Senegal once again turned up some exceptional birds during our tour in January. The weather in general was warm and sunny with very few cold days encountered. Birding highlights were many but included splendid views of Pel's Fish Owl, an unexpected Senegal Lapwing, Kulikoro Firefinch and a host of other unexpected species. The following trip report and bird list should help relive a most enjoyable tour.
January 12th/13th: Dakar Airport, Popenguine, Lake Sarene, Somone Lagoon. Weather: Warm and sunny with a light west wind 28C.
On the 12th I headed towards the new airport at Dakar to meet the group on the Iberia flight from Madrid. After changing money and picking up the hire vehicle with driver we headed towards the coastal village of Popenguine. Checked in after a travel day for many from Europe. I arranged breakfast for the following morning at 0730 and then a birding day taking in Sarene and Somone a part of the Petit Cote region. On leaving the hotel the first birds were a pair of Black-headed Lapwings near the road plus numerous Namaqua Doves a sure sign of a desert habitat. On joining the RN1 we found the traffic heavy and slow moving until passing Mbour and onto the lakes at Sarene. The first area was a muddy inlet attracting many wading birds including a Great Snipe a scarce visitor from Europe. Careful scanning revealed the presence of Wood, Common, Green, Marsh and Curlew Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilt, Ringed Plover, Ruff and Little Egret. The tall grasses held Northern Red Bishop and Red-billed Quelea. Muddy edges attracted a single Sedge Warbler and Western Yellow Wagtails. The numerous acacia and grapefruit trees were a magnet for Common Chiffchaff and a singing Iberian Chiffchaff, Western Olivaceous Warbler and Grey-backed Camaroptera. A viewing point allowed us to scan the whole wetland complex which resulted in sightings of Little Grebe, Grey and Black-headed Herons, Squacco Heron, Garganey, Common Teal, Collared Pratincole, African and Eurasian Spoonbills, Osprey, Common Snipe, Little and Temminck's Stints and Black Terns. Overhead a Short-toed Eagle, Hooded Vulture and small numbers of Little Swift and Mottled Spinetails. The heat was rising as we left the area with the acacia woodland having African Grey Hornbill, Woodchat Shrike and Abyssinian Roller. Next stop was a roadside lagoon holding huge numbers of Great and Long-tailed Cormorants, African Jacana, White-winged Tern, Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew Sandpiper. An old gate lured Northern Wheatear and African Silverbill. High above us the thermals attracted White-backed and Ruppell's Vultures, White and Pink-backed Pelicans and a Lesser Kestrel. Our final stop before lunch was notable for huge numbers of gulls and terns including Little, Gull-billed, Caspian and Royal Terns, Slender-billed and Black-headed Gulls. Lunch taken and then onto the lagoons at Somone. A boat trip around the lagoon allowed us close views of waterbirds including Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstones and a few Eurasian Oystercatchers. Passerines were few apart from European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Malachite Kingfisher and Striated Heron.
January 14th: Popenguine, Kaolack, Tambacounda, Wassadou. Weather: Hot and sunny with light winds 30C.
Today was mainly a travelling one eastwards towards Mali and Guinea. Checked out of the hotel and joined RN1 with the first stop being just before Fatick. En route the wires held many doves, Rufous-crowned and Abyssinian Rollers and a few Piapiac around livestock. A small water-hole proved attractive to Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Green and Wood Sandpiper and Speckled Pigeons. The barren landscape and saltpans before Kaolack provided us with views of White and Black Storks, Pink-backed Pelican and White-backed Vultures. After Kaolack the road runs in an easterly direction passing through small towns and villages. In one of these a group of Chestnut-bellied Starlings and further on several Brown Snake Eagles sitting in the tree tops. Arrived at Wassadou to do some birding before dusk. From the viewing area we could clearly observe Woolly-necked Stork, White-headed Lapwing, African Fish Eagle, Hadada Ibis and hundreds of Purple Starlings coming down to drink. In the trees Broad-billed Roller, Green Woodhoopoe, Northern Carmine Bee-eater and a female Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher.
