I have a bit of a confession to make. I’m a bit of an obsessive lister, always counting and collecting birds, new ones if at all possible. Or rare ones. I have a Life List, a Senegal List, Africa, Western Palearctic, a Technopole list. A list of colour-ring recoveries. And so on. Maybe not as far as keeping year lists or garden lists or self-found lists or lists of birds seen while writing up blog posts, but still I’m pretty much counting species all the time. I won’t go through great lengths to “tick” new birds and I don’t take the whole listing thing too seriously, neither will I keep track of my buck-per-bird expenditure rates (yes, it seems that some birders calculate this), but still… lots of obsessive listing.
I’m sure that some of our readers will recognise this – do we need group therapy? Maybe it’s just human (male?) nature, to be collecting and classifying things. Some of these lists may actually be quite useful especially when covering little-known regions as I sometimes get the chance to do on my work trips (think South Sudan, Somaliland, Burundi…), but for the most part they’re just my own little checklists sitting in an old Access database… time to upgrade, right?
Luckily there’s still lots of new species to be counted, we’re not quite done yet – I’ve only seen less than a quarter of the world’s birds, mostly in Africa (ca. 1,370 species, Wilson’s Indigobird a couple of weeks ago near Lac Togo being the most recent addition), so there are still many new ones to discover.
By now, my Senegal list stands at about 495 species, after three and a half years of pretty active birding in the country. But how “good” is 495? How many species have been reliably recorded in Senegal? This may be an easy question, but the answer is certainly not so straightforward. First of all, what taxonomic reference to follow? Depending on which reference one uses, certain subspecies are elevated to species rank while others are not, and with current tendencies to split species it can be hard to keep up with the understandably dynamic nature of bird taxonomy.
Several years of “service” in the Swiss national rare bird committee and a French regional records committee taught me a bit of discipline in keeping count of records and numbers for rare or scarce species, in ensuring appropriate documentation, in reassessing status of vagrants and scarce migrants, keeping track of changes in taxonomy and advances in identification criteria, and so on. And then there’s the status categories: “A” (species occurs naturally in the wild, seen at least once in modern ornithological history, eg. since 1950), “B” (same as A but not recorded since the cut-off year), “C” (introduced exotic species that have established autonomous breeding populations), “D” (the dreaded uncertain origin category), and finally “E” (escapes). Only species that are in the A, B or C categories are part of a country’s national list. In Senegal, the only established exotic species appears to be House Sparrow (unless Eurasian Collared Dove is also introduced or escaped, though this is far from certain; wild Rock Doves apparently still exist in the Kédougou escarpments).
So, in order to answer our question of the number of species occurring in Senegal, let’s start by identifying an appropriate taxonomic reference. The IOC (International Ornithological Committee) is nowadays usually considered the standard authority, being followed by many countries and authors. The Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW) is another reference, I guess a bit more progressive than IOC, and was adopted by BirdLife and the IUCN. I won’t go into reviewing the differences between these and other lists such as Howard & Moore or Sibley, though we should mention that the African Bird Club follows IOC which as such should be an obvious choice here. Unfortunately, the ABC is not very good at remaining up-to-date to the extent that the current version dates back to 2010 – and at the time of writing, the page to download country checklists was non functional… The ABC now also has new “Dowsett country lists” which are largely based on the more conservative Howard & Moore taxonomy. More than anyone else, the Dowsetts are of course a major reference in their own right when it comes to African birds, and it would be great to have up-to-date checklists for each country. To make matters more complex, the ABC also links to checklists by their “partner” iGoTerra; unfortunately, their Senegal list is highly unreliable as it contains about a dozen species that have never been recorded in Senegal as well as several obvious missing species… and I assume that it’s the same for other countries. Really surprising (and disappointing) that the ABC endorses these lists. Similarly, other country checklists, e.g. the Avibase list, contain several serious errors and should be avoided. As such, we hope that the Senegal list that we’re making available here will be of use to local and visiting birders alike.
Either way, we settled on the IOC list – the choice of which can of course be debated, but it seems to make sense given that ABC is following it and that there is no proper reference committee for Africa (such as the AERC for Europe, though they’re not quite as authoritative as they ought to be, with many national committees following different standards). Anyway… let’s move on.
So, I took the African Bird Club country list for Senegal as a starting point, and updated it as per the latest IOC version. As our regular readers will surely know, quite a few species have been added to the national list in recent years, so these were of course included in the list. Several species on the ABC list are marked as uncertain, since at the time no proper documentation existed, such as Blue-throated Roller and Black-and-white Mannikin. I’ve removed those that seem unlikely, as well as Tropical Boubou which is yet to be confirmed (and I replaced Red-fronted Warbler, which was included in error, by Cricket Warbler). I’ve added Vieillot’s Black Weaver based on the account that Lesson described this species in 1840 based on a specimen from Casamance (it’s on the Gambian list, but not on the ABC list for Senegal). Here again, in the absence of a national or regional rare birds committee, these are personal choices and I’d be happy to revise these if there’s a good case to do so.
Below are the new species seen in the last 12 years, in chronological order. Those marked with a * were formally documented, typically through publications in the ABC Bulletin or in Malimbus; records with a ° symbol await publication or will be written up shortly:
- Western Sandpiper (15.1.07, Langue de Barbarie, Saint-Louis; N. Borrow et al.)
- Black Guillemot* (11.10.08, Ngor, Dakar; Crouzier et al.)
