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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Gambia, an independent birding trip, 15-22 November 2002,
We took a cheap package deal with Get Set Holidays/JMC ex. Manchester (used Teletext as a starting point). When ringing around probably useful to initially specify the Kotu beach area, as this is the main birding base. We ended up at the 2* Badala Park Hotel on a B&B basis - the rooms were very basic (we had a dodgy shower-head and door handle) but perfectly adequate for the purposes of a birding base. The buffet breakfast was good and available from 7am. A small "tourist fee" of £5 Sterling is payable at the airport on arrival. There was no departure tax.
Money and Prices
We changed some money on the street in Serekunda (also available at Kotu and outside the airport) and got the best exchange rate there (36.7Dinar to the pound STG, with a little help from our taxi driver). We also changed some money in the hotel but the rate was significantly less (about 33D I think). We took all money as Sterling cash (Bank of England is best - our driver accepted Scottish notes but money changers weren't keen on them). Sterling notes are also accepted by taxi drivers and bird-guides and we paid for our trip up-country (car and driver) in cash sterling (though needed to take local currency along also to pay for accommodation etc).
Some sample prices - evening meal at Badala Park about 200D (ca£5STG) per head for two courses and a couple of beers. A small beer was 25D in the hotel, a soft-drink 10D. Bananas 1D each from street stalls. Bottled water 15D for 1.5L bottle in the small supermarket at Kotu, but 25D if bought in hotel. Snacks like crisps, nuts, biscuits, tinned sardines etc can be bought quite widely at the coast.
Getting around on the coast
Tourist taxis are present at the hotels and fixed rates for trips, including at least some of the standard birding locations (e.g. Abuko) are posted on boards. Realistically they are the only way to get to the birding sites and drivers are happy to wait for a few hours for an extra charge (this was about £1 per hour I think). A full day out birding (leaving early, returning maybe after dark and visiting several sites) is a slightly different proposition, however, and you will need to negotiate a price for this. We were happy to pay our driver 700D (£20STG) for a full day out taking in several sites. The taxi was a wreck (no chance at MOT!) but got us to all the spots and traversed the Faraba Banta bush-track with no problems. "A Birdwatchers' Guide to The Gambia" (Ward) provides a useful overview of the various sites etc.
A few guides hang around the bridge area at Kotu and
will find you pretty quickly once you make your first foray out. You can fob
them off for a bit but they are fairly persistent and are unlikely to give
up unless you can convince them you already have a guide. On our first evening
we were approached by a guide and after birding on our "own" for a bit we
finally hired him to go to look for nightjars at dusk (successfully as it
turned out). We hired him again for a couple of full and half day excursions
at the coast, but made it clear that some sites (e.g. Abuko) we wanted to
bird ourselves and that we did not need him for the up-river trip, and he
was happy enough with this arrangement. We paid him a similar rate to the
taxi driver i.e. £20stg for a long day (dawn-dusk), 300-400D for a half day
(200D to look for nightjars on first evening). It is probably impossible to
Organising the trip up-river
Initially we thought we might spend the whole week on the coast but the lure of Basse and the Egyptian Plovers proved too strong and we decided to head up-river. The trip took three days (two nights) and was perfectly manageable within the confines of a one -week holiday: obviously we had to sacrifice some time on the coast but no key sites were missed. The up-river trip was a great experience and definitely recommended. We organized a private car (a fairly old but well maintained Peugeot estate) and driver through our "regular" taxi driver (understandably he didn't want to take his own vehicle on such a long trip). For the three-day trip (Kotu-Basse-Kotu) we were charged 5000D (ca.£150STG) for the car and driver (inclusive of petrol and the driver covered his own accommodation and meals etc). The driver knew the birding sites and so we had no need to take a bird guide with us. We stayed at Georgetown on the outward leg (traveling on to Basse the next morning) then stayed at Tendaba on the return leg. The road soon deteriorates as you head inland and is heavily pot-holed for long stretches making for slow and grueling progress. Ironically it then improves further inland and is actually pretty good between Georgetown and Basse. There are numerous police check posts up-river: we had our passports checked several times so worth taking along to avoid any hassle.
At Georgetown we stayed at Baobolong Camp - this was very reasonably priced at 300D (£10) per head for one night including evening buffet meal and a couple of beers. Tendaba camp was a bit pricier - ca700D (£20) per head for one night with buffet dinner and breakfast. At Tendaba we did two boat trips into the mangroves on the north bank. The trips last about two and a half hours. We did one in the morning on the low tide, then went back out again after lunch on the high tide. Cost was 600D per trip (300D per head for two sharing).
Sites and selected birding highlights
There's obviously a lot to see here, within easy
walking distance of the hotels, but we probably didn't do the area full justice
due to lack of time. We birded it on our first evening and squeezed in a quick
look most mornings before heading off further a field. We covered the tracks
that run through fields/mangrove edge both up and down-stream of the bridge
(south bank), the Casino "cycle track" (more of a dirt road than a cycle track),
the sewage works and the so called Palma Rima scrub area (knee-high and very
thorny scrub just behind the beach). We didn't get to the golf course or Bijilo.
Most of the species to be seen around Kotu are also frequent elsewhere in
We spent two mornings here. The best birding was probably in the extension (the part of the reserve furthest away from the entrance) where the forest is scrubbier and more open and birds slightly easier to see. The dense, tall forest nearer the entrance was not easy birding but we persevered and picked up a few good birds over the two trips - but expect many rustlings in the undergrowth to go unidentified. Severe skulkers that we eventually saw well were Little Greenbul, Grey-headed Bristlebill, Snowy-crowned Robin Chat and Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike. Other species included African Thrush, Fanti Saw-wing, Black-necked Weaver, Scarlet-chested and Splendid Sunbirds, Common Wattle-eye, African and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatchers (plus a couple of confusing hybrids), Violet Turaco (quite common and showed surprisingly well), Green Turaco (only one briefly), African Pied Hornbill, Bearded Barbet, Blue-spotted Wood Dove and Verreaux's Eagle Owl (at stake-out). There was lots of activity overhead so worth regular checking: Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and Hooded Vultures were particularly conspicuous. We didn't see very much from the hides (some of the smaller pools looked overgrown), with the notable exception of a Giant Kingfisher on the first visit and a Bushbuck on the last morning, but then we didn't give them that much time, preferring to walk the trails. One or two bird guides seem to hang around the entrance to the reserve and they may or may not be able to find roosting owls. We hired a guide on our first visit (ostensibly to find the owls but without success; we gave him 200D for trying) and just politely but firmly insisted on birding by ourselves on our second visit. We got the Verreaux's Eagle Owl on the second visit, following a tip-off from a group of Dutch birders and their Gambian guide. The Reserve doesn't officially open until 8am but apparently they will let birdwatchers in from 7am (certainly worth trying this).
