Crew: Angie Baldock, Brian Baldock, Dave Knight, John Wright
The Gambia has been a popular birding destination for many years and as a consequence the itineraries and sites are well known and make for familiar reading. This trip was no exception and in the main we visited the well documented locations both on the coast and up river to Basse.
This was my second trip to Gambia, I went for a week in March 1999 but only went up river as far as Tendaba. This was the first visit to Gambia for Angie, Brian and Dave.
We gleaned information from birding internet sites e.g. Surfbirds for trip reports etc prior to travelling. We used A Birdwatchers’ Guide to the Gambia by Rod Ward, which is in need of an update but nevertheless still very useful and A Field Guide to Birds of The Gambia and Senegal by Barlow et al.
We booked a 2 week package holiday from a high street travel agents and stayed in the Hotel Tafbel (3 star) on a bed and breakfast basis. Fortunately the serve yourself breakfast began at 07:00, in fact some mornings it was ready earlier. This suited us fine as it was light enough to start birding around about 07:00 and it got dark at about 19:00. We usually had a break in the early afternoon when it got hot and bird activity ceased. If we were out in the field we just found some shade and ate a packed lunch, otherwise we had a light snack around the pool at the Tafbel.
The location of the Hotel Tafbel (Kololi area) was also ideal for us as it was a 5 minute walk from the Hotel Senegambia with its excellent bird friendly grounds and only a 10 minute walk from the Bijilo forest reserve.
We hired a local guide via the internet some months in advance of travelling and I put together our own itinerary, which was flexible to take advantage of our guides local knowledge and to maximise our birding opportunities once in the Gambia. Our guide was Tijan Kanteh or 'Tijan the Birdman' as he is better known. He is a very good birder, very good on bird calls/songs, knows all the locations and was a good companion. The only time we didn't use his services was when we birded the grounds of the Hotel Senegambia or Bijilo Forest.
As is the norm in Gambia we were constantly asked by would be guides if we required their services - which we didn't. Tijan is well known to the local guides and as soon as we said that we have Tijan as a guide their persistence tended to ebb away. So to sum up we thoroughly recommend Tijan the Birdman as a guide. At the time of booking him the deal was a flat rate fee per person per day (£10) plus petrol. He drove a VW van which gave us plenty of room and was ideal for all the day trips in the coastal area. However, what was sprung upon us once there was that for our day trip to Pirang/Faraba Banta Bush Track and our 5 day up-river trip was the need for a Land Rover. Now I can understand this as the roads and terrain required that type of vehicle. But it would have been helpful to be told in advance that our planned itinerary would need another vehicle as the VW would not be suitable for all trips and more importantly was that we would have to pay extra for the hire of the vehicle and another driver to go with it. So I recommend that you sort all this type of thing out with your guide in advance of travelling. As a matter of interest the Land Rover owner/driver was a very nice man named Camarra and although not a birder was an excellent driver and was willing to go anywhere and more than happy to do night drives for Owls/Nightjars.
As other people have experienced the Gambian people are friendly and helpful and we didn’t encounter any unpleasantness. We were hassled in the coastal resorts just like any other tourist but as long as you remain cool and polite it is easily coped with. Up river the children wave and shout ‘tubab’ and ask for pens or minties (sweets) which we were more than happy to oblige them with.
The whole trip was good value birding but even so there was some highlights – Pygmy Geese, Egyptian Plovers (of course), Helmeted Guineafowl, a group of 13 Abyssinian Ground Hornbills, Yellow-bellied Hyliota and Carmine Bee-eaters.
We were due to return home on Thursday 2nd December but unfortunately a passenger on our flight had a heart attack soon after take-off and so we had to land back at Banjul. We were then not allowed to take-off again due to flight safety regulations and so were put up for an extra night in the Sun Beach Hotel a 10 minute walk from Cape Point. Which was a bonus for us as it meant we had an extra morning birding. The good news was that the passenger who had the heart attack was okay but would have to remain in a Gambian hospital for a week or so.
