Mali BirdingReport

Winter 2001, 20-29 November

By Anton- Louis Olivier

Copenhagen, Denmark

Hmmm Mali, -  will there be any birds around?

Like many others I tried to fit in a bit of birding during a business trip to Mali. I also tried to fit in a bit of sight seeing and managed to stretch a 5 day working visit into a 10 day trip, which took me beyond Bamako to Mopti, Djenne and the Dogon country.

My first attempt to judge Mali's birding potential was to browse the web. I hit this website, which mostly through the other trip reports provided me with good enough motivation to pack the bino's and try and find a good field guide. It took me a while to make up my mind to buy Clive Barlow's 'Field guide to birds of the Gambia and Senegal'. The book looked OK (far more user
friendly than the old Collins Guide to West Africa Birds) but at a hefty price tag. After all, what's the chance of me ever hitting 'da Gambia' or Senegal?  I convinced myself and bought the book and it was worth every cent. Well laid out, easy to use and comprehensive. Of the 60 odd birds I identified during my trip, only one was not included in Barlow. As backup I took Newman's 'Birds of Southern Africa'. Having spent most of my life in South Africa I knew a good number of the local bird species (some 60-70% of the Mali bird list also occurs in Southern Africa) and was familiar with it. It was useful for a couple of less easily identifiable species.

Birding hotspots

Mande Hotel (Bird List)

Interesting enough Barlow includes hotel gardens as a habitat type in his introductory sections. True enough. I probably saw more birds around my Bamako hotel than in any other specific part, which I visited. I stayed at the Mande Hotel which is right on the Niger River on a little Island called Cite de Niger. Mid priced (US$50/night) but with the excellent river location, good restaurant, pool and relaxed atmosphere probably one of the best bets in town. The veranda which is built over the water gives excellent opportunity to cover a couple of small islands in the river while having breakfast or a sundowner. There are a couple of trees at the entrance which regularly hosted bird parties of 7+ species. Walking upriver for about 1/2 hour from the hotel along the riverbank along a piece of ground with mixed shrub land, small farm plots and the riverbank was another good spot. This area was under development for construction, but the riverbank should stay largely unchanged. I used to walk along the riverbank in the afternoon and then catch a ride with one of the fishermen with their dugout canoes back tothe hotel. This enabled me not only to experience a relaxed river cruise, but also to get closer to some of the islands and watch for birds in the
bushes on the river-banks (saw a big swamphen/galinule look-alike but with a dark bill and shield, any guesses?). The fisherman, like most other Malians were very friendly and in exchange for about $1-2 were more than willing and
amused to ferry me around.

Taxis and busses

I used public transport (overloaded busses, decrepit Peugeot pick ups and station wagons) to get from Bamako to Mopti, the Dogon country, Djenne and back in a crazy five days. Excellent trip. It got to good character building levels a couple of times like when I got off the bus, alone, at 10 at night at the cross road leading to Djenne and had to spend a good hour negotiating
with the handful of people hanging around under the only building, a thatch shelter, to get some one to get me transport to Djenne, and having to haggle with the driver on a good price for the trip. Mercifully I arrived in town to catch a last ice-cold beer at the Campement, find a roof to sleep on and wake up to one of the most incredible places in Africa.

If birding by bus and taxi sounds strange, wait until you try it - it is. I managed to get seats near the front of in the bus for both my 10-hour trips. This gives the benefit of a view through the severely cracked wind-screen (the side windows were covered with curtains) and the fresh air from the front door, which is opened whenever the bus slows down. The pick-up taxis
were the most difficult to do birding from since these taxis never go anywhere without a full load of passengers (22 people + babies and baggage) and its difficult to get a view of the outside world, not to mention moving your head. The station wagons were much better, particularly if I could get a window seat. I was lucky in knowing most of the types/ families of birds one finds in Mali, from doing birding in South Africa. This was very useful since while driving one can typically only get a very brief flash of a bird in flight or perched by the roadside. Knowing the type of bird and having the Mali bird list and the field guide did the identification job a good couple of times.

Mopti (Bird List) & Djenne (Bird List)

I did not see that many birds around these towns. I should mention that I spent less than a day in each, which did not leave much idle time after seeing the sites. In Djenne I also took a canoe for a short trip on the river. Apart from the magnificent sight of the Fulani herders watering their cattle I got a couple of very good opportunities to see the beautiful
Egyptian plovers.

