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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
The Gambia, 18-25th November 2008,
The trip was made by Chris Johnson, Mick Bellas, and Ray Thorneycroft. Planning started some six months beforehand with the booking of a package holiday deal with Thomas Cook, for seven days, flying from East Midlands Airport, and staying at the Badala Park Hotel, at a cost of £289.00 each. This was situated near Kotu Beach.
Chris was the only one of us to have birded Gambia before in 1994, and actually stayed at the Badala Park. He took charge of the organising and planning.
Research was made on the internet, and trip reports scrutinised, especially on the Birding Guides used, and the feed back on them. One Guide who was getting good reports was a guide named Modou Colley. This fellow had his own website, WWW.gambianbirds.com , which was very professionally done. Chris opened an E mail dialogue with him, email@example.com which turned out to be very encouraging. A small deposit was despatched to him as a declaration of our intent.
Initially, we were hoping to bird the usual areas, using Badala Park as a base. Chris had already done these on his previous trip, and had seen most of the birds. As everything was going to be new to Mick and me, it made sense to do a trip up country to enable Chris to see new birds.
The package agreed with Modu was: 2 days local birding at £35 per day per person. 4 days up country at £150 each per person, to include travel, fuel, 3 overnight stays including hotel, breakfast and evening meals, 8 ferry crossings, a river trip, and soft drinks enroute. His vehicle was a four wheeled drive, ISUZU TROOPER, and he had an icebox onboard. The only thing we bought was water, and drinks in the evening.
Because we had an evening flight home, we booked him on that day for 4 hours 30 minutes at £20 per person. The total cost to us was £240 each. We also changed £50 each to Dalai’s, and this paid for our evening meals, drinks, and phone calls home at Badala Park.
On the first day, Modou was waiting for us in the hotel reception area.
The itinerary was as follows.
Day 1 Abuko, and Lamin Rice fields
Day 2 Brufut, Tanji, and Tujering
Day 3 Pirang shrimp ponds, Fabara Track, Tendaba.
Day 4 enroute to Georgetown
Day 5 Banfang quarry, Jakali, river trip
Day 6 enroute to Banjul
Day 7 Tujering
The Field Guide used was the “Birds of The Gambia and Senegal”, by Clive Barlow, Tim Wacher, and Tony Disley, witch was very useful, and did the job.
The travel book, “The Gambia”, by Craig Emms and Linda Barnett, is a must. It gives you the low down on everything you need to know about your trip.
Currency. We exchanged monies at Badala Park, and received 38 Dalasi for £1.
Communications. Out of the three of us, only Mick’s mobile phone would work satisfactory with the UK. It makes sense to check with your mobile phone operator if they have a “Roaming Agreement” in Gambia.
Badala Park Hotel. This was pretty basic. We were not expecting much more for the price we paid. We were satisfied that it had a toilet, shower and hot water. We did end up switching rooms, because the door lock was knackered, and the room was insecure. We dined there for four nights. Omelette and chips at 150 Dalasi. A coke was 25, and a beer 40 Dalasi...
The flight arrived an hour early, so after checking into the hotel, we were straight out, and birding the sewage pools, which were just across the road, then through the rice fields, and coming out on the road by Kotu Bridge. As we left the hotel we were accosted by the Bumsters who wanted to show us the Owl etc. They are very persistent, and you need to be both civil and firm with them. At the pools we were accosted for a fee of ten Dalasi each. As we did not have any change, we evaded that and paid the next time we came. So the birding commenced, and there were plenty of them. New birds seen were, Pied Crow, Black-headed Heron, White-faced Whistling Duck, Hooded Vulture, Palm-nut Vulture, Senegal Thick-knee, Spur-winged Plover, Speckled Pigeon, Black-billed Wood Dove, Senegal Coucal, Blue-bellied Roller, Piapiac, Little Bee-eater, African Grey hornbill, Fork-tailed Drongo, Beautiful Sunbird, Long-tailed Starling, Black-necked Weaver, Red-cheeked Corden-bleu, Red-billed Firefinch, and Western Plantain-eater. What a start.
At the bridge, which is the meeting place for Birding Guides, we were accosted by a number of them. They were like a gang of timeshare touts. When we told them we were booked up for our stay, and who with, they quietened down. Again, be civil and persistent with them. From the bridge quite a few European waders were feeding on the mud.
Returning to the hotel Mick and Chris had the Pearl-spotted Owlet fly across the road.
We scrubbed up, dined, had a couple of drinks, and listened to the entertainment, which consisted of a group of African drummers, and dancers.
The next morning from the room balcony, we had Senegal Parrot, Grey Woodpecker, and Grey-backed Camaroptera. I had to return to the room with an hotel worker to secure our room. While he was doing this, I spotted a White-crowned Robin-chat in the light through the end of the corridor. Breakfast was at 0700, and we took to having ours outside. During the times we had breakfast there we had Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Beautiful Sunbird, and a number of Green Wood Hoopoe’s.
At 07.30 we walked into the reception area where Modou was waiting. After exchanging pleasantries, we were on our way to Abuko. On arrival, we parked up, and walked back across the road, where Modou pointed out a White-faced Scops Owl in its usual roost. Abuko is what is termed Gallery Forest, big trees close together, which accounted for the number of monkeys around. There were also lots of butterflies, which were very colourful. We began the walk and began picking up birds, and Modou was able to call some of them out. There is a viewing hide overlooking a pool, and here we had African Harrier Hawk, and Osprey, as well as Fanti Saw-wing, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Black-billed Wood Dove, Vinaceous Dove, and Blue-breasted Kingfisher.
Moving on we hit another purple patch, finding both African Paradise Flycatcher, and Hybrid Red-bellied X African Paradise Flycatcher, along with Snowy-crowned Robin-chat, African Thrush, Grey-headed Bristlebill, Yellow-breasted Apolis, Common Wattle-eye, and Little Greenbul.
A Booted Eagle glided over the trees, and both Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, and little Bee-eater were seen along with both Scarlet-chested and Beautiful Sunbirds. The air was full of Hooded Vultures and Black Kites, mostly Yellow-billed.
The next birds we saw were Violet Turaco, and then we saw both Violet Turaco and Green Turaco in the same tree.
There is an animal rehabilitation centre in the middle of Abuko, and you can get a cold drink there. Inside a corral were five of the mangiest Hyenas you ever did see. They must have been fighting from the day they were born. Not one of them had a full set of ears. This compound was also the gathering place for the local Hooded Vulture clan and about fifty of them were present. The Hyenas were fed while we were there, and they were ripping pieces of flesh and swallowing it, not bothering to chew it. It was gruesome. Monkeys were wandering around everywhere.
A small dingy hide was opposite the corral overlooking a very small pool. Black-necked Weavers, Orange-cheeked, Lavender, and Black-rumped Waxbills were coming down to drink along with Bronze Manikins, and Red-billed Firefinches. At short intervals a Pygmy Kingfisher would dart down from his perch to the waterside. A couple of Nile Monitor lizards came out of the undergrowth from time to time, and monkeys were passing through.
On our return we stopped near the place where we had the flycatchers, and were fortunate to get Yellow-throated Leaflove, female Western Bluebill, a White-billed Bufflo Weaver, and a Vieillot’s Barbet put in an appearance. Apart from the birds mentioned above there were also Brown Babblers, Common Bulbuls, Doves and Hornbills aplenty.
LAMIN RICE FIELDS
This place is just up the road from Abuko, consisting of working Paddy fields, with reeds, a few trees and large bushes. The first bird we saw was a Northern Black Flycatcher. We walked the paths between the paddies. There were Common, Wood, and Green sandpipers, Squacco, Striated, and Purple Herons, and Cattle, and one Intermediate Egret. Modou shouted “Painted Snipe”, and I promptly fell into the paddy. Both Spur-winged, and Wattled Plover, along with African Jacana were present. Chris spotted a Black Crake, and then had a Greater Honeyguide, looping away like a woodpecker. One bush contained Long-tailed, Purple Glossy, and Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling. An African Harrier Hawk flew over, and a Hammerkop flew in. A Broad –billed Roller, and a Blue-bellied Roller were perched atop bushes, and a Woodland Kingfisher was perched lower down in one of them.
