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 – Smiles Galore at the Coast!

Not much bigger than Norfolk, The Gambia is Africa’s smallest country and clings to the banks of the Gambia river.  The curve of this river as it winds into the continent shapes the whole country into a geographical grin, earning it the nickname of Africa’s Smiling Coast. 

The team!

There was certainly no shortage of smiles within our team either, as the very first days at the coast brought us avian delights like Bearded Barbet, Western Bluebill, Snowy-crowned Robin Chat, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Standard-winged and Long-tailed Nightjar,  Yellow-capped Gonalek, Lesser Blue-eared and Long-tailed Glossy Starling, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Northern White-faced and Greyish Eagle Owl, Beautiful Sunbird, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Red-bellied Flycatcher, Black Scimitarbill, African Hawk Eagle, Red-winged Warbler, Pied and Malachite Kingfisher, Grasshopper Buzzard, Lizard Buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawk and Bateleur to name but a few!

As the tarmac roads gave way to red dirt streets lined with fruit and clothes stalls, mechanic´s shops and hairdressers, bicycles, dogs and playing kids, the group could sense our Gambian adventure had already begun!  Hooded Vultures, Pied Crows and Yellow-billed Kites patrolled the skies above us, with needle-thin African Palm Swifts and Little Swifts filling the gaps in between.

A handsome Hooded Vulture!  © Inglorious Bustards
Pied Crow in Banjul  © Inglorious Bustards

We were soon at Hibiscus House hotel – a quirky, refreshing haven of a place, with luxurious rooms nestling around a courtyard draped with greenery, with intimate gathering areas and an appealing pool at its heart.  After settling in with a welcome drink or two it was time for our first dinner, choosing from a delicious menu of European and West African traditional dishes, which we enjoyed as enormous fruit bats swooped down, splashing as they drank from the swimming pool.

Birding at the Hotel!

Dotted around the courtyard at Hibiscus House are numerous bird baths, so the next day the group got in an early start, birding the hotel before breakfast!  Little Weavers, Red-billed Firefinches, Common Bulbuls, Bronze Mannakins and Red-cheeked Cordon Bleus were all bathing and drinking just metres away. Yellow-capped Gonalek made an appearance, and it soon became apparent that a pair of Senegal Coucals were nesting within the grounds!

After a tasty breakfast of fresh fruits, breads and omelettes, we headed out – just down the road to Brufut Forest, a fantastic area of Sahelian woodland.

In a clearing just beyond the village, we got our first views of some engaging local birds, including Red-billed Hornbill, Lesser Blue-eared and Long-tailed Glossy Starling, African Mourning Dove and a cute spearmint green Klaas’s Cuckoo.

Moving further into the forest, local bird guru Tijan´s local knowledge and skill came into play and he found two roosting Northern White-faced Owls, wicked little owls which stared down at us from their roosts as we got some great photos.

Here´s looking at you!  Northern White-faced Owl  © Inglorious Bustards

As the heat of the day started to pick up we headed to Tijan´s home – affectionately dubbed ´RSPB Brufut office´ – where he had kindly invited us for lunch.  Here we sat drinking a refreshing coffee in the shady courtyard while his wife Mariama prepared us a delicious Yassa, a type of local curry.

Tijan has many bird feeders and drinking areas in his garden, and we were delighted to get fantastic up-close views of Village and Black-throated Weavers, African Thrush, Lavender Waxbill, Beautiful Sunbird and Red-cheeked Cordon Bleus flitting through the trees as delicious aromas wafted out of the kitchen.

We ate African style, sharing out the peanut-y Yassa, fresh salad, bread and fried potatoes while Tijan´s 3-year old son Lamin impressed us with his binocular skills!

 

All smiles after a delicious lunch with Tijan´s family

After lunch we headed out once more to Tanji area, where the thriving fish market brings together colourful boats, fish-buyers and fishermen haggling over fresh catches while gulls and terns do the same over the discarded bits.

A stunning Grey-headed Gull  © Inglorious Bustards

We got right in amongst all the action and had fantastic close-up views of Slender-billed and Grey-headed Gulls on the beach scrapping over scraps, while Royal, Lesser Crested, Caspian and Sandwich Terns were all fishing just offshore.  Waders working the beach detritus included Ruddy Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit, Spur-winged Plover and Sanderling, and three wintering Western Ospreys were seen fishing and perching in nearby Baobab trees.

Scenes from bustling Tanji fish market

Continuing the relaxed birding theme of the day, we retired to the bar-café area of Tanji Eco Lodge, where, again, we had great views of feeders and water bird baths from our beverage-drinking area!  We sat back and watched the West African avian fashion parade, where Western Bluebill, Snowy-crowned Robin Chat, Little Greenbul, Yellow-throated Leaflove and Paradise Red-bellied Flycatchers showed off their plumage for all to see and giving the photographers in the group good reason to drool!

The next day’s journey upriver was at a relaxed pace, enjoying spending the whole day on the two-hour journey, making the most of great birding opportunities along the way.

Breakfast was a caffeine and condensed milk-fuelled Gambian special, taken at a roadside stall by the market at Brikama, where we supplemented our fine hotel takeaway breakfast with a nice strong coffee!

Next we made a stop at Farasuto Forest reserve, where local people are being trained to be wardens to help preserve the local wildlife. We walked through the rich Sahelian scrub getting great views of many resident species including Bronze Mannakins and Black Scimitarbills.

Arriving at a specially marked site, we were able to pass one at a time and in complete silence to a small viewing area. From here we found ourselves within metres of roosting Standard-winged and Long-tailed Nightjar, which remained undisturbed as we admired their intricate camouflage patterning.  Roosting nocturnal birds were numerous here, and we also found a Greyish Eagle Owl and a nesting Northern White-faced Owl.

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A decidedly grumpy but very impressive Greyish Eagle Owl!  © Inglorious Bustards
Sleepy Standard-winged Nightjar  © Inglorious Bustards

In another area of the park we were treated to two exuberant Bearded Barbets, which showed well from the top of a dead tree while Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters swooped round them.

We made good progress upriver, and stopped for lunch at Kanpant rice fields. Tijan and his son Abubaka, who is following in his father´s footsteps as a bird guide, whipped up a lovely bunch of sandwiches on fresh local bread.  Appetites sated, we were birding again in no time.  We took a wander through the rice paddies, finding African Harrier Hawk, African Hawk Eagle, Red-winged Warbler, Bronze Mannakin, Western Grey Plantain Eater, African Jacana, Hammerkop, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Pearl-spotted Owlet and Malachite Kingfisher amongst others.

Malachite Kingfisher

Driving on we made a couple more stops to appreciate the new raptors that were passing us by, including Grasshopper Buzzard, Lizard Buzzard and the stunning Dark Chanting Goshawk. And a lone Bateleur, soaring tail-less on V-shaped wings caused us to screech to a halt and watch it until it vanished into a speck.

Soon we arrived at Tendaba Lodge, our home for the next two nights.  Set on the quiet shores of the Senegambia River, this homely lodge offers a welcoming, clean, friendly place to stay in the heart of rural Africa.  We had time to relax before dinner, and enjoyed a couple of Gambian beers while gazing out over the serene waters and enjoying views of Spur-winged Goose, Pink-backed Pelican, Caspian Tern and Pied Kingfisher from the riverside terrace.  What a start to our trip!

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Pied Kingfisher  © Inglorious Bustards

Sound like this experience would bring a smile to your face?  Download the full trip report here.

and check out the 2018 info on our Tours page!