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A Report from

Gambian experience 6-13th February 2007,

Ian Higginson

Day 1 – 6th February 2007

Flight East Midlands – Banjul airport. Arrive 3pm to 33oC heat.

First bird Palm-nut vulture seen from plane! From runway lots of hooded vultures, a few black kites and several flocks of speckled pigeons. A few cattle egrets feeding on the grassy verges. While waiting for the coach to depart other new birds included palm swift, a male pygmy sunbird flew through (only one of 2 seen during week), Lanner falcon and a stunning male beautiful sunbird.

Highlight of birds seen from coach between airport and Kotu hotels:

70 hooded vulture
2 palm-nut vulture
pied crow
western grey plantain eater 2
Long-tailed glossy starling 13
Black-shouldered kite 1
Many laughing and vinaceous doves
Red-billed hornbill
Common bulbul 10

Arrive Bakuto Hotel and quickly drop of luggage and get out to explore area. Met up with our guide Jay-Jay. Then spent a pleasant 3 hours birding around Koto creek, Cycle track and jacana pond. 63 species were recorded for the day with additional highlights being:

Initial walk along Kotu creek at the back of the Bakuto hotel was a superb taster of birding in the Gambia with the following seen in a half-hour watch:

Olivaceous warbler 1
Black-headed plover – 3 seen from hotel on golf course
Pied kingfisher 6
Senegal thick-knee 11 on Kotu creek

Several waders on creek despite high water levels (apparently due to the mouth of the creek being bunded the previous week which has resulted in higher than normal water levels) – 21 common sandpiper, 2 grey plover, 10 black-winged stilt, 5 whimbrel, redshank, ringed plover, curlew.

Good opportunity to study a variety of herons including great white egret, 5 western reef heron, 2 striated heron. At dusk 12 black-crowned night herons were flying around Kotu bridge area.

A green vervet monkey played in the trees at the back of the Bakuto hotel.

Also around the creek were grey-headed gulls, 3 sacred ibis, little egret, 400+village weaver (large numbers feeding around the rice fields), 20 bronze mannakins. In the distance 100+ white-faced whistling ducks flew into the sewage ponds. Over the creek, gull-billed and 3 Caspian terns fed or were flying over.

We then walked out of the hotel onto the road towards Kotu bridge and met out guide Jay-Jay. Along the roadside we had our first sightings of the stunning red-billed firefinches and red-cheeked cordon-bleus. Standing on the bridge we quickly spotted plantain eaters and 2 broad-billed rollers in the tall trees. 8 spur-winged and 2 wattled plovers were flying around the creek. A striated heron stood on a favourite log next to the bridge.

At the start of the cycle track we were able to study both vinaceous and red-eyed doves though mourning dove eluded us during the whole week and became something of a quest towards the end of the trip. Laughing, vinaceous and red-eyed doves are abundant around Kotu and many areas that we visited.

Along the cycle track we spotted our first bearded barbet lurking in the top of bush. A hammerkop flew in to feed on the adjacent rice field and Senegal coucals were to become common in most coastal locations.

The jacana pool liver up to its name with some 40 African jacana’s including some rather cute juveniles walking across the lily pads. 3 black crakes were easily seen feeding along the northern bank around the small reedbed where a purple heron stood. A close intermediate egret enabled the subtle identification features to been seen. Waders on the pool included 5 wood and 5 green sandpipers, marsh sandpiper and several black-winged stilts. A stunning blue-bellied roller sat on the wires above the pool.

As dusk approached we slowly walked back to the hotel taking in the views from the bridge and watching the night herons coming out of the mangroves.

We arranged to be picked up by Jay-Jay at 0725 the following morning.

