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GAMBIA TOUR - 7th to 14th December 2001

LEADERS: Nick Bray Solomon Jallow

Friday 7th December

Our plane left a very cold Bristol Airport at 9.15am and we met up with other Birdseekers who had started off in Manchester. Some six hours later, we touched down at Banjul Airport to be greeted by 36 degrees Celcius! Wow!! We were soon out of the airport & on our way to the Senegambia Hotel. There were many birds visible on the short drive to our hotel, including Black-shouldered Kite and many Hooded Vultures. On arrival at the hotel, an Osprey soared overhead.

Once we had settled into our rooms, we met on the lawn for some cold drinks and familiarised ourselves with the abundant birdlife that the Senegambia is now justly famous for. Our guide, Solomon Jallow, met us and after some introductions we were able to discuss the weeks forthcoming birding. Unfortunately, the London flight was delayed & Steve, Pat and Mary eventually arrived by taxi.

The birds came thick and fast and we didn't move at all for the 2 hours up until dusk. We had stunning views of Yellow-crowned Gonolek, White-crowned Robin-Chat, Lavender Waxbills and Steve & Pat saw the only Lesser Honeyguide of the trip. We were able to soak up the sun & relax while the birds just kept coming: Green Wood Hoopoe, Red-billed Hornbill, Grey Woodpecker & Black Flycatcher all gave good views. What a start to the holiday and we all enjoyed our delicious buffet dinner that evening!

Saturday 8th December

We were picked up at 7.30am by Solomon in an air-conditioned minibus and drove the short distance to Kotu Sewage Ponds. Upon arrival we were soon in the midst of more new birds and it was difficult to know where to look first - a feeling we would only begin to get used to later in the week! The edges of the sewage pools were teeming with waders, including several Green & Wood Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilts and a whole assortment of more familiar waders. We all marvelled at the Red-billed Hornbills that seemed to be everywhere and the unique appearance of our first Hamerkop gave good photographic opportunities. In the bushes alongside the pools, a Lizard Buzzard was seen being mobbed by a Shikra. Overhead, we watched Pallid and African Palm Swifts flying whilst a Palm-nut Vulture and African Harrier Hawk put in an appearance. A group of Piapiacs were spotted and a Double-spurred Francolin gave good views at the base of some bushes. A flyby Giant kingfisher was all too brief, but a Bronze-tailed Glossy Starling was scoped by everyone. A Northern Crombec played hide and seek in the trees nearby.

Blue-bellied Roller
Blue-bellied Roller

We walked down a narrow path towards Kotu Creek. Amongst the scattered trees & bushes we saw Wryneck, Western Bonelli's Warbler, 3 Subalpine Warblers, Beautiful Sunbird and 2 Red Bishops in non-breeding plumage. Whilst looking at a party of White-billed Buffalo-weavers attending to their extraordinary large nests, Soloman heard a Singing Cisticola in some nearby grass. It was perched low down, but we eventually got reasonable views of this skulking bird. As the group moved away, the bird came out on to the tops of the grasses and showed really well to some of the group. Other memorable birds include the Blue-bellied Rollers that were immediately nominated bird of the trip (or bird of the hour!), Grey Hornbill and a group of noisy Green Wood Hoopoes.

We followed a path alongside Kotu Creek and headed towards the bridge. At the base of some mangroves we watched our first Monitor Lizard sunning itself next to a Black-billed Wood Dove. The Senegal Thick-knees were much trickier, being stationary in the shadows under the mangroves, but we all got good scope views. At the bridge, a Malachite kingfisher flew by, 6 Little Bee-eaters and a Wattled Plover were also seen.

Black-billed Wood Dove
Black-billed Wood Dove
Senegal Thick-knees
Senegal Thick-knees

Following the road up to the Golf Course, we stopped for some cold drinks before going to the Paradise Beach Club for lunch. It was very hot now, so it was nice to sit in the shade and relax. We were right on the beach and careful scanning produced Pomarine Skua and a few Caspian Terns. We all enjoyed our leisurely lunch before heading up to the Golf Course. There was some sort of tournament taking place, so disturbance was very noticeable, so we headed down to the creek. On the open fairways, Black-headed Plovers were seen and a Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird was found in some bushes. At the Creek, Long-tailed Cormorant was new and a Sacred Ibis flew over.

