Burkina Faso, “the land of the honourable man” 6 – 13 March 2013 JH

9% of the population is undernourished, 17% of children under 5 die, used to be Africa’s largest cotton producer but lost 12% of its export earnings due to the USA subsidizing its own production.

After a birding trip in Ghana with 2 friends, I spent a week by myself exploring French-speaking Burkina Faso. As it was expensive to fly to Burkina Faso, I took a cheap (US$71 one way) early flight from Accra, along the huge Lake Volta, to the town of Tamale, the capital of northern Ghana. The local paper reported a statement by the President that Ghana was a failed state with a major shortage of electricity and water, little industry, high imports and bickering politicians! I took a minibus from the airport to Bolgatanga, passing houses with palm-thatched roofs and timber-framed walls, plastered with clay, some elaborately decorated. There were lots of police check-points, mainly stopping lorries, and the road was badly pot-holed in places. In Bolga I found a “shared” taxi for the 30 min journey to the border town of Paga. Here I completed Ghana border formalities and crossed into Burkina Faso where there was no form to complete. As there was no bank or exchange office, I had to change Ghana cedis into CAF (Central African Francs) on the street. I boarded a bus to Ougadougou (pronounced waga-doo-goo), the delightfully named capital. We eventually got underway but soon stopped to pick-up an armed soldier and join a small convoy for some 20km through an area known for hold-ups by “highwaymen”!  It was an interesting journey, but rather slow with numerous stops for passengers to buy water, fruit and snacks, and children to relieve themselves, etc, passing minibuses loaded with live chickens hanging on the back door, amidst many other items. The 3 hour journey ended at a busy bus and taxi station at the edge of the city (of approximately 1.5 million inhabitants). I took a taxi to the cathedral and booked into the Catholic mission there run by French nuns, then walked the city streets before having an excellent French-style dinner at the mission, with 2 French Canadian girls and an older French woman. My sim card from Ghana would not work but my British Tesco one did.

Next day, after a 6a.m. breakfast of coffee and baguette, I walked to watch the weekly ceremony outside the Moro Naba's palace, attended by all the local Mossi dignitaries. I had hoped to photo the whole event but photography was strictly banned and I was severely rollocked for trying. I had to wait till after 7am before any of the chiefs showed up but the real action did not start till 8am. The only shots possible were of one of the chieftains, fully robed complete with sword, who gave me his permission after the ceremony – we walked through a football match then he posed graciously and asked for my email address! After returning to the mission to check-out, I went by taxi to another bus terminal where I booked a seat to Bobo-Dioulasso, and ate over a kg of tasty strawberries while waiting for the 11am departure. The journey took longer than expected as the coach broke down, taking 45 mins to replace the fanbelt. This gave me chance to photo a picturesque village but it was rather hot in the open, reputably over 40 degrees C. Surprisingly, only one passenger smoked while we were waiting outside. We passed many small villages, similar to those in the northern savanna-zone in Ghana, but there was more evidence of agriculture and water for irrigation. The 6 hour journey to the SW was mainly through flat savanna until we neared Bobo where there were some rocky hills. It was interesting to see different styles of dwellings on the way.

After checking into a cheapish hotel, Teru 2 (8,500CAF for a single room with fan), I walked to the nearby   old mosque, the largest in BF and a fine example of Sudanese mud-brick architecture, painted white. I toured the mosque with a guide, both inside and on the flat roof, then explored Dioulassoba, the old city huddled on the banks of a small dirty river flowing through the city. I was able to take photos but not of some of the locals who refused permission. There were a few shops, selling local musical instruments, masks, iron statuettes and the like, a millet beer brewing house where a few men were hard drinking, but most of the town consisted of smooth, mud-brick walled houses in a maze of old streets, with many locals getting on with their lives. It was full of interest but rather depressing as there seemed to be no waste-disposal facility, with people throwing rubbish into the river, and no water other than from a few pumps and wells. I turned down the offer of accompanying 2 youngish guys to a music bar (Bobo is said to be the Music Capital of Burkina Faso) where girls were claimed to be plentiful, and retired to a local restaurant for a filling meal and delicious drink of tamarind juice.  

 My first stop early the next day was at the impressive railway station, built by the French some 80 years ago in Sudanese style. However the train timetable was not so impressive as only one train a week was listed, to the Ivory Coast. Photography was not allowed. I walked through the Grand Marché, renowned for being the crossroads of numerous tribes, “offering a great selection of tribal arts from all over west Africa”. May be it was too early in the day because all I really noticed were the 100s of men and women on motorbikes with stalls under preparation. Goats everywhere, there were some specific lanes for cyclists and motorbikes, which you rarely see in Africa. Most of the men had short hair or shaved heads, many with moustaches, while the women mostly had long hair and only a few wore burkas, despite it being a mainly Moslem country.

