Our annual tour to Senegal took place in mid-February this year and once again it proved to be an interesting tour for the birds of West Africa. The prolonged drought in the north had affected many species which were in lower numbers than normal. A highlight for many was the Great White Pelican colony at Djoudj plus sightings of Greater Painted Snipe, River Prinia and Black Scrub Robin in adjacent areas. Ranch de Bango is always a great place for birds with the vast Marigot Lakes complex. Interesting species here included Little Grey Woodpecker, Savile’s Bustard, Sennar Penduline Tit and a steady passage of Montagu’s Harriers. Further south at Saloum a boat trip saw us watching the scarce White-backed Night Heron, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Blue-bellied Roller and an impressive Verraux’s Eagle Owl.
February 14th/15th: London, Lisbon, Dakar, St Louis, Ranch de Bango, Senegal River, Marigot 1.
Weather: Hot and sunny with a west wind 32 C.
We met up at Heathrow for the flight to Dakar via Lisbon. We arrived on time and passed through immigration and other formalities before making the short journey to the hotel. I advised everyone to meet up on the terrace for a short seawatch at 7am. Offshore we observed a steady stream of seabirds including Royal, Sandwich and Caspian Terns, Great and Long-tailed Cormorants and Pomarine Skua. On the rocky foreshore we located Western Reef Egret, Whimbrel, Osprey and Yellow-billed Kites. A highlight was a Peregrine Falcon hunting the immediate area and perching on a tall building. The grounds of the hotel held the common garden birds of Dakar; Laughing Dove, Grey-headed Sparrow, House Sparrow and Common Bulbul. As we returned to our rooms a patch of bare ground attracted Sudan Golden Sparrow and African Silverbill. After breakfast we loaded up and headed north to St Louis via Thies passing through the chaotic traffic which Dakar has today. The first stop along the road provided us with Abyssinian and Rufous-crowned Rollers, Long-tailed and Chestnut-bellied Starlings, Northern Wheatear, Woodchat Shrike, Bush Petronia and a single Eurasian Kestrel. Further north we located circling vultures which included; White-backed and Ruppell’s and the declining Hooded. On reaching St Louis the mudflats and rubbish areas attracted Grey-hooded Gulls, Cattle and Little Egrets, waders, Eurasian Spoonbill and Spur-winged Lapwings. Reached the ranch for a late lunch where the gardens held Northern Crombec, Common Gonolek, Western Yellow and White Wagtails, Tree Pipit and our first African Fish Eagles. Ass informed me that a change of plan meant a visit to the Senegal River near Bango where a short stop added Little Ringed Plover, Common Greenshank, Whimbrel, Winding Cisticola, Village Weaver and Little Bee-eaters. A cow attracted a party of Yellow-billed Oxpeckers which are in steep decline within Africa. On entering the Marigot 1 region Crested Larks became numerous with Blue-naped Mousebirds and Double-spurred Francolins. We ended the day with a walk in the bush recording Savile’s Bustard, Black Bush Robin, Common Redstart and Senegal Thick-knee.
February 16th: Ranch de Bango, Marigot 2 and 3, Gandon.
Weather: Hot and sunny with a strengthening southwest wind 33 C
The group met at 0715 hours and then commenced on a walk towards the river area. In the distance there were flocks of White-faced Whistling Ducks and calling African Fish Eagles. The short grasses attracted Double-spurred Francolins and Western Yellow Wagtails. The reedy habitat by the river were frequented by Winding Cisticola, Little Weaver, Tawny-flanked Prinia and calling African Black Crakes. Back to the gardens where mature trees and flowering shrubs held Scarlet-chested and Beautiful Sunbirds, Common Chiffchaff, Olivaceous Warbler and Common Whitethroat. After breakfast we headed into the vast area of the Marigot Lakes. The first stop produced brief views of African Scrub Robin and to my delight a pair of Sennar Penduline Tits and the first Desert Cisticolas of the tour. A group of Greater Blue-eared Starlings flew past. Further on another stop by the road for a close Savile’s Bustard and a pair of Brubru sitting quietly in an acacia tree. We then crossed a very dried up wetland area adding a first year male Montagu’s Harrier, Temminck’s Courser and several northbound Woodchat Shrikes. Next was a sandy area dotted with mature acacia trees. The latter had Western Bonelli’s Warblers and groups of Village Weavers. Human habitation is few and far apart in this area with the next village holding Chestnut-backed Sparrow Larks and Wattled Lapwings. Lunch was taken by a small lake which attracted African Pygmy Goose, African Darter, Purple and Squacco Herons, Common Moorhen, Long-tailed Cormorant and a steady passage of Sand Martins and Barn Swallows. An excellent picnic lunch was taken in the shade of some large trees. This proved to be a very good place for wintering passerines with sightings of African Reed, Melodious, Olivaceous and Subalpine Warblers, Iberian Chiffchaff and Malachite Kingfishers. At 1500 hours we travelled back on the sandy tracks with various birding stops adding the scarce European Turtle Dove, Black-crowned Tchagra, Vitteline Masked Weavers and a showy Black-crowned Tchagra. A damp area had three Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and Abyssinian Rollers. Birds suddenly became thin on the ground until we located parties of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and Temminck’s Coursers. Our final stop was at Gandon where after a lot of searching a Little Grey Woodpecker put in an appearance to top up an excellent days birding in the Sahel habitats of Northern Senegal.
