Planning for this trip began in the May of 1999. Six members of my regular group had not been to Africa before, and after many conversations about the amount of new species to be seen, and the relative cheapness of a 14-day tour, I set about getting a trip to The Gambia arranged. (Pounds Sterling per potential bird species was calculated to ascertain the worthiness of a tour, this was worked out as about £1000 divided by around 300 species = £3.33) From the beginning it was clear that the group size would be at least six and maybe a dozen people, so I was determined to research the country, the birds, the sites and guides thoroughly. Timing was always going to be a bit of a problem, and in the end we decided to have the first two weeks in December. There were 3 reasons for this choice:
We had purchased Ron Wards' book Where to Watch Birds in The Gambia and also looked at several trip itineraries from professional travel companies, and trip reports from the Internet (See WWW sites and e-mail addresses for details). Armed with a map, I was able to put together several different ideas, all of which we would be able to modify to suit changing needs.
We decided that the species of bird that we would encounter would be new to us all whether we had a guide or not, and that we would see at least 200 different ones just by going to the known sites. However, we reasoned that just as we all have local knowledge and "secret" sites for special birds, the Gambian guides would have that knowledge within their country too. Hiring guides would therefore increase our overall tally of species and hopefully help to make our holiday a little more enjoyable by taking some of the "hit and miss" element out of the trip.
By the middle of January 2000, I was able to get a price from "The Gambia Experience" Travel Company, for a 14-night stay at The Badala Park Hotel, situated near the Kotu Creek. Continental breakfast was included in the price, along with return flights from Gatwick airport to Banjul Airport and return transfers from the Airport to the hotel, air taxes etc. This figure came to a respectful £409 each. (1 free place was given for 8 paying people.) We were able to use this saving, helping to pay for part of the up-river accommodation. Note: First Choice Travel wanted £569 per person for the same hotel. I will not be getting them to quote again.
Having obtained details of the initial holiday price, 8 people handed me a deposit to ensure their participation on the tour. The holiday was booked and the tour group members "lined up" as follows:
|Howard "Oscar" Orridge:||Trip Organiser, Tour Leader, Photographer and Trip Report Editor.|
|Mark Rossell:||Videographer, Food taster and My Taxi driver to the Airport.|
|Timothy "Gripper" Grove:||Passerine Identification consultant & General Pessimist.|
|Kaye Grove:||Photographer, Jon's Mama and eventually Rasta Mama.|
|Jonathan Grove:||Apprentice alcoholic?|
|Paul Wright:||Photographer, Referee and main Sponsor of Footballs to schools.|
|David Gamble:||Bird status-checklist and Daily Species log.|
|Richard Gamble:||Entertainment Officer.|
|Robert Fray:||(Apart from the LROS County Recorder), Leicester City FC supporters club representative and Gambian Rarities Identification Consultant.|
I have already mentioned that I had looked at some professional tour itinerary's, and their associated costs, which ranged between £1095 a nd £1950. I also read amateur trip reports, and found out their costs and had budgeted for a total of about £850 including food, beer etc. (We tend to drink a few beers when on holiday.) I was very happy to find when the trip was over that I had hit the target fairly well with my total cost being £880, including souvenir presents for my wife and children.
I had sent letters to several guides, asking for their prices to take us various sites. A guy who had created a Web page for him recommended Tijan Kanteh, but he was too pricey. (I don't mind paying a fair price, but £20 per person per day (£180) is milking it a bit!) Lamin Sidebeh was another guide who advertises on the Internet and will do a 7 day tour, including 2 nights up-river for £185 per person.
Gib Saidy replied to my letter 4 months after I sent it, so I could only offer him the last 5 days of our trip. This followed my first choice of West African Tours, (WAT) who are used and recommended by The Gambia Experience, who were to have supplied us with an experienced Bird guide, called Tamba Jefang. Unfortunately Tamba was in the UK when we actually made the trip, but we were more than compensated by a Brilliant young birdwatcher and guide called Sering Bojang. (This guy is without a doubt the best Birder that I have ever met.) We had outlined where we wanted to go before booking with WAT, but had built in some spare time to enable Sering to take us to his own additional sites. The details of the WAT are as follows:
We hired a 16-seater minibus with the driver and fuel inclusive, and guide for £105 per day (which worked out at £11.66 each.) We chose this option for 7 days to get around the Western River Division because I felt that we needed reliability, and a recommended company would be more reliable (I concluded) than an individual. Sering provided picnic lunches at an additional cost of D500 per day for the group.
However, we also needed to go up-river, and so Gib Saidy was hired for 4 days (& 3 nights) to help us locate birds en-route, eventually stopping at Tendaba camp for 1 night and the Bird Safari Camp for 2 nights. This was a worthwhile trip, and included a pirogue trip around the creek at Tendaba. He charged us £600 for the transport, the driver, ferry crossings, and his guiding services which I have to say were good, but having had probably the best possible guide earlier on in the trip with Sering, it was not fair to make any comments or criticism against Gib.
I must point out that I would spend more time upriver if I were to go again, or not bother at all, and spend the extra days in the coastal area. This is because you will spend 2 days travelling, with very little chance for worthwhile stops for birdwatching, and I would prefer to be birding than travelling.