We then met the bus and went to the Bund Road. As the tide was in, Solomon took us to the back of some lagoons that had exposed mud. On the telegraph wires alongside the road, we saw many Pied Kingfishers and a flock of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. We were all a bit unsure as Solomon led us down an alley on the edge of Banjul and over a rubbish tip - but what a place! There was quite a lot of mud exposed, with the lagoons some way out. We walked closer and saw 3 Marsh Sandpipers in company with Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stints, Wood Sandpipers and the first of 10 Black Egrets. Further out, a roosting flock of gulls and terns looked interesting, so we walked closer again. We were rewarded with 5 Slender-billed Gulls amongst the Grey-headed Gulls. Also, 2 Royal Terns were found amongst the Caspian Terns and useful side-by-side comparisons could be made. We were also fortunate to watch 2 Gull-billed Terns next to some Sandwich Terns. Also noted, were Intermediate Egret and African Darter. All too soon it was time to leave and get back to the Hotel.

On arrival at the Senegambia we still had an hour of daylight and those who wanted headed for an early shower and cold drinks. The rest of us went in search of the elusive Oriole Warbler. Sure enough, after a bit of searching we had stunning views of a bird feeding next to some chalets. It was oblivious to our presence and was a fitting finale to a brilliant day.

African Darter
African Darter
Palm-nut Vulture
Palm-nut Vulture

Sunday 9th December

Today we went to Abuko, arriving at 8.20am. We headed straight for the Crocodile Pool and settled down in the hide and waited to see what would appear. Birds appeared all the time, some like Palm-nut Vulture and Grey Hornbill flying over the pool and landing in the dense vegetation that surrounds the pool. Others, like our first Black-necked Weaver were quite brief and melted away into deep cover. An African Jacana showed well right outside the hide and stately Black-headed Herons stood sentinel in poolside trees. A few Fanti Saw-wings appeared over the pool and dived down to the waters surface to take a drink. Bird activity was pretty continuous and our strategy of waiting in this one area paid off when our first Violet Turaco appeared very close to one side. What can you say about a purple bird with a red bill and yellow frontal shield, as well as bright crimson wings that flash at you when it flies. Wow!! We watched at least 3 Violet Turaco's in the surrounding forest, getting absolutely stunning views. All of a sudden, a pair of Giant Kingfishers flew in and perched briefly on some dead branches right in front of the hide. They quickly flew off and we decided to go as well - there was still so much to see. No sooner out of the hide, and we were looking at a small flock of White-crested Helmet Shrikes feeding right over our heads. And the pair of Giant Kingfishers reappeared and gave prolonged views. We had a last look at the crocodile swimming in the pool and then proceeded on to the next hide.

Violet Turaco
Violet Turaco
Giant Kingfishers
Giant Kingfisher

This hide is much smaller and overlooks another much smaller pool. A group of Black-crowned Night Herons roosted in waterside trees, whilst a Bushbuck grazed unconcernedly on the far side. But it was much quieter here, so we left and headed back to the main path. On the way, a party of Yellow White-eyes moved quickly through the canopy. As we approached the narrow wooden footbridge, Solomon spotted a tiny African Pygmy Kingfisher perched on the hand-rail. It was so small that it was easy to overlook this diminuitive forest jewel. Unfortunately, the bird flew off before everyone got a view but compensation came in the form of a brilliant Black Rail picking its way along the small creek. Above it a juvenile White-backed Night Heron perched deep in cover.

We headed along the main path and headed deeper into the forest. We saw several Grey-backed Camaroptera's and Common Wattle-eyes. A Snowy-crowned Robin Chat was more elusive, but African Thrush showed very well. Further on, we watched Black-necked Weavers overhead with a Collared Sunbird higher up. Both African and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatchers were seen well in the same area. Just around the corner, we had struck gold in the form of a Green Hylia that showed really well for what is an incredibly skulking bird normally. Then a Yellow-throated Leaflove perched out in full view, but the Little Greenbuls were as difficult to see as ever.

