l’aube de notre deuxième jour dans le parc, installés sur un rocher en bord du fleuve Gambie, nous accompagnerons l’éveil de la savane. A quelques mètres de nous les couleurs encore ternes d’une Rhynchée peinte (Greater Painted-Snipe) s’illuminent doucement sous les premières lueurs de la journée. Il est l’heure de poursuivre nos inventaires, et confortablement installés dans la benne du 4×4, nous traversons le Gambie au Gué de Damantan pour atteindre pour la première fois la moitié sud du PNNK. Notre méthode d’inventaire est de rouler à moins de 15 km/h en nous arrêtant le temps nécessaire d’identifier chaque oiseau rencontré. Nous saisissons ainsi les données géolocalisées sur le terrain, au moyen des applis smartphone eBird pour toutes les espèces et celle de l’observatoire participatif African Raptor DataBank pour les rapaces.

Notre premier inventaire matinal de 32 km, sur la piste entre le Gué de Damantan et Barka Bandiel, était ponctué par un arrêt au mausolée d’un imam vénéré à Damantan, ce village évacué lors d’un agrandissement du parc qui reste toujours un important site de pèlerinage. Pour l’inventaire suivant, nous suivions sur 30 km la piste jusqu’à Oubadji, avant que nous soyons obligés d’atteindre en hâte au crépuscule ce dernier village à la frontière extérieure du Parc. Le campement communautaire, où nous avons passé la nuit, est aussi rudimentaire dans son confort que son cadre est merveilleux. Le petit déjeuner en plein air du lendemain nous offrira un spectacle matinal de nombreux oiseaux dont le Coucou de Klaas, le Cubla de Gambie, et le Touraco violet (Klaas’s Cuckoo, Northern Puffback, Violet Turaco).

Violet Turaco Touraco violet (Dimitri Dagorne)

Violet Turaco / Touraco violet (© D. Dagorne)

Peu après avoir quitté Oubadji, nous observons notre première nouvelle espèce d’oiseau pour le PNNK (par rapport aux inventaires précédents), un choucador (“merle métallique”) perché au sommet d’un petit arbre : un Choucador de Swainson.

Lesser Blue-eared Starling Choucador de Swainson (Dimitri Dagorne)

Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling / Choucador de Swainson (© D. Dagorne)

Nous poursuivons en traversant de nouveau le Gambie au Gué de Malapa, qui n’est en vérité qu’une traversée non balisée du très large lit desséché et rocailleux du fleuve. Puis nous suivons vers l’est la rive droite du fleuve qui forme la frontière sud du parc. C’est alors que nous ferons une observation très rare de trois Amarantes de Kulikoro, oiseau réputé jusqu’à très récemment d’être absent du PNNK. La peine pour la traversée et la distance nous séparant de notre prochain campement nous contraignent à arrêter notre inventaire après 66 km de piste très difficiles et à finir le trajet de nuit ; nous bivouaquerons au plateau du Mont Assirik à la station de recherche sur les chimpanzés, grâce à une autorisation spéciale des autorités du parc.

Mali Firefinch Amarante de Kulikoro (Dimitri Dagorne)

Mali Firefinch / Amarante de Kulikoro (© D. Dagorne)

Nous consacrons notre quatrième jour dans le PNNK à explorer à pied les abords du Mont Assirik, la seule zone où les visiteurs sont autorisés à se déplacer à pied. Nous partirons à l’ascension du sommet, point culminant du parc à 311 mètres. Perdus dans nos comptes par les nombreuses nuées de passereaux multi-spécifiques s’enchaînant aux sommets des arbres, nous observons 11 Loriots dorés (African Golden Oriole) dont un groupe de sept en vol bas. Autre observation notable : quatre Pluviers de Forbes déambulant autour d’une petite pièce d’eau. Sur le chemin du retour, juste avant d’arriver au campement, un tourbillon de vent est soudain tombé sur nous, apportant à seulement quelques mètres un jeune Bateleur des savannes.

