Introducing what will hopefully be a useful resource to some readers out there and more generally for birders visiting Senegal or The Gambia!
Until recently, the only comprehensive sets of sound recordings of West African birds were limited to CD collections that are only available commercially, often at a high price – and some are no longer for sale. The most comprehensive of these is the African bird sounds CD set by sound recorder pioneer Claude Chappuis, published nearly 20 years ago accompanied by an extensive booklet, covering 1043 species. As Françoise Dowsett-Lemaire wrote in her extensive review in the African Bird Club Bulletin, this work marks “a landmark in African bioacoustic publications, one that will (and must) be widely used in the field and which will remain unsurpassed for many years to come.”
The only other relevant audio guide for West Africa published so far is the Bird Song of The Gambia & Senegal CD set produced by Cive Barlow and colleagues in 2002, covering 265 species, but it is no longer available it seems; similar initiatives have covered e.g. East Africa (East African Bird Sounds by Brian Finch) and Zambia (Bob Stjernstedt’s Sounds of Zambian Wildlife).
But who still uses CDs? Digital field guides under the form of Android apps or e-books have made their appearance in recent years, and these often contain a range of sounds for each species – Borrow & Demey’s Birds of Senegal and The Gambia being the most comprehensive, but it’s only available as an Apple Book for iOS devices.
And then there’s xeno-canto.
We’ve often referred to this amazing resource on this blog, but what exactly is xeno-canto? The open-access initiative called the xeno-canto project was established in 2005 by Xeno-canto Foundation, aiming to popularise bird sound recording worldwide, improve accessibility of bird sounds, and increase knowledge of bird sounds. Initially focused on the Neotropics, it soon expanded to all other world regions, including Africa in 2008.
The collection continues to grow substantially: at the time of writing there are 31,275 recordings of 1,974 species for Africa (just over two years ago, in October 2016 there were “just” 19,813 recordings of 1,841 species). Needless to say, much more than any of the audio guides mentioned above, “XC” truly revolutionised the way birders and researchers alike can freely share, access, and use sound recordings. All for free.
Now for the audio guide:
It’s actually a simple xeno-canto “set”, available through this link:
The selection of 746 sound recordings included in this set cover 450 species, or 66% of the total number recorded in Senegal (677). This is about three quarters of the 600 or so regular species in the country, i.e. excluding vagrants and birds with uncertain status. Vagrants as well as scarce species that typically do not usually call or sing when encountered in Senegal (e.g. Honey Buzzard), or otherwise silent non-breeding visitors (e.g. harriers and other raptors, Palearctic ducks, storks, seabirds), were not included in the set.
There are of course still a few missing species, including several for which there are no recordings at all available on xeno-canto, most notably White-crested Tiger Heron, Beaudouin’s and Brown Snake Eagles, Denham’s Bustard, Cassin’s Honeybird, African Hobby, Sennar Penduline Tit and Crimson Seedcracker. Hopefully these will be added in the near future, in which case I will of course add them to the set. Likewise, for others such as Greater Painted-Snipe (no recordings from Africa on xeno-canto!), Red-headed Quelea and a few other scarce songbirds there are no decent recordings.
The sounds included in this set were for the main part recorded in Senegal or The Gambia, and where not possible I tried to prioritise recordings from neighbouring countries. This is relevant for particular subspecies that show vocal differences between taxa, but also because there may be regional dialects within populations. I chose to include my own recordings where possible, simply because I’m in full control of these and can make sure that sound types, subspecies and other attributes are appropriately registered, and these sounds definitely won’t be deleted.
Do keep in mind that many species have a large repertoire of call types – advertising song, territorial song, subsong, contact call, flight call, warning calls, etc. – and not all are represented in this collection. Also, some species exhibit a great deal of individual variation, and then there’s those that weave in mimicry of other species such as robin-chats. Additional details on behaviour, habitat, background species and other relevant information are provided for many of the recordings.
The recording set is accessible to anyone – no app, no account needed – from any internet -enabled device, while recordings can be downloaded as mp3 files for offline use (but please… take it easy on the “tape-luring”, i.e. attracting birds with playback of their calls or song as a means to see the bird). Thank you xeno-canto.
Please do note the Creative Commons license which stipulates that material can be freely redistributed with modifications and for non-commercial purposes, with acknowledgement of authorship (or “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike”, CC BY-NC-SA). Some recordings by other recordists may be published under a slightly different CC license.