Day 2 – 7th February 2007

Abuko rice fields

We arrived at Abuko at 8am and Jay-Jay decided to take us around the rice fields opposite the reserve.  Many common species were encountered and an enjoyable couple of hours were spent walking through the open palm and fields between the road and rice fields. Highlights included 2 grey woodpeckers, splendid and beautiful sunbirds, 5 Harrier hawks, hoopoe, 2 snowy-crowned robin-chats, fork-tailed drongo. Around the rice fields were a mixture of open country birds and wetland birds including lizard buzzard, 5 black-shouldered kite, black heron, black crake, African darter, intermediate egret, several palm-nut vultures, gull-billed tern, western reef heron, black-billed wood dove, red-billed hornbill, hammerkop, white-billed buffalo weavers, wattled and spur-winged plovers, yellow-billed shrike, purple heron, Senegal coucal. The wettest part of the rice field formed a small reed and rice-fringed pool. After a brief and frustrating view eventually decent but brief views of at least 3 painted snipe were obtained walking around amongst the pool edge or flying briefly over the flooded rice.


Abuko Forest

A superb morning was had and it was late morning before we entered Abuko Forest reserve itself. Luckily the weather was overcast allowing more bird activity in the middle of the day than one would expect. Within a short distance we saw the first of 3 red-bellied flycatchers and blue-billed wood dove.

We slowly walked around the trail to the education centre overlooking the crocodile pond where Nile crocodiles lurked and where giant kingfisher perched and were a large roost of black-necked herons occurred. A violet turaco perched low in a palm at the far end of the pool. A grey kestrel flew in and perched in the tall tree by the centre. A well spotted but distant Klaas’s cuckoo perched high in a tree. Several green vervet monkeys entertained around the centre with 22 being seen in the reserve and a similar number of the less approachable red colybus monkeys. A short walk towards the first hide took the trail over a metal bridge. Here we quickly spotted western bluebill, black-necked weaver, little greenbul and yellow-throated leaflove. The violet turaco was still present when we arrived at the photo-hide. The trail towards the animal enclosure passed through more open habitat and despite being the middle of the day we still managed to see melodious warbler, collared and variable sunbirds, a superb perched red-necked falcon, 2 stunning swallow-tailed bee-eaters and a yellow-fronted tinkerbird. A relaxing rest at the animal sanctuary where bottles of coke and cake were bought. Jay-Jay took us back along the western trail, initially through open scrub where little bee-eaters fed and overhead lanner and pink-backed pelicans were picked out amongst the hooded vultures and black kites. Several  Once into more closed canopy forest a grey-headed bristlebill was watched feeding in the shade of a large tree. Scarlet-breasted and splendid sunbirds fed in mixed flocks and then a green turaco and 6 white-crested helmet shrikes gave stunning views.

Back at the entrance Shikra and Abyssinian rollers were seen while waiting for our taxi.

Lamin Lodge

Jay-Jay took us the short distance to Lamin Lodge where we enjoyed an enjoyable meal and ‘Julbrew’ beer overlooking the creek and mangrove swamps. Namaqua doves were common around the Lodge and while eating we saw oystercatcher, blue-cheeked bee-eaters and a yellow-crowned gonolek in the mangrove.

We then had an enjoyable 3 hour walk around Lamin Lodge and farmland. 3 marsh harriers and several zitting cisticolas were present in the reedbed. Overhead several flocks of blue-cheeked bee-eaters fed and perched. Green woodhoopoe, red-chested swallows, Senegal parrots and ring-necked parakeets, common wattle-eye. In the grassy areas and fields were to be found red bishop, grey-headed sparrow, orange-cheeked waxbill, tawny-flanked prinia and yellow-fronted canary.


With an hour of light remaining on arrival back at our hotel a quick walk to the sewage works produced 40 bw stilts, wood and marsh sands and a few night herons at dusk.

An excellent first full day in the Gambia with 124 species already seen.

Day 3 – 8th February 2007

Today we joined up with a Gary and Elaine who were staying in the Senegambia Hotel.


We started off by stopping off before Pirang at Mandinaba. Here we walked through open farmland and scrub before watching a super pair of Walberg eagles perched nearby.

Straight away we had 2 stunning African green pigeons and 4 very brief and distant flying oxpeckers. A snowy-crowned robin chat performed well before 2 African pied hornbill flew in. All 3 hornbills were seen here. Our only African hobby was scoped as it perched in full view before flying off to hunt. Our first white-crowned robin chat was watched just before we got onto the Walberg eagles. We watched these for some time perched in open tree within the farmland. A lesser blue-eared glossy starling fed on the fields. The walk back to the taxi produced 2 violet turaco and a perched gabar goshawk.

We then headed towards Pirang shrimp farm. On route we stopped to enjoy and photograph 4 yellow-billed oxpeckers perched on the back of a donkey. Jay-Jay took us to a site for bar-breasted firefinch. We didn’t find any but we did see yellow white-eye, orange-cheeked waxbill, village indigobird and piapiacs amongst the commoner red bishops, village weavers, lavender waxbills, grey-headed sparrows, firefinches and cordon-bleus.


The short walk to the viewing mound across the large wetland was promising with crested larks, Namaqua doves and wire-tailed swallows. The pools were mostly dry and despite much searching no signs of any black-crowned cranes through it would appear they have now moved to the far side. Yellow and white wagtails were present and a little stint was picked out on a shallow pool. We walked along the sandy track towards the farm entrance. Along the creek we found malachite kingfisher and several reed and subalpine warblers. The highlight was a superb white-cheeked bee-eater. We later watch 15 flying around near the taxi. Along the mangrove creek at the entrance to the shrimp farm was 23 Senegal thick-knees and 40 turnstones. 50 pink-backed pelicans flew overhead and the walk back produced a distant but distinct long-crested eagle. Little and blue-cheeked bee-eaters also hawked over the mangroves. Despite the bee-eaters, Pirang was somewhat disappointing with no plain-backed pipits or chestnut-backed sparrow-larks. Jay-Jay picked out several quail-finches that flew over allowing some in the group to gain a tick but not sufficiently good views for others!

Faraba Bush track

We then headed south with great anticipation along the Faraba bush track. As soon as we left the farmed landscape and entered the more open savannah woodland we quickly picked up Abyssinian and rufous-crowned rollers. A raptor perched turned into a wonderful long-crested eagle. Overhead a tawny eagle soared and a falcon caused debate that was thought to be a lesser kestrel. Heading further south several harrier hawks and grasshopper buzzards were seen. We stopped at viewpoint where a shelter overlooked open savannah. Despite the wide vista very little was moving apart from a few black kites and harrier hawks. We stayed here for over an hour in the heat of the middle of the day. Eventually our birding instincts kicked in and we persuaded Jay-Jay to move on in search of more activity. A short distance further south and Jay-Jay took us into the open savannah where he said was a site for spotted eagle owl. It was early afternoon and still roasting hot around 35oC. A rufous-chested swallow was our only one of the trip. Another long-crested eagle soared low overhead. Several cisticolas were seen in the open savannah woodland – probably siffling but despite must research later on the trip no description truly matched these long-tailed streaky birds. Overhead a few raptors drifted over and one turned into an adult martial eagle! The bird thankfully stayed in the air long enough for everyone to get a good luck and some even managed to scoped the bird for several minutes. The heat was getting unpleasant and Gary and Elaine decided to find shelter in the shade of some bushes. The rest of the team walked on with Jay-Jay to an area of palms where he searched unsuccessfully for the eagle owl. Just as we were about to head back a large bird drifted into view – an adult bateleur then came low right past us and flew towards Gary and Elaine who both had walked back to the minibus but also had superb views as it flew last! Superb views of dark-chanting goshawk were also had and 6 were seen during the day. 19 species of raptor were seen during the day.

By mid afternoon we then headed further south into more mixed woodland/farmland. We stopped to walk to a dried up water hole. This was a site for violet-backed sunbird. We didn’t see them but we did see a variety of commoner sunbirds and our only second pygmy sunbird of the trip. Walking towards the pool 2 stone partridge were disturbed from the track and were watched walking through the scrub. This location also produced our only black woodhoope. We also saw green-backed cameroptera, yellow-fronted tinkerbird, pied-winged swallow, yellow-crowned gonolek and both redstart and pied flycatcher. 

We then drove a short distance further to finish the day walking along a track in mixed open farmland/scrub habitat. Here we saw yellow-fronted canary, 2 singing cisticola, green-backed ermomela, whinchat and wheatear on open fields, oxpecker, 2 Vieillot’s barbet. Jay-Jay spotted a yellow-bellied hyliota but only Elaine managed to see it.