- Lesser Jacana (29.07.09, at a reservoir near Kédougou; ABC Recent Reports)
- Common Crane (22-25.03.10, Djoudj NP; ABC Recent Reports)
- Narina Trogon* (13.4.10, Dindéfélo, Kédougou; Aransay et al. 2012)
- Red Kite (23.2.12, Toubacouta, Fatick; ABC Recent Reports)
- Pacific Golden Plover* (10.5.12, Delta du Saloum, Fatick; Cavaillès et al.)
- Short-billed Dowitcher* (4.10.12, Gandiol, Saint-Louis; A. Hiley)
- Eurasian Sparrowhawk (27.01.14, Tiougoune/Lompoul-sur-Mer, Thiès; J. Wright et al.)
- Mountain Wagtail* (6.3.15, Dindéfélo, Kédougou; Pacheco et al. 2017)
- Eyebrowed Thrush* (10.12.15 Gandiol, Saint-Louis; R. Benjumea & B. Pérez 2016)
- Freckled Nightjar* (21.3.16 Dindéfélo, Kédougou; J.-Y. Blanc et al. 2018)
- Eurasian Collared Dove° (May 2016, Dakar; BP)
- Red-footed Booby° (16.10.16, Dakar, N. Moran et al.)
- Magnificent Frigatebird* (29-30.4.17, Iles de la Madeleine, Dakar; M. Lecoq & BP; G. Caucanas; Piot & Lecoq 2018 – link to ABC note forthcoming)
- Meadow Pipit* (1.1.18, Yène-Tode, Dakar; Piot 2018)
- Horus Swift° (5-6.1.18, Gamadji Sare, Podor; F. Bacuez, BP, F. Verroens)
- Brown-backed Honeybird° (21.1.18 Dindéfélo, Kédougou; G. Caucanas et al.)
On average, that’s just one or two additions per year – though note how 2012, 2016 as well as 2018, only half-way through, already stand out with no less than three new species. Also note how four out of these 18 records were also new to sub-Saharan Africa or even the African continent as a whole: Western Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Black Guillemot, Eyebrowed Thrush. The records of Eurasian Collared Dove and Horus Swift, both possibly/probably breeding, constitute major range extensions in West Africa. The fact that another four of the above records are from the Dindéfélo area is also quite remarkable: it just shows how a previously largely ignored border area harbours several species that just creep into the country. Dakar, being relatively well watched in recent years, also stands out as a national “hotspot”, as is the Gandiol/Langue de Barbarie area to a lesser extent.
Add to this list the Canary Islands endemic Plain Swift, which thanks to geolocators was recently shown to transit through Senegal on its way to the newly discovered wintering grounds in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea (Norton et al. 2018) – a nice example of modern technology solving one of the many remaining mysteries in the field of migration. Eleonora’s Falcon is another species that was confrmed to occur thanks to satellite tracking programs (Gschweng et al. 2008) but that is yet to be seen in natura.
Then there are two special cases, both of hybrids: a Greater x Lesser Spotted Eagle, that was GPS-tracked from its Central European breeding grounds into Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia; neither of the parents have been confirmed from Senegal as “pure” birds, but does this mean that this bird somehow needs to make it to the national list? To a lesser extent, the Woodchat x Red-backed Shrike seen last year is also an interesting case since the latter parent species has never been recorded in Senegal, though there are records from nearby Mauritania. Logically, hybrids should not be included on the national list, but I’d be happy to be convinced otherwise.
So now for the list: with the recent additions, and following the latest IOC taxonomy, we end up with at least 671 species. The full list is available HERE as a handy Google spreadsheet – of course it’s work in progress and I’d be happy to receive contributions. You’re more than welcome to download the list as an Excel file and use it as a checklist for the country. I did include a small number of species for which there are unconfirmed older records but that are likely to be present; these are marked with a ? in the list, and if confirmed would bring the total to 676 species. One of these is likely extinct in the wild by now: Common Ostrich, marked with an “E” (and Secretarybird probably shares the same fate though could still show up as a wanderer). Vagrants are listed as “V” in the list; for some of these – e.g. Little Gull – it’s not quite clear whether they should be considered as true vagrants or whether they are merely rare migrants that do in fact make it to Senegal on a more or less regular basis.
For those who tend to prefer the HBW/BirdLife taxonomy, the Senegal list should be at least 664 species – quite surprisingly this is quite a few species less than the IOC list, due to several splits that aren’t recognised by HBW (Boyd’s & Barolo Shearwaters are treated as part of Audubon’s Shearwater, White-breasted Cormorant is a ssp. of Great Cormorant, Yellow-billed Kite is rather suprisingly considered conspecific with Black Kite, Barbay Falcon part of Peregrine Falcon, African Reed Warbler a ssp. of Eurasian Reed Warber, and Atlas Flycatcher a ssp. of Pied Flycatcher). The only additional species is Seebohm’s Wheatear which surprisingly is not recognised by IOC, despite it being very distinctive from Northern Wheatear. Other splits do not directly affect the number of species on the Senegal list, though names may differ (e.g. Black-faced Firefinch is now known as Vinaceous Firefinch Lagnosticta vinacea, endemic to West Africa). When I find the time, I’ll also include a link to the HBW country checklist.
