A recent early morning visit to the Trois-Marigots area, just outside Saint Louis in the lower Senegal delta, quickly turned into a proper gallinule fest, with dozens – hundreds probably! – of rallidae: Moorhens, African Swamphens, Black Crakes, and even a few of the much hoped for Allen’s Gallinule. No crakes this time round, but all in all a pretty spectacular sight in a great setting. Below are a few images taken during our visit, all but the last one taken from the Tylla digue which crosses the second of the the Trois-Marigots. Vieux and I mainly birded a stretch of just a few hundred meters for the first couple of hours, with new birds showing up all the time.
With habitat like this, what would you expect?
Rails of course, but also African Pygmy-Goose, Purple Heron, Black Heron, Little Bittern, African Fish-Eagle, Marsh Harrier, various Acrocephalus warblers, Winding Cisticola, Zebra Waxbill, and so on.
Allen’s Gallinule is pretty local in Senegal, being most regularly reported from Djoudj and from Trois-Marigots, though it also occurs in Casamance and probably elsewhere (still waiting for it to show up one day at Technopole!). We saw at least two adults, including one with a bright blue frontal shield. The second bird, pictured below, was somewhat duller but the obvious red eye indicates that it is also in breeding plumage, making it likely that the species breeds here at Trois-Marigots.
And here’s that obligatory Pygmy-Goose picture, which I have to say I was quite pleased with:
This one a bit less so, but nevertheless, always great to get a reasonable picture of a nervous warbler that just would not sit still… While most wintering warblers are long gone by now, there were still quite a few of these Sedge Warblers around, plus several Eurasian Reed Warblers, two Willow Warblers, and just one Bonelli’s Warbler. For the most part these are probably birds from the northern part of their breeding range.
Complete eBird checklist here, plus this one from the now bone-dry savanna between the first (also dry by now) and second marigots: Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Temminck’s Courser, Cut-throat, Pygmy Sunbird, etc. For more on Trois-Marigots and its crakes – including the rarely seen Little Crake – see this post, and of course many other notes by Frederic Bacuez on Ornithondar.
A brief visit to the Lampsar near Makhana village, on the opposite side of the route nationale, paid off with quite a few additional species such as fly-over Glossy Ibises, Collared Pratincoles, several waders including two Little Ringed Plovers, and most notably a small colony of Black-winged Stilts, with at least four birds incubating. There were probably several more, given that some of the nests were relatively well concealed as can be seen on the picture below. Checklist here.
Staying on our swamp theme, here are a few more pictures from the Easter weekend which we spent at Zebrabar at the Langue de Barbarie national park. The Saint Louis STEP (sewage farm) was even more smelly than usual, but as always held some good birds such as this River Prinia and Greater Painted Snipe, two species that were also encountered at Trois-Marigots.
Finally, I should mention that Vieux recently found Senegal’s 6th or 7th Lesser Jacana, more precisely at the Lampsar lodge on March 16th. He’d found the previous one just last summer during a waterbird count near Ross Bethio on July 15th. The species is probably a fairly regular yet scarce visitor to Senegal, but its precise status is yet to be defined. Once again Vieux shows that he’s one of the most skilled – and most active – birders in the country!
Introducing what will hopefully be a useful resource to some readers out there and more generally for birders visiting Senegal or The Gambia!
Until recently, the only comprehensive sets of sound recordings of West African birds were limited to CD collections that are only available commercially, often at a high price – and some are no longer for sale. The most comprehensive of these is the African bird sounds CD set by sound recorder pioneer Claude Chappuis, published nearly 20 years ago accompanied by an extensive booklet, covering 1043 species. As Françoise Dowsett-Lemaire wrote in her extensive review in the African Bird Club Bulletin, this work marks “a landmark in African bioacoustic publications, one that will (and must) be widely used in the field and which will remain unsurpassed for many years to come.”
The only other relevant audio guide for West Africa published so far is the Bird Song of The Gambia & Senegal CD set produced by Cive Barlow and colleagues in 2002, covering 265 species, but it is no longer available it seems; similar initiatives have covered e.g. East Africa (East African Bird Sounds by Brian Finch) and Zambia (Bob Stjernstedt’s Sounds of Zambian Wildlife).