February 17th: Ranch de Bango, Marigot 3, St Louis, Djoudj, Camp Taweh.
Weather: Sunny 34 C
We met up at the usual time and headed towards the horse paddocks looking for birds. The commoner birds were present plus a Black-billed Wood-dove and a pair of Senegal Batis feeding high in a tree. After breakfast we went back to visit the Marigot 3 area with a stop at a seasonal lagoon near the university. This compact area attracted Purple Swamphen, Common Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Common Ringed Plover and Whiskered Terns. The lily-covered areas attracted African Pygmy Geese, White-faced Whistling Duck, Squacco and Purple Herons, African Jacana and Pied Kingfishers. Further along the road Ass located a pair of Red-necked Falcons feeding in a palm tree and a Viellot’s Barbet perched atop of an acacia. We turned off towards Marigot 3 and made a stop in an area of mature acacia trees and sand dunes. This produced several species including Dark Chanting Goshawk, Black Scimitarbill, White-billed Buffalo Weaver, Woodchat Shrike and Western Orphean Warblers the latter being a scarce species within the country. Our journey continued to a very dry area of scrub where a flock of Greater Short-toed Larks were located feeding on patches of scorched grass. By Marigot 3 a grassy patch of land attracted Kittlitz’s Plover, African Mourning Dove, Desert Cisticola, Tawny-flanked Prinia and hunting Gull-billed Terns. It was time to return towards the ranch with stops for Temminck’s Courser and Black-crowned Sparrow-larks. At the ranch an overnight bag for our stay at Camp Taweh near Djoudj. Before this we made a short visit to St Louis for gulls, terns, waders and other birds using the rather degraded estuary. The road towards Djoudj was rather uneventful for birds apart a short stop for Greater Painted Snipe, Wood Sandpiper, Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper.
February 18th: Camp Taweh, Djoudj, Grand Lac, Ranch de Bango.
Weather: Hot and sunny with a fresh north wind in late afternoon
Outside the tented camp we could hear the distinctive churr of Long-tailed Nightjar and calling African Collared Doves which showed well in the grounds after breakfast. In the canal White Pelicans were numerous with Black-crowned Night and Grey Herons, African Black Crake, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers. A short walk among the acacia habitats added Little Green Bee-eaters, Western Olivaceous and Subalpine Warblers, Common Chiffchaff, Yellow and White Wagtails and a distant tree a Lanner Falcon being mobbed by Pied Crows. A party of Yellow-billed Storks flew towards the main lagoon at Djoudj. After breakfast a set of rice fields attracted the scarce and declining Black-crowned Crane. We retraced our journey from the darkness of the previous evening and headed towards the quayside at Djoudj. En-route large flocks of migrant Collared Pratincoles and a single Black Stork. At the quay we watched hundreds of White-faced Whistling Ducks and a few Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Garganey, Eurasian Spoonbill and Black-tailed Godwits. Boarded the boat and started the trip towards the pelican colony. Just beyond the quay we had sightings of Sacred and Glossy Ibis, African Spoonbill, Black, Great, Little and Western Reef Egrets and several Squacco Herons. The boat journey added Osprey, Caspian and Whiskered Terns, African Darter, both cormorants, Black-necked Weaver and at least four River Prinias. Arrived at the pelican colony, which is a wonderful place to visit with its thousands of birds and distinct aroma. Back at the quay we travelled north stopping at a lagoon for; Temminck’s and Little Stints, Spotted and Common Redshanks, Kentish Plover, Pied Avocet and Black-winged Stilts. Lunch was taken at Grand Lac although the birds were a little distant on this visit. Despite this we had sightings of Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Northern Shoveler and thousands of Pied Avocets. Near the hide we watched singing Zitting Cisticolas. The remainder of the day was spent looking for the rare Arabian Bustard without success. A further visit to the pools by the park entrance had views of the commoner birds.
February 19th: Ranch de Bango, Langue de Barbarie, Marigot 1, Richard Toll.
Weather: Hot and sunny with a southeast wind 34 C
Met up at the usual time and set off towards the ruined buildings of the old ranch. Birds were a bit slow to show themselves this morning as it was slightly cooler. Sunny patches on the track attracted Red-billed Hornbill, Little Weaver, Common Redstart and Little Green Bee-eaters. In the tall trees an African Fish Eagle and in the old rice fields a pair of Black-shouldered Kites. Back for breakfast and then off to the old city of St Louis which is reached via a bridge. We boarded a boat for a trip into the Langue de Barbarie an extension of the Senegal River. The first sandy beach attracted a lot of birds including Grey-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Sandwich Tern, Whimbrel and Sanderling. The highlight however was to come with a small, vegetated island attracting Slender-billed and Black-headed Gulls, Royal, Caspian and Lesser-crested Terns, Common Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Grey and Ringed Plovers and several fishing Ospreys. Lunch was taken on a beach with trees offering us shelter from the sun. The boat dropped us off at the lighthouse where we joined the main Dakar road to Marigot 1. This was very quiet so Ass took us eastwards to the town of Richard Toll. The best bird was a Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle perched in a dead tree by the road allowing us close views. Richard Toll was reached and at a birding spot near the river a walk around this interesting area produced Long-tailed Starling, Yellow-fronted Canary, Viellot’s Barbet and a female Red-cheeked Cordonbleau. Beyond the town is an area of savannah and a slow drive around produced Striped Kingfisher, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Temminck’s Courser, Black-headed Lapwing and a Senegal Eremomela flitting between bushes.
