Senegal: Sahelian Specialties with a French Twist – Birding Tour
As a birding region, West Africa has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. With stable governments, and a significant recognition of the value of ecotourism to their economies, a carefully selected West African tour does not have to be one which compromises on comfort. Senegal is at the leading edge of this bird tourism frontier, led by a long history of guiding in the region largely from neighboring Gambia that has close ties with Senegal, and which has been serving Western tourists for decades. Senegal has what Gambia has, plus a whole lot more. The key “buzzword birds” on this tour are likely to be the monotypic Egyptian Plover for family listers and shorebird enthusiasts, the odd, unique Quail-Plover for the latter also, the handsome Golden Nightjar, and the spectacular roosts of thousands of Swallow-tailed Kites for which Senegal stands alone. These are just the top shelf highlights, our journey into the Afrotropical Dry Thorn Savanna and Thornscrub belt that parallels the Sahara Desert also offers a long list of endemics of this Sahelian region, including White-crested (Tiger Heron) Bittern, the elusive Saville’s and Arabian Bustards, Cricket Longtail (Warbler), Western Red-billed Hornbill, Mali Firefinch, and Sudan Golden Sparrow. A minimum of three boat trips feature on this tour, which are key to getting good looks at some of the birds and finding some of the target birds listed above.
Senegal’s French influence can be seen in both the national language and the cuisine. Thieboudienne is the internationally known unofficial tasty national dish, comprised of stewed fish and rice, soaked in sauces infused with lemon and garlic, which is often washed down with Bissap, a healthy Senegalese tea made from the flowers of a native hibiscus. Even for experienced West African hands, Senegal offers something quite different to other destinations like Ghana and Cameroon, with plenty of room to add new birds and a bird spectacle in this unique African nation.
17 February - 4 March (Price: TBA)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 17 Days
Starting City: Dakar
Ending City: Dakar
Physical Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Group size: 10 + 2 Leaders
Day 1: Arrival in Dakar
After arrival in Senegal’s Capital, you will be transferred to a good hotel for the night. The capital is located within Guinea Savanna, on Senegal’s central west coast, is home to one of Western Africa’s most important ports, as well as being the historical endpoint for the World-famous Dakar Rally. There is no birding on this day, which provides a good chance at downtime after the long flight in. The first group activity will be a welcome dinner in our hotel at 6:30pm, where the guide will brief participants on the activities of the opening days of the tour.
Day 2: Dakar to Richard Toll
We will depart the coast and head north and inland, to the banks of the Senegal River and the town of Richard Toll, named after a French botanist during colonial times. The northward journey will see us venturing into the increasingly arid country of the Sahel, dominated by Afrotropical Dry Thorn Savanna and Thornscrub, where we might find spectacular birds, like Long-tailed Glossy Starlings or Chestnut-bellied Starlings, or other specialties, such as Sudan Golden Sparrow and Senegal Eromemala. Other possibilities include a host of Old-World vultures, Little Bee-eater, Vieillot’s Barbet, and Abyssinian Roller. A single night will be spent in Richard Toll.
Day 3: Richard Toll to Podor
On this day we will continue our journey eastwards along the flanks of the Senegal River, making our way to Senegal’s northernmost town, Podor, for a two-night stay. This northwards journey will have brought us close to the Mauritanian border, and in close proximity to the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, whose influence can sometimes be felt from the hot winds that blow in from the north. We will scour the acacias within the dry thorn savanna for key targets, like Cricket Longtail (Warbler), Sennar Penduline-Tit, Western Red-billed Hornbill, and the diminutive Little Gray Woodpecker. Other possible birds in this area include Senegal Batis and Black Scrub-Robin.
Day 4: Podor to Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary
Around Podor, we will scour the floor for a resting Golden Nightjar, one of the major key birds on this tour. If we fail to find one by day, we can also look for them at night too. Other species of interest here include White-rumped Seedeater, Pygmy Sunbird, and Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark. After finishing up in Podor, we shall drive east to an area of stark contrast, Djouj National Bird Sanctuary, a wetland sanctuary on the southeast bank of the Senegal River. We will be based inside this impressive sanctuary for two nights.
