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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
The Gambia 20 Dec 05-03 Jan 06.,
1. A Field Guide to Birds of The Gambia and Senegal by Barlow, Wacher and Disley.
2. A Birdwatchers’ Guide to The Gambia by Rod Ward.
This was my second visit to the Gambia following an “up-river” trip on a boat in March 2003 with the Army Ornithological Society (AOS). This had proved to be an excellent trip and introduction to African birding although due to the survey work that the AOS was mandated to carry out, it was impossible to carry out very much birding at the coast. My aspiration during this visit was to target the birds that I had missed last time and visit sites that I had not visited – to a large extent I achieved this.
I travelled with my wife and we stayed at the Bungalow Beach Hotel in Koto, for those of you who have read any of my previous trip reports, you will realise that my wife is a “shopaholic”. Therefore time needed to be allowed for this pursuit and as a result I bird watched for the mornings only (which are the most productive time anyway) and this approach seemed to strike a happy medium. The notable exception was a trip to Tendaba (accompanied by my wife).
The cost of the holiday was more expensive than usual as it was Xmas and New Year. However this was the only time my wife and I could get off together, so the dates were largely out of our hands and it was a choice of pay or go nowhere. Julbrew (Lager) costs about 35 Gambian Dalasi (GMD), one and a half litres of water costs about 25 GMD and a 2 course meal with wine costs about £20 (1000 GMD) on average depending where you eat and what standard you require. I can recommend Sailor’s along the Fajara beach it is clean the food is good, reasonably priced and neither of us experienced any “Banjul Belly”.
The fees incurred by hiring guides appear to have risen sharply. This coupled with the fact that the price of petrol has risen recently generally adds to your birding costs (now 60 GMD per litre – two thirds of the UK price), so this should be considered before planning your trips. Generally a “long half day” birding cost between £35 and £50 with all transport costs included, depending on how far you have to travel and what birds you want to see. The price of guides will vary, I presume, depending on how good they are and whether or not they own their own transport.
Following the advice and recommendations given on previous trip reports, posted on this site (which I always find most informative, reliable
and honest) I contacted Ebrima Sidebeh email: firstname.lastname@example.org. He was waiting for me at the hotel when I arrived and we wasted no time in agreeing an itinerary that was within my budget.
Ebrima proved to be an excellent birder and companion. He was totally reliable, stuck to the agreed plan and costs and had a great sense of humour. A local guide’s knowledge of calls, habitats and local bird movements is invaluable if you are not to miss the difficult birds and spend a frustrating two weeks sweating in the bush for scant reward!
I would not only recommend him as a bird guide as his organisational skills were excellent with any problems we encountered being quickly rectified.
Day by Day Itineraries with highlights
Day 1 – 20 Dec 05
We flew from Gatwick at 0920, although this was delayed. The flight was the usual experience but it did lead us to upgrade for the return journey. We arrived at Banjul at about 1600 and following the predicted baggage fiasco arrived at out hotel at about 1800. Some common Gambian birds were seen along the route but nothing to get excited about.
Day 2 – 21 Dec 05
Today’s excursion was to Pirang and Faraba Banta bush track. The main target was the Black-crowned Cranes. The Cranes were located in the “usual” tree and finally seen at close quarters via a track around the back of the mangroves. Also seen here were African Spoonbills, Plain-backed Pipits and the well marked Quail Finches.
We travelled to Faraba Banta via a bush track to the village. A White-faced Scops Owl was roosting in the village and was seen but not well. The Faraba Banta bush track produced a known roosting Greyish Spotted Eagle Owl – (no yellow in the eye, with reddish eyelids), Ruppel’s Griffon Vulture, African Yellow white-eye, a female Northern Puffback and several other typical bush birds.
I went to the Nightjar site behind the building work near Koto beach in the evening and was delighted to see at least 3 Long-tailed Nightjars.
Day 3 – 22 Dec 05
Brufut Woods was today’s destination. Immediately a Green Turacao was spotted high in a tree and well camouflaged. Hunting at the small concrete pond by the hide was a fantastic African Pygmy Kingfisher, whilst a Grey-headed Bush Shrike also came to drink. Klaas’s Cuckoos were very much in evidence in the scrubby woodland as were a number of Cisticolas, Chestnut-backed Sparrow Weaver and a Lesser Honeyguide.
Day 4 – 23 Dec 05
A short journey and we had arrived at Yumdum Woods where we quickly encountered a Lanner perched atop a dead tree. A calling bird was tracked down by Ebrima which revealed the presence of a stunning Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike. Four Yellow Penduline Tits made a timely appearance and a Yellow-throated Leaf Love put in a brief appearance. As we walked along the track we were about to discover the bird of the trip. Sat in a tree not fifteen metres from us was what appeared to be a Cuckoo Sp. Upon closer inspection the bird in question did have black barring from the throat down and had red legs and reddish bill. We soon realised that this was no Cuckoo and indeed we had stumbled across a beautiful male Ovambo Sparrowhawk.
Later during the walk good birds continued to appear in the form of a male Great Spotted Cuckoo, three Senegal Batis, both male and female, a cracking Brown-backed Woodpecker and a male Levaillant’s Cuckoo.
Day 5 – Xmas Eve
The morning was spent in Serrekuda shopping, an experience in itself! An evening walk around Koto Creek produced a Grey-headed Kingfisher – a Gambia tick.
Day 6 – Xmas Day
Hangover – Day Off – Say no more! In the evening we walked around the Fajara Golf Course.
