The Gambia: Part 2

The Gambia ~ 17th-28th December 2018 ~ 
Part 2: 22nd-25th

Continuing on from Part 1, here is the second part of my trip to The Gambia.

Day 6 (22nd): Rainbow to Janjanbureh

After meeting him at Birdfair, my dad had booked a 4 day (3 night) birding trip inland with Yaya Barry from Kingbirders. We were picked up at 0800 and spent virtually all day on the road, stopping for some birding at various points and a bit of a wait for the ferry at Soma to get to the North Bank. Yaya is a remarkable birder and was picking birds up left, right and centre, even while driving! We ended on 67 species for the day, many of which were new for the trip. My highlights were White-throated Bee-eaterGrasshopper BuzzardWhite-backed VultureTemminck's CourserNamaqua DoveCut-throat FinchNorthern Anteater-chatExclamatory Paradise WhydahSavile's Bustard and of course Egyptian Plover (of which we saw four individuals)!

Grasshopper Buzzard Butastur rufipennis
Temminck's Courser Cursorius temminckii
Cut-throat Finch Amadina fasciata
Northern Anteater-chat Myrmecocichla aethiops
Egyptian Plover Pluvianus aegyptius
Egyptian Plover Pluvianus aegyptius

Day 7 (23rd): Bao Baolong boat trip & birding around Janjanbureh

Our first boat trip started at 8.00 from the Baobab restaurant and started off pretty steadily, with some nice species to get us going: Bearded Barbet, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Grey-headed Kingfisher and Hadada Ibis.

Western Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus cinerascens
Grey-headed Kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala
Hadada Ibis Bostrychia hagedash
Further along the river, we came to a rather unassuming patch of vegetation on the riverbank where a few Swamp Flycatchers were foraging. Our guide then spotted a female Northern Puffback in the undergrowth, which perched out in the open very briefly. This was quickly followed by a Yellow-throated Leaflove and a very showy Oriole Warbler - one of my main targets for the entire trip! I would have been quite happy to turn around and head home right then, but we still had another hour and a half left!!
Swamp Flycatcher Muscicapa aquatica
Female Northern Puffback Dryoscopus gambensis
Oriole Warbler Hypergerus atriceps
One of the other species that I really hoped to see on my trip was African Finfoot, primarily to annoy my ringing trainer since he's been to The Gambia numerous times and never managed to see one. Finfoots are notoriously secretive and spend most of their time in the dark edges of rivers under cover. With this in mind, I really didn't expect to see one at all, so was ecstatic when our boat driver pointed one out... I didn't think the boat trip could get any better!

African Finfoot Podica senegalensis
The rest of the boat trip consisted of loads more cool birds and excellent views of some due to the great skill of our boat driver. Highlights from the rest of the trip were: Palm-nut Vultures virtually above our heads, a close Woodland Kingfisher, Long-crested Hawk Eagle, Red-throated Bee-eaters, very brief views of Shining Blue Kingfisher and a Violet Turaco. However that wasn't all... our keen-eyed boat driver had one more surprise in store for us: a second African Finfoot!! This one was much further away, but swam the width of the river in full view, before disappearing into some dense vegetation... excellent!

Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax anglolensis
Woodland Kingfisher Halcyon senegalensis
Red-throated Bee-eaters Merops bulocki
We got dropped off a little bit before where we had started the boat trip so that we could walk back through some woodland and see some different species. It was well worth it as we saw quite a lot, most of which was new for the trip. Highlights were: Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Pin-tailed Whydah (non-breeding), Black-rumped Waxbill and Senegal Eremomela.

After lunch we headed out again, this time just driving around for a few hours, stopping anywhere that looked promising. This method was surprisingly productive, with 29 species seen, including Brown-rumped Bunting, Rufous-crowned Roller, a colony of Red-throated Bee-eaters, Shikra, Grey-headed Bush-shrike, Gabar Goshawk, Bruce's Green Pigeon, Four-banded Sandgrouse and a brief Long-tailed Nightjar in the last dregs of light.

Grey-headed Bush-shrike Malaconotus blanchoti
Gabar Goshawk Micronisus gabar
Bruce's Green Pigeon Treron waalia
Day 8 (24th) Janjanbereh to Tendaba and Tendaba area

We started the journey to Tendaba at 0800 and kicked the day off with Verreaux's Eagle Owl - a massive owl with pink eyelids! The next few birds were all new for the trip too - Bush Petronia, Vieillot's Barbet and Striped Kingfisher, the latter being a personal favourite for no particular reason. We stopped  few times on the way to Tendaba and saw a few more cool birds: African Pygmy Goose, Little Green Bee-eater, Rufous-crowned Roller, Dark Chanting Goshawk, White-backed Vulture, Brown Snake Eagle and my dad's only target for the whole trip besides Egyptian Plover: White-crested Helmetshrike. The undoubted highlight of the journey was non-avian and came in the form of a troop of Baboons crossing the road!

