I count myself extremely lucky to live just a few minutes away from what must surely be one of the best seawatch sites in the world. What other capital can compete with Dakar on that front? It does make it hard not to go out there every day, especially at this time of the year when so many migrants can be seen from this privileged spot. And I’m fortunate to have a very flexible work schedule that allows me to spend an hour or so counting seabirds before heading to the office! I’m obviously spending too much time at the Calao at the moment… but then again it’s always better being out birding in the field than sitting behind a desk (especially when The Field is a comfortable terrace, sat under a sun umbrella with a cup of decent coffee).
Anyway, time for the September numbers:
- 25 days
- 38 hours
- 20,109 birds belonging to 36 species counted (total so far: 27,303 birds!)
This is a much better coverage than in previous years, and as a result the number of birds counted is higher for most species; Lesser Crested Tern is the main exception due to a later than usual passage, which only started properly at the very end of the month, picking up rapidly during the first few days of October (Sterne voyageuse).
As usual, here some of the highlights: good numbers of Manx Shearwater (also two possible Balearics… unfortunately too distant and poorly seen), and several Macaronesian Shearwaters including at least one that seemed right for Boyd’s (Puffins des Anglais et de Macaronésie). Sooty Shearwater passage was clearly more intense, or at least more visible, than last year, probably because of more favourable winds (Puffin fuligineux).
Numerous terns were counted of course, with the four most common species – Common & Arctic, Sandwich, Black Terns – accounting for nearly 90% of the twenty thousand birds counted this month (Sternes pierregarin et arctique, caugeks, Guifette noire). Roseates continued to pass through almost daily, up to 12 BPH (that’s birds per hour!), and so did Little Tern: with 304 birds in September, far more were seen than in previous years (and the passage continues: on 5.10 a total of 31 birds were seen in one hour, including a flock of 22) (Sternes de Dougall et naine). A Bridled Tern on the 4th is so far the only one of the season (Sterne bridée).
September is also peak month for Sandwich Tern (Sterne caugek), which passes through daily in double or even triple digits (that’s BPH). The peak at the end of the month is clearly visible on this chart combining 2017 and 2018 data:
Now for some slightly more advanced data viz’ fun: I tried to find a clever way of visualising the intensity of bird migration at Ngor alongside wind speed and wind direction. The chart below shows average “BPH” per day as histograms (primary axis: number of birds) and wind speed as the dotted line (secondary axis: knots), while the colour represents the wind direction: dark green for WNW to N winds, pale green for SW to W winds, and orange for SSW to ENE. One would expect the highest number of birds during the favourable winds, i.e. higher wind speed from a WNW to N direction, and less so on days with little wind and/or with winds coming from the “wrong” side. That does seem to be the case on most days, but not always… though in general it’s fair to say that days with stronger NW winds usually see the highest number of birds, and also a higher diversity of species. Shearwaters, skuas, Sabine’s Gulls and most terns are largely influenced by these conditions, which can rapidly change from day to day or even within the same day. A good site to check out wind forecasts is Windguru.
Arctic Skuas continued to pass through on a daily basis, and Long-tailed Skuas were seen on 13 dates, mainly at the start and at the end of the month, with a max. of 61 birds in 2h15′ on the 4th (Labbes arctique et à longue queue). The four Catharacta skuas were seen in the last week of the month but as usual could not be identified down to species level (Great or South Polar Skua, Grand Labbe/Labbe de McCormick).
A usual, waders were fairly well represented this month: Whimbrel and Oystercatcher remain the most frequent migrants and thanks to the regular rains this autumn there has been a good diversity of waders in general, including my first Grey Plovers here and regular sightings of migrating Turnstones (Courlis corlieu, Huîtrier pie, Pluvier argenté, Tournepierre). Red Phalaropes were seen on five occasions in relatively modest numbers (Phalarope à bec large).
Table with September totals for 2019, 2018 and 2017:
|Common Ringed Plover||0||2||0|
|Grey (Red) Phalarope||163||133||1|
|Lesser Black-backed Gull||1||15||1|
|Large gull sp.||1||5||0|
|Lesser Crested Tern||61||147||95|
|African Royal Tern||295||305||219|
|Great/South Polar Skua||4||1||2|
|Number of days||25||17||15|
|Number of hours||38h35′||24h50′||20h30′|
In addition to the seabirds, as usual a few other species were noted on active migration: a Purple Heron on 10.9 and more surprisingly two Squacco Herons the next day coming from out at sea. Common Swifts were spotted on at least three occasions (max. 66 on 11.09, migrating low over the ocean), while a Hoopoe was seen on 8.9 and a Sand Martin on 12.9 (Heron pourpré, Crabier, Martinet noir, Huppe fasciée, Hirondelle de rivage). What appeared to be a juv. Barbary Falcon was seen several times from 4 – 12 Sept., with a Peregrine also here on 9th (Faucons de Barbarie et Pèlerin). This provided for some action as both birds were regularly seen hunting pigeons and other birds; on the 6th it was a juv. Common Cuckoo (or at least I assumed it to be this species and not African Cuckoo) which was seen coming on land from Ngor island or islet, chased by the Barbary Falcon only to disappear into the Calao gardens and never to be found again… (Coucou gris).
