In April 2002, I had the privelege to travel from Kansas to Senegal as a member of a Rotary International Group Study Exchange team. We arrived the evening of April 2, 2002, and departed early morning on April 30, 2002. In the four weeks that we were in Senegal, we spent a majority of our time in and around the capital city of Dakar. We had one weekend where the team went to Saint Louis on the north coast of Senegal. We also made one and two day trips inland to Thies and south of Dakar down the coast to Mbour and Joal-Fadiot.
We had several planned activities, both educational and recreational. We "stumbled" into other activities and events. And we had time to just explore on our own. While I was trying to learn as much of the country and the people as I could, I was always birdwatching. More on that in a minute. Senegal is on the west coast of Africa, 12.5 to 16.5 degrees north latitude. It is roughly the size of South Dakota with a population of 12 - 14 million people. It is, in many ways, a classical developing country with the challenges and problems associated with that.
Be that as it may, Senegal is a wonderful place to visit. The Sengalese are very warm and friendly. They are a happy people and very eager to insure that you have a pleasant visit. Taranga, hospitality, is a trait that they take great pride in. While French is the official language, you will encounter tribal languages such as Wolof, Pular and Serer. Most of the citizens under the age of 25 who have been to school will speak some English and will treasure the opportunity to use it. I had a wonderful time while I was there and look forward to the opportunity to someday return to Senegal.
This is mainly about the birds that I saw in Senegal. While I had some opportunities to seriously go birdwatching, much of my birding was very casual. April is a bit of an off time for some species. But it also offered a chance to see some species in migration and watch residents birds transition from basic into alternate plumages. Village Weavers made the complete transition during the month I was there. I had hoped to see some nightjars, but saw none. Many hoped for raptors were also missed. Being in Dakar much of the time I was able to make regular trips down to the ocean where I had good opportunity to see shorebirds and seabirds. Seven species of terns, four species of gulls, two jaeger species as well as Northern Gannet were recorded from oceanside. One memorable afternoon was spent on the beach at Mbour in the shade of a small shelter, in a beach chair watching migrating birds including more jaegers than I can remember. Another weekend at a different location in Mbour also resulted in many new species of birds.
The team spent a long weekend in Saint Louis (pronounced San Louie) which is on the north border and on the ocean. We stayed at a seaside resort with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Senegal River on the other side. The fresh water river and bay resulted in one group of birds, while the ocean side produced a slightly different group. Many of the fifteen species of shorebirds were first seen that weekend in Saint Louis.
We had the pleasure of visiting Parc Nationanl des Oiseaux Du Djoudj (Du Djoudj National Park for birds). This wonderful wetland is along the Senegal River on the border with Mautitania in a large marshy area. This area offers protection for all wildlife and serves as a refuge for a large breeding colony of Great White Pelicans. The young pelicans were still in dark plumage but many were starting to fly. (Pictures of some of the birds I saw in Senegal can be viewed here). Any birdwatcher visiting Senegal needs to visit this park. Paroque (Boat) rides are available that take you well into the park and offer close looks at many of the species in the park. Bird highlights here included African Fish Eagle, White-faced Whistling Duck, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, African Jacana, Darter, Yellow-billed Stork, Sacred Ibis, African Spoonbill and Little Bee-eater. Other interesting wildlife were Nile Crocodile, Wart Hogs and large lizards in the Monitor Lizard family.
While Dakar is a large city with many people, the ocean offers good birding, a surprising number of birds exist in the parts of town old enough to have trees and especially at the National Zoological Parc. This protected area gives one a glimpse of what the area must have looked like before severe deforestation took place. It was here that I saw my first hornbills, Senegal Thick-knees, Pied Kingfishers, Spur-winged Plovers and Black Crake.
There are so many memories of birding in Senegal that I can not begin to try to write them all. Others, in passing, include bulbuls - they have such a happy, kingbird like chatter. Sunbirds - I saw five species of sunbirds and they were all incredible, they chatter like Chimney Swifts. Starlings - not the distasteful European Starling, but bright showy wonderful starlings that reminded me more of the new world blackbirds. Blue-naped Mousebirds - a feeding flock sounds like mewing kittens. Rose-ringed Parakeets and Senegal Parrots - my first opportunity to see parakeets or parrots in the wild; it was wonderful. The weavers - noisy, squawky clicky birds that have to exist as a group. I can not imagine a solitary weaver. The little finchy birds like queleas, firefinchs, silverbills, mannikans and my favorite, Red-cheeked Cordonbleaus. Doves and pigeons - by the way, Laughing Doves don't really laugh.... it's more of a chuckle. Some of the first birds I'd hear every morning (after the bulbuls) were the Pied Crows and the Black Kites. I'd hate to call them trash birds, but they were some of the first birds I saw and some of the most common. Vultures are all rather un-attractive. But I relished the four species I saw. A complete bird list can be viewed here.
My sole bird book while I was in Senegal was A Field Guide to Birds of The Gambia and Senegal" by Clive Barlow and Tim Wacher. This book was quite good for most of my birding. On the north edge of Senegal it was a little out of its range and I had to make notes and illustrations to confirm species once I returned home. The guide only shows, for example, a Spotted Redshank in basic plumage, yet the one I saw at Du Djoudj was in alternate plumage. Fortunately, I knew that one. One gull and one sandpiper in Saint Louis were the real stumpers! If you can find a copy of A Field Guide to the Birds of West Africa by Serle, Morel and Hartwig it would be a good addition. Possibly the best new West African Bird Guide is A Guide to the Birds of Western Africa by Nik Borrow and Ron Demey.
In closing, just let me say that if you ever have a chance to go to Senegal, do it! If I would have had my own vehicle and two weeks of my own, I could have seen twice the 134 species I did see. But for no other reason, go to Senegal to be with the Senegalese. You will be hard pressed to meet a friendlier group of people that enjoy life more than the Senegalese!
Feel free to contact me Chuck Otte, firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have specific questions about Senegal or birding-visiting there!