Dogon Country (Bird List)

I did an overnight version of the popular Dogon hike. Birding was limited since a good part of my hike was done in darkness, due to a late start. The hike goes from the plateau to the plains below. Good birding spots in the ravines going down and near the villages. I would have loved to spend more time there especially for the birds of prey. Its good to sit below a baobab
tree and watch the falcons (lanners?) stoop on the pigeons on the cliffs. Here I saw the only species that was not in Barlows's book, a red winged starling either Tristam's (O Tristramii) or red winged (O. morio)

What would I do next time?

Take more time and get my own transport. I spend a good half the daylight hours that I had during the trip sitting in public transport. It must be fantastic to take the 3-day pinasse (BIG motorised canoe) trip up through the Niger delta to Timbuktu.

Bird list

I listed birds by closest town where I first saw them. The birds listed for the towns include sightings from the bus in the vicinity.

Bamako (Mande hotel and along the road up to Segou) Bird List

Cattle egret                                    bubulcus ibis
Shikra                                          acciper badius
Black crake                                     amaurornis flavirostris
Common sandpiper                                actitis hypleucos
Laughing dove                           streptopelia    senegalensis
Vinaceous dove                          streptopelia vinacea
Senegal coucal                          cetropus senegalensis
Leviants cuckoo                         clamator levaillantii
Broad-billed roller                             eurystomus glaucurus
Rose-ringed parakeet                            psittacula krameri
Senegal parrot                                  poicephalus senegalus
Western grey plantain eater                     crinifer piscator
Yellow fronted tinkerbird                       pogoniulus atroflavus
African grey hornbill                           tockusnasutus
Crested lark                                    galerida cristata
Fork tailed drongo                              dirurus adsimilis
Yellow wagtail                          motacilla flava
White wagtail                                   motacilla alba
Common bulbul                           pycnonotus barbatus
African thrush                                  turdus pelios
Yellow white-eye                                zosterops senegalensis
Pigmy sunbird                                   anthreptes platurus
Grey-headed bush shrike                 malaconotus blanchoti
Yellow crowned gonolek                  lanarius barbarus
Woodchat shrike                         lanius senator
Greater blue-eared glossy starling              lamprotonis chalylbaeus
Long-tailed glossy starling                     lamprotornis caudatus
White-rumped seedeater                  serinus leucopygius
Lavender waxbill                                estrilda caerolescens
Bronze manakin                          lonchura cucullata
Exclamatory paradise whydah             vidua interjecta
Feral pigeon                                    columba livia

Mopti Bird List

Pied crow                                       corvus alba
Hooded vulture                          necrosyrtes monachus
Black kite                                      milvus migrans
Helmeted guineafowl                             numida meleagris
African jacana                                  actophilornis africanus
Namaqua dove                            oena capensis
African mourning dove                   streptopelia decipiens
Abyssinian roller                               coracias abyssiniica
Red-billed firefinch                            lagonostica senegala
Village indigobird                              vidua chalybeata

Djenne Bird List

Little egret                                    egratta ardesiaca
Black shouldered kite                           elanus caeruleus
European marsh harrier                  circus aeoginoss
Egyptian plover                                 pluvianus aegypticus
Spur-winged plover                              vanellus spinosa
Black-winged stilt                              himantopus himantopus
Little swift                                    apus affinis
Pied kingfisher                         ceryle rudis
African pied wagtail                            motacila aguimp
Northern anteater chat                  myrmecocihla aethiops

Dogon Bird List

Speckled pigeon                         columba guinea
Re-eyed dove                                    streptopelia semitorquata
Mocking cliff-chat                              thamlolaea cinnamomeiventris
Scarlet-chested sunbird                 nectarinia senegalensis
Beautiful sunbird                               nectarinia pulchella
Yellow-fronted canary                   serinus mozambicus
Grey-headed sparrow                             passer griseus
Speckle-fronted weaver                  sporopipes frontalis
House bunting                                   emberiza striolata
Red-cheecked cordon-bleu                        uraeginthus bengalus

Comments and Questions??? E-mail Anton- Louis Olivier