Quick note to report Senegal’s 12th and 13th American Golden Plovers, a species that is now near-annual here but which always remains a good find.
We found the first of the season last weekend at lac Mbeubeusse (north of Keur Massar) which we visited early afternoon on our way back from a very enjoyable trip to Popenguine – more on that visit in an upcoming post. Both the date (3 November) and the location are rather typical for this wader: out of the 11 previous records, eight are from the Dakar region, and three were obtained between mid-October and mid-December. Paul had already seen a bird in the same location back in March 2013: needless to say that lac Mbeubeusse ought to be visited much more frequently than just a handful of times per year: pretty much every visit is bound to turn up something good. As always we can only speculate about the number of Nearctic vagrants that pass through Senegal every year or that end up spending the winter here…
After spotting what looked like a suspicious Pluvialis plover (= anything but a Grey Plover), based on the fairly contrasted plumage, seemingly long-bodied and long-legged appearance combined with a small-ish bill, we had to wait a while, gradually approaching the lake’s edge, before we could confirm that it was indeed a “Lesser” Golden Plover (= American or Pacific GP). The important primary projection with wing tips reaching well beyond the tail, bronzy rump and lower back, dark-capped head with distinctive pale supercilium and forehead, and most significantly at one point the bird stretched its wings upwards which allowed us to see the grey underwing. Everything else about the bird was pretty standard for a first-year American Golden Plover. Bingo!
To get a sense of the potential of lac Mbeubeusse for waders and other waterbirds, check out our eBird checklist: other good birds here included hundreds of Northern Shovelers and many Garganeys, Ruffs, Little Stints and Common Ringed Plovers, several Curlew Sandpipers and Dunlins, quite a few Audouin’s Gulls, a few terns including all three species of Chlidonias marsh terns, 124 Greater Flamingos, at least one Red-rumped Swallow, etc. etc. All this with Dakar’s giant rubbish tip as a backdrop, spewing black smoke and gradually covering the niaye in a thick layer of waste on its western edge… quite a sad contrast with all the bird life. And definitely not the most idyllic birding hotspot!
Number 13 was found by Mark Finn barely a week later, on Friday Nov. 9th, at one of the lagoons near Pointe Sarène, south of Mbour. As I happened to spend the weekend at nearby Nianing and was planning on visiting Sarène anyway, I went there the following day and easily located the bird, an adult moulting into winter plumage. Unlike the previous bird, it was actively feeding on the shores of a seasonal pond surrounded by pastures and fields, along with several other waders including Ruff, Redshank, Greenshank, Redshank. Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Turnstone, Common Sandpiper, and Common Snipe. This appears to be the first record along the Petite Côte south of Dakar, at a site that has great potential for shorebirds and other migrants: around Nianing, Sarène and Mbodiène are several seasonal lakes that fill up during the rains, as well as coastal saltwater (or brackish) lagoons as can be seen on the map below. The marker shows where the AGP was feeding on Saturday.
Despite being a bit distant I managed some decent record shots of the bird, but unfortunately my camera was stolen later in the weekend… so these pictures are lost forever to humanity. Not that I would have won any prizes with them. So no more blurred pictures from the field on this blog for a little while.
The Sarène bird looked pretty much like this one, just slightly less black on the chest:
Anyway, as I think we’ve already mentioned in the past, “AGP” is the most frequent Nearctic wader in Senegal and more generally in West Africa, followed by Buff-breasted Sandpiper (nine Senegalese records so far) and Lesser Yellowlegs (eight). See this post for a list of the first eight known AGP records for Senegal. Since then (spring 2017), the following sightings are to be added:
- April-May 2017: an adult and two 2nd c.y. birds from 17.4 – 1.5 at least, with a fourth bird (= technically an additional record) up to 21.5., at Technopole (BP, Theo Peters, Wim Mullié, Miguel Lecoq, Ross Wanless, Justine Dosso)
- 8 April 2018: an adult or 2nd c.y. at Technopole (BP) – photos above and more info here.
- 3 November 2018: one 1st c.y. at lac Mbeubeusse, Dakar (BP, Gabriel Caucanas, Miguel Lecoq, Ross Wanless)
- 9-10 November 2018: one ad. at Sarène, Thiès region (M. Finn et al., BP)
Out of these 12 records, eight are from Dakar (mostly Technopole of course!), just one from the north – the first country record, in 1979 – and two are from Basse-Casamance where the species may well winter, at least occasionally. And six of these records are from just the past four years: one in 2015, four birds in 2017, and now already three birds this year. American Golden Plovers tend to mainly show up in spring (April-May) and in autumn (Oct.-Nov.) as shown in this little chart below; it’s also in spring that they linger the longest: in spring 2017, Technopole saw a continued presence during five weeks, involving at least four different birds. Note that birds that stayed for several days across two months are counted in both months.
A few more hazy pictures from the Mbeubeusse bird:
C’est à trois que nous sommes partis à l’aube dimanche dernier, destination lacs Tanma, Mbaouane et Retba (Lac Rose). Il a fait chaud, très chaud, et après six heures sur le terrain nous étions bien cuits… mais comme toujours le déplacement en valait la peine: 103 espèces notées dont quelques “premières” pour la saison, trois coches pour Miguel et quelques dizaines pour Roel, et un rapace tout à fait inattendu (qui sera un ajout à ma liste “Sénégal”!).
A commencer par le lac Tanma, un peu plus accessible qu’il y a cinq semaines, le 4×4 de Miguel aidant. On commence par explorer la brousse en bordure de la plaine, histoire de voir si les passeraux européens sont déjà arrivés sur place (lors de notre dernière visite fin août, il y avait “juste” cette fameuse pie-grièche hybride et deux Hypolaïs polyglottes) et de se positionner du bon côté pour scruter le lac. En effet, il nous faut éviter le contre-jour qui empêche de bien voir les limis, canards et autres guifettes.
Les buissons donc: d’abord une Pie-grièche à tête rousse (bien pure celle-ci; Woodchat Shrike), puis deux Erémomèles à croupion jaune (Yellow-bellied Eremomela) – espèce désormais classique au lac Tanma – et effectivement, quelques migrateurs supplémentaires: Hypolaïs polyglotte, Fauvette grisette, Bergeronnette printanière. (Melodious Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Yellow Wagtail). Un Circaète Jean-le-Blanc immature est posé sur un baobab, alors que quelques Busards des roseaux, tout récemment arrivés d’Europe, évoluent au-dessus des rivages du lac (Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier).
Pour le reste, on trouve les habituels résidents ou migrateurs afro-tropicaux: un Coucou didric chante au loin, plusieurs Rollier d’Abyssinie, un Agrobate podobé, un joli mâle de Beaumarquet melba, quelques Euplectes franciscains, Alectos à bec blanc en pagaille, etc. (Diedrik Cuckoo, Abyssinian Roller, Black Scrub-Robin, Green-winged Pytilia, Northern Red Bishop, White-billed Buffalo-Weaver).
Côté lac, il y a bien plus de monde qu’il y a cinq semaines: environ 435 Flamants roses (Greater Flamingo), une centaine de Sarcelles d’été (Garganey) et quelques dizaines de Canards souchets (Shoveler), et surtout: une nouvelle famille de Canards à bosse, une douzaine de canetons menés par Maman Bossue (Knob-billed Duck, aka Comb Duck). Et plus tard, neuf canetons avec deux adultes de Dendrocygne veuf (on dit alors des dendrocygnons? White-faced Whistling Duck). La reproduction du Canard à bosse n’est plus une surprise ici car on l’avait déjà confirmée en novembre 2013, puis suspectée l’an dernier, et lors de notre visite précédente une femelle est vue plusieurs fois en vol en train de crier. Celle du “canard siffleur” par contre est la première nidif que je constate ici; la date correspond tout à fait à ce qu’indiquent les Morel: “reproduction pendant les pluies de juilet à octobre (très peu de nids trouvés) et en Gambie entre septembre et novembre.” Impressionnant tout de même comment ces canards arrivent à nicher sur un plan d’eau temporaire (il y a deux mois à peine le lac etait à sec) avec très peu de végétation lacustre!
Et bien sûr pas mal de limicoles, bien que pour la plupart un peu loins: Chevaliers aboyeur, stagnatile, gambette, sylvain, guignette, culblanc (Greenshank, Redshank, Marsh, Wood, Common, Green Sandpiper) ; trois Gravelots pâtres et quelques Grands Gravelots, une poignée de Courlis corlieux et Barges à queue noire, plein d’Echasses et 5-6 Avocettes, quelques Combattants, Bécasseaux variables… (Kittlitz’s & Common Ringed Plover, Whimbrel, Black-tailed Godwit, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Ruff, Dunlin). Une Sterne caspienne se tient parmi les Sternes hansels et Goélands railleurs; cette fois on n’identifie qu’une seule Guifette leucoptère parmi les dizaines de noires, mais la plupart des laridés se tiennent sur l’autre rivage, un peu loin donc (Caspian & Gull-billed Tern, Slender-billed Gull, White-winged & Black Tern).