The drive back north along the bush track produced a white-crested helmet shrike and a vibrant African golden oriole.

The trip list was already on 165 species.

Day 4 – 9th February 2007

Today Jay-Jay decided to take us down the coast to explore sites around Tanji.

Along the coastal road we suddenly stopped and picked up 4 double-spurred francolin basking in the morning sun on top of a low wall near the road. Brief views had been had earlier at Abuko so but this was the first chance to see them out in the open and study those amazing double leg-spurs!


We drove past Tanji coastal reserve and stopped at Tujuring where we initially explored the coastal habitat east of the coastal road. Grey-backed camaroptera, northern puffback and black-crowned tchangra were quickly found. Black-headed plovers fed on the cleared/burnt fields. 2 black flycatchers were watched feeding amongst commoner birds such as fork-tailed drongo, green woodhoopoe, yellow-billed shrikes, brown babblers and tawny flanked prinias. A fine-spotted woodpecker was watched at close quarters. We entered an area of mixed trees and thick scrubby habitat that was difficult to penetrate. We split up and Brian spotted a pearl-spotted owlet which eventually flew into a tree enabling everyone to get stunning views. Jay-Jay had wandered off and began shouting for us to get to him. 5 minutes of running through impenetrable thorny scrub that made mincemeat of Ian’s legs was rewarded with a Verreux’s eagle owl sat on a nest high in a palm tree – one of the highlights of the trip! An enjoyable couple of hours birdwatching.

We drove a short distance further south to explore the habitat and coastal scrub to the west of the coastal road. Here ospreys constantly flew overhead and other raptors included lizard buzzard and black-shouldered kite. Variable sunbirds were common and several males were to be found singing. A northern crombec was watched in the coastal scrub as the path started to descend towards the shoreline. We doubled back to try another trail past the minibus. After a few yards a super striped kingfisher was watched perched on a tree in a field. We then spent an hour or more exploring an area of cleared forest with very sandy soil and scattered trees. Jay-Jay had seen 3 bronze-winged coursers here on his last visit. We didn’t see them but had little and swallow-tailed bee-eaters. We stood at the far end of this area adjacent to a thicket – here we picked up 4 diminutive yellow penduline tits feeding in the open canopy. In an adjacent enclosed field wattled plovers rested in the shade of a tree. A stand of flowering firethorn bushes (?)  and another thicket at the edge of the field held mixed feeding flocks of sunbirds with variable, splendid and scarlet-chested. A male African paradise flycatcher flew into view with subalpine warbler, lavender waxbill and black-necked weavers feeding on the flowers.

We then walked through more open dry farmland were we found white-billed buffalo weaver and a large flock of 100+grey-headed sparrows, 100+red bishops. In amongst these were 3 chestnut-crowned sparrow weavers and a distant and brief view of a Senegal batis. Hoopoe and wheatear were in the open fields and small flocks of Namaqua doves. Late morning and the heat was rising. We wearily walked back towards the minibus. We stopped short of the minibus and Jay-Jay flagged down the driver to come to collect us. Jay-Jay heard a song that caught his attention – we walked off the tack in search of the source to no avail but Jay-Jay was convinced he had heard a white-crowned bush chat. The minibus arrived and we gladly slumped inside to rest and take on much needed water and crisps. Then Jay-Jay called us out of the van – he had located the white-crowned bush chat some 50 yards from the minibus – we then watched the male singing with a female in close attendance – superb!!

