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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
The Gambia, August 22nd - September 3rd 2006,
Birding the hard way: rainy season, public transport, no bird guides.
In March 2006 we booked a cheap holiday ticket to The Gambia. We knew it was not the best time to go, but cause we work and study in wintertime we had to go during our summer holidays. We don’t like bird guides who point us everything, we like it more to explore our own, and so we did. Though it was not easy to get rid of all the potential bird guides offering their service. The exchange rate was 34.25 Dalasi per Euro.
We found a big difference between people near the coast and inland. Around Kotu all the time bumsters around us, a real pain in the ass. In public transport and further inland the people were very, very friendly and we met many nice people.
There are tree ways to get to your desired nature reserve from your hotel.
1 Take a green tourist taxi. They depart from every hotel and you pay way too much (Abuko D700).
2 Take a Bush Taxi. Every car with a yellow number plate is a bush taxi. They have fixed routes and the taxi to Serekunda costs D5 per person. from there you can change to your next destination. Very cheap but it takes some time.
3 Hold a yellow Bush taxi and ask if he can bring you to your destination. Cause he has to go of his fixed route you have to negotiate about the price. We paid D150 to Abuko.
A good mix for us was to negotiate with a bush taxi driver in the morning to be not too late, and to take a bush taxi with fixed route back.
Rainy season doesn’t mean rain all day. Specially near the coast we had no rain at all during daytime, only at night. At Basse and Tendaba sometimes a couple of showers during daytime. But after a shower a lot of bird activity! Temperatures specially inland very high during midday. Some species seems to be absent in the wet, we missed black egret!! Other species are more common, and all the weavers, whydahs, bishops and sunbirds are in breeding plumage. An other advantage of going in summer time is the low season. Our hotel in Basse was way cheaper than usual and we didn’t have to book anything in advance.
After a short sleep finally our first day in The Gambia! First some bird watching before breakfast in the Badala Park Hotel gardens, seeing a selection of common birds. However, our first Blackcap Babblers also appeared to be our last.., and a male Northern Puffback was not a bad sighting. After breakfast to the Koto ponds, opposite the hotel. After seeing 3 Kelp Gulls we got in trouble with a boy, wanting 70 dalasi per person for being on the ponds. He became very irritating, so we decided to leave (without paying). On the way to the Faraja golf course we saw two African Silverbills. On the golf course we saw Black-headed Plover (not seen elsewhere), Blue-bellied Roller and Shikra. On our way to the casino cycle track we saw Wire-tailed Swallows at the Koto bridge. The cycle track produced a flock of flying Great White Pelicans and our first Hamerkops and Double-spurred Francolins.
At Dusk we hoped to find nightjars in the dunes near the cycle track. We were very surprised to see a strange white-grey bird landing in the dunes, and after a short search we found an exhausted one-legged Grey Phalarope! Maybe it lost his leg in a fishnet? We simply could pick up the dying and moulting bird (some red in the plumage), and decided to finish his life. How bizarre. Anyway, no nightjars but a Barn Owl could be found.
We decided to check the pool next to Badala Park Hotel before breakfast, resulting in a nice Black Crake with a downy chick and a breeding pair Little Grebe. After breakfast we rent a bike near Koto Creek (D150 pp) and biked to Old Cape Road. On the mudflats we saw many Whimbrels, Royal Terns, Caspian Terns, some Sandwich Terns and Sanderlings. We also noted our first Mosque Swallows, Pink-backed Pelican and Broad-billed Roller. Camelo Corner was good for a flying Sacred Ibis, about 8 males Yellow-crowned Bishops, Yellow-backed Weavers and 2 African Jacana’s. The latter was surprisingly common, we saw the species in every marsh and rice field When it became really hot we relaxed a little in the botanical gardens, noting the first Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird.
In the late afternoon we walked around Koto Creek, seeing 16 Senegal Thick-knees and a Palm-nut Vulture. On the Faraja golf course we saw a very confiding Abyssinian Roller.
Today we took the Bush-taxi to Abuko. Specially the first part of the reserve is very nice, and some good birds were seen here: Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, male Western Bluebill, Violet and Green Touraco, Grey-headed Bristlebill and many Black-necked Weavers, Fanti Saw-wings, blue-spotted Wood-doves and Common Wattle-eye’s. After the Forest comes a more open part with a lots of sunbirds(Beautiful, but Scarlet-chested, Copper and Splendid as well), a Square-tailed Drongo and a Wahlberg’s Eagle. After the animal orphanage there is an extension which appeared to be very good for birds. We took a small track and saw Barn Owl, Northern Puffback, African Golden Oriole, green-backed Eremomela, Klaas’s Cuckoo and a few Stone Partridges. On our way back we visited the hide, and saw our first and last Giant Kingfisher.
