This is a trip report of a couple of birders (John Lambert and Robert Roch) who along with me (Tony Skyrme) longed to visit The Gambia. Having visited The Gambia with my wife in 1999 I had allways talked about the birds one could see there. John and Robbie had heard enough and the seeds were sown. So we got ourselves organised for the trip.
TRIP REPORTS / LITERATURE
Trip reports are extremely useful, none more so than Dave Culham's report obtained from surfbirds. After reading it we decided to take his advice and book a trip with a view of staying at the Bakoto hotel in Koto. We also booked Ebou Barry, a local guide who he strongly recommended. I Emailed Ebou stating our requirements, that we wished for an introduction to Gambian birds at a relaxed pace we being OAPs. A quick response from Ebou was forthcoming and an itinerary was sent to us.
Website Bird Tours Gambia www.birdtoursgambia.com
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Telphone (+220) 71 61 202
Day 1 Brufut Woods.
Day 2 Abuko Forest/ Golf course.
Day 3 Mandinada / Farasutu Forest.
Day 4 Pirang Shrimp Farm / Georgetown.
Day 5 River Trip / Baobolong camp.
Day 6 Georgetown to Koto.
Day 7 Koto creek / Flight home.
Took the Feld Guide to the Brds of Senegal and the Gambia by Nick Borrow. We also studied the Birds of the Gambia and Senegal by Clive Barlow, Tim Wacher, Tony Disley. We also found Dave Gosney's Finding Birds in the Gambia accompanied by a dvd very useful.
Yellow Fever is a must as it is on the increase now - costs £58 but the injections are life long. Malaria tablets and a typhoid tetanus injection are also a must. Visit your doctor for further info.
The Gambia is 2,772 miles from Gatwick, takes approx. 5-6 hours depending on winds. We booked with THOMAS COOK with an in-flight meal. Due to it being an early flight we booked ourselves into the GATWICK EUROPA hotel - a room for the 3 of us cost £65 pounds in total but we parked the car for free - a total of 8 days - sounded good to me.
We were met at the hotel by Ebou who was keen to get started so we dropped our bags off in our room (more about this later). Binoculars in hand we set off - the trip was about to kick off.
KOTO CREEK SEWAGE PONDS
It is around 3pm and with Ebou in tow we get to Koto Creek. We had our first experience of the wealth of birds and bird guides they seemed to be everywhere. The birds now came thick and fast. A pair of Giant Kingfishers Pied Kingfisher, Oriole Warbler, Common Wattleye, Fine-spotted woodpecker, Wattled Plover, Spur-winged Plover, African silverbill, Western Reef Heron, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Yellow- crowned Gonolek, Bearded Barbet were all seen here. The sewage ponds offered up the following: Hamerkop, Black winged stilt, Cattle Egrets, White-faced whistling Duck, Wood hoopoe, Long-tailed starling, Brown babbler. I agree with Dave Culham some birders have said its no longer good for birds I could have stayed in the area for a couple of days if our itinerary had allowed for it.
A short bumpy drive south from Koto we arrived at the Savannah woodland at Brufut. Upon stopping we got out of Ebou's 4x4 and began birding. First up a showy Red Bishop Bird then a Red billed Hornbill along with another guide (Owl Man) we were taken to a very large tree were a Verreaux's Eagle Owl was roosting with a kill clamped in its talons. Considering the height the bird was at we got excellent views even its pink eyelids could be seen. Another track another owl this time a White Faced Scops Owl."What a Start". Also seen here were the ever present Hooded Vultures, Long-tailed-starling, Western-Grey-plantain-eater, Red billed-Firefinch and many more! Ebou then took us for a thirst-quenching drink we took another track to a roosting site for a Long-Tailed-Nightjar. Initially the guide who took us could not locate the bird. However Robbie came to his rescue although at first he thought it was a snake but we had our Nightjar.
We spent in the swimming pool after all it was 38c. After a good swim we visited the platform adjacent to our hotel here we got Whattled Lapwing, Spur-Winged-Plover, Senegal-thick-knee, Pied-Kingfisher, Greenshank, Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Blue-bellied Roller and many more!