I continued to a small museum, Musee Sogossira Sanon, holding statues, masks and clothes made by various tribal groups, and practical objects such as Lobi bowls used for mixing arrow poison. I was the only visitor and had an escorted tour of traditional Bobo and Fulani houses/homes that had been rebuilt in the main courtyard. It was notable that men and women had separate small rooms. After checking out I took the 10am bus to the small town of Boromo, on the route back to Ougadougou, arriving at 12.30. I found a cheap, attractive lodge on the outskirts, with some difficulty. My room (4000CAF) had a fan and mozzie net but no water – available outside in buckets. I ate an omelette and warm bread with a young couple working for an NGO building simple houses. At 2.30 I walked through the town – very hot – and found a photogenic old mosque where the local kids were keen to be photo’d. I tried to hitch a lift further afield, and eventually persuaded a motorbike driver to take me along the main road, through a friendly police check-point to a wide river a few km out of town where lots of locals were bathing. Continuing along the old road, I found it surprisingly bird-less so crossed over to the new road and took a track leading into the woody savanna, at 4pm. This was quite birdy with Quelea, weavers, firefinches, doves, gonoleks, Northern Red Bishops and non-breeding whydahs. I flushed Four-banded Sandgrouse that then gave great views on the ground but the highlight was an Emin’s Shrike flying past, for some distance unfortunately so I could not relocate it. After some time I walked back to the main road and hitched a lift in the back of a pick-up. I shared supper with the French couple at the lodge, supplemented with a large natural yoghurt from a nearby shop.

 At 06.00, I was granted a lift in a battered minibus back to the savanna site. A long walk gave a few new birds, including Dark Chanting-Goshawk, Senegal Parrot and Bruce’s Pigeon but no shrike or hoped-for Rufous-rumped Lark. After returning to the lodge on the back of a motorbike, I checked out and took a bus to Ouga where a taxi was needed to go to another bus station to catch the bus to Kaya in the north. This was as far north as I dared go, beyond here was said be under the influence of insurgents from Mali. I had to wait an hour as the first bus was full, but it was interesting to watch the roof of the bus being loaded with all sorts of luggage including motorbikes and house furniture. The scheduled one hour journey took 3 hours thanks to the driver stopping so many times for passengers to buy the multitude of items for sale in the numerous villages on the way, and a police check-post where 3 passengers were grilled for 20 mins before being released. My passport was checked twice on this 100km journey. Kaya was quite large and busy so I walked to the mission, described in the guidebook, near a large Catholic church on the edge of town. Here I drank 1.5litres of iced filtered water to assuage my dire thirst in the hot dry heat. I booked a cheap room then took a motorbike to the large Kaya Lake not far away. There were a few birds here including Black-headed Lapwing. Dinner consisted of plentiful of soup and veg, with a rock-hard baguette, not quite up to Ouga standards. I was the only guest, and could have watched 24 hour French TV had I so wished.

 A pre-booked motorbike arrived at 6 to take me to Lac de Dem, the site here recommended by Nigel Wheatley. We drove to a garage, shut, then bought fuel from a bottled supply before driving for some 20km on the red dusty road, forking right to the huge Lac de Dem just before a substantial village. Now the habitat was very green with water being used for irrigation of crops. Land birds were plentiful but there were surprisingly few waterbirds, or fishermen on the lake. Stone Partridge, Hooded Vulture, Abyssinian Roller, Piapiac, Grey Woodpecker, White-fronted Black-Chat, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Chestnut-bellied Starling and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting were seen. Leaving the lake at 09.30, I stopped at several places on the way back through scattered trees and the red sand of the Sahel, completely bare in places. I saw Grey Woodpecker, (but not the Little Grey I needed, “promised” by Wheatley), Vieillot's Barbet, Speckle-fronted Weavers feeding on dried cattle shit and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on the cattle. Best of all was a pair of Kordofan Larks in the red sand. I walked around one small settlement and was hailed by three women, happy to be photo’d, one of whom was sieving grain. Back at Kaya, I ate a fresh baguette and 3 mangoes, accompanied by yoghurt and tamarind juice. I walked back to Kaya Lake along the abandoned railway line – the rails and station were still there but no trains. There were few birds except glossy-starlings and Cattle Egrets, and as it was so hot I returned to the mission, dripping with sweat. After a shower and snooze, I decided to leave and return to Ouga, to be sure of catching my flights home. There was the usual chaos at the bus station; the old bus destined for Ouga was being loaded up with a variety of items on the roof. The journey lasted from 2.30 to 5 pm, passing a large reservoir on the outskirts of Ouga, with a party of ducks, and extensive parkland with thick vegetation and adjacent trees.