We spent one afternoon here. Agricultural fields and savannah-like light scrub. Birds included Long-crested Eagle, Lanner, Levaillant's Cuckoo, Blue-bellied, Abyssinian and Rufous-crowned Rollers, Swallow-tailed and Little Bee-eaters, African Grey Hornbill, Mosque Swallow, Red-winged Warbler, Green-backed Eremomela, Northern Crombec, Copper Sunbird, Black-crowned Tchagra, Yellow-fronted Canary and Heuglin's Masked Weaver.
We mainly covered the shrimp farm and this was much bigger than I had expected, a huge open expanse of shallow lagoons with dykes between. Some of the lagoons have marshy vegetation, others are like barren salt-pans with variable amounts of standing water. There does not appear to be any shrimp farming going on at present. Several unofficial "wardens" were on the site and we paid a small token fee when leaving. We walked around the lagoons nearest the entrance but would have needed much longer (or a second morning) to cover the entire site (a huge flock of pelicans, storks, egrets etc got up from the furthest distant part just as we were leaving.). Birds included 100 + Black Egrets, 100+ Yellow-billed Storks, 100+ Pink-backed Pelicans, Greater Flamingo (just the one), Black-crowned Crane (two), Lanner, Short-toed Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Black-shouldered Kite, large numbers (100's) of small waders, principally Little Stints and Curlew Sands, Marsh Sandpiper (one), one Gull-billed and three Little Terns, 11 Slender-billed Gull, one Malachite and many Pied Kingfishers, one Broad-billed Roller, several Blue-bellied and Abyssinian Rollers, Mosque, Wire-tailed and Red-chested Swallows, 10+ Crested Larks, two Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark, Plain-backed and Tree Pipits, flava wags, Zitting Cisticola, numerous Northern Red Bishops, one male Yellow-shouldered Widowbird, several Quail Finch.
Faraba Banta bush-track
We birded here in the afternoon after spending the morning at Pirang (the two sites are quite close); dirt track through thick bush, with some fields and plantation woodland. Birds include ca10 Palm-nut Vultures, one Martial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Grasshopper Buzzard, a probable African Goshawk, several Dark Chanting Goshawks, Grey Kestrel, two Pearl-spotted Owlets, Striped Kingfisher, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Black-crowned Tchagra, Bush Petronia, Black-rumped Waxbill, Village Indigo Bird.
Seleti waterhole (Four-banded Sandgrouse)
We drove to here from Faraba Banta, arriving at 5pm
and staying until dark. We left the taxi at the Gambian border post and walked
the couple of hundred yards into
Drive up-river (coast to Georgetown)
Totals for roadside birds over the day included four Marabou, two Wahlberg's Eagles, an African Hawk Eagle, a Long-crested Eagle, three Bateleurs (Brumen Bridge), a Short-toed Eagle, 10+ Dark Chanting Goshawks, two Grey Kestrels, several Mottled Spinetails, 100's Little Swifts, 20 Abyssinian Rollers, one Rufous-crowned Roller, two Blue-bellied Rollers, one Woodland Kingfisher, 20+ Red-rumped Swallows, one flock of Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, one Exclamatory Paradise Whydah. A one- hour stop at Jakhaly added Quail Finch (very close views), Piapiac, Marsh and Montagues Harriers and a Greater Swamp Warbler. A small group of Four-banded Sandgrouse flew over as we left the Georgetown Ferry at dusk.
River at Basse
The Egyptian Plovers were easy here - we found them within a minute of arriving at the riverbank. We saw seven birds in total - several on the mud on the opposite (north) bank, and several more on the mud bank near the jetty on the Basse side. Apparently they may often be seen on the concrete jetty but there was too much human activity while we were there (general milling around, women washing clothes etc, even though it was still early morning). One bird did fly up and land briefly right beside where we had left the car. Views were stunning nevertheless (at rest and in flight) and seeing this species was the highpoint of the trip. Not many birds otherwise on the river here, though a Lanner flew over.
Dry fields with some scrub just beyond the village. We spent an hour or so here only, mid-morning (starting to get hot). Birds included Black-shouldered Kite, two Black Coucals, 10+ Carmine Bee-eaters (overhead), one Senegal Batis a dozen Black-headed Plovers, Senegal Parrot and 10+ Abyssinian Rollers.
Bush between Basse and Bansang
Stopped the car and walked into the dense bush. Had brief but close views of a Spotted Thick-knee; also several Bush Petronias, Yellow White-eye, several Green-backed Eremomelas. European Bee-eaters over the road. Basically any forays you make off the road are likely to produce birds - the only limitation on the number of stops is time and this is unfortunately likely to be in short supply given the amount of driving required to complete an up-river trip. A piece of advice: if you do walk into the bush be very careful not to get disorientated or separated from your companions. In dense bush it is surprisingly easy to completely loose your bearings and not know where the road is - birding then suddenly becomes very much a secondary priority! Unless you have a compass (we didn't) it would be very unwise to venture more than a few yards from the road in trackless bush.
This is a small, disused quarry/sand-pit just off the main road between Basse and Georgetown. The key bird here is Red-throated Bee-eater - they nest in the sand cliff and should be easy (we saw 20+). Also easy to see was Cinnamon-breasted Bunting (6+ along the top of the sand cliff). A small pool was attractive to hirundines (Mosque and Red-rumped Swallows and many House Martins and Little Swifts). The general area seems to be quite good for raptors: during our brief 30 minute stop we saw one or two each of Ruppell's and White-backed Vultures among the ubiquitous Hooded Vultures overhead, and a dark-phase Booted Eagle.
