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A Report from

Gambia 11.12.2007 to 18.12.2007,

Jan Foulkes


My partner Geoff and I set off for the Gambia on 11.12.07 from Manchester airport for a week’s break in the sun. We usually enjoy watching wildlife while we are away but are not dedicated birdwatchers (as in ‘twitchers’). However, having done our research into what the Gambia had to offer it was apparent bird watching would probably be the main ‘wildlife’ attraction during this holiday. 

We stayed at the Sunset Beach Hotel which was next to Kotu bridge. On our first morning, having recovered from our journey over a meal and a night in the hotel bar we decided to take a stroll to the bridge prior to our Welcome Meeting, which was scheduled for 11.30. Between our hotel and the bridge was a WABSA centre where we had a quick chat to the local guides. A guide from the Bird Guide Association, called Ebrima Barry, accompanied us to the bridge and began identifying various birds. I have to confess at this stage I was so engrossed in watching a pair of pied kingfishers diving off the overhead cables to fish for their breakfast, that the Whimbrels, Senegal Thick-knees, Caspian Terns, Common Sandpipers and Redshanks, that Ebrima was identifying for us barely registered on my radar. However, a Western Reef Heron, and a Broad-billed Roller, with it’s stunning colours, did merit more than a glance.

Back at the hotel I was less than impressed with most of the excursions and prices quoted at the Welcome meeting but Geoff and I were thrilled to see a Hooded Vulture sitting on the beech, which we couldn’t take our eyes off. Other distractions included a Black Kite flying overhead, various waders (in the channel just below the terrace), Grey Headed Gulls and an Intermediate Egret and Reef Heron squabbling over fishing rights. The poor holiday rep. didn’t have a chance.

Later in the day we negotiated a guided walk around the Kotu Sewage Ponds/golf course with Ebrima for £5 per head and a trip to Abuko Nature Reserve for £20 each. When I returned home and checked Ebrima’s credentials on the net I realised this was a fair price, in line with WABSA guidelines. I can strongly recommend Ebrima as a guide. Details:

Name: Ebrima W. Barry,   
Mobile: (220)  998 11 30

Ebrima had a very sharp eye, a finely tuned ear and a talent for imitating calls, which coaxed birds into view.  He proved to be very knowledgeable and almost totally obsessed with bird watching, although he did confess to being a keen football player (who local people identified as talented), when he could find the time.

We were fascinated by how the birds flourished on and around the sewage ponds. I have attached my favourite picture of a Hooded Vulture taken in this ‘yukkie’ but surprisingly un-smelly environment (It needs to be viewed on a full screen to really appreciate the ‘Yuk’ value in all it’s glory.

Once we had walked around the rice fields and Sewage ponds, despite Ebrimas keenness to take us around the golf course, we felt we had enough bird watching for one day and went to cool off over a beer.

Later on we walked up the road past the golf course towards the craft market and spotted our first Red-billed Fire Finch and Cordon-bleu in a garden, eating rice put out for them by the owner. Another trip out alone to the Senegambia hotel led to us finding a Hammerkop nest. We decided to walk back to our hotel along the road to avoid the ‘company’ we inevitably attracted on the beech. We spotted two Hammerkops on a piece of waste ground and after crossing this Geoff found their nest.

There was also a woman sitting on the wasteland hugging a bundle of clothes. We gently approached her to check she was alright, she had teeth which were filed to points and it became apparent she was mentally disturbed. Later when we made inquiries about her from locals we were told she was a witch who was ‘confessing’. Further interesting discussion revealed there is more to the Gambia than meets the eye of most tourists.

Ebrima was unable to find a White Faced Scops Owl when we first visited the rice fields. However, knowing I was keen to see this owl, Ebrima located one before our week was up and took to us see it. Without Ebrima’s help Geoff and I could have spent a full day looking up into the dense tangled branches of that tree without spotting the owl. Feeling excited and flushed with success we were now in the mood for a walk around the golf course. We just fancied a stroll and were not prepared to pay for a guide but this did not stop Ebrima from accompanying us and identifying the birds we saw. I think he just could not resist the opportunity to be doing what he loves. 

