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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
The Gambia, 4th to 18th November 2010,
Planning started some three months beforehand for a Gambian trip with flights for the 4 of us booked via Thomas Cook, flying from Gatwick Airport. Our accommodation was booked separately for maximum flexibility – important when organizing your own trip: Staying at the Bakuto Hotel, Kotu (email@example.com) for six nights, Tendaba, Baobolong (Janjanbureh) and Marakissa River Camps for two nights each and African Village Hotel, Bakau for two separate nights. Our 14 day holiday would consist of mainly birdwatching but with time also devoted to the sun and sea. Some of the fortnight was also spent enjoying the hospitality of the Janneh family in Gunjur who we have come to know well on previous visits.
We made contact with the bird guide Modou Colley who was to organize the four night/five day trip to both Tendaba and Baobolong Camps. Modou was also our guide for the two half day trips to Pirang/Faraba Banta and Brufut Woods. Modou proved to be a most knowledgeable and patient guide and cannot be recommended highly enough. He has his own website: www.gambianbirds.com and can be contacted at mcolly99 AT yahoo.com.
A selection of images taken on this trip can be found at www.pbase.com/ollyfox, a site which also includes photographs from previous trips to Senegambia.
Fri 5th Kotu rice fields, creek and pools.
Morning in local area with Modou
Sat 6th Abuko Nature Reserve, Lamin lodge and rice fields.
Guiding ourselves, back to hotel after lunch
Sun 7th Tanji, Sanyang and Kartong beaches, Gunjur village
Again without a guide, exploring immediate areas around beaches, evening at a local compound
Mon 8th Pirang area and Faraba Banta track
Morning and early afternoon with Modou (and local owl guide)
Tue 9th Brufut woods
Early morning with Modou, back at hotel in afternoon
Wed 10th South bank road to Tendaba, Tendaba area
All day travelling to Tendaba stopping at various sites on south bank
Thur 11th Baobolong wetland mangrove boat trip. Kiang West area around Batelling.
Morning with Modou and guide from Tendaba cruising through mangroves, evening in bush
Fri 12th South bank road to Janjanbureh, Boabolong camp
All day travelling on south bank with frequent stops
Sat 13th Bansang quarry. Boat trip towards Sapu
Morning driving to Bansang, afternoon boat trip to see hippos etc.
Sun 14th North bank road to Barra.
All day driving but with frequent stops. Ferry to Banjul and back to Bakau
Mon 15th Travelling to Marakissa
Bush taxi to Marakissa. Guiding ourselves around Marakissa river camp
Tue 16th Marakissa area.
Tobaski. Day around Marakissa river camp
Wed 17th To Sifoe, Gunjur and back to Bakau (via Brikama)
Early morning walk via Darsalami to Sifoe, bush taxi to Gunjur to see friend’s family
Thurs 18th Morning around Bakau and afternoon flight.
Day 1/Thursday 4th November
After a pleasant 6 hour flight to Banjul Airport the first birds consisted of abundant Cattle Egrets and Pied Crows even within the airport area. We were picked-up at the airport by two friends saving time and hassle. Drinks were then the order of the day; making our way to the Sand Plover bar near Cape Point while on the way locating a Dark Chanting Goshawk perched on top of a road sign. Enjoying the local beer, Julbrew, we were soon spotting Little Bee-eaters, Grey-headed Gulls, Pied Kingfishers and a very colourful Yellow-crowned Gonolek in the coastal mangroves.
