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A Report from

The Gambia April 2000,

Alf King

This was a repeat visit having had a successful week last Easter. Well, what a difference a year and three weeks makes! We arrived in high humidity and 110 F heat having travelled by Monarch from Gatwick - I shall avoid both whenever possible in the future. The usual transfer to the Senegambia ensued and I couldn't help but notice that everyone else looked like a "normal" tourist - no woolly hats or eagerly clutched bird-guides to be seen. Having  settled in I was persuaded by the good lady wife that wandering around the hotel gardens was quite sufficient for the first afternoon. This I did, turning up nothing spectacular but encouragingly getting my eye in very quickly. There were ominously no other birders skulking around.

Holidays to The Gambia
[Birdtours recommend the Gambia Experience]

Next day we wandered round to Bijilo and had a pleasant two hours or so in there. We quickly found Cameroptera and Red-winged Warbler together with both Robin-chats. Best of all was the ease with which I got to grips with the pigeons and doves this time round - I was still a little confused with them last year. We heard lots of things that we couldn't find, the most striking call being Wattle-eye as I learned later. We were both surprised by how hot and tired we were after a few short hours so we whiled away the rest of the day in preparation for the exertions of the rest of the week.

On the Sunday we assembled for the Tanji tour. Whilst we did the same tour last year we had booked for the companionship and guiding - you've guessed by now no doubt. We were the only people booked on the tour so we had a guide (Tamba who we knew well from last year) and a driver to ourselves. Initially we were disappointed as we had enjoyed the camaraderie from the previous year, but we quickly found a number of aspects that made up for it. Not least of these was that Tamba was very keen that we should both see every bird found and see them well. Jeannine was particularly appreciative of this as she definitely got to grips with a number of birds that she had been told that she saw last year, but had been very unsure about.

So, on the Sunday we had a strenuous walk around Tanji connecting with lots of the commoner species. The highlight of this was a Red-necked Falcon that literally passed over my shoulder (I felt the draught) to take a Village Weaver from a group that we were looking at. Quite spectacular, although I don't think the weaver was too impressed. We had excellent views, together with a tutorial from Tamba on the various gulls to be seen in the cove with particular reference to Slender-billed Gull, which is one of his favourites.  We lunched well at Oyster Bay then went for a walkabout in the afternoon when we had six different sunbirds, including Copper, Scarlet-breasted and (exceptionally) green-headed. This latter was quite excellent and performed for more than ten minutes at no more than 5 metres. Even Tamba was impressed, as it was even a year tick for him. To put some icing on the cake we had really good views of performing Senegal Batis. Two lifers already and 95 birds for the day. We spent 12 hours out of the hotel and were very weary so simple fare was the order of the day, and the week as it turned out.

Monday saw us attacking Abuko which is still as impressive and was a little better for the personal attention that we received. The highlight for me was meeting up with a bird-watching Manchester City fan at the Crocodile Pool -
I'm a dedicated blue of long standing and the promotion issue was still wide open at that stage. Our respective wives' eyes were rolling accordingly, as you might expect. On the birding front it was most enjoyable although not
exceptional. We saw both Touracos and a handsome Blue-breasted Kingfisher. Later, after a very enjoyable lunch at Lamin Lodge we found Pearl-spotted Owlet, although I suspect that Tamba had it well staked out but it was no
less enjoyable for that. Later in the day we picked up Oriole Warbler in the hotel grounds.

Tuesday was a five a.m. start for the Birds and Breakfast trip, which included a number of non-birders who made up a jolly group. One outstanding memory of this is the canoe that began to sink half-way into the trip and had to ditch on a sand bank. Fortunately it wasn't ours. We found both Pygmy and Malachite Kingfisher and a good view of Goliath Heron, flying away as always. Tamba was doing his usual professional job of making the trip interesting for all involved but also gave the two of us special attention when anything less ordinary was seen. Jeannine even had to correct him on the identity of a plover (grey not ringed) at one point, to everyone's amusement including Tamba. I did see my only White-backed Night Heron on this trip - Jeannine dipped unfortunately - apparently most unusual on the coast at this time of year. We returned for the most enjoyable breakfast and then had a very pleasant walk around Lamin fields where we saw many of the usual suspects, by this time we were acting as temporary bird guides for the commoner species. On returning back to the hotel Tamba suggested that we might be interested in a supplementary half-day to Kotu and take in the nightjars along the way. Remembering the hassle that we had last year in Kotu we were both keen to take up this offer.

