Our regular readers will have noticed that it’s been very quiet on this blog in recent months, so it’s about time I published an update here. There’s a simple reason for the lack of recent posts: after just over five years in Dakar, it was time to move on. Three weeks ago we landed in Laos where we will be based for the foreseeable future, marking the start of a new adventure here in Vientiane. And the end of a pretty amazing experience living in Senegal.
Moving on is of course bittersweet, as I will certainly miss the fabulous bird life that Senegal has to offer, yet at the same time I’m excited to discover the birds and culture of Laos. Even if we’re currently living in rather unsettling and unpredictable times, to say the least. Many of you will be reading this while confined at home, but being extremely busy with my work here I’ll need to keep it short… somehow writing this post is actually the one that I’ve struggled the most with so far – it’s been sitting in my drafts for about three weeks now.
Over the past five years I managed to visit all but one of the country’s regions – sadly I never made it to Matam! – and was lucky to see a good deal of its birds, 530 species to be precise, 527 of which I saw during 2015-2020. A few other numbers: some 52,500 records “collected”, four additions to the country list, about 1,040 sound recordings posted on xeno-canto, tons of poor quality bird photographs, countless happy hours in the field…
There are of course a few specials that I didn’t get to track down, such as Golden and Egyptian Nightjar, White-throated Francolin or Denham’s Bustard to name but a few, and I somehow managed to never visit Kousmar (pretty unbelievable right?) and the Niokolo-Kobo proper (I was happy enough exploring Wassadou on three occasions), but these are all good reasons to one day come back of course. That said, I’m not very optimistic about the state and future of Senegal’s environment, and while this is not the time to expand on this, there have been many frustrating, sad and upsetting moments when confronted on an almost daily basis with the ongoing destruction of natural habitats, with the ever-increasing pollution levels, and with the population’s general indifference and ignorance when it comes to nature and wildlife conservation.
Senegal certainly has treated us well and I feel privileged to have had the chance to explore the country these past few years. I tried to promote birding in Senegal and think I made some modest contributions to the “body of ornithological knowledge” both through this blog (149 posts!) and through a number of papers, 14 to be precise, something we’ll try to continue doing in coming months (years?). The absence of recent posts on SenegalWildlife is definitely not for a lack of ideas or material… just need to find the time to write up stuff, be it here in these pages or elsewhere.
Lots of good memories, of encounters with birds of course but also of places and people, too many to start listing here. Unexpected finds, and some unexpected birding settings.
Despite the crazy busy few weeks leading up to our departure from Dakar, I was of course keen to go back out to some of my favourite spots: Popenguine, Technopole, Mbeubeusse, Lac Rose, and of course Le Calao for my daily dose of seawatching.
And as always there were some good birds to be seen here, some of which were quite unexpected. During my last visit at Technopole on the morning of our departure (8.3), a pair of Eurasian Teals was a nice find. My final ring reading here was of a French Eurasian Spoonbill ringed in the Camargue colony in 2016… with now +600 ring readings in my little database, there’s definitely enough material to write up another post on this topic. An immature Brown Booby on 21.2 and 5.3 at Ngor was pretty classic at this time of the year. Much less expected was a fine Cream-coloured Courser on the steppe near lac Rose on 20.2, apparently the first record for the Dakar region. It was loosely associating with a few Temminck’s Coursers, a classic species here, just like the handful of Greater Short-toed Larks that were present the same day. A few days earlier, a Temminck’s Stint at Mbeubeusse (16.2) was yet another scarce migrant to show up at this prime location for waders. And during our last visit to Popenguine (23.2) a Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver was a good record from this location, of a species that is rarely reported away from the south-east and that in fact I’d only seen once before in Senegal, near Kedougou.
Thanks to our followers and regular readers.
Take care, stay safe, flatten that curve.
Au revoir le pays de la Teranga, à la prochaine!
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.
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.
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!
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) .
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.
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.
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 uni, Astrild-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).
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 railleur, Flamant 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.