Day 2/Friday 5th November
Modou picked us up at 8 am from our hotel for a stroll around the local Kotu locations with the first stop at Kotu Bridge. We then ventured down a track in the direction of the Palm Beach Hotel and into the surrounding rice fields. After this we crossed back over the road to check-out the rice fields on the other side and visiting the new bird-watchers association bar before moving on to the Kotu sewage ponds. Birds seen included: African Thrush, Green Woodhoopoe, an adult and juvenile African Harrier Hawk, Subalpine Warbler, Lizard Buzzard, Hamerkop, Abyssinian Roller, Double-spurred Francolin, both African Grey and Red-billed Hornbill, Shikra and two Oriole Warblers. At one point Modou was able to entice into view an inquisitive Woodland Kingfisher. After an afternoon relaxing by the pool we ventured once more to the Kotu Bridge to view numerous Senegal Thick-knees, Yellow-crowned Gonoleks, Wire-tailed Swallow nesting under the bridge, African Palm Swifts, both Wattled and Black-headed Lapwings and a solitary Grey Plover.
Day 3/Saturday 6th November
Using local bush-taxi transport today, we visited both the Abuko Nature Reserve and Lamin rice fields across the road. There is a small entrance fee for the reserve and local official guides are available for hire if required. Our first port of call was the hide over-looking a medium size pond where the water level was high being just after the wet season. Blackcap Babbler and African Jacana were soon spotted. These were followed by excellent views of seven Green Turacos flying back and forth between two fruiting trees and as well a few Violet Turacos. Further species seen within the reserve included Bearded Barbet, two Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Little Greenbul, both Black-crowned and a White-backed Night Heron (half hidden in undergrowth), African Pied Hornbill, Fanti Sawwings and a pair of Orange-cheeked Waxbills. There are refreshment facilities within the reserve surrounded by rather depressing compounds containing hyenas and monkeys. There is also a small hide (for a small fee) which overlooks a small watering-hole, however the only new bird we saw was Blue-spotted Wood Dove as the pools are better in the dry season when there is not so much other water about in the reserve. Crossing the main road outside the reserve you enter some cultivated fields and here we saw Northern Red Bishop, Northern Crombec and Striated Heron but none of the Painted Snipe that have been seen here in the past. Within the well vegetated grounds of our hotel and the neighbouring part of the Fajara golf course Palm-nut Vultures, a dust-bathing pair of Double-spurred Francolins and a Dideric Cuckoo were spotted.
Day 4/Sunday 7th November
Again using local bush taxis, our planned destinations were the beaches of Tanji, Sanyang (for a more relaxing day at the Rainbow lodge) and Kartong followed by our final destination of Gunjur to visit some Gambian friends in the evening. Tanji is primarily a fishing and fish-smoking village so if you visit be prepared for the odours and sights of all things fish. Caspian, Royal and Sandwich Terns were seen along the beach plus a group of Sanderlings, Bar-tailed Godwits and Ruddy Turnstones were patrolling the shore-line. The unmistakable song of a Crested Lark was heard before the bird was finally spotted on the flower covered sand bar. Sanyang beach is undoubtedly one of the prime beaches on the Gambian coast and so it was time for a beer and relax watching a pair of Yellow-fronted Canaries attempting to build a nest in a beach palm tree while both pelican species spiralled overhead with the Hooded Vultures. Kartong beach contained a roost of the usual terns, gulls and Pied Kingfishers as well as an Osprey on the tide line and a pair of Village Indigobirds just inland. Our stop on the way back at Gunjur included watching the end of a local football game in the dusty sunset.
Day 5/Monday 8th November
Modou picked us up from our hotel with his driver Bully Bully at 07:30 for our visit today to Pirang and Faraba banta areas. On the way to Pirang, Modou spotted a Black-winged Red Bishop in some roadside sedge. Upon arrival at some wetland pools Yellow-crowned Bishop, Mosque Swallows and a Malachite Kingfisher were soon spotted. Further along the pathways Zitting Cisticolas were heard and seen flying ahead as well as a pair of Black-faced Quailfinch searching for food on the path with two Crested Larks. Amongst the waders feeding in the larger pools were Curlew and Common Sandpipers, Ringed Plover and a sole Pied Avocet. Flocks of Great White Pelican, African Spoonbill and Yellow-billed Stork were seen flying. A group of over forty Greater Flamingos were busily feeding in a more distant pool. On the way back to the van, Malachite Kingfisher, Yellow Wagtail and Black-rumped Waxbill were seen. Our target birds at Faraba Banta were the famous Greyish Eagle Owl pair and the White-faced Scops Owl and both were seen with ease with the guidance of both Modou and the local owl expert. Modou was soon pointing out a steady stream of raptors including adult Bateleur, two African Hawk Eagles, a Banded Snake-Eagle, two Brown Snake-Eagles and a Long-crested Eagle. Further on we visited the area in which Modou has been planting trees and actively involved with conservation of the area keeping out livestock and illegal tree felling. Birds seen here in the heat of the day included a party of noisy White-crested Helmetshrikes, African Golden Oriole, Northern Puffbacks, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Striped Kingfisher and a few Stone Partridges flushed by the van.
