Monday 23 August 2010

Mbour is more than just a tourist resort

blue naped mousebird, woodland, Mbour research centre

On day two of my Senegal trip we went south to Mbour research centre. This french sponsored environmental research centre is about 50 kilometres south of Dakar as the pied crow flies. It's a lot further by road.

We had special permission to enter as it is normally closed to visitors in the rainy season. Thanks to Moussa Diop for arranging this.

Mbour is close to the possibly biggest tourist resort in Senegal at Saly but is a world away. It has three habitats in close proximity. There is woodland, a lagoon and the coast.

We started with a look at some allotments before a very long long walk through the woods. Around the allotments (and later near the several clearings and on the paths) were various finch and their relatives - black headed weaver, village weaver and red billed firefinch. We also saw little weaver for the first time.

Walking into the woods, one of the first birds we saw were a small group of blue naped mousebird.  I hope you can see why it gets its name from the picture below.

rear view of blue naped mousebird

The woods are beautiful in the rainy season. I was lucky throughout my week in Senegal that it didn't rain even though it was the middle of the season. Fortunately for the locals it had rained well in the weeks before and the Savannah areas were very green.

landscape, woodland, Mbour research centre

Both local types of hornbill were present: red-billed hornbill and grey hornbill. I got my first chance to photograph the grey hornbill here.

grey hornbill, woodland, Mbour research centre

Another finch relative was seen at various points along the paths. The bird has the wonderful English name name of red-cheeked cordon bleu. This small bird is quite confiding and not difficult to pick out. 

red cheeked cordon bleu, woodland, Mbour research centre

One of the nicer things about birding around Dakar is the superior quality of their doves compared with Europe and north Africa!  The birds of prey seem to deter large pigeon populations in the city and in the woods there are some exotic species. Here I  saw the ubiquitous laughing dove but also African mourning dove and black-billed wood dove

black billed African wood dove, woodland, Mbour research centre

In the woodland, I suppose it was no surprise we saw woodland kingfisher and it was easily seen. We had to work harder to see a grey woodpecker which we heard (and later viewed) around a large bilbao tree.

woodland kingfisher, Mbour research centre

Another feature of West African birds seems to be a relatively larger proportion of parasitical birds. Birds such as cuckoos which lay eggs in other birds nests. Here we viewed a Levaillant's cuckoo.  But it is prehaps more surprising that the village indigobird is a parasite. I understand this attractive dark blue bird lays its eggs in the nest of the even more attractive red-billed firefinch.

village indigobird, Mbour research centre

Of course another feature of sub Saharan African birding is the vivid colours of a significant proportion of  its bird species. Two which we saw in the woods were yellow-crowned gonelek (poor photo- sorry below) and the northern red bishop. You'll have to wait for future blogs for a good picture of the latter bird which I snapped a couple of days later.

yellow crowned gonolek, Mbour research centre

After the woods we headed for the lagoon which is separated from the sea by a sand bar. (see the list of birds below for other birds seen in the woods).

The most abundant resident birds here were probably grey headed gull and caspian tern. The latter bird has a remarkable breeding distribution many breed in the baltic sea and the north of the caspian. Some breed near the those birds wintering grounds - for example in Senegal and a few even breed en route between the two places. We have a breeding colony at Farwa Island in Libya.

Grey headed gull, Lagoon, Mbour research centre

I was pleased to finally get a photo of sorts of a pink-backed pelican. These birds proved to be very shy at Technopole. Likewise they fled the lagoon on first sight of people. I caught one in flight.

pink backed pelican, near lagoon, Mbour research centre

Another resident bird seen at Technopole was the western reef egret.This bird has less problem with people.

western reef egret, lagoon, Mbour research centre

However one the biggest surprises of this visit was the presence of western palearctic migrants in mid August.  Their presence was hinted at at Technopole although the few seen there could have over-summered. There were more here and as you will read in later blogs there were many more migrants elsewhere. They seem to be becoming more common as the week progressed. The most obvious migrant was ruddy turnstone.

ruddy turnstone, lagoon, Mbour research centre

However, there were also at least a couple of whimbrel present. We had thought these may have over summered but we saw a large number later in the week suggesting they were early winterers. From a distance and without a scope we also caught sight of a few unidentified sandpipers. 

whimbrel, lagoon, Mbour research centre

The third habitat at Mbour is the coast itself. I regret that we didn't find time to look out to sea for seabirds. One new bird that we did see was actually a land bird - Vieillot's barbet in a tree where the wood grades into coastal heath. I don't think we did this habitat justice but time was short. This was a bird we could also have seen in the woods. One barbet we had seen there was a bearded barbet.

vieillot's barbet, coastal dunes, Mbour research centre
We left the research centre for a late lunch to pass the hottest hours of the day away. Then it was on to an open lagoon which turned out to be very interesting. I'll write about it in my next blog.  

List of birds seen at Mbour (thanks to Moussa Diop)
Pink-backed pelican
Long-tailed cormorant
Cattle egret
Western reef egret
Great white Egret
Pied crow
Black kite
Spur-winged plover
Black-winged stilt
Ruddy turnstone
Grey headed gull
Caspian tern
Laughing dove
Black billed wood dove
African mourning dove
Senegal coucal
Levaillant's cuckoo
Blue-naped mousebird
Woodland Kingfisher
Grey headed Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher
Little bee-eater
Barbed barbet
Vieillot's barbet
Red billed horbill
African grey hornbill
Grey wood pecker
Crested lark
Common bulbul
Grey headed camoroptera
Scarlet-chested sunbird
Beautiful sunbird
Yellow-crowned gonolek
Yellow-billed shrike
Greater blue-eared  starling
Long-tailed glossy starling
Northern red bishop
Village weaver
Black headed weaver
Little weaver
Red-cheeked cordon bleu
Red-billed firefinch
African silverbill
Bronze mannikin
Village indigobird
Red-billed quelea

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