Guinea-Bissau and Casamance, 2023

Mark Finn
November 27-December 9

His was our third tour to Guinea-Bissau and Casamance and continued to make further discoveries of this little-known area for birds. Highlights in Cantanhez included Ahanta Francolin, Great Blue Turaco, eight species of cuckoo including Black Cuckoo, African Woolly-necked Stork, Dwarf Bittern, Western Banded Snake Eagle, the rare Yellow-casqued Hornbill, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Western Square-tailed Drongo, Honeyguide Greenbul, Grey-headed Bristlebill and many other interesting forest birds. On the islands we had views of the endangered Timneh Parrot and colonising Buff-throated Sunbird. In addition to these a good range of migrants from Europe and further south in Africa. In Casamance the most southerly region of Senegal we again encountered a wide range of species which are not regularly seen further north. The new area of Marsassoum continues to attract high numbers of water birds and waders each year with the surrounding forests and marshes worth further exploration. The next tour to this fascinating region is in early 2025

November 27th: Dakar, Bissau, Buba
Daily 45 New 45 Running 45
Weather: Hot and sunny 33c

The group met up at Dakar and made the short flight to Bissau the main city of Guinea-Bissau. Passport and customs was quickly made plus the visa process was quick and efficient. Birds observed in and around the airport included Hooded Vulture, Pied Crow, Red-chested Swallow and Long-tailed Starlings. The road towards Buba is bad for the first half of the journey and gets a little better towards the town itself. The route passes through marshy areas where we located Great and Little Egrets, Squacco Heron, Yellow-billed Kite and a male Western Marsh Harrier. Lunch was taken near a garage where the trees held a juvenile Violet-backed Starling, Western Plantain-eater and a stunning Blue-bellied Roller. We had a minor problem with a tyre which was quickly fixed. Birds seen up to the bridge included Guinea Turaco, Piapiac, Abyssinian Roller, Palmnut Vulture and Western Cattle Egrets. A stop at the bridge produced Rock Pratincole, Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Pied Kingfisher and a pair of Village Indigobirds. Finally arrived at Buba about an hour behind schedule where we stay for the night.

November 28th: Buba, Cantanhez
Daily 61 New 43 Running 88
Weather: Hot and sunny 32c

After a good night’s rest and breakfast the group explored the area along the river and adjacent gardens. The river was rising so the only birds located were Ringed Plover and Whimbrel feeding on patches of mud. A pair of Hadada Ibis few over a bird which is at the northern most edge of its range in Africa. By the hotel wires attracted several species of hirundines including Red-chested, Barn, Wire-tailed and Mosque Swallows, Sand and Common House Martins. Overhead we located Little Swift, Mottled Spinetail and Yellow-billed Kites. The waste ground was a magnet for Red-billed Firefinch, Red-cheeked Cordonbleau, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Village Indigobirds and Bronze Mannikins. At Buba a stop to pick up supplies and change the damaged tire from yesterday. Whilst doing this several birds were added to the list including a pair of Red-breasted Swallows, Red-throated Bee-eaters, and a pair of hunting Lanner Falcons, Village Weaver and Yellow-fronted Canary. The next stop was literally along the road which is rich in birdlife. The degraded forest and scrub attracted Lizard Buzzard, Double-toothed Barbet, Striped Kingfisher, White-throated, Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters, Piping Hornbill, Fanti Sawwing, Olive-backed Weaver, Variable Sunbird and Black-winged Bishops. Further down the road a bonus came in the form of the uncommon Pied-winged Swallow. It was time to turn down the road towards Cantanhez with a stop adding the localised Turati’s Boubou and calling Black-crowned Tchagra. The road towards Cantanhez is narrow and passes through forest habitats a trip on another day. At the camp species located included African Thrush and Swamp Palm Bulbul. At the end of the day a walk down the road to a marshy area dotted with large trees revealed high numbers of Palmnut Vultures, Striated Heron, African Woolly-necked Stork and Tawny-flanked Prinia.