Day 6/Tuesday 9th November
Brufut Woods was our destination early this morning. Birds seen here were: a family of four Shikra, Senegal Eremomela, Black-headed Flycatcher, Northern Black Flycatcher, African Pygmy Kingfisher, African Green Pigeons, a pair of Western Violet-backed Sunbirds, Red-winged Warbler, Lavender Waxbill and Little Weaver. Another White-faced Scops Owl was in the same tree where it was roosting back in March but the location of any Long-tailed Nightjar or Verreaux’s Eagle Owl roosts hadn’t yet been located this season. After getting stuck in deep sand as we left Brufut (the heavy rain over the summer had washed many of the ‘roads’ away) we spent most of the day back at the hotel by the pool, on the beach and swimming.
Day 7/Wednesday 10th November
Earlier start today as we began our route to Tendaba Camp along the South Bank road. Our first stop was at Kampanti rice fields where we enjoyed a delicious water melon and were treated to spectacular views of a Martial Eagle, a Tawny Eagle, two Wahlberg’s Eagles and some White-backed Vultures in the sky and a pair of Green-headed Sunbirds in the palm trees. Kalagi wetland was our next stop where we spotted two Woolly-necked Storks, a Grasshopper Buzzard, African Darters and a few Yellow-billed Oxpeckers. At other impromptu stops we saw two immature Bateleurs, a party of White-crested Helmetshrikes and a male Golden Oriole. After booking-in and being allocated our rooms at Tendaba camp we were off again to look for birds at Tendaba scrub just beyond the village. Modou attempted to entice a Pearl-spotted Owlet closer by imitating its call and using his recording. A bird was soon returning the call and was soon spotted in the dusk light, turning its head to allow us to view the two “eye-spots” on the nape. An African Hobby and Bruce’s Green Pigeon were spotted on our walk back to our van. Additionally, and thankfully in the distance, a large male Warthog was spotted strutting along with its tail held upright. That night on the evening’s meal menu at the camp was roasted Warthog!
Day 8/Thursday 11th November
After breakfast, it was an early start for our boat journey across the River Gambia to explore the mangroves and creeks of the Boabolong wetland reserve on the north bank. Everywhere you looked there were birds forming a magical sight in the early morning light. Birds seen included some White-throated Bee-eaters, an African Fish Eagle, a few Spur-winged Geese, Woolly-necked Storks, two Goliath Herons, Squacco Herons, two White-backed Night Herons, many Great White Pelicans and Pink-backed Pelican, Blue-breasted Kingfishers, Grey-headed Kingfishers, White-breasted Cormorants, Mouse-brown Sunbirds, African Darters, and four species of Egret (Cattle, Great White, Intermediate and Little). In addition, both dark and white morphs of the Western Reef Heron were observed at close range. After lunch, we spent some time around the Batelling and Kiang West area seeing an adult and juvenile African Cuckoo, the latter with a large caterpillar as well as Pygmy Sunbirds, a Dideric Cuckoo and a wintering Whinchat. The ‘twig’ on top of a distant dead tree was identified as the two remarkable very elongated tail feathers of an Exclamatory Paradise Whydah and to prove it, off it flew to give us a bit of a show. Searching for Nightjars during our journey back to Tendaba Camp was unsuccessful with only a brief flash of something flying across the road in the headlights.
Day 9/Friday 12th November
Today was our journey to Janjanbureh where we were staying at the Baobolong Camp. A brief stop at the Soma wetlands just before the town proved to be very special as running around on the road only feet in front of us was an Egyptian Plover. A really spectacular bird! Further on along the Soma to Pakali Ba road we stopped again and Modou disappeared into the bush beckoning to us to follow. Very soon, he was pointing out a roosting Verreaux’s Eagle Owl in a reliable roosting spot as Modou hadn’t seen it since the season before, more than 6 months previously. Due to roadworks we made a detour around the village of Jakhaly and stopped to view a number of rice fields where within one pool we were lucky to spot an adult and a juvenile African Pygmy Goose – a great place for wildlife but too hot in the middle of the day to enjoy much. Our next stop was the well-known and very impressive nesting site of the Marabou Stork at Fula Bantang. Arriving in Janjanbureh in the early evening (made a lot easier with the new bridge on the south side of the island) we relaxed at the camp, looked at the Gambia River and were amazed at the numbers of butterflies and dragonflies around the riverbank.
Day 10/Saturday 13th November
This morning our destination was Bansang Quarry but our first stop was at the junction with the South Bank Road. Within a dry sandy area a number of birds were enjoying a dust bath including a small number of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings as well as the commoner waxbills. At least three Little Green Bee-eaters were also seen. On reaching Bansang Quarry the air seemed to be full of Red-throated Bee-eaters. The sandstone cliff on the far side was packed with their nesting holes. Another Exclamatory Paradise Whydah was spotted giving us closer views of its extraordinary tail feathers. A walk around the nearby peanut fields revealed the usual local doves: Laughing, Red-eyed and Vinaceous as well as a Beaudouin’s Snake-Eagle. Back at the Quarry we had a fleeting glimpse of a Red-necked Falcon chasing the hirundines. For the afternoon, arrangements had been made for us to take a boat trip up-river to view a group of Hippopotamus with plenty of wildlife to see on the way. We had only travelled a few minutes before we were treated to close views of a melanistic form of the Gabar Goshawk and a massive Monitor Lizard. Crossing the river to the north bank Spur-winged Plovers and Senegal Thick-knees were abundant as were Pied, Grey-headed and Woodland Kingfishers. Further on a Swamp Flycatcher was spotted washing in the river. A Hadada Ibis was spotted deep in the undergrowth but luckily flew higher into the sunlight for closer views. An African Fish Eagle’s nest was located with an attendant adult. Our boat trip then took us into the centre of the river towards the Hippos where it was difficult to judge the numbers as they kept diving in the deep water probably 4-5 with at least one smaller, pinker youngster. The journey back proved equally spectacular with excellent views of a male African Finfoot that even Modou was pleased to see given the high water level, three Hadada Ibises, Palm-nut Vultures and an African Fish Eagle flying across the river.
Day 11/Sunday 14th November
Today we travelled back to the coast on the smoother North Bank Road. Our first stop was at Wassu where a flock of Northern Carmine Bee-eaters allowed us to get very close for photos and a Grey Kestrel was perched on an electric wire. Our next stop was at Panchang wetlands where we managed to see African Silverbills, White-rumped Seedeaters, a Common Moorhen, a Black Crake and chicks, two Purple Swamphens, White-faced Whistling Ducks, Sudan Golden Sparrows, four Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks and a hunting Osprey. Back on the road an Egyptian Plover was again seen running around on the tarmac. Journeying on, we passed through the village of Njau on their market day and just outside we stopped having spotted a vulture-like bird perched on top of a tree: an uncommon White-headed Vulture. Our next stop was the Kaur wetlands where the area was full of birds including groups of Collared Pratincoles, Ruffs, Green Sandpiper, Knob-billed Ducks, Western Marsh Harrier, Namaqua Doves and more Egyptian Plovers. Stopping off for a bite to eat we sat by a convenient water-hole with local finches coming down for a drink including White-rumped Seedeaters, Namaqua Doves, Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleu and a Pied-winged Swallow. Modou knew in advance that at Illiassa we would be able to see Northern Anteater Chats and one was located singing on top of a wall. Further along the Illiassa to Kerewan road Modou pointed out a male Northern Ground Hornbill roosting in a nearby tree. A close Slender-billed Gull was spotted at the Kerewan wetlands along with many commoner species. We reached Barra for the ferry crossing to Banjul in the late afternoon. Everybody should experience this adventure: the noises, sights and smells are something to behold! Unfortunately, no birds seen on the crossing as it was too dark after waiting more than an hour to get on the boat due to the number of people travelling around for the upcoming Tobaski festival.
