Grasshopper Buzzard Butastur rufipennis, Bankoumana, Mali
Chestnut-bellied Starling Lamprotornis pulcher gathering nesting material from a grass bundle intended for hut roofing. Sokolo area, Segou region, Mali
There are many official tourist guides who know something about birds, but that is not to say they can help in bird identification. One highly recommended guide who speaks English and is trying to learn bird ID is Yaya Keita at Tam Tam Tours, BPE 2495 Bamako. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Mamadou Keita is an experienced guide for birders who speak French. He is based in Segou but willing to travel, and often works out of the eco-lodge at Teriyabougou. His phone number is country code 223, 7608 5234. Unfortunately he does not speak English.
The following are French-speaking contact persons for some of the birding hotspots noted above.
Bamako/Torokorobougou: Mahamane Cissé, known as "Bengué" or "Sosso," Rue 351, Porte 15 Torokorobougou. He knows how to find birds on the islands in the Niger river.
Segou: three biology teachers at the Cabral Lycée have training in bird identification: Ibrahim Diabaté, Famahan Nomoko, and Adama Samogo. They know Konodimini and Soninkora farm and other sites.
Konna: Alhousseyni Sarro, Veterinarian at Konna. Tel : 246 10 01 or 246 10 02 ask for "Sarro le Veto"
Yanfolila: Souleymane Sidibé, at the camp.
For Mali trip reports covering some of the sites on the hotspots page, visit Surfbirds. For site species lists, contact Mary Crickmore - see contacts section.
This trip report to the Bamako area in 2010 is written in French and can be downloaded. ( Vous pouvez transférer ce compte-rendu en français d’une visite aux alentours de Bamako en 2010.)
Foreign nationals from countries outside of West Africa need a visa to enter Mali. You get it in advance from any Malian embassy, but it is complicated if you live in the UK which has no embassy.
Mali is a difficult country to navigate if you do not speak French or Bambara. Hardly anyone knows English. A non-french speaker really needs a bilingual companion or else should hire an English-speaking guide - see under guides for more details.
There are daily flights from Paris to Bamako with Air France and a couple of other minor airlines. There are Air Maroc flights that connect Bamako to the US and Europe via Casablanca. Good tourist class hotels and restaurants are available in Bamako, Segou, and Mopti. Most supplies that you would need can be purchased in one of several supermarkets in Bamako. Some form of caravansary or cheap hotel is available in most large towns and cities on the main roads. The visitor should be tolerant of third-world standards at these, including the latrines. Street food is available everywhere, but amoeba, giardia, and shigella are commonly spread through food and water. In general it is safe to eat food that is served steaming hot. Meningitis, typhoid, and yellow fever vaccines are needed for travelers to Mali, and malaria prophylaxis is a must.
Vehicle rental is available, including drivers, although if you get a four-wheel drive it is expensive. Taxis can be rented by the hour. Public transport (buses and vans) are uncomfortable because the vehicles are packed to overflowing. Another disadvantage is that public transport can get you (slowly) to cities and towns along the main paved road, but service is not regular to outlying areas.
The IBAs in the Niger delta cannot be reached by vehicle during the flood season July - January. There is a system of public transport by boat in the delta around Mopti. Essentially, travelling in Mali can work for you if you have little time but lots of money, or little money with lots of time and patience. It's the people who try to do Mali on a tight schedule and $10 a day that can have a difficult time.
The ideal month to visit Mali is November. It is not too hot, migrants have arrived, and Euplectes and Vidua species are in breeding plumage. The major tourist season happens from December to February because the weather is usually very pleasant. April is uncomfortably hot and May is miserable. In June in a normal year the rainy season is beginning and there is periodic relief from the heat. In July and August many breeding birds are displaying, but the disadvantage is that it is difficult to drive off-road without getting stuck in mud. There are also severe thunderstorms with monsoon-like rain. In September-October the heat returns but the whole country is beautifully green.
Safety and Security
Mali has minimal violent crime and the people are reputed to be the most polite and friendly in West Africa. Bamako, the capital city, is quite safe overall, although there are pickpockets in the markets. There are interesting tourist and birding destinations in Segou and south of Bamako (Kangaba, Siby, Sikasso).
For all of 2012 the northern regions of Tombouctou, Kidal, Gao, and Mopti were insecure due to the advance of jihadist groups and retreat of the Malian army after a coup d’etat. In January 2013 French and West African troops entered and destroyed many of the jihadists while driving others over the border into Algeria. Some suicide and insurgent attacks still took place in Tombouctou and Gao regions during 2013, and two French journalists were killed in Kidal in November 2013. Presidential elections were held peacefully in July and August 2013. A large force of UN peacekeepers remains in the country.
Travel to Segou and in the areas south of Bamako, including the Sikasso region, is quite safe. Visitors should check with their embassies for current information about travel in the Mopti region (Dogon cliffs, Niger interior delta).
You should refuse to travel on the main roads in the countryside at night. There have been many tragic accidents that have happened at night because outside of towns the roads are neither marked nor lit. There are plenty of vehicles without any working lights as well as donkey carts and animals on the roads; they are invisible in the dark until it is too late. At low speeds on the dirt roads it is safe to travel at night; although it is also easy to get lost.