Friday 10th November 2017
THE GAMBIA – WINTER BIRDING IN WEST AFRICA
Friday 10th – Friday 17th November 2017
Our group of fourteen met bright and early at Gatwick for the flight down to The Gambia and just over five and a half hours later we were on the ground at Banjul Airport with the temperature a toasty 33 degrees!
Before disembarking the plane we had PIED CROW and HOODED VULTURE on our lists and after immigration and baggage were tackled we met up with our guide Steve plus Lamin and driver Baba.
Our hotel was just twenty five minutes away and on the journey we spotted SPECKLED PIGEON, BLUE-BELLIED ROLLER, WHITE-BILLED BUFFALO WEAVER, PIAPIAC, LAUGHING DOVE and more PIED CROWS and HOODED VULTURES.
We checked in and dropped luggage off in our rooms before reconvening in the hotel grounds for a walk to get familiar with some of the species. Here we met Ebrima, our local bird guide for the tour and for the afternoon we were also joined by hotel bird guide Ansumana.
A LANNER FALCON drifted overhead with PIED CROWS and HOODED VULTURES not getting much of a second glance by now. YELLOW-BILLED KITES circled around us and in the flowering bushes, we watched a pair of BEAUTIFUL SUNBIRDS as they fed, the male stunning in the afternoon sun!
Birds were coming thick and fast with a WESTERN RED-BILLED HORNBILL perching up and then an AFRICAN GREY HORNBILL which gave a good chance to compare the species. Also in the gardens were SPECKLED PIGEON, RED-EYED DOVE, LAUGHING DOVES and a lumbering SENEGAL COUCAL.
A dripping tap drew in a few passerines and wow, what superb birds they were. RED-CHEEKED CORDON-BLEU, RED-BILLED FIREFINCH and BRONZE MANNIKINS were seen before our attentions were drawn upward with AFRICAN PALM SWIFTS and ROSE-RINGED PARAKEETS flying overhead.
With the light fading we picked up more species including a pair of AFRICAN THRUSHES, WHITE-FRONTED ROBIN CHAT, GREY-BACKED CAMAROPTERA, GREATER BLUE-CHEEKED STARLING and a colourful YELLOW-CROWNED GONOLEK which left us all in amazement!
Three PEARL-SPOTTED OWLETS proved harder to see and despite trying, we failed to get a decent view. An AFRICAN WATTLED LAPWING fed on bare earth in the allotments and before light faded, several LONG-TAILED GLOSSY STARLINGS flew over, heading to roost.
It was then back to our rooms to unpack and have a cool shower before heading to the restaurant for our evening meal, which really hit the spot and was good washed down with a Julbrew, the local beer which features a Woodland Kingfisher on the label.
We headed off to bed after a long day of travelling, but what a great first day in The Gambia!
Saturday 11th November 2017
Breakfast was at 7.00hrs and it was delightful to sit outside with BROAD-BILLED ROLLERS, YELLOW-BILLED KITES, HOODED VULTURES, WOODLAND KINGFISHER, PIED CROWS and a troop of GREEN VERVET MONKEYS for company whilst we tucked into a hearty spread.
Ebrima and Baba turned up at 7.50am whilst we were watching photogenic SPECKLED PIGEONS and we left the hotel to head down the coastal road, making stops for GIANT KINGFISHER and LIZARD BUZZARD both of which were perched on roadside wires.
The kingfisher site also held WESTERN REEF EGRET and REED CORMORANT before we carried onwards towards Kartong and a brief stop was made for GREY WOODPECKER and WESTERN GREY PLANTAIN EATER. Moving a little way south, a superb LONG-CRESTED EAGLE was spotted, much to everyone’s delight.
We arrived at Kartong Bird Observatory which is run by British birder Colin Cross and immediately headed up into an observation platform overlooking a marshy area.
On arrival two of the group were lucky to see brief views of a juvenile ALLEN’S GALLINULE but despite a good search, it wasn’t seen again.
WHITE-FACED WHISTLING DUCKS were the most numerous species on the pond with AFRICAN JACANA’S common too. Birds were coming thick and fast and included YELLOW-CROWNED BISHOPS, PIAPIAC, BLACK-HEADED WEAVER, YELLOW-BILLED KITES and around the marshy edges we had good views of BLACK CRAKE and AFRICAN SWAMPHEN.
By now temperatures were rising which encouraged raptors up such as PALM-NUT VULTURE, WESTERN OSPREY, HOODED VULTURES and WAHLBERG’S EAGLE.
