Friday 8th November 2019
Our group met bright and early at Gatwick South Terminal for our flight to Banjul in The Gambia. Check in went really smoothly and we had plenty of time to grab breakfast before heading to our gate.
The flight took off on time and we left a chilly Gatwick in 3 degrees to arrive in Banjul around five and half hours later in 33 degrees!
As we disembarked the aircraft, HOODED VULTURES, PIED CROWS, WESTERN CATTLE EGRETS and YELLOW-BILLED KITES circled over the terminal buildings.
Security and passport control was somewhat of a challenge and quite painful as we had fingerprints scanned which took an age, especially in sweltering temperatures.
Luggage was loaded onto the van and we were underway through town to our hotel which took around 25 minutes. There were plenty of birds to see including RED-EYED DOVE, BLUE-BELLIED ROLLER, SPECKLED PIGEON and a smart LONG-TAILED GLOSSY STARLING.
After arriving at the hotel and getting our keys, we had a little time to unpack and change before meeting in the hotel garden where we spent around 40 minutes acquainting ourselves with some of the common species that occur in The Gambia.
Some of the exciting species included WESTERN RED-BILLED HORNBILL, BEARDED BARBET, BEAUTIFUL SUNBIRD, AFRICAN THRUSH, WESTERN PLANTAIN-EATER, GREATER BLUE-EARED STARLING, AFRICAN GREY HORNBILL, BLUE-BREASTED KINGFISHER, RED-BILLED FIREFINCH, DOUBLE-SPURRED FRANCOLIN, BROAD-BILLED ROLLER whilst overhead were AFRICAN PALM SWIFTS, LITTLE SWIFTS plus good numbers of PIED CROWS, HOODED VULTURES and YELLOW-BILLED KITES.
In fact, there was so much to see at times, you didn’t know where to look!
As the sun dropped we headed in to unpack and settle in properly before meeting for a pre-dinner drink which really hit the spot after a long day travelling. Julbrew the local beer featured a Woodland Kingfisher on the label so it would have been rude not to try one, or two!
Our evening meal went down well and afterwards we completed the bird-list and went through a rundown on the following days’ plans before we headed off to bed for some well-deserved rest.
Saturday 9th November 2019
We met at 07.00 for breakfast which was good and filling and whilst tucking in, we watched several CALITHRIX MONKEYS in the hotel grounds plus numerous SPECKLED PIGEONS, YELLOW-BILLED KITES and HOODED VULTURES.
Leaving at 07.45 we drove out of the hotel grounds and noted several PIAPIACS plus a brief TAWNY-FLANKED PRINIA in a small bush close to the road.
Our first destination for the morning was Kartong but before we could get there, we stopped off close to the coast where a good number of GREY-HEADED GULLS, CASPIAN TERN, WESTERN REEF HERON, GREY HERON, SPUR-WINGED LAPWING and a single LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL was seen.
A little further on we made an impromptu stop to see YELLOW-BILLED SHRIKE, NORTHERN RED BISHOP, SINGING CISTICOLA and a smart male BLACK-WINGED RED BISHOP. A LIZARD BUZZARD was good to see, peering down at us from a large palm tree.
The northern pits are always worth a stop which was certainly the case today with so many amazing birds! Up to five YELLOW-BILLED OXPECKERS flitted around a small herd of cattle with a group of HOODED VULTURES standing nearby.
The pit itself held GIANT, PIED and MALACHITE KINGFISHERS which gave good scope views whilst the margins of the pit were attractive to waders including SENEGAL THICKNEE, BLACK-WINGED STILT, COMMON GREENSHANK, COMMON SANDPIPER and GREEN SANDPIPER.
WESTERN OSPREYS circled overhead along with a few PINK-BACKED PELICANS and a cracking juvenile AFRICAN HARRIER-HAWK was seen trying to grab VILLAGE WEAVER nestlings by hanging on to the nests and reaching into the nest cavity with its long legs. An adult PALM-NUT VULTURE flew past briefly and the scrub surrounding the water was alive with passerines.
In one bush we watched VILLAGE INDIGOBIRD, female PIN-TAILED WHYDAH, BLACK-NECKED WEAVER whilst another bush yielded ORANGE-CHEEKED WAXBILL, RED-CHEEKED CORDON-BLEU plus VINACEOUS DOVE and BLACK-BILLED WOOD DOVE.
