11 days – 6th December – 16th December 2022
€2,400 for 11 days – price includes all accommodation, meals, guiding, transportation, taxes and entrances but excludes flights.
€130 single supplement
2017 trip report available to download here
2018 trip report (for Honeyguide Wildlife Holidays) available to download here
2019 trip report available to download here
This tiny, friendly West African gem has long been a favourite with birders, and with good reason. As the gleaming Gambia River bends gently inland to form its welcoming ‘grin’, it provides access to teeming habitats ranging from coastal creeks to mangrove swamps to freshwater lakes, with species-rich Sahelian scrubland in between.
Occupying about the area of Norfolk and Suffolk combined, this small, accessible country embraces the shores of the languid Gambia River, which flows through its very heart before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean. Extensive protected areas interspersed with low-key traditional agriculture make for a welcoming wildlife haven, rich in eye-poppingly colourful flora and fauna.
Appealing, hospitable and easy to visit, this simply amazing birding destination provides an ideal introduction to sub-Saharan Africa, with raptors galore and a myriad of colourful and exciting target species. Bursting with life and culture, it is well-deserving of its nickname – ‘Africa’s Smiling Coast’ – not just for its geographical appearance, but also because of the genuinely warm welcome waiting for you here.
About the Gambia
Once Arab traders established routes across the Sahara in the tenth century, The Gambia, like so many of its neighbouring countries, became victim to the atrocities of the slave trade. This escalated when the Portuguese came to dominance in the 1500s and it´s thought that over three million Gambians were sold into trans-atlantic slavery – by various European countries as well as other Africans – before the British outlawed the practice throughout their empire in 1807.
The Gambia remained a British Protectorate until its independence in 1965. Since then this young country has built its economy on farming – mostly of peanuts, cereals and vegetables – fishing, and tourism.
Despite its poverty, The Gambia is rich in culture and great food! A variety of ethnic groups – including Mandinka, Fula and Wolof people – live side-by-side in the Gambia, each preserving its own language and traditions. Cuisine includes simple but delicious dishes based on peanuts, rice, fish, meat, onions, tomatoes, cassava, chili peppers and oysters from the River Gambia. In particular look out for yassa and domoda – two unforgettable Gambian curries!
The unit of currency is the Gambian Dalasi.
Some of the highlights for our exceptionally long bird list can include:
Egyptian Plover, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, African Finfoot, Western Bluebill, Adamawa Turtle Dove, Oriole Warbler, Hadada Ibis, Black Crake, White-backed Night Heron, Four-banded Sandgrouse, Bateleur, African Hawk Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Shikra, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Bearded Barbet, Violet and Green Turaco, European, White-throated, Little, Little Green, Blue-cheeked, Red-throated and Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Exclamatory Paradise Whyda, African Paradise and Blue Flycatchers, Ruppell’s, Hooded and White-backed Vultures, Greater Painted Snipe and Bruce´s Green Pigeon.
Mammals that may be encountered on this trip include:
Western Red Colobus, Patas and Green Monkeys, Guinea Baboons, Chimpanzees, Gambian Sun Squirrel, Common Warthog and Hippopotamus.
Amongst the super-numerous butterflies we can expect beauties such as African Tiger, African Painted Lady, Guineafowl, Citrus Swallowtail, Orange Acraea, African Tiger blue and Common Zebra Blue.
We meet you at Banjul airport with a cool welcome drink before making the short drive to our eco-lodge base, enjoying our first views of urban Hooded Vultures, Yellow-billed Kites and Pied Crows on the way.
After taking some time to unwind and settle in to our traditional thatched roundhouses, time permitting we will take an evening walk around the lodge’s fantastic grounds. The mangrove and woodland habitat of this simple, tranquil place adjoins the famous Tanji Bird Reserve and we’ll be on the lookout for Senegal Parrots, Double-spurred Francolins, Senegal Coucals, Blue-spotted and Black-billed Wood Doves, African Golden Oriole, Giant, Pied and Blue-breasted Kingfishers, Red-billed Hornbills, Broad-billed Roller and Black Scimitarbill, as well as African Palm Swifts flitting among the trees.
Then it’s time to settle down for our first taste of delicious homemade Gambian food – and maybe a cool bottle or two of Julbrew, the local beer!
After al fresco breakfast by the river, we´ll head out to explore coastal habitat at nearby Kotu Creek.
Amongst the many dozens of Yellow-billed Kites around the rice fields at the village edge, we´ll look out for some of the area´s beautiful and varied Columbid species, including African Mourning, Vinaceous, Red-eyed and Laughing Dove and Speckled Pigeon.
In small pools, we may see Spur-winged Plover and Black-winged Stilt, Reef, Black-headed and Squacco Heron, and Black Egret. In scrubbier areas, we´ll hope to catch up with Senegal Coucal, Yellow-billed Shrike, Bronze Mannikin, Western Grey Plantain-eater, Common Bulbul, Brown Babbler and Village Weaver.
Where the creek meets the coast, we´ll look for Pied Kingfishers, Long-tailed Cormorants, Senegal Thick-knees, and Hammerkops.