January 15th: Wassadou - gardens, entrance track and boat trip. Weather: Hot and sunny with no wind 35C.
The group met up to explore the extensive gardens of the lodge. Trees with blossom proved to be attractive to Long-tailed and Purple Starlings, Red-eyed, Laughing and Vinaceous Doves, Grey-headed Sparrow and a pair of Common Wattle-eyes. Further along the track White-crowned Robin Chats played hide and seek with us for a while. Another budding tree attracted Little Weaver, Beautiful Sunbird, Subalpine and Western Olivaceous Warblers, Common Chiffchaff, Senegal Batis and a striking Klaas's Cuckoo. After breakfast we assembled at 0915 and looked downstream where Wattled and Spur-winged Lapwings, Egyptian Plover and Adamawa Turtle Doves were on a sandy bay. Along the river banks Grey-headed and Blue-breasted Kingfishers and Western Plantain-eaters. By the bakery another budding tree was attracting the usual species plus Senegal Parrot, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Yellow White-eye, Cut-throat Finch, Red-billed Firefinch and Red-cheeked Cordon Bleau. Along the track birding was slow to start with until a feeding flock was located comprising of African Blue Flycatcher, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Senegal Eremomela, Willow Warbler, Shikra, European Turtle Dove and a pair of Scarlet-chested Sunbirds. On the return walk we encountered a Black Stork, two Woolley-necked Storks, Bateleur, Wahlberg's Eagle and in the trees European Turtle and Black-billed Wood-doves. Before lunch a scan of the river had similar birds to earlier in the day. At 1600 hours a boat trip is planned which should produce many waterbirds. Near the quay a bonus bird came in the form of a Swamp Flycatcher catching insects from a low branch. Senegal Thick-knee, Village Weaver and Red-throated Bee-eaters were quite common along the banks. In the distance I located a Shining Blue Kingfisher a scarce and rare bird of SE Senegal. The water levels had already started to drop which meant the boat was restricted to distance up river. Despite this excellent views of Egyptian Plover, Spur-winged, Wattled and White-headed Lapwings, and at least four migrant Barn Swallows. On a sheltered edge an African Hawk Eagle was noted plus African Finfoot, Lesser Blue-eared Starling and wintering Green and Common Sandpipers. On turning round we headed past Wassadou Camp locating Striated Heron, Western Banded Snake Eagle and a male Common Redstart. Back at camp around 1800 hours with a Giant Kingfisher sitting on an exposed perch a fitting end to the day.
January 16th: Wassadou, RN7, Gamon. Weather: Hot and sunny 35C.
This morning the group headed down the river footpath searching for new birds. Many of those observed were similar to yesterday with the addition of Northern Black Flycatcher, Blackcap Babbler, Black-rumped Waxbill and Black-headed Weavers. After breakfast down towards RN7 with a stop for Lizard Buzzard and a family of Yellow-billed Shrikes. The roadside area was fairly quiet for birds so a short diversion to an area of maize fields and dried up ponds. Notable sightings included a European Honey Buzzard and a noisy group of White-billed Buffalo Weavers. Bird activity was low so we headed back to base and out again at 1515 hours. Gamon is an area of woodland and villages not far from the RN7. The best areas are those which have recently been burnt. A walk through the trees added Brubru, Black Scimitarbill, White-winged Tit and Black-headed Lapwings. Further down the track a water butt attracted many starlings including the scarce and easily overlooked Bronze-tailed. It was time to head back to Wassadou with a pair of Northern Ground Hornbills by the roadside. At the camp we embarked on a short boat trip which brought us stunning views of a Pel's Fishing Owl an excellent end to the day.
January 17th: Wassadou, Kedougou, Samecouta. Weather: Hot and sunny 31C.