Lamin Lodge
Lamin Lodge

By now it was approaching lunchtime, so we headed towards our bus. We went through an open area and bumped into a pair of Fork-tailed Drongos. We met the bus at the small zoo and then headed to Lamin Lodge. This is a very picturesque setting, being a wooden construction built overlooking the mangroves. Cold drinks were much appreciated here and whilst waiting for our food to arrive, a pair of small greyish birds darting around the mangroves looked interesting. When they perched out in the open, we all realised they were Mouse-brown Sunbirds. The pair seemed to be nest building and continued to show in the same area below us all through lunch! A female Village Indigobird and Little Bee-eaters also showed very well.

A good lunch was had by all and some amusement was caused by the local troop of Green Vervet Monkeys that careered across the mangroves towards the lodge. One in particular was very bold and came inside for a really close look at Pat before going downstairs to have his lunch! Feeling totally refreshed, we then drove to some fields on the far side of Lamin Village. We started to walk over some rough ground and had good flight views of a pair of Four-banded Sandgrouse.

Grey Kestrel
Grey Kestrel
Black-shouldered Kite
Black-shouldered Kite

In nearby trees Black-shouldered Kite and Grey Kestrel were seen. Walking back to the bus, a Little Buttonquail (formerly Andalusian Hemipode) was flushed from under our feet. We saw it a second time shortly after and then made our way to Lamin Rice Fields.

We walked out between the rice fields to a vantage point overlooking a marshy area. From here we watched 2 Black Crakes feeding out in the open whilst a female Greater Painted Snipe skulked at the edge of the grass. Also in this area, we saw a Black Egret, African Pied Hornbill, Pied-winged Swallow and 2 Bearded Barbets. As we were leaving a Giant Kingfisher flew over.

Monday 10th December

African Golden Oriole
African Golden Oriole
Pearl-spotted Owlet
Pearl-spotted Owlet

We left the Senegambia Hotel at 7.30am and began our drive upriver. Our first destination was only 40 minutes away, which was another area of rice fields and flooded meadows. The track leading down to the fields yielded a superb Long-crested Eagle perched on top of a dead tree. We stopped at the edge of the fields and had another of those crazy 5 minutes when everything appears all at once. In the tree above us, we had great views of a Pearl-spotted Owlet. Then an African Golden Oriole dazzled us in the sunlight

and a Violet Turaco flew in to see what all the noise was. Out in the fields we picked up the hoped for Hadada Ibis as it flew in and dropped out of sight. Whilst Solomon walked out into the fields, I picked up a superb Martial Eagle, which flew around the skyline before perching in a dead tree. Whilst we were looking at this an adult Tawny Eagle flew over the rice fields and a flock of 10 African Green Pigeons flew by. If this wasn't enough the Hadada Ibis then flew up and perched on top of a big tree in the middle of the fields! Apparently I gave considerable entertainment to the whole group in my excited state as I tried to give directions to all these birds as they appeared - as my arms went one way and legs the other!

Driving back up the track, we had our first Dark Chanting Goshawk perched in a palm tree whilst 3 African Pied Hornbills and a Shikra flew over. But we wanted to get to Pirang before it got too hot, so we moved on. It wasn't very far to get to the site and once out of the bus new birds appeared immediately. Thorough searching of the hirundine flocks produced Red-chested, Mosque, Wire-tailed, Pied-winged, Rufous-chested, Barn & Red-rumped Swallows! On the banks of the dried out ponds, we found a few Plain-backed Pipits. In the distance an impressive Yellow-billed Stork soared across the horizon. Other birds seen included Spur-winged Goose & Little Ringed plover. All this without walking more than 20 yards! But our real prize was the sight of 3 stately Black-crowned Cranes that flew in right over our heads, landing briefly before flying away into the distance. You just couldn't have written a better script because we had really seen everything available to us here.

Abyssinian Roller
Abyssinian Roller

Our next stop was at Bamakuno Forest where we immediately found a few Yellow-fronted Canaries but they proved quite difficult to see at the tops of the trees. The rest of the area proved quite birdless, so we decided to have our packed lunch and relax.

