2008.03.11 - The Kokoro and Namga wetlands, together approximately 668 square kilometers, situated some 150 km north-west from Niamey, were designated as Ramsar wetlands in 2001. This because of their importance for (partly migratory) birdlife and local ecology.
If you have Google Earth installed, you can see the locations of Kokoro here and Namga here.
Joost Brouwer is an ecologist living in Holland, who worked in Niger for several years. He is also responsible for the Niger Bird Database, and we came in contact as I wanted to submit my bird observations to the database. As he visited Niger in February 2008, mainly to give a course in identifying birds to the guides of the national park "Parc du W", it was an opportunity for him, myself and a couple of friends to visit the wetlands together. The group consisted of Joost (from Holland), myself (swedish), Helmi (german, but by heart australian), Dominique (from France) and Hauke (Dominiques friend and colleague from Berlin, now living in Saarbrücken, Germany). Later, on the road, a guard at a checkpoint said with a smile "Ah, it's the European Union coming!" when we presented ourselves.
We packed binoculars, cameras, tents, sleeping bags and provisions for the week end in two Toyota Landcruisers (my old one from 1994, and Dominiques brand new), and set off early saturday morning.
Since the road to north towards Tillabery is being completely rebuilt, and hasn't recieved any tarmac yet, the first 70 km was a dusty ride. At Bac Fairie we squeezed the cars onto the ferry that would take us across the river Niger, together with bush taxis laden with poultry, snack sellers with grilled meat on sticks and peanuts in small bags, and legions of beggars asking for cadeaux. On the west side of the river, the following 100 km to Tera was in very good shape. We didn't spot too many birds though, expect for some Ethiopian Swallows sitting on a electric wire and two Booted Eagles.
From Tera we drove north some 20 km on a laterite road in very bad condition, but the beautiful savannah landscape passing by made up for the hardships of the road.
Savannah north of Tera
In the next village we turned east, and drove about 10 km on a surprising good piste to the village of Kokoro. We had already spotted the wetland to the south, a green open space, but since we wanted to camp in the vincinity of the village, we wanted to talk to the mayor and ask for permission. Standing in front of his mud brick town hall, the mayor was a well spoken middle aged man in a long, blue boubou, with the nigerien flag pinned to his chest. Of course it was no problem if we wanted to camp close to the wetland, we were welcome.
As he asked if we wanted to talk to the traditional chief, we agreed. An assistan took us to an old man sitting in a small courtyard crammed with working women, children, goats and chickens. We shook hands with him, and he talked to us in english, lamenting the former times when the french were in power, before the coming of democracy. As we left, I couldn't stop thinking that a part of his remorse came from the fact that with the advent of democracy, he had lost some of his traditional power to the democratic elected mayor.
We drove past the village, and parked the cars beneath a huge Gao tree. The wetland was gleaming green behind the trees. But as we got down to the fringe of all that green, we realized that this wasn't a good spot. This part of the wetland was being heavily grazed by herds of cows and sheep, stumps of cut down trees strewn across the pastures. The only birds available in abundance were (for obvious reasons) Cattle Egrets and a small flock of Yellow-billed Oxpeckers. This was not good, it was of no use staring at cows, even in such a pitoresque corner of Africa.
The grazed part of the Kokoro wetland
But I did manage to spot and photograph a Spanish Wheatear, flying to and fro among the trees. A small group of Grey Woodpeckers aslo showed themselves.
So we left this part of the wetland, with the bad feeling of whitnessing a small ecologial catastrophy, an important ecological site being ruined by man and his cattle. We drove back past the village Kokoro, and then offroad over the now harvested and empty millet fields to the south-west, trying to find a more pristine corner of the wetland. And happily, we did find such a corner.
In the north-east corner of the wetland stood two small hills, topped with granite boulders. From here, there was a mangificent view of the eastern part of the wetland, a vast, green space, with open water areas like small lakes, and lush water vegetation and low bushes here and there. And no cows whatsoever, only small herds far, far away at southern edge of the wetland, where it's green pasture met the dry, brown-greyish savannah. Here, the wetland was full of birdlife, Ducks, Geese, Herons and Egrets, and their song and sounds filled the air. The water areas were dotted with large flocks of White-faced Whistling Ducks, accompanied by a smaller amount of Fulvous Whistling Ducks, flocks of Knob-billed Ducks and here and there the larger Spur-winged Geese. The Whistling Ducks often took to the air, with a roar of many hundreds of wings, as there were European Marsh Harriers patrolling the area.
White-faces Whistling Ducks take to the wings at the approach of an European Marsh Harrier. To the upper right can a Fulvous Whistling Duck be seen, with brown belly and dark face.
Soon we had also spotted a myriad of Little Grebes, swimming and diving among the ducks, and further off flocks of Garganey and Ferruginous Ducks. All four species of white Egrets - Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Intermediate Egret and Great Egret were present in larger numbers. Herons were abundant, with Purple Heron, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron (first time I spotted one this year), Squacco Heron, Green-backed Heron, and as the afternoon lenghtened, Black-crowned Night Herons appeared close to the shore, to start their nocturnal hunt.
We pitched our tents as fast as possible, to continue our birdwatching. Once the spotting scopes were unpacked, we could start a more detailed scan of the closer surroundings. It didn't take long, and we had spotted some African Pygmy Geese, a tiny, beautifully coloured Goose species. And running on the floating leaves of the water lilies was a Lesser Jacana. Joost grinned and said "That was nifty". First time he saw that species too. We also spotted several Purple Swamphen.
Our camp site
As the night closed in, Helmi prepaired a delicious stew on an open fire among the rocks, and we ate together in the gathering darkness, talking about Niger and the events of the day. Then we dropped off to bed, promising to get up early in the morning the following day.
Continue to Day 2 >>
© Ulf Liedén