January is our usual time to visit central Senegal and then the remote south-east which borders Guinea and Mali. The prolonged drought and lack of summer rains had left many areas with little or no water which had an effect on the birds. It was surprising to locate birds of the Sahel region this far south with sightings of Little Grey Woodpecker and Yellow-spotted Petronia. The raptor roost south of Kaolack produced literally thousands of Scissor-tailed Kites and Lesser Kestrels an amazing event, this area badly needs immediate protection. Along the coast a wide range of terns, gulls, waders and egrets was noted. Further east close views of Egyptian Plovers and White-crowned Lapwings. At Dindefelo up to three Fox Kestrels was a welcome find plus Olive Sunbird and Yellow Penduline Tit.
My thanks go out to Ass and Mass for guiding us around the country and sorting things out when required.
The next visit to this little explored area of West Africa is in January 2021
January 10th-11th: London, Dakar, Popenguine, Bandia, Naniang, Lac Somone
Daily 79 New 79 Running 79
Weather: Hot and sunny with a NE wind 34C
The group left London and travelled down to Dakar via Madrid where Ass and I were waiting to meet them. A short transfer to Popenguine our base for the next two nights. On the 11th arranged to meet up at 0730 for breakfast. A short seawatch offshore was productive for fishing Ospreys and a steady passage of White-breasted Cormorants, Grey-hooded and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Caspian and African Royal Terns and Western Reef Egrets. After breakfast a walk around the gardens added Western Olivaceous Warblers and a pair of African Scrub Robins. The first birding stop was near Popenguine village with a party of Chestnut-bellied Starlings which were joined by Greater Blue-eared Starlings, White-billed Buffalo Weavers, calling Common Gonolek and a pair of Western Red-billed Hornbills. Bandia was next with a stop near the vehicle wash and overspill area which attracted Long-tailed Starling, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, African Silverbill and Red-billed Firefinches. A short walk away the main pond with its many Nile Crocodiles was productive for Great and Cattle Egrets, Grey, Striated, Squacco and Black-crowned Night Herons, Green and Common Sandpipers, Grey-headed and Malachite Kingfishers and overhead Ruppell's Vulture, Yellow-billed Kites and a single Mottled Spinetail. Our journey took us through the bustling town of Mbour towards Naniang a small muddy estuary which is reliable for a range of birds. On arrival a scan quickly revealed Greenshank, Common Ringed, Little Ringed and Kittlitz's Plovers, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Whimbrel, Little Stint, Ruff and Curlew Sandpipers. In among the gulls and terns the group located a single Lesser Crested Tern and a party of 'pink' Slender-billed Gulls. On the roadside a pair of Crested Larks. Lunch was taken at a family restaurant and was a very pleasant affair. In the afternoon a visit to Lac Somone a shallow lagoon next to the sea with stands of mangroves. I arranged a boat trip which is the best way of seeing the birds although the tide was low. Eventually after an hour the tide was rising as we set off to explore the area. Additional species included the scarce Audouin's Gull, Reed Cormorant, Little Bee-eater, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Redshank and several Pied Kingfishers. Time was getting on as the journey back to Popenguine started via the new motorway network.
January 12th: Popenguine, Tambacounda, Wassadou
Daily 56 New 22 Running 101
Weather: Hot and sunny with light NE winds 32C
The usual species were offshore this morning with the addition of Pomarine Skuas and a steady passage of Northern Gannets. In and around the car park Village Weavers and Beautiful Sunbirds in breeding plumage. After breakfast we set off on the long journey to Wassadou via Tambacounda in the eastern half of Senegal. A short stop was made in Mbour to pick up supplies for the trip. Our first birding stop near Kaolack added the beautiful African Scissor-tailed Kite, Abyssinian and Purple Rollers and a few Little Egrets in roadside ponds. Lunch was taken beyond Kaolack with the acacia habitat attracting a female Northern Puffback, Red-cheeked Cordonbleau, Northern Paradise Whydah, Sudan Golden Sparrow and White-billed Buffalo Weavers. On the road towards Wassadou a fine African Hawk Eagle was found perched in a dead tree. Arrived at our base overlooking the Gambia River for the next two nights.