Mammals: Gambian Ground Squirrel (4), Sun Squirrel (2)

White-throated Bee-eater, Georgina Penticost

November 29th: Cantanhez
Daily 48 New 17 Running 105
Weather: Hot and sunny 32c

The usual birds were around the camp this morning. Our initial exploration was towards the village of Touba and fragments of the once mighty forests of West Africa. The best spot was around the football ground where open areas attracted an immature Dideric Cuckoo, Western Yellow Wagtail, Pin-tailed Whydah and Red-billed Firefinches. The larger trees with dead snags were attractive to migratory White-throated Bee-eaters, Western Banded Snake Eagle, African Harrier Hawk, African Woolly-necked Stork, Great Blue Turaco and Village Indigobird. Our journey continued with sightings of African Pied Hornbill, Grey-headed, Woodland and Malachite Kingfishers, Hooded and Palmnut Vultures and in a village the localised Wilson’s Indigobird. The group had a few walks along the track with sightings of Guinea Turaco and Splendid Sunbird and a singing Little Greenbul. At 1130 we retraced our steps recording a pair of Lanner Falcons and a Striated Heron in the same place as yesterday afternoon. Lunch at 1300 hours and out again at 1600 hours to explore another area of Cantanhez. At lunchtime the only interesting addition was a pair of Honeyguide Greenbuls singing and perched up in the shade of a small tree. At 1600 hours we travelled down a track which ended by an inlet of the sea. Overhead we recorded Alpine and Common Swifts visitors from Europe. At the end of the track muddy areas attracted Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper and Common Greenshank. In the mangroves a pair of Northern Crombecs was located. On the return to the village a slight diversion towards the forest added Blue-cheeked and White-throated Bee-eaters, Senegal Coucal and a party of Senegal Parrots. The light started to fade after a challenging day in Cantanhez.

Mammals: Mona Monkey (5)

November 30th: Cantanhez
Daily 47 New 15 Running 121
Weather: Cloudy with rain showers on a light W wind 25c-30c

Our birding this morning was hampered by unseasonal rains and cloud cover. After breakfast we headed down a track with extensive forest habitats and cashew orchards. The cloud forced many species lower down in search of food and included White-throated Bee-eaters, Red-rumped Swallows and a few West African Swallows. In a bush a single Lizard Buzzard with a nearby dead tree attracting Piping and African Pied Hornbills. An exploration of a side track produced a rare find in the form of a Black-throated Coucal. In the background we could hear Great Blue and Guinea Turacos and had views of Beautiful and Variable Sunbirds. At 1040 the rain was much heavier so a return to base was made. On the way a single Vinaceous Dove perched in a tree. The rain abated so an earlier start in the afternoon was made visiting the same track used earlier. Our attention was drawn to a mixed flock of birds around 3km from the village. Several interesting species were present including the uncommon Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Grey-headed and Woodland Kingfishers, Grey-headed Bristlebill with its yellow spots in the tail, Chestnut-breasted Negrita and a Little Bee-eater. Further down the track a Woolly-necked Stork showed in flight and a Blue-breasted Kingfisher was in a trackside tree. Luck was with us again as two Black Cuckoos were located sitting in a tree this species is a recent colonist to Cantanhez. Near the last village several Red-breasted Paradise Flycatchers showed for a few of us. Beyond this point the track passes through a marsh which is slightly degraded in parts but open mud in others. On the edges we could hear White-spotted Flufftails giving their distinctive songs and an African Black Crake calling from cover. On the mud a single Striated Heron and overhead a passing Long-crested Eagle. Careful scanning of the dense vegetation revealed at least four Grosbeak Weavers and a Whistling Cisticola feeding on small yellow berries. Back to camp for our last night in Cantanhez and tomorrow the journey to Bissau.

Mammals: Mona Monkey (3), Sun Squirrel (4)

December 1st: Cantanhez, Bissau
Daily 73 New 25 Running 146
Weather: Hot and sunny 35c

Our last morning was at Cantanhez before making the journey back to Bissau. The first birding stop was an area of old forest with mature trees and several patches of marsh land. In the mature trees the group located Swamp Palm Bulbul, Red-tailed Leaflove, Honeyguide Greenbul, Buff-spotted Woodpecker and the rare Western Square-tailed Drongo. In the undergrowth we could hear the distinctive calls of Capuchin Babblers but they kept out of sight. Further down the road a Snowy-crowned Robin Chat flew in front of the vehicle in addition to a pair of Ahanta Francolins, Black Coucal, Levaillant’s Cuckoo and calling White-spotted Flufftails. A stop at a marshy area was productive for Dwarf Bittern, Giant Kingfisher, Olive-backed Weaver, Double-toothed Barbet, Yellow-mantled Widowbird and remarkably a pair of near threatened Yellow-casqued Hornbills. Our journey continued towards the major road where we picked up supplies for a picnic. Along the road sightings were made of Booted Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, European Honey Buzzard and Lizard Buzzard. Lunch was taken at the bridge with similar birds to a few days ago plus Reed Cormorant and a pair of Senegal Thick-knees. Beyond the bridge a surprise was a juvenile Bateleur. The rice fields are always worth checking and one particular spot was excellent for Great and Intermediate Egrets, Western Reef Egret, Grey, Purple, Black and Squacco Herons, Yellow-billed Stork, African Darter, African Wattled Lapwing, Green Sandpiper and a group of Piapiac. The road to Bissau is poor and eventually we arrived in this bustling city where we stay tonight.

