10–24 November 2017
The Gambia is one of the best introductions to both tropical birding and Africa. We will be visiting after the wet season when the vegetation is still green and some of the weavers and bishops are still in summer plumage. Birding highlights should include Egyptian Plover, Martial Eagle, and both Red-throated and Northern Carmine Bee-eaters and we will make a special boat trip to look for the skulking African Finfoot. Many European migrants will be present.
Day 1 Flight from London Gatwick to Banjul (Yundum) Airport. We will transfer to our coastal hotel, where we will stay for seven nights, in time for some late-afternoon birding before our evening meal.
Day 2 The first early-morning in a new country is always exciting and we will not be short of birds to look at here. In fact, with Laughing Dove, Speckled Pigeon, Western Red-billed Hornbill, Pied Crow, Long-tailed Glossy Starling, Common Bulbul, Red-cheeked Cordonbleu, Red-billed Firefinch, Lavender Waxbill, Bronze Mannikin, Village Weaver and many others present, it will be hard to drag ourselves to breakfast! As soon as breakfast is over we will meet Solomon and walk across the road to the Kotu ponds, stream and golf course. Common species here include White-faced Whistling-duck, Black-headed, Spur-winged and Wattled Lapwings, Hooded and Palm-nut Vultures, Mourning Collared-dove, Grey and Fine-spotted Woodpeckers, Blue-breasted and Abyssinian Rollers, Little Bee-eater, White-billed Buffalo-weaver and a variety of sunbirds including Beautiful, Splendid and Variable Sunbirds. Cattle Egrets are all over the place and, by the stream, we will look for Senegal Thick-knee whilst watching Giant, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers hunting. Western Reef-herons are common here and Wire-tailed Swallows breed under the bridge. During the heat of the day we will return to the hotel but later in the afternoon we will check the Casino Cycle Track. Here we may add Tawny-flanked Prinia, Zitting Cisticola, Orange Bishop, Green Woodhoopoe, Piapiac, Village Indigobird, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Senegal Parrot, Little Swift, African Palm-swift, White-crowned Robin-chat, Brown and Blackcap Babblers, Senegal Coucal and Green-backed Camaroptera to our lists.
Day 3 The day will be spent at Abuko Nature Reserve. Although small, it encloses a remnant area of riverine forest as well as some savannah. Protected since 1916 as a water catchment area, with a fence that keeps domestic livestock out, Abuko abounds with birds. On the pools are Long-tailed Cormorant, African Darter, Hamerkop, Black-crowned Night-heron and Black-headed and Striated Herons, whilst in the forest Western Grey Plantain-eater and Guinea and Violet Turacos are the most conspicuous species together with African Grey and African Pied Hornbills. Early in the morning we will have our best chance of locating the shy Ahanta Francolin. Small birds are often not easy to see in the canopy or the undergrowth, especially in the heat of the day, but we can remain in the shade and see many new species such as Blue-spotted Wood-dove, African Pygmy-kingfisher, Snowy-crowned Robin-chat, Grey-headed Bristlebill, Little Greenbul, African and Black-headed Paradise-flycatchers, Northern Puffback, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Green Hylia, African Golden Oriole, Western Bluebill, Orange-cheeked Waxbill and Spectacled Weaver. We will also try for the elusive Buff-spotted Woodpecker. Nile Crocodiles and Monitor Lizards occur here as well as Red Colobus and Green Vervet Monkeys and we may also see Bushbuck and Sitatunga. There is a very convenient stall selling cold drinks and snacks in the middle of the reserve by the animal orphanage and we will spend some time here as the water and food attract many birds. We will take lunch at a nearby restaurant in the heat of the day before returning to the reserve as bird activity often increases at about 17.00 and exciting species including Levaillant's and Klaas's Cuckoos and Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike have been found at the last gasp!
