The Gambia, 20th- 30th January 2004

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT


Tristan & Helen Bantock


The flight to the Gambia took us over the snow-clad mountains of Northern Spain and then endless desert. Ten hours after leaving home, we arrived at Banjul airport. The first sight of the Gambia from the plane was of a bare landscape with red tracks and a few trees and scrub. One hour later, we were in the almost lush gardens of the Senegambia hotel and into serious birding, with one hour to go before dusk. News spreads fast at the Senegambia, and we were soon eyeing our first Pearl Spotted Owlet. Unfortunately, the excitement meant one of us (HB) had technical problems with digiscoping, which were only resolved as the light faded. But we enjoyed watching the demure bird, which started to feed as the darkness fell. We identified 12 species in this first evening.

Before leaving the UK, we had e mailed Modou Colley, a likely sounding guide, who is based at the hotel, and as we went past the "bird hut" to our rooms, we saw on a board outside: "Welcome Helen and Tristan Bantock". All but one of our guided trips were with Modou and we cannot recommend him too highly. He is an expert on the local sites, a wizard at birdcalls and patient with photographers! All our trips with him were on time and delivered the goods. He can be contacted by email:

Daily Itinerary

1. Senegambia area & Bijilo Forest
2. Abuko rice fields & Abuko Forest Reserve
3. Casino Cycle Track, Kotu Sewage Ponds, Kotu Creek and Kotu Golf Course
4. Yundum Woods
5. Abuko rice fields & Abuko Forest Reserve
6. Pirang & Faraba Banta track
7. Brufut Woods, Kartong & Tanji
8. Bijilo Forest & Kotu sewage ponds
9. Marakissa


Senegambia Hotel area

The extensive gardens of the Senegambia are an excellent place to get to grips with a good range of birds at close quarters. The lawns are watered daily with sprinklers and this attracts large numbers to drink. Generally unobtrusive species such as Yellow-crowned Gonolek and White-crowned Robin-Chat were easy to see here, as well as those more often found in denser forest habitats, such as Oriole Warbler and African Thrush. Several birds were not seen outside the hotel grounds, including Blackcap Babbler, Lesser Honeyguide and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird. A bare tree in the rubbish-strewn area at the northern edge of the gardens was very good for photographing birds in the evenings, and the bushes close to the beach entrance were a reliable place to see Bearded Barbets coming in to roost. The wetter area to the north of the hotel held egrets and Spur-winged Plover and once two Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, feeding on the horses used for beach rides.

Bijilo Forest

This is ten minutes walk from the Senegambia and is worth visiting, although we found it quiet in the evening. It was the only place where we saw Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat and White-throated Bee-eater. On our second visit, we arrived just before 8am. No one else was there and as we walked slowly along the path, three Stone Partridges came out of the undergrowth only a few feet away, walking ahead of us. They appeared dark, and at first like doves, but then we saw their crests and they walked off like Bantams. A massive butterfly - probably Citrus Swallowtail - was flying in an open area.

Kotu area

This includes the casino cycle track, golf course, Kotu creek and Kotu sewage ponds, and is several kilometers north of the Senegambia. Although still in the hotel district, a surprisingly good range of birds can be found. The cycle track has a small lily covered pond, which held many wading birds, including our only Sacred Ibises. Close by, women were washing clothes and hanging them out to dry. The surrounding area of palms was good for raptors and Blue-Bellied Roller. Smaller birds included Grey-backed Camaroptera and Melodious Warbler and several Beautiful Sunbirds. We did not have time to look for Nightjars here, which can still be seen in the evening, in spite of local disturbance due to building.

Kotu Creek was fairly quiet, and would have repaid another visit. The golf course was the only place where we saw Black-Headed Plover and we also had good views of Palm Nut Vulture and Black Shouldered Kite flying overhead. The sewage ponds were excellent for photographing waders at close range, and a few Marsh Sandpipers were present, as well as numerous Wood Sandpipers and Black-winged Stilts, several Black Crakes and a flock of White-faced Whistling Ducks. Large yellow lorries came at intervals to discharge dark effluent, obviously full of nutrients, judging by the numbers of feeding birds.

Abuko rice fields & Abuko Forest Reserve

We made two visits to these areas, one with Modou and one by ourselves. The rice fields are accessible via a track about 200 yards before the reserve's main entrance, on the other side of the road. This site was full of wetland birds, and an early morning visit gives you the best chance of seeing secretive species such as Painted Snipe. We saw two on our first visit, though Modou had seen them only twice in about 12 visits. There were numerous herons and waders, Black Crake and Giant Kingfisher. This was a very good place to photograph herons, in particular Black Egrets umbrella feeding. Pied Kingfishers posed obligingly for digiscopers, tern like as they dived for fish.