February 20th: Ranch de Bango, Thies, Kaolack, Keur Saloum.
Weather: Hot and sunny 34 C
Today was basically a travel one from St Louis to the Saloum Delta which is on the border with The Gambia. A pre-breakfast walk produced a Long-tailed Nightjar (found by Graham) and the unusual sight of a Yellow-billed Oxpecker sitting in the top of an acacia tree. Checked out of the ranch and proceeded to travel south to the town of Thies. Along the route we made two stops to watch vultures feeding on recently killed goats. We had very close views of Lappet-faced, White-backed, Ruppell’s Griffon and Hooded. After passing through Thies we headed towards the regional town of Kaolack along some of the worst roads in Senegal. The only birds of note were two Bearded Barbets which flew over the bus into an acacia tree. In Kaolack we stopped to exchange money and passed through this rather chaotic and bustling city until reaching the turning for Passy. In a short distance Ass located a Scissor-tailed Kite hunting for insects above the baobab trees. Great views obtained of this rather unusual bird as it caught and consumed large insects on the wing. A bonus was a Lesser Kestrel which was loosely associating with the kites. Raptors were common in the area as we had sightings of Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers, Dark Chanting Goshawk and Yellow-billed Kites. Keur Saloum was reached our final stop in Senegal.
February 21st: Saloum, Saloum Delta.
Weather: Hot and Sunny 37 C
The group met up at 0715 hours for a walk around the hotel perimeter and village. The first fruiting tree we came across had Senegal Parrots and Western Grey Plantain-eaters. Further along the track a party of noisy Brown Babblers, Northern Puffbacks and a tree full of colourful Bruce’s Green Pigeons. Back to Keur Saloum for breakfast which was followed by a boat trip into the vast Saloum delta an area of inter-tidal waters, mangroves and forest. We quickly located the first of many wintering Ospreys and a pair of Palmnut Vultures. On an exposed sandbar we located; Bar-tailed Godwits, Eurasian Oystercatchers, Common Sandpiper, Caspian, Royal and Sandwich Terns. The sea was a little choppy in place which slowed us down until we turned into a backwater of mangrove habitat. Careful searching produced White-backed Night Heron, Giant, Blue-breasted and Malachite Kingfishers and a single Broad-billed Roller. We ended the boat trip at a fishing village where a Hamerkop flew past us. The beach was busy with Grey-hooded and Black-headed Gulls and good numbers of wintering Whimbrels. The journey back to Keur Saloum produced sightings of Grasshopper Buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Rufous-crowned and Abyssinian Rollers and a Fork-tailed Drongo. Out at 1600 hours we left to explore a forested area of the region. Before leaving a leaking pipe attracted Common Gonolek and a Cardinal Woodpecker. The first stop was an area of large trees in an agricultural landscape. On arrival brief views of a Shikra and a male Pygmy Sunbird perched high in a tree. We then entered a more open area where a pair of Blackcap Babblers showed well in a dead tree. In the skies above a Bateleur passed overhead whilst other species included Barn, Mosque and Pied-winged Swallows, House Martin and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. Ass decided to visit another area with a brief stop in a village for Black-rumped Waxbills and African Silverbill. On reaching the area we witnessed some truly amazing sightings by African standards. Mature trees held Woodland Kingfisher, Vinaceous Dove, Grey Woodpecker, Purple Glossy, Long-tailed and Bronze-tailed Starlings and a flock of Piapiacs. In the marshy area a pair of; White-crowned Robin Chats, African Thrush, African Mourning and Red-eyed Doves. A patch of water simply attracted birds including Western Reef, Little and Cattle Egrets, African Spoonbill, Squacco and Striated Herons, Wattled Lapwing, Green, Marsh and Common Sandpipers, Common Greenshank and at least four Greater Painted Snipe. .
February 22nd: Saloum National Park.