To round off some excellent birding, two FANTI SAW-WINGS hawked insects over the pools.
It was then time to move on and on arrival in the bird observatory area and once disembarked the birds came thick and fast once again!
Several GREEN WOOD-HOOPOES clambered over a wooden fence and were briefly joined by a NORTHERN RED-BILLED HORNBILL whilst overhead, a flock of RED-CHESTED SWALLOWS hawked insects.
Our walk took us along the main track where either side were lily pad covered pools which held a multitude of wetland species with the most common being WHITE-FACED WHISTLING DUCKS that were flying around in family groups giving everyone some lovely views.
AFRICAN JACANA’S trotted about and with some patience, we found PURPLE HERON, INTERMEDIATE EGRET, SQUACCO HERON, AFRICAN DARTER and three BLACK HERONS which gave us a flyby.
HOODED VULTURES were overhead in massive numbers and the adjacent bushes proved to be a great place for the smaller raptors, with a cracking RED-NECKED FALCON perched up, although the light was a little dodgy to say the least!
Further on we encountered a pair of GREY KESTRELS before some time was spent scanning a larger area of water which was interspersed with acacia trees that were home to lots of VILLAGE WEAVERS. Careful inspection provided us with reasonable views of a juvenile STRIATED HERON perched right in the middle of one of the bushes which was good to see.
A winter-plumaged GULL-BILLED TERN was seen to the south whilst on the opposite side of the pit was a lone BLUE-CHEEKED BEE-EATER and a brief BLACK-NECKED WEAVER.
With temperate rising, we drove down to the beach where a breeze made birding slightly more comfortable and apart from the scorching weather, it was just like being in the U.K. Flocks of SANDERLING plus RUDDY TURNSTONE, GREY PLOVER and WHIMBREL were foraging on the sandy beach.
Unlike the U.K. were WESTERN REEF HERON, SLENDER-BILLED GULL plus ROYAL, and CASPIAN TERNS offshore and on coastal pools.
We walked south where we overlooked Senegal and with some scanning we located a small flock of plovers which included a single COMMON RINGED PLOVER amongst at least six WHITE-FRONTED PLOVERS which was our main target bird! Some of the group headed down towards the sea where they obtained some great photos whilst the rest ambled back to the bus.
With our stomachs rumbling, we drove the short distance to Footsteps Ecolodge where we spent time relaxing in the shade and enjoying the many species of butterfly that frequented the garden.
Lunch was served and was a selection of Gambian dishes which went down well, washed down with a refreshing cold drink.
Suitably replete, we were about to head off for a walk in the gardens when a SHIKRA came tearing through the garden! Our walk took us towards a viewing tower and small pools where an enjoyable time was had by all.
Once again there was a lot going on, from the DOUBLE-SPURRED FRANCOLIN that perched up in full view on a wall through to RED-BILLED FIREFINCH, BLACK-RUMPED WAXBILL, LONG-TAILED GLOSSY STARLING, BRONZE MANNIKINS, NORTHERN RED BISHOP, BLACK-WINGED RED BISHOP and BLUE-SPOTTED WOOD DOVE came in to drink whilst the scrub was very attractive to species including COPPER SUNBIRD, VARIABLE SUNBIRD, TAWNY-FLANKED PRINIA, NORTHERN CROMBEC plus a smart looking BLACK SCIMITARBILL.
An adult VITELLINE MASKED WEAVER was nesting at the back of the compound and we came across a SUBALPINE WARBLER plus EURASIAN BLACKCAP flitting amongst the small acacia trees.
Our last port of call for the day where local woods which began with a perched WHISTLING CISTICOLA and then a little further on, we found a SINGING CISTICOLA. Whoever named these species must have been on drugs as neither sang or whistled!
Part of the woods were very quiet in the late afternoon heat which was quite draining but eventually we came across pockets of birds such as SWALLOW-TAILED BEE-EATER, LITTLE BEE-EATER, YELLOW-BELLIED EREMOMELA, GLOSSY-BACKED DRONGO, PURPLE STARLING, LAVENDER WAXBILL, NORTHERN CROMBEC, YELLOW-FRONTED CANARY, YELLOW-BILLED SHRIKE plus a smart SCARLET-CHESTED SUNBIRD and DIEDERIK CUCKOO.
The van picked us all up and we enjoyed refreshing bottles of cold water which really hit the spot. It was then back towards base but we made a quick stop for supplies at a very well stocked supermarket.
