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Birds of Senegal and The Gambia 2nd Edition 2023 by Nik Borrow and Ron Demey. Helm Field Guides series. Bloomsbury, London. Softcover: 360 pages. 20.3x25.4x4.7cm.

ISBN:  9781399402200. Also available as an eBook. .

Review by Frank Lambert

First published in 2011, this fully revised field guide covers around 700 species that occur in a very interesting part of Africa, often referred to as Senegambia. The Gambia has long been a popular birding destination since it is an easy country to visit and cover in a short time, English is widely spoken, and it provides a good introduction to the birds of West Africa. Unusually, this small country is completely enveloped by another country, Senegal. Senegal has only become a popular birding destination in more recent times, but this has led to a significant amount of new knowledge of the avifauna, contributing to the need for an updated guide.

In addition, many Palearctic migrants winter in these countries, including rare and elusive species such as Aquatic Warbler, which has now been found to winter in large numbers in the extensive wetlands of NW Senegal. Whilst some of the Sahel endemics can of course be seen elsewhere, such as in Sudan, where I encountered my first Arabian Bustards, Cricket Warblers, and Sudan Golden Sparrows, many of these areas are no longer safe to visit.

Sahel specialities usually seen in Sengal

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Sudan Golden Sparrow

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Savile's Bustard


African Swallow-tailed Kite

This 2nd edition of the Birds of Senegal and The Gambia will provide further incentive for birders to visit. This edition includes around 35 species that were not included in the first edition (taxonomy based primarily on IOC 2022). The entire text has been revised where required, and all the illustrations were revisited and corrected where thought necessary, even if only subtly tweaked. New species and illustrations have been added so that this second edition has 149 colour Plates, six more than in the first edition. These illustrations, all by Nik Borrow, depict every species, including all distinct plumages and subspecies. Succinct species accounts by Ron Demey describe key identification features, status, range, habitat, and voice, and have all been fully updated. Distribution maps that required changing have also all been updated.

Since publication of the first edition, a few species have been removed from the Senegambia list, so Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Cassin's Honeybird, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Olive-green Camaroptera (lumped with Grey-backed), and Tropical Boubou are no longer included in this guide. Red-rumped Tinkerbird still has a species account, but there is still no proof of its occurrence. On the other hand, many other species have been added.


A few have been added due to splitting, such as Scopoli’s Shearwater, Seebohm's and Red-tailed Wheatears, whilst Subalpine Warbler is split into Western Subalpine and Moltoni's warbler (which is newly illustrated). Furthermore, some species that were in the first edition have had to have name changes, so that Cinnamon-breasted Bunting is now Gosling’s Bunting, Micronesian Shearwater is now Boyd's Shearwater and Royal Tern is now African Royal Tern. However, the great majority of additions have been added due to new records. These include northern migrants or vagrants such as Zino's Petrel, Caspian Plover, Spanish Imperial Eagle, Greater and Lesser Spotted Eagles (necessitating an entirely new plate for these three eagles), Plain Swift, Meadow Pipit, and Iceland Gull, and, from the Southern Ocean, South Polar Skua.

African species now known to extend their range to the borders of Senegambia include Black-casqued Hornbill, Freckled Nightjar, Horus Swift, Mountain Wagtail, Preuss's Cliff Swallow, Heuglin's Wheatear, Turati's Boubou, Willcocks's Honeyguide and Cameroon Indigobird. Senegal already had an impressive list of vagrant waders from North America, and to this has now been added Hudsonian Whimbrel. One species that is still only a probable visitor, Fea’s Petrel, now has a species account (although only the head is illustrated). This is no doubt because of the great difficulty in distinguishing it from Zino’s Petrel, and the high likelihood that both species occasionally occur offshore.

Iconic birds occurring in Senegambia

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Egyptian Plover

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Northern Carmine Bee-eater

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Abyssinian Roller

Some plates have changed significantly. Not only have there been various additions (and a few species removed), but individual illustrations have been moved around for practical reasons. A few illustrations are resized, like female tinnunculus Common Kestrel (now bigger than male). Improvements to individual illustrations are found on many of the original plates, and in particular many of the paintings that showed only the head of some individuals in the first edition (e.g., some gulls, cuckoos, cuckooshrikes, starlings), now have the entire bird illustrated. Other examples of much improved artwork include Black-winged Bishop, Red-winged Pytilia, and Black-faced Firefinch.