Forbes' Plover Pluvier de Forbes(Dimitri Dagorne)

Forbes’s Plover / Pluvier de Forbes (© D. Dagorne)

Bateleur (Dimitri Dagorne)

Bateleur (© D. Dagorne)

Après le déjeuner nous descendrons dans la Vallée de Stella légèrement en contrebas du campement pour poursuivre dans un étroit lit de rivière. La forêt galerie est dense, nos observations seront furtives et fragmentaires. Un œil sublimement maquillé, une crête verte et des ailes violettes, Dimitri reconnaît là le Touraco vert (Green Turaco). Une petite gorge d’un jaune éclatant sur un oiseau sombre, il s’agit d’une paire de Bulbuls à gorge claire (Yellow-throated Leaflove). Tous les deux sont des nouvelles espèces pour nous, l’observation du touraco loin de ses territoires de base à l’extérieur du parc est particulièrement significative. Dans les feuilles d’un palmier, un Noircap loriot occupé à la construction de son nid se laisse observer en toute indiscrétion. Posée dans une fourche cachée par un amas de branches, nous apercevons une Tourterelle d’Adamaoua (Adamawa Turtle-Dove).

Oriole Warbler Noircap loriot (Dimitri Dagorne)

Oriole Warbler / Noircap loriot (© D. Dagorne)

Le lendemain matin, Dimitri a pu observer près du campement un Traquet familier, notre cinquième nouvelle espèce qui, bien qu’assez commune dans l’extrême sud-est du pays, n’a été observée auparavant qu’une seule fois dans le parc (par Geoffrey Monchaux en janvier 2018 dans la même zone). Il fallut quitter à regret le Mont Assirik pour retourner au Campement du Lion par une longue route en trois étapes d’inventaire dans le sud du PNNK, très, très sec, et décevante du côté ornitho.

Lors de notre dernière matinée au parc, nous observons aux abords du fleuve Gambie un Martin-pêcheur azuré, assez rare et surtout très discret, et un couple de Grues couronnées (Shining-blue Kingfisher & Black Crowned Crane). Nous prenons la route vers la sortie du PNNK pour nous retrouver au confort à l’hôtel de Wassadou, l’objet d’un récent rapportage dans ce blog. L’hôtel se trouve sur la rive droite du fleuve Gambie, la rive d’en face faisant partie du PNNK. Embarqués sur le fleuve le lendemain matin dans la petite pirogue à moteur de l’hôtel, nous observons de nouveau la Tourterelle d’Adamaoua et le Martin-pêcheur azuré, puis nous voyons perchée côté PNNK une magnifique Chouette-pêcheuse de Pel, notre sixième nouvelle espèce. Revenus à terre, nous observons une seconde chouette cachée sur la rive de la rivière Niériko qui se jette dans le Gambie au niveau de l’hôtel.

Chouette-pêcheuse de Pel (Dimitri Dagorne)

Pel’s Fishing Owl / Chouette-pêcheuse de Pel (© D. Dagorne)

Dans le PNNK et ses proches alentours, nous avons observé 148 espèces d’oiseaux dont six nouvelles pour notre projet, soit un total de 265 espèces sur les quelques 360 signalées dans la littérature scientifique et archives d’observations (y compris les visiteurs passagers ou égarés). Une publication scientifique présentant les résultats du projet est en cours de préparation.

Nous partons en fin de matinée du 9 juin pour la Réserve Naturelle Communautaire de Boundou, située à environ 115 km au nord-est de Wassadou, que nous explorons pendant deux jours avant de reprendre la route pour l’aéroport via la Réserve Naturelle de Somone. Au total, nous aurons admiré lors de ce riche et intense voyage 193 espèces d’oiseaux, 21 de mammifères et plusieurs reptiles et invertébrés intéressants (voir les listes présentées dans le rapport complet disponible ici). Vos questions ou commentaires peuvent être postés ci-dessous ou adressés à John Rose.

 

Shining-blue Kingfisher Martin-pêcheur azuré (Dimitri Dagorne)

Shining-blue Kingfisher / Martin-pêcheur azuré, Camp du Lion (© D. Dagorne)

 

 

Les oiseaux de Wassadou

Ah, Wassadou!! On a déjà parlé à quelques reprises du campement de Wassadou, site maintenant bien établi sur le circuit ornitho sénégalais, notamment ici et . Après avoir découvert trop brièvement ce coin fabuleux en février dernier, un long weekend en juin a été l’occasion d’y retourner en compagnie de Miguel puis de Gabriel qui nous a rejoint sur place. Que du bonheur! J’avais donc envie de vous présenter un peu plus ce petit coin de paradis et de partager quelques photos prises sur place.