There are probably a few other species missing from the list, as not everyone goes through the effort of writing up notes or publishing pictures of potential first records. For instance, what would be the first record of Cinereous Vulture was only just recently uploaded to eBird and while it certainly seems like a credible observation, I’m awaiting further details from the observers. Likewise, there’s only one formally published record of Citrine Wagtail, but I found a reference to another observation that pre-dates the 1999 Technopole bird, which was mentioned along with a succinct (but in my view sufficient) description in the waterbird expedition report by Schepers and colleagues (27.1.97 at Djiffer, Saloum), and found out recently that a British tour operator that regularly visits Senegal has a few records of the species from Nianing. Once again, a real shame that the commercial birding companies rarely contribute to our knowledge of the areas that they visit. Corrections are more than welcome of course.
What will be the next species to be added to the country list? One can surely make a few predictions in terms of what species are likely to be added in the future – think various American vagrants with Ring-necked Duck and White-rumped Sandpiper being the most obvious candidates (and why not Wilson’s Phalarope or Solitary Sandpiper, or a Forster’s Tern or maybe even a Stilt Sandpiper), tropical seabirds such as Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel, Fea’s and Black-capped Petrels or Masked Booby, various desert passerines (Dunn’s Lark in particular should be sought for in the far north, White-crowned Wheatear is also a good possibility in winter), songbirds from northern Europe and Siberia such as Richard’s and Olive-backed Pipits or even Little Bunting, all of which have been reported from Mauritania. The lists goes on and on really – lots of potential to find new stuff!
Key areas to search for northern and American vagrants are of course the coastal wetlands, while the northern border regions should be targeted for winter vagrants and desert species. Finding new seabirds will likely require pelagic trips and a decent amount of luck¹ – and it’s likely that seabird monitoring programs that use satellite tracking will turn up some new species in Senegalese waters. For those lucky to go out birding in Casamance, chances are that Turati’s Boubou and Preuss’s Cliff Swallow are already established in a few localities and that they are just waiting to be discovered. Quailfinch Indigobird may well occur but apparently remains to be confirmed. And for those making it to the far south-east, why not search for Rock Pratincole which should occur at least occasionally along the Gambia river (or even along the Falémé), or try for low-density species that occur not too far out in Mali or Guinea of the likes of West African Seedeater and Cabani’s Bunting, and that may well just creep over the border into Senegal.
And then there are of course those species that one may expect the least, such as our Horus Swifts earlier this year – an incredible range extension (if confirmed to be regular) of some 1,600 km at least. Or Damara Tern, known from a single recent record from Mauritania (in 2006, Isenmann & Benmergui 2018). Only time will tell – what’s clear is that there’s still lots to discover.
Now, time to get out there and find new birds. And keep listing.
Bram, with useful contributions by Simon and Frédéric – merci à eux!
¹ and chum.
A new observation of a Franklin’s Gull at Technopole, on May 20th, prompted me to have a closer look at the records of this American species in Senegal and more generally across West Africa. I’ve been compiling records of Nearctic vagrants for some time now, which I may use one day to write up a formal publication on the topic – the list currently includes 83 records of 18 different species and some patterns are starting to emerge.
No less than 21 of these records are of Franklin’s Gulls, though these correspond to at least 36 different observations (one record can refer to a bird seen over several dates). As such, this is by far the most frequent American vagrant seen in Senegal. It’s actually been annual at Technopole since 2011, year that saw the arrival of three different birds. In the following three years, at least five different birds were regularly seen, to the extent that Franklin’s Gull became an expected feature at Technopole during that period (I was lucky to see one of these birds in July 2012, during a visit with Paul). It’s been quite difficult to determine how many records there actually are, as it’s not always clear when multiple records relate to a single bird, and whether the recent spring sightings at Technopole (2015 – 2017) may also be all of just one returning adult.
Here’s the most recent bird:
This year’s bird is clearly not a returning adult, as it appears to be a second calendar year (“first summer”) bird. Ageing Franklin’s Gull is not always straightforward – see K. M. Olsen’s comment in this short post by Paul – but I think this bird can be fairly safely identified as a second year bird, based on the head pattern (adults such as last year’s should have a completely black hood) combined with a small amount of white in the primary tips – and note active moult of primaries.
This is what we have in terms of records so far – corrections and additions welcome!
- 29.5.83 Delta du Saloum, Fatick, paired with Grey-headed Gull, sitting on nest (Erard et al. 1984)
- 17.1.86 Ile de Gorée, Dakar, first winter (F. Baillon) (Baillon & Dubois 1992)
- 24.4.86 Delta du Saloum, Fatick, among Grey-headed Gulls (C. Devisse) (Baillon & Dubois 1992)
- 3.12.88 Plage de Hann, Dakar, adult (J. J. Blanchon, P. J. Dubois, J. P. Pillion) (Baillon & Dubois 1992)
- 18.2.91 Plage de Hann, Dakar, first winter (P. J. Dubois, P. Le Maréchal et al.) (Baillon & Dubois 1992)
- 28.2.07 Saint-Louis, adult (J. Piette; H. Dufourny; ABC Recent Reports Vol. 14(2) & 15(1))
- Oct. 2008 Ngor, Dakar (French seawatch team)
- 26.1.11 Bao Bolon, Kaolack, 2nd year (R. Ottvall et al. – trip report here)
- 24.7 – 1.8.11 Technopole, two 2nd year (P. Robinson)
- 5.8.11 Technopole, 2nd year, different from previous two birds (P. Robinson)
- 29.10.11 Yoff, Dakar (P. Robinson)
- 11.2.12 Technopole (J.-F. Blanc, S. Cavaillès)
- 3.5 – 18.8.12 Technopole, up to three seen min. nine times (P. Robinson, S. Cavaillès, BP)
- 18.5.12 Almadies, Ngor, near lighthouse Pointe des Almadies, seen from boat (P. Robinson)
- 16.4 – 4.8.13 Technopole, up to four seen min. eight times (P. Robinson et al.), also one on 18.8 at lac Mbeubeusse (P. Robinson, G. Citegetse et al.)