Mammals: Mona Monkey (4), Gambian Ground Squirrel (3), Sun Squirrel (2), Chimpanzee (1), Hippopotamus (1)

December 2nd: Bissau, Portobello, Rubane Island
Daily 49 New 14 Running 160
Weather: Hot and sunny 33c

Due to a change in the timing of the boat to Rubane Island I had to rearrange the itinerary and visit Portobello. The habitat is rice fields dotted with large trees and adjoining scrub. The commoner birds of the Bissau area were quickly located and then our attention to a large tree which attracted an African Grey Woodpecker and Glossy-backed Drongos. Careful scanning also revealed Yellow-billed and Woodchat Shrikes, African Thrush and Senegal Coucal. Our attention was then drawn to an area of scrub and trees where Broad-billed Roller, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Bearded Barbet, Brown Babbler and African Golden Oriole were located. A Common Wattle-eye was also present giving its distinctive calls. On exiting the property a Purple Starling showed well feeding on the ground. In the afternoon a boat to Rubane Island from Bissau docks which is a very run down port. Grey-hooded Gull, Little Tern and Little Swifts were in the area. The crossing went well and on arrival at Rubane we located Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper and West African Terns.

Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Georgina Penticost

December 3rd: Rubane Island, Joao Viera
Daily 47 New 12 Running 172
Weather: Hot and sunny 33c

This morning we made the boat trip to Joao Viera a small forested island with extensive sandy beaches. On arrival the coastal waters held good numbers of West African, Sandwich and Little Terns. On landing by the beach we quickly located two Timneh Parrots flying over the forest (we had to wait until later in the day to find them perched). A walk along the edge of the forest was productive for Grey Heron, Western Osprey, Palmnut Vulture, African Grey Woodpecker, African Harrier Hawk, Woodland and Malachite Kingfishers and several Common Wattle-eyes. The shallow waters and incoming tide added Common Sandpiper, Common Redshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Little Egret and Spur-winged Lapwing. A short walk into the interior along a cleared path was productive for a calling Klaas’s Cuckoo, Blue Malkoha and White-throated Bee-eaters. On returning to the beach the tide was almost full forcing a party of Sandering to run along the shoreline. The group also had brief views of Snowy-crowned Robin Chat and Copper Sunbird. Lunch was taken in the shade of park headquarters with Little Stint nearby and a Striated Heron. It was a waiting game for the rare Timneh Parrot which was eventually located in a palm frond.

December 4th: Rubane Island, Bissau
Daily 41 New 11 Running 183
Weather: Hot and sunny 35c

Our last morning was on Rubane Island before leaving for Bissau in the afternoon. In the gardens we managed to get good views of Buff-throated Sunbirds and heard a calling White-spotted Flufftail. On the beach we had views of Whimbrel and Wood Sandpiper. It was time to visit a lagoon on the island which is tidal but attracts good birds. Interesting species included Grey, Common Ringed and Kentish Plovers, Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Caspian and Lesser Crested Terns, Goliath Heron, Pink-backed Pelican, Scarlet-chested and Olive-bellied Sunbirds and the common wetland species. At 1500 hours a return to Bissau and onto the hotel for the night.

December 5th: Bissau, Ziguinchor
Daily 32 New 1 Running 184
Weather: Hot and sunny 36c

A later breakfast today, before going on the rough road towards Sao Domingo and the border with Senegal. The road passes through large areas of seasonal pools which attracted many Yellow-billed Storks and other wetland species. At the border Hamilton and Sadjio made the formalities quick and simple and we gave our goodbyes to this excellent guide and driver. Later in the day we visited rice fields on the outskirts of the city where among others we added a calling Greater Honeyguide. Basically a travel day today back into Casamance.

