Once again I recently had the chance to spend a few days in Casamance. In Bruno’s expert company, we targeted a number of little-explored forests in the south-west of the region, hoping to find some of the region’s special forest dwellers. Many of these are active and very vocal at this time of the year, and intra-African migrants such as cuckoos are now moving north with the rains. With the national park still being off-limits, we concentrated on some of the smaller forest in the Ziguinchor and Oussouye areas. We weren’t disappointed: in just three days in the field, we recorded no less than 186 species, not bad considering that we spent most of our time in various forests where diversity is not generally very high and birds can be difficult to detect. Our surveys also allowed to fill in a few more gaps in the distribution maps of the Casamance bird atlas, and we collected some interesting breeding records for a number of species.
In order of appearance:
Shortly after my arrival, a late afternoon stroll around the village of Kantène, just outside Ziguinchor, turned up the usual suspects as well as a couple of Pale Flycatchers and the first of many cuckoos of the trip: singing African and Diederik Cuckoos, both recently arrived in anticipation of the raining season, during which they breed in Senegal. Just warming up, getting ready for the next few days!
July 4: the forests around Oussouye
The next morning we got up ridiculously early so as to be in the Boukitingo forest shortly after dawn, the start of a full day out birding pretty much non stop around Oussouye. A pre-dawn pitstop at the Etome bridge brought a surprise under the form of a singing White-backed Night Heron, a poorly known species here that Bruno had already seen on a couple of occasions around Ziguinchor, even managing to find a nest at a disused gravel pit. The forest itself held cool birds such as Ahanta Francolin, White-spotted Flufftail, Black-throated Coucal, Puvell’s and Brown Illadopsis, White-tailed Alethe, Green Hylia, Green Crombec, Olive Sunbird – all species that in Senegal are largely restricted to the westernmost forests of Casamance. The flufftails, coucals and illadopsises were particularly vocal, as were African, Klaas’s and Diederik Cuckoos. We got decent views of the two illadopsis species, both usually difficult to see, and even the Alethe made a brief appearance! Perhaps best of all in terms of new records was at least one White-throated Greenbul, one of these very little-known species in Senegal that apparently hasn’t been reported for many years. Difficult to spot in the dark understorey of the forest, we only good poor views but luckily the bird was quite vocal, allowing us to confirm its identity later on (listen here). A pair of Red-breasted Swallows was a bonus as we emerged from our 3-hour tour of this part of the forest – eBird checklist here..
Moving on, a few stops en route to Elinkine produced several additional species including Piping Hornbill, Whistling Cisticola, Northern Black Flycatcher, two Lanner Falcons, Plain-backed Pipit (a small group with several juvs.). Mid-afternoon we visited the wetland near Kagnout where Cuckoo Finch was found last winter, and added more good stuff to the list: African Hobby, Greater Painted Snipe, Collared Pratincole, our first returning Wood Sandpipers of the season as well as five Black-tailed Godwits, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Quailfinch, and an adult Lesser Moorhen soon followed by two Red-headed Queleas – for both species, my first records in Senegal and just two of several additions to my country list. The queleas were in a large flock of Yellow-crowned Bishops, while two Yellow-mantled Widowbirds were seen on the edge of the marsh. Alas no Cuckoo Finches, maybe next time!
Next stop was a protected forest patch roughly half-way between Mlomp and Oussouye and located just witin one of the lesser explored atlas squares. Here we again had White-spotted Flufftail and Black-throated Coucal singing and more of the same as around Boukitingo, plus a pair of Western Square-tailed Drongos, Blue Malkoha, African Emerald Cuckoo, and Red-tailed Leaflove. This site clearly has a lot of potential and will hopefully be further explored in coming months.
July 5: Kamobeul/Essil forest, Boutoute wetland
There wasn’t a great deal of activity in the forest, but we did see or hear some good species such as Ahanta Francolin, African Emerald Cuckoo, Piping and African Pied Hornbills, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Western Nicator, Grey-headed Bristlebill, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Puvel’s Illadopsis, and the unique Capuchin Babbler (nest-building; the westernmost race is now often considered a separate species, aka Grey-hooded Capuchin Babbler, Phyllanthus atripennis). Full list here.
The grasslands held several pairs of African Wattled Lapwings including at least one with a young chick. Also here were a flock of Pin-tailed Whydahs, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, two Violet-backed Starlings, and this beautiful snake, Philothamnus irregularis, aka the Common Bush Snake or Irregular Green Snake.
A short visit late afternoon to the wetlands near Boutoute just outside Ziguinchor – a local hotspots that would merit proper protection – was quite rewarding, and the 76 species that we recorded in less than an hour nicely illustrate the sheer diversity of its birdlife. Two of these were very much unexpected here: first a small group of obliging Bar-breasted Firefinches feeding near the cultivated plots at the entrance of the area, and towards the end of our small tour a Great Spotted Cuckoo. A singing African Emerald Cuckoo was also a nice addition to the site list.