Today we checked out of Wassadou and joined the N7 to travel in a south-east direction. The road is good as far as the village of Niokolo Koba but after this point it gets bad for almost 50km. Our first new bird was a Blue-bellied Roller sitting in a dead tree which allowed excellent views. On reaching the Gambia River a walk across the bridge added African Jacana, Spur-winged Lapwing, Striated Heron and flocks of Little Swifts plus a hawking Red-chested Swallow. Arrived in Kedougou in time for lunch with Yellow-throated Leaflove, Village Weaver and Blue-breasted Kingfisher viewable from the restaurant. At 1600 hours we set off again towards the village of Samecouta. A stop on the bridge produced African Harrier Hawk, Lizard Buzzard and Bearded Barbets. Further up the road we turned left along a dirt track through farm fields. In the distance a fire was attracting many species including Yellow-billed Kite, Lanner Falcon, Common Swift and hundreds of hirundines many of which could not be safely identified. A fruiting tree was a magnet for Western Plantain Eater, Violet Turaco, Bearded Barbet and African Green Pigeons. A dead tree was good for Wire-tailed and Red-chested Swallows, Bronze Mannikin, Black-rumped Waxbill and Red-cheeked Cordon Bleau. A bonus came when a Senegal Lapwing flew past a rare inter-African migrant. Returned to base after another enjoyable day in SE Senegal.
January 18th: Kedougou, Dindefelo. Weather: Hot and sunny with light west winds 33C.
Met up at the restaurant for breakfast at 0715 hours. Birdlife was active from this time onwards as the group recorded several species of interest including Melodious Warbler, African Thrush, showy Common Gonoleks and a flock of Blackcap Babblers. At 0800 hours we were on the road to the remote village of Dindefelo on the border with Guinea. A stop along the major road added a pair of Red-necked Falcons sitting in a bare tree. The road to Dindefelo is rough in places and requires a 4x4. Our first stop in savannah woodland was productive for Grey Kestrel, Singing Bushlark, Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark and in the flowering trees Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and Yellow-fronted Canary. Just before the village a pair of Dark Chanting Goshawks. On arriving at the camp we started a slow walk towards the falls through mango orchards and other tree habitats. At the start it was rather quiet but things started to pick up when scanning the fruiting and flowering trees. This produced several good birds including Green-headed and Variable Sunbirds, Lavender Waxbill, Northern Black Flycatcher, Common Wattle-eye, African Paradise and African Blue Flycatchers, African Yellow White-eye and a group of Senegal Eremomelas. On the way back to the camp Grey and Cardinal Woodpeckers, Northern Crombec, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird and Black-necked Weaver. A bonus bird came in the form of a male Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike. Lunch was taken in the heat of the day followed by a walk through the village and adjacent fields at 1600 hours. Not many birds apart from a male Pygmy Sunbird and Village Indigobird. On the road back further stops added Grasshopper Buzzard and a pair of Black-bellied Bustards the latter being fairly rare in Senegal. Back at base as dusk fell we added Long-tailed and Standard-winged Nightjars and a calling Pearl-spotted Owlet a great way to end the day.
January 19th: Kedougou, Dindefelo. Weather: Hot and sunny 36C.
The group met up at the usual time for breakfast with similar birds seen from the terrace with a Greater Honeyguide being observed. It was time to return to Dindefelo for a second attempt at the more difficult species present in the forest and along the rocky escarpments. Our first stop was a group of White Helmetshrikes flying alongside the road with great views obtained. A walk into the recently burnt bush was productive for Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Woodchat Shrike, Croaking Cisticola, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and several Dark Chanting Goshawks and Grey Kestrels. On arriving at Dindefelo we started the walk towards the waterfall area. The first open area with large trees had the uncommon Pale Flycatcher, African Thrush, African and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatchers and Lavender Waxbills. Along the path we passed local people washing cloths and cleaning up litter from the trail. Beyond this point Ass located a pair of Kulikoro Firefinches which gave us brief views before disappearing into cover. In the more mature trees Guinea and Violet Turacos and Cardinal Woodpecker. High above us along the cliff face Rock Martins searching for insects. Back to the camp for lunch and at 1600 hours the journey back to Kedougou. Birding was rather uneventful on this occasion apart from a flowering tree which attracted several sunbird species including Copper. Tomorrow we head north and east towards the Saloum Delta via Tambacounda and Kaolack.