- 6-16.3.14 Technopole, adult (P. Robinson; J.-F. Blanc)
- 15-20.3.15 Technopole, adult (BP; J.-F. Blanc)
- 3.5.15 Technopole, adult (BP) – possibly the same as in March, or a different bird (and treated as such in this list).
- 13.7.16 Technopole, adult (W. Hagemeijer, M. van Leeuwen; photo on observado.org)
- 14.5.17 Technopole, adult (BP)
- 20.5, 10.6, 7.7 & 22.8.18 Technopole, 2nd year (BP, M. Lecoq, G. Caucanas)
There’s obviously a clear increase in the number of records in the last eight years, even since 2007 after which this neat gull was not seen during two years only. The arrival of up to five different immature birds in 2011-2014 is noteworthy and as far as we know this was unprecedented in Africa. With the exception of this year’s bird, it’s quite possible that the single adults seen at Technopole since 2014 all refer to one or more of these original five, spending the winter further south and moving back north through Senegal in spring.
The near-absence of records prior to 2011 doesn’t mean much, since observer coverage was much lower then, so it’s hard to say anything much about longer term trends: the increase in records is probably in a large part related to increased observer pressure, particularly in Dakar where the majority of records are from. This also makes more sense, rather than that it reflects a real increase in records, considering that Franklin’s Gull is a species that’s said to be declining, particularly in the U.S.
Below is an attempt to plot the number of observations (not records!) and the number of birds involved, based on available data up to early June 2018.
Here’s one of the 2011 birds from Technopole, thought to be second year:
This one is from barely a week later, and is thought to be an adult moulting into winter plumage:
And here’s the adult in full breeding plumage from May 2012 at sea off Almadies. Besides the all-dark hood, note the greater amount of white in the wing tips compared to immature birds:
Trying to unravel any seasonal patterns is tricky with so few records, though in recent years it’s clear that most birds show up between March and August, with the most recent observations all from March, May and July. There are only a couple of October records, none from September and November, and at least since 2013 there’s no evidence of wintering birds (if there were any on the Dakar peninsula, we’d probably see them at least from time to time at Technopole!). On the chart below, I’ve included birds that were seen over multiple months in each of the months’ totals, hence the sum of records exceeding 21.
The breeding record from the Saloum delta is of course intriguing, and it’s not excluded that more attempts have occurred again since the 1983 record.
Records from elsewhere in West Africa are much rarer than in Senegal: in Mauritania, one was seen on 27.1.06, followed by a second record on 17.4.16, both at Banc d’Arguin (Bull. African Bird Club 23: 238), then a third on 23.4.17 in Nouakchott (see Robert Tovey’s account on the find here). In The Gambia, Franklin’s Gull was seen in 1984, on 17.1.02, and again on 8-9.2 until 15.3.05 at least; all records are from Banjul. The first for Ghana was an adult on 8.5.11 on the Sakumono lagoon on the outskirts of Accra.
Nine records are known from Morocco, the most recent one being a first-winter bird on 12.2.16 at Oued Souss (Agadir) – so clearly not one of the Senegal birds as these were all adults by then.
Elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa, there are several records from South Africa, at least two from Mozambique, one from Congo-Brazzaville (one on 14.11.15 at the Kouilou-Niari River), at least one from Burundi, Uganda, Malawi, Namibia and Zambia, and the species is also listed as a vagrant to Ascension island and Tristan da Cunha. And the first for the Seychelles was seen on 7.5.17. They really do wander about!!
Franklin’s Gull – now known as Leucophaeus pipixcan – is a widespread colonial breeder on the prairies of northern North America, wintering mainly in coastal regions on the Pacific coast of South America (Colombia – Chile; range map xeno-canto). It’s a regular vagrant to Europe, and stragglers have been recorded as far as Kazakhstan, Australia and New Zealand, even Antarctica.
A few references
Baillon, F. & P.J. Dubois, 1992. Nearctic gull species in Senegal and The Gambia. Dutch Birding 14:49-503
Érard, C, Guillou, J.-J. & Mayaud, N., 1984. Sur l’identité spécifique de certains laridés nicheurs au Sénégal. Alauda 52:184-188
Routine Technopole visit this morning, with a a few good birds to report and (most importantly) a correction to be made.
With water levels now very low, most waders, gulls and terns are now concentrated in the SW part of the main lake and along its northern edge. After an initial scan from behind the fishermen’s cabin (African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Stork), I made my way to where most of the smaller waders were feeding, and soon located an American Golden Plover, an adult moulting into breeding plumage. The contrasted plumage, long wings (clearly extending beyond the tail tip), and smaller and more slender build than Grey Plover made the identification pretty straightforward, even at long range as in the record shot below:
This is now the fourth record in three years at Technopole, all of which have been in spring (8/4-21/5) and all birds so far have stayed for several days or weeks, so it’s likely that this one will hang around a bit longer. And going by last year’s series of observations, it may well be joined by other AGP’s in coming weeks – no doubt are there several birds wintering in (West) Africa each year, and some of these will pass through the Dakar penninsula. Previous Technopole records were in June 2012 (M. van Roomen) and October 2005 (Nillson et al., W. Faveyts) and there’s also an observation from lac Mbeubeusse in March 2013, by Paul Robinson.
