Last winter, I had the chance to have a closer look at a species that is relatively little-known, particularly on its wintering grounds: Seebohm’s Wheatear, a former subspecies of Northern Wheatear that was fairly recently (though long overdue it seems) recognised as a full species by many authors, though surprisingly not yet by IOC. These neat little birds have a pretty restricted breeding range, only occurring in the Atlas mountains of Morocco and Algeria. A couple of years ago I had the chance of seeing these birds for the first time, more precisely in May on their breeding grounds at Oukaimeden, birding hotspot incontournable of the Moroccan High Atlas. As such it was particularly nice to meet up with them on their Sahelian wintering grounds a few months later, during our memorable trip up north in January 2018.
Wheatears can be tricky birds to identify, with several species often posing a bit of an ID challenge, and Seebohm’s is no exception. However, nothing much has been written about the identification of first-winters and adults in non-breeding plumage¹, and depictions in standard field guides may be misleading or even incorrect. In an effort to further our knowledge of the species, we thought it may be useful to summarise what we know based on our limited experience with Oenanthe seebohmi in the field here in Senegal, combined with a brief study of available pictures. Note though that by no means is what follows necessarily a comprehensive overview; additions and corrections are most welcome as usual.
A second blog post will focus on the status & distribution of the species.
Identification in winter
While straightforward to recognise in spring, Seebohm’s Wheatear on its Sahelian wintering grounds can be difficult to identify, mainly because they may superficially resemble Desert or Black-eared Wheatear, while young birds and some females may look like Northern Wheatear. We’ll start by reviewing field characters as found in the most relevant literature: mainly the excellent Robins and Chats (Clement & Rose 2015), Nils van Duivendijk’s Advanced Bird ID Guide (2010), and the recently published seminal reference guide by Shirihai & Svensson (Handbook of Western Palearctic Birds: Passerines, 2018). Let’s see how these can be applied to some of the pictures of presumed Seebohm’s taken in winter.
- Size & overall impression are very similar to Northern Wheatear, though it is slightly smaller than that species – something that’s not necessarily obvious in the field unless maybe in direct comparison to nominate Northern; it’s clear though that Seebohm’s definitely doesn’t look larger than Northern as is the case with ‘Greenland Wheatear’ (= ssp. leucorhoa) where the size difference is usually obvious in the field.
- Structure is typical of wheatears and does not appear to be very different from Northern either; the wing is supposedly slightly shorter, though this is not really obvious in the field, several of the pictures presented here actually show rather slender long-winged birds with an important primary projection, rarely giving a more compact appearance. On most pictures presented here we can however verify that the primary projection is slightly less than the length of exposed tertials (Shirihai & Svensson).
- The bill and tail are said to be “rather longer” than Northern, but these differences are again likely of little use in the field, and I’d imagine that there’s some overlap between species – more measurements on museum skins are likely needed to confirm this.
- In all plumages, the black terminal tail band is narrower than in Northern Wheatear (on outer tail feather, ca. one third of the length of the feather is black), though yet again this is not a very useful field character unless good pictures of the tail are obtained.
- Another key difference is that the underwing coverts are entirely black in males, while in females there are pale streaks on dark underwing coverts, unlike in Northern.
Adult and second-year males are generally straightforward to identify in autumn and winter, when they largely retain their distinctive head pattern, only to a limited degree obscured by pale fringes, combined with very pale underparts and “largely greyish or slighly sandy-grey” upperparts. As a result, adult males should be easy to pick out in autumn and winter, despite not showing the crisp black/grey/white plumage typical of spring males. Still, they remain very distinctive and are unlikely to be confused with any other species, such as this one from the end of March on wintering grounds in southern Mauritania, photographed by the late Robert Tovey (Birding for a lark blog):
The two birds below were photographed in Nouakchott by Rob Tovey, at the end of September and mid-October, respectively. Both are clearly males, and while not very grey, I believe both are 1st year birds (note moult limit on first bird). However, ageing of these birds “requires close inspection of moult and feather wear and pattern in wing” (Shirihai & Svensson) and is often not straightforward – more on this below. This bird on Afbid from January near Richard-Toll, photographed by Nik Borrow, clearly shows an adult-type male, with a largely grey crown, mantle and scapulars.
There appears to be some confusion about the plumage of adult females in the literature, with some authors only mentioning that adult females have a “(dark) grey mottled throat” (van Duivendijk), whereas Svensson in the Collins Bird Guide writes that “females and imm. are often inseparable from [Northern] Wheatear unless showing hint of mottled grey throat (rare though)”. Clement & Rose provide illustrations of an adult male and a dark-throated adult female, but don’t bother illustrating typical females, nor do they show any birds in autumn and winter. They do note that females are variable, ranging from closely resembling typical females of Northern Wheatear, to showing brown ear-coverts and having black or blackish-brown lores to chin and throat tipped with buff, grey or sandy colour – thus more resembling the males in head pattern. Not very clear!
Luckily, Shirihai & Svensson are more precise, stating that adult females are “almost identical to ad. f. (and young m.) libanotica Northern Wheatear, and contrary to previous descriptions nearly always lacks dark bib.” Black- or grey-throated females are thus considered rare. They go on to describe the upperparts as “largely pale grey (with limited sandy-brown suffusion) including on crown. Usually has duskier or almost blackish lores and ear-coverts; whitish supercilium often narrow and short, hardly extending to forehead […].”