Weather: Hot and sunny 33 C
Met up at the usual time and walked to a different area next to the lodge. In mature trees wintering Subalpine and Western Olivaceous Warblers, Lavender Waxbills and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleau. Our only new bird of the morning was a party of Yellow-billed Shrikes sitting quietly in a tree. After breakfast we headed along the Kaolack road a short distance before turning off into a sector of dry grasslands. This was particularly good for hunting raptors which included Brown and Short-toed Eagles, Grasshopper Buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Lesser Kestrel and Montagu’s Harriers. The telegraph wires held Rufous-crowned and Abyssinian Rollers. Near a farm building Al located a wintering Eurasian Wryneck, Woodchat Shrike and Northern Wheatear. A little further down the track Ass found a Pygmy Sunbird which showed well in a flowering tree. This particular stop was good for Northern Ground Hornbill, Green Woodhoopoe, Pallid Swift, Yellow Wagtail, and overhead calling European Bee-eaters. It was starting to get hot when another stop was made for Tawny-flanked Prinias and several Red-chested Swallows hawking for insects over a disused maize field. We went out again at 1600 hours and visited an area of large trees and grasses. A party of White-crested Helmetshrikes were found flitting between the trees. A diversion to Bandia added a African Harrier Hawk and an unidentified cisticola in the tall grasses. Back along the main track with stops for Blue-bellied Roller and Bearded Barbet both of which gave us great views. Our final birding stop was a small marsh and barrage adjacent to agricultural fields and trees. The commoner wetland species were present along with the added bonus of a Wahlberg’s Eagle sitting in a dead tree.
February 23rd: Saloum, Kaolack, Technopole, Dakar.
Final species total: 253.
Weather: Hot and sunny 37 C
Our last birding day in Senegal started at 0700 hours with a visit to Bandia a recently abandoned lodge. After walking through the grasses and looking into large trees we eventually found a Verraux’s Eagle Owl perched in the open. Earlier a Variable Sunbird was singing from a song post. Later in the morning we checked out and made the journey back to Dakar with a stop in Kaolack. It was very hot here although we managed to locate the commoner wintering waders and several Pink-backed Pelicans. Dakar was reached where the traffic was as manic as ever. In the skies above Dakar the familiar sight of Yellow-billed Kites, Pied Crows and Hooded Vultures. Technopole was reached a wetland reserve which attracts a wide range of species. Open water areas attracted Little Grebe, Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Common Moorhen, Pied Avocet and Black-winged Stilt. The numerous grass islands attracted egrets, herons and gulls including the scarce Audouin’s Gull. We ended the day with a short seawatch off Calao with hundreds of terns offshore and attendant Great and Arctic Skuas. An evening meal followed and the transfer to Dakar airport where we said our goodbyes to Ass and Mouch our driver. Check-in and various other factors went smoothly and we landed in Lisbon on time for our connection to London.
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This was my third visit to Senegal this year and the second with a group. Senegal has had high rainfall this year which made a dramatic difference to the birds in the Sahelian north of the country. Djoudj in particularly had thousands of waterfowl including over 60000 White-faced Whistling Ducks and in excess of 10000 Garganey. In the same area we found a few of the Near Threatened Arabian Bustards. In the Marigot Lakes region we caught up with Savile’s Bustard, Allen’s Gallinule, Little Grey Woodpecker, Black Scrub Robin, River Prinia, Zebra Waxbill and Sahel Paradise Whydah. Around the town of Richard Toll good numbers of Cricket Warblers were observed. In the Saloum area we were treated to close views of the beautiful African Swallow-tailed Kite hunting insects among feeding cattle plus Lesser Kestrels in the same area. The huge saltpans around Kaolack had in excess of 10000 White Storks. In the Saloum Delta we had brief views of White-crested Bittern in the mangrove habitats. The finale of the tour was in the extreme east and the village of Wassadou. Egyptian Plovers were seen down to a few feet whilst the river attracted African Finfoot and the localised White-headed Lapwing. It was pleasing to find flocks of European Turtle Doves and with them a few endemic Adamawa Turtle Doves a little-known West African bird. No less than thirty-two species of raptors were noted including the rare Martial Eagle.
December 13th/14th: London, Madrid, Dakar, Bandia, Somone, Technopole.
Weather: Warm and sunny in Senegal with a southwest wind 30 C
Landed in Dakar about an hour late and transferred to our hotel near Ngor Island. We met up at 10am and headed south towards Bandia a reserve which is dominated by large baobab trees. The lagoon at Bandia held a few birds including Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Green Sandpiper, Spur-winged Lapwing, Senegal Thick-knee, Black-billed Wood-dove, Broad-billed Roller, Long-tailed Starling, Cut-throat Finch and Red-cheeked Cordon Bleau. Lunch was taken and then a drive to Somone a reserve of mangroves and shallow lagoons adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean. En route an Exclamatory Paradise Whyda was noted in flight. At Somone I arranged a boat trip into the lagoon an important feeding and resting area for resident and wintering birds. In the shallows we found high numbers of Western Reef Egret, Great Egret, Grey Plover, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank and large flocks of Lesser Black-backed and Grey-hooded Gulls. On our journey into the mangroves we encountered many wintering Ospreys, Caspian and Common Terns, Eurasian Curlew, Little Stint, Ruddy Turnstone and Common Redshank. It was time to return to Dakar and a stop at Technopole a flooded area with reedbeds and a golf course near the centre of the city. Scanning of the area produced Little Grebes, Squacco and Grey Herons, Purple Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Black Crake, Pied Kingfisher and Wood Sandpiper. Dusk was starting to fall as we returned to base.
December 15th: Dakar, St Louis, Ranch de Bango, Marigot One.