Thursday 18th November
Arrived Banjul Airport from Gatwick late afternoon and transferred to the Hotel Tafbel arriving at about 18:30.
Friday 19th November
Birded the grounds of the Hotel Senegambia until about 10:00. Met our guide Tijan at the Tafbel as arranged, then birded the Kotu Creek area for the rest of the morning. Relaxed around the pool at the hotel for a couple of hours in the early afternoon before going out again and birding the Kotu Creek and Fajara Golf course area until dusk.
Saturday 20th November
Pirang shrimp farm and Pirang Creek and Mangroves all morning. Faraba Banta Bush Track afternoon.
Sunday 21st November
Met up for the day with two birdwatching friends - Pat and Christopher Dandridge - who were staying in the Senegambia for the week.
Abuko Forest all morning. Marakissa early afternoon till dusk.
Monday 22nd November
The start of our 5 day (4 night) trip up river.
Travelled to Tendaba birding en-route. Arrived Tendaba late afternoon. Tanku Bolon Creek crawl till dark. Night drive for Nightjars/Owls.
Tuesday 23rd November
Pre-breakfast birding around Tendaba. After breakfast, birding en route, we left for the Janjangbureh Tented Camp on the north bank of the Gambia River (crossed to the north bank near Soma). The camp is situated opposite Georgetown Island. Although the accommodation is a bit basic the camp has a great atmosphere and plenty of really good food. We certainly recommend a stay here – good value for money.
Wednesday 24th November
Janjangbureh to Basse, via Bansang Quarry (crossed to the south bank via Georgetown). Overnight at Bird Safari Tented Camp, Georgetown.
Thursday 25th November
Pre-breakfast spent birding the area around the Bird Safari Camp, Georgetown and then travelled back on the south bank to Tendaba, birding en-route. Night drive for nightjars/owls.
Friday 26th November
Birded Tendaba area pre-breakfast. Travelled back to the coast, via Batelling bush track/Brikama Forest/Kiang West. For convenience all bird sightings at Batelling bush track and Brikama have been lumped together in the systematic list as Kiang West.
Saturday 27th November
Tanji all morning and into early afternoon. Grounds of the Senegambia late afternoon till dusk.
Sunday 28th November
Morning: Kachikally Crocodile Pool (Bakau area) - Cape Point - Old Cape Road - Camaloo Corner. It’s worth mentioning here that if you are at all worried about crocodiles you actually walk amongst them at Kachikally Crocodile Pool, albeit they are well fed and very used to people but don’t touch them!!!
Afternoon: Second visit to Kachikally Crocodile Pool - Bund Road and then Kotu Sewage Ponds till dusk.
Monday 29th November
Brufut Woods all morning. Back to the Tafbel for lunch. Yundum for the rest of afternoon till dusk.
Tueday 30th November
Marakissa all day.
Wednesday 1st December
Abuko Forest all morning. Bijilo Forest early afternoon and the Senegambia late afternoon till dusk.
Thursday 2nd December
Would have been the last day.
Bijilo Forest in the morning, Senegambia afternoon. Coach pick-up at 15:00 to take us to Banjul Airport. But arrived at midnight at the Sun Beach Hotel, Cape Point, where we were to stay for the night.
Friday 3rd December
The actual last day.
Birded Cape Point all morning. Coach pick-up early afternoon to take us to Banjul for our early evening flight back to Gatwick.
4 at Njau wetland and 15 at Kotu sewage ponds.
Great White Pelican
A few seen at Pirang and Tanji, commoner up river e.g. Tendaba area.
Common, for example 100 Bund Road, 70 Pirang. Also seen in good numbers up river.
Just a few seen on the coast.
1 seen at dusk at Marakissa on the 30th
1 showed briefly at Marakissa on the 30th
Small number noted at Kotu Creek, Bund Road, Tanku Bolon and Georgetown.
