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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Gambia 26/11/04 ~ 10/12/04,
Senegambia Hotel Gardens
Rufous Crowned Roller,
African Pygmy Kingfisher,
Large versions of Marcus Ward's photos are available at www.worldbirder.com
We chose Gambia as our first birding destination to Africa, based mainly on great reports given by others who had visited the area. It was a difficult choice given the range of fantastic birding destinations in Africa from South Africa to Morocco. However we thought that The Gambia offered such a diverse range of species that it would be the ideal place to start.
We booked through Thomas Cook and chose the Senegambia Hotel mainly based on reports of how good the gardens are for bird life, we were not to be disappointed! The accommodation itself is basic but more than suitable considering we only used our room to shower and sleep. During our stay a good number of birders were using the hotel which provided a good network of information with regards to birds, there was however a big divide between tourists and birders, I think most of the 'normal' tourists found it hard to believe that we wanted to leave the hotel grounds and venture from the western environment!
The conditions were fantastic throughout with everyday bar 1 being clear sunny and cloudless, the only exception being one day with patchy and thin high cloud. It does however get almost to hot through the middle of the day (1200~1430) most days we were out anyway so we carried on birding. However many species do lie low during the heat of the day. This is the time to find a body of water as everything under the sun comes down to drink.
We also found ourselves consulting the excellent book by Rod Ward, A Birdwatchers' Guide to the Gambia (Prion 1994). Quite old now but still a valuable source of information, many of the sites mentioned remain unchanged. Also as a field guide we used A Field Guide to the Birds of The Gambia by Barlow, Wacher & Disley.
We also used the Lonely Planet guide to The Gambia and Senegal which provided some useful background information.
Food & Health
We took all precautions recommended to us and had a Yellow Fever Jab (£40 each) before leaving as well as a tetanus and polio booster. We also arranged for an anti-malaria prescription of Malarone (£60 each) that gave us no side effects except a hole in our pocket! We did come across other folk however who did have problems with the Malaria tablets but not sure which brand.
We survived without any attacks of 'Banjul Belly' despite eating local dishes in many 'interesting' establishments, more out of necessity as whilst up-river we just stopped as and when we felt hungry. Food in the hotel district is the typical range of western dishes such as Italian and Indian, which is fine. We didn't eat anything other than breakfast in the hotel, as the prices were a tad high! However we did often use the rolls and cheese etc. available at breakfast to make a packed lunch!
We are both vegetarian and had no problems anywhere, up-country where meat was in the food it was simply removed, you can't afford to be too fussy otherwise you would go hungry but we got by without any problems.
Mosquitoes were generally not a problem except in the Tendaba area where they are a real hassle, we did get bitten a lot despite using lots and lots of deet but we survived to tell the tale. Throughout the rest of the trip they were only occasionally encountered.
Money & Costs
Exchange rate during our visit was either 50 Dalasi to the pound if exchanged inside the hotel or 53 Dalasi to the pound outside. We found the hotel to be expensive for everything, including water, beer etc. So we ate in the restaurants outside and bought all water and beer from the supermarket opposite.
Up-country everything is cheaper. We had one meal near Soma, which filled us to stuffing point, and yet only cost us 7 ½ pence! We didn't spend money on anything other than food, beer, water and guides. Where ever possible we travelled with other birders, always using Sanna as a guide and a driver. For a day trip we would expect to pay around £15.00 each which is about the going rate.
The 5-day up-country trip cost us £150.00 each including all accommodation but excluding food, this was based on travelling with Sven & Britte and using Sanna and Ebrima as guides with Lama as our driver in his transit.
Guides & Trips
Normally we don't like to go birding with guides, however such is the terrain in this area it is almost essential to use a guide. Prior to leaving we did have communication with Modou, the resident guide at the Senegambia Hotel who comes highly recommended and is in fact a great guy. However he is busy and his fees are about 3 times that of other guides not affiliated with the hotel. By chance we met Sanna Mambureh who had been stood-up by some Brit birders so we chose to use him for our first trip to Kotu. As it turned out he is a very good guide being very quick getting onto birds and picking up things we couldn't even hear or see! On top of this he is good company as well which added to the trip becoming a friend rather than a guide.
As we were keen on an up-river trip, Sanna hooked us up with a German Couple Sven & Britte who had planned a 5-day trip going as far as Basse, which was exactly what we had in mind. As Sanna and their guide Ebrima where good friends they both came along and made an awesome team when out in the field working in unison.
There are an ever present group of chaps that hang around the hotel entrance offering their services as guides and as I understand it can be very hit or miss weather you get a good one. Therefore research in advance of travelling to The Gambia is almost essential, we were lucky with Sanna but we did hear of some other horror stories of guides mis-indentifying birds for example one claimed an Owl which was in fact a Jacana!!
Contact details for the guide as follows: -
Ebrima Sidibeh EbrimaSidibeh@hotmail.com
Sadly Sanna recently died of a chest condition. He was a good man and a great birder.