Other goodies were BLACK HERON, BLACK-HEADED HERON, PURPLE HERON, INTERMEDIATE EGRET, SQUACCO HERON, PINK-BACKED & GREAT WHITE PELICAN, YELLOW-BILLED STORK, AFRICAN SPOONBILL and the rarest bird of all, a fine HOUSE BUNTING, the seventh record for The Gambia!
We headed back to the van and drove along, stopping at an area of flooded pits which yielded our main target - AFRICAN PYGMY GOOSE of which a pair were seen well through the scopes. MALACHITE, PIED and a brief GREY-HEADED KINGFISHER were good to see, along with familiar species such as NORTHERN SHOVELER and LITTLE GREBE.
Several BLUE-CHEEKED BEE-EATERS hawked insects in front of us whilst we had brief flight views of two FOUR-BANDED SANDGROUSE, which unfortunately not everyone managed to see.
More new species for the tour included VILLAGE WEAVER, BLACK-TAILED GODWIT, WESTERN MARSH HARRIER, VARIABLE SUNBIRD and AFRICAN HARRIER-HAWK.
With two more sites to visit before lunch, we dropped down to the coast and took a walk south along the beach towards Senegal. VARIABLE and BEAUTIFUL SUNBIRDS flitted around the many acacia bushes and offshore we noted ROYAL TERNS.
With patience our main target, WHITE-FRONTED PLOVER was found by Steve M as it hunkered down on the beach. GREY PLOVER, WHIMBREL, RUDDY TURNSTONE, COMMON SANDPIPER, GREENSHANK and a lone WHITE WAGTAIL were spotted on the beach before we retraced our steps.
Near the van, Ebrima found a BEARDED BARBET perched on a tree with a VINACEOUS DOVE below. With time ticking on, we drove north to a single flooded pit, where a male GIANT KINGFISHER sat on overhanging vegetation.
A DARK-CHANTING GOSHAWK perched up distantly and both WESTERN OSPREY and AFRICAN HARRIER-HAWK showed really well in flight. A lone AFRICAN GREY WOODPECKER showed on the side of a palm and on the water’s edge we had good views of three BLACK-BILLED WOOD DOVES.
Overhead, LITTLE SWIFTS, AFRICAN PALM SWIFTS and WIRE-TAILED SWALLOWS hawked for insects in good light.
With our stomachs rumbling, we drove north to Footsteps Ecolodge where we enjoyed a superb lunch of various Gambian dishes and cold drinks whilst sitting in the shade.
Once suitably replete, we had a productive walk around the gardens. BEAUDOUIN’S SNAKE-EAGLE circled overhead and in the scrubby fields were VILLAGE INDIGOBIRD, LAVENDER WAXBILL, MELODIOUS WARBLER, LITTLE WEAVER, RED-BILLED FIREFINCH, BRONZE MANNIKIN, AFRICAN THRUSH, BLACK-BILLED WOOD DOVE and back near the bar, a YELLOW-FRONTED TINKERBIRD perched up for us all to see.
A stop was made at Tanji beach where amongst all the fisherman we had superb views of many GREY-HEADED GULLS plus a single LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL along with SANDWICH, ROYAL and CASPIAN TERNS. Unfortunately the tide was high so we didn’t find any Kelp Gulls.
It was then time to head back towards the hotel but as usual, we were delayed by an ABYSSINIAN ROLLER perched beside the road.
After a supermarket stop for snacks we arrived back at the hotel and some enjoyed a cool swim in the pool. Others opted for a cold shower and the hardy ones braved the heat for another spot of birding in the gardens.
The usual suspects were noted but the best proved to be a juvenile DIEDERIK CUCKOO being fed by a VILLAGE WEAVER, a good spot by Jon!
Better views of YELLOW-CROWNED GONOLEK, WHITE-CROWNED ROBIN CHAT, BLUE-CHEEKED CORDON-BLEU and SENEGAL COUCAL were enjoyed before calling it a day to get ready for our evening meal.
Sunday 12th November 2017
With us heading upriver for the night, we met for coffee/tea at 5am and left the hotel half an hour later to drive to Banjul ready for the first ferry crossing. The driver of the coach taking us to the terminal obviously didn’t drive fast enough so after a few minutes he was shoved aside by Lamin who, with increased speed got us to the ferry in time!
The crossing was mostly in the dark and once we reached the north bank, we boarded our new coach driven by Saif (our last one had mechanical problems overnight) and headed eastwards towards Farafenni. Just out of Bassa we found two ANTEATER CHATS perched on a wall which was good to get under our belts so early in the morning.