January 20th: Kedougou, Tambacounda, Kaolack, Keur Saloum. Weather: Hot and sunny 35C.
Today was a travelling one back towards Dakar via Tambacounda and Kaolack. We left early at 0500 hours passing through the Niokolo National Park area four hours later. A covey of Stone Partridge were seen by the road but the real highlight was a Wild Dog running into the forest off the road a real bonus indeed. The usual species were seen at regular intervals until we reached Kaolack with some group members having a late lunch. Joined the road towards The Gambia adding European and Montagu's Harriers. A puncture not far from Keur Saloum delayed our arrival. It was a relief to check in after a long day on the road.
January 21st: Keur Saloum, Saloum Delta, Pakala road. Weather: Hot and sunny 36C.
The group at appeared to be refreshed and ready to go at 0715 hours. Outside the hotel gate a Pearl-spotted Owlet was located by Bill in a bare tree. A short walk around the village produced sightings of Green Woodhoopoe, Western Olivaceous and Melodious Warblers, Senegal Parrot, Lavender Waxbill and a single Black Kite. Back for breakfast and then a boat trip into the vast Saloum Delta at 0915. The exposed mud opposite the lodge attracted Sacred Ibis, Gull-billed and Caspian Terns, Whimbrel and an adult Palm-nut Vulture. The stands of mangrove attracted many Black Kites, Osprey and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. The next patch of exposed mud attracted a Goliath Heron, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone and unusually high numbers of Eurasian Curlews. A male Montagu's Harrier drifted over the mangroves and out of sight. On the opposite bank a group of eight Eurasian Spoonbills were heading north. It was time to enter an enclosed area of mangroves where we located Pied Kingfisher, Common Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Barn and Red-chested Swallows and Black-crowned Night Herons hiding in the mangrove roots. Back to a port where the bus was waiting for us. The old boats and quays had Grey-hooded Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gull and Western Reef Egrets. Back to base with Brown Snake Eagle, Little Swift and Northern Anteater Chat for company. Back to base and then out at 1600 hours to bird along the Pakala road. Firstly I checked the barrage but this was completely dry for the second year running so a walk through the various tracks was in order. This appeared to work well as a pair of the scarce and declining Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were seen on a cow. The dry fields also attracted three Cream-coloured Coursers which are out of range in the Fatick region. The older baobabs attracted Red-necked Falcon, Grey Kestrel, African Harrier Hawk, Fine-spotted Woodpecker and Rufous-crowned Rollers. In another area Red-billed Quelea and Lavender Waxbills were fairly common whilst a flowering tree had a male Splendid Sunbird. Back to base after an enjoyable days birding in the Keur Saloum region.
January 22nd: Keur Saloum, Darasalam, Ndiafate. Weather: Hot and sunny with a NE breeze 36C.
Before breakfast we made our customary walk around the adjacent village area. Similar birds to yesterday but fewer in number. At 0900 the group set off towards the village of Darasalam and visited a marshy area which was dry this year after the rains failed last summer. The arid ground produced a Pin-tailed Whydah and familiar birds of the savannah and garden habitats. A short drive down the road towards Messiah was particularly good near a small area of marsh with water. This patch revealed Great, Intermediate, Little and Western Reef Egrets, Squacco Heron, Hamerkop, African Black Crake, Pied, Giant and Blue-breasted Kingfishers, Wire-tailed, Barn and Red-chested Swallows and a pair of Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters. A walk by the cashew orchards produced sightings of Blackcap and Brown Babblers, African Thrush and a showy Variable Sunbird. In the afternoon we headed up the road to Kaolack and stopped by a roadside lagoon. The water here attracted a good range of waders including Pied Avocet and Spotted Redshank. Our main interest was the raptor roost near Ndiafate. On arrival we were amazed to find thousands of birds roosting in baobab trees. Very close views of Scissor (Swallow)-tailed Kites, Lesser Kestrels, Montagu's Harrier and African Grey Hornbills. A truly amazing spectacle to end the days birding.
