Bird Party in The Gambia – A Rainbow of Birds!

What a show!!! Adamawa Turtle Dove, African Finfoot, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Common Wattle-eye, Oriole Warbler, Verreaux´s Eagle Owl, Long-crested Eagle Blue-breasted, Malachite, Pied and Grey-headed Kingfisher, Western Bluebill, African Pygmy Goose, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Senegal Parrots, Senegal Coucal, Palm Nut Vulture, Blue-bellied Roller,  Maribou Storks, Black-headed Herons, Black Egret, White-faced Whistling Duck, Northern Red Bishop, Violet Turaco, Grey Woodpecker, and Red-bellied and African Paradise Flycatchers – not to mention Green-back Vervets, Red Colobus Monkeys, Guinea Baboons, Nile Monitor Lizards and Nile Crocs – all adorned the final leg of our fabulous Gambian adventure, run in partnership with The Biggest Twitch. 

 

Rare, beautiful, and difficult to see – Adamawa Turtle Dove  © Inglorious Bustards

 

By now we were right up river, staying in a peaceful riverside lodge at Georgetown, which the group had to ourselves.  After breakfast we took a long walk – all the way across the guesthouse terrace to the quay, where our skipper Sado awaited to take us even further upstream.  This far inland, the river is freshwater – clean enough to drink if you´ve grown up in the area – and brings a hint of the moist African Forests to the Sahelian region. 

 

A lovely cruise upriver!

 

As we sailed upstream, Green-back Vervets and Red Colobus monkeys crashed through the luscious green vegetation lining the river, while Nile Monitor Lizards eyed us cautiously from the banks.  Palm Nut Vultures, Violet Turacos, Bearded Barbets, African Fish Eagles, Red-throated Bee-eater and African Harrier Hawks perched up in the palm trees and riverine scrub.

 

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Palm Nut Vulture  © Inglorious Bustards

 

We soon arrived on the shore where Kunkilling Forest Park is located.  Almost the second our feet touched solid ground we found our target species – the incredibly rare and difficult to see Adamawa Turtle Dove.  Darker-bodied, larger and more silvery-headed than our European Turtle Dove, it purrs with a deeper guttural edge!  It is non-migratory and restricted to a couple of locations in the moist forests of Africa, and this small island in the middle of the Gambia River, where it sat out proudly, as if it knew that it was a lifer for absolutely everyone in the group!

We spent a pleasant while wandering around the forest, encountering a troupe of Guinea Baboons and a wetland area full of Spur-winged Geese.

African Finfoot is high on any birder´s list of priorities when visiting these parts, but never easy to see. But as we drifted back, enjoying the lush greens in the mid-morning sun, we spotted not one but three, hanging out in a sandy cove at the water´s edge! We could see two adults and a young bird, but by the time the boat had swung back around there were two youngsters and one adult, meaning there must have been four in total! They were untroubled by our presence, and we got great views of them chilling in the shade and trying to move about without tripping over their own enormous orange feet.

Our Finfoot luck was most definitely in, seeing another two individuals on the journey back. That brought the total to six for the trip, a number almost unheard of for such a shy and special bird.

After lunch and a nice long siesta, we headed out to some local forest habitat, to enjoy the late afternoon roost.  Many European Turtle Doves were settling into the trees, as well as Rose-ringed Parakeets, Senegal Parrots, Senegal Coucals, and an Oriole Warbler. We had some of our best views yet of Blue-breasted Kingfisher and Blue-bellied Roller, as well African Jacana, and a great view of Grey-headed Kingfisher in the wetland areas.

 

Great views of a Blue-bellied Roller  © Inglorious Bustards

 

As the shadows lengthened, we had several sightings of Pearl-spotted Owlet flying in to roost, completed by a fantastic extended view as an individual tried to keep its cool while being harangued by Lesser Blue-eared and Long tailed Glossy Starlings and a particularly persistent Common Bulbul!

 

Pearl-spotted Owlet – check out those eyes, just wow!  © Inglorious Bustards

 

The afternoon was ending fast but as we left the best was yet to come – a huge Verreaux´s Eagle Owl crash-landed into a palm tree and surveyed us nonchalantly through its droopy pink-lidded eyes, followed shortly by another.  As dark fell and we made our way home, we had to pick our way through the Standard-winged and Long-tailed Nightjars warming themselves on the track!

We had some ground to cover the next day as we returned to the coast, but happily, the country´s relatively new tarmacked main road made our journey easy, and left us plenty of time to visit some great birding areas on the way back. Spotting as we went, we made a couple of stops to look at and photograph Long-crested Eagle and a colony of grotesque but appealing Maribou Storks. 

