Senegal 2012

...with Mark Finn

February 9th - 18th

February was the month this year for our annual Senegal tour. The country again threw up a few surprise birds among the thousands of wintering birds from further north. Highlights of the tour included the poorly known and rarely seen White-crested Bittern, White-backed Night Heron, thousands of White-faced Whistling Ducks and Garganey at Djoudj, unusually high counts of Lesser Flamingo (c4000 birds), Western Banded and Beaudouin’s Snake Eagles, African Scissor-tailed Kites, Little Crake (rare in West Africa), Arabian and Savile’s Bustards, Allen’s Gallinule, Greyish and Verreaux’s Eagle Owls, all four rollers, Little Grey Woodpecker, River Prinia, Iberian Chiffchaff, Black Scrub Robin and many other interesting birds.

Our next visit to Senegal is planned for the early part of December 2013.

February 9th/10th: , Lisbon, Dakar, Lam Lam, Ranch de Bango.

Weather: Warm and sunny with light northeast winds 27 C.

After meeting up at Heathrow we boarded our flight down to Lisbon and an onward connection to Dakar the capital of Senegal. The first leg went well but problems with the Dakar flight meant a delay and short overnight stop in Lisbon. Thankfully the flight was rescheduled for 9am meaning an arrival at 1400 hours. On exiting the airport we quickly located the commoner birds of Dakar including Hooded Vulture, Yellow-billed Kite and Pied Crow plus a few Little Swifts flying around the terminal building. The traffic in Dakar is heavy at times and eventually the hustle and bustle was left behind as our journey went north through Thies and Louga and onto Ranch de Bango on the banks of the Senegal River. Our first birding stop was in an area of fields around the village of Lam Lam. This was particularly productive for Chestnut-bellied, Long-tailed and Greater Blue-eared Starlings, Red-billed and African Grey Hornbills, Piapiac, Bush Petronia, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Common Bulbul and African Silverbills. Luck was with us as Suzanne located a Yellow-crowned Gonolek feeding in the open and Senegal Parrots perched in a large baobab tree. Further north Ass located a Red-necked Falcon which obligingly perched in a tree with a Hooded and White-backed Vulture for company these were later joined by a Black-shouldered Kite. The light went quickly as the approach to Saint Louis was made and onto base at Ranch de Bango.

February 11th: Ranch de Bango, Marigot 1, 2 and 3, Gandon.

Weather: Hot and sunny with light northeast winds 34 C

The group met up at 0700 hours for a pre-breakfast walk around the grounds. The acacia trees surrounding the horse paddocks were productive for Red-billed Hornbill, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Common Chiffchaff and dozens of wintering Subalpine Warblers. By the new accommodation block a small pool attracted African Jacana and African Black Crakes. The fields leading to the riverside restaurant produced Double-spurred Francolin, Western Yellow Wagtail (three races), White Wagtail, Sudan Golden Sparrows, Vitteline Masked Weavers and Red-billed Firefinches. The shallow waters and reed fringed edges of the lagoon were a magnet for birds including Little and Cattle Egrets, Squacco and Grey Herons, Black-winged Stilt, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Gull-billed and Caspian Terns. Over the vast expanse of reeds flights of Garganey, White-faced Whistling Ducks, Long-tailed Cormorant and hunting Western Marsh Harriers. Back for breakfast with a baobab tree attracting Beautiful and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds and Common Bulbul. At 0915 hours we set off for the day exploring the huge area covering the Marigot Lakes and the village of Gandon. Before leaving the car park a Western Plantain-eater landed in the top of a large tree. Our first stop near Marigot 1 was notable for Abyssinian Rollers, Northern Anteater Chats, Black and African Scrub Robins, Woodchat Shrikes, Black-crowned Tchagra, Red-billed Quelea and two non-breeding plumaged Pin-tailed Whydahs. In the distance a Short-toed Eagle and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse flying above our heads. Next on the agenda was the area around Marigot 2. The dry, acacia dominated habitat gave us the first of several sightings of Savile’s Bustard on the ground and in flight. A walk towards Marigot 2 added Purple Swamphen, Common Moorhen, African Darter, Pied Kingfisher, and in the surrounding scrub Desert Cisticola. Lunch taken in the shade of an acacia tree with a Striped Kingfisher perched nearby. After lunch a visit to another pool which held African Pygmy Goose, Green Sandpiper and Orange Bishops. The heat started to increase as a further stop added Senegal Thick-knees and in the marshes Black and Western Reef Egrets, Purple Heron and large numbers of Purple Swamphens. We started to travel towards Saint Louis via various sandy tracks recording Montagu’s Harrier, Black-headed Lapwing and Blue-naped Mousebirds. Joined the major Dakar to Saint Louis road and turned off to Gandon an area dominated by mature acacia forest. The last bird of the day was a Little Grey Woodpecker that duly put in an appearance.