Verreaux's Eagle Owl Bubo lacteus
Striped Kingfisher Halycon chelicuti
Vieillot's Barbet Lybius vieilloti
Senegal Thick-knee Burhinus senegalensis
African Pygmy-goose Nettapus auritus 
Dark Chanting Goshawk Melierax metabates
White-crested Helmetshrike Prionops plumatus
Troop of c.30 Guinea Baboons Papio papio
After lunch and a siesta, we headed out for a walk with OJ, one of the guides at Tendaba. We spent a little while in one of the hides, where Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaverBlack-rumped Waxbill, and Greater Blue-eared Starling came in for a drink from a small pool. Carrying on, we saw quite a few male Scarlet-chested Sunbirds which were spectacular, as well as a Spotted Thick-knee and lots of other species that we'd seen before.

Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver Plocepasser superciliosus
Greater Blue-eared Starling Lamprotomis chalybaeus
Spotted Thick-knee Burhinus capensis
Day 9 (25th) Tendaba boat trip & journey back to Sanyang

Christmas day couldn't have been much better really - taking a boat trip on the stunning River Gambia with my dad and seeing loads more cool birds and wildlife... it's just a shame that the rest of my family weren't there too.

The boat trip lasted just under 3hrs and in that time we saw 26 species. The best of the bunch from the boat trip were: excellent views of Yellow-billed Stork, Malachite and Pied Kingfisher and Great White Pelican, a male Montagu's Harrier, a brief Mouse-brown Sunbird and a Wooly-necked Stork just as we were leaving the mangroves.

Western Reef Egret Egretta gularis
Malachite Kingfisher Alcedo cristata
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis
African Darter Anhinga rufa
African Darter Anhinga rufa
Male Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus
Yellow-billed Stork Mycteria ibis
Yellow-billed Stork pair Mycteria ibis
After the boat trip, we began the journey back to Sanyang, stopping off at various places, including Kampanti, a well-known raptor site. While we were there I saw one of my most wanted raptors - Bateleur Eagle! We saw quite a bit else at Kampanti, including a flock of White-crested Helmetshrikes, Pied-winged Swallows, African Yellow White-eye and great flight views of Grasshopper Buzzard. Once again we saw a remarkable amount of birds either from the car or by stopping at random places along the way, including Long-crested Eagle, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Violet-backed Sunbird and Pygmy Sunbird

Bateleur Eagle Terathopius ecaudatus
Pied-winged Swallow Hirundo leucosoma 
Grasshopper Buzzard Butastur rufipennis

If you made it this far, good job! I hope you enjoyed reading it & the remaining three days of my trip will be coming soon in Part 3 so keep an eye out for that. 

The Gambia: Part 1

The Gambia ~ 17th-28th December 2018 ~ 
Part 1: 17th-21st

After Christmas 2017, my dad visited The Gambia for a week to go birding and do some photography, however I was unable to go due to looming University coursework. Fortunately, he loved it so much he decided to return this year, so I was able to go with him and spend 10 full days birding in The Gambia over Christmas!

Between us, we recorded a total of 220 species (see the trip list on BUBO), including three species that were heard only by me (Stone Partridge, Nightingale and a probable Yellow-browed Warbler). Of these 219 species, 168 of them were new for me - pretty mad! It was a brilliant trip and I would highly recommend a visit to TG to other birders who haven't been before: the birds, food, people and landscapes are all superb, plus flights can be very reasonable if you time it right and it's pretty cheap once you're there!

Day 1 (17th): Arrival & Rainbow surroundings

We flew with Thomas Cook from London Gatwick to Banjul Airport, landing at about 1400. A taxi from the airport to our hotel (Rainbow Beach Bar, Sanyang) took about 50 minutes and cost about £15 (£1 is approx 60-62 dalasi). Blue-bellied Rollers are frequent along the power lines and Yellow-billed Kites and Hooded Vultures are very common. The evening saw us take a short wander around the area surrounding our hotel, where we saw our first Purple Glossy Starlings and Yellow-crowned Gonoleksas well as a few familiar waders (Sanderling, Turnstone and Whimbrel) on the beach and in the flooded mangroves.

Purple Glossy Starling Lamprotornis purpureus
Beautiful Sunbird Cinnyris pulchellus

Day 2 (18th): Rainbow surroundings

Up and out for first light (around 0730), having decided to head out in the areas surrounding the hotel and a little way up the coast. A variety of habitats are found in a fairly small area, including the beach, rice fields, acacia scrub, open grassy areas and more wooded parts. In 3 hrs we saw 34 species - not loads, but a good flavour of what was to come. Best of the bunch were: Black-crowned Tchagra (the only one we saw on the whole trip), Black-shouldered Kite, African Harrier Hawk and Woodchat Shrike. Later on, we headed back out to the same places, but heading for a small beach bar a few hundred metres up the coast, called 'Black & White'. There we had some very tasty fish and chips and saw a few more species on our wanderings there and back, including Green Wood-hoopoe, Grey Woodpecker and Bearded Barbet.