A troupe of sixty or more Guinea Baboons were picking through the chaff of a recent peanut harvest, so we stopped to watch their fascinating social interactions, and chat to some villagers who, though having no intention of harming them, were looking forward to the day when these raucous, intimidating apes finished scouring the field and left them in peace!

We took a rest at the lake at Dala Ba, or ´Big Water´, an important area for wintering European Turtle Doves, and found several hundred hanging out in the branches of trees around the lake, nipping down for the odd drink.  The lake and surroundings also yielded Black-headed, Grey and Purple Herons, Black Egret, Western Osprey, Malachite and Pied Kingfisher.

 

Dali Ba – the ´big water´

 

Arriving back at the hotel, there was plenty of time to freshen up before a couple of G&Ts and another delicious meal, topped off with a cake fashioned from ice-cream and fruit to celebrate Alan´s birthday!

The small bird observatory at Kartong was created by Brit Colin Cross, who has been in The Gambia for nearly a decade.  The understated concrete structure overlooks a bunch of reed-fringed freshwater and intertidal pools, which he and his local team manage and survey to provide consistently great habitat, and some very fascinating and complete ornithological records for the area.  On the pools were numerous White-faced Whistling Duck But perhaps most surprisingly we found two Common Coots, a Gambian lifer for our guide Tijan!

After some searching we also found three cute African Pygmy Geese and a Knobbed Duck amongst the White-faced Whistling Ducks! 

Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were now filling the air low above our heads, and as if that wasn´t a spell-binding enough sight to see, suddenly there were two Northern Carmine Bee-eaters amongst them!  These birds, normally only seen upriver or associated with bushfires, dazzled us with their stunning fuschia pink and turquoise get-up for a fabulous couple of minutes before vanishing off into the distance.

After a relaxed breakfast and chance to finalise packing for the homeward journey, we said goodbye to the lovely folk at Hisbiscus House and headed for the airport. Happily we had a whole morning to get in one last birding fix before our flight to Manchester, which we spent in Abuko Forest nature reserve, a tiny but teeming patch of primary forest in the heart of The Gambia’s coastal metropolis.

The lush vegetation offered welcome shade from the midday sun, and we enjoyed fantastic views of Violet Turaco, Grey Woodpecker, Western Bluebill and Red-bellied and African Paradise Flycatchers as well as a handsome Lizard Buzzard perched up over our heads. 

 

Violet Turaco  © Inglorious Bustards
Red Colobus Monkey – the old woman of the forest…  © Inglorious Bustards

 

A Nile Crocodile relaxed open-mouthed by the reserve´s central pool and we enjoyed being under the wistful gaze of Red Colobus monkeys, the so-called ´Old Women of the Forest´.

Common Wattle-eye – frequently heard on the trip but always hidden – finally decided to give us a look as several individuals showed well in the trees.  Fanti Saw-wing was yet another new bird for the list!

For our last lunch we went to the village of Lamin, overlooking the coastal mangroves, where we ate while Green-backed Vervet Monkeys looked hungrily at our plates!

Then, all too soon it was home time, and we said our goodbyes to Tijan and Abubaka before heading home to a dusting of British snow, taking plenty of birding memories and West African warmth home with us.

 

The team enjoying birding upriver

 

Want to follow the rainbow?! Join us in 2018! Download the full trip report here

and check out the 2018 info on our Tours page!

 

 

Bird Party in The Gambia – Tendaba Triumphs

Our journey upriver to Tendaba brought some of the best birdwatching our well-travelled team had experienced! 

Egyptian Plover, Marshall Eagle and Long-crested Eagle, Exclamatory Paradise Whydah, Red-throated, Little Green, Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters led the way, with African Golden Oriole, Dark Chanting Goshawk and Grasshopper Buzzard, Beaudouin´s, Brown and Short-toed Snake Eagle, African Fish Eagle, African Blue Flycatcher, Kittlitz Plover, Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark, Cut-throat Finch, Yellow White-eye, Ant-eater Chat, Pied and Blue-breasted Kingfishers making sure the group´s waking hours were filled with avian delights!

 

Egyptian Plover!  Superb!!!  © Inglorious Bustards

We set off in the freshness of the African morning to Tendaba ´airport´ – a hand-painted sign directed us to ´Terminal 1´, which is actually a raised mudbank in the heart of a wetland! From this unbuilt, unspoilt area, we watched birds of open woodland such as Black Scimitar-bills, Purple Glossy Starlings, Village Indigo Birds and African Grey Hornbills moving through the trees, while Grasshopper Buzzards and a young African Fish Eagle got ready to leave their roosts. 

