Another family trip to Palmarin, another report with a few interesting observations and some pictures to share. To start, a pleasant surprise was a pair of Four-banded Sandgrouse that were flushed from an uncultivated field, then landed just a few meters away and allowed for close-up views (but alas no picture). Could they be breeding here? This is the first time, in five visits (August, twice in November, January, and now February), that I’ve seen the species in the Palmarin area or anywhere in Senegal for that matter.
The same goes for a first-winter Southern Grey Shrike which is another addition to my Palmarin list, and which is more likely a scarce or irregular winter visitor here. Typically seen in the north – Djoudj, Ndiael, Richard-Toll etc. – it is apparently scarce this far south. Even around Dakar there seem to be only a handful of records, including one at Technopole a few years ago that was found by Paul Robinson. However, Simon Cavaillès and friends regularly see the species in the Ndiafatte / Kousmar region and it’s been reported as far south as Tambacounda, but there are only a couple of records from The Gambia.
We’ll try to get back to the topic of subspecies identification in this taxon as it’s not a straightforward matter. According to what can be seen on the pictures below (on which the bird appears somewhat darker than in the field) my bird from Palmarin would fit ssp. elegans which breeds across the Sahara: pale plumage, lots of white in wing, grey rump, large size.
My second Eastern Olivaceous Warbler in Senegal was seen early Sunday morning while feeding in a tree, tail flicking and nicely showing its narrow bill and overall pale appearance. See this post for a discussion of the my first record (in French)
Numerous Common Whitethroats, a few Barn Swallows which are obviously on the move and should have started heading back to Europe. A male Whinchat was near Joal: are they already on the move, or would they winter in this area? Most of the Yellow Wagtails that were seen appeared to belong to the Iberian subspecies, such as this male:
A few Ospreys, Montagu’s and Marsh Harriers were around and a Short-toed Eagle was near Samba Dia, but in general not many raptors were seen. Single Grey and Common Kestrels, and also what appeared to be a family of Black-winged Kite with at least one young.
Waders were as usual well represented, though many were in distant flocks which I didn’t have the time to check thoroughly: Grey Plover, Common Ringed Plover, numerous Bar-tailed Godwits and Avocets, a single Oystercatcher, a few Turnstones and Whimbrels plus the usual Greenshanks, Redshanks, Wood Sandpipers, Common Sandpipers, hundreds of Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers, etc.
On the local front, Bruce’s Green Pigeons, Purple Rollers, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were around, while a few Sudan Golden Sparrows at Diakhanor were also a first for me in Palmarin. Red-billed Queleas were particularly numerous, just like in Dakar at the moment, with low thousands moving south at Diakhanor on 19/2 and several smaller flocks scattered throughout the area (though considering that this is supposedly the most abundant bird species on the planet and that they can gather in huge flocks, these numbers are still on the low side!).
Below is a small sample of some of the local birds seen during the weekend.
(Header picture by Jane Piot!)
Trying to catch up with recent trips, this post will focus on our short stay in Palmarin, from Nov. 24-26, when I joined visiting friends from Geneva at the tail end of their 2-week trip. Of course I wish I could have joined them for the entire length of the trip (they saw no less than 320-ish species!) but I was already fortunate enough to spend a couple of days up North in the Djoudj and Saint-Louis, then to join them a week later in the Saloum delta.
In addition to the unexpected observation of a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, we saw a good number of other interesting species here, confirming once again the importance of the area for a vast range of both Afrotropical and Palearctic species. Among the highlights were the adult Saddle-billed Stork that I already mentioned in the previous post; a small colony of African Spoonbills with several chicks in the nest, high up in a lone baobab; the thousands of waders – an impressive 28 species including several Knot, a Grey Phalarope, and a handful of White-fronted Plovers; even more gulls (Audouin’s and Lesser Black-backed of course, but also a Kelp Gull and a Yellow-legged Gull both picked up by Bastien); Northern White-faced Owl; the usual Quailfinches; and this time round also some great sightings of the local Spotted Hyenas:
Quailfinch was one of the species the group was particularly keen on seeing, which wasn’t all too difficult given how frequent these tiny birds are here, as long as one is in suitable habitat. Seeing them properly, and not just flying over in typical hurried fashion, was more of a challenge but we did ultimately succeed. In the process, we found two extremely well camouflaged nests, each containing several eggs.
Quite a few vultures were encountered in the Palmarin / Samba Dia / Joal area, mostly Hooded, White-backed and Ruppell’s Vultures, but also a couple of immature Eurasian Griffons, including the one below, and a single Palm-nut Vulture.
In addition to the vultures, lots of other raptors were spotted: Osprey and Yellow-billed Kites of course, and Montagu’s and Marsh Harriers, Black-shouldered Kite, Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, African Harrier-Hawk, Shikra, Gabar and Dark-chanting Goshawks, Peregrine, Barbary Falcon, Grey Kestrel, and finally Red-necked Kestrel.
Several European passerines that spend the winter over here were found to be actively moulting (though admittedly this was seen only after studying the pictures!). In the examples below, note the fresh tail feathers and primaries that are still growing on this young Woodchat Shrike, and the regenerating primaries in the Melodious Warbler underneath.