We´ll take lunch at the home of our local guide Tijan, where we can enjoy the avian comings and goings from his selection of feeders and birdbaths while we eat in the shade of a Mango tree. Village, Little and Buffalo Weavers all pop in for a drink or a snack, as do African Thrush, Red-billed Firefinch, Lavender Waxbill, Village Indigobird, Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu and Beautiful Sunbird.
After relaxing here for the hottest part of the day we´ll head to Tanji Beach and the thriving, gritty fishing port. We´ll look out for Grey-headed Gulls, Caspian, Sandwich and Lesser Crested Terns amongst the brightly-painted traditional fishing vessels.
Today we head upriver, to our next base at the famous Tendaba Camp. Since the road was modernised some years ago this journey now takes only two and a half hours. However there is much to see and experience en route so we will make plenty of stops.
We may visit Farasutu Community Forest, home to Standard-winged Nightjar, Greyish Eagle Owl and African Wood Owl. Here, specially constructed bird-bathing areas attract Common Wattle-eye, Black-rumped Waxbills, Green-headed Sunbird and the stunning Green Turaco, as well as butterflies like Orange Acraea and African Tiger.
We´ll take picnic alongside rice paddies, usually alive with birds such as Green Wood-hoopoes, Woodland Kingfisher, Pia-piacs, Fork-tailed Drongos, White-crowned Bush Robin and Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starlings. We should be able to pick out Mottled Spinetails from amongst the assembled Swifts and Hirundines above our heads.
As thermals start to build we should start to see the stunning array of raptor species that The Gambia has to offer, perhaps picking up Palm Nut Vulture, African Harrier Hawk, Red-faced Falcon, Shikra, African Hawk Eagle Brown Snake Eagle or Long-crested Eagle among the omnipresent Yellow-billed Kites and Hooded Vultures.
We should arrive at Tendaba Camp in time for a drink at sunset on the banks of the wide Gambia river – its smooth surface putting over a mile of distance between us and the mangrove swamps on the far bank.
After a hearty camp breakfast we´ll take the first of our boat trips, this one to explore the mysterious creeks and coves of Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve – a vast 220 square kilometre Ramsar site.
The tangled swamps of Red and Black Mangrove are home to many African Darters, White-breasted Cormorants, Striated and Squacco Herons and Hammerkops. We´ll also look out for Woolly-necked Storks and the enormous Goliath Heron. Brown Sunbirds, African Blue Flycatchers, Common Wattle-eyes and Blue-breasted Kingfishers inhabit the mangroves. With local knowledge and a sprinkling of luck we may even happen upon an African Finfoot, or the ultra-rare White-backed Night Herons!
In more open salt marsh areas we´ll look for a selection of waders including Senegal Thick-knee and Spur-winged Lapwing as well as keeping an eye skywards for Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters, Brown Snake Eagle, and African Hawk Eagle.
Picnic will most likely be at a nearby wetland area, where we can hope to encounter Great White and Pink-backed Pelican, Intermediate and Great White Egret, Sacred Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill and Caspian and Gull-billed Terns. There´s also a chance here for one of our much sought-after star species of the trip – the enormous yet elusive Abyssinian Ground Hornbill!
Today we spend exploring Kyang West National Park and the extraordinarily wildlife-rich farmland around it. The traditional long-rotation style of peanut production means fields are left fallow for years on end and alternate between cropping and grazing, so all the stages of succession from freshly cropped land to Sahelian scrub can be found. Many ancient feature trees such as Baobab, Kapok and Acacia are left untroubled, bringing even more food and nesting opportunities to the landscape.
The birding here is phenomenal and we can expect a huge number of species, including Grasshopper Buzzard, Grey Kestrel, Brown Snake-eagle, wintering Woodchat Shrike, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Green Wood Hoopoe, Namaqua and Vinaceous Dove, Fork-tailed Drongo, Pia-piac, Blue-bellied, Abyssinian, Rufous-crowned and Broad-billed Rollers, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Grey-headed Sparrow, Bush Petronia, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Pygmy Sunbird and Green-backed Carmeroptera.
More wooded areas are home to gems like Northern Crombec, White-shouldered Black Tit, Yellow Penduline Tit, Grey, Cardinal and Brown-backed Woodpecker, Bru-bru and Pygmy Sunbird!
After our simple but tasty picnic of fresh bread, cheese, and local vegetables, we´ll head to the National Park Headquarters, where drinking pools yield Black-billed Wood Doves, Village Indigo Birds, Yellow-fronted Canaries, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlarks, Bush Petronias and Red-billed Queleas. This is also a good place to look out for the enormous six-foot wingspan of the breath-taking Bateleur!
We´ll head back to Tendaba Camp with plenty of time to relax before tomorrow´s onward journey upriver.
Our journey continues far upriver, to the remotest and most rural part of The Gambia. Our crossing to the north side of the river should be greatly eased by the brand new road bridge at Farafenni, newly opened in January 2019!