We made two boat trips into the mangroves on 20 November - one in the morning (low tide) and again early afternoon (high tide). There were lots of birds and highlights given here only: one White-backed Night Heron (on the afternoon trip), 4+ Goliath Herons, 12+ Wooly-necked Storks, two African Fish Eagles, Blue-breasted (10+), Grey-headed (3) and Malachite (1) Kingfishers, Broad-billed (1), Abyssinian (6) and Rufous-crowned (1) Rollers, White-throated, Blue-cheeked, Swallow-tailed, European and Little Bee-eaters, Greater Honeyguide (1), Olivaceous Warbler (1), Mouse-brown Sunbird (6+). The sunbirds zip across the channels at speed and quick reactions are necessary to get good views. Obviously we looked hard for Finfoot but without success despite covering both tidal states - the boat man said he had not seen any for a couple of months at least so they may be getting scarcer here? (I have since read that a Finfoot was seen in December 2002 by a "Birdseekers" group). Though it was disappointing not to see Finfoot we were pleased to get the Night Heron - our bird was lurking in deep shade in a mangrove bush and we could easily have missed it. African Blue Flycatcher was heard calling but didn't show - on another day you would probably get lucky.
Land-based birding at Tendaba was less productive compared to the boat trips. We birded the strip of light woodland along the access road and added Vieillot's Barbet and Bruce's Green Pigeon to the trip list here. Other birds included lots of Senegal Parrots (but no Brown-necked), as well as the usual hornbills, glossy-starlings, African Drongos etc. A longer stay would presumably turn up further species. Spot lighting along the access road after dark was quite productive. We had close views of and photographed two nightjars on the road: one was a Long-tailed Nightjar (expected) but the other was a European Nightjar (no modern Gambian records according to Barlow et al.): night birding in Gambia (particularly for nightjars which are relatively easy to locate along tracks etc) clearly has great potential and maybe should be given more attention. We used a hand-held spotlight but a 2xD-cell Maglite was also quite useful. Several African Scops Owls were heard calling but evaded the torches.
We spent a morning here - important to arrive as early as possible to catch the peak bird activity. We then returned after dark to spotlight (tipped taxi driver and guide for this). Open woodland interspersed with small farm plots; also two small pools surrounded by thick cover. Highlights included Lizard Buzzard, Grey Kestrel, Black Crake (pool), Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, Klaas's Cuckoo, Mottled Spinetail, Malachite Kingfisher (pool), Broad-billed and Blue-bellied Rollers, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Violet and Green Turacos (excellent views of both), Fanti Saw-wing, African Golden Oriole, Nightingale, Northern Black Flycatcher, Splendid Sunbird, Yellow-billed Shrike, Black-necked Weaver and Orange-cheeked Waxbill (pool). The brief spotlighting excursion produced an African Scops Owl in full view close beside the main track.
The seafront at Tanji village was very busy with locals and fishermen but had good numbers of gulls and terns close inshore, perched on the boats etc., including our only Kelp Gull and Lesser-crested Tern (one of each). More gulls and terns were present on the lagoon just to the north of the village, but the really big numbers are on the small islands/shoals visible just offshore. Local fishermen took us out on a pirogue for a closer look - try asking for Pa Sanneh. I think the price was 400D after haggling (and we gave a tip also). Before going out to the islands it would be important to clear the trip first with the staff at the Tanji bird reserve (ask when getting your entrance ticket). If you don't, you might have trouble when you get back to Tanji. There were in the region of 20,000 birds roosting on the islands - half of them Royal Terns, plus many Caspian Terns and the only Audouin's Gulls of the trip. Back at Tanji a surprise find was an American Golden Plover, which flew past at close range along the spit, but unfortunately it didn't stop. We had very little time to bird the woodland at Tanji, and some of the cover is very dense and would make for difficult birding. The more open woodland between the new road and the lagoon looked as though it would be good in the early morning - we would have returned here if we had had time.
Weather was hot and sunny throughout, with just occasional light hazy cloud. Pleasant temperatures early morning to about 10am, then hot till after 4pm Evenings also warm, verging on unpleasantly warm up-river but cooled during early hours. Biting insects (surprisingly) were not a significant problem anywhere - take "Jungle Formula" just in case though. Hotels and the camps had mosquito screening on all windows but a few always get in - a few bites are unavoidable. At Tendaba the rooms were sprayed at dusk. Minor gastrointestinal upsets are probably unavoidable also, though we experienced nothing bad enough to interfere with birding.
Obvious misses etc
We didn't get Moho (Oriole Warbler) due to insufficient time spent looking at the known sites around Kotu. Species that we looked for but didn't see included Temminck's Courser (Yundum), White-fronted Plover (Tanji), Finfoot (Tendaba), Brown-necked Parrot (Tendaba), Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling (widespread - we may have overlooked these among other glossy-starlings), African Blue Flycatcher (Tendaba), Yellow-backed Weaver (abundant according to Barlow et al. - presumably we overlooked female types among flocks of Village Weavers). We also did poorly for cisticolas (are they less conspicuous in November?). Wintering Palearctic passerines were in general not conspicuous - Woodchat Shrike was a particularly glaring omission. Warblers were in small numbers only; very few swifts; lots of House Martins locally but very few Barn Swallows.
15 November - arrived Banjul late afternoon. Time to bird briefly around Kotu (bridge area, cycle track and beach scrub). Day total = 62.
16 November - Kotu sewage farm (briefly am); Abuko (am); Yundum (pm). Day total = 89.
17 November - Kotu (briefly); Pirang (am); Faraba Banta bush track (pm); Seleti water hole (late pm - dusk). Day total = 145.
18 November - Kotu (briefly am). Drive up-country to Georgetown with several roadside stops, including Brumen Bridge, and a longer stop for an hour or so at Jakhaly rice fields in late afternoon before continuing on to Georgetown, arriving at dusk (7pm) - you cross the river on a small ro/ro ferry. Day total = 98.
19 November - left Georgetown at dawn and drove straight to Basse (just over an hour on a good road). Spent about an hour at the jetty (Egyptian Plovers) before driving short distance to fields just beyond the village where spent a further hour. Then started drive back down-river, with a few brief roadside stops, including at Bansang quarry between Basse and Georgetown. Arrived at Tendaba mid afternoon and had a couple of hours birding around the airfield area before dusk. Spotlighted along the access road after dark. Day total = 92.
