Northern Senegal and the Sahel, 2018

Mark Finn
November 3rd-10th

This was the second tour to Senegal this year with this one visiting the Sahel and north of the country. The group managed to see a wide variety of birds including a vagrant American Golden Plover at Sarene, a first record for the Petit Cote. Further north at Djoudj and Richard Toll several of the specialist Sahelian endemic bird species were found. Excellent views of Cricket Warbler, Sennar Penduline Tit, Little Grey Woodpecker, Savile's Bustard, River Prinia, West African Swallow and Sudan Golden Sparrow. A Golden Nightjar was heard near Podor but could not be located. In addition to these birds a wide range of herons, egrets and waders were noted at Djoudj and the Petit Cote.

The following report should bring back good memories of an excellent tour. The next tour to the north is in November 2019 and another to the south-east and south in January 2020.

November 3rd: Popenguine, Thies, Saint Louis, Ranch de Bango
Daily 103, New 103, Running 103
Weather: Hot and sunny 28-36C

This was the first full day after clients had arrived late on the 2nd. From the restaurant good views into the Atlantic Ocean produced several species including Pink-backed Pelican, Great Cormorant, Osprey, Sandwich, Royal and Caspian Terns, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Pomarine and Arctic Skuas, and on the shoreline Whimbrel. In the hotel grounds a pair of White-rumped Seedeaters were observed with one sitting tight on a nest. Also present were Village Weaver, Red-cheeked Cordonbleau and Laughing Dove. On the road with a stop near Popenguine village where a stop produced a Sahel Paradise Whydah, White-billed Buffalo Weavers and Spur-winged Lapwings. Further up the road a bare tree attracted Greater Blue-eared and Long-tailed Starlings, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Common Bulbul and a surprise find in a Black Scrub Robin. It was time to head north and the road to Thies and Saint Louis where roadside wires had Purple and Abyssinian Rollers. Along the road Chestnut-bellied Starlings were numerous with Western Red-billed and African Grey Hornbills. In the skies above us thermaling vultures which included Hooded, Ruppell's Griffon and African White-backed, further bonuses included the uncommon Booted Eagle and a solitary Short-toed Eagle. Saint Louis was reached with its tidal waterways and mounds of rubbish, the latter attracting many Western Cattle Egrets, Pacific Reef Egret, Grey-headed and Black-headed Gulls. In the open waters Black-necked Stilts were joined by White Pelicans. Ranch de Bango our base was reached where the gardens had Viellot's Barbet, Grey-headed Sparrow, Grey-backed Camaroptera and Little Swifts. Overhead a steady stream of birds which comprised of African Darter and a pair of Yellow-billed Storks among the pelicans. Out again at 1600 hours to visit another area near the ranch. Rene was our guide and driver as we headed towards the vast area of Marigot 1 which is dotted with seasonal marshes, acacia woodland and scrub. The first stop was at an active heronry where birds were abundant including Great, Little, Cattle, Black and Western Reef Egrets, African and Eurasian Spoonbills, Great and Reed Cormorants, Sacred Ibis and Little Bee-eater. Further along the track a female Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and a pair of Spotted Thick-knees the latter being a rather uncommon bird in Senegal. The next wetland held large numbers of ducks, egrets and waders with interesting species including Spur-winged, African Pygmy and Egyptian Geese, Garganey, African Swamphen, Black Crake, Montagu's Harrier and several waders notably Marsh Sandpiper and Ruff. Back to the ranch after an enjoyable days birding.

November 4th: Ranch de Bango, Djoudj National Park including Grand Lac, Lac Khar and boat trip
Daily 109, New 47, Running 150
Weather: Hot and sunny with clear skies 24-36C

Met up at 0700 hours for a walk around the grounds and down towards the old ruins of the ranch. African Fish Eagles were calling at first light with Senegal Thick-knees. Within the gardens African Mourning and Laughing Doves, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Grey-headed Sparrow and African Silverbills. On the adjacent track we located Senegal Coucal, Senegal Parrot, Little Weaver and Tawny-flanked Prinias. After breakfast I headed off towards Djoudj along rough tracks running through rather arid country with canals, rice fields and seasonal pools. On the road leading to Mauritania a large pool was covered in birds. Careful scanning revealed Black-necked Stilt, Pied Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Gull-billed and Caspian Terns. Shortly after joining the Djoudj road a stand of reeds held Yellow-crowned Bishop and Red-billed Quelea the latter being present in their thousands. Another pool had Common Greenshank, Ringed Plover, Little Tern, Northern Red Bishop, Black-crowned Sparrow Lark and the first Sand Martins and Western Yellow Wagtails of the tour. Before reaching the park itself further stops added Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Northern Shoveler, Pink-backed Pelican, Common Redshank and Common Sandpiper. Our next destination was Grand Lac where we managed to locate a pair of endangered Black-crowned Cranes, Black Stork, Purple Heron, Kittlitz's Plover and a few passerines notably Northern Wheatear, Woodchat Shrike and abundant Crested Larks. Lunch was taken at Lac Khar which held thousands of Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler. Along the muddy edges many waders including a pair of Kentish Plovers. It was time for the boat trip with the harbour area having Malachite and Pied Kingfishers and a juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons. A stop at the reed edge produced a few African Reed Warblers and eventually the uncommon River Prinia which has a restricted and tiny range in West Africa. Further on the White Pelicans were returning to their nesting grounds with birds probably numbering over 4000 at this stage. Back to the dock and return journey with similar birds to the morning plus a pair of African Stonechats en route.