The next couple of hours was punctuated by various stops along the main road where notable species included PALM-NUT VULTURE, SENEGAL PARROTS, the stunning ABYSSINIAN ROLLER and good numbers of WESTERN PLANTAIN-EATERS.
Lots of bird activity in a large tree bordering the road provided us with our first PEARL-SPOTTED OWLET that showed well as it was mobbed by NORTHERN PUFFBACKS and BROWN BABBLERS. A lone FORK-TAILED DRONGO perched on the top and a few feet away a FINE-SPOTTED WOODPECKER.
Further down the road we had good views of a WESTERN BANDED SNAKE-EAGLE, a species that is not always easy to see.
A small village a few kilometres further east held several colourful BRUCE’S GREEN PIGEON, this superb bird being a real beauty. A pair of CUT-THROAT FINCHES perched on top of a small bush before we carried on our journey.
After an early start, we made a coffee stop beside the road, but not before adding GREEN WOOD-HOOPOE and a brief STONE PARTRIDGE, seen by a few from one side of the van.
Coffee went down well and of course wasn’t without its birds as more BRUCE’S GREEN PIGEONS, WESTERN RED-BILLED HORNBILLS, ABYSSINIAN ROLLERS and a smart AFRICAN CUCKOO which zipped past in the morning sunshine.
Suitably refreshed by our break, we motored on across open Savannah grassland, which was ideal for hunting raptors including GRASSHOPPER BUZZARD and DARK-CHANTING GOSHAWKS. A circling WOOLY-NECKED STORK gave good views before it drifted south.
Reaching an expansive area of marshes gave us the chance to stretch our legs and a pool close to the bus held a lone STRIATED HERON plus our first HAMMERKOP of the tour which delighted the group no end!
A hunting GABAR GOSHAWK flew past and landed in a tree where we were able to scope it, plus good numbers of YELLOW-BILLED KITES circled overhead. The area was full of the typical wetland species with CATTLE EGRETS making up a huge proportion of the birds.
New species here included SENEGAL THICKNEE and AFRICAN DARTER, the latter looking like a giant cross in flight. A couple of kilometres further yielded a small party of GREATER FLAMINGO plus a few PINK-BACKED PELICANS. A large bridge over a tributary of the River Gambia gave the most amazing views ever of a WESTERN OSPREY, as it sat just three feet away on the bridge, whilst an AFRICAN DARTER sat on a rock.
After many photos and with lots more to see we headed off and found a single WHITE-RUMPED SEEDEATER in a small village with a small colony of LITTLE BEEEATERS.
Another marsh with deeper water was attractive for other species including SLENDER-BILLED and GREY-HEADED GULLS plus REED and the recently split WHITE-BREASTED CORMORANT.
We then stopped at a small drinking pool adjacent to the road which held many birds, the majority being RED-BILLED QUELEA’S, the most numerous bird on the planet with flocks up to a million in size that feed primarily on seeds of annual grasses, but also causes extensive damage to cereal crops and is sometimes called "Africa's feathered locust"
A female CHESTNUT-BACKED SPARROWLARK came down to drink along with BLACK-BILLED WOOD DOVE, BLACK-RUMPED WAXBILL, YELLOW-FRONTED CANARY and the amazing and downright odd looking SAHEL PARADISE WHYDAH, with its long streamer tail, looking like a small plane towing a long banner!
Other goodies in the area included GREY KESTREL, TAWNY EAGLE, BEAUDOUIN’S SNAKE EAGLE and five YELLOW-BILLED OXPECKERS picking ticks off an unsuspecting donkey.
It was then time for lunch and Lamin had found a perfect spot in the shade, this included a small shack borrowed from some locals who waited down the road for us to complete our lunch. We tucked into meat and fish balls with rice and bread, all washed down with an ice cold soft drink.
Once lunch was over, we left Lamin who would invite the locals to finish the food and headed a short distance east. Without getting out of the coach and to our delight, there on the water’s edge were three stunning EGYPTIAN PLOVER looking amazing in the sunshine. This is a very much sought-after bird and one that everyone hopes to see and they looked as splendid as we had imagined!
A lone MARABOU STORK circled overhead whilst the air was full of AFRICAN PALM SWIFTS, RED-CHESTED SWALLOW, COMMON HOUSE MARTIN, BARN SWALLOW, LITTLE SWIFT and SAND MARTIN.
There were a pair of CHESTNUT-BACKED SPARROWLARKS including a stunning-looking male and the whole area was full of NAMAQUA DOVES and a lot of BLACK-RUMPED WAXBILLS plus HAMMERKOP and a WOODLAND KINGFISHER that gave good scope views.
It was then time to drop back into Kaur wetlands where lo and behold, an EGYPTIAN PLOVER wandered down the middle of the road! It came close but unfortunately was flushed by a horse and cart.
On the water’s edge were QUAILFINCH which was a good addition to our lists plus RED-RUMPED SWALLOWS, SENEGAL THICKNEES, MONTAGU’S HARRIER, BLUE-CHEEKED BEE-EATER and a single EUROPEAN TURTLE DOVE. Migrants from further north included NORTHERN WHEATEAR and SUBALPINE WARBLER before it was time to retrace our steps to Farafenni for our ferry crossing back to the south bank.
The journey produced a BROWN SNAKE-EAGLE plus a little further along the road, a PURPLE ROLLER perched on roadside wires allowing us all good views.
We eventually got the ferry over to the south shore but unfortunately, our van had to wait for high tide before coming across on the large ferry, so we spent quite a long time waiting. For some, the crossing wasn’t wildlife free with GREAT EGRET, PIED KINGFISHER, a very distant AFRICAN FISH EAGLE and PALM-NUT VULTURE.
Whilst waiting, many of the group headed off for a walk and found WINDING CISTICOLA, MARSH SANDPIPER, WESTERN OLIVACEOUS WARBLER, COMMON REDSHANK and singing ORIOLE WARBLER but the latter remained unseen. The group who stayed in the shade saw PATAS MONKEYS, LONG-TAILED GLOSSY STARLINGS, VINACEOUS DOVE, PIED KINGFISHER, AFRICAN DARTER and both groups saw the same 19 SPUR-WINGED GEESE flying northwards.
Eventually the bus arrived and we began the forty five minute journey to Tendaba camp where we quickly checked in before heading straight for dinner. We completed the bird list and headed off to bed after a long but incredible rewarding day in the field.
Monday 13th November 2017
Breakfast was at 7.00am and at 7.30am we met on the jetty adjacent to the River Gambia for our trip on a boat known as a Pirogue. We headed straight to the northern shoreline and entered the dense Mangroves where we explored the many creeks.
AFRICAN DARTERS were incredibly plentiful and could be heard to ‘plop’ into the water from a high perch, then above the water you could only see a thin neck and head which is why they are known as a snake bird.
A few MANGROVE SUNBIRDS flitted about the tree tops and an AFRICAN BLUE FLYCATCHER was seen briefly in the same tree. BLUE-BREASTED, MALACHITE, WOODLAND, GREY-HEADED and PIED KINGFISHERS allowed close approach.
A GOLDEN-TAILED WOODPECKER called from the trees although remained unseen, but the AFRICAN HOBBY that zipped past at speed showed well. It was so tranquil exploring the Mangrove creeks with only the sights and sounds of the birds to delight us!
WHITE-THROATED BEE-EATERS flew overhead and we enjoyed good views of them perched on the top of dead trees. In the more open areas we discovered many herons and egrets including GREAT, INTERMEDIATE and LITTLE EGRETS plus HAMMERKOP, BLACK, BLACK-HEADED and GREY HERONS plus both WOOLY-NECKED and YELLOW-BILLED STORKS.
A family party of SPUR-WINGED GEESE were seen on the marsh and round the next corner, Lesley did well to spot a WHITE-BACKED NIGHT HERON perched low to the water and eventually with some careful manoeuvring by the boatman we had good views of two birds.
WHIMBREL were the most numerous wader along with BLACK-WINGED STILT, WOOD, GREEN and COMMON SANDPIPERS plus COMMON REDSHANK and COMMON GREENSHANK.
The bird of the morning had to go to the mighty GOLIATH HERON that flew up just as we rounded a corner, giving really good views on both in flight and when it landed on the marsh, you could certainly see why it had earnt its name!
A few MOSQUE SWALLOWS were seen perched but whilst the group were intent on watching them, David had brief views of an AFRICAN FINFOOT, which despite a good search wasn’t seen again.
Other species noted on our creek crawl included PINK-BACKED PELICANS, YELLOW-BILLED KITE and both GREAT and WHITE-BREASTED CORMORANTS.
With the boat trip coming to an end, we added PALM-NUT VULTURE, WHITE-BILLED BUFFALO WEAVER and GULL-BILLED TERNS to our day list.
It was then a speedy boat ride back to Tendaba via a slightly choppy and wet River Gambia, where we disembarked, grabbed our gear from our rooms and headed off to a nearby airfield.
Good numbers of WHIMBREL roosted on the pools and two CASPIAN TERNS fed on the open water.
It was then off to Kiang West National Park where we drove along a bumpy track noting LESSER BLUE-EARED STARLING and GRASSHOPPER BUZZARD. We set off across a groundnut field and there roosting in a large tree was a superb ABYSSINIAN GROUND HORNBILL that we watched for prolonged periods in the scope.
Whilst watching this magnificent bird, a pair of COPPER SUNBIRDS flew over us and in another tree a
WHITE-SHOULDERED BLACK TIT sat on top before flitting off. Raptors were in good attendance with the star bird going to a BATELEUR that flew past several times with a BEAUDOUIN’S SNAKE-EAGLE for company.
We were back in the bus for a short distance when Ebrima spotted a single WHITE-CRESTED HELMET SHRIKE and once we were all out we had reasonably good views of four birds. This area was a little hotspot for birds with PYGMY, SCARLET-CHESTED and VARIABLE sunbirds, the first two species showing particularly well for us.
With our stomachs rumbling we drove back towards Banjul making a stop alongside a river where around 100 LITTLE SWIFTS entertained us. SPUR-WINGED LAPWING and WESTERN MARSH HARRIER were seen close to the shoreline.
We tucked into filled rolls freshly prepared by Lamin in the shade of a small restaurant which was lovely and cool. Whilst tucking in, we saw a GAMBIAN SUN SQUIRREL running past before heading straight up a tree.
With well over 120km back to Banjul we began the journey and stopped twice, the first to see PURPLE ROLLER and DARK CHANTING GOSHAWK perched beside the road before travelling another 20km for a well-known hotspot for birds.
Both TAWNY & WAHLBERG’S EAGLE were spotted and in a small area of marsh and rice fields close to the road a small WEST AFRICAN CROCODILE was seen eyeing a family of AFRICAN JACANA’S. A GREEN-HEADED SUNBIRD showed well in the sunshine and below in the rough scrub, we all saw a TAWNY-FLANKED PRINIA.
SENEGAL PARROTS, BROAD-BILLED ROLLERS, PALM-NUT VULTURE and COMMON BULBUL were seen and on top of a tree we watched a PURPLE STARLING. Just minutes later a VIOLET TURACO lumbered into view before disappearing as quickly as it was found - so frustrating!
It was then time to head back to our base and get to our rooms for a shower and change before meeting to do the bird list over a cold Julbrew. Dinner was great and we headed off to bed after another action packed day!
Tuesday 14th November 2017
Breakfast was at the usual time and it was good to see Baba return with a different coach as our usual one had broken down the night before!
We headed straight for Pirang Forest where we met up with local guide Kawsu who took us deep into the dense woodland. Several ORANGE-CHEEKED WAXBILLS flitted in a forest clearing whilst in the large palms, a VIOLET TURACO lumbered around before flying off.
Reaching our spot, we made ourselves reasonably comfortable and Kawsu began mimicking a WHITE-SPOTTED FLUFFTAIL and within minutes it started calling although distant. With patience, it came closer then went away but luckily came back nearer and although we all heard it, Jon was the only one lucky enough to get a brief sighting of this skulking rail.
Whilst waiting for the Flufftail, some of the group had brief views of a BAR-BREASTED FIREFINCH plus a RED-BELLIED PARADISE FLYCATCHER.
Back at the forest clearing, a PIED-WINGED SWALLOW zipped through and better views of the ORANGE-CHEEKED WAXBILLS were had. Sally spotted a RED-NECKED FALCON flying over but only the front group managed to get onto it.
As we wandered back through the forest, butterflies including SMALL ORANGE ACREA and AFRICAN SPIRIT were seen. We carried onwards deeper into the woods until we reached a spot where high in the trees was a massive VERRAUX’S EAGLE OWL.
We managed to get the scopes on it and it was brilliant to watch as it lifted its diagnostic pink eyelids looking down at us. Also in the area were several BROWN-THROATED WATTLE-EYES.
Retracing our steps, we stopped off at a recently created drinking pool which was alive with BLACK-NECKED WEAVERS and our first BLUE-SPOTTED WOOD DOVES of the tour. A GREY-HEADED BRISTLEBILL gave scope views at the back of a dense copse, whilst the highlight at the drinking pool was an AFRICAN PYGMY KINGFISHER that flew down to feed before sitting in the open for us.