Fri 26th Nov Flight Gatwick ~ Banjul, leaving around an hours birding in the Senegambia hotel gardensSat 27th Nov AM Hotel Gardens, PM Kotu Creek, Fajara Golf Course, Casino Cycle TrackSun 28th Nov AM Pirang, PM Faraba Banta Bush TrackMon 29th Nov AM Bijilo Forest Park, PM YundumTue 30th Nov AM Senegambia Hotel Gardens, PM AbukoWed 31st Nov Travelling to GeorgetownThur 1st Dec AM Bansang Quarry, PM Basse & Prufu, then back to Bansang Quarry for roostFri 2nd Dec Georgetown to TendabaSat 3rd Dec AM Tendaba Pirogue Trip, PM Batelling Track & Tendaba AirstripSun 4th Dec AM Batelling Track & Keong West National Park, PM Tendaba to Senegambia HotelMon 5th Dec AM Bijilo Forest Park, PM Senegambia Hotel Gardens, Evening Casino Cycle Track & Palma Rima HotelTue 6th Dec AM Marakissa & Yundum, PM Kotu Sewage PoolsWed 7th Dec AM Abuko, PM YundumThur 8th Dec AM Tanji & Brufut Beach, PM Bijilo Forest ParkFri 9th Dec AM Bijilo Forest Park, PM Flight home
Bijilo Forest Park
Day 1 Fri 26th Nov
Fairly uneventful flight from Gatwick to Banjul, the airport at Banjul is surprisingly efficient and so we were quickly whisked away in the coach to the Senegambia Hotel. Quickly got checked in, dumped the bags and started birding. Had about an hour of daylight where we recorded an amazing 41 species, 39 of which where new to us. Needless to say it was quite an exciting hour by the end of which a group of 5 of us, all independent birders ended up huddled in the waste area (where the largest concentration of passerines is) all similarly mind blown. As it got dark we all made plans and schemed to meet up the following day.
Day 2 Sat 27th Nov
Spent the morning birding the hotel gardens and learning the hard way to fend off the bumsters on the beach. Finally started to get to grips with the commoner hotel birds such as the Babblers, Glossy Starling, Plantain Eater etc. Following the Vulture feed in the hotel gardens, which attracts scores of Hooded Vulture, CattleEgret, Pied Crow and the occasional Black Kite we met up with Gordon and Howard, (not sure what happened to the other guy) and agreed a trip to Kotu with a local guide recommended by Howard, Sanna.
Started at the Creek then worked the Fajara Golf course, finishing on the Casino Cycle track, scores of fantastic birds abound in this area, highlights for us being Black-headedPlover, Pied & Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Red-necked Falcon and a very showy Little Bee-eater (the first of many).
Day 3 Sun 28th Nov
An early start, met with Howard, Gordon, Northern couple (Sorry not very good with names!) our guide Sanna and Driver in a rather rickety open topped Landover, which had a habit of cutting out! Headed straight for Pirang stopping just outside the town at a spot, which is supposed to be good for Hadada Ibis, sadly no sign of the Ibis but our spirits where lifted by two Violet Turaco's, an absolutely stunningly beautiful bird! Then onto Pirang where we quickly connected with the star birds, Black-crowned Crane, a pair which showed well moving around the earth banks, which surround the shrimp pools. This area is full of quality birds such as Greater Flamingo, Quail Finch, Plain-backed Pipit, then as we were leaving a single Yellow-billed Stork was spotted on a thermal with large numbers of Pink-backedPelican. Pretty much every Heron and Egret species was present in this area feeding and generally loafing along the edges of the shrimp pools, then came the customary battle with the kids after empty bottles, sweet etc. and we moved on.
Stopped by what is reported to be the largest tree in The Gambia where locals started throwing stones into the tree. When questioned, they told us that there was a Barn Owl in there and they wanted us to see it. We quickly informed them not to worry; we prefer the bird to live!!
Onto Faraba Banta Bush Track, which is a hot spot for raptor watching, however today it didn't live up to its reputation with relatively few raptors and none of the larger eagles for which it is renowned. However we did have some good birds such as African Green Pigeon, Yellow-billed Oxpecker and many Lizard & GrasshopperBuzzards.
Day 4 Mon 29th Nov
Had a bit of a lie in, didn't get going until 8ish, met up with Howard and went for a stroll around the Bijilo Forest Park or Monkey Park as locals refer to it (Caused some confusion). It is only a 10 min walk either along the beach or can be accessed via the road Either way is good and you are guaranteed to be hassled either by Taxi drivers or Juice sellers depending which way you go! Quite a fruitful couple of hours was spent wondering around the tracks the undoubted highlight was the trips only OrioleWarbler which perched in front of us in the open and preened for about 5 mins - Fantastic!! Other good birds seen included the resident Swallow-tailed & Little Bee-eaters, Stone Partridge and Slender-billed Gull&9 Greater Flamingo passing on the sea.
After a leisurely lunch and bit of birding around the hotel gardens, we met again with Howard, Gordon & Sanna for a trip out to Yundum, which is an area of dry scrub and field about 30min from the hotel, which are particularly good passerines. We left at about 1430 which is about as early as you can go as most birds lie low during the heat of the day. Had a good walk and drive around the tracks surrounding the village of Yundum, best birds being Red-winged Warbler, Gaber Goshawk, Little Weaver & Pied-wingedSwallow. Also lots of birds we are used to from home in this area such as Chiffchaff, Whinchat, Woodchat Shrike & Melodious Warbler.
Day 5 Tue 30th Nov
Spent the morning birding the hotel grounds and doing a bit of a sea watch, had to meet with Sanna & Ebrima to make arrangements for the up-country trip. Managed to find the African Harrier Hawk nest with chick at the top of a palm in the hotel grounds. Other decent birds included Olivaceous Warbler and Shikra.
Met with Gordon and Howard in the afternoon and decided upon a trip to Abuko with Sanna. Abuko is very close as the crow flies but you have to pass through Serekunda, The Gambia's largest city which is extremely busy (and smelly). Bad planning has led to the city dump being down wind of the city for most of the year, all rubbish is burnt in The Gambia so the city has a constant cloud of fumes hanging over it, everywhere smelt of chemical filled smoke.