Days 4–7 We will visit many areas with different habitats looking for new species. Brufut Woods, an area of protected woodland, often has roosting Long-tailed Nightjar and Verreaux’s Eagle-owl together with many other species including Double-spurred Francolin, Grey Kestrel, Lizard Buzzard, African Harrier-hawk, Black-billed Wood-dove, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Fanti Sawwing, Pied-winged Swallow, Red-winged Prinia, White Helmetshrike and Little Weaver. In some years, rarer species might include Western Violet-backed Sunbird. Lamin Fields has open grassland and agricultural areas where we will look for Greater Painted-snipe, Northern White-faced Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Striped Kingfisher, Northern Black-flycatcher and Pin-tailed Whydah, whilst in the scattered trees we should see Vieillot's and Bearded Barbets and Red-eyed and Vinaceous Doves, while Dark Chanting-goshawks and Black-shouldered Kites often hunt over the area. Tujering, with its scattered trees, is a reliable site for Lanner Falcon and a number of other localised species including Brown-backed Woodpecker, Black Scimitarbill, White-shouldered Black-tit, Yellow Penduline-tit, Brubru, Senegal Batis, White-fronted Black-chat, Senegal Eremomela, Singing and Whistling Cisticolas and Vitelline Masked-weaver. Tanji Bird Reserve is an excellent site for many species including Four-banded Sandgrouse, Cardinal Woodpecker, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Common Gonolek, Northern Crombec, Scarlet-chested Sunbird and Western Palearctic migrants such as Melodious, Western Olivaceous and Subalpine Warblers and Common Nightingale. There is a gull and tern roost on the beach and, in amongst the numerous Grey-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, we will look for the rarer Audouin’s, Slender-billed and Kelp Gulls. Terns should include Caspian, Common, Royal and Sandwich Terns with the occasional Lesser Crested Tern. The Faraba Banta Bush Track is an outstanding area for raptors and here we will look for Brown Snake-eagle, Bateleur, Martial, Tawny and Wahlberg's Eagles and African Hawk-eagle; African Green-pigeons can be found in the woodland and we usually have a ‘stake out’ for roosting Greyish Eagle-owl. Helmeted Guineafowl also occur here but are very shy and most likely we will only see feathers! Pirang, a failed attempt at a shrimp farm, was formerly an excellent place for Black Crowned-crane but they do not allow access now and it is likely that the birds are no longer present. Around the edges, however, we can often see many herons and waders and this is a reliable spot for Crested Lark, Black-faced Quailfinch and Yellow Bishop. Nearby is Pirang Forest where both White-spotted Flufftail and African Wood-owl have recently been recorded. Several other highly-localised species can also be found here including Green Crombec, Green Malkhoha and Collared Sunbird. We will visit Bund Road, Camalou Corner and the adjacent coast one afternoon to look for several species including the fast-declining White-fronted Plover, Lesser Crested Tern and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater.
Day 8 Today we will have an early breakfast before heading into Banjul and catching the 07.00 ferry to Barra on the north bank arriving around 07.45. We will then head east along the north bank road making a number of stops at various wetland sites. The only town en route is Farafenni and this will be the only opportunity to buy drinks or a snack. Continuing east, we will soon reach a site where we have seen Savile’s Bustards in the past and we will take the opportunity to take lunch here whilst we search for them. Other birds we have found here in the past include White-bellied Bustard, Quail-plover (third Gambian record), Temminck’s Courser, Singing Bushlark and Flappet Lark. Continuing east, we will make several stops to look at the waterholes, where large numbers of birds come to drink in the heat of the day. Amongst numerous weavers we may see Namaqua Dove, Black-crowned Sparrow-lark, Cut-throat, Northern Paradise-whydah, Black-rumped Waxbill, Bush Petronia and Gosling’s Bunting (split from Cinnamon-breasted Bunting). Eventually we will arrive at the superb Kau-ur swamp, where we will look for the regular Egyptian Plovers together with Kittlitz's Plover and Collared Pratincole. Continuing our journey, and looking for Northern Anteater-chat, we will take another ferry to Georgetown Island, our base for the next two nights. The accommodation here is basic but with en-suite facilities and good food.