Voici en vrac quelques espèces, à commencer par les rapaces. Il y a ici une incroyable diversité de rapaces diurnes, tous visibles depuis la terrasse naturelle du campement surplombant le fleuve Gambie. Dès le milieu de la matinée, vers 10-11h, il suffit de s’installer sur le promontoire, et le défilé commence: Aigles de Wahlberg, ravisseur et huppardPygargue vocifère, Buse d’AfriqueBusautour des sauterelles, Circaète brun, Autour unibandeEpervier shikra, Balbuzard pêcheur, Bateleur, bien sur les Gymnogènes et aussi cet autre rapace unique en son genre, le Vautour palmiste.

PalmnutVulture_Wassadou_20180224_IMG_9729

Palm-nut Vulture / Vautour palmiste

Ainsi en juin nous avons pu observer pas moins de 14 rapaces différents. Sur les quelques 227 espèces contactées ces dernières années à Wassadou et dans les environs immédiats du campement, il y a pas moins de 28 rapaces, plus 4 faucons – impressionnant! Il y a d’ailleurs toujours de quoi voir lorsqu’on scrute le ciel: avec un peu de chance, on verra la Cigogne épiscopale ou un Jabiru, et parmi les nombreux martinets se cachent peut-etre quelques Martinets marbrés, espèce connue dans le pays uniquement du PNNK et dont nous avons pu voir plusieurs individus en juin.

WahlbergsEagle_Wassadou_20180224_IMG_9711

Wahlberg’s Eagle / Aigle de Wahlberg

Le Pluvian fluviatile est sans doute l’une des stars du site, et de plus il est généralement facile à voir ici, en train de parcourir les bancs de sable des abords du fleuve. J’imagine qu’au plus fort de la saison des pluies (août/septembre-octobre), lorsque la Gambie déborde parfois largement de ses berges pour inonder le campement même, ces oiseaux sont alors absents mais sinon le reste de l’année ils semblent bien fidèles au poste. Idem d’ailleurs pour le Grébifoulque, cet autre oiseau spectaculaire qu’on aura le plaisir de voir à Wassadou.

Pluvian fluviatile - A Barbalat Feb 2018

Egyptian Plover / Pluvian fluviatile (A. Barbalat)

Autre spécialité locale, le Vanneau à tête blanche est plus difficile à voir et il faut parfois attendre un peu avant de le voir surgir de nulle part, lui aussi fréquentant les berges et zones exondés du fleuve. Comme le Pluvian, ce limicole s’observera le plus facilement lors d’une sortie en pirogue.

WhitecrownedLapwing_Wassadou_20180224_IMG_9701

White-crowned Lapwing / Vanneau à tête blanche

Les martin-pêcheurs sont particulièrement bien représentés à Wassadou, toutes les espèces régulières du Sénégal peuvent être vues ici. Le Martin-chasseur à poitrine bleue est commun, lançant son chant étonnant à longueur de journée. Toujours discret et imprévisible, le Martin-pêcheur azuré a été observé à plusieurs reprises ces dernières années et est à rechercher dans l’ombrage des buissons surpblombant la rivière aux alentours du campement, ou s’observera furtivement lors d’un déplacement d’une rive à une autre. Les Guêpiers à gorge rouge nichent dans les berges, et en saison sèche il est possible de voir des Guêpiers écarlates survolant la zone, parfois en effectifs impressionnants.

BluebreastedKingfisher_Wassadou_20180224_IMG_9638

Blue-breasted Kingfisher / Martin-chasseur à poitrine bleue

On continue avec une espèce phare d’un tout autre registre, la Tourterelle de l’Adamoua. Découverte en Gambie et au Sénégal il y a une trentaine d’années seulement (Baillon 1992), cette tourterelle est relativement facile à trouver lors des sorties en pirogue sur la Gambie, de préférence tôt le matin ou le soir lorsque les oiseaux viennent s’abreuver. Et avec un peu de chance on la croisera dans la ripisylve aux alentours du campement, comme l’oiseau ci-dessous:

AdamawaTurtleDove_Wassadou_20180616_IMG_2587

Adamawa Turtle-Dove / Tourterelle de l’Adamoua

Parmi les passereaux les plus remarquables, citons entre autres le Noircap loriot, l’Apalis à gorge jaune, Prinia à ailes rousses, Gobemouche des marais, Gobemouche drongo, Tchitrec bleuHyliote à ventre jauneSouimanga violet, Amarantes pointé et masqué (même celui de Kulikoro a été signalé non loin d’ici). Le Combassou de Wilson et la Veuve togolaise ont tous les deux été rapportés sur eBird. Du côté des hivernants, en février dernier on a eu entre autres le Rossignol philomèle, l’Hypolais obscure, le Phragmite des joncs, et de manière bien moins attendu un Pouillot ibérique chanteur – tous le long du fleuve. C’est là également qu’il faut rechercher la Bergeronnette pie, espèce très répandue en Afrique subsaharienne mais plutôt localisée au Sénégal, qui comme plusieurs autres espèces atteint ici sa limite septentrionale dans le pays.

