Technopole updates – waders, gulls, and a hybrid heron
It’s been a while since I last talked about Technopole on this blog, so here’s a quick update on recent sightings at our favourite Dakar hotspot. I’ve been fortunate to visit several times in the last few weeks, most recently on August 22nd and September 2nd. At the end of August, the site was the driest it’s been in many years: barely any water left on what I usually refer to as the “central lake”. Only some shallow water remained on the far south end along the main road, and even less in the north-east corner close to the golf club house. Even the level of the large reed-fringed lake on the north-east side has dropped substantially.
As a result, there are far fewer birds around than would usually be the case at this time of the year, when the first rains start filling up the lakes again. There are now very few waders, herons and cormorants, hardly any ducks and fairly few gulls and terns (which is more usual during late summer). With the rains finally arriving in Dakar – though just four or five decent showers so far – the site has rapidly started filling up in the past two weeks and is becoming more attractive once again.
This is what it looked like roughly between June and the end of August: hardly any water!!
Despite the low water levels, diversity remains pretty high, with still some 70-75 species typically seen on recent visits. The highlight on Aug. 22nd was yet again a Franklin’s Gull among the flock of Slender-billed Gulls, most likely the same 2nd c.y. bird as in May and June, seen here for the fourth time (see this piece about the species’ status in Senegal and more broadly in West Africa).
Great White Pelicans are particularly numerous this year, with an impressive 650-700 birds present at the moment. They most likely come from the Djoudj colony; unlike in previous years the species is also present daily at Ngor, though in much lower numbers than at Technopole. And a few days ago I even had four flying over the house at Almadies, yet another garden tick.
Besides the ever-present Black-winged Stilts and Spur-winged Lapwings, (both still with several older chicks and quite a few locally hatched juveniles), Ruff is now the most numerous wader, though there are 30-40 birds only… compare with the ∼500 Ruffs counted last year in August! Also just four Black-tailed Godwits (also a Bar-tailed on Aug. 12th), single Whimbrel, Marsh Sandpiper, Dunlin, 4-5 Little Stints and just a handful of Sanderlings, while the first Curlew Sandpipers were seen on Sept. 2nd. On the same day, a Little Ringed Plover was present near the fishermen’s hut – there don’t seem to be many “autumn” records at Technopole of this species. A Kittlitz’s Plover was seen again on Aug. 22nd, following several records in previous months: could the species have bred at Technopole? In June we found a nest containing two eggs and several additional terrtitories near Lac Rose.
On July 7th, a presumed hybrid Little Egret x Western Reef Heron was seen along the track leading to the golf course: interesting bird, as it may mean that there are mixed broods at the Parc de Hann colony, unless of course it was born in the Somone or another heronry. Or that it may be breeding there at the moment, as our bird was obviously an adult in breeding plumage, judging by the pink-reddish feet, bluish lores and long feathers extending from the back of the head. While difficult to judge, the bill length and shape also seems to be more like Little Egret. In addition to the features in the pictures below – in particular the whitish head, central neck and lower belly – we noted a fair amount of white on the wing, mainly towards the base of the outer hand.
Now compare with this typical Western Reef Heron, photographed during my most recent visit to Technopole:
Our bird corresponds to presumed hybrids found in southern Europe and in Morocco, though we can’t rule out the possibility that it is in fact a rare dark morph Little Egret, as these do seem to exist… mcuh remains to be learned about these egrets! For more on the identification of Western Reef Heron and Little Egret, see Dubois and Yésou’s article in British Birds (1995).
Talking of herons, here’s a breeding-plumaged Great Egret: note the entirely black legs and feet as well as the mostly dark bill, with just the some yellow still apparent on part of the lower mandible. The bare skin around the eye and on the lores could be described as pale turquoise, though it transitions from light green to more bluish tones. Quite amazing how these birds completely change the colour of their bill and legs during breeding season!
