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Senegal Raptors and More Trip Diary

2024-03-22 - 6:34 p.m.

Note: This is the big rambling trip report. You can find the bird and mammal list here.

Feb. 29, 2024

9:45 AM CST

And so it begins…

I could not check in online but I had plenty of time since Roger was dropping me off before work. They just wanted to see my passport so it was super easy, no waiting.

The Sky Club no longer lets you in until 3 hours before boarding so I walked around, found the empty hall, inspected the art, & finally returned – still too early but she let me in anyway, allowing me to locate the latte, tiny mushroom tarts, & mini cheesecake parfait for breakfast. The club is creepily too small & crowded tho… I’m considering leaving to get more steps after my phone is charged.

10 AM

Much of the crowd drifted out right after I typed that, so I’m still here loading up on Sprite Zeroes to avoid dehydration on my long flight.


Landing a bit early at JFK. Lunch was Bloody Mary, chicken curry, & chocolate chip cookie. My WhatsApp works, I got a message on my phone while the plane was still scooting up to the gate.

4:30 EST

Line at Sky Club at JFK but fortunately they let Delta Ones skip ahead. Inside the club is an absolute zoo. Are all these people flying in business class? I don’t think so!

I did spot one glamorous lady who I identified from her style as a model from Senegal. “We’ll see if I’m right when I board my plane.” (Added later: Yes, she was on my plane to Dakar in business class. And I realize that doesn’t prove she’s a model. She could be a princess or an artist or a singer or any number of glamorous New York-Dakar jetsetter things, but her strong sense of style just made me think model.)

7:00 EST

With dinner onboard still far away, I have succumbed to the club’s carrot cake & champagne…

8:30 EST

I have boarded, & so far my initial impression of Delta One is poor. No floor storage? Seriously? In 3A? It's no world for short people.

March 1, 2:00 PM GMT

You could adjust the chair to lie flat but you then had no floor storage & the tiny bed wasn't quite big enough for me, by far the smallest adult I noticed in business class, I felt at the time that I didn't sleep a week but I must have snoozed some since I’m tired but not ridiculously so.

Going through passport control was a breeze but the Bank of Africa ATM ate my card. Also the adapters I brought so I could charge my stuff… went all blooey on me. Uh oh, problems.

4:30 PM GMT

The driver picked me up at the airport and drove me through bright, dusty streets to the hotel, where I was immediately welcomed by the playful African striped ground squirrel. It’s really hot & bright, but despite the good light, I’m struggling to get pictures with my new gear. It just hasn't come together for me yet.

However, I’m enjoying the process of meeting the birds– many important common species I will see time and again, including Long-tailed Glossy Starling, Western Red-billed Hornbill, Rose-ringed Parakeets, Laughing Dove, Northern Gray-headed Sparrow, Common Bulbul, and a female sunbird that I would eventually see multiple times until I figured out the correct ID. (Added later: She was a Scarlet-chested Sunbird.)

8:00 PM GMT

The most awesome patient bird of the day was a splendid Abyssinian Roller who posed for me. I feel I screwed up the shot anyway because it was already dark & my ISO was through the roof so I couldn't do it justice. I’m also thinking some of my settings were not correct. #beginner

More notable birds include my first Senegal Parrots, African Gray Hornbill, Lesser Blue-eared Starling, Mottled Spinewing, Black headed Lapwing, Pied Crow.

Dinner was running late because cook had not arrived. I coaxed a Fanta Orange & some peanuts out of the guy & then turned in early to get caught up on my sleep.

March 2, 1:30 PM GMT

A great pre & post breakfast walk. I was so pleased to see my female Scarlet-chested Sunbird again on the orange flowered tree with her handsome mate! Juveniles were also seen.

Many great looks of yesterday's birds + more new birds. New birds include Spur-winged Lapwing, Red-billed Firefinch (females & immatures), Zitting Cisticola, Senegal Coucal.

Raptors include many of what I presume to be Yellow Billed Kites (if not they're Black Kites), a large kettle of White Backed Vultures (contrasty underwing + Kites among them were small by comparison), & multiple views of what I have tentatively ID’d as adult female Lesser Kestrel.

In late morning, the Tour Leader arrived. He loaned me his adapter – his only adapter as I understood it at the time– so I tried to use it & blew the fuse in my room. My electric cord is now toast, and my camera’s battery charger doesn’t seem to be working either.

Sigh. I hailed a passing worker who flipped the switch but from now on, nothing I want to keep is getting charged from the wall socket. I will try charging the power banks & then charging everything off them.

Let us pray.

While futzing around with the power supply, my first pair of Red-cheeked Cordon Blues stopped by the room.

I brought out my USB fan to keep me cool(er) during lunch. It was some kind of chicken with a heavenly onion sauce. And now it's the heat of the day so I will go nap.

8:30 PM GMT

The evening walk brought me two splendid views of two splendid species– a well-named male Beautiful Sunbird with his ribbons playing in the wind, and a male Namaqua Dove developing his dapper adult plumage. His face & throat were already fully black but his neck tie hadn’t finished growing in yet.