November 5th: Ranch de Bango, Marigot Lakes, Gamdon
Daily 97, New 16, Running 166
Weather: Cloudy in the morning followed by hot weather 23-34C

Our usual walk around the ranch grounds produced similar birds to yesterday with the addition of a Grey-headed Kingfisher and a returning European Turtle Dove. A little later than planned we set off towards the Marigot Lakes complex for the day. Marigot One was full of waders and herons so I pressed on towards the acacia woodland nearby. Walking in this habitat revealed good numbers of Western Bonelli's Warblers, Common and Iberian Chiffchaffs, Fine-spotted Woodpecker and a family group of Senegal Batis. Near a group of cattle Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were making a nuisance of themselves. Back on the sandy tracks towards Marigot 2 where the first Black-shouldered Kite of the tour was seen. The Marigot was badly overgrown with lilies so only African Jacana and Common Moorhen were seen. Lunch was taken at an overlook before we headed towards Marigot Three one of the best areas for birds. The acacia woodland was busy with White-billed Buffalo Weavers, Dideric Cuckoo, Western Orphean Warbler and overhead a rather tatty looking Booted Eagle. Driving slowly through the acacias we eventually found the scarce and skulking Savile's Bustard literally creeping through the long grass and a pair of Spotted Thick-knees. On entering a large area with literally no trees a surprise was a Martial Eagle flying past and Black-crowned Cranes giving excellent views on the ground and in flight. At the end of the day we visited the village of Gamdon where Striped Kingfisher, African Hoopoe, Scarlet-chested Sunbird and Green Woodhoopoe were noted.

November 6th: Ranch de Bango, Richard Toll
Daily 92, New 12, Running 178
Weather: Cloudy then warm and sunny 25-32C

Our last walk around the grounds added a Common Redstart to the bird list. After breakfast I headed east towards the border town of Richard Toll. Along the route several flooded pools held a wide range of wetland species. Near a rice holding complex we were entertained by Collared Pratincoles and a flock of Pallid Swifts feeding on insects. On entering Richard Toll we drove through the town and visited an area of grassland where Cricket Warbler was quickly located. Other species included Black-headed Lapwing and Northern Wheatear. Checked in at the only hotel in town for lunch and a siesta. Back out again at 1600 hours in search of more Sahelian birds. The main area was a strip of acacia woodland bordering a vegetable growing plot and sugar cane plantations. A slow walk through the area produced sightings of several interesting species including Sennar Penduline Tit and West African Swallow. Careful searching of the trees produced migrant species notably Western Orphean, Western Olivaceous and Western Bonelli's Warblers, Southern Grey Shrike, Green Bee-eater, Common and Iberian Chiffchaffs, Tree Pipit, African Pied and Western Red-billed Hornbills, Northern Anteater Chat, Northern Crombec and a pair of Fork-tailed Drongo. I ended the day on the other side of the main road by driving along sandy tracks. A few birds were noted with Black-headed and Spur-winged Lapwings and a pair of Black Scrub Robins being the most interesting. Back to Richard Toll where the traffic was manic and all over the place an interesting end to the day.

November 7th: Richard Toll, Gaye, Podor
Daily 87, New 10, Running 188
Weather: Rather hot and sunny 25-39C

A later start today as I headed up towards Richard Toll airport which is no longer used on a commercial basis. Near the perimeter fence a party of Blue-naped Mousebirds and a wintering Common Whitethroat. Next was a revisit to the acacia woodland of yesterday afternoon which again proved to be good with sightings of Little Grey Woodpecker and Eurasian Wryneck among the commoner migrants. On the outskirts of Richard Toll a colony of West African Swallows were found nesting in an old tower. It was time to head east towards Podor via the river village of Gaye. The latter held a few Red-chested Swallows in the centre perched on television antennae. The remainder of the day was spent around the historical town of Podor which is on the border with Mauritania. In the town flocks of Little Swifts. A visit to a camp along the river produced Green, Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters, Black Scrub Robin, Hamerkop, Woodland Kingfisher, African Hoopoe, Fork-tailed Drongo and a pair of Common Sandpipers. A walk on the other side which was reached by a dug-out canoe added a Long-tailed Nightjar and a pair of Verreaux's Eagle Owls. We ended the day at another village where we heard the rare Golden Nightjar but it did not show on this occasion. Back to Richard Toll for the night and the journey back south tomorrow.