Using the audio guide is pretty easy:
- Go to this URL: www.xeno-canto.org/set/2242
- Browse the list of species, by searching on the vernacular or scientific name (note that xeno-canto is available in many languages: scroll to the bottom of the page to switch to another language). See sample screenshot of a search for sunbirds here.
- Change the format of the list if a format other than “Concise” is preferred (Detailed, Codes, Sonograms)
- Download recordings as mp3 files, by clicking the download button
- For each species, access additional sounds, range map, and links to external resources (AVoCet, Macauley Library by the Cornell Lab, HBW, BirdLife, etc.)
Finally, while writing about bird sound recording I can’t not mention The Sound Approach collective which has done so much in recent years to put the importance of bird vocalisations in identification and taxonomy on the forefront, and to firmly establish birders’ interest in sound recording. It’s only after reading their highly acclaimed The Sound Approach to Birding (2006) that I started to better understand bird vocalisations and that I became a fairly active sound “recordist”. Still one of my favourite bird books! Maybe one of these days I’ll write up something about sound recording and sound birding. After all, up to 80% of birdwatching is actually… bird listening!
Une compilation de sons d’oiseaux du Sénégal, ce “jeu” xeno-canto contient des enregistrements de chants et différents types de cris pour une sélection d’espèces, soit 746 enregistrements couvrant 450 espèces. Les visiteurs rares et les migrateurs qui sont généralement silencieux dans les quartiers d’hivernage ne sont pas inclus. Il manque bien sûr plusieurs espèces, mais on espère que des enregistrements pour celles-ci deviennent prochainement disponibles et on les ajoutera alors au jeu. De même, plusieurs espèces existent bien dans la collection xeno-canto mais il n’y a pas actuellement des enregistrements de bonne qualité.
La plupart des enregistrements proviennent du Sénégal ou des pays voisins, et pour l’essentiel il s’agit de mes propres prises de son. A noter que de nombreuses espèces ont un large répertoire de types de sons (chant territorial, “subsong”, cri de contact, cri de vol, cris d’alarme, etc.), et que toutes ne sont pas représentées dans cette collection. En outre, certaines espèces présentent de nombreuses variations individuelles, puis il y a celles qui imitent d’autres espèces telles que les cossyphes. Des détails supplémentaires sur le comportement, l’habitat, les espèces en arrière-plan et d’autres informations pertinentes sont fournis pour de nombreux enregistrements.
Ce jeu d’enregistrements est librement accessible à chacun – pas besoin d’installer d’application, pas besoin de compte utilisateur – et ce depuis n’importe quel appareil avec connexion internet ; les prises de son peuvent être téléchargés en format mp3 pour utilisation hors connexion (mais attention de ne pas abuser de la repasse pour faire sortir les oiseaux !).
Veuillez noter la licence Creative Commons qui stipule que le matériel peut être librement redistribué avec des modifications et à des fins non commerciales, avec mention de l’auteur (ou “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike”, CC BY-NC-SA). Certains enregistrements d’autres auteurs peuvent être publiés sous une licence CC légèrement différente.
L’utilisation du guide audio est simple :
- Allez à la page www.xeno-canto.org/set/2242
- Parcourez la liste d’espèces, en cherchant sur le nom français ou scientifique (à noter que xeno-canto est disponible en plusieurs langues : allez jusqu’au bas de la page pour modifier la langue). Capture d’écran en guise d’exemple d’une recherche sur les souimangas ici.
- Modifiez le format de la liste si vous préférez un format autre que “Concis” (Détaillé, Codes, Sonogrammes)
- Téléchargez les enregistrements en format mp3, en cliquant le bouton de téléchargement
- Pour chaque espèce, accédez à des sons supplémentaires, la carte de répartition, et des liens vers des ressources externes (AVoCet, Macauley Library par the Cornell Lab, HBW, BirdLife etc.)
Last week’s school holidays and a cancelled road trip to the Gambia and Casamance (border closed to road traffic!) were a perfect opportunity to return to the Gandiol area, just south of Saint-Louis. We first stayed a couple of nights at the pleasant Niokobokk guest house, then 2 nights camping at our favourite Zebrabar. Rather than writing a long report, here’s an overview in pictures, in chronological order:
- Acacia bush between Gandiol village and Niokobokk: a Brubru (more heard than seen), a Yellow-billed Oxpecker feeding between a donkey’s ears, a busy pair of Northern Crombecs, 1 or 2 Woodchat Shrikes, numerous Common Whitethroats, several Common Redstarts, etc.