Modou dropped us off at Badala Park, and we walked down to the beach for the last hour, along the way picking up Black Egret, and about twenty White-faced Whistling Ducks. From the beach we had 2 Pomarine Skuas, Grey-headed Gull, Caspian Tern, and a Whimbrel. Along the way back we also had Double-spurred Francolin.
Thus ended the first full day, and it was back to Badala Park for a meal, and more African drumming, and Dancing.
This was also a wooded area, but, more spread out, and with some open areas. Two of Modou’s colleagues joined us; they were Brufut volunteers who worked for him from time to time. The first thing they did was to show us a White-faced Scops Owl. I remarked that its ear tufts were down. Chris says “no they are up” We were looking at two different owls.
The next bird we had was an Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, with the full black head. In the same tree a Buff-spotted Woodpecker gave fleeting views. Atop a tree, four African Green Pigeons sat, while below them an African Golden Oriole played hide and seek with us. Modou and his colleagues coaxed a Yellowbill out that they heard calling.
A cuckoo was spotted that turned out to be a Diederik Cuckoo. Two minutes later another cuckoo was found, and this was identified as a Klaas’s cuckoo. Farther along the track Modou told us to wait, and he and his volunteers disappeared into the low scrub. Ten minutes later he came out and beckoned us to follow him. About fifty yards into the scrub his mates were waiting. They had a Long-tailed Nightjar about fifteen yards in front of them on the ground. Good views were had by all.
We made it back to the track, and a few African Palm Swifts were wheeling around overhead. We also had both Black and Green Wood hoopoes,
We were now walking out into the open area, and picking up on Red-winged Warblers, and a Tawny-flanked Prinia, and a couple of Zitting Cisticolas zipped over. Both Black-headed and Wattled plover were moving around calling. A Woodland Kingfisher sat in a Fig tree. We moved under it to get in the shade, and were surprised to find two Northern Crombec’s flitting around in it. While we were there a pair of Bearded Barbet’s were spotted in an adjacent tree, then about fifty yards in front of us Modou spotted a Striped Kingfisher. He also heard a Black-crowned Tchagra calling but we could not place it. A male Northern Red Bishop sat up showing off his finery, and not far away a Senegal Batis was feeding away unconcerned.
Back in the woods a Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird was pinging away, and Modou managed to coax him out. He also coaxed out a Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike at the same time. Walking back to the car we also had Grey-backed Camaroptera, and a couple of Blackcap Babblers, and yet another Diederik Cuckoo.
This place appears to be the centre of the local fishing industry, where the catch is auctioned, and lots of fish are gutted, and then dried on wooden platforms. The birds we had here were, Grey-headed Gull, Slender-billed Gull, Kelp Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Caspian Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, and we scoped a Lesser-crested Tern. There was also a White Wagtail, Cattle Egrets, and Ruddy Turnstones.
We called here again on our last day for five minutes, picking up Bar-tailed Godwit, and Sanderling.
This was a couple of Km down the road from Tanji. It was an area of trees and savannah, with some cultivation. There was a large brick enclosure, and some trees had been felled inside it, and we birded in the vicinity of this. New birds seen here were Grey Kestrel, Grey Woodpecker, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, African Golden Oriole, Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Yellow-fronted Canary, Black-winged Red Bishop, Black-crowned Tcharga, House Sparrow, Lavender Waxbill, Cut-throat Finch, Crested Lark, Whinchat, Northern Wheatear, and Black-rumped Waxbill. There was also a Melodious Warbler giving good views.
We returned here for a couple of hours on our last day. We looked into the enclosure, picking up Blackcap and Common Redstart, along with Fine-spotted Woodpecker, White Shouldered Black Tit, White-fronted Black Chat, and Village Weaver..
An Osprey flew over carrying a fish while we were working an area with a few small trees. We noticed a group of Hornbills harassing a accipiter, which after close scrutiny turned out to be an Ovambo Sparrowhawk. Not very common in Western Gambia.
