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A Report from

THE GAMBIA :1st – 15th  December 2005,

Derek & Lynne Lister


On Thursday 1st December Lynne (my wife) and me departed Gatwick at 10-30 am for Banjul airport in Gambia Africa. We were travelling with First Choice. With a pitch of 29 inches the seats were a little cramped!. We chose Gambia for its sunshine, cultural and wildlife wealths. The dry season in The Gambia runs from November to May approximately, and as such gives about 12 hours of sunshine with temperatures  around 34c every day !.  We had selected Banjul (hotel Corinthia atlantic) as are accommodation mainly for its beach and  4* star rating. Although away from the main birding accommodation i.e the Senegambia hotel, it did have some advantages!.Gambia is the smallest African country; it’s located on the west coast about halfway between the tropic of Cancer and the Equator. The river Gambia that is over 300 kms long, although the country is only about 30-40 kms wide dominates the Gambia. Surrounded by Senegal The Gambia has varied habitats of Savanna, Mangrove swamps, coastal sand banks, estuary, and stands of tropical forests. It is these varied habitats and location that makes The Gambia one of the top birding spots in the world, with over 600 species recorded!

Holidays to The Gambia
[Birdtours recommend the Gambia Experience]

Our flight took us over the Sahara, remarkablly this alone took over a hour and then down past Dakar and into Banjul.


The airport is small, but it is new and modern!. Stepping of the plane at 16-30 we were hit by a wall of heat (it was 34c in the shade),Birding started right away with Cattle Egrets feeding near to the aircraft and African Pied Crows everywhere!. After paying the tourist tax of £5-00 per head, local porters were quick to grab our cases!, many fought over who they were to accompany to the coaches!. I had prepared myself for this in advance by having a supply of £1-00 coins in sterling for tipping!. Having reached the coach they demanded payment, and on receiving the 1 pound they had the cheek to say” Is that all”! As the average wage is about £30-00 per month I though this was more then enough! In the coach park birders soon showed there colours with Binoculars focused on everything that flew over. I quickly identified a flock of Little Swifts overhead, while somebody shouted “Black Kite” as a bird of prey went by. The journey to the hotel took about 1.5 hours and what a cultural shock this was. As we passed through Serrakunda the highly populated area of Gambia,it was obvious that poverty was in evidence. Buildings were of corrugated iron and many were candle lit only. Still we were able to see African Hobby being chased by a Lanner Falcon, while Hooded Vultures were everywhere. African Red billed Hornbills were very much in evidence and Black Headed Plover showed itself well.


The Hotel Corinthia Atlantic is on the edge of Banjul itself,it has a splendid beach with a walk of about 2 kilometres up to a saline lagoon opposite the Palm Grove hotel. The hotel gardens has extensive landscaping with its own “bird wood” originally set up by Clive Barlow, and now is now watched by Lamin Jobaate, director of the West African Bird studies association(WABSA). Birding in the grounds of the hotel early and late was at times rewarding, Hooded Vultures were resident, Black Kite,Yellow Crowned Gonolek,Brown Babbler,African Thrush,Common Bulbul,Speckled Pigeon,African Mourning Dove,Laughing Dove,to name but a few were abundant. However other species did occur with Palaearctic species such as Bonelli’s Warbler, Red throated Pipit, and over head Lanner Falcon,Pallid Swift were regular. Bearded Barbet,Rose collared Parakeet, and Long tailed Glossary Starling and African Red Billed Hornbill were also seen daily.


We had booked in advance a guide from the WABSA list, his name was Karamba Touray.However at the Atlantic hotel was the president of WABSA Lamin Jobarteh who we linked with latter. Karamba had an excellent knowledge of the Gambian birds and locations. However his own transport became so unreliable that we had to abort trips with him. He charged £50-00 per day, not unreasonable, but with a vehicle breaking down regular, birding time became limited.!

Lamin however used Tourist taxies, and  £20-00 per head for a morning or afternoon was very reasonable. Lamin new his birds and locations!,



Although the hotel was away from the main coastal birding area of the Senegambia hotel and rather out on a limb, it did have distinct advantages.A walk up the beech to Palm Grove lagoon was distinctly a hassled affair!. Every Gambian wanted us to buy there goods, or take us to see birds. They didn’t take no for an answer, however the excellent Palm Grove lagoon made it all worthwhile. Arctic Skua and Pomarine Skua were constantly just off shore. At the lagoon at hide tide large concentrations of terns roosted,Royal,Caspian and Sandwich Tern were in hundreds, but also small numbers of Common,Little,Lesser Crested and Gull billed terns were also present. Audouin’s, Slender billed,and Grey headed gulls were also roosting, and on occasion a Kelp gull also joined them..  At low tide waders were ever present,Whimbrel,Greenshank,Curlew,Ringed Plover,were numerous. Kentish Plover peaked at 40,White fronted Plover also showed well. However the highlight at this sight was a adult winter Greater Sand Plover on 12/12.


We visited Bund rd on two occasions, one at low tide and one at high tide. Low tide is best for variety, but high tide can bring species very close. This is a dirty Smokey area especially near Banjul, rubbish is everywhere and locals can pester you, it is best near the pump station and worst at Banjul end!. Out on the wrecks Pink Backed and White Pelicans roosted,there must have been over 100 Pink Backs. Western Reef Heron, Great White Egret,Black Headed Heron,Black and Intermediate Egrets were all common. Waders in the mangrove swamps included Marsh Sandpiper,Curlew Sandpiper,Black Winged Stilt,Greenshankand Whimbrel.Village and Yellow Backed Weaver were common, also Palaearctic migrants included Sub-alpine Warbler. On the wires there were numerous Blue Cheeked Bee-eaters and Pied Kingfisher. We were lucky to spot a Malachite Kingfisher hiding in a mangrove.


This sight lies just outside Banjul and contains both Mangroves, tidal sand bank, rice fields and dry mudflats. We visited the sight area three times, once in the morning and twice after 16-00. The later trips were more productive. It’s best to walk from the Banjul Highway to Cape Creek entrance, thus having time to see the diversity of birds. Sengal Parrot roost in the Baobab trees, we spotted four in one tree,Broad Billed,Ruferous Crowned and Abyssinian Rollers were always present on the wires. Little Bee-eater was numerous, and close views of  Senegal Thicknees were had as Sacrid Ibis came in to roost!. Black Shouldered Kites were common, and both Pied-Winged,Red chested and Wire tailed swallow were numerous. At the creek entrance waders were numerous,Wattled and Spur winged Plover were very common, Avocet and Black-winged Stilt,Grey Plover and Common Sandpiper were also present. However on a first visit to the creek on 4/12 we spotted an American Golden Plover in winter plumage. The bird was very confiding being seen down to about 20 mtrs!. This was a one of a very few records for The Gambia, and we passed details on to Clive Barlow. The mangroves also produced  Mouse-Brown Sunbird.A visit to the nearby rice field yielded roosting Squacco Herons,White faced Whistling Duck and Grey Kestrel.


On the two occasions we visited Abuko,we also paid a visit to the rice fields  almost opposite the reserve entrance. This is a rich birding area,Shrika,Lizard Buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawk ,African Harrier Hawk and Black Shouldered  Kite were always present. The rice fields have a small open water area, here African Jacana and Black Crake were easy to see. But Karamba expertly picked out a Painted Snipe in the growing rice itself, apparently they are regular here!.Common Snipe also were seen, along with Senegel Thicknee.


Two visits to this superb reserve was hardly enough,One was in the morning/afternoon and the other from 16-30 to dusk. Our first visit was on a very hot day with temperatures over 35C in the shade. Birds were evident by their calls as we walked through the reserve, Pygmy Kingfisher gave close views as it darted to and back picking off insects from the water. Blue Breasted Kingfisher,Giant Kingfisher,Hammerkop,Black Headed Heron and Palm Nut Vulture were all evident around the main pool as was a snappy Crocodile!In the dense undergrowth of the reserve Little Bulbul,African and Red Bellied Paradise Flycatchers were seen well.Black necked Weaver,Northern Black Flycatcher and Green Hylia were seen after great Concentration. The presence of a small group of Heuglin’s Masked Weaver was a bonus. Our evening visit presented a whole new set of birds,At the entrance to the reserve is a tree which holds African Scops Owl.difficult to see, but a little gem!. Someway into the reserve we had  excellent views of both Green and Violet Turacos. The Green Turaco slowly made its way out onto an exposed branch for superb views!. Palm Nut Vulture came to the waters edge,while African Golden Oriole passed close by. A skulking party of 4  Grey-Headed Bristlebills was a excellent find,African Pied Hornbill gave a great display, while nearby African Red Billed and Grey Hornbill flitted through the canopy!. A Western Bluebill eventually showed itself.The highlight however was the pair of Verreaux’s Eagle Owls nesting high in the canopy. The female lay horizontally in the nest looking like a big cat, while Pied Crows nearby mobbed the male.

We left Abuko as it was getting dark, it’s a reserve you could go back to over and over again.


Pirang is a series of shrimp pools, attractive to waders and Herons,also it is attractive to Palaearctic migrants. The Pools are now fenced off ,but access around  the edge of them is possible. On arrival 2 Black Crowned Cranes flew in, there magnificent plumage lit by the bright sun.Wooley Necked Stork, Yellow-Billed Stork and African Spoonbill were feeding in the pools. Wood Sandpipers waded the waters; Northern Wheater and Melodious Warbler reminded us of Europe. Marsh Harrier, Black Kite and Shrika were all very active. On a bank were small numbers of Spur-winged Geese, and White-faced Whistling Duck. Greater Flamingo could be seen in the Distance roosting. The morning was rounded off by the unusual sight of 2 Brown Parrots flying over.


To anybody not going “up country, then Marakissa is a must. The journey from Banjul took about 1 hour,Marakissa is close to the Senegal border.The rough track on the  approach to  Marakissa lodge is worth exploring, Blue-Bellied Roller was common, Lizard Buzzard was also easy to see, Lesser Blue eared Starling also was spotted. Marakissa lodge is an excellent spot to explore from, as soon as we arrived 3 African Darters flew over low, While around the water next to the lodge was a profusion of birds,with African Jacana, Blue Breasted and Giant Kingfisher,Striated Heron,Night Heron,African Harrier Hawk, Purple Heron all very visible. Excellent views were also had of a pair of Yellow Throated Leafloves.As we walked towards a bridge and stream,3 Marabou storks flew over!, Northern RedBishop were common on the track edge, and White faced Scops Owl could be heard calling. As we made into the Savannah Bush, Purple Glossily Starlings were common, Greater Honey guide darted from a tree, while a group of 5 White Creasted Helmet Shrikes sat on a branch!. Soaring above was a Dark Chanting Goshawk.Our attention was drawn to a Sunbird that looked black and white. On close inspection it was in fact a Western Violet Backed Sunbird!. We eventually arrived at a lily pond, here Hammerkops were nesting, but the highlight was a White Backed Night Heron hiding in thick bush. The bird soon made off walking up a branch till it was out of sight.


Although we stayed at the Atlantic Hotel Banjul, which was away from the main birding accommodation i.e. The Senegambia Hotel area, the discovery of Palm Grove Lagoon as a excellent area for watching Terns and Waders was a major advantage. The Atlantic Hotel Grounds held many species and also was a watch point for overflys across the river(Grasshopper Buzzard and Lanner Falcon, for example). Our total of 213 species without going up country was very good. The Hotel itself was spotless and with Lamin Jobaate as a in house guide, excellent trips could be arranged. Undoubtedly Marakissa would have to be the first port of call for variety,and Abuko equally can not be missed. We will return again.

Full bird list (PDF)

Derek & Lynne Lister


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