February 12th: Ranch de Bango, Marigot 3.

Weather: Cloudy with an east wind 25 C

At 0715 hours we met up and started a walk towards the ruined buildings of the old Ranch de Bango. In the first ruin a beautiful male Common Redstart was catching insects along an old wall. Further on a large eucalyptus tree held a Red-necked Falcon and a calling Viellot’s Barbet. In an enclosed field a wintering Tree Pipit was located by Ass and on the return to the ranch gardens a Little Weaver feeding with Vitteline Masked Weavers. After breakfast we joined the road to Richard Toll and turned south towards the large Marigot 3 complex which comprises marshes, acacia, grassland and small villages. Our first walk was in an area dominated by large trees and an understory habitat of grazed grasses. Birds were numerous and conspicuous with sightings of African Collared, African Mourning, Namaqua and Laughing Doves, Woodchat Shrike, Northern Wheatear, Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Common Chiffchaff and Tawny Pipit. Near a village we encountered several pairs of Cream-coloured Coursers and an approachable Black-crowned Tchagra. Beyond this point a vast steppe like habitat was reached where Temminck’s Coursers and Southern Grey Shrikes were added to the list. Before reaching Marigot 3 another walk into the acacia forest produced a Brubru, Senegal Eremomela and high numbers of Subalpine Warblers. On exiting the acacia forest a party of Kittlitz’s Plovers was located running around on the short-cropped grass. We reached the lake edge with observations of Pink-backed Pelican, Striated Heron, Eurasian Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Little Ringed Plover, Pied Kingfisher and Collared Pratincoles sitting on the ground. Lunch was followed by a walk among the stands of acacia where a Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse was feeding in the open. A bonus here was a Western Orphean Warbler and after much searching a Spotted Thick-knee which allowed excellent views. The last birding stop was at an open section of Marigot 3. This was an excellent spot with new birds added to the tour list; Fulvous Whistling Duck, two immature Allen’s Gallinules, Common Snipe, Little Stint, Ruff, and Eurasian Reed Warbler and the commoner wetland birds of Northern Senegal.

February 13th: Ranch de Bango, Djoudj National Park, Taweh Camp.

Weather: Cloudy with sunny spells and a northeast wind 12 C/25 C

Our pre-breakfast walk was to the fields and lagoon next to the new restaurant. Similar birds on the lagoon and in the garden to the previous visit. In the reeds the group observed Winding Cisticola, African Stonechat and African Reed Warbler. On the return to the restaurant a Grey-hooded Gull showed well on the grassy fields. After breakfast we headed in a northerly direction towards the border with Mauritania to visit Djoudj National Park. The road is rutted and poor in places and passes through extensive areas used for the production of rice. Roger located a Dark Chanting Goshawk on a fence post. The next stop was a rather degraded lagoon fringed with reeds and a cover of water lilies. The former attracted up to twenty five Greater Painted Snipe. Open waters added Little Grebe, African Pygmy Geese, African Jacana and African Black Crake. Before entering the reserve a manmade lagoon held high numbers of waterfowl, herons, egrets and waders. Birds of interest here included Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Kentish, Kittlitz’s and Ringed Plovers, Pied Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Dunlin and Greater Flamingo. We then travelled to Taweh Camp stopping for Eurasian and African Spoonbills, White-faced Whistling Ducks, Spur-winged Geese, Black Stork and hundreds of White-faced Whistling Ducks. The road to Taweh was dusty and rough in places as we passed by large fields used for rice production. A pleasant lunch was followed by a boat trip towards the pelican colony. By the departure quay the group located Yellow-billed Stork, Glossy and Sacred Ibis. The boat trip allowed us close views of herons and egrets, Malachite Kingfisher, African Fish Eagle, African Darter and in an area of reeds the scarce and restricted River Prinia. At the end of the lagoon we witnessed a large colony of Great White Pelicans. In each direction the boat was followed by numerous terns including; Caspian, Gull-billed, Sandwich, Common, Black, White-winged and Whiskered whilst overhanging bushes had a few wintering Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. Back at the quay headed back to Taweh Camp with thousands of Red-billed Quelea for company.

