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A Report from birdtours.co.uk

The Gambia - January 16th - 23rd 2004,

Robin Hadley

My wife Maryan and I spent one week in The Gambia in early 2004 for some winter sun and a little bird watching. We were very impressed by the country, its people and the wonderful array of birdlife. We definitely will return.

Sources of information:

We used Collins Field Guide; Birds of West Africa by Serle, Morel & Hartwig and for other background information The Good Tourist in the Gambia by Ann Britt Sternfeldt.

Our guide, of whom more later, used Barlow's et al's field guide - which seems to be the definitive choice and not all local guides are familiar with the Collins book (our guide was), a few of the bird's names are different 'twixt the two. Over all we think that the Barlow had a slight edge over the Collins but it's a swings and 'roundabouts call.

Julian Hughes report was very useful to us. Cheers, Julian.

Travel and Accommodation:

We booked through First Choice, flew from Manchester to Banjul and stayed at the Corinthia Atlantic Hotel - chosen for its resident ornithologist and Bird Garden. We found the Bird Garden but the resident ornithologist had, alas, moved on. The Garden was small but over the week we did see 25 species there and there about.

Holidays to The Gambia
[Birdtours recommend the Gambia Experience]

The Hotel, although comfortable with very friendly staff, air conditioning and good food, is not particularly close to the birding sites and therefore not an obvious choice for birdwatchers. The holiday operators all offered various excursions from the hotel - usually priced at around the 30 pp

for a day trip and 70pp for an overnight one. We booked on "Birds and Breakfast" before, fortunately, one of the local reps put us in touch with a guide - Ebrahima Jallow aka "Sheriff" (a WABSA guide). This trip was O.K. but not for the serious or even not so serious birder (us).

Sheriff (Tel: 0022098113, or write to PMB 733, Serrekunda, The Gambia, West Africa) proved to be an excellent guide and we would recommend him without hesitation. The charge was 50 per day including transport and lunch, however most days were so hot at midday (37 C +), that after a mornings bird watching we chose to lunch and rest at the Hotel, resuming at 4pm until dusk (approx 6.30 pm).

Sites:

Sheriff drove us to the well-known places: Koto, Bund Rd, Lamin, Yundum,

Tanji Bird Reserve, Brufut Forest, Pirang, Abuko Reserve and one or two other places where he knew there be would be good sightings. Part of the excursion also included Abuko reserve - be warned there is a "zoo" there that you will be taken too and exiting the reserve taken through a "tourist" market. With your own guide you can easily avoid these things. Across the road from the exit/market was an extraordinary roadside drinks stop, run by a Rasta chap (whose name escapes me) that is well worth a visit for the welcome alone.

Useful info:

This is a mainly Muslim country (English is widely spoken) and care should be taken about dress when not in the hotel (be warned, some sights in the hotel are not for the faint hearted). If you want to take a locals' photograph (including video) then best practice would be to ask first and expect to be asked for a small payment, again if you have a guide they will advise on the protocol.

Sterling is preferred to Dollars. Take plenty of pound coins as this is the traditional tip and will be accepted wherever you go and when you come to leave you will be asked to change coins to notes. At the airport we noticed people who had a porter (hard not to, as they "adopt" you pretty quickly) seemed not to have their bags checked as much as people without a porter.

Apart from the airport road, the roads are poor and this has to be factored in to any journey time - even for a short journey.

Water bottles can be re-used and someone will usually appear and willingly take it off your hands.

This is a poor country and you will get hassled by the "Bumsters" and beggars but if you have a guide or hire a hotel guide this will not be a problem.

We were advised not to give sweets to the children as this encourages begging and there is little affordable dental treatment.

Paper, pens and pencils were well received, as were some shoes and clothes that we left with the hotel guides, porters, maids etc.

When we revisit we're also taking some cheap binoculars so that Sheriff can distribute them to "trainee guides".

We ate at the Lebanese restaurant in Serrekunda and the food was good and they had a fair range of vegetarian dishes.

Birds:

Apologies for this but we just kept a list of what we saw not when or where. But I hope it helps and at least you know that you can see a 100 an odd birds in a (short) week.

Little Grebe,
Long-tailed Comorant
African Darter
Pink Backed Pelican
Black-crowned night heron, Squacco Heron, Striated Heron, Western Reef Heron, Grey Heron, Black headed Heron, Goliath Heron
Cattle Egret, Black Egret, Little Egret, Intermediate Egret, Great White Egret
Hamerkop
Sacred Ibis
African Spoonbill
White faced whistling Duck
Black Kite, Black shouldered Kite
Hooded Vulture, Palm nut vulture
African Harrier Hawk
Shikra
Lizard Buzzard
Wahlbergs Eagle
Osprey
Grey Kestrel
Red necked Falcon
Black Crake
Black Crowned Crane
African Jacana
Black winged Stilt
Senegal thicknee
Wattled Plover, Spur winged Plover, Grey plover
Whimbrel
Common Redshank, Common Greenshank
Green Sandpiper, Wood sandpiper, Common Sandpiper
Grey headed Gull, Black headed Gull, Lesser black-backed Gull
Gull billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Sandwich Tern
African Green Pigeon, Speckled Pigeon
Blue spotted Wood Dove, Black billed wood Dove, Red eyed Dove, Vinaceous Dove, Laughing Dove
Senegal Parrot, Rose ringed Parakeet
Green Turaco, Violet Turaco
Senegal Coucal
Common Swift, African Palm Swift
African Pygmy Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher
Little Bee Eater
Blue-bellied Roller
Green Wood Hoopoe
Red billed Hornbill, African Pied Hornbill, African Grey Hornbill
Bearded Barbet
Lesser Honeyglide
Fine spotted Woodpecker
Crested Lark
Wire tailed Swallow, Red chested Swallow
Yellow Wagtail
Little Bulbul, Common Bulbul,
Snowy crowned Robin-Chat
African Thrush
Grey backed Camaroptera
Common Wattle eye
Northern Black Flycatcher, Red Bellied Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher
Brown Babbler
Variable Sunbird, Splendid Sunbird, Beautiful Sunbird
Yellow billed Shrike, Puffback Shrike, Yellow crowned Shrike, Barbary Shrike
Black Magpie,
Pied Crow,
Gtr Blue eared Glossy Starling, Long tailed Gls Starling
House Sparrow
Bush Petonia
White billed Buffalo Weaver, Village Weaver, Yellow backed Weaver, Blackeyed Weaver
Northern Red Bishop
Red Billed Firefinch
Red cheeked cordonbleu
Quail Finch
Bronze Mannikin
Pin Tailed Whydah

 

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