Lots going on at Technopole at the moment, and hardly any time to write… pretty much as usual.
So here’s a quick update and a few pics, starting with some of the highlights:
- The two obliging Buff-breasted Sandpipers are still present, seen each time in the area behind the fishermen’s cabin. The country’s 7th or 8th record, and also by far the longest staying birds.
- This may be getting boring now and a bit of a déjà-vu, but yet again a Lesser Yellowlegs showed up in Dakar. This one was photographed on 8/2/18 by J. Dupuy and posted on observation.org; as far as I know this is the 8th record for Senegal and the third for Technopole (after singles in August 2015 and January 2016). Yesterday morning, a visit with French birders Gabriel and Etienne allowed us to relocate the bird, a very nice adult coming into breeding plumage:
- Almost just as good, and another first for Technopole (232 species on the list now), was this Common Shelduck – not totally unexpected given the small influx that took place this winter, but still a very good record and always nice to see this pretty duck showing up on my local patch. Unlike its name suggests, it’s definitely not common in Senegal, as there appear to be only about nine previous (published) records, two of which were also obtained this winter.
- Along the same lines, another scarce species showed up at Technopole recently, possibly still the same as the one I saw at the end of December: a Jack Snipe on 12 & 19/2. Only a few Garganeys are present at the moment, but Northern Shovelers are still numerous these days. At east three Eurasian Teal were with the preceding species (two males on 27/10, and a pair on 10/2).
- Remember that influx of Short-eared Owls? Well it looks like it’s not finished yet, with the discovery of no less than seven (maybe even more!) Short-eared Owls roosting together, on 3/2, by Edgar and Jenny Ruiz (at least two birds were still in the same place on 18/2).
Switching categories now – ring reading! Even with such a diversity and sheer numbers of ducks, waders, terns, gulls to go through, we’re still paying attention to ringed birds. And making very modest contributions to our knowledge of migration strategies, survival rates, and much more – one bird at a time. Since the start of the year we’ve been able to read about 50 rings of more than 40 different birds, mostly Audouin’s, Lesser Black-backed and Slender-billed Gulls, but also a few more original species:
- The flock of 170-180 Avocets that are still present contains at least two colour-ringed birds, both from SW Spain where they were ringed as chicks in… 2005! That’s nearly 13 years for both birds – a respectable age, though it seems that this species can live way longer that that: the record for a British (& Irish) Avocet is nearly 24 years (impressive… though not quite as much as a that 40-year old Oystercatcher!). Interestingly, “RV2” had already been seen at Technopole five years ago, by Simon, but no other sightings are known for this bird.
- A few Black-tailed Godwits are still around though the majority has now moved on to the Iberian Peninsula from where they will continue to their breeding grounds in NW Europe. Reading rings has been difficult recently as birds tend to either feed in deeper water, or are simply too far to be read. This one below is “G2GCCP”, a first-winter bird that hatched last spring in The Netherlands and which will likely spend its first summer here in West Africa. Note the overall pale plumage and plain underparts compared to the adult bird in the front, which has already started moulting into breeding plumage.
- Mediterranean Gulls are again relatively numerous this winter, with some 8-10 birds so far. As reported earlier, one bird was ringed: Green RV2L seen on 21 & 27/1, apparently the first French Med Gull to be recovered in Senegal.
- The Caspian Tern “Yellow AV7” is probably a bird born in the Saloum delta in 2015 – awaiting details.
- The regular Gull-billed Tern U83, ringed as a chick in 2009 in Cadiz province, seems to be pretty faithful to Technopole: after four sightings last winter, it’s again seen on most visits since the end of January.
A morning out to Lac Rose on 11/2 with visiting friends Cyril and Gottlieb was as always enjoyable, with lots of good birds around:
- The first Temminck’s Courser of the morning was a bird flying over quite high, uttering its typical nasal trumpeting call. The next four were found a little further along, while yet another four birds were flushed almost from under the car, allowing for a few decent pictures:
- The now expected Greater Short-toed Larks were not as numerous as last year, with a few dozen birds seen, sometimes side by side with Tawny Pipit. No Isabelline nor any Black-eared Wheatears this time round, but one of the Northern Wheatears was a real good fit for the leucorrhoa race from Greenland (& nearby Canada and Iceland).
- As usual, a few Singing Bush Larks were about, though not very active and as always quite difficult to get good views of as they often remain close to cover, even sheltering under bushes.
- Quite surprisingly, we saw lone Sand Martins (twice), a House Martin, and especially Red-rumped Swallow – the latter a long-awaited addition to my Senegal list. Already on the move, or are these hirundines overwintering in the area?
- A final stop on the edge of the plain, where the steppe transitions into the dunes on one side and a seasonal pond (now dry) on the other. Here we found a couple of species that I’d seen in the same spot before, particularly two that have a pretty localised distribution in western Senegal it seems: Yellow-fronted Canary, and Splendid Sunbird. Also seen here were another Red-necked Falcon, Mottled Spinetail, Vieillot’s Barbet, etc.
- And plenty of gulls by the lake! First time I see this many gulls here, with at least 800 birds, mainly Audouin’s (ca. 350) and some 500 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Lots of ringed birds of course, but most were too far and we didn’t take the time to go through the entire flock.
And elsewhere in Dakar…
- A “Pallid Heron” Ardea (cinerea) monicae was found by Gottlieb and Cyril at Parc de Hann on 13/2 (but not relocated yesterday…). A rare Dakar record!
