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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Senegal

Saturday 28 January to Monday 13 February 2023
with Ethan Kistler as leader
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Senegal is one of the few places to see the enigmatic Golden Nightjar. Photo: Steve Rooke

Africa’s Sahel region is sandwiched between the Sahara Desert to the north and the lush forests of Upper Guinea to the south. It consists mostly of dry savannah, dry woodland and semi-desert but it also supports some of West Africa’s most important wetlands, and a wealth of special birds not easily found elsewhere. Senegal offers the most accessible route into this remarkable region.

We’ll begin in Senegal’s northern reaches bordering the Senegal River where the dry acacia and semi-desert hold several specialties including the formerly near-mythical Golden Nightjar, now seen regularly in these parts. For a total contrast we’ll also visit the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary’s wetlands, home to vast numbers of waterbirds and perhaps a few surprises such as Allen’s Gallinule.

We’ll then head to far southwest, mainly in the Basse Casamance province. Once out of bounds due to internal strife, the region is now open and safe and is beginning to reveal some real treasures. The forests here are home to some highly localized species such as Turati’s Boubou and Capuchin Babbler, and further exploration is likely to turn up new surprises.

In the hilly and more wooded southeast region, where Egyptian Plover has in recent years delighted us, we’ll hope to find Mali Firefinch and Neumann’s Starling, along with an entertaining host of other uncommon species.  

We’ll close by returning north, stopping on the way to look for a few enigmatic birds, with Quail-plover featuring high on the most-wanted list and we’ll hope to be treated to famous roost of Scissor-tailed Kites and Lesser Kestrels, possibly numbering in the thousands.

Day 1: We begin this evening outside Dakar, Senegal, with a welcome talk at our hotel near the airport. For the early arrivals, our accommodation has a wonderful second floor balcony from which you’ll see your first Senegal birds.

Day 2: We’ll depart early, making our way north to the frontier town of Richard Toll. Birds should be conspicuous along the road, and we’ll make numerous stops. Charismatic Sahel species such as Long-tailed Glossy and Chestnut-bellied Starlings and both Abyssinian and Rufous-crowned Rollers may be among the first, and the skies should be filled with Yellow-billed Kites and occasional groups of White-backed, Griffon, and Rüppell’s Griffon Vultures. If we’re lucky, we may find a carcass surrounded by a horde of these huge and charismatic scavengers. Common species along the road will no doubt include Hooded Vulture, African Gray Hornbill, Piapiac, Pied Crow, Vinaceous Dove, and Little Bee-eater among many others, and we’ll keep an eye on the trees for Vieillot’s Barbet and Senegal Eremomela.

Our hotel sits on the banks of the Senegal River where those who wish can enjoying a ‘sundowner’ while overlooking the comings and goings along the river. Night in Richard Toll.

Day 3: We’ll venture farther east to the area around Podor and Gamadji Sare. Here, where the Sahel borders the Sahara, the acacias and low scrub are home to some classic birds of the region—Cricket Warbler, the tiny Sennar Penduline Tit, Little Grey Woodpecker, and Golden Nightjar. Only the first is relatively easy to find, but by carefully searching the acacia groves, we hope to see them all. Other species we can expect include African Collared and Namaqua Doves, Sudan Golden Sparrow, both Black and Rufous Scrub Robins, and Senegal Batis. There should be many European migrants about including Western Olivaceous and Western Bonelli’s Warblers, Woodchat Shrike, Black-eared Wheatear, and perhaps even the recently split Seebohm’s Wheatear. When in an ecological frontier like this, there is always the chance of a surprise—for example, the recent establishment of Horus Swift as a breeding species, a mere 1,000 miles from its nearest known colonies. Night in Gamadji Sare.

Day 4: We’ll spend another day in the acacia groves and scrub of the north, perhaps catching up with Little Green Bee-eater, White-rumped Seedeater, or species we might be missing. In the more desert-like areas, we’ll try for views of a day-roosting Golden Nightjar or Fulvous Babbler before we drive westwards to the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary. En route, we’ll no doubt explore a few of the dry rice paddies where hordes of Red-billed Queleas and Yellow-crowned Bishops may be feeding and a Greater Painted-Snipe or two may be lurking in a quiet corner. We should arrive at the Djoudj in time to get an initial impression of this world-class wetland and to search for one of our major targets: the rather humble River Prinia. Only recently described, this unassuming specimen is restricted to riverine wetlands in the Sahel, and those in the Djoudj are among the most accessible. Night in Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary.