But who still uses CDs? Digital field guides under the form of Android apps or e-books have made their appearance in recent years, and these often contain a range of sounds for each species – Borrow & Demey’s Birds of Senegal and The Gambia being the most comprehensive, but it’s only available as an Apple Book for iOS devices.
And then there’s xeno-canto.
We’ve often referred to this amazing resource on this blog, but what exactly is xeno-canto? The open-access initiative called the xeno-canto project was established in 2005 by Xeno-canto Foundation, aiming to popularise bird sound recording worldwide, improve accessibility of bird sounds, and increase knowledge of bird sounds. Initially focused on the Neotropics, it soon expanded to all other world regions, including Africa in 2008.
The collection continues to grow substantially: at the time of writing there are 31,275 recordings of 1,974 species for Africa (just over two years ago, in October 2016 there were “just” 19,813 recordings of 1,841 species). Needless to say, much more than any of the audio guides mentioned above, “XC” truly revolutionised the way birders and researchers alike can freely share, access, and use sound recordings. All for free.
Now for the audio guide:
It’s actually a simple xeno-canto “set”, available through this link:
The selection of 746 sound recordings included in this set cover 450 species, or 66% of the total number recorded in Senegal (677). This is about three quarters of the 600 or so regular species in the country, i.e. excluding vagrants and birds with uncertain status. Vagrants as well as scarce species that typically do not usually call or sing when encountered in Senegal (e.g. Honey Buzzard), or otherwise silent non-breeding visitors (e.g. harriers and other raptors, Palearctic ducks, storks, seabirds), were not included in the set.
There are of course still a few missing species, including several for which there are no recordings at all available on xeno-canto, most notably White-crested Tiger Heron, Beaudouin’s and Brown Snake Eagles, Denham’s Bustard, Cassin’s Honeybird, African Hobby, Sennar Penduline Tit and Crimson Seedcracker. Hopefully these will be added in the near future, in which case I will of course add them to the set. Likewise, for others such as Greater Painted-Snipe (no recordings from Africa on xeno-canto!), Red-headed Quelea and a few other scarce songbirds there are no decent recordings.
The sounds included in this set were for the main part recorded in Senegal or The Gambia, and where not possible I tried to prioritise recordings from neighbouring countries. This is relevant for particular subspecies that show vocal differences between taxa, but also because there may be regional dialects within populations. I chose to include my own recordings where possible, simply because I’m in full control of these and can make sure that sound types, subspecies and other attributes are appropriately registered, and these sounds definitely won’t be deleted.
Do keep in mind that many species have a large repertoire of call types – advertising song, territorial song, subsong, contact call, flight call, warning calls, etc. – and not all are represented in this collection. Also, some species exhibit a great deal of individual variation, and then there’s those that weave in mimicry of other species such as robin-chats. Additional details on behaviour, habitat, background species and other relevant information are provided for many of the recordings.
The recording set is accessible to anyone – no app, no account needed – from any internet -enabled device, while recordings can be downloaded as mp3 files for offline use (but please… take it easy on the “tape-luring”, i.e. attracting birds with playback of their calls or song as a means to see the bird). Thank you xeno-canto.
Please do note the Creative Commons license which stipulates that material can be freely redistributed with modifications and for non-commercial purposes, with acknowledgement of authorship (or “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike”, CC BY-NC-SA). Some recordings by other recordists may be published under a slightly different CC license.
Using the audio guide is pretty easy:
- Go to this URL: www.xeno-canto.org/set/2242
- Browse the list of species, by searching on the vernacular or scientific name (note that xeno-canto is available in many languages: scroll to the bottom of the page to switch to another language). See sample screenshot of a search for sunbirds here.
- Change the format of the list if a format other than “Concise” is preferred (Detailed, Codes, Sonograms)
- Download recordings as mp3 files, by clicking the download button
- For each species, access additional sounds, range map, and links to external resources (AVoCet, Macauley Library by the Cornell Lab, HBW, BirdLife, etc.)