January 13th: Wassadou
Daily 81 New 46 Running 147
Weather: Hot and sunny with NE winds 37C
The group met up near the large fig tree at 0715 hours for a walk alongside the river and its associated habitats. The tree attracted Long-tailed and Purple Starlings, Common Bulbul and many Vinaceous Doves giving their familiar calls, nearby a Shikra rested in a palm frond. A quick scan down the river added several Blue-breasted Kingfishers, Spur-winged Lapwing, African Fish Eagle and an adult Black-crowned Night Heron. Our first stop along the trail was at the staff quarters where the gardens attracted Western Grey Plantain Eater, Hamerkop, White-crowned Robin Chat and a Fine-spotted Woodpecker exploring the dead branch of a tree. Back to the trail and a fruiting tree which was attracting many species of birds. The most obvious were Red-throated Bee-eaters hawking for insects. Careful searching and scanning revealed several interesting species notably African Blue Flycatcher, Senegal Eremomela, Yellow Penduline Tit, Melodious and Western Olivaceous Warblers, African Yellow White-eye, Common Wattle-eye, Red-eyed Dove and a showy Broad-billed Roller. Back for breakfast with Double-spurred Francolins en route searching for food in the grasses. After breakfast a walk along the entrance track via the bakers oven and garage area. The former held Senegal Parrot, Village Weaver, Red-billed Firefinch, Village Indigobird and Lesser Blue-eared Starlings. Overhead brief views of Bateleur and I called a Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird into view which showed well. Bird life decreased as we walked down the path with a pair of Piapiac in a palm tree being the only species of note. Back at the river overlook we were fortunate to observe a perched Western Banded Snake Eagle. From the viewpoint Hadada Ibis, Hamerkop, African Hawk Eagle, African Fish Eagle and an adult Palm-nut Vulture. In the scrub a wintering European Pied Flycatcher, Blackcap Babblers, Common Gonolek, African Paradise Flycatcher and a surprise find in a Little Grey Woodpecker which is well out of range and habitat at Wassadou. Lunch was taken at 1300 hours followed by a boat trip on the river at 1600 hours. The skipper set off downriver which is unusual as this is normally closed due to low water levels. In the first sandy bay African Wattled and White-headed Lapwings and the first of several Egyptian Plovers. The riverside trees and bushes were alive with Little and Red-throated Bee-eaters and various doves. Another spot was productive for a female Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Blue-spotted and Black-billed Wood Doves, Red-billed Firefinch and Yellow-fronted Canaries. An immature African Harrier Hawk was flushed from a large tree to be replaced with a African Fish Eagle. Our journey continued with sightings of Adamawa Turtle Doves and Swamp Flycatchers. On the return we located similar birds with the addition of Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, Helmeted Guineafowl, Grey Kestrel and Striated Heron. Back to base after a highly successful day around Wassadou.
January 14th: Wassadou, Gamon
Daily 71 New 18 Running 165
Weather: Hot and sunny with no wind 37C
We met up for our walk alongside the river at 0715 with similar birds to yesterday plus Northern Black Flycatcher and a migrant Willow Warbler. After breakfast a visit to the main road area to scan various large trees and open fields for birds. An adult Klaas's Cuckoo showed in the car park. Once on the road our first stop produced Common and Lesser Kestrels, African Harrier Hawk, African Grey Hornbill and a stunning male African Golden Oriole. Further down the road a pair of Yellow-billed Shrikes showed before disappearing into cover. It was starting to get very hot as we went back to Wassadoo with another stop adding White Helmetshrikes, Pygmy Sunbird and a pair of Gabar Goshawks. Back at base a Grey Woodpecker showed well in a dead palm tree. Lunch was taken and then we checked out to a new hotel along the main highway which proved to be very good and a distinct upgrade on Wassadou. The remainder of the day was at Gamon an area of savannah woodland which has a habit of producing good birds and today was no exception. A walk within a recently burnt area was quiet to start with and then exploded with birdlife. Fruiting trees attracted Brubru, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Red-headed Quelea, Yellow-fronted Canary and on the ground up to eight African Hoopoes. I was attracted to an unusual song delivered from the top of a tree which came from a Yellow-spotted Petronia which was out of range here by c300km, up to three birds were observed. On leaving the area Black-headed Lapwing, Helmeted Guineafowl and Double-spurred Francolins were added to the list.