January 23rd: Keur Saloum, Colar, Missara. Weather: Hot and sunny with light NE winds 35C.
The group assembled at 0500 hours to travel along the dusty and rutted road to the village of Colar. Highlights before dawn included Golden Jackal and Civets by the roadside both with young. Just outside Colar we parked up and waited for birds to appear. A distant baobab tree had a Verreaux's Eagle Owl (we later located two more in an area of vegetable gardens). Birds came thick and fast as they left their roost sites and included among others Pallid and Eurasian Marsh Harriers, Red-necked Falcon, Common, Lesser and Grey Kestrels, Shikra, Eurasian Spoonbill, a flock of Hamerkops, various herons and egrets, Common Moorhen, Yellow Wagtail and Woodchat Shrike. Another area was visited nearby where we watched daytime roosting Standard-winged Nightjars. Also present were Northern Wheatear, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Lizard Buzzard and both Northern Red and Yellow-crowned Bishops. Breakfast taken followed by a visit to the vegetable gardens. The damper areas attracted African Jacana, Cattle and Little Egrets, Speckled Pigeon and Senegal Coucal. The mature trees had Black-shouldered Kite and Tree Pipit, whilst overhead a heavy passage of Barn Swallows and Sand Martins. Two Tree Pipits were also noted plus Tawny Eagles flying past. Returned to base with Short-tailed Eagle en route. In the afternoon a trip to the fishing village of Missara. The heat affected the number of birds present along the road so I headed towards the port itself. Similar birds to two days ago with the addition of a White-rumped Seedeater feeding in cut reeds. Ass was feeling unwell so the group headed back to base.
January 24th: Keur Saloum, Kaolack, Lake Sarene, Bandia. Weather: Hot and sunny 38C.
After checking out of Keur Saloum we headed north towards Kaolack. Just as we were leaving a Western Bonelli's Warbler appeared in front of us in a small tree. Our first birding stop was a lagoon just south of Ndiafate where the only birds of note were Common and Green Sandpipers plus several Ringed Plovers. Filled up with fuel in Kaolack and continued towards Mbour with a brief stop for White-backed and Ruppell's Vultures and the first Eurasian Hoopoe of the tour. Lunch was taken in Warang followed by another visit to Lake Sarene. A bonus came in the first inlet when a first year Citrine Wagtail was noted along with Western Yellow Wagtails and a wide range of herons, egrets and shorebirds. The open waters of the lake had similar birds to our first visit but in greater numbers. Bonus birds came in the form of African Pygmy Geese, Northern Shoveler and a Viellot's Barbet in an acacia tree. There was also a notable increase in Woodchat Shrikes and Willow Warblers no doubt on their northward migration. The final birding spot was at Bandia a privately owned reserve near Sandia. The lagoon here held Malachite Kingfisher, Senegal Thick-knee, Striated Heron and a wintering Common Redstart. Finally we left for Popenguine where the tour concludes tomorrow afternoon.
January 25th: Popenguine. Weather: Hot and sunny with a brisk east wind 38C.
Our last day In Senegal was spent birding locally around Popenguine. Offshore a wintering Arctic Skua was recorded with the commoner terns and gulls. Our main objective was to visit the crumbling cliffs and acacia scrub just south of the village. We had to wait a little while to find the two specialities here Blue Rock Thrush and Eurasian Crag Martin both of which eventually gave excellent views. A bonus also came with sightings of Pallid and White-rumped Swifts which can be hard to find within the country. Later in the morning a visit to a remote lodge had Mosque Swallows feeding over a field whilst the bird friendly gardens attracted the scarce Black Scrub Robin. Our final bird of the tour was a hunting Beaudouin's Snake Eagle drifting and hanging motionless in the breeze. Returned to base for lunch and a relaxing afternoon before heading to the airport and flights home.