- Niokobokk: A (probable) Iberian Chiffchaff in the garden of the guest house. Poor picture, but the well marked supercilium, whitish belly, pale legs (compared to Common Chiffchaff), shortish primary projection (compared to Willow Warbler) are more or less visible here. Unfortunately this bird didn’t call or sing, so I’m not 100% certain about this bird’s ID even if plumage, location and date all point in the Iberian direction.
- Guembeul reserve: Daniel, Charlie and I paid an afternoon visit to Guembeul, where we were met by local guide Pape who just like on our first visit last year was very enthusiastic and obviously quite knowledgeable about the area’s bird- and wildlife. Of interest were +250 Avocets, a single Lesser Flamingo, +60 Greater Flamingos, 2 Little Terns… but also Warthog, Patas Monkey, Striped Ground Squirrel on the mammal front.
- An entire morning out in the field with Frédéric Bacuez, Saint-Louis resident (well, almost!) birder and blogger, was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip. Fred’s knowledge of the birdlife and more generally of the biodiversity, geography and culture of the region is unique, making it was most definitely a privilege to be out birding together. Even more so because our excursion was highly successful in finding our main target: the little-known and elusive Little Grey Woodpecker, of which Fred recently found an active nest in an impressive baobab, somewhere in the “arrière-pays gandiolais” south of the Guembeul special fauna reserve. His blog Ornithondar contains a number of posts on this find, including a comprehensive report of our excursion together. It only took a short wait for the tiny Sahelian Woodpeckers as they are sometimes called to appear near their favourite tree.
We enjoyed watching, photographing and recording a fine adult male with a female or young bird, staying closely together while feeding in the acacia trees. After a while, the latter flew onto the branch containing the nest hole. As it approached, just before entering the cavity, another young or female left the nest: it seems that the local family continues using their nest hole even after the young have fledged.
A recording of the male calling loud & clear followed by constant softer contact (or begging?) calls is available on Xeno-canto. Seems that my recording is the only one that is publicly available, as the species was so far not represented in the extensive sound library, neither is it available in the AVoCet nor the Macaulay libraries.
A supporting act of various Palearctic passerines – Common Whitethroats everywhere, a single Subalpine Warbler, Orphean Warbler, Common Redstart, Bonelli’s Warbler – and a few “good” local species – Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Little Tern (a presumed pair performing their aerial display), Little Green Bee-eater, Senegal Batis – further made our mourning out all the more enjoyable. A quick stop at the sewage ponds on the way back from Saint-Louis added a few more to the list, in particular River Prinia and Greater Swamp Warbler.
- Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie (aka PNLB): the usual suspects around Zebrabar: a good diversity of waders of all sorts (Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Curlew and Whimbrel, etc.), noisy Royal, Caspian, Gull-billed, Sandwich and Common Terns; Slender-billed, Grey-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls; Brown Babbler; Western Olivaceous Warbler; Little Weaver.
- Gandiolais bush east of Mouit village: a late afternoon visit produced another Orphean Warbler, at least a dozen or so Common Whitethroats feeding for the most part on “prickly pear cactus” (Barbary Fig), more Sudan Golden Sparrows, and so on.
- A quick early morning walk around Zebrabar produced more of the same, plus an adult Peregrine Falcon (one of very few raptors seen in the area), another White Wagtail, more Senegal Batises, and a Bar-tailed Godwit to mention but a few.
- The return journey to Dakar took us once again through vulture country: from Potou to roughly Mboro, sightings of Hooded, White-backed and to a lesser extent Ruppell’s Vultures were fairly regular albeit in small numbers. Also seen were a roadside European Roller – a nice change from the common Abyssinian Roller – and several Mottled Spinetails between Kebemer and Mboro. A quick stop near one of the small Mboro lakes, pictured below, provided a snapshot of the potential of this area which I hope to explore more in coming weeks or months: an impressive density of African Swamphen, African Jacana, and Moorhen was remarkable, while a White-faced Whistling Duck, a pair of Little Grebes, an Intermediate Egret, Squacco Heron, a Black-headed Heron, Black-winged Stilt, Wood Sandpiper, and Palm Swift added more flavour. The Black-headed Heron was all the more surprising as this was the 2nd of the trip, after one flying over the new Lompoul road on our way northward, while the species is not known to regularly occur in the Niayes stretch between Dakar and the Senegal River. Also on the way up on 30/3, a pair of Bearded Barbets near Gokho village (north of Lac Tanma) was of interest as there are apparently few records this far north.
All in all, about 135 bird species were seen during this trip, once again confirming the sheer diversity of this part of Senegal.