Even without making frequent stops, the road from Saint Louis to Wassadou produced some very attractive species. In fact, our long drive couldn’t have started better – we spotted a carcass alongside the road which had attracted Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppellii), African White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus), Eurasian Griffon (Gyps fulvus) and Hooded Vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus). The nearby acacias were covered with resting vultures, while a few polished off the remains. There is no better way to start the day than with a good carcass!
We continued heading south, stopping once in a while to take short walks which gave us the opportunity to see some new species: African Collared Dove (Streptopelia risoria), Broad-billed Roller (Eurystomus glaucurus), Black-headed Lapwing (Vanellus tectus), Dark Chanting Goshawk (Melierax metabates), the first Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) of the trip and the much sought-after Black Scrub Robin (Cercotrichas podobe). We got close-up views of three robins plus a Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin (Erythropygia galactotes). The areas around the holy city of Touba, in particular, seemed to teeming with migrants from Europe such as White Stork (Ciconia ciconia), Black Kite (Milvus migrans), Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus) or Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator), among other species.
After a long trip, we arrived at Wassadou where we spent two days. This place is, without doubt, a must-see for birders. One may comfortably explore the tropical dry forest and riparian forest. The cabins, well fitted, are very close to the River Gambia, making the exercise of bird identification a relaxing, easy and fun activity. This really is a very special place.
There are also a few trails in the area which we are able to walk on our own, and canoe trips on the river are also offered, which I highly recommend. Without leaving the camp it’s possible to see over a hundred species in a day, and some of the most interesting birds include Wahlberg’s Eagle (Aquila wahlbergi), African Fish Eagle, African Finfoot (Podica senegalensis), Egyptian Plover (Pluvianus aegyptius), White-crowned Lapwing (Vanellus albiceps), Blue-bellied Roller (Coracias cyanogaster), Swamp Flycatcher (Muscicapa aquatica) and Scarlet-chested Sunbird (Chalcomitra senegalensis). One of the stars of our trip, the Standard-winged Nightjar (Macrodipteryx longipennis), is a species of nightjar in which the males have spectacularly modified primary feathers, that look like flags, which they use to impress females and competitors. This is an excellent example of the beauty that can arise from sexual selection – a tool for the evolution of species.
We were reluctant to leave Wassadou as we could spend hours in one spot, seeing new species, learning their songs or just relaxing as we watched the river below us. But there was still much to discover in Senegal, so after three short nights, we packed our luggage and ventured into the heart of Niokolo Koba Park.
After passing the entrance to the park we stayed at Camp Simenti, a refuge strategically located in the heart of the park, which unfortunately suffers from many shortcomings and leaves much to be desired. We didn’t let this tarnish our time in the park and made several outings. One highlight of the park was the opportunity to see many mammals as well as birds. Guinea Baboon (Papio papio), Kob (Kobus kob), Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus) and the large Waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), the Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) and, floating in the Gambia River, small groups of Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus anphibius). The park is also home to many large predators and scavengers such as the Lion (Panthera leo), Leopard (Panthera pardus), Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) and the last african wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) in western Africa.
There was no time to recharge for another long day’s drive, but we didn’t mind too much. We were eager to get to the Saloum Delta, home to the largest roosting site for the Lesser Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and the Scissor-tailed Kite (Chelictinia riocourii).