Last Sunday I had the opportunity to return to Lac Tanma, one of the Niayes wetlands of the Cap-Vert Peninsula just outside Dakar, though technically located in the Thiès region. Together with Paul Robinson I’d visited the site in November 2013 and was keen on checking out the site once again (see Paul’s post on our 2013 excursion, during which we found a number of interesting species, including one of Senegal’s very few confirmed breeding records of Knob-billed Duck).
Accompanied by Diemé, we set off at 6.30 and reached the lake about an hour later, shortly after sunrise and before the oppressive heat set in. We started by exploring the area to the north of the “bridge”, which held the usual Spur-winged Lapwings and Senegal Thick-knees, as well as a few Wattled Lapwings, a Western Marsh Harrier, a lone Yellow Wagtail and a small flock of Gull-billed Terns hawking insects, while White-faced Ducks and several groups of waders flew in from the coast towards the main lake. A handful of Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks, always unpredictable to find, were feeding out in the open, and a Yellow-bellied Eremomela was seen at close range – a rather unexpected record here as this is much more of a dry-country species which is mainly restricted to the northern half of the country (Sauvage & Rodwell (1998) mention just two records from the Dakar region).
It took a while to reach the main lake on the other side of the road, the vegetation being very dense, almost impenetrable at times. Singles of Woodchat Shrike, Melodious Warbler and Subalpine Warbler were the only Palearctic passerines encountered here. More numerous were local species such as White-billed Buffalo-Weaver (one of the baobab trees holds a colony, with several birds seen nest building), Black-crowned Tchagra, Woodland Kingfisher and Northern Red Bishop.
The lake itself was fairly empty even though the water level was lower than expected, given how much it has rained these past weeks. A nice surprise here was a pair of Black-crowned Cranes, which is probably a scarce migrant in this part of the country as it moves between its stronghold in the lower Senegal valley and the Saloum region and possibly further south. A few dozen Ruffs and a handful of Black-winged Stilts, Greenshanks, Common Redshanks and Wood Sandpipers were feeding along the shore. Eleven Garganeys were visible but many more may well have been present, hidden by the dense aquatic vegetation – and if it hadn’t been flying around, we surely would have missed out on Knob-billed Duck (one female: is it breeding again here?).
Conditions were too windy to make decent sound recordings today, so I reverted to the camera instead:
Finally, a few recent records from Dakar are worth mentioning here: a Yellow White-eye in the King Fahd (aka Méridien) hotel gardens on 7 October, where Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler and Subalpine Warbler were also present last week. Also noteworthy were three sightings of possibly the same juvenile Brown Booby flying past Club Calao at Ngor, and decent numbers of shearwaters (mainly Sooty) and Sabine’s Gulls from the same site, with respectively 44 and 34 migrating birds during just 1.5 hours of seawatching on 10 October. Oh and the usual Peregrine has returned to Ngor Diarama Hotel where it will likely spend the next few months (and what was probably another bird was at the Mamelles light house last Monday).
Sunday 30.10.2011 a group of us embarked on a day’s excursion to wetlands north of Dakar. Lac Tanma is one of the best sites for waterbirds near Dakar and, after Lac Retba (or Rose), it is the largest of the lakes of the Niayes Important Bird Area, comprising a number of lakes between Dakar and Fas Boye, along 80km of coast. It is a 1.5 to 2 hour drive from Dakar. One takes the N1 out of Dakar. At the N1/N2 junction take the N2 towards Thies. 10Km after the junction is a turning to the left, onto a laterite road, sign-posted to Bayakh and Kayar. At Bayakh (c8km), take a right turn at the main bus/taxi parking. If you want to check, ask for the road to Mboro. A further c12km reaches the lake, though it will only be visible most of the year from the road as dry mud. You can now walk on foot along the southern edge to the right of the road for 2-3km to the water or, turning right off the road just before the lake onto one of several pistes, follow the dry lake edge. Vehicle or cart tracks guide you. How far you can drive depends on the time of year and amount of rains. You should be able to drive to the open water, but some care is needed!
The direction of light can make birding difficult, with the sun in front of you. It is best to arrive as early (or late?) as possible and wander east along the lake edge, looking back at the birds. I cannot find much published data for the lake. It is included in the annual January waterbird counts and the Important Bird Area citation mentions its use by a few thousand greater flamingo.
Regular observations would no doubt be interesting and produce rarities. Compared to Lac Retba, with its tourists and salt industry, this is a quiet lake with a few cattle herders and a beautiful setting in a basin surrounded by large, old baobabs.
We made no attempt to count birds or check everything, so numbers are very approximate. The first identifiable waterbirds were greater flamingos, with a few hundred, mostly grey juveniles. A few hundred ducks were mainly garganey, with some shoveler. Probably a few thousand waders provided a pleasant mix of species; mainly ringed plover, kentish plover, kittlitz plover, ruff, black-winged stilt, curlew sandpiper, wood sandpiper, avocet, dunlin and little stint. A couple of hundred terns and gulls were mostly gull-billed tern and slender-billed gull, with a few foraging black and white-winged black terns together. A single black stork was the most interesting of the larger waterbirds. A few marsh and montagu’s harriers hunted the lake edges and ospreys were overhead.
We next turned round and drove, via Barakh, to the busy fishing town of Kayar for lunch. On entering the town, if you keep driving along the main road parallel to the beach, just north of the town is a small campement with some shade. From here you see the start of the Côte Sauvage; some 120km of uniform habitat with narrow, wind-swept sandy beaches, backed by dunes planted with the introduced Asian/Australian tree Casuarina equisetifolia. It is possible to drive along the beach with a 4×4. If the small section at Kayar is typical, the whole length is likely important for its numbers of sanderling and Sandwich tern, whilst other typical species of sandy beaches along the sea’s edge were ruddy turnstone, whimbrel, grey plover and oystercatcher. Two Audouin’s gulls, both birds in their second year, were early returning birds. At Tanji Bird Reserve in the Gambia Clive Barlow reported his first returning birds today also.
The road from Kayar back ot Bayakh passes through the village of Mbaouane after 5km and there is a large lake here, visible from the road, on the left -hand (eastern) side. You can access it by walking down through cultivated fields. There were many more waders here and a few ospreys, but we took only a brief look in the increasing heat and saw no new species before the return drive to Dakar.
Text; Paul & photos; Flemming.