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.

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