Day 5: Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary
Djoudj National Park or Bird Sanctuary is located on the floodplain of the Senegal River, within a basin of the Djoudj between the river itself and the Gorom bayou to the south of it. This is one of West Africa’s most important sanctuaries, designated as both a World Heritage site and an Important Bird Area it is also of global significance too. The area is particularly important for hosting migrant waterbirds. As many as 3 million different migrants pass through Djouj each year, many of which have crossed the Sahara Desert to reach there! It comprises a series of wetland habitats, including lakes, ponds, and seasonally inundated areas on the Senegal River Delta. It is home to an incredible variety of wetland birds, including Spur-winged Goose, Knob-billed Duck, Marbled Duck, Garganey, Yellow-billed Stork, Slender-billed Gull, Squacco and Black Herons, Black Crake, Allen’s Gallinule, African Jacana, Eurasian and African Spoonbills, Black-crowned Crane, Senegal Thick-knee, Spur-winged Lapwing, and Malachite Kingfisher. The sanctuary is also important for flamingos and pelicans. It is home to some 20,000 Greater Flamingos, which are often in company with Lesser Flamingos too. 10,000 Great White Pelicans also visit the reserve, which is also home to Pink-backed Pelicans too. It also lures in thousands of migrant shorebirds from the north too, including Common and Little Ringed Plovers, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, and Curlew Sandpiper. We will take a boat trip out on the water to allow closer, close ups of some of these. Away from waterbirds, we will have other species to look for too, such as Arabian Bustard, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Blue-naped Mousebird, Senegal Coucal, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, and the River Prinia. A second night will be spent inside the park, after a very bird-packed day.
Day 6: Djoudj NP to Saint Louis
We will head southeast, returning to the coastal zone, as we visit Saint Louis for the night. Saint Louis was the former capital of Senegal during the French colonial period and is recognized as the origin for the country national dish, Thiéboudienne, tasty mix of fish, vegetables and rice that has been marinated in garlic, lemon, and parsley. Our focus in this area will be to find a specialty bird species, Savile’s Bustard, which inhabits lightly wooded areas, sometimes near marigots, in western Senegal. Other significant birds that we may encounter on our bustard mission, within more mesic areas, could include Double-spurred Spurfowl and the jaw-droppingly beautiful Yellow-crowned Gonolek. A single night will be spent in Saint Louis.
Day 7: Saint Louis to Kaolack
Our southward trajectory will continue on this day as we move from coastal western Senegal to inland southern Senegal, and the market town of Kaolack on the northern banks of the Saloum River. A major target for this day will be the enigmatic Quail-Plover, which is not found on all of the tours, as its presence and abundance depends on the rains of recent wet seasons. However, the day is not a “one-bird wonder”, as we will close the day at a site on the banks of the river, where we will witness the spectacle of thousands of Scissor-tailed Kites coming to roost on a riparian island.
Day 8: Kaolack to Toubacouta
We will take a second shot at Quail-Plover, if needed, on this morning, with a pre-dawn start in order to do so. In the afternoon, we will make our way southeast into the Fatick region, along the road that connects Senegal with The Gambia, culminating for us in the village of Toubacouta, dubbed as a paradise for nature lovers. We will test this firsthand in the afternoon, when we take a boat trip on the delta to look out for the localized White-crested Bittern among the tangled mangrove swamps. The species occupies the monotypic genus Tigriornis, hence the alternative name of White-crested Tiger Heron.
Day 9: Toubacouta to Tambacounda
If we did not manage to locate a White-crested Bittern the evening before, we will head back out on an early morning boat ride to do so once more. After that, we shall journey east to the town of Tambacounda, in order to break the long journey to Kedougou.
Day 10: Tambacounda to Kedougou
Our purpose on this day will be to reach Kedougou, in far southeastern Senegal, close to the frontiers of both Mali and Guinea. The area is rich in specialties, and so we will spend three nights in the area.
Days 11-12: Kedougou and Dindefelo Region
This area is located within the Senegalese foothills of the Fouta Djallon Mountains, which are largely located within Guinea to the south. This exciting corner of Senegal is well off the beaten track and offers up much for the adventurous birder. It has only relatively recently been explored by bird tours, so there is still the chance of a surprise or two. We will utilize 4WD on one day in order to access wooded areas around the impressive escarpment near the village of Dindefelo, a place famed amongst tourists for its impressive 100m/320ft-high waterfalls within Niokolo-Koba National Park. The list of potential bird species on these days is long and includes some species only possible at these sites on the tour. Among the birds on the list are the following: Stone Partridge, Guinea and Violet Turacos, Narina’s Trogon, Bearded Barbet, Beaudouin's Snake-Eagle, Fox Kestrel, Yellow Penduline-Tit, Yellow-billed Shrike, Dorst’s Cisticola, White-fronted Black Chat, Bronze-tailed and Neumann’s Starlings, Pied-winged Swallow, Oriole Warbler, Sun Lark, Beautiful Sunbird, Lavender Waxbill, Mali and Black-faced Firefinches, Brown-rumped and Gosling’s Buntings, Olive-naped Weaver, Sahel Bush Sparrow, and Exclamatory Paradise Whydah!