Pendant qu’on observe tout ce beau monde, un cri attire mon attention et je vois alors deux oiseaux passer derrière nous: des Coucous-geais (Great Spotted Cuckoo), apparemment un adulte et un jeune. Un peu plus tard un autre immature arrive en vol et traverse lui aussi le lac: oiseaux en migration active, ou nicheurs locaux? Mes amis genevois avaient vu un jeune nourri par des Choucadors à longue queue, le 12/11/16 au même endroit.
La surprise du jour viendra sous la forme d’un rapace passant haut dans le ciel que je tiens d’abord – à défaut d’autres options logiques – pour un Circaète brun… mais qui s’avère rapidement être un Aigle huppard (Long-crested Eagle)! Heureusement que Miguel était plus réveillé que moi. Arrivé du côteau de Pout, il cercle dans la zone tout en criant. Il y a bien une ancienne donnée non loin à Thiès (en décembre 1979!) sur eBird, mais actuellement cette espèce est restreinte, au Sénégal, au tiers méridional du pays. On s’attendra donc plutot à le voir à Toubacouta, en Casamance ou dans le Niokolo-Koba, mais certainement pas près de Dakar!
On rebrousse chemin pour se rendre du côté du lac Mbaouane et pour visiter un petit marais derrière le village de Beer, où l’on ajoute le Heron pourpré, un couple de Talèves d’Afrique, 2-3 Guêpiers perses, un Martinet des baobabs, des Hirondelles des mosquées, 3-4 Rousserolles des cannes et quelques autres à la liste (Purple Heron, African Swamphen, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Mottled Spinetail, Mosque Swallow, Greater Swamp Warbler). Plusieurs Balbuzards (Osprey) et quelques limicoles lointains fréquentent le lac lui-même, très peu profond comme le lac Tanma.
Il nous reste un peu de temps et un (petit) peu d’énergie, donc on fait encore un crochet par le lac Rose où je voulais parcourir la steppe au NE du lac, ces pelouses halophiles qui avaient produit quelques surprises l’hiver dernier. D’abord quatre superbes Courvites de Temminck (Temminck’s Courser) au bord de la piste, puis plus tard encore un qui passe en vol, et encore trois individus levés alors que nous étions en train de rechercher l’Alouette chanteuse (Singing Bush Lark). Visiblement la zone est un bon “spot” pour ces deux oiseaux qui peuvent être difficiles à trouver ailleurs dans la région. Une voire deux Alouettes seront vues, dans la même zone que l’hiver dernier (et en plein chant de parade, tournant haut dans le ciel telle une Alouette des champs).
Sinon assez peu d’oiseaux sont vus dans ce secteur, mais on entend deux Outardes de Savile (Savile’s Bustard) chanter au loin dans les dunes – une première pour moi si près de Dakar. Un petit groupe de limicoles passant en vol est composé de six Corlieux et quatre Barges rousses, deux espèces que je vois de temps en temps migrer ensemble devant Ngor (Whimbrel & Bar-tailed Godwit). Un Héron mélanocephale (Black-headed Heron) passe lui aussi en vol: une fois de plus, cette espèce semble bien régulière dans les Niayes, ce qui ne ressort pas sur la carte de répartition du Borrow & Demey. Les rives nord du lac sont fréquentées par des dizaines de Bécasseaux minutes et quelques sanderlings, avec en prime deux Pluviers argentés, mais point de laridés (Little Stint, Sanderling, Grey Plover).
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
In recent weeks I’ve had the chance to pay a few visits to several of the Niayes wetlands, first at Mboro (twice, on Nov. 16 and 18), then Lac Tanma and the wetlands between Mbayakh and Kayar (Dec. 11), and finally near Lac Rose (Dec. 18). Lake Tanma has already featured several times in these pages, and Technopole is of course one of the most prominent and often visited sites, but little has been written about some of the other wetlands along the “Grande Côte”.
