Northern Specials (Part II)
This is the second (and last) installment of the report on a trip to the middle Senegal valley, now more than three weeks ago. If we find time we’ll do a few more posts on some of the specials that we found during this mini expedition to a rarely visited part of Senegal – status & identification of Seebohm’s Wheatear (pictured above) and of “Greenland” Northern Wheatear, a flock of intriguing swifts near Gamadji Sare, Southern Grey Shrike subspecies, and maybe more to follow. For now, here are just some of the highlights of days 2 & 3.
Up at the crack of dawn, we returned the Doué river bank – our small hotel was located right behind it, so we’d literally walk out of the back door and birding could start straight away. First up were a flock of swifts that we’d seen the previous evening and that seemingly came to spend the night in or on the cliffs. More on these later – they’re a bit of a mystery for now. Next, one of our “targets” that we hadn’t seen the previous days: a group of Fulvous Babblers! Really cool birds to watch as they made their progress from one bush to another, looking for food by meticulously inspecting each corner – always with a bird on the look-out, prominently perched on a nearby bush or tree.
We finally found an Isabelline Wheatear, a fairly approachable typical individual right by the river bank. Doesn’t seem to be a common species, even this far north!
This Hoopoe of the local senegalensis subspecies was one of several singing birds in the area. Other notable birds here included three Knob-billed Ducks, and again a few Cricket Warblers just like the previous day. And an impressive labyrinth of Pale (= African Sand) Fox burrows, probably shared with African Wild Cats – a species we’d got a glimpse of the previous day, on the Senegal river bank near Bokhol.
We then proceeded onto Podor, with a bit of roadside birding en route (Hamerkop being the most notable). Booted Eagle, more Subalpine and Orphean Warblers (though still no Moltoni’s!), yet another Southern Grey Shrike and a few other species were seen on the floodplain to the NE of this former colonial outpost along the Senegal river. The plain next to the air strip, wrapped by the curves of the Senegal river, is the northernmost location in Senegal, so we expected to find some more Saharan migrants, especially given the cold weather of the previous couple of weeks… but didn’t see much out of the ordinary. Several Red-chested Swallows in the old part of town, along the quay, suggest that the species may now be regular here as well, continuing its expansion along the Moyenne Vallée (a few others were noted during our trip).
A couple of stops along the way were quite productive, and included Spotted Redshank (a species I don’t get to see often near Dakar), Marsh Sandpiper and a few other waders such as Little Ringed and Kittlitz’s Plovers, and Bonelli’s Warbler.
Next target: a large pond near Thillé Boubacar, one of the only proper wetlands we’d visit during our trip. The seasonal lake is fringed by extensive carex growth which just like the numerous water lilies provides ample cover for a range of birds: at least 13 African Pygmy-Geese, several Northern Shovelers and Garganeys, African Swamphen, and various waders including Greater Painted-Snipe. A few Collared Pratincoles and several hirundines were hunting over the area.
Time to make our way back to the Lower Senegal valley… though not without a stop at the Ndiael reserve, which although it didn’t hold very many birds was a real pleasure to visit again, my first since 2014. After a while we reached the Nyeti Yone marigot, which was teeming with various waterbirds including a large flock of Black-crowned Night-Herons. The fringes attracted quite a few songbirds as well, including a very obliging Grasshopper Warbler, my first in Senegal, as well as a Montagu’s Harrier probably en route to a night roost. Short-toed Eagle seems to be particularly common here; the steppe also held a few Tawny Pipits and Greater Short-toed Larks (though alas no other larks). And of course Warthogs!
We paid an early morning visit to the Saint-Louis sewage works (the STEP), where we failed to relocate the Baillon’s Crake that I’d seen a couple of weeks earlier, but found a range of other good ones – Eurasian Coot, White-winged Tern, River Prinia, and more. A brief visit to the Gandiol lagoons was rather quiet, the highlight being a group of Patas Monkeys feeding on Barbary Figs.
On the way back, Filip and I had another Booted Eagle (the fourth of the trip, incl. one dark morph in the Ndiael), a few more vultures, and most surprisingly a Mottled Spinetail – roughly in the same location, between Louga and Gueoul, where I’d already suspected seeing it on our northbound journey three days earlier. A proper northward “range extension”, beyond its regular range in Senegal, or was this just a wanderer? Time may tell… maybe. A pit-stop at forêt de Pout (Thiès) added Green-winged Pytillia to the trip list. At Technopole, along with the usual suspects the Iberian Chiffchaff was heard again, while Northern Gannets and a few skuas rounded off the total to nearly 200 species seen in just four days. I certainly hope to make it back to Dagana and Podor one day – so much to see and to explore!!
And we’re off to a good start… with a new species for Senegal
New Year, New Birds! Apparently I found another new species to Senegal – needless to say that this resulted in a rather successful day out birding. Which left me wondering, rather pointlessly, how many country firsts have been found on the first day of the year.