The Bush-taxi to Tanji bird reserve. We got of on the northern end of the reserve, and saw immediately the first White-breasted Cormorant of the trip. We walked in the reserve, and that part was very good for sunbirds. Variable and Beautiful were very common, and Splendid, Scarlet-chested and Copper were seen here as well. On the other side of the road a pair of African Pied Hornbill and Bronze-tailed Glossy-starling were seen. We found our way trough the reserve with no clear paths, and found a place with good views at the beach. After a few minutes we found a Sooty Tern sitting on the beach!!! The bird guide gives only one unconfirmed record from 1973, so maybe we have the first confirmed record for The Gambia! In its 15 minutes stay we could make a description and photographs before if went back to see. Other birds on the beach: some Kelp Gulls, many Royal and Caspian Terns, Turnstone, Crested Lark, Little Tern and Common Tern. We found our way back to the main road, seeing Mottled Spinetail, White- and Snowy-crowned Robin-chat and Northern Black Flycatcher.
Today we decided to go to Basse. We knew it would be a long ride, and went to the bus garage in Serekunda very early. Cause the rainy season there was no bus service anymore, and the Bush-taxi’s took the northern route. No choice, we paid D200 and took the bush-taxi. After an hours wait we finally got on the ferry, so we didn’t leave Barra before 2 p.m.! During the trip from Barra to Georgetown (when it became dark) we saw the following species: Yellow-billed Stork, Rufous-crowned Roller, Vieillot’s Barbet, Northern Anteater Chat, Yellow-billed Oxpecker and Yellow-shouldered Widowbird. We arrived in Basse around mid-night and found a hotel called Jim’s Hotel. The hotel is not as clean as on the coast, but the owner is very friendly and a double costs only D275.
After the very long ride yesterday we got up late, and did our first walk to Prufu swamp. We walked to the first bridge, and then took the path to the right. That path was very good with many Red-throated Bee-eaters, 2 Stone Partridges, many Village Indigobirds, some Pin-tailed Whydahs and some Levaillant’s Cuckoos. It soon became too hot, and we went back to Basse. We decided to sit along the river, just west of the ferry, in the shadow of an old building. We were very surprised to found 10 Egyptian Plovers along the riverside there! In the late afternoon still very warm, but did some birding around the same track as the morning: Lavender Waxbill, Black-rumped Waxbill, Spur-winged Goose and again a fantastic male Pin-tailed Whydah with some females. We had dinner in Traditions, a place just east of the Ferry, with a great veranda over viewing the river. Here you can sleep as well, in good accommodation. So it is strange the book ‘Where to watch birds in the Gambia’ tells you, you better stay in Georgetown. I think you better stay here and you can explore Basse early in the morning instead of first travelling for an hour to Basse. I can recommend Traditions, you will like it! From the veranda we saw during dinner an Egyptian Plover, many Black-headed Herons and some Senegal Thick-knees flying past.
Up early to visit Prufu Swamp again. After a short walk through the swamp we saw a pair Black Coucals, a Rufous-chested Swallow, Singing Cisticola and Spur-winged Goose. Then it started to rain, so we went back to the hotel. It rained for two hours, and after the rain we saw an Western Olivaceous Warbler in the hotel garden. We had lunch in traditions, seeing 2 Ruppell’s Griffon Vultures from the veranda. Little Swifts are nesting under the veranda. After lunch we walked to the first bridge again, but now crossed the bridge, and did some bird watching along the road for the next kilometre: Grasshopper Buzzard, Western Banded Snake eagle, 3 males Exclamatory Paradise Whydah, 3 Egyptian Plovers and 2 White-backed Vultures.
We hoped to reach Tendaba today. Cause the bad road conditions there was no direct bus to Soma. We took one to Brikama Ba and changed vehicles there to get to Soma. After a long wait there, we found a bus to Kwinella. From there we took the horse taxi for the last 5 kilometres to Tendaba Camp, arriving there at 8 p.m. During the long trip we saw some Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, a small group Black Wood Hoopoes, 2 Grey Falcons and a few Dark Chanting Goshawks.