The image below is a bit less distant, and clearly shows the dark upperparts speckled with fresh golden mantle feathers, a contrasting white supercilium wrapping around the ear coverts, an “open” face due to pale lores, the thin bill and especially the very long primaries, extending well beyond the tail. Note also the black feathers appearing on the lower breast.
Despite not having relocated the White-rumped Sandpiper during my two previous visits, I still had this bird in the back of my mind, so was pleased to see it again, this time not too far. I was determined to see the white rump as we hadn’t clearly seen it two weeks ago, and as such a slight doubt remained as to whether we could safely rule out Baird’s. It didn’t take long for the bird to fly off, and now I clearly saw the rump: no white!!! This was confirmed when the bird took off a second time. So it was a Baird’s Sandpiper after all… which means we somehow got tricked into believing we saw white on the rump during our initial observation (wishful thinking? a Curlew Sandpiper?), at least that’s assuming that we’re talking about one and the same bird here. It does explain why we felt that several features on the pictures from 25/3 were pro-Baird rather than White-rumped Sandpiper.
So, still no Calidris fuscicollis in Senegal, but we’re pretty happy with Calidris bairdii as well – I’d never seen either species before, and Baird’s has been seen only once before in Senegal, in 1965 (!), though I still need to find out exactly when, where and by whom.
I’ve updated and renamed the original post with some more details.
Other than these, there are a couple of Dunlins around, still several Curlew Sandpipers (some now in full breeding plumage), a Spotted Redshank, a couple hundred Common Ringed Plovers, a handful of Sanderling (much less than just over a week ago), a Whimbrel, a Greater Painted-Snipe, etc.
Unlike earlier in the week, I didn’t see any Mediterranean Gulls and the majority of Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls seem to have left the area by now. The various flocks of terns held Arctic, Common, Caspian, African Royal, Lesser Crested, Sandwich, and Gull-billed Terns! A few Black Terns were flying around (while Roseate and Little Terns were seen in the last few days from Ngor, so that’s almost all regular tern species that are present in Dakar at the moment). A few Eurasian Spoonbills are still around, including one on 1/4 with a white ring “AVLV” from the Camargue program – awaiting details on this bird’s life history.
A Marsh Harrier hunting over the area was probably one of two birds that spent the winter at Technopole, while a kestrel passing through quite high was visibly actively migrating and may well have been a Lesser Kestrel, though not sure.
Still lots of Black-crowned Night-Herons, but with the water levels being so low there aren’t many other herons around, just a few of each of the regular species incl. a few Black Herons. And most of the northern songbirds are gone now, with just a few Yellow Wagtails still around. A pair of Copper Sunbirds was singing and feeding in mangroves not far from the Club House, and has been seen several times in the same area in recent weeks. Also still lots of Sudan Golden Sparrows, while the Black-headed Weavers are now in full breeding plumage and are actively nest-building, and Northern Crombec has been heard singing on most recent visits.
This post – including its title – was modified on 8/4 after we found what is supposed to be the same bird, and re-identified it as Baird’s Sandpiper rather than White-rumped.
Last Sunday (25/3), during a routine Technopole visit with Miguel and Antonio, we picked up an odd looking sandpiper among a group of Common Ringed Plovers. Slightly yet noticeable larger than the numerous Little Stints that are currently present, it mainly stood out by its peculiar elongated shape, due to its long wings projecting well beyond the tail tip: could it be a Baird’s or White-rumped Sandpiper?
Adrenaline levels rising fast, we quickly tried to get some pictures while studying the bird. When it moved next to a Little Stint, we could clearly see that this was not just another oddly shaped Little Stint but something different, and that it could only be one of those two American waders. It was closer in size to Common Ringed Plover, appearing intermediate between Little Stint and Dunlin. The bird was actively feeding now, probing for food in the mud, and we could see the moderately long and clearly down-curved bill (longer than Little Stint, but shorter than Dunlin), a faintly streaked breast, white underparts, brown-grey upperparts with some new scapulars in an otherwise seemingly very worn plumage. And then that elongated body shape combined with short black legs giving it a silhouette and posture unlike any other calidrids I’d seen thus far.
Then it took off – maybe because of yet another Peregrine blitz – and even though views were brief and quite distant, we each thought that we saw that the rump was mostly white (in fact it’s the uppertail coverts, but “White-uppertailcovered Sandpiper” somehow doesn’t sound quite right). This clinched the id for us even though none of use were fully familiar with the subtle differences between Baird’s and White-rumped, other than the difference in uppertail / rump pattern. I found what was most likely the same bird again on 8/4 (after not seeing it on two previous visits), and this time got much better views including of the rump in flight, which was not white at all: Baird’s Sandpiper!! So not a White-rumped after all… It just shows how one false impression in the field can lead to wrong conclusions, and that you should not take our id’s for granted! And that we still have lots to learn. It also explains why we were confused and felt that the bird looked more like Baird’s, but given that we thought we saw a white rump we could only announce it as a fuscicollis… Maybe when we saw the bird flying, rather in the distance, we were in fact somehow looking at a Curlew Sandpiper.