Day 13: Kedougou to Wassadou Camp
In the morning we will journey back west to Wassadou Camp. We will leave early for this travel morning, in order to get there in time for an afternoon boat trip to search for some key tour species, like the “crocodile bird”, Egyptian Plover, and African Finfoot. While searching for them, we may also see Northern Carmine Bee-eaters or wallowing Hippos. At night, another boat trip will be taken to search for White-backed Night-Heron, Long-tailed Nightjar and Pel’s Fishing-Owl. We will be based at the amazing camp for two nights, which has a prime location for birds adjacent to Niokola Koba National Park, on the banks of the Gambia River, which hosts an impressive bird list exceeding 270 species.
Day 14: Niokola Koba NP
We will have a full day in this park close to our excellent birding lodge. Like Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary visited earlier on the tour, this park also has a massive bird list, and the list of possible species on this day is another enjoyably lengthy one, including Adamawa Turtle-Dove, Western Plantain-Eater, Black-headed and White-headed Lapwings, Palm-nut Vulture, 4 species of snake-eagle, NINE species of kingfisher, 4 species of rollers, including Blue-bellied, including Shining-blue, Senegal Parrot, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Blackcap Babbler, White Helmetshrike, Snowy and White-crowned Robin-Chats, and Brown-rumped Waxbill. A second night will be spent in our wonderful lodging on the banks of the Gambia River.
Day 15: Wassadou to Kaolack & Kousmar Island
Today we will start our journey backtracking northeast towards the Senegalese capital. We will break the journey at Kaolack and stay in the same hotel we stayed at before there. By breaking the journey here we also add a further chance at the difficult Quail-Plover and Savile’s Bustard on this day or the next, should we need one. During the afternoon, take a short boat trip over to Kousmar Island for an epic late afternoon activity, watching the large roost of Lesser Kestrels and Swallow-tailed Kites, which typically number in the hundreds. We will overnight in Kaolack once more.
Day 16: Kaolack to Dakar
After chasing some final birds around the Saloum River Delta in the morning, we shall drive back west to Dakar for the final night of this amazing tour. We will have a final farewell dinner, where the debate over the best birds of the trip are sure to be heated with such a heady selection on offer!
Day 17: Departure from Dakar
There are no birding activities on this day, so you are free to depart when you wish.
PACE: Moderate. Typically days will start at around 5:30am-6am on most days. Some breakfasts and some lunches will be packed. Most of this trip involves fairly full days, although there may be a handful of days with a break in the middle of the day. However, physically this is not a tough trip (see the next section). There are some long drives on the tour, with 4 days with drives exceeding 5 hours. However, all of this drives will be broken with birding stops, some of which are for some of the key target species.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy to Moderate. Almost all the birding is done from easy roads or tracks, and almost all of these are flat.
CLIMATE: Hot and sunny for most of the trip, with only a low chance of rain at this time of year. In general, the temperatures are likely to vary between lows of around 68°F/20°C at night to highs of up to 100°F/38°C in the daytime. There are sometimes some cooling winds coming in from the north at this time, and the coastal temperatures will be slightly cooler. Shielding from the sun is important on this tour, and so a good, wide-brimmed hat is recommended.
ACCOMMODATION: Good hotels or lodges throughout, all of which have en-suite facilities and all but one has 24hr electricity. Wassadou Camp has electricity from a generator with restricted hours, but there will still be plenty of time to charge electronic devices. A few of the hotels do not have hot water, although the high temperatures in Senegal make this easier than in some destinations!
WHEN TO GO: Senegal is generally best visited during the northern wintertime when many migrants from the palearctic are present, and the temperatures are lower than late in the year. In general, the January to mid-March period is best for this tour.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Visas are generally not required for visitors from most western countries, such as the USA and the UK, who both get tourist visas issued on arrival in Senegal. For other nationalities, please check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff for help. Travel requirements are subject to change; it’s a good idea to double check six weeks before you travel.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to drivers, local guides, and lodge/restaurant staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 16; meals from dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 16 (if you have a very early flight on the last day, you may miss the included hotel breakfast); one non-alcoholic drink with meals; safe drinking water throughout; Tropical Birding bird tour leader with scope and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 16; one arrival and departure airport transfer per person on the designated arrival and departure days (transfer may be shared with other hotel guests); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary from the morning of day 2 to the evening of day 15 in a suitable vehicle with a local driver; entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary; 3 boat trips – 1 at Djoudj National Bird Sanctuary, another at Toubacouta, and a final one at Wassadou; a printed and bound checklist to help you keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the TROPICAL BIRDING tour leader; tips for luggage porters at hotels (if you require their services); flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.
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