Djoudj National Park
One of the most important bird sanctuaries in the world. An estimated three million migrants pass every year through this beautiful 60-square-mile (155-km2) Ramsar and World Heritage Site, part of a vast basin of combined freshwater and saline flats on the Senegal River delta in the country’s extreme north. More than 400 bird species have been counted. For many it’s their first stop after a long flight over the Sahara. Some go farther, others stay for the winter, still others are resident and nest, including great colonies of pelicans and pink flamingos.
The spectacle of millions of colorful, calling, constantly moving birds spread out in huge variety as far as the eye can see over these channels, creeks, ponds, lakes, marshes, reedbeds, and mudflats is, for most who have seen it, unforgettably moving, and for anyone who has not, almost indescribable. The scene can only be suggested—masses of milling herons, egrets, storks, spoonbills, plovers, sandpipers, ruffs, godwits, swallows, passerines, ducks, tree-ducks, geese, jacanas, rails, moorhens, oystercatchers, curlews, and, periodically sweeping overhead, throwing all into turmoil, raptors such as dark chanting goshawks and Montagu’s harriers.
In riverine and semi-desert thickets are arid-savannah specialties—golden nightjars, river prinias, kordofan larks, Sudan bustards.
Mammals and reptiles are here as well—manatees in the water, and in surrounding uplands, warthogs, jackals, hyenas, monkeys, mongeese, and gazelles, and, often resting by the water’s edge, an enormous python.
Water, a problem at many reserves, is especially critical here. Dry years such as many recent ones will, if prolonged, be a dangerous threat. A dike and dam system now in place helps ensure against exposure to serious fluctuations. But competition for scarce supplies comes from others such as rice farmers. Djoudj would be safer if it were larger and if hunting reserves were farther away. All this means Djoudj is a fragile ecological treasure which at any point could become perilously endangered.
Accommodations, also campgrounds, are available at park headquarters and main entrance and in St. Louis, 37 miles (60 km) southwest, where tours can be arranged. Keen birders might wish to spend at least several days exploring on their own, getting around by taxi or hired car. It’s also possible to hire a boat or canoe (watch out for crocodiles). Observation platforms are at 12 sites. The park is closed periodically for research and maintenance—also some afternoons—check ahead.
ALSO OF INTEREST
Basse Casamance National Park, 19 square miles (50 km2) of forest and mangroves at Oussouyé in the extreme south, famous for tropical vegetation—rich Guinea forest with kapok trees, oil palms, and imposing parinarias—and wildlife variety, including Derby elands, buffoon cobs, and many monkey species. Reachable by plane or car from Dakar.
Langue de Barbarie National Park is narrow sandy strip between the Senegal River and the Atlantic, refuge for birds and breeding sea turtles. Boat trips from St. Louis.
Delta du Saloum National Park has 280 square miles (730 km2) of mangroves, dunes, swamps,and small islands, in the Saloum Delta 50 miles (80 km) east of Kaolack with hundreds of bird species, from Sudan golden sparrows to brown snake-eagles, storks, flamingos.
L’Ile de la Madeleine National Park , a1,200-acre (486-ha) protected marine park1.7 miles (3 km) offshore from Dakar, with many seabird colonies.
In Gambia, Abuko Nature Reserve is noted for bird and monkey populations in protected gallery forest 12 miles (20 km) south of Banjul near the coast. Bird specialties include white-backed night herons, red-thighed sparrowhawks, white-spotted flufftails, pied-winged swallows—plus various colorful parrots, turacos, paradise flycatchers, glossystarlings,sunbirds. It’s home as well to many sititungas, bushbucks, and acrobatic red colobus, vervet (or green) and patas monkeys. Beautiful forest trails lead to hides overlooking pools. The reserve runs a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned animals which is an educational center as well for Gambian school children—but anyone can visit. Chimpanzees are raised here before release on islands upriver.
Most international travelers arrive by air at Dakar—or if going directly to Gambia, at Banjul—both linked by regional airlines to other capital cities in West Africa as well as major in-country centers, also by an extensive rail network and some 2,420 miles (3,900 km) of asphalt roads. A range of accommodations, also campsites, are available. Best times are dry season December–April.
NOTE: Some birders prefer the Gambia to Senegal. Swallow-tailed bee-eaters and blue-bellied rollers and a few others can be easier to see in the Gambia—but spectacular birds are so abundant over the whole region that comparisons seem irrelevant. Both should be seen and can be, easily, by car, train, bus, and often air.