With time getting on, we headed back to the van noting a brief LITTLE GREENBUL on the way before heading to nearby Farasuto, where just a minute or so from the van was a pair of GREYISH EAGLE OWLS sitting together in the tree and providing superb views once again!
As we had our ‘eye in’ on owls we tried another site and in the top was a NORTHERN WHITE-FACED OWL sitting on a nest. Although partly obscured we could see its ear tufts and white face markings.
A nearby marsh was visited and as we walked down the track, ZITTING CISTICOLA was heard and lots of NORTHERN RED BISHOPS frequented the dense reed-beds.
The walk back was also productive with bright purple SPLENDID SUNBIRDS above, whilst a SINGING CISTICOLA perched briefly in the grassy clumps adjacent to us.
It was then back to Pirang Forest for lunch at the drinking pool, it was a freshly cooked feast created by Lamin which we all tucked into. A LITTLE GREENBUL was seen briefly, more RED-BELLIED PARADISE FLYCATCHERS were noted and a flock of BLACKCAP BABBLERS fed at the ranger station.
Pirang shrimp farm was our last port of call for the day and on arrival, we enjoyed a flyover AFRICAN SACRED IBIS plus lots of PIED KINGFISHERS. The pools had been closed down for a while but the shallow water attracted lots of species.
Driving to another area of this vast site produced PIED AVOCET, BLACK-WINGED STILTS, MARSH SANDPIPER, CURLEW SANDPIPER, COMMON RINGED PLOVER, LITTLE STINT, RED KNOT, COMMON REDSHANK and COMMON GREENSHANK.
GREATER FLAMINGO’S fed in the shallows and on a mud spit, it was great to compare LITTLE, SANDWICH, ROYAL, GULL-BILLED and CASPIAN TERNS. A single SLENDER-BILLED GULL was amongst the few GREY-HEADED GULLS and wintering passerines included NORTHERN WHEATEAR, WILLOW WARBLER and EUROPEAN REED WARBLER.
Time then caught up with us, so we headed back to base for a cool shower before meeting to do the list before our evening meal which once again went down well.
Wednesday 15th November 2017
After breakfast and whilst waiting for Baba to arrive we noted PALLID, PALM SWIFTS and LITTLE SWIFTS overhead plus in the carpark were the usual SPECKLED PIGEONS and BEAUTIFUL SUNBIRDS.
We headed off and made our first stop at Lamin rice fields where some of the harvested fields can be attractive to waders. GREEN SANDPIPER, WHIMBREL, COMMON REDSHANK were seen with COMMON SNIPE and LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS being additions to our lists.
A single LANNER flew over whilst LIZARD BUZZARD, SHIKRA, GREY KESTREL and HOODED VULTURE were all seen within a few minutes.
STRIATED & SQUACCO HERONS, BLACK CRAKE, SENEGAL COUCAL, GREEN WOOD-HOOPOE and WESTERN PLANTAIN-EATERS were seen before we crossed over the road to the most famous nature reserve in The Gambia, Abuko.
The trees were full of PIAPIACS and as we headed in through the entrance, we enjoyed our best views of several BROAD-BILLED ROLLERS sitting in dead trees.
The next thirty minutes or so were spent around the area known as the crocodile pool and there on the pool was a 10ft WEST AFRICAN CROCODILE!
The birding was excellent with a few FANTI SAW-WING flying and taking insects over the water, whilst in the trees were RED COLOBUS MONKEYS, WESTERN PLANTAIN-EATERS, PIED & WOODLAND KINGFISHERS plus a superb VIOLET TURACO that Steve M got in his scope.
A walk around the trails yielded lots of butterflies such as COMMON DOTTED BORDER, AFRICAN COPPER WHITE, SKY BLUE CUPID and many more.
We reached a lovely open area of gallery forest where a GREY-HEADED BRISTLEBILL was seen well, plus LITTLE BULBUL and a brief SNOWY-CROWNED ROBIN CHAT. We were forced to move on as we were being attacked by ants that had a wicked bite to them!
Further along, Ebrima located a LESSER HONEYGUIDE in the tree which zipped off before everyone saw it, as did the YELLOW-BREASTED APALIS that was even briefer.
A BUFF-SPOTTED WOODPECKER and COLLARED SUNBIRD frequented the high canopy but much more obliging was the RED-BELLIED PARADISE FLYCATCHER that kept low in front of us.
