Every year during the wet season, the Sahel undergoes an impressive transformation, the landscape turning all lush green in the space of just a few weeks. Four visits to the northern Petite Côte area in just as many weeks were a nice opportunity to see this extremely rapid transition from ultra-dry to completely soaked terrain. And with it of course the associated changes in bird life.
On our first excursion to Popenguine mid-August, shortly after the onset of the first few rains, the reserve was still bone dry, only the baobabs being all green & leafy while grasses has only just begun to sprout.
Exactly one month later, this is what the same area looked like (the same baobab tree can be seen in both pictures):
Impressive, right? It never ceases to amaze me how fast everything grows here once the rains arrive!
For now, back to mid-August when all was dry, and when the highlights of our visit were a juvenile Great Spotted Cuckoo (locally hatched?)…
… a female Standard-winged Nightjar (on transit, looking for greener pastures? August is breeding season here for the species…)…
… and finally this juvenile Peregrine Falcon circling briefly above the cliffs before disappearing towards the village – an early record here, though perhaps not that surprising given that the species breeds early in the Mediterranean, even if the pair that winters in Dakar every year typically shows up around mid-October only.
Fast-forward ten days, after copious showers in the preceding days, and the lagoons of the region were now completely filled – in particular the Yene lagoon which I’ve never seen this high:
Few waterbirds were around but this will surely change in coming weeks; a Knob-billed Duck amongst the White-faced Whistling Ducks was the most notable species here (Canard à bosse, Dendrocygne veuf). Should be interesting to see how the birdlife evolves here in the next few months, and what species will show up this year (last year with the lack of rains the site was pretty disappointing, should be far more interesting this year!!).
A stroll on one of the hills above Toubab Dialaw produced several Savile’s Bustards and Singing Bush Larks, while Mottled Spinetails were flying above the small escarpment… Klaas’s and Diederik Cuckoos were heard near the village (Outarde de Savile, Alouette chanteuse, Martinet d’Ussher, Coucous de Klaas et didric).
The bustards were particularly vocal and obviously occur in good densities here, with at least 4-5 birds responding to one another. Recording here on xeno-canto; picture of habitat below. This rather sought-after Sahel special is clearly easy to find here, even if rather disturbed habitat, particularly during the rains but they may sing – albeit the shorter version of their song, and less regularly – throughout the dry season as well. They’re often difficult to spot and even a careful approach to a singing bird will usually result in just a brief glimpse, a bird flushed from low bushes, or no sighting at all… Senegal and to a lesser extent The Gambia currently remain pretty much the only easily accessible countries to find this species.
A male Sahel Paradise Whydah in full breeding plumage was encountered along the track leading to Diass:
Back to Popenguine on Sept. 8th, this time round for a very enjoyable bike tour through the bush between the villages of Popenguine, Ndayene and Toubab Dialaw (with Teranga Bike Adventure, highly recommended!) which provided a different kind of birding experience. Again Savile’s Bustard and Singing Bush Larks which are both very vocal at the moment, a Black-headed Lapwing breeding record (adult with chick), a Green Sandpiper flushed from a small pool along one of the tracks, a few Gull-billed Terns feeding over moist grassland, a Broad-billed Roller, Yellow-billed Oxpecker feeding on a donkey, a Gosling’s Bunting, and so on (Outarde de Savile, Alouette chanteuse, Vanneau à tête noire, Chevalier culblanc, Sterne hansel, Rolle violet, Piqueboeuf, Bruant d’Alexander).
Last Sunday, Popenguine nature reserve again: the usual suspects such as Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin (the resident ssp. minor, “African Scrub Robin”), Stone Partridge, Helmeted Guineafowl, Senegal Batis, several Sahel Paradise Whydahs including males in display flight and a few females, one of which was clearly interested in a pair of Green-winged Pytilias which is the host species of this brood parasite (Agrobate roux, Poulette de roche, Pintade de Numidie, Pririt du Senegal, Veuve a collier d’or, Beaumarquet melba). Woodland Kingfisher and Klaas’s Cuckoo had joined the ranks of the intra-African migrants that move north with the rains and that occur in Popenguine (Martin-chasseur du Sénégal, Coucou de Klaas).
Several Gosling’s Buntings were singing at the top of the Cap de Naze cliffs, with one bird posing quite nicely at short range:
Migrant songbirds have now started to arrive from Europe: at least three Sand Martins were flying overhead, clearly heading south, when I arrived by the pond which by now is completely filled with water; I heard a Tree Pipit, saw 4-5 migrating Barn Swallows, while the acacias and bushes held a few Melodious Warblers, Willow Warblers, a Common Whitethroat, and even a fine Nightingale. (Hirondelles de rivage et rustique, Pipit des arbres, Hippolais polyglotte, Pouillot fitis, Fauvette grisette, Rossignol philomèle).
The Popenguine eBird checklists along with other recent records from the area – including a surprising African Crake seen by Miguel – can be found here.
Plenty more to come!