Day 7 – Boxing Day
A visit to Abuko Reserve home of the Makasutu Wildlife Trust produced several lifers. At the usual site between the Education Centre and marker post number 24 there were a large amount of birds between about 0930 and 1000, after this period of frenetic activity it appeared to become very quiet. Birds noted were two Buff-spotted Woodpeckers, two Western Bluebills, four Grey-headed Bristlebirds and three Yellow-breasted Apalis. An Ahanta Francolin called loudly and a fleeting glimpse was caught of it as it scampered off into the scrub.
Day 8 – 27 Dec 05
The coastal bird reserve at Tanji, established by Clive Barlow with the intention of finding White-fronted Plover ended in a dip today. However two Kelp Gull on the beach, the only Fanti-Saw Wing and Curlew of the trip and several Little Terns added to the trip list.
Day 9 – 28 Dec 05
A disappointing morning at Marrikissa provided very few new birds and was generally very quiet. Of interest was a White-backed Night Heron that was flushed and very little was seen of it. The first Pallid Swifts of the trip and a roosting Barn Owl in the building at the Marrikissa bird lodge did provide a break in the boredom. Time was taken to positively identify several African “Yellow-billed” (Black) Kite.
Day 10 – 29 Dec 05
My wife and I were collected at 0730 for our long and bumpy trip to Tendaba today, with some notable birding stops along the way. Our first stop were Yumdum fields, unfortunately the Temminck’s Coursers had not read the script and did not appear, however a male Blackcap was noted and a Lanner.
A stop at Faraba Banta village had caught the White-faced Scops Owl behaving in a more obliging manner giving satisfactory views of its face pattern, ears and eyes.
A track into the bush near to the village of Kafota was a remarkable site, producing two White-fronted Black Chats, a Brubru, Striped Kingfisher, Whistling Cisticola and five Brown-necked Parrots flying over.
Yet another stop next to the road in the hope of Yellow-bellied Hyliota which failed to appear produced an African Cuckoo.
The well known raptor watch point at Campanteh produced several Grasshopper Buzzards, a Bateleur, Shikra, White Pelican and African Harrier Hawk.
An evening walk around Tendaba “Airfield” and the Battleing track was very productive and indeed pleasant. A pair of Wahlberg’s Eagle were present at the airfield whilst three White-shouldered Black Tit appeared along with a Village Indigobird put in an appearance along the Battleing track. Four, Four-banded Sandgrouse were flushed, whilst two Bruce’s Green Pigeon looked on and a male Namaqua Dove appeared unimpressed.
Day 11 – 30 Dec 05
All aboard! For the boat trip around the Bolongs on the North Bank opposite Tendaba camp. I had done this trip before, but today was longer and we were specifically targeting three birds. The three birds; Mouse-brown Sunbird, White-backed Night Heron and African (Fairy) Blue Flycatcher (all mangrove specialists), were all seen well. Along with, 3 Black Scimitarbill, A Bedouin’s Short-toed Eagle and two Woolly-necked Storks were seen.
The journey back to Koto brought several more Bateleur and Dark Chanting Goshawks along the roadside.
Day 12 – 31 Dec 05
A shopping trip to the capital Banjul and an evening walk to the Nightjar site, which still failed to produce any Standard Wings but five Long-taileds were seen and a Pearl Spotted Owlet along the Casino cycle track.
Day 13 – 01 Jan 06
The North Bank – Barra & Essau, promised so much but produced so little! The locals had obviously not adhered to the guide books as the fields were not cleared or burned, as a consequence several birds which should have been easy to see under those circumstances remained very difficult to find.
It is essential to get the 0700 ferry from Banjul. There will be a queue and you will be refused passage. This is where the guide is worth his money. He will “grease the palm” where required and suddenly you will be boarded and under way on the 0700 ferry. The usual amount is about 25 GMD, so have this ready and be prepared to pay a few people (usually security personnel) in order to reach the other side early. Royal Terns, Pomarine Skuas and Arctic Skuas were seen from the ferry whilst the North Bank produced the expected Northern Anteater Chats but very little else of interest.
Retuning to the South bank numerous Blue-cheeked Bee eaters lined the wires along the Bund Road, two Oystercatchers were on the mud and two beautiful Yellow-throated Longclaws were flushed (and perched nicely for the scope), from the long grass along the road to Cape Point – the first lifer of the New Year and the only Longclaws of the trip.
Day 14 – 02 Jan 06
An early walk around Bijilo Forest Park in order for my wife to photograph the monkeys produced a few good birds including a Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Oriole Warbler and Snowy-crowned Robin Chat.
The evening around Koto Creek produced another immature Levaillant’s Cuckoo and the usual commoner species.
Day 15 – 03 Jan 06
The final morning before getting picked up for the airport run. I had not planned to go out this morning, however I had met a local guide (Lamin Sidebeh – older brother of Ebrima and mentioned in the book A Birdwatchers’ `Guide to The Gambia by Rod Ward). He had mentioned that he knew the whereabouts of a pair of Temminck’s Courser – so this essentially became a last minute twitch. Fortunately I saw the birds, which I had searched for and missed during the trip; so the holiday ended on a real high.
The second trip to the Gambia and I feel sure it will not be my last. At least two visits are essential to a country like The Gambia and as a result my next trip is planned for early October (some time) – just after the end of the wet season.
Gambia is an excellent place to bird watch with very little hassle although guiding fees are getting more expensive and it’s essential to do your homework in order to get a good and more importantly reliable guide before you arrive. It’s also essential to plan your trip for the birds that you most want to see and ensure that you are in country for the correct season, hence the reason for my projected visit after the end of the wet season, in order to “clean-up”.