The Gambia – February 2012

gambia

This was our first visit to the African continent. As it was our first visit we expected that most of the birds we saw would be lifers, so we didn’t plan to go upriver where some of the more sought after species like Egyptian Plover are found, maybe next time.

Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, surrounded by Senegal except for a short coastline on the Atlantic west coast. The country is situated around the Gambia River, which flows into the Atlantic at Banjul. Its area is 11,295 km² with a population of c1.7 million people. Generally the weather was beautiful, usually warm and sunny with temperatures around 30 degrees, sometimes there were high clouds.

Thu 9th Feb 2012

Bridgette and I travelled down to Gatwick after work as the flight out to The Gambia was early on Friday morning. We stayed at the Courtyard Marriot, which is just five minutes from South Terminal, so was very convenient.

Fri 10th Feb 2012

CULTURE SHOCK

We got to the airport at about 6am, met up with my sister and family and checked in problem free very quickly for our Thomas Cook flight to Banjul. It was a six hour flight and we landed at about 2pm.

Banjul was a bustling airport and it was very hot. We had never been to Africa before and were soon surrounded by people wanting to “help”. It was a steep learning curve, I paid to get in to the toilet and again to get out, two guys grabbed our cases and jumped the queue to the front and got us out to the bus, we tipped them. Then a guy wanted a tip for putting our cases on the roof of the bus, another wanted to change ten pound coins for a £10 note, and we tipped the driver when we got off. It wasn’t until the Thomas Cook rep arrived to brief us that we knew what was going on. We learned fast and it was very different on the way home.

We sat in the bus, sweltering, waiting for it to leave and I finally started to see a few birds, recognising any of them was something else though. I started with the obvious ones, there were four PIED CROWS, a couple of YELLOW-BILLED KITES and HOODED VULTURES were overhead, two Cattle Egrets were on the airfield and 2+ SPECKLED PIGEONS were on the control tower, clouds of distant hirundines went unidentified.

Finally the bus left for our hotel, the Laico Atlantic in Banjul, it took about 25 minutes. Along the Banjul-Serrekunda Highway near Old Jeswang I managed to identify three Pied Kingfishers, a Curlew, a Great Egret, an Osprey and two BLUE-BELLIED ROLLERS on wires were lifers, but a few Bee-eaters went unidentified. The obvious poverty we passed was an eye-opener for us all.

We were grateful to arrive in the calm of the hotel lobby where we were greeted with cool flannels, iced tea and a man playing restful music. We were quickly allocated rooms and were happy to find we had a garden room. If you stay here it is the better choice, the seaview/poolside rooms are equally nice but the outdoor entertainment can be noisy till very late.

Our ground floor room opened on to a little balcony and the garden was packed with birds. The most obvious were the ridiculously tame Cattle Egrets, which came very close always on the lookout for a tasty morsel. Most of the birds in the garden were lifers, there were c50 BRONZE MANNIKINS, instantly recognisable as we had kept them when we had an aviary 20 years ago, with 6+ VILLAGE WEAVERS, a pair of RED-BILLED HORNBILLS sat in a tree just five feet away, a PIED CROW, a pair of RED-EYED DOVES, two COMMON BULBULS, a pair of the wonderfully loud WESTERN GREY PLANTAIN-EATERS and best of the lot a technicolour BEAUTIFUL SUNBIRD.

Pied Crow gam-pied-crow
Village Weavergam-village-weaver
Red-billed Hornbillgam-rbhornbll

We unpacked and went for a wander around the grounds. We found an area labelled the Bird Garden, which was just a patch of trees about the size of two tennis courts. Although it boasted an impressive bird list, in truth I saw little in there, one of the reasons I found out later in the week was that the current hotel manager had banned the staff from feeding the birds here anymore. We found a bar by the beach and whilst sampling a pint of the local Julbrew beer I was surprised to see a Pomarine Skua flying past strongly. A White Wagtail fed under the tables and a couple of GREY-HEADED GULLS offshore, with 10+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls, were lifers. In the gardens outside our room I saw a beautiful LONG-TAILED GLOSSY STARLING, a SENEGAL EREMOMELA creeping along the hedgerow, a Ring-necked Parakeet flew over, my first genuine wild one and six RED-BILLED FIREFINCHES (2m, 4f) fed under a bush. After a very nice buffet style evening meal all seven of us strolled the grounds looking for nocturnal wildlife but all we found were two COMMON AFRICAN TOADS. We retired fairly early to the strange but necessary ritual of “camping” under a mosquito net and slept like logs.