As I returned to my room, I spotted a hunched figure in “my” baobab tree. I hoped for perched raptor but got monkey. This, I would later learn, is the infamous Green Monkey. The French ladies I pointed it out to ran off to grab treats & friends, & soon a crowd had gathered to snap pictures. When he came down for the treats, I noticed he was a very chunky monkey. Bet he runs this game every Saturday.

The ladies are here because there's a huge party bussed in here & the restaurant is now a dance club. Maybe the humble birder’s dinner is somewhere back through the mob but I don't have the energy to find out so I’m going to turn in early again.

March 3, Official Tour Arrivals Day

The tourist who was supposed to show yesterday never did.. His flight was canceled for mechanical reasons so he ended up being last to arrive. But I'm skipping ahead.

Since I was already arrived, I took a camera practice walk in the morning & met boocoo hornbills. Maybe I got a good hornbill pic but then again maybe not. I will say I got a good feel for recognizing migratory Black Kites vs Yellow-bills in flight. The gray or whitish contrasty face of Black can really show well.

The guide poked around too & confirmed my Kite & White-back Vulture IDs.

The second tourist arrived at mid-day, & we birded from the lunch table. New birds include Yellow-crown Gonolek, White-rumped Seedeater, & Tawny-flanked Prinia.

We then headed to the meet up hotel on the beach. We arrived in the heat of the afternoon, when it was Hades hot & the beach was empty. My first bird there was, sigh, House Sparrow.

So, for me, it was siesta time. When I awoke, it was still hot but there were zillions of people on the beach, and the other tourist had already been birding away with the guide’s telescope. The two of us practiced bird spotting as we watched the sunset. Also, we watched people bring their horses right into the ocean to wash them off. I guess that’s one way to get the sand off.

Dinner was very late because everyone else arrived late but at last we had a group & a plan.

March 4 The Big Day

Today was a huge day with many, many birds. Can't list them all here but remarkable sightings for me on the beach include

  • Parasitic Jaeger harassing a term
  • European Storm Petrels close enough to shore to let me see field marks in the binoculars

Remarkable sightings on road Saly to Kaolack

  • Hooded Vulture – 1 perched, I flying in perfect light
  • Red necked Falcon – BVD (the desire for a better view would be granted later in spades)
  • Ruppell’s soaring with White-back Vultures
  • A pair of Gray Kestrels – one perched to give us good looks at his sweet face
  • Amazing view of adult male Western Marsh Harrier
  • Black-winged Kite kiting
  • So were Pied Kingfishers
  • Gray Heron & Black- headed Heron perched close to give us comparable views, plus bonus Yellow-billed (Intermediate Egret)

After lunch in Kaolack, we stopped in various scrubby areas which proved surprisingly fruitful:

  • 2 snuggled-up Verreaux’s (Milky) Eagle Owls claimed our hearts from their cozy perch in the shadows
  • Fierce Woodchat Shrike stood perched & proud
  • Stunning views of Savile’s Bustard
  • Spotted Thick-knee!!! We haven't even seen Senegal Thick-knee yet!

My only issue with that last walk is that I forgot to pack my water. Don't do that. Not even for an hour's stroll. It's a dry heat, as they say. I bombed a whole bottle of water when I got back to the van and vowed to never make that mistake again. (And I didn't. Lesson learned!)

It was already a long day but we couldn't shorten it any as we needed to time things to reach Kousmar Island just a bit before sunset. Getting to the remote and (I'm pretty sure) uninhabited little island required a sense of adventure. Let’s just say the shortest person on the tour– yes, that would be me– had to wade knee deep in mud to get on the little boat where a park ranger or boatman of some kind paddled us over four people at a time. I took off my shoes, obviously, but when I got to the other shore I had a bit of a dilemma. Like… it’s a mud flat. There is nowhere a little old lady can sit to put her shoes back on. Plus my feet were wet and muddy, but I couldn’t really sit down and wash them off either.

To put it plainly, I could get down there to the water, but could I get back up? Best not to risk it.

Problems, problems.

Fortunately, this problem solved itself since the air was so dry. the mud dried on my feet while I was pondering the problem. So I put back on my socks, then my shoes-- all while standing one-legged with the support of the guide-- and then I was ready to hike the dried dead expanse of desert where the ground was growing literal salt crystals. (Yes, I threw away those socks at the end of the day.)

As for the salt crystals, I can’t make this stuff up. Some of these crystals were as large as the halite crystals in my mineral collection-- and they had a similar characteristic shape-- but they were pure white like table salt, not pink, like my halite. For all I know, they were edible as table salt but I wasn't going to try it.

Eventually we reached the forested part of the island, and from there it was a short walk in the green to a bend in the road with a good view of the tree where the Scissortails were coming down. Actually, many were not coming down. Our glorious planners changed the tour dates to avoid the most dangerous heat of February so most of the tens of thousands of kites & kestrels who winter here had already migrated. Those who remained seemed to be in pairs (or trying to be in pairs) so they were getting visibly playful with each other. I’m pretty sure I spotted some grappling/courtship flight activity in the sky above.

They must fill a similar niche to our Swallow-tail Kites, but you can't confuse them. The underwing pattern in particular is noticeably different.

