Guinea Bissau and Casamance, 2021

Mark Finn
October 31st-November 12th

This was our first official tour to this little known part of West Africa for its birdlife. In the past we had made two visits to Guinea-Bissau and one to Casamance which has only recently opened up for tourism. The tour was good for finding rare or poorly known species for the region, especially at Cantanhez and Buba in Guinea-Bissau and the very bird rich area of Pointe St Georges in Casamance. In addition to these areas Orango Island was interesting for birds and in particular the return journey for seabirds and waders when islands appear at low tide. The following diary and bird list should help relive what were an excellent trip and the surprise of finding birds out of range or new to the region.

Our next tour to the area is in November 2022

October 31st: Bandia, Popenguine
Daily 64 New 64 Running 64
Weather: Cloudy and humid with a light NW wind 32C

As clients arrived a day earlier in Dakar due to flight changes we had a chance to visit two areas close to our base in the coastal village of Popenguine. In and around the hotel grounds we located Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Village Indigobird, Beautiful and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds and Red-billed Firefinches. Offshore several Ospreys were noted along with African Royal, Caspian and Sandwich Terns. Bandia was the destination this morning a privately run nature reserve close to the village of Sindia. On the entrance track Hooded Vulture, Western Red-billed Hornbill, African Mourning Dove and brief views of an Abyssinian Roller. The large pool at Bandia is productive for birds and we quickly located Grey-headed and Malachite Kingfishers, Spur-winged Lapwing, Senegal Thick-knee, Striated and Grey Herons, Intermediate and Great Egrets and a wintering Green Sandpiper. A walk back towards the safari drop off point was good for White-billed Buffalo Weaver, Black-billed Wood-dove and overhead an immature White-backed Vulture. Back to Popenguine for lunch which was followed by a visit to the cliffs further south along the coast. The acacia scrub held Common Redstart, Subalpine Warbler and Little Green Bee-eaters. Luck was with us as a Gosling’s Bunting perched on top of an old pillbox and a Blue Rock Thrush sitting on top of a cliff escarpment. A look into the valley revealed good numbers of Osprey, a juvenile Eurasian Hobby, Common Kestrel and African Grey Hornbill. On the return walk Northern Anteater Chat, Zitting Cisticola and at least two Woodland Kingfishers were added to the list.

November 1st: Dakar, Ziguinchor, Sao Domingo, Bissau
Daily 40 New 15 Running 79
Weather: Hot and sunny with no wind 37C

Breakfast at 0700 hours and to Dakar airport for the short flight to Ziguinchor. In the town high numbers of Yellow-billed Stork, Yellow-billed Kite and Hooded Vultures flying overhead. The visas were quickly obtained and onto the border which was complex on the Guinea-Bissau side. The permits were obtained and we embarked on some of the worst roads in Africa to the capital Bissau. A few stops along the way added a splendid Long-crested Eagle, Hamerkop, a surprise find in two Eurasian Curlews, African Harrier Hawk, Piapiac, Black Stork and in the long grasses Northern Red Bishop and Tawny-flanked Prinia. Several police and customs stops were frustrating for everybody and make the journey longer. Eventually arrived in Bissau a lively capital and our base for the night.

November 2nd: Bissau, Buba
Daily 64 New 34 Running 113
Weather: Hot and sunny with no wind 38C

Today we left Bissau at 0600 hours and filled up with fuel. Outside the city limits the poor roads started and did not end until entering Buba although there were good sections along the way. The first stop at dawn concentrated on a dead tree within a wetland area which appeared to be a magnet for birds. Species present included Black Heron, Glossy-backed Drongo, Yellow-billed Shrike, Northern Black Flycatcher and Orange-cheeked Waxbill. Other birds included Long-tailed, Violet-backed and Purple Starlings and Senegal Coucal. Further along the road I stopped for a pair of Western Grey Plantain-eaters which led to further sightings. A bare tree branch attracted the scarce Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Broad-billed Roller, Blue-spotted Wood-dove, Yellow-crowned and Northern Red Bishops, Yellow-throated Leaflove and a male Pin-tailed Whydah complete with long tail. At least two European Honey Buzzards flew past before disappearing into the forest. In another kilometre or so a Lizard Buzzard was located plus singing African Thrush and a pair of White-faced Whistling Ducks. Just before a wetland was reached another stop had Violet Turaco and Yellow-mantled Widowbird. Our journey passed through stands of remnant forest with sightings of Palm-nut Vulture, Shikra and a large gathering of Hooded Vultures on the road. A stop in a village added the uncommon Magpie Mannikin. Lunch (of sorts) taken at the barrage with hordes of Little Swifts and White-backed Vultures. The road to Buba was particularly bad in places making progress slow. The day concluded with sightings of Little Greenbul, Dideric Cuckoo and Yellow-fronted Canary.