Here’s a typical female in spring on the breeding grounds at Oukaimeden, and this picture on Afbid is from May at Ifrane. Adult females in autumn are said to be much as in spring but warmer.
The ageing criteria for first-winter birds, according to van Duivendijk, are as in Pied Wheatear [everyone knows these criteria by heart, right?!]: primary coverts with slightly frayed broad white fringes (ad autumn: often narrower and sharply bordered); primaries brown to brown-black often with pointed and worn tips; pale fringes to secondaries complete and cream-coloured; sometimes moult limit visible in greater coverts. There you go, just in case you’d forgotten. Ageing is thus largely based on moult limits, with first winter birds retaining juvenile primaries, primary-coverts and outer greater coverts, whereas in adults these are evenly fresh.
Back to Shirihai & Svensson, who state that first-winter males are “more female-like and rather feature-less, but still approaches fresh ad. m., having greyer upperparts and darker face with exposed black mottling especially on sides and lower throat; warmer below (Variation poorly known and requires more study)”, and that first-winter females have the “least contrasting plumage, with paler face pattern, and browner/duller ear-coverts.”
Let’s put the above to the test on some of our pictures from Senegal!
The following four photographs show three different birds from January; all are presumed to be first-winter males with varying levels of black extent on the face and throat. I initially assumed these to be adult males, but judging by the description of non-breeding males (by Shirihai & Svensson mainly) and compared to some of the pictures presented earlier on and those in Förschler et al., I now tend to label them as first-winter birds – mainly because of the overall sandy-coloured upperparts, mostly lacking grey tones. Again, keep in mind that ageing of these birds can be tricky and is not always possible! In the first bird, note the largely black throat and face appearing rather “smudged”, a fairly large white front merging into a clear whitish eyebrow extending well beyond the eye, and largely pale sand-coloured mantle and scapulars, the latter with a hint of light grey. The wings in the bird below appear relatively contrasted black and white, with extensive white fringes to the secondaries.
In this picture of the same bird, the greyish scapulars and some grey mottling on the back are more apparent:
This one taken earlier that same day in a different location shows a bird with less white on the chin and gives a very “cold” impression, though this is certainly exaggerated by the subdued early morning light. See also this picture of the same bird, as well as the second picture in this post (the one with spread out wings) which may well show the same bird, five weeks later in the same spot. Not sure about sex here – probably a male, but we probably can’t exclude a dark-throated female.
The same goes for this one from last December, taken by Wim van Zwieten near Podor. This bird also has fairly little black on the face but extensive pale fringes to greater and primary coverts as well as to secondaries, suggesting a first-winter male, though again not sure it can safely be sexed. These birds may be mistaken for Desert or Black-eared Wheatear (the black-throated form of which sometimes occurs in Senegal, though it’s probably rare), even by experienced birders.
The next bird gives a very pale impression, with uniform light sandy upperparts and a white lower breast, flanks, belly and vent. The upper breast are warmer tinged with a buffish wash extending down from the ear coverts, and so are the undertail coverts. The black or dark brown loral stripe is reminiscent of Isabelline Wheatear, but it has a narrow yet distinct supercilium both in front and behind the eye and has a different ‘jizz” and wing pattern than Isabelline. I’ve concluded that it’s a first-winter female, but as always would stand happy to be corrected. Either way, the very white underparts and pale upperparts stand out and should immediately point to Seebohm’s.
Of course, identifying a female or 1st winter bird in a vagrant context is something else. While not necessarily impossible, it will require a combination of characters as well as proper photographic documentation of underwing and tail pattern in particular. There have been at least two suspected birds in autumn in the UK but which could not be confirmed as definite Seebohm’s (read up more on these tricky birds here on Birding Frontiers). The first confirmed sighting for NW Europe was of a male in May 2017 in the Netherlands, a typical case of “overshooting” by North African or Mediterranean species during spring migration. Elsewhere in Europe, the species has been reported as a vagrant from Gibraltar, Italy, Malta, the Canary Islands.
Stay tuned for part II!
– Bram, with thanks to Frédéric, Simon, and to Wim for the use of his picture. And most importantly, a posthumous tribute to Robert Tovey who in a short few years made valuable contributions to our knowledge of birds in Mauritania, before unexpectedly passing away in September last year.
¹ Note (19.2.19): The only exception is actually a remarkable paper written by Mayaud in… 1951, in the French journal Alauda (19:88-96): Le plumage prénuptial d’Oenanthe oenanthe seebohmi (Dixon), in which the author provides a detailed description of birds in non-breeding plumage.
A visit to Popenguine nature reserve a couple of weeks ago quickly turned into a exciting few hours watching a good variety of raptors – something we’re not much used to in this part of Senegal, where there are few sites that are good for raptors, and most of the time anything else than a Yellow-billed Kite, Osprey or Hooded Vulture will qualify as a good record. Here’s a short overview, in order of appearance!