Since they are considered an “IBA” (Important Bird Area) by BirdLife International, there’s a pretty good description of the area on BirdLife’s website, so rather than coming up with my own overview I’ll quote from those pages. The Niayes are “a string of permanent freshwater lakes and additional temporarily wet depressions (niayes) lying along a line running north-east from the outskirts of Dakar to around 60 km south-west of St Louis. The lakes lie behind the ridge of coastal sandy dunes, in shallow depressions at 1–4 m above sea-level, over a distance of c.150 km. They are replenished both by rainfall and from the underlying water-table, which lies close to the surface. The wetlands cover 40 km² at low water [i.e. during the dry season]; at high water, all the lakes can increase their surface area five-fold.”
As is the case with many other IBAs in Senegal, the Niayes face quite a number of threats and have no legal protected status: “The whole site is threatened by human encroachment and various forms of development, particularly those niayes such as Hann Mariste and Pikine-Guédiawaye [= Technopole!] that are within or close to Dakar and to the main road leading east and north out of the capital. One of the main threats is from drainage and land reclamation for building, which is proceeding very fast. Over-abstraction of water and various forms of pollution threaten the hydrology and water quality of the underlying water-table. In addition to their immediate conservation value, the niayes represent a huge educational resource (large numbers of easily visible, interesting birds, very close to dense urban centres), which will also be lost if the site is further degraded.”
The two images below, taken in opposite directions just a few minutes apart, nicely illustrate the effect the presence of water has on the landscape – and by extension on its wildlife: dry dunes with sparse thorny shrubs on one side, lush vegetation and cultivated fields on the other.
The small lake just south of Mboro (near the ruins of Hotel du Lac, a couple of hundred meters off the main Mbayakh-Mboro road) is one of several wetlands around this busy little town, and a perfect spot for a quick stop while traveling from Dakar to northern Senegal (or for the return journey!). While we only scratched the surface, the lake can obviously be a very rewarding birding site both for local and migrant species. There are impressive densities of African Swamphen, African Jacana, Common Moorhen and Squacco Heron, and several Black-headed Herons have been seen here on every visit. In November, a handful of Pintails and White-faced Whistling-Ducks were here, as were a few waders: Black-winged Stilt, Wattled and Spur-winged Lapwings, Wood Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Common Snipe. Several Little Grebes were around, including at least one breeding pair. During a quick stop on 4/1/17, in addition to most of the species already listed there were 8 Shovelers, a Garganey and ca. 18 Ruff here.
The area is obviously quite good for raptors, with African Hobby (a presumed pair), Marsh Harrier, and Short-toed Eagle seen on both visits in November, as well as Black-winged Kite on Nov. 18th. While checking the sky for raptors, Mottled Spinetail could easily be seen among the Little Swifts, while the bushes on the slope above the lake held African species such as Purple Roller, Northern Anteater Chat, Piapiac, Yellow-billed Shrike, and Fork-tailed Drongo.
Also here was a Gambian Sun Squirrel Heliosciurus gambianus which was spotted by my friends shortly after I’d left the site. Unlike the Striped Ground Squirrel, it’s not an easy species to see in these parts of the country.
At “lake” Mbaouane (or Mbawan as it seems to be spelled locally) there are extensive moist grasslands as seen on the first picture in this post, and there’s a sort of oasis running from the town of Mbayakh to the lake. I’ve been wanting to visit for quite some time but it’s only recently that I decided to head out there. That morning I first went to Lake Tanma, but this has completely dried up by now, with only the two small ponds on either side of the bridge now holding some water. As a result, all the ducks, waders, gulls and terns have left the site, with only a lone Osprey to be seen where less than a month before there were thousands of birds. We’ll now need to wait until August next year for the lake to fill up again. (Birding was still good though: a Short-toed Eagle, a pair of Temminck’s Coursers, a juvenile Green-winged Pytillia, 2-3 Purple Rollers, plus the usual suspects and a young African Wolf all made up for the lack of waterbirds).
One of the first birds I saw after getting out of the car near Mbaouane was a Blue-bellied Roller, a species that I hadn’t seen so far in the Dakar area (my only record up to now was in Casamance). It’s likely a rare resident or maybe a wet season visitor up to this latitude and surely it’s at the edge of its range here. Morel & Morel mention that they can be seen up to around Thies, which is just a bit further inland. It turned out that there were two birds here, presumably a pair (in the picture below, one can see that the bird on the left has longer tail streamers; I assume this to be the male).