Bird activity at Abuko Forest continues throughout the morning and the best strategy is to walk the trail slowly until you encounter groups of birds moving through. One such hotspot produced African Paradise and Black-headed Flycatcher (as well as hybrids), Common Wattle-eye, Buff- spotted Woodpecker, Little Greenbul, Grey-headed Bristlebill, Yellow-breasted Apalis and many Black-necked Weavers. We dipped on Verreaux's Eagle Owl, which flew off as we arrived.

The main pool was excellent for viewing birds coming down to drink, including both Green and Violet Turaco, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Yellow-throated Leaflove, as well as Fanti Saw-wings hawking insects overhead. Good views of Giant Kingfisher were had on both occasions and the enormous Hamerkop carrying a log to it's nest was a sight not to miss! The photography hide near the animal orphanage overlooks a small drinking pool, and was well worth a visit, producing stunning views of a pair of Western Bluebills. The hide must be booked in advance at the main entrance and costs 50 Dalassi.

Yundum Woods

This is an area of savannah around Yundum airport, about 10 km south of the coastal tourist strip. We spent five hours here and it was perhaps our best trip of all, although the importance of a guide who knows the area and it's birds cannot be stressed enough. A great selection of species ( at least 40) were seen, including Pygmy Sunbird, Striped Kingfisher, Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Senegal Batis, Northern Crombec, African Golden Oriole, Brown-backed Woodpecker, Pin-tailed Wydah, Namaqua Dove, a group of White-crested Helmet Shrikes and perhaps the highlight, a pair of Cut-throat Finches. The area is also good for Palearctic migrants such as warblers, and we had superb views of a Lanner. Unfortunately the site is now experiencing housing development, which may limit access in the future.

Brufut Woods

The savannah here is more open than at Yundum and we saw many different species. Sunbirds were particularly good, with Western Violet-backed, Scarlet-chested and Splendid Sunbirds all seen well. Other notable birds included Black-crowned Tchagra, Mottled Spinetail, Cardinal Woodpecker, Black-winged Red Bishop and Bush Petronia.

Faraba Banta track

The area around the village of Faraba Banta is renowned for birds of prey and we made a very productive visit to the 'raptor track', driven by Jimmy in a 1950's ex-Army open topped vehicle. After delivering Grasshopper Buzzard and White-backed Vulture, Modou proceeded to find no less than eight species of eagle, including African Hawk, Martial, Brown Snake and finally Bateleur. Passerines were no less impressive with Greater Honeyguide, Yellow Penduline Tit, and Scarlet-chested Sunbird taking pride of place around a huge red-flowered silk cotton tree, and Veillot's Barbet, Rufous-crowned Roller and Abyssinian Roller were added further along the trail. One of us went across a field to pix a Dark Chanting Goshawk, but a search party was avoided.


Pirang is a disused shrimp farm, with a wide- open area of pools, many of which are now filled in. As a result it attracts both wetland birds and passerines, such as a variety of larks and pipits. We only saw Crested Lark, but did pick up several Quailfinches, which were flushed from the track in front of us. The Black-crowned Cranes are the major crowdpuller here and we had views of a group of four, although they were rather distant. Other species included a large flock of Pink-backed Pelican, Malachite Kingfisher, Fan-tailed Warbler, African Green Pigeon and several Gull-billed Terns. The latter flew close by, calling.


We made this trip with Modou, following the morning visit to Brufut Woods. The Landrover allowed us to drive the entire stretch of beach from Paradise Beach north to Tanji, which was fantastic, allowing close views of many birds. Seabirds included several flocks of Royal, Caspian, Sandwich and Little Terns, receiving the attentions of a marauding Arctic Skua. Several Ospreys were also seen and waders included large numbers of Sanderling and several other Palearctic species.


We were very keen to visit this area and managed to arrange a trip on our last day with a WABSA guide from Bijilo forest. We picked up some excellent birds at the River Lodge and surrounding savannah, including African Darter, Goliath Heron, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, African Pied Hornbill, Black Woodhoopoe, Northern Puffback, and three Grey-headed Bush Shrikes, but the Red-shouldered and White-breasted Cuckoo-Shrikes were the undoubted stars. As the Shrikes answered our guide's calls, we were able to track their movements from tree to tree and spent some time taking photographs of them. As we sat enjoying a cold drink on the terrace of Marakissa Lodge, we were invited to look through an opening in the roof area, to where a Barn Owl and three chicks were in residence.

(Note: WABSA-West African Bird Study Association - these guides are well trained and wear badges. Most will have their own ID card .Do not confuse them with 'bumsters'.)

Species Lists

Little Grebe up to 20 at Koto Sewage Ponds

Pink-backed Pelican large flock at Pirang

Long-tailed Cormorant Abuko rice fields, also over Senegambia

African Darter Abuko rice fields & Marakissa

Grey Heron several wetland sites

Black-headed Heron several wetland sites

Goliath Heron 1 at Marakissa

Great Egret singles at Abuko rice fields and Abuko reserve

Black Heron Abuko rice fields

Intermediate Egret 1 at Abuko rice fields

Western Reef-Heron several wetland sites

Little Egret several wetland sites

Squacco Heron several wetland sites

Cattle Egret abundant

Striated Heron Abuko rice fields & Abuko reserve

Black-crowned Night-Heron Abuko reserve

Hamerkop several wetland sites

Sacred Ibis 3 at Casino Cycle Track pond

African Spoonbill 2 at Pirang

White-faced Whistling-Duck c80 at Koto Sewage Ponds

Osprey Brufut & Tanji

Black-shouldered Kite several sites

Black Kite abundant

Palm-nut Vulture Casino Cycle Track, Abuko, Pirang & Marakissa

Hooded Vulture abundant

White-backed Vulture 2 at Faraba Banta

Short-toed Eagle 1 at Faraba Banta

Brown Snake Eagle 1 at Faraba Banta

Bateleur 1 at Faraba Banta

Marsh Harrier Kartong & Pirang

Montagu's Harrier 1 at Kartong

African Harrier-Hawk abundant

Lizard Buzzard abundant

Dark Chanting-Goshawk Faraba Banta, Yundum Woods & Marakissa

Shikra abundant

Grasshopper Buzzard 2 at Faraba Banta

Wahlberg's Eagle Faraba Banta & Brufut Woods

African Hawk Eagle Faraba Banta & Marakissa

Booted Eagle 1 at Faraba Banta

Martial Eagle 1 at Faraba Banta

Long-crested Eagle 1 at Faraba Banta

Grey Kestrel several sites

Red-necked Falcon several sites

Lanner Falcon 1 at Yundum Woods

Double-spurred Francolin common, heard frequently

Stone Partridge 3 at Bijilo Forest

Black Crowned-Crane 4 at Pirang

Black Crake Abuko rice fields & Kotu Sewage Ponds

African Jacana several wetland sites

Greater Painted-snipe 2 males at Abuko rice fields

Eurasian Oystercatcher Pirang & Tanji

Black-winged Stilt Kotu sewage and casino cycle track ponds

Senegal Thick-knee Abuko rice fields, Kartong & Kotu creek

Spur-winged Plover abundant

Black-headed Plover Kotu Golf course

Wattled Plover abundant

Grey Plover Tanji & Kartong

Ringed Plover Pirang & Tanji

Black-tailed Godwit Casino cycle track

Bar-tailed Godwit Tanji

Whimbrel several wetland sites, also Senegambia

Redshank Kotu Sewage Ponds & Kartong

Marsh Sandpiper at least 3 at Kotu Sewage Ponds

Common Greenshank several wetland sites

Green Sandpiper Abuko rice fields

Wood Sandpiper several wetland sites

Common Sandpiper several wetland sites

Ruddy Turnstone Pirang & Tanji

Sanderling Tanji

Arctic Skua 1 at Tanji

Lesser Black-backed Gull Tanji and Senegambia

Grey-headed Gull Tanji & Kotu Sewage Ponds

Gull-billed Tern 2 at Pirang

Caspian Tern Pirang & Tanji

Sandwich Tern Tanji

Royal Tern Tanji

Little Tern c5 at Tanji

Speckled Pigeon abundant

African Mourning Dove several sites

Red-eyed Dove abundant

Vinaceous Dove abundant

Laughing Dove abundant

Black-billed Wood-Dove several sites

Blue-spotted Wood-Dove Abuko reserve, Yundum Woods & Marakissa

Namaqua Dove 2 at Yundum Woods

African Green Pigeon 1 at Pirang

Rose-ringed Parakeet several sites

Senegal Parrot several sites

Green Turaco seen twice at Abuko reserve

Violet Turaco Abuko reserve at 5 at Brufut Woods

Western Plantain-eater several sites

Senegal Coucal Abundant

Barn Owl adult with 3 young at Marakissa

Pearl-spotted Owlet Senegambia & Kotu Golf Course

Mottled Spinetail several at Brufut Woods

African Palm-Swift Abundant

Little Swift Pirang & Kotu Sewage Ponds

Malachite Kingfisher 1 at Pirang

Blue-breasted Kingfisher 1 at Marakissa

Striped Kingfisher Yundum Woods & Faraba Banta

Giant Kingfisher Abuko rice fields & reserve, Tanji & Kotu Creek

Pied Kingfisher several wetland sites

Little Bee-eater several sites

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater 1 at Yundum Woods & Marakissa

White-throated Bee-eater 3 at Bijilo Forest

Abyssinian Roller Faraba Banta

Rufous-crowned Roller Faraba Banta & Brufut Woods

Blue-bellied Roller several sites

Broad-billed Roller Senegambia and Bijilo Forest

Green Woodhoopoe several sites

Black Woodhoopoe 1 at Marakissa

Red-billed Hornbill Abundant

African Pied Hornbill 2 at Marakissa

African Grey Hornbill several sites

Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird Senegambia

Vieillot's Barbet 1 at Faraba Banta

Bearded Barbet Senegambia

Greater Honeyguide 1 at Faraba Banta

Lesser Honeyguide 1 at Senegambia

Fine-spotted Woodpecker Yundum Woods

Buff-spotted Woodpecker 2 at Abuko Reserve

Cardinal Woodpecker Brufut Woods

Grey Woodpecker several sites

Brown-backed Woodpecker Yundum Woods

Crested Lark Pirang

Red-chested Swallow several sites

Wire-tailed Swallow Pirang

Pied-winged Swallow several sites

Mosque Swallow Senegambia & Pirang

Common House-Martin Senegambia

Fanti Sawwing Abuko Reserve

Yellow Wagtail Pirang & Yundum Woods

White-breasted Cuckoo-Shrike 1 at Marakissa

Red-shouldered Cuckoo-Shrike 2 at Marakissa

Common Bulbul Abundant

Little Greenbul Abuko Reserve & Marakissa

Yellow-throated Leaf-love Abuko Reserve

Grey-headed Bristlebill Abuko Reserve

African Thrush Senegambia & Bijilo Forest

Fan-Tailed Warbler Pirang

Tawny-flanked Prinia Common in dry grassland

Red-winged Warbler Yundum Woods, Brufut Woods & Marakissa

Yellow-breasted Apalis 2 at Abuko Reserve

Oriole Warbler Senegambia

Grey-backed Camaroptera Senegambia & Casino cycle track

Eastern Olivaceous Warbler Yundum Woods

Melodious Warbler Casino cycle track & Marakissa

Green-backed Eremomela Yundum Woods & Brufut Woods

Northern Crombec Yundum Woods & Brufut Woods

Common Chiffchaff Yundum Woods

Northern Black Flycatcher Senegambia & Brufut Woods

Common Nightingale Brufut Woods

Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat Bijilo Forest

White-crowned Robin-Chat Senegambia & Marakissa

Common Redstart Yundum Woods

Common Wattle-eye Abuko Reserve

Senegal Batis Yundum Woods

Black-headed Paradise Flycatcher Abuko Reserve

African Paradise Flycatcher Abuko Reserve

Blackcap Babbler Senegambia

Brown Babbler Senegambia

White-winged Black-Tit Faraba Banta

Yellow Penduline-Tit Faraba Banta

Western Violet-backed Sunbird Brufut woods

Pygmy Sunbird Yundum woods

Scarlet-chested Sunbird Faraba Banta & Brufut

Beautiful Sunbird Senegambia and many other sites

Splendid Sunbird Faraba Banta & Brufut

Variable Sunbird Brufut woods & Casino Cycle Track

African Golden Oriole males at Faraba Banta & Yundum Woods

Yellow-billed Shrike several sites

Northern Puffback Marakissa

Black-crowned Tchagra Yundum Woods & Brufut Woods

Yellow-crowned Gonolek Senegambia

Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike Yundum Woods & Marakissa

Grey-headed Bushshrike 3 at Marakissa

White-crested Helmet Shrike 6 at Yundum Woods

Fork-tailed Drongo several sites

Piapiac several sites

Pied Crow abundant

Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling Senegambia & Kotu Golf course

Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling Faraba Banta

Purple Glossy-Starling Senegambia

Long-tailed Glossy-Starling abundant

Yellow-billed Oxpecker Senegambia & Pirang

White-billed Buffalo-Weaver Casino Cycle Track

Little Weaver Yundum Woods

Black-necked Weaver Bijilo Forest, Abuko Reserve & Marakissa

Village Weaver abundant

Black-winged Red Bishop Brufut Woods

Northern Red Bishop Yundum Woods

Western Bluebill male and female at Abuko Reserve

Red-billed Firefinch abundant

Red-cheeked Cordonbleu abundant

Lavender Waxbill several sites

African Quailfinch Pirang

Bronze Mannikin Senegambia

Cut-throat Finch male and female at Yundum Woods

Village Indigobird Yundum Woods

Pin-tailed Whydah Yundum Woods

Yellow-fronted Canary several sites

House Sparrow Senegambia

Grey-headed Sparrow Senegambia

Bush Petronia Brufut Woods