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Senegal, green is here!

Djoudj in Senegal, insane biodiversity and major car fixes.

Nanga Def - which means “Hello” in Wolof, the first language spoken in Senegal.

We have completed the third stage of the expedition, focusing on the wonderful Djoudj National Park. We managed to spend one intense week in the field before that weird week between Christmas and New Year's Eve, where you never know who you are even if you’re not celebrating the festivities as usual. We also had a week where half of Axel’s Daphne was literally upside down as some major welding work was needed.


We closed our Senegalese chapter with a wonderful two-day exhibition at the Institute Francais of St-Louis, sharing the freshly made documentary with many locals and also tourists.


We then stopped by The Gambia for a couple of weeks, and now in Guinea-Bissau working on the next phase of the expedition.


Big news, we have interviews by the wonderful Dr. Steven Shepard in June 2023 for his podcast, and the episode is finally online. We talk about our work, our approach to wildlife photography and recording, and overall the Wings Across Continents project.





But this is not all, during our stay in Diawling National Park in Mauritania, before crossing into Senegal, we worked with Antoine and Myrtille, two travellers, documentary filmmakers and friends who decided to make an episode dedicated to our work. You can watch it on their YouTube channel, it’s in French but with English subtitles, make sure to check it out and give them a follow!






Thank you Steven, Antoine and Myrtille for featuring us in your work, we’re honoured to be part of your journey!


 



Trip Summary: We’re not sure what “relax” means.


Senegal.

The joy of African bureaucracy, after entering Senegal with your car and with a Carnet du Passage (temporary import document, in this case for our car but it could be for other equipment also), you’re given a 5-day passavant which lets you drive around Senegal, but before it expires you must stop by Dakar to stamp the Carnet du Passage, as without it stamped you risk big troubles. There is also a cheeky way to enter Senegal without the CDP, you must pay 250 euros to the guy at the border and get a 30-day passavant, some weird hole in the system where a guy managed to make a business out of it. We decided to get the CDP as we go down to other countries where it’s needed, easier this way, but we had to drive to Dakar and back north, as Djoudj National Park, our next location, is close to the Mauritanian border up north.


Well, things weren’t great anyway for Ario’s Jota, which needed a new bit for its suspensions, meaning that Axel drove down to Dakar to stamp the CDP, and also met Yvette and Pap from Birdlife Africa and Aliou, CEO of NCD, the ornithological society of Senegal and Birdlife partner. After three days of meetings, getting the CdP stamped and also getting the filming permit from the Ministry of Environment (thank you Birdlife and NCD for all the help!!) it was time for Axel to go back up north and start the work.


Axel came back from Dakar only short of 5000 francs (8 euros) as he got to pay a bribe for a police officer in Dakar, it went well in the end, you can’t escape them all. After being greeted like a warrior who came back from the fight, it being the many checkpoints which could be found on the way but cleverly avoided thanks to our great friend Mathias, we headed to Djoudj just a few hours north. Ario managed to get all sorted at the Zebrabar, the famous camping site just south of St Louis, so all good.


We spent a few days of recognition, scouting the various locations for birds, microphone positions and 360 camera positions. We had to have a guide at all times, and we were lucky enough to have the enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable Makhtar Fall as our guide, with whom we had a great time. We then head back to St Louis to meet the North Senegal representative from NCD, Moussa Ka, to get some more information about the location. We stocked up on food, water and fuel, and then back to Djoudj to spend time there until Christmas Eve. The offroad in Djoudj wasn’t too bad, overall quite simple for our 4x4s, the only issue being the fine dust which would enter every corner of the vehicles. The dust here is finer as it comes from argill, differently from the Sahara one which is thicker as it comes from sand. After the fieldwork we came back to Zebrabar, where we were invited to have Christmas dinner, quite a different experience for us, Xmas vibes at 35 degrees Celsius!


Jota’s rear lower control arm snapped on the route from Diawling National Park to Senegal border.



Traditional fishing boats in the St. Louis harbour.


Ario phone scoping on a lake full of Black-Crowned Night Herons.



Axel recording a Great White Pelican colony with his Wildtronics Parabolic mic and a Saramonic SoundBird V1 shotgun mic.


The following week we managed to relax for a few days, but it didn’t take long before we had to hand over Daphne to the workshop, as the bottom of the platform was completely rotten and needed to be remade. This meant for Axel to sleep in the hammock for a week with all its stuff on the floor, luckily it’s dry season and there is no need to worry about the rain.

During this week we also organised the Virtual Reality and Spatial Audio Experience, this time at the Institute Francais of St Louis. We had a great time sharing it here, people were reactive and we had a good variety of age groups. We like to engage with people in their 20s and 30s, but we prepare our experience to be ready for everyone else too. We also started having two versions, the 10-minute long “complete” one, and the 5-minute one “shorter”, dedicated to younger teenagers and people who wouldn’t be able to focus on the whole story for 10 minutes.


Daphne split in half, then flipped upside down to repair a rotten part


Moving south towards The Gambia.

