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THE  GAMBIA     1st - 8th Dec 2000  


Day 1   1st Dec

We left Britain in the pouring rain.

After a smooth uneventful flight we arrived at Banjul airport at about 4.00pm where the outside temperature was 35 degrees Celsius.

The Group

The Group - Click to enlarge

We took the new short route via a newly built road to our hotel the Senegambia and arrived in half the normal time. Once we had sorted out our rooms it was time for a brief look around the hotel gardens. Famed for their wealth of birds it wasn't long before we were seeing our first African species. Broad-billed Rollers were very evident with several birds sat around on trees and even more soaring around above us. There were a couple of Yellow-billed Shrikes and the very common Laughing Doves and Beautiful Sunbirds. Most of us met in the middle of the open area in the centre of the gardens and from here we did not have to move far as more and more birds appeared. A stunning Gonolek showed its brilliant colours off from a nearby tree, while a male Shikra sat for all of us to see. There were then Speckled Pigeons, Red-eyed Dove, Variable Sunbird, Lavender Waxbills and a noisy party of Brown Babblers. As the light began to fade several African Thrushes appeared on the lawns, two Mosque Swallows flew overhead, a Lesser Honeyguide was spotted as well as a White-crowned Robin-chat, Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling and a group of Piapiac. Content with this brief yet exciting spell of birds we returned to our rooms to get ready for our evening meals.

Day 2   2nd Dec

After our early breakfast we all met with Solomon our guide, boarded our coach and set off to Fajara golf course. We were immediately greeted by a male Splendid Sunbird before walking out onto the golf course itself. In the scattered bushes we soon found Subalpine Warbler, Beautiful Sunbird feeding young and some stunning Little Bee-eaters.

Little Bee-eaters - click to enlarge
Little Bee-eaters
Lizzard Buzzard - click to enlarge

Lizzard Buzzard

We then found Black Flycatcher, several African Grey Hornbills and then in one tree we watched a Double-spurred Francolin, two Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, Fork tailed Drongo, Long-tailed Glossy Starling and some Brown Babblers also superb views of two Bearded Barbets. In the sky above were Pallid Swifts, Palm and Little Swifts, while African Harrier-hawk and a few Hooded Vultures flew around. Moving on we found Senegal Wattled Plovers, Black-headed Plovers and then Spur-winged Plovers, a Melodious Warbler was spotted and then a group of Piapiac. Down by the Kotu creek we watched Woodland Kingfisher, very close views of a Lizard Buzzard and amongst the waders we also saw Little, Intermediate and Great White Egret, a single Sacred Ibis, a close Subalpine Warbler, a couple of Hammerkop and two Pied Kingfishers. As we walked along the edge of the creek hundreds of Fiddler Crabs were seen to scurry out of the way. An immature African Harrier-hawk flew over while further along a Grey Kestrel perched briefly on the side of a tree and a Common Kestrel was spotted. We then returned to the coach for a welcoming cool drink. From here we drove to the Kotu sewerage pools where we were soon looking at dozens of Black-winged Stilts, a few Ruff, Wood Sandpipers, Common and Green Sandpiper and some Black Terns hawking for insects. Above lots of Hooded Vultures, Little and Palm Swifts flew around. We then strolled around the perimeter and found a Fine-spotted Woodpecker, a group of Green Woodhoopoes and about 70 White-faced Whistling-ducks. On one of the pools filled with lilypads we spotted a Squacco Heron and four Little Grebes. We then drove the short distance to the cycle track where amongst the rice paddies we saw Western Reef-egrets, another two Squaccos and amongst some Village Weavers, a Red-billed Quelea. It was now lunch time so we set off in our air condition coach towards Tanji reserve. As we took a short cut a quick stop was made to look at a dark chanting goshawk sat in a tree top. While looking at this a Woodchat shrike flew into the bush in front of us where there was also a Small Weaver and another two Quelea. Continuing on we made another stop where a Black-crowned Tchagra was spotted along side an Abyssinian Roller.