20 November - walk behind Tendaba camp early, followed by a morning boat trip into the mangroves. After lunch we decided to do the boat trip again (this time on the high tide). Left Tendaba at 3.30pm and drove to Kotu with only one or two very brief stops, arriving Kotu 6.30pm. Day total = 85.
21 November - early start with taxi and guide to visit Brufut. In afternoon continued to Tanji village, where birded the seafront, offshore islands (CLEAR THIS WITH TANJI RESERVE STAFF FIRST), the sand-spit beyond the village and finally (only briefly) the woodland area between the lagoon and the new road. Spotlighted briefly at Brufut after dark. Day total = 100.
22 November - early taxi to Abuko. Birded here (including the extension) till 2pm, then continued on to airport (taxi waited). Day total = 37.
TRIP LIST (253 species)
Bird names generally follow "A Field Guide
to Birds of The Gambia and
A Field Guide to the Birds of
the Gambia and Senegal
LITTLE GREBE 1/8: only at Kotu sewage farm where 20+.
GREAT WHITE PELICAN 1/8: a flock of 30 soaring near Brumen Bridge on 20 Nov.
PINK-BACKED PELICAN 5/8: 100+ at Pirang and a few on the Tanji islands. Widespread up-river: present at Brumen Bridge and Tendaba plus additional sightings of soaring flocks.
HAMERKOP 5/8: small numbers (between one and three) seen at Kotu Bridge, Pirang, Tendaba and Brufut.
LONG-TAILED CORMORANT 4/8: seen in small numbers only (maximum of four at Pirang): also at Kotu and Basse (singles).
GREAT CORMORANT 1/8: four on the islands off Tanji.
AFRICAN DARTER 2/8: seen at Pirang (two) and Tendaba (six plus).
WHITE-BACKED NIGHT HERON 1/8: one skulking in dense mangrove at Tendaba as we drifted slowly past with the engine cut. The eyes of this species are truly huge!
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON 4/8: seen at Kotu bridge (four), Georgetown (ten plus) and Abuko (one). The Abuko bird was in daylight but elsewhere at dawn and dusk only.
CATTLE EGRET 7/8: common and widespread (e.g. up to 100+ at both Pirang and Jakhaly).
SQUACCO HERON 5/8: 20+ at Kotu and at Jakhaly; also at Tendaba (ten) and Brufut (two).
STRIATED HERON 6/8: widespread in small numbers (up to four at Tendaba; one or two at Kotu, Basse, Brufut, Abuko and Pirang).
BLACK EGRET 1/8: only at Pirang were probably at least 50.
INTERMEDIATE EGRET 2/8: the least common of the white egrets in our experience. We saw singles at Kotu sewage farm and Pirang but may have overlooked others.
WESTERN REEF HERON 7/8: frequent and widespread (up to ten) on the coast (Kotu, Tanji) and at wetlands (Pirang, Tendaba). All the birds we saw were dark phase.
LITTLE EGRET 3/8: uncommon. We saw small numbers (ones and twos only) at Pirang, Tendaba and near Soma.
GREAT WHITE EGRET 5/8: fairly frequent (up to ten) in wetlands and at Kotu.
BLACK-HEADED HERON 3/8: ten at Abuko, six at Pirang and two at Soma.
GREY HERON 6/8: widespread but in small numbers only, except at Tendaba where up to ten.
GOLIATH HERON 1/8: seen only in the Tendaba mangroves (at least four birds).
PURPLE HERON 2/8: three at Pirang and one at Tendaba.
WOOLLY-NECKED STORK 1/8: about a dozen in the mangroves at Tendaba.
MARABOU 1/8: four in trees at a small roadside village near Georgetown (known colony site).
YELLOW-BILLED STORK 2/8: a large flock of 100+ was at Pirang and six were soaring with Great White Pelicans near Brumen Bridge.
AFRICAN SPOONBILL 1/8: just one at Pirang (in flight amongst Yellow-billed Storks).
BLACK CROWNED CRANE 1/8: two adult birds seen well on one of the ponds at Pirang.
GREATER FLAMINGO 1/8: a solitary immature bird at Pirang was our only record.
SPUR-WINGED GOOSE 2/8: two at Jakhaly rice-fields and one at Tendaba airfield.
WHITE-FACED WHISTLING DUCK 2/8: only seen around Kotu, with up to nine birds at the sewage farm and in the marsh by the cycle track.
NORTHERN SHOVELER 1/8: two at Pirang.
GARGANEY 1/8: two with the Shovelers at Pirang.
SACRED IBIS 1/8: two at Pirang.
HADADA 1/8: at least six from the dawn river crossing at Georgetown.
OSPREY 3/8: one at Pirang and up to three at Tendaba, but eclipsed by at least 20 loafing on the islands off Tanji.
AFRICAN HARRIER-HAWK 7/8: widespread and frequent, typically in ones and twos but with a total of six at Faraba Banta.
PALM-NUT VULTURE 2/8: not particularly widespread but quite numerous around Pirang (six) and Faraba Banta (eight), plus one at Brumen Bridge.
PIED CROW 8/8: common and widespread. Up to 50 in a day at the coast but much smaller numbers up-river.
HOODED VULTURE 8/8: common everywhere, typically soaring overhead (100+ seen most days). Also scavenging for scraps at Tanji seafront and Abuko animal sanctuary.
RUPPELL'S GRIFFON 1/8: one or two soaring amongst Hooded Vultures at Bansang (well up-river).
WHITE-BACKED VULTURE 1/8: two or three spotted from the car between Basse and Bansang.
MARTIAL EAGLE 1/8: a single high overhead at Faraba Banta. A monster!
AFRICAN FISH EAGLE 1/8: an adult along the river at Tendaba and an immature in the mangroves there.
TAWNY EAGLE 1/8: one seen well at Faraba Banta.
WAHLBERG'S EAGLE 1/8: two seen while driving up-river on 18 Nov (one perched in a tall tree near Pirang and one over the road in CRD).
AFRICAN HAWK EAGLE 1/8: one passed overhead near Brumen Bridge on 18 Nov.
BOOTED EAGLE 1/8: one dark-phase over the road near Bansang.
LONG-CRESTED EAGLE 3/8: one at Yundum, three at Pirang/Faraba Banta and one Brumen Bridge.
BATELEUR 1/8: three seen from Brumen Bridge on 18 Nov - a female at quite close range and two more distant birds.
SHORT-TOED EAGLE 3/8: three roadside singles seen, all at the coast - all appeared to be of the European race.
BLACK KITE: 7/8: widespread but not in huge numbers. Day max near the coast was ten; up to 20 at Tendaba. All birds seen well enough were "Yellow-billed Kites" - a worthy split?
GRASSHOPPER BUZZARD 3/8: one at Faraba Banta was our only sighting near the coast. Another half-dozen were seen up-river, in ones and twos.
BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE 4/8: fairly frequent and widespread at the coastal sites (up to six in a day). One at Basse was our only up-river record.
MONTAGUE'S HARRIER 2/8: single "ringtails" at Faraba Banta and Jakhaly.
EURASIAN MARSH HARRIER 4/8: two or three at Pirang, one at Jakhaly, one at Basse and two at Tendaba.
DARK CHANTING GOSHAWK 5/8: a few scattered singles at the coast, including four at Faraba Banta. Fairly frequent up-river (ten seen on the drive to Georgetown).
SHIKRA 6/8: one or two seen most days; regular around Kotu.
LIZARD BUZZARD 2/8: singles at Brufut, Tanji and near Kotu. All perched prominently.
LANNER 3/8: singles at Yundum and Basse and two at Pirang.
GREY KESTREL 3/8: singles at Faraba Banta and Brufut and two at Jakhaly.
DOUBLE-SPURRED FRANCOLIN 6/8: small numbers (typically two or three) seen at most coastal sites. Showed well early morning at Kotu sewage farm.
FOUR-BANDED SANDGROUSE 2/8: ca.20 at Seleti water hole, arriving during 1850-1900hrs. Also one or two flew past at Georgetown as we left the ferry at dusk on 18 Nov.
BLACK CRAKE 1/8: one skulking in the small marsh at Brufut.
AFRICAN JACANA 4/8: small numbers (one or two only) at Abuko, Pirang and Brufut pool; about six at Jakhaly rice fields.
EGYPTIAN PLOVER 1/8: eight seen from the jetty at Basse were the highpoint of the trip.
SPOTTED THICK-KNEE 1/8: a single bird seen briefly at close range in thick bush between Basse and Bansang, just a few yards in off the main road.
SENEGAL THICK-KNEE 5/8: regular at Kotu creek (up to six); a flock of 20 at Pirang and a few at Tendaba.
BLACK-HEADED PLOVER 1/8: about a dozen at Basse fields and two at Tendaba airfield.
SPUR-WINGED PLOVER 7/8: frequent (up to 20 birds together) in fields and wetlands, from coast to Basse. Daily in Kotu creek.
WATTLED PLOVER 6/8: frequent and widespread (flocks up to 15), usually in dry fields/open ground but also in Kotu creek. Also well up-river.
GREY PLOVER 4/8: small numbers in Kotu creek; 20+ at Pirang.
AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER 1/8: one (in juvenile type plumage) flew past at close range on Tanji spit, late afternoon on 21 Nov. It continued north without stopping, calling frequently.
LITTLE RINGED PLOVER 4/8: one or two at Kotu and Pirang; up to 20 at Tendaba.
RINGED PLOVER 3/8: small numbers (up to ten) at Kotu, Pirang and Tanji.
KENTISH PLOVER 2/8: at least two at Pirang and one at Tanji.
EURASIAN CURLEW 1/8: two birds at Tanji; they showed features of the race orientalis.
WHIMBREL 6/8: frequent both at the coast and on the river; max of up to 30 at Tendaba.
BLACK-TAILED GODWIT 2/8: a few at Kotu but ca.30 at Pirang.
BAR-TAILED GODWIT 4/8: a few at Kotu but ca.50 at Tanji.
GREENSHANK 6/8: widespread in small numbers; max 30+ at Tendaba.
MARSH SANDPIPER 2/8: just two singles, at Pirang and Tendaba.
COMMON SANDPIPER 7/8: common (up to 20+) at coast and all wetlands.
GREEN SANDPIPER 3/8: scattered ones and twos (Pirang, Seleti, Jakhaly and Basse).
WOOD SANDPIPER 7/8: frequent in usual areas (max 20+ at Kotu sewage farm).
REDSHANK 4/8: widespread in small numbers, but up to 20 at Kotu sewage farm.
OYSTERCATCHER 1/8: a single at Tanji was the only sighting.
BLACK-WINGED STILT 2/8: ca50 at Kotu sewage farm and ca15 near Soma.
RUFF 2/8: ten at Pirang, then a flock of 200+ in flight at Jakhaly rice fields.
COMMON SNIPE 1/8: one flushed at Jakhaly rice fields.
TURNSTONE 2/8: ten at Pirang; 50+ at Tanji.
RED KNOT 1/8: at Pirang only, where about half a dozen among other small waders.
LITTLE STINT 3/8: at least 200 on one of the lagoons at Pirang; ten at Tendaba and Tanji.
SANDERLING 2/8: ten at Pirang and ca50 at Tanji.
DUNLIN 1/8: only at Pirang, where half a dozen among the other waders.
CURLEW SANDPIPER 1/8: ca200 mixed with the stints etc at Pirang.
ARCTIC SKUA 1/8: a single bird among the gulls and terns on the Tanji islands.
AUDOUIN'S GULL 1/8: ca.100 birds on the Tanji islands.
GREY-HEADED GULL 3/8: common (maybe 500) at Tanji; a few at Kotu creek. We didn't see any Black-headed Gulls, despite checking carefully at Tanji (trip-tick!).
SLENDER-BILLED GULL 2/8: 11 at Pirang and ca.20 around Tanji.
KELP GULL 1/8: a single bird among other gulls at Tanji seafront. It was an adult bird and surprisingly distinctive, with a rather awkward jizz and small-eyed look.