AfricanPiedWagtail_Wassadou_20180224_IMG_9683

African Pied Wagtail / Bergeronnette pie

Des choucadors de toutes sortes font des va-et-vient continus en quête d’eau et de nourriture autour du campement, comme ce Choucador à queue violette photographié en juin dernier.

BronzetailedGlossyStarling_Wassadou_20180616_IMG_2550

Bronze-tailed Starling / Choucador a queue violette

On termine notre tour d’horizon trop rapide avec la fabuleuse Chouette-pêcheuse de Pel, phantome du fleuve qu’on pourra tenter de voir au crépuscule lors d’une sortie en pirogue, parfois à quelques centaines de mètres seulement du campement. En juin dernier, nous entendons un jeune crier chaque soir, et on a la chance de d’abord voir ce qu’on suppose être un adulte (photo d’en-tête), puis plus en aval le jeune vient se poser non loin de nous (photo ci-dessous): ces oiseaux sont présents depuis la fin de l’an dernier au moins et il donc probable qu’ils aient niché dans les environs immédiats du campement. Notons encore que parmi les nocturnes, on pourra entendre le Petit-duc africain, et à la tombée de la nuit il est parfois possible de voir des engoulevents chasser au-dessus de la rivière (à longue queue et à balanciers).

PelsFishingOwl_Wassadou_20180616

Pel’s Fishing-Owl / Chouette-pêcheuse de Pel

Difficile de s’arrêter en fait… car comme si tout cela ne suffisait pas encore, il y a encore un autre oiseau tout aussi unique et au statut quasi-mythique au sein de l’avifaune africaine: le Bihoreau à dos blanc! Déja vu furtivement par mes amis genevois en février, il nous a fallu un peu de temps lors de notre visite la plus récente pour comprendre que les grognements et roucoulements parvenant de la végétation dense juste en bas du promontoire, là où se jette un ruisseau dans le fleuve, n’étaient rien d’autre que le cri (ou chant?) de ce héron nocturne si discret et si peu connu au Sénégal. Et dont ce cri n’est pas mentionné dans les guides de terrain (et on l’apprendra plus tard, cette vocalisation n’était pas encore disponible dans les principales banques de données de sons d’oiseaux). Je vous invite donc à découvrir deux enregistrements faits avec mon modeste Olympus LS-12, ici avec les Babouins en arrière-plan. On les attendra à la tombée de la nuit, et effectivement: trois bihoreaux quittent leur cachette en criant pour aller se nourrir au bord de la rivière – on en verra un dans la pénombre juste en face du campement, visiblement en train de pêcher à l’affût depuis une branche au bord de l’eau. Le lendemain au petit matin, les oiseaux ont déjà regagné leur “dortoir”, mais un dérangement (sans doute par des singes) fait décoller un adulte qui part alors vers l’amont. Jean-Francois Blanc et collègues ont d’ailleurs rapporté la présence du Bihoreau à dos blanc plus en aval de l’autre côté du PNNK, à Mako en mars 2016, suggérant – avec raison – que “cette espece discrète pourrait etre sous-détectée le long de la Gambie au Sénégal”. Et tout récemment, Gabriel l’a trouvé au bord de la Falémé dans la réserve du Boundou!

Et puisqu’on parle de nocturnes, voici les Mégadermes à ailes orangées vus en février dernier à deux pas du resto du campement.

YellowwingedBat_Wassadou_20180224_IMG_9713

Yellow-winged Bat / Mégaderme à ailes orangées

Wassadou c’est donc bien plus que les oiseaux! Deux Hippopotames ont élu domicile devant le campement, tout comme quelques Crocodiles du Nil. A l’aube et au crépuscule, avec un peu de chance on verra le Guib harnaché, le Céphalophe à flancs roux voire d’autres ongulés venir boire. Les Singes verts sont omniprésents, deux troupes de bruyants Babouins de Guinée rôdent dans la ripisylve et passent la nuit dans les fromagers au bord de l’eau. Le Colobe de Temminck (Piliocolobus (badius) temminckii), taxon classé En Danger par l’UICN, endémique à la sous-région puisqu’il est restreint à la partie occidentale des forêts de la Haute-Guinée: le sud du Sénégal, la Gambie, la Guinée-Bissau et le nord de la Guinée. Au Sénégal, il y aurait “probablement moins de 400-500 individus dans le PN du Delta du Saloum, et probablement moins de 100 dans la population du PNNK et du nord-ouest de Guinée” (IUCN).