A few blog posts on birding sites and other topics were published in 2018, namely the following:
- Senegal as a destination for birders, written up by Paul Robinson following his visit to the UK Bird Fair in 2017
- Blog posts on the birds of Dindefelo and Wassadou following visits to these two major birding hotspots in the south-east of the country
- The Casamance Bird Atlas by the association APALIS
- Birding the Niokolo-Koba: guest blog by John Rose and Dimitri Dagone
- The formal protection of Technopole back in October was of course a major event
- A xeno-canto audio guide to the birds of Senegal
- Last but certainly not least, the last blog piece of the year covered the description of a new species of Square-tailed Drongo
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!
Si vous arrivez à déchiffrer les acronymes du titre, alors chapeau! Faute d’un meilleur intitulé pour ce billet, et faute de temps pour écrire un long article sur tout ce qu’on a pu voir ces huit derniers jours, je vous présente ici quelques images prises lors de notre virée dans le Djoudj (le PNOD – parc national des oiseaux du Djoudj), le PN de la Langue de Barbarie (PNLB), la réserve naturelle d’intérêt communautaire de la Somone (RNCIS), et la réserve de Popenguine (RNP). Huit jours a se ressourcer en pleine nature, en agréable compagnie de nos amis Jan, Maria, Kajsa et Marnix venus découvrir le Sénégal – le bonheur.
A commencer par ces Courvites isabelles vus vers le Grand Mirador du PNOD, trouvés par l’excellent guide Vieux Ngom (qui en passant salue toute l’équipe de Genevois!), dans une atmosphère poussiéreuse comme je l’ai rarement vue. Les courvites aussi j’en avais rarement vus, même jamais en fait! Belle coche donc pour commencer les vacances de fin d’année, d’une espèce régulière dans le nord du pays mais qui jusqu’ici m’avait toujours échappée, ici comme ailleurs d’ailleurs.
Voici pour vous faire une idée des conditions météo, qui se résument tout simplement en “vent + froid + sable + poussière”, mais que notre ami d’Ornithondar a très bien expliqué ici. Jamais eu aussi froid au Sénégal… A peine 15 degrés au petit matin… suffisamment peu pour justifier au moins trois couches pour sortir.
Aussi vus dans le Djoudj, dans le désordre: les habituelles Grues couronnées, une ou deux Talèves d’Allen, deux couples d’Anserelles naines, Sarcelles d’hiver, Pie-grièches méridionales, Glaréoles à collier, Tarier d’Afrique, Prinia aquatique, Pygargue vocifère, Fauvette orphée, Alouettes calandrelles, et j’en passe. (Pygmy-Goose, Common Teal, Southern Grey Shrike, Collared Pratincole, African Stonechat, River Prinia, African Fish Eagle, Orphean Warbler, Short-toed Lark). Par contre peu de canards et très mauvaise visibilité sur le Grand Lac, mais Jean-Louis et Maha ont tout de même eu quelques Sarcelles marbrées deux jours plus tard, tout comme l’Outarde arabe et plein d’autres choses (Marbled Teal, Arabian Bustard).
Mais aussi Loup africain, Phacochères à volonté, un Crocodile du Nil, et pas moins de trois Pythons de Seba pour le grand bonheur de tout le monde mais peut-être surtout pour mes amis Jean-Louis et Maha, à peine arrivés au Sénégal.
Passons maintenant au PNLB, ou l’on a passe deux nuits dans notre lodge favori au Senegal: le Zebrabar, niche entre lagunes et ocean, un petit havre de paix qui invite à la relaxation et au far niente… si ce n’était pour tous les oiseaux qu’il y a à découvrir! Même le jour de Noël on ne chôme pas, bien au contraire: en fin de matinee je passe d’abord à la STEP de St. Louis qui comme toujours grouille d’oiseaux, dont le Prinia aquatique, la Rousserolle des canes, plusieurs centaines de Dendrocygnes veufs et fauves tout comme quelques Canards souchets, et une bonne diversité de limicoles (River Prinia, Greater Swamp Warbler, White-faced & Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Northern Shoveler). Mais surtout, je tombe sur une belle surprise sous la forme d’une Marouette de Baillon que je lève en bordure du sentier entre les deux plans d’eau principaux. Et que j’aurai ensuite le plaisir d’observer et de photographier pendant plus d’une demie heure – quel bonheur! Seulement ma deuxième obs de l’espèce, mais bien meilleure que la première, il y a près de 10 ans aux Pays-Bas.
