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!
…un Phalarope à bec étroit!
Je m’attendais bien à voir un Phalaropus un jour au Technopole, mais je pensais logiquement que ce serait celui à bec large, dont la présence au Sénégal et particulièrement à Dakar n’aurait rien de vraiment exceptionnel puisqu’il est régulier en tout cas lors du passage d’automne. De temps en temps, le Phalarope à bec large se montre dans les lagunes et marais salants un peu à l’interieur des terres, comme p.ex. en novembre dernier à Palmarin. Son cousin à bec étroit par contre est une vraie rareté en Afrique de l’Ouest… inutile de dire donc que j’étais bien content quand je me suis retrouvé devant un des ces oiseaux, de surcroît en plumage nuptial. La derniere fois que j’ai vu un phalarope nuptial c’était en… mai 1995 lorsqu’une femelle avait fait escale dans mes terres natales, près d’Anvers.
La photo ci-dessus est prise à bonne distance (80-100m?), avec le zoom digital poussé au maximum… mais on reconnait bien l’oiseau: plumage gris/blanc à l’exception de la bande marron partant de derrière l’oeil et descendant par les côtés du cou vers les flancs, contrastant avec la gorge blanche; même à cette distance on distingue le bec fin et assez long. Lors de ses quelques nerveux deplacements en vol, j’ai pu voir la barre alaire étroite mais assez nette. Il s’agissait probablement d’un mâle car la coloration ne me paraissait pas très vive (les phalaropes font partie des rares espèces d’oiseaux dont la femelle a un plumage plus coloré que les mâles). Mais apparemment il est aussi possible que ce soit une femelle de 2e année, car certains individus acquièrent déjà leur plumage nuptial lors de leur 1er été – difficile donc d’en dire plus à cette distance.
Curieux d’en savoir plus sur son statut dans le pays, j’ai fouillé les sources habituelles… mais n’ai trouvé que quelques mentions d’apparitions du Phalarope à bec étroit au Sénégal:
- Morel & Morel ne mentionnent qu’une seule donnée, de “8 sujets à l’embouchure de la Somone, 9 déc. 1983 (A. Dupuy)”. La localité, la date, et surtout le fait qu’il y avait huit individus ensemble, plaident bien plus en faveur du Phalarope à bec large. En l’absence de documentation mieux vaut donc ne pas prendre en compte cette observation ancienne.
- Sauvage & Rodwell incluent deux observations bien plus plausibles dans leur mise à jour de 1998: des isolés le 30/10/91 à la Pointe des Almadies et le 13/4/92 au Lac Retba (=Lac Rose).
- Un individu est signalé par un observateur de passage lors du PAOC, pendant une séance de seawatch à Ngor le 18/10/16: “1st-winter bird came in and landed just past breaking waves […]. Smaller; more dainty than Red [=Grey Phalarope] with finer bill, darker underwing in flight, less contrasting wing stripe. Appeared darker overall, even when distant and coming in” – cette obs semble donc plutôt crédible.
- J’attends des infos pour 10 individus signalés eux aussi sur eBird par deux ornithos espagnols, il y aurait des photos… mais me semble peu probable vu l’effectif.
En Mauritanie, il y a trois observations d’oiseaux isolés (Cap Blanc 21/10/66, Nouadhibou 7/4/80, f. nuptiale le 17/6/88 au Banc d’Arguin; Isenmann et al. 2010). Il y a une seule observation en Gambie (Banjul, octobre 1993). Ailleurs en Afrique de l’Ouest je n’ai trouvé que quelques observations: une du Niger (21/10/89), une du Tchad (22/9/14), quatre obs récentes du Ghana (janvier, juillet, deux fois en décembre). Soit moins de 15 données en tout et pour tout, c’est pas beaucoup! Plus au sud, en Namibie et en Afrique du Sud, ce phalarope est également rare, mais il y est tout de même vu assez régulièrement, peut-etre surtout grâce à une meilleure pression d’observation comparé à l’Afrique de l’Ouest et centrale.
On peut se demander si cet oiseau, et de manière générale les quelques individus observés en Afrique de l’Ouest, ne seraient pas plutôt d’origine néarctique qu’européenne, car les populations nichant en Europe passent l’hiver dans l’Océan indien, et les néarctiques se retrouvent dans le Pacifique. Notre phalarope en escale à Dakar aurait ainsi passé l’hiver de ce côté de l’Atlantique, de la même manière que les Pluviers bronzés ou Bécasseaux roussets par exemple. Et il serait donc en route de ses quartiers d’hiver en Afrique australe vers le Haut-Arctique canadien ou le Groenland (tout ça n’est que speculation bien sur – don’t quote me on this one).