I’d say over a dozen but less than two dozen came down close to land in the handy-dandy tree across from the path to greet us. (Although it wasn't really about us. It seemed to be all about flirtatious couples and thruples.) Then, a bit before sunset, they all got up in the air again. Hmm. Had they decided to fly on? Or was there an alternate roost nearby? Or were they just taking advantage of the last bit of light to sneak in a final round of flirting?

Worth noting: On the trail back, one really remarkable adult male came down to perch in a tree right beside the trail to show his stuff closeup… they are just too cute from the tips of the wonderful tail ribbons to the sweet look on their face!!!!

(Note: I did not attempt to carry my camera gear on the tiny boat or through the knee-deep mud, I’m afraid, so I don’t have photos. If you want to see these cuties, you will just have to visit for yourself.)

There were also some Lesser Kestrels in the same area who had not yet departed on their migration, & they offered many close flying views to help me get up to speed on their field marks.

A beautiful pair of Green-winged Pytilia (the old Melba Finch) also met us on the path. They were never my favorite Finch but now I see they're spectacular in a forest setting.

March 5 Toubakouta Keur Saloum

The hotel’s dining area is a large open-air round space with a very high thatched ceiling that plays hosts to local fruit bats– more about that later– and a good view of the bay/river delta. We were pleased to see frolicking dolphins moving past– the largest of which was photographed by our leader, who was later able to confirm that we’d seen one of the last 2,000 of the endangered Atlantic Humpback Dolphins. At the time, however, we were quickly distracted by great views of the first of what would prove to be many Goliath Herons– fine specimens of the world’s largest heron.

A short while later, we loaded the boat and began the river tour for a mind-boggling assortment of new and familiar birds from great angles. Somewhere around this day, I gave up trying to note down every new trip species I saw, because it was just too too much writing– and also because the leader is going to upload them all in ebird so we can double-check our lists later. From here on out, I’ll only mention highlights, and I’ll probably even forget some of them because there were so many!

Noteworthy birds along the water or near the villages where we stopped to stretch our legs include the following:

  • Eurasian Curlew
  • Pygmy Sunbirds in all their plumages– our first but not our last of these personable birdlets
  • Mangrove/Brown/Mousebrown Sunbird– whatever they’re calling themselves today!
  • The mysterious and highly sought White-crested Tiger Heron– a cryptic bird when it kept to the shadows but surprisingly large, and we actually found two at different locations, so I’d call this “tough to find" species only semi-tough
  • Our first flying Beaudouin’s Snake Eagles in great light to show the underwings– there’s a story about these, since my first viewing of this species was a greatly out of range Beaudouin’s in Kenya that I doubt would have spotted, much less documented, if we hadn’t had Bill Clark leading that tour. It was a perched bird, offering us views in the scope, which was great, but of course now I’ve always wanted to see the underwing of the flying bird. And now I have. Wheeee.
  • Our first Palmnut Vultures– flying low and well lit to show off the lovely wing pattern.

Some other new trip or life birds:

  • Vinaceous Dove– all right, NOT new, but probably the first day I actually took a minute to look hard at the bird
  • Common Ringed Plover
  • Kentish Plover
  • Wire-tailed Swallow
  • Willow Warbler
  • Western Subalpine Warbler
  • Senegal Eremomela – try saying that one fast but, unlike the featureless Willow Warbler, this is a little bird you can learn to recognize fairly quickly
  • African Darter– if I called it Anhinga once, I did a thousand times. After awhile I gave up & just called it Anhinga rufa.
  • Striated Heron- ironically, it was more skittish than the White-crested Tiger-Heron, taking off when spotted instead of kidding itself that scrambling back into deep shadows was enough to hide it from the spying eyes of the wily birder
  • Purple Heron– a good moment when one of them perched near a Goliath Heron to allow us to appreciate the size difference
  • Western Plantain Eater
  • Eurasian Oystercatcher

In the afternoon, instead of taking the boat, we did a drive combined with some walks to add many more species & sightings.

  • Gabar Goshawk– sat right low by the road, too bad I didn’t have my camera ready!
  • African Harrier-Hawk/Gymnogene– good opportunities to study this species included a flying juvenile & an adult that flew in to perch where we could study it at our leisure
  • Great looks at a perched Western Banded Snake Eagle
  • Red-necked Falcon might have been my favorite bird of the day, showing well as it foraged (for what?) on the ground, flew some, came back, and otherwise put on quite a show. I remembered the theory that Red-neck Falcons & Gabar Goshawks sometimes hunt cooperatively, but if there was a Gabar around to explain these antics, we didn’t see it.
  • Shikra showed very well.