White-backed Night Heron
2 flew out from roost at dusk and landed in a tree near our boat whilst we were on the Tanku Bolon creek crawl.
Black-crowned Night Heron
Small numbers seen Kotu Creek, Tendaba, Janjangbureh and Marakissa.
Common, particularly on the Tanku Bolon creek crawl.
Western Reef Heron
Common at the coastal sites
Great White Egret
Singles seen at the following sites: Pirang, Tendaba and the Bund Road.
Seen at Pirang, Tendaba, Georgetown and Marakissa.
2 on the Tanku Bolon creek crawl.
3 birds, about 15 minutes drive west of the Georgetown ferry, on the south bank.
1 on the Tanku Bolon creek crawl.
Black Crowned Crane
2 at Pirang shrimp ponds on the 20th.
3 Panchang, 1 Janjangbureh, 10 Prufu swamp, 15 Georgetown and 2 Tendaba.
White-faced Whistling Duck
Small parties in the Kotu Creek area, Pirang, Tendaba, Jakhaly wetland and Tendaba.
African Pygmy Goose
An adult male and female with an Immature. At a lake near Dabala village, between Jakhaly and Tendaba on the 25th
2 on the Tanku Bolon creek crawl and 2 flew over Kotu sewage ponds.
Fairly common, seen in small numbers most days.
African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene)
Common on the coast but also seen up river.
Common, mainly coastal.
Seen in small numbers from Pirang eastwards, but at least 100 in the Basse area.
An immature seen near Soma on the 23rd
African Fish Eagle
A pair along the river at Tendaba and a single at Brumen Bridge.
Singles seen at Kiang west, Janjangbureh and near Basse.
African Hawk Eagle
Singles seen near Kiang West on two occasions, and a single seen near Tendaba.
Singles seen at Faraba Banta bush track and near Tendaba.
A brief view of a soaring ’buteo’ was almost certainly this species - Bansang Quarry on the 24th.
2 seen at Marakissa, 4 Faraba Banta bush track, 5 en-route to Tendaba, 2 Janjangbureh area and 3 Kiang West.
Brown Snake Eagle
1-3 seen at each of the following sites: Faraba Banta bush track, Tendaba area, Janjangbureh area and Prufu swamp near Basse.
Western Banded Snake Eagle
1 Marakissa, 1 Janjangbureh and 1 near Basse.
Beaudouin's Snake Eagle
2 Prufu swamp, 1 near Tendaba and 1 Kiang West.
1-3 at each of the following sites: Faraba Banta bush track, Camaloo Corner, Kotu Creek, Yundum and Marakissa
2 between Tendaba and Soma, 4 Kaur wetland and 2 near Basse.
Eurasian Marsh Harrier
Dark Chanting Goshawk
Fairly common away from the coast.
A dark phase bird near the Bird Safari Camp, Georgetown, on the 25th and a pale phase at Kiang West on the 26th
Excellent views of one plucking and eating a weaver at Marakissa on the 30th
1 near the Tafbel Hotel, 2 near Faraba Banta,1 near Soma, 2 Tanji and 3 (a pair and immature) at Yundum.
Singles seen at Faraba Banta bush track, Tendaba and Brufut Woods.
A pair seen en-route to Pirang and a single at Tendaba
A sinlge at Tendaba.
Common, some good views but often flight views only.
2 at Faraba Banta bush track and 3 on the side of the road near Soma.
4 in the mangroves and scrub about a kilometre west of Tendaba camp, early morning on the 26th.
4 on the roadside west of Basse, a confiding individual near the Bird Safari Camp, Georgetown and 14 one evening along the river adjacent to Marakissa River Camp.
4 on the roadside lake near Dabala village.
Only seen on 2 occasions – a family party in the Kachikally Crocodile Pool and 3 on a small pond en-route to Tendaba
2 flushed by a dog in the wetland near the Bird Safari Camp, Georgetown.