One of the first birds seen today was a Gabar Goshawk above the camp. After breakfast we took the small south-western exit of the camp, and walked along the mangroves and cultivations. We saw many Yellow-fronted Canaries, 1 Lavender Waxbill, many Pink-backed Pelicans, some green-backed Eremomela, a pair Little Weaver, 11 Spur-winged goose and 2 Woolly-necked Storks. In the afternoon we sat along the riverside and saw an Osprey and some Pink-backed Pelicans.
In the Afternoon we walked around the airstrip. The southern end is now less attractive, cause there are more cultivations and hence less old trees than described in the green book. Though we saw African Fish Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Bruce’s Geen Pigeon, 2 Woolly-necked Storks and our first African Mourning Dove.
In the morning the boat trip to the mangroves on the north bank. The 2,5 hour boat trip costs D200pp but a minimum of four is required. So we paid for four persons and hoped it would be a nice trip. The bird guide was not really enthusiastic. The first bird in the mangroves was a flying Goliath heron. A few minutes later the first Mouse-brown Sunbirds. Other birds seen during the trip: 3 other Goliath Herons, about 10 more Mouse-brown Sunbirds, 3 African blue Flycatchers, many Blue-breasted Kingfishers, 8 Woolly-necked Storks and many Darters.
In the afternoon we did some bird watching with 4 young keen birdwatchers we met yesterday in the village. We walked the path to the west again and saw Vitelline Masked Weaver, Black-crowned Tchagra, a pair Northern Puffbacks, Northern Crombec, Grasshopper Buzzard and heard Stone Partridge.
Back to the coast. We were lucky that a health conference held in Tendaba Camp also ended today, so we got a ride back to Serekunda. Before we left we took a walk to the peanut factory. It was very hot, but some birds were soaring above us: 2 Ruppell’s Griffon Vultures, a light morph Booted Eagle, many Pink-backed Pelicans and some Great White Pelicans. On the way back we saw some nesting trees loaded with Pink-backed Pelicans at Kwinella, an African Cuckoo and a Grey Falcon.
After the up-country experience and long journey back we decided to do nearly nothing today. A short walk to the golf course gave a nice male African Cuckoo and an African Harrier-hawk. In the late afternoon, while photographing some dragonflies on the casino cycle track, we saw a female Greater Painted Snipe flying into a rice field! We could observe the courting female for a long period at close distance!
Another day Abuko. Much of the same, but also some good additions. Specially at signpost number 18 we saw some good birds: Green Hylia, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Collared Sunbird and Yellow-breasted apalis. Relaxing some time on the veranda of the Darwin field station was not a bad idea: Greater Honeyguide, Collared Sunbird, Violet and Green Touraco and a 1st summer Black-crowned Night Heron.
A walk at the Abuko rice fields (just cross the road at the exit of the park) produced Northern Black Flycatcher, African Mourning Doves, Violet Touraco and a Black-shouldered Kite.
Our last day in The Gambia, so time to visit Pirang. The day began very good with a calling Pearl-spotted Owlet at the hotel grounds! Three African Harrier-hawks and a Palm-nut vulture were present as well. It took nearly two hours to reach Piring by bush taxi. At the junction to the shrimp farm we first walked in the direction of Fara Banta, and after a kilometre we followed the creek to the left to the shrimp farm. One of the first birds to be seen were a Gabar Goshawk and a Greater Honeyguide. While walking along the creek we were happy surprised to see a White-backed Night Heron flying from a palm into the mangroves! What an unexpected addition after missing the species in Abuko and Tendaba. Arriving at the shrimp farm we decided to walk the road alongside the farm, which gave good views to some reservoirs without entering the farm grounds: Bar-tailed Godwit, Sedge Warbler, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Northern Crombec and 2 Black-rumped Waxbills. We walked back to the entrance, ant took a small track following the southern borders of the shrimp reservoirs, which was a very good idea: There were many birds at this part of the farm: at least 41 Yellow-billed Storks, 45 African Spoonbills, many Pink-backed Pelicans, 13 Senegal Thick-knee, 2 Black-winged stilts and an adult Black Crowned Crane were seen close together! In the woods there we found a pair Yellow-billed Oxpeckers in a nesting tree, a Common Wattle-eye, a pair Black-necked Weavers and some African Mourning doves. We walked the way down to Farra Banta to catch a bus back to Serekunda. On the walk we saw another pair Yellow-billed Oxpeckers in a dead tree, 2 Dark Chanting Goshawks, a Wahlberg’s Eagle and a Black-shouldered Kite. After a last D25 meal on the street in Serekunda we went back to the hotel en packed our stuff, and the plane back to cold, cloudy Holland.