Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
Observing red-billed tropicbird at close range is an experience worth the effort. If you are fortunate enough to visit Dakar, Senegal, you can see this bird at minimal cost and appreciate the striking natural beauty of Isles de Madeleine. There are also several thousand great cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo lucidus) on the island. These islands are protected as the Parc National Isles de Madeleine. The park staff have a small office on the mainland; they will tell you all about the tropicbirds (known in French as phaethons) and the other flora and fauna of the island. It's clear that they are proud of their park and committed to conservation.
The maximum number of tropicbirds are present during the months of January-March. However, there are normally some breeding birds present all year. A group of four of us made the trip on May 14, 2005 and were able to observe two tropicbirds at their nests and two others in flight. The cost for our group for a park entry permit, round trip boat transport, and guide was 14.000 CFA, which is about $28 dollars US. The boat ride over to the island takes only about 15 minutes. Our boatman and guide was Bas Diallo who knows where on the island to best see the tropicbirds. The hiking is easy on sandy trails. After Bas showed us where the tropicbirds were, we fixed a time for him to return and pick us up. We took about an hour and a half on the island, which was enough for observing plus taking photos of the cormorants and the tropicbirds.
Getting to the park offices is simple: tell any taxi to go to the restaurant-casino Terou-Bi at the Corniche area of Dakar. The casino is at the seaside, and immediately to its right is the gravel driveway to the park office marked with a large sign Parc National Isle de Madeleine. (Note that the unofficial but commonly known name of this island to taxi drivers and others is Isle du Serpent.) There is a parking area, several small buildings, and a small beach where you get in the boat. Normally there is at least one English speaker present among the personnel there.
Be sure to bring your own drinking water; the island is uninhabited and has no facilities of any kind.
On a very windy day this trip would probably not have been as satisfying. Also, note that it is usually NOT enjoyable to be out walking in the midday and early afternoon sun in Dakar. We did our trip from 9 to 11 a.m. and it was perfect.