We didn’t take much time for a break and quickly moved down south, first meeting the Birdlife Africa team to show them the Senegal documentary we made, and then to a special place called Beersheba, one of the most important European Turtle Doves African roosts. This bird is so endangered now that we couldn’t try to find them!



Filming Turtle Doves with the 360 Audio and Video rig in Beersheba, Senegal.


After that, we met our moustached-kartoffel friend Stefan (@off_cab), who had the stupidly crazy idea of following us for a few weeks during our trip. We all entered The Gambia a few days later after getting stuck (on purpose) on an island cut off from the shore at high tide. That border wasn’t too bad, apart from the crazy shouty lady at the police station which we had to bribe to get our CDP back, after wrongly stamping them.



The moustache boys in Stefan’s own Demountable on his Toyota Hilux eating some chorizo.


Our time at The Gambia started wonderfully, meeting the local ornithology-specialised NGO “WABSA”. After the successful meeting and a warm welcome, we immediately started the usual first week of scouting, accompanied by Awa Joof, Gambian ornithologist, activist and conservationist. We had a great time with Awa, who bared us for a full week; we visited three main locations subsequently, Tarji Bird Reserve, Kartong Nature Reserve and part of the famous Kiang West National Park. Usually, at the end of the first week we already know what we want to follow and capture during the filming/recording weeks, but this time it went differently, the migratory birds we were looking for weren’t there, or too far or unpredictable to be able to do our work. After a few days of the second week, we took the hard decision to move on and not do the documentary in The Gambia, for the sadness of us all. It was a difficult choice, but we had a clear goal, bringing wonderful stories to people, and we felt this time wildlife wasn’t on our side. We want to thank Awa Joof, Fagimba Camara and the whole WABSA team who were so ready at short notice to collaborate with us. We hope to return one day and do what we were meant to do.



The SW team with the WABSA team.


Heading towards Guinea-Bissau.

Following the decision, we were joined by Andy and Lea, two German friends travelling West Africa on their Africa Twin. They had just finished a short Gambian adventure when they had an accident with a donkey and trailer, damaging severely their motorbike. They did manage to sort it out, so we spent a couple of days with them in Paradise Beach before heading south to Guinea-Bissau. We did the Gambia - Senegal and Senegal - Guinea-Bissau borders in one day, quite a journey but in the end easier than the other borders. After spending a few days in the paradisiac beaches of Varela, we are now in Bissau, the capital, organising the next phase of the trip, involving going to the islands of the Bijagos Archipelago!



Group picture with Andy and Lea.



Guinea-Bissau Palms Trees.


 

Wild Encounters: Biodiversity slapped us in the face.


Finally, let’s talk about birds! Djoudj was insanely good, there were so many birds it was difficult to keep track of every one of them. We spent 7 full days there, half the usual time, but we had so much material by the end of it that we felt it was enough.


Djoudj is a vast wetland full of canals, lakes and ponds fed by the Senegal River. Fun fact is the Senegal River is a natural border between Mauritania and Senegal, where the Senegal side of this wetland is called Djoudj National Park, and the Mauritanian side is called Diawling National Park. They are pretty much the same in terms of habitats and kinds of species, but Djoudj has a few interesting spots which must be visited, and we had to include them in our experience. This sanctuary is so important as it’s the first big green and wet area after the Sahara desert. Imagine flying for thousands of kilometres over an arid, waterless environment and finally, all of a sudden, you see so much green you don’t know where to turn your head. This is Djoudj/Diawling.



Black-Crowned Cranes flying at sunset in Djoudj Bird Sanctuary.


The Great White Pelican is one of the largest birds on Earth, its wingspan second only to the Albatross and Djoudj is home to one of the largest breeding grounds with around 14.000 pairs, all packed together on a small island. The sound is incredible, a low grunt which reminded us more of some sort of mammal rather than a bird. This time of the year is when the chicks are towards the end of their nesting time, getting ready to fledge. They can be easily spotted as Great White Pelicans chicks are black during their young years. Makhtar funnily nicknamed it the “Michael Jackson of birds”, is it appropriate? Not sure but we had quite a laugh when he said it in the car. These birds are not long-distance migrants like others we follow, but they still disperse away from their breeding ground after breeding season towards Guinea and Sierra Leone. We’re interested in any bird which makes at least some short movement within the East Atlantic Flyway.



Colony of Great White Pelicans in Djoudj Bird Sanctuary, Senegal.


Moving on to a more long-distant migratory bird, the Western Marsh Harries is a raptor we met previously in Europe, precisely in the Wadden Sea. These raptors follow the route we did - we followed them - passing through the Gibraltar Strait. Their majestic look and behaviour don’t change much from Europe, as they still hover over reeds looking for small rodents to feed on.

Another lifer - meaning the first time you see a specific bird, for all of you non-birders - is the Lesser Flamingo, a smaller, more pink version of the Greater Flamingo we know well from the Camargue. It also has a darker beak compared to the Greater one. We had mixed information about them, some guides saying they sometimes saw European ones thanks to the rings on their legs, but we instead know these populations move around Senegal, Mauritania, Morocco and Guinea-Bissau.