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Abyssinian Roller.
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Green Vervet Monkey

We soon arrived at Tanji where we had our lunch. In the building where we ate were two Wire-tailed Swallows and a confiding Red-chested. As we had our lunch huge Caspian Terns flew around the creek in front of us and both Osprey and Marsh Harrier were seen. On the nearby beach several of us saw a Slender-billed Gull fly past while Grey-headed and lesser-black Backed Gulls sat around. Lunch over we then drove to the nearby reserve. We started off with an elusive Olivaceous Warbler, followed by Black-billed Wood-dove, and even Fanti Sawwing, in some nearby trees we watched several Green Vervet Monkeys while all around there were lots of African Grey Hornbills and Western Grey Plantain-eaters. We then came across a small ten foot long water hole which turned out to be a superb spot in which we spent the next hour and a half just enjoying all the birds coming down to drink. An African Pygmy-kingfisher was spotted right in front of us but only a couple of the group saw it. We then had a Levaillants Cuckoo, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Yellow-throated Leaflove, lots of Black-necked Weavers and a superb Snowy-crowned Robin-chat. We then moved and got better views over the pool, here everyone had  excellent views of the Pygmy-kingfisher, soon followed by a Buff-spotted Woodpecker that Diana had found. Behind us Red Colobus Monkeys were performing and a couple of Senegal Parrots dropped in. Finding it very hard to tear ourselves away from this wonderful little pool we then made our way to the beach. Here we scanned through the flocks of terns and were rewarded with Caspian, Royal and Lesser Crested-terns sat next to each other, there was also Sandwich, Black and Common. We then left and headed back to the coach. Another cold drink was had as we headed back to our hotel. We couldn’t help stopping when a Double-spurred Francolin was spotted sat on top of a dead tree ending a marvellous first days birding!

Day3    3rd Dec

After breakfast we headed off to Abuko nature reserve. A couple of roadside stops produced a pair of Blue-bellied Rollers and a pair of Rufous-crowned Rollers. We soon arrived at the reserve and headed into the woods. By the first area of water we found a Blue-breasted Kingfisher posing for us and then a little further along we were at the main pool. Looking from the tower hide we saw several Black-crowned Night-herons, three Black-headed Herons, an African Jacana and a stunning little African Pygmy-kingfisher. A Palm-nut Vulture sat in a palm tree and was later joined by a Green Turaco. We then enjoyed excellent views of two Verreaux’s Eagle-owls, with one bird sat on its nest.

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Verreaux’s Eagle-owl

Then there was a small group Splendid Glossy-starlings and a pair of Giant Kingfishers. We carried on further into the forest where we got views of Grey-headed Bristlebill, Snowy-crowned Robin-chat, the two different Paradise-flycatchers and Little Greenbul. It was rather busy with people but eventually we notched up a good selection of species including Scarlet-chested and Collared Sunbirds, a pair of Klaas's Cuckoo,  an adult and two juvenile White-backed Night-herons, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Northern Puffbacks, African Pied Hornbill, about Eight Violet Turacos, and Northern Crombec. A Gabar Goshawk shot through so fast only a few people saw it. We then got onto the coach and headed to Lamin Lodge for lunch. A quick stop by the turn off and were soon all out alongside the road watching a roosting a White-faced Scops-owl. We then had our lunch at lamin lodge where Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters could be seen flying over the mangroves. After lunch we headed into the Lamin fields where first we tried some small fields and found four, Four-banded Sandgrouse. Moving on our next quarry was soon found with two Temmincks Coursers seen strutting around in a weedy field, also here were a very distant Tawny Eagle, Dark Chanting-goshawk, Grey Kestrel, and Black-shouldered Kite. Continuing on we arrived at the rice fields where both Greater and Lesser Honeyguide showed appropriately beside a bees nest. In the wet paddies we watched a Black Heron doing its impression of an umbrella,

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Black Heron
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Pearl-spotted Owlet

several African Jacanas, a pair of wonderful Greater Painted-snipe and two Black Crakes. There were lots of Squaccos present, a Red- necked Falcon watched us from a palm tree and the later amongst the long grasses we had Siffling, Rufous and Zitting Cisticolas. The finale came when Solomon whistled out a superb Pearl-spotted Owlet which then sat and watched us watching it. On the way back towards the hotel with the light fading we stopped quickly to look a Short-toed Snake-eagle sat on a tree top, and spotted from the coach by Diana. Another good day ended as we drove into a sunset.

