Senegal birds

Every Sunday, BBC Radio 3 has a ‘Sounds of the Earth’ collage: a recording of nature (birds, trees, frogs, the sea, etc.) interspersed with relevant music. Caroline submitted such a recording of birds in the Sine-Saloum delta in Senegal, which was used for a Sounds of the Earth collage in May 2022.

Ile des Oiseaux, Sine-Saloum delta, Senegal (Photo credit: Alex Freeman)

The Sine-Saloum delta is a UNESCO world heritage site where the Saloum river reaches into the Atlantic. It’s huge: extending over 30km inland. Because it’s fresh water and just south of the Sahara, there are a zillion birds, presumably stopping off before/after their migration. Some of the birds – notably heron – we were assured, are the exact same ones we sometimes see in the Thames in London.

This recording was made just at sunset, next to a tiny island known as Ile des Oiseaux, and specifically the Reposoire des Oiseaux: ie, the birds are coming in to sleep. The island is covered in mangrove trees. Bird-watchers stay on their boats and watch. When we arrived, the trees (which are white with bird poo) seemed full of birds. They include sacred ibis (so-named by the ancient Egyptians), African cormorant, African pied kingfisher and snake bird. What you hear is them landing, crashing about on the branches, talking to each other, and feeding their young. 

Our Francophone guide predicted that eventually “le vrai spectacle commence”. The pelicans. They arrive last. 

They first send a scout: a solitary pelican comes, and circles the island to see if it is safe. They don’t like being watched, so several times, the scout came and went. Eventually the scout deems it safe. And then they come: great squadrons of these huge birds, all coming in from behind us (we were more or less under the trees by now, so as not to deter them). It was getting dark by now: great orange streaky sky. A dozen grey pelican in a group, then twenty, then thirty, then another dozen… we must have seen several hundred of them arrive. They’re big, and all landing on a few trees which were already full of birds. 

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