Banc d’Arguin, thousands and thousands of birds and fundraising for a friend who left us too early.
Salamu Alykum from the Drioli brothers!
We spent almost four weeks in Mauritania which we must say has been quite hectic between logistics and some important things happening. Our original destination was Banc d’Arguin, but boy if it was tricky to reach it. Long story short our friends at Nature Mauritania have been helping us to move around, understand what to do, and how to drive on sand. This is when Omar (we don’t say his surname of respect towards his family), Nature Mauritanie’s driver, played a crucial role. He taught us the basics of driving off-road in these tough places, managing bribing situations, a lot of explanations about being Muslim and just in general how to be a good and humble person. He was an example to follow, an honest and special person who deserved the best in the world. After spending three days with us he had to leave and go back to the capital Nouakchott when he received a call from his wife, saying their house had been robbed while his wife and four children were away, at least no one got hurt. He sounded stressed for the next couple of days while we were in touch via WhatsApp.
On Monday 6th November, the Executive Director of Nature Mauritania and friend Nouma Watt called us telling us that Oumar didn’t wake up in the morning, leaving us forever. We were shocked, with no reason why, but leaving this world at 42 years old with such a positive attitude to life is not what should have happened. We are devastated by his loss, you can get straight away when someone is a purely genuine and nice person, someone you can trust for real, this happened with Oumar.
We were already thinking of helping his family because of the robbery, but now we feel we must take even more action as his family is in serious trouble. We are creating a fundraising to help his family, they need money and we can help them. 5 or 10 euros each are enough to buy clothes, food, and anything else to sustain a family. As we’re here in Mauritania we avoid doing any fundraising which would be successful only if it reaches a goal, we need to act right now. This way we also skip any fees or anything else which could eat up money on the way, you send us the money, and before leaving we take it out from the ATM ourselves and give it to the family directly.
Please consider joining us to help Oumar’s family, it would mean so much. If you know us personally, you know how we are, and how we believe in people. Thank you.
Oumar, you’ll always be with us.
Trip Summary: We found the birds, but we can’t work.
The beginning of our Mauritanian expedition has been hectic indeed, but Jota (Ario’s Landcruiser) and Daphne (Axel’s Hilux) are overall okay. After Nouakchott, we came to Banc d’Arguin, the “Waders Mecca” (waders being birds which can be found wading on mudflats and shorelines) as our friend, advisor and East Atlantic expert Tim Dodman has told us. We’re here Tim, enjoying the heat, sand, salt and the thousands and thousands of birds!
This natural park is huge, driving from one side to the other is practically impossible as it goes through dunes and “sebkha”, a terrain which seems dry but only the surface, underneath is completely muddy, a trap for heavy vehicles like ours. We could do it but we are not interested in off-roading for fun, we’re here to find the migratory birds.
We arrived here on Thursday 2nd of November and stopped at Chami which is the 10-year-old village on the main tarmac road which connects Nouadhibou (the second largest city in the north) and Nouakchott (the capital placed halfway through the Mauritanian coastline). The main locations to visit are Iwik and Mamghar, the former being the park’s authorities base and one of the places with the highest concentration of birds this time of the year. We spent a couple of days with Oumar and the local ornithologist Ahmed Boubout in Iwik before saying goodbye, forever, to our friend on Friday. The two following days we drove to Mamghar towards the south, with the “roads” being mostly sand requiring 4x4 engaged at all times. We did it and got stuck only twice! We did realise that driving all day in the desert is not ideal, the vehicles overheating a lot sending us strange warning signals signalling “Slow down, you’re killing me, mate”. Understood Jota and Daphne, we calm down.
Mamghar is a small village with an insane amount of kids, and as soon as saw us arriving they stormed towards us in a fraction of a second. A bit too excited to see us, hence why we asked to camp as far as possible, which brought us to the first bird-watching spot in Mauritania, more details in the Wild Encounters section, but not many birds still. Where are you guys?
We forgot to mention, after weeks of chats we were still waiting for the filming permit to arrive, without it we can only observe and listen to birds in the park, not ideal but hey, we’re in the Banc d’Arguin!
As we can’t take pictures yet, we keep scouting for birding locations to see these flocks of birds. We decided to drive north back to Iwik and possibly stop at a camping site on the way. After driving a lot again, overheating Jota and doing some DIY to fix a washer from a Jota’s suspension bracket which broke off (our maestro mechanic grandad would be so proud of us by how we fixed the bracket, proper bush mechanic job!), we reached Tessot to spend the night. The place wasn’t as welcoming, the chief throwing at us a cher (meaning “expensive” in French) price to sleep there for two nights, so we decided to wild camp as it was getting dark. While driving to Iwik the day after, we finally spot something on the horizon, a murmuration! We weren’t sure which birds, but in no time we took out our Zeiss Gavia 85 Telescope and started looking. We found them and we couldn’t be more happy!
