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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Gambia October-November 2007 ,
At the end of an enjoyable and successful week’s birding holiday in the Gambia, West Africa in October 2004 with my father Michael, I was determined to return again as soon as possible. I thought I’d give 2005 a miss at risk of upsetting my wife, but a 2 year gap seemed reasonable enough. My father was also keen to return, and now as he’d passed the 80 mark, there may not be too many years left when he’d be fit enough to travel there. As I had been very ill with pneumonia shortly after returning from the last trip, which had very likely been triggered by some bacterial infection caught on this holiday, some thought I was rather mad or at least reckless planning to go back. But how unlucky would I have had to be for this to happen a second time? That was my argument for going back.
Previously we’d stayed at the Senegambia Beach Hotel at Kololi Beach. This is the largest hotel in the country, and probably the most famous, certainly with birdwatchers. As I had a current Gambia Experience brochure, I didn’t want to automatically go back there without checking the competition. I whittled the possibilities down to about 4 hotels, but in the end, it was back to the Senegambia, based on price, facilities, location / bird watching potential and familiarity. I was happy to stick with the same time of year as well. October is relatively cheap and quiet, pretty certain to be dry but not as blazing hot as say March. Birds are mostly still in breeding plumage, and there is likely to be a good cross section of Palearctic and Inter-African migrants as well as residents to brighten the scene. Perfect. We booked a week, from 27th October to 3rd November, a whole 12 days later than last time.
A friend, name of Huw John, had also previously expressed an interest in birding in the Gambia. I gave him our holiday dates and he booked the same and joined us. We met up at Manchester Airport for the weekly (that time of year) Friday flight to Banjul.
In 2004, we’d pre-booked a guide name of Sanna Mambureh, whose details had been given to me by another UK birder. We’d used him on 4-5 dates, and he was pretty good. I tried to contact him about our 2006 trip, but sadly Sanna was not able to reply, because, as I later found out, he’d died sometime in 2005 I think. They don’t live very long in The Gambia, but Sanna had been only about 30, which is very young to die even by their standards.
Anyway, while browsing the Surfbirds website, I came across the name and e-mail address of another Gambian guide name of Ebrima Korita (e-mail email@example.com). I contacted him and soon got a reply. We used Ebrima every day, apart from the departure day. He even picked us up from the airport. Ebrima is another young guide, very reliable, patient and friendly. His spoken and written English is patchy, but he mostly got himself understood. He has his own minibus (or does it belong to the driver?), I was never sure, so there was space for a group up to about 4. As I birder, he is red hot at picking up small birds in roadside trees from a moving bus, and similarly good at picking out the calls. He wasn’t always able to get us on birds he’d seen, particularly my dad who isn’t too quick. A couple of difficult birds (Yellowbill and Green Hylia) spring to mind. Being young, he had some catching up to do on the experience of some other guides, and his ID wasn’t always perfect. Gulls and terns seemed to be his weakest link. For instance, he tried to convince us that a perched Royal Tern at Tanjii was a Lesser Crested, and eventually conceded that a ‘Lesser Black-backed ‘ Gull on the beach here was actually a Kelp Gull. He wouldn’t have it either that there were a couple of Black-headed Gulls amongst the much commoner Grey-headed on the Banjul-Barra ferry crossing. Being a UK birder, I should know this one! Having said this, I wouldn’t hesitate to use him again, because he was good company and found us some great birds.
Regards to general tips and observations about holidaying and birding in The Gambia, there is plenty to say, but I’ll leave that to the Lonely Planet etc, or this report would be twice as long, and we wouldn’t want that!
This is a summary of each day’s events and highlights.
Friday 27th October
Morning flight from Manchester Airport via Bristol to Banjul. Great views of the Sahara en route as it was day time, and without cloud cover. Six hours or so after leaving Manchester, we were on Gambian soil. At the end of the wet season, all was very green.
After paying our £5 each Gambia entry fee and negotiating the rather archaic baggage collection, we were outside the front of the airport in the heat, wondering both what Ebrima looked like and where he was. I enviously watched the line of air conditioned coaches, one of which we should have been transferring to the hotel on. They don’t however stop to look at birds, there’s the rub. At this stage, after promising Huw on his first visit to Gambia and Africa that he would have seen squadrons of Cattle Egret, Hooded Vulture, Laughing Doves and Pied Crow within 10 minutes of landing, we still hadn’t seen a single bird. I think Huw was starting to think he’d made a huge mistake, but having been here before, I knew we wouldn’t be bird-less for long.
I can’t remember which happened first, Ebrima and driver appearing from nowhere, or seeing our first bird. Anyway, his lime green minibus was a welcome sight.
We’d barely pulled out of the car park when I yelled that I’d seen a Rufous-crowned Roller on a lamp post. What a great start and great bird; I only saw 1 all week last time! We got out, both here and at very regular intervals for the next mile or so. The area was dripping with quality birds, and it could take a very long time to reach our hotel if we let it. An argument ensued as to whether a Bee-eater in a roadside bush was Little or Swallow-tailed, until I realised there was one of each. The former turned out to be a common bird; and the latter – this was the only one we had. As for raptors, apart from large wheeling flocks of Hooded Vulture (which you soon learn to ignore, they’re so abundant), we’d soon clocked up African Harrier Hawk, Black-shouldered Kite, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk and Lizard Buzzard. Good views too. No lifers until Ebrima found my first of the trip, a Klaas’s Cuckoo. In the books this looks quite a dazzler, but this bird was in profile only. We had various dove species, Pied Crow and Red-billed Hornbill in profusion on the way to the hotel, and stepping up a gear, Blue-bellied Roller, African Golden Oriole, Fork-tailed Drongo and Black-crowned Tchagra as well. A second lifer, Whistling Cisticola, I had to trust to Ebrima’s ID skills.
We checked in the Senegambia with quite a string of birds to our belts already and a lot later than we would have done if we’d travelled with the bus. Fortunately, our rooms, 3 adjacent bungalows in the gardens, hadn’t been let to anyone else. Amazingly, we were in the same small block as 2004, and facing the bird-rich grapefruit trees where I’d had my first African Silverbill last time.
After unloading and sprucing up, we did the obligatory birding tour of the grounds before the evening meal. Caught up with a few old friends here before dark – Palm Swift, Broad-billed Roller, Mosque Swallow, Brown Babbler and Yellow-billed Shrike to name a few. All lifers for Huw though.
Saturday 28th October
The plan was to have a full day, and clock up as many species as possible without travelling too far. So we hit the Kotu and Abuko areas.
First stop was Kotu Creek, in my view over-rated, but famous as a birding spot due to it’s proximity to a lot of hotels. Small numbers of Hamerkop, Striated Heron and Senegal Thick-knee were about, and we didn’t have to wait long for Pied Kingfisher. There’s always an assortment of familiar Palearctic waders and Reef Heron here as well. The highlight for me, being a lifer, was Northern Crombec, in a bush next to the bridge. Other passerines here, included a Wire-tailed Swallow (which the others missed), 2 Western Olivaceous Warblers and an Orange-cheeked Waxbill.
Having finished with the bridge, to my alarm, Ebrima started walking out across the tidal mud in the direction of Fajara golf course. Assuring us that it would hold our weight, we duly followed. The few birds out here weren’t too disturbed, and walked rather than flew away. Thousands of Fiddler Crabs darted into their holes in the mud as we walked by. Minutes later, to my relief we climbed out onto the golf course. Another lifer for me, Northern Black Flycatcher, and a party of highly endearing Green Wood-Hoopoes greeted us here. Unlike British golf courses, there didn’t appear to be any problem walking where you wanted around this one, and dodging the few flying golf balls was not a pre-occupation. Mind you, in the height of the tourist season, this would probably be more of a consideration. A great place for birding, with the fairways attracting many species into the open, and plenty of bushes and trees to increase the variety. Other birds seen here during our time included 5-6 Black-headed Plovers (on both holidays, this was the only place I saw them), Pearl-spotted Owlet, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, Senegal Parrot, Bearded Barbet, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird (only 1 seen in the week), Piapiac, Blackcap Babbler, Variable Sunbird, Northern Puffback and Black-necked Weaver. I could have stayed all day, but we had places to go.
On to Kotu Sewage Ponds, which were a bit of a disappointment after our visit in 2004. No Little Grebes and only a single White-faced Whistling Duck this time. Two Jacanas, several Black-winged Stilts and Wood Sandpipers and a single Green Sandpiper were about. Best bird (although not aesthetically) was a Siffling Cisticola. Unless it was a case of every time we had a cisticola species, it was a different one, to get my list up. Ebrima seemed sure of himself though, and with this family, he went mainly by the song to tell them apart.
Next, on to Abuko reserve, for the first of 2 visits. Getting here requires travelling through the large settlement of Serrekunda, an experience in it’s self. There’s a small entrance fee to pay at Abuko, although ours was included in Ebrima’s price. There’s a decent education centre building overlooking the Crocodile Pool (no crocs were on view) and a couple of other very uncomfortable tiny mud floored hides. There’s some great species at Abuko, some which are unlikely to be seen anywhere else in the area. Trouble is, due to the jungle-like habitat (gallery forest to use it’s proper name) here, and the secretive nature of some of it’s birds, they’re not much easier here either, and on my 3 trips in total (including 2004), there was plenty I missed, not least Verreaux’s Eagle Owl.
Following on from a bountiful wet season, water levels were very high, there was no exposed mud around the pool edges. All paths were just about accessible though. Anyway, in our 2-3 hours here, the birds we did see included, 4 Black-crowned Night Herons, 3 Black-headed Herons, 2 Blue-spotted Wood Doves, 3 Violet Turacos, 1 Green Turaco, 1 African Pied Hornbill, 4-5 Fanti Saw-wings, 1-2 Little Greenbuls (I never managed proper views of this species), 1 Grey-backed Camaroptera and 1 Yellow-breasted Apalis.
Due to the limited time, we didn’t cover the full reserve (ie, the far end towards the animal orphanage), and made our way out via the short cut to the exit and souvenir stalls.
Final stop of the day before returning to the hotel was Abuko rice fields, opposite the reserve on the other side of the main road. There’s usually a guy selling coldish drinks here in the shade, which are always welcome. You start by going through a huge Village Weaver colony in the palms. As you approach the rice fields, it opens out. Here we had Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and 3 Red-chested Swallows in the sky, a Fine-spotted Woodpecker and 2 Northern Black Flycatchers. A familiar song coming from a small tree lead us to a Willow Warbler. At some point, Ebrima had us crawling on our bellies looking into the gloom under some particular bushes. Here, although difficult to pick out was a Bar-breasted Firefinch; there may have been more, but I just saw the one. He’d seen them here before, so knew where to look. Within feet of the Firefinch, a Snowy-crowned Robin Chat appeared; 2 more lifers in the bank.
Finished the day on 108 species, including 9 personal lifers.
Sunday 29th October
We had an early breakfast followed by an early start, because we had to catch the ferry from Banjul to the north bank. We were to travel east up country with a stopover at Tendaba Camp, which Ebrima had pre-booked. It did mean that we would be 1 night away from the relative luxury of the Senegambia, which was of course also paid for. However, although The Gambia is a small country, travelling up country is a very slow business due to the state of the roads (if you can call them that), away from the coast. In other words, some species which Ebrima was hoping to get for us, couldn’t be reached on a day trip.
We made time for a couple of stops on the Bund Road area on the way to the ferry. Tidal mud and decaying old ships sums up this place. With it’s Godwits (both types), Grey Plovers and Oystercatchers, it could almost be the Thames estuary, but hang on, there wouldn’t be Pink-backed Pelicans, dwarfed by a single Great White Pelican there, would there ?
Just before reaching the port, we stopped to look at 3 birds on some curved barbed wire on the top of a wall. They turned out to be White-rumped Seedeaters. To the casual observer, they would be very drab little things, but to the birder, they were as good as any other lifer.
The scene at the ferry terminal was chaotic, with lorries and minibuses jostling for position in the queue for the boat. We were spotted attempting to queue jump and sent packing to the back. We ended up waiting for the next boat. Once the bus had been parked up awaiting the ferry, we had a look at the sea birds in the area. Plenty of Grey-headed and a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and good numbers of juvenile Black Terns were about. An English couple turned up and asked if we had seen the Kingfisher perched on the top of a nearby boat’s mast. ‘Pied ?’ I enquired feigning interest, ‘no, Giant’ they replied. Whoosh, I was off, and just grabbed good views of the bird before it disappeared. Giant Kingfisher are seen regularly at both Kotu Creek and Abuko, but this was my only one on 2 trips to the country.
Eventually we were underway on the half hour or so ferry crossing over the river mouth to Barra on the north side. A few Caspian Terns were picked up, and it was a nice surprise to get great views of Pomarine Skuas and the odd Arctic Skua off the side of the boat. Being a captive audience, we were also treated to a compulsory but reasonably priced emergency shoe repair service as we crossed.
Once alighted at Barra, it was rough dirt road driving pretty much from the off. We didn’t really have a strict plan as to how far east we would travel, except that we must get to Farafenni in time for the last ferry crossing back south of the day, otherwise we’d be spending the night in the minibus rather than at Tendaba. Farafenni is the next crossing point east of Barra, about a third of the country east, and half way to Georgetown. The river is much narrower here.
Birding on the north bank was sensational. It doesn’t look much different to the south, but it might as well be hundreds of miles away, for the different species. At one dry scrubby area we stopped, we had a pair of Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks, around 4 Green-backed Eremomelas, at least 2 Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weavers (a species I was not even aware of the existence of until I re-checked the book afterwards), a few Little Weavers and the jaw-dropping Exclamatory Paradise Whydah. That tail looks a real handicap when the male flies, and it struggles to stay in the air.
Further down the road (I think there was actually tarmac at the time), our driver made the mistake of turning the engine off. There was obviously a battery problem, and the bus didn’t want to re-start. Stuck in the middle of no-where, with about 1 vehicle every half hour, it didn’t look good. Pushing the thing down the road didn’t work. Something obviously sorted the problem eventually, because we weren’t eaten by hyenas. I obviously used the opportunity for bird watching, and we added Grasshopper Buzzard, African Cuckoo and Pin-tailed Whydah at this place.
We ultimately headed east as far as Kau-ur marshes, actually beyond Farafenni, knowing we’d have to re-trace. At least this stretch was a very good road. Other notable birds picked up along the way included African Darter, Purple Heron, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Grey Kestrel, Gull-billed Tern, Namaqua Dove, Mottled Spinetail, Abyssinian Roller, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Little Green Bee-eater, Northern Anteater-Chat, Northern Crombec, Chestnut-bellied Starling, Bush Petronia and Village Indigobird. My head was reeling from all the names !
The main thing that struck about Kau-ur was the shear number of birds, mainly waders. Wattled and Spur-winged Plovers in profusion, hundreds of Collared Pratincoles and a single Little Stint. Although I’d had very little contact with Pratincoles in the past, they might as well have been Dunlins. It was the little steel grey and peach jobs running between them that got my attention; Egyptian Plover, about a dozen of them. And however exquisite they look on the ground, they take on a new dimension when they fly. I’ve always been rather scathing of the single-minded attention that seems to be given to this one species for birders visiting The Gambia, when they seemingly spend days trundling up to Basse, when there’s so much else to see nearer at hand. Well yes, they are stunning, and you don’t have to travel that far either. Second only to Blue-bellied Roller in the Gambian bird beauty stakes in my view. A reed bed here played host to good numbers of Yellow-crowned Bishop and 4-5 Red-billed Quelea. Most abundant bird on the planet it may be called, but in the Gambia, it’s at it’s limit and quite scarce. Last rabbit out of the hat of the day, were 3 waders in flight, which looked like Wattled Plover, but with far more white in the wing. These were White-crowned Plover, Ebrima told us (another one to look up later), which was not only a lifer for us tourists, but for Ebrima himself !
We arrived at Farafenni’s ferry terminal just in time to witness the vehicle ferry docking. Looking good we thought. At first. That was until we found out that it wouldn’t be returning south until the morning. The possibility of 5 of us sleeping in the minibus, with no food or shower and only some warm water to drink was looming large. I was starting to feel annoyed that Ebrima hadn’t organised this part better. Anyway, to his credit, he got busy asking around. There was a passenger boat crossing, which would do for Dad, Huw, Ebrima and myself (if there was room), but the minibus and driver would have to stay behind until the morning. Obviously this was a far preferable option, although there would still be a transport problem the 30 or so miles the other side to Tendaba. We squeezed onto the narrow wooden boat to the bemusement of the locals. It was almost dark by now, so birding was adjourned for the day, and all I could think of was showering, bush pig (wart hog) meal and beer. We got a taxi no problem the other side (although 5 people and their luggage in a little old Renault 9 didn’t leave a lot of room to stretch out), although it dropped us off 10 minutes later again in the nearest town (Mansa Konko). We were left standing for what seemed ages in the town square, surrounded by excited children, while Ebrima disappeared again to try and get us transport all the way to Tendaba. As the town was full of green taxis, I couldn’t see what the difficulty was. This became apparent during the final journey in Renault 9 version 2. This road was terrible, it was now dark, all the taxis were old and battered, but they are still some-one’s livelihood. Understandably, they don’t want to wreck them even more. If ever there was a case for 4wds, this was it, except they can’t afford them. We eventually got to Tendaba for bush pig and chips (except Huw as he is a vegetarian). Huw must have had chips – there wasn’t much choice. Accommodation here is basic, and housed in huts. The shower was a trickle in the middle of the bathroom floor, but at least there was one.
110 species today (including 12 raptors, and a wapping 22 lifers !).
Monday 30th October
Slept well and no mosquito bites. Breakfasted on French bread and hard boiled eggs on the south shore of the River Gambia. Quick scan around the camp produced about 4 beautiful African Golden Orioles, and a distant flock of European Bee-eaters, but not a lot else. The plan this morning was to catch another boat out onto the river, cross again to the north side (about 2 miles across here) and explore the bolons (riverine mangroves) by boat. Out on the river, there weren’t too many birds; the odd Pink-backed Pelican floating about, and small numbers of Grey-headed Gull, Caspian and Gull-billed Terns. As we were crossing, some one (we were all birders and guides) spotted an African Fish Eagle in a dead tree upstream on the south side. We changed course and headed towards it. Fortunately it stayed put until we got pretty close. Then we got a second bird and had good views. Ebrima also thought he had a Brown-necked Parrot, but as we sailed closer, it turned into a commoner Senegal Parrot.
Headed back north across the river. We must have had around 25 African Grey Hornbills crossing over (I’d never seen so many), but highlight was a fleeting African Hobby, which appeared twice over the water.
We reached the north side, and enter the Kissi-Toku bolon complex. We spent probably 1.5 to 2 hours here, drifting quietly through. It was a fantastic place and experience. It had a primeval untouched quality, and every corner we turned there was the excitement of wondering what bird we’d stumble across next. The magnificent atmosphere was briefly shattered by boatfull of moronic tourists which charged passed us at about 20 mph. I don’t know what they were after, but they won’t have found it at that speed. We held back allowing them to clear off, and the birds to return. Anyway, in this brief time, the birds we saw included 5-6 African Darters, 2 White-backed Night Herons, Intermediate Egrets, 2 Goliath Herons, around 12 Woolly-necked Storks, 1 Yellow-billed Stork, Spur-winged Geese, 1 Sacred Ibis, 1 juvenile African Fish Eagle, many Whimbrels and Common Sandpipers, 1 African Cuckoo, 2 Grey-headed Kingfishers, a flock of White-throated Bee-eaters and 6-7 Mouse-brown Sunbirds. Best of all though for me, the bird I wanted more than any other on this holiday, a fabulous soaring Bateleur. Then it was back into the open river, and return to Tendaba.
Once back at Tendaba, we had a brief walk through the elephant grass (which leaves what looks like streaks of dry white paint all over your trousers), before heading back. In the heat of the day, we didn’t get too much: 3 more Woolly-necked Storks overhead, 2 male Northern Puffbacks and single Willow Warbler and Northern Black Flycatcher.
By now, the mini bus and driver had caught up with us, after their night somewhere on the north bank. The journey back to the hotel took several hours. Yes, we had a few brief stops of course, but the road, in spite of looking good on the map, was mostly appalling; as far as Faraba Banta, when it became good for the rest of the way. It’s not that it was a dirt road, it had been previously tarmaced, but never repaired. So where the rain had washed away some parts and not others, differences in levels of up to half a metre and formidible potholes had become formed. Fortunately (and hardly surprisingly), there is very little mechanical transport apart from the occasional lorry inland. In the round-hutted villages we passed through, there were no vehicles, and it seemed like the whole population was outside, lining the road, as if they were expecting us. Whenever we stopped, the minibus was surrounded in seconds, mostly by children. They were usually after pens or coins, but even when we had nothing to give them, they still chased after the bus, smiling and waving.
Some more good birds on the journey. Three more lifers for me, thanks to Ebrima’s eagle eyes: pair of Bruce’s Green Pigeons, 2 Striped Kingfishers and 5 White-crested Helmet-Shrikes. Plenty of back-up, including Gabar Goshawk, another Grey-headed Kingfisher and Violet Turaco.
It was dark well before we got back. The villages looked like they were in a blackout. No street lighting, just a flickering candle or sometimes a light bulb coming from inside each hut.
Tuesday 31st October
It was good to have my air conditioned, spacious room back, although the up river trip had been superbly enjoyable. Back to more local birding, and after the experience of the last 2 days, we vowed to keep mostly to tarmac roads for the rest of the holiday.
So today was to be Mandinaba, Pirang and Faraba Banta, all places I’d been to in 2004, just beyond Brikama. Mandinaba has open rice fields and wetland habitat. We had an excellent set of birds here, although no lifers for me, which obviously start getting more tricky. We had 6 species of raptor, including an adult Wahlberg’s Eagle and juvenile Gabar Goshawk. Best of the rest included African Cuckoo, Rufous-crowned Roller, Yellow-throated Leaflove and Northern Crombec.
We squeezed in another stop at a place called Bunto or Bonto on the south side of the river on the way to Pirang. Main reason for calling here, was because Ebrima knew it was a reliable spot for Yellow-shouldered Widowbird. We got about 5 of them, no problem, and the male is quite a dazzler. A bonus here was 5 Black Egrets, which flew over and dropped out of sight. I failed to get this species in 2004, and had thought I was going to dip again, although it is not that rare.
Next to Pirang. There are various habitats in this area, although the one we headed for was the shrimp farm. I had high expectations following 2004, when we’d seen Black Crowned Crane, Winding Cisticola and Yellow-crowned Bishop here. However, most of the place was now locked up and beyond access unfortunately. Besides, both Dad and myself were starting to feel pretty unwell (in my case the dreaded Banjul Belly combined with looming heat stroke), so we didn’t want to stay somewhere so open and exposed for too long. However, we did manage to enjoy 6 more Black Egrets, a fly-over Yellow-billed Stork, Gull-billed Terns and great views of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Black-rumped Waxbills and 3 Quail-Finches before we were overcome. The Plain-backed Pipits which are found here, eluded again.
Last stop, was the Faraba Banta bush track. This really is an excellent place, but like in 2004, we did not give it long or do it justice, because also like 2004, I was feeling very rough when I was here, and thoughts of a cold shower or swim in the sea were more appealing than a few more hours birding. In spite of this, in no more than an hour, we’d seen another Bateleur (although very distant), a pair of roosting Greyish Eagle Owls in a palm, Viellot’s Barbet, Brown-backed Woodpecker, White-breasted Cuckoo-Shrike, 2 Green-backed Eremomelas and 2 Yellow-fronted Canaries. Next time, I’ll drive here in an ice cream van and give it a full day !
So that was it for the 31st, except for the hotel grounds, cut a little short out of necessity. It did the trick though, a cool shower and lie down in my room for a couple of hours, and the heat stroke effects had gone. The Banjul Belly would take another 24 hours or so to sort.
Wednesday 1st November
Another 4 sites planned for today, heading south. Feeling better today, although on arrival at Brufut Woods, I did have to make a mad dash into the undergrowth with a bunch of hastily plucked leaves. It was only afterwards when I remembered about the Spitting Cobras, one of which I almost trod on in 2004 here!
Minutes later, we were all admiring a roosting White-faced Scops Owl, which Ebrima had located. Much bigger than I expected, more Tawny Owl size. We also had fantastic views of a fly-by Red-necked Falcon and 5 fleeting White-crested Helmet-Shrikes flying through a gap in the trees. There’s a hide here overlooking a watering hole (or pond as they’re known in the UK). All sorts of small birds may appear here if you put the time in, and we had amongst other things African Pygmy Kingfisher, Garden Warbler and Orange-cheeked Waxbill. Other birds seen in the wood included Fanti Saw-wing, Yellow-throated Leaflove and Singing Cisticola, my 4th member of the family of the trip. Only Ebrima spotted the Yellowbill unfortunately. Brufut’s a great place, and definitely worth longer than we gave it. Essential to take a guide though or at least have a very good sense of direction, because it would be very easy to get lost in the maze of pathways.
Next stop was nearby Tanji beach, next to the highly aromatic fishing village of the same name. There is also a nature reserve around here somewhere, although as with 2004, we didn’t schedule time to visit. This is a place to sift through the large numbers of waders, gulls and terns, many of which will be familiar from the UK (eg Sanderling and Lesser Black-backed Gull) or from earlier in the trip (Grey-headed Gull, Caspian and Royal Terns). The one speciality we got here (and in 2004), was Kelp Gull, about 4-5 of them, and a bird officially rare this far north and west in Africa. It looks very like Great Black-backed Gull (not found at all in The Gambia), but instead of bright pink legs, has greenish pink ones, obvious with the birds sat on the beach.
On to Kartung, the most southerly place in The Gambia, only a mile or two from the Senegalese border, and not on the schedule of many birders. You go through a military checkpoint to get here.
A bit disappointing birdwise, in that the Yellow-backed Weavers (the main reason for going here, and a would-be lifer) had departed. Ebrima did spot a Grey-headed Bush Shrike, but all I saw was a medium-sized yellow bird very briefly, not good enough for a lifer. What we did get included Striated and Black-headed Herons, Grey Kestrel (great views), Senegal Thick-knee, Melodious Warbler, Siffling Cisticola and Black-rumped Waxbill.
On the way back north, we stopped to look through the oil palms at Tujering. This was at the time an area unfamiliar to Ebrima, but on a later trip in March 2007, Ebrima took a friend of mine here, and they had some great stuff which I missed !
Only a brief stop at Tujering anyway (we wanted to get back), with African Green Pigeon, Pearl-spotted Owlet (the first for Dad and Huw, as they missed the one at Fajara), Singing Cisticola and Northern Black Flycatcher being the highlights. Ebrima saw a Green Hylia, but was unable to share the experience.
Thursday 2nd November
The last full day unfortunately. It was to be a fairly local day, travelling no further than Abuko for a return trip, although again we did the shortened tour. We bumped into the 3 Swedish birders who had shared the Tendaba experience with us. They’d in the meantime travelled even further inland and had even longer lists than us (they would !), with birds such as Marabou and White-backed Vulture. We’d heard enough.
Anyway, Abuko this time gave us great views of Hamerkop and around 8-9 Black-headed Herons in the palms. We heard Ahanta Francolin in the undergrowth. Ebrima went in to try to flush them towards us, but managed to be the only one to see them! In the woodland, we had 2 Blue-spotted Wood Doves and 3 African Green Pigeons. Trees to look out for are fruiting figs. We had excellent views of both Green and Violet Turacos feeding together in one of these. Another Little Greenbul gave tantalisingly brief views. Star turn however for me was a male Common Wattle-eye, seen very well and a belated lifer.
We retired to the soft drinks waterhole across the main road from the exit. We had great views of adult and juvenile Snowy-crowned Robin Chat together in the leaf litter here as we juiced up.
Heading back towards the hotel, we decided to give Kotu Bridge another go. No birds of particular note here. Ebrima introduced us to his bird guiding friends here at their WABSA (West African Bird Study Association) base. This was nothing more than a makeshift shelter with some great bird photos etc. My donation was fought over angrily by 2 of them who couldn’t agree which of them should look after it. Anyway, I left them to it while I watched an African Silverbill on the ground nearby, and the only one of the week. In 2004, I had a couple of these at the hotel.
We left the vehicle here and had a scan around the nearby rice fields for Painted-Snipe. No luck. So we had a walk down the cycle track (formerly the casino cycle track) towards the sea. A large group of White-faced Whistling Ducks flew over and we had a single Palmnut Vulture. We went as far as the lily pond, where as expected, there were 5-6 Jacanas. Up until now, we hadn’t recorded Black Crake for the trip, and this was the last opportunity. 3-4 (both adult and juvenile) appeared on cue.
It was now getting dark, so there was just one thing left to do, go to the reliable Long-tailed Nightjar stake out on the seafront near the Palma Rima hotel. I had some doubt, as we had been here in 2004 with Sanna, and failed to see any. Anyway, Ebrima seemed confident. At least I wouldn’t be making the mistake again of walking into the type of grass whose prickly seed heads stick to your laces and socks like burrs. I picked all the spiky burrs off my laces for a second time and waited for the Nightjar performance. Well we waited, and then it got really dark. Ebrima had never failed with this bird here before he told us, not in dozens and dozens of trips. Not a great finale. We said goodbye to Ebrima for the last time when he dropped us off at the hotel.
Friday 3rd November
The last day had arrived. We couldn’t go very far, as packing had to be done, and the coach back to the airport could not be missed. Spent more time in the hotel grounds than before, and got some quality birds here such as Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Northern Black Flycatcher, Grey-backed Camaroptera and Black-necked Weaver.
Just had time for a brisk morning trip around nearby Bijilo Forest for a last ditch attempt at Stone-partridge and Oriole Warbler, although the other two decided to stay behind and pack. This is a park and there is a nominal entrance fee, amounting to around 50p equivalent. You can go around alone, although they lay on the dangers of doing so (from deadly snakes, which are here, to getting robbed), although the real motive of course is to get a tip for an escorted walk. Anyway, on the basis that my guide for the walk, Soloman, would know where to find Stone-Partridge, I accepted a guide. Well we did quite well (Senegal Parrot, African Grey Hornbill, Green Wood-Hoopoe and a brilliant male Scarlet-chested Sunbird), but no Stone-Partridge. We heard Oriole Warbler, and it seemed to be getting nearer, but then it turned. Meanwhile, Huw was photographing one of these back at the hotel !
However, at the far end of the park, Soloman said he knew a place for Olive-bellied Sunbird. I asked if he was sure, as I didn’t think they were found in the Gambia. Anyway, we found a couple at least (male and female), and they looked right to me.
On the way back, Soloman gave me his tale of his family of about 10 of living in a single room and that he was the only wage earner getting around £50 a month. Whether it was true or not, he got his tip.
Account of Birds Recorded on Trip
This is a summary of all the bird species I recorded between 27th October and 3rd November 2006 in The Gambia. The ‘(L)’ after the name indicates the species was a lifer for me.
Great White Pelican
Three dates. One on the Bund Road on 29th October with Pink-backed Pelicans, large numbers soaring over Tendaba on 30th October and birds overhead at Pirang on 31st October.
The commoner pelican, with five dates. One overhead near Kotu ponds on 28th October, several on boats on the Bund road and others on the North Bank on 29th October, good numbers including tree-nesting birds in the Tendaba / River Gambia area on 30th October, birds overhead at Pirang and elsewhere on 31st October and 1 on 1st November somewhere.
Five dates. Probably 2 at Kotu Creek on 27th October, 2 near Banjul on 29th October, 1 near Tendaba on 30th October, 1 at Mandinaba and many at Pirang on 31st October and 1 over the cycle track on 2nd November. A small, generally scruffy-looking cormorant.
African Darter (L)
Two dates. Around half a dozen juveniles were at a marsh on the North Bank on 29th October, and 5-6 very well from the boat in Kissi-Toku bolons and a single on the South Bank both on 30th October.
Five dates. Two at Kotu bridge and 1 at Abuko on 28th October, 1 on the north bank on 29th October, small numbers on the river trip on 30th October, recorded at Mandinaba on 31st October and small numbers and great views at Abuko again on 2nd November.
Also 5 dates. Around 3 birds at Kotu on 28th October, 1 on the north bank on 29th October, 2-3 in the bolons on 30th October, 1 at Mandinaba on 31st October, I again at Kotu creek and 3-4 at the ponds adjacent the cycle track on 2nd November. Only 2 birds seen in 2004.
An abundant species recorded on all 8 dates.
Three dates only. One over Fajara golf course on 28th October, loads on the north bank on 29th October, and small number on the river trip on 30th October.
Western Reef Heron
A common bird seen on 6 dates, compared to only 2 in 2004. Around 3 at Kotu creek on 28th October, birds in the Banjul and north bank areas on 29th October, fair numbers in the Tendaba area on 30th October, at Bonto and Pirang on 31st October, a few at Kartung on 1st November and a single at Abuko on 2nd November.
Black Egret (L)
Seen at 2 locations, all on 31st October. Five at Bonto and half dozen at Pirang, all either distant or in flight.
Only definite sightings were a small number in the Kissi-Toku bolons on 30th October.
Great White Egret
A common species, but like Little Egret, only actually seen on 3 dates.
A quite common species, seen on 4 dates, particularly in the bolons up river.
Seen on 5 dates, a much better showing than 2004.
Around 3 at Abuko on 28th October, 1 in a tree on the north bank on 29th, 4 overhead at Mandinaba on 31st October, 1 at Kartung on 1st November and around 8-9 at Abuko again in the palms on 2nd November.
Two dates. 2-3 on the north bank on 29th October and a juvenile at Pirang on 31st October, where also seen in 2004.
Goliath Heron (L)
Two separate birds, both in flight and perched in tree tops, seen in the Kissi-Toku bolons on 30th October.
Seen on 5 dates. Probably 2 at Kotu Creek on 28th October, 1 in the Kissi-Toku bolons on 30th October, 2-3 at Pirang on 31st October, 1 at Kartung on 1st November, and on 2nd November, 1 by the Senegambia and 2 at Abuko.
Black-crowned Night Heron
Three dates was a better showing than 2004. On 28th October, an adult and juvenile at Kotu bridge and 4 adults at Abuko, 1 by the river near Tendaba on 30th October and 2 again at Abuko on 2nd November.
White-backed Night Heron (L)
Excellent views of 2 birds lurking in the mangroves in the Kissi-Toku bolons on 30th October.
Single overhead birds over the Kissi-Toku bolons on 30th October and Pirang on 31st October.
Woolly-necked Stork (L)
All records from 30th October inland, with a dozen or so either feeding in the grass at, or flying over the Kissi-Toku bolons and 3 later flying overhead near Tendaba.
Sacred Ibis (L)
A single bird overhead at Kissi-Toku on 30th October was the only record.
Two birds overhead at Pirang on 31st October, where also seen in 2004.
White-faced Whistling Duck
Seen on 5 dates as 2004. A single bird at Kotu ponds on 28th October, 15 in flight on the north bank on 29th October; at the Senegambia, a small number on 31st October and a distant aerial flock on 1st November; on 2nd November a dozen at the marsh adjacent the hotel and 20 over the cycle track.
Spur-winged Goose (L)
Only recorded on 30th October. Three overhead and a few very distant in the grass at the Kissi-Toku bolons, and another single later in flight on the south bank, between Tendaba and the coast.
A total of 6-7 birds seen on 5 dates, about double 2004’s showing.
Probably the 2nd commonest raptor after Hooded Vulture, but 5 dates was a come down from 2004’s full house. Four adults and a juvenile either between the airport and hotel or at the hotel on 27th October, 1 on the North Bank on 29th October; on 30th October, an adult in the bolons and 2 juveniles on the south bank; on 31st October, an adult and juvenile at the hotel and adult at Mandinaba; on 1st November, a juvenile at Brufut and an adult en route.
African Fish Eagle (L)
Three birds were seen on the river boat trip on 30th October, 2 adults in trees by the river and a juvenile in the bolons. All views were good.
Two fabulous single soaring birds: the first seen well over the bolons on 30th October, and the other bird more distantly over the Faraba Banta bush track on 31st October.
Brown Snake Eagle (L)
Good views of 1 soaring over the North Bank on 29th October.
Hot on the heels of the Brown Snake Eagle, it’s Short-toed cousin was seen nearby on 29th October. What we didn’t check was whether it was the European or African ‘Beaudouini’ form.
Wahlberg’s Eagle (L)
Three birds seen on 2 dates. A juvenile on the North Bank on 29th October, and on 31st October, an adult at Mandinaba and juvenile at nearby Bonto.
Grasshopper Buzzard (L)
Two records. One on the North Bank on 29th October and 1 soaring near Tendaba on 30th October.
Dark Chanting Goshawk
Seen on 4 dates. An adult was seen shortly after leaving the airport on 27th October. The others were 1 adult on the North Bank on 29th October, 1 at Mandinaba and another 3 from the van on 31st October and 1 again by the road in the south on 1st November.
Three singles. A perched adult (I only saw juveniles in 2004) was seen just outside the airport on 27th October. The others were juveniles: 1 very well on the south bank on 30th October and at Mandinaba on 31st October.
A common raptor seen on 6 dates. On 28th October, 1 at the hotel and a juvenile at Fajara golf club; an adult on the North Bank on 29th October, 1 in the bolons on 30th October, 1 at Mandinaba on 31st October, 1 somewhere on 1st November and a single at Abuko on 2nd November.
In common with most raptors, did better than 2004, in this case with 3 dates. Two birds near the airport on 27th October, also 2 at Mandinaba on 31st October and 1 at Abuko on 2nd November.
A good showing with 5 dates. Four birds on 28th October, including 1 at the hotel, an adult on 29th October, 1 again at the hotel on 31st October; on 1st November, 2 over the hotel and 1 at Brufut; on 2nd November, probably seen at Abuko and 1 from the cycle track at Kotu.
An abundant species (by far the commonest raptor) seen, like 2004, in large numbers every day. Becomes incredibly tame at the daily Senegambia vulture feed, when you could almost stand on them if you so chose.
A single record of 1 female at Mandinaba on 31st October.
Not the abundant species which I think it becomes in the dry season. On 28th October, 2-3 (golf course and Abuko rice fields) and on 29th October, 1 at Banjul docks and 2 others elsewhere.
Two dates, with 1-2 well near the airport on 27th October, and 1 at Kotu on 28th.
Single record of 1 inland on the south bank (west of Tendaba) on 30th October.
African Hobby (L)
A bird was seen at some distance over the river from the boat trip on 30th October. Views good enough to see what it was, but that’s about all.
One probably seen at Fajara on 28th October, but views not conclusive. However, fantastic views were had of a close fly-by bird at Brufut Woods on 1st November.
Three single birds as 2004. One on the North Bank on 29th October, 1 somewhere on 30th and excellent views of 1 at Kartung on 1st November.
Birds seen on 3 dates (compared to only 1 in 2004), and like that year, heard only on further dates. Sightings were 2 in flight at Mandinaba on 31st October, 2 at Brufut Woods on 1st November and 3 at the cycle track, Kotu on 2nd November.
Two Francolins, possibly of this species, were seen in flight at Abuko on 28th October. Ahantas were, according to Ebrima, also heard here on 2nd November.
Two adults and 1-2 juveniles at a lily pond off the cycle track, Kotu on 2nd November, was the only record.
Three dates, compared to 5 in 2004. On 28th October, 2 at Kotu sewage ponds and 1 at Abuko rice fields; 1 on the north bank on 29th October and 5-6 at the lily ponds as Black Crake on 2nd November.
Egyptian Plover (L)
Around a dozen of these striking birds seen well at Kau-ur marshes on the north bank on 29th October.
A poor cousin to the Egyptian Plovers at Kau-ur on 29th October, but numbering hundreds, and may be over 1000 birds.
Recorded on 3 dates. Just 3 at Kotu Creek on 28th October, good numbers at north bank sites on 29th October and 7-8 well at Kartung on 1st November.
Two at the Bund Road on 29th October and 1 at Tanji on 1st November.
A common wader seen on 5 dates, from Kotu Creek and sewage ponds, the north and south banks, our local marsh and Kartung.
A single record of 2 at Pirang on 31st October. This was the only place I saw them in 2004 as well, albeit in larger numbers then.
Single record of 5-6 well in the short grass at Fajara golf course on 28th October. Also, and only, seen here in 2004 as well.
A very common plover, seen on all 6 dates between 28th October and 2nd November at widespread locations.
Common, although less so than Spur-winged, and seen on all 7 dates between 27th October and 2nd November. Widespread sightings, and regularly seen over the hotel at dawn or dusk.
White-crowned Plover (L)
At least 3 seen at Kau-Ur wetland on the north bank on 29th October, Initially seen very distantly on the deck, but then flew, when seen quite well.
Recorded at widespread sites on 6 dates, compared to only 2 in 2004.
Seen on 4 dates compared to only 1 in 2004. Seen at Kotu Creek on 28th October and 2nd November, Bund Rd on 29th October and Bonto on 31st October.
Only date seen was 1st November, however large numbers were seen then at Tanji.
One at Kau-Ur marshes in the north on 29th October and 2 at Pirang on 31st October.
A single date at Pirang, as 2004, with large numbers on 31st October.
Two at the Bund Rd on 29th October, and on 31st October, seen at both Bonto and Pirang.
Single record of a few at the Bund Rd on 29th October.
A common wader seen on 6 dates.
Two seen from the boat on the bolon trip on 30th October. This, along with White-crowned Plover, was a lifer for our guide Ebrima, so presumably, it’s not too common in The Gambia.
Seen on 5 dates, from various sites.
Small numbers seen on 4 dates.
A quite numerous wader, particularly around Kotu, seen on 4 dates.
One at Kotu sewage ponds on 28th October and another inland on the south bank on 30th October.
Seen on 5 dates. A common wader, particularly on the bolon boat trip.
Records mirrored Sanderling: only seen on 1st November, at Tanji sea front in very large numbers.
One or two seen amongst much larger numbers of Poms out of Banjul port on the river ferry crossing on 29th October.
Several seen very well alongside the Banjul – Barra ferry on 29th October.
Two birds seen amongst large numbers of Grey-heads from the Banjul ferry on 29th October.
By far the commonest of 5 gull species seen, recorded on 5 dates like 2004. Particularly abundant around the river mouth on 29th October and at Tanji seafront on 1st November.
One noted on Tanji beach on 1st November amongst large numbers of mixed gulls and terns.
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Recorded on 2 dates. A small number from the Banjul ferry on 29th October and several at Tanji on 1st November.
Probably 4-5 birds seen on Tanji seafront on 1st November. Also seen here in very small numbers in 2004. One bird seen very well on the beach allowing indisputable ID.
After barely appearing on the radar in 2004, I did well for this species with 5 dates. On 29th October, seen from the Bund Road, Banjul ferry and on the north bank; at least 2 over the river at Tendaba on 30th October and 1 on the south bank; 1 over the river at Bonto on 31st October, several at Tanji beach on 1st November and 2 over Kololi beach on 3rd November.
In 2004, far commoner than Caspian Tern, but not so in 2006. Three dates, with good numbers at the Bund Road on 29th October, 1 at Pirang on 31st October and several at Tanji beach on 1st November.
Gull-billed Tern (L)
Seen on 3 dates, all inland. A few inland on the north bank on 29th October, a few over the river near Tendaba on 30th October and probably 8 at Pirang on 31st October.
A common species at coastal sites, seen on 4 dates.
The odd bird from the Banjul - Barra ferry on 29th October and seen from Kololi Beach on 3rd November.
Small number on the mud flats at Bund Road on 29th October.
Large numbers of juveniles around the Banjul ferry port on 29th October.
A very abundant species, seen on all 8 dates.
Namaqua Dove (L)
Three dates. 5-6 birds seen well on the north bank, including a bird on the road on 29th October, 3 in flight on the mangroves boat trip on 30th October and a female on the track at Pirang on 31st October.
Blue-spotted Wood Dove
Two birds at Abuko on both 28th October and 2nd November. Another probably at Bijilo on 3rd November.
Black-billed Wood Dove
The commoner of the Wood Doves, seen on 5-7 dates. The definate sightings were at least 1 somewhere on 28th October, 1 on the north bank on 29th October, 1 at Mandinaba on 31st October, several at Brufut woods on 1st November, including great views of birds coming down to drink and 1 at Bijilo on 3rd November.
An abundant species, particularly at the hotel, noted like in 2004 on all 8 dates.
Noted in Banjul.
African Green Pigeon
Seen on 2 dates. Between 4-8 at Tujerung on the road down south on 1st November and 3 at Abuko on 2nd November.
Bruce’s Green Pigeon (L)
A pair seen in the top of a dead tree on the south bank between Tendaba and Pirang on 30th October.
Along with Laughing Dove, one of the most abundant birds, seen on all 8 dates.
African Mourning Dove
The least abundant of the 3 ‘Collared Dove’ species, and the only one never seen at the hotel. One en route from the airport on 27th October, good numbers at the Kotu and Abuko wetlands on 28th October and at least 1 somewhere on 30th October.
A common species, although less so than Red-eyed Dove, seen on 7 dates.
The commonest cuckoo, seen on 7 dates (except the arrival day), in small numbers. Ten birds seen altogether, (and others heard, once hooting call was learnt), from Kotu sewage ponds, Abuko rice fields, Farafenni ferry, south bank, Mandinaba, Tujerung, local marsh, Kotu cycle track and Bijilo Forest.
Klaas’s Cuckoo (L)
First lifer of the holiday, in a roadside tree near the airport on 27th October. Views not great however, and only seen briefly. No others were seen during the week either unfortunately.
African Cuckoo (L)
I wasn’t really expecting this species, but got 3 records. One in flight on the north bank on 29th October, 1 in the bolons on the boat trip on 30th October, and 1 at Mandinaba on 31st October.Ok, they were indistinguishable from Common Cuckoo, but as that species is very rare in The Gambia, African Cuckoo was a safe bet.
Only 1 seen, a bird by the road side en route to Pirang on 31st October. A lot commoner in 2004, when I had 7 birds in a week. But as they are a wet season only bird, 2 weeks further on towards the dry season in 2006 may have made the difference.
Greyish Eagle Owl (L)
Ebrima found us a couple of these roosting in a palm off the Faraba Banta bush track on 31st October. One of the birds was seen well. Ebrima was of the understanding that we were looking at a new bird for The Gambia. I think the reality was that the Greyish Eagle Owl is a recent split as the western form of the Spotted Eagle Owl – they looked just like the bird described as ’Spotted’ in the Barlow book. Whatever the reality though, it was a good find of a rare bird - rarer than Verreaux’s Eagle Owl which we didn’t see.
White-faced Scops Owl (L)
Another roosting owl located by Ebrima - this one at Brufut Woods on 1st November. A striking bird seen well.
From my limited Gambian bird experience, this is probably the easiest owl to see, as it is active in the day. Two good sightings: singles at Fajara golf course on 28th October and at Tujerung on 1st November. The only owl species I saw in 2004.
Seen on 5 dates. Records from Fajara, Tendaba bolons, Mandinaba, Tujering, Bijilo Forest etc.
Also seen on 5 dates. Five birds on 28th (2 on the golf course and 3 at Abuko rice fields), and single birds by the river on 30th October, Mandinaba on 31st October, Brufut woods on 1st November and Bijilo Forest on 3rd November.
Recorded on 6 dates. Particularly abundant in the vicinity of the river, inland on 29th and 30th October.
Mottled Spinetail (L)
A single bird seen well on the north bank on 29th October.
African Palm Swift
Common in small numbers, and seen on 6 dates. Most records from around the hotel, at either dawn or dusk. Also seen at Kartung in the far south.
This striking bird was seen on 5 dates as in 2004. On 28th, a few on Fajara golf course and 2-3 elsewhere, 3 at the hotel on 31st October, 4 in flight on the road south on 1st November, 2-3 at Abuko on 2nd November and several at Bijilo on 3rd November.
Giant Kingfisher (L)
A male bird was seen briefly but well on top of a boat mast by Banjul ferry terminal on 29th October.
At least 2 records. One briefly in flight at the hotel on 28th October, and another very well by the Kotu cycle track on the evening of 2nd November. Two other birds at the hotel on 2nd November were either this species or the next, but views not conclusive.
Four definite records plus the Woodland / Blue-breasted mentioned above. Singles at the golf course on 28th October, on the bolon boat trip on 30th October, Mandinaba on 31st October and at the hotel on 3rd November. All views were good, but those of the last bird were exceptional and prolonged as it fed on worms on the ground about 3 metres away.
Grey-headed Kingfisher (L)
Great views of 2 of these uncommon birds in the mangroves on the north bank on 30th October. Another seen briefly in woodland from the minibus on the south bank later the same day.
Striped Kingfisher (L)
Only record was of 2 seen very well together in a tree on savannah habitat near Tendaba on 30th October.
By far the commonest kingfisher, seen on all 6 dates between 28th October and 2nd November. Records from Kotu Creek, Abuko, north bank, Pirang, Kartung etc, basically wherever water. Prone to perch on phone lines, often in groups.
African Pygmy Kingfisher
Seen on 2 dates. On 1st November, excellent views of a pair at Brufut Woods and another at Kartung; 1 at the hotel on 3rd November.
Seen on 3 dates as 2004. Two in the bolons on 30th October, 2 at Pirang on 31st October and 1 at Kotu bridge on 2nd November.
Seen on 7 dates in small numbers, as 2004. 3-4 at the hotel on 27th October, several at the hotel and 3 elsewhere on 28th October, 1 at Tendaba on 30th October, singles at the hotel and Mandinaba on 31st October, 1 at Tujering on 1st November, 3 at the hotel on 2nd November and the last from the airport bus on 3rd November !
Six dates, but also very small numbers. Two on the trip from the airport on 27th October, and otherwise all singles: ‘somewhere’ on 28th October, north bank on 29th October and on roadside wires on 31st October, 1st November and 2nd November. Apart from being the most stunning bird in The Gambia, it’s the one most often seen from the car!
After a single record in 2004, 4 sightings was pretty good, as this is generally the least common of the 4 rollers. All single birds: outside the airport on a lamp post on 27th October, near Tendaba on 30th October, at Mandinaba on 31st October and at Brufut Woods on 1st November.
Much bigger numbers than 2004, and 4 dates. Two on roadside wires on 28th October, 8-10 on the north bank on 29th October, another 8-10 in the bolons and south bank near Tendaba on 30th October and 1 at Mandinaba on 31st October.
One of the first birds seen on the holiday - a single near the airport on 27th October, sharing a bush with a Little Bee-eater. Also seen, but similarly scarce in 2004.
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (L)
A surprising omission from the 2004 tally, but recorded on 3 dates in 2006. Several over the rice fields at Abuko on 28th October, a small flock on the north bank on 29th October and fantastic views of several at Pirang on 31st October.
A flock was over Tendaba on 30th October. To be honest, by the time I saw them, they were too distant to identify as any more than Bee-eater sp, but others had seen them closer earlier.
The commonest Bee-eater, recorded on 5 dates. Two near the airport on 27th October, good numbers at Fajara golf course and elsewhere on 28th October, at least 2 at Pirang on 31st October, small number at Brufut Woods on 1st November and around 6 at Bijilo on 3rd November.
Little Green Bee-eater (L)
Single record of 1-2 on the north bank on 29th October.
On 30th October, a flock was seen well from the Kissi-Toku bolon boat trip and a later flock was seen distantly from Tendaba. A small number of Bee-eaters very high over Abuko on 2nd November, were also probably this species.
Western Grey Plantain-eater
A quite common and very vocal bird seen on 7 dates. 4-5 on 27th October, 2-3 on 28th October, 1 on the north bank on 29th October, 1-2 on 31st October, small numbers at Brufut and Tujering on 1st November, at Abuko and the cycle track on 2nd November and small number at Bijilo forest on 3rd November.
Quite a good showing with 3 dates. Most birds at Abuko: 3 on 28th October and 4-5 on 2nd November. Otherwise, 1 seen well inland on the south bank on 30th October.
Less common than Violet, and only seen at Abuko. A single bird on 28th October and probably 2 there on 2nd November.
Only bird sighted was 1 seen well on Fajara golf course on 28th October. The distinctive call was heard on a couple of other dates.
Recorded on 4 dates as with 2004. Three birds in flight over the golf course on 28th October, singles on the north bank on 29th October and at Tujerung on 1st November and singles at the hotel and at Abuko on 2nd November.
Viellot’s Barbet (L)
A single bird seen from the Faraba Banta bush track on 31st October. There must have been something special about this tree, because in a short space of time, we also had both Brown-backed Woodpecker and White-breasted Cuckoo-Shrike in it, but not all together.
African Pied Hornbill
Singles at Abuko on 2 dates: in flight on 28th October and on 2nd October.
A common bird (certainly the commonest hornbill), recorded on 7 dates.
African Grey Hornbill
A quite common bird seen on 6 dates. Sightings were 1 across the road on the trip from the airport on 27th October, 2-3 on 28th October, 1 at the hotel and 2 on the north bank on 29th October, around 25 on 30th October, including a flock of around 15 crossing the river at Tendaba, 2 at the local marsh on 2nd November and a single at Bijilo Forest on 3rd November.
Recorded on 3 dates. Two at the hotel on 28th October, 1 on the south bank on 30th October and another 2 at the hotel on 2nd November, giving it a virtual monopoly.
A single record of 1 well at Abuko rice fields on 28th October.
Brown-backed Woodpecker (L)
Prolonged although distant views were had of this scarce woodpecker from the Faraba Banta bush track on 31st October.
Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark (L)
Single record of a pair seen well in a tree on the north bank on 29th October.
Three records. Three on the north bank on 29th October, a few at Pirang on 31st October and 1 at Kartung on 1st November.
Three dates. Around 4-5 at Abuko on 28th October, a few adults and juveniles at Brufut Woods on 1st November and on 2nd November, 2-3 at the hotel and another single at Abuko.
Recorded on the north bank on 29th October and a few at Pirang on 31st October.
Recorded on at least 3 dates. A single bird at Kotu bridge on 28th October, a few at Pirang on 31st October; on 1st November, 1 at Tanji and several at Kartung, and probable birds on 2nd November.
Seen with far lower frequency than in 2004 with 3 dates. 2-4 at the hotel on 27th October, a few on the north bank on 29th October and a few at Pirang on 31st October.
Recorded on 4 dates, as 2004. On 28th October, 3 at Abuko rice fields and 1 outside the reserve, small numbers on the north bank on 29th October, a single on the boat trip on 30th October and a few at Pirang on 31st October.
African Golden Oriole
A good showing, probably all of males, on 3 dates, and some great views. One near the airport, mobbing a Black-shouldered Kite, on 27th October, probably 4 birds at Tendaba camp on 30th October and a male at the hotel on 2nd November.
Recorded on 6 dates in small numbers, totalling 9 birds overall. Sightings from near the airport, Tendaba, Mandinaba, Brufut Woods and Abuko.
White-breasted Cuckoo-Shrike (L)
This was the retrospective identification (by Ebrima) of a mysterious passerine seen at the Faraba Banta bush track on 31st October. Problem was it was silhouetted by the light, and the colours couldn’t be seen.
1-2 on the north bank on 29th October and 1-2 at Kartung on 1st November.
Recorded on 4 dates. One on the north bank on 29th October, 1 in the mangroves on 30th October, 2 at Pirang on 31st October and 1 at Kartung on 1st November.
An abundant species, which like 2004, was seen every day. It’s uninspiring appearance is compensated for with it’s highly varied vocalisations.
Two sightings. One in flight at Mandinaba on 31st October and 2 at Brufut Woods on 1st November.
Little Greenbul (L)
Recorded on 2 dates, both at Abuko. 1-3 birds on 28th October and 1 on 2nd November. On neither occasion did I get a proper look at the birds, but just enough to know what I was looking at.
Heard only in Bijilo forest on 3rd November, where seen in 2004.
Recorded on 4 dates, the same as Brown Babbler but in smaller numbers. Four together on the golf course on 28th October, 3 at the hotel on 1st November, and 2 there on 2nd November; finally 2 at Bijilo Forest on 3rd November.
Records on 4 dates, compared to 7 in 2004. Half dozen at the Senegambia on 27th October; birds on the golf course and at Abuko rice fields on 28th October, seen at the hotel, Brufut Woods and Tujering on 1st November; at the hotel and Abuko on 2nd November.
Northern Anteater-Chat (L)
Single record of about 10 birds together on the north bank on 29th October. They gave great views, and strangely recalled Meerkats sat together on the top of termite mounds, looking around ! The big white patches in the wing in flight wasn’t evident from the book.
White-crowned Robin Chat
Seen every day in 2004, but on only 4-5 dates in 2006. Again however, a virtual monopoly at the Senegambia. Minimum sightings were singles at the hotel and on the golf course on 28th October, 2 at the hotel on 1st November, a few there on 2nd November, and around 4 again on 3rd November.
Snowy-crowned Robin Chat (L)
Seen on 2 dates. On 28th October, singles at the Abuko reserve and the nearby rice fields, and great views of an adult and juvenile again at the rice fields on 2nd November. A bird was also heard singing in Bijilo Forest on 3rd November, but wasn’t seen.
Recorded on 5 dates. Singles at Abuko and the golf course on 28th October, 1 at the hotel on 29th October, a juvenile at Brufut on 1st November, and a few at the hotel on both the 2nd and 3rd November.
Singing Cisticola (L)
Two single birds encountered on 1st November - at Brufut Woods and at Tujering.
Whistling Cisticola (L)
Single bird seen at the start of the holiday near the airport on 27th October, but no others subsequently
Siffling Cisticola (L)
Two records of single birds: at Kotu sewage ponds on 28th October and at Kartung on 1st November.
Again proved the most frequent Cisticola, although we’re still only talking 4 dates and 5-7 birds total.
Western Olivaceous Warbler
Two at Kotu Creek on 28th October and 2-3 well at Pirang on 31st October.
Single at Kartung on 1st November.
One at Brufut Woods on 1st November, visiting a drinking pool.
Recorded on 6 dates in small numbers. Two on 28th October, 1 on the north bank on 29th October, 1-2 on 31st October, 1 probably at Brufut on 1st November, 1 at the local marsh on 2nd November and a single near Bijilo on 3rd November. Heard only on other occasions.
I was surprised to encounter 2 singing birds. One at Abuko rice fields on 28th October and another at Tendaba on 30th October, where further birds were also heard.
Green-backed (Senegal) Eremomela
Recorded on 2 dates. Probably 4 birds at 1 site on the north bank on 29th October and probably 2 at Faraba Banta bush track on 31st October.
Yellow-breasted Apalis (L)
One seen briefly at Abuko on 28th October, and heard again here although not seen on 2nd November.
At least 4 records. One at Kotu on 28th October, probably 2 on the north bank on 29th October, 1 at Brufut Woods on 1st November and a single at the hotel on 3rd November.
Northern Crombec (L)
Three single birds on as many dates. Sightings from Kotu Bridge on 28th October, north bank on 29th October and Mandinaba on 31st October. Like a miniature Nuthatch.
Common Wattle-eye (L)
Although it was heard at Abuko on 30th October, it wasn’t seen until 2nd November with good views of a male on the deck there. One was heard at Abuko in 2004, but couldn’t be located.
Northern Black Flycatcher (L)
I managed to avoid this species altogether in 2004, even though 1 was lurking around the hotel. Seen on 5 dates in 2006 however. On 28th October, 1 at the golf course and 2 at Abuko rice fields, 1 at Tendaba on 30th October, 2 at Tujering on 1st November, 2 at the Senegambia on 2nd November and 2 each at Bijilo Forest and at the hotel on 3rd November.
Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher
Following a single record in 2004, seen on 3 dates at the back end of the holiday. Two very well at Brufut woods on 1st November and at the hotel, 2 on 2nd November and a single on 3rd November.
Recorded on 4 dates. A nice view of a male at the golf course on 28th October, a male at Bonto on 31st October, 2 males at Brufut on 1st November and a female at Abuko on 2nd November.
Mouse-brown Sunbird (L)
Only seen on 30th October, however 6-7 birds were seen well from the boat trip in the mangroves. More warbler-like than typical sunbird.
Seen on a couple of dates. On 29th October, 1-2 females on the north bank and a male well in Bijilo Forest on 3rd November.
Olive-bellied Sunbird (L)
On 3rd November, 1-2 males and 1 female were in trees outside Bijilo Forest. These were located and identified by the Bijilo warden, and looked good to me.
Only 3 dates in 2006. A few at Abuko rice fields on 28th October, a female at the hotel and small number at Bonto on 31st October and 2 females at Brufut Woods on 1st November.
The commonest sunbird, seen on 5 dates in good numbers.
Green-headed Sunbird (L)
Probably 2 birds were seen at Abuko on 2nd November:- a female quite well and another bird in flight.
Three sightings of single birds. Recorded near the airport on 27th October, Faraba Banta bush track on 31st October and ‘somewhere’ (not recorded) on 1st November. Heard only on other occasions.
Two records of male birds. Great views of 1 at Fajara golf course on 28th October and 2 at Tendaba on 30th October.
(Grey-headed Bush Shrike)
Ebrima called one of these at Kartung on 1st November. All I saw of it was a medium-sized yellow bird flying out of a bush, not good enough to claim a lifer. My view wasn’t good enough to rule out African Golden Oriole, and although we searched, we couldn’t find it again.
Fewer sightings than in 2004. although modest numbers on 4 dates. Recorded quite commonly from the hotel, and also Fajara golf course, Mandinaba and Bijilo forest. A loud and stunning species, although does become a bit ‘bread and butter’ when you’re looking for rarer things.
White-crested Helmet-Shrike (L)
Recorded on 2 dates. Five birds seen well roadside on the south bank west of Tendaba on 30th October, and another 5 which flew over a path a Brufut Woods on 1st November.
A common bird recorded on 5 dates.
An abundant Gambian species, on the coast at least, seen every day. Much less common inland though (Tendaba area).
Far less common than the other crow, although still seen on 5 dates. One near the airport on 27th October, several on the golf course on 28th October, small numbers roadside on 31st October, a few by the Kotu cycle track on 2nd November and a flock near Bijilo Forest on 3rd November.
Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling
A common species, although most of the time, unless you get really good views, it’s pretty much impossible to tell from either the next species or Bronze-tailed Glossy Starling. I recorded Bronze-tailed in 2004, but not 2006.
Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling (L)
Due to the difficulty of identifying this species, I didn’t get any in 2004. In 2006, mainly with the help of the guide, I saw at least 1 near the golf course on 28th October, with other definite records on 30th October and 1st November, including at the hotel.
Purple Glossy Starling
With good views, the easiest of the short-tailed glossys to identify. Trouble is, I got so few good views. Result was just 2 singles: on the path at Abuko rice fields on 28th October and somewhere well on 30th October.
Long-tailed Glossy Starling
An abundant and noisy species, which unlike other members of it’s family is easy to identify. Recorded every day.
Chestnut-bellied Starling (L)
A pair was seen quite well, although partly hidden in a bush, on the north bank on 29th October.
Like 2004, no good views, although 2 seen overhead inland on the south bank on 30th October,
White-rumped Seedeater (L)
Three birds in the industrial setting of Banjul docks on 29th October, sat in a coil of barbed wire.
Two dates only, as 2004. Probably a pair near the airport on 27th October and another 2 at Faraba Banta bush track on 31st October.
Birds recorded on 3 dates, including at the hotel and the airport.
A common bird seen on 7 dates, all except departure day.
Bush Petronia (L)
At least 3 seen by a pool on the north bank on 29th October.
Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver (L)
At least 2 of these birds were seen on the north bank on 29th October. Good views were had of 1 bird on the deck.
White-billed Buffalo Weaver
A common species seen on 5 dates. Nearly always, like Rooks are in this country, in the immediate vicinity of their nesting colonies. The huge communal nests give them away.
Yellow-shouldered Widowbird (L)
Around 5 birds (3 males and 2 females) at Bonto on the south side of the river on 31st October. This is a reliable site for a scarce species, and some good views were obtained.
Northern Red Bishop
A very common species, seen all dates except the last. The males are on top form at the time of year we were in the Gambia, But I imagine they are difficult to identify in Spring when in moult.
Black-winged Red Bishop (L)
Single record of 2 males seen well at the roadside en-route to Pirang on 31st October.
Unlike the other Bishops, a wetland species. Many seen at Kau-Ur wetland on the north bank on 29th October. Seen at Pirang in 2004, but not this time.
A very abundant species, seen in huge numbers, and on all dates.
Little Weaver (L)
Small numbers on 2 dates. A few on the north bank on 29th October and at least 1 male on the south bank on 30th October.
Recorded on 3 dates. On 28th October, 2 at Fajara golf course and a female at Abuko; on 2nd November, a male at Abuko and 2 males and a female at the hotel; a final male again at the hotel on 3rd November.
Not a common bird, but more sightings than 2004. A single at Kotu creek on 28th October, 1 on the track at Bonto on 31st October and 2 at Brufut Woods on 1st November.
The commonest and most beautiful of the waxbills, seen on 4 dates. Around 5 at Abuko rice fields on 28th October, 1-2 at Bonto and a single at the hotel on 31st October, 1 at Brufut on 1st November and again at the hotel on 2nd November. The paucity of records more reflects the fact that I didn’t go looking for them than there weren’t many around.
A good set of records for what’s normally a scarce species near the coast. A few seen well in long grass on the south bank on 30th October, 8-10 well at Pirang on 31st October and 3-4 at Kartung on 1st November.
Recorded on 5 dates. Small numbers at both Kotu bridge and Abuko rice fields on 28th October, several on the north bank on 29th October, 1 at Brufut on 1st November, at the hotel on 2nd November and a male at Bijilo on 3rd November.
The commonest of the tiny Waxbill-type birds, recorded on 6 dates.
Bar-breasted Firefinch (L)
A single male seen in deep cover at Abuko rice fields on 28th October.
A single bird seen very well at Kotu bridge on 2nd November.
Quite a common bird recorded on 5 dates.
Exclamatory Paradise Whydah (L)
At least 2 breeding males and a handful of females inland on the north bank on 29th October. The male’s an incredible looking bird.
Pin-tailed Whydah (L)
Compared to it’s Paradise relative, quite subdued looking ! Three males and a few females on the north bank on 29th October, and a single female at Mandinaba on 31st October.
Red-billed Quelea (L)
No swarming millions, but 4-5 in the reed bed at Kau-Ur wetland on the north bank on 29th October. Essentially an East African species on the edge of it’s range here.
Black-faced Quail-finch (L)
Three birds seen very well in the grass with Black-rumped Waxbills at Pirang on 31st October. A probable bird was seen here in flight in 2004, but this sighting nailed the species.
Three records compared to just 1 in 2004. Probably 2 birds on the north bank on 29th October, at least 3 of both sexes inland on the south bank on 30th October and at least 1 male at Mandinaba on 31st October.
Summary of Bird Records and Comparison with 2004
I thought I’d done well in 2004. In a week, I’d accrued 180 species, a total which would take me months to get to in Britain, of which 125 were lifers. All birding was done within a couple of hours of the hotel, ie near the coast on the south bank of the Gambia river.
Although I had a target list for 2006 which I sent to Ebrima in advance, I was rather concerned that unless we ventured inland or to the north bank, I’d get a similar list to 2004, with not many lifers for my money. Well we did travel north and east, and found some more sites not too far from the hotel as well. We probably birded even more intensely than 2004, and these factors combined with the facts that we had a different guide, an extra pair of eyes and it was slightly later in the calendar, I finished up doing much better than 2004.
In the week in 2006, I totalled 226 species. This total included a further 59 life records.
In summary, the statistics are:-
2004 trip: 180 species, incl 125 lifers
2006 trip: 226 species, incl 59 lifers
Number of species seen only in 2004: 27
Number added in 2006: 73
Number seen in both years: 153
Combined total for both years: 253
Birds seen within Senegambia Hotel grounds, adjacent beach and marsh
Within my 2 separate 1 week holidays based here, quite a selection of birds were encountered without any travelling at all. The small marsh (which probably dries out in the Spring) is just to the north of the hotel perimeter. Excluding Bijilo Forest (which itself is only a 10 minute walk away), the following were seen here on one or both of the holidays:-
Squacco Heron, Cattle Egret, Intermediate Egret, Striated Heron, White-faced Whistling Duck, African Harrier-Hawk, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Shikra, Palmnut Vulture, Hooded Vulture, Red-necked Falcon, Black Crake, African Jacana, Black-winged Stilt, Spur-winged Plover, Wattled Plover, Sanderling, Whimbrel, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Grey-headed Gull, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Laughing Dove, Black-billed Wood Dove, Speckled Pigeon, Red-eyed Dove, Vinaceous Dove, Senegal Coucal, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Little Swift, African Palm Swift, Green Wood-Hoopoe, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Broad-billed Roller, White-throated Bee-eater, Western Grey Plantain-eater, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Bearded Barbet, Red-billed Hornbill, African Grey Hornbill, Grey Woodpecker, Mosque Swallow, Fanti Saw-wing, African Golden Oriole, Common Bulbul, Blackcap Babbler, Brown Babbler, White-throated Robin-Chat, African Thrush, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Pied Flycatcher, Northern Black Flycatcher, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Variable Sunbird, Splendid Sunbird, Beautiful Sunbird, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Yellow-billed Shrike, Pied Crow, Piapiac, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Bronze-tailed Glossy Starling, Long-tailed Glossy Starling, Yellow-fronted Canary, House Sparrow, Grey-headed Sparrow, Northern Red Bishop, Village Weaver, Black-necked Weaver, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Lavender Waxbill, Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleu, Red-billed Firefinch, African Silverbill and Bronze Mannikin.
Huw also had Oriole Warbler at the hotel, but I missed them.
Species Not Seen
Species seen in 2004 but not 2006 were:-
Little Grebe, Black Crowned Crane, Greater Flamingo, African Hawk Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Marsh Sandpiper, Ruff, Knot, Dunlin, Slender-billed Gull, White-winged Black Tern, Pallid Swift, Greater Honeyguide, Lesser Honeyguide, Pied-winged Swallow, Sand Martin, Oriole Warbler, Northern Wheatear, Subalpine Warbler, Winding Cisticola, Red-winged Warbler, Pied Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Copper Sunbird, Bronze-tailed Glossy Starling, Vitelline Masked Weaver and Western Bluebill
Other species which I didn’t see in either 2004 or 2006, but which are relatively frequent on the coastal strip, are as follows. There are several further species which could be added as one travels inland. Scope then for another trip before too long !
Great Cormorant, Dwarf Bittern, Marabou, Knob-billed Duck, Cotton Teal, Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Martial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Booted Eagle, Western Banded Snake Eagle, African Goshawk, Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Ahanta Francolin, Stone-Partridge, Four-banded Sandgrouse, Moorhen, Purple Swamphen, Greater Painted-Snipe, African Finfoot, Black-bellied Bustard, Temminck’s Courser, Bronze-winged Courser, Little Ringed Plover, Kentish Plover, White-fronted Plover, Kittlitz’s Plover, Lesser Crested Tern, Turtle Dove, Yellowbill, Diederik Cuckoo, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, African Scop’s Owl, Barn Owl, Long-tailed Nightjar, Standard-winged Nightjar, White-rumped Swift, Black Wood Hoopoe, Brown-necked Parrot, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Ground Hornbill, Cardinal Woodpecker, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Plain-backed Pipit, Rufous-chested Swallow, Barn Swallow, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-Shrike, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Grey-headed Bristlebill, Whinchat, White-fronted Black Chat, Redstart, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Red-faced Cisticola, Rufous Cisticola, Green Crombec, Green Hylia, Yellow White-eye, Yellow Penduline Tit, White-shouldered Black Tit, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Spotted Flycatcher, Senegal Batis, Collared Sunbird, Violet-backed Sunbird, Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike, Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Brubru, Woodchat Shrike, Violet-backed Starling, Yellow-backed Weaver and Red-winged Pytilia.
The Gambia is no East Africa, so don’t expect the Big Five, or anything remotely close. The Gambia is all about birds, and any other wildlife is just a bonus.
Anyway, other wildlife seen included:-
Maxwell’s Duiker: 1 in the forest at Abuko on 28th October
Red Colobus Monkey: 1 by the roadside on the south bank on 30th October, I at Abuko on 2nd November and a few at Bijilo Forest on 3rd November.
Green Vervet Monkey: seen at Abuko, Bijilo Forest and hotel grounds
Sun Squirrel: 1 at Abuko on 28th October and 2nd November
Gambian (Epauletted) Fruit Bat : seen in hotel grounds
Monitor Lizard sp: seen in hotel grounds etc, including a huge specimen which virtually walked through my legs.
No wonder Gambia’s got the reputation for people going back there. A very friendly, accessible place with so many great birds, it hurts.