Tuesday 19 December 2017

Mali National Park, Bamako

The British Foreign Office and those of many other western countries advises nothing but essential travel in southern Mali and no travel at all in the north of the country.

There are few travellers in Mali these days. From records I can see very few birders have been in recent years.

Nevertheless, one of my non-birding ambitions is to visit every country in the world. Furthermore, I want to understand more about the birds neighbouring Mauritania so I decided to visit Bamako for four or five days.

Everyone has their own tolerance to risk. I decided, on advice, to stay within Bamako rather than visit more widely in the country.

I knew that the Botanical Gardens which is part of the National Park is secure and a birding hotspot. I chose a hotel near-by as well. It was the Hotel Azalai Dunia.

I was happy with the hotel and with the birding in the Botanical Gardens.

I was very keen to bird and after a quick shower on arrival I was off birding in the afternoon of my first day. The gardens were only a seven minute taxi ride.

I spent the first hour seeing very few birds until I discovered they were behaving like birds in the tropics. In other words there were often mixed groups moving together. You either see a lot or virtually none at all.

I came across my first large group right in the centre of the gardens where there is a lawn with surrounding trees and when the water sprinklers were on.

long-tailed glossy starling

I was attracted to go there by the loud noise some long-tailed glossy starling were making.

On the lawn, a pair of Senegal councal were grazing. They were extremely tame. They were certainly used to people.

Senegal coucal

Almost as tame as in the same place of a family group of yellow-billed shrike.

yellow-billed shrike

Common bulbul were calling regularly from the surrounding trees.

common bulbul

This was also the only place I saw greater blue-eared glossy starling on the whole trip.

greater blue-eared glossy starling

Furthermore, this was also the only time and place I observed a fork-tailed drongo. Unlike the greater blue-eared starling it was a single bird too.

fork-tailed drongo

The mixed group was completed by a flock of brown babbler. Unfortunately they escaped my camera there.

western red-billed hornbill

I eventually decided to walk on. Nex,t I chose to eat a late lunch in one of the eateries scattered around the park. This was civilised birding. I could bird intensively one minute and pop into a cafe another.

On returning to the birding, I quickly came across a pair of western red-billed hornbill

They can be most easily separated from northern red-billed hornbill by their black eye patches. However too many people confuse these species. It is not helped by some stock images, which are easily found using a google image search, from a western zoo. These images are labelled northern red-billed hornbill but are actually western red-billed hornbill. Despite it's name northern red-billed hornbill is found no further north than western red-billed hornbill. Rather it is the red-billed hornbill mostly of East Africa.

It was no surprise that e-bird's list of Malian birds only lists western red-billed hornbill as an option. The strange thing is that the Mauritanian list (and Mauritania is further west) allows entry of either.

I think that the Malian list is right.

African thrush 1

As I continued to walk round, I finally got my first lifer. It was African thrush.

African thrush 2

Very near-by I decided to photograph a laughing dove for the record. I suspect this may be the commonest bird in the whole city.

laughing dove

I soon bumped into some more yellow-billed shrike.

yellow-billed shrike

About half of the National Park is not the watered and tended Botanical Garden but more natural and much drier scrub and woodland.

There was some very interesting bird activity where the two zones meet. It was when the water sprinklers were put on at the edge of the gardens.

In one spot this action attracted in many passerines from the drier zone to drink and to bathe.

Vitelline masked weaver

All I had to do at one place was to stand still and watch passerines come to a small puddle. Some of the first in were Vitelline masked weaver.

pale eyed weaver

A small number of the weavers had pale eyes and were not identified at the time. I will discuss this and their subquent identification in a later blog.

lavender waxbill, African yellow white-eye and a red-cheeked cordonbleu

At one stage it got hectic. I added two more lifers in a matter of minutes. These were lavender waxbill and African yellow white-eye.

Even before the water was turned off, the small passerines had been and gone. The frenetic activity was over in about 20-30 minutes.

After this I made my first move into the drier hinterland. It was not only drier but more inclined. The slopes are quite steep in places.

tawny-flanked prinia

New birds here included tawny-flanked prinia and pygmy sunbird as well as a starling I didn't identify at the time. However, as with the weaver all became clear later.

pygmy sunbird

As it was getting darker I headed back to the Botanical Gardens one last time.

brown babbler

Here I finally got the opportunity to photograph brown babbler. However, I also added Bearded Barbet to the day list and saw two dark chanting goshawk fly over. Snowy-crowned robin-chat became a lifer as a pair ventured into the edge of the gardens from the bush as the day darkened.

It had been a good afternoon. Given the unknown security situation and the lack of too many options, I chose to visited the park a second time the next day. I had hardly entered the dry half of the park on the first afternoon.

This turned out to be a very good decision. I will blog about this next.

Bamako Botanical Gardens  December 4th 2017
Dark Chanting-Goshawk  
Laughing Dove  
Senegal Coucal  
Western Red-billed Hornbill  
Abyssinian Roller  
Bearded Barbet  
Ring-necked Parakeet  
Yellow-crowned Gonolek  
Yellow-billed Shrike  
Fork-tailed Drongo  
Tawny-flanked Prinia  
Senegal Eremomela  
African Yellow White-eye  
Brown Babbler  
Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat  
African Thrush  
Neumann's Starling  
Long-tailed Glossy Starling  
Greater Blue-eared Starling  
Pygmy Sunbird  
Beautiful Sunbird  
Vitelline Masked-Weaver  
Heuglin's Masked-Weaver  
Lavender Waxbill 
Red-cheeked Cordonbleu  

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