Driving up the main road we stopped to look at a close Grasshopper Buzzard and proceeded to find 2 Abyssinian Rollers, Melodious Warbler and Variable Sunbird. Careful scanning of a flock of non-breeding Bishops in the roadside grass held a partial summer plumaged Red Bishop. Continuing `up country' we stopped to look at some Greater Blue-eared and Bronze-tailed Glossy Starlings amongst the commoner Splendid and Long-tailed Glossy Starlings. On the other side of the same village, we stopped to look at a close Eurasian Griffon Vulture and promptly found 2 Lanners and a pair of Wahlberg's Eagle soaring above us.

We proceeded on to Brumen Bridge and saw another Yellow-billed Stork before heading to Tendaba Camp. After dropping our luggage into our rooms we got straight onto our pirogue for the much anticipated creek crawl. The tide was right out, so we had to go quite a way upriver before turning into the creek. One of our boatmen had to intermittently bale water out of the bottom of the pirogue, which initially was quite alarming. However, we soon got used to it. We had a Sacred Ibis and a flock of Comb Ducks fly overhead, as we motored up the river. We had only just entered the creek when, unbelievably, an African Finfoot crashed out of the mangroves and flew away behind us. We turned around to search for it, but it flew away deeper into the mangroves. Whilst searching for this bird, we spotted a close Malachite kingfisher before continuing further up the creek. We had a great time, seeing the first of 15 Blue-breasted Kingfishers and then an absolutely amazing Goliath Heron briefly perched on the riverbank before flying down the creek in front of us. Seeing this huge bird and probably another on several occasions, both perched in the marshes as well as flying over our boat made it one of the star birds of the trip so far.

We wound our way further `up the creek' and at one point we could stand on the boat to look over the riverbank to view the adjacent marshes. Here, we could see 3 Woolly-necked Storks wading in the marshes. Overhead, we saw flocks of Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters. Most of the creek was lined with mangroves, and at regular intervals we would see Pied, Blue-breasted or Malachite Kingfishers perched on branches overhanging the water. Or get a glimpse of a Mouse-brown Sunbird as it whizzed through the branches. One dead tree held a perched Splendid Glossy Starling. We all had a great time and it was such a brilliant experience cruising through the mangroves - even enjoying very close views of crocodile.

As dusk settled in, we returned to the broad expanse of the Gambia River and quietly made our way back to the camp. Well, it was quiet until a hilarious exhibition of hysteria broke out in the rear of the boat. A rather large fish had decided to jump right into our boat, hitting several people on the way before wriggling between Steve & Pat on the floor. For a few seconds, they thought it was a crocodile! Pat nearly jumped overboard in panic before realising it was just a fish. We were all in hysterics for ages after.

Eventually, we arrived safely back at Tendaba Camp and soon settled down to a banquet of Ladyfish & Bush Pig for dinner.

Tuesday 11th December

We had an early breakfast and left Tendaba Camp at 7.00am and went the short distance to the airfield. We walked along a path through grassland with scattered trees and immediately saw 3 Stone partridges walking across the path in front of us. We stopped and scanned this area as it looked quite interesting. We had 2 Black Flycatchers and a Pearl-spotted Owlet flew in and began calling. Attracted to the call & with a little help from Solomons' owl impression, birds began to appear. A brilliant Grey-headed Bush Shrike appeared close by, quickly followed by 3 White-crested Helmet Shrikes and an African Golden Oriole.

Bruce’s Green Pigeon
Bruce's Green Pigeon

Birds were appearing all the time and most of them were new for the trip - at times it was difficult to know which one to look at first. We found a flock of Bruce's Green Pigeons in some distant trees before finding a few birds right next to the path! Then an immature White Pelican flew over and we discovered a flock of Black-rumped Waxbills in the tall sedge along the path. A Viellot's Barbet was perched atop a tree and a female Bush Petronia was seen well. So much for the first half an hours birding, surely it couldn't get any better?

