Senegal, 17th – 30th January 2014

This was the first stage of a British Trust for Ornithology – BTO/Society of Wildlife Artists -SWLA collaboration (see link for overview).  4 artists (Bob Greenhalf, Bruce Pearson, Esther Tyson & me) travelling to Senegal primarily focussing on Western Palearctic migrants on their wintering grounds.
We were guided by Phil Atkinson of the BTO and for the latter part of the trip Dakar based scientist Paul Robinson.


A really intensive couple of weeks, almost non stop sketching. Now that it is done I can better see that what I was trying to do. Building up a repertoire of what surrounded the chiffchaffs in acacia bushes or wheatears feeding around cattle dung in near desert… so that they could then be placed in a bigger picture that might represent their winter quarters.

Farmland near Mbour

Stopping somewhere north of Joal not too far south of Mbor… a white persons farm… remnants of millet crop stubble laying in dry fields… zebu cattle minded by small boys. The fenced farm has ungrazed savannah … a wind pump creating a pond.
This is apparently where there is a huge roost of turtle doves… we only saw a few coming down to drink.. a malachite kingfisher, green sandpiper… several species of dove.. namaqua, collared types and a black billed wood dove. paradise whydah male.

coast palmarin

26/01 arriving at palmarin dumping stuff in room and going for a quick look at the sea at last light. Sense of surreality.. the brightly painted pirogues hauled up on the beach bright against the rich blue sea. terns fishing and then a pomarine skua in amongst them…. and then bat like flitting over the still inner waters… a petrel… then several of them.  The sound track the evening call to prayer from the muezzin blasting out of loudspeakers.

In the afternoon back to the beach … looking across to the shell mound and all the fishing boats gathered below. …men gathered around the centre of large pirogue, dividing the catch… the most obvious fish the large pink rays… the length of a donkey cart and a weight for the guys who ferry them to the shore on their heads. ( a cushion attached with string to the top of the head and then a plastic fish tray)… the only other obvious species was a silvery pipefish type… sword at front… maybe a foot and half long.
Constant activity… poling the boat offshore… baling out.. handling the tiller… clearing the nets. mending nets with some kind of shuttle for threading. .
The boat that came in later had the net all folded stretched most of lengthe of boat and this had to be turned back (like making a bed) to reveal the catch beneath (was this under some kind of large board? to keep it out of the sun.
Donkey carts, horse carts weight… girl leaning on boat watching elegantly…. goats and chickens foraging through scraps.
Out on the pier grey headed gulls loafing. … caspian terns snatch large fish and bark out their calls… smaller terns (common, sandwich lesser crested milling around)… all a mellee of sound and colour… the spectrum basic colours painted onto the white worn pirogues. … beach covered with all kinds of filth… horrible amounts of discarded plastic.

sahel nr. palmarin

setting up near Baobab where short-toed eagle had been sitting. Lots of crested larks around. The little tarmarisks, crack mud still smelling of tide gone out… little creeping saltmarsh plant, dusty grey and dried mud… brown bark.
A pair of rollers standing sentinel on baobab. Visiting a clean looking hole. A banded reptilian tail emerging from another hole and in a declivity an extended lizard escaping the intense sun. … just finding shade. Near the roller another lizard with only its back visible.(savannah monitor lizard). 2 red-billed and 2 grey hornbills. Harriers coming and going,the usual struggle ot catch the subtleties of their form.
A wheatear perching quite high on the baobab on the same level as the roller.
At one point tawny pipit, whitethroat and roller lined up as if for family photo.

savannah nr. palmarin

27th monday… palmarin….first the savannah… palm swifts over, young woodchat, cordon bleu. zebu cattle, francolin, sunbirds on clematis type flower, abyssinian rollers.