So I first went to Lac Rose, and more specifically the steppe to the NE of the lake as this area had produced a lot of good birds last winter, including three or even four Buff-breasted Sandpipers. I was keen to go back and see if any of the “specials” were around again this winter. One of the first birds I found in the short grass was Greater Short-toed Lark, so things were off to a good start.
As I started walking on the far end of the steppe, I found a very pale wheatear: a textbook Isabelline Wheatear, just like last year in January.
The same area held three Tawny Pipits and a few other birds, though not the hoped-for Temminck’s Coursers.
Towards the end of my visit I came across this Southern Grey Shrike – cool bird, but a bit too flighty to allow for decent pictures.
Also around were several Kittlitz’s Plovers (+ Common Ringed and Kentish on the lake shores), at least four Quailfinches thus confirming the species’ presence in the Niayes IBA, a Black-headed Heron, Vieillot’s Barbet dueting in the distance, and so on.
Next up: the Yène-Tode lagoon. While on my previous visit, barely two weeks earlier (17/12), there was still a good amount of water, by now the lake has all but dried up: just a little trickle here and a small pool there, with just a handful of Black-winged Stilts, Spur-winged Lapwings, a lone Knot, Common Sandpiper and a few other waders. With all the waterbirds gone, I didn’t think I’d see much on this visit, but was soon proved to be very wrong!
Shortly after getting out the car, I located a small flock of Yellow Wagtails feeding on a green patch in what used to be the lagoon just a few weeks earlier. A pipit amidst the wagtails was either going to be a Tree or (more likely) a Red-throated Pipit, so I got the bird in the scope… and was a bit puzzled at first that it didn’t fit either species?! As I approached, it flew off and called a few times, confirming my suspicion: a Meadow Pipit!! It landed a hundred meters or so further in more dense vegetation. I knew this was a good species for the country and wanted to get better views and maybe even a few pictures (I didn’t quite realise it had never been confirmed in Senegal before!), so I went after it, flushed it and again heard the diagnostic hurried hiist-ist-ist-ist flight call. It returned to the original spot, and this time round I got really good views plus a few record shots:
Note the dense streaking on a pale buffy background with streaks clotting together on middle of breast, general lack of warm tones (as would be the case for Tree Pipit), fine bill with diffuse yellowish base, absence of clear pale lines on the mantle (as in Red-throated), the “gentle” expression with fairly pale lores, an indistinct supercilium and narrow-ish submoustachial (what a word!) stripe. The rump was clearly unstreaked (thus ruling out Red-throated Pipit) and while I didn’t manage any good pictures of the hind toe, it did appear quite long and pictures show it to be only moderately curved (ruling out Tree Pipit). These pipits are no easy birds to identify on plumage, but luckily the call is so typical and unlike any other pipit that it allowed for a safe ID while I was watching the bird, and I was lucky to get a few decent shots. A few people have asked me to provide more pictures, so here they are – all are originals without any editing except for cropping.
This bird was obviously in a fresh plumage, and can be aged as a first-winter bird based on the shape and colour of the median coverts: the ‘tooth’ on the dark centre with a clear white tip (Svensson 1992) is quite visible in the pictures.
Meadow Pipit is of course a common species throughout much of Europe, be it as a breeding bird or on passage or as a winter visitor. Its non-breeding range covers western Europe and most of the Mediterranean Basin, extending along the Atlantic coast down to the Canary Islands and Morocco. In Mauritania it is considered to be scarce but regular, reaching as far as the Senegal river delta, more or less as shown on the map below (borrowed from xeno-canto). Surely it must occur at least irregularly in northern Senegal, given its status in nearby Mauritania?
While relocating the Meadow Pipit, I also flushed no less than eight Red-throated Pipits as well as three Common Quails. Two Collared Pratincoles were hanging out by the last puddles; the Marsh Harriers and most of the Ospreys are now gone, but there were still at least two Short-toed Eagles in the area, with another two along the track back to Rufisque. Two Mosque Swallow were also around, while two Zebra Waxbills were rather unexpected, given that they’re not supposed to occur in the Dakar region (see last year’s post on the sighting of a group at Technopole). Tawny Pipit was another addition to the site’s ever-growing list.
Following a very successful morning yesterday at Technopole (Short-eared Owl! Iberian Chiffchaff! Jack Snipe!) I stopped by to have a closer look at the numerous waders, given that yesterday I’d forgotten my telescope at home… Nothing out of the ordinary to report today, just tons of waders, gulls (incl. two Mediterranean Gulls) and lots of Caspian Terns (+150, and now also 27 Greater Flamingos (nine were present yesterday). And I relocated the Iberian Chiffchaff quite easily as it’s singing regularly, and tends to keep to a single bush – more on this in another post.
Oh and happy new year!