Weather: Rather dusty with little sunshine on a brisk northeast wind 25 C
Before leaving Dakar we made a short seawatch from the hotel gardens resulting in sightings of Osprey, Sandwich, Royal and Black Terns, Common Sandpiper and White-breasted Cormorants. The hotel gardens surprisingly had a male Northern Crombec and a group of African Silverbills. Out of Dakar on the new auto-route to Thies the second city of Senegal. The common birds of the city were around including Hooded Vulture, Yellow-billed Kite and Pied Crow. I headed north passing Thies and Louga with a stop between the latter and St Louis. A village attracted Lappet-faced, Ruppell’s Griffon and African White-backed Vultures at very close range. Along the roadside sightings of; Red-billed Hornbills, Chestnut-bellied Starling, Abyssinian and Rufous-crowned Rollers, Sahel Paradise Whydah and Northern Ant-eater Chats. Near St Louis the first salt lagoons had Pied Avocet and Black-necked Stilts. The water levels around the town were high and littered with mounds of rubbish attracting egrets and gulls. In the adjacent waters Eurasian Spoonbills, Slender-billed Gulls, waders and White Wagtails. Checked in at Ranch de Bango and then a visit to Marigot One an important wetland surrounded by the dry, acacia dominated habitat. The latter held Crested Lark, Woodchat Shrike, Black-crowned Tchagra and several wintering Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. On reaching the marshes we quickly located a wide range of species; White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Egyptian Geese, African Darter, Black Egrets, Sacred Ibis, African Pygmy Geese, Purple Swamphen, Gull-billed Tern and a few waders notably Ringed and Kittlitz’s Plovers. Raptors were around including a Lanner Falcon, two Black-shouldered Kites, Lesser Kestrel and Eurasian Marsh Harriers quartering the reedbeds. Over our heads plenty of wintering Barn Swallows and Sand Martins plus a few Common Swifts which are scarce here in the winter months.
December 16th: Ranch de Bango, Marigot 1, 2, 3 and 4.
Weather: Warm and sunny with light northeast winds 28 C
We met up at 0700 hours for a pre-breakfast walk around the ranch grounds. One of the first birds was an African Fish Eagle perched in a dead tree. Near the restaurant Western Grey Plantain-eaters showed well and gave their distinctive calls. A walk towards the river area and old restaurant allowed us views of Double-spurred Francolins, Zitting Cisticola, Tree Pipit and a Senegal Coucal. Back on the track adjacent to the gardens a wintering Common Redstart, Vitelline Masked Weavers, Red-billed Firefinches and a Grey Woodpecker climbing up a dead tree. After breakfast we headed to Marigot 1 the first of a series of wetlands in an otherwise arid area. The acacia trees held Senegal and Spotted Thick-knees, Eurasian Hoopoe, Senegal Batis, Western Bonelli’s Warbler and on the sandy tracks Chestnut-backed Sparrow Larks. Further along the track an old fence attracted Subalpine Warblers, Common Chiffchaff, Little Weavers and a hunting female Montagu’s Harrier. Marigot 2 had similar birds with the addition of a Plain Martin feeding with Barn Swallows. It was time to have lunch near Marigot 3 where we found at least three Black Scrub Robins in the acacia trees and a flock of Heuglin’s Masked Weavers calling and feeding on the ground. At Marigot 3 a solitary Black-crowned Crane and a few Collared Pratincoles were noted. After our picnic lunch we embarked on a journey to find bustards and coursers. The first stop however was a lily-dominated pond where we found the localised Allen’s Gallinule and a wintering Curlew Sandpiper. After this we made journeys along lots of tracks searching for birds until we found a recently burnt area. Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Temminck’s Courser and flocks of Pin-tailed Whydah were observed. Our last birding stop was good as we found the highly sought after Savile’s Bustard and a Senegal Eremomela feeding in the open. Return journey back to Ranch de Bango via the campus at the University of St Louis after a great days birding.
December 17th: Ranch de Bango, Marigot 1, Richard Toll.
Weather: Rather overcast with poor visibility due to dust particles 27 C
The day dawned with a singing Long-tailed Nightjar near the hotel. After breakfast we made the short journey towards Marigot 1 and stopped in an area dotted with mature acacia trees. Wintering warblers were numerous including Western Bonelli’s, Subalpine and Common Chiffchaff. A fly-over Rose-ringed Parakeet was new for the list and a pair of Brubru could be heard (seen later in the day). I decided to head east towards the town of Richard Toll. The new road is good making it a fast route passing through rice fields and patches of acacia woodland. Flooded areas proved to be good for birds with one patch having over 2000 Ruff, Spotted Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Temminck’s Stint and a surprise find in two Great Snipe. Our first Northern Pintail and Garganey were noted along with Little Egrets, Black-tailed Godwits and a party of Black-headed Herons the latter being out of range here. Once in Richard Toll we headed to the old-park and vegetable gardens by the river. It is always good for birds and we quickly located Little and Little Green Bee-eaters, Greater Honeyguide, African Grey Hornbill, Village Indigobird and several Beautiful Sunbirds. Lunch was taken by the extensive sugar cane fields by the Senegal River where the pools held the commoner herons and waders. The most interesting area was to come to the east of town. Grazed grassland is an unusual feature in Northern Senegal with patches of acacia and pens for livestock. A short walk added Black-headed Lapwing, Temminck’s Coursers, Black-crowned Sparrowlark, Tawny Pipit, Black Scrub Robin, Senegal Eremomela and best of all at least six Cricket Warblers observed at very close range. It was time to head back to Marigot 1 with a perched Short-toed Eagle along the way. Our last bird today was the very scarce and range-restricted Little Grey Woodpecker which perched in an acacia tree for us.
