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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.

 

 

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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.

BrownbackedHoneybird_Wassadou_IMG_1053_Caucanas

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)

 

 

Dindéfélo!

Dindéfélo, enfin!

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

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

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

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

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

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Narina’s Trogon / Trogon narina

 

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

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

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

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

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Sun Lark / Cochevis modeste

 

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

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Bluethroat / Gorgebleue à miroir

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Red-necked Buzzard / Buse d’Afrique

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Thiewoune_20180228_IMG_0225

 

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

Senegal birding and the UK Birdfair 2017

Last summer I had the chance to be in the UK for the Birdfair 2017. This is the largest annual market in Europe for birdwatchers. There is some overlap with bird conservation and many Birdlife partners are there, but this is primarily a place for the buying and selling of everything that birdwatchers desire; books, optics, but especially birdwatching holidays, and this is big business! Bird tour companies from many South American and African countries had flown in staff to advertise their holidays.

At the fair, South African birder Micheal Mills launched The Birder’s Guide to Africa, which aims to tell birders what is most distinctive about each country’s list of birds and where to go in Africa to most easily see each of the continent’s species. Whilst I do not agree with everything in some of the book’s West African chapters, it is a good start for a discussion of bird tourism in Senegal – which for many reasons would deserve a more prominent place on the Africa birding map (one of the many down-sides of taking very much of a quantitative, purely list-based approach to defining birding destinations, as is done by Michael Mills, is that many countries do get the recognition they deserve).

What is unique? Should more birders visit Senegal, and if so what should Senegalese bird guides do to encourage them? It should be said that I am talking about a certain type of birdwatching tourism – visiting places to make lists of unusual birds – which is the profitable market in which the Birdfair sells. From this perspective, the spectacles of Djoudj, the Sine Saloum and Kousmar are still important, but not enough if the birding guide cannot also find the country’s more unique species.

So, how visible was Senegal at the Birdfair? The short answer is almost invisible! Let’s avoid the historical and perhaps linguistic reasons why The Gambia features at the UK Birdfair, and look at all of West and North-West Africa. Geopolitics affects tourism and, correctly or not, many of the region’s countries are seen as more difficult places to organise tours. Unfortunately, these days large parts of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and northern Nigeria and Cameroon are off-limits to foreign visitors due to ongoing conflict and security concerns. Currently the two most advertised North-West/West African destinations for bird tours are Morocco and Ghana, as destinations for European, North American and South African birders, who are the three main groups.

Let’s take the African Bird Club country lists, which taxonomically almost follow the IOC World Bird List, and query the list. Which species regularly occur in Senegal, but not in Morocco or Ghana and also do not occur widely elsewhere in Africa? This query give Senegal at least 28 “special” species, which it would be a good investment for bird guides to be able to find. Please add your comments to this linked list, which is accessible for editing. Several more could – and probably should – be added, and it’s good to keep in mind that the national list stands at about 680 species (we hope to publish an updated list some time soon on this blog). 

Most of the species on this list are birds of the Sahel and the drier, northern regions of the Sudan savanna. The USGS’ excellent recent resources on West African land use shows the western section of the Sahel bio-climatic region, which extends to northern Ethiopia.   

WestAfrica_biomes_map

 

Little Grey (or Sahelian) Woodpecker is a classic example. Its patchy distribution, which does not go further east than western Sudan, includes northern Senegal where most recent West African observations have been made, though WaBDaB, which coordinates bird observations for Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, has a few records.

Little grey Woodpecker / Pic gris

Little grey Woodpecker / Pic gris, Gandiolais (BP)

For the average bird tour operator, Senegal is the easiest destination and there are places where it is often seen (Les Trois Marigots and near to Richard-Toll), but probably many to be discovered – for instance, it was reported just last week “well south of Louga” by a Swedish group. This and many of the Sahel specials are much more species of the Middle Valley described in Bram’s recent trip, than of the more famous Djoudj/St. Louis area and many are not on the Djoudj list.  

LittleGreyWoodpecker_map

 

Other species in the 23 with similarly narrow ranges include Cricket Warbler (present in southern Western Sahara, but very localised it seems); River Prinia (header picture – cryptic species only present in the Senegal River delta, River Niger and Lake Chad, though probably overlooked elsewhere); Sennar Penduline Tit; Golden Nightjar (most recent records from Western Sahara where confirmed breeding, and from Chad); Quail-Plover (hard to find, but there are apparently a couple of reliable sites); and the commoner Black Scrub Robin, Sahel Paradise Whydah and African Collared Dove.

Sahel Paradise Whydah / Veuve a collier d'or

Sahel Paradise Whydah / Veuve a collier d’or, Lac Tanma (BP)

 

A second cluster of specials occur in and near the Dindefelo reserve, Senegal’s most recent addition to the country’s Important Bird Areas list. This is the only place outside Mali where the Mali Firefinch is reasonably reliably seen. Other species with strange and small global ranges including Dindefelo are Adamawa Turtle-Dove and Neumann’s Starling. The Kedougou area, and Dindefello in particular, probably has more surprises in store and is likely to yield additional Guinean species that just creep into Senegal. 

Finally, the sea off Dakar makes the list. Away from the Cape Verde, the Cape Verde Shearwater is only reliably seen elsewhere in Africa, in season, off Dakar and the Iles de la Madeleine trio of Red-billed Tropicbird, Bridled Tern and the recent arrival Brown Booby are common enough in other tropical waters, but with few reliable places in Africa. The Tropicbirds are pretty much guaranteed at any time of the year, whilst the boobies and especially the terns and shearwaters are only present in certain seasons. 

RedbilledTropicbird_ilesdelaMadeleine_20180102_IMG_7920

Red-billed Tropicbird / Phaéton à bec rouge, Iles de la Madeleine (BP)

And the message from this? Any Senegalese bird guide who gets to know when and where to find these species should have a profitable business and most of the species are far from the hotspots of Djoudj and the Sine Saloum! And to potential visitors – come over and explore, with or without a local guide: you won’t be disappointed.

 

(post by Paul, with contributions from BP)