Now it’s waiting time for this authorisation to be released, two weeks from requesting it and it hasn’t arrived yet and the situation is getting frustrating. We found the flocks, we know the tides, we understand the location, but no cameras or recorders are allowed to capture anything. It’s like having the best apple pie in front of you, just 2 cm from your mouth, and you can’t bite it, damn if it’s frustrating! I say apple pie like the one our friend Klaus Gunther from the Wadden Sea cooked and sent us a picture of a few days ago, all while helping us identify some flocks which we just couldn’t figure out. Klaus, we love you and thanks for the help, but we are so envious of that apple pie, we deserve one slice when we are back in the Wadden Sea!
Testing our 360 Rig placed in the middle of the mudflat to capture the flock as close as possible.
Wild Encounters: the murmurations!
Finally, the murmurations we’ve seen videos of are in front of our own eyes. The Banc d’Arguin is the most important migration hotspot on the East Atlantic Flyway for wintering birds coming from the north. Here Red Knots, Bar-Tailed Godwits, Sanderlings, and Dunlins come and form huge flocks; Common Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, and Grey Plover also gather in big numbers together with the occasional Osprey which may come from as far north as Scotland and Scandinavia. These northern migrants mix with local or intra-African migrants such as White-Bellied Cormorants and Great Pelicans.
The tide dictates the behaviour of these birds, small birds which look for small molluscs and crustaceans wait for the low tide to disperse and look for food. When the tide starts coming in they slowly gather, and the higher the tide becomes the less space to stay when they do their beautiful murmurations: this is the moment we look to capture both on camera and with microphones. We have found two major locations where they gather at high tide, so as soon as we have the authorisation we’ll start getting closer and closer to the action, also by leaving cameras and microphones literally where they gather. We will wait for the low tide for them to disperse, leave the equipment in location, retrieve and wait for the action to happen.
Interestingly we also found Golden Jackals living on the coast, scavenging on dead animals found on the beach, a lovely discovery as they are also our neighbours back home in Trieste, Italy.
No pictures or videos this time, we don’t want to get into trouble. But hopefully, we’ll capture something special over the next weeks.
Sponsors Shout-out: KEF.
We can capture as many sounds as we want, but if we can’t play them back, there is no point in our work. Axel has been collaborating with KEF for many years since his final university project.
Between then and now KEF speakers have been with us doing amazing, powerful work from exhibitions at the United Nations in Bonn (Germany), SXSW and Future of Storytelling festivals in the US, Sheffield Doc Fest and many other events around the UK.
KEF has always been there with us, and we’re so proud to be still collaborating with them, the quality and versatility of their speakers make them the best tool for our multichannel installations.
We’ll bring more together we are sure, so stay tuned and check out their selection of awesome-sounding speakers.
Partners Support: Global Birdfair and Global Birding.
Fun, passion, community, inspiration, commitment and driving change are what we think when we hear Global Birdfair. Since our introduction to them by our friend and collaboratiorConnor Walsh from WWT, meeting and working with Penny and Tim Appleton has been life-changing and truly inspiring.
We presented our Wings Across Continents experience at the 2023 edition last July and it was a true success, a blessing to meet so many enthusiastic and inspiring people at the festival. This is also where we met important people who are currently our collaborators such as Zeiss, Benro, Saramonic, GadgetBag.
Their work for bird watching and conservation is incomparable and doesn’t stop here, with the branch Global Birding they have created a revolution and a way to connect people from all over the world through the love of birds, for real! As Tim says, “Birdwatching is one of the most successful and growing hobbies in the world nowadays, and we are confident enough to say Global Birdfair is part of this.”
At the last Global Birdfair they raised 120.000$ for conservation in Ecuador, and the year before another 120.000$ for helping the restoration of La Janda in the south of Spain. We truly admire them and we highly advise you to check out their social media channels, and if you can join us at the Global Birdfair next July 2024.
Help us to spread the love for migratory birds.
Would you like to take part of the expedition by supporting us and the local nature reserves? Easy peasy, we have an online shop made just for this!
Our Interactive Postcards, Prints and Albums are available on our Ko-Fi page or Bandcamp.
By purchasing our work you support our expedition, feeding us and helping us fill up our vehicles’ tanks to reach all the migration hotspots where we bring our Immersive Experience, but not only. 10% of the profit goes back to the location where the story has been captured.
What you buy supports us and the local communities we visit, not as a one-off, but on the longer run.
If you’ve got a one Print or Postcard already, check your email inbox as you should have received the password.
Much love from the brothers,
Axel & Ario