The real highlight was what we all like to call Kotu ponds, i.e. the sewage works. It was quiet when we arrived with the usual couple of sandpipers, W-f Whistling ducks and Little Grebe, but no terns. Then as we waited a couple of Black Terns drifted in in immaculate breeding plumage. Jeannine confessed that despite having Black Tern pointed out to her by me in the past this is the first time that she can say that she has really identified them. This showing was then capped by a smaller flock of White-winged Black Tern arriving and intermingling with the Blacks. The chance to compare the two so closely in the field was really impressive. We then wandered around Kotu stream, which was something of a disappointment due to the tides that weren't favourable that week. We saw lots of interesting birds but missed out on such as Marsh Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank. We wandered all around the rice fields flushing a pair of Painted Snipe and eventually made our way to the scrub at the rear of the Palma Rima hotel to seek out Nightjars. Well, we stood around for ages with Tamba going through his repertoire of nightjar-attracting noises with no success. Suddenly a small bird whistled by giving brief glimpses before disappearing - an all too brief view of female Standard Winged (another lifer). This was quickly followed by two Long-tailed Nightjars giving very good views. To compete with this the Standard Winged reappeared, fluttered around and then landed virtually at our feet - an amazing view for all three of us. Not to be outdone the Long-tailed reappeared and spooked the Standard Winged then proceeded to land in the same spot for close range observation. A magical evening which ended in almost utter exhaustion.

On the Wednesday we had our boat trip from Denton Bridge. As there were just the two of us I had spoken with Tamba earlier in the week to ensure that we cut short the afternoon cruise element of this as it is, frankly tedious and
produces no more birds. Generally from a birding perspective this was a disappointing day, largely down to the unfavourable tides. On arriving in Banjul the tide was well up so we got relatively few waders with no Flamingos or Stints for example and even missed out on Curlew Sandpiper. It was enjoyable to root about though in general birding mode, chatting and exchanging anecdotes. On returning to the boat we went for a little cruise around the edge of Banjul as Tamba hoped to locate a Skua but with little success. We then cruised back to the mangroves for some lunch. Last year there had been some awful chicken pasta sandwiches presented that we fully intended to avoid this year, but instead Tamba had done us proud producing some excellent roast chicken pieces together with salad and a potato and onion concoction that was really tasty - all prepared by his own hand that morning. After meandering back to Denton Bridge we then returned to the hotel where we were to bid farewell to Tamba and the driver Babu.

I gave Babu a reasonable tip and he was both surprised and grateful. He had been an excellent driver throughout and also very good and informative company - the Gambians certainly do like to talk - in addition to which he had taken us on a couple of interesting diversions just to show us other parts of the locale. Tamba however said that he would return in the evening and we could walk around the gardens of the Kairaba next door with the hope of locating Silverbill, which was still my bogey bird. This we did but dipped again when their bird guide reported that they hadn't been seen for five weeks and were obviously no longer breeding in the area. Before we eventually parted I managed to divert some business Tamba's way with a couple who had tried to book onto Tanji/Plover but had been told that they were no longer running that week due to lack of interest. Obviously it was fortunate for us that we had booked well in advance or we might have had the same response.

We eventually took our leave of Tamba and I was pleased to give him a healthy tip, by Gambian standards and he was clearly grateful. He is hoping to attend the Bird Fair at Rutland Water this year so maybe we will get in touch again.

We spent the last day mooching around with a visit to Bijilo in the afternoon that was fairly unproductive. We were both very tired by this time and should have simply rested for the day, but once you're into birding mode what can you do. We settled onto a bench in the hotel gardens to enjoy the last couple of hours of sunshine when I saw a "roller" fly into a tree. A quick check with the bins revealed it to be a Kingfisher then it disappeared. We dashed over and after ten minutes of anguished searching suddenly there it was a Grey-headed to make a total of six kingfishers for the week. We finished off with a last little wander and I was watching a number of Mannekins in a bush when I realised that two of them had bluey-silver bills and were carrying grass and straw. Nesting Silverbills at last !!

We said cheerio to the Gambia the next day and reflected upon the week. Quite obviously the late Easter had deterred many birders and Tamba said that this was about the end of the season for visiting birders. He also said however that he feels that it is a more enjoyable time as in the peak season it is becoming too crowded and a little "twitchy" with birders looking for quick ticks then moving on. Our list for the week came to 165 which, although a lot lower than last year's 201, I was quite happy with. The views that we had of all of the birds were certainly quality ones and that counts for a lot.