We are off for the day - first stop Abuko Nature Reserve then it will be the golf course in the afternoon. We arrived at Abuko nature reserve a small area but still has an area of Savannah and riverine forest.vEntrance fee D35 dalasis about 75p.vIt was already getting hot so we took to the trail as it afforded us some shade. We came across a hide overlooking a large pool. From the hide we had Hamerkop, Black-headed-heron, Squacco heron, Rufous-crowned-roller, Fanti-Saw-Wing, Palm-Swift. The crocodile appeared well its eyes mainly. Red Colobus and Green Vervet Monkeys occur - you hear them crashing through the trees as you approach them. We had fly-overs of Violet Turaco before we caught up with both species in a large tree along with Western-Grey-Plantain-Eater, Senegal Parrot. Other birds listed included Red-bellied paradise-flycatcher, Olive-green-camaroptera, Grey-headed-bushshrike, Yellow-billed kite, African-harrier-hawk, Bronze manakins. After a long walk we arrived at the far end of the reserve the animal orphanage although we all agreed the caged hyeanas and baboons looked decidedly depressed I did not like this place, the ever present Hooded Vultures added to the mood of the place but one could get a cold drink. Returning to our 4x4 the forest was quiet - bird calls had ceased. Ebou took us back to our hotel were we took to the pool.
THE GOLF COURSE
Ebou came and took us to the golf course which is walking distance from our hotel our quarry a Pearl-spotted-owlet it was calling as we entered the course Ebou led us to the tree but it was Robbie who pinpointed it out - a stunning bird. More birds followed Blue-bellied Rollers, Grey-woodpecker, Violet Turaco, Shikra, Double-spurred-Francolin, Senegal thickknee, Fork-tailed-drongo at another visit we added African paradise-flycatcher, Blackcap babbler, Common bulbul, Yellow-billed shrike, Yellow-headed-gonolek.
Today we are visiting Ebou's village Mandinaba and Farasutu forest. After another bumpy ride we park the 4x4 and take a track leading out to a large open area adjacent to a local garden area. The loud call of the Oriole Warbler greets us loud he might be but to see him is another matter we dipped on this one. Moving along we come upon a Green Wood Pigeon and the following birds, Juv Harrier hawk, Village weaver, Woodland kingfisher, Indigobird, Walbecks eagle, Lizard buzzard, Grey-headed-kingfisher, Northern-red-bishop, Violet-turaco, Spectical pigeon, Great-white-egret, Red-billed-hornbill, African-pied-hornbill, Shikra, Levaillant's Cuckoo. We continue on to Ebou's village Kuloro we pick up Wire-tailed swallow, Northern-red-bishop, Abyssinian Roller, Hooded-crow, Hooded vulture, Village-weaver, White-backed-night-heron, Little-bee-eater, Black-necked weaver, Northern Puffback-shrike, Black-rumped waxbill, Blue-spotted-wood-dove. We take a break for lunch at Ebou's house and enjoy a great goat curry prepared by Ebou's sister.It truly was excellent and it was nice to be out of the midday sun. We continued onto Farasutu forest with Abraham who was to show us the Wood owl and Greyish Eagle owl which he proceeded to do we got good views of both. We found a spot in the woods where we could sit and watch birds coming to water containers, Greater-honeyguide, Yellow-crowned gonolek, African-thrush, Green-turaco, Red-bellied Paradise-flycatcher, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird. Another great days birding.
A shrimp farm awaits us today plus a long trip to Georgetown. We start by arriving at Pirang shrimp farm which is now under the control of the army. We were met by an armed guard in full camouflage but with flip-flops on his feet he took a shine to John's safari boots John has a knack of attracting attention (more about this later)we get permission to walk around and we get going another guide in tow. A distant long creasted eagle needed the assistance of a scope for us to appreciate its magnificence along with the following, Red-rumped Swallow, Sacred Ibis, Yellow-billed Stork, Greater Flamingo, Little Grebe, Pink-backed Pelican, Great White Pelican, African Spoonbill, Marsh Sandpiper, Dunlin, Sanderling, Ruff, Ringed Plover, Chiffchaff, Little Egret, Eurasian Spoonbill, Hamerkop, Green-sandpiper, Wood sandpiper,Curlew sandpiper, Little stint, Gull-billed tern, Caspian tern, Black tern, Crested-lark, Northern wheatear, Singing cisticola, Zitting cisticola, Black-faced-quailfinch.
Our next port of call was the ferry at Farafenni to cross over and take a route which would give us Egyptian plover, Carmine bee-eater but this is where our luck ran out even with Ebou offering compensation (oh all right a bribe)we couldn't get on board and so we had to turn around and drive to Baobolong camp. We were all amazed at the length of time some lorry drivers have to wait up to 2 weeks. The building of the bridge is in progress. We arrive at the camp tired but sit down to dinner and meet other birders the food was excellent and the cold beers even better we turned in another day tomorrow.
