Visit your favourite destinations
Western Europe
North America
Eastern Europe
South America
Middle East
East Indies

A Report from

New Year in The Gambia,

Alison and Chris Hall

Snow covers the ground as we leave Britain thirteen degrees below zero in darkest December on a flight to The Gambia, arriving less than six hours later, and forty six degrees warmer, in blue sky sunshine. En route we pass the snow clad Atlas mountains of Morocco and cross an endless sea of dry Sahara sand, rippled like a beach at low tide. Incredible to think that birds as small as Willow Warblers make the same journey at their peril, twice a year.

Next day we meet up with Solomon Jallow, one of The Gambia's top bird guides, ours for the next five days. We elect first to take the ferry across the River Gambia to the north side in search of Northern Anteater Chat. We walk on board with Solomon, watching Little Swifts above and Grey-headed Gulls on the jetties. Suddenly we lose Solomon in the crowd and realise there is not enough room for our vehicle. Fighting against the tide of oncoming passengers in their hundreds, we battle our way back to the car to collect our scope, as the ferry prepares to depart. Back on board, with at least five hundred fellow passengers and a couple of dozen lifeboats, the groaning engine billows choking grey fumes throughout the forty five minute crossing. Safely across, sea-watching from the point produces Slender-billed Gull, Osprey, various waders and five different Terns from the awesome Caspian to the comparatively tiny Common with Royal, Sandwich and Lesser Crested in between. An ideal opportunity to compare species. Back in Barra village we take a short taxi ride for the Anteater Chat plus Red-necked Falcon, the dainty Namaqua Dove, Abyssinian Roller and Wheatear, already in breeding plumage. That afternoon a walk along the Bund Road out of Banjul produces dozens of Pink-backed Pelicans, Western Reef Herons and Pied Kingfishers, while Camaloo Corner gives good views of Marsh Sandpiper, Senegal Coucal, Rufous-crowned and Blue-bellied Rollers, Little Bee-eater, Grey Woodpecker, the exotic Western Grey Plantain-eater and a Crag Martin on a wire full of Red-chested Swallows, only the second record for The Gambia and a lifer for Soloman!

Holidays to The Gambia
[Birdtours recommend the Gambia Experience]

New Year's Eve in the famous Abuko nature reserve. Just minutes inside the gate a band of noisy Pied Crows and Black Magpies attract our attention to a nesting pair of Verreaux's Eagle Owls, batting pink eye lids as they doze. From the first hide overlooking a pool of Crocodiles with a Bushbuck grazing on the bank, new ticks come in quick succession: Hammerkop, African Darter, the strange Palm-nut Vulture, African Pied Hornbill and the fabulous Violet Turaco. The palm trees and bushes are laden with Black-headed Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons and we pick out the rarer White-backed Night Heron skulking in the shadows. Deeper into this jungle reserve, with Green Vervet and Red Colobus Monkeys crashing through the trees, we pick out furtive forest dwellers like Yellow-throated Leaflove, Little Greenbul, White-crowned Robin-Chat and Yellow-breasted Apalis, while a tape recording teases out the delightful Common Wattle-eye. Along the trails, African and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatchers are very confiding and at the next hide we spy a pair of exquisite Green Turacos and a smart Grey Kestrel. A huge Python, at least 12 feet long, and as thick as a roll of carpet, basks in a sunny spot beside a pool.

Out of the trees it's hot, so we head for the shade of Lamin Lodge for a relaxing lunch until the afternoon sun cools down and the birds become more active again. First Solomon leads us straight to a roosting White-faced Scops Owl, then it's on to nearby rice fields for Black Crake, African Jacana, Rose-ringed Parakeets, Yellow-billed Shrike and a lovely collection of Glossy Starlings, Purple, Greater and Lesser Blue-eared, foraging within yards of each other, with Long-tailed Glossies in trees nearby. A great way to end the year.

It's New Year's Day and a short drive to the old shrimp farm at Pirang brings us to a landscape reminiscent of Titchwell with its embankments, lagoons and patrolling Marsh Harriers, but the adjacent palm trees and Baobabs with Brown-headed and Senegal Parrots remind us of our West African location. Shortly after we arrive we are joined by a pair of majestic Black Crowned Cranes. Crested Larks, Yellow Wagtails and Plain-backed Pipits flit along the embankments in front of us, while the lagoons reveal the secretive and normally crepuscular Painted Snipe feeding openly in broad daylight. Overhead birds are everywhere with African Harrier-hawk, Long-crested and Short-toed Eagles, Gull-billed Terns, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Wire-tailed, Rufous-chested and Mosque Swallows and a stunning show by a hovering Black-shouldered Kite. This is Norfolk with knobs on!