We came to the middle of the airfield, which was a great open area where an immature Western Banded Snake Eagle was perched nearby. Then Steve spotted the bird everyone had hoped for - an African Fish Eagle. Although distant, we were able to get quite reasonable views through the scopes; and this bird was immediately nominated bird of the trip by nearly everyone. It was perched next to a huge nest and a young bird was just visible on the nest. From here we walked around the side of a wood overlooking a marsh, where we saw Black-tailed Godwits, Green-backed Eremomela and Senegal Parrots. A Purple Heron was only seen by a few of the group, but everyone saw the African Hawk Eagle that flew over. This was closely followed by a Shikra, Palm-nut Vulture, African Harrier Hawk and a Lizard Buzzard.

We met our bus and drove to the ferry. There was quite a queue, but Solomon was able to get us to the front and we pushed in, in true African style! Unfortunately we had just missed the ferry and had to wait over an hour for its return, so we walked out of the compound and tried our luck with the skulking Winding Cisticola in the roadside marshes. Solomon managed to whistle one out and it perched briefly before dropping down into the vegetation. We also found a Rufous Cisticola in the same area, which was most unexpected. So we returned to our bus to wait for the ferry. The sights and sounds of Gambian life were encapsulated by the activity in the ferry `terminal'. Masses of people, some in traditional brightly coloured clothes queued up for the ferry. There were lots of small stalls selling everything from burgers to baseball caps. And a very long queue of lorries had the drivers sat underneath them in the shade - obviously anticipating a long wait. Solomon informed us that they sometimes have to wait up to a week to get across!

Anyway, we eventually boarded the ferry and set off. We saw another African Fish Eagle and a Palm-nut Vulture from the ferry. As we disembarked on the north bank, we were treated to a bit of rain and a small flock of Mottled Spinetails and House Swifts. The overcast conditions and a slight breeze was very pleasant, resulting in continuous bird activity throughout the day. Every time we stopped to have a look at one bird perched near the road, we always found others. One such stop produced a brilliant male Cut-throat and then we found a Rufous-crowned Roller, Scarlet-chested Sunbird and a Chestnut-crowned Sparrow Weaver. The road to the Kaur Wetlands is literally a dust track but there were plenty of quality birds to take our minds of the bumps. A close Exclamatory Paradise Whydah certainly deserved the gasps of astonishment!

We stopped for lunch along the roadside, next to a big tree. We all enjoyed our packed lunch and cold drinks from the cool box. Amazingly, we found a stunning Verreaux's Eagle Owl perched on a nest in a nearby wood. There was also a good African Hawk Eagle seen flying over. But we were soon off and continued along the road. It was inevitable that we would find something else and have to stop again. This time a tree full of Little Weavers was seen and on the other side of the road, a few more Scarlet-chested Sunbirds showed well. Temptation was too much and we all piled out of the bus - and just as well. Solomon found a Black Wood Hoopoe which proved quite elusive, but we all saw it as it flew over the road. Once again it was difficult to know which way to turn. Firstly, a few Yellow-fronted Canaries showed well, then a Rufous Bushchat popped out in the open to sing, a Hoopoe flew over, 4 Black-crowned Tchagras performed in a bush giving excellent views and a Western Banded Snake Eagle was found perched. Then a Dark Chanting Goshawk and a Grasshopper Buzzard flew over. So many superb birds made it hard to leave this area, we all felt there was more to find.

Egyptian Plover
Egyptian Plover

However, we were well behind schedule and the Kaur Wetlands beckoned. Finally, just before 4pm we turned a corner and could see the lush green wetlands. Pulling up at the first reedy, wet area, we had 2 Purple Swamphens, Red-rumped Swallows, 3 distant Marabou Storks and the bird we all wanted to see - Egyptian Plover. What a clean, immaculate plumaged bird! We watched it for a while, before discovering a further 3 birds. Nearby, we saw many Senegal Thick-knees. Further on, on the opposite side of the road we found 2 Kittlitz's plovers and 2 Collared Pratincoles. A Purple Heron was also found here.