En tout, il y avait le weekend dernier pas moins de 21 espèces de limicoles au Technopole… le phalarope étant d’ailleurs la 37e espèce de limi vue sur le site. Les effectifs étaient assez impressionnants, surtout samedi en fin de journée: il devait y avoir au moins 600 à 700 limicoles de toutes sortes!
Parmi les plus intéressants, signalons un Bécasseau variable (Dunlin) tout seul parmi les minutes, cocorlis et sanderlings, deux Gravelots pâtres (Kittlitz’s Plover) parmi les nombreux Grands Gravelots (Common Ringed Plover), un Courlis corlieu (Whimbrel) passant en vol, cinq Combattants (Ruff) et autant de Barges à queue noire (Black-tailed Godwit; rare donnée d’avril).
Et surtout, les trois Pluviers bronzés (American Golden Plover) trouvés le lundi 17/4 qui étaient toujours présents samedi 22; le lendemain matin par contre je n’ai retrouvé qu’un des deux juvéniles, l’individu le plus sombre:
L’adulte continue de muer vers son plumage nuptial, ayant acquis encore un peu plus de plumes noires sur le ventre et les flancs. Difficile par contre de prendre des photos l’après-midi… les visites matinales sont bien plus propices à l’observation et la photographie des limis du Technopole: pas de contre-jour, et moins de vagues de chaleur.
En plus de ce beau cortège de limicoles il y a toujours une bonne diversité chez les laridés en ce moment, avec sept espèces vues lors des deux visites: il reste encore quelques Goélands bruns (Lesser Black-backed Gull) immatures et encore 2 Audouins (Audouin’s Gull), ca. 250 Goélands railleurs, +50 Mouettes à tête grise et autant de rieuses (Slender-billed, Grey-headed & Black-headed Gulls), et encore une Mouette mélanocéphale (Mediterranean Gull) le 23/4 et aussi toujours le jeune Goéland cendré (Common Gull) trouvé en février, vu le 22/4.
Egalement beaucoup de sternes et guifettes: quelques Sternes caspiennes, 30-50 hansels, plusieurs dizaines de caugeks, une dizaine de royales, une Sterne naine posée les deux jours et dix en migration active le 22/4, puis une Sterne arctique de 2e année le matin du 23/4… et de nouveau les trois espèces de Guifettes (deux Moustacs en migration active le 22/4, et au moins deux Leucoptères évoluant avec les Guifettes noires). (Caspian, Gull-billed, Sandwich, Royal, Little, Arctic, Whiskered, White-winged, and Black Terns)
Les passereaux paléarctiques semblent tous avoir quitté le site; juste encore quelques Hirondelles de rivage (Sand Martin), 1-2 Bergeronnettes printanières (Yellow Wagtail). Hier aussi au moins quatre Martinets noirs (Common Swift).
Curieux de savoir quelle sera la 222e espece!?
Yesterday Wim, Theo and I visited our favourite urban hotspot once again. I hadn’t been to Technopole since April 2nd and was keen to find out what new birds were around with spring migration still in full swing.
Our Easter Monday visit proved to be pretty rewarding, mainly thanks to the presence of no less than three (!) American Golden Plovers, with a supporting cast of hundreds of other waders and of course various terns and gulls. Conditions are now really good for most waders. Besides the Black-winged Stilts (which seem to have started breeding again) and Spur-winged Lapwings, there were lots of Little Stints (100-200?), a few Curlew Sandpipers, a flock of ca. 40-50 Sanderlings that arrived from the south and settled on an islet), still quite a few Greenshanks but less Wood Sandpipers than a few weeks ago, a few Common Redshanks, singles of Common Sandpiper and Ruff, still two Avocets, only two Grey Plovers, several dozen Common Ringed and two Kittlitz’s Plovers.
As we were scanning through these waders, this bird popped in view:
But which one?
European, American and Asian Golden Plover are all possible here, but all three are rare to extremely rare vagrants to Senegal. European was quickly eliminated based on structure alone: long legs, elongated rear due to long wings, generally slender appearance. It then flew off a short distance and landed out of sight, but luckily we saw the bird several times at fairly close range in the following two hours.