December 18th: Ranch de Bango, Djoudj.
Weather: Rain showers and overcast conditions 20 C
At daybreak I was amazed to see and hear rain falling in December (this was apparently the first time since 1960). Our day started after breakfast with the drive northwards to Djoudj National Park. This was a tricky affair with the mud and water making it a tough drive with much caution required. A few flocks of Greater Flamingos were noted. In roadside trees Dark Chanting Goshawks were noted. Just before arriving at the entrance gate of Djoudj the large lagoon held thousands of birds notably White-faced Whistling Ducks (we estimated around 60,000 for the day). I purchased the necessary permits and headed down towards the quay where boats depart to the pelican colony. Around the quay White Pelican, White-breasted Cormorant, Gull-billed, Little and Whiskered Terns, Osprey and a flock of Glossy Ibis. A slow boat trip allowed us to study the commoner birds. In a patch of tall reeds we quickly located a pair of River Prinias singing and calling from the reed tops plus sightings of European Reed and Sedge Warblers. We skirted around the pelican colony and lots of cormorants, Sacred Ibis and other water loving birds. Back to the quay and on towards Grand Lac where the tracks had thankfully dried out. Eurasian and African Spoonbills, Spotted Redshank, Common, Green, Marsh and Wood Sandpipers was feeding in shallow lagoons. A bonus bird came in the form of a Zebra Waxbill feeding on the track. On the approach to Grand Lac we noted a Black-shouldered Kite, Yellow-billed Stork and two Arabian Bustards feeding in among a group of Warthogs. On arrival at Grand Lac we observed clouds of wintering wildfowl including thousands of Garganey, Northern Shoveler and Northern Pintails. Time was starting to pass and we returned towards the park headquarters. Another look at the lagoon added a White-winged Tern, Curlew Sandpiper, Dunlin, Kentish Plover, Ruff and Black-tailed Godwits. Next was a stop near a village where a Greater Painted Snipe was found by Lorna. The tracks had dried out allowing us a smooth journey back to Ranch de Bango. Tomorrow we travel south towards Kaolack and the Saloum Delta.
December 19th: Ranch de Bango, St Louis, Kaolack, Keur Saloum.
Weather: Overcast with sunny spells further south 27 C
After breakfast we loaded up the van and started the journey south towards Kaolack and onto Keur Saloum. A short diversion to the old quarter of St Louis was an interesting experience as fitting a world heritage site formerly involved in the slave trade. The road down to Thies is in good condition and passes through large tracts of baobabs. A Black Scimitarbill was noted just north of Louga flying across the road. Vulture numbers appear to be holding up well in Northern Senegal and several observations of Hooded, Ruppell’s and African White-backed were made. The main birding stop today was near the junction town of Kaolack a rather run down place littered with rubbish, scrap and a generally chaotic scene. The waterways and extensive mudflats held in excess of 10000 White Storks, Black Stork and at least seventy African Swallow-tailed Kites. The latter showed well and at close range as they dropped down onto large insects being disturbed by cattle. Also in the area were good numbers of Lesser Kestrels, Montagu’s Harriers and a pair of Short-toed Eagles. Passed through Kaolack and turned down the road leading into The Gambia. Nothing new was seen apart from a group of Senegal Parrots flying across the road.
December 20th: Saloum National Park, Saloum Delta.
Weather: Hot and sunny with light winds 29 C
We met at 0715 hours for a walk around the village. Despite recent developments there are still plenty of areas for birds. Just outside the lodge a party of Brown Babblers were located. Nearby an area of seeding grasses attracted Red-cheeked Cordon-bleau, Black-rumped Waxbills and Red-billed Firefinches. On a patch of recently burnt ground a pair of Yellow-billed Shrikes showed well. In the mature trees, parties of Senegal Parrots, Rufous-crowned Rollers, Senegal Coucal and a single Bearded Barbet. On the return leg a garden with flowering shrubs attracted Lavender Waxbills and Beautiful Sunbirds. After breakfast we drove towards the main fishing village and turned inland to an area of ponds, baobab trees and grassy savannah. Grey Kestrels were quite common along with parties of soaring Hooded Vultures. In the older trees a pair of Viellot’s Barbets, Fork-tailed Drongo and a beautiful male Pygmy Sunbird. Above us we had the unusual sight of three African Harrier Hawks flying together which were mobbed by doves and other small birds. Next stop was the abandoned Bandiala Lodge with the entrance track attracting Grasshopper Buzzard, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Grey Woodpecker and a family party of Northern Anteater Chats. On arrival at the lodge which is in a sorry state of repair we watched Lizard Buzzard hunting from a low perch. Back to Keur Saloum for lunch which was followed by a boat trip into the Saloum Delta at 1500 hours. The boat trip was essentially towards the Atlantic Ocean and into the backwaters of mangroves. Common species along the way included Osprey and wintering Black Kites. On the exposed mudflats many waders from further north - Eurasian Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Greenshank and Common Redshank. Many terns were also present; Caspian, Sandwich, Royal and Gull-billed. The finale of the afternoon was exploring a narrow channel between the stands of mangroves. We were fortunate to have brief views of the shy and secretive White-crested Bittern, Green-backed Heron, Malachite and Giant Kingfishers and a Broad-billed Roller. The light was starting to fade as we made the return boat journey to Keur Saloum.