As always, several Ospreys were to be seen in the reserve; a few birds usually spend the night on the mighty baobabs that dot the Popenguine savanna, and all day long Ospreys can be seen flying around the cliffs or fishing out at sea. Later that same day at the lagoon just south of Toubab Dialaw, we had a good count of some 29 birds, all visible at the same time (Balbuzard). Popenguine of course also had a few Yellow-billed Kites patrolling the area (Milan à bec jaune).
As we were looking for a Common Rock Thrush we’d briefly spotted on a ridge ahead of the footpath, we noticed first an immature Peregrine Falcon flying around, then a European Hobby – the latter a scarce migrant through Senegal so always a good find. Hobby was already seen at Popenguine around the same time last year by Miguel. This time round it looked like it was an actively migrating individual, just like a Common Kestrel that briefly made an appearance shortly after (Faucons pèlerin, hobereau et crécerelle).
Next up was a Marsh Harrier circling in the distance, again probably a bird on its way to wintering grounds further south (Busard des roseaux). I’ve always thought that Popenguine would be a fairly strategic site to look for actively migrating raptors and other birds. Should be interesting to spend a few days here in October-November and February-March!
This Short-toed Eagle on the other hand was probably one of the 2-3 birds that typically spend the winter in the area around Popenguine and Guereo.
Far less expected than the previous species was an African Hawk-Eagle, spotted by Gabriel as it arrived from the north-east and made its way towards the cliffs, at one point circling together with a couple of Ospreys. Initially we weren’t quite sure about its identity and tentatively id’d this bird as a Bonelli’s Eagle, wondering whether a juvenile African Hawk-Eagle could be ruled out, and were a bit puzzled by the very pale appearance of this eagle. Luckily I managed a few record shots, a bit distant and hazy but they should do the trick. The plumage seemed to still be within the variation of worn juvenile Bonelli’s Eagle, but moult should not start until the second year and this bird shows clear moult contrast on with fresh inner primaries growing. Simon was the first to point out, after this post was originally published, that it looked more like African Hawk-Eagle. I eventually sent out the picture for comments, and Dick Forsman kindly responded, confirming that it’s an African Hawk-Eagle: “It is overall lighter below, the juvenile remiges (primaries + secondaries) are too light and too poorly barred below for a juv. Bonelli’s and the replaced inner primary shows just a dark tip without any further barring. Note also the translucent primaries in the images with blue sky, another pro-spilogaster feature.” Thanks Dick! (post updated Dec. 27)
African Hawk-Eagle is reasonable common it seems through the southern half of Senegal, and is a classic sighting e.g. in the Niokolo-Koba area. There are some records from the Saloum delta and even from the middle Senegal valley (as per Morel & Morel and Sauvage & Rodwell), but as far as I know this is the first from the Petite Côte.
I’m still hoping to see Bonelli’s Eagle one day in the Djoudj, Trois-Marigots or elsewhere in the Senegal valley, the only area with more or less regular records in winter (mainly by Frédéric, who year after year has documented the presence of a few birds around Saint Louis and who nicely summarised the current knowledge about this scarce species in West Africa, in this post on Ornithondar).
After we’d reached the top of the cliffs, next up was this Eurasian Griffon which appeared to be actively migrating along the coastline, just like a second bird we’d see a couple of hours later that same morning near Yène.
Barely a few minutes later, Gabriel strikes again with a young Lanner making a brief appearance, just as we were heading back towards the reserve entrance (Faucon lanier). That’s four species of falcons, not bad! In previous years we’ve also had Barbary Falcon near the cliffs, and surely Red-necked Falcon and Grey Kestrel must also occur at least occasionally, while in the wet season it may be possible to encounter African Hobby.
We thought we’d seen pretty much everything when at the last minute a Shikra was seen dashing over the pond (all but dry!), bringing our morning’s total to 11 birds of prey.
Besides all these hooked beaks, as always the nature reserve held quite a few other good bird, such as Gosling’s Bunting, Green-winged Pytillia, Sahel Paradise-Whydah, Blue Rock Thrush, and Northern Anteater Chat. In the end we saw two different Common (=Rufous-tailed) Rock Thrushes, a scarce migrant in Senegal, see this post on our first encounter with the species, in February 2016 at… Popenguine! Also a decent flock of Pallid Swifts and a few White-throated Bee-eaters, both pretty good bonus species, while two Pygmy Kingfishers including at least one dark-billed juvenile provided proof that the species is breeding here.
Complete eBird checklist available here.
The bird list for the Popenguine reserve now stands at some 198 species, at a minimum that is: I listed more than 20 other species as being most likely present, but which apparently remain to be confirmed. More on that over here.
Oh and then there were the butterflies – pure magic! Thousands and thousands of butterflies everywhere, especially along the track up the cliffs. With every footstep, small clouds of butterflies would explode, while a constant stream of butterflies was passing by the cliffs. Our visit clearly took place during peak migration season of Painted Lady which were the vast majority, and to a lesser extent some pieridae. And loads of dragonflies! Difficult to capture on camera but if you look carefully at the image below you’ll get a bit of a sense of what I’m trying to explain here.