 It was a 30 min walk to the mission, as I had run out of CAF, through the busy streets thronged with green taxis. One shop had hundreds of crash helmets for sale, the only ones I saw as nobody seemed to wear them. I changed Euros at the mission then had a good dinner of soup, egg-pie with a huge bowl of veg, crème caramel and fruit, with 2 small beers, accompanied by 5 middle-aged French women, one with 2 small black children. At 06.00 on the last morning I sat eating my croissant with butter and jam, the sweat running down my brow and back. I walked to the bus station for transport to the south, not far but tricky to find, for the last of my 7 long distance bus journeys. We left on time at 07.00 to Po, near the Ghana border, stopping first at the main bus station 10 mins away on the edge of town. It was packed with buses and lorries of all shapes and sizes, on the bumpy earthen ground covered in refuse. With a few new passengers aboard, the driver tore off, taking no prisoners. At every stop we were besieged by women selling plastic bags containing water, onions, tomatoes and snacks. No wonder plastic bags are such a scourge everywhere except in much of the ubiquitous savanna.  Sitting at the front I was able to take photos through the cracked windscreen and note that the speedo was not working.  We stopped at a Croisement Inderdit sign at 09.00. After 15 mins two buses arrived from Po, armed soldiers dismounted and boarded my bus, We were “guarded” for the next 20 km, but left to do the last 10km to Po alone. A sign pointing south to Ghana said 815km to Accra, 160km to Tamale and 40km to Paga. I took a shared taxi from Po to Paga, passing through both borders without issue but then the driver refused to go any further, contrary to what I’d been told before boarding. I walked to what was said to be the only lodging in Paga and took a room for 15 cedi = £5 with no facilities except for a fan – a large bucket of water outside was available for washing. I bought some eggs from a nearby stall and asked the hotel cook to fry them but she’d run out of gas so couldn’t cook anything for me or the restaurant! I took a taxi to the main tourist attraction - Paga Pio’s Palace – and paid 10 cedi for an uninspiring “grand tour”. There were both square and rounded buildings, some elaborately decorated with black diamond patterns, and illustrations of snakes, crocodiles and other sacred animals.

 Ignoring the crocodile ponds, I took another taxi to Tono Dam, the last site we had visited on the Ashanti birding tour of Ghana This was much further than I thought it would be and cost 25 cedi. I walked some distance and saw similar birds to before including Four-banded Sandgrouse, Thick-knee, Greenshank, Yellow Wagtail, Common Whitethroat, Barbets and Yellow-billed Shrike, but no hoped for Whydahs. As I walked back by the dam wall hoping for a lift, I came to a junction and asked a group of local ladies which way to go. Unfortunately I had forgotten I was back in English-speaking Ghana so asked them in French which I had been using in BF. They did not understand me and it took me a few minutes to realize my mistake! I followed a motorbike round a corner and found 4 guys in the garden of a building that turned out to be housing an NGO helping to improve crop production. Asked if someone could take me to the town, I was told to wait. A pick-up soon arrived with a new motorbike in the back. The driver agreed to take me back after lifting out the bike. We soon left and then stopped at field of maize which he photo’d as it was an experimental field. I was dropped at a football field where taxis awaited business and took one back to Paga. I found a stall where omelettes were cooked with bread rolls, which suited me fine, then had an early night.


I was up early, only to find there was a power-cut, so I went to the bus station and booked a seat in a shared taxi to Bolga. Had to wait an hour before there were enough passengers for it to leave, drinking coffee and reading my Rebus book.  The driver kindly stopped at the hotel on the outskirts of Bolga where I had left my bag of un-needed gear, soon collected, then continued to the bus station. I took the only bus going to Tamale, an old wreck with only a few people on board. It finally departed after an hour but 15 mins later we returned to the station as the clutch was defective. After transferring to a newer bus we took the Tamale road at 10.30 and reached the petrol station at the Tamale airport turn at 1pm. I was dropped here and rapidly downed 1.5 litres of lemonade to quench my dry throat. I left my rucksack in the bar and walked through a simple village into the open savanna. It was very hot with little sign of birdlife for some time but eventually I found parties of Red-billed Hornbill, Green Woodhoopoe and White Helmetshrike, along with Red-headed Weavers, Black-crowned Tchagra, Rollers, Hoopoe and warblers. Returning to the garage at 4pm, I consumed more liquid then took a taxi to the airport just as a thunder-storm and tropical downpour started. My 45 min flight to Accra was delayed by the bad weather, but made it in time for my KLM flight home via Amsterdam. I was the last to board as I watched the end of a key football match for Arsenal against a German team. A large cognac helped me to sleep but I awoke to see we were flying over the snow-covered Peak District before descending to Manchester airport. An interesting visit to a part of Africa rarely visited by tourists. 