December 21st: Saloum National Park, Potako Forest.
Weather: Hot and sunny with light breezes 32 C
An early departure today as we headed east and south towards the border with The Gambia. The dusty track c15km east of base proved to be good for Long-tailed and Plain Nightjars which were easily observed on the track and catching insects in flight. Further on a bonus came our way in the form of a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl which perched on a bare tree trunk close to the ground. As dawn broke we could admire the habitat of baobab trees, grasslands and isolated villages made primarily from mud. Our ultimate destination was Potako Forest a huge area with the listed habitats plus a river, rice fields and marshes. On arrival we recorded Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Grey Kestrel, African Harrier Hawk, Black Stork, Bearded Barbet, various doves and passerines. Near a village with huge trees we walked a little with a bare tree attracting Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Northern Anteater Chat and African Grey Hornbills. The leafy trees provided us with Northern Puffback, African Golden Oriole, Long-tailed, Greater Blue-eared and Purple Glossy Starlings, Grey Woodpecker and Green Woodhoopoe. Near the river a fruiting tree attracted Yellow-fronted Canaries, Common Redstart, Tree Pipit, rollers, doves and a mixed party of Red-billed Firefinches and Black-rumped Waxbills. By the river a party of Red-chested Swallows perched in a dead tree. Overhead there was a steady passage of unidentified swallows and several Common Swifts. A visit to another area of marsh added Grasshopper Buzzard, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Fork-tailed Drongo, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Hooded and African White-backed Vultures and Northern Red Bishops to our day list. On the return journey to Keur Saloum a Brown Snake Eagle was seen perched in the top of a tree. Lunch was taken at 1300 followed by a birding excursion at 1600 hours to the local barrage. The best bird was a Shikra which flew in front of us and perched in a leafy tree. At the barrage the commoner wetland species were present and a calling Pearl-spotted Owlet. An Osprey flew over and starting hovering to catch a fish. After this we joined sandy tracks back towards the main Gambia road. A few birds were noted along the way before going back to Keur Saloum for our last night in the south of Senegal.
December 22nd: Saloum, Kaolack, Tambacounda, Wassadou.
Weather: Hot and sunny 29 C
Checked out of Keur Saloum and made the journey eastwards to Wassadou via Kaolack and Tambacounda. On the outskirts of the village a party of Piapiacs were seen. Filled up with fuel in Kaolack where African Swallow-tailed Kites and Lesser Kestrels hunting over the fields. The road east passes through endless habitats of trees and scrub with the odd water hole here and there. A stop near km342 had a seasonal water hole attracting a wide range of small birds coming down to drink. Good views of Sudan Golden and Grey-headed Sparrows, Pin-tailed and Exclamatory Paradise Whydahs, Cut-throat Finch, Little Weaver, Black-billed Wood Doves and Vinaceous Doves, these in turn attracted a hunting Shikra. Arrived in Tambacounda where we topped up with diesel and water purchased for the next few days. The road to Wassadou is being improved as it runs down to the border with Guinea. On the entrance track we found a Blue-bellied Roller perched in a dead palm tree. At Wassadou Camp we explored the gardens and Gambia River for birds. Flowering trees in the garden attracted a wide range of species; Western Grey Plantain-eater, Lesser Blue-eared, Bronze-tailed, Long-tailed and Purple Glossy Starlings, Northern Black and European Pied Flycatchers, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Northern Puffback, African Yellow White-eye, Melodious Warbler and several Red-throated Bee-eaters. On the river we located Black-crowned Night Herons, African Finfoot, Hamerkop, African Fish Eagle, Vitteline Masked Weavers in breeding plumage, Woodland Kingfisher and best of all up to eight Egyptian Plovers which showed down to two metres in front of us – truly fantastic.
December 23rd: Wassadou Camp, Route National south to km 320.
