SENEGAL BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Senegal: Day 1 The tour begins late this afternoon at Dakar airport. We will spend the night in the Dakar region.
Senegal: Day 2 From the Dakar region we will drive northwards and then eastwards, past St Louis and Richard Toll, to the remote town of Podor for a two nights stay.
As we travel northwards the huge baobab trees and well-wooded acacia savanna of the Dakar region gradually give way to sparse thorn scrub as we enter the Sahel, the great band of drought-prone, semi-arid country along the southern edge of the inexorably-advancing Sahara.
Town birds include Yellow-billed Kite, Hooded Vulture, Little Swift and Pied Crow, We will keep a lookout during the journey for anything of interest, such as our first Abyssinian and Rufous-crowned Rollers and Blue-naped Mousebirds, and we can expect to see many Long-tailed Glossy and Chestnut-bellied Starlings (our first Sahelian specialities) around the small villages of thatched huts.
We will pass by the town of St Louis, the old French colonial capital of both Senegal and Mauritania, and site of the first bridge over the Senegal River, but now only a pale shadow of its former self in spite of some recent renovation and revitalization.
As one leaves behind the lush, irrigated, sugar cane plantations that dominate the Senegal River valley, one enters an extensive dry, sandy landscape that is meagrely clad with a sparse, goat- and cattle-chewed grassland and acacia scrub. We will arrive in the far north in time for some initial exploration this afternoon.
Senegal: Day 3 As we explore the arid landscapes in the vicinity of Podor we will be very conscious of the unseen presence of the Sahara, for the border of the desert lies not far to the north.
Early in the morning the open acacia savannas and sparsely vegetated grasslands are still and pleasant, but as the sun rises higher into the sky a hot wind can start to blow from the desert until the air is hazy with dust, only quietening down again towards mid-afternoon.
Here we shall be concentrating on looking for some very special birds that are restricted to this semi-desert fringe of tropical Africa. This is the haunt of one of the most attractive Sahelian birds, the smart little Cricket (or Scaly-fronted) Warbler and we have an excellent chance of finding this charming species in this harsh landscape. We shall also be on the lookout for some other major Sahelian specialities, in particular the uncommon, restricted-range Little Grey Woodpecker and the tiny Sennar Penduline Tit. Both can be found feeding quietly in the small acacias that dot the area. We can also expect to find restless flocks of Sudan Golden Sparrows. With just a bit of good fortune and persistence we will come across the beautiful but little-known Golden Nightjar.
Smart Black Scrub Robins with their long tails often cocked up right over their heads are distinctive and showy birds of this habitat, as are three other Sahelian near-endemics; African Collared Dove, Pygmy Sunbird and White-rumped Seedeater. Vieillot’s Barbet, Senegal Eremomela and Senegal Batis are Western African endemics. Other species of particular interest include Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark, Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin (the resident form here is sometimes split off as African Scrub Robin) and Fulvous Babbler.
More widespread species that we may well encounter include Short-toed Snake Eagle, Lanner and Red-necked Falcons, Common Kestrel, Cream-coloured and Temminck’s Coursers, Black-headed Lapwing, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Laughing and Mourning Collared Doves, the pretty little Namaqua Dove, Black-billed Wood-Dove, African Palm Swift, Striped Kingfisher, Black Scimitarbill, Blue-cheeked, Green and Little Bee-eaters, Eurasian Hoopoe, Western Red-billed Hornbill, African Grey Woodpecker, Singing Bush Lark, Crested Lark, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Common Bulbul, Desert Cisticola, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Northern Crombec, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Brubru, Black-crowned Tchagra, Southern Grey Shrike, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, White-billed Buffalo Weaver, Speckle-fronted and Little Weavers, Cut-throat Finch and Red-billed Firefinch. There are even chances for Pallid Harrier, Barbary Falcon, Common Quail, Common (or Small) Buttonquail, and both Greyish and Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls.
Palearctic migrants can be conspicuous and are likely to include Black Kite, Eurasian Wryneck, Greater Short-toed Lark, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Tawny and Tree Pipits, Common Redstart, Northern and Black-eared Wheatears, Western Olivaceous, Western Bonelli’s, Western Orphean, Subalpine Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Common and Iberian Chiffchaffs, and Woodchat Shrike.