Commonly seen in suitable wet areas.
All seen east of Tendaba at the following wetlands: 1 at Soma, 10 at Kaur, 8 at Njau, 4 at Panchang and 3 Basse river side.
Approx 600 at Kaur and about 250 at Prufu swamp.
Common, particularly around the mangroves.
A few seen at such places as Kotu Creek, Tanji and Bund Road.
Little Ringed Plover
1 at the Kotu Creek rice fields, 1 at Tendaba, 1 Kaur wetland and 2 Cape Point.
Fairly common on the coast but also noted up river.
2 at Tanji on the 27th
33 at the Kaur wetland on the 23rd
1-3 seen at each of the following sites: Bund Road, Tanji and Cape Point.
Small numbers seen at Kotu creek, Pirang, Tanji and Cape Point.
Seen at Kotu Creek and near Tendaba.
Seen at Tanji and Bund Road.
1 at Soma wetland and 1 at Cape Point.
Small numbers seen at Kotu rice fields, Kotu sewage ponds and at various wetlands up river.
Seen at Kotu Creek, Pirang and Tendaba.
1 at Tanji.
1 on the Tanku Bolon creek crawl.
10 at Pirang.
1 at Prufu wetland
Seen at Pirang, Tanji and Bund Road.
Only seen at Tanji.
2 at Pirang.
Good numbers at Tanji and Bund Road.
1-3 seen offshore from Tanji and Bijilo.
Common along the coast.
2 at Tanji fish beach (south of Tanji reserve), 38 at Bund Road and 6 Cape Point.
2 at Tanji fish beach (south of Tanji reserve).
Fairly common at Tanji fish beach and Bund Road.
Lesser Black-backed Gull
A few at Tanji reserve and fish beach, Bund Road and Cape Point.
Common on the coast but also seen at Pirang.
1 on the river at Tendaba, 15 at Tanji reserve and alot (no count done) in a mixed flock with Caspian Terns at Bund Road.
Lesser Crested Tern
2 at Bund Road.
Common at the coast.
1 at Tanji reserve and 2 at Bund Road.
1 offshore from Bijilo.
White-winged Black Tern
1 at Tanji.
European Turtle Dove
2 at Njau.
Blue-spotted Wood Dove
Seen at Abuko and Marakissa.
Black-billed Wood Dove
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove)
Common around human habitation.
African Green Pigeon
Small parties seen at Abuko and Marakissa.
Bruce's Green Pigeon
Seen in good numbers up river.
Common, mainly up river.
African Mourning Dove
Common in the coastal area.
1-3 seen on each of 6 days.
1 at Yundum on the 29th.
An adult at Brufut Woods on the 29th.
An immature at Yundum on the 29th.
Verreaux's Eagle Owl
A single at Tendaba during a night drive. A single at dusk as we approached the Bird Safari Camp, Georgetown and a pair at Brufut Woods at a day roost.
African Scops Owl
A roosting bird near Faraba Banta village.
A roosting bird seen at Pirang, 1 roosting at Marakissa by the River Camp and 1 flew out of a Hammerkop nest also at Marakissa.
White-faced Scops Owl
1 seen well on a night drive at Tendaba.
Pearl Spotted Owlet
Seen at Fajara Golf Course and Marakissa but heard at a lot of other places.
1 near the Bird Safari Camp, Georgetown, whilst we were on a night walk and 1 at a daytime roost at Jakhaly wetland.
At least 15 seen on 3 different night drives at Tendaba, Georgetown and near Marakissa..
Only 1 seen, at Kiang West, no doubt overlooked amongst the Little Swifts.
African Palm Swift
Green Wood Hoopoe
1 seen en-route to Tendaba and another at Tanji
A pair at Marakissa, singles at Cape Point and Abuko.
Fairly common away from the coast.