Anyway I digress! Got to Abuko and visited the Rice Fields first. A small yet productive area with Pied-winged Swallow, Striated Heron & Giant Kingfisher. Sadly no sign of any Painted Snipe in the rice paddies. Had a brief stop at the roadside drink bar where his main business appears to be supplying the local community with home made cigarettes!?! The Abuko reserve itself is a great place, the first section being akin to UK reserves with hides and a research station. However it gets a bit odd towards the end as there is a Zoo where it is claimed animals have to be caged due to injury etc. but it is sad to see these animals cooped up while their counterparts taunt them from outside. That said a fantastic array of wild birds were seen well such as Violet Turaco, Western Bluebill, Common Wattleye, African &Red-bellied Paradise Flyatcher, Malachite Kingfisher, Ahanta Francolin, LittleGreenbul, Yellow-throated Leaflove & Fanti Saw-wing.
Day 6 Wed 31/11/04
First day of up-country tip, so an early start was made and met with Sven & Britte over breakfast before heading off with Sanna, Ebrima & Lama. Basically the day consisted of the 10-hour drive from the coast to Georgetown along some of the worst roads we have experienced and we have travelled off of the beaten track a fair bit.
We made many roadside stops along the way at various random points either to view a raptor or perched roadside bird or to stretch the legs with a stroll into the bush. Many good birds where seen in this way including Ruppel's Griffon Vulture, White-backedVulture, Tawny Eagle, Bruce's Green Pigeon, African Spoonbill, Northern Puffback, Four-banded Sandgrouse & Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark
Two notable stops were made the first for lunch by the Brumen Bridge where we had our first fly over Bateleur, then 4 Yellow-billed Stork flew in and landed on the opposite bank with Great White and Pink-backed Pelican. Also here is the largest colony of Little Swifts which we saw we at least 1~200 birds present.
Then not far from Brumen is Soma Wetlands. A huge reservoir which at this time of year is partially dry exposing a lot dry mud, a good spot for waders and terns. We managed great views of a single Egyptian Plover which really made the day along with it where 2 Marsh Sandpipers feeding with a Greenshank a good number of Gull-billed Tern and 2Caspian Tern. Arrived at the Baobolong Camp at around 20.00.
Day 7 Thur 01/12/04
Hit the road (dirt track) at around 0730, checked out the rice field while waiting for the ferry at Georgetown normally a reliable site for Painted Snipe but alas we had no joy however we where entertained by a restless Senegal Thicknee and Bruce's GreenPigeon.
First stop was made at Bansang Quarry where we spent some time just watching and enjoying the Red-throated Bee-eater. A very special moment was had when they landed around and almost posed for photographs! This is a fantastic place, turned into a protected area by a few dedicated local birders, one of whom was our guide Ebrima whose family home is in Bansang. It is great to see bird conservation being such a major part of what is a very remote and rural environment. The Bee-eaters are the star attraction however the Quarry is renowned for other fantastic species, none more so than Cinamon-brested Bunting of which we had great views of three birds including one singing its heart out on a bush. Other highlight from the morning visit to the quarry included our first Black-rumped Waxbills & Exclamatory Paradise Whyda.
Moved onto Basse farthest away from the coast and in the most remote area however bizarrely the road here is the best along the whole route so got to Basse very quickly. Straight to the jetty were we got straight onto the Egyptian Plovers which where on the opposite bank so Sanna and Ebrima negotiated with a local to hire his Pirogue to take us closer to the birds and spent 30 mins or so battling with the current and just watching and photographing these beautiful birds. Also on the river Knob-billed Duck and many Long-tailed Cormorant were seen.
From here headed on into the Prufu Swamp just East of Basse and went for a long stroll with Sanna while Ebrima and Lama went to fix up the car from the battering it got from the previous days drive. In this area the huge numbers of Abyssinian Roller astonished us, literally on every other tree. Also here we got nice views of Brown-snake Eagle before connecting with the target bird, NorthernCarmine Bee-eater. We spent a little while with these birds before heading back to bird the little stream which was awash with life, including Grey Headed Kingfisher Yellow-backed Weaver & Red-billed Quela.
Lunch was now called for as the day was getting late but as there was nowhere to go in the area, we were invited into Ebrima's family home in Bansang. His sister kindly provided us with Rice and Peanut sauce, which was probably one of the nicest meals of the trip. Walked the food off with a stroll around the local rice fields, which produced our only Scarlet-chested Sunbird of the trip among the commoner species. Before moving back to Bansang Quarry to wait for the Four-banded Sandgrouse to come in and drink. Wonderful views were had of the birds going about their business at a range of only 100ft or so, quite an experience!
We then headed back to the camp for tea before heading out again as we had all been invited out to a gig in Bansang, we attended along with Ebrima's brother. A great evening if not a little late, got back to Georgetown at 0200 and had an epic trying to wake up the ferryman. Beeping horns and knocking on doors while we watched a Black-crowned Night Heron feeding along the rivers edge in moon light. The final section of the drive was spent dodging Long-tailed Nightjars in the road!!
Day 8 Fri 02/12/04
A slow start after the long day (and night) yesterday, underway at about 0800. Basically spent the day driving to Tendaba with numerous stops en-route for birds and excursions into the bush. All stops rather non-descript but between Georgetown and Soma we managed to get good views of a family party of Abyssinian Ground Hornbill,African Fish Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Cut-throat Finch, Striped Kingfisher & Black Wood Hoopoe among a plethora of other raptors etc. Also stopped in the Brikama Ba area for Marabou Stork which where seen well but rather distantly in their tree top colony and thermaling with Pelicans & Vultures.
Stopped for lunch in a roadside bar just East of Soma, Peanut Sauce on rice, pretty much all you could eat for around 7 ½ pence! Soma wetlands were very quiet the only waders present where Black-winged Stilt & Common Sandpiper. Gave a couple of school kids a lift as we took pity on their daily walk of around 7km each way to school and stopped for a jaunt into the bush. This was extremely productive, we had a real purple patch for half and hour or so finding the following cracking birds, Brown-backed Woodpecker, Senegal Batis, Brown-rumped Bunting, Yellow Penduline Tit,Pygmy Sunbird (Stunning), Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver & Rufous ScrubRobin.