List of birds seen in Bukina Faso - species in red were not seen in Ghana

Squacco Heron                        Ardeola ralloides                       

Cattle Egret                        Bubulcus ibis   

Striated Heron                        Butorides striatus            

Yellow-billed Kite                        Milvus migrans parasitus          

Palm-nut Vulture                        Gypohierax angolensis       

Hooded Vulture                        Necrosyrtes monachus        

Dark Chanting-Goshawk                        Melierax metabates       

Grasshopper Buzzard                        Butastur rufipennis         

Eurasian Kestrel                        Falco tinnunculus      

Double-spurred Francolin                        Francolinus bicalcaratus     

African Jacana                        Actophilornis africanus          

Spur-winged Plover                        Vanellus spinosus          

Black-headed Lapwing                        Vanellus tectus

Four-banded Sandgrouse                        Pterocles quadricinctus    

Laughing Dove                        Streptopelia senegalensis    

Black-billed Wood-Dove                        Turtur abyssinicus      

Bruce's Green-Pigeon                        Treron waalia    

Rose-ringed Parakeet                        Psittacula krameri            

Senegal Parrot                        Poicephalus senegalus        

Western Plantain-eater                        Crinifer piscator

African Palm-Swift                        Cypsiurus parvus             

Little Swift                        Apus affinis      

Pied Kingfisher                        Ceryle rudis      

White-throated Bee-eater                        Merops albicollis          

Abyssinian Roller                        Coracias abyssinica       

Northern Red-billed Hornbill                        Tockus erythrorhynchus

African Grey Hornbill                        Tockus nasutus

Vieillot's Barbet                        Lybius vieilloti   

Greater Honeyguide                        Indicator indicator           

Grey Woodpecker                        Dendropicos goertae            

Kordofan Lark                        Mirafra cordofanica      

Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark                        Eremopterix leucotis            

Crested Lark                        Galerida cristata                       

Barn Swallow                        Hirundo rustica 

Ethiopian Swallow                        Hirundo aethiopica        

Lesser Striped-Swallow                        Hirundo abyssinica       

Common Bulbul                        Pycnonotus barbatus          

Singing Cisticola                        Cisticola cantans           

Rufous-crowned Eremomela                        Eremomela badiceps          

White-fronted Black-Chat                        Myrmecocichla albifrons          

Scarlet-chested Sunbird                        Chalcomitra senegalensis    

Emin's Shrike                        Lanius gubernator       

Yellow-billed Shrike                        Corvinella corvina             

Black-crowned Tchagra                        Tchagra senegala          

Yellow-crowned Gonolek                        Laniarius barbarus          

Piapiac                        Ptilostomus afer                       

Pied Crow                        Corvus albus    

Purple Glossy-Starling                        Lamprotornis purpureus         

Long-tailed Glossy-Starling                        Lamprotornis caudatus          

Chestnut-bellied Starling                        Lamprotornis pulcher            

Yellow-billed Oxpecker                        Buphagus africanus          

Grey-headed Sparrow                        Passer griseus 

Bush Petronia                        Petronia dentata                       

Speckle-fronted Weaver                        Sporopipes frontalis           

Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver                        Plocepasser superciliosus    

White-billed Buffalo-Weaver                        Bubalornis albirostris         

Vitelline Masked-Weaver                        Ploceus velatus

Village Weaver                        Ploceus cucullatus        

Red-billed Quelea                        Quelea quelea  

Black-winged Bishop                        Euplectes hordeaceus      

Northern Red Bishop                        Euplectes franciscanus    

Bar-breasted Firefinch                        Lagonosticta rufopicta          

Red-billed Firefinch                        Lagonosticta senegala          

Black-bellied Firefinch                        Lagonosticta rara                 

Red-cheeked Cordonbleu                        Uraeginthus bengalus          

Zebra Waxbill                        Amandava subflava           

Black-rumped Waxbill                        Estrilda troglodytes       

Exclamatory/ Togo Paradise-Whydah                        Vidua interjecta/ togoensis         

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting            Emberiza tahapisi



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