Day 5: The Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary is a seriously impressive, seasonally refreshed wetland. The first permanent fresh water south of the Sahara, it holds vast numbers of wintering Palearctic waterfowl along with an excellent selection of West African waterbirds. White-faced Whistling Duck and Garganey are likely in large numbers and the huge colony of Great White Pelicans promises to be a wondrous spectacle. Time permitting, we’ll take a boat ride to get close to them. Other waterfowl include Marbled Duck, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Spur-winged Goose, and Knob-billed Duck. Innumerable shorebirds, cormorants, herons, egrets, ibis, spoonbills, and flamingos will contribute to the cacophony. Also here are Greater Swamp Warbler, Winding Cisticola, and the very localized moptanus race of African Stonechat.

In the drier areas, we should find Black Crowned-Crane, another Sahelian specialty, and we’ll search for the stately and declining Arabian Bustard, although views of this are never guaranteed, and for Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse. We’ll also hope for a couple of rather tricky estrildids; Quailfinch and Zebra Waxbill, and by now we may be familiar as well with at least two forms of the taxonomically confusing Great Grey Shrike complex. Night in Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary.

Day 6: Leaving the Djoudj, we’ll drive south, birding the Senegal River estuary en route where large concentrations of shorebirds, gulls, terns, and other waterbirds concentrate. We’ll sift through flocks of shorebirds such as Bar-tailed Godwits, Common Redshanks, Common Ringed-Plovers, and see if we can pick out Mediterranean Gulls among the more common gulls. Night in Diourbel.

Day 7: Nearby, an area of open dry country holds one of the tour’s star birds, the taxonomically and geographically enigmatic Quail-plover. Now considered an aberrant buttonquail, it is nowhere common or regular in its huge range across the drier parts of West and East Africa. If the previous season’s rainfall has been good, we’ll have a realistic chance of finding one in the dry bush and savannah. However, this will require a very early start as we’ll want to be on site close to dawn, and it may require a lot of walking to locate one. Other species could include Temminck’s Courser, Singing Bush Lark, and Sahel Paradise Whydah, while up in the skies we’ll be alert for  Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle and possibly Bateleur. As Quail-plover is such an important bird we’ve given over most of the day to look for it. After our hopeful success we’ll drive to the town of Kaolack. If time permits, we’ll spend the afternoon along the river close to the town. Here we’ll be looking for another key species for the tour: the beautiful Scissor-tailed Kite. As the day wears on, large numbers of these graceful birds gather to roost on a riverine island, along with equally impressive numbers of Lesser Kestrels. These numbers do vary according to local conditions, ranging from many hundreds to many thousands. Nearby is an area of scrub that will give us our first chance for Savile’s Bustard.

Day 8: Leaving Kaolack we’ll drive further south to the town of Toubakouta, located on the Saloum Delta. We’ll spend some time birding the delta by boat where we’ll hope to find the locally rare White-crested Bittern. There will also be a fine variety of shorebirds, raptors, kingfishers, bee-eaters, and swallows to name a few. Night in Toubakouta. 

Day 9: If we miss White-crested Bittern, we may try for a second boat trip early this morning. Otherwise, we’ll make the drive east to the town of Tambacounda. This journey is long, at least five hours, but there will be stops for birding along the way. Brown Snake-eagle should be present, along with Grasshopper Buzzard and Long-crested Eagle, while Martial Eagle is a distinct possibility. Night in Tambacounda.

Days 10-12: Continuing southeast, we’ll approach the border with Mali and the bustling town of Kedougou. There is a lot to look for here with the extremely range-restricted Mali (or Kulikoro) Firefinch high on our list, although we’ll have to check carefully as there are four other firefinch species possible! On one full day, we’ll take 4x4 vehicles to the village of Dindefelo, located at the base of an imposing escarpment. The drive can produce some excellent birding, and we’ll be on lookout for Fox Kestrel, Four-banded Sandgrouse, and Sun Lark, while other possibilities include Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Yellow Penduline Tit, Exclamatory Paradise Whydah, Western Violet-backed Sunbird, and White Helmetshrike. As we approach the escarpment, we should encounter a new set of species. Neumann’s Starling is restricted to rocky areas in the Sahel and is hard to find in most places, but here we have a realistic chance. Under the shade of the tall trees, Violet Turaco, Narina’s Trogon, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Green-headed Sunbird, Snowy-crowned Robin-chat, and African Paradise Flycatcher can be expected, while Rock Martins quarter on the cliffs and Orange-cheeked Waxbills forage among the houses. There should as well be more Mali Firefinch and Pygmy Sunbird, an Gosling’s Bunting likes these wooded and rocky slopes. Other possibilities could include White-fronted Black Chat and Pied-winged Swallow. With three nights here, we’ll have plenty of time to hopefully catch up with all of our targets. Nights in Kédougou.

