The following introduction has been extracted from: Birding in Burkina Faso - more than just birdwatching. by PORTIER, LUNGREN & OUEDA  in Dutch Birding. 24, n°3, pp 127-141. [It has been submitted by Bruno Portier, one of the authors, and is reproduced here with his permission].
Burkina Faso has been called the honest men's land, and is one of the easiest and safest countries in Western Africa. Coupled with an impressive list of birds (over 500 species, thanks to its location between Sahelian, in the north, and tropical forest habitats, in the south) and a fantastic and well preserved variety of game and mammals make Burkina, formerly called Upper Volta, a must-visit location for pioneer birders.
Burkina Faso is a land locked country in the West African Sahel region located north of Ghana, sandwiched between the Sahara desert and the Gulf of Guinea, within the loop of Niger River. It covers 240,000 sq km and shares borders with Mali, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Niger. It is located on a plateau that rises gently from an elevation of 800 feet in the southwest to 1150 feet in the northeast. The country is essentially a fairly flat plain dissected by three main branches of the Volta River that drain southwards to Ghana. The drainage system of the largest branch, the Mouhoun (formerly Black Volta) covers half of the country. The country has poor soil with many areas being infertile semi-desert. The climate is hot and dry, with average temperature of 18.1 °C in January and 38.4°C in April. The average annual rainfall ranges from 650 to 1200 mm, but is less to 250 mm in the north. Water is therefore scarce in many parts of the country, and where it is available, infestations of river blindness or sleeping sickness prevented its use for agriculture during centuries. There are three distinct seasons: warm and dry from November to March, very hot and dry from March to May and hot and wet from June to October.
Burkina Faso is home to 60 different ethnics groups but is dominated by Voltaic group which include the Mossi, who make 52 per cent of the population. Burkina Faso is also one of the more densely populated countries in the Sahel (over 36 people/km²) with an estimated population of just over 10 million, three quarters of whom live in the rural area. Small-scale agricultural and animal husbandry occupies 90% of the population and provides 45% of the GNP. Principle exports are cotton fibre, gold, cattle and small ruminants, and to a lesser degree yams, beans and mangoes. There are two major urban areas: Ouagadougou, the capital (population 1,000,000) and Bobo-Dioulasso (400,000). French is the official language and most of the plethora of tribal languages belong to the Sudanic family.
Birding in Burkina is pioneering birding, you'll have to travel with this in mind. Tourism is developed and game ranches, national parks or wildlife reserves are usual destinations for visitors. You won't have trouble finding 4-wheel drive vehicles and guides but as birding is an unusual activity, you may need to explain your wishes. Although some parks may be open throughout the entire year (excepted Arly NP); the rainy season frequently transforms the paths and tracks into impracticable muddy swamps, while the green sea of high tropical grasses can complicate the viewing of the wildlife. For these reasons, the best period for visiting Burkina Faso is from (mid-October) November to June or mid-July.
Burkina Faso lies within three bioclimatic zones (Sahelian, Sudanian, and Sudano-Guinean) with distinct ecological conditions.
Sahelian sector: This sector, lying in the north of the country, has less than 400 mm of uncertain rainfall per year, and the climate is characterised by a dry season lasting 8 to 10 months. The vegetation is classed as shrub and wooded steppes dominated by Acacia species, with patches of tiger bush alternating with dense thickets of Balanites. This area has numerous seasonal lakes and several tributaries of the Niger that seasonally receive large numbers of migratory Palaearctic birds. Large wild mammals are today reduced to sporadic populations. See top spots below: Oursi – Darkoye Lakes, Sahel Partial Reserve, Beli River, Partial Wildlife Reserve.
Sudan sector: This sector is characterised by rainfall of less than 900 mm and a dry season of 7-8 months. It mainly occupies the Central Mossi Plateau, including the capital Ouagadougou, and supports the highest human population densities of the country. Heavily influenced by human activities, the vegetation is dominated with cultivation. See top spots below: Sourou Lake (unprotected); Ouagadougou Classified Forest and Gonsée Classified Forest.