WesternRedColobus_Wassadou_20180615_IMG_2514

Western Red Colobus / Colobe de Temminck

WesternRedColobus_Wassadou_20180615_IMG_2501

Western Red Colobus / Colobe de Temminck

Où observer?

C’est simple: en vous posant sur la terrasse, une bière ou un jus dans la main, les jumelles dans l’autre, le téléscope posé devant la chaise longue. Ou à côté du hamac, c’est selon les envies. On peut donc facilement passer quelques heures ici, mais une ballade dans la brousse environnante permettra de pleinement apprécier la richesse du coin: en suivant le sentier longeant le fleuve en partant vers l’amont du campement, on pourra trouver toute une série d’oiseaux, notamment divers passereaux, et il est possible d’accéder au bord de l’eau à quelques endroits. Et bien sûr, ne pas oublier de prévoir au moins une sortie en pirogue!

Relax_Wassadou_20180617_IMG_2736

Il faut prévoir un minimum de deux nuits sur place, plus si possible – d’autant plus si on a envie de faire une excursion dans le parc du Niokolo-Koba (où l’on pourra également passer une ou deux nuits, au campement du Lion ou à Simenti).

GreenMonkey_Wassadou_20180615_IMG_2486

Green Monkey / Singe vert

 

Comment rejoindre Wassadou?

Le campement se situe juste en face du Niokolo-Koba (la Gambie fait office de frontière du parc ici), à 2-3 kilomètres du goudron Tambacounda – Kédougou, plus précisément ici. Et contrairement au PNNK, pas besoin de 4×4 pour rejoindre le site! Par contre, il faut bien compter 8 heures de route depuis Dakar. L’établissement dispose d’une dizaine de cases simples mais corrects (ne vous fiez pas à l’apparence du site internet du campement, qui a besoin d’un serieux relooking).

 

Wassadou_20180617_IMG_2553

 

 

 

Unseasonal visitors…

During our most recent excursions, we obviously looked out for those colourful Afro-tropical migrants that typically arrive in June-July, moving north with the rains – think cuckoos, rollers, kingfishers, etc. We saw some of course, especially at Wassadou but even in the bone-dry landscapes of Gossas and Diourbel, where we had migrants such as Diederik Cuckoo and Grey Hornbills.

Less expected were a number of breeders from the Western Palearctic that are now supposed to be in full breeding mode, so I thought it would be interesting to review these here. Of course, numerous “WP” species that winter in Senegal can be seen here year-round, but these are mostly waterbirds such as Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-tailed Godwit, Audouin’s Gull and other waders, gulls and terns. Many young birds of these species will actually remain in West Africa during their first summer, and from the end of June it’s quite normal to see early returnees, particularly for waders that failed their breeding season and left Europe early.

A Western Marsh Harrier (Busard des roseaux), probably a young female, flew over the flock of Greater Flamingos and other waterbirds that we’d just been counting at Lac Mbeubeusse, one of the niayes wetlands on the Cap-Vert peninsula, then landed in a reedbed. Some summer observations are known from both Senegal (“a few birds summer”, Morel & Morel) and Mauritania (June-August; Isenmann et al.), and Barlow & Wacher mention that occasional non-breeders are seen “during the rains” (a rather vague way to refer to summer, which doesn’t really tell us whether the records were actually during summer or whether they refer to regular migrants in September & October!).

Also here on the same day (23.6) was at least one immature Purple Heron (Héron pourpré) which may be either an oversummering bird of European origin, or a wandering African bird – I’m yet to figure out whether the species breeds anywhere nearby, though it’s clear that in potential breeding areas such as Technopole the species is absent during ~March to early August (further south, I have records from May-June, in Kolda and Toubacouta).

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Purple Heron / Héron pourpré imm., Mbeubeusse, June 2018

 

Still at Mbeubeusse – a decent birding site I’d never visited before despite being not far from Dakar! Never too late… – we also saw a winter-plumaged Knot (Bécasseau maubèche), feeding together with a group of Grey Plovers and a handful of Greenshanks and Redshanks. (Pluvier argenté, Chevaliers aboyeur et gambette). While the latter three species are more or less to be expected at this time in Senegal, the summer record of Calidris canutus may be noteworthy.

