The Dogon Cliffs are the primary tourist attraction in Mali, for cultural experience and scenic views. A major tourist destination is the town of Sanga, although the accomodations are basic and public transport does not run there daily. Most tourists going to Sanga travel with a commercial tour operator in 4 wheel drive vehicles.
Hiking through the cliffs and villages around Sanga should always be done with a guide, to avoid misunderstandings with the local people, most of whom speak only their Dogon language. Even with a guide it is inevitable in villages that you will accumulate a string of children following you and asking for gifts.
On December 28, 2007 I did a six-and-a-half hour hike with my family which included an area where we readily found the Mali Firefinch. The starting point is Sanga and the walk goes through the Nongoburu valley on the way to the village of Ireli.
We began right at sunrise, and got into the valley before the sun got very high, so there was still a lot of shade. Kulikoro Firefinches prefer rocky areas protected from the sun where there are trees and shrubs. This area was perfect habitat, and sure enough, a male Firefinch soon flew into close range and perched on a shrub.
I have not been able to find any Malian guide in Dogon country who is skilled in bird identification. Fortunately, almost all of the species that prefer the cliff habitat are conspicuous and easy to view. Neumann’s Starling and Cinnamon-breasted Rock Bunting were both noisy and abundant; Crag Martin was usually overhead; Fox Kestrel was common; Mocking Cliff Chat is not shy. Stone Partridge is the one species that we could hear but never saw—its sound is loud, unique, and echoes on the cliff face. We also heard Yellow-crowned Gonolek, but since that is a common bird in many parts of West Africa, I did not leave the trail to attempt to sight it.
We saw more species as we descended to Ireli. Rock Doves and Speckled Pigeon were on the cliff face. There was a mixed group of swifts by the top of the escarpment including one large one that had to be Mottled Swift from the shape, size, and coloring. Little Swift was also present, as were swifts that were most likely Common Swift by the shape and size (although Pallid Swift should also occur in this area.)
The walk along the bottom of the escarpment gives a chance to see many other species that live in Sahel-Savannah Zones, such as Little Green Bee-eater, Rose-Ringed Parakeet, and Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling. On the ascent back up to Sanga, among the large group of Pied Crows that were soaring on the updrafts, there were three Brown-Necked Ravens.
Our accomodations in Sanga were at the “Mission Protestante” which used to be a house for missionaries but now belongs to the local church and is operated as a guest house for income generation. It is the best deal in Sanga as it costs just 5.000 CFA per person, roughly $11 US. It is screened, there is solar lighting, and an indoor bathroom and shower with running water. There are three bedrooms, a collection of books left by previous residents and visitors, a living room with an ancient out-of-tune piano, and a dining room with enough plates, cups and silverware to serve four people. There is a water filter and a kerosene freezer that can be used as a fridge, but we were not able to cook except to heat water for coffee in the morning when our hosts brought a gas burner. For reservations call the caretaker Samuel Dougnon (he speaks French but not English) at country code (223) 504 3202. He can also arrange a guide. Our guide (both pleasant and competent) was Azariah Kodio, a student (the pastor’s son) who was home during the holiday break. His number is country code (223) 603 9279.
Eating in Sanga is challenging; if not with an organized tour, you need to order your meals many hours in advance at one of the three rustic hotels; they show you menus which are meaningless because they don’t have most of the items. Doing the trip a second time, I would travel with my own food that did not require cooking (bread and sandwich spread and the like), or with a camping stove and mess kit.
Necrosyrtes monachus - Hooded Vulture
Milvus migrans - Black Kite - road to Sanga
Falco alopex - Fox Kestrel
Falco tinnunculus - Common Kestrel
Ptilopachus petrosus - Stone Partridge
Columba guinea - Speckled Pigeon
Oena capensis - Namaqua Dove
Columba livia - Rock Dove
Streptopelia senegalensis - Laughing Dove
Streptopelia vinacea - Vinaceous Dove
Psittacula krameri - Rose-ringed Parakeet
Tachymarptis aequatorialis - Mottled Swift
Apus affinis - Little Swift
Apus apus - Common Swift (probable)
Merops orientalis - Little Green bee-eater
Coracias abyssinicus - Abyssinian Roller - road to Sanga
Coracias naevius - Rufous-crowned Roller - road to Sanga
Tockus erythrorhynchus - Red-billed Hornbill - road to Sanga
Lybius dubius - Bearded Barbet
Hirundo fuligula -African Rock Martin
Pycnonotus barbatus - Common Bulbul
Myrmecocichla cinnamomeiventris - Cliff Chat
Eremomela pusilla - Senegal Eremomela
Laniarus barbarous - Yellow-crowned Gonolek
Chalcomitra senegalensis - Scarlet-chested Sunbird
Dicrurus adsimilis - Common Drongo - road to Sanga
Corvus albus - Pied Crow
Corvus ruficollis - Brown-necked raven
Ptilostomus afer - Piacpiac
Onychognathus neumanni - Neumann's Starling
Lamprotornis chalybaeus - Greater Blue-eared Starling
Lamprotornis caudatus - Long-tailed Glossy Starling - road to Sanga
Passer griseus - (Northern) Grey-headed Sparrow
Plocepasser superciliosus - Bush Petronia
Ploceus luteolus - Little Weaver
Lagonosticta senegala - Red-billed Firefinch
Lagonosticta virata - Kulikoro or Mali Firefinch
Uraeginthus bengalus - Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu
Estrilda troglodytes - Black-rumped Waxbill
Vidua chalybeate - Village Indigobird
Emberiza tahapisi - Cinnamon-breasted Bunting
Emberiza striolata - House Bunting