January 15th: Wassadou, Niokolo Koba, Gambia River, Kedougou, Samecouta
Daily 59 New 12 Running 177
Weather: Hot and sunny with no wind 38C
Before leaving the hotel the group were entertained by a party of White Helmetshrikes. The journey south towards Kedougou went smoothly with the first birding stop at Niokolo Koba (bridge). Just before this a pair of Northern Ground Hornbills were located near the roadside. An area of grass and low scrubby bushes attracted wintering European Pied Flycatcher and Common Redstart. On the ground groups of finches which included Red-cheeked Cordonbleau, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Red-billed Firefinch, Northern Red Bishop and Red-billed Quelea. The next stop was a bridge crossing the Gambia River which held Reed Cormorant, Common Sandpiper and Giant Kingfisher. Further down the road Dark Chanting Goshawk on a telegraph pylon. On reaching Kedougou we checked in and had lunch with an afternoon rendezvous of 1600 hours. It was hot as the Mali road was joined towards the village of Samecouta. Birding was rather slow although Black-winged Kite, Wire-tailed Swallow and Violet Turaco were added to the list. Last stop was at a degraded wetland near Kedougou which held various herons and egrets including Intermediate Egret and Purple Heron, and African Jacana.
January 16th: Kedougou, Dindefelo
Daily 60 New 14 Running 191
Weather: Hot and sunny with light NE winds 37C
From the hotel balcony several interesting species started to appear at first light. The commoner species were present including roosting Reed Cormorants and Cattle Egrets. In the tops of trees Grey Kestrel, Lanner Falcon and Red-necked Falcon whilst the bushes attracted African Thrush, African Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Leaflove and a party of Brown Babblers. After breakfast we set off towards the remote settlement of Dindefelo which is reached by driving on an extremely bad road through savannah woodland. Before starting this a bridge attracted up to five Giant Kingfishers, Malachite Kingfisher, Green Woodhoopoe, Violet Turaco, Wire-tailed Swallow and Green Sandpiper. Once on the Dindefelo road the group started to record a wide range of birds. In recently burnt areas African Wattled Lapwing and Abyssinian Rollers were particularly numerous. A stop by an area of grassland delivered an unexpected bonus in Dorst's Cisticola, an unidentified quail species and up to five migratory Black Kites. In the next village four Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were hassling the local donkeys for ticks and insects. Further on a Banded Snake Eagle was located in a dead tree along with Grasshopper Buzzards a species associated with grass fires. Lunch was taken at the camp in Dindefelo followed by a walk towards the waterfall at 1520 hours. The first flowering trees were the most productive with sightings of Fork-tailed Drongo, Tawny-flanked Prinia, African Yellow White-eye, Beautiful and Olive Sunbirds and Lavender Waxbills. After this spectacle the birding died down apart from the local population of Rock Martins hawking for insects along the cliff face. Returned to Kedougou after a rather hot and tiring day in the field.
January 17th: Kedougou, Dindefelo
Daily 74 New 6 Running 197
Weather: Hot and sunny with a light NE wind 38C
An earlier start today as the group headed straight towards Dindefelo with the first stop just short of the village. Grasshopper Buzzards were in their roost spots and Bush Petronias were located singing from short bushes. On arrival in Dindefelo breakfast was taken followed by a short walk towards the campground. Scanning along the ridge was rewarded with a pair of Fox Kestrels in display and gliding around in general. Our attention then turned to the flowering trees which attracted Bruce's Green Pigeon, Senegal Parrot and Bronze-tailed Starlings among the more numerous species. A diversion into a mango orchards with rocky areas was visited in the hope of locating Mali Firefinch but on this occasion we were unsuccessful. Despite this European Pied Flycatcher, Northern Black Flycatcher and African Thrush were noted. Over the ridge and cliffs we added European Honey Buzzard and African Harrier Hawk. Lunch was taken followed by an early departure back to base with a birding stop near a village about halfway to the main road. Brief views of Bearded Barbet, plus Purple Roller, White Helmetshrike, Lanner Falcon and a party of Bronze Mannikins.