While we were watching this bird, I spotted another intriguing plover in the background, though this one was a young bird (2nd calendar year) that lacked any black on its face or underparts: another golden plover!
And then a little while later this one: similar to the previous bird, but overall appearance was more uniform brown. This bird hadn’t started moulting its mantle or coverts yet, unlike the individual above.
Young birds especially can be tricky to separate from Grey Plovers, so we made sure to get good views of the underwing pattern even if structure alone – identical to the adult bird – made it clear that we were watching a total of three different Golden Plovers. Both youngsters lacked the distinctive black “armpit” patch of Grey Plover but rather showed pale grey axillaries as can be seen below.
We also paid attention to silhouette and structure in flight, and found that the adult bird had toes that were marginally (but clearly!) extending beyond the tail tip – a feature that’s typically associated with Pacific Golden Plover, but which appears to be variable and as such may not be highly useful. We heard at least one bird calling, a high-pitched kleeuu. No recording unfortunately… I should just have left the recorder on while we were watching these birds! At least we managed to get a few decent pictures (I took well over a hundred pics…).
In the end, after examining our pictures back home, we concluded that all three were American Golden Plovers: wings projecting substantially beyond the tail tip, tertials ending well before the tail tip, leaving at least 3-4 (5?) primary tips visible; relatively short and fine bill; the call which more closely resembled recordings of Pluvialis dominica. Supporting characteristics in favour of American are, for the young birds, the very limited amount of golden “spangling” on the mantle and scapulars; the broad whitish supercilium; the larger, more diffuse “ear spot” and prominent “loral smudge”. The very coarse mottling of the moulting adult is said to fit American better than Asian Golden Plover, and the blotches on the rear flank and on undertail coverts also point towards the Yankee origin.
Occurrence in Senegal
This observation appears to be the 9th for Senegal¹, with previous eight records listed as follows:
- 28/05/1979, one caught on the northern shores of Lac de Guiers (Saint-Louis) by Bernard Treca (Morel & Morel)
- 10-16 and 29/10/2005, a juvenile at Technopole (Holmström et al.; W. Faveyts; two pictures here), probably the same bird
- 16-17/10/2006, one photographed at Ziguinchor (ABC Bulletin Recent Reports)
- 23/6/2012, an adult in breeding plumage at Technopole (Marc van Roomen)
- 22/11/2012, two at Lac Tanma (Thies), by Paul Robinson (detailed account and pictures here)
- 11/02/2013, one at Diembering (Basse-Casamance), by Simon Cavaillès and Jean-François Blanc (picture here)
- 07/03/2013, one at Lac Mbeubeusse (Dakar), Paul Robinson (details and pictures here)
- 22/04-09/05/2015, one at Technopole, Jean-François Blanc (22/4) & Bram Piot (26/4 & 9/5; ABC Bulletin Recent Reports)
The increase in number of records in recent years is interesting of course, but most likely reflects a much better observer coverage of suitable stop-over sites for waders, particularly in the Dakar area since the start of the decade. All records are from between mid-October and the end of May, and one can assume that the species is now a regular though very scarce visitor to Senegal. With records from several other countries in the subregion, American Golden Plover appears to be the most regular Nearctic vagrant to West Africa. In neighbouring Gambia, there are at least five records (1984, 1997, 2005, 2013, 2016), while the first (and so far only?) for Mauritania was in the Diawling NP, just across the border with Senegal, in February 2004 (two birds).
The only record of Pacific Golden Plover for Senegal was from mid-May in the Saloum delta, more precisely from the Ile aux Oiseaux where Wim, Simon and others saw a neat adult on 10/5/12 (see their short note in Malimbus 35, 2013, and picture below).
Back to yesterday’s sightings: in addition to the various waders already mentioned, other good birds included a Mediterranean Gull among the Slender-billed, Grey-headed and Black-headed Gulls (the latter now in low numbers only), as well as all three species of marsh tern: +10 Black, 3-4 White-winged, at least one Whiskered Tern – almost all still in winter plumage or moulting into 1st summer plumage. Also a single European Spoonbill, ca. 10 Sand Martins, but otherwise few other northern migrants.
Never a dull moment birding in Dakar… let’s see what our next visit brings!
Addendum 03/05/17: the three American Golden Plovers were still present on May 1st, and were joined by a fourth bird (another 2nd year) on 29/4 and 1/5 – unless this new bird was already present when we first found the plovers. And the next visit… well it brought a superb Red-necked Phalarope!
¹ Post updated 15/1/18 with the June 2012 record