Two subadult Yellow-legged Gulls (prob. 3rd c.y.; Goéland leucophée) were at Lac Rose on 23.6, resting together with a group of some 500 Lesser Black-backed and 200 Audouin’s Gulls (Goélands bruns et d’Audouin), several of which were ringed including a Portuguese bird that I’d already seen back in April at Technopole. Also in the group were two or three Kelp Gulls (Goéland dominicain). Yellow-legged Gull is rather scarce here at any time of the year so it was a nice surprise to see these; apparently the species has been “recorded in all seasons” in Senegambia (Barlow & Wacher). Both birds seemed to be typical nominate birds (i.e. from southern Europe) rather than atlantis birds from the Macaronesian islands.

A week earlier at Wassadou and along the road from Tambacounda to the Niokolo-Koba, we noted a good presence of Common & Pallid Swifts (Martinets noir et pâle), which appears to be not unusual at this time of the year since non-breeding birds are said to move north with the rains from their “wintering” grounds over the forest zone of West Africa. There are however few June records (e.g. Barlow & Wacher give a presence of Pallid Swift from July-September and November-January). Even more exciting was the presence of several Mottled Swifts (Martinet marbré) at Wassadou, the first June record of a “difficult” bird in the region – there appear to be less than 10 records for Senegal in total, all of which are from the Niokolo-Koba area. The one below was seen by my Swiss friends in the PNNK earlier this year.

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Mottled Swift / Martinet marbré, Niokolo-Koba NP, 20.2.18 (P. Albrecht)

 

Perhaps more surprisingly than the preceding species, two European Bee-eaters (Guêpier d’Europe) were feeding and flying around pretty much all afternoon on 23.6 in Almadies, Ngor, regularly calling in the process and as such giving away their presence above and near my house. I’d never seen the species before in Dakar (though I have seen them not far, along the Petite Côte in autumn), so this was a highly unexpected record. Paul Isenmann and colleagues mention that the species is present in Mauritania from July/August to October, and March to May/June, but I didn’t find any references to summer records in Senegal or Gambia. Probably just a coincidence, but earlier the same day we saw our first Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters in the Dakar region, at Lac Rose (Guêpier de Perse). Perhaps these were birds en route to their breeding grounds in northern Senegal?

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European Bee-eater / Guêpier d’Europe (seen here on wintering grounds in coastal Casamance, March 2017)

 

A single House Martin (Hirondelle de fenêtre) at Wassadou on 15 & 16.6 was also remarkable: a very late migrant, an oversummering bird, or a wanderer that decided not to bother going all the way to Europe? The species has been recorded Oct. – June and I’ve seen birds as late as 28/5 at Technopole, but it’s clear that there are very few records from late June and July.

A Melodious Warbler (Hypolaïs polyglotte) photographed by Gabriel in the Niokolo-Koba park, at campement du Lion, on 17.6 is another rare mid-summer record of a species that typically arrives from mid-August and depart by May at the latest. Gabriel recently saw the species in the Boundou community nature reserve as well, so it seems that quite a few are staying around during summer. More generally, one can only wonder how many of these Palearctic passerines are here at the moment. Putting things in perspective, the observations in this post are all by just 3 active resident birders in the country…

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Melodious Warbler / Hypolaïs polyglotte, Niokolo-Koba, June 2018 (G. Caucanas)

 

A few kilometres further north, Miguel and I observed a Western Olivaceous Warbler (Hypolaïs obscure) at Wassadou, feeding in bushes on the edge of the Gambia river, on 16.6. This is of course a common to very common winter visitor throughout the country, and there are records from all month, so maybe not as surprising as the previous species. Now often called Isabelline Warbler, it is also known to be summering at Nouakchott (June-July) with no noticeable break between pre- and postnuptial passages (spring: March – May/early June, autumn: July-October; Isenmann et al. 2010).

A couple of days later near Diourbel, we had a Woodchat Shrike (Pie-grièche à tête rousse), apparently a first-summer male: the forehead is extensively black and mantle seems mostly jet-black (both features indicative of males), while the moult limit between the adult-type dark wing feathers and juvenile brownish unmoulted primary coverts and flight feathers are typical of 2nd calendar year birds (more on ageing & sexing the species here, from Blasco-Zumeta & Heinze’s excellent series on the topic). The presence of this species in Senegal is fairly similar to Western Olivaceous Warbler. An adult Great Spotted Cuckoo (Coucou-geai) earlier that day near Gossas was assumed to be an African rather than a northern migrant, though we can’t be sure of course; the date is consistent with the arrival of this cuckoo on its Sahelian breeding grounds (a couple of weeks later I had another adult, actively calling, though a bit further east: along the Niger river near Niamey).