February 14th: Camp, Djoudj, Djuess, Ranch de Bango.

Weather: Cloudy with occasional sunny spells, northeast wind 24 C

Today started with the group meeting up on the veranda of Taweh Camp. Long-tailed Nightjars were hunting for insects along with Collared Pratincoles. Along the river Great White Pelicans and the commoner water birds of the area. As dawn broke we walked towards the staff quarters adding a Green-backed Camoroptera feeding in the acacia scrub with migrant Common Chiffchaffs. Acacia trees had resting Lesser Kestrels and Yellow-billed Kites. After breakfast a walk towards the canal added a group of Black-crowned Cranes. The journey to Djoudj was broken with a stop in the rice fields where we recorded Black Kite, Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers, Black-shouldered Kite, Black-headed and Grey Herons, Red-billed Quelea (thousands), Crested Lark, Sudan Golden Sparrows and a party of Black Storks. Next was a stop for bread in Debi a rather dusty and rundown village next to the park. Passed by the quay and stopped at an elevated position looking down into a marshy area. This was an extremely productive area for birds with sightings of Black and Yellow-billed Storks, Great, Little and Cattle Egrets, Eurasian and African Spoonbills, Osprey, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Common and Spotted Redshanks, Greenshank, Marsh, Curlew and Common Sandpipers, Black-tailed Godwits and a few Greater Flamingos. By the van a Winding Cisticola showed well in the base of the reeds. Next on the agenda was Grand Lac which is reached by following a rough track. The acacia scrub here had a Black Scrub Robin. On arrival at the lake I was surprised to find thousands of Lesser Flamingos. Also present were high numbers of Garganey, Common Teal and Northern Shoveler. A surprise was a German TV crew who wished to film and interview us about our travels within Senegal. Departed from the park and visited another degraded area for birds. A lot of searching resulted in the group locating an Arabian Bustard a rare and declining species of the Sahel. Returned to Ranch de Bango via Djuess where Suzanne located a Grey-headed Kingfisher and a pair of African Palm Swifts flew past.

February 15th: Ranch de Bango, Kaolack, Saloum.

Weather: Cloudy with northeast winds 32 C

An earlier breakfast was taken at 0700 hours. After checking out at Ranch de Bango a pair of Viellot’s Barbets showed in a tree above the reception area. Our journey south passed Saint Louis towards Dakar. The first birding stop produced a party of Green Woodhoopoes inspecting a tree for food. A few kilometres down the road further stops allowed us to study Hooded, Ruppell’s and African White-backed Vultures at close range. A bonus was an extended family party of Abyssinian Ground Hornbills a species in steep decline through much of its range. On reaching Thies the second city of Senegal we filled up with fuel and carried on towards Kaolack an important junction town linking Dakar with the remote eastern parts of Senegal. Our lunch stop added a single Yellow-billed Kite and a party of Brown Babblers flitting from tree to tree. The best was to come as we located a roving flock of African Scissor-tailed Kites hunting for food on the outskirts of Kaolack. Visible migration added large numbers of White Storks and at least three Pink-backed Pelicans. By the roadside we found a single Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark. Kaolack was reached a rather chaotic and bustling place with rather large areas of discarded rubbish and junk. We turned towards Saloum on a road which was rather poor in places. The next stop at a bridge across a lagoon added Grey Plover, Whimbrel, Marsh, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers and a Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird calling from a large tree. A single Hamerkop was noted flying over the forest canopy. The last stop of the day was at a small village before reaching Saloum. This was very good with a pair of Blue-bellied Rollers perched on telegraph poles. Also present were European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Red-eyed Dove, Senegal Parrot and Rose-ringed Parakeets.

