Mali - finding the endemic Mali Firefinch

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT


by Mary Crickmore

Just twenty minutes drive out of Bamako are some gorgeous balancing rock formations where Mali's only endemic species, Lagonosticta virata,, can usually be found by a persistent observer.

The striking Lavender waxbill Estrilda carulescens and Black-rumped waxbill Estrilda troglodytes are very common here. Neumann's starling Onychognathus neumanni, Cliff Chat Thamnolaea cinnamomeiventris and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting Emberiza tahapisi are readily seen, and with luck you might observe Fox Kestrel Falco alopex.

To get to this area, take the road to Segou out of Bamako. Pass the Nyamana "douane" stop. Here there are numerous trucks, public transport vehicles, and roadside stands and vendors, with barrels indicating the customs stop; non-commercial vehicles are just waved through. After a few kilometers you pass a hotel on the left called "TiziMizi." Continue through a village with speed bumps. In a few more kilometers you reach an area of rocky hills and you should park your car. (We have never had any problem with leaving locked vehicles unattended near the main road.) On both sides of the road there are rocky outcrops where we have seen Mali Firefinch.

A good option to park is by Club Farafina, on your right as you drive towards Segou. It serves cold beer and soda, and is right underneath some of the most impressive rock formations. Note that the workers speak Bambara only. A bit farther on there is a dirt road by a sign that says "Vie Autonome-Internat." If you turn off on this little road you will see large trees under which you can park in the shade (unless it is rainy season when the millet is growing in the fields.) In the fields, trees, and mango grove here there are different species from the ones that live in the rocks.

How to find the Mali Firefinch: hike through the rocks listening for bird calls and looking for leafy shrubbery that is in the shade. It is best to go for the side of the hills that is protected from the sun. The firefinches and estrildas frequent shrubbery in the cooler places. If you find a group of small finches, there will often be a few Mali Firefinches among them, and if not, they are likely to show up if you wait.

It is not a good idea to bird during the heat of day. The temperatures get above 40 Celsius (in the hundreds Fahrenheit) and the birds themselves stay silent and rest. Even in the morning and late afternoon, you will need to bring plenty of drinking water to avoid getting dehydrated.

Hiking boots are best for the rocks but any sturdy walking shoes will also work. Expect thorns and burrs (don't be tempted by the heat to wear shorts.)

If you will be visiting Bamako and would like birding companions or travel advice, please e-mail MaryCrickmore(at) a few weeks in advance.

List of species

These were observed in the rocks and the mango grove by Bamako Bird Club in May 2003 and May 2004. We suspect that some other species, like Rock Cisticola, should occur here as well. If you visit during the winter, watch for palearctic migrant raptors such as Short-toed Eagle, which was seen here in December 2003.

Accipiter badius, Shikra
Butastur rufipennis, Grasshopper Buzzard
Milvus migrans, Black Kite
Micronisus gabar, Gabar Goshawk
Falco tinnunculus, Common Kestrel
Falco alopex, Fox Kestrel
Francolinus bicalcaratus, Double-spurred Francolin
Streptopelia vinacea, Vinaceous Dove
Streptopelia senegalensis, Laughing Dove
Turtur abyssinicus, Black-billed Wood Dove
Poicephalus senegalus, Senegal Parrot
Musophaga violacea, Violet Turaco
Crinifer piscator, Western Grey Plantain-eater
Centropus senegalensis, Senegal Coucal
Cypsiurus parvus, African Palm Swift
Coracius naevius, Rufous-crowned Roller
Coracias abyssinicus, Abyssinian Roller
Tockus erythrorhynchus, Red-billed Hornbill
Pogoniulus chrysoconus, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird
Dendropicos goertae, Grey Woodpecker
Pycnonotus barbatus, Common Bulbul
Thamnolaea cinnamomeiventris, Cliff Chat
Turdus pelios, African Thrush
Prinia subflava, Tawny-flanked Prinia
Camaroptera brachyura, Grey-backed Camaroptera
Melaenornis edolioides, Northern Black Flycatcher
Turdoides plebejus, Brown Babbler
Zosterops senegalensis, African Yellow White-eye
Chalcomitra senegalensis, Scarlet-chested Sunbird
Cinnyris pulchella, Beautiful Sunbird
Laniarus barbarus, Yellow-crowned Gonolek
Dicrurus adsimilis, Fork-tailed Drongo
Corvinella corvina, Yellow-billed Shrike
Onychognathus neumanni, Neumann's Starling
Lamprotornis caudatus, Long-tailed Glossy Starling
Passer griseus, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow
Ploceus cucullatus, Village Weaver
Ploceus vitellinus, Vitelline Masked Weaver
Amadina fasciata, Cut-throat Finch
Vidua macroura, Pin-tailed Whydah
Pytilia melba, Green-winged Pytilia
Uraeginthus bengala, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu
Lagonosticta senegala, Red-billed Firefinch
Lagonosticta virata, Mali Firefinch
Estrilda troglodytes, Black-rumped Waxbill
Estrilda carulescens, Lavender Waxbill
Serinus mozambicus, Yellow-fronted Canary
Emberiza tahapisi, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting