THE GAMBIA 2006
Birdfinders enjoyed another exceptional tour of The Gambia in 2006 with a group of sixteen highly-motivated birders all contributing to an extremely successful and well-humoured tour. Highlights were many including Savile's and Black-bellied Bustards, Allen's Gallinule, White-crowned Lapwing, Greyish Eage Owl, a complete set of all the possible sunbirds in The Gambia, and some excellent raptors including White-headed Vulture and the rare Martial Eagle.
Our flight to Banjul was smooth with only a fifteen minute delay at Gatwick, landing on time in Banjul. The Manchester party had already arrived at the hotel and we met in the cooler hours of late afternoon for an hour's birding on the Casino Cycle Track. Here we were introduced to our first birds such as Long-tailed Cormorant, Black-headed Heron, Hamerkop, White-faced Whistling Duck, Hooded Vulture, African Harrier-hawk, Double-spurred Francolin, and a nice selection of doves including Speckled Pigeon, Red-eyed, Vinaceous and Laughing Doves. These birds would become daily fare throughout the tour, but the best bird of the evening was the now difficult Yellow-throated Longclaw 'teed' up in the scope. It was the only sighting of the tour.
Our first full day in the field was an extremely productive one but at a relaxed pace. Birding around the Kotu sewage ponds, Kotu River and nearby golf course yielded some quality birds but not before a Violet Turaco was seen in the palms above the breakfast table at the hotel! At Kotu sewage ponds the real highlight was the discovery of two roosting Northern White-faced Owls in an Acacia. Other good birds included Lizard Buzzard, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, and Lesser and Greater Blue-eared Starlings perched up together for a great comparison. On the golf course Eurasian Whimbrel, Spur-winged, Black-headed and Wattled Lapwings all gave great views, along with a couple of exquisite Blue-bellied Rollers.
For us European folk, the afternoon seemed exceptionally humid and after attempting to cool off for a few hours, we made our first excursion by bus, meeting our driver Aladdin who was to remain our faithful driver for the entire two-week tour. We explored a new site recommended by Solomon at Tujerang woods and had a lively couple of hours including fine views of Grey Kestrel, Levaillant's, Red-chested, and Didric Cuckoos, Bearded Barbet, Singing Cisticola, Senegal Eremomala. Northern Crombec, White-fronted Black Chat, White-shouldered Black Tit, Purple Glossy Starling and several Village Indigobirds. Remarkably, Levaillant's Cuckoos were seen on a further four days during the tour. This spectacular, yet unrushed start to the tour yielded an impressive 115 species, setting the rhythm for a fine trip. Many of ours days would produce a tally of over one hundred species.
During the following days we visited numerous sites on the coastal plain seeing such excellent species as African Darter, Striated Heron, African Spoonbill, Sacred Ibis, Dark-chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk, Shikra, Long-crested Eagle, Lanner Falcon, Red-necked Falcon, Beaudouin's Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, Montagu's Harriers, Tawny Eagle, Wahlberg's Eagle , Palm-nut Vulture, Yellow-billed Kite, Grasshopper Buzzard, Martial Eagle, Black Crake, African Jacana, Black-crowned Crane, Kelp and Slender-billed Gulls, Gull-billed and Little Terns, Black-billed and Blue-spotted Wood-doves, Namaqua Dove, Senegal Parrot, Senegal Coucal, Verreaux's and Greyish Eagle-owls, more Northern White-faced Owls, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Mottled Spinetail, African Palm Swift, Pied, Blue-breasted, Giant, Woodland and Striped Kingfishers, African Pygmy-kingfisher, Little, Swallow-tailed and White-throated Bee-eaters, African Pied, African Grey and Red-billed Hornbills, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Lesser Honeyguide, Cardinal and Grey Woodpeckers, Fanti Sawwing, Pied-winged Swallow, Eurasian, Mosque, Rufous-chested, Red-chested, Red-rumped and Wire-tailed Swallows, Plain-backed Pipit, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Little Greenbul, Yellow-breasted Apalis, African Yellow White-eye, Northern Puffback, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Common Wattle-eye, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver, Heuglin's Masked, Vitelline Masked and Black-necked Weavers, Black-winged Bishop, Blackcap Babbler, Green and Black Woodhoopoe, and Black-faced Quailfinch. At Abuko we even saw an adult Western Bluebill feeding two recently fledged young which showed reasonably well to the whole group.
The 'upriver' part of the trip was a four-night adventure filled with quality birding. A fine pirogue trip in the mangroves, a much improved road on the north bank of the Gambia river, and a trip to Basse yielded many highlights; Goliath Heron, White-backed Night-heron, Woolly-necked Stork, Spur-winged Goose, African Fish-eagle, African Hawk-eagle, Egyptian Plover, Greater Painted Snipe, Long-tailed Nightjar, Bruce's Green-pigeon, Brown-backed Woodpecker, Abyssinian Ground-hornbill, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Red-throated and Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, Mouse-brown Sunbird, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark, Sudan Golden-sparrow, Black-rumped Waxbill, Cut-throat, Northern Paradise-whydah, White-rumped Seedeater, Red-winged Pytilia and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. The wetlands at Kau-ur were just fantastic producing Comb Duck, more Egyptian Plovers, Kittlitz's Plover, White-crowned Lapwing, a huge flock of Collared Pratincoles, as well as several Red-throated Pipits. An Allen's Gallinule, found at a small wetland was one of the star birds of the trip. The North bank did not disappoint for open terrain species either, producing the often aloof Savile's Bustard, a Temminck's Courser and several Sun Larks.
The return journey downriver began with the tranquility of breakfast on board a pirogue. Hadada Ibis, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Swamp Flycatchers all showed well. Remarkably, a Crimson Seedcracker was seen by two of our party much to Solomon's chagrin, for that bird would have been a lifer for him!
The bumpy journey back to Tendaba was enlivened by numerous productive stops for White-headed Vulture, Marabou Stork, Spotted Thick-knee, Verreaux's Eagle Owl, Black Coucal, and Pygmy Sunbird. The following day, the journey back to the coast from Tendaba was brought to an absolute standstill when a Black-bellied Bustard crossed the road in front of our tour bus in the middle of the afternoon. Solomon did well to rustle up a Green-headed Sunbird to complete our set of Gambian sunbirds. We could hardly believe our luck!
We spent the last few days in a relaxed manner catching up with some much needed species in the coastal districts including an incredible Yellow-billed Stork find by Keith, White-fronted Plover (now difficult in The Gambia), a nice skua display in Banjul with Pomarine and Arctic up close, staggering views of Green Turaco at Abuko, and wonderful looks at Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters on Cape Point.
As predicted, the second week on the coast was much more comfortable than the first, being cooler and far less humid. The flight home was enlivened by a fuel stop in Malaga and a near diversion due to gale force winds at Gatwick, where we eventually landed about three hours later than scheduled. This relatively small delay in no way cast a damper on an otherwise excellent tour.
Special thanks go to Solomon for his wonderfully relaxed guiding manner and his great humor, and to Aladdin for his stoic driving, as well as providing cool refreshment throughout the trip. Equally special thanks go to all 16 participants on this trip, all of whom contributed to some excellent bird finding and some memorable banter!