Senegal: Day 4 After some final birding in the arid Sahel of northernmost Senegal we will return to the St Louis region for a three nights stay, spending one night at Djoudj National Park and two nights close to St Louis.
Senegal: Days 5-6 We will spend part of our time in the St Louis region exploring the arid Sahelian woodland, bush country and grasslands to the east and south of the Senegal River. In particular, this is a good area for the localized Savile’s Bustard, a Sahelian endemic. Western African endemics and near-endemics we are likely to find in these habitats include Double-spurred Francolin (a species that is also found in Morocco), Western Plantain-eater and the gorgeous Yellow-crowned Gonolek. More widespread species include Senegal and Spotted Thick-knees, Vinaceous Dove, Senegal Coucal, Green Wood Hoopoe, African Grey Hornbill, Anteater Chat, Beautiful and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Vitelline Masked Weaver and Pin-tailed Whydah.
A number of wetlands dot this arid landscape. While most of the species are shared with the Djoudj, Black Egret, African Pygmy-goose, African Swamphen and Black Crake all tend to be more easily seen here, while there is a fairly good chance of finding the uncommon and nomadic Allen’s Gallinule. There is even a slim chance of coming across a wintering Great Snipe.
The most important bird habitat in northern Senegal is surely the Djoudj National Park, which is situated right on the border with Mauritania. The lower reaches of the mighty Senegal River are subject to seasonal flooding, which augments the few perennial marshlands in the area.
Although waterbirds dominate the area, there are other species of even greater interest in the dry bush country and riverine thickets nearby. The huge, declining and endangered Arabian Bustard, although very shy as a result of illegal hunting, is still regularly observed in the park, whilst the river channels are the haunt of the little-known and comparatively recently-described River Prinia (a Sahelian endemic).
At this season the floodwaters will be receding and large numbers of winter visitors from the Western Palearctic will have joined the many tropical African waterbirds. In some years the lagoons and watercourses of the Djoudj National Park are literally black with wildfowl, so that when the vast flocks take to the air the sight is indescribable, although in other years numbers are much more modest. The most abundant species are White-faced Whistling Duck and Garganey, but Fulvous Whistling Duck, Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler can also be numerous. Further interest is provided by small numbers of Spur-winged Geese, Knob-billed Ducks and Eurasian Teals.
On the shallow, more saline lagoons numerous Greater Flamingos gather to feed and large numbers of wandering Lesser Flamingos often join them. However, the greatest spectacle of the Djoudj is often provided by the numerous Great White Pelicans that regularly concentrate into large flocks to feed on the abundant fish. As the birds at the front of the flotilla dip their great pouched bills into the water dozens of others are jostling up from behind whilst still more may plunge down from the skies to join the excited gathering. In the heat of the day squadrons soar high above the flat landscape, or even form up in packed masses on the roads next to the lagoons, creating a novel kind of traffic obstacle! At this time of year the birds will be busy breeding and, providing we have the time (which will depend on our seeing Arabian Bustard fairly promptly), we will make a short visit by boat to the breeding colony where the sights, sounds and smells make for a totally unforgettable experience!
Great numbers of cormorants, herons, egrets, waders, gulls, terns and other waterbirds add to the avian riches of one of the most important wetlands in Africa. Pride of place amongst these surely goes to the magnificent Black Crowned Crane, which is almost a Sahelian endemic.
Other waterbirds we are likely to encounter, either at Djoudj or around the mouth of the Senegal River at Saint Louis, include White-breasted Cormorant (split from Great), Reed (or Long-tailed) Cormorant, African Darter, Pink-backed Pelican, Little Bittern, Grey, Black-headed, Purple and Squacco Herons, Black-crowned Night Heron, Western Great, Intermediate, Little, Western Reef and Western Cattle Egrets, Glossy and Sacred Ibises, Eurasian and African Spoonbills, Black, White and Yellow-billed Storks, Western Osprey, African Fish Eagle, Common Moorhen, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Spur-winged Lapwing, African Jacana, Greater Painted-snipe, Collared Pratincole, Little Ringed, Common Ringed, Kentish and Kittlitz’s Plovers, Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, Common, Green, Wood, Marsh and Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stint, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Grey-headed, Slender-billed, Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and Gull-billed, Caspian, Sandwich, White-winged, Whiskered and possibly Black Terns. If we are in luck we will find some Marbled Ducks or even spot a Little Crake.
