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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Senegal

Sunday 6 February to Tuesday 22 February 2022
with Steve Rooke and Ethan Kistler as leaders

2022 Price: $5,150

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Senegal is one of the few places to see the enigmatic Golden Nightjar. Photo: Steve Rooke

Sandwiched between the Sahara Desert to the north and the lush forests of Upper Guinea to the south, Africa’s Sahel region consists mostly of dry savannah, semi-desert, and dry woodland, 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 begin in the 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, Capuchin Babbler, and White-throated Greenbul, and further exploration is likely to turn up new surprises. Continuing into the hilly and more wooded southeast region where Egyptian Plover has in recent years delighted us, we should be fortunate enough to spot African Finfoot, Adamawa Turtle Dove, and Red-throated Bee-eater. The real prizes here will be Mali Firefinch and Neumann’s Starling, along with an entertaining host of other uncommon species such as White-fronted Black Chat and Pied-winged Swallow. Retracing our steps, we begin to head north, stopping on the way to look for a few enigmatic birds, with Quail-plover featuring high on the most-wanted list. We’ll also hopefully be treated to spectacles such as a famous roost of Scissor-tailed Kites and Lesser Kestrels (possibly numbering in the thousands).

Then we head to Senegal’s northern reaches bordering the Senegal River. Here the dry acacia and semi-desert 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, now seen regularly in these parts, and Arabian and Savile’s Bustards which roam the arid grasslands. 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.

Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Dakar, Senegal, with a welcome talk at our hotel near the airport.

Day 2: We take an early morning domestic flight 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 little 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 3: We set out heading further west today towards Cap Skirrig where we’ll spend the night. We have plenty of time to make stops along the way and our first will be another 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 4: 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 localised 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 then drive on to Kolda where we’ll spend the night.

Day 5: Today we make the long journey east to Wassadou for a two-night stay. This journey is long, but there will be stops for birding along the way. Brown and Beaudouin’s Snake-eagles should be present, along with Grasshopper Buzzard and Long-crested Eagle, while Martial Eagle is a distinct possibility. We should arrive around mid-afternoon and can spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the campgrounds and enjoying a sundowner overlooking the Gambia River in the company of Green Monkeys, Western Red Colobus, and perhaps a snorkelling Hippopotamus. Night in Wassadou.

Day 6: We’ll have all 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, and 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.

Our two nights here give us two evenings and two dawns to search for one of the more sought after of Africa’s 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. It’s also worth mentioning that all of these are possible from the camp itself. Night in Wassadou. 

Days 7-8: 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 our 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 Helmet Shrike. 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, while Gosling’s Bunting likes these wooded and rocky slopes. Other possibilities could include White-fronted Black Chat and Pied-winged Swallow. Nights in Kédougou.

Day 9: We may have chance for some morning birding, after which we’ll depart Kédougou and drive slowly to Tambacounda, birding along the way. These roads reward slow travel, as they go through the middle of Niokolo-Koba National Park. We’ll keep a sharp lookout for any mammals that may be crossing and for bird species we might be missing at this point, such as Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling which can sometimes occur in roadside flocks. Bush fires are worth investigating as well, as flocks of rollers and raptors can be attracted to feast on the fleeing or baked insects. Night in Tambacounda. 

Day 10: Leaving Tambacounda we drive to the town of Kaolack. There will doubtless be some birding along the way but our main priority is to 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. Night in Kaolack.

Day 11: To the north of Koalack is an area of open dry country where we will look for 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 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 hope to see Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle or possibly Bateleur. As Quail-plover is such an important bird we have most of the day to look for it and after our hopeful success we drive on to the town of Louga for one night.

Day 12: 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 to see what we can find. Charismatic Sahel 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, and the skies should be filled with plentiful Yellow-billed Kites and occasional groups of White-backed, Griffon, and Rüppell’s Griffon Vultures. If we are lucky, we may find a carcass bedecked with a horde of these huge and charismatic scavengers. Common species along the road will no doubt include Hooded Vulture, African Grey 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. Arriving in Richard Toll, we’ll find our hotel sitting on the banks of the Senegal River. Enjoying a sundowner overlooking the comings and goings along the river will no doubt be an excellent and relaxing end to our first full day. Night in Richard Toll.

Day 13: From Richard Toll 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 very special birds. Our main targets will be some classic birds of the region—Cricket Warbler, the tiny Sennar Penduline Tit, Little Grey Woodpecker, and Golden Nightjar. Only the first is relatively straightforward, but, by carefully searching the acacia groves, we at least 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 also be many European migrants, such as Western Olivaceous and Western Bonelli’s Warblers, Woodchat Shrike, Black-eared Wheatear, and perhaps even the recently split Seebohm’s Wheatear. When we are out on the frontiers 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 14: 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. We’ll also try for views of a day-roosting Golden Nightjar or Fulvous Babbler in the more desert-like areas. Night in Richard Toll.

Day 15: We’ll have the option of a final morning’s birding around Richard Toll before we drive back westwards to the Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary. We’ll no doubt explore a few of the dry rice paddies en route, 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 the delights on offer at 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 16: 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 wildfowl along with an excellent selection of West African waterbirds. White-faced Whistling Duck and Garganey are likely to be in large numbers, but the huge colony of Great White Pelicans promises to be a wondrous spectacle, and, time permitting, we’ll take a boat ride to get close to them. Other waterfowl include Marbled Duck, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Spur-winged Goose, and Knob-billed Duck. Innumerable waders, 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. Out in the drier areas, perhaps stalking with herons, we should find Black Crowned-crane, another Sahelian speciality. Away from the water in the dry scrub and surrounding bushland, we’ll search for the stately and declining Arabian Bustard, although views of this are never guaranteed; Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and a couple of rather tricky estrildids; and Quailfinch and Zebra Waxbill. By now we should have become familiar as well with at least two forms of the taxonomically confusing Great Grey Shrike complex. Night in Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary.

Day 17: Leaving the Djoudj, we’ll set out on the drive back to Dakar. There may be time for some stops in the St. Louis area or along the roadside before we reach Dakar in the late afternoon, where the tour ends.

Updated: 22 October 2021

Prices

  • 2022 Tour Price : $5,150
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $260
  • (Approximately £3750 at Time of Pricing)

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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