sun still strong on back of neck, shadows lengthening… under one big bare baobab… the two neighbouring ones have the colonial bundles of thorns wrapped along the branches like huge galls or cankers… white billed buffalo weavers and these are giving out their grackle like calls.
fanned form of acacias.. splaying from central trunks… feathery leaves belie their thorny branches.
Now the harmattan blowing strong and causing them to wave about. 2 ring necked parakeets fly noisily by. This morning a senegal parrot…bright mid green above and yellow below. masked face with pale eye. Clambering around in a bush with small yellow berries.
Blue cheeked bee-eaters overhead in the baobab… at one point with a bonelli’s warbler in amongst them. also a vieillot’s barbet… brilliant red spattered over its front.
first thing african green pigeons also in the baobab tops….. softest grey green head and neck… canary yellow undersides… white bill. soft violet forewings and olive green upperparts.
Jackal seen a couple of times.
Yesterday the jackal putting up the spur winged francolins.
3 verraux’s eagle owls up in amongst the weaver nest today.. 2 yesterday and one then with prey… huge grey brown plain owls… frightening faces going with their huge talons. white lobed faces…. a tribal mask… bulging orb eyes with the upper eyelid naked pink flesh. bristles around the base of the bill forming triangle around the bill but in profile the huge nature of the bills downward projection made obvious like seeing baby barn owls with their head anatomy revealed.
black crowned tchagra. song in swooping display flight. chiffchaff hopping around in bare baobab branches.

dry sahel near Dagana

in fiecks of horizontal dots of cattle shit a little vortex of feathers…-chestnut bellied sandgrouse, colours only slightly heightened… peach on breast, orange on pigeon head… earth in body…(back)spoon tips in umber earth, inflections of earth colours, subtly shifted.

On the plain three stand out charismatic species, the chestnut bellied sandgrouse and the 2 spp. of courser.
Variants on sandy coloration… from the orange sand as freshly dug by ants to the bleached straw of the grass… umber dung…. raised patches of ground make very low conical mound blown clean to plaster… same colour as the breast of the sandgrouse…. around the scapular spotting is the loden dung colour… with the spots themselves fine spun gold… think the leading (lower edge of the folded wing was the same colour….) so as if seeing through the bird to the soil below.
Species of plant – balanites with big fleshy alternating spines… creating a cage of thorns.. between the thorns little opposite mistletoe type leaves…. all a dirty olive green. bulbous swellings on some of the spines. ants cluster in places. Below the tree on the sand – chequered metallic beetle wing casings… or rather the whole body with the head missing… maybe the work of the shrikes. Both southern grey and woodchat.
lots of wheatears seemingly benefitting from the cattle dung that is liberally scattered over the flat plain. dark brown (dung brown)elongated backs… pointer expression… broad pale supercilium…. apricot chest…
a couple of tawny pipits.
2 hoopoes with rich dark orange… cadmium red… plus burnt sienna… expanding to broad zebra moth wings… easy breathing flared flight.
Women carrying small beach buckets on their heads…. flowing robes.
flat top carts with cross legged drivers…one leg draped over edge… whip or branch in hand to goad the donkey or pony doing the pulling… the horse has a breast band attached to the poles leading back to the cart.
zebu cattle stately procession… milky off white…docile placid (bovine) expression

dry sahel west of richard toll

drive east to richard toll..
harriers coasting in front of starling type mists of qualia.
. the drier landscapes…shock to see mass of people going about their daily business (after no people in Djuges)… pulling off onto dirt track….
trees surround what would have been a larger pool… now just the relicts of rushy growth… (at lunchtime flushing 3 nightjars that flew just a short distance before crashing onto ground… slit eyes staying wary).
at the pool plenty of doves and finchy things coming in as well as intermediate heron and a squacco…
2 tree pipits, yellow wagtail. speckled pigeoon, laughing dove, african mourning dove… namaquas and eventually 4 turtle doves.
dry sahel. bleached grass naples yellow, rich sand, Indian red.

the disturbed nightjars.
the last of the water.. cracked mud rendered into boulder clods… doves the focus hoping for turtles.. the big grey speckled pigeon.. dried blood mask and cracked skin breast streaks… stellar spotting arcs on the wings….
african mourning dove… a rich blue grey … red eye ring. …
some young namaqua doves… high domed forehead… spotting… whippy winged blown flight… flahs of deep bronze red flight feathers.
eventually the turtles coming down… a worn Indian red on the back … red around eyes… sore eyes… soft warm grey ground to head…. small vulnerable head… neck for wringing. blinking flight, open and shut. to stasis… stop dead wary, watchful… waddle to edge to drink.
quealia queue up in bush …. a bank of finches… they came down in a wave like a curtain… nervous hopping sips.
One cordon bleu… african silver bill a plain presence… 2 cut throat finches. the currant eyed sudan golden sparrows… sulphur yellow featureless round heads… sherbet lollipop. Rufous tan backs.
disturbed long tailed nightjars… sat on the sand… eye rims like a skinned bird… when opened a huge gelatinous seal eye… deliquescent…. outer space;….. a comb of stiff feathering arcs the eye ridge down to the upper mandible… with the throat pouch well back… engoulevant…