Other birds we may well encounter include Black-shouldered Kite, Montagu’s and Western Marsh Harriers, Speckled Pigeon, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers, Barn Swallow, Sand Martin (or Bank Swallow), Western Yellow and White Wagtails, African Stonechat, Sedge, European Reed and Greater Swamp Warblers, Zitting and Winding Cisticolas, Black-headed (or Yellow-backed) Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, African Silverbill and perhaps Whinchat, Zebra Waxbill and Quailfinch. We should also be able to find Long-tailed Nightjar, marvelling at the disproportionately elongated tail of the male.
Mammals are generally inconspicuous, but Common Warthogs are frequently encountered in the park and we should also see Patas Monkey and Golden (or Common) Jackal.
Senegal: Day 7 Today we will head south to the town of Kaolack for an overnight stay. We will pass well to the east of Dakar and will make some stops along the way. There is a good chance of finding vultures feeding on a dead goat or other domestic animal and the gatherings often include the huge Lappet-faced Vulture as well as Rüppell’s, White-backed and Hooded Vultures (and sometimes wintering Eurasian Griffon Vultures). Sadly, numbers have declined in recent years, probably owing to the increasing use of the veterinary drug Diclofenac.
As we travel further south we will come across some impressive areas of baobab woodland. We will have time to search for the secretive Quail-Plover today, with our chances dependent both on luck and whether or not the previous rainy season has been a good one. As we near Kaolack, providing there are not a drought conditions in the area, we should see the delightful Scissor-tailed (or African Swallow-tailed) Kite hawking for insects over the dry savanna.
Senegal: Day 8 This morning we will explore another area of arid grassland and bush country in the Kaolack region where we have previously found the enigmatic Quail-Plover, an unusual species which is sometimes treated as a monotypic family but now more often placed with the buttonquails. Getting a sighting, which will involve flushing a bird from the grass and low scrub, will likely take persistence as seeing this mega-speciality is not easy and becomes very difficult indeed if the rains have failed. Other interesting species in the area include Savile’s Bustard, Piapiac, Sahel Paradise Whydah (a Sahelian endemic) and its host the Green-winged Pytilia.
Afterwards we will head for the regional centre of Tambacounda and then continue into the huge Niokolo Koba National Park region in the far southeast of Senegal, where we will stay for six nights (divided equally between two different accommodations).
Senegal: Days 9-13 We are now in one of the richest regions of Senegal for birdlife and we are going to encounter numerous new species, but we will be concentrating on the Sahelian endemics and more widespread West African specialities.
Pride of place amongst these goes to the pretty little Mali (or Kulikoro) Firefinch. This species, which is found only in southeastern Senegal and parts of Mali, favours the remote and rarely visited rocky hills at the fringe of the Fouta Djallon highlands. Two other major specialities of the area are Adamawa Turtle Dove, which is restricted to the Sahel, and Fox Kestrel, which is predominantly Sahelian in distribution. The rocky hills are also home to Neumann’s Starling and Gosling’s Bunting, two restricted-range species that extend eastwards only as far as western Sudan.
Other Sahelian endemics and near-endemics include Stone Partridge, the stunning Violet Turaco, the gorgeous Red-throated Bee-eater, Bearded Barbet, Sun Lark, Dorst’s Cisticola, the lovely White-crowned Robin-Chat, Lesser Blue-eared and Bronze-tailed Starlings, and Lavender Waxbill.
Much rarer and each needing a lot of luck are Yellow Penduline Tit, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, Exclamatory Paradise Whydah, Black-faced Firefinch and Brown-rumped Bunting. We have even seen the uncommon and nomadic Rufous-rumped Lark in newly burned grassland here on one occasion. If we see any of these we can count ourselves lucky.
Western African endemics and near-endemics include Senegal Parrot, the lovely Guinea Turaco, the attractive Blue-bellied Roller, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Red-chested Swallow (split from Barn), West African Swallow (split from Red-rumped), Blackcap Babbler, the impressive Oriole Warbler (or Moho) and the uncommon Pied-winged Swallow.
Much sought-after is the beautiful Egyptian Plover, a bird which is still quite common along the larger rivers in this region. We can even expect to get within a few metres of this wonderful bird, which forms a monotypic family, as they seem quite unconcerned by humans in this part of Africa! The rivers also hold African Finfoot, which we have a very good chance of encountering during our stay.