Day 12/Monday 15th November
We travelled to the Marakissa River camp by local bush taxi from our new base at the African Village hotel in Bakau. After checking in with the very welcoming Adama, we were soon locating the local wildlife further along the track around the bridge. A flock of White-faced Whistling Ducks was seen with Darters, Purple Herons and our first sighting of the Giant Kingfisher. An excellent meal was enjoyed back at the camp in its idyllic setting.
Day 13/Tuesday 16th November
Our travels today would be more relaxed and within walking distance of the camp and also viewing the birds which came to drink at the numerous water baths within the gardens during the heat of the day. Birds seen on our walks included Singing Cisticola, Double-spurred Francolins, Rose-ringed Parakeets, Grey Woodpeckers, Fine-spotted Woodpecker and Western Grey Plantain-eaters. A local dog kept us company and seemed to flush every Monitor Lizard within that part of the Gambia including a large one about 2 metres long. Birds seen at the camp included a male Greater Honeyguide, a Violet Turaco, many Red-billed Firefinches, an African Pygmy Kingfisher and a group of noisy Piapiacs, the immatures clearly identified by their pickish bills. We were also treated to views of a Nile crocodile in the river searching for chicken bones provided by the Marakissa camp staff.
Day 14/Wednesday 17th November
An early start today as we had decided to walk part of the way to Gunjur through the Darsalami wetland area to Sifoe. Before we left the camp we were treated to excellent views of a Giant Kingfisher. Our walk took us through a couple of Gambian villages where the locals always greeted you and the children always smiling, waving and chatting. From Sifoe we caught a local bush taxi to Gunjur. We were again welcomed to the Janneh family home in Gunjur where we enjoyed a cup of traditionally made green tea and an excellent meal of lamb which had been slaughtered for the Tobaski festival. In the scrub behind the village we were guided by some of the family’s children and saw a Singing Cisticola and a Dideric Cuckoo amongst others. We arrived back in Bakau fairly late as, while cheap, the bush taxis can take a while to get to their destination.
Day 15/Thursday 18th November
Our last day was spent relaxing within the hotel grounds watching the Pied Crows and Black Kites using the thermals created by the sea rocks and Pied Kingfishers flying up and down the coastline. Whilst out at sea Grey-headed Gulls and Sandwich Terns were searching for food. All too soon it was time to say our farewells and make our way to the airport for our flight back to the UK.
Although not devoting all of our trip to bird watching we managed to see over 240 species and heard a few we didn’t manage to see (such as Grey-headed Bristlebill and Viellot’s Barbet). We were very lucky to see two uncommon species in the male Finfoot at Janjanbureh (despite the high water level) and the White-headed Vulture near Panchang. However, nothing can beat the variety of the avifauna with abundant bee-eaters (all 8 species), rollers and sunbirds standing out. The country is one we hope to return to frequently spending time in some of the wonderful places we encountered and visiting those we didn’t have time to get to on this trip, such as Tujering, Tanji reserve, and devoting more time to the brilliant Kiang West area.
Systematic list and pictures (Big - 4Mb)