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Woodchat Shrike / Pie-grièche à tête rousse, near Diourbel, June 2018

 

Voilà for now; for me it’s time to migrate north for a couple of weeks (though no breeding for me this summer); I’ll be back towards the end of the month. And maybe find some time to finish a few blog posts that have been dormant in my draft folder for a while now… Thanks for reading!

 

First records of Brown-backed Honeybird in Senegal

Yet another species was added to Senegal’s bird list recently. What follows is an account of recent observations of Brown-backed Honeybird by Gabriel Caucanas and friends, with some edits and additional information I managed to dig up – merci Gabriel!

January 20th 2018. We arrived in Dindefelo after 3 nights inside the Niokolo Koba National Park. Our team of French naturalists (Solenne Lefevre, Carine Lelaure, Geoffrey Monchaux, Valentin Motteau, Eric Sansault and myself) arrived at dusk at the “campement villageois” where our guide, Banna, had booked us for the night. The journey Simenti-Dindefelo was very long and we had many expectations for this wonderful place, as usual for birders. Will we find everything we are supposed to see, in just a single morning? No stress!

January 21st. About a hundred meters after the start of the path towards the waterfall: Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Northern Puffback. Following the path inside the gallery-forest, we added Green Turaco, Narina’s Trogon, African Blue Flycatcher, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike… Even for me, living in Tambacounda for more than one year at that moment, discoveries went on as we saw Red-chested Goshawk, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Green-headed Sunbird, and even a pair of Mali (Kulikoro) Firefinches with two juveniles. What a pleasant walk!

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Red-chested Goshawk / Autour de Toussenel (V. Motteau)

 

Just like almost every wooded place in Senegal, many Common Bulbuls were foraging and singing along the path. One bulbul-like individual however attracted our attention. After a few seconds of watching the bird, we all agreed that it seemed a little bit smaller than a Common Bulbul with a bill clearly curved at the end, convex. Moreover the undertail was white and the tail seemed heart-shaped ended. Thirty meters above us, the bird sat quietly during a few minutes, looking around, perched on a thin branch. As none of us was a sub-saharan bird specialist, we were not able to identify the species. Fortunately, one of us managed to take a reasonably good picture of the bird. Nothing described in the book seemed to fit to this bird apart from Brown-backed Honeybird… but even if I knew that several new species for the country had been found recently in this gallery forest, no observation was confirmed for Senegal. Our trip in Senegal continued the following days, first around Dande, then in the Boundou Community Nature Reserve and Casamance for the luckier of us. Days were passing without giving us a chance to have time to identify the bird.

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Brown-backed Honeybird / Indicateur de Wahlberg, Dindefelo (G. Monchaux)

 

On February 4th, I visited Wassadou camp. Many interesting birds were around, as usual for this place: Adamawa Turtle-Dove, African Blue Flycatcher, African Finfoot, Cardinal Woodpecker (a pair carrying food into a hole in a branch of Ceiba pentandra) and the two regular Hippopotamus. Then around 4 pm, a strange bird, again bulbul-like, was foraging and gleaning insects from branches a few meters above me in one of the huge Kapok trees close to the “deck”. What a surprise! It looked exactly the same as the bird we saw a few days earlier in Dindefelo: black curved bill, brownish head, greyish above becoming white on belly, rounded heart-shaped tail and undertail coverts white ending more greyish… Definitely not a bulbul! I again read the page about honeyguides in the Birds of the Senegal and the Gambia (Borrow and Demey, 2011). Yes, it could fit for Prodotiscus regulus, but nothing was said about the heart-shaped tail that I noticed in both birds. How could this be? A new species for Senegal seen twice in less than twenty days, some 200 km away from each other? I was confused… maybe I was just seeing a common bird that I was unable to recognise.