Day 4    4th Dec

After breakfast we set off to Pirang an abandoned shrimp farm. En-route we stopped for both Bearded Barbet and a small group of Purple Glossy-starlings. Once at Pirang we got out and walked around the edges of several of the huge pools. Bill found a lovely Grey-headed Kingfisher sat in a bush, and other species were soon appearing from all directions. Ospreys, Marsh Harrier, and Palm-nut Vulture flew around while the first pools held Senegal Thick-knees, three Sacred Ibis and a good selection of heron species including several Black flying over. Further along we found Northern Wheatear, Zitting Cisticolas, Yellow-crowned Bishop and a close Plain-backed Pipit. Amongst the hirudines were Rufous- chested, Wire-tailed and huge Mosque Swallows and also a couple of Gull-billed Terns flying around. Leaving here we set off on the long drive to Tendaba camp. Several raptor stops were made, and the first saw adult Bateluer, African Hawk-eagle and Wahlberg’s Eagle. Later we stopped for lunch and here we watched a procession on vultures, and amongst the many Hooded we had low and close views of African White-backed and huge Ruppell’s-Griffon, while two Lizard Buzzards displayed for us. On a pond here we found a lovely Woodland Kingfisher. Other stops along the way produced Grasshopper Buzzard, more Wahlberg’s Eagles and by Brumen Bridge we saw a stunning Long-crested Eagle,

Long-crested Eagle
Click to enlarge

a small flock of Yellow-billed Storks three more Bateleur, two Red-necked Falcons and a distant Martial Eagle found by Terry. A little further along we had two close Lanner Falcons bringing our list of raptors for the day to an impressive 22. Once at Tendaba we were shown to our rooms and then shortly after we met and boarded the boat where we crossed the river Gambia and entered the small tributaries into the mangrove.

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Boat trip

Along the shore we saw three Woolly-necked Storks busily feeding and then as we drifted slowly down the river we came across many Malachite and Blue-breasted Kingfishers. There were several Mouse-brown Sunbirds flying back and forth and then as we rounded a corner a huge Goliath Heron was seen to dwarf a tiny Striated Heron that it was stood beside. We then came across a group of bee-eaters which consisted of many European, quite a few Blue-cheeked and five White-throated. A single male Namaqua Dove was spotted nearby on a dead tree. Continuing on we saw Mudskippers, and lots of Common Sandpipers, then as the light faded we returned across the river.                 

Day 5    5th Dec

We finished our breakfast and then headed the short distance to Tendaba airfield. We had not gone far when a single tree was seen to hold Levailants Cuckoo, Grey Woodpecker, Purple Glossy-starlings, Bush Petronia and three Senegal Parrots. A little further along near a pair of Abyssinian Rollers a flock Black- rumped Waxbills showed really well, while above us three Comb Ducks flew over. Further on again we watched a distant Brown-necked Parrot, then there were two Montagu’s Harriers quartering the fields and a beautiful Bruce’s Green Pigeon. Thirty Spur-winged Geese flew over and then we came across a stunning Pygmy Sunbird. On a wet pool we saw Little Ringed Plovers. We then boarded our coach and continued on. Solomon then spotted the head of one of the birds everyone had wanted to see an Abyssinian Ground-hornbill.

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Abyssinian Ground-hornbill. We all got out and walked closer eventually seeing a pair of the huge birds very close and walking around  unconcerned in the grass in front of us.