Another interesting record here was that of a Quailfinch, which in typical fashion flew over hesitantly while uttering its distinctive call. This species is well known from the Saloum delta and is also present in the lower Senegal delta, albeit in lower densities it seems, but is not regularly recorded from the Niayes as far as I know (which admittedly is most likely a reflection of the absence of birders in this part of the country!). Regardless, the fact that this is largely a resident species and that December corresponds to the breeding season in Senegambia, one can assume that the species occurs routinely in the area.
Some of the other birds seen here were Purple and Black-headed Herons, while Mottled Spinetail, Red-chested and Mosque Swallows were flying overhead.
Also known as Lac Retba, this is a bit of an unusual Niayes lake in the sense that it is a permanent salt water body, well known for its salt industry. As such, bird life is quite different from the other wetlands in the region: besides a few gulls, Greater Flamingos and a few waders, few birds are present on the lake itself. During my recent visit to the place, there were no flamingos – only a single Audouin’s Gull, the usual Ospreys (probably 15-20 in total), but a decent gathering of waders was found towards the eastern edge of the lake: Common Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Grey Plover, Whimbrel, Little Stint, Sanderling, and Turnstone. Also here was a White Wagtail, while the plains to the north-east of the lake held Singing Bushlark, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlarks, Tawny Pipit, Yellow Wagtails, etc.
I then made my way to the edge of the seasonal lakes (now all dried up) and the dunes even further towards Kayar, where a good mix of local species was to be found: Black-headed Heron, Double-spurred Francolin, Vieillot’s Barbet, Grey Woodpecker, Brown Babbler, Splendid Sunbird, White-rumped and – more surprisingly – Yellow-fronted Canary to name but a few. Common Whitethroat was the only northern migrant here.
On the way back, a quick scan of a grassy field produced the surprise of the day under the form of three Buff-breasted Sandpipers loosely associating with a flock of Kittlitz’s Plovers – see my earlier post on this exceptional record, plus the bonus picture below.
Last Sunday I had the opportunity to return to Lac Tanma, one of the Niayes wetlands of the Cap-Vert Peninsula just outside Dakar, though technically located in the Thiès region. Together with Paul Robinson I’d visited the site in November 2013 and was keen on checking out the site once again (see Paul’s post on our 2013 excursion, during which we found a number of interesting species, including one of Senegal’s very few confirmed breeding records of Knob-billed Duck).
Accompanied by Diemé, we set off at 6.30 and reached the lake about an hour later, shortly after sunrise and before the oppressive heat set in. We started by exploring the area to the north of the “bridge”, which held the usual Spur-winged Lapwings and Senegal Thick-knees, as well as a few Wattled Lapwings, a Western Marsh Harrier, a lone Yellow Wagtail and a small flock of Gull-billed Terns hawking insects, while White-faced Ducks and several groups of waders flew in from the coast towards the main lake. A handful of Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks, always unpredictable to find, were feeding out in the open, and a Yellow-bellied Eremomela was seen at close range – a rather unexpected record here as this is much more of a dry-country species which is mainly restricted to the northern half of the country (Sauvage & Rodwell (1998) mention just two records from the Dakar region).
It took a while to reach the main lake on the other side of the road, the vegetation being very dense, almost impenetrable at times. Singles of Woodchat Shrike, Melodious Warbler and Subalpine Warbler were the only Palearctic passerines encountered here. More numerous were local species such as White-billed Buffalo-Weaver (one of the baobab trees holds a colony, with several birds seen nest building), Black-crowned Tchagra, Woodland Kingfisher and Northern Red Bishop.
The lake itself was fairly empty even though the water level was lower than expected, given how much it has rained these past weeks. A nice surprise here was a pair of Black-crowned Cranes, which is probably a scarce migrant in this part of the country as it moves between its stronghold in the lower Senegal valley and the Saloum region and possibly further south. A few dozen Ruffs and a handful of Black-winged Stilts, Greenshanks, Common Redshanks and Wood Sandpipers were feeding along the shore. Eleven Garganeys were visible but many more may well have been present, hidden by the dense aquatic vegetation – and if it hadn’t been flying around, we surely would have missed out on Knob-billed Duck (one female: is it breeding again here?).