Finally, while writing about bird sound recording I can’t not mention The Sound Approach collective which has done so much in recent years to put the importance of bird vocalisations in identification and taxonomy on the forefront, and to firmly establish birders’ interest in sound recording. It’s only after reading their highly acclaimed The Sound Approach to Birding (2006) that I started to better understand bird vocalisations and that I became a fairly active sound “recordist”. Still one of my favourite bird books! Maybe one of these days I’ll write up something about sound recording and sound birding. After all, up to 80% of birdwatching is actually… bird listening!
Une compilation de sons d’oiseaux du Sénégal, ce “jeu” xeno-canto contient des enregistrements de chants et différents types de cris pour une sélection d’espèces, soit 746 enregistrements couvrant 450 espèces. Les visiteurs rares et les migrateurs qui sont généralement silencieux dans les quartiers d’hivernage ne sont pas inclus. Il manque bien sûr plusieurs espèces, mais on espère que des enregistrements pour celles-ci deviennent prochainement disponibles et on les ajoutera alors au jeu. De même, plusieurs espèces existent bien dans la collection xeno-canto mais il n’y a pas actuellement des enregistrements de bonne qualité.
La plupart des enregistrements proviennent du Sénégal ou des pays voisins, et pour l’essentiel il s’agit de mes propres prises de son. A noter que de nombreuses espèces ont un large répertoire de types de sons (chant territorial, “subsong”, cri de contact, cri de vol, cris d’alarme, etc.), et que toutes ne sont pas représentées dans cette collection. En outre, certaines espèces présentent de nombreuses variations individuelles, puis il y a celles qui imitent d’autres espèces telles que les cossyphes. Des détails supplémentaires sur le comportement, l’habitat, les espèces en arrière-plan et d’autres informations pertinentes sont fournis pour de nombreux enregistrements.
Ce jeu d’enregistrements est librement accessible à chacun – pas besoin d’installer d’application, pas besoin de compte utilisateur – et ce depuis n’importe quel appareil avec connexion internet ; les prises de son peuvent être téléchargés en format mp3 pour utilisation hors connexion (mais attention de ne pas abuser de la repasse pour faire sortir les oiseaux !).
Veuillez noter la licence Creative Commons qui stipule que le matériel peut être librement redistribué avec des modifications et à des fins non commerciales, avec mention de l’auteur (ou “Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike”, CC BY-NC-SA). Certains enregistrements d’autres auteurs peuvent être publiés sous une licence CC légèrement différente.
L’utilisation du guide audio est simple :
- Allez à la page www.xeno-canto.org/set/2242
- Parcourez la liste d’espèces, en cherchant sur le nom français ou scientifique (à noter que xeno-canto est disponible en plusieurs langues : allez jusqu’au bas de la page pour modifier la langue). Capture d’écran en guise d’exemple d’une recherche sur les souimangas ici.
- Modifiez le format de la liste si vous préférez un format autre que “Concis” (Détaillé, Codes, Sonogrammes)
- Téléchargez les enregistrements en format mp3, en cliquant le bouton de téléchargement
- Pour chaque espèce, accédez à des sons supplémentaires, la carte de répartition, et des liens vers des ressources externes (AVoCet, Macauley Library par the Cornell Lab, HBW, BirdLife etc.)
Last summer I had the chance to be in the UK for the Birdfair 2017. This is the largest annual market in Europe for birdwatchers. There is some overlap with bird conservation and many Birdlife partners are there, but this is primarily a place for the buying and selling of everything that birdwatchers desire; books, optics, but especially birdwatching holidays, and this is big business! Bird tour companies from many South American and African countries had flown in staff to advertise their holidays.
At the fair, South African birder Micheal Mills launched The Birder’s Guide to Africa, which aims to tell birders what is most distinctive about each country’s list of birds and where to go in Africa to most easily see each of the continent’s species. Whilst I do not agree with everything in some of the book’s West African chapters, it is a good start for a discussion of bird tourism in Senegal – which for many reasons would deserve a more prominent place on the Africa birding map (one of the many down-sides of taking very much of a quantitative, purely list-based approach to defining birding destinations, as is done by Michael Mills, is that many countries do get the recognition they deserve).