The distant pictures that follow show an overall fairly brown sandpiper with a diffuse yet clearly demarcated breast band and otherwise white underparts, a feature that actually fits Baird’s more than White-rumped. However, the pictures may be somewhat misleading as the impression in the field was of a slightly paler and colder-toned bird with less uniform plumage – for instance, the upper breast was finely streaked, incl. on the upper flanks. Some mantle feathers had already moulted and the crown was very finely streaked. That said, it appears that White-rumpeds in winter can have quite a bit of variation, some birds being browner overall and (almost) lacking any streaks on the flanks that are otherwise considered to be typical of the species – we found pictures of a few such birds online, e.g. here (IBC) as well as in this useful series of Baird’s and White-rumped from their wintering grounds in Argentina (beware though of the second Baird’s picture, which I think is actually a White-rumped Sand’). We suspect that this was a first-winter bird starting to moult into its first summer plumage, though without better pictures we can’t rule out that it was a full adult.
The bill shape appears subtly different from one picture to another, but the first photograph is probably the most accurate: fairly thick at the base and slightly curved. This fits Baird’s quite well, though many birds appear to have a more straight bill than this one (another reason why we were lead to believe it was White-rumped!).
The long wings, crossed like scissors, are quite well visible on this picture, as is the overall “flat” appearance of the species. The whitish supercilium extends well beyond the eye, a pro-fuscicollis feature, but apparently still ok for Baird’s. One may expect the primary projection to be longer, but there again there seems to be quite a bit of individual variation.
Unfortunately, the rump can’t quite be seen in this picture:
A useful discussion on separation of Baird’s and White-rumped Sandpipers, even if it mainly focuses on birds in summer and autumn when most likely to show up in the UK, is to be found here. The European and North American field guides were surprisingly unhelpful when it comes to describing the variation in winter plumage of both species. I thus turned to Faansie Peacock’s excellent field guide to the Waders of Southern Africa, which provides a more relevant Southern Hemisphere perspective on wader identification. Along with the author’s other publications (LBJs, Pipits of Southern Africa) this easily ranks among the finest bird guides that are currently available¹. Let’s just hope that ornithodippiasis doesn’t get the better of him and that he can author many more books.
We moved to the main track as we were hoping to relocate our sandpiper given that it seemingly had landed in the area. After careful scrutiny of the numerous Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers and Common Ringed Plovers (and finding a Buff-breasted Sandpiper in the process!), we ended up seeing it just as we were about to give up. Even worse pictures followed (distance, heat haze are the usual excuses) and the bird settled down to sleep, so we eventually moved on as we still wanted to check the other side of the main lake (where we saw Short-eared Owl and Copper Sunbird; other good birds at Technopole included an imm. Yellow-billed Stork, African Spoonbill, and Mediterranean Gull).
Here’s a picture from this morning 8/4, where the bill appears less curved and thinner at the end, and it clearly is all black (which all fits Baird’s perfectly):
Baird’s is a rare vagrant to Africa, with just a single claim from Senegal (Dec. 1965 in or near the Djoudj, as per Borrow & Demey, but I could not find the original reference so far), one from The Gambia (Nov. 1976), plus a record from November 1987 in Nouakchott but which was not retained by Isenmann et al. As such it seems that our bird is the first record for the subregion.
White-rumped Sandpiper is equally rare, with most continental records from South Africa during winter. In West Africa, there appear to be just a handful of records: one from Cote d’Ivoire (Oct.-Nov. 1988), and two from Ghana (Dec. 1985 & 2012). Given that it’s relatively frequent in Western Europe in autumn, and that in the Cape Verde and other East Atlantic islands the species is also quite regular, surely they must be pretty much annual visitors to West Africa. More generally, one can only speculate how many American and other vagrants truly pass through Senegal each year.
Both species are long-distance migrants, breeding in the Nearctic tundra, and spending the winter in South America.
The same goes for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper; this bird was likely one of the two that were seen on most visits between 13/1 and 19/2, but then again it may also have been a new bird that was just passing through.
So now we just need to find a proper Calidris fuscicollis, and finally add it to the national list.
In fact, how many bird species have been sighted in Senegal thus far? We’ll try to answer that question in a future blog post!
¹ Peacock, F. 2016. Chamberlain’s Waders. The Definitive Guide to Southern Africa’s Shorebirds. 256 p., Pavo Publishing. See the author’s website for more info.
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.
Visite de routine du dimanche matin au Technopole, avant-hier avec Miguel.
Tout comme ces dernières semaines, il y a plein de monde sur notre hotspot urbain favori: très nombreux limicoles profitant des conditions de nourrissage idéales en ce moment, plusieurs centaines de canards dans la partie la plus profonde du plan d’eau central, un groupe de flamants, spatules, des pélicans des deux espèces, des centaines de laridés, etc. etc.
Janvier, c’est le mois du comptage international des oiseaux d’eau Wetlands, donc on s’est dits que ce serait intéressant de faire un décompte aussi complet que possible. Pas facile! Il y a des groupes d’oiseaux dans tous les sens, pour certains en partie cachés par la végétation et les îlots, et de surcroît tout ce monde bouge en continu, dérangés à tour de rôle par des rapaces (notamment un Busard des roseaux et un Faucon crécerelle), chiens et pêcheurs. On prend chacun quelques espèces ou on se partage la zone en secteurs afin de faciliter le dénombrement, qui nous occupera bien pendant plus de trois heures.