YELLOW-LEGGED GULL 1/8: small numbers only at Tanji - greatly outnumbered by LBBs.
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL 3/8: small numbers around Kotu and Pirang, but an estimated 3000 on the Tanji islands.
CASPIAN TERN 4/8: small numbers at Kotu and up-river at Tendaba. At Tanji there were small numbers on the seafront but then a massive flock of ca. 4,000 on the islands.
ROYAL TERN 3/8: small numbers at Kotu (but note that we spent very little time looking at the sea here). At Tanji there were small numbers on the seafront, then a huge flock (estimated at around 10,000 Royals) roosting on the islands, mixed with Caspians - wow!
LESSER CRESTED TERN 1/8: a single bird among Royals along Tanji seafront.
SANDWICH TERN 2/8: small numbers at Kotu; ca. 1,000 on the Tanji islands.
GULL-BILLED TERN 3/8: singles at Pirang and Tendaba, and two on the wetland at Soma.
COMMON TERN 3/8: in numbers off Kotu and ca. 2,000 at Tanji. Islands.
BLACK TERN 1/8: two along Tanji seafront and a single on the islands among other terns.
LITTLE TERN 1/8: three at Pirang.
LAUGHING DOVE 7/8: common and widespread.
BLUE-SPOTTED WOOD DOVE 3/8: common at Abuko (though more often heard than seen); also at Brufut).
BLACK-BILLED WOOD DOVE 6/8: common in the bush (e.g. Faraba Banta and up-river); two or three seen daily but calls heard frequently in bush areas.
SPECKLED PIGEON 6/8: common (e.g. around airport); flocks up to ca50 birds.
BRUCE'S GREEN PIGEON 1/8: two perched up in a tree at Tendaba airfield gave close views.
NAMAQUA DOVE 5/8: widespread and quite frequent in ones and twos, typically flying up from the roadside.
RED-EYED DOVE 8/8: abundant (daily estimates up to 100+). The call is ubiquitous and transcribes as: "I am. the Red-eyed Dove" (speeds up towards end).
AFRICAN MOURNING DOVE 2/8: by far the least common of the "collared doves". Not seen near the coast but frequent at Tendaba (mangroves) and also a few roadside birds up-river.
VINACEOUS DOVE 8/8: abundant everywhere (100+/day) and calls ubiquitous; probably even commoner than Red-eyed Dove (and much smaller).
PIAPIAC 5/8: quite frequent in flocks of up to ten (usually not far from human habitation); present around Kotu and up-river as far as Basse. The pink-billed juveniles are especially smart.
BLACK COUCAL 1/8: two birds (an immature and a black adult) perched up at Basse fields.
SENEGAL COUCAL 8/8: frequent. A few seen daily and others heard (a skulker, but up to six showed well around Kotu).
LEVAILLANT'S CUCKOO 3/8: singles at Yundum, Pirang, Faraba Banta and Tendaba.
KLAAS'S CUCKOO 1/8: one male at Brufut.
VERREAUX'S EAGLE OWL 1/8: one roosting in a tall tree at Abuko on our last morning. It was along the western trail, in the vicinity of (I think) marker post 34, high up under the canopy.
AFRICAN SCOP'S OWL 1/8: one spotlighted at Brufut, close to the main path; several heard at Tendaba.
PEARL-SPOTTED OWLET 2/8: two in an acacia at Faraba Banta; one at Kotu.
EUROPEAN NIGHTJAR 1/8: one was spotlighted (and photographed) on the road at Tendaba airfield on 19 Nov: according to Barlow et al there are no modern Gambian records of this species. Our bird was possibly of the paler North African race meridionalis.
LONG-TAILED NIGHTJAR 3/8: seen on two evenings (up to two birds together) in the Palma Rima scrub (behind the beach) at Kotu; one spotlighted at Tendaba.
STANDARD-WINGED NIGHTJAR 1/8: one with the Long-tailed Nightjars at Kotu on the first evening (without standards a small stumpy nightjar with very rapid flight).
PALLID SWIFT 1/8: one over Basse was, amazingly, the only "common-type" swift of the trip.
LITTLE SWIFT 6/8: locally abundant upriver (in 100's); small numbers at the coast.
MOTTLED SPINETAIL 3/8: small numbers (up to six) at Seleti, Brufut and at a couple of roadside stops up-river (e.g. near Brumen Bridge).
AFRICAN PALM SWIFT 5/8: widespread and common at the coast (day estimates up to 500); also up-river as far as Brumen Bridge at least.
GREEN WOOD HOOPOE 5/8: fairly common at the coast (e.g. up to ten around Kotu).
HOOPOE 2/8: one near Pirang and one at Tendaba.
GIANT KINGFISHER 1/8: a female from one of the small hides at Abuko.
WOODLAND KINGFISHER 3/8: singles at Kotu, near Pirang and at Tendaba.
BLUE-BREASTED KINGFISHER 2/8: only in the Tendaba mangroves (where up to10+).
STRIPED KINGFISHER 1/8: one at Faraba Banta.
GREY-HEADED KINGFISHER 1/8: three in the Tendaba mangroves.
PIED KINGFISHER 5/8: common at wetlands (e.g. at Kotu creek).
MALACHITE KINGFISHER 3/8: singles at Pirang, Brufut pool and Tendaba mangroves.
BROAD-BILLED ROLLER 4/8: small numbers (no more than two or three together) seen at Kotu (near the bridge at dusk), and at Pirang, Brufut and Tendaba.
BLUE-BELLIED ROLLER 5/8: seen at most of the coastal sites (up to ten in a day), but only once up river.
RUFOUS-CROWNED ROLLER 3/8: the least frequently seen roller - two near Yundum, one roadside bird up-river, and one at Tendaba.
ABYSSINIAN ROLLER 6/8: widespread, with up to six in a day at the coast; 20+ on the drive up-river and frequent also at for example Tendaba and Basse fields.
SWALLOW-TAILED BEE-EATER 4/8: singles at Yundum, Abuko and Tendaba; six Brufut.
NORTHERN CARMINE BEE-EATER 1/8: about a dozen flying high over Basse fields.
BLUE-CHEEKED BEE-EATER 5/8: widespread and frequent, typically hawking high overhead (e.g. up to 20+ at Abuko and Pirang); also up-river and at Tendaba.