Honeyguide Greenbul, Georgina Penticost

December 6th: Ziguinchor, Niassia, Djirombit, Pointe St Georges
Daily 97 New 21 Running 207
Weather: Very hot and sunny 37c

The hotel is surrounded by large trees attracting breeding birds. By far the most numerous are Yellow-billed Stork followed by White-breasted and Reed Cormorants and African Palm Swifts. At 0800 hours we were on the way to Niassia which has several lagoons. At the first one visited Lesser Blue-eared Starlings and Speckled Pigeons. The best was a mixed flock of Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets, Western Reef Heron, African Spoonbill, Spur-winged Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew and Common Sandpipers, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank and Pied Kingfishers. At the first major bridge a stop for Giant Kingfisher and Senegal Thick-knees along the sandy bank. Beyond the village the group was delighted to watch at least three Montagu’s Harriers quartering the wetlands for food. The other highlights were Slender-billed Gull, Grey Plover and a party of Pink-backed Pelicans. Djirombit is a new area of rice paddies, isolated large trees and ponds. The wires along the road held Purple, Abyssinian and Blue-bellied Rollers. Overhead we observed and heard European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. Various trees attracted Lizard Buzzard, Yellow-billed Shrike, African Grey and Western Red-billed Hornbills, Northern Black Flycatcher, Village Weavers and Black-headed Herons. Further along the road a particular tree appeared to attract many smaller birds including Senegal Eremomela, Willow and Western Olivaceous Warblers, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Red-cheeked Cordonbleau, Village Indigobird and Beautiful Sunbird. The grasses held Zitting Cisticola giving their distinctive calls. The area has large amounts of livestock which attracts vultures and we were fortunate to locate White-backed, Hooded and the near threatened Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture. The temperature was soaring so to Cap Sainte Georges for lunch. The grounds were good for Hamerkop, Woodland Kingfisher, Green-winged Ptylia, Purple Starling and Yellow-crowned Gonolek. The Casamance River had Caspian and Sandwich Terns and the common wintering waders along the river edge. At 1630 birding the remnant forest where we located Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Green Woodhoopoe and African Jacana in the wetter areas. The burnt ground was attractive to African Wattled Lapwing but the highlight was Four-banded Sandgrouse feeding quietly on the ground.

Senegal Thick-knee, Georgina Penticost

December 7th: Ziguinchor, Mpak, Marsassoum
Daily 72 New 4 Running 211
Weather: Hot and sunny 30c

After breakfast we headed towards Mpak which is a border village with Guinea-Bissau. A few seasonal ponds by the .road attracted a party of White-faced Whistling Ducks, Pied Kingfisher, Palmnut and Hooded Vultures, Black-headed Heron, Senegal Thick-knee and parties of Piapiac. A return to base was due to the heat. In the afternoon we crossed the Casamance River and headed towards Marsassoum and surrounding area which has become an important wetland and refuge. A wide selection of herons, egrets and waders were present including Eurasian and African Spoonbills, Grey and Common Ringed Plovers, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Black-winged Stilt. Raptors in the area included Grey Kestrel and Brown Snake Eagle. Underneath the culverts West African Swallows were nesting and gave us excellent views. On the way back to Ziguinchor, Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were observed on cattle, this species is decreasing quickly within Africa due to pesticide use in the farming community.

December 8th: Ziguinchor, Pointe St Georges
Daily 92 New 8 Final 219
Weather: Hot and sunny 30c

Our last full day in Casamance with a visit to Pointe St Georges area. The commoner birds were seen en route plus a Black-shouldered Kite sitting on a utility pole. The first birding area was at the entrance track to Pointe St Georges which has many large trees and stands of acacia. Careful searching of the trees revealed the presence of a female Western Orphean Warbler and overhead a Short-toed Eagle. A slow drive along the track added the scarce Tawny Pipit and a hunting Montagu’s Harrier. A bonus came in the form of a Black Kite and several White-backed Vultures searching for food. Time was spent searching the marshes and remnant forest patches for birds. No luck so we went to the coast and a restaurant/bar giving views into the Casamance River. A pool here attracted Black-rumped Waxbills and a female Green-winged Pytilia. Other birds in the garden included African Golden Oriole, Red-billed Firefinch and Olive-backed Weavers. The river was quiet for birds but included Grey-headed Gull, Pink-backed Pelican and several wintering waders from Europe including Ruddy Turnstone and Whimbrel. At 1600 hours we slowly returned to Ziguinchor. In the forest we could hear the distinctive songs of Oriole Warblers and an African Grey Woodpecker was prospecting at a hole in an old palm tree. The highlight was to come when an adult Dwarf Bittern perched motionless on a dead tree, remarkable views of this usually shy and retiring species.

Mammals: Mona Monkey (1), Gambian Ground Squirrel (1), Bottle-nosed Dolphin (3)

December 9th: Ziguinchor, Dakar, Madrid, Heathrow

A fiddly day as our flight was changed to Dakar to mid-afternoon. Back at the airport back to Popenguine to wash and freshen up before heading home via Madrid.

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