My written scribbles were definitely getting more random by the minute but here are some non-raptor sightings I noted:

  • Tons of Bee-eaters– White-throated, Blue-cheeked, & European
  • White-faced Whistling Ducks
  • Squacco Heron
  • Black Crake
  • Fanti Sawwing
  • Blackcap Babbler– Browns were here too but I think I’ve noted them already
  • Hadada Ibis– long time readers of my diary will know why the cry of the Hadada raised my hackles… eerie!
  • Green Woodhoopoe– a wonderful species
  • Broad-billed & Blue-bellied Rollers
  • Lesser Honeyguide
  • African Gray Woodpecker– 3 working together, a family group, I presume
  • a very nice male Fine-spotted Woodpecker
  • Western Olivaceous Warbler– not too impressive but we worked hard for it so I’m gonna mention it!
  • Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat
  • Night ends with a bang as we watch Four-Banded Sandgrouse (Sandgrice?) come to drink

March 6 Toubakouta Keur Saloum

This day was sort of the reverse of yesterday, with walks/drives in the morning & the boat trip in the evening.

Morning raptors of note:

  • Wahlberg’s Eagle perched on a palm tree & humored the pathetic beginner’s attempts to get a photograph.
  • Lizard Buzzard perched in a large shady tree which nonetheless profiled it against the sky, allowing us to study it at length, although it wasn’t a great set-up for photography.
  • Grasshopper Buzzard perched in a tree overlooking a more scrubby, wide-open bright area. Again, we could enjoy & study it for a long time before it flew a little ways to show off the rufous in its wings.

Other notables:

  • Hammerkop
  • Blue-spotted Wood-Dove– I wasn’t happy with my view of the bird, since I really didn’t get the field marks that differentiated it from Black-billed Wood Dove before it flew, call it Better View Desired.
  • Temminck’s Courser with a chick standing very still in a scrubby field to blend in. Amazing how well they blend in if you don’t know they’re there.
  • Bruce’s Green-Pigeon is another large bird that has no business being so hard to spot until you’ve already spotted it.
  • Yellow-fronted Canary– our first looks at this old classic once known as the Green Singing Finch
  • Two splendid barbets– Viellot’s & Bearded
  • Greater Honeyguide– hmmm, the honeyguide jinx is truly broken now, no trouble spotting this one
  • Our first find of a Pearl-spotted Owlet being mobbed gave us cute look at the bird as well as its enemies.
  • African Golden Oriole– beautiful!
  • Northern Puffback– hilarious bird, it wasn’t quite doing anything to mob the owlet, but it supervised, so that’s doing something, right?
  • Fork-tailed Drongo– this one was leading the pitchfork & torches brigade
  • Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks

The afternoon/sunset trip to the rookery is a popular tourist attraction, so we weren’t the only boats we encountered this time. By now I was running out of time to keep up with my notes, but my quick scribbles remind me that here is where we encountered our first Black Herons, Senegal Thick-knees (yay, at last!), and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters.

I also practiced madly with different autofocus & exposure settings to try to capture the incoming egrets, herons, cormorants, etc. We’ll see if any of them came out!

Oh, and that fruit bat I said I was going to say more about? It was a loud, complaining, noisy fruit bat, and I'm not talking about ultrasonic frequencies you can barely hear. It had some things to say tonight. Lord knows why. Everyone just ignored its commentary, and after a while it settled down.

March 7 Day of the Owls

We woke before dawn to go in search of one my most highly desired targets– the Grayish Eagle-Owl. We kept hearing it sing in the distance. Although the guides had seen it literally perching on the hotel and lookout roof before, we were led on a merry path until we came to a painted mural elsewhere in the town– the side of some building– with a low painted wall running in front of it.

Wouldn’t you know it?

The owl landed on that wall, plain as day, puffed out that little white puff place on his throat, and sang to us,, before flying away. It was a perfect moment! Too dark for photographs, so I hadn’t brought my camera anyway, so you will have to imagine it.

A painted wall backdrops a lower running rock wall/fence that is also painted. Here sits a large owl singing his little tune. “Who who who wants to know?”

The owl theme continued later in the morning, as we discovered a pair of Pearl-spotted Owlets who were being mobbed & chased around a small area by a rotating cast of pesky self-appointed police birds. The owlets flew around but didn’t leave the area, and my guess is they have a nest hidden in there somewhere.

I managed a halfway decent photo of one of them, although borb spent an amazing amount of time spinning its head around to show its false black eyes instead of its real golden eyes.

The best attackers of this pair were the odd-looking White-crested Helmetshrikes. I’ve seen these birds in Kenya, and to see them once is to want to see them again. They’re absolutely hilarious.

Other sightings of note: Our first Nile crocodile & (I think?) our first Patas monkeys.

New birds added to the trip list:

  • Variable Sunbird– finally!
  • Black Scimitarbill
  • African Jacana
  • Western House Martin– this used to be something else everybody’s already seen but I need to be sure I have the right current name in my life list
  • Mosque Swallow– truly fine views of this truly fine swallow
  • Yellow-billed Oxpecker
  • Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird– and, yes, you could hear him “tinkering” as he tapped on his metal hobby projects
  • Cardinal Woodpecker
  • Little Weaver-- later, I would spot one of their tiny woven nests, too too cute for words!
  • Red Bishop– an out of season male who did not impress but I (re)learned his field marks
  • Bronze Manakin
  • Little Swift– at last, I was starting to think they were all Mottled Spinetails
  • Little Bittern
  • Malachite Kingfisher

March 8 Kaolack to Wassadou

A travel day. Think I’ve already seen 174 species within Senegal so far, but the number could change when I review my list later. And we were to add many more new species or observations along the way.

