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Science & NatureNatureReport on MVFN Nature Talk: ‘Birds of The Gambia and Senegal’

Report on MVFN Nature Talk: ‘Birds of The Gambia and Senegal’

The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists opened the October meeting with presentations from two of the three students sponsored by MVFN to attend the Ontario Youth Summit.  The Youth Summit brings together approximately 100 students in grades 9-12 from across Ontario and is hosted by the Ontario Nature Youth Council.  The youth spend a weekend learning about the variety of natural life in our province.  The teens become aware of positive solutions to conservation and environmental issues in this complex and changing world.  Sponsorees for 2023 were Rowan McKensie, Lyla Chiasson and Alonia Scarfe.

Justin Peter

Following that, MVFN’s Nature Talk speaker continued with the 2023/24 theme of “Nature Near and Far”.  We went very far for our second topic: Birds of The Gambia and Senegal. Our presenter was Justin Peter, Director of Programs for Quest Nature Tours and, since 2019, a partner in the business.  Prior to that Justin worked as a Park Naturalist at Gatineau Park and, later, Algonquin Park.  Justin was in recent times President of the Toronto Ornithological Club and, in 2021, was named to the Board of Directors of Birds Canada.

Justin began by describing the geography of the two African countries.  The Gambia is a very small and narrow country bordering the Gambia River.  Senegal surrounds the Gambia on three sides and the Atlantic Ocean marks the western extremity of both countries.

The habitat of The Gambia is largely savannah and varies widely, consisting of the marine system, coastal zone, estuary with mangrove vegetation coupled with salt flats, river banks with brackish and fresh water zones, swamps covered with forests and many wetlands. And because of the river, crops can be grown year-round.  This attracts many migrating and indigenous bird species.  Justin referred to African birds as “Eye Candy”, which tend to be easily seen.  He went on to show photos of many beautiful and colourful birds.  Some he included were an Abyssinian ground-hornbill, green pigeon, red-cheeked cordon bleu, black heron, spur-winged lapwing, anhinga, Senegal thick-knee, red-throated bee-eater, whimbrel and many others.  Justin noted the interesting peculiarities of each species.

Senegal has a drier climate than The Gambia and therefore attracts some different species.  As well, the northern boundary is defined by the Senegal River, which bird species migrating from Europe flock to after passing over the Sahara Desert.  Again we were shown photos of some eye-catching species, such as the black-crowned crane, Eurasian spoonbill, great white pelican and lappet-faced vulture, among others.  Justin discussed some of the fascinating habits of each species.

The audience at this Nature Talk can now appreciate why Birdlife International designated The Gambia as an Important Bird Area (IBA), recognizing it as a critical habitat for bird conservation.  Senegal is a popular destination for birders due to its many national parks and reserves that offer prime birding locations.

The meeting closed off with MVFN’s resident naturalist, Ken Allison, reviewing the sightings found closer to home.

The next Nature Talk in our series will be held on November 16, 2023 when Dr. Ken Storey will speak about hibernation or “Life in Limbo”.  There is no Nature Talk in December, but we will be back on January 18, 2024 with Dr. Catherine Scott and “The Secret Lives of Spiders”.

Submitted by Chris Baburek

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