With all that excitement we pretty much exhausted ourselves and so headed straight for Tendaba camp and an early night!
Day 9 Sat 03/12/04
Up early and ready for the Pirogue trip by 0730, though slightly delayed due to the fact the pirogue had to be bailed out first which was something we all would rather not have seen! Anyway the trip started well with Spur-winged Goose, African Hobby and African Fish Eagle before even reaching the other side of the river. Soon after entering the creeks we were watching Mouse-brown Sunbird and Malachite Kingfisher before coming across the first of 3 showy Goliath Herons. Then suddenly a burst of excitement as the guides shouted in their mother tongue and then pointed out an African Swallow-tailed Kite, which flew over from behind. A real mega rarity, although known to be present in the area this is apparently the first confirmed sighting for some considerable time and therefore formed the basis of all conversation back at the camp. Next port of call was an area where White-backedNight Heron are known to roost and succeeded in seeing one beautiful adult and two juveniles, as we pulled away we accidentally flushed a Hadada Ibis from the shore which landed in a tree a put on a good show for us.
We then pulled up for a brief stroll in to a small wooded area, which was fairly quiet, best birds seen being the trips only Bonelli's Warbler and a Pallid Harrier. On the way out of the park we saw numerous Woolly-necked Stork, a lovely African BlueFlycatcher, 2 African Darters but sadly no sign of the African Finfoot despite searching. It was seen in the area the previous day and we later found out it was also seen that afternoon, however after such a superb trip it didn't really seem to matter at all!
Back at the Tendaba camp had a stroll around the rice fields but these where lifeless, largely due to the time of day. So had lunch and rested until it cooled down a little. Headed out at 1530, firstly for a poke around the start of the Batelling Track, spent a lot of time trying to dig the car out of a sand pit we had become stuck in but still managed to see some good birds in the area such as Red-chested Cuckoo, White-shouldered Black Tit, Brubru and Diedrick Cuckoo. Then just as we were leaving two enormous raptors flew in low over the road showing distinctive black & white plumage, they went on to land in a nearby dead tree and got straight on with copulation. We watched these birds in amazement as they where the extremely rare Great Sparrowhawk even more amazing was the fact that there were not known to breed in this area. Hugely impressive birds clean cut black and white Sparrowhawks the size of a large eagle!
We then drove over to the airstrip with the intention of looking for Nightjars though this was rather overtaken when we spotted a Verraux's Eagle Owl perched in the top of a dead tree. We carried on after the Nightjars but had no success with either species.
Day 10 Sun 04/12/04
Started early but struggled to get going, started with a walk around the rice fields to the West of the camp but again this area was not very productive, highlight being a Northern Puffback Shrike & Cut-throat Finch. Also large numbers of SenegalParrot and Rose-ringed Parakeet in this area. Back at the camp we got sorted and just before leaving a group of 6 African Spoonbill did a fly past for us! Once underway we headed out along the Batelling Track and through the Keong West National Park stopping at various points and picking up more great birds such as Bateleur, African Hawk Eagle, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark, Brubru, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Black Wood Hoopoe, Four Banded Sandgrouse, & Black-crownedTchagra.
Once back at the road we did a tour of the local rice and melon fields in search of Temmick's Courser with no success but did find a nice group of Yellow-billedOxpecker working a group of cows. We then headed pretty much directly back to the hotel seeing a few raptors en-route including Bateleur, Tawny Eagle & Black-shouldered Kite.
Day 11 Mon 05/12/04
Another early start to meet Sven and Britte for a walk around the Bijilo Forest Park in search of White-throated Bee-eater, stayed in the park until lunchtime without success however there was compensation in the form of Greater Honeyguide, Red-necked Falcon & the usual showy Little & Swallow-tail Bee-eater, which I would never tire of seeing.
A casual lunch and gift buying session in the craft market was followed by a stroll up the beach with Sven and Britte to the Casino Cycle track primarily in search of Nightjars. Birded the length of the cycle track before dark and had good views of Sacred Ibis, Pearl-spotted Owlet & Intermediate Egret.
Ended up in the derelict hotel opposite the Palma Rima, bit spooky as it got dark but a great vantage point for the nightjars and as it turned out Double-spurred Francolin & Gambian Fruit Bat both of which where present in huge numbers. Our stake out paid off with 2~3 nightjar all of them being Long-tailed Nightjar, sadly this area is no longer reliable for the Standard-winged. Unfortunately we did not learn of this fact until after our visit!
Day 12 Tue 06/12/04
Early start, met Sven & Britte for breakfast at 0700 and we were on our way to Marakissa by 0730. Stopped first for a stroll into the bush just past Brikama and found a showy Dark-chanting Goshawk perched atop a tree in their typical style and managed to also see a Red Patas Monkey moving through the trees.
Arrived sooner than expected in Marakissa and were greeted by a group of 4 PiedHornbill noisily moving through the trees and Sanna got onto what could have been a Golden-tailed Woodpecker which we tracked into a palm tree, but general consensus was that it was in fact a Fine-spotted Woodpecker. We went on to spend a couple of hours in the scrub and bush in the general area and found some good birds in the more densely vegetated areas such as Yellow-throated Leaflove, Greater Honeyguide, African Golden Oriole, Northern Puffback Shrike, White Crested Helmet Shrike & the highlight, a Western Violet-backed Sunbird.
We then checked out the bridge where we were told a Spotted Honeyguide had recently been seen nearby so we thoroughly checked the area until it was heard calling deep in the upper tier of a tree, a long stakeout then ensued but we did eventually see the bird.