November 3rd: Buba, Cantanhez
Daily 60 New 24 Running 137
Weather: Hot and sunny with no wind 36C

After a good night’s rest our birding started literally in the centre of Buba. The wires around the telephone mast attracted hundreds of migrant Barn Swallows and smaller numbers of Mosque and West African Swallows. In the surrounding habitats we found Striped Kingfisher, Red-billed Firefinch and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleau. Our first birding stop in the degraded forest produced sightings of Piping Hornbill, African Golden Oriole, Little Greenbul and Variable Sunbirds. In another village several species were seen overhead including White-backed and Hooded Vultures and European Bee-eaters. Down the road an open area with dead trees attracted Levaillant’s, Singing Cisticola, Splendid Sunbird, Fanti Sawwing, Bronze Mannikin and Wilson’s Indigobirds. At the reserve entrance the group added Wahlberg’s Eagle, African Fish Eagle and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird. A walk towards the lagoon was fairly quiet apart from Northern Puffback, African Blue Flycatcher and Western Nicator which were all heard. Back to the village for lunch and afterwards back to Buba with White-fronted Black Chat for company. The highlight was watching White-throated Bee-eaters and Village Weavers dropping down to drink in a pool. In Buba supplies were purchased before going to Cantanhez with the road being very poor until the turning. A section of degraded forest was excellent for birds including African Harrier Hawk, African Green Pigeon, Copper Sunbird, Violet-backed Starling and Whistling Cisticola. Late in the afternoon the journey to Cantanhez a national park which has recently been downgraded and in serious trouble with no investment or infrastructure.

November 4th: Cantanhez
Daily 61 New 18 Running 155
Weather: Hot and sunny 38C

A surprise species to find in the gardens were a party of Great Blue Turacos which are on the edge of their range here in Guinea-Bissau. Near the restaurant trees held a pair of Chestnut-bellied Negrofinches. After breakfast we travelled in a south-westerly direction and stopped at a stand of trees and secondary scrub. This proved to be productive for Tambourine Dove, Blue Malkoha, Leaflove and brief views of a Black-and-White Flycatcher. On the forest edge a Blue-breasted Kingfisher was seen along with Black-necked Weaver and Red-rumped Tinkerbird. In the older trees African Pied and Piping Hornbills, Palm-nut Vulture and calling Violet Turacos. Overhead the group found a Black Stork, Yellow-billed Kite and unusually a Pink-backed Pelican. A walk down a side track added Northern Black Flycatcher, Buff-spotted Woodpecker and three circling Woolly-necked Storks. Back to base and a stop at a bridge with nesting Wire-tailed Swallows, Black-headed Weaver and a distant calling White-spotted Flufftail. Back to the lodge for lunch and out again at 1600 hours. At lunch a bonus sighting came in the form of a Honeyguide Greenbul which is easily overlooked. Later a drive along the main entrance road added very little apart from a Grey Woodpecker and a Blue-bellied Roller.

November 5th: Cantanhez, Bissau
Daily 45 New 9 Running 164
Weather: Hot and sunny with no wind 38C

An early departure from the park for the journey to Bissau along some really bad roads. The first and main birding stop was beyond the second junction with a habitat of old trees, farmland and disused quarries. A Snowy-crowned Robin Chat was singing from cover and at least two wintering European Pied Flycatchers showed well in a mature tree. Further along the track a Red-winged Pytilia and a pair of Cardinal Woodpeckers working on a nest hole. In the old quarry area we caught up with Pied-winged Swallow, Vittelline Masked Weaver, the rare Cuckoo Finch and several Black-bellied Firefinches. The rest of the day was spent travelling back to Bissau with an early lunch at the Rio Grande.