As well as new artwork for the additional species that have been added to the bird list since the 1st edition, there are new illustrations showing plumages that were not illustrated in the first editions, such as breeding plumages of cormorants, pelicans and phalaropes, and additional images of, for example, gulls and wagtails, so that there are now much improved plates for all these groups.


Furthermore, there are also a significant number of improved paintings of individual species or paintings, such as Tawny Eagle in flight, African Hawk Eagle, breeding Black-tailed Godwit, Tawny-flanked Prinia, the atlantis race of Yellow-legged Gull (split by some as Azores Gull), adult Aquatic Warbler, female/non breeding Red-billed Quelea and Puvel’s Illadopsis, to name just a few. Usefully, there are now illustrations of several flying raptors from above, including four species of buzzard and Long-crested Eagle. One additional race illustrated in the 2nd edition is the balearica race of Spotted Flycatcher, which has now been split by IOC (2023) as Mediterranean Flycatcher.


Mali Firefinch is a skulking species of southeast Senegal which usually requires significant effort to find

Overall, these various improvements to the artwork are excellent and the only plates I noticed that could still be easily improved are those of Acrocephalus, Locustella, Iduna and Hippolais warblers, and of most Phylloscopus warblers, for which only one individual is illustrated for each species. Species in these genera can be notoriously difficult to identify, especially if not vocalising, and these plates are probably the least pleasing of the book. A painting of immature Tawny Pipit would also have been useful: it is quite different to the adult. On the other hand, two races of Long-billed Pipit are now illustrated instead of one. The first lark plate (95) contains a lot of empty space, and it would have perhaps been useful to have some additional illustrations to show variability in the six species shown.


The other significant change between editions is the provision of fully updated maps. Like the illustrations, the maps were originally done and updated by Nik Borrow. Comparing the two editions, there are numerous improvements to the maps in this second edition. Nevertheless, there are still species for which the distribution is poorly documented, such as Iberian Chiffchaff, mainly because it is difficult to distinguish from sympatric Common Chiffchaff.


Little Grey Woodpecker, yet another Sahel endemic.

The introductory pages remain very similar to those of the first edition. Apart from the standard section on how to use the book, and a double page annotated topographical map showing the two countries, there are short sections on Topography, Climate, and Main Habitats and Vegetation Zones. There are also country maps showing important bird areas and biodiversity areas and a selection of black-and-white drawings that outline the terminology for “Bird Topography” used in the guide. The four-page glossary seems very comprehensive. At the back of the book there is a comprehensive checklist of the birds for both countries that provides the status in each country and includes common names in both English and French.


Golden Nightjar, one of the most highly sought-after birds in northern Africa, can be found in northern Senegal.

For the species accounts, texts are mostly of similar length as in the first edition, but the font seems slightly larger. It is, however, noticeably longer for some species, so for example where there is now better knowledge about vocalisations, the relevant Voice sections have been updated. For seabirds, the information on distribution, and particularly the time of year when a particular species might be encountered, is greatly improved. As in the first edition, the text is concise, so the guide has only increased by eight pages, and still fits easily into a small bag. French names of every species are given alongside the scientific name in every species account. Since is certainly an improvement because Senegal is a French-speaking country.

The majestic Arabian Bustard, a bird I first saw in Sudan.

Birds of Senegal and The Gambia is an excellent, compact, and relatively lightweight field guide that has been significantly improved since the first edition. For anyone birding in Senegal or Ghana, the second edition of this book is undoubtedly the best field guide to take. Whilst there is another option, the Birds of Western Africa by the same authors (2014), that book runs to nearly 600 pages and is significantly heavier. Furthermore, the taxonomy is not so up to date and the text and illustrations for some species may not be so accurate. Hence I will certainly be taking this guide on my next trip to Senegal! Finally, note that this guide would prove very useful if birding in any other countries in the Sahel region.
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