Besides the above waterbirds, Technopole of course holds lots of good other birds: at the moment, there are a few Broad-billed Rollers that appear to be breeding, and other wet-season visitors such as Woodland Kingfisher and Diederik Cuckoo are also around. And while breeding wasn’t confirmed this year, Red-necked Falcon is still seen on most visits, usually flying around or actively hunting. Zebra Waxbill was more of a surprise, as I’d only seen this species on a few occasions in winter. The lack of rain may have prompted these birds to wander about and somehow make it to Technopole.
Last Sunday I paid an early morning visit to Yène-Tode, but despite the recent rains the lagoon is still largely dry and didn’t hold many birds… The first few puddles had formed, but I reckon it’ll take several more decent showers before the lagoon fills up again. The highlight were two Spur-winged Geese, a species that is rarely seen in the Dakar region and that somehow manages to largely avoid Technopole. To be continued!
Lac Tanma, Lac Mbaouane and Kayar
Sunday 30.10.2011 a group of us embarked on a day’s excursion to wetlands north of Dakar. Lac Tanma is one of the best sites for waterbirds near Dakar and, after Lac Retba (or Rose), it is the largest of the lakes of the Niayes Important Bird Area, comprising a number of lakes between Dakar and Fas Boye, along 80km of coast. It is a 1.5 to 2 hour drive from Dakar. One takes the N1 out of Dakar. At the N1/N2 junction take the N2 towards Thies. 10Km after the junction is a turning to the left, onto a laterite road, sign-posted to Bayakh and Kayar. At Bayakh (c8km), take a right turn at the main bus/taxi parking. If you want to check, ask for the road to Mboro. A further c12km reaches the lake, though it will only be visible most of the year from the road as dry mud. You can now walk on foot along the southern edge to the right of the road for 2-3km to the water or, turning right off the road just before the lake onto one of several pistes, follow the dry lake edge. Vehicle or cart tracks guide you. How far you can drive depends on the time of year and amount of rains. You should be able to drive to the open water, but some care is needed!
The direction of light can make birding difficult, with the sun in front of you. It is best to arrive as early (or late?) as possible and wander east along the lake edge, looking back at the birds. I cannot find much published data for the lake. It is included in the annual January waterbird counts and the Important Bird Area citation mentions its use by a few thousand greater flamingo.
Regular observations would no doubt be interesting and produce rarities. Compared to Lac Retba, with its tourists and salt industry, this is a quiet lake with a few cattle herders and a beautiful setting in a basin surrounded by large, old baobabs.
We made no attempt to count birds or check everything, so numbers are very approximate. The first identifiable waterbirds were greater flamingos, with a few hundred, mostly grey juveniles. A few hundred ducks were mainly garganey, with some shoveler. Probably a few thousand waders provided a pleasant mix of species; mainly ringed plover, kentish plover, kittlitz plover, ruff, black-winged stilt, curlew sandpiper, wood sandpiper, avocet, dunlin and little stint. A couple of hundred terns and gulls were mostly gull-billed tern and slender-billed gull, with a few foraging black and white-winged black terns together. A single black stork was the most interesting of the larger waterbirds. A few marsh and montagu’s harriers hunted the lake edges and ospreys were overhead.
We next turned round and drove, via Barakh, to the busy fishing town of Kayar for lunch. On entering the town, if you keep driving along the main road parallel to the beach, just north of the town is a small campement with some shade. From here you see the start of the Côte Sauvage; some 120km of uniform habitat with narrow, wind-swept sandy beaches, backed by dunes planted with the introduced Asian/Australian tree Casuarina equisetifolia. It is possible to drive along the beach with a 4×4. If the small section at Kayar is typical, the whole length is likely important for its numbers of sanderling and Sandwich tern, whilst other typical species of sandy beaches along the sea’s edge were ruddy turnstone, whimbrel, grey plover and oystercatcher. Two Audouin’s gulls, both birds in their second year, were early returning birds. At Tanji Bird Reserve in the Gambia Clive Barlow reported his first returning birds today also.
The road from Kayar back ot Bayakh passes through the village of Mbaouane after 5km and there is a large lake here, visible from the road, on the left -hand (eastern) side. You can access it by walking down through cultivated fields. There were many more waders here and a few ospreys, but we took only a brief look in the increasing heat and saw no new species before the return drive to Dakar.
Text; Paul & photos; Flemming.