Sat 11th Feb 2012

TUPAC TOURS

I awoke with the sunrise and was out in the grounds before anyone awoke as I always do. Initially I saw many of the same species as yesterday but as I sat making notes on a seat by the tennis courts watching Yellow-billed Kites and Hooded Vultures leaving the roost I noticed some swifts overhead. There were three Little Swifts and four AFRICAN PALM SWIFTS. The former I had only ever seen one before at Netherfield Ash Lagoons in Nottingham in 2001 and the very distinctive PALM SWIFTS were lifers. Nearby I found a Common Whitethroat surely on northward passage. One of the hotel staff approached me and asked if I had seen the bats. When I said no, he showed me the roost in a large stand of bamboo. They were EPAULETTED FRUIT BATS and I could see nine, although he said many more were out of view. In the garden outside our apartment were three GREEN WOOD HOOPOES and a VINACEOUS DOVE. Two Chiffchaffs and a female Blackcap were also there and three Yellow-legged Gulls were offshore. Also in the garden were an AFRICAN TIGER and a CREAMY SMALL WHITE butterflies.

Epauletted Fruit Batgam-epauletted-fruit-bat

After breakfast we all decided to walk along the beach to the Albert Market. I don’t suppose we had gone more than 300 yards before we were latched onto by one of the beach bumsters, who went under the name of Tupac, and as there were seven of us we acquired two of his mates. He volunteered to be our guide, keep us safe from other unwanted attentions and make sure we weren’t ripped off. He achieved the first two but I’m not sure about the latter because I think we still paid over the odds for some things, but it wasn’t a lot of money and as the people led such a hand to mouth existence we didn’t mind. The market was a bustling hive of activity and the sights and smells were memorable. We walked back past the President’s Palace (no pictures allowed) and paid Tupac off. It was a valuable lesson again and we vowed to find ourselves an official guide for the rest of the week, which we did.

Arriving back at the bar at Happy Hour (Happy Hour lasted 5 hours!) we had a cooling drink and ordered food. A GREY KESTREL flew along the edge of the grounds, five BROWN BABBLERS were on the lawn and offshore there were two Royal Terns, five Black-headed Gulls, an adult Grey-headed Gull and both dark and pale phase Pomarine Skuas. Returning to get our swimming gear a beautiful PURPLE GLOSSY STARLING was a lifer too. Finally by the bar were two AGAMA LIZARDS.

Sun 12th Feb 2012

MAGICAL ABUKO

Today Bridgette and I had arranged a bird guide to take us out for the day. It didn’t all go completely to plan as Dembo Sonko, the guide we had booked was ill and although he’d tried to contact us at the hotel last night we didn’t get his message until we returned late to our room. However Dembo sent in his place Fansu Bojang and said he would come to the hotel in the evening to arrange our second day out. Fansu arrived with his driver at 7:30am to pick us up for our half day excursion.

It was just a short drive to Abuko and we arrived there just after 8am. An AFRICAN GREY HORNBILL was calling from the highest tree in the car park. We entered the reserve and for the first couple of hundred yards it was very quiet although Fansu was identifying any bird calls as we walked. Near a huge termite mound he picked out a VIOLET TURACO calling, which I managed to see in flight showing its vermilion wings as it flew. Luckily we saw another perched later. Arriving at the main pools there were two Black-crowned Night Herons (ad & juv) and we found ourselves surrounded by monkeys. There were 10+ VERVET MONKEYS and a single PATAS MONKEY, also here was a GAMBIAN SUN SQUIRREL. At the pool there were many birds most of which were lifers. There was a BLACK-NECKED WEAVER, 10+ AFRICAN DARTERS, three AFRICAN JACANAS, a Squacco Heron, a BLACK CRAKE, a male GIANT KINGFISHER, an AFRICAN HARRIER HAWK flew over, two LITTLE GREENBULS, an AFRICAN THRUSH, a SNOWY-CROWNED ROBIN CHAT, a GREY-BACKED CAMEROPTERA and a singing male COMMON WATTLE-EYE.