From here we stopped for lunch at the lodge, during lunch Ebrima learned his son had been taken ill so while they went to get him we poked around the stream and got lucky when 3 Dwarf Bittern flew in and perched openly for quite some time and found another Northern Puffback Shrike.
Due to the new circumstances we now returned to the hotel but first checked out some Melon Fields in the Yundum area, which were full of Cattle Egret and BuffaloWeaver but not a lot else. Then as we headed back to the hotel we noticed a field full of feeding birds including 100's of Speckled Pigeon so we decided to give it a go and luckily. 3 Temmick's Courser flew in circled the field and landed close by, while watching we noticed a further two birds. Fantastic we had thought we had no chance as it appears to be a bad year for them so this really made our day. Sadly they were very flighty and departed to a couple of fields down after a few mins.
Back at the hotel earlier than expected so decided to go for the Painted Snipe which had been reported from Kotu Sewage Ponds recently so got a taxi over there and went straight to the pool in question and where watching it within a few minutes. It was a striking female completely in the open feeding along the edge of the sewage pool. Very entertaining as it would see off all other waders which would come within pecking range including the Black-winged Stilts which towered over it. Other birds present included numerous Spur-winged Plover, Green, Common & Wood Sandpiper, Wattled Plover, SquaccoHeron and some flyover Sacred Ibis.
Day 13 Wed 08/12/04
Yet another early start, breakfast at 0700, due to yesterday being cut short the guides offered us a free day so we headed out with Sven & Britte to Abuko stopping first at the rice fields which were fairly quiet bar a flyover Wahlberg's Eagle and a LizardBuzzard showing nicely in a tree.
Once in the reserve proper we took our time walking through especially in the denser area's this paid off as we had good views of Lesser Honeyguide, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Grey-headed Bristlebill, Green Hylia, Klaas's Cuckoo, Collard Sunbird, Little Greenbul & Spotted Honeyguide. We then spent a little while in the photographic hide where we had tremendous views of among others African PygmyKingfisher & Orange-cheeked Waxbill
From here we headed out towards Banjul to a spot reputed to be good for White-throated Bee-eater however just after we arrived a raging bush fire erupted, started by local in order to clear scrub. As a result there was not much around however we did manage to locate the trips only Sitting Cisticola and a flowering bush alive with Sunbirds, mainly Pygmy, Variable, Beautiful and Splendid Sunbird. It is clear that under better conditions this would be a very productive spot.
Final stop of the day was at Yundum where we went for a long walk along the lanes surrounding the village, had good views of Black Wood Hoopoe, Fanti Saw-wing &Pied-winged Swallow. Also the Whinchat we had seen the previous week was still using the same perch to launch attacks on passing flies and a lovely Wryneck showed well for a few minutes.
Day 14 Thur 09/12/04
Sven & Britte left for Hamburg the previous evening so we headed out just with Sanna for a half-day trip to Tanji and Brufut Beach. First stop was Tanji Beach where we had a stroll seeing good numbers of Grey-headed Gull, Royal, Common & Sandwich Tern. Also on the rocks offshore from the fishing villages where 2~3 Lesser Crested Tern and a couple of Kelp Gull mixed in with the Lesser Black-backed Gull. As we moved further along the beach we watched a pair of Kelp Gull at close range fighting over a dead fish on the shore. Good numbers of waders are present along the shoreline mainly Sanderling, Little Ringed & Ringed Plover but also small groups of Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel. We also managed to pick out one Little Stint feeding with the Plovers and Sanderling but sadly no Kentish or White-fronted Plover. Good numbers of raptor also appear to frequent this area including at least 4 wintering Osprey.
On our way back to the hotel we checked out the Brufut Melon fields which held a Wheatear a very showy pair of Woodchat Shrike, Black-headed Plover and 1 possibly 2 Red-winged Warbler.
Back at the hotel we had a casual lunch and session photographing the commoner birds around the gardens before heading out to Bijilo Forest. Spent a couple of hours walking through and in particular looking for White-throated Bee-eater but drew a blank. However we spent a while watching the antics of a pair of Senegal Parrot at their nest hole and found a very showy Double-spurred Francolin.
Day 15 Fri 10/12/04
Our last day, decided to spend the morning at Bijilo Forest again after the elusive Bee-eaters but failed to connect again. However we did enjoy our last interaction with the showy Swallow-tailed and Little Bee-eaters and as if to break us into European birding again we had good views of Blackcap and Common Whitethroat.
Left the hotel at lunchtime for what was to turn out to be the journey from hell getting home, walked into our house at 0500 the following morning!
Egyptian Plover - This was a big draw for us and a fairly easy bird to see. First seen rather distantly at Soma Wetlands and then from the jetty at Basse. At times they do apparently rest up on the jetty in amongst the locals doing their washing etc. However on the day we visited one was on the opposite bank and a few where flitting around downstream. We paid a local 50D (£1) to take us closer in his pirogue, the birds are fearless and allow close approach, however it was difficult to photograph from an unstable boat on a fast flowing river!
Temmick's Courser - One of the hardest birds to connect with, but one we really wanted to see. They feed in rice and melon fields. We spent a lot of time checking regular haunts in Brufut, Yundum, and Tendaba with no joy. As a last ditch effort we passed a field near the hotel which was full of birds feeding in particular there were 100's of Speckled Pigeons so thought we would check it out and found 5 flighty Courser's. So a good tip is to search for fields which other birds are obviously finding fruitful.
Painted Snipe - Another bird that we tried hard for, checking the regular haunts in rice fields at Abuko, Georgetown, Bansang & Tendaba. However we got wind that a bird had been showing well in the open at the Kotu Sewage Ponds so made a dash for it and got great views of a female feeding openly in the crap at the edge of the sewage pool. Sadly as it was a race against the fading light to get there we couldn't get any images of the bird.