Why would two Portuguese, a Mauritanian, a Cape-Verdian, a French, an American and a Belgian set off on a boat trip one morning in October? Seabirds of course! With Gabriel in town, Bruce over from the US, Miguel and Antonio as motivated as ever to get out of the office and to have some of their BirdLife colleagues strengthen their seabird id skills, it was time to organise our now annual autumn pelagic, on October 1st.
Conditions were perfect to get out on our small boat (organised through Nautilus Diving: merci Hilda!) though probably a bit too calm for active seabird migration. We chose to head straight west to the edge of the continental shelf, rather than try the “trawler area” off Kayar as this is quite a bit more distant from Ngor. Needless to say that expectations were high as is always the case during these rare opportunities to get close views of the treasured tubenoses – storm petrels, shearwaters – skuas and maybe some Grey Phalaropes or Sabine’s Gulls.
A Manx Shearwater zooming past the boat was one of the first pelagic species we got to see, followed by quite a few Sooty Shearwaters (Puffin fuligineux).
Further out, Wilson’s Storm Petrel became the dominant species, with a few dozen birds seen – and probably many more that went undetected – particularly around the upwelling area. Almost all were obviously actively migrating, and we managed to get some good views of several of them as they zoomed past our boat. Of course, several storm petrels remained unidentified, but we did manage to get decent views of at least two European Storm Petrels (though alas no pictures!). The toes projecting beyond the tail that are diagnostic of Wilson’s are more or less visible on the pictures below.
Up next: skuas, or jaegers as our American friends call them. We didn’t see many, with just three Pomarines and just as few Arctic Skuas, as well as an obliging Long-tailed Skua. The latter was an interesting bird that we aged as a third-summer moulting into third-winter plumage. It briefly joined two Pomarine Skuas (second-year birds?) allowing for nice comparisons of size and structure.
Rounding up our seabirds is this Red (Grey…) Phalarope (Phalarope à bec large), the only one we saw during the trip but somehow Bruce managed to get a picture:
As seems to be quite often the case during these pelagic trips, some landbirds were also encountered, in our case European Turtle Dove (Tourterelle des bois) of which we twice saw singles migrating over the ocean (in October 2016, the PAOC pelagic recorded at least three species of passerines, including a migrating Bluethroat). One of our doves had a very worn and messy plumage, probably a moulting young bird:
Our complete eBird checklist, expertly compiled by Miguel, can be found here. We really ought to add the Osprey that can just about be seen sitting on top of the Almadies lighthouse, but which was noticed only later on this neat picture by Bruce of the lighthouse – Africa’s westernmost building, constructed some time in the 19th century (precise date seems unknown?) on a reef that lies just off the Pointe des Almadies.
Many thanks to Antonio and Bruce for sharing their pictures!
Depuis un peu plus de deux mois on a repris nos habitudes au Calao de Ngor cet automne (ai-je vraiment arrêté depuis l’an dernier?), pour voir ce que donne le cru 2018 pour ce qui est de la migration d’automne des oiseaux de mer. Le printemps avait déjà été pas mal, avec entre autres de beaux passages de Sternes voyageuses et de Dougall, de Mouettes de Sabine, et quelques espèces plus rares comme le Fou à pieds rouges, le Puffin de Macaronésie / de Barolo ou encore le Puffin majeur. Ayant eu un peu plus de temps libre et moins de voyages que d’habitude, j’ai donc repris le suivi régulier depuis fin juillet. J’étais curieux notamment de mieux suivre les mouvements en août et septembre, et finalement j’ai un peu mieux pu suivre ces deux mois que l’an dernier: entre le 30/7 et le 30/9, j’ai pu assurer une présence lors de 41 jours, pour environ 55 heures de suivi (2017: 40.5 heures sur 31 jours). A propos de notre suivi de l’an dernier, un article sur le suivi de la migration en 2017 est en cours de rédaction et sera partagé ici en temps voulu!
Les années se suivent mais se ne ressemblent pas: certaines espèces sont visiblement plus communes certaines années, et les conditions météo varient pas mal également. Ainsi, le mois d’août 2018 a été marqué par plusieurs jours de vent favorable (= vent soutenu de l’ouest a nord-ouest), et notamment le Labbe à longue queue a été bien plus nombreux a passer devant les cotes dakaroises qu’en 2017 et 2016. Idem pour les Phalaropes à bec large qui comme le labbe voient eux aussi s’établir un nouveau record journalier.
Comme d’hab’, voici donc une liste comme toujours un peu longue et ennuyeuse, agrémentée de quelques photos d’archives.
Océanite de Wilson (Wilson’s Storm Petrel): au moins 159 oiseaux sont vus entre le 31/7 et le 23/8, avec un max. de 105 en 30′ de suivi le 13/8.
Puffin du Cap-Vert (Cape Verde Shearwater): 97 ind. passent le 11/8 en 2h40′, suivi d’un isolé sur place le lendemain et deux oiseaux le 20/8.
Puffin fuligineux (Sooty Shearwater): comme en 2017, les premiers oiseaux apparaissent des les premiers jours de septembre, mais cette année les effectifs restent très modestes jusqu’à fin septembre: seulement 87 oiseaux du 2/9 au 30/9 alors que dans la même période l’an dernier il en passent 393 pour un effort comparable.