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Yellow-billed Kite Milvus aegyptius
African Harrier Hawk Polyboroides radiatus
Black-crowned Tchagra Tchagra senegalus
African Grey Hornbill Lophoceros nasutus
Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator

Day 3 (19th): Kotu Bridge, Cycle Path & Ponds

Kotu Bridge was our first destination of the day and we arrived at 0800 due to a slight delay in leaving the hotel (aka 'Gambian time'). There we were treated to HamerkopPied and Giant Kingfishers, Senegal Thick-knee, a Broad-billed Roller and plenty else to keep us occupied.

Hamerkop Scopus umbretta
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis
Giant Kingfisher Megaceryle maxima
After this we made our way to the Kotu Cycle Path where we walked to the end of the path and back. There wasn't tonnes to see, probably because we'd missed the peak of activity, but it was cool to see Black Herons (aka umbrella birds) doing their thing, as well as a group of Green Wood-hoopoes and a Peal-spotted Owlet at the start of the cycle path.

Black Heron Egretta ardesiaca
Yellow-billed Shrike Corvinella corvina
Pearl-spotted Owlet Glaucidium perlatum
We headed back to the bridge and then to the sewage ponds (birders do visit the most delightful places). While walking to the ponds we had superb views of Little Bee-eater and Fork-tailed Drongo.

Little Bee-eater Merops pusillus
At the ponds there were good numbers of White-faced Whistling Duck, a fair few sandpipers (including three Wood Sandpipers) and a few showy African Jacana. A brief stop at the bridge while waiting for our driver resulted in a few Ringed Plover, a Pygmy Kingfisher, great views of Black-winged Stilts, a friendly Common Sandpiper and the flash of electric blue from a Blue-breasted or Woodland Kingfisher.

Juvenile Yellow-billed Kite Milvus aegyptius
African Jacana Actophilornis africanus
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos

Day 4 (20th): Abuko Nature Reserve & Lamin rice fields


We arrived at 7.15, and due to some confusion on our guide's part, we ended up driving straight down to the Hyena enclosure and photo hide where we stayed for about 30 mins. I wandered off and found some Common Wattle-eyes and a Grey-backed Camaroptera. While watching these, I heard a familiar call that grabbed my attention: Yellow-browed Warbler. I listened to it for a few minutes, though unfortunately didn't manage to get any sound recordings as my phone ran out of charge. I'm very familiar with YBWs and can't find anything else that sounds even remotely similar, but would welcome any suggestions!

Our driver then decided we should drive back to the entrance and walk down to the hyena enclosure so that we walk through the forest and visit the other hides. This was quite sensible and we saw plenty, including Green Turaco at one of the hides, closely followed by Violet Turaco!! We also got great views of Green Vervet and Red Colobus monkeys on our walk, as well as at the hyena enclosure. Before we knew it, it was lunchtime, so we decided to head over to the Lamin rice fields. Black Crake was our main target here, which we saw quite easily, in addition to plenty of other species: Squacco Heron, Long-tailed Cormorant, Green-backed Heron, Black-headed Heron, Lizard Buzzard, European and Little Bee-eater.

Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
Broad-billed Roller Eurystomus glaucurus
Violet Turaco Musophaga violacea
Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus
Adult Green Vervet Chlorocebus pygerythrus
Juvenile Green Vervet Chlorocebus pygerythrus
Juvenile Green Vervet Chlorocebus pygerythrus
Day 5 (21st): Kartong

Kartong is somewhere I have wanted to visit for quite a while now, owing to the fact it is the site of Gambia's only bird observatory, so to finally be able to bird the area was excellent... and we weren't disappointed! We spent the morning birding and saw lots of cool stuff. The highlights were Black-shouldered Kite, Black-tailed Godwit, Spur-winged Goose, Diederik Cuckoo, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Black-headed Lapwing, Hoopoe and point blank views of Abyssinian Roller. Once back at the hotel just after lunch, we had a chilled afternoon birding along the river. Variable SunbirdMottled Spinetail and Sandwich Tern were the only new species for the trip and annoyingly, there seemed to be a Skua sp. perched on a buoy, but I couldn't make out enough detail to ID it to species.

Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius
Black-headed Lapwing Vanellus tectus
Osprey Pandion haliaetus with colour ring
Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta
Spur-winged Goose Plectropterus gambensis
Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus with engraved leg flag 
Abyssinian Roller Coracias abyssinicus
Mottled Spinetail Telacanthura ussheri

If you've made it this far, congratulations! Part 2 will be published soon, so keep an eye out for that.