January 18th: Kedougou, Wassadou, Kaolack, Keur Saloum
Daily n/r New n/r Running n/r
Weather: Sunny and hot with light NE winds 37C
Today was a long travel day to Keur Saloum which is located near the Saloum Delta just north of The Gambia. From the lookout at the hotel we added a group of Black-headed Weavers. Our journey north was broken by stops at Niokolo Koba, Gamdon and Wassadou with the first location adding Woodland Kingfisher and the second a pair of Northern Ground Hornbill. Lunch at Wassadou which was followed by filling up the van in Tambacounda and then the long drive west and south to our base.
January 19th: Keur Saloum, Saloum Delta, Foret de Sangal
Daily 92 New 12 Running 209
Weather: Sunny and hot with N winds 36C
After the long drive yesterday we met up in the restaurant to take a walk outside the hotel grounds at 0715 hours. The best area was a flowering tree which was attracting a wide range of birds including Bearded Barbet, Grey Woodpecker, Scarlet-chested, Beautiful and Pygmy Sunbirds, Senegal Parrot, Rose-ringed Parakeet and various doves. Nearby another tree has a Western Olivaceous Warbler and Brown Babbler. Back to base for breakfast after an eventful start to the day. At 0930 the group boarded a pirogue for a trip into the delta and its extensive mangroves. The tide was dropping as an approach to the first mud-bank was made with sightings of Caspian and Sandwich Terns, Whimbrel, Grey and Common Ringed Plovers, Greenshank and Eurasian Curlew. The captain decided to sail along the mangrove edge which provided views of Osprey, Yellow-billed and Black Kites, several Osprey and a scattering of Western Reef Egrets and Grey Herons. On the next sandbar a Eurasian Oystercatcher was noted a scarce but regular visitor from Northern Europe. Back towards the mangroves and our first Goliath Herons which were joined by small numbers of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and African Darters. High above our heads a Short-toed Eagle, Pink-backed Pelicans and a single Mottled Spinetail. Further towards the ocean another sandbar was attracting several species including Caspian, African Royal, Sandwich and Gull-billed Terns, Slender-billed and Grey-hooded Gulls. A diversion into the mangroves added a Willow Warbler and Common Sandpiper, and nearby a pair of African Sacred Ibis. It was getting hot as we made to port and a short hop back to base for lunch. In the afternoon we set off for the forest of Sangal an area of large trees surrounded by fields and scrub, the whole area is currently suffering from drought. A walk towards the dry reservoir added Grey Kestrel, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Green Woodhoopoe and Northern Anteater Chat. In flowering trees the first Variable Sunbird of the tour plus African Yellow White-eye and a perched Broad-billed Roller. At the reservoir a Fine-spotted Woodpecker was feeding on the ground a good bird to end the day on.
January 21st: Keur Saloum, Ndiaffte
Daily 87 New 7 Running 216
Weather: Hot and sunny with N winds 37C
Assembled at the usual time for a walk around the town with similar birds to yesterday. Nothing new was added so a return for breakfast followed by an exploration of dry forest to the south. This again proved to be hard work because of drought. In the skies above us we located Lesser Kestrel, Common Swift, House Martin and European Bee-eaters. Near a patch of water African Harrier Hawk, Hooded and Palm-nut Vultures, African Hawk Eagle, Shikra and various hirundines. A bare tree lured Beautiful and Varied Sunbirds before heading back to base. A bonus at lunch was a Swallow-tailed Bee-eater sallying for insects by the delta. At 1600 hours the group set off towards Ndiaffte via Sokone and Passy to witness the incredible raptor roost which has built up over a period of years. Literally thousands of African Swallow-tailed Kites and Lesser Kestrels flew into roost on an island dominated by large baobab trees. Other species of note were a female Montagu's Harrier, Spur-winged Goose, Eurasian Spoonbill and Greenshank. Returned to base after another great day.