November 6th: Bissau, Orango Island
Daily 56 New 15 Running 179
Weather: Hot and sunny with sea breezes, 38C

A few things to do before setting off to Orango Island the most important being the PCR test which took longer than expected. At Portobello we boarded the boat with Barn and Wire-tailed Swallows hawking for insects and a single Common Ringed Plover. The initial journey was through an area of mangroves where Western Osprey, Black Kite and Whimbrel were the common species with Pink-backed Pelicans. Once in the open sea areas which were dotted with islands birds became very few with sightings of African Spoonbill, African Sacred Ibis, African Royal and Sandwich Terns. On landing at Orango we checked in and consumed a late lunch. At 1600 hours a walk around the grounds added Blue Malkoha, Brown-throated Wattle-eye and African Green Pigeon. On the mudflats familiar waders from home included Eurasian Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Sanderling and dozens of Palm-nut Vultures and a Gull-billed Tern. A surprise was a Booted Eagle which flew past. In the beach scrub Little Greenbul, Green-headed Sunbird, Snowy-crowned Robin Chat and the commoner dove species. A walk into the interior was fairly productive with groups of Senegal Parrot, Western Grey Plantain-eaters, Abyssinian Roller, African Grey Hornbill, African Grey Woodpecker, Senegal Coucal and Little Bee-eaters. The path ended on the beach where the locals were collecting cockles. Offshore and on distant sand bars terns were gathering to roost.

November 7th: Orango Island
Daily 48 New 5 Running 184
Weather: Hot and sunny 39C

A full day lay ahead of us to explore Orango Island most of which is a national park. The group met at 0700 hours walking around the hotel gardens. The only new bird was a wintering Blackcap and we eventually caught up with a pair of Brown-throated Wattle-eyes feeding and calling in a large tree. After breakfast a walk towards the village via the beach. Lunch was with us as a Spotted Honeyguide showed in a small tree before flying into cover, a rare species of West Africa. On the tidal edge and isolated poles we located the commoner waders and terns. Around halfway a scan across the bay revealed distant Greater Flamingos and further up the beach Senegal Thick-knees. It was getting hot as we headed inland towards the village. Mike located a male Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike which showed well in a tree. In the skies above us we located Hooded Vulture, Wahlberg’s Eagle and Pied Crows. In the village another stop with a social chat to the villagers. Back to lunch at the hotel followed by a siesta and out again at 1615 hours. Bird life was very quiet although a wintering male European Pied Flycatcher was a good find. Near the solar panels a Blue-breasted Kingfisher displayed nicely in a large tree and a Dideric Cuckoo called in the distance.

November 8th: Orlango Island, Bissau, Sao Domingo, Ziguinchor
Daily 54 New 9 Running 193
Weather: Hot and sunny 39C

Breakfast was taken at 0700 hours and the boat back to the mainland 0800 hours. The return journey was slightly different as large areas of sandbars were exposed which in turn attracted hundreds of birds to feed. The first section attracted a first year Bridled Tern and the first of several Goliath Herons which looked out of place in the open ocean. The larger areas were being used by Spur-winged Geese, Pink-backed Pelican, Caspian, African Royal, Sandwich and Little Terns, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Grey and Ringed Plovers, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel and various other species which remained unidentified. On entering the port area we recorded Black Kite, Common Sandpiper and a fly-by of Northern Pintail and two Garganey. It was time to head north towards Sao Domingo and the frontier along poor roads which passed by seasonal lagoons with egrets and herons in attendance. The only new trip birds of note were Purple Roller and African Wattled Lapwing. Crossed the border and made the short journey to Ziguinchor our base for the next few nights.

November 9th: Ziguinchor, Niassia, Pointe St George, Djbelour
Daily 101 New 16 Running 209
Weather: Hot and sunny with light W winds 38C

The usual species were present around the hotel so we headed off for supplies and an exploration of the western part of Casamance which is poorly known for birdlife. The first stop was beyond the major bridge and as area of mudflats and mangroves. Little Egret was located although it is easily overlooked with the more numerous Western Reef Egrets. A section of woodland was visited where we located African Grey Woodpecker, Woodland Kingfisher and calling Yellow-fronted Tinkerbirds. In the large trees we found Broad-billed Rollers, Glossy-backed Drongo and Purple Starlings. Further stops along the road added a nice variety of terns including Caspian, Sandwich, Little and Gull-billed. At the junction to Pointe St George a stand of isolated trees act as a magnet for birds and today was no exception. Careful searching produced sightings of Western Red-billed and African Pied Hornbills, Western Grey Plantain-eater, Greater Honeyguide, Yellow-billed Shrike, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Bearded Barbet and a juvenile Dideric Cuckoo. Lunch taken in the shade of the trees and then towards the point on the Casamance River. After lunch Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, African Golden Oriole and Senegal Parrot were noted. The road goes through savannah woodland and a small pond which attracted African Wattled Lapwing and Green Sandpiper. Next was a remnant section of mature forest with swampy habitats an ideal place for birds. On arrival we quickly located White-throated Bee-eater, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Blackcap Babbler and best of all two showy Oriole Warblers. It was time to return to base via Djeblour on the outskirts of Ziguinchor. En route the tide had come in and with it a selection of waders including Black-tailed Godwit, Ringed Plover, Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint. The roadside wires had Black-winged Kites. Our final stop at Isra held little of note with the exception of displaying Broad-billed Rollers and a sub-adult Klass’s Cuckoo a fitting end to an excellent days birding.