On commence par les plus faciles: cinquante-cinq Pélicans gris, trente-deux blancs (Great White & Pink-backed Pelican), dix-neuf Spatules blanches (Eurasian Spoonbill), cinq Bihoreaux (Black-crowned Night-Heron), puis juste à côté au pied des palétuviers une Foulque (! Eurasian Coot), douze Flamants,… Les limis ensuite, avec l’Echasse blanche (Black-winged Stilt) en tête: 1’420 individus! J’avais estimé leur nombre à la louche, lors de mes précédentes visites, à 700-900 Echasses, mais n’avais jamais pris le temps de faire une comptage proprement dit. Effectif impressionnant!! Sur la photo ci-dessous il y en a à peu près 200…
Toujours beaucoup de Pluviers argentés (min. 49) et d’Avocettes (107); au moins 18 Gavelots pâtres, 6-7 Petits Gravelots et 665 (!) Grands Gravelots. (Grey Plover, Avocet, Kittlitz’s, Little Ringed & Common Ringed Plover)
Environ 300 Barges à queue noire (Black-tailed Godwit), apparemment en légère augmentation par rapport au début du mois, avec plusieurs individus qui commencent à arborer leur livrée nuptiale. Pas moins de 830 Combattants variés (Ruff)… puis là tout d’un coup, devant nous, deux délicats limicoles surgissent de nulle part: des Bécasseaux roussets! (Buff-breasted Sandpiper!)
Ils se laisseront bien observer même si leur comportement nerveux fait qu’ils sont difficiles à suivre et à photographier, courant rapidement sur la vase sans jamais s’arrêter. Ils se nourrissaient essentiellement sur la vase sèche en bordure des ilots enherbés, un peu derrière la cabane des pêcheurs. Nos deux yankees disparaissent aussi subitement qu’ils ne sont apparus, pour revenir d’un coup au même endroit un peu plus tard. Je suis d’ailleurs persuadé que lors de ma précédente visite j’ai vu passer un de ces oiseaux en vol: ne l’ayant vu que brièvement et l’oiseau ayant disparu loin au fond, je n’ai pas osé l’annoncer comme tel… donc j’étais bien content de pouvoir confirmer!
C’est la septième ou huitième donnée pour le pays, selon si on considère l’oiseau vu en janvier dernier au Lac Rose comme nouvel arrivant ou bien comme l’un des trois individus trouvés en décembre 2017. Petit résumé des précédentes observations ici.
On continue le comptage avec les bécasseaux: 75 Cocorlis, au moins 242 Minutes (sans doute bien plus!), et un minimum de huit Variables, une douzaine de Sanderlings, et enfin six Maubèches. Chez les chevaliers, le Sylvain est le plus nombreux (+40), suivi par les Aboyeurs, Stagnatiles, Gambettes, Guignettes et l’habituel Culblanc (ce dernier dans le même coin qu’une Rhynchée peinte, déjà vue la semaine précédente). (Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Dunlin, Sanderling, Knot, Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Greater Painted-Snipe)
Maintenant au tour des mouettes, goélands et sternes – douze espèces en tout, essentiellement des Goélands railleurs (450) et bruns (près de 200; Slender-billed & Lesser Black-backed Gull). Avec comme souvent quelques trucs plus rares dans le tas: un Goéland leucophée (Yellow-legged Gull) adulte, quatre ou cinq Mouettes mélanocéphales (Mediterranean Gull), tous de premier hiver, dont un oiseau porte une bague verte avec inscription blanche! On arrive tout juste à la déchiffrer, RV2L. Cet oiseau bagué en tant que poussin en juillet 2017 sur l’ile de Noirmoutier (Vendée, France) fournirait du coup la première reprise de bague pour l’espèce au Sénégal. Un autre oiseau français avait déjà été contrôlé en Gambie en mars 2015, mais pour le reste il n’y a apparemment pas de reprises de Mouettes mélanocéphales en Afrique de l’Ouest. On est ici vraiment en limite de l’aire d’hivernage régulier donc très peu d’oiseaux sont vus au Sénégal, pour la plupart des individus dans leur premier hiver en région dakaroise. Cette espèce coloniale très étudiée en Europe – un peu comme les Goélands d’Audouin du bassin méditerranéen – cela devait arriver tôt ou tard qu’un oiseau bagué pointe le bout du bec chez nous.
On arrivera également à déchiffrer les bagues de deux Goélands railleurs, un Goéland d’Audouin, une Sterne hansel (U83, déjà vu l’hiver dernier) – tous espagnols – et une Barge à queue noire hollandaise. (colour-ringed Slender-billed & Audouin’s Gulls, Gull-billed Tern, Black-tailed Godwit)
Ensuite les canards, d’habitude faciles à compter au Technopole car ils sont rarement présents en nombre. Cette saison c’est différent: depuis octobre, on voit plus de Sarcelles d’été (Garganey) que ces dernières années, et depuis le début du mois il y a une quantité inhabituelle de Canards souchets (Northern Shoveler). En effet, on arrive à environ 420 souchets et 110 sarcelles – là aussi, de beaux effectifs pour le site! A mettre en relation avec le manque d’eau sur d’autres zones? J’allais presque oublier les Grèbes castagneux (Little Grebe), pour lesquels on fait encore péter le score: pas moins (et en fait plutôt plus) de 527 individus.
Apres tout cela, on en a enfin terminé avec les oiseaux d’eau, pour un bilan de plus de 6’000 individus de 61 espèces différentes. Qui dit mieux?