Tanji – paradise inn

We went to the paradise inn at Tanji for a much needed rest and food – a stunning setting near the mangrove swamp. We sat outside under the shade of large xxx trees. Whilst waiting for our lunch of omelette and chips (which took over an hour to arrive) we explored the area around the Inn – here small huts and tracks with many water dishes attracted many birds. The wait proved rewarding when Jay-Jay wondered off and came back to take us to see a white-faced scops owl that he found sitting high in the top of an acacia behind the inn. Blackcap and brown babblers were common as were African thrushes. In the canopy flitted a blackcap and we had our best view of the trip of a close bearded barbet. After lunch we walked the 200 yards down to the edge of a mangrove swamp. Long-tailed glossy starlings (which are common everywhere we went) mixed with red-billed hornbills and yellow-crowned gonoleks came to drink from the bird baths. Along the creek 2 mottled spinetails flew overhead, apparently they favour mangrove swamps. A few common waders were along the creek as was a brief malachite kingfisher. We sat overlooking the creek hoping to pick out a mouse-brown sunbird. Jay-Jay had a brief glimpse of one but no further sightings. Several subalpine warblers fed along the mangrove edge, overhead blue-cheeked bee-eaters and red-chested swallows. While we sat a bishop flew in along the grassy creek edge with distinct blackish wings and tail with a creamy supercilium – a black-winged bishop. 3 small black and white streaked birds flew into a distant tree. We walked over and found 4♂ and 1♀ pin-tailed wydah feeding on seeds on bare ground next to a round hut. We then walked around a patch of mangrove where earlier Jay-Jay had seen an oriole warbler – Jay-Jay spotted it again but it scurried off without showing off to anyone else.

Tanji beach

A couple of hours on Tanji beach allowed us to add an additional 6 species for the trip. A large flock of mixed gulls and terns contained some 300 grey-headed gulls, 69 slender-billed gull, 100 Caspian tern, 50 royal tern, 1 lesser crested tern, 20 sandwich tern. A few yellow-legged gulls were present though the highlight an adult kelp gull was easily picked out sat in the near flock of birds. Another 2 kelp gulls were seen further south towards where the local fishing trade bring in there catches for smoking. Waders included turnstone, sanderling, oystercatcher, grey plover and ringed plover. Offshore, 2 arctic skuas chased smaller terns.

Brufut woods

We were taken to a small pool in the wood were our first blue-breasted kingfisher perched. A walk around the wood produced mostly common birds with no sign of any fanti-saw-wings. All 3 hornbills, violet turaco, little swifts, double-spurred francolin and green-backed ermomela were the highlights.

Day 5 – 10th February 2007

Kotu area

Today we decided to have a relaxing day on our own around the Kotu creek area. An excellent mornings birding was had around the creek, rice fields and cycle track area. We eventually walked as far as the Palma Rima Hotel. Great and blue-breasted kingfishers were seen along the creek. Several reed warblers and one sedge warbler fed next to the rubbish dump by the Palm Beach Hotel. A spur-winged goose flew along the creek early morning and was seen returning at dusk.  In the rice fields could be found a variety of herons with 7 sacred ibis. The Abyssinian roller was present on its favourite roadside wire. On the return walk 3 African spoonbills were found feeding on a small pool adjacent to the cycle track. Subalpine warbler and whitethroats occurred in the coastal dunes along with rufous-crowned roller. Over the road to the beach from the Palma Rima Hotel 9 little swifts hawked for insects. Raptors included palm-nut vulture, harrier hawk, shikra, lanner and red-necked falcon.

We returned to the Bakuto Hotel for lunch and had a relaxing swim in the swimming pool. We then went to the photo hide just north of Kotu bridge where local guide Mustafa had given his personal assurance that oriole warbler comes to the pool at 3pm. We duly arrived at 3pm only to find the hide being treated with bitumen and naturally no oriole warblers. We spent an hour watching activity on the north side of the scrub and in the adjacent hotel grounds where drinking trays attracted a variety of common birds including bronze-winged mannakins, red firefinches, babblers and doves. In the scrub a common wattle-eye and grey-backed camaroptera were watched at close quarters.

We duly gave up on the oriole warbler and walked onto the Fajara golf-course in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we were followed onto the golf-course by a local bumster who though kept his distance proved an irritable distraction. A perched red-necked falcon was the highlight on the gold course where wattled and black-headed plovers fed on the fairways. Green woodhoopes and a double-spurred francolin were the highlight. Birding was slow in the heat and we decided to return to the hotel once again negotiating the hassle and begging along the beach road back to the hotel.