Day three we set off for Georgetown, taking in Pirang, Faraba Banta track, and staying overnight at Tendaba. My luggage for the trip was contained in two Tesco carrier bags.
Shrimp pans and salt pans look the same the world over, and Pirang was no different, just a series of enclosures. Enroute Modou spotted a Black-shouldered Kite atop a lamppost.
The large birds we could see rising and flying above the enclosures, consisting of Woolley-necked Stork, Yellow-billed Stork, Great White Pelican, Pink-backed Pelicans, and African Spoonbills. Other egrets and herons were Little, Cattle, and Great White Egret, Black-headed, Western Reef, Grey and Striated Herons. An Osprey flew over, and a group of White-faced Whistling Ducks were in the distance. Twice Modou spotted Quail finches, but I wasn’t fast enough to pick them up.
Lots of waders were about consisting of Kentish, Little-ringed, Ringed, and Grey Plovers. Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Greenshank, Wood, Common,Green Sandpipers. Little Stint, Temminck’s Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Whimbrel, and one Curlew Sandpiper.
Terns were Caspian, Gull-billed, Little, 1 Common, and 4 Whiskered sat on a mud bank. The majority of the gulls were Slender-billed, along with Grey-headed and Lesser Black-backed. A few Yellow Wagtails were flitting about and a couple of Subalpine Warblers were seen. Our first Mosque Swallows were also encountered here.
FARABA BANTA TRACK
This was an area of savannah with tall grasses, and spread out trees. This was near Modou’s village, and once again we picked up one of his colleagues. Motoring down the track we saw our first Wahlberg’s Eagle, and a Short-toed Eagle, which was moving away from us and could have been a Beaudouins. There was also a couple of Grasshopper Buzzards, and one took to the air showing his distinctive orange underwings. Up to four African Harrier-hawks were seen along with a couple of Dark Chanting Goshawks and a Shikra. We got out of the car and walked for 500k through the long grass to a large tree. Sat in the lower branches was a Grey-headed Kingfisher, giving close up views. This was just the taster, because sat deep into the tree was a Greyish Eagle Owl, which because of the foliage was very hard to see. We did manage to get the scope on it. Also seen around this area were Palm-nut Vulture, Bearded Barbet, and Little weaver.
ROAD TO TENDABA
We had been reading trip reports about the state of the road to Tendaba, and everything said about it is true. The first part consisted of compacted dirt, lots of dust when you passed other vehicles, but pretty good for driving on. When we reached the Tarmac road the potholes were so deep it was unbelievable. We had about 100k of this.
Along the way we had a couple of Lanner Falcons, and we stopped for a drink, and had Mottled Spinetail, and little swift. Abyssinian Rollers were appearing everywhere. At one roadside pool we had our first Namaqua Dove, and another Pygmy Kingfisher.
We stopped by a tree full of Vultures which contained both White-backed and Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture.
Modou slammed the brakes on, shouting Bateleur, and we were to see the distinctive flight of this raptor. A few miles further on we stopped at a wetlands with lots of dead trees, near the town of Kalagi. In the space of five minutes we had 6 gliding around, and one of them landed.
Driving on we stopped to watch a Yellow-billed Oxpecker on a donkey’s back.
We arrived Tendaba camp in the late afternoon, and after sorting our rooms out, and cooling off, we were out walking again. The only birds of note were Pygmy Sunbird, Green-backed Eremomela, and a Yellow-billed Shrike. A Stone Partridge was calling, but much as Modou tried it refused to show it’s self.
Tendaba Camp was the basic of basics, with showers and mosquito nets. Whilst having dinner in the evening, the rooms are sprayed. It pays to take a towel with you. The ones issued are so threadbare, its like drying yourself with a net curtain. The evening meal was ok being rice based with either fish or bush pig. The breakfast was buffet style. While waiting we had four Hadada Ibis fly up river, and a African Hobby flew above our heads across the river.
ROAD TO GEORGETOWN
We departed Tendaba after breakfast, after watching a group depart by boat across the river. Pulling out, the first bird of note was a Lizard Buzzard, followed by a Village Indigobird, and a couple of White-rumped Seedeaters.