Waterbirds were plenty, likely because there aren’t many places with fresh water left at this time of the year, and included several Allen’s Gallinules, Moorhens, African Swamphens, Greater Painted-Snipes, Spur-winged Geese and a Green Sandpiper to name but a few. A few West African Swallows (sometimes considered a race – domicella – of Red-rumped Swallow) were feeding together with Wire-tailed and Red-chested Swallow, as were some 15 Fanti Sawwings. Short-winged Cisticola and Oriole Warbler were also noteworthy.
July 6: Mpak bush, farmland and remnant forest
A cool Long-crested Eagle was one of the first birds that we saw after reaching this largely unexplored site – just a stone-throw away from the border with Guinea-Bissau – shortly after dawn. We soon encountered some similar forest dwellers to those seen in other locations the previous couple of days: Western Nicator, Grey-headed Bristlebill, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Puvel’s Illadopsis, Yellow-breasted Apalis etc. A Western Bluebill was heard only, singing just one of its characteristic strophes in thickets but remaining invisible. In the same area we enjoyed watching a pair of Blue Malkohas, for once rather well showing themselves and possibly nesting in a vine-covered tree, while Diederik, Klaas’s, African and Red-chested Cuckoos were all singing around us.
Making our way through a small patch of secondary forest, we heard a now familiar sound: Turati’s Boubou! This was actually one of our targets, keen to find out whether it occurs away from Djibelor. Check. We even ended up with some decent views but boy are these birds secretive and difficult to spot, in stark contrast with their vocal activity. In typical Laniarius fashion, pairs were actively dueting, sometimes even three birds together. On the sonogram, one can clearly see the double low plaintive whistle given by the male, and the female “responding” with a harsh slow chatter. Listen here and here to get an idea. With at least 3 or 4 pairs/territories in the area, we more than doubled the known population of the species in Senegal. It’s highly likely that more searches between Ziguinchor and the border will reveal more territories.
The overgrown farmland held a good variety of birds, including Red-winged Warbler, Whistling & Singing Cisticola, and a rather unexpected Moustached Grass Warbler that revealed itself only later, thanks to Miguel who correctly identified what we assumed was Whistling Cisticola singing, on this recording. African Firefinch was seen in two locations; this is one of those birds that up to recently was still considered as unconfirmed in Senegal, but which in fact appears to be rather widespread (though nowhere common) in Casamance and possibly the Kedougou regions. New birds kept popping up left and right, and we ended up with a very respectable 80 species in this area.
Our excitement was only tempered by the sad state of the forest here, much degraded and still actively being logged and cleared for agriculture. At one point as we were heading towards a remnant patch of large trees, a couple of villagers (hunters? contraband loggers? rebels…?) made us turn back, maybe not wanting any intruders to see the forest being cleared right there on the spot. Probably best not to argue when one of them is carrying a gun… On the flip side, it’s probably as a result of the ongoing logging that suitable habitat is created for Turati’s Boubou, allowing it to gradually spread north from Guinea-Bissau whereas up to 10-20 years ago most areas between Ziguinchor and the border were proper forest.
These depressing Google Earth images illustrate how much has changed in recent years in this very area: note how in March 2008 there’s still a continuous dark belt of what seems like largely healthy forest running diagonally from SW to NE, while in April 2019 there are only a few patches are left in the SW corner of the area. Unfortunately this is the sad state of many of Senegal’s forests, protected or not, and more widely throughout the region. We roughly covered from the top right corner (close to a small village) to the central part of this area, which is where the boubous were found.
At this point, the rains arrived, concluding our highly satisfying and pretty successful exploration. Hopefully there’ll be more opportunities in the near future to investigate other forests and further our knowledge of Casamance’s birdlife.
Une récente visite de terrain pour le projet d’assainissement que mon ONG met en œuvre en Casamance a été l’occasion de faire un peu d’ornitho, au gré des déplacements dans les villages et du temps libre le matin et le soir autour des hôtels. Et bien sûr j’ai également noté plus ou moins méticuleusement les rapaces, rolliers et autres calaos le long des trajets en voiture, contribuant ainsi, certes de manière modeste, aux travaux d’atlas de Casamance dont on a déjà parlé à plusieurs reprises ici.
