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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Senegal

2022 Narrative

We began our 2022 tour in the Casamance region of Senegal, tucked away in the southwest corner of the country.  The region holds a lot of birds not easily seen on the usual circuit, and in particular it is home to the grey-headed form of Capuchin Babbler (a good candidate for a split) and the little known Turati’s Boubou. The latter eluded us despite a lot of searching. The former was relatively easy to locate as the groups are very noisy as they scramble through the scrub, but despite that, it took time to get good views of this hyper-active bird. We spent a few days exploring the various wooded and scrubby habitats, encountering a variety of birds along the way. Highlights included Palm Nut Vulture and Beaudouin’s Snake Eagles, Lizard Buzzard, Montagu’s Harriers, African Green Pigeon, Violet Turaco, Blue-bellied and Broad-billed Rollers, White-throated, Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, White-crested Helmetshrike (including one on a nest), Western Square-tailed Drongo, Leaf-love, Senegal Eremomela, and Green Hylia to name just a few.  In addition there were some wonderful gatherings of waders around the mangrove lagoons.

Leaving Casamance we began our journey east, breaking this long drive with a night in Kolda before heading on the Wassadou. Our couple of days at Wassadou Lodge on the Gambia river allowed us to explore the grounds and immediate vicinity. This was where we had great looks at smart Egyptian Plovers feeding and displaying on sand banks. White-headed Plovers were also a highlight, as was the Pel’s Fishing Owl starring at us through the night air. African Finfoots could be seen swimming back and forth across the river, and boat trips took us to gatherings of Red-throated and Northern Carmine Bee-eaters. Adamawa Turtle Dove is a specialty of this location and we saw several coming to drink, along with Black-rumped Waxbills. Both Western Banded and African Hawk Eagles showed very well, and Giant and Blue-breasted Kingfishers were seen along the river. There was a pair of Red-necked Falcons whizzing around the palm trees and the lodge grounds attracted stunning Bronze-tailed, Purple Glossy, and Long-tailed Glossy Starlings.

From there, we travelled to the extreme southeast of the country and the town of Kedagou, concentrating our time in Dindeflo area. Stops en route gave us Grasshopper Buzzard, Four-banded Sandgrouse, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks, Sun Lark, Bush Petronia, and Chestnut-crowned Sparrow Weaver, while the lush woodland along the stream at Dindeflo village held the faithful Willcock’s Honeyguide plus African Paradise and African Blue Flycatchers. A nearby escarpment was where we found Lanner Falcons, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Mocking Cliff-Chat, up to a dozen Mali Firefinch and lots of Lavender Waxbills. 

Retracing our steps, we spent a night at Tambacouda. This was largely a travelling day, but we stopped at raging bush fire to witness lots of Abyssinian Rollers swooping in to catch fleeing insects. A couple of Mottled Swifts joined the fray, as did a Shikra.  Moving on to Kaolack we stopped in a few places, finding Western Bonelli’s Warblers, obliging Yellow-billed Shrikes and lots of White-billed Buffalo-Weavers.  After lunch at the hotel we spent the latter part of the afternoon on the Saloum Delta. Here Savile’s Bustard performed nicely for us, and we also bumped into a few Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Blue-naped Mousebirds, Striped Kingfisher, our first Little Green Bee-eater, a single Eurasian Wryneck, and lots of Senegal Parrots. But the main focus of our trip here was to witness the roost of Scissor-tailed Kites, and after a somewhat muddy crossing we were treated to around 500 of these elegant raptors filling the evening sky. By contrast most of the 100 or so Lesser Kestrels prepared for their pre-roost gathering by sitting on the mud! 

The next day was a big one as this was essentially our only chance of finding the enigmatic Quail-Plover. We had a very early departure to be sure of getting to the site for first light. Finding one is not guaranteed but within 30 minutes we were watching this strange little bird performing its odd back and forth bobbing. We spent about an hour with it, surely one of the tour highlights. We had allocated most of the day to find this so we had a relaxed onward journey.  Having not seen many vultures so far it was good to encounter a bunch at a roadside kill. As well as the ubiquitous Hooded Vultures there were Ruppell’s, Eurasian Griffon, African White-backed and a few enormous Lappet-faced Vultures present.

Passing through St Louis we stopped to view the masses of waterbirds gathering in the lagoon and nearby wetlands with hordes of egrets, including Black Heron, both Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans, and we picked out a few Mediterranean Gulls amongst the numerous Slender-billed, Black-headed and Grey-headed Gulls. Reaching Richard Toll we were able to quickly find two of the regions special birds – Little Grey Woodpecker and Sennar Penduline Tit. The next day we followed the Senegal river eastwards to our next location. Our lodge, right on the river, was also the place for a small colony of Horus Swifts, birds which are about 1000 miles from the nearest known breeding site. But our main priority here was to look for the other special bird of the tour, the wonderful Golden Nightjar. Amazingly we found a daytime roosting bird in almost the exact same spot as when we last here in 2020.  This whole region was rich in birds. We had more views of the Little Grey Woodpecker and Sennar Tit and everywhere we went we were surrounded by Sudan Golden Sparrows. There were African Collared Doves, Black Scrub Robins (a classic bird of the Sahel), Seebohm’s Wheatear, lots of Woodchat Shrikes, Western Olivaceous, Western Bonelli’s and Western Subalpine Warblers, and of course, the showy Cricket Warbler. One other highlight of our time at Richard Toll was gathering on the jetty out on the Senegal River at the end of the day with Mauritania on the other side.  This was not only a perfect place for a sundowner, but as dusk closed in countless thousands of Sudan Golden Sparrows and Black-headed Weavers were streaming past to a roost site. And then suddenly many hundreds of bats (unidentified species) left their roost in a massive palm tree in the hotel grounds to swarm across the river is a long line. Another strange site at Richard Toll was the abandoned and slightly derelict chateau built by Baron Richard which was slowly being swallowed up by the forest, but the grounds of which held both Tree and Red-throated Pipits

As the tour drew to a close, we set out back the way we had come stopping at an expanses of flooded rice fields that held a variety of birds including some Collared Pratincoles. However, a star find was a Baillon’s Crake which after the first few tantalizing glimpses finally came out in the open. We were lucky to gain access to the Djoudj National Park as it had been closed due to an outbreak of avian flu amongst the famous Great White Pelican colony, and although the usual boat trip to the colony was denied to us, we could still explore the rest of the park. Highlights included many, many thousands of various wildfowl including massive numbers of White-faced Whistling Ducks, fewer numbers of Fulvous Whistling Ducks, and huge flocks of Northern Shoveler and Garganey gathering ahead of their journey north to the European breeding grounds. Both Greater and Lesser Flamingos were present as were good numbers of Glossy Ibis and European Spoonbills, and we were lucky to see two pairs of Black Crowned-Cranes, albeit only in flight. The park also held a nice mix of waders with some wonderful views of Greater Painted-Snipe, lots of Ruff, and both Kittlitz’s and Kentish Plovers. Away from the open water there was the localised River Prinia to look for, and our local guide showed us a roosting Long-tailed Nightjar and Barn Owl. 

Our return journey took in St Louis again, for PCR tests and some impromptu shopping at a craft village, and another stop at the lagoons to scan through all those waterbirds. The long drive back to Dakar was broken with lunch and more COVID testing at Louga before we finally reached the airport and the end the tour.

                                                                                                                                                                               - Steve Rooke

Created: 15 June 2022