Birdwatching in Senegal
By Martha Hales
Senegal has an easygoing charm which creates the perfect backdrop for a leisurely birding holiday among its myriad avian habitats. The combination of coasts, rivers and semi-arid regions along with the tropical temperatures and the more verdant areas in the south make it an appealing home for a diverse variety of avifauna. Senegal’s location directly south of the Sahara means that many species use it as a stopover after their lengthy and difficult desert crossing. Wetland habitats offer particularly rich pickings, and in season you are likely to see many Palaearctic and Afrotropical birds as well as Sahelian and West African specialities.
Senegal is a fascinating nation with a charismatic capital city and some lovely shoreline for beach time in between birding excursions. What is more it is a relatively short flight from Europe but a world away in terms of what it can offer visitors: a very different array of species, an insight into West African culture, and winter sun to boot. Birders will find that a visit during northern hemisphere winter (November to February) will yield even more varieties than at other times of year due to the migratory birds that overwinter in Senegal during this season. The total number of species recorded in Senegal up to September 2018 is more than 680, and there are many expert guides to help you track them down. Here, we give a quick overview of the major birdwatching destinations in Senegal.
16,000 hectares of wetlands recognised by UNESCO for their unique natural characteristics make up the Djoudj National Park and Bird Sanctuary, home to around 1.5 million birds from more than 360 different species. This area lies right in the far north of Senegal with road access from Saint Louis, and it acts as an oasis for the many migratory species that cross the Sahara heading south. The lakes, sandbanks, streams and ponds make up part of the Senegal River delta, and host more than 120 species of Palaearctic migrants as well as the many resident species. Look out for the Arabian bustard, great egret, white pelican (pictured below), African spoonbill, purple heron, night heron, cormorant, flamingo and large numbers of ducks and warblers.
One of the reasons Senegal is such a rewarding birding destination is the diversity of ecosystems. In between the huge and forbidding Sahara desert and the lush deltas and forests of southern Senegal lies the Sahel, a sizeable area of arid semi desert which receives only scant rainfall and doesn’t support much more than grasses and sporadic acacia woodland. This scrubby savannah may not seem to be a very promising prospect, but is actually a good place to seek out some of the Sahelian specials and West African endemics which can only be found in this dry region, namely golden nightjar, cricket warbler, glossy starling (pictured below), chestnut bellied starling, Pygmy sunbird, Senegal baits and Senegal eremomela.
Another delta zone bursting with bird life is located in the region of coastal Senegal that sits just north of The Gambia. The major urban centre is nearby Kaolack, from here the delta area can be accessed by road, though for a comprehensive visit some boat travel is recommended. Traditional ways of life carry on here unchanged for centuries, with fishing, shellfish cultivation and salt collection some of the major activities. Extensive mangrove habitats are complimented by forests and patches of grassland, and the watery landscape is especially attractive and photogenic.
Interesting species to track down include several species of raptors such as the grasshopper buzzard, Beaudouin's snake eagle, African hawk eagle and scissor tailed kite, while water birds to look for include the four-banded sandgrouse, the white backed night heron and the black headed heron (pictured below).
Located in the south east of Senegal close to the border with Guinea Bissau, almost a million hectares is protected as a national park and recognised by UNESCO for its natural diversity. In contrast to the Sahel habitats of northern Senegal, this water-rich floodplain area boasts a high diversity and concentration of plant species which in turn supports a large variety of fauna, including many sizeable animals such as elephant, hippo, lion, leopard, African wild dog, chimpanzee and antelope.
This is an important habitat for more than 300 species of birds, among which the most sought after varieties include the Mali firefinch, Senegal parrot (pictured below), West African swallow, fox kestrel, violet turaco, martial eagle, white faced whistling duck, red throated bee eater, Egyptian plover, bearded barbet and the oriole warbler.
A tongue (langue) of land running parallel to the coast of Senegal near Saint Louis marks the point where the Senegal river meets the Atlantic Ocean. It has long been an important site for bird life, and many species live in and around the sandy spits of land and islands built by deposits from the outflowing river.
The ‘Île des Oiseaux’ or bird island is a small outcrop of land in the estuary and gets its name from the many species of bird that make their home here, notably several species of gulls and terns, plus pelicans in season. Trips around the 2,000 hectare park can only be undertaken by boat, but this makes it more rewarding in terms of sightings. Unfortunately the 30 kilometre sandspit was breached in 2003 to allow outflow of floodwaters from Saint Louis but the breach has now broadened enormously with huge impact on the ecosystem.
Make it happen
Grab those binoculars and get yourself to Senegal for some excellent birdwatching opportunities. The warm West African welcome, pleasant climate and coastal location add to the appeal, and who better to show you the best of their homeland than a local team of experts who know their nation inside out? Get in touch today to see how your bespoke itinerary could look. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.