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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Senegal

Friday 21 February to Friday 6 March 2020
with Paul French and Steve Rooke as leaders

Price: $4,850

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Senegal is one of the few places to see the enigmatic Quail Plover. Photo: Kevin Du Rose

Africa’s Sahel region is vast and surprisingly undervisited by western birders. Sandwiched between the Sahara Desert to the north and the lush forests of Upper Guinea to the south, it consists mostly of dry savannah and semi-deserts but also supports some of West Africa’s most important wetlands. The Sahel holds a wealth of special birds not easily found elsewhere, and Senegal offers the most easily accessible route into this remarkable region.

We’ll begin in Senegal’s buzzing capital, Dakar, then travel to its northern reaches bordering the Senegal River. Here the dry acacia and semi-desert areas hold several specialties, including the often-demonstrative Cricket Warbler and the far more retiring Little Grey Woodpecker and Sennar Penduline Tit. We’ll also search for the formerly near-mythical Golden Nightjar, which is now seen regularly in these parts. Arabian and Savile’s Bustards roam the arid grasslands, and 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. Moving south and east, we’ll hope for a few enigmatic birds, with Quail Plover featuring high on the most-wanted list, and spectacles such as the famous roost of Scissor-tailed Kites and Lesser Kestrels numbering in the tens of thousands. Continuing into the hilly and more wooded southeast region where Egyptian Plover has in recent years delighted us by our camp, we should be fortunate enough to spot African Finfoot, Adamawa Turtle Dove, and Red-throated Bee-eater. The real prize here will be Kulikoro Firefinch along with a host of other uncommon species such as White-fronted Black Chat and Pied-winged Swallow to entertain.

In addition to offering a route into the Sahel, Senegal offers a fascinating cultural mix of old French colonialism and its vibrant contemporary cities and nightlife as a backdrop to some exceptional birdwatching.

Day 1: The tour begins this evening in the capital, Dakar. Night in Dakar.

Day 2: We’ll depart early and drive north to the frontier town of Richard Toll. Birds should be conspicuous along the road, and we’ll make numerous stops along the way to see what we can find. Charismatic Sahelian species such as Long-tailed Glossy and Chestnut-bellied Starlings and both Abyssinian and Rufous-crowned Rollers may be among the first to entertain us. The skies should be filled with plentiful Yellow-billed Kites and occasional groups of White-backed, Griffon, and Rüppell’s Griffon Vultures. Common species along the road will no doubt include Hooded Vulture, Short-toed Snake Eagle, African Grey Hornbill, Piapiac, Pied Crow, Vinaceous Dove, and Little Bee-eater among many others. The arid grasslands in this area also support a population of Savile’s Bustards, and we’ll devote time to searching for this, the smallest of the region’s bustards. While we look, we’ll be keeping one eye on the trees for such West African delights as Vieillot’s Barbet, White-rumped Seedeater, and Senegal Eremomela. Our Richard Toll hotel sits on the bank of the Senegal River, and enjoying a sundowner while overlooking the comings and goings along the river and watching for the local and distinctively pale monicae subspecies of Grey Heron will no doubt be an excellent and relaxing end to our first full day. Night in Richard Toll.

Days 3-4: We’ll venture a few miles east of Richard Toll to the area around Podor. Here the Sahel borders the Sahara, and the colonial houses mirror the hues of the land,  while the acacias and low scrubs are home to some classic birds of the region. Our main targets will be Cricket Warbler, the tiny Sennar Penduline Tit, Little Grey Woodpecker, and Golden Nightjar. Only the first is relatively straightforward, but we have two evenings and two mornings dedicated to finding them all, so our careful searching of the stunted acacias will likely be rewarded. Other species we can expect include Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, African Collared and Namaqua Doves, Sudan Golden Sparrow, both Black and Rufous Bush Robins, Pygmy Sunbird, and Senegal Batis. There should also be many European migrants, such as Western Olivaceous and Western Bonelli’s Warblers, Woodchat Shrikes, Black-eared Wheatears, and perhaps even the recently split Seebohm’s Wheatear. There is always the chance of some surprises when along borders like this, and recent sightings of Kordofan Bush Lark in this area give hope for a rarity or two. Nights in Podor.

Day 5: We’ll have the option of a final morning’s birding around Podor before we drive to the Djoudj National Park. During the journey, we’ll concentrate on any species we may be missing, and in this part of the world any roadside stop can produce new species and exceptional birding. We’ll arrive at the Djoudj in time for afternoon birding and our first exposure to the delights on offer in this world-class wetland. Night in Djoudj National Park.