1 on roadside wires just outside the coastal strip and singles at Tendaba, Abuko, Faraba Banta bush track and Kiang West with 2 at Brufut.
1 seen on the Kantu Bolon creek crawl.
Common. Of interest 23 came in to a tree roost at Marakissa at dusk on the 30th.
African Pygmy Kingfisher
1 or 2 at Abuko at the crocodile pool and 1 very close from the ‘photographers hide’ by the animal orphanage/zoo also Abuko. 1 at Marakissa.
1-2 seen on each of 4 days at: Marakissa, Pirang, Tanku Bolon creek crawl, Jakhaly wetland and Tendaba.
Common. Often seen in good numbers hawking for insects in the early evening.
Seen in widely scattered locations from the coast e.g. Tanji, Bijilo, Brufut woods and up river at Tendaba.
Northern Carmine Bee-eater
After a rather long and frustrating search at Prufu swamp we finally connected with 2 birds.
About 50 Pirang, 30 Cape Point, 100+ Bund Road and about 30 Abuko.
100’s on the Tanku Bolon creek crawl with smaller numbers seen in the Tendaba area, Kiang West and Tanji.
Small numbers seen en-route to Tendaba and at Tanji.
Excellent views of the breeding colony at Bansang quarry and about 20 birds at Prufu swamp.
Little Green Bee-eater
1 only, in dry thorn bush scrub, way up river on the north bank.
Rose-ringed Parakeet (Ring-necked Parakeet)
2 birds at Ndenban wetland.
Apart from Abuko, also seen well near Faraba Banta village, Brufut woods and Marakissa.
Western Grey Plantain-eater
Abuko – 1 on the 21st and 2 on the 1st
Small numbers seen in a wide scattering of sites.
2 at Tanji and 4 at Yundum.
African Pied Hornbill
2 at Brufut woods and 2 at Marakissa.
African Grey Hornbill
Abyssinian Ground Hornbill
A group of 13 between Tendaba and Soma on the 23rd.
1 Faraba Banta bush track and 1 near Tendaba.
1 Abuko, 1 Panchang, 1 Yundum and 1 Marakissa.
4 at Tanji.
A pair at Soma wetland and about 20 seen at different locations on the north bank en-route to Janjangbureh, plus 2 Jakhaly wetland, 2 Dabala and 3 Kiang West.
Seen in small numbers at Pirang, Tanji and Cape Point.
1 at Cape Point on the 3rd.
Small parties seen at Abuko and Tanji.
2 at Tanji on the 27th.
Seen in small numbers at Pirang, Tendaba and Georgetown.
Seen in small numbers at Pirang.
Seen in small numbers at various locations.
Seen at Pirang and Jakhaly.
About 40 at the lake near Dabala village.
African Golden Oriole
A pair in roadside trees, seen whilst en-route to Tendaba on the 23rd.
1-2 seen on 4 days, all away from the coast.
1 at the Kotu rice fields on the 19th and 3 at Cape Point on the 3rd.
3 or 4 seen at Georgetown and about 4 birds at the Kachikally Crocodile Pool.
Singles seen at Abuko and Kachikally Crocodile Park.
1-3 seen at each of the following sites: Abuko, Bijilo, Kachikally Croodile Pool and Tanji.
A single bird seen near Kiang West.
A single at Cape Point.
Northern Anteater Chat
2 birds in a village on the north bank, east of Panchang.
Seen in the Hotel Senegambia grounds, Abuko, Kachikally Crocodile Pool, Georgetown and Marakissa.
Singles seen at Abuko, Kachikally Crocodile Pool and Bijilo Forest.
Eurasian Reed Warbler
1 at Tendaba.
Western Olivaceous Warbler
Singles at Georgetown, Jakhaly wetland, Hotel Tafbel, Yundum and Cape Point with 2 at the Hotel Senegambia.
Singles seen at Fajara Golf Course, Jakhaly and Brufut woods.
Singles at Soma wetland and Tanji and 2 at Cape Point.