As we walked round, other notable species included SWALLOW-TAILED BEE-EATER, BROWN-THROATED WATTLE-EYE, LAVENDER and ORANGE-CHEEKED WAXBILLS and BRONZE MANNIKINS.
A nearby photographic hide was visited and with little patience we located YELLOW-CROWNED GONOLEK, AFRICAN THRUSH, BLACK-NECKED WEAVER, RED-BILLED FIREFINCH and RED-EYED DOVES.
It was then back to the bus for cold drinks that went down really well after a brilliant morning before moving onto Lamin Lodge for lunch.
The entrance track saw us find our first BLACK-WINGED BISHOP of the tour, the male showing rather well.
Lunch was a fine buffet overlooking the river and it was good to relax in the shade.
Our afternoon session was spent at Tujerang, an open area of Savannah grassland which we hoped would deliver some new species. A SINGING CISTICOLA greeted our arrival as it sang from a high perch and a few LITTLE BEE-EATERS and PURPLE ROLLER were watched in the afternoon sunshine.
WHISTLING CISTICOLAS showed well and in the distance a LONG-CRESTED EAGLE perched on a bush. Quite a few WESTERN YELLOW WAGTAILS were amongst the cattle of our British race flavissima. A WHINCHAT sat on a gate and nearby we saw our seventh species of kingfisher with a lovely STRIPED KINGFISHER perched up for all to see.
A CARDINAL WOODPECKER was spotted in a dead tree and along the track were COMMON CHIFFCHAFF, WILLOW WARBLER and COMMON REDSTART which we were familiar with in the UK.
In a small building site area we found a WHITE-FRONTED BLACK CHAT perched on breeze blocks and in the distance, a VEILLIOT’S BARBET perched up on a small branch.
Again, birds were coming thick and fast with four AFRICAN GREEN PIGEONS flying over as did a BLACK-HEADED LAPWING. A distant CHESTNUT-BACKED SPARROW WEAVER perched up before flying off and the LONG-CRESTED EAGLE flew overhead.
A wonderful male RED-WINGED WARBLER flitted around on a wall and after getting superb views, we left it to go back to its nest.
As we got back near the van, three DOUBLE-SPURRED FRANCOLINS were seen, including two males that sparred in the middle of the field.
With a little time spare, we called into Tanji village where a brisk walk to the beach provided us with a fine adult KELP GULL that swam alongside LESSER BLACK-BACKED and GREY-HEADED GULLS. Those who stayed on the bus saw a GIANT KINGFISHER in the nearby creek.
It was then off to the hotel for time to relax before meeting for our evening meal which once again was very good.
Thursday 16th November 2017
We were awoken by the calls of PEARL-SPOTTED OWLETS in the garden and breakfast was great as it set us up for our day in the field.
Our birding site for the morning was the community woodland at Penjem where the locals are being paid to look after the woods, the entrance fees from birders being split between the village and the Gambian bird guide association.
A few AFRICAN GREEN PIGEONS flew around the open woodland as did the colourful SENEGAL PARROTS. A FINE-SPOTTED WOODPECKER showed well on the side of tree, allowing good scope views and several FANTI SAW-WINGS flew around the clearings with one landing for us to view.
The woodland allowed us to see species that we had previously seen, only better. Of course we did add some new ones such as BLACK SCIMITARBILL, BRUBRU, BROWN-BACKED WOODPECKER, YELLOW-BELLIED HYLIOTA and WESTERN VIOLET-BACKED SUNBIRD.
WHITE-CRESTED HELMETSHIKES showed brilliantly in the morning sunshine as did a SENEGAL EREMOMELA as it flitted around in the vines in front of us. Raptors seen here were TAWNY & WAHLBERG’S EAGLE, SHIKRA, LIZARD BUZZARD and HOODED VULTURE.
Butterflies were present in good numbers and some new species included SILVERLINE, VARIABLE EGGFLY and COMMON DOTTED BORDER.
With lunchtime approaching and the weather hotting up, we headed off towards Marrakissa and making a stop in an agricultural area yielded an AFRICAN GOLDEN ORIOLE plus a few YELLOW-THROATED LEAFLOVES, but best of all, a pair of PIN-TAILED WHYDAH’S, amazing!
It was then a short distance to Marrakissa camp where it was great to have a cold drink in the shade whilst watching PURPLE GLOSSY STARLINGS, PIAPIAC, VILLAGE WEAVERS and WESTERN PLANTAIN EATERS.