The daily schedule was as follows:
|Dec 1||Travel from our homes in Melton Mowbray, Asfordby and Leicester to Gatwick Airport for a 7:15 flight to Banjul. Arriving at 15:15|
|Dec 2||Visit local sites including: Kotu Creek, Fajara Golf Course and later Kotu sewage pools and the Casino cycle track.|
|Dec 3||Abuko Nature Reserve with lunch at Lamin Lodge, then back to Abuko for the afternoon.|
|Dec 4||Bijilo Forest Park, Lunch at Brusubi near Brufut, then Abuko rice fields and Lamin village|
|Dec 5||Tanji reserve, lunch at Madiana water holes then Brufut woods for the afternoon/evening|
|Dec 6||Bund road, Cape road and Camalou corner. Lunch at Lamin/Abuko rice fields then Marakissa woods and stream in the afternoon.|
|Dec 7||Bund Road (different area), Bund road tip, Sting corner for lunch then Lamin rice fields later|
|Dec 8||Pirang, Faraba Banta then lunch and the afternoon at Bamba Kuno|
|Dec 9||Yundum in the morning, then afternoon relaxing at the hotel, and the Sewage pools if required.|
|Dec 10||Travel to Tendaba visiting Mandinaba, Kulolo School, Pirang and Faraba Banta bush track along the way. Lunch at Killy, then Brumeng Bridge, Tendaba Airport and Pirogue along the Kisi & Tunko Bolons at Tendaba|
|Dec 11||Travel to Bird Safari Camp, visiting Tendaba Airfield, Kaur wetlands and several unnamed sites (water holes) along the North side of the river|
|Dec 12||Bird Safari Camp, Basse and Bansang Gravel Pits|
|Dec 13||Early morning walk around BSC & return to hotel at Kotu with a few stops along the way.|
|Dec 14||Kotu sewage pools and Kotu Creek, or Pirang, Faraba Banta, Madiana Water holes and Brufut|
|Dec 15||Walk to the beach and relaxation at the hotel before returning to the airport for the flight home.|
The alarm clock woke me at 1:00 and I got up and had a light breakfast of buttered toast and a mug of Tea. Mark picked me up at about 1:45 and we set off to Leicester to pick up Dave, Richard and Rob. Another cup of tea was taken at Dave's house and we left for the airport at 2:45. With all the excitement, the 2-hour drive to Gatwick Airport soon passed and we parked the car at the Courtlands long-term stay car park, and made our way in the pouring rain to the courtesy bus. We checked in and had passed our baggage through by 5:30, then went off to get a little bit of breakfast. We met the 3 Groves and Paul at this point, all looking just as tired as we were feeling, and we were not due to get to our hotel until about 16:30 later that day! The wait in the departure lounge seemed to pass more quickly than usual, and we were soon on the plane and away. The flight was a very comfortable one, with Monarch Airlines on a 330 Airbus, taking a little under 6 hrs against a headwind. The weather we left behind in London was a very mild 10 degrees Celsius, but wet and windy. Conditions improved as we passed over Spain and we then had almost no cloud for the next 15 days. The view of Morocco and then Mauritania containing the Western Sahara was very impressive, even at 37,000 feet. Miles and miles of sand, with a few obvious hills or maybe smallish mountains casting shadows that gave the area a sort of menacing look.
We landed at Banjul International airport (which is actually at Yundum) at 15:45, got our bags and then got very, very hassled by the porters, all trying to take them from you in order to earn a tip. I was not comfortable with this and held onto mine tightly explaining to the guys that they were wasting their time with me. One however decided he would hold my hand and show me the way to the buses that would take us to the hotels. He was a bit upset to say the least when I refused to tip him for the pleasure. At this point I had feelings that this trip was not going to be a good one, as I knew there would be more hustling from the bumsters on the streets, hanging around the hotels etc. But fortunately I was proved to be wrong, and I didn't let the hustlers get under my skin.
We arrived at the hotel and got the keys to our 4 rooms. I had ordered one room with 3 beds in it, and 3 rooms with 2 beds in but when we looked at them, there were only 2 beds in all of them. (Where was Rob going to sleep?) I complained about it straight away, and within an hour a bed was found and brought to the room. It is a good point to mention GMT here, It means one thing in London, but here it is "Gambia, Maybe Today!" Now we could get a safe sorted for our valuables (£26 for the 2 weeks) then get some money changed and find the supermarket to get water and essential supplies. The rate of exchange in the hotel was D20 to the £1, which was slightly better than I had expected. A rate of 21:50 could be got on the streets, but the hotel was hassle free, and very straightforward, with no passport required for Traveler's Cheques.
Fortunately Gib had arranged with me, that he would meet us that evening, and he was waiting at reception when we got there. He said that he would show us the way to the supermarket and so we walked with him, passing the Kotu creek on the way and seeing a few birds in the fading light. We were being hassled by youths and young men all the way. Wanting to bestow "gifts from their hearts" upon us for which they wanted nothing in return... except maybe if there was a "gift of money from our hearts"... We soon got the hang of them and said no thanks before they had had a fair chance to say hello. It didn't stop them from approaching and asking, and it became less of a problem the more we became used to them.
We were all hungry by the time we had reached and shopped at the supermarket, and so asked Gib where we could eat? He suggested a new bar on the sea front about 100 metres from where we were, so we wandered there, again being pestered by these bumsters. As soon as we reached the gates of the bar, which was called "The Sailor" these guys left us alone because security is employed to keep them out. We invited Gib to eat with us, which he was eager to do. For him, it was Ramadan, and he had fasted all day and was champing at the bit, just like the rest of us. A decent sort of waiter whom we called Stephen looked after us. He put a table together for the 10 of us, got a round of Julbrew on the table for us and had soon taken our order. I had Chicken Yassa, a Gambian specialty that has a delightfully spiced sauce and one to be recommended. The Julbrew cost D15 (£0.75) a bottle and the Chicken Yassa was D75 (£3.75). Altogether the group paid D1800 for 4 beers each, 10 main courses, 5 desserts, and coffee. This is about £90, or £10 for each of us, as we paid for Gib's meal. This is what I call good value for money. Gib walked us back through the hassle to the hotel and had another