What is unique? Should more birders visit Senegal, and if so what should Senegalese bird guides do to encourage them? It should be said that I am talking about a certain type of birdwatching tourism – visiting places to make lists of unusual birds – which is the profitable market in which the Birdfair sells. From this perspective, the spectacles of Djoudj, the Sine Saloum and Kousmar are still important, but not enough if the birding guide cannot also find the country’s more unique species.
So, how visible was Senegal at the Birdfair? The short answer is almost invisible! Let’s avoid the historical and perhaps linguistic reasons why The Gambia features at the UK Birdfair, and look at all of West and North-West Africa. Geopolitics affects tourism and, correctly or not, many of the region’s countries are seen as more difficult places to organise tours. Unfortunately, these days large parts of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and northern Nigeria and Cameroon are off-limits to foreign visitors due to ongoing conflict and security concerns. Currently the two most advertised North-West/West African destinations for bird tours are Morocco and Ghana, as destinations for European, North American and South African birders, who are the three main groups.
Let’s take the African Bird Club country lists, which taxonomically almost follow the IOC World Bird List, and query the list. Which species regularly occur in Senegal, but not in Morocco or Ghana and also do not occur widely elsewhere in Africa? This query give Senegal at least 28 “special” species, which it would be a good investment for bird guides to be able to find. Please add your comments to this linked list, which is accessible for editing. Several more could – and probably should – be added, and it’s good to keep in mind that the national list stands at about 680 species (we hope to publish an updated list some time soon on this blog).
Most of the species on this list are birds of the Sahel and the drier, northern regions of the Sudan savanna. The USGS’ excellent recent resources on West African land use shows the western section of the Sahel bio-climatic region, which extends to northern Ethiopia.
Little Grey (or Sahelian) Woodpecker is a classic example. Its patchy distribution, which does not go further east than western Sudan, includes northern Senegal where most recent West African observations have been made, though WaBDaB, which coordinates bird observations for Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, has a few records.
For the average bird tour operator, Senegal is the easiest destination and there are places where it is often seen (Les Trois Marigots and near to Richard-Toll), but probably many to be discovered – for instance, it was reported just last week “well south of Louga” by a Swedish group. This and many of the Sahel specials are much more species of the Middle Valley described in Bram’s recent trip, than of the more famous Djoudj/St. Louis area and many are not on the Djoudj list.
Other species in the 23 with similarly narrow ranges include Cricket Warbler (present in southern Western Sahara, but very localised it seems); River Prinia (header picture – cryptic species only present in the Senegal River delta, River Niger and Lake Chad, though probably overlooked elsewhere); Sennar Penduline Tit; Golden Nightjar (most recent records from Western Sahara where confirmed breeding, and from Chad); Quail-Plover (hard to find, but there are apparently a couple of reliable sites); and the commoner Black Scrub Robin, Sahel Paradise Whydah and African Collared Dove.
A second cluster of specials occur in and near the Dindefelo reserve, Senegal’s most recent addition to the country’s Important Bird Areas list. This is the only place outside Mali where the Mali Firefinch is reasonably reliably seen. Other species with strange and small global ranges including Dindefelo are Adamawa Turtle-Dove and Neumann’s Starling. The Kedougou area, and Dindefello in particular, probably has more surprises in store and is likely to yield additional Guinean species that just creep into Senegal.
Finally, the sea off Dakar makes the list. Away from the Cape Verde, the Cape Verde Shearwater is only reliably seen elsewhere in Africa, in season, off Dakar and the Iles de la Madeleine trio of Red-billed Tropicbird, Bridled Tern and the recent arrival Brown Booby are common enough in other tropical waters, but with few reliable places in Africa. The Tropicbirds are pretty much guaranteed at any time of the year, whilst the boobies and especially the terns and shearwaters are only present in certain seasons.
And the message from this? Any Senegalese bird guide who gets to know when and where to find these species should have a profitable business and most of the species are far from the hotspots of Djoudj and the Sine Saloum! And to potential visitors – come over and explore, with or without a local guide: you won’t be disappointed.
(post by Paul, with contributions from BP)