Giant Kingfishergam-giant-kingfisher
Snowy-crowned Robin Chatgam-snowy-crowned-robin-chat

It was difficult to keep up at times. Moving along the track along the edge of the pool we added a PIAPIAC, a pair of CARDINAL WOODPECKERS, a BLUE-SPOTTED WOOD DOVE, a superb YELLOW-CROWNED GONOLEK, which is a red and yellow bush shrike, and two LAVENDER WAXBILLS. At the back of the pools an AFRICAN PIED HORNBILL was calling loudly.

African Pied Hornbillgam-african-pied-hornbill

Arriving at the edge of the water where there was a collapsed hide, which had succumbed to the weather, we continued to add new birds. There was a COLLARED SUNBIRD, a pair of GREY WOODPECKERS, then two of my target species, a BEARDED BARBET, which looked a bit like a Muppet bird, and a PALM-NUT VULTURE, a very handsome two-tone vulture which surveyed the pool from the top of a palm tree. Finally Fansu found a SCARLET-CHESTED SUNBIRD, a LESSER HONEYGUIDE, a perched VIOLET TURACO and two Ospreys flew over.

Bearded Barbetgam-bearded-barbet
Palm-nut Vulturegam-palm-nut-vulture
Violet Turacogam-violet-turaco

We moved away from the pools into the forest and started to see a different range of species, a cracking male WESTERN BLUEBILL, an AFRICAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER, and a calling male KLAAS’S CUCKOO, a male NORTHERN PUFFBACK and a YELLOW-BREASTED APALIS were all in the same tree. Then we found a party of RED COLOBUS MONKEYS, which were very close. A GREEN TURACO was perched here but didn’t linger.

Red Colobus Monkeygam-red-colobus

A kettle of vultures and kites contained a Black Kite as well as the commoner Yellow-billed and a PINK-BACKED PELICAN. It was around midday when we left Abuko and crossed the busy road to Lamin Rice Fields. Here we added 20+ species in an hour. A Grey Heron was in a ditch with a BLACK HERON as we entered. Two FORK-TAILED DRONGOS were flycatching beside the path. A noisy group of four Pied Kingfishers were in the same bush. Then we came to the first patch of rice fields where an AFRICAN MOURNING DOVE sat in a tree very near to a beautiful ash grey SHIKRA, a SENEGAL COUCAL showed well here too.

Shikragam-shikra
Senegal Coucalgam-senegal-coucal

The currently dry rice fields had a selection of waterbirds around them in the wet ditches including a Purple Heron, an Intermediate Egret, two WESTERN REEF HERONS, four Spur-winged Plovers, a much wanted HAMERKOP, two AFRICAN SPOONBILLS, a Great Egret, three SENEGAL THICK-KNEES, two GREEN-BACKED HERONS, two BLACK CRAKES and more familiarly two Greenshanks and a Common Sandpiper. Unfortunately because it was quite late in the day and the fields were now disturbed by workers, noisy children and a selection of dogs, Fansu was unable to find the fairly secretive Painted Snipe we had hoped for. All of the dogs we encountered in Gambia seemed to be gentle fawn coloured mongrels, and whilst I wouldn’t recommend stroking them, there doesn’t seem to be any of the snarling unchained hounds that seem to occur across a lot of Europe.

Western Reef Herongam-western-reef-heron
Green-backed Herongam-green-backed-heron

In the trees on the way back to the truck we added to the holiday list a Woodchat Shrike, a Fan-tailed Warbler, a Little Egret, two Yellow Wagtails of the Iberian race, which are resident here, a BLACK-BILLED WOOD DOVE, a SPLENDID SUNBIRD and four RED-CHEEKED CORDON BLEUS.

Fansu had been an excellent stand-in guide and returned us to the Laico at about 1:30pm. We spent the afternoon relaxing around the grounds and pool. A SHIKRA was sat in a tree in the gardens.

Dembo arrived at 5pm as promised with his driver, when I walked out to meet him I was ecstatic to find six BLUE-CHEEKED BEE-EATERS over the car park. Dembo said he felt much better and made arrangements to take us out on Tuesday for the day. We went through a list of possible targets and it soon became obvious that some of my wish list could only be seen by going upriver, which wouldn’t be happening on this trip.

Mon 13th Feb 2012

CROCS, VULTURES & GOLF

I got out early as usual and wandered the grounds seeing all the usual suspects but an African Thrush was new for the grounds. Whilst we were out yesterday Carol and Ty had found an official guide at the front of the hotel. His name was Gallo Sowe and he was to remain with our party for the rest of the week. Unfortunately he was a Manchester United fan but other than that he was an excellent guide. Football, particularly English football is huge in Gambia and we saw graffiti for most of the big teams and even Oxford United and Dagenham & Redbridge!

Our first stop was at Kachikally Sacred Crocodile Pool and Museum, which was about 10 miles from Banjul. The pool is one of the leading tourist attractions in The Gambia. There are over 80 crocodiles there. It was founded over 500 years ago by the Bojang clan and the museum was very interesting. The pool is said to aid infertile women and bring luck to individuals. The crocodiles have become very tame, and they allow visitors to pet them, the crocs allegedly prefer fish over red meat, but I still wouldn’t trust one. However, we succumbed and have the photographic evidence of us all stroking a crocodile, limbs still intact.

Along the approach road a beautiful ABYSSINIAN ROLLER was a lifer and 20 more familiar Barn Swallows flew between the houses. In the grounds a BLUE-BREASTED KINGFISHER was sat in a tree by the main pool, and was the only one of the trip.

Blue-breasted Kingfisher gam-blue-breasted-kingfisher

Also here were two Hamerkops and a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron.

Our next stop was the Senegambia Hotel in Serrekunda where everyday they feed the vultures and kites at 11:30am. A colourful local wedding coming along the road made us a little late but we caught most of the feeding time. There were over 100 Hooded Vultures, 50+ Yellow-billed Kites and at least one Black Kite, but there were probably more and several opportunistic Cattle Egrets. After they had been fed the man who was feeding them walked towards the drinking pools and the whole vulture flock followed him there en masse to drink and bathe, then sat in the sun drying out

Hooded Vulturesgam-hooded-vultures

Whilst everyone else watched the Vervet Monkeys or was it the monkeys watching them,  I went for a wander around the grounds. The only new bird I found was a BROAD-BILLED ROLLER.

Vervet Monkeygam-vervet-monkey

We left the hotel and walked to a nearby bar where we had welcome cold drinks before rejoining our open-backed truck. Beside the bar two LAUGHING DOVES were in the road, a species I had looked for unsuccessfully in Fuerteventura in November.

Our final stop was to be Fajara Golf Course so Gallo could show us, and me particularly, some birds. It was a good call as I saw several species here that I didn’t see anywhere else. We stopped beside the Kotu stream on the Bertil Harding Highway and walked in through crops fields. A Black Heron and a Bearded Barbet were notable in the fields. At the edge of the golf course Gallo pointed out a pair of LITTLE BEE-EATERS, tiny and beautifully coloured.

Little Bee-eatersgam-little-bee-eaters

A YELLOW-BILLED SHRIKE was nearby, a very large brown shrike and three BLACK-HEADED PLOVERS stood at the edge of the mangroves.

Black-headed Ploversgam-black-headed-plovers

Other new birds for the trip here included the only Hoopoe of the week, a SACRED IBIS, my first wild one following a feral bird in Norfolk, and a FINE-SPOTTED WOODPECKER. Also the only Blue-cheeked Bee-eater that sat still for a record shot this week.

Hoopoegam-hoopoe
Blue-cheeked Bee-eatergam-blue-cheeked-bee-eater

When we got back to the truck parked by the highway a BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE was sat on the wires there and finally a NAMAQUA DOVE was next to a service station we stopped at Denton Bridge.

In the grounds in the afternoon there was COMMON ZEBRA BLUE, ELEGANT ACRAEA and CITRUS SWALLOWTAIL butterflies.

Tue 14th Feb 2012

VALENTINES DAY

Today was planned to be a full day out with Dembo for Bridgette and I, it didn’t quite turn out as planned but more of that later. Dembo picked us up at 7:30am and had with him another English couple, Ian and Marion of Devon. We made a brief stop at Jeswang Rice Fields, mainly so I could tick WHITE-FACED WHISTLING DUCKS. There were 50+ here, showing mainly in flight as they circled around. Also here was a good selection of waterbirds including two Black Herons, a Sacred Ibis and an African Spoonbill.

Our next stop was at Farata where the hoped for Northern White-faced Owl failed to show so we quickly moved on to Mandinaba rice fields. Here we found a great selection of birds and tick followed tick. Lifers here were LIZARD BUZZARD, WATTLED PLOVER, SENEGAL PARROT, WAHLBERG’S EAGLE, AFRICAN GOLDEN ORIOLE, YELLOW-BILLED OXPECKERS, BLACK-HEADED HERON and VARIABLE SUNBIRD. We also had excellent views of Grey Kestrels, a Black-shouldered Kite, a Marsh Harrier and an Abyssinian Roller. Our only other dip of the day was Hadada Ibis which didn’t show.

Grey Kestrelgam-grey-kestrel
Yellow-billed Oxpeckersgam-yellow-billed-oxpeckers
Abyssinian Rollergam-abyssinian-roller

After an excellent hour we moved on to Pirang, Dembo’s home town. In the village we added RED-CHESTED SWALLOWS and a female VILLAGE INDIGOBIRD. We drove out through the village to Pirang Shrimp Farm. Viewing from the top of a raised bank towards the distant pools we added Crested Lark, Black-winged Stilt, two WIRE-TAILED SWALLOWS, four MOSQUE SWALLOWS, RED-BILLED QUELEAS, YELLOW-CROWNED BISHOPS, four BLACK-TAILED QUAIL FINCHES, which we managed to see on the ground which is usually very difficult to do, a LONG-TAILED CORMORANT, a TAWNY-FLANKED PRINIA and NORTHERN GREY-HEADED SPARROW. Also notable here were Namaqua Doves, Spur-winged Plovers, Pink-backed Pelicans, African Spoonbill and Black-shouldered Kite to name just a few.

Namaqua Dovegam-namaqua-dove
Spur-winged Plovergam-spur-winged-plover
Black-shouldered Kitegam-black-shouldered-kite

Just before we left Pirang, Dembo stopped to show us a Silk Cotton Tree (or Kapok), which is apparently the largest tree in Gambia. It was certainly impressive and a pair of Barn Owls lived in it. Although we could see their nest hole the birds didn’t show.

We moved on to the Faraba Banta Bush Track stopping along the track as birds showed. Driving to the car parking area notable birds seen included European Bee-eaters, a BROWN SNAKE EAGLE, a DARK CHANTING GOSHAWK, another NORTHERN GREY-HEADED SPARROW and a Northern Wheatear, quite exciting to think it could be at Saul Warth in a few weeks.

At the car park we were met by a Ranger to be walked out into the bush to see “an exciting bird” but Dembo didn’t tell us what. It was a roosting GREYISH EAGLE OWL, a rare species in Gambia with only a couple of pairs in the country.

Greyish Eagle Owlgam-greyish-eagle-owl

We headed to a shelter to eat our picnic lunch, making one stop first, where there were four lifers in the space of ten minutes. There was a YELLOW-THROATED TINKERBIRD, a singing male SENEGAL BATIS, two YELLOW-FRONTED CANARIES, two STONE PARTRIDGES and a Bearded Barbet was here too. When we got to our lunch stop it became apparent that Bridgette was feeling ill. She had been struck down by the dreaded Banjul Belly. Dembo took the decision with the agreement of Ian and Marion to drive the 15 miles back to Banjul to drop her off. He said it was important to rest and rehydrate and the heat of the bush in the middle of the day wasn’t the place to do it.

We returned to the Laico and dropped Bridgette off, but then had to rethink the schedule. Dembo decided with the time remaining we should go to Abuko instead of the original itinerary. We got back to Abuko within half an hour, Dembo left his truck with a one-man roadside car wash and we walked into the reserve. It was the quiet part of the day and many of the species I had already seen when I had been there with Fansu.

Near the main hide a red Patas Monkey sat picking through litter and from the hide we saw Purple Heron, Black-headed Heron and four Black-crowned Night Herons. Two lovely PIED-WINGED SWALLOWS here were lifers.

Patas Monkey

gam-patas-monkey

Black-headed Herongam-black-headed-heron

We moved away from the pools into the forest and almost immediately Dembo found a superb RED-BELLIED PARADISE FLYCATCHER. It was dark in the forest but I managed to get this video grab below.

Red-bellied Paradise Flycatchergam-red-bellied-paradise-flycatcher

We saw Western Bluebill but generally the woods were quiet and no owls were sat out. We did see a BROWN-FLANKED SKINK and as we were leaving the reserve we had very close views of an adult and a juvenile MAXWELL’S DUIKER, a tiny deer species.

Wed 15th Feb 2012

BABOONS & BOATS

Today the seven of us, together with Gallo, travelled in the open top truck to Makasutu Culture Forest. On the way I saw six White-faced Whistling Ducks at Jeswang and a flock of 50+ Little Swifts soared above Serrekunda when we stopped at a supermarket. We stopped en route at Gammol School, we were met by the headmaster and given a brief overview. The children were very excited to see us and sung the universal “Everywhere We Go” for us. We signed the guest book and left gifts of pens and sweets and other goodies with the headmaster before leaving.

On arrival at Makasutu Gallo sorted out a guide called Seal, who once he realised I was a proper birder and not just another tourist went to a lot of trouble to find birds for me. Gallo proved to be an excellent bird finder too. We got a tour of the forest where Seal showed us many new things such as termite mounds, the only two Mahogany Trees left in the forest and explained the different medicinal uses of many of the plants in the forest. New birds here were two BLACKCAP BABBLERS, a beautifully-named YELLOW-THROATED LEAFLOVE and a stunning SWALLOW-TAILED BEE-EATER. It was a good tour.

When we arrived back at the centre prior to catching our afternoon river boat trip we were pleased and surprised to find the camp full of GUINEA BABOONS (Papio papio). It was a family party and included a very large Alpha male, several females with youngsters and young males. The male was a very scary looking creature and having seen his teeth it’s easy to believe they can kill Leopards.

Guinea Baboonsgam-guinea-baboons

We went down to the jetty and the boat turned out to be a large dug-out canoe, which seated all of us, and was powered by one paddler at the stern. On the bank a group of waders included a Wattled Plover, 16 Senegal Thick-Knees, four Greenshanks and two Common Sandpipers. Ty spotted a LANNER FALCON powering over and an Osprey was also overhead. Other notable birds in the mangroves included a singing male Common Wattle-eye, two Long-tailed Cormorants, two Pied Kingfishers, three Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and a Redshank was new for the holiday.

When we left the canoe a Blue-bellied Roller showed well and we had excellent views of Sun Squirrels.

Sun Squirrelsgam-sun-squirrels

On the return trip 100+ Speckled Pigeons were at the peanut factory near Denton Bridge. We dropped off our kit and headed off to the bar and pool. Bridgette and Jared went off to try out some local cookery. The rest of us reacquainted ourselves with a cold pint of Julbrew, which has the best beer mat ever, a Woodland Kingfisher, which we only saw on beer mats. A large male Agama was sunbathing beside us. Two Red-chested Swallows dipped into the pool picking off flies and just before dinner two RED-NECKED FALCONS flew through the complex together.

Julbrewgam-julbrew
Agamagam-agama

Thu 16th Feb 2012

QUALITY NOT QUANTITY

Today I was having a half day out with Dembo to try and get some of the species we missed when Bridgette was taken ill. He picked me up at 7:30am and we headed out with quality not quantity being the plan for the day.

When I mentioned that I had failed to get GREATER PAINTED-SNIPE when out with Fansu he said we would stop at Lamin rice fields first and he would find me one. At Lamin I added Green Sandpiper and Whimbrel to the holiday list, but the first lifer of the day was a DOUBLE-SPURRED FRANCOLIN, a chunky gamebird which flushed out of the grass in front of us and flew away. We arrived at a small pool with a reed bed and it didn’t take many minutes before Dembo said “I have one”. It took me a little longer but eventually I got onto a GREATER PAINTED-SNIPE, a much wanted target for me ever since it was on the Tropical Birds Brooke Bond tea cards. It was elusive amongst the reeds but eventually gave good views in open spaces. I was so entranced I forgot to take a photo. Also here was an Iberian Wagtail showing well on the ground, rather than the usual flyover views, three Senegal Parrots, two Black Crakes and an assortment of herons including a Black Heron and four African Spoonbills.

Then it was back in the car to drive to Faraba Sutu Woods, Dembo as usual said he was going to show me another exciting bird but he didn’t say what so he left me guessing again. On arrival we set out across a dry field where nine Wattled Plovers flushed and an African Golden Oriole showed well. Dembo started whistling loudly and I wondered what he was hoping to attract. Suddenly the whistle was answered and Dembo pointed. It was a very rare BROWN-NECKED PARROT coming closer,   eventually it encircled us trading whistles with Dembo. Another great lifer in the bag.

Our next stop was the very active village of Brufut, where we stopped whilst Dembo bought his lunch from a roadside stall, and our driver then dropped us off at the far end of the village. We searched a few trees but again failed to see Northern White-faced Owl. We headed on into Brufut woods, where a Melodious Warbler was feeding. I followed Dembo into the trees until he stopped suddenly and set his scope up pointing at the top of a very large tree. There was a VERREAUX’S EAGLE OWL roosting, a wonderful bird with delicate pink eyelids making it look like it was wearing make-up. We watched it for a while and I was able to get some good photos.