Western Marsh Harrier harassing on a Barn Owl in Djoudj Bird sanctuary, Senegal.


Another marathon runner, the Black-Tailed Godwit. This long-billed bird can be found also in Guinea-Bissau, coming from either northern Europe or Iceland. The groups we found weren’t that vocal, unfortunately, a bit of feeding chats but nothing more. These guys are so similar to the Bar-Tailed Godwit, which we saw in their thousands in Banc d’Arguin, Mauritania.



Flock of Black-Tailed Godwit flying in Djoudj Bird Sanctuary, Senegal.


Aside from the migratory birds, we haven’t found a way just yet to integrate other animals that are part of the habitat they visit, such as mammals. In Djoudj we found our first Common Warthogs, many of them as they are not hunted; the reason behind it is that Senegal is mostly a Muslim country, and Warthogs - as pigs - are not eaten. We also found Axel’s obsession, the Golden Jackals, calling many times a day from anywhere in the park. Ario managed to get some snaps also during our early morning drives.



One of many Warthogs in the Sahel area, Djoudj Bird Sanctuary, Senegal.



Golden Jackal in the Sahel area, Djoudj Bird Sanctuary, Senegal.


If we talk about obsessions, Ario’s ones are Kingfishers. European, Pied, Giant, any of them. Their slim body, fishing skills and beautiful plumage have attracted Ario’s attention since his early stages of bird-loving. A fact he loves also is that one of the fastest Japanese train's noses is designed around the Kingfisher's aerodynamic body, crazy isn’t it? Nature has been inspiring us forever, and always will if we manage to notice it.



Pied Kingfisher looking for the next catch, Djoudj Bird Sanctuary, Senegal.


Following Djoudj we spent a few days at Beersheba, a wonderful oasis in the middle of the hardly grazed Senegalese countryside, but what an encounter we had with the many European Turtle Doves. Johannes, or “Wali” for the locals, is one of the responsible for running the agricultural-focused centre, training people on agriculture and the Bible. They created a place for people to learn and work as a community, with the idea of letting nature take its course and working alongside it. The acacia tree forest they have is the favourite place for the European Turtle Doves, and we found so many of them it was difficult to count them. There was a lot of flapping around all night in the recordings, which can be heard here below. These birds are extremely endangered because of habitat loss and hunting around the Mediterranean Sea. Imagine you fly thousands of kilometres to spend your winter, and you must avoid bullets here and there, and then the same thing on the way back. It’s like going to war twice a year for your entire life, every two seasons. How can they even cope with it? They must be so fed up with humans and their bullets, and I can’t blame them. Likely there are people creating places for them to spend the winter and summer, and also fighting on the frontlines to protect them from being shot down.


 

Sponsors Shout-Out: GadgetBag.


When we met Paul from GadgetBag for the first time at the Global Birdfair - yes, the Global Birdfair was one of our highlights from 2023 and we can’t wait to be back! - he was so captivated by the work we do that he wanted to help us out, and he did it in many ways, by introducing us to many incredible people at the fair, and by providing us with some awesome tools which are so much needed in our technological madness of equipment, batteries!


We have many cameras and audio recorders running on different voltages with small or big-size batteries, and he’s got them all. We’ve been powering Axel’s new Zoom F8n with a huge power bank by Newell which Paul has provided us, charged our GoPros with smart multi-slot chargers, recording AA batteries in the field without the need of stupidly big AA chargers, but instead using special AA batteries chargeable over USB-C. Same for the Ario’s Sony A7s, which uses D-lock batteries, and Paul gave us some USB-C chargable ones which become so handy for long times away from the cars, like the next weeks in the islands of Guinea-Bissau.


We will write more about GadgetBag’s many tools we’ve been using, but we highly recommend to head over their website to check out their selection of camera and recording gadgets, all useful bits which can save you when, for example, you forget to put the charging cable for your AA charger dock in your suitcase.




 

Partners Support: Schutzstation Wattenmeer.


Our last stop of the Wings Across Continents - European phase, was the immense Wadden Sea. It is a large coastal area spread through three countries: Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands. Our main contact there is Anja Szczesinski, based in Husum (Germany), who’s running many projects within the Wadden Sea association including representatives from all three countries. She has introduced us to the great Klaus Gunther, a legendary ornithologist in the Wadden Sea area, and a great friend of us now, who works for the Schutzstation Wattenmeer, a local NGO working to protect nature in the Husum area. The whole coast is amazing to visit, mostly in May when millions of birds gather. Remember, the Wadden Sea is one of the most crucial migration hotspots for waders in Europe, coming from the Arctic and Siberia, and going down south to Europe and Africa.


They have been so wonderful with us, hosting us at their guest house, showing us all the different locations where to find the migratory birds, and taking us on tours. We hope to be back soon to bring the incredible stories of migratory birds we found on our way.





 

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

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