Just like in November 2015, several Red-throated Pipits were found, in exactly the same spot as last year. I suspect that this is a fairly localised and scarce species in Senegal, as I haven’t see them anywhere else yet. This area also held a surprise pair of Greater Short-toed Larks, a species that doesn’t usually comes this far down south (they’re regular in the north, e.g. at Ndiael fauna reserve). Along the same lines, the observation of a Tufted Duck near Diofior on 24/11 was a good record this far south in Senegal.
A much more common migrant is Yellow Wagtail, mainly flavissima from the British Isles but flava and iberiae also seem to be present in Palmarin. This individual, a moulting male, had an unusually contrasting plumage.
On the local front, here’s a juvenile White-billed Buffalo-Weaver, lacking its distinctive white bill as it’s still a very young bird, followed by a Yellow-billed Oxpecker (always a pleasure!).
This female Long-tailed Nightjar was flushed in the gardens of the Djidjack lodge (a place I’d highly recommend: friendly owners, great food, good accommodation, and a lush garden full of birds).
Also there were at least two Northern White-faced Owls, a Pin-tailed Whydah (surprisingly perhaps, only my first in Senegal), the usual migrant passerines (Common Redstart, Western Olivaceous and Subalpine Warblers, but also Blackcap), Gambian Epauletted Fruit-bats, and much more.
We’ll be back!
(and finally, I can’t resist the urge to include another picture of the star bird)
The above photo of a wrestler training on the beach at Palmarin at sunset is a token image to compensate for the fact I forgot to pack my camera on the latest trip to Palmarin. Most of our time was spent on observation of gulls on the mudflats. A group of a hundred or so avocets included one ring-coded bird that appears to be of Danish origin, though I await confirmation. Conservatively tens of thousands of red-billed queleas were streaming south along the coast in flocks big enough that the sound created by their wing beats alerted us as we stared down our telescopes. In the other direction, conservatively hundreds of barn swallows were moving low and north. Although we saw the occasional bird in January in the Senegal River delta this year, barn swallow is primarily a migrant in Senegal. Morel gives dates of August to October and February to May. For Djoudj, Rodwell notes spring migration from 26 January, with most birds moving north in March and April and a daily maximum of 300. On the limited evidence, the Palmarin movement is therefore quite large and early.
Back in Dakar, the prolonged N/NE winds that have been around Beaufort 5/6 for three weeks continue. I have not looked long at the sea, but the numbers of northern gannets has increased off Yoff, with hundreds, mostly second calendar year birds, visible, many fishing, in a single scan.
Verreaux’s eagle owl (www.gregpoole.co.uk)
It has been a bad lapse to not keep up to date with a wildlife sightings blog for two months. In early December, before my Christmas break, two new sightings (African reed warbler and long-tailed nightjar) brought the Technopole list to 200 species since this blog started two years ago.
I have often visited the picturesque fishing cove of Ouakam in Dakar, but so far ignored the cliffs to the north (right as one looks out to sea). A scramble along their foot in mid-January produced two young peregrines, so with the adult bird still on the Hotel Ngor Diorama, at least three are wintering in north-west Dakar.
My second visit to the sparsely vegetated sandy Sahel within 5-10km east of the bridge at Richard Toll on the main N2, south of the road, again produced cricket warblers, though many more and better views than previously. This is a site for the species discovered by French birders in 2010 and like them we also saw cream-coloured and temminck’s coursers and noted the high densities of northern wheatears. A few yellow wagtails picturesquely followed livestock and other paleacrtic passerines, giving brief and difficult views as they flitted from one interior of a bush to the next, were mostly Sylviidae; many common whitethroats, several orphean warblers and one spectacled warbler. Frequent hoopoes, all of the nominate Palearctic race, a couple of tawny pipits, many sand martins and the occasional barn swallow completed the migrant list. As on the last visit, it took a very close approach to a dense Balanites bush to flush a group of fulvous babblers, so perhaps quite a few are lurking.
On to Palmarin where artist Greg Poole (www.gregpoole.co.uk) found and took these excellent photos ( digiscoping with his iphone through his telescope) of Verreaux’s eagle owls in a baobab with buffalo weaver nests; not a rare species, but always fun to find and something of a birding tourist’s favourite.
In the same area of sparsely wooded savanna he flushed a quail plover, another birders’ target species whose elusive behaviour makes it impossible to say much about its true status in Senegal.
The more open areas of Palmarin had the usual good mix of raptors: montagu’s and marsh harriers, common and lesser kestrels, black-shouldered and swallow-tailed kite, short-toed eagle, peregrine and ospreys. Two button quails were another surprise in the same short grassland habitat.
We stayed at nearby Djiffer, where a barn owl roosted in the campement grounds and pomerine skuas harassed a mix of terns, including a roseate tern, feeding on fishing discards. Roseate terns are much better known off Senegal on both migrations and winter records remain scarce, but it is an easily overlooked species. Amongst the familiar waders and terns on the saline lagoons, now mostly dry and with considerably reduced numbers of birds, a count of c200 little terns was notable.