Leaving this area we continued on. Arriving at the ferry port we found out that the ferry which was supposedly running had just gone aground on the concrete slipway. As we waited patiently, a Peregrine Falcon, African Hawk- eagle and Palm-nut Vulture showed well. With the ferry still unable to free itself, we hastily made some decisions and then left our coach, boarded one of the smaller wooden boats and crossed over the river. On the other side a little bargaining soon hired us a driver with what could only be described as an old and naturally air-conditioned minibus. However we were shortly on our way towards Kaur. As we proceeded along the dusty track our first stop produced good views of species such as Chestnut-backed Finch- larks, two Vieillot’s Barbets, White- rumped Seedeaters, and two slow flying and very heavy looking Abyssinian Ground-hornbills. On again, and we decided it was time to stop for lunch, this we did beside a small water hole. As we tucked into our cheese sandwiches and water melon we enjoyed the spectacle of many birds coming down to drink. There were lots of Chestnut-backed Finch-larks, as well as Namaqua Doves, Cut-throats, Red-cheeked Cordonbleus, Orange Bishops, exquisite little Exclamatory Paradise-whydahs and a single Sudan Golden-sparrow . Above us Marabou Stork, Ruppell’s Griffon-vulture and a Mottled Spinetail were seen. Picnic over with, we set off again and later arrived at the Kaur wetlands. 

Parking beside a small pool we all got out and were immediately greeted by the sight of nineteen immaculate looking Egyptian Plovers.

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Egyptian Plovers
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African Quailfinch

Difficult to take eyes of these beautiful birds we eventually did and also saw six Comb Ducks, two Purple Swamphens, a flock of 150 Collared Pratincoles, a superb African Quailfinch, 13 Marsh Harriers, and lots of European Turtle-doves. All too soon we had to leave and on our return journey along the dusty track an emergency stop was made when Solomon spotted a very rare and seldom recorded Saville’s Bustard stood right beside the road. We then saw it fly a few feet into the bush. Everyone split up and slowly searched the area, where after a short while the bird was seen to take off and fly low across the bushes before disappearing back into thick cover. This species has only been recorded a few times before in the Gambia. Hot and tired we then headed back, crossed the river, boarded our lovely clean and very welcome coach and set off for our hotel back on the coast. As it became dusk some of us saw three Four-banded Sandgrouse fly past and then on the road we stopped to look at a big fat Puff Adder which was warming itself on the tarmac.

Day 6   6th Dec

Today we visited Brufut Woods and walked the small track that passes through the trees and scrub.

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A male Klaas’s Cuckoo was watched sat beside a Swallow-tailed Bee-eater

Both Northern Crombec and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird put in an appearance. There was also noisy Grey-backed Camaropteras and a gorgeous male Scarlet-chested Sunbird. Further along a Green Turaco showed well and then Terry found a nest hole which was occupied by a pair of Cardinal Woodpeckers. We continued on further where just a few of us saw a Red-winged Warbler and then everyone enjoyed seeing three very obliging Striped Kingfishers, two Lavender Waxbills, Green-backed Eremomelas and a superb Senegal Batis. In the skies we saw White Pelican, Fanti Sawwings and really good views of Mottled Spinetails. We then returned to the coach and moved on to Madina pools. Here after searching the lily-pad covered pools we finally saw about five Black Crakes. Time for lunch so we drove to Tanji where we had our picnic beside a huge lagoon. Caspian Terns flew around and a Giant Kingfisher was spotted. After a relaxing lunch we drove to Banjul and had a look along the beach where amongst the hundreds of Grey-headed Gulls we watched three Pomarine Skuas and at least five Arctic Skuas. Amongst the terns we saw Black, Royal, Sandwich and Caspian. We then drove round the back streets of Banjul and walked between some houses to view a pool full of waders. Here there lots of Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stints as well as six Marsh Sandpipers and a single Dunlin. There were also sixty Caspian Terns and one each of Gull-billed, and Little Terns. Leaving here we drove to the old cape road where after a bit of searching we eventually saw a pair of Yellow-throated Longclaws. After this we returned to the hotel to pick up a torch, after which  we drove the short distance to an area of coastal scrub. Here we waited and just after sunset we saw a Pearl-spotted Owlet, and brief views of several Long-tailed Nightjars.