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Campement de Wassadou, with the Kapok tree in the center (G. Caucanas)

 

March 10th, Wassadou one more time: White-headed Lapwing, African Pied Wagtail, Shining-blue Kingfisher, Oriole Warbler, Western Banded Snake-eagle… We decided to stay the night. Around 5pm, as I was standing near the deck, I noticed the same mystery bird foraging in the same Kapok tree! But this time, I managed to take decent pictures of it, and I had to admit it was clearly fitting Prodotiscus regulus. Back home, I sent pictures from Wassadou and Dindefelo to Bram and Simon who were able to confirm the identification. Simon added that one claim had been made by two Spanish birders on 30 Jan 2015 at Wassadou, but with no further documentation nor a formal publication (the record was mentioned with a brief description in their trip report, and was included in the ABC Recent Reports).

As such, the records from Dindefelo and Wassadou are the first documented observations for Senegal.

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Brown-backed Honeybird / Indicateur de Wahlberg, Wassadou (G. Caucanas)

 

Brown-backed Honeybird, also known as Wahlberg’s Honeybird or Sharp-billed Honeybird (or Honeyguide) is a widespread species across the continent, occurring throughout East and Southern Africa, with a much more fragmented distribution in West Africa. It’s known to be a local “wanderer” within its vast range and as such it’s always quite an unpredictable bird to find, and it’s not clear whether there are any regular migration patterns.

Following his observations from Mali – the first for the country – Marco Thoma identified only 10 other published records for the species in West Africa, with several new ones obtained in recent years from across the region. The closest to Senegal was a single record from Gambia in Sept. 2006, less than 100 km away from Wassadou, then three birds near Bamako in Mali (Jan. 2010), one in Liberia (Mt. Nimba, Jan. 1968), one in Côte d’Ivoire (May 1989). At least four records are known from Ghana where the species was found in 2009 for the first time, followed by singles in 2011 and 2013 (both in January), and a bird seen in Mole NP in March 2016. Further east, there are records from Togo (Aug. 1969), Benin (first record on 21 May 2015), several in Nigeria and Cameroon, etc. It was added to the Guinean list earlier this year by Simon Cavaillès, and the second record for Guinea-Bissau was obtained just recently by Gabriel Caucal and Etienne Rogeau at Madina de Boé (Gabu region), on 6 Feb 18. It’s clearly an overlooked species, and one can expect more observations to be made in years to come (Simon even mentioned this to me [BP] following his record from Guinea – look out for the species in Senegal! How right was he, as always!).

The species is thought to breed in May-September in West Africa: except for a record of a juvenile seen in Nigeria in December, we haven’t come across any breeding records from the region, and while there are observations from pretty much all months, most recent records are from January to March it seems (this could of course be largely related to the much higher observer presence during the northern winter months). Just like other honeyguides and honeybirds – the Indicatoridae – it is a brood parasite, as nicely illustrated by this picture of a fledgling Brown-backed Honeybird being fed by a Bar-throated Apalis. Besides Yellow-breasted Apalis which occurs in both Dindefelo and Wassadou, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Yellow White-eye and various sunbird species are other potential hosts for Brown-backed Honeybird.

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Brown-backed Honeybird / Indicateur de Wahlberg, Wassadou (G. Caucanas)

 

Fun fact: during the night of March 10th at Wassadou, I saw two Common Genets, an African Civet and heard Pel’s Fishing Owl calling several times. In the early morning, we saw it, from the boat!

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Pel’s Fishing-Owl / Chouette-pêcheuse de Pel, Wassadou (G. Caucanas)

 

Finally, going back to our subject of interest: I (BP) was lucky to see this elusive species on several occasions, in southern Rwanda for the first time (in a group of other species mobbing a snake, picture here), Harare, and most recently in Cape Town’s famous Kirstenbosch botanical garden, where I managed to record its song. And maybe one day I’ll get to see it in Senegal!

Addendum (4.6) – it turns out that my Swiss friends who spent several days at Wassadou in February also saw the honeyguide, though it wasn’t identified as such. A few blurry pictures taken of a brownish bird in the very same Kapok tree on Feb. 22nd, dug up by Alain, allow us to confirm that it was indeed the Brown-backed Honeybird. 

 

A few references

Albero J.C. (2015) Crónica del viaje ornitológico realizado del 23 de Enero al 10 de Febrero de 2015; available on Cloudbirders.com

Roy, K. (2009) First record of Wahlberg’s Honeybird Prodotiscus regulus for The Gambia, Bull. ABC 16(1): 90-91

Thoma, M. (2012) First records of Wahlberg’s Honeybird for Mali, Bull ABC 19 (1): 65-68

Valentine, G. (2013) First record of Wahlberg’s Honeybird Prodotiscus regulus for Ghana, Bull. ABC 20 (1): 70

 

Gabriel (& Bram)