  • Our first Double-spurred Spurfowl – try to say that name fast 3 times!
  • The cute if nearly tail-free Northern Crombec
  • Black-crowned Tchagra
  • Great views of Greater Starlings feasting together, but the feast was a long-dead donkey so it was a bit of a challenge to appreciate their fine feathers while ignoring their questionable dining habits
  • Chestnut-bellied Starling
  • A sad moment came when a fellow tourist found a very recently road-killed Zitting Cisticola. They look bigger in life than they do when the spark is gone… and suddenly you realize they were tiny things all along.
  • Our first Common Redstart was an immature
  • I played with trying to photograph a Dark Chanting Goshawk on a electric pylon

When we arrived at Wassadou, we had an unexpected treat waiting. The captain brought in the boat right away so we could go out immediately to nap the elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl, which was snuggled into a dark, shady corner of vegetation overlooking the Gambia River. A shockingly big owl shockingly close…

Another important (hard-to-get) lifer was the White-backed Night-Heron but this big-eyed beauty had to take second place to the notoriously secretive Pel’s…

What else? Hippos splashing and playing together, scoodles of Baboons visible on shore, a large flock of Helmeted Guineafowl, the unusual looking Wattled Lapwing & the beautiful Blue-breasted Kingfisher. Lots of Red-throated Bee-eaters.

And, of course, at sunset, a close encounter with a pair of African Finfoots coming and going from their (presumed) roost. What’s better than boating with the Finfoots?

March 9 Wassadou

It was still dark at 6 AM when I heard the White-faced Owl singing. We all piled out to look but the owl got farther and farther away, and we never did see it.

The morning boat trip was perfectly timed. We witnessed the Pel’s Fishing Owl emerging from its roost to fly about in a small circle before it descended again into some vegetation out of view. A truly impressive show from this ginger owl with huge feet!

By this time, so many things and birds kept happening that my note-taking became truly hit or miss, but among other goodies we got cooperative posing kingfishers like Malachite & Blue-breasted as well as a low-flying pair of Brown Snake-Eagles.

The water was very low and our boat trip was much shorter than they often are on this river, so we followed up with a walk to get a different perspective and longer views of the riverfront. One of our best sightings was an African Hawk-Eagle that flew down to the water to drink & to bathe. Impressive.

Other new birds:

  • Green-backed Camaroptera (the gray backed subspecies!)
  • Black-crowned Night-Heron
  • Egyptian Plovers who were being harassed by a larger and extremely intimidating Spur-winged Lapwing
  • Much better looks than I’ve had previously at European Turtle-Dove
  • African Pied Wagtail

The afternoon boat trip featured a beautiful Palmnut Vulture who came down to the water to explode the myth of vegetarian vultures. At the time, I wondered if it was washing a palm nut, but my photo told the tale. This vulture had caught a mussel to add a little sushi to the veggie diet. Uh oh…

We also viewed our only Woolly-necked Stork on this trip.

At sunset, we were impressed by the dozens of Baboons gathering on the shore– as well as by the remarkably beautiful Yellow Leaf Bat. Yes, it did look like a very large and colorful autumn yellow leaf fluttering in the wind…

After dinner came the African Scops Owl walk. This bratty species was common & vocal but had an amazing ability to remain unseen. We stumbled around in the dark until 10 PM before one of them perched and began to sing where we could see and enjoy the little borb, golden eyes and all.

One grumble about this camp. My room had only one window and only one outlet. So you could either run the fan or you could charge your batteries, but you could not do both. (The electricity was on a generator and turned off completely so you couldn’t charge batteries left in the room while you were out. I may have been heard to issue a few grumbles.

With only one window, you really couldn’t leave the fan off because there could be no cross circulation to cut the heat. However, thanks to my quick thinking, I had a USB fan I could run to keep the air moving while their fan was unplugged to let me use the one outlet to charge my battery packs.

If I ever go back, I’m bringing two USB fans. I have them at home, but having them at home isn’t much help in the field, is it?

March 10 On the Road Again

Another driving day. I should say a bit more about the road conditions. Surprisingly good. The roads are paved. However, they are not interstate type roads. They are two-lane undivided roads with lots of villages and police stops along the way. Each police stop takes 10-20 minutes while they scrutinize the driver’s paperwork & figure out how big of a bribe (?) or toll (?) they can extract from the guy. No idea if this is legal or not but it’s a regular occurrence that slows your trip.

You share the road with large trucks like 18-wheelers, vans that transport multiple humans and sometimes all of their worldly possessions piled on top, and various donkey and/or horse carts. Also, donkeys, small groups of goats, or even entire large herds of cattle will cross the road without looking both ways, so you’ve got to be on guard for that.

Needless to say, the average number of miles traveled per hour is low. I would say the country is around the size of Louisiana, but you can double or triple the amount of time you’d need to drive around the whole state because you just can’t go that fast.

