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Senegal, BTO

BTO Flightlines, 2014

Press release: ‘At 23 years old, wet behind the ears, having travelled no further than France on a school trip, armed with a set of coloured drawing pencils (kindly donated by Derwent Pencils, Cumbria) I experienced my first most memorable trip through Africa.

Now, this amazing opportunity through the BTO 17 years on, as an established painter, following the journeys made by Cuckoos in West Africa fills me with a childlike anticipation at returning to part of the world I love. To produce a body of artwork that will reflect this project and working alongside Bruce Pearson, Greg Poole, Robert Greenhalf and the guys on the ground out there will be incredible’.

A small number of my trip photographs are to the right, click on any to see the next.

We landed in Brussels with a jolt and the flight to Dakar was turbulent! But we arrived in just over 6 hours with a long queue through immigration.

Very dark and handsome people and a straight forward “TYSON?” It’s good to be back in Africa!

Watching the sea from the balcony, a guy filling his water container at the edge of the rocks to my left, shearwater, ganets, terns, dots in the distance and sparrows to my right, on a crumbling wall. Dinner tonight is grilled fish with butter, garlic and ginger, boiled rice and salad. A lot of birding talk, I read a good section in the Cuckoo book – migratory birds as they arrive back in the UK, very interesting. Mozzie net up, the waves are crashing, the wind is howling through the jarred windows the air-con is off, must be a cool 23 degrees, perfect! Up at 6 for 6.30am so must get some sleep, knackered.

I’ve spent two days on the reserve, drawing poorly but the second day’s work more tolerable… Well, the second half of the day. Feeling very separate from my environment – strange… a tourist. Pick up, drop off, pick up, drop off unfamiliar BUT amazing places.

The Fiddler Crabs are fascinating, eating sand, excreting sand, eating sand and excreting sand, little balls of sand. Edging sideways all the while, leaving small piles in their wake. Excavating holes, removing slightly blackened sand? A solitary Whimbrel is out but its food doesn’t appear until half past 11. It is half obscured by the sand bank as it catches a Fiddler by the base of his large claw, shakes, readjusts, shakes again and finally eats out of sight. The Turnstone scatters its quarry and selects his crab. This time a female fiddler, turning it relentlessly! Its energy sapped, the bird wins its meal.

Wow! Thick-knee behind the spit I’m standing on, 19 birds under the tree line and 5 out on the estuary. Hearing their alarm, I must have pushed these out of the shade as I arrived. 3 birds did find their way into my field of vision but they are incredibly shy and moved away as soon as they noticed me. Ringed Plover, Stilt, Chiff Chaff and a little Sunbird of some kind, two Bulbuls and the goats I have heard getting closer and closer the past half hour.

I painted two women carrying buckets across the gangway, colourful and bright.

We drove to Djoudj this afternoon and information overload! My mind is still focused on the wagtails, ospreys (another three today) and smaller birds. Wagtails close to bee eaters (blue cheeked) and small plovers – Kittlitz, patas monkeys, warthogs, and so many local species!

I’m in the hotel now and can hear crickets! I’ve been eaten by mozzies already, 4 meals down and I’m still here but depriving the boys of their free peanut beer combo… sorry about that. 23.04 sleep time, up at 6am.

We are back at the lake and I’ve set up under a small scrubby acacia to glean what shade I can. The sun is already high and it’s hot! It is peaceful sitting, waiting, as I mix the colours and take in my surroundings, the wind whips up little sand squalls then quietens. I already paint with sand and I’ve eaten far too much! There’s movement to my left, a Jackal! It’s lame in its back right leg and watches me as it passes – I’ve seen Jackals before but this is wolflike? A golden wolf. He’s captivating.

I get back to the task at hand, Wheatear, I’ve spent a lot of time watching these guys in the back fields at Pencilmaren (South Wales) and its pretty good seeing them in their winter grounds. She moves back and fore catching insects, standing atop poo, an old brick, a dead branch, foraging again. A moment in the shade of a tree, a dust bath and more foraging. Superb! A pair of little Bee eaters swap places on the dead branch, they flit and return over a half hour period and move over to the trees that edge the lake.

There’s a single Crowned Crane in the dust track, its crown flat against its head. The ground is scored by Warthogs, in the shade under the low scrub, away from the heat of the day and well used by the look of all the poo! Pelicans have flown over 3 times toward Mauritania and once returning, hanging above me on the thermals like vultures.

Cream and pale brown with slightly more yellow/green glow and something I can’t quite read – I must write more clearly! This time the Chiff Chaffs, their colour reflects the dry sandy earth with striking difference when the sun catches their flanks.

I’ve been watching a stunning Monty on the horizon, up high in a bright green tree and preening and for quite some time. A Woodchat Shrike goes about its business from an Acacia and Sand Martins appear in vast waves and then leave. The Chiff Chaff are in the scrub on the edge of the desert and behind me the Pied Kingfishers are causing such a row! It’s a popular fishing area, with 5 birds and a continual relay of plunging thuds, very loud! The two sitting above me watch the water. Pelican shadows are massive as they pass overhead. A Heron, Weavers, Cormorant, Darter and a Monitor just moved and caught my eye – he’s looking side on at me through the corner of his eye, his head visible just above the water line against the base of the reeds…

Esther Tyson's artwork