We stopped by a roadside wetlands near Soma and had one Egyptian Plover by the side of the road by a pylon.
We crossed the river from south to north on the Farrafenni ferry. From the upper deck Mick and I had great views of an African Fish Eagle.
Further on we stopped at Kaur wetlands, and had ten Egyptian Plovers spaced out between the road and the waters edge. This was a good site with many birds. New birds seen were Montague and Marsh Harrier, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Malachite Kingfisher, Collared Pratincole, Knob-billed Duck, and Ruff. There was a huge flock of House Martins, and one Sand Martin skimming across the water.
The next place we stopped at was a watering hole at the Kilometre 21 road sign (K21). There were lots of small birds coming down to drink, and many Namaqua Doves. Small birds were, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-larks, Bush Petronias, Red-billed Quelea, 1 Sudan Golden Sparrow, Northern Red Bishop, Cut-throat Finch and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. A couple of Exclamatory Paradise Whydahs were also fluttering about.
On the return journey we had much the same with a pair of White-rumped Swifts.
The next place we stopped at was Panchang wetlands. The first bird we saw was a melanistic Gabor Goshawk. We were looking amongst the reeds for African Pygmy Goose, but to no avail. The only thing we had were a Common Moorhen and an African Jacana.
We stopped on the way back and never got the Pygmy Goose, but we did get loads of small birds including, African Silverbill, 10+ Sudan Golden Sparrow, and Cut-throat Finches. We also had 4 Black Crakes fighting, Grey Kestrel, and one washed out Common Kestrel.
We arrived at Georgetown in the early evening.
Once our rooms had been allocated, we came out of the camp, turned left, and walked a track for about 800 metres looking for Four-banded Sandgrouse. We saw the first two in the middle of the track. Altogether there were ten seen. We walked back to camp in the dusk and a Pearl-spotted Owlet was calling. Modou called it in twice, but we never got a good sight of it.
Baobolon camp, like Tendaba, was basic, basic. The towels were exactly the same, only these had to last two days. The meals were similar to the ones at Tendaba.
After the evening meal, the local musicians and dancers turned up, and we departed to our room. Unfortunately for us, they set up directly outside, and so we were a captive audience to their drumming. After they departed, the only sound we heard was a cricket outside the door driving us crazy.
After breakfast we departed for Bansang Quarry. While waiting for the ferry we had a Northern Puffback. At the Quarry there were lots of Red-throated Bee-eaters, both at the quarry face and on the trees above. At the base of the quarry is a small pool with hirundines flying around, mostly Mosque, and Red-rumped Swallows with just one House Martin with them. Around the edge of the pool were Chestnut-backed Sparrow-larks, Bush Petronias, and a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. Above the hillside atop the Quarry, a Brown Snake Eagle sat in a dead tree. He was soon to be joined by his mate. Some of the bushes had weaver nests in them and a Vitelline Masked Weaver was seen, and a couple of Exclamatory Paradise Whydah birds were fluttering around.
We then set off for Jakali to see the Maribou Storks. Enroute we had Little Green Bee-eater, Dark Chanting Goshawk, and both White-backed, and Ruppell’s Griffon Vultures. The Maribou Storks were visable from the side of the road atop a Baobob tree. We counted thirty-three of them.
We drove back to camp picking up a troop of Guinea Baboons crossing the road led by a large male. A Levaillant’s Cuckoo was sat in a bush near the ferry.
Whilst Modou went to arrange the river trip, we retraced our steps to where we went yesterday evening. We had two Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on a cow’s back. Fascinating to watch the birds move out of range everytime the cow swished it’s tail. Amongst a flock of small birds we picked out male and female Pin-tailed Whydah birds. The male did not have the long tail. A snake Eagle was perched up which caused some debate as to it being a Short-toed Eagle or a Beaudouins. That was left on the table. A Pygmy Sunbird was also seen.
Back at the camp a couple of Lebanese ariel erectors working on a wireless mast started to get uptight because they thought they were being spied upon by Chris, when he was scanning the skies near the mast.
THE RIVER TRIP.