On the day we visited Abuko, Ebrima picked us up at 7.30 A.M. On the way we passed thousands of goats at the side of the road. These were being sold to families preparing for an impending Muslim festival (the name of which I have unfortunately forgotten). It was an amazing sight seeing so many goats in one place. I even saw one ‘coaxed’ into a car boot. The highlight of Abuko for me was seeing a Malachite Kingfisher near to the main pond, two Hammerkops and Green and Violet Turaco’s. Ebrima seemed more excited by a sighting of a Western Bluebill. A full list of birds observed during our trip is provided below.

Sources Of Information

Before setting off we looked at several web sights and read several trip reports e.g. Sue Robinson’s: http// I also utilised our local library for books on The Gambia.

Ebrima frequently showed us birds he identified in Barlow's et al's field guide. The pictures, which he was able to find very quickly, were very good and initially helped verify his knowledge. On other occasions they provided a fuller view of birds glimpsed briefly in the undergrowth.

Birds Observed & Location:

Kotu Area 12.12.207- Kotu Bridge, Rice fields, Sewage Ponds & Cycle Track.

Whimbrel; Common Sandpiper; Grey-headed Gull; Beautiful Sunbird; Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu; Red-billed Firefinch; Pied Kingfisher; Wattle Plover; Village Weaver; Reef Heron; Pied Crow; Palm-nut Vulture; Grey Heron; African Mourning Dove; Olivacious Warbler; Common Bulbul; Tawny-flanked Prenia; Senegal Coucal; Senegal Thick-knee; Western Grey Plantain Eater; Little Bee-eater; Blue-bellied Roller; Red-billed Hornbill; Senegal Parrot; Piapiac; Squacco Heron; White-faced Whistling Duck; Laughing Dove; Fork-tailed Drongo; Spur-winged Plover; Little Grebe; Black-winged Stilt; Cattle Egret; Hooded Vulture; Wood Sandpiper;; Speckled Pigeon; Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling; Long-tailed Glossy Starling; Pied-winged Swallow; Common Greenshank; Yellow-crowned Gonolek; Great White Egret; Black-headed Heron; Sacred Ibis; Black Egret;; Little Egret; Yellow-billed Shrike; African jacana; Rose-ringed Parakeet; Hammerkop; Long-tailed Cormorant; African Palm Swift; White-faced Scops Owl; Orial Warbler; Giant Kingfisher (last three seen at a later date; Orial and G.Kingfisher seen by Kotu bridge).

Golf Course

Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling; Fork-tailed Drongo; Northern Black Fly-catcher; Green Wood Hoopoe; Blue-bellied Roller; Little Bee-eater; Red-billed Hornbill; African Grey Hornbill; Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling; Yellow-crowned Gonolek; Red-billed Fire-finch; Yellow-billed Shrike; Western Grey Plantain-eater; Senegal Parrot; Rose-ringed Parakeet; Whimbrel; Long-tailed glossy starling; Black-headed Plover; Wattle Plover; Spur-winged Plover; Village Weaver; Pied Kingfisher; Common Redshank; Bar-tailed Godwit; Piapiac; Common Bulbul; Palm-nut Vulture; Double Spurred Francolin; Abyssinian Roller; Hooded Vulture; Grey Heron; Western Reef Heron.

Abuko National Park and area 13.12.207

Red-bellied Paradise Fly-catcher; Grey Woodpecker; Fork-tailed Drongo; African Darter; Palm-nut Vulture; Black-crowned Night Heron; Giant Kingfisher; Ahanta (?) Francolin; African Thrush; Green Turaco; Little Greenbul; Yellow-breasted Apalis; Striated Heron; Fanti Saw-wing; Little Weaver; Violet Turaco; African Grey Hornbill; Red-billed Firefinch; Red-cheeked Cordon bleu; Lavender Waxbill; Wahlberg’s Eagle; Black Kite; Lizard Buzzard; Beautiful Sunbird; Black-necked Weaver; Grey Kestrel; Blue-spotted Wood-dove; Bronze Manikin; Double-spurred Francolin; Western Grey Plantain-eater; Common Wattle eye; Hammerkop; Bearded Barbel; Snowy-crowned Robinchat; Western Bluebill; Black-headed Heron; Wattle Plover; Spur-winged Plover; Abyssinian Roller. Geoff also had a fleeting  glimpse of an Osprey overhead but unfortunately I missed it.


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