After a good rest we wandered out to the neighbouring compound where the local guides had found an AFRICAN SCOP’S OWL roosting and although pretty difficult to see with binoculars, we managed to get the scope on this secretive bird much to everyone’s delight!
Lunch was served and was superb accompanied with some very tasty chips and a chilli sauce that Steve C particularly enjoyed. As we were finishing up, Steve G found a SPOTTED HONEYGUIDE close to the drinking pool and we all managed to see it before it flitted off.
It was then a forty-five minute drive to Ebrima’s local patch, Kotu Creek which enabled us to have forty winks after a large lunch.
On arrival, we found BLUE-BREASTED and PIED KINGFISHERS along with WHITE-CROWNED ROBIN CHATS and a singing ORIOLE WARBLER which not everyone saw. A WOODLAND KINGFISHER showed before we walked round to an area of marsh close by.
Three HADADA IBIS fed along the water’s edge whilst REED CORMORANT, AFRICAN JACANA, BLACK-WINGED STILT and a single WOOD SANDPIPER was noted.
Water levels were quite high for waders so there was no sign of Painted Snipe, but we did have good views of several BLACK CRAKES and a NILE MONITOR LIZARD.
We split into two groups, the first heading back to Kotu Bridge where a BLUE-BREASTED KINGFISHER showed well, whilst the other group walked across the Marshes picking out AFRICAN SILVERBILL, YELLOW-CROWNED GONOLEK and DOUBLE-SPURRED FRANCOLIN on their way.
It was then unfortunately time to head back to the hotel and have time to relax before meeting for dinner. During our evening meal, we were entertained by a Gambian acrobatic group whose crazy antics went down well with the group.
Friday 17th November 2017
Our last morning in The Gambia and once again, we met at 7.00am for breakfast before spending an hour or so wandering around the hotel grounds, where the highlight was an AFRICAN SILVERBILL that came to drink at the dripping tap in the southern section of the gardens. Regular species included RED-BILLED FIREFINCH, RED-CHEEKED CORDON BLEU, WHITE-BILLED BUFFALO WEAVER, and WHITE-CROWNED ROBIN CHAT whilst the usual YELLOW-BILLED KITES and HOODED VULTURES circled overhead.
With an early evening flight ahead, we left the hotel and drove the short distance to Brufut where a walk was enjoyed in reasonably cool conditions. A rubbish tip held lots of HOODED VULTURES and WESTERN CATTLE EGRETS and along the track, we were treated to good views of a KLAAS’S CUCKOO as it perched for the group to see. SWALLOW-TAILED and LITTLE BEE-EATERS allowed close approach for the photographers amongst us and at the nearby drinking hole we watched VILLAGE INDIGOBIRD, LITTLE WEAVER and YELLOW-FRONTED CANARY.
The Palm trees provided food for many bird species including FINE-SPOTTED WOODPECKER, YELLOW-THROATED LEAFLOVE, WHISTLING CISTICOLA, TAWNY-FLANKED PRINIA and YELLOW-CROWNED GONOLEK.
We then spent time sitting on benches and watching several water containers put out by locals for the birds. LAUGHING, RED-EYED DOVES plus BLACK-BILLED WOOD DOVES were common and many VILLAGE WEAVERS. LAVENDER and ORANGE-CHEEKED WAXBILLS flitted around. Both VIOLET TURACO and WESTERN PLANTAIN-EATER crashed through the trees and a single YELLOW-BILLED SHRIKE showed well.
Local guide Aba then took us into the woodland where just six feet away amongst dead leaves on the ground roosted a well camouflaged LONG-TAILED NIGHTJAR which simply amazed us all!
It was then time to head over to Kanju’s garden via a grove of trees that held not one but two NORTHERN WHITE-FACED OWLS that showed much better than the bird we had seen previously.
Lunch was a barbeque in Manju’s garden, but somewhat rushed as Lamin had been cooking all morning only to arrive later than planned which meant we couldn’t do the fine spread justice. We did take some barbecued Lamb kebabs with us in the coach and Ebrima took a full plate of food which flew into the air when we went over a large bump, much to everyone’s amusement!
We arrived back at the hotel and had a short time to get showered and packed before having a cold drink in the bar and departing for the airport.
Check in was simple and it was good to spend some time in the air conditioned terminal building. Our flight left on time and we arrived to a chilly zero degrees, a thirty six degree drop!
After passport control and baggage reclaim we said our goodbyes after a simply amazing tour with so many great memories, brilliant wildlife and a fantastic group to share it all with!