En plus des passereaux hivernants classiques – Bergeronnettes printanières, Pouillots véloces, Fauvettes passerinettes, Phragmites des joncs – il y avait ce matin aussi un Traquet motteux. (Yellow Wagtail, Common Chiffchaff, Western Subalpine Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Northern Wheatear)
Sinon bonne présence de l’Hirondelles de Guinée, avec une troupe considérable (+38!) qui évoluent au-dessus de la zone, et dont plusieurs individus semblent collecter de la boue pour le nid. Aussi quatre Toureterelles masquées, quelques Martinet des palmes et une petite troupe d’Erémomèles a dos vert, trois espèces assez rarement vues au Technopole. (Red-chested Swallow, Namaqua Dove, Palm Swift, Senegal Eremomela)
Terminons enfin avec une espèce très commune et généralement ignorée par les ornithos (moi en premier), alors qu’elle fait partie d’une des famille d’oiseaux les plus remarquables de la planète: les corvidés. Extrêmement intelligents, ces oiseaux sont connus pour leur esprit curieux, joueur et inventif – au point où il y a des espèces, comme le Corbeau calédonien qui détiendrait la palme des oiseaux les plus smart, fournissant l’un des très rares exemples d’animaux sachant fabriquer et utiliser des outils (avec des modeles variables d’une région à une autre! Et qui disait que “Culture” était un trait purement humain?). A ce sujet, je vous recommande vivement l’excellent The Genius of Birds par Jennifer Ackerman. Mais je divague… là, on observe le manège de deux Corbeaux pies posés non loin et qui semblent s’intéresser de près à un bout de plastique (?). Simple curiosité, envie de jouer, ou intérêt purement culinaire?
Quick note today to report on the first Nearctic vagrant of the season: a Lesser Yellowlegs, seen yesterday at the Yenne-Todé lagoon.
After a very productive few days at Guereo, Bandia, and Popenguine – more on this later – I made my way back to Dakar via Yenne, the first village on the north end of the Petite Cote. I’ve known for a while that there’s a good lagoon here, but never visited at the right time of the year. A few weeks ago, Miguel had a great morning at the site (105 species including Dwarf Bittern, Spur-winged Goose, lots of Garganey), which prompted me to go see what’s about at the moment… Expectations were high, and I wasn’t disappointed: hundreds of ducks, many herons, a few gulls and quite a few terns, and most of all an incredible diversity of waders: 26 species!! Almost all regular migrant waders plus several of the local species were noted, some of which in decent numbers (e.g. nearly 30 Marsh Sandpipers, a few hundred Little Stints and Common Ringed Plovers, +120 Ruff). The site, which apparently is called the Niayetir lagoon, is easily accessible from different sides, mainly along the road coming from Toubab Dialaw but also from the village itself.
After I visited the main wetland just north of the road to Yenne, I stopped at the lagoon just behind the village, along the road back to Bargny. While scanning the numerous waders, I noticed a medium-sized wader with bright yellow legs: Yellowlegs!! It was actively feeding amidst the other waders, close enough to get good views through the telescope, but just a bit too far for decent photos…
Its flashy yellow legs made it stand out against all other waders here (bird names don’t need to be complicated!). Identification as Lesser Yellowlegs was pretty straightforward thanks to its relatively fine bill about equal to the length of the head, as well as overall structure. The straight all-dark bill of medium length and fairly uniform brown-grey breast and upperparts, as well as the smaller size and more slender appearance, distinguish it from the much rarer Greater Yellowlegs (which has never been recorded in Senegal). Moreover, the size of this bird was roughly the same as Marsh Sandpiper with which it was seen side by side, just slightly bulkier and with a marginally heavier bill. The Marsh Sandpiper is just about visible on the picture below:
A long-distant migrant, Lesser Yellowlegs mainly breeds throughout Canada and Alaska, and winters in a variety of wetland habitats from coastal areas of the US all the way down to the southernmost tip of South America (Tierra del Fuego). It is a rare vagrant to West Africa, with only six previous records in Senegal that I’m aware of, all of single birds between August and March:
- 6-7/1/91 at Hann, Dakar, “Feeding with Ruff, Wood Sandpipers and Marsh Sandpipers” (Sauvage & Rodwell)
- 3/3/07 in the Djoudj NP (Julien Piette)
- 18/3/13 at the Kaolack saltpans (Simon Cavaillès)
- 3-12/1/15 at Keur Samba Han near Kaolack (Simon Cavaillès)
- 15/8/15 at Technopole (BP)
- 17/1/16 at Technopole (BP, Boris Droz, Jérôme Gremaud)
As such, it’s the second most frequently noted American wader in Senegal together with Buff-breasted Sandpiper. Only American Golden Plover has been seen more often, with 10 records so far; and if last winter’s trend continues then Buff-breasted Sandpiper will soon overtake Tringa flavipes (no less than four records of six birds were obtained between mid-November 2016 and early January 2017!)
Elsewhere in Africa, Lesser Yellowlegs has mostly been noted on the Cape Verde islands, and there are a handful of records from Mauritania (22/3/04 and 6/2/14), The Gambia (January 1976, 13/10/08; possibly others), Ghana (at least two, incl. on 16/10/08), and Nigeria (Feb.-March 1969). Further north it’s been reported from the Canary Islands, Madeira, Morocco, and Tunisia. There are also a few records from South Africa (including one on Tristan da Cunha island in the South Atlantic), Namibia, and even Botswana.
I’ll try to go back over the weekend and see if it’s still around – and why not find another Yank this time!