Tout d’abord de Ziguinchor à Kolda, avec escale dans la commune de Samine, puis deux nuits passées à l’hôtel Le Firdou que nous avions déjà visité en mai 2017, m’ont permis de retrouver des espèces bien sympathiques que je ne vois pas à Dakar, telles le Guêpier à gorge rouge, le Martin-chasseur géant ou encore le Grébifoulque (Red-throated Bee-eater, Giant Kingfisher, African Finfoot). Déjà vue en 2017 ici, une femelle de cette dernière espèce est vue à chaque fois, sauf le dernier matin lorsque c’est un mâle adulte qui se nourrit dans la Casamance, qui en cette fin de saison sèche n’est plus qu’un ruisseau ici. L’une des techniques de la femelle consistait à méthodiquement secouer des feuilles de nénuphars et autres débris végétaux avec le bec, visiblement afin de déranger les insectes pour aussitôt les picorer. (pour un peu plus d’infos sur le régime alimentaire de cet oiseau remarquable, voir notre note brève dans Malimbus sur l’observation d’un Grébifoulque se nourrissant sur le dos d’un hippopotame, l’an dernier à Wassadou)
Toujours au bord de la rivière, quelques espèces moins attendues sont observées, notamment ce mâle de Blongios nain qui pourrait bien nicher sur place (les tons châtains du cou et de la poitrine indiquent qu’il s’agit de la sous-espèce africaine payesii et non d’un hivernant européen attardé).
Ou encore cette Talève d’Allen, autre espèce paludicole peu connue en Casamance et dont les observations récentes se comptent sur les doigts d’une main.
Parmi les autres oiseaux vus au Firdou, citons encore le Palmiste africain, le Faucon ardoisé (couple avec comportement suggérant la présence d’un nid), le Grand Indicateur, l’Apalis à gorge jaune (première mention en Moyenne-Casamance semble-t-il), les Astrilds à queue de vinaigre et à joues orange, et cerise sur le gâteau ce couple de Gangas quadribandes qui viennent boire chaque soir au bord de la Casamance sur la rive juste en face de la terrasse, et dont j’ai même pu enregistrer les cris étonnants. (Palm-nut Vulture, Grey Kestrel, Greater Honeyguide, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Lavender & Orange-cheeked Waxbills, Four-banded Sandgrouse). Liste complète ici.
Peu d’oiseaux sont vus lors du long trajet de Kolda à Kafountine, avec escales à Sédhiou et Marsassoum pour visiter des ménages et rencontrer nos maçons et équipes locales; même les Vautours charognards étaient relativement peu nombreux ! Arrivés à Kafountine, on s’installe à l’excellent Esperanto Lodge pour trois nuits. Situé au bord de la lagune à deux pas de la plage, bien au calme quelques km au nord du village, c’est un vrai petit paradis et une base idéale pour explorer la brousse aux alentours. De plus, l’accueil y est bien chaleureux, les repas sont délicieux, et les chambres sont tout à fait agréables. Sans parler des hamacs accrochés aux palmiers dans le jardin luxuriant. Autant dire que je vous le recommande vivement ! Un séjour de de 3 ou 4 jours devrait permettre de bien explorer la zone et d’organiser des visites à la réserve ornithologique de Kalissaye ou à la héronnière de Kassel située au sud de Kafountine. Le patron Eric se fera un plaisir d’organiser les sorties. Dans le coin bibliothèque à côté du bar, une vieille copie du Serle & Morel – premier guide ornitho « moderne » pour l’Afrique de l’Ouest – avec les coches locales témoigne de l’intérêt qu’on porte ici à la nature et en particulier aux oiseaux !! Pour ma part, en quelques sorties matinales et crépusculaires j’ai pu observer 122 espèces d’oiseaux aux environs immédiats du lodge, c’est dire le potentiel de la zone.
Parmi les plus remarquables, citons les Touracos vert et violet, le Calao siffleur, le Guêpier à queue d’aronde, les Pics tacheté et cardinal, les Cisticoles siffleuses et chanteuses, l’Euplecte monseigneur, Noircaps loriots, les Gladiateurs soufré et de Blanchot, plusieurs Gobemouches drongo, Echenilleur à épaulettes rouges, des Hirondelles fanti et ainsi de suite (Guinea & Violet Turacos; Piping Hornbill, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater; Buff-spotted & Cardinal Woodpeckers; Whistling & Singing Cisticolas; Black-winged Bishop, Oriole Warbler, Grey-headed & Orange-breasted Bush-Shrikes; Northern Black Flycatcher, Fanti Saw-wing). Egalement les deux espèces de Tchitrec dont un male qui pourrait bien être un hybride mais malheureusement pas de photo… (African & Red-bellied Paradise-Flycatchers, incl. a possible hybrid)
Les Spréos améthystes, migrateurs intra-africains fraichement arrives dans la région, étaient particulièrement actifs, avec plusieurs males chanteurs mais toujours un peu loin pour des photos correctes – celle ci-dessous ne rend pas du tout le plumage éclatant de ce joli étourneau!