Ebou has arranged a boat trip which we all are looking forward to after a nice breakfast we set off in a flat bottom boat with outboard motor and boatman we soon get our first birds, Pied Kingfisher, Abysinnian Roller, Striated Heron, Hamerkop, Mourning Dove, Green-backed Heron, Common Bulbul, Grey Plantain-eater, Purple Glossy Starling, Little Swifts, Village weaver, Woodland kingfisher, Grey-headed-kingfisher, Common Sandpiper, Grey heron, Black crake, Palm-nut-vulture, African-fish-eagle, Grey woodpecker, African darter, Senegal parrot, Vitteline weaver, Squacco heron, Swamp-flycatcher, Black-crowned Night-heron, Great White Egret, Palm swift, Long-tailed cormorant, Blue-backed-kingfisher, Western-banded-snake-eagle, Violet turaco, Purple Heron, White-backed-vulture, Malachite kingfisher, Marsh harrier, Maribu stork, Wattled lapwing, Spur-winged-plover, Grey-hornbill, Yellow-fronted-leaflove, Yellow-crowned Gonolek. The trip lasted most of the morning and the boatman was great getting us in close to allow John and Robbie to get good pictures. We got back for lunch John then retired Robbie and I took a walk around the local area. We added the following to the days total - Red-rumped Swallow, Green Bee-eater, Jacana, Black-rumped waxbill, Red bishop-bird, Grey-headed Sparrow, Firefinch, Senegal-coucal. After dinner we took a stroll with other birders and picked up Four-banded Sandgrouse, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Wood-hoopoe, Rufous-breasted Roller, Red-billed-quelea, Red-throated Bee-eater, White-faced Scops owl (h).
Georgetown to Bakoto via Bansong quarry Wassau and multitude stops on the way back. From Baobolong camp a ferry crossing gave us Spur-winged goose flying up river. Rufous-crowned roller, Mourning dove, Speckled pigeon, Hamerkop, Grey kestrel, Grasshopper-buzzard, Red-necked-falcon, Dark-chanting Goshawk, African Golden Oriole, At WASSU we the special birds of the area, Carmine bee-eater, Cutthroat finch, Bush Petronia, Namaqua dove, Northern Ant-eater Chat. Further down the road Black-headed-plover, Plain-backed-pipit, Purple heron. At NJAU Egyptian-plover my star bird a real beauty.
Woodland Kingfisher, White Wagtail, Osprey with fish, Wooly-headed Stork, Blue-headed-wagtail, Exclamatory-paradise-whydah,KIAF Brown-snake-eagle, Beaudouins-snake eagle, Tawny Eagle, White-throated Bee-eater, Black-winged bishop bird, Brubru.
Our last morning so we are off to Koto creek Ebou is with us. We arrive at the bridge where most of the bird guides concregate and pick up the following Common wattle-eye, African silver-bill, Puff-backed shrike, Snowy-crowned-gonolek, Fine-spotted-woodpecker, Bearded-barbet. We got back to our hotel to say farewell to the staff and Ebou plus to enjoy a few cold beers. Then our coach arrived and we were off.
THE HOLIDAY ITSELF
Having been to the Gambia before although some time ago I was amazed to have seen some big changes. The main highway is extremely good, the power lines and pylons offer birds
a place to sit - rollers were everywhere Abyssinian, Broad- billed, Blue bellied, Rufous crowned, were all seen when travelling from Koto to Georgetown. Of the main road expect a bumpy ride. The people are fantastic allways smiling the melons by the roadside for £2 are great, their take on doughnuts are really nice 6 for 5p I couldn't get enough of them. There are hiccups of course on arrival our room only had 2 beds but a quick word at reception and hey presto a single bed appeared as if by magic. We did come at a time when the presidential elections were about to kick off so the military presence was everywhere and we were constantly being stopped but we got use to it. One word of WARNING. Do not wear military attire - John was taken out of the car by an over zealous policeman and escorted to be interviewed but Ebou came into his own and sorted the problem out it turned out the policeman took a shine to the top but Ebou said he wasn't getting it.It was a bit of a shock for John but thankfully he recovered. The food was very good we ate out every night with no side effects. There are so many places Dave Culham's report highlights a lot of them. I would like to take this opportunity of thanking Dave for his excellent report and for recommending Ebou who was such a good birder and a joy to be with. We will be back January 2018 and will book Ebou again.
Great White Pelican
White-backed Night Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Western Reef heron
Great White egret
African Mourning Dove
Western Grey Plantain-eater
Northern White-faced Owl
African Scops Owl
African Pygmy Kingfisher
African Pied Hornbill
African Grey Hornbill
Common House Martin
African Pied Wagtail
Western Olivacious Warbler
African Golden Oriole
Lesser Blue-eared Starling
Greater Blue-eared Starling
Northern Grey-headed Sparrow
White-billed Buffalo Weaver
Northern Red Bishop
Our trip to the Gambia produced 211 species which for us was a good total going at a steady to slow pace we need to thank Ebou for a great trip he is an amazing birder so if you are contemplating a trip hurry up and book him.