We arrived back at the hotel after a very long and tiring day in the heat but what a day it had been, with so many great species seen!
It was good to have a refreshing shower before meeting for dinner when the food was well received, we followed by completing the bird-list took quite a while as we had seen so much.
The group retired for the night and we very much looked forward to the following days birding.
Sunday 10th November 2019
Breakfast was the usual time of 07.00 and afterwards we headed off to spend the morning at Pirang Shrimp farm. We picked up local guide Kawsu Gibba on our way through and on arrival a group of five BROWN-NECKED PARROTS flew past much to the delight of the group. The air was full of BARN, RED-RUMPED, MOSQUE and WIRE-TAILED SWALLOWS with the odd COMMON HOUSE MARTIN thrown in for good measure.
YELLOW-BILLED OXPECKERS were present around the cattle and overhead flew an AFRICAN SACRED IBIS. We then spent the next few hours exploring the pools where so many species of waders were present including LITTLE STINT, CURLEW SANDPIPER, WOOD SANDPIPER, SENEGAL THICK-KNEE, RUFF, BLACK & BAR-TAILED GODWITS, COMMON GREENSHANK, MARSH SANDPIPER, KENTISH & COMMON RINGED PLOVERS, DUNLIN, COMMON REDSHANK and an AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER!
The latter species was only the 6th record for The Gambia and we really didn’t expect to see that when we set out for our walk.
Other goodies included AFRICAN SPOONBILL, YELLOW-BILLED STORK, GULL-BILLED TERN, LITTLE TERN, BLUE-CHEEKED BEE-EATER plus familiar species such as WILLOW WARBLER, WESTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL, NORTHERN WHEATEAR and COMMON CHIFFCHAFF.
With temperatures rising we reached our furthest point where we had reasonable scope views of WHITE-THROATED BEE-EATER plus SENEGAL EREMOMELA’S flitting around in the scrub before we retraced our steps.
Back near the bus we were treated to superb views of a female PIED KINGFISHER perched on a branch.
After a water break which really hit the spot, we drove deep into the forest. It was quite cool and on the way in, a small party of WHITE-CRESTED HELMETSHRIKES were seen plus calling STONE PARTRIDGE close to the track. After disembarking we took a walk through the dappled shade. A BROWN-THROATED WATTLE-EYE eventually showed well and a male RED-BELLIED PARADISE FLYCATCHER was seen overhead.
A side path was taken and a few minutes later a pair of fantastic NORTHERN WHITE-FACED OWLS were seen, they showed really well much to the delight of the group.
An AFRICAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER was seen briefly in the same tree before we carried on to our next stop deep in the forest. Then on the main track an AFRICAN GREY WOODPECKER was seen well and a GREEN HYLIA called from the undergrowth but didn’t show. At the next site we came eye to eye with a mighty VERREAUXS EAGLE OWL and the diagnostic pink eyelids could be seen really well through the scope!
On our way back to the rangers station for lunch we stopped off at a small drinking pool where AFRICAN THRUSH, BLUE-SPOTTED WOOD DOVE, BLACK-NECKED WEAVER and best of all, an AFRICAN PYGMY KINGFISHER was seen in adjacent vegetation, a good bird to get onto our lists.
Afterward lunch we took around 30 minutes to head deep into the damp parts of the forest where we hoped to see one of the trickiest birds in The Gambia, the White-spotted Flufftail.
Gathering together, Kawsu mimicked the call and after around 5 minutes, the bird responded and came closer. The WHITE-SPOTTED FLUFFTAIL walked through at the back of the scrub but it was rather difficult to see.
Despite trying the bird wasn’t going to put in a repeat performance so we left it in peace and moved on to our next target.
We drove out of the forest and made the short drive to Farasuto where after a brief walk we were watching a pair of GREYISH EAGLE-OWLS including one bird in full view!
In the main part of the reserve we were lucky to see an AFRICAN WOOD OWL although it was quite hidden by leaves, but most of the distinguishing features could be noted.
With just a little time left, a lake was visited where a couple of WHITE-BACKED NIGHT HERONS were seen in the scope. This is a tricky species to connect with and we usually find them upriver so it was good to cross them off our wanted lists.
It was then back to the hotel where we had some time to relax and rest before meeting for a pre-dinner drink and our evening meal.
After completing the bird list, we retired for the night as we had a very early start the next day.
Monday 11th November 2019
We met at the hotel breakfast restaurant for a brief cuppa before leaving the hotel at 05.00 in taxis to drive to the ferry terminal in Banjul. Traffic was light so we arrived in good time and made our way down to the jetty to wait for the boat to arrive.
At around 06.30 we set off just as it was getting light and we motored northwards as large numbers of PIED CROWS and YELLOW-BILLED KITES came out of their roosts and flew across to the northern shore of the River Gambia.
An EPAULETTED FRUIT BAT flew over us and the first of many SANDWICH TERNS were seen. The terns attracted around 10 POMARINE JAEGER (SKUA) and a couple of PARASTIC JAEGER (ARCTIC SKUA). ROYAL TERNS came past the boat at eye level plus CASPIAN TERNS and singles of both BLACK and COMMON TERNS which were new for the trip list.
Other species of note included WESTERN OSPREY, GREAT CORMORANT, REED CORMORANT and as we neared Barra, a flock of RUDDY TURNSTONE and a single WHIMBREL were found.
On our arrival at Barra there were people everywhere and it was pretty crowded as we made our way through throngs of people coming the opposite way!
It was good to meet up with our coach and we were soon off along the northern shore of the River Gambia where a few tucked into their packed breakfasts.
Several kilometres out of Barra we found ANTEATER CHAT perched on ruined buildings and gave some lovely views. Moving on, we didn’t get very far when a smart AFRICAN GREEN PIGEON was seen perched by the side of the road and the colours were fantastic in the early morning sunshine.
Our next site was an area of woodland on the edge of a marsh and we had only been there a few minutes when at least four PEARL-SPOTTED OWLETS were seen. With some patience, we had excellent views of one sitting in full view.
A WINDING CISTICOLA was perched up on some reeds and overhead were SENEGAL PARROTS, ROSE-RINGED PARAKEETS, AFRICAN GREY HORNBILL, AFRICAN GREY WOODPECKER plus some very showy LITTLE BEE-EATERS. NORTHERN GREY-HEADED SPARROWS and several AFRICAN MOURNING DOVES frequented rough ground near to some water and in surrounding vegetation were several species of dragonfly including STOUT PINCERTAIL, a very smart-looking insect!
It was then back to the van for a hot drink which went down a treat after such an early start.
Moving onwards and upwards we drove slowly along the main road making stops if we saw anything of note.
The northern shore is always good for raptors as the savannah grassland is home to lots of prey items from small mammals through to grasshoppers and other winged insects.
A very smart DARK-CHANTING GOSHAWK perched on top of a telegraph pole giving cracking views as it surveyed the area and a little further on, we came across a group of PATAS MONKEYS.
A little further on three LANNER FALCONS circled overhead with a group of HOODED VULTURES and a small pool to the south of the road held two AFRICAN JACANA and a SQUACCO HERON.
Several wetlands were visited and the first had several small pools where SENEGAL THICK-KNEES, PIED KINGFISHERS and VILLAGE WEAVERS were common and we were lucky to see a BRUCE’S GREEN PIGEON as it flew past.
Overhead a WAHLBERG’S EAGLE circled and on the marsh were YELLOW-BILLED STORKS, PINK-BACKED PELICAN, GREAT & INTERMEDIATE EGRETS plus both GREY and BLACK-HEADED HERONS.
Ebrima struck gold by finding an adult MARTIAL EAGLE overhead and although a little distant, it showed pretty well. ABYSSINIAN ROLLERS were on roadside wires and a flock of GREAT WHITE PELICANS flew northwards over us.
With our stomachs rumbling we drove to our lunch spot where we settled in the shade and there were plenty of birds to see from the restaurant area.
SCARLET-CHESTED, BEAUTIFUL and VARIABLE SUNBIRDS were seen and GREY-HEADED SPARROWS were very common and nesting in the roof above. A smart YELLOW-BILLED SHRIKE came in to drink amongst BLACK-RUMPED WAXBILLS, RED-CHEEKED CORDON-BLEU and VILLAGE WEAVERS.
Lunch was fantastic and well received but we kept getting interrupted by great birds! LAVENDER WAXBILLS showed in the sunshine and a pair of CUT-THROAT FINCH were a really good bird to see.
With time getting on we drove the short distance to an area of savannah where GREEN BEE-EATER showed nicely in the scope and a few BLACK-CROWNED TCHAGRA were also seen.
On our way back Ebrima found a LEVAILLANT’S CUCKOO which was quite elusive in a tree and slinked off into deep cover.
We continued westwards noting a cracking GRASSHOPPER BUZZARD that showed well before we arrived close to some local wetlands. Before we got out of the van, two EGYPTIAN PLOVERS had been seen but two joggers flushed them. Luckily they relocated onto the marsh where the light was fantastic on this sought-after species.
YELLOW-CROWED BISHOPS and RED-BILLED QUELEA were present in large numbers and the latter species is known as the flying locust, as flocks reach biblical proportions and is the most numerous bird on the planet!
A HAMERKOP flew over as did two COLLARED PRATICOLE and MOSQUE SWALLOWS. The wetlands yielded WOOD SANDPIPER, WESTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (of races flavissima and iberiae), WHITE WAGTAIL, AFRICAN WATTLED LAPWING, SPUR-WINGED LAPWING, SQUACCO HERON, AFRICAN SPOONBILL, REED CORMORANT and six distant SPUR-WINGED GEESE.
The melanistic form of GABAR GOSHAWK was seen chasing passerines before it perched in tamarisk.
Our last site for the day was a drinking pool where new birds came fast. SAHEL PARADISE WHYDAHS showed brilliantly, the male with its absurdly long tail. NAMAQUA DOVE, BLACK-BILLED WOOD DOVE and a brief GOSLING’S BUNTING came down to drink.
On the opposite side of the road was a YELLOW-CROWNED GONOLEK and two great species to find were PALE FLYCATCHER and SPECKLED-FRONTED WEAVER, the latter a smart looking bird indeed!
Time slipped away with us and we made the journey back to Farafenni and over the new bridge to the south shore. From here it was just around 30 minutes to our base for the night at Tendaba camp.
After sorting our rooms, we met for a drink, our evening meal and then the bird-list after what had been a cracker of a day!
Tuesday 12th November 2019
We met at 07.00 for breakfast which would set us up for a couple of hours and soon joined our guide down at the jetty for a boat trip across the River Gambia and through the mangroves.
Entering the vast mangrove swamp the first bird we laid eyes on was an AFRICAN DARTER with its curiously long neck and a little further on we had lovely views of MANGROVE SUNBIRD close to a nest which again showed well.
Moving slowly in amongst the mangroves enabled us to get some close up views of birds and waders such as WHIMBREL and COMMON SANDPIPERS which were extremely common.
A pair of BRUCE’S GREEN PIGEONS were seen at the nest whilst EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS ‘quipped’ overhead and the first of several BLUE-BREASTED KINGFISHERS were seen at close range. PIED KINGFISHERS were incredibly common and allowed very close approach.
There were plenty of INTERMEDIATE & GREAT EGRETS, several STRIATED HERONS, HAMERKOPS, SQUACCO HERON & WESTERN REEF HERON. An adult BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON was seen briefly and was a new bird for the trip.
A lovely WHITE-THROATED BEE-EATER perched up in the sunshine as did MALACHITE, WOODLAND and GREY-HEADED KINGFISHER. Raptors included GREY KESTREL, SHIKRA, WESTERN MARSH HARRIER, YELLOW-BILLED KITES and HOODED VULTURES.
Muddy edges were alive with WEST AFRICAN FIDDLER CRABS and WEST AFRICAN MUDSKIPPERS and a couple of largish NILE MONITOR LIZARDS showed very close. We visited a WHITE-BREASTED CORMORANT colony where the birds were in full swing, coming to and fro with food to bring back to their nestlings.
With the tide coming up we managed to squeeze down a smallish creek where SPUR-WINGED GOOSE wandered on the open areas and a pair of WHITE-BACKED NIGHT HERON were secreted deep inside the mangroves.
It was then back to Tendaba where we arrived to see several LITTLE SWIFTS nesting on the jetty and we had a little time to gather our gear from our rooms before rendezvousing at the bus.
A short drive later we stopped at Tendaba airfield where flocks of PINK-BACKED PELICANS roosted in the shallows whilst a large flock of WHIMBREL interspersed with COMMON GREENSHANK, GREY PLOVER and BLACK-WINGED STILTS. Two SLENDER-BILLED GULLS, two GULL-BILLED TERNS and around six CASPIAN TERNS were found out on the marsh.
Trees and bushes were home to our first PYGMY SUNBIRDS of the tour but they didn’t hang around for us all to see.
With our stomachs rumbling we headed to our final birding site before lunch and took a walk along the sandy track where lots of GUINEAFOWL BUTTERFLIES were seen. A STRIPED KINGFISHER was seen well in the scope and a male VITELLINE MASKED WEAVER perched up in full view.
A few seconds later an adult BATELEUR came up from the east and circled above us. The distinctive shape of the bird being unmistakeable.
With the temperature rising and not much shade, we headed off which enabled a few of the group to have forty winks!
We arrived at our lunch spot to find chairs for us all in the shade and everything was laid out for our arrival. Our packed lunches were superb and the birding wasn’t too shoddy with good numbers of WHITE-BILLED BUFFALO WEAVERS flying back and forwards whilst VARIABLE, SCARLET-CHESTED and BEAUTIFUL SUNBIRDS flitted around. A BEARDED BARBET perched up and overhead we were treated to another BATELEUR, this time an immature bird plus two adult AFRICAN HARRIER HAWKS.
A KLAAS’S CUCKOO flew into a nearby tree and in a very large Baobob tree, two male AFRICAN GOLDEN ORIOLES were seen.
Whilst tucking into our dessert of fruit, two EURASIAN GRIFFON VULTURES drifted over with a RUPPELL’S VULTURE alongside which rounded off a superb first half of the day.
There was just one more site to visit and we sat back and relaxed on our journey. This took around 40 minutes and on arrival we found two smart BLUE-BELLIED ROLLERS plus AFRICAN HARRIER HAWK, BROAD-BILLED ROLLER, RED-EYED DOVE, AFRICAN JACANA, LIZARD BUZZARD. In adjacent trees we found PEARL-SPOTTED OWLET, NORTHERN PUFFBACK and a WESTERN OLIVACEOUS WARBLER flitting about.
After two long days away we arrived back at our hotel just after 18.15 with some time for a well-deserved shower before meeting for our evening meal in the restaurant. The Julbrew flowed nicely after some superb birding!
Wednesday 13th November 2019
Breakfast was at the usual time of 07.00 and we left promptly at 07.45 and headed down to The Gambia’s most famous and oldest nature reserve at Abuko.
The main track was home to several RED COLOBUS MONKEYS as they fed in trees above and they showed pretty well. Two VIOLET TURACO perched up in a heavily leaved tree whilst WESTERN PLANTAIN EATER, YELLOW-BILLED KITE and the usual HOODED VULTURES drifted over.
Time was spent at the crocodile pool where a couple of smallish WEST AFRICAN CROCODILE were seen plus a fair size NILE MONITOR LIZARD sat on the lower canopy of a small tree.
AFRICAN PALM SWIFTS and a few LITTLE SWIFTS flew over and two adult PALM-NUT VULTURES perched up above us which was probably of best view of the species so far during the tour.
Our walk took us through the gallery forest where birding was challenging to say the least with a couple of GREY-HEADED BRISTLEBILLS flitting around hanging vines, whilst both RED-BELLIED and AFRICAN PARADISE FLYCATCHERS were noted.
A cracking AFRICAN PYGMY KINGFISHER showed nicely in the shadows and whilst watching it, a BLACKCAP BABBLER came onto the path and two ORIOLE WARBLERS flew past.
There was quite a lot of action in this spot when Ebrima found WESTERN BLUEBILL although they were quite mobile and soon flew off. AFRICAN THRUSH, RED-BILLED FIREFINCH and an incredibly difficult to see YELLOW-BREASTED APALIS were seen.
Ebrima took us down to the hide where ants were quite problematic, giving nasty nips in all sorts of places! Several members of the group were lucky to see two GUINEA TURACO flying off before we walked back to the main path.
By now the weather was hotting up and there were lots of BEAUTIFUL and both SPLENDID and COPPER SUNBIRDS feeding on the flowering shrubs.
Eventually we reached the animal rehabilitation centre part of the park where large numbers of HOODED VULTURES and CALITHRIX MONKEY were present and they were good to watch whilst we sat in the shade.
It was then time to carry on and birding was a little quieter although several of the group saw BRONZE MANNIKINS and a pair of SNOWY-CROWNED ROBIN CHATS.
It was good to eventually reach the bus and partake in a cold bottle of water before driving the short distance to our lunch stop where the food was delicious, just what we needed after a hot morning out in the field.
Just as we were leaving and photographing the WEST AFRICAN MUDSKIPPERS and WEST AFRICAN FIDDLER CRABS there was movement under the building and although tricky to see, we watched at least two MARSH MONGOOSE foraging for food under the kitchen. This was certainly a species that wasn’t on our radar to see and quite unexpected.
From here we drove a short distance where we took a very enjoyable walk for a couple of hours around some open savannah grassland.
A SHORT-WINGED CISTICOLA perched up and sang although was quite distant but a cracking male WHITE-FRONTED BLACK CHAT was much closer. A RED-WINGED WARBLER came in close and sat in full view whilst RED-CHESTED SWALLOWS perched above on dead branches and a YELLOW-FRONTED CANARY showed nicely.
Small shrubs yielded a CHESTNUT-CROWNED SPARROW-WEAVER briefly and luckily it was seen again giving some pretty decent scope views. A BROWN-BACKED WOODPECKER came in briefly but didn’t stay long, unlike the YELLOW-FRONTED TINKERBIRD that showed nicely above us on a tree.
With time getting on and one more birding spot to visit, we meandered back to the van and a short while later arrived in the rather fragrant Tanji fishing village where we headed straight to the sea.
Large numbers of birds were present including GREY-HEADED and LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULLS and it didn’t take long to find our main target, KELP GULL. An adult was seen distantly behind the fishing boats and is always a good bird to see whilst in The Gambia.
ROYAL and CASPIAN TERNS flew past and WESTERN CATTLE EGRETS foraged amongst rubbish and fishing gear at the top of the beach.
We had a quick look at the bridge but added nothing except for a HOUSE SPARROW which was our first for the week.
It was then back to the hotel for a refreshing shower and rest before meeting for another really good meal, this time there was no cake for dessert but fruit and ice cream, a sheer delight!
After completing the bird-list, we headed off to bed after a superb day.
Thursday 14th November 2019
We left at the usual time and drove to Penjem Woods where it was already getting hot. Our morning took us through some excellent habitat that is maintained and managed by the local village in conjunction with the birdwatchers association.
To start with it was rather quiet but a smart BLUE-BELLIED ROLLER perched up was good to see and we then picked up a couple of AFRICAN PIED HORNBILLS plus lots of WESTERN PLANTAIN-EATERS.
A cracking GREY-BACKED CAMAROPTERA perched up nicely and with patience, we had good views of several YELLOW-CROWNED GONOLEKS which actually showed out in the open for once!
Further along the track a FINE-SPOTTED WOODPECKER was seen briefly but flew off before those watching the Gonoleks arrived. Slightly showier were a pair of SENEGAL EREMOMELA flitting around the small shrubs in front us and then Ebrima found a smart NORTHERN BLACK FLYCATCHER which occurs in the forest in small numbers.
The return walk was pretty hot which encouraged raptors up especially a lovely WAHLBERG’S EAGLE which was heard calling and then came up above the trees and reasonably close.
Close to the van a small area of trees yielded a LEVAILLANT’S CUCKOO showing a lot better than the one seen previously. Then our last good bird at Penjem was a cracker of a WHITE-BREASTED CUCKOOSHRIKE perching above us and enabling us to scope it whilst photographers got their shots.
After a water break at the van we drove a short distance down the road to check for raptors and here a TAWNY EAGLE was seen circling but otherwise it was rather quiet.
Moving down to Marrakissa Bridge, the wetland area held a couple of BLACK CRAKE which were seen by all eventually, plus juvenile BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT HERON, STRIATED HERON, WESTERN CATTLE EGRETS, HAMERKOP and a SEDGE WARBLER that perched up in the reeds.
A short way up the road there was a smart GREY-HEADED KINGFISHER under a large branch which was our best view of this species during the tour.
Some of the group then walked into Marrakissa Bird Camp whilst the bus took the remainder and we settled in the shade with a cold drink and watched the various drinking pots and pools.
WESTERN PLANTAIN EATERS were numerous and as the birds got used to us, we found BLACKCAP BABBLER, RED-BILLED FIREFINCH, BLUE-SPOTTED WOOD DOVE, COMMON BULBUL, LONG-TAILED GLOSSY STARLING and best of all was a brief GREATER HONEYGUIDE.