Other birds of particular interest include Grasshopper Buzzard, Bruce’s Green Pigeon and the gorgeous Northern Carmine Bee-eater. Red-necked Buzzard, the uncommon White-fronted Black Chat, White-shouldered Black Tit and Black-bellied Firefinch are present in the area but uncommon, and if we are really in luck we will come across the awesome Pel’s Fishing Owl.
Amongst the many more widespread species we may well encounter are Striated Heron, Hamerkop, Hadada Ibis, Palm-nut Vulture, Brown Snake Eagle, Shikra, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Lizard Buzzard, African Harrier-Hawk, Wahlberg’s Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, Grey Kestrel, Helmeted Guineafowl, White-crowned and African Wattled Lapwings, Red-eyed Dove, European Turtle Dove, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, African Green Pigeon, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Giant, Blue-breasted and Grey-headed Kingfishers, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Broad-billed Roller, Woodland Kingfisher, Yellow-fronted and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds, Cardinal Woodpecker, Greater Honeyguide, African Pied Wagtail, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Brown Babbler, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Familiar Chat, White-crowned Cliff Chat, African Thrush, European Pied, Swamp, Pale and Northern Black Flycatchers, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, African Blue Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Singing Cisticola, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Garden and Willow Warblers, Rock Martin, Wire-tailed Swallow, Fork-tailed Drongo, White-crested Helmet Shrike, Yellow-billed Shrike, Northern Puffback, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Yellow White-eye, African Golden Oriole, Purple Starling, Western Violet-backed, Green-headed and Variable Sunbirds, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Bush Petronia, Village Weaver, Northern Red Bishop, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Bronze Mannikin, Village Indigobird and Yellow-fronted Canary.
We should also come across a good number of the less common (or more difficult to find) but widespread species, which include Woolly-necked Stork, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Northern White-faced Owl, Greyish Eagle-Owl, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Lesser Honeyguide, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, African Moustached Warbler, Sulphur-breasted and Grey-headed Bushshrikes, and Red-headed and Black-necked Weavers. Scarcer possibilities include Bateleur, Tawny and Martial Eagles, Shining-blue Kingfisher, the huge Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Red-winged Warbler and Yellow-bellied Hyliota.
Mammals are not conspicuous in this area, but amongst the new species we are likely to encounter are Guinea Baboon, Green Monkey and Hippopotamus.
Senegal: Day 14 After some early morning birding we will set out on the long drive back to the coast, where we will spend three nights at a comfortable lodge in the Saloum Delta.
A fantastic yet little-known feature of the Saloum Delta is the truly extraordinary roost gathering of Scissor-tailed Kites and Lesser Kestrels. We will travel to a remote part of the delta where we should (unless there are extreme drought conditions, which will greatly reduce kite numbers) be able to witness literally thousands of Swallow-tailed Kites and Lesser Kestrels flying in to roost in an area of large trees. Seeing the kites decorating the trees en masse is a sight never to be forgotten. In most parts of their range, seeing just one or two is considered a good day. Thousands, well that is something really amazing!
Senegal: Days 15-16 Two special birds will draw us deeper into the Saloum, where we will explore the mangrove-lined waterways and coastal mudflats by boat. The first, White-crested Tiger Heron, is a hard bird to see almost anywhere in its range, but here we have a pretty good chance of an encounter (perhaps 50-75%). Almost as sought-after is the shy but beautiful White-backed Night Heron, which we have a very high chance of seeing.
The spectacular kite roost and the two rare herons are a very good reason to visit the Saloum, but the area is rich in birdlife generally, not just coastal species but landbirds as well. There is another chance for African Finfoot here, while other waterbirds that may be new for the list include Goliath Heron, Eurasian Oystercatcher, White-fronted Plover, Grey (or Black-bellied) Plover, Common Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Ruddy Turnstone and Royal Tern.
Additional key birds of the Saloum are Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle and Four-banded Sandgrouse (both Sahelian endemics or near-endemics), while other new species we may well encounter in this fine area include the strange Standard-winged Nightjar, Mottled Spinetail, European and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, Lesser Honeyguide, Mangrove (or Brown) Sunbirds, and Black-rumped Waxbill.
Senegal: Day 17 After a last morning in the Saloum Delta and some lunch, it will be time to return to Dakar airport, where the tour ends this evening.