Red-throated Bee-eater - One of the easiest birds to catch up with at the colony in Bansang Quarry, a fantastic experience. One of those special moments as we stopped kept low and quiet and the birds started landing on the soil all around us within feet seemingly oblivious to us. Sadly the birds did not attempt to nest in the quarry this year.
Northern Carmine Bee-eater - We have heard stories of how hard these birds can be we were lucky. After a 10min walk at Prufu Swamp we found a bird hunting from a post and showing brilliantly. Then after some more investigation found a further 5~6 birds feeding and putting on a great display.
Long-tailed Nightjar - Our first experience was a little bleary eyed returning from a local gig with our guides at Bansang to Georgetown at around 2.00am we came across 3~4 birds in the road, we actually had to stop and more or less drive around them to get past, however great views were had. Then in a derelict hotel opposite the Palma Rima we watched a further 2~3 hawking insect in the twilight.
African Finfoot - Seen by other groups from the Tendaba Pirogue Trip even on the afternoon of our trip! Tendaba is the only likely spot to connect with the Finfoot so where tempted to go on another pirogue trip to look for it but decided otherwise
White-throated Bee-eater - Tried at various times of the day at Bijilo Forest Park but failed to connect even though we were hearing of other people seeing this species in the park. Also tried an alternative site near Serekunda, however there was much disturbance from a large (man made) bush fire, which hampered our progress.
White-fronted Plover - Tried for this bird along the beach at Tanji and Brufut, many Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers but no White-fronted or even Kentish seen. Sanna commented that this was most unusual!
Standard-winged Nightjar - Tried various sites for this bird, finally found out that the only reliable spot is by the reserve at Brufut, however we discovered this at the end of the trip. We therefore did not have the time to make the trip out to see them.
A fantastic trip with 273 species recorded and many pleasing images taken. However it was not just the species tally, which made the trip, we were lucky to have found superb guides in Sanna and Ebrima. We were also lucky to have shared our trips with great folk, the up-country trip was a pleasure with Britte and Sven and Gordon and Howard also shared many of our trips in the coastal area.
Additionally The Gambia is a great destination despite the birds, the people are always happy and smiling. We did not feel intimidated at any point of the trip. The climate is great, if not a little to hot for us and the local food was fantastic. At some points of our trip we where humbled by the generosity of people clearly on the edge of poverty still prepared to share their food and drink with us, expecting little or nothing in return.
Only seen at Kotu Sewage pools
Great White Pelican
Small number in the Tendaba area, 1 at Brumen Bridge
Numerous up-country, particularly at Tendaba
Fairly common in any wetland habitat
Small numbers at the coast and along the river
3 birds seen very well in the open at Marakissa Lodge
2 from Tendaba pirogue trip then singles at Marakissa & Tanji
White-backed Night Heron
1 ad and 2 juvs from the pirogue trip at Tendaba
Black-crowned Night Heron
Seen at Abuko, Georgetown crossing & Brumen Bridge
Abundant throughout, most common heron
Fairly common in all vegetated marshy areas
Singles seen at Abuko, Tendaba & Basse
Only seen at Pirang & Abuko (sadly not seen umbrella fishing)
Small numbers throughout
Western Reef Heron
Quite common in wherever there is flowing water.
A few individuals at most wetland sites
Great White Egret
Fairly common throughout
Only seen at Abuko and Pirang
Fairly common throughout
3 birds from Tendaba pirogue trip
2 both at Pirang
10~15 from Tendaba pirogue trip
Seen perched and in flight around the colony at Brikama Ba
1 in flight at Pirang then 5 showed well at Brumen Bridge.
Only seen in flight over Georgetown & Tendaba
Black Crowned Crane
2 birds seen well at Pirang
4 feeding at Pirang then 9 in flight south past Bijilo
5 in flight at Basse
Singles seen in flight on the river at Tendaba
White-faced Whistling Duck
Seen only in the Kotu area
3 eclipse birds at Kotu
1 in flight at Tendaba & seen well around pools in Kotu area
1 from Tendaba pirogue trip
Common throughout, larger no's at the coast
Small no's seen throughout
Fairly common throughout
Small no's seen at Bijilo, Abuko & Kotu
Ruppell's Griffon Vulture
Seen from the roadside East of Tendaba
Seen from the roadside East of Tendaba
African Fish Eagle
2, 1 Tendaba, 1 in flight East of Tendaba
4 seen up-country
1 at Abuko rice fields
African Hawk Eagle
2, 1 Tendaba, 1 Marakissa
3, 2 From roadside up-country, 1 Marakissa Lodge
4, all up-country one gave great views at Tendaba
Brown Snake Eagle
2~3 seen from roadside whilst travelling up-country
Western Banded Snake Eagle
6 seen in total, birds showed V.well at Marakissa & Prufu Swamp
5, all up-country bar 1 at Marakissa
Seen throughout, more common up-country
Black Shouldered Kite
A few singles seen along the coastal strip
African Swallow-tailed Kite
1 seen well in flight from the Tendaba pirogue trip - a very rare bird in The Gambia
Seen twice both in Tendaba area
Eurasian Marsh Harrier
Quite common, seen on 6 days
2, Pair seen
well from Batteling Track (Tendaba) watched perched and copulating, an extremely rare bird in The Gambia.
Dark Chanting Goshawk
Fairly common throughout, seen most days.