Our onward travel is through unspoilt Sahelian habitat, full of enormous Baobab trees interspersed with low scrub and small farms. Amongst many assorted finches and weavers, stops at roadside watering holes can yield Northern Anteater Chat, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Red-throated Bee-eater, Swamp Flycatcher, Pygmy Sunbird, Isabelline Warbler, Abyssinian Rollers, Red-billed Queleas, Greater Honeyguide and the spectacular/ridiculous airborne punctuation mark that is the Exclamatory Paradise Whydah!
We’ll make a stop to explore the fabulous Kaur wetlands, where we hope to encounter one of The Gambia’s biggest avian stars – the Egyptian Plover. We´ll look for waders such as Kentish Plover on the shorelines, and amongst the reeds we´ll find Purple Swamphens and Marsh and Montagu´s Harriers.
Soon we´ll make our second river crossing of the day, this time just 200m on a tiny car ferry – to arrive at our second base in Janjanbureh. This laid back place is the perfect place to enjoy the area´s superb birding, and to immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of village life.
The Gambia river brings copious fresh water to a sub-Saharan country, creating habitat more usually associated with the equatorial moist forests. Today we will spend some more time afloat, exploring this defining environmental feature.
We will look out for some new species, such as Oriole Warbler, Violet Turaco, Hadada Ibis, Maribou Stork and African Fish Eagle. This is also our best site for the elusive African Finfoot.
At Kunkilling Community Forest Reserve we´ll search for the small population of Adamawa Turtle Dove, a bird more readily associated with the moist forests of Nigeria and Cameroon. This is also a great spot for Guinea Baboons and Red Colobus Monkeys.
After lunch, the day will be free for relaxation, siesta or perhaps a wander around the local village or exploration of the poignant ruins of the town´s erstwhile slave trade, including the jail and the trading area.
This morning we make the short trip to Wassu quarry, where we can enjoy the many European, Blue-cheeked, Red-throated, Little and Little Green Bee-eaters that inhabit it. With searching and luck, we may also encounter Northern Carmine Bee-eater. Other quarry residents include Black-headed Lapwings, Northern Anteater Chat, Cutthroat Finch and Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark. Overhead we may find Wahlberg´s and African Hawk Eagle as well as Rüppells, Griffon and White-backed Vulture.
We´ll take a long, relaxed lunch and refeshments in a shady café before heading out once more onto the river. On the section we´ll explore this afternoon, we hope to encounter some of the area´s huge Hippopotamus! Here, Nile Crocodiles bask on the river banks whie Green Monkeys tiptoe past! We´ll also pass close to a Chimpanzee reintroduction programme. Wild Chimpanzees were resident in the Gambia until their disappearance in the early 20th Century. These rehabilitated ex-captive Chimps live as in the wild and we should be able to see them in the trees by the water´s edge.
Back at base we´ll refresh and relax before another excellent buffet of local dishes.
A relaxed day will begin with some time exploring the riverbank immediately behind our accommodation. We shouldn´t have to go far to see gems such as Black-capped Babbler, White-crowned Robin Chat, Pygmy Sunbird, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Scarlet-breasted Sunbird, Bearded Barbet, Bruce´s Green Pigeon and Fine-spotted Woodpecker, amongst others.
We´ll explore the local ricefields where huge mixed flocks of Red-billed Queleas and Yellow-crowned Bishops gather, often pursued by a wily Shikra! Spur-winged Geese and Black-headed, Striated and Squacco Herons hang out in the wetter areas.
After lunch and relaxing time, we´ll head to another local site as the sun sets. Here in the undergrowth we´ll look out for Stone Partridge and Four-banded Sandgrouse. As dusk falls, we´ll keep an eye out for nightjars resting on the tracks.
This morning we say goodbye to the tranquillity of Janjanbureh and head back towards the coast, making use of birding opportunities along the way.
We´ll make a stop at the freshwater lake system at Dali Ba – meaning “Big Water”. Here we´ll look for wildfowl and wader species such as Painted Snipe, White-faced Whistling Duck, Ruff, and Marsh, Green and Wood Sandpiper. This large wetland is also home to many wintering European Turtle Doves.
We´ll make a picnic stop in the countryside near Soma, where we´ll hope for more views of The Gambia´s inland residents like Grasshopper Buzzard, Lizard Buzzard and Wahlberg´s Eagle as well as some more of its farmland beauties!
Soon we´ll find ourselves receiving a warm welcome back to our eco-lodge home in Tanji Bird Reserve, where we´ll be sure to celebrate our last evening in style!
All too soon it’s time to say goodbye to The Gambia, its wonderful people and outstanding birding.
With luck, a late afternoon flight will give us time to visit tiny Abuko Nature Reserve. This was The Gambia’s first protected area and is a veritable treasure chest of natural riches. Among the Oil Palms and Anthocleista, hardwoods such as mahogany and African teak remain unharmed.
Here we can end the trip on a high, amongst Vervet, Red Colobus and Patas monkeys, not to mention a stunning array of birds such as Green and Violet Turacoes, African Paradise Flycatchers, Palm Nut Vultures, Malachite and Giant Kingfishers. In the pools lurk Nile and Dwarf Crocodiles.
Then it´s on to the airport, where we bid farewell to our friend Tijan and to Africa´s Smiling Coast.