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THE GAMBIA 2004

Once again, Birdfinders' Gambia tour was a resounding success with 320 species seen during a relaxed 15 days. As usual, we spent the first seven nights at the coast where as well as seeing all of the common species we recorded a number of special and rarely-seen species.

White-backed Night-herons are often tricky to see at Tendaba but once again our boatman did a superb job and everyone had great views. A juvenile Black Stork was a surprise in the Lamin Fields. A perched melanistic Gabar Goshawk in Yundum Woods was an amazing sight, whilst Tawny and Wahlberg's Eagles circling overhead together at Marakissa was educational! Raptors continued to please with stunning perched views of both Red-necked and Lanner Falcons. The rarest raptors were saved for upriver however: Western Banded Snake-eagle is rarely recorded these days so we were privileged to watch a perched bird from only 10 yards from our boat. Not content with that, we watched a pair of African Hawk-eagles at close range quickly followed by a perched juvenile Ovampo Sparrowhawk. This raptor is generally uncommon to rare throughout Africa and extremely rare in Gambia so seeing it on two of our last three tours is quite amazing. Vultures are abundant throughout The Gambia with small numbers of Rüppell's Griffon-vulture upriver and whilst going through the plumage features of this species, we were surprised to find a Eurasian Griffon-vulture amongst them. In woodland along the Faraba Banta Bushtrack a covey of Helmeted Guineafowl was a surprise, but even more exceptional were the three Lesser Moorhens we found at a waterhole on the north bank. Stone Partridges are never easy to see, except at Bird Safari Camp where several walked around our roofs every morning! Egyptian Plovers proved widespread this year with birds seen at no less than five locations. Once again, we found Spotted Thick-knees at the daytime roost upriver whilst as well as seeing a pair of the increasingly rare White-fronted Plovers at Tanji we enjoyed excellent views of Audouin's Gulls. Another surprise upriver was an African Collared-dove.

With the exception of the diurnal Pearl-spotted Owlet, owls are never easy to see in The Gambia and to see five species was pretty impressive. A pair of Greyish Eagle-owls with a juvenile watched at daytime roost was a remarkable sight especially as there are few modern records and no breeding records at all. Verreaux's Eagle-owl and Northern White-faced Owl were both more difficult to find than usual this year but we persevered and were rewarded with outstanding views of both at daytime roost, whilst an African Scops-owl was watched just a few feet away by spotlight at Bird Safari Camp. Long-tailed Nightjars were plentiful at dusk along the north bank road and we found several female Standard-winged Nightjars at roost along the Batelling Track at Tendaba. So on to the kingfishers and bee-eaters and I am pleased to say that we recorded EVERY species of both genus this year. Most of the kingfishers are of course fairly easy to find but not so the Grey-headed Kingfisher, which is very local yet we saw it five times. More remarkable however was the pair of Shining-blue Kingfisher seen upriver. The bee-eaters are many people's favourite birds and rightly so with their stunning colours. Once again we enjoyed great views of Northern Carmine and Red-throated Bee-eaters as well as the often-difficult White-throated Bee-eater but it was the Green Bee-eater that was the real rarity.

Abyssinian Ground-hornbill can often be elusive considering their size but enjoyed two sightings whilst the Spotted Honeyguide was still at its usual site at Marakissa. Cardinal Woodpecker was seen once whilst the local Brown-backed Woodpecker was seen on two occasions. A Grey-headed Bristlebill was coaxed into view at Brufut Woods whilst Oriole Warbler gave great views at Marakissa and Green Hylia proved easier than usual to see at Abuko. A total of five Yellow-bellied Hyliotas would have been quite remarkable if it hadn't been for the Lead-coloured Flycatcher singing and displaying at the same time! As usual, there were lots of Swamp Flycatchers upriver but we enjoyed our best views ever of a pair of displaying African Blue-flycatchers at Tendaba. Northern Crombec is always a nice bird to watch but Green Crombec in Pirang Woods was surprise. Yellow Penduline-tit and African Yellow White-eye both gave good views whilst some of the uncommon sunbirds seen included Mouse-brown, Western Violet-backed, Collared, Pygmy and Copper. The difficult Senegal Batis and Brubru were seen on a couple of occasions but eclipsed by several sightings of the rare Square-tailed Drongo.

Egyptian Plover

Egyptian Plover