All too soon we had to leave on the long journey back to the coast. Unfortunately, we once again just missed the ferry and had to wait over 2 hours this time. In the swamp next to the ferry area, we saw Reed Warbler and a Blue-breasted Kingfisher. Eventually, the ferry came and we were on our way. We drove back in darkness, the journey alleviated by Mick trying to close a particularly vicious window that refused to be kept shut. However, Mick's sudden superhuman strength resulted in the whole window, frame and all falling out. He managed to grab hold of it and fortunately the driver was able to repair it then and there. This led to another bout of hysterics that lasted for quite a long time.

We finally got back to the hotel at midnight. Most of the group retired to their rooms straight away, whilst a few stayed in the bar to celebrate the brilliant 136 species seen today.

Wednesday 12th December

We had a leisurely breakfast this morning, before setting off to Brufut Woods. On arrival, we parked just beyond the newly created reserve entrance and followed a path through the rather high grassy vegetation. We saw a few familiar warblers, including Olivaceous, Melodius and Reed Warblers all quite close together, which allowed a very useful comparison. Overhead, a few Fanti Saw-wings flew through quickly. It was apparent that there were large numbers of birds feeding along the edge of the path and deeper into the long grass. Some patience was required, eventually allowing superb views of delightful Lavender Waxbills among the commoner Red-cheeked Cordon-bleus and Red-billed Firefinch. Whilst sorting through these feeding flocks, we found a few Pin-tailed Whydah's and a Bush Petronia. A major surprise was the great views we had of a stunning Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike - what a bird! Other birds along the path were Northern Crombec and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher. However, possibly bird of the day was seen by just a few of the group as it flew low over the path - Ovambo Sparrowhawk. A little further on, a Nightingale proved frustratingly elusive as we could only hear it. However, Graham spotted a bird some distance away that turned out to be a Brubru. The telescope gave us all pretty decent views of this little stunner.

We then drove the short distance to Brufut Pools. As soon as we got out of the bus, we saw 4 White Pelicans soaring in the distance with a group of Hooded Vultures. It was very hot by now, so the pools were quiet today. We did see a close perched Lizard Buzzard, Black-necked Weaver and lots of Western Grey Plantain-eaters. The rather dubious highlight was a large black snake resting down a big hole, that Solomon said may be a Black Mamba. However, we didn't get too close to study it!!

Lizard Buzzard
Lizard Buzzard
White-fronted Plover
White-fronted Plover

So, we headed off to a delightful lodge at Tanji for lunch. It took a good while for our food to arrive, but it was so nice to get out of the sun and relax with some cold drinks. Some of the group had a short walk around the extensive gardens, seeing African Pied Hornbill, Bronze-tailed Glossy Starling and the ever-popular Bearded Barbet. Whilst, Hooded Vultures were soaring in large numbers overhead and a Lanner flew by. A delightful lunch followed before we drove to Tanji. We headed down to the beach and began to scan the shore. A large party of gulls & terns were gathered on the lagoon including Lesser Crested, Royal and Caspian Terns. At the edge of some nearby scrub, a couple of Crested Larks skulked in the shade. Further out were many Ringed Plovers and we managed to find several Kentish Plovers amongst them. And then we found the bird we had been searching for, as a White-fronted Plover appeared close by. It was quite pale with buffy legs and had a slightly different jizz to the other plovers. A second bird was found a bit later. We then decided to head inland to check the scrub and woodland.

This turned out to be a very good move, as we found a rather mobile party of 4 Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrikes. They flew all around us, occasionally settling in the top of some nearby bushes and eventually gave us very good views. A Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat was seen briefly in the same area. And soon after, we had a fantastic sighting of 4 Violet-backed Sunbirds. One male in particular was a real stunner when the sun caught his purple mantle.

By now it was getting late and we still wanted to try for nightjars. So we drove to some dune scrub further up the coast. The sun had just set as we arrived and no sooner had we got out of the bus than a Long-tailed Nightjar flew past. This was quickly followed by a Standard-winged Nightjar! Solomon explained the differences in feeding action as well as plumage features. We all agreed this was a suitably perfect ending to another great days birding.