1 at Kotu Creek.
2 at Cape Point on the 3rd.
Common in suitable habitat.
A single at Marakissa on the 30th.
A single bird seen at Kiang West.
1 or 2 birds seen in the Senegambia, Tendaba, Brufut, Marakissa, Tanji and Brufut.
Singles at Abuko, Kiang West, Tanji and Kachikally Crocodile Pool.
1-2 birds seen at Abuko and Kachikally Crocodile Pool.
1 at Faraba Banta bush track on the 20th.
A family party of 5 birds seen at the Jakhaly wetland.
1-2 birds seen at the Faraba Banta bush track, Abuko and Kachikally Crocodile Pool.
A pair and then a single male at two sites east of Tendaba and a pair on the north bank west of Janjangbureh. All at random roadside stops.
Northern Black Flycatcher
Singles seen at the Faraba Banta bush track, Brufut woods and the Senegambia.
African Paradise Flycatcher
1-2 at each of the following sites: Faraba Banta Village, Tendaba and Kachikally Crocodile pool.
Red-Bellied Paradise Flycatcher
Singles seen at Abuko, Kachikally Crocodile Pool and Brufut Woods.
1 in dry savannah scrub, north bank en-route to Janjangbureh.
4 or 5 on the Tanku Bolon creek crawl.
1 or 2 near Fajara golf course and 1 at Yundum.
1-2 seen on each of 4 days.
1-2 seen on each of 4 days.
Fairly common but can be elusive.
White-crested Helmet Shrike
5 at a roadside stop near Basse, 10 at Kiang west and 4 Bijilo Forest.
Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling
Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling
Purple Glossy Starling
Long-tailed Glossy Starling
Only seen up river where small parties where fairly common on domestic livestock.
Fairly common up river.
Common around human habitation.
1 at a roadside stop east of Tendaba and 2 in Kiang West.
Northern Red Bishop
Common in suitable habitat.
Black-winged Red Bishop
About 4 in wet grassland, near Pirang, on the 20th.
A pair at Bansang Quarry on the 24th.
A single bird at Kiang West on the 26th.
Vitelline Masked Weaver
Small numbers seen at Fara Banta bush track and in the Tendaba area.
Heuglin’s Masked Weaver
4 at Cape Point on the 3rd.
4 or 5 birds at Jakhaly wetland and Cape Point.
A pair attending a nest at Jakhaly wetland.
4 at Brufut Woods and about 6 at Abuko.
The Senegambia, Tanji, Brufut woods, Abuko and Bijilo.
About 6 at Pirang and then seen on 4 days whilst up river.
A single bird showed well at the Kachikally Crocodile Pool on the 28th.
Seen in small numbers around Kotu Creek, Njau wetland and Bansang Quarry.
Exclamatory Paradise Whydah
Superb breeding plumaged males, plus females and immatures, seen on 4 days whilst up river. Plus a male at Marakissa.
Fairly common with breeding plumaged males being most obvious.
1 at Kotu Creek and then 1’s and 2’s seen up river.
Singles near Janjangbureh and Njau, 4 Kiang West and a pair at the lake near Dabala Village.
6 seen in flight and 2 on the ground at Pirang and about 8 in flight at Brumen Bridge.
An immature male from the ‘photographers hide’, Abuko Forest, on the 1st.
Total number of species = 284
Amphibians & reptiles
Gambian Giant Rat
Gambian Sun Squirrel
Striped Ground Squirrel
Gambian Fruit Bat
Epulatted Fruit Bat
Between Janjangbureh and Tendaba a troop of 40 crossed the road in front of our vehicle.
A troop crossed the road as we were en route to Basse
A small group was seen at the Faraba Banta bush track, another group just west of Tendaba and a third group between Janjangbureh and Tendaba.
Vervet Monkey - common
Red Colobus – Abuko & Bijilo
Bushbuck – Abuko