We decided in the evening to go for the nightjars near the Palma Rima Hotel. We left the hotel at 5pm in order to do some birding along the way. While standing on Kotu bridge Mustafa ran over and took us back to the birdwatching stand where 2 oriole warblers were bathing in a small concrete pool just behind the stand. Absolutely stunning and totally deserving of the money we handed over to Mustafa for delivering the goods. We then talked about the nightjars and on an emotional high we decided for D300 to use Mustafa to take us the see the nightjars. We made the right decision as the best site for the nightjars took us through the building site behind the beach near the Palma Rima Hotel. Here we found another group sat patiently waiting for the main performance. Within a few minutes, the first long-tailed nightjar began to fly and perch on low branches in the coastal scrub. Within a few minutes at least 6 long-tailed nightjars were flying 2 were perching on a line of posts. The guides used torches to dazzle the birds allowing stunning close views – far better than any views we’ve had of European nightjars back in the UK.

After just 4 full days in the Gambia we had seen over 200 species!!

Day 6 – 11th February 2007


For the Sunday we decided to spend the whole day on our own at Abuko.

Abuko forest reserve

We arranged to get a taxi to Abuko in time to enter Abuko forest reserve when the gate opened at 8am and be picked up at 6pm. A very relaxing mornings birdwatching in the forest did not produce any new species for the trip but did provide opportunity for everyone to get better views of little greenbul and yellow-breasted apalis. The lower section of high canopy forest contained many feeding parties of birds with the highlight being a family group of 7 western bluebills feeding amongst commoner babblers, snowy-crowned robin chats, black-necked weavers. Other highlights included 8 common wattleeyes, African and 4 red-bellied flycatchers. A yellow-throated leaflove was performed well at the education centre and a brief view of an oriole warbler was had in the thick scrub next to the nearby photo-hide. Along the northern edge of the high canopy forest on route to the animal sanctuary male and female Klaas’s cuckoos were seen. 2 violet and 3 green turaco’s were seen well. Grey-headed bristlebill was seen on the return route. 3 northern puffback, 5 swallow-tailed bee-eaters were also memorable. We explored the extension area but the area was birdless in the heat of the late morning. Other wildlife included bushbecks drinking on the crocodile pool, Nile crocodiles, Nile monitors and a spitting cobra disturbed from the side of the trail.


Abuko rice fields

A memorable afternoon spent walking around the rice fields with by far the highlight of the holiday was spending 2 hours watching male and female painted snipe feeding in the open on the small freshwater pool were we had seen them on the previous visit. 3♂ and 1♀ painted snipe were present. Pied-winged, wire-tailed and red-chested swallows came in to drink along with blue-cheeked bee-eaters.

Kotu sewage farm

A quick walk to the sewage pools in the evening was a good end to the day with 54 black-winged stilts, 3 wood and 5 marsh sandpipers, 9 spur-winged plovers and 3 bearded barbets in the scrub towards the rice fields.

Day 7 – 12th February 2007

Our last day with Jay-Jay.


The morning was spent walking around the open savannah farmland at Marakissa. Lunch overlooking the river and watching raptors overhead and then the afternoon walk in 35oC along the river gave way to an enjoyable couple of bottles of fruitjuice until the heat dissipated. Late pm then walk along south side of river for Abyssinian ground hornbills but too many locals out in the fields.


6 double-spurred francolin
10 shikra
northern crombec
3 red-shouldered cuckoo shrike
3 fine spotted woodpecker
2 violet turaco
all 3 hornbills
2 little greenbul
5 African green pigeon
lesser honeyguide
4 greater honeyguide
6 white-crested helmet shrike
11 harrier hawk
4 lizard buzzard
pearl-spotted owlet
3 grey-headed bush shrike – distinctive whistling call
snake with mouse ala ‘mouse
western banded snake eagle
Pygmy kingfisher
2 long-crested eagles
giant kingfisher along river
2 dark-chanting goshawk

Day 8 – 13th February 2007


Last morning around Kotu before getting on bus to airport at 1pm

Grey-headed kingfisher perched along road near hotel adjacent to Kotu creek
2 African silverbills here also
56 white-billed buffalo weaver on rice fields
50 little swift and 2 pallid sifts on sewage ponds, 12 yellow wag and little ringed plover also here
red-billed quela  - feeding with red bishops adjacent to Kotu bridge then presumably the same bird at southern end of rice fields.


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