Puffin des Anglais (Manx Shearwater): seuls six oiseaux sont détectés pour le moment, sans doute en raison de l’absence de bonnes conditions météo pour les puffins courant septembre, mois qui devrait marquer le pic du passage de cette espèce.
Puffin “d’Audubon” (Audubon’s Shearwater): à l’inverse, ce puffin généralement très pélagique a été vu bien plus que ces dernières années, avec 19 oiseaux pour le moment. Le premier oiseau passe le 11/8, puis le lendemain c’est un Puffin de Barolo qui est observé en migration active, assez près du rivage permettant son identification. Encore un Barolo ou Macaronésie le 28/8, et le 17/9 il y en a pas moins de 14 qui défilent en deux heures dont quelques groupes de 3-4 oiseaux migrant ensemble. Encore deux le 28/9, et peut-être qu’il en suivra encore quelques-uns dans les semaines à venir.
Fou de Bassan (Northern Gannet): un oiseau de 1ère année passe le 23/9 déjà (2017: premier le 18/9, puis un seul en octobre avant le véritable debut du passage début novembre).
Fou brun (Brown Booby): deux le 26 (un adulte et un imm.) et un imm. les 28 et 29/9 étaient probablement des oiseaux locaux en excursion de pêche depuis les îles de la Madeleine.
Comme je le disais dans l’intro, l’une des surprises de cette saison a été le passage important de Phalaropes à bec large (Red Phalarope) en août: alors que je n’avais noté aucun oiseau avant le 11/8, ce jour-la j’en dénombre pas moins de 825 en 2h40′ de suivi le matin, plus encore 35 en 40′ le soir – apparemment un nouveau record journalier pour le Sénégal, à en croire les chiffres a notre disposition. Plus rien les jours suivants, jusqu’au 18/8 lorsque quelques 65 oiseaux passent en deux groupes – toujours aussi difficiles à estimer! – 37 le 20/8, etc. jusqu’au 2/9. Encore 55 le 17/9, pour un total tout à fait honnête de 1256 oiseaux. Sans doute que plusieurs milliers sont passes au total, loin au large ou invisible entre les vagues. Parmi les autres limicoles, retenons le Courlis corlieu (Whimbrel) avec 415 ind., deux Barges rousses (Bar-tailed Godwit), 28 Huîtriers pies (Oystercatcher) dont 13 ce matin, deux groupes de Bécasseaux maubèches (Red Knot), quelques Tournepierres (Turnstone), un Combattant varié (Ruff), deux Grands Gravelots (Common Ringed Plover) et quelques Chevaliers gambettes et guignettes (Common Redshank & Common Sandpiper).
Mouette de Sabine (Sabine’s Gull): un avant-coureur passe le 30/7 déjà, constituant peut-être bien la premiere observation de juillet pour le site. Passage plus ou moins régulier bien qu’en effectifs très faibles – comme il se doit en août et septembre – du 11 au 22/8 lors d’une période de vents favorables, puis sept le 1/9 et en tout 31 en 2h45 de suivi les 17-18/9. Encore cinq le 24/9 puis plus rien depuis! On attendra donc le gros passage de la deuxième moitie d’octobre pour cette espèce. Peu d’autres laridés pour le moment, mais tout de même à signaler un Goéland leucophée adulte (ou presque) le 23/8.
- Sternes & Guifettes
Sterne naine (Little Tern): 129 individus pour le moment, soit le même ordre de grandeur que l’an dernier à la même periode (idem pour la Sterne caspienne (Caspian Tern), avec 27 oiseaux au compteur).
Guifette noire (Black Tern): avec 4402 oiseaux, c’est pour l’instant la deuxième espèce la plus nombreuse: pas mal d’oiseaux vers la mi-août, puis petit max. horaire de 460 le 18/9. Au moins une Guifette leucoptère (White-winged Tern) est identifiée le 11/8.
Une Sterne bridée (Bridled Tern) est vue en vol vers le NE le 9/8, suivi d’un individu vers le SW deux jours plus tard, et deux oiseaux (adulte et juv.) sur place le 22/8 – probablement des oiseaux ayant niche aux iles de la Madeleine ou au moins 3-4 couples ont été vus en juillet dernier. Plus surprenante, une jeune Sterne fuligineuse (Sooty Tern) passe vers le SW le matin du 17/9, ma première obs de l’espèce ici et en fait première obs tout court – coche √ 🙂
Sterne de Dougall (Roseate Tern): avec 133 Dougall dénombrés, on dépasse déjà d’un tiers l’effectif total de l’an dernier, avec un maximum de 41 oiseaux en 2h de suivi le 17/9. Toujours sympa de voir cette belle espèce, dont le statut de conservation en Europe est plutôt précaire avec des effectifs ne dépassant pas les 1900 couples au début des années 2000, essentiellement aux Açores et en Irlande.
Sternes pierregarin et Sterne arctique (Common & Arctic Terns): 8760 ind., en flot plus ou moins continu depuis le démarrage du suivi. La Sterne arctique était visiblement l’espèce dominante en août et début septembre, mais actuellement la tendance est en train de s’inverser, et la Pierregarin devrait logiquement être la plus commune courant octobre et novembre.
Sterne voyageuse (Lesser Crested Tern): au moins 187, généralement en groupes de 2-3 oiseaux suivant les Sternes caugeks, rarement plus d’une dizaine par heure.
Sterne caugek (Sandwich Tern): Troisième espèce la plus nombreuse, avec 2429 migrateurs pour le moment, dont 2000 passent dans la 2e moitié de septembre.
Sterne royale africaine (African Royal Tern): déjà 897 oiseaux, soit un peu plus du double de l’an dernier. Environ 45% de cet effectif défile pendant la dernière décade d’août, avec des maxima de 136/heure le 25.
Labbe à longue queue (Long-tailed Skua): au moins 478 individus! Le passage débute soudainement le 10/8 – jour d’observation des premiers labbes – avec au moins neuf en 1h30, suivis le lendemain par un bel effectif de 70 oiseaux en 2h40 de suivi et quasiment tous les jours par quelques-uns ou quelques dizaines de migrateurs jusqu’au 22/8. Ensuite rien pendant quatre jours, puis reprise modeste tout à la fin du mois pour culminer le 2/9 avec un effectif impressionant de 217 individus en 1h15 de suivi. Sauf erreur c’est un nouveau record journalier pour le Sénégal, établi en à peine une heure d’observation: combien sont passés en tout ce jour-la? Sans doute plus d’un millier… Cette espèce est bien connue pour ses fluctuations d’effectifs d’année en année: sur les sites de nidification en fonction de l’abondance de nourriture, et visiblement sur les sites d’observation côtiers comme Ngor en fonction des vents pouvant pousser les migrateurs plus près des rivages. En 2017, je n’avais eu que 126 individus; même en prenant en compte l’absence de suivi à la mi-août et pendant plusieurs jours en septembre, il est clair que c’était une “petite” année à Labbes à longue queue, contrairement à 2018.
Labbe parasite (Arctic Skua): 266 individus au compteur, auxquels il convient d’ajouter sans doute une bonne partie des 82 labbes “sp.”; Seuls six Labbes pomarins (Pomarine Skua) pour le moment, avec le premier certain le 30/8.
Labbe de McCormick (South Polar Skua): un oiseau typique passe assez près du bord le 20/9.
Pendant les trois mois qui restent pour cette saison 2018 j’aurai un peu moins de temps que l’an dernier pour suivre ce spectacle de la migration: avis aux amateurs qui souhaiteraient venir en renforts!
Puis il faudrait que je trouve le temps de vous parler de nos sorties récentes au lac Tanma, à la lagune de Yène, et le lac Rose… Mais avant toute chose, demain matin on a prévu une sortie en mer au large de Ngor! Compte-rendu et photos à suivre, si tout va bien.
Cinereous Vulture is considered a rare vagrant to sub-Saharan Africa, with just a handful of observations from the western Sahel, mainly from Senegal but also at least one from Mali. Last winter several new records were obtained from the region, including two from Senegal and the first observations from The Gambia and Mauritania.
Last winter’s records from Senegal, Gambia and Mauritania were described in a series of three posts on the MaghrebOrnitho blog (highly recommended for anyone interested in birds of NW Africa!), while the previous record, from 2013, was reported on SenegalWildlife. However, the first Senegalese record of the species was never published and it’s only recently that it was uploaded onto eBird, now also with photographic documentation. It was seen north of Diourbel on 6 January 1987 by a British group. As such, it’s probably a good thing to set the record straight, and recap all known records from Senegal.
The 1987 observation was reported to François Baillon, who at the time was running the French overseas research institute (ORSTOM, now IRD) in Mbour. In a hand-written letter he confirmed that there were no previous records from Senegal, adding that he has seen a great diversity of raptors in this central region of Senegal, including Egyptian Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, White-headed Vulture (now very rare here!), Lanner, Peregrine, Lesser Kestrel, Short-toed Eagle, Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle, Booted Eagle & Bonelli’s Eagle. Of note is that the same group also saw a group of Mottled Swifts during their tour, right by the Gambian border on January 3rd 1987 (“20+ feeding over bush fire. The birds were seen immediately after crossing into Senegal and may well have crossed into Gambia as well.”) – prompting Baillon to mention that he has regularly seen Mottled Swifts in the Niokolo-Koba in January & February 1986 as well as in February 1987 near the river Gambia. Anyway, back to our vultures…
As it turns out, this first country record was also the first for Africa south of the Sahara, given that it predates the record of a Spanish-ringed bird found dead in Mali’s Sikasso region on 19 January 1995. This means that there are now at least seven observations from Senegal, listed here in chronological order:
1) 1987: an immature north of Diourbel on 6.1.87, pictured above (N. Lethaby, P. Thompson et al.)
2) 2005: a bird ringed in Spain was recovered in Senegal in January 2005 (in HBW; no precise date is given and no further location info is available, though I assume that it’s the Mbour area as shown on the map with ring recoveries in this publication by de la Puente and colleagues, 2012).
3) 2005: an immature between Louga and Touba on 23.2.05, reported by Vroege (2013): Immature Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus in Senegal in February 2005. ABC Bull. 21: 223-224. See also this article, in Dutch with English summary.
4) 2007: an immature photographed at Nianing (south of Mbour), on 13.1.07 by Talamelli (2007a, 2007b). This observation was incorrectly assumed to be the first record for Senegal.
5) 2013: an immature near Tiom in the Khelcom area (north of Kaffrine) on 23.1.13, with a hundred or so other large vultures at a carcass (L. Majorel, L. Puch et al.), reported on this very blog here though at the time incorrectly referred to as the second record for Senegal.
6) 2018: one near Fatick on 30.1.18, photographed by Julio Rabadán González (two photos on observation.org), see also last picture in this post.
7) 2018: one at Sagata (east of Kebemer, along the road to Doyene Dakhar) on 26.2.18 photographed by a Dutch tour group, different from the Fatick bird – see the MaghrebOrnitho post for more details on this and the previous observation.
Just two days prior to the Sagata observation, a Cinereous Vulture was filmed and photographed while feeding with other vulture species at a vulture feeding station run (apparently illegally so!) by a Spanish group, the first record for Gambia. And the first for Mauritania was photographed just a couple of months earlier, on 9.12.17 in the Banc d’Arguin area. The latter was ringed as a chick in the Sierra de Guadarrama near Madrid on 13 July 2017.
The map below shows all of the above observations, i.e. all records from sub-Saharan Africa plus the one from Mauritania (the location of the Malian record is approximate as no precise locality was given).
With at least three birds involved between The Gambia, Senegal and Mauritania, last winter’s records likely reflect a real increase in numbers rather than just an effect of any hypothetical better observer coverage. This trend is fairly obvious in Morocco, particularly at Tanger on the African side of the Strait of Gibraltar, where no less than four birds were seen on a single day last year, on November 10… Even more impressive, the same day the team counted some 2,700 Eurasian Griffons here – that must have been quite a sight!! Further details here. It’s actually quite possible that some of the recent West African sightings were of one or several of these four birds seen at Jebel Moussa. Formerly considered an accidental visitor to Northwest Africa after going extinct as a breeding bird, Aeypius monachus is now seen as “a regular migrant and wintering species in small numbers” according to MaghrebOrnitho.
Cinereous Vulture – formerly often referred to as Eurasian Black Vulture – is classified as Near Threatened, mainly because the global population is relatively small (7,800-10,500 pairs, roughly equating to 15,600-21,000 mature individuals) and because there have been continued declines in the Asian parts of its range. In contrast, the European population is doing pretty well it seems, particularly in Spain which has seen increases possibly over 30%, with estimated total breeding population of some 2,440 pairs. After having seen the species for the first time in northern Greece many years ago, I was fortunate to see some of the Spanish birds during a visit to Madrid last January, right on the outskirts of the city while waiting for the local Spanish Imperial Eagles (which eventually did show up – a long overdue lifer… and a potential vagrant to West Africa!). A reintroduction scheme in southern France lead to the establishment of a small population there, and the species is becoming a regular summer visitor to the western Alps during post-breeding dispersal.
This massive all-dark vulture is pretty straightforward to identify and should be easy to pick up among the local vultures and wintering Eurasian Griffons, which they often seem to associate with. The few records so far show that the species can show up pretty much anywhere north of The Gambia, though the “Vulture Triangle” centered roughly on Louga, as well as a central belt stretching from Mbour to the Khelcom, are clearly more likely to yield more observatins. Let’s see if the current trend continues, which given the increase in Western European populations seems rather likely.
Many thanks to Mohamed Amezian (MaghrebOrnitho) for making available a great deal of info on the species, and to Nick Lethaby and Paul Thompson for sharing their 1987 observation.
During our most recent excursions, we obviously looked out for those colourful Afro-tropical migrants that typically arrive in June-July, moving north with the rains – think cuckoos, rollers, kingfishers, etc. We saw some of course, especially at Wassadou but even in the bone-dry landscapes of Gossas and Diourbel, where we had migrants such as Diederik Cuckoo and Grey Hornbills.
Less expected were a number of breeders from the Western Palearctic that are now supposed to be in full breeding mode, so I thought it would be interesting to review these here. Of course, numerous “WP” species that winter in Senegal can be seen here year-round, but these are mostly waterbirds such as Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-tailed Godwit, Audouin’s Gull and other waders, gulls and terns. Many young birds of these species will actually remain in West Africa during their first summer, and from the end of June it’s quite normal to see early returnees, particularly for waders that failed their breeding season and left Europe early.
A Western Marsh Harrier (Busard des roseaux), probably a young female, flew over the flock of Greater Flamingos and other waterbirds that we’d just been counting at Lac Mbeubeusse, one of the niayes wetlands on the Cap-Vert peninsula, then landed in a reedbed. Some summer observations are known from both Senegal (“a few birds summer”, Morel & Morel) and Mauritania (June-August; Isenmann et al.), and Barlow & Wacher mention that occasional non-breeders are seen “during the rains” (a rather vague way to refer to summer, which doesn’t really tell us whether the records were actually during summer or whether they refer to regular migrants in September & October!).
Also here on the same day (23.6) was at least one immature Purple Heron (Héron pourpré) which may be either an oversummering bird of European origin, or a wandering African bird – I’m yet to figure out whether the species breeds anywhere nearby, though it’s clear that in potential breeding areas such as Technopole the species is absent during ~March to early August (further south, I have records from May-June, in Kolda and Toubacouta).
Still at Mbeubeusse – a decent birding site I’d never visited before despite being not far from Dakar! Never too late… – we also saw a winter-plumaged Knot (Bécasseau maubèche), feeding together with a group of Grey Plovers and a handful of Greenshanks and Redshanks. (Pluvier argenté, Chevaliers aboyeur et gambette). While the latter three species are more or less to be expected at this time in Senegal, the summer record of Calidris canutus may be noteworthy.
Two subadult Yellow-legged Gulls (prob. 3rd c.y.; Goéland leucophée) were at Lac Rose on 23.6, resting together with a group of some 500 Lesser Black-backed and 200 Audouin’s Gulls (Goélands bruns et d’Audouin), several of which were ringed including a Portuguese bird that I’d already seen back in April at Technopole. Also in the group were two or three Kelp Gulls (Goéland dominicain). Yellow-legged Gull is rather scarce here at any time of the year so it was a nice surprise to see these; apparently the species has been “recorded in all seasons” in Senegambia (Barlow & Wacher). Both birds seemed to be typical nominate birds (i.e. from southern Europe) rather than atlantis birds from the Macaronesian islands.
A week earlier at Wassadou and along the road from Tambacounda to the Niokolo-Koba, we noted a good presence of Common & Pallid Swifts (Martinets noir et pâle), which appears to be not unusual at this time of the year since non-breeding birds are said to move north with the rains from their “wintering” grounds over the forest zone of West Africa. There are however few June records (e.g. Barlow & Wacher give a presence of Pallid Swift from July-September and November-January). Even more exciting was the presence of several Mottled Swifts (Martinet marbré) at Wassadou, the first June record of a “difficult” bird in the region – there appear to be less than 10 records for Senegal in total, all of which are from the Niokolo-Koba area. The one below was seen by my Swiss friends in the PNNK earlier this year.
Perhaps more surprisingly than the preceding species, two European Bee-eaters (Guêpier d’Europe) were feeding and flying around pretty much all afternoon on 23.6 in Almadies, Ngor, regularly calling in the process and as such giving away their presence above and near my house. I’d never seen the species before in Dakar (though I have seen them not far, along the Petite Côte in autumn), so this was a highly unexpected record. Paul Isenmann and colleagues mention that the species is present in Mauritania from July/August to October, and March to May/June, but I didn’t find any references to summer records in Senegal or Gambia. Probably just a coincidence, but earlier the same day we saw our first Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters in the Dakar region, at Lac Rose (Guêpier de Perse). Perhaps these were birds en route to their breeding grounds in northern Senegal?
A single House Martin (Hirondelle de fenêtre) at Wassadou on 15 & 16.6 was also remarkable: a very late migrant, an oversummering bird, or a wanderer that decided not to bother going all the way to Europe? The species has been recorded Oct. – June and I’ve seen birds as late as 28/5 at Technopole, but it’s clear that there are very few records from late June and July.
A Melodious Warbler (Hypolaïs polyglotte) photographed by Gabriel in the Niokolo-Koba park, at campement du Lion, on 17.6 is another rare mid-summer record of a species that typically arrives from mid-August and depart by May at the latest. Gabriel recently saw the species in the Boundou community nature reserve as well, so it seems that quite a few are staying around during summer. More generally, one can only wonder how many of these Palearctic passerines are here at the moment. Putting things in perspective, the observations in this post are all by just 3 active resident birders in the country…
A few kilometres further north, Miguel and I observed a Western Olivaceous Warbler (Hypolaïs obscure) at Wassadou, feeding in bushes on the edge of the Gambia river, on 16.6. This is of course a common to very common winter visitor throughout the country, and there are records from all month, so maybe not as surprising as the previous species. Now often called Isabelline Warbler, it is also known to be summering at Nouakchott (June-July) with no noticeable break between pre- and postnuptial passages (spring: March – May/early June, autumn: July-October; Isenmann et al. 2010).
A couple of days later near Diourbel, we had a Woodchat Shrike (Pie-grièche à tête rousse), apparently a first-summer male: the forehead is extensively black and mantle seems mostly jet-black (both features indicative of males), while the moult limit between the adult-type dark wing feathers and juvenile brownish unmoulted primary coverts and flight feathers are typical of 2nd calendar year birds (more on ageing & sexing the species here, from Blasco-Zumeta & Heinze’s excellent series on the topic). The presence of this species in Senegal is fairly similar to Western Olivaceous Warbler. An adult Great Spotted Cuckoo (Coucou-geai) earlier that day near Gossas was assumed to be an African rather than a northern migrant, though we can’t be sure of course; the date is consistent with the arrival of this cuckoo on its Sahelian breeding grounds (a couple of weeks later I had another adult, actively calling, though a bit further east: along the Niger river near Niamey).
Voilà for now; for me it’s time to migrate north for a couple of weeks (though no breeding for me this summer); I’ll be back towards the end of the month. And maybe find some time to finish a few blog posts that have been dormant in my draft folder for a while now… Thanks for reading!