January 21st: Keur Saloum, Coular, Coular vegetable fields
Daily 126 New 16 Running 232
Weather: Hot and sunny although overcast at times on a N wind 37C
An early departure today as we headed towards the remote village of Coular with its wetlands, vegetable fields and stands of large trees. On arrival we walked down towards the bridge where there was a lot of bird activity. Careful scanning revealed African Black Crake, Common Moorhen, African Jacana and a female Western Marsh Harrier. Hirundines were numerous with hundreds of Barn Swallows, House and Sand Martins, whilst the bridge attracted Swamp Flycatcher, Little Swift, West African, Wire-tailed and Mosque Swallows. A few waders on the pools notably Black-winged Stilt, Ruff and Ringed Plover. A short drive away the vegetable gardens attracted Black-headed Heron, Long-crested Eagle and a good selection of egrets and doves. On the return to Keur Saloum stops were made for Beaudouin's Snake Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Bateleur and a juvenile Martial Eagle. A very enjoyable morning in the field. At 1600 hours the road towards Missirah was taken which passes through an area of savannah woodland. This proved to be good for Black Scimitarbill, Black-crowned Tchagra and Senegal Eremomela. At the end of the road in Missirah we checked the docks and bay for birds which produced similar species from two days ago.
January 21st: Keur Saloum, Kaolack, Naniang, Popenguine
Daily 107 New 15 Running 247
Weather: Overcast and warm with E winds 33C
At first light a Pearl-spotted Owlet was calling close to the hotel gardens, they usually respond to play back but this one did not for some reason. Our walk produced similar birds to the last few days. After breakfast on the road to Kaolack with a stop on the outskirts of a village with scattered large trees. Good sightings included Bruce's and African Green Pigeons, Green Woodhoopoe, Yellow-billed Shrike and Purple Roller. Along the road to Kaolack brief views of African Harrier Hawk and Long-crested Eagle. I decided to press on towards Mbour for lunch with Hooded and African White-backed Vultures seen along the roadside and a party of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse flying overhead. Naniang had very low tides and fewer birds than our previous visit with the exception of a single Wood Sandpiper. It was time to press on towards the reserve at Popenguine which has been productive on recent visits. On the pool White-faced Whistling Duck, Little Grebe and Black-necked Stilts. In the lake cover we heard African Reed Warbler and observed a wintering Sedge Warbler. A bonus came in the form of two Gosling's Buntings and an African Hobby which proved (until later) to be a tricky ID. A walk towards the cliff face added a pair of Blue Rock Thrushes and a migrant Woodchat Shrike. Back to base and then out again in search of nightjars of which Long-tailed was seen in flight.
January 22nd: Popenguine, Technopole
Daily 85 New 13 Final 260
Weather: Overcast with E winds 36C
Our last morning in Senegal was spent visiting the new reserve at Technopole a failed shopping centre complex close to the centre of Dakar. On arrival it was obvious that things had changed since my last visit in November 2019. No sign of illegal fishing or dumping of rubbish but a clean-up instead. I had to get permission from the head warden to visit the site at the old golf club which was acting as a temporary HQ. The lagoon near the club attracted several waders including Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Green and Common Sandpipers, Ruff and Ringed Plover. In the reeds the scarce African Swamphen was located with Common Moorhens. In the reeds views of Zitting Cisticola and the songs of African Reed and Sedge Warblers. Passerines were few in this habitat with the more interesting ones being African Silverbill and several races of Yellow Wagtail. The largest lagoon held substantial numbers of gulls and terns. A careful search through the flocks revealed Slender-billed and Audouin's Gulls, two races of Lesser Black-backed Gulls from Scandinavia, Gull-billed, Caspian and Sandwich Terns. A few waders were around including Wood Sandpiper and Little Stint. In among the egrets an Intermediate Egret was located in breeding plumage. Finally we added another duck species in Northern Shoveler. It was time to head back to Popenguine for lunch and our onward journey to Spain and the UK.