Grey Pratincole at Sanaga River/ Cameroon

GraubrachschwalbeThe black eyestripe which curves down behind the eye, the light chestnut nape, and the white supercilium features a small beauty: the Grey Pratincole (Glareola cinerea). Add a light grey for the upperparts and a white rump with a black tail you are ready with the ID.

The excursion to the Sanaga River in the South Province, Cameroon was the target of my last birding part during a trip in February. We departed from the nice Hostelerie de la Sangha in Edea. At least close to Douala it is easiest here to pick up Grey Pratincole and the African Skimmer (Rynchops flavirostris). Additionally, Preuss’s Swallow (Hirundo preussi) and some waders were present as well. Coming from Douala we just passed the center of Edea and just after the second large bridge over the river take the first tarmac road left which goes to Dizangue. Soon it becomes a dirt road and after about 10 km from the turnoff the road comes close to the river.

The large sandbanks in the middle of the river were our first stop. We found the African Skimmers and the Grey Pratincoles immediately. Senegal Thick-knee (Burhinus senegalensis), Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos), Little Stint (Calidris minuta), several Kentish (Snowy) Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) were present in low numbers as well.

A White-fronted Plover (Charadrius marginatus) was a special for the 2nd day, when I departed from the shore of the river already at dawn.

The Grey Pratincole is not uncommon in West Africa and usually found on sandbars of large rivers. The bird is found along the rivers of Mali to Cameroon, western Zaire and northwestern Angola. Mainly a bird of a riparian habitat it can also be found on sandy patches in savanna and even airstrips. But I did only see it on the Sanaga River.

The Grey Pratincole is really quite common on the Sanaga River, with up to 150 individuals we observed on a single sandbar. Grey Pratincoles were quite territorial, heavily harassing Common Sandpipers, Little Stints and Kentish (Snowy) Plovers if they wandered along the shore for food.

A survey conducted in between January-March 2007 showed, that the Sanaga River is home to a unique biodiversity including African Skimmer, Grey Pratincole, African Openbill Storks (Anastomus lamelligerus) and Manatees. In fact, the Grey Pratincole was the most dominant waterbird. In general avian diversity is high. Interesting, the peaks in bird numbers do not coincide with migration of palearctic migrants (typically March and October). Therefore, the lower Sanaga River does not seem to be an important stop-over or wintering ground for palearctic migrating waterbirds.  But the combination of species in a largely less disturbed ecosystem is very rare in Africa and should be preserved through formal protection.

The Sanaga River is already used – in parts heavily exploited – by mankind. It is obvious that the lower Sanaga River is polluted by the city of Edea and several sand mines pull-off sand from the shore and also from the middle of the river.

The nearby Lake Ossa and the Douala-Edea reserve have already received protection as Fauna reserves and the Sanaga West of the Edea-Douala road right to the Sanaga estuary should likewise be placed under protection by listing it as a Ramsar site or making it a National Park.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western palearctic.  Beside the image above you can find a nice selection of birds in the gallery or in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give a message, if Bird-Lens could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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