Djoudj sahel

21st tuesday-  start by walking along the edge of the large acacias at the edge of the pond. Odd warblers flicking in and out. chiffchaffs and olivaceous.. 2 hornbills in the tops. Fish eagle on nest? canary coloured sudan golden sparrows … lemon/sulphur yellow and tan backs. Calling all around me now in another block of acacias whipped by hot dry wind (a subalpine warbler blown from one acacia to another)
These small acacias with grey brown trunks… ragged and snapped… dirty coffee timber… feathered leaflets emerge from thorned base.
wheatear very dark. wagtails rasping tseeps as they are put up;
Spotting crowned crane flock of c. 30 on the edge of acacias…. craning forward, showing off, stretch and then seemed to be excited by the wind and bouncing up and down again and again with broad sprung wings fully stretched… white forewing up and under. Black down the back A split coin for face, pink below, white on top. bulging black forehead.

22nd wednesday… roadside stop for turtle doves…. salvadora, rufous scrub robin,… huge flocks of qualia…. golden sparrows. subalpine.

sand martins … flickering back beat, shaded underwings… forward… glide
….. The huge numbers of birds making the air electrically alive. qualias, sand martins and doves. electric rattle of sand martin.
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23rd thursday - sundown… constant stream of sand martins and then waves of yellow wagtails pouring west into orange sky…. dry ground gives off warm glow… silhouettes of acacias.. their leaves folded changing their character… filigree’d.

closing shop to the intense sun。
crowned cranes calling loudly … struggling to remember what they were…. counted 28 flying into silvery wet area….
another call conundrum was the gonolek first thing….

morning – burbling of babblers i the palms around the swimming pool. cool….

…. back at Gaunth… call of the fish eagle… decreasing shadow sheltering under acacia… dry wind keeps it cool … drying out nasal cavity..
Larks and the canary type golden sparrows blow around in tight flocks.
A long tailed starling just landed in small acacia.. tail flared by the wind.
The crowned cranes are feeding off in the distance.. prodding with dibber bills, puffs of sandy soil blown away with each poke. Suddenly erect with some alarm noise… warthogs trotting past…
earlier on 3 jackals seemingly resting.
The acacia leaves a dry green … hanging in clusters like laburnum pods.
They emerge from the parched soil… a sandy clay. The goosefooty sueda a dull oatmeal up close… or like my lodden socks… further away the clumps are more ginger sacking.
buzz of fly. echoey electric nasal call of starling. bright eyed and shining blue green.
moon hangs a C half full tilted 2 to 8 oclock.

Djoudj Gainthe pond

afternoon here after morning by roadside with turtle doves …  warthogs up to their shoulders in water grazing on lotus. Night Herons hidden away in fringe of tararisks and acacias.Squaccos emerging. Purple heron, great white and little egret gathering around hog.
Black rail clambering over submerged roots. red legs , yellow bill. laat seen in South Africa under splattering hippo.

Djoudj National Park – Grand Lac

Drive to Grand Lac. Less divers birds than yesterday but huge numbers. mostly pintail and whistling duck. Marsh harriers putting up massive flocks. Later a peregrine plunging into them . Sand martins accumulating as sun lowered. Honeyed… flickering of their wings seeming to take on the rhythm of the whistling duck calls. Huge flock of flamingos coming in , several thousand.
Waders along the edge, ones and twos of odd species, ruff, marsh & wood sandpiper, ringed plover, spotted redshank, not sure of calidrids. Over the flamingos whiskered type terns. Looking away from the water the wind making mini sandstorms, yellow wagtails and ringed plover hiding behind bushes or micro dunes.