Côté hivernants, il ne reste plus que quelques limicoles dans le « lac » quasiment à sec, puis 2-3 Balbuzards sans doute estivants, et des Martinets noirs passant en petit nombre le long de la côte (Osprey, Common Swift). De manière plus étonnante peut-être, j’observe plusieurs Fauvettes des jardins à deux endroits dans les buissons près du lodge, sans doute au moins quatre individus différents témoignant d’un passage toujours en cours en cette deuxième décade de mai (Garden Warbler).
Nous bouclons notre boucle à Ziguinchor, non sans avoir fait une brève escapade à la forêt de Djibelor. Toujours pas réussi à voir ces fameux Gonoleks de Turati (juste entendu, comme la dernière fois…), mais nous levons un Turnix d’Andalousie dans la zone où Bruno a pu attester la nidification il y a quelques mois, et on entend très nettement le chant caractéristique du Malcoha à bec jaune, espèce très localisée au Sénégal et que je n’avais pas encore vu ici (Turati’s Boubou, Common Buttonquail, Blue Malkoha).
Si tout va bien je retournerai bientôt en Casamance, cette fois pour continuer la recherche d’espèces forestières dans la région d’Oussouye et pourquoi pas pour tenter de retrouver les Anomalospizes. Bruno a encore tout récemment trouvé un Engoulevent à épaulettes noires, Coucals à ventre blanc, l’Alèthe à huppe rousse, l’Akalat brun et j’en passe (Black-shouldered Nightjar, Black-throated Coucal, White-tailed Alethe, Brown Akalat). Et me signale que le Jabiru est toujours présent vers la héronnière de Kassel, tout comme quatre Cigognes épiscopales! (Saddlebill, Woolly-necked Stork)
A recent early morning visit to the Trois-Marigots area, just outside Saint Louis in the lower Senegal delta, quickly turned into a proper gallinule fest, with dozens – hundreds probably! – of rallidae: Moorhens, African Swamphens, Black Crakes, and even a few of the much hoped for Allen’s Gallinule. No crakes this time round, but all in all a pretty spectacular sight in a great setting. Below are a few images taken during our visit, all but the last one taken from the Tylla digue which crosses the second of the the Trois-Marigots. Vieux and I mainly birded a stretch of just a few hundred meters for the first couple of hours, with new birds showing up all the time.
With habitat like this, what would you expect?
Rails of course, but also African Pygmy-Goose, Purple Heron, Black Heron, Little Bittern, African Fish-Eagle, Marsh Harrier, various Acrocephalus warblers, Winding Cisticola, Zebra Waxbill, and so on.
Allen’s Gallinule is pretty local in Senegal, being most regularly reported from Djoudj and from Trois-Marigots, though it also occurs in Casamance and probably elsewhere (still waiting for it to show up one day at Technopole!). We saw at least two adults, including one with a bright blue frontal shield. The second bird, pictured below, was somewhat duller but the obvious red eye indicates that it is also in breeding plumage, making it likely that the species breeds here at Trois-Marigots.
And here’s that obligatory Pygmy-Goose picture, which I have to say I was quite pleased with:
This one a bit less so, but nevertheless, always great to get a reasonable picture of a nervous warbler that just would not sit still… While most wintering warblers are long gone by now, there were still quite a few of these Sedge Warblers around, plus several Eurasian Reed Warblers, two Willow Warblers, and just one Bonelli’s Warbler. For the most part these are probably birds from the northern part of their breeding range.
Complete eBird checklist here, plus this one from the now bone-dry savanna between the first (also dry by now) and second marigots: Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Temminck’s Courser, Cut-throat, Pygmy Sunbird, etc. For more on Trois-Marigots and its crakes – including the rarely seen Little Crake – see this post, and of course many other notes by Frederic Bacuez on Ornithondar.
A brief visit to the Lampsar near Makhana village, on the opposite side of the route nationale, paid off with quite a few additional species such as fly-over Glossy Ibises, Collared Pratincoles, several waders including two Little Ringed Plovers, and most notably a small colony of Black-winged Stilts, with at least four birds incubating. There were probably several more, given that some of the nests were relatively well concealed as can be seen on the picture below. Checklist here.
Staying on our swamp theme, here are a few more pictures from the Easter weekend which we spent at Zebrabar at the Langue de Barbarie national park. The Saint Louis STEP (sewage farm) was even more smelly than usual, but as always held some good birds such as this River Prinia and Greater Painted Snipe, two species that were also encountered at Trois-Marigots.
Finally, I should mention that Vieux recently found Senegal’s 6th or 7th Lesser Jacana, more precisely at the Lampsar lodge on March 16th. He’d found the previous one just last summer during a waterbird count near Ross Bethio on July 15th. The species is probably a fairly regular yet scarce visitor to Senegal, but its precise status is yet to be defined. Once again Vieux shows that he’s one of the most skilled – and most active – birders in the country!