Day 9 After breakfast, we will return to the north bank by ferry to look for Northern Carmine Bee-eaters at Wassu, famous for its stone circles, which you will also have the opportunity to view. Mosque Swallows often sit on the power lines here and Green Bee-eater is reliable. We will then cross the road to a sand quarry where a large colony of beautiful Red-throated Bee-eaters can be found. Next we will head to a large series of rice paddies where both the highly-localised Black Coucal and the more widespread Black Crake and Winding Cisticola can be found. We will return to Georgetown for a lunch-break before heading off the island again on a new bridge to the south bank to do some casual birding and scan the herds of cattle for Yellow-billed Oxpeckers. After dinner we will look for African Scops-owl.
Day 10 Following an early breakfast we will take a boat trip, firstly upstream to look for African Finfoot and the recently-discovered Adamawa Turtle-dove, before heading back downstream. We will have further opportunities for African Finfoot together with many other species including Hadada Ibis, Spur-winged Goose, Comb Duck, African Fish-eagle, Swamp Flycatcher and Oriole Warbler. White-backed Vultures are frequently seen sunning themselves on tops of palm trees in the early-morning sunshine whilst Red-necked Falcons can occasionally be found and Bruce’s Green-pigeons are more easily seen. Hippopotamus are also regularly encountered on this section of the river. After being picked up by our bus, we will visit a huge area of marshes and rice fields where specialities may include African Pygmy-goose. We will also make a brief visit to a school to donate equipment. Heading back west, we will make roadside stops for raptors including White-headed Vulture, Rüppell's Griffon, Long-crested Eagle and Banded and Brown Snake-eagles. We will arrive in time for a late lunch at Tendaba Camp, where we will spend two nights (despite its name it is a lodge and does not have tents!). In the afternoon, we will explore the adjacent dry woodland looking for a whole range of new species including Abyssinian Ground-hornbill, Brown-backed Woodpecker, Pygmy Sunbird, White-shouldered Black-tit, African Yellow White-eye, Yellow Penduline-tit, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver, White-rumped Seedeater and Brown-rumped Bunting.
Day 11 Depending on the state of the tide (yes, 120 kilometres inland it is still tidal!), we will take a pirogue across the river into the mangrove creeks either in the morning or in the afternoon. Species here may include Pink-backed Pelican, the white-breasted form of Great Cormorant, Yellow-billed and Marabou Storks, Sacred Ibis, Intermediate Egret, Goliath Heron, White-backed Night-heron, African Spoonbill, Mouse-brown Sunbird, European and White-throated Bee-eaters, Blue-breasted and Grey-headed Kingfishers and the elusive African Blue-flycatcher. We have even seen Little Green Woodpecker here on more than one occasion. We will also revisit the dry woodland to look for birds we may have missed yesterday. After dinner, we will take a night-drive to try to spotlight night birds. Species seen in the past have included Spotted Thick-knee, Greyish Eagle-owl, Northern White-faced Owl and Standard-winged Nightjar.
Day 12 We will walk up the hill behind the camp before breakfast. Here drinking trays attract a number of species including Greater Honeyguide and Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike. This is one of the few places that Stone Partridge can still be heard and occasionally seen. After breakfast, we will head west again, stopping at a number of sites on the way to our coastal hotel for a three-night stay.
Days 13–14 During the last two whole days back at the coast we will revisit some of the best sites, including Abuko, as even on a second or third visit we will see new birds. We may also visit new sites such as Marakissa, which is a mixture of cultivation, forest and a river, with specialities including Golden-tailed Woodpecker, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated Greenbul and Spotted Honeyguide. After two weeks we will not only still be seeing new birds but also getting better views of, and even photographing, birds we have seen before.
Day 15 The morning will be free to allow time to pack and to visit local sites before returning to Yundum Airport after lunch for our flight home.
General Information Gambia is hot and humid in November but rain is unlikely. The tour pace is easy but the heat can be uncomfortable at times. Some days we will split the birding into two sessions with a break at the hotel in the middle of the day so that we can relax. There are a number of health requirements and you must consult your GP in this respect. Insects are not a major problem but you must take precautions to avoid health risks. Rooms are twin-bedded in a medium-standard hotel with air conditioning and private facilities except in Tendaba and Georgetown where there is no air conditioning and the rooms, although en-suite, are more basic.
Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 8; maximum group size: 16 with 2 leaders.