1, perched in a tree at Yundum
Very common throughout
Quite common, seen on 5 days
Seen twice, on the river at Tendaba and from the Batelling Track
Seen on 5 days in a range of habitats
Very Common, seen daily
Quite common seen well at Bijilo Forest and by the Palma Rima Hotel but heard almost daily
Only 1 seen,
flushed from the path at Abuko
Seen well at Bijilo Forest and near Soma
Fantastic views had at Bansang Quarry and from Batelling Track
Seen only at Abuko & Marakissa
Quite common on pools with good lilly cover.
1 bird distantly at Soma Wetlands, then at least 5 birds at Basse from the jetty.
Greater Painted Snipe
Heard of 1 showing on the sewage pools at Kotu so twitched it and had great views!
Tried very hard for this, eventually had good views of 5 birds in fields near Yundum
Seen regularly throughout
Fairly easy to find near the coastal areas but scarcer inland
Most common plover seen daily
Roosted noisily on the lawns at Senegambia Hotel, fairly common elsewhere
A few seen along the coast
Little Ringed Plover
Good numbers (50+) at Tanji, also seen at Pirang & Tendaba
Only seen at Tanji Beach
Common along the coast
Only 1 seen at Pirang
Just 1 flock of 20+ birds at Tanji Beach
Present in any suitable habitat
Just 2 birds seen feeding at Soma wetlands
Common throughout, seen daily
seen at Kotu, Abuko & Tendaba
Good numbers at Kotu sewage ponds a few birds seen elsewhere
Only a few birds seen at Tendaba, Kotu & Tanji
2 on the beach at Tanji
3 from the Tendaba pirogue trip
Numerous at Kotu a handful of singles seen elsewhere (Pirang, Tendaba etc.)
30+ at Tanji
1 with Sanderling at Tanji
100+ at Tanji
Just 1 harassing Terns offshore from the Senegambia Hotel
Singles seen at Tanji and Tendaba
Numerous along the coastal strip
2 at Tanji
and 2 from Senagambia Hotel
At least 4 at Tanji, 2 showed very well on the beach fighting over a dead fish
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Numerous at Tanji, plus singles seen along the coastal strip
Common at the coast, singles seen up river
Common at the coast
Lesser Crested Tern
Only 3 seen on the rocks offshore from Tanji
Small numbers noted daily at the coast
Noted at Pirang, Soma, Tendaba and Kotu Creek
7 on the beach at Tanji
White-winged Black Tern
Seen only at Pirang
1 offshore from Tanji and 2 at pirang
Blue-spotted Wood Dove
Fairly easy to find in suitable habitat
Black-billed Wood Dove
Abundant at the coast, quite uncommon inland
Bruce's Green Pigeon
Seen daily up country, harder by the coast
African Green Pigeon
Just 2 together along the
Faraba Banta Bush Track
Seen daily, more common up country
African Mourning Dove
Common, especially on the lawns of the Senegambia Hotel
Common small numbers seen daily
1 seen v.well on Batelling Track, Tendaba
3, Bansang, Yundum & Faraba Banta
1 showed v.well at Abuko
1 Batelling Track, Tendaba
Verreaux's Eagle Owl
1 perched high in trees at dusk by Tendaba air strip
African Scops Owl
1 in the Senegambia Hotel gardens
4, Senegambia Hotel, 2 at Kotu & 1 near Basse
Seen well on the road near Georgetown and around Casino Cycle Track
Small numbers seen throughout
Small numbers seen throughout
Large colony at Brumen Bridge, also nesting on numerous bridges etc. up country
Fairly common up-country, none seen near
African Palm Swift
Common in areas of palm e.g. coastal district, more or less absent up country
Black Wood Hoopoe
4, 1 near Bansang, 2 by Batelling Track, 1 Yundum
Green Wood Hoopoe
Common throughout, seen almost daily, more common by the coast
4 mainly up-country
2, noisy pair at Abuko
Quite common singles generally in mangrove and marshy habitat
Just one seen
2, at Prufu Swamp & from a roadside stop near Soma
Most common Kinghisher, seen almost daily near water
African Pygmy Kingfisher
1 very showy bird from the photographic hide at Abuko
4, 1 at Abuko, 3 from Tendaba river trip
Common throughout, larger number near the strip, regularly seen flycatching around hotel
Small numbers seen daily near the coast, absent up country
5, Yundum, Pirang, Faraba Banta, Tanji & near Tendaba
Abundant up-country (every other tree!) scarcer near the coast
Seen in small numbers at Bijilo Forest, Marakissa & near Serekunda
Northern Carmine Bee-eater
6+ seen well at Prufu Swamp, Basse
Fairly common & widespread generally seen in the air, seen perched only at Marakissa
Seen sporadically throughout, appears more common up-country
Most Common Bee-eater, highest concentration in areas of coastal scrub
Tremendous views of 50+ at Bansang Quarry, also seen at Prufu Swamp, Basse
Fairly common and widespread throughout, generally very noisy
Seen almost daily in small no's, nesting at Bijilo Forest Park
Best site for this species is Abuko where we saw 5 birds. Also seen near Pirang
1 in flight at Abuko
Western Grey Plantain-eater
Common throughout, impossible to miss!
Heard more often than seen, mainly in Senegambia gardens
Fairly common but timid
Seen on 6 days mainly in sparsely wooded areas
African Pied Hornbill
4 at Marakissa
African Grey Hornbill
Fairly common throughout, seen daily
Abyssinian Ground Hornbill
4, pair on roadside between Soma & Tendaba and pair from Batelling Track
Most common woodpecker seen almost daily
Fairly common seen on 5 dates
1, hammering away at Abuko
1, at roadside stop just West of Soma
4, Abuko, Batelling Track, Yundum & Marakissa
2, Abuko and Marakissa after a very long stake out!!