That’s all for now – let’s see what October brings (Pomarine Skuas! Sooty Shearwaters! Sabine’s Gulls!). Conditions are expected to be good in the next few days.
The August report can be found in this post.
April is Tern month!
From mid-March into May, lots of terns pass through Dakar on their way back home from the wintering grounds further south – some as far as South Africa! – and the first half of April is definitely peak time for many species. When conditions are right, literally thousands of these elegant birds may pass through on a single day, and sites such as Technopole can hold several hundreds of birds at any one time. So much that in the past week, I’ve had the chance to see 12 out of the 14 tern species that are known to occur in Senegal, the only ones missing being Bridled and the rare Sooty Tern.
On Monday 8.4 at Technopole, decent numbers of terns were about, mainly Sandwich Tern (+300, likely quite a bit more) with a supporting cast of the usual Caspian and Gull-billed Terns (the former with several recently emancipated juveniles, likely from the Saloum or Casamance colonies), but also several dozen African Royal Tern, a few Common Terns, at least two Lesser Crested, and as a bonus two fine adult Roseate Terns roosting among their cousins. And as I scanned one of the flocks one last time before returning back home, an adult Whiskered Tern in breeding plumage, already spotted the previous day by Miguel. I managed to read four ringed Sandwich Terns but far more were wearing rings, but were impossible to read.
Yesterday 13.4, we went back to our favourite urban hotspot mainly in order to see if we could read some more of these rings. The main roost is close to the northern shore of the main lagoon, quite close to golf club house, which makes it possible to get close enough to the birds to read most rings. We saw most of the same tern species (except Roseate), with the addition of a fine moulting White-winged Tern and a small flock of Little Terns migrating over our heads. The first colour-ringed bird we saw was actually a Gull-billed Tern, but not the usual Spanish bird (“U83”) ringed in 2009 and seen several times herein the past three winters. This bird was even more interesting, as it was ringed in the only remaining colony in northern Europe, more precisely in the German Wadden Sea. Awaiting details from the ringers, but it’s quite likely that there are very few (if any!) recoveries of these northern birds this far south. It may well be the same bird as one that we saw back in November 2018 at lac Mbeubeusse, though we didn’t manage to properly establish the ring combination at the time.
So, back to our ring readings: all in all, we managed to decipher an impressive 14 Sandwich Tern rings – blue, white, yellow & red! – of birds originating from no less than four countries: Ireland, UK, Netherlands, and one from Italy (to be confirmed). Most of these are chicks that were born in summer 2016 and that logically spent their first two years in the Southern Hemisphere, and are now returning back to their breeding grounds for the first time. In addition, a Black-headed Gull with a blue ring proved to be a French bird ringed as a chick in a colony in the Forez region (west of Lyon) in 2018, while a Spanish Audouin’s Gull was a bird not previously read here. I’ll try to find some time to write up more on our ring recoveries, now that my little database has just over 500 entries!
Others local highlights from these past few days are the Lesser Yellowlegs still at Technopole on 8.4 (but not seen yesterday… maybe it has finally moved on), also a superb breeding plumaged Bar-tailed Godwit, still a few Avocets, plenty of Ruff, Little Stint, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper and Dunlin, many of which in full breeding attire. And on 13.4, once again a Franklin’s Gull, but also a rather late Mediterranean Gull and what was probably the regular adult Yellow-legged Gull seen several times since December. Three Spotted Redshanks were also noteworthy as this is not a regular species at Technopole. The Black-winged Stilts are breeding again, and the first two chicks – just a couple of days old – were seen yesterday, with at least two more birds on nests; a family of Moorhen was also a good breeding record.
Full eBird checklist from 13.4 here.
Earlier this week at the Calao was just about as good in terms of tern diversity: again the usual Sandwich Terns which are passing through en masse at the moment, with some LCT’s in the mix, several dozen Common Terns and the odd Roseate Tern hurriedly yet graciously flying past the seawatch spot, and of course more Royal Terns en route to Langue de Barbarie or Mauritanian breeding sites, a lone Caspian Tern, and this time round an even less expected White-winged Tern (and just two Black Terns). Oh and also the first Arctic Tern of the season! The first birds in spring are typically seen at the end of March or first half of April; earliest dates (2015-2018) are 16.3.18 and 25.3.16. The numbers of migrating terns were really impressive here on Saturday 6.4: a rough estimate puts the number of Sandwich and Common Terns passing through at 500 and 1200, respectively, in just two hours.
At Ngor, regular morning sessions have yielded the usual Pomarine and Arctic Skuas, Northern Gannets, as well as a handful of Cape Verde Shearwaters feeding offshore on most days. Sooty Shearwaters passed through in good numbers on 6.4, while last Friday (12.4) was best for Sabine’s Gull: 73 birds in just one hour, so far my best spring count. Also several Long-tailed Skuas and the other day a South Polar or (more likely) a Great Skua was present, a rare spring sighting. All checklists for the recent Calao counts can be found on this eBird page.