Verreaux’s Eagle Owlgam-verreauxs-eagle-owl

We carried on further until we came to a tree that on a good day would have held Green Pigeons but unfortunately a pair of Palm-nut Vultures sat there put paid to that. We walked a little further into the forest and were met by one of the wardens. He led us into a clearer area and pointed at the floor just six feet away, I saw a pile of dead leaves, then I looked harder and there was a roosting male LONG-TAILED NIGHTJAR. A stunning bird and one I would never have seen, let alone this close, unguided.

Long-tailed Nightjargam-long-tailed-nightjar

Next we spent a little while in the hide by a small pool but nothing out of the ordinary flew in, so we moved on again. Dembo spotted a GREY-HEADED BRISTLEBILL creeping around in the undergrowth on the way back to the exit. Arriving there we settled down with a couple of cold drinks and watched the feeders. I had three more lifers whilst we watched birds come and go, they were ORANGE-CHEEKED WAXBILL, BLACK-WINGED BISHOP and YELLOW WHITE-EYE.

Here are a few of the birds at the feeders, Village Weaver with Black-necked Weaver, Black-winged Bishop, Black-billed Wood Dove and Blackcap Babbler.

gam-village-black-necked-weaver

gam-black-winged-bishop

gam-black-billed-wood-dove

gam-blackcap-babbler

We then drove on to a nearby pool on the edge of an allotment to try once again for Kingfishers. This time we were lucky, there was a MALACHITE KINGFISHER, two Pied Kingfishers and a male Giant Kingfisher here.

Malachite Kingfishergam-malachite-kingfisher

We left Brufut and drove back towards Banjul. I had asked Dembo if he would do an extra hours guiding as it had been so good and Bridgette and the others were out for the day anyway. He readily agreed so we headed for the Senegambia Hotel. We walked straight out to a service road at the back of the grounds and Dembo quickly located a singing male WHITE-CROWNED ROBIN CHAT, which was a lifer as I had only seen Snowy-crowned up to this point.

We were quickly back in the car and heading for our last stop at Koto Bridge. Here I hoped to add one last bird, ORIOLE WARBLER. Dembo led me straight to the hide where an ORIOLE WARBLER was singing in the mangroves but was difficult to see. First we saw Western Subalpine Warbler and Western Olivaceous Warbler close to the hide. Then by kneeling in the mud amongst the mozzies I was able to see the ORIOLE WARBLER overhead. A great bird and my final lifer of the holiday. As we left two Broad-billed Rollers sat together on the wires.

That evening four Red-billed Queleas were an addition to the Laico Atlantic garden list.

Fri 17th Feb 2012

RESCUE & RETURN

Our last day so I took a final turn around the grounds and added both Sandwich Terns and Caspian Tern to the holiday list. Other than that it was all the usual suspects. When I got back to the room looking out from the balcony I could see a Cattle Egret trailing a mess of plastic and wire from its legs. Then it managed to get hitched to a rose bush so Bridgette and I went on a rescue mission. It also got very muddy because the flower bed it was in was being heavily watered. We grabbed the bird between us and managed to cut it free with a scissors borrowed from our neighbours. It was completely ungrateful trying to stab at me with its sharp bill. We got a round of applause from the watching gallery on the balconies. The bird went and hid under a bush but was gone later.

We packed up and headed for reception to check out. We said our goodbyes to Gallo and I finally managed to get a decent shot of one of the ubiquitous Speckled Pigeons.

Speckled Pigeongam-speckled-pigeon

We took the bus to the airport, checked in and had an al fresco lunch in the sunshine. We had learnt not to let go of our cases this time. They also mixed up the boarding cards so The Gloster Birder travelled home as Mr G Bird (couldn’t make it up).gam-gbird

Final birds included the only House Sparrow of the trip, Red-chested Swallows, a pair of Red-billed Firefinches and a Western Olivaceous Warbler.

Red-billed Firefinchgam-red-billed-firefinch

We had a great week and saw 170 species of which 124 were lifers as well as a good selection of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and butterflies. I only used Nik Borrow’s excellent field guide The Birds of Senegal and Gambia published by Helm. If you would like further info feel free to contact me.

Mike & Bridgette King © 2012

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