This was a four hour trip down river, to Kajakat Island to see the Hippos. It actually lasted much longer, and we returned in the dark. The river runs past the back of the camp and the boat picked us up there. Walking down to the boat Mick spotted a pair of Fine-spotted Woodpeckers, and as we were getting on the boat, we had good close views of a Swamp Flycatcher.
We slowly motored down river picking up a number of Bruce’s Green Pigeons. A Wahlburg’s Eagle flew over, and a Banded Snake Eagle sat atop a tree. Blue-bellied, Woodlands, and Pied Kingfishers were seen, and at the point of return a Giant Kingfisher flew downstream. Many Oriole Warblers were heard calling, and Modu called two out for us. The first of two African Fish Eagles were seen flying across the river towards us. He perched up give good views to all.
As we neared Kajakat Island, a Marabou Stork colony was sighted, and at this point Mick picked up two Hippo’s. A mother with her calf. As we drifted towards them, a Hadada Ibis was spotted perched out in the open giving great views of it’s colourful flanks and the red mark on it’s bill. Five Spur-winged Geese were spotted perched in a tree. (Geese in trees).
We kept a safe distance from the mother Hippo and her baby, and after a while the boatman started back to camp. A Red-necked Falcon flew over us and perched up giving good views, to be joined by another.
Waves of Cattle Egrets were flying down river to a roost, and a Knob-billed flew over us.We arrived back in the dark. A very enjoyable trip.
ROAD TO BANJUL.
We started back the next morning, stopping at some of the places already mentioned. During our trip, at regular intervals, we had stopped at police checkpoints along the road. From the Georgetown ferry it got worse and we were stopped thirteen times in about 90k at police checkpoints. This was a bit of overkill with several wanting backhanders from Modou, but he was more than up to it.
Near the village of Wasso, Modou pulled to the side of the road saying this is the area where we get Carmine Bee-eaters. We scanned around, and Mick picked them up. There were twelve of them, and they were feeding around a flock of goats. As the goats moved forward, they were feeding on the insects that flew in the air. As the goats reached the edge of the road, and stopped moving, then the Carmines disappeared. We were definitely in the right place at the right time. We watched them for about four minutes. A European Bee-eater was also seen here.
Nearer to Banjul we spotted two large birds at a waterhole. Chris shouted Hawk Eagles! We pulled off the road and were able to get really good views of them
Farther along the road, we made a comfort stop, and had very good views of a Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle, flying low over the top of us, showing the paler unmarked underwing coverts, and darker head.
We managed to get to the Banjul ferry about 1600 hrs, and Modou used his resources to get us through the gate, and up the queue. Towards the Bakau side we had up to ten Pomarine Skua’s, and two Arctic Skua’s. After disembarking the ferry, the last birds seen of the up country trip were six Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters in mangroves along the Bund road.
Arriving back at Badala Park, I got to our room both filthy and completely knackered. Mick and Chris were still raring to go and went out for the last hour of daylight, doing a circuit round the creek and golf course, and ending up with a Hadada Ibis going to roost.
The next morning, after having a few hours with Modou, at Tujering, and Tanji, we arrived back at Badala Park, said our goodbyes to Modou, and prepared for the flight home.
We all enjoyed the birding, and the trip up country immensely, and finished up with a trip list of 256 species. Modou played a big part in this, with his keen eyes and ears. We would thoroughly recommend him. With all the travelling in such a short time, we missed out on some of the more easier Gambian birds, but you can’t pour a pint in a half pint pot.
Animals seen ;
Guinea Baboon. A large troop crossing the road at Jakali, led by a large male.
Western Red Colobus at Abuko, and elsewhere along the river.
Callithrix Monkey at Abuko and elsewhere.
Patas Monkey near Georgetown
Striped Ground Squirrel
Bat species roosting along the river.
Spotted Hyena in a enclosure at Abuko.
Hippopotamus, a mother and calf at Kajakat Island on the Gambia river.
Nile Monitor Lizards at abuko.
Butterflies. Everywhere we went teemed with butterflies.
African Tiger or African Monarch
Dark Blue Pansy
Common Fig Blue
And lots more unidentified.