Day 6: The Djoudj National Park is a seriously impressive wetland. The first permanent fresh water south of the Sahara, these wetlands are seasonally refreshed and consequently hold vast numbers of Palearctic wildfowl in the winter, along with an excellent selection of West African waterbirds. White-faced Whistling Ducks and Garganey are likely to be in the largest numbers, but the huge colony of Great White Pelicans promises to be the most wondrous of spectacles. Other waterfowl here include Pintail, Shoveler, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Greater Flamingo, Spur-winged Goose, and Knob-billed Duck. Innumerable waders, cormorants, herons, egrets, ibis, and spoonbills will all contribute to the cacophony, but the star of the show will no doubt be a much more subdued and skulking affair. It is the only recently described River Prinia, which is restricted to riverine wetlands in the Sahel, and those in the Djoudj are among the most accessible. Also here will be Greater Swamp Warbler, Winding Cisticola, and three rather tricky estrildids: African Silverbill, Quailfinch, and Zebra Waxbill. Perhaps stalking with the herons or out in the fields, we’ll find Black Crowned Crane—another Sahelian speciality. Away from the water and into the dry scrub and surrounding bushland, we’ll search for the stately and declining Arabian Bustard. Night in Djoudj National Park.

Day 7: Today will mainly be a travel day, as we embark on the long drive south to Kaolack. Again, we’ll stop for any species of interest that we may see, including a second chance of finding Savile’s Bustard should we need it. Night in Kaolack.

Day 8: Birding around Kaolack, our main focus will be 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. However, we’ll have a realistic chance of finding one in the area’s dry bush and savannah, although it may require a lot of walking through suitable habitat. Other species of the area should include Temminck’s Courser, Singing Bush Lark, and Sahel Paradise Whydah. Up in the skies we’ll observe the realms of Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle, Bateleur, and one of the key species for the tour—the magnificent Scissor-tailed Kite. Although we may find individuals hunting the savannah during the day, in the later afternoon a huge roost of thousands of these beauties gathers on a riverine island near the town, along with equally impressive numbers of Lesser Kestrels. Night in Kaolack.

Days 9-10: We’ll start with another long drive, this time heading east and south to the largest and wildest area of land in Senegal—Niokolo-Koba National Park and its environs. It’s a huge area of river, savannah, and gallery forest, and we’ll experience a small sample of it from our two bases. First, we’ll stay at the enchanting and bird-filled Wassadou Camp for two nights—a superb spot on the Gambia River that offers truly excellent birding. Here, Egyptian Plovers will vie for our attention with African Finfoot and White-crowned Lapwings, and the highly localized Adamawa Turtle Dove will also be possible. Gorgeous Red-throated Bee-eaters breed here, and Pel’s Fishing Owl can also be seen on occasion. The possibilities here are great and include White-backed Night-heron, Stone Partridge, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Northern White-faced Owl, Shining Blue Kingfisher, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Swamp Flycatcher, Grey Tit-flycatcher, African Blue Flycatcher, Bronze-tailed Starling, and Oriole Warbler among many, many others. Nights in Wassadou.

Days 11-12: Continuing southeast through Niokolo-Koba National Park towards Kédougou, we’ll search for Mali (or Kulikoro) Firefinch. Extremely range restricted, the birds in this area are probably the most accessible anywhere, although we’ll have to check carefully as there are four other firefinch species possible here! Over our two days, we should rack up a large and varied species list, with such delights as Fox Kestrel, Neumann’s Starling, Yellow Penduline Tit, Exclamatory Paradise Whydah, and Gosling’s and Brown-rumped Buntings. The birding amongst the savannah, rocky hills, and forest edges in the foothills of the Fouta Djallon highlands is excellent, and the diversity of species reflects the habitats. In more open areas we’ll expect Blue-bellied Roller, White-fronted Black Chat, Pied-winged and West Africa Swallow, and perhaps, with luck, Denham’s Bustard. In the more wooded areas we are likely to see Violet Turaco, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, White and Snowy-crowned Robin-chats, African Paradise Flycatcher, Western Violet-backed and Green-headed Sunbirds, Yellow-throated Leaflove, White Helmet Shrike, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, and perhaps Greyish Eagle Owl and Abyssinian Ground Hornbill just for starters. This is one of the most bird-rich areas of Senegal, and our extended time here should help us get to know it. Nights in Kédougou. 

Day 13: We’ll drive slowly back to Wassadou, birding along the way with further chances for any key species we may have missed. The roads in this area reward slow travel, but we’ll arrive in Wassadou in time for some afternoon birding and a sundowner overlooking the Gambia River and its wild residents. Night in Wassadou. 

Day 14: We’ll have a long drive back to Kaolack, birding as we go. Raptors are a feature of any journey in West Africa, and this tour should be no exception, with possibilities including Tawny, Martial, Wahlberg’s, African Hawk and Long-crested Eagles, as well as Bateleur, Red-necked Buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Lizard Buzzard, Grasshopper Buzzard, Brown Snake Eagle, and perhaps White-headed and Lappet-faced Vultures. Less conspicuous will be the Grey Kestrels, Red-necked Falcons, and Lanners that frequent the area. Night in Kaolack.

Day 15: We’ll return finally to Dakar, arriving in the early evening when the tour concludes

Updated: 03 April 2019

Prices

  • 2020 Tour Price : $4,850
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $160
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Notes

This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.

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

Maximum Group Size: 10 participants and 2 leaders