February 16th: Saloum National Park.

Weather: Hot and sunny with light winds 31 C

We met up at 0700 hours before setting off on a short walk behind the hotel grounds. Birding was quiet to start with until a pair of Lizard Buzzards landed in a large tree. Maureen then located two Pearl-spotted Owlets sitting on a horizontal branch. The best was to come when we located a fruiting tree which attracted many birds including Senegal Parrot, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Red-billed Hornbill, Fork-tailed Drongo, White-billed Buffalo Weavers, Long-tailed Starlings and Village Weavers. Next was a roving group of Blackcap Babblers and overhead a Shikra which perched briefly in a small tree. Near the lodge gates Purple Starlings perched in a dead tree. Breakfast was followed by a boat trip into the Saloum Delta a huge complex of channels, islands and mangrove stands. Along the mangrove edge sightings of Goliath Heron, Great, Little and Western Reef Egrets, Osprey, Palm-nut Vulture, Common Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Greenshank and a single Black-headed Heron. The estuary has several areas of exposed mud at low tide and these attracted Pink-backed Pelican, Grey-headed and Slender-billed Gulls, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, White-fronted, Ringed and Grey Plovers, Caspian, Gull-billed, Royal and Sandwich Terns and Long-tailed Cormorants. We left the main channel and explored the mangrove lined side channels when Roger located the uncommon and secretive White-crested Bittern (Tiger Heron) sitting quietly on a low branch, excellent views obtained of this data deficient species. Further along the channel brief views of an African Finfoot which promptly disappeared from view to hide in the mangroves. We then entered another more open channel with large baobab trees attracting European, Blue-cheeked and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters. More excitement was to come when the boatman located a roosting White-backed Night Heron in the mangroves. Returned to the mainland and landed at a fishing dock where Ibrahim was waiting for us. In the village a pair of Red-chested Swallows nesting under-one of the corrugated buildings. Back to Keur Saloum for lunch and out again at 1600 hours to explore another area of Saloum. The first birding stop was in an area of secondary forest with open fields and a river. On exiting the bus we soon located Black-billed Wood-doves and a male Giant Kingfisher sitting in a tree looking for prey. A flowering fig tree attracted Beautiful, Pygmy and Variable Sunbirds, Northern Puffback and brief views of a Greater Honeyguide. A walk into the fields with mature trees was productive for African Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Shrike, Abyssinian and Rufous-crowned Rollers, Grey Woodpecker and Village Weaver. Further up the road another stop before sunset was extremely good for birds going to roost. Bruce’s and African Green Pigeons were joined by groups of Red-cheeked Cordon Bleau, Black-rumped Waxbill, Red-billed Quelea and overhead three migrating Eurasian Spoonbills, Mottled Spinetail and brief glimpses of a Gabar Goshawk.

February 17th: Saloum National Park.