November 8th: Richard Toll, Saint Louis, Thies, Popenguine
Daily 69, New 3, Running 191
Weather: Hot and sunny 24-37C

Today was a travelling one back south to the coastal village of Popenguine. The road to Saint Louis and Thies held similar birds to a few days ago until we reached an area south of Louga. An extraordinary sight with a gathering of vultures around 50m off the road. Carefully we searched the birds with sightings of Lappet-faced, Eurasian Griffon, Ruppell's Griffon, White-backed and Hooded Vultures. It is unusual to compare so many species on the ground together with no sign of any recent animal deaths. Our journey took us towards the reserve at Popenguine which is suffering badly from drought conditions and poor management by the local people. The large baobabs attracted several Ospreys with one having a colour ring which originated from France. On the cliffs we located a female Blue Rock Thrush a scarce bird south of the Sahara Desert.

November 9th: Popenguine, Sarene, Mbour (boat trip)
Daily 80, New 16, Running 207
Weather: Hot and sunny 25-40C

After breakfast I headed south towards the coastal tourist resort of Mbour. Our main interest was the lake near Sarene which is always productive for birds. On arrival the water levels were lower than normal but muddy edges and grazed grass attracted many species. In the open water we located Little Grebe, Reed and Great Cormorants, Garganey and Northern Shoveler plus a few Pink-backed Pelicans. On the muddy edge Mark located an adult American Golden Plover which allowed excellent views. Other waders present included Common, Marsh and Wood Sandpipers, Black-necked Stilt, Common Greenshank, Little Ringed and Ringed Plovers, Ruff and Common Redshank. On the grass both Black and Yellow-billed Kites which gave a good comparison between the two species. Herons and egrets were numerous and included a lone Black-headed Heron. Over the water at least two White-winged Terns hunted for insects. High in the sky above us at least three Ruppell's Griffon Vultures, African Hawk Eagle, Short-toed and Beaudouin's Snake Eagles the latter looking very pale in flight. A stop at another pool added Black Tern. Lunch taken and then onto the Saly area of Mbour for an afternoon pelagic into the Atlantic Ocean. The rocks offshore held Royal, Sandwich, Roseate, Little and Caspian Terns, Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. As with most pelagic trips it can be hit and miss. A slow and steady sail enabled us to locate Pomarine and Arctic Skuas, Yellow-legged Gulls, Osprey and the unusual sight of a Black Tern and juvenile Roseate Tern perched on a floating dead goat. A juvenile Northern Gannet was also seen but weather conditions and winds were against us for shearwaters and petrels. A return to base was made enjoyable by hundreds of birds (mostly terns) being harassed by skuas.

November 10th: Popenguine, Somone, Bandia
Daily 63, New 11, Final 218
Weather: Hot and sunny 25-36C

From the breakfast table a party of Sanderling flew north which was a new species for the list. Our main interest this morning was visiting the coastal lagoon and reserve at Somone which is north of Mbour. On arrival we boarded a small boat with a shallow draft as water levels are low even at high tide. The first sandbar was awash with birds which included Pink-backed Pelican, Great Cormorant, Grey Heron, Slender-billed, Black-headed, Lesser Black-backed and Grey-hooded Gulls, Caspian, Sandwich, Royal and Lesser Crested Terns, Osprey (up to 40 birds), Eurasian Curlew and Whimbrel. The next stop was a floating mussel farm where we located Striated Heron, Common Sandpiper and Ruddy Turnstone. As we sailed slowly through the mangroves another island held more herons and egrets including Intermediate Egret and Eurasian Spoonbill. On a muddy beach the group added Eurasian Oystercatcher, Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwits and even more Ospreys. Back to the port and onto the reserve at Bandia. once at Bandia a check of the main lagoon revealed many Grey-headed Kingfishers, a single Woodland Kingfisher, migrant European Bee-eaters, Little Swift, Mottled Spintail and a pair of Broad-billed Rollers perched in a baobab tree. Back to Popenguine to repack for the journey home to Europe, a very enjoyable week in Northern Senegal.

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