Conditions were too windy to make decent sound recordings today, so I reverted to the camera instead:
Finally, a few recent records from Dakar are worth mentioning here: a Yellow White-eye in the King Fahd (aka Méridien) hotel gardens on 7 October, where Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler and Subalpine Warbler were also present last week. Also noteworthy were three sightings of possibly the same juvenile Brown Booby flying past Club Calao at Ngor, and decent numbers of shearwaters (mainly Sooty) and Sabine’s Gulls from the same site, with respectively 44 and 34 migrating birds during just 1.5 hours of seawatching on 10 October. Oh and the usual Peregrine has returned to Ngor Diarama Hotel where it will likely spend the next few months (and what was probably another bird was at the Mamelles light house last Monday).
A pleasure of Technopole for Dakar birdwatching is the easily visible, sometimes unpredictable change in birds. Some of this is seasonal, with regional and continental migration, but I suspect there is also a lot of local movement of birds between here, the other nearby lakes of the Niayes and the coast. The first visit of the year on 8 January also produced four puzzles.
On our last visit all the gulls were inter-African migrants. Today, they were all of European or at least Mediterranean origin; several hundred lesser black-backed and black-headed gulls and 40+ Audouin’s gulls. The Audouins were a mix of ages, though mostly first and second calendar year birds, with only one adult. The preponderance of young birds around Dakar is also noted by observers at the seawatching point of Ile de Ngor, whilst adults dominate the large roost at Palmarin, 100km to the south. This split of age classes is a mystery.
Amongst the usual wader species five avocet were new and c350 black-tailed godwit was a good count. The godwits were ignoring the water and feeding on short, dry grassland. The current knowledge is that most of the godwits wintering along the West African coast, mainly Dutch breeders, move rapidly to the rice fields of Casamance and Guinea Bissau and remain there until moving back to the Netherlands via the Iberian peninsula rice fields, so it is interesting to find hundreds in Dakar in January, not feeding on rice grains. Interest in the species has grown recently due to its population decline and classification as globally Near Threatened.
The Technopole list increased to 164 with three not very surprising additions; woodchat shrike, chiffchaff and redstart. More interesting was this lovely southern grey shrike. This is a species that is probably being seen more often south of 15 degrees north than formerly in Senegal – Morel has only two records up to 1980 from these latitudes, when it was frequent further north. From the limited literature to hand here, it is difficult give this bird a sub-specific identification. Three sub-species breed in Mauritania. Senegal birds are assumed or known to be elegans of the central and northern Sahara. Our bird would fit this with the lack of a strong white line above the black mask (white is confined to a small eyebrow), but not with elegans’ pure white underparts. This bird is grey at least on the side and the white eyebrow is not a feature visible in the field. This would point to algeriensis, the breeding species of NW Africa down to coastal NW Mauritania, not yet recorded in Senegal. This will need further checking!
Puzzle four was what hundreds (low thousands?) of yellow wagtails had found to eat. The very bad photo (mine) shows birds perched in bushes of Prosopis juliflora.
This small tree is itself interesting. It is related to acacias, but native to Mexico and further south in the New World. It is a popular, but sometimes invasive introduction to poor soils in the Sahel across to Ethiopia, with a large scientific literature on its usefulness. At Technopole, with no livestock to eat the pods, which look like green beans, it just seems to be ornamental. It had a huge number of flies, whilst most of Technopole lacked flying insects. The wagtails were feeding on, and in aerial capture from, the bushes, the leaves of which were covered with their droppings.
There was no new visit today, but whilst filing some photos I realised there have been three Franklins gulls, though never more than two on the same day, such are the wonders of digital photography. The top two are cut from the same photo, when they were together on 30 July. Bird 1 has much less white, but the white still extends up the forehead to level with the eye and onto the upper throat. Neither has any white pimary wing tips, hence the thought they are first summer (born 2010) birds. Bird 3, photographed on its own six days later (5 August) has much less white on the face, not extending up the forehead or down the throat and giving a distinct stripe. Also, less conclusively as it can depend on how the wings are held, it has slight white primary wing tips.
Franklins gull is a Canadian and northern USA breeder , so would be moulting out of its breeding plumage of full black hood in July and August, so bird 3 photographed later cannot be one of the other birds moving in to breeding plumage. I do not know the species well enough to say if it is another first winter or a moulting adult. Hopefully we will get an answer from North America.
It has been a strange series of records, but now the blog should move on to proper Senegalese birds!