As the air heats up we go in search of more raptors along the sandy Faraba Banta bush track. Besides Dark Chanting Goshawk, Lizzard and Grasshopper Buzzards there are Striped Kingfishers, Vieillot's Barbet, Greater Honeyguide, Yellow Penduline Tit and a Great Spotted Cuckoo. After a welcome picnic lunch in the shade, we walk into Senegal to the Seleti waterhole which attracts Black-billed and Blue-spotted Wood Doves, tiny Bronze Mannikins and Red-billed Firefinches and Exclamatory Paradise Whydahs, with tails as long as their names.

Next day a short stroll through the peaceful woods near Brufut takes three hours, there's so much to see and hear. Nightingales are singing and a Grey-headed Bristlebill is equally reluctant to show, but a tape recording brings it zooming out so close it almost takes my hat off! It's a green blur with a yellow tipped tail. Other good birds here are Shikra, an African version of our Sparrowhawk, Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, Cardinal Woodpecker, Fanti Saw-wing, African Golden Oriole, Splendid Sunbird, Brubru, Northern Puffback, delightful Orange-cheeked Waxbills and the very aptly named Bearded Barbet. At the nearby Madiana pools, decorated with large white water lilies, we compare beautiful Malachite and Pygmy Kingfishers in the scope, while a striking Gabar Goshawk stares down from its perch high in a palm.

In the afternoon it's Tanji bird reserve where Solomon whistles up a lovely Pearl-spotted Owlet, which calls back and poses for the scope. There is soon a commotion in the tree as all sorts of mobsters move in to noisily scold the owl. We count 12 species in total: Green Wood Hoopoe, Red-billed Hornbill, Common Bulbul, Blackcap Babbler, Olivaceous and Melodious Warblers, Common Wattle-eye, Beautiful Sunbird, Black-crowned Tchagra, Black-necked Weaver, a very aggressive African Thrush and star of them all, an Oriole Warbler with its silver tipped black head dress. Many of these birds are far larger than the poor little owl and so it seems a harmless threat. Back at the bird friendly Bakotu Hotel, as dusk approaches, thousands of Village Weavers fly in to the grounds to roost, in wave after wave, a hundred or so at a time.

It's an early start for a long drive up river to Tendaba Camp. Dodging ubiquitous deep pot holes at 100km/h in the dark, our driver swerves an erratic zig-zag course, often half off the road, while we jolt from side to side in the back, eyes closed tight. Miraculously  the only casualty is a chicken, a cloud of white feathers settling gently in our wake as we attempt a Gambian land speed record. We do get to Tendaba with thirty minutes to spare before our boat trip departs across the river and into the mangrove creeks. The gentle ride contrasts starkly with our previous near death experience. Gliding along the channels, we are treated to excellent views of Woolly-necked Stork, Senegal Thick-knee, African Blue Flycatcher, the mighty Goliath Heron and superb Blue-breasted Kingfishers. A Montagu's Harrier floats by as a pair of African Fish Eagles wheel above us.

The return drive is more relaxed with time for stop-offs for Wahlberg's Eagle, White-backed and Rüppell's Griffon Vultures, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and a band of White-crested Helmet Shrikes. Back at the coast we thank Solomon for five days excellent birding and bid him goodbye with a view to a return trip same time next year.

After yesterday's excitement we plan a relaxed day around the hotel. Crossing the Kotu Creek, we make for the nearby sewage ponds which are full of Black-winged Stilts, White-faced Whistling Ducks and you know what. Fresh deliveries arrive by the lorry load as we compare Common, Wood and Green Sandpipers. After a spell in the sea, we spend the afternoon on a gentle stroll through the palms of Bijillo Forest Park and bump into three Stone Partridges walking the trail in the opposite direction. Other good spottings include Broad-billed Roller, Brown Babblers and the psychedelic Yellow-crowned Gonolek with its evocative tropical call.

Five days into the new year we already have a good tan and the following British summer visitors on our 2001 year list: Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Whimbrel, Common and Sandwich Terns, House Martin, Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat, and Blackcap. After a fantastic week birding in The Gambia we have seen 14 different Herons and Egrets, a spectacular variety of Kingfishers, Rollers and Bee-eaters, all star birds, and discounting a handful of fleeting glimpses, a grand total of 208 species.

A Field Guide to the Birds of the Gambia and Senegal
Clive Barlow, Tony Disley: Buy from or

  • This field guide covers the area of the Gambia, a country which is very popular with a large number of birders. The Gambia shelters many migrants from the Western Palaearctic, from September to April, as well as having a significant list of resident West African birds. The guide also covers Senegal, which almost entirely surrounds The Gambia...Buy.

email to:


Why not send us a report, or an update to one of your current reports?