Day 7   7th Dec

     Today we drove to Marakissa and then took a slow walk through the rich forest. One of the first birds we came across was a male Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike. Martin then found a stunningly bright African Golden Oriole which sat patiently as we all enjoyed excellent views of it. A little further along we came across a female Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Black Scimitar-bill and Scarlet-chested Sunbird. Moving on we stopped to look at a Northern Puffback and a very obliging Tawny-flanked Prinia, before reaching  a lily covered pond where we watched a very close Malachite Kingfisher

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Malachite Kingfisher
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White-crested Helmet-shrikes

and a couple of juvenile Striated Herons perched on a tree trunk beside the water. Leaving here we headed back through a different track in the woods where the first birds we came across were four White-crested Helmet-shrikes showing  wonderfully well as they sat there preening. A little further along there was a bit more activity and as we waited and watched we saw a pair of Grey Woodpeckers, at least three male Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrikes and then a real highlight the first of two White-breasted Cuckoo-shrikes a species that is scarce and difficult to find.

White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike
Click to enlarge

Moving from here we made a quick stop by a small bridge where a Giant Kingfisher put in a brief appearance and then a Black Crake was spotted and a Tawny Eagle flew over. It was now very hot so we made our way to our lunch stop a wooden building on stilts overlooking a wetland and fields. After lunch we set off to drive along the Faraba Banta bush-track. A brief stop to look at a Grasshopper Buzzard was soon followed by Terry spotting a raptor sat in a palm, this turned out to be a Brown Snake-eagle which we enjoyed scope views of, and also it’s mate sat right beside it. Only a short distance on and we parked up in the shade of an old Baobab tree. Here Denba our other guide was soon calling us over when he found a Spotted Thick-knee, yet another difficult species. We then watched as this superb bird walked across an open area of the field and then into the cover of some tall grass. Above us raptors that were seen included Brown Snake-eagle, African Hawk-eagle, Booted Eagle, an African Hobby, Bateleur, and two close Dark-chanting Goshawks. A Brubru was then heard calling and eventually after a game of hide and seek seen by all. We then left the area and drove to the Seleti water holes which were just over the border into Senegal. Here as we quietly waited we saw three African Harrier-hawks and a Shikra coming down to drink while two Palm-nut Vultures watched from a tall palm and in the low bushes we watched Exclamatory Whydah, and Bush Petronias. Leaving here we had just enough time to call in at Madina rice fields, where after a ten minute wait we were treated to two Hadada Ibis which flew up to settle on a dead tree, ending a day that was full of excellent and unusual species.

DAY 8   8th Dec

     Some of the group decided to use our last morning to relax around the hotel grounds while the rest of us were going to check some close sites. As we waited on the coach Diana then informed us she had just spotted two Mohos in the garden of the hotel, we then got out of the coach, met up with the rest of the group and all enjoyed the pair of Mohos nest building. We also managed to see a Bronze-tailed Glossy-starling which was new for the trip. While some of us remained in the garden the rest boarded the coach and drove to the Kotu bridge and then on to the Bund road where we stopped and viewed an area of marsh. On top of the mangroves were at least twelve Black Herons, a few Western Reef-egrets and the ever present and common Pied Kingfishers. Driving around to the other side of the marsh we saw African Darters, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, and a host of waders and terns. Next we moved to the coast were we walked out to view the edges of a large lagoon. Three Slender-billed Gulls showed well, alongside several Gull-billed, Little and Caspian Terns while on an area of sandy beach we found ten Kentish Plovers. After this it was time we headed back to the hotel to meet the rest of the group for a photo in the gardens with our local guides. An excellent week in this fabulous country saw us record a total of 272 species a very impressive number including many difficult species and more than most people see in two weeks!

I thank everyone that attended this tour making it such fun to lead, and I also thank Solomon and Denba our local guides.

Steve Bird

Click for full birdlist for the Gambia



birdseekers photos