EUROPEAN BEE-EATER 2/8: groups of ca.12 seen up-river near Brumen Bridge and Basse.
LITTLE BEE-EATER 7/8: widespread in small numbers (up to half a dozen together); seen several times near Kotu bridge.
WHITE-THROATED BEE-EATER 1/8: at least ten in the mangroves at Tendaba.
RED-THROATED BEE-EATER 1/8: seen at the Bansang
quarry stakeout (20+). These are stunning birds and arguably the best looking
ROSE-RINGED PARAKEET 7/8: widespread; day maximum of 20+ at Tendaba.
SENEGAL PARROT 6/8: widespread. Small numbers seen at many coastal sites, including Kotu.; commonest at Tendaba, where up to 20+ in a day.
VIOLET TURACO 3/8: up to ten seen on both trips to Abuko (surprisingly showy - expect them in the tall forest a few hundred meters inside the entrance); also two at Brufut (one of which was a juvenile, lacking the bright bill shield).
GREEN TURACO 2/8: at least one with Violet Turacos at Abuko, and two showed well at Brufut.
WETSERN GREY PLAINTAIN-EATER 6/8: common and widespread.
YELLOW-FRONTED TINKERBIRD 1/8: only at Faraba Banta, where one seen well and several others heard calling.
BEARDED BARBET 6/8: widespread, both at the coast and up-river; up to ten in a day.
VIEILLOT'S BARBET 1/8: only at Tendaba (three in tree-tops near the airfield).
AFRICAN PIED HORNBILL 1/8: four on the first visit to Abuko.
RED-BILLED HORNBILL 7/8: common and widespread - a frequent roadside bird (up to 20 in a day or until we stopped counting!).
AFRICAN GREY HORNBILL 6/8: fairly common (up to six in a day) at several coastal sites and also at Tendaba.
GREY WOODPECKER 5/8: seen at several coastal sites, with a maximum of four at Brufut.
FINE-SPOTTED WOODPECKER 2/8: one at Kotu and a pair at Yundum.
GREATER HONEYGUIDE 1/8: one in the mangroves at Tendaba.
BLACK-CROWNED SPARROW-LARK 1/8: what appeared to be an obvious male of this species was seen perched (briefly but well) on top of a bush near Bansang on 19 Nov - there are no Gambian records of this species according to Barlow et al. but it is apparently spreading south in Senegal. The bird showed the black underparts and striking black and white head pattern of a sparrow-lark, but the wings and upperparts were pale grayish brown, without any trace of chestnut.
CHESTNUT-BACKED SPARROW-LARK 1/8: good views of a pair on a track at Pirang.
CRESTED LARK 1/8: quite numerous (10+) at Pirang.
PLAIN-BACKED PIPIT 1/8: two at Pirang showed well.
TREE PIPIT 1/8: at least one among flava wagtails at Pirang.
FANTI SAW-WING 3/8: small numbers (max. four) at Abuko, Seleti and Brufut.
RED-RUMPED SWALLOW 4/8: fairly common at Pirang (20+) and widespread up-river (for example around roadside villages).
PIED-WINGED SWALLOW 1/8: one showed briefly as it flew over the road near Pirang.
WIRE-TAILED SWALLOW 4/8: singles at Kotu Bridge and Yundum, a dozen at Pirang and small numbers among other hirundines during drive up-river.
MOSQUE SWALLOW 3/8: on the coast at Pirang and Yundum (up to ten); one at Bansang.
BARN SWALLOW 2/8: surprisingly rare - just one or two among other hirundines at Pirang and Tendaba.
RED-CHESTED SWALLOW 5/8: fairly widespread but not in huge numbers - maxima of about 20 at Tanji and Tendaba.
HOUSE MARTIN 2/8: small numbers seen while driving up-river, then 100+ at Tendaba.
SAND MARTIN 1/8: one or two among other hirundines at Tendaba.
AFRICAN GOLDEN ORIOLE 1/8: three (one male and two females) gave excellent views at Brufut.
FORK-TAILED DRONGO 5/8: fairly widespread in wooded habitats - peak of six at Tendaba.
YELLOW WAGTAIL 1/8: ca50 unidentified flavas along one of the bunds at Pirang.
WHITE WAGTAIL 2/8: two or three at Tendaba were the only ones of the trip.
COMMON BULBUL 5/8: fairly common and widespread - typically up to a dozen in a day.
LITTLE GREENBUL 2/8: up to two seen at Abuko (both visits).
GREY-HEADED BRISTLEBILL 1/8: a group of six skulking in undergrowth near the animal sanctuary at Abuko on the last morning eventually gave excellent views.
BLACKCAP BABBLER 4/8: up to a dozen at several coastal sites - typical babbler in behaviour.
BROWN BABBLER 4/8: similar status to Blackcap Babbler, but also seen at Tendaba.
WHINCHAT 1/8: one at Pirang.
NORTHERN WHEATEAR 1/8: one at Pirang.
COMMON NIGHTINGALE 1/8: one popped up briefly in full view at Brufut.
WHITE-CROWNED ROBIN-CHAT 2/8: singles near Pirang and at Kotu.
SNOWY-CROWNED ROBIN-CHAT 1/8: three seen at Abuko on our last morning, one of which showed very well (others glimpsed in dense cover).
COMMON REDSTART 1/8: one near Tendaba airfield on 19 Nov.
AFRICAN THRUSH 6/8: frequent in dense undergrowth, especially at Abuko where up to 20+.
GREATER SWAMP WARBLER 1/8: one along a flooded ditch at Jakhaly rice fields.
OLIVACEOUS WARBLER 3/8: not common - we saw a total of three or four at coastal sites and one at Tendaba; some decent views though.
MELODIOUS WARBLER 1/8: one gave good views at Brufut.
SUBALPINE WARBLER 1/8: one in the Kotu mangroves one morning.
WILLOW WARBLER 1/8: one near Pirang was our only sighting.
CHIFFCHAFF 1/8: seen only at Tendaba where there were three in the mangroves.
ZITTING CISTICOLA 2/8: two or three at Pirang and Jakhaly were our only cisticolas of the trip - presumably the rest were all skulking somewhere close-by.