 

Moving on to an area of low-intensity peanut farming mid-morning, we soon added African Golden Oriole to the list.  We had fantastic views of Grasshopper Buzzards perched up close in the trees and our first look at a sexy Beaudouin´s Snake Eagle.  A prolonged flyby by a low Bateleur left us breathless and with some great photos!

 

This massive Bateleur took our breath away!  © Inglorious Bustards
Stunning Grasshopper Buzzard  © Inglorious Bustards

 

After a bit of relaxing downtime by the side of the broad and tranquil Senegambia River, we took an afternoon boat trip into the extensive mangrove swamps of Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve. From the small fishing boat we had intimate views of the snake-y antics of African Darter and the understated but noisy Mouse Brown Sunbird.  We also heard African Blue Flycatcher.  Long-tailed Cormorants, Striated and Squacco Herons were numerous as we pootled past muddy coves between the mangrove roots, and Pied and Blue-breasted Kingfishers were with us at every turn.

Larking about on the Gambia River

 

As the afternoon wore on, Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters came into roost, decorating the bare branches of trees, and many Collared Pratincoles and Gull-billed Terns drifted overhead.  We enjoyed the spectacle of a whirling mass of Sand Martins, numbering many hundreds, gathering insects over an area of misty, damp pasture.

The Sahel in the early morning has its own special light and its own amazing selection of roosting raptors – as we set off on our day´s birding, beautiful Dark Chanting Goshawks and Grasshopper Buzzards were today upstaged by Long-crested and Brown Snake Eagle and two mega Marshall Eagles, perched up next to the road for all to see.

 

Soon the passerines were active too, and we had some fantastically productive stops watching the airborne ridiculousness that is the Exclamatory Paradise Whydah.  These black, red and yellow avian shooting stars resemble airborne punctuation marks as they flit from tree to tree, encumbered by their massive tail feathers.  Yellow White-eye, Red-billed Quelea, Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark and a host of Long-tailed and Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starlings were also seen.

 

Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling – what a stunner!  © Inglorious Bustards

 

Soon we reached Farafennye, where we would cross the Senegambia river to explore the northern shore.  Tijan expertly guided us to the front of the queue for the small car ferry, and after half an hour or so of enjoying the exciting atmosphere of the port, as well as its Hammerkops and Egrets, we were aboard and over the river in no time.

Soon we reached Kaur wetlands, where the day’s birding immediately went stratospheric! The very first bird we found was a lone Egyptian Plover, an excellent bird in anybody´s book, but also Alan´s most wanted bird of the trip!  This incredibly smart black, white and ginger wader allowed us to within feet of where it sat, particularly Iain and Sarah-Jane who shuffled towards it on their knees in veneration, presumably earning the privilege of some absolutely phenomenal photos of this sought-after bird.

 

That gorgeous Egyptian Plover again!  © Inglorious Bustards

 

We were so struck by its awesomeness that we barely paid heed to the host of amazing wetland birds in the background – while we ate our picnic lunch we were entertained by a strong supporting cast of Wattled and Spur-winged Plovers, Kittlitz Plovers, Purple Swamphens and Senegal Thick-knees. There were many wintering migrants in the area, including Yellow Wagtails, Reed Warblers, Common Chiffchaffs, and a Subalpine Warbler. Montagu´s and Marsh Harriers quartered the marshes and a Brown Snake Eagle sat up in a Baobab tree devouring a snake.

Next up after a restful few kilometres we arrived at a quarry, where our senses received a further avian pummelling!  This sandy expanse is home to a huge breeding colony of Red-throated Bee-eaters, which filled the air with their lively calls. They adorned literally every tree with their vivid colours, making them look like they´d been decorated for Christmas! Among them were Little Green Bee-eaters, Cut-throat Finches, Ant-eater Chats, and a large roost of Long-tailed Glossy Starlings and Yellow-billed Shrikes.  A lone White-backed Vulture silently oversaw the colourful party below like a bouncer.

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Red-throated and Little Green Bee-eaters decorating the trees  © Inglorious Bustards

 

We had one last ferry crossing to do, this time at the sleepy end of the river, where the queue of vehicles numbered one! As we cruised across the river in the gentle evening light, our accommodation was already in sight, and we were soon enjoying a beer overlooking the peaceful Senegambia River, as the local kids splashed about at the quayside and flocks of Egrets travelled downstream to roost.

Upriver loveliness

 

This was a truly incredible day´s birding and not one that the group will forget in a hurry!

Fancy a piece of the Egyptian Plover action?  Download the full trip report here

and check out the 2018 info on our tours page!