I think that we've done the Gambia now but shall return in some years time. I would certainly like to visit in the Autumn to see different species in breeding plumage. We both really like the place and maybe would benefit from two weeks with the activity periods being more spaced out. Having said that I am very poor at general relaxation.

(One little postscript. We visited our "patch" in Wakefield the following week and wandered around the windy reservoir, deserted of wind-surfers for once. Lo and behold six black terns in full breeding plumage. Could they have come from the Gambia also? We shall never know.)

Alf King

Species List:

Little Grebe
Long-tailed Cormorant
White-breasted Cormorant
African Darter
White Pelican
Pink-backed Pelican
Black Heron
Little Egret
Western Reef-egret
Grey Heron
Black-headed Heron
Goliath Heron
Purple Heron
Great White Egret
Intermediate Egret
Cattle Egret
Squacco Heron
Striated Heron
Black-crowned Night-heron
White-backed Night-heron
Yellow-billed Stork
Sacred Ibis
White-faced Whistling-duck
Yellow-billed Kite
Palm-nut Vulture
Hooded Vulture
African Harrier-hawk
Lizard Buzzard
Dark Chanting-goshawk
Long-crested Eagle
Red-necked Falcon
Double-spurred Francolin
Stone Partridge
African Jacana
Greater Painted-snipe
Eurasian Oystercatcher
Black-winged Stilt
Senegal Thick-knee
Grey Plover
Common Ringed Plover
Spur-winged Lapwing
Black-headed Lapwing
Wattled Lapwing
Bar-tailed Godwit
Common Redshank
Common Greenshank
Common Sandpiper
Ruddy Turnstone
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Grey-headed Gull
Slender-billed Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Royal Tern
Sandwich Tern
White-winged Tern
Black Tern
Speckled Pigeon
Laughing Dove
Mourning Collared-dove
Vinaceous Dove
Red-eyed Dove
Black-billed Wood-dove
Blue-spotted Wood-dove
Namaqua Dove
African Green-pigeon
Senegal Parrot
Guinea Turaco
Violet Turaco
Western Grey Plantain-eater
Senegal Coucal
Pearl-spotted Owlet
Long-tailed Nightjar
Standard-winged Nightjar
Mottled Spinetail
African Palm-swift
Malachite Kingfisher
African Pygmy-kingfisher
Grey-headed Kingfisher
Blue-breasted Kingfisher
Giant Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher
Little Bee-eater
Swallow-tailed Bee-eater
Abyssinian Roller
Rufous-crowned Roller
Blue-bellied Roller
Green Woodhoopoe
Black Scimitar-bill
Red-billed Hornbill
African Pied Hornbill
African Grey Hornbill
Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird
Vieillot's Barbet
Bearded Barbet
Greater Honeyguide
Fine-spotted Woodpecker
Buff-spotted Woodpecker
Grey Woodpecker
Barn Swallow
Red-chested Swallow
Wire-tailed Swallow
Mosque Swallow
House Martin
Fanti Sawwing
Yellow Wagtail [sp]
Common Bulbul
Little Greenbul
Yellow-throated Greenbul
Snowy-crowned Robin-chat
White-crowned Robin-chat
African Thrush
Tawny-flanked Prinia
Red-winged Warbler
Yellow-breasted Apalis
Oriole Warbler
Grey-backed Camaroptera
Green-backed Eremomela
Northern Crombec
Willow Warbler
Northern Black-flycatcher
Black-headed Paradise-flycatcher
African Paradise-flycatcher
Blackcap Babbler
Brown Babbler
Mouse-brown Sunbird
Green-headed Sunbird
Scarlet-chested Sunbird
Variable Sunbird
Copper Sunbird
Splendid Sunbird
Beautiful Sunbird
African Golden Oriole
Common Gonolek
Senegal Batis
Brown-throated Wattle-eye
Yellow-billed Shrike
Fork-tailed Drongo
Pied Crow
Purple Glossy-starling
Long-tailed Glossy-starling
Violet-backed Starling
Yellow-billed Oxpecker
House Sparrow
Grey-headed Sparrow
White-billed Buffalo-weaver
Little Weaver
Black-necked Weaver
Village Weaver
Black-winged Bishop
Orange Bishop
Red-billed Firefinch
Red-cheeked Cordonbleu
Lavender Waxbill
Orange-cheeked Waxbill
African Silverbill
Bronze Mannikin Cut-throat
Pin-tailed Whydah


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