Today’s road took us through Niokolo Koba National Park where you are not supposed to get out of your car because leopards and lions. Yeah, right. Don’t expect to see them. Maybe if you drive through at night? I did see a Baboon running like hell to cross the road (yeah, without looking both ways) who appeared to think he was being chased, but I never saw anything come tearing after him, so…

What we did see was cute things like two different complete family groups– mom, dad, & kidlet– of Abyssinian Ground-Hornbills foraging with both parents looking out for their (not all that little) little one. Too cute.

This park is also where we got multiple looks at low-flying Bateleurs, including a very good view of a fine adult male.

Other notable sightings in or just beyond this park:

  • Good views of a perched roadside Sun Lark
  • Better views of Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks
  • A watering hole where finches and other small cuties collected.
  • Across the road from that watering hole was another puddle where the water had not quite dried up which served the larger birds. Here, vultures and a pair of Red-necked Falcons gathered for a drink. Of course, there had to be drama. Pied Crows chased & were chased by the male Falcon, and at one point, he also had to switch gears to chase a second male Red-neck.

Toward the end of the day, we reached a hiking spot where we followed a dusty trail to tall cliffs that revealed specialties like Neumann’s Starling but, even more importantly, a good look at a male Lanner Falcon flying back and forth to bring food to a nest slot in the rock. He was really working hard. We also had great views of a Fox Kestrel, who was pretty relaxed and may have been settling in for the night.

My final scribble for the day says, “so many new birds, check the group list.” Ha. There were indeed so many birds and so many sightings that I just kept falling further and further behind in my notes…

Oh, and would you believe that walking back to the van in the twilight we were simply surrounded by Scops Owls, including one that flew right out and perched on a branch overlooking our path? Proof if we needed any that Scops Owls don't have to be hard, they make it hard for their own entertainment!

March 11 Dindefelo Natural Reserve

Today was the day hike at Dindefelo Reserve through the village, the forest, and along the stream until we reached the waterfall. Early in the day, we saw another Red-necked Falcon male chasing a Western Marsh Harrier, but this day wasn’t particularly good for raptors. It was pretty much all about the small colorful stuff like the Guinea Turaco, the Narina Trogon, the Orange-cheeked Waxbill, the Green-headed Sunbird, and so much more that I didn’t write down because I ran out of steam for making notes.

Well, I made one note. "Everybody gasped in unison when the Turaco flew." That's because the red in its wings lit up beautifully in the sunlight.

Oh, we also had good looks at Banded Mongoose. Mongooses? Mongeese?

If I had it to do again, I would have left the camera and worn the water shoes instead of my regular shoes for the hike. Actually, the camera + 400mm prime lens combo wasn’t heavy at all, but it was awkward walking up and down and across stony creeks because I had forgotten to pack the capture plate that allows me to hook it up high– say at belt or chest level– when I’m walking around with it and need both my hands free. Since my legs are short, I was always self-conscious that the hood might knock on the ground.

It didn’t. The park ranger had to take my hand and offer me a lot of extra help with my balance though since I only had one hand free with the other one always worrying with supporting the camera. Don’t worry. I tipped the poor guy for monopolizing his time.

The funny thing is we hiked along for hours seeing no one, but the waterfall area itself was quite busy, with people swimming and posing for Instagram complete with a change of wigs! The park ranger led me to a flat rock and helped me sit down there, and only after I disappeared did we all realize that I was now in the background of somebody’s photo shoot. Guess that’s why God invented the Inpainting Tool.

March 12 Kedougou to Wassadou

Did I ever mention the heat? It was dry season, and I swear we didn’t see a cloud in the sky the whole tour unless it was a dust cloud. At some of these places, I had to mask outdoors because of burning trash or blowing sand. Also, that thing about it’s a dry heat? I feel like I drank gallons of water every day and it just somehow vaporized straight from my pores because we seldom needed a “pee” break. Bushes did get watered but not as often as you’d think.

At one point Kedougou reached a high of 42 degrees, which sounds like pleasant walking weather until you realize it’s in Celcius, and it’s really 108 freaking degrees & if you’re not all sunhatted, sunglassed, & sunscreened, you’re going to be in a world of hurt.

So I’m just saying. If and when you visit, stay hydrated. And if you have asthma or dust allergies or whatever, make sure you have enough masks just in case. My dust allergies didn't bother me, but I feel like the other dust allergy person may have suffered a bit more than they needed to.

Anyhoo, this was a driving day with some clean-up effort to get cool stuff we hadn’t got yet. We saw more numbers & species of raptors at the cliffs, although the hard-working and tireless male Lanner Falcon was still the star attraction.

A soaring Red-necked Buzzard was a special treat. He was distant but circled around long enough to let me get a good look in the scope.

Many migrating Black Kites. These birds had no sense of humor, as we observed some of them chasing a Brown Snake-Eagle. Also present– Shikras & Hooded Vultures.

Along the road, African Harrier-Hawk and Dark Changing Goshawk had become familiar friends.

At one point in the drive, I spotted so many Baboons and their little ones on the left side of the vehicle that it looked like they were taking over the world. I think most people were napping by then though, because no one else seemed to notice…

Back at Wassadou, we drove to an area of the river usually accessed by boat but, as I mentioned before, the water was super low. Instead, we just kind of hiked along the shore. Here we witnessed an impressive fly-in of Northern Carmine Bee-eaters as well as finally getting good views of the White-crowned Lapwing & much better views of Adamawa Turtle-Dove. Egyptian Plover, & Olive-naped Weaver also showed well.