Weather: Hot and sunny after a cool dawn 32 C
We met up at 0715 hours for a walk in the gardens and alongside the river. The fruiting trees of yesterday afternoon were continuing to attract the same species. An adult Palmnut Vulture flew across the river. After breakfast we continued our walk with a party of Blackcap Babblers, Common Wattle-eye and Grey-backed Camaroptera in the riverside vegetation. Near the staff quarters a Blue-breasted Kingfisher showed in the shade of bushes. Further long the track an area of fruiting trees attracted African Blue Flycatcher, White-crowned Robin Chat, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Violet Turaco and a Blue-bellied Roller. Overhead, Common Swifts, House Martins and a single Tawny Eagle and Woolly-necked Stork. Back to the centre and into the car to join the main road south for a few kilometres. By the car park a single European Turtle Dove a rare bird nowadays compared to ten years ago. Once on the main road a stop at km320 proved to be good for Grey-headed Bushshrike, Yellow-billed Shrike, Senegal Coucal, Fine-spotted Woodpecker and Fork-tailed Drongo. A few birds of prey were also seen; Hooded, African White-backed and Ruppell’s Vultures, Short-toed and Brown Snake Eagles. Back to base as it was getting hot in the middle of the day. At 1600 hours for a boat trip on the Gambia River. By the camp in the riverside cover we located Black-crowned Night Herons, Striated, Squacco, Grey and Black-headed Herons, Little and Western Reef Egrets, Senegal Thick-knees, Little and Red-throated Bee-eaters and a Broad-billed Roller. Further upstream a sandy island and adjacent exposed shores had over 150 African Wattled Lapwings, Spur-winged and White-headed Lapwings, Egyptian Plover, White-faced Whistling Duck and Hadada Ibis. Another kilometre on we located a large flock of European Turtle Doves numbering over 300 birds in total a welcome sight and of the highest counts in recent years. Careful scanning of the flock also produced up to four Adamawa Turtle Doves a scarce West African endemic. Exposed branches attracted five species of kingfishers; Pied, Woodland, Blue-breasted, Malachite and Grey-headed. On our return we located African Pied Wagtail, Shikra and at least three African Finfoots. Later I found Double-spurred Francolin and Stone Partridge near RN7.
December 24th: Wassadou, RN7 (south and north), Gamon.
Weather: Cool to start with then hot and sunny 30 C
The large flowering tree near the restaurant had similar species to yesterday with the addition of Green Woodhoopoe. Across the river we could hear the distinctive call of the rare Oriole Warbler. At 0900 hours we set off south down RN7 looking for a garage to repair our punctured tyre. No joy so we had to go north for 35km to Messiah. A pair of Lanner Falcons was observed flying over the local mosque. Along the road we noted Grasshopper Buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Brown Snake Eagle, Lesser Blue-eared and Bronze-tailed Starlings, Jacobin Cuckoo and Yellow-billed Shrikes among others. On the track to Wassadou a shady patch allowed views of Green-backed Camaroptera, Red-billed Firefinch, Lavender Waxbill, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Melodious Warbler (in full song) and a Lizard Buzzard perched in a dead palm. In the afternoon we set off south down RN7 and started to explore the road towards Gamon. This is an interesting area of savannah woodland, villages and grasslands the latter having been burnt recently. The taller trees attracted African Collared Dove and other pigeon species. On the burnt ground we located Four-banded Sandgrouse, Double-spurred Francolin, Black-headed Lapwing and in the trees a pair of White-shouldered Black Tits. An adult African Hawk Eagle flew past and gave us good views. The flowering trees attracted starlings and sunbirds including Pygmy, Beautiful and Splendid. In the evening we had a pleasant dinner which was followed by traditional Senegalese music and dancing.
December 25th: Gamon, Wassadou.
Weather: Hot and sunny 31 C
A slightly later start was made this morning with the now familiar birds in the camp gardens. After breakfast Ass decided to head back to the Gamon road and visit areas further east along it. The road was busy with trucks from Mali. I turned down the road and stopped at various points along this fascinating route until reaching an area with large trees. Similar species to yesterday afternoons visit with the addition of White-crested Helmetshrike and a male Bateleur flying overhead on stiff wings. Several grass fires along the main highway attracted Grasshopper Buzzard, Abyssinian Roller and Northern Carmine Bee-eater. The fires are dangerous to both traffic and wildlife as they spread so quickly across the ground. Back to our base at Wassadou with the temperature was starting to rise. At 1600 hours we set off on a walk around the camp grounds. The familiar birds were around the restaurant area so we walked by the river for a kilometre. This was productive for Senegal Batis, Senegal Eremomela, Melodious Warbler and close view of Palmnut Vulture.
December 26th: Wassadou, Tambacounda, Kaolack, Dakar.
Final species total: 282.
Weather: Rather hot with occasional rain showers in Dakar
Our last day in Senegal was the journey from east to west ending in Dakar. The best birding was between Tambacounda and Kaolack with seasonal waterholes being a key factor. This rather arid savannah with water is very attractive to small birds. At one waterhole there were hundreds of Sudan Golden and Grey-headed Sparrows, Cut-throat Finch, Pin-tailed Whydah and Rd-cheeked Cordonbleau. These in turn attracted hunting raptors notably Marsh Harrier, Gabar Goshawk and Lanner Falcon. On the road towards Kaffrine a stop was made for an at least two immature Martial Eagles (rare in Senegal), and a Red-necked Falcon perched in a tree. As we approached Kaolack we had our last views of African Swallow-tailed Kites and Lesser Kestrels. The skies darkened as the approach to Dakar was made with a chill wind from the north very unseasonal weather for West Africa. A short stop at Technopole produced nothing new so we headed towards our hotel on the coast. A short seawatch here produced a few immature Northern Gannets, Royal and Sandwich Terns.
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