RED-WINGED WARBLER 1/8: a male showed well at Yundum.
TAWNY-FLANKED PRINIA 5/8: fairly frequent in grass/scrub (up to three or four together).
GREEN-BACKED EREMOMELA 3/8: up to three at Yundum, Brufut and near Basse.
NORTHERN CROMBEC 2/8: singles at Yundum and at a roadside stop up-river.
GREY-BACKED CAMAROPTERA 4/8: fairly common in wooded habitats, including at Kotu, Abuko etc.
YELLOW WHITE-EYE 1/8: two or three with Eremomelas in the bush near Basse.
COMMON WATTLE-EYE 3/8: frequent in the Abuko extension (6+ seen) and in the Tendaba mangroves (many calling and one or two seen).
SENEGAL BATIS 1/8: one seen briefly at Basse fields.
NORTHERN BLACK FLYCATCHER 1/8: two at Brufut.
AFRICAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER 1/8: one male at Abuko extension.
RED-BELLIED PARADISE FLYCATCHER 3/8: up to three at Abuko extension; two at Brufut showed white in wings, indicating AfricanXRed-bellied hybrid origin?
SOUTHERN PYGMY SUNBIRD 1/8: one was seen in the Mangroves at Tendaba.
VARIABLE SUNBIRD 5/8: quite frequent at most of the coastal sites, up to two males together.
MOUSE-BROWN SUNBIRD 1/8: at least half a dozen seen in the mangroves at Tendaba.
SCARLET-CHESTED SUNBIRD 2/8: singles on both visits to Abuko (one a male).
SPLENDID SUNBIRD 3/8: in small numbers at the coast (a male at Faraba Banta, a female at Abuko and a pair at Brufut).
BEAUTIFUL SUNBIRD 6/8: the commonest sunbird, fairly frequent at most coastal sites (up to four males together).
COPPER SUNBIRD 2/8: single males near Pirang and at Abuko.
BLACK-CROWNED TCHAGRA 2/8: one gave stunning views at Yundum; heard at Faraba Banta - probably quite common but overlooked due to skulking behaviour.
SULPHUR-BREASTED BUSH SHRIKE 1/8: one in a mixed flock in the Abuko extension on the last morning didn't give itself up easily.
NORTHERN PUFFBACK 4/8: one or two at each of Kotu, Faraba Banta, Brufut and Abuko.
YELLOW-CROWNED GONOLEK 4/8: common based on calls (often pointed out by guides) but not seen that often - one or two showed well at Kotu, Seleti and Tendaba.
YELLOW-BILLED SHRIKE 5/8: fairly frequent at the coast in twos and threes, including at Kotu; also seen at Tendaba. First sighting was from the coach during airport transfer.
GREATER BLUE-EARED GLOSSY STARLING 5/8: identified with certainty at Kotu, Faraba Banta, Yundum and Tendaba - the glossy starlings were often in mixed flocks and when at moderate range or just flying over it was difficult or impossible to be sure of the species; unspecified flocks of up to 30 birds were seen several times at the coast and while driving up-river.
PURPLE GLOSSY STARLING 4/8: small numbers of this relatively distinctive species (the forehead and bill/lores look swollen) were seen at Yundum, Faraba Banta, Tendaba and Brufut.
BRONZE-TAILED GLOSSY STARLING 2/8: identified with certainty at Yundum, Basse fields and Tendaba.
LONG-TAILED GLOSSY-STARLING 6/8: widespread both at the coast and up-river, in flocks of up to 20 birds.
YELLOW-BILLED OXPECKER 1/8: a flock of about a dozen birds was seen on domestic animals by the roadside during our drive up-river (well inland), but flew off as got out of the car.
YELLOW-FRONTED CANARY 3/8: smallish numbers (up to about six together) seen at Yundum, Faraba Banta and Bansang.
HOUSE SPARROW 2/8: just one or two seen in villages at the coast.
GREY-HEADED SPARROW 4/8: fairly common around Kotu and at Faraba Banta.
BUSH PETRONIA 3/8: small numbers (up to six) at Faraba Banta, Bansang and Tendaba.
WHITE-BILLED BUFFALO-WEAVER 5/8: widespread and locally very common. For example 40+ along Kotu cycle track and over 200 at Yundum.
YELLOW-SHOULDERD WIDOWBIRD 1/8: a stunning male flew past along one of the bunds at Pirang.
NORTHERN RED BISHOP 5/8: widespread and fairly common on the coast and up-river at Jakhaly - maximum flock size was 20 birds. Most were female-types but quite a few stunning breeding plumaged males were also seen.
CINNAMON-BREASTED BUNTING 1/8: about six on the cliff face at Bansang quarry.
HEUGLIN'S MASKED WEAVER 2/8: three at Yundum (including a male) and one at Tendaba.
VILLAGE WEAVER 8/8: very common - largest flocks were 100+ at Kotu and 500+ at Pirang.
BLACK-NECKED WEAVER 3/8: one or two seen on both visits to Abuko, and one at Brufut.
ORANGE-CHEEKED WAXBILL 1/8: one coming to drink with other finches at Brufut pool.
LAVENDER WAXBILL 4/8: two or three seen at Kotu cycle track, Tendaba, Brufut and Abuko.
BLACK-RUMPED WAXBILL 1/8: small numbers (up to four together) seen at Faraba Banta, Seleti water-hole and Tendaba.
RED-CHEEKED CORDON-BLEU 6/8: common and widespread.
RED-BILLED FIREFINCH 8/8: common and widespread.
BRONZE MANNIKIN 4/8: up to 20 at Abuko, Faraba Banta and Brufut.
EXCLAMATORY PARADISE WHYDAH 1/8: a male with a full tail was seen in flight during the drive up-river - like a flying stick!
PIN-TAILED WHYDAH 1/8: at least six at Brufut.
VILLAGE INDIGOBIRD 3/8: one or two seen at Faraba Banta and Tendaba, and also during the drive up-river.
QUAIL-FINCH 2/8: three seen in flight only at Pirang were a bit unsatisfactory, but four at Jakhaly rice-fields included stunning close-range views of a male on the ground (after careful stalking and a bit of luck).