- Seawatch sessions at Ngor continue to deliver good species, most notably good views of several European Storm-Petrels these past couple of weeks. Lots have been seen along the Petite Cote (Saly, Somone, Toubab Dialaw) recently, and especially at the Gambia river mouth where several dozen birds were counted.
As if one Nearctic wader weren’t enough, today I was lucky to find two transatlantic vagrant species. We had planned a family weekend at Lac Rose which we haven’t visited in a long time, but a change in plans meant that we had to cancel our reservation at the Gite du Lac Rose. As I had my mind set on a few sites that I wanted to explore near Lac Rose, I decided to make the trip there this morning – and wasn’t disappointed!
I’ll report on some of the more interesting sightings in an upcoming post (think Tawny Pipit, Singing Bushlark, Brown Babbler etc.), but for now I just want to share a few pictures of no less than three BUFF-BREASTED SANDPIPERS. I found these pretty birds while scanning a grassy plain where I’d seen a few Kittlitz’s Plovers, 32 to be precise, while on my way back to the lake (I’d been exploring the area to the north-east of the lake). The sandpipers appeared to loosely associate with this flock, and were constantly feeding in hurried fashion. I was of course hoping to find something special in this area, say a Cream-coloured Courser that came down with the cold weather of the last few days, or more Greater Short-toed Larks, but didn’t think I’d come across three of these beauties.
Could they be new arrivals, or have they been hanging around here for a while now? It may well be that they end up spending a few weeks in the area, given the late date for passing migrants, plus the habitat here seems to be just perfect for this species, and definitely more typical than the mudflats at Palmarin where we found Senegal’s second Buff-breasted Sandpiper barely three weeks earlier. In fact, could it be that this is exactly the same spot where the country’s first record was obtained in April 1985?
Getting decent pictures was tricky – first because of the distance (I spotted the group while counting the plovers, from the car), then because of the wind and especially the restlessness of all three birds, which just wouldn’t stop moving. The picture above is the only one of reasonable quality that shows all three birds together, and it quite nicely illustrates today’s windy conditions.
The obliging sandpipers allowed for a fairly close approach, up to approx. 20 meters at times, and the only time they flew up was when a local dog – perhaps realising that I was somehow particularly interested in these three little birds – decided to start chasing the sandpipers! Luckily it lost interest after a couple of minutes, and the trio settled again and continued feeding.
All content to have found not one but three American sandpipers close to home, and wondering just how many vagrant waders show up in Senegal every year, I decided to make a real quick stop at Technopole on the way back home. Main purpose was to check whether I could relocate last week’s Jack Snipe, but of course things rarely go according to plan here… This time, while doing a quick scan of the waders behind the golf club house, a fairly dark Pluvialis plover caught my attention. It was partially concealed in a group of Black-tailed Godwits, but the contrasting plumage with a pale supercilium, dark cap and obvious “smudge” across the breast all shouted American Golden Plover!
I eventually managed to get better views, including of the wing tip, revealing an important primary projection and primaries extending beyond the tail tip. Getting good views was tricky but I ended up getting a few usable pictures, which I thought at the time should be sufficient to document this potential 10th record for Senegal and 4th for Technopole, if I counted correctly.
However… looking back at these pictures now more than a year later (I’m updating this post in April 2018), I’m much less confident and I feel that the bird is too grey, too bulky and especially the bill is too heavy for American Golden Plover. Probably a slightly unusual Grey Plover after all?
No more time to go look for the snipe, though as it turned out I ended up getting back home more than an hour later than planned thanks to two flat tires which took a while to get fixed at a local vulcanisateur in nearby Pikine. Surely the odds of getting two flat tires at the same time (and obviously with just one spare tire in the boot) are close to those of finding an American wader species in Senegal… lucky day!
I won’t be able to return to either site before the end of the year, but it may well be that both the sandpipers and the plover stick around for a while.
To be continued, hopefully.
…and continued it has! A few days ago (this edit was made on 25.12) , I learned that Frederic Bacuez (ornithondar) found a Buff-breasted Sandpiper on 8.12 though it was positively identified only on 21.12 when Fred saw it again in the same spot, in the lower Senegal delta close to St. Louis. Which means that in the space of 4 weeks, a total of 5 of these sandpipers were spotted in Senegal, bringing the total to 4 national records. Real influx, or just pure luck (being in the right place at the right time kind of thing)? It doesn’t seem like autumn 2016 was particularly “good” for the species in Europe, but in France, about a dozen were reported in September – slightly more than usual I believe – though there were just two (at least) in the Azores this autumn. As usual, several were reported in Spain, including at least one in the Canary Islands (Tenerife, 29.10). The Netherlands had at least 8 records between the end of July and October (as per Dutch Birding).
Another addendum (Jan. 5th) is needed here as I just came across another Buff-breasted Sandpiper record, this one from 1994, and which was overlooked by Borrow & Demey (2015) – and which probably was published too late to include in Sauvage & Rodwell’s paper (1998). Indeed, five birds were seen near Palmarin on 2.12.94 by an expedition organised by the Danish Ornithological Society, as published in Malimbus 19:96-97: “Four of them were feeding together on short grassland and in some shallow ponds close to the shore. The fifth was observed simultaneously c. 1 km to the north, by other members of our group. The birds were very unafraid and we could approach to 20 m.” (Kenneth Bengtsson 1997: Some interesting bird observations from Mauritania and Senegal). Strictly speaking, these observations would qualify as two separate records, meaning that with this new information, we now have 3 old records (1965 and 1994) and 3 from 2016, bringing the national total to 6 records involving 11 birds.