1 typically shy bird at Yundum
4 on Batelling Track
4 at Pirang
2 with Crested Larks at Pirang
2 in separate rice fields up-country while searching for Temmick's Courser
Seen on 4 occasions, small numbers at Bijilo Forest, Tanji, Abuko and Yundum
Common up-country, scarce by the coast
A pair each at Abuko Rice Fields and Yundum
Fairly common near the coast
Fairly common near the coast
Most common Swallow in the coastal area
Common House Martin
Singles seen at Pirang and up-country
Singles seen at Pirang and up-country
African Golden Oriole
3, roadside stop near Basse, Batelling Track & Marakissa
7 seen at widespread locations
Yellow Wagtail (Black Headed)
Small numbers in rice fields throughout
5 at Tanji Beach, 3+ around the pier at Tendaba
3, Abuko, Marakissa and roadside stop near Soma
3 all at Abuko
1 at Abuko
1 at Bijilo Forest Park
Common throughout, many in Senegambia Hotel Gardens.
Common throughout, many in Senegambia Hotel Gardens.
2, 1 at Yundum, 1 in rice fields at Brufut
1 in rice fields at Brufut
Seen in Senegambia Gardens, Abuko and a few individuals up-country
3, 1 Senegambia Gardens, 2 at Abuko
Rufous Scrub Robin
In scrub near Soma
3 in widespread locations
Fairly common throughout, tame birds in Senegambia Gardens
1 from Tendaba pirogue trip
Fairly common throughout
6 in widespread locations
3, Senegambia, Bijilo & Abuko
1 Bijilo Forest Park
3, Pirang, roadside stop near Soma & Yundum
2, Yundum and Batelling Track
Western Bonelli's Warbler
2, both Bao Bolong Park, from Tendaba Pirogue trip
4, Yundum, Faraba Banta Bush Track, Batelling Track & near Soma
2 both at roadside stop near Serekunda
4, 2 at Yundum, 2 in rice field near Brufut
Fairly common and widespread, though often elusive in deep scrub
Fairly common and vocal but elusive, seemed to be present in most roaming passerine flocks
4, Yundum, Bijilo, Marakissa & roadside stop up country
Fairly common, 1 resident and showy bird at the waste ground in Senegambia Hotel
Mainly just heard, but one seen well at Abuko
Yellow Penduline Tit
1 showy bird from roadside stop near Soma
White-shouldered Black Tit
2 both from Batelling Track
African Blue Flycatcher
1 seen well from Tendaba pirogue trip, numerous heard
5, 4 at Abuko, 1 from Batelling Track
1 from roadside stop near Soma
Northern Black Flycatcher
Fairly common and widespread
African Paradise Flycatcher
4 seen only at Abuko
Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher
8, 4 at Abuko, 4 at Marakissa
Hybrid Red-bellied X African Paradise Flycatcher
3, 1 at Abuko, 2 at Marakissa
Small numbers seen at inland sites
2 at Abuko
Fairly common, mainly in coastal areas but seen throughout
8~10 birds seen in the mangroves from Tendaba pirogue trip
1 at Bansang
Western Violet-baked Sunbird
1 seen very well at Marakissa
3, Brufut Melon Fields, Batelling Track & Faraba Banta Bush Track
Grey-headed Bush Shrike
1 from the roadside between Brikama and
1 seen well from Batelling Track
4, Abuko, Yundum, Batelling Track and bush track between Brikama and Tendaba
Heard regularly but only seen well in the Senegambia hotel gardens
White-crested Helmet Shrike
Flocks seen from roadside near Tendaba, Abuko and Yundum
4, Brufut Melon Fields, 2 atYundum and near Bansang
Flocks seen on a daily basis, very conspicuous
Gtr Blue-eared Glossy Starling
Lsr Blue-eared Glossy Starling
Regularly seen throughout, however not as common as the Gtr Blue-eared
Purple Glossy Starling
Common and widespread, but smaller no's than the Blue-eared starlings
Bronze-tailed Glossy Starling
1 on wires outside Senegambia Hotel, early morning. Apparently a reliable roost site?
Long-tailed Glossy Starling
Common and widespread, impossible to miss in small noisy groups.
Seen on 5 days on a mixture of Cattle, Horses and Donkeys, mainly up-country
Fairly common in areas of dry savannah
A few seen in towns and villages
Common throughout in ones and twos, very tame birds in Senegambia hotel gardens
Seen daily in good numbers up-country in dry Savannah habitat, scarcer near the coast
1 seen very well at the roadside near Soma, a cracking bird!
Widespread, easy to see at numerous sites in large, noisy colonies
Northern Red Bishop
Several large flocks seen around water holes up-country
5 seen together around buildings at Pirang
3 at Bansang Quarry
2 in the bush near Soma
1 with Village Weavers at Yundum
Small numbers in widespread locations
4 at prufru Swamp, Basse
2 (Pair) from the photo hide at Abuko
Common amongst most finch flocks
Large numbers seen up-country, in particular at Bansang Quarry
Common, 1~2 pairs in most finch flocks, very tame birds at Senegambia Hotel
Flocks seen on 3 occasions, Bansang Quarry, by Palma Rima Hotel & roadside water hole
Exclamatory Paradise Whydah
3, Faraba Banta, Bansang Quarry & Marakissa
Common in villages, more so up-country
8. 4, Tendaba, 2 Marakissa, 2 in the bush near Soma
2 at Pirang
2 at Prufru Swamp, Basse
1 elusive bird seen at Abuko
Many images of the birds mentioned in this trip report can be viewed on our website at www.hantsbirds.com
Harnessed AntelopeGreen Vervet MonkeyRed Colobus MonkeyRed Patas MonkeyGambian Sun SquirrelStripped Ground Squirrel
Nile CrocodileNile Monitor LizardOgama Lizard
Plus numerous species of Lizard that went un-identified and a few species of snake