THE GAMBIA 2012
Birdfinders have just completed another Gambia tour, our 16th consecutive year including more than one tour some years. This year’s tour wasn’t record-breaking numbers-wise but for the quality of the birds it was certainly exceptional. As usual, we spent the first seven nights around the coast based at an excellent hotel with good food. All the usual species were seen but in particular, the wonderful views of Long-tailed Nightjar, Yellowbill, Brown-backed Woodpecker, Black Scimitar-bill, Cardinal Woodpecker, White-fronted Black-chat, Rufous Cisticola, Collared, Copper and Western Violet-backed Sunbirds, African Yellow White-eye and Western Bluebill were noteworthy. Oh, and of course the Ahanta Francolins we watched (and photographed!) out in the open on the path in Abuko for nearly a minute!
It was really upriver, however, that things started to go from strength to strength. At our usual stop for bustards on the first day it was apparent that there was insufficient cover left for them but we tried anyway. Imagine our surprise when our efforts for walking around in the midday sun were rewarded with repeated views of a Quail-plover. This bird is an extreme rarity in Gambia with only a couple of records and was new to this tour. Indeed, even in its home range of Chad, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Northern Senegal and Sudan it is a near-mythical bird and only a handful of birders have ever seen this species. Egyptian Plovers were present in good numbers because of the late rains, African Pygmy-goose was a nice find and the Red-throated Bee-eater colony was positively overflowing with birds. During the middle day, around Georgetown, Northern Carmine Bee-eaters were totally oblivious to our presence, Green Bee-eaters were at the Red-throated Bee-eater colony, Black Coucal was safely tucked under our belts together with Winding Cisticola, and Pygmy Sunbirds were seen in good numbers together with Levaillant’s Cuckoos.
This year we changed our boat itinerary slightly and were rewarded with African Finfoot at a new site a shortly after heading upstream followed shortly afterwards with another new species for this tour, Adamawa Turtle-dove. All three species of snake-eagles were seen on the downstream journey and just before we disembarked on the south bank, Shining-blue Kingfisher completed our set of kingfishers for Gambia. We next visited a site from previous years for Spotted Thick-knee and were delighted to find them still present before embarking on the bumpy journey to Tendaba for our two-night stay. The boat trip next morning was rewarding with best-ever views of White-backed Night-herons (see photo below) and a surprise in the form of two roosting African Scops-owls. We then added Golden-tailed Woodpecker, nearly getting all the Gambian woodpeckers but it was too much to expect a Little Green Woodpecker again! White-throated Bee-eaters were nice however and we also saw our only Goliath Heron of the tour. Birding in the afternoon was hard work with no bustards but we did find White-rumped Seedeaters in the same place as last year. Our final visit of the day was to a Brown-necked Parrot roost site and unlike last year, we did see one bird for several minutes perched in the top of a Baobob tree. This bird has become increasing rare over the years and its continued existence in Gambia is now threatened. After leaving Tendaba to head back to the coast, we checked the bustard site again and were rewarded this time with a spectacular low flypast of a male Black-bellied Bustard with Brown-rumped Buntings being a bonus.
The final three nights at the coast added quite a few new species with the highlight probably being good numbers of White-fronted Plovers and Kelp Gulls together with a single Lesser Crested Tern (they are getting more difficult for some reason).
And so that was it for another year, our cumulative total for species seen over the past 16 years is a staggering 426 species, we believe that this is higher than any other birdtour company. Whilst Palaearctic migrants were in short supply making our total lower than normal, we were compensated by excellent views of many difficult species as well as a couple of surprises. Next years tour will be 15–29 November, what new species will we add to our total?