Weather: Hot and sunny with a light easterly wind 31 C

An early departure today as we set off to visit some of the remote villages adjoining Saloum National Park. On the way we were fortunate to see a Greyish Eagle Owl sitting on a sandy track. At first light we parked up near an area of water in what was otherwise a very arid habitat. A pool attracted White-faced Whistling Duck, Spur-winged and Black-headed Lapwings, Wood and Green Sandpipers, Ringed Plover and Marsh Sandpiper. Next on the agenda was a nesting area of the huge Verreaux’s Eagle Owl which duly obliged sitting on top of a buffalo weavers nest. In total four owls were present with two young still in the nest. Overhead migrant Common Swifts were heading north. The next birding stop was a grass-land dotted with large trees. This was productive for Western Banded and Beaudouin’s Snake Eagles, Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers, Grey and Eurasian Kestrels, Dark Chanting Goshawk, African White-backed and Palm-nut Vultures, Gabar Goshawk, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, and roving flocks of Red-billed Quelea. A stop near a village allowed close views of Black-billed Wood Dove, Scarlet-chested and Pygmy Sunbirds, Purple Starling, Melodious Warbler, Common Whitethroat and a party of Yellow-billed Oxpeckers feeding on a grey horse. The heat was starting to affect birding so we headed back to base stopping for Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark, Singing Bushlark and a Greater Honeyguide. On arrival at the hotel a Grey Woodpecker feeding in a dead tree plus Tawny-flanked Prinia, Red-billed Firefinch, Yellow-crowned Gonolek and hordes of Village Weavers. We met up at 1600 hours to visit another area of Saloum including a large eucalyptus forest and a barrage. Birding was slow to start with until we visited the barrage where a male Greater Honeyguide came down to drink. A walk across the barrage allowed us access to an area of vegetable production. This was excellent for views of Greater Blue-eared and Purple Starlings in good light. Two Broad-billed Rollers were also using the area to catch insects. On our return the marshy area provided us with Black-headed and Purple Herons, Squacco Heron, Common Moorhen, Great Reed Warbler and a surprise find in three Little Crakes (one male and two females). The day ended by walking through another sector of fields dotted with fruiting trees. It was a magnet for Western Grey Plantain-eater, Senegal Parrot, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Bruce’s and African Green Pigeons and the commoner doves including Vinaceous. Back to base at Keur Saloum for our last night in Senegal.

February 18th: Saloum, Kaolack, Dakar.

Final species total: 259.

Weather: Cloudy with sunny spells, cool in Dakar 14 C/29 C

Breakfast was taken at 0700 hours followed by a visit to the village of Barrage which is just outside the national park boundaries. Barrage always produces a few surprises and today was no exception. The commoner birds of Saloum were around in good numbers with the addition of a White-crowned Robin Chat skulking under the shade of a large bush and an African Thrush searching for worms near a vegetable patch. A pair of Hadada Ibis perched in a dead tree, although a common African bird it reaches its northern limits here in Senegal where it is quite scarce. Everybody was delighted when I located a Grey-headed Kingfisher perched on a dead tree stump, it gave long views. In an acacia bush a Lemon-fronted Tinkerbird and a wintering Common Whitethroat. Back to base to repack and the drive to Dakar via Kaolack. The journey went smoothly along the badly pot-holed road until we stopped to admire a hunting Short-toed Eagle and a fly-by Ruppell’s Vulture. On entering Kaolack it was as chaotic as ever with markets, tyre merchants and a host of various stalls selling everything under the sun. We navigated through the streets to a pumping station with access to a river system. Surprisingly this was an excellent spot for water birds with herons, egrets, waders and gulls in abundance and the first Lesser Black-backed and Yellow-legged Gulls of the tour. No sign of the Egyptian Plovers which frequent the estuary. A large wintering flock of Pied Avocets was noted with Pink-backed Pelicans resting on the sandbanks. We left Kaolack only to stop again a few kilometres along the Dakar road for a huge flock of migrating White Storks numbering around 500 birds. The northerly winds had forced them down to rest up and feed on their northbound journey to Europe and North Africa. Lunch was taken in the shade of a large acacia and group photographs taken, shortly afterwards three White-rumped Seedeaters showed on the track. The journey to Dakar went quickly although the city was again clogged with traffic as we entered the oddly named Technopole Reserve. This is an excellent birding spot in the middle of Dakar of two large, shallow lagoons dotted with small islands and bordered by reeds. New birds here included the locally scarce Audouin’s Gulls, Black-headed Gulls, Common Coot and a party of Bronze Mannikins. Other species present included Garganey, Northern Shoveler, Great, Little, Western Reef and Black Egrets, Purple Swamphen, Caspian Tern and the commoner water birds. Our last birding stop was at Cap Vert where we have permission to bird around the golf club. The hotel here had a Peregrine Falcon sitting on the top rail of the highest floor. Offshore a steady flow of Northern Gannets and two Pomarine Skuas chasing terns. On the rocky shore a few wintering Ruddy Turnstones. On the golf course itself Red-billed Quelea, Village Weaver, African Silverbill and a very close and approachable Osprey which was a fitting end to our Senegal tour of 2012. I had booked two rooms to change and repack in before heading to Dakar airport and the flight home to Europe. The end to a highly enjoyable tour to Senegal one of Africa’s hidden gems for birds.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at

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