Lunch was superb and cooked by owner Adama, it consisted of typical Gambian fare with some cracking chips much to everyones delight!
Down on the river were a pair of GIANT KINGFISHER plus WEST AFRICAN CROCODILE and NILE MONITOR LIZARD.
Suitably replete, a short stop was taken at Darsalami Wetlands, our first visit to this excellent site. PURPLE STARLINGS dropped into drink as did WHITE-BILLED BUFFALO WEAVERS and on the main wetlands were WESTERN OSPREY, AFRICAN WATTLED LAPWING, MARSH SANDPIPER and another TAWNY EAGLE.
We walked up the track to have another look at the starlings and here we struck gold finding a female QUAILFINCH drinking and feeding in a small puddle along with ORANGE-CHEEKED WAXBILL, YELLOW-FRONTED CANARY, NORTHERN RED BISHOP, female PIN-TAILED WHYDAH and both RED-CHEEKED CORDON BLEU and RED-BILLED FIREFINCH.
For our final site we drove back through Bilijo and down to the Kotu Creek area which consists of mangroves, rice fields and sewage pools and is a great place to see Little Grebe! At first we thought Ebrima was joking but there on the pools were several pairs of LITTLE GREBE in breeding plumage.
An EGYPTIAN PLOVER had taken up residence here around 12 days previously and we had some delightful views of what was a first for the area as you can never get enough Egyptian Plover action!
SPUR-WINGED LAPWINGS, WHITE-FACED WHISTLING DUCKS, WESTERN CATTLE EGRETS, BLACK-WINGED STILTS and AFRICAN JACANA were seen well before we headed through scrub where our best views of several SENEGAL COUCALS were noted plus WOODLAND KINGFISHER and lots of ROSE-RINGED PARAKEETS and YELLOW-BILLED SHRIKES.
Towards the end of the walk at least seven AFRICAN SILVERBILLS were seen near a SENEGAL COUCAL and a smart GOLDEN-TAILED WOODPECKER perched atop of a dead stump.
We concluded on the bridge on Kotu Creek and PIED KINGFISHERS were everywhere along with REED CORMORANT, COMMON SANDPIPER and we enjoyed stunning views of a stonking GIANT KINGFISHER perched at extremely close range which rounded off the day nicely.
It was back to base and we met slightly later than usual for dinner which was lovely and then after the bird-list we headed off to bed after a long but successful day.
Friday 15th November 2019
Our final day in The Gambia began with breakfast as usual and with us on the road by 07.45. We drove down to Brufut Woods and kicked off with a male NORTHERN BLACK FLYCATCHER singing from the top of a vine. A female joined him before flitting off behind the vegetation. As we walked along the track an AHANTA FRANCOLIN called but remained unseen and two YELLOW-THROATED LEAFLOVES flew past.
Our walk took us along well vegetated paths and here we struck gold when a RED-SHOULDERED CUCKOO SHRIKE perched up for us in full view. It certainly looked stunning in the morning sunshine!
Eventually we made our way deeper into the woods where a smart ORIOLE WARBLER was seen by some and we reached a spot where we were led in single file to see an amazing roosting LONG-TAILED NIGHTJAR! This cryptically plumaged bird was a sheer delight to watch as it sat looking at us!
Afterwards we spent time watching the water troughs whilst having a cold drink and LITTLE WEAVER, LAVENDER WAXBILL, both BLUE-SPOTTED & BLACK-BILLED WOOD DOVES, AFRICAN PYGMY KINGFISHER, RED-CHEEKED CORDON-BLEU, RED-BILLED FIREFINCH and the bushes held a smart RED-BELLIED PARADISE FLYCATCHER.
Time ran out and we made our way over to a local garden for a superb spread for lunch which featured a lot of food. It was delicious and afterwards we made our way towards the hotel. At the hotel we were able to shower and do a spot of final packing before meeting in the hotel gardens for the bird-list plus a cold drink and the group photo.
It was then time to head off to the airport where we checked in without a fuss and made our way to the departure lounge to relax before the flight.
We took off on time and the flight took just over 5 hours 45 minutes, then touched down to find it just 2 degrees at Gatwick which was something of a shock to the system!
After getting our luggage, we said our goodbyes after what had been a brilliant tour with just so many wildlife highlights, with beautifully hot weather and a lovely group to spend the week with!