Thursday 13th December

Today, we headed down to Marakissa, to an interesting area of woodland and scrub that holds some interesting but difficult species. It took nearly an hour to reach our first site and we soon left the bus and walked down a narrow path. This area provided us with great views of a Pearl-spotted Owlet. Its call attracted many species and once again we were soon surrounded by birds. The first of 4 Northern Puffbacks were the first to show, followed by a Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike, Black-necked Weaver, Green-backed Eremomela, Yellow-throated Leaflove and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher. Further exploration yielded another Western Banded Snake Eagle, several Lizard buzzards and 3 White-crested Helmet Shrikes. A Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike was frustratingly brief and proved very elusive.

We drove down to a nearby river, to an open marshy area surrounded by fields. We got out of the bus a few hundred yards before an abandoned café on stilts and walked around the edge of the fields. A Plain-backed Pipit was seen, as well as Malachite Kingfisher and Mottled Spinetail. A few Quailfinch `exploded' from the grass, calling as they sped away over our heads. Our major discovery here, was a very interesting small `acro' warbler that skulked in the shadows of some tufts of grass. After some good views through the scope, it was apparent that it was a Savi's Warbler - a new bird for the Gambia. Needless to say, Solomon was rather excited about this find!

We had our packed lunch in the `tower' overlooking the river. Species seen from here included Black Egret, Caspian Tern and Wire-tailed Swallow before we headed off to the Faraba-Banta Bush Track. This is a well-known area for raptors, although it began to get rather cloudy and raptor movement was slow. Firstly, we had a Tawny-flanked Prinia and a Levaillant's Cuckoo. Shortly after an African Hobby flew around in front of us. In the same area we all saw Grasshopper Buzzard, Long-crested, Booted and Tawny Eagle and our 28th species of raptor for the trip - Beaudouin's Short-toed Eagle. Other birds seen were Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Striped Kingfisher, Rufous-crowned Roller and Namaqua Dove.

Time went very quickly and all too soon it was time to go back to the hotel. We said our goodbyes to Solomon, who had been an excellent guide and who found us many stunning birds.

Friday 14th December

This morning we walked out of our hotel and down the road to Bijilo Reserve. As we walked just beyond the entrance, we found a brilliant pair of White-throated Bee-eaters perched on the telegraph wires. They flew around us for quite a while and were really quite confiding. Pleased with this find, we entered Bijilo Reserve and followed the coastal trail through a narrow belt of woodland. The path led us to the reserve boundary, which runs alongside the beach and is quite an open area with bushes and scrub.

White-throated Bee-eater
White-throated Bee-eater
Long-tailed Glossy Starling
Long-tailed Glossy Starling

We didn't follow the path very far but found a good selection of birds. A pair of Grey Kestrels flew overhead and one landed at the top of a large palm tree. We also saw a close Lizard Buzzard, which seemed oblivious to our presence. In an open area on the edge of the wood, we found a party of 6 Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters that were perched on a bare branch. The sun had not yet reached this sheltered area so the birds were not flying around too much. But as the sun appeared over the trees on the hill above us, the Bee-eaters became much more active and showed off their acrobatic skills.

Following the path a little further, provided us with excellent views of 2 Oriole Warblers singing right out in the open. They were perched in a totally bare tree and gave a superb performance before flying deep into cover. In the same area a few Double-spurred Francolins flew across the path and a stunning Yellow-crowned Gonolek was seen. Beside the common Long-tailed Glossy Starlings we also found Variable, Splendid and Beautiful Sunbirds as well as Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher and a Black-necked Weaver.

It was at this point that the local troupe of Red Colobus Monkeys became quite interested in us and some of the bolder ones walked right through our group! Unfortunately, it was time to return to the hotel and the walk back produced Lavender Waxbills, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird & Grey and Fine-spotted Woodpeckers.

Back at the hotel, some of us had one final walk around the gardens but it was rather quiet. However, we had a final look at the resident White-crowned Robin-Chats before starting to pack and think about the return journey to cold, wet Britain.

On behalf of Solomon and myself, I would like to thank everyone in the group for making it such a pleasure and a delight to lead.

Nick Bray

African Green Pigeon
African Green Pigeon

Full bird list for the Gambia


birdseekers photos