Day 13: We’ll depart early and make the short journey north to Wassadou. We’ll have most of the day to wander on foot around the wonderful, bird-filled Wassadou Camp, a superb spot on the Gambia River where Egyptian Plover vies for attention with African Finfoot and White-crowned Lapwings. The highly localized Adamawa Turtle Dove is also present in good numbers. Gorgeous Red-throated and Northern Carmine Bee-eaters breed along the river, and we may be able to take a short boat trip to get close to these harlequins of the bird world. The possibilities here are many and include Palm-nut Vulture, Western Banded Snake-Eagle, Giant, Blue-breasted, and Shining-blue Kingfishers, Blue-bellied Roller, Stone Partridge, Swamp Flycatcher, Grey Tit-flycatcher, African Blue Flycatcher, Bronze-tailed Starling, and Black-faced Firefinch (here of the highly localized race vinacea, sometimes treated as a separate species, Vinaceous Firefinch) among many, many others.

In the evening we’ll take a boat trip down the river in search of one of Africa’s most sought-after owls: Pel’s Fishing Owl. Sightings are never guaranteed, and the camp can go weeks without seeing them; nonetheless, we have a realistic chance of finding one, along with other nocturnal species such as Northern White-faced Owl, White-backed Night-heron, and Long-tailed Nightjar. Throughout our stay, the company of Green Monkeys, Western Red Colobus, and perhaps a snorkeling Hippopotamus will keep us entertained. Night in Wassadou. 

Day 14: We’ll have all morning to bird around Wassadou, cleaning up on anything we may have missed before driving to the town of Kolda. Night in Kolda.

Day 15: We’ll continue west to the town of Ziguinchor in the remote region of Basse Casamance, the most southwesterly province of Senegal and separated from most of the country by The Gambia. We’ll check in to our hotel then spend the afternoon birding locally.

Basse Casamance is seldomly visited by birders, but that seems set to change. Here, the last reaches of the Upper Guinea forests end at the Casamance River, and we’ll find an interesting set of birds waiting for us. A forest block near Ziguinchor holds a few pairs of Turati’s Boubou, a species thought to be restricted to the seldom-visited arc of Guinea-Bissau to Sierra Leone and only discovered in Senegal in 2018. Also present are Leaf-love, Western Nicator, Green Hylia, and the recently split Western Square-tailed Drongo. Night in Ziguinchor.

Day 16: We’ll head further west today towards Cap Skirrig. We’ll have plenty of time to stop along the way, and our first will be an area of forest that holds White-spotted Flufftail, White-browed Forest Flycatcher, Green Crombec, White-throated Greenbul, Grey-headed Bristlebill, Brown Illadopsis, and Chestnut-breasted Nigrita among many others. Night in Cap Skirrig.

Day 17: We have the morning to explore this fascinating region and in particular search for another highly localized species - the distinctive Capuchin Babbler. Good numbers of them inhabit this forest, along with Senegal Parrots and Red-bellied Paradise-flycatchers. As if Capuchin Babblers were not hard enough to see in West Africa, a new proposal to split the species into three has resulted in the birds from Senegal to the western Ivory Coast becoming ‘Grey-hooded’ Capuchin Babblers. If we have time, we’ll search an area of marshes and dry paddy fields looking for such localized species as Quailfinch and Yellow-throated Longclaw. The weavers here are worthy of close attention too, as Red-headed Quelea is possible among the many Red-billed Queleas and Yellow-crowned Bishops. Our luck with waterbirds will depend on water levels but wintering Montagu’s Harriers and circling vultures should feature. In the afternoon we’ll retrace our steps to Ziguinchor and catch a domestic flight back to Dakar in time for our evening flights home.

Updated: 16 September 2022

Prices

  • 2023 Tour Price : $5,100
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $260

Notes

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Questions? Tour Manager: Stephanie Schaefer. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum Group Size: 10 participants and 2 leaders

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