March 13 Kaolack area

More clean-up & searching for rarities like Quailfinch. I’m gonna cut to the chase & say that we pretty much walked right up to Quailfinch. Who said that was a tough bird? We had great views and close too.

Earlier in the day we came to a place with simply clouds of Sudan Golden Sparrows. Of course, they were associating with other small stuff. I was entertained by the Pied Crows chasing Western Marsh Harriers and Dark Chanting Goshawks.

I finally had a good view of Hoopoe, which meant my jinx earlier in the trip was broken, and I would see them easily from now on.

We also re-found the Bronze-wing Courser pair, which I missed before because I was on the wrong side of the vehicle. It was probably the same pair but we stayed in the vehicle this time, and they tolerated us coming pretty close. I even got a photo... not a good photo, mind you, since she posed nicely with a stripe of dried grass in front of her eye but a photo all the same!

In the more built-up area of the bridge over the Saloum River, there was a spot where you could see the Greater Flamingos working the water like dabbling dujcks! It was hilarious to see their butts and knees bobbing up out of the water… As we were driving up, I didn’t even realize they were birds at first. Much less Flamingos.

An adult male Montagu’s Harrier showed well. At first, it was distant, and there was some discussion of getting back in the van to see if we could drive in closer, but then it decided to fly right toward us.

In more of the scrubby area, two Spotted Thick-knees stood together under a green natural arch formed by a vine. They looked like a young "just married" couple. That would have been a picture, but I wasn’t set up at the time to grab it. There was also a pair of Senegal Thick-knees acting like they might have a nest– do they nest on the ground?-- so I didn’t want to approach too close.

A couple of other notables:

  • A show-off Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin clearly thought he was king of the bush & kept displaying endlessly
  • African Green Bee-Eaters showed off their amazing ability to blend into what little scrap of green there was

March 14 Kaolack to Saint-Louis

Another driving day. I think I dozed a lot. The rarity of the day was Quail-plover, a species that gave us some great looks. While walking out to find it, I noticed a very long snake slinking along to our right. “Um, guys?”

One of the guys hurried over to see what it was, at which point the snake descended immediately into a hole. Perhaps it was just as well. It was not small.

A highlight of the day was a great flyover of low-flying, well-lit Ruppell’s and White-backed Vultures. We also discovered our first Eurasian Griffon eating something from a perch on a baobab. There was too much heat shimmer to get a decent photo but we had a good view.

I was starting to wonder about the Griff’s…

March 15 Djoudj

Today was a big day. My by-now-completely-unhelpful scribbles say, “Mind blown.” This famous wetland is indeed rich in birdlife– both in numbers and diversity. A spectacular mammal sighting was the African Golden Wolf with its young one– it was in great light and indeed seemed to be a golden animal. The younger one crossed the road in front of us to give us views from every side of the vehicle.

Other notable nonbirds include multiple families of Wart-hogs and some splendid Nile monitors, some of them very large.

As for the birds, we passed 300 species for the tour early in the day, and I think I ran out of steam for making notes because they’ve become a minimal scribble. One big highlight of the day was the boat trip where we motored along beneath the watchful eye of thousands of White-faced Whistling Ducks and Great White Pelicans, not to mention a variety of other species including both Eurasian and African Spoonbills, Black Crowned Cranes, a selection of terns, Western Marsh-Harriers, African Fish Eagles and Ospreys, Knob-billed Ducks, Glossy Ibis, on and on.

We also managed to get surprisingly close to some Great Painted Snipes that were hanging out in some deep shade on the shore. I even got a picture despite the rocking boat and the challenging light conditions.

There was also a sort of pond at the park’s restaurant that we visited before and after the boat ride. Allen’s Gallinule with youngsters was a highlight here, but there were many other birds, including a White Wagtail that came right up on the porch to hustle the visitors during lunch. What do Wagtails eat anyway? I don’t know. We didn’t actually try to feed it.

Here’s the list of birds seen from the boat, counts provided by our glorious leader:

  1. 10000 White-faced Duck
  2. ~300 Knob-billed Duck-- note: Conservative estimate
  3. 40 Garganey
  4. 3 Mourning Collared-Dove
  5. 25 Eurasian Moorhen
  6. 10 African Swamphen
  7. 25 Black Crake
  8. 2 Black Crowned-Crane
  9. 1 Senegal Thick-knee
  10. 50 Black-winged Stilt
  11. 24 Spur-winged Lapwing
  12. 5 Greater Painted-Snipe
  13. 90 African Jacana
  14. 3 Common Sandpiper
  15. 10 Gull-billed Tern
  16. 15 Caspian Tern
  17. 45 Whiskered Tern
  18. 2 White-winged Tern
  19. 100 Yellow-billed Stork
  20. 35 African Darter
  21. 40 Long-tailed Cormorant
  22. 10 Great Cormorant
  23. 2000 Great White Pelican
  24. 15 Black-crowned Night Heron
  25. 20 Black Heron
  26. 3 Little Egret
  27. 1 Western Reef-Heron
  28. 34 Squacco Heron
  29. 10 Western Cattle Egret
  30. 30 Great Egret
  31. 20 Gray Heron
  32. 8 Purple Heron
  33. 6 Glossy Ibis
  34. 2 African Sacred Ibis
  35. 40 Eurasian Spoonbill
  36. 40 African Spoonbill
  37. 1 Osprey
  38. 10 Western Marsh Harrier
  39. 4 African Fish-Eagle
  40. 1 Malachite Kingfisher
  41. 5 Pied Kingfisher
  42. 2 Little Bee-eater
  43. 10 Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
  44. 2 River Prinia
  45. 3 Sedge Warbler
  46. 1 Greater Swamp Warbler
  47. 60 Bank Swallow
  48. 1 Barn Swallow
  49. 1 Red-chested Swallow
  50. 1 Yellow-billed Oxpecker
  51. 1 African Stonechat
  52. 30 Black-headed Weaver
  53. 10 Sudan Golden Sparrow
  54. 2 Western Yellow Wagtail

But it was a day that added many more birds away from the boat as well, including a final stop to a dryer area for sunset where we got the group photograph and a bonus pair of lovely Cream-colored Coursers.

March 16 The Long Way Home

We had a day-long drive back to DSS, but there was enough wiggle room for us to take plenty of stops since we left the resort at 8 AM. You notice the one thing we did NOT see a lot of at Djoudj? Yeah. Vultures! Hold that thought…

We got another great look at Savile’s Bustard. This one made it easy, as the guides spotted it from the van.

We also had a couple of good spots where we could compare Ruppell’s to Griffin’s Vultures– and then, finally – finally!-- we got our first Lappet-faced Vultures. Soon, we would get several from a variety of angles and in good light.

The only unfortunate thing is that we noticed a very large gathering of many dozens of vultures in the distance. However, when we drove over for a better look, before we had even started to climb out of the vehicle, they all flew– many of the Ruppell’s flying right at us and over us (so at least we got good looks at those). Some kids had turned up to frighten them away from their carcass.

Eek. If we’d only been there a minute earlier…

Other cute sightings of the day included a Cut-throat Finch couple (the male got all the attention) and an adorable family of Black-headed Lapwings complete with a couple of fuzzy black chicks running around.

There was concern about how we’d been in the heat and sand all day, and now we were getting on a plane, so people wanted a shower. There wasn’t really a shower at the restaurant we visited, but they let us wash up, so it all worked out. We all exchanged hugs and shared a final drink, and then it was time to mill about in the airport.

I didn’t have too much trouble figuring it out. They put a lounge pass into my boarding pass so yippie-yi-yay, I went into the lounge. There was no shower, but there was free wine, a buffet, and the kind of black leather seat set up so you could elevate your feet as you gazed moodily out at the dark airport over the frosty drink.

The flight itself was 6 hours in the air, an awkward time for a flight departing at 11:15 PM. First there’s the pre-flight champagne service, and then there’s the dinner service, and by the time you get ready for bed, there aren't that many hours before breakfast. (I told them not to wake me for it if I was sleeping.)

The Air France business class product was notably more roomy than the Delta One product. I must have slept reasonably well because it didn’t seem like much time had passed before I was hastily drinking my coffee to wake me up to find my way around CDG.

That part went pretty easy too. I found my gate and then the nearest lounge. You will be relieved to know that it did have showers, and it also had a sleeping area with leather chaise lounge chairs to make it easy to kick off your shoes and sleep.

However, I did sleep less well here, partly because the sun had come up, and despite the rain, it was fairly bright in the sleeping area. I must have been a little spacey, because I kept staring at the rain all, “What is this madness?” It looked all wrong after so much time in the place where all the dust comes from to blow across the Atlantic and (hopefully) prevent too many hurricanes from developing.

CDG-ATL was a 10-hour flight departing at around 2:15 PM French time. This was probably a better length, since there was time for more champagne and lunch while allowing for a reasonably long period of sleep. This was another Air France flight, and these seats too folded out into noticeably bigger beds than the Delta One nonsense JFK-DSS.

Despite thinking I had slept, when I got to Atlanta, I went through the part where they kept shouting at you to pick up your checked bag, and I actually did that bit, but I never saw the part where you put the bag back! Then I was going through security with three bags, and nobody said boo? Maybe it was all right since I was in first class, but honestly? My checked bag might be smaller than average but it was still more than I wanted to lift into the overhead bin.

I asked the lady at the Delta lounge what I should do, and she said it wouldn’t be a big deal to check it at the gate, so I went into the lounge and had the frosty beverage (cranberry & vodka after I’d been traveling for two whole frickin’ days) & drifted out to the gate where the gate agent said, “oh yeah, just drop it at the door before you get on the plane,” like this happens all the time, and so it must, because I did, and it was the first bag off the plane when I arrived in New Orleans.

I texted the limo driver to look for a little old lady in a white mask with a red bag, and he waved me over, and soon I was home.


Back home, what do you think I saw flying low over the backyard the next morning?

That's right! The first Swallow-tailed Kite of the year...

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