November 10th: Ziguinchor, Mpak, Marsassoum
Daily 99 New 8 Running 217
Weather: Hot and sunny with variable light winds

An earlier start with breakfast at 0630 hours and then on the road south to the border village of Mpak. The first birding stop was along the first of many side roads leading to small settlements often among forest habitats. On the initial walk the commoner birds plus a single Black-headed Heron and several showy Blackcap Babblers. A small pond with an island was attractive to a Giant Kingfisher and a wintering European Pied Flycatcher. Many of the commoner species were present in the area. Back to the main road where an sand quarries held White-faced Whistling Ducks and overhead European Bee-eaters. One of the highlights was a Long-crested Eagle perched in a bush which allowed great views. The best birding of the morning was along a forest track leading to a village passing through mature forest. A slow walk enabled us to locate a calling Grey-headed Bushshrike, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Green Crombec, Lesser Honeyguide and a pair of Lavender Waxbills. Returned to base for lunch and out again at 1400 hours to visit Marsassoum a village bordered by lakes and forest habitats. Just beyond the village boundary a Western Yellow Wagtail was seen by the road with several Common Sandpipers. The turning to Marsassoum was reached where the road was being upgraded a welcome sight for the area. A stop along the road produced sightings of Abyssinian and Purple Rollers, Purple Starling and best of all a African Cuckoo which showed well after catching caterpillars on the ground. A new causeway and bridge allowed views over extensive wetlands with notable birds being Caspian Tern and roosts of hundreds of White-breasted Cormorants. Time was getting on as we returned to base for the night.

November 11th: Ziguinchor, Djeblour, Etome, Pointe St Georges, Cap Skerring
Daily 108 New 8 Running 225
Weather: Cloudy and warm 36C

Breakfast was taken and followed by picking up supplies. We headed westwards again to visit a crocodile park which is set among remnant forest habitats. The site has seen better days and looks as if birdlife should be good. Nothing new was noted so I headed to Etome which is on the main road with a road bridge at the entrance. A short stop here had a Giant Kingfisher and a Grey Kestrel sitting on the same pylon. The road runs through a section of mangroves and food-rich sandbars and mud. A shallow pool attracted literally hundreds of birds chasing small fish which included Western Reef Egret, Black Heron, Great Egret and Common Greenshank. It was decided to visit the road towards Pointe St Georges again which was productive on our previous visit. The mature trees and bushes held little apart from a singing Short-winged Cisticola. Further down the track luck was with us as a pair of Four-banded Sandgrouse showed well in flight and on the ground. Ass then located a pair of Tawny Pipits. Another stop at the forest area had similar birds to a few days ago. Lunch was taken and the short trip down towards the river. A Short-toed Snake Eagle gave excellent views in flight and then a dead tree attracted many birds including Little, White-throated and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Willow Warbler, Western Yellow Wagtail, Namaqua and Vinaceous Doves. The rest of the day was spent in and around Cap Skerring where the only new species was wintering Melodious Warblers. A slow drive back to base had similar birds to earlier in the day.

November 12th: Ziguinchor, Mpak
Daily N/R New 2 Final 227
Weather: Sunny and hot 37C

Our last day birding in Casamance visiting forest habitat between Ziguinchor and the border village of Mpak. The common and more widespread species were present in good numbers at Mpak. I decided to concentrate on the forest closer to the city which was productive two days earlier. At first it was quiet for bird life until we reached a crossroads of forest tracks with open areas. Careful searching revealed a pair of Northern Crombec looking for insects on tree trunks. Near the forest floor a pair of Olive-green Camaroptera were seen another skulking and secretive forest bird. It was getting hot so we headed back to base for a late lunch and a leisurely afternoon. At 1800 hours we set off to the airport for the flight back to Dakar where the tour concluded.

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