Au retour de la STEP, brève escale au bord de la piste qui mène au Niokobokk: une Pie-grièche mériodionale (ou doit-on dire Pie-grièche du désert maintenant? voir cet article sur Ornithondar). J’essaierai de revenir sur la question des (sous-)espèces en 2018…
En fin d’après-midi, je pars dans la plaine et la brousse derrière Mouit, là où j’avais eu entre autres Outarde de Savile, Coucou-geai, Oedicnème tacheté et cie. lors de mes précédentes visites. Parcourant la steppe à la recherche de fauvettes (le site me semble idéal pour la Fauvette à lunettes notamment) ou autres pipits, je tombe sur ce Hibou des marais – le sixième au moins depuis début novembre au Sénégal, confirmant ainsi le petit (?) afflux qui a visiblement lieu encore en ce moment. Combien passent inaperçus? J’ai donc une fois de plus dû mettre à jour l’article que j’y avais consacré il y a quelques semaines, avec l’image en plus et quelques obs supplémentaires (dont une de la lagune de Somone).
Ci-dessous le biotope:
Ensuite, après un crochet par Lompoul (Outarde de Savile, Oedicneme tacheté, Petit Moineau, Guêpier d’Orient et j’en passe; Savile’s Bustard, Spotted Thick-knee, Bush Petronia, Little Green Bee-eater), on pose les valises au Dalaal Diam près de la lagune de Somone.
Là, j’en profite pour retourner dans mon coin à Engoulevents à balanciers: rien vu! Ils ont dû repartir sous d’autres cieux. Curieusement, comme en octobre, une Bondrée (Honey Buzzard) me passe par-dessus la tête en filant vers le sud. Vu le plumage c’était un autre individu qu’en octobre, un jeune individu assez roux. Et à la place des Petits-ducs africains, cette fois ce sont au moins deux Chevêchettes perlées (Pearl-spotted Owlet) qui se font entendre de nuit (et parfois de jour) dans le jardin du lodge. Une Cigogne noire (Black Stork) survole le site, un Busard cendré chasse en bordure de la lagune, des centaines de Moineaux dorés du Soudan se mêlent aux Travailleurs a bec rouge et autres tisserins. Et curieusement toujours, je trouve deux Hypolaïs pâles (Eastern Olivaceous Warbler) non loin de la zone où j’avais déjà observé cette espèce peu connue en Sénégambie, en mars 2016. Hiverneraient-ils dans le secteur? Les deux oiseaux évoluaient ensemble et étaient peut-être en couple, à moins qu’il ne s’agisse de deux mâles se disputant un buisson stratégique… Quoiqu’il en soit, l’identification était relativement simple car les deux oiseaux hochaient activement la queue tout en ouvrant les ailes vers le bas, et la structure (notamment le bec plus fin) et les critères du plumage concordent; le chant semblait aussi assez différent de l’Hypolaïs obscure – je dois encore traiter et analyser les quelques prises de son, qui je l’espère ne seront pas trop affectés par le vent.
Point de photos de Popenguine à part un jeune Circaète Jean-le-Blanc (Short-toed Eagle) un peu flou, mais à signaler notamment neuf ou dix Hirondelles de rochers (Crag Martin), deux Monticoles bleus (Blue Rock Thrush), quelques discrets Bruants d’Alexander (Gosling’s Bunting), 4-5 Beaumarquets melba, 2-3 Sporopipes quadrillés (Speckle-fronted Weaver). Visite depuis Guéréo, hier matin 29/12. Au retour, on passe par le Lac Rose, ce qui permet d’ajouter le Goéland d’Audouin à la liste.
Voilà pour ce tour d’horizon, pas si rapide finalement.
Prochaine expédition: la moyenne vallée du fleuve, dans une semaine à peine. Avant cela, on va essayer de profiter des quelques jours de congés restants pour passer au Technopole, les steppes du Lac Rose ou encore la lagune de Yene.