Sudano-Guinean Sector: This sector which lies in the western and southern centre of the country has an essentially southern Soudanian climate characterised by annual rainfall of about 1000 mm with 5-6 months of dry season. The vegetation of the sector is dominated by the tree and the woodland savannas of Isoberlinia doka, Afzelia africana, Anogeissus leiocarpus, etc. Patches of riparian forests are common along the major drainage lines. See top spots below: Nazinga Game Ranch, Mare aux hippopotames, Kompienga Lake, W – Arli – Singou complex, Comoé-Léraba and Bérégadougou Hill and Banfora Cliffs
Oursi – Darkoye Lakes, Sahel Partial Reserve
This site consists of seasonal lakes at the foot of old sand dunes (Oursi); on open steppe (Darkoy, Kouyéra, Yomboli, Kisi, Bangao) or at the foot of hills (Tin Edia) situated north-east of the country. The landscape is made by sand dunes, open eroded shields, drainage lines, inselbergs rising out of the plains and a series of hills that usually lie upstream of the lakes. Depending entirely upon the annual rainfall runoff from the rains of July to September, lakes levels vary considerably from year to year.
Ouagadougou Classified Forest
Situated near the centre of Ouagadougou, just in front of the hotel Sofitel Silmandé, the Ouagadougou Classified Forest (currently designated as the Parc Urbain de Bangré Weogo); is formed by small patches of scrub and tree savannah, savannah woodland and small riparian forests on hydromorphic soils. The site is currently the object of considerable efforts by the government to establish it as a recreational nature centre. Despite the fact that no particular species that could not be seen elsewhere in the country will be recorded here, the site is worth a visit for those that have only short time to spend birding in Burkina. Well over 200 species have been recorded in the area and a few hours birding here can provide many West African specialities.
Gonsée Classified Forest
This suburban forest is managed for the production of utility wood. It is located at just half-an-hour drive from Ouagadougou, on the road eastward heading to Fada N'Gourma. If your time is limited, you could also spend just half-a-day birding here. We strongly recommend you to prolong your visit until dusk when some night birds will show in the beams of your car lights.
Beli River, Partial Wildlife Reserve
The Béli River site lies in the extreme north of the country. It is a flat scrub steppe at 250-300 m of altitude, interspersed with ancient sand dunes covered with short grasses, large eroded flats and shallow thalwegs. Draining out of Mali, the seasonal Béli River is a shallow drainage forming clusters of small lakes that progressively dry up after the rains. The most important birding areas are presently considered to be the clusters of shallow ponds located about the nomad camps of Tin Akoff, Fader Fadar and In Tangoum, where a waterbird congregation of over 20,000 birds from November to March is to be expected. There, as in the Oursi area, it is probable to find several species restricted to the Sahel Biome.
Sourou Lake (unprotected)
Near the western edge of the country in the northern Sudan sector, the Sourou River rises out of Mali and flows south into the Mouhoun River. A passage of 55km, the Sourou Lake, is permanently flooded since the construction of a dam at the junction of the two rivers. The lake varies from several hundred meters to 4 km wide and provides habitat of vast shallows covered with long perennial grasses. Thousands of waterfowl are present even if no other specialities compared to both previous sites are to be expected. A major attraction will undoubtly be the Hippos Hippopotamus amphibius you will see swimming or walking on the banks.
Nazinga Game Ranch
Situated 200 km south of Ouagadougou along the Ghanaian border, the Nazinga Game Ranch is a 91,300 ha wildlife ecosystem favourable to the conservation of birds and mammals, where well-managed game viewing and safari hunting of large ungulates are offered.
Accommodation is available all the year round nevertheless it is strongly recommended to book rooms and meals before your arrival (Tel.: + 226 318443 / + 226 413617). Lights go off at 10.00 p.m., probably to ensure guests get plenty of sleep before rising at the crack of dawn, the most favourable moment for observing the local wildlife. Professional trackers will guide you through the ranch, along the 450 km of bush tracks, to discover the great diversity of habitats and the variety of its wildlife fauna. Since 1979, 11 dams have been created on some major seasonal streams to retain water most of the year. These sites improved the variety of habitats and attract a varied fauna in the dry season. An observatory situated in the campground will allow you to observe a great diversity of wildlife at just few meters of your room. The dominant landform in the area is flatland plains that slope gently toward drainage channels. The vegetation is typical of south Soudanian / north Guinean savannah, with galleries and riparian forests along rivers, and a patchwork of scrub, tree and woodland savannah on the drier soils.
At only a three-hours drive from Ouagadougou, Nazinga is the best spot to see elephants (Loxodonta africana); of which about 500 are living in the area, and a great diversity of wild African mammals as warthogs, antelopes, monkeys.
Up to 330 bird species have been recorded in Nazinga Game Ranch, including seven (7) species of Stork, forty-three (43) species of diurnal raptor, five (5) species of Nightjar, seven (7) species of Bee-eater, fourteen (14) species of Swallow and Martin. In the last two years Nazinga has offered three new species for the birds that are to be found in Burkina. It is interesting to note that a training course organized by Birdlife Int. in November 2000 provided a list of 185 species observed in only 6 days of birdwatching. Its southern gives Nazinga the possible occurrence of some over-lapping Afro-tropical migrants, or birds in their northernmost territories. Many Palearctic migrants will also be present from October to March, mainly waders, raptors and insectivores.
Mare aux hippopotames
The site is located about 50 km north of the city Bobo-Dioulasso, in the upper Mouhoun valley. There is a 600 ha lake (Ramsar site) lying within a classified forest (World Biosphere Reserve). At the end of the dry season, the lake is reduced to about 120 ha covered with dense aquatic vegetation. The annual cycle progressively exposes a large flood plain that provides fodder for a hippo herd which occupies the lake; sometimes sharing the shores with elephants coming out of the nearby Maro Reserve. While 243 species of birds have been identified at the site as a whole, mainly large numbers of waterbirds inhabit the lake and its flood plain. But, as well, some species that are difficult to see elsewhere in Burkina can be found here.
In the southeast of the country, the hydro electric dam of Kompienga is one of the largest in Burkina, with a capacity of 2,000,000 m3 of water. The vegetation surrounding the lake is typical of that of the Pendjari - Mékrou sector of the southern Sudan savannah, although moist pastures and gallery forests are developing in places along the lake shore. There is, as yet, little ornithological information available; it is, however, thought more than 20,000 waterbirds. Elephant and the occasional herd of Roan, Bubal Hartebeest, and Topi Damaliscus lunatus korrigum come to the lake during the dry season from the hunting concessions located just to the east. Affordable accommodations will be found in the Hotel de Brousse de la Kompienga near Pama (+ 226 318443).
W – Arli – Singou complex
The W National Park (235,000 ha); Arli National Park (76,000 ha) and the Singou-Game Ranch (193,000 ha) are surrounded by classified forests and non-classified lands forming hunting concessions and village hunting zones. While these different blocks form the largest remaining wilderness in Burkina, it is even more significant in that it extends on into Benin and Niger, thus more than doubling the area available to wildlife. But situated at the extreme South-eastern edge of the country, it will take you up to 3 or 4 days to visit the area, while W NP is simply not open to tourists. The Arly Hotel complex contains accommodations for guests, a restaurant and a swimming pool (open from Dec 1st to May 30th, + 226 791579 / + 226 330983). This is the best place where to stay if you visit the area. You will need a 4-WD car to get there but Arly NP is worth a visit since it is virtually the only wildlife area where you will be authorised to learn the unique experience of trekking (foot) safaris, instead of being confined to your vehicle as it frequently occurs in other African wildlife reserve.
The result is a first-hand, direct contact with nature, during which the visitors will learn the ancestral art of tracking animals as silently as traditional hunters. Nevertheless, to minimize any potential risk, every trekking safari is accompanied by an armed guide perfectly familiar with the park and the habits of its animal population. Nothing common with the world of East African national parks and their convoys of jam-packed jeeps and buses crowding round the star animals. Along the Pendjari and Mékrou rivers, larges stands of Borassus palms Borassus aethiopum situated along the drainage lines provide favourable habitat for many birds. In the east of Arli National Park, a rocky ridge forms the Gobnangou cliffs that run for 50 km through the north of the park while several buttes (in particular Pagou) tower up into the sky and provide important nesting sites for raptors.
In the southwestern edge of the country, along the border with the Ivory Coast which is formed by the Comoé and Léraba rivers, this sector encloses the classified forests of Diéfoula and Logoniégué. They are presently the object of the GEPRENAF programme, which aims to establish village-owned commercial wildlife production. This is the wettest zone of Burkina with about 1300 mm of annual rainfall. The vegetation formations are particular to the area, as characterised by semi-deciduous gallery forests of 30-40 high and tall dry forests of 15-20 m. Despite the fact that very few is known about the birdlife in the area, the site should produce some interesting sightings. As well, Hippos which are common on the site, Elephant, Leopard Panthera pardus and Caracal Felix caracal may be observed.
Bérégadougou Hill and Banfora Cliffs
Situated in southwest Burkina, to the north of the town of Banfora, Bérégadougou hill covers approximately 15,000 ha, of which 5,000 ha is a forest reserve. The hill is actually a chain of hills and peaks formed of weathered sedimentary rocks that reach an altitude of 680 m, rising about 350 m above the valley of the Comoé to the east. The area is the source of several of the country's largest rivers including the Comoé and the Mouhoun. Vegetation along the flanks of the hill is more or less dense, dominated by Combretum velutinum, Swartzia madagascariensis, Hymenocardia acida, Afrormosia laxiflora, Burkea africana, Combretum nigricans, Parinari curatellifolia, Parinari polyandra, Cassia sieberiana and Terminalia sp. Cola cordifolia is numerous and, in places, forms dense groves. Annual rainfall is between 1,000 and 1,100 mm.
Near the town of Banfora, run-off from the hill forms a considerable number of successive water falls, tumbling over and around rock formations (Karfiguela falls).
Extending from the base of the hill and running north-east for about 110 km, the Banfora Cliffs terminate near the city of Bobo-Dioulasso, which is the second largest city of Burkina. In many places the cliffs are fissured, forming hundreds of rock columns along the edge of the escarpment, with a multitude of nesting and hiding places for the many forms of bird, reptile, small mammal and insect that inhabit the cliffs. Near Bobo-Dioulasso, you can have a walk in Dafra, a place where you will sea sacred fish, and spent a good birding trip. The Guingette, at about 15 km from Bobo, is a spot of dense forest along a fresh water spring where many forest birds will be found easily. Back from Karfiguela falls, you can have a tour in Tengrela lake to spot the Lesser Jacana Microparra capensis and to approach with a pirogue a small herd of hippos.
Number of Species
Number of bird species: 505
Birds of Western Africa: An Identification Guide
Nik Borrow and Ron Demey Series: CHRISTOPHER HELM IDENTIFICATION GUIDE SERIES 832 pages, 147 col plates, 1100 dist maps. Christopher Helm
ISBN: 0713639598Buy this book from NHBS.com
Field Guide to the Birds of Western Africa
Nik Borrow and Ron Demey Series: HELM FIELD GUIDES 496 pages, 150 col plates, 1300 maps. Christopher Helm See Fatbirder Review
ISBN: 0713666927Buy this book from NHBS.com
Guides & Tour Operators
Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…
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2008 [01 January] - Vincent van der Spek - Burkina Faso & Benin
Where are you going? And where about is that? Isn't that dangerous? That's basically how people responded when I told I was about to visit Burkina Faso, with a side trip to Benin…
2013 [03 March] - Jon Hornbuckle - Burkina Faso & Ghana
The trip, well organised and run by Ashanti African Tours, covered the Upper Guinea rainforest and Northern Guinea savanna habitats. The main sites visited were Kakum National Park, Ankasa Conservation Area, Mole National Park, Bobiri Forest and Butterfly Sanctuary, and the Atewa Range Forest. Ankasa and Atewa, which should have been two of the best sites, were rather disappointing, but the rarely visited Offinso forest was very worthwhile. In retrospect I would add Shai Hills to the start of the trip and have an extra day at Mole NP.
Places to Stay
Ecodougou, which means Eco village. In Burkina Faso, West-Africa. A beautiful location, a unique adventure. A lifetime experience! Visit the source of many tropical products, which we know from the supermarket. Work with the Africans in a mango or cashew processing establishment. Sleep in a traditional hut with the charm of Africa but with the comfort of home. Meet with the undiscovered country of Burkina Faso. Get inspired by the beautiful surroundings and the friendly people, which make Burkina Faso a country to never forget…
Fondation des Amis de Ia Nature (NATURAMA)
01 B.P. 6133, Ouagadougou 01 BURKINA FASO. +226 36 5119 firstname.lastname@example.org [Contact - M. Georges H. OUEDA, also Birdlife Representative in Burkina Faso and African Waterbird Census national coordinator for Burkina Faso.]
African Bird Club
Burkina Faso is possibly one of the safer countries in Africa with friendly people, a good tourist infrastructure and travel connections. Perhaps surprisingly for the birdwatcher, it has a good range of species because the country spans an area from the Sahel in the north to tropical forests in the south. There has been little ornithological investigation so it would make a good destination for the independent minded birder…
West African Ornithological Society
The West African Ornithological Society grew out of the Nigerian Ornithologists’ Society, which was founded in February 1964. Its object is to promote scientific interest in the birds of West Africa and to further the region’s ornithology, mainly by means of its journal Malimbus (formerly the Bulletin of the Nigerian Ornithologists’ Society). This journal is biannual and bilingual, a unique feature in Africa.The West African Ornithological Society grew out of the Nigerian Ornithologists’ Society, which was founded in February 1964. Its object is to promote scientific interest in the birds of West Africa and to further the region’s ornithology, mainly by means of its journal Malimbus (formerly the Bulletin of the Nigerian Ornithologists’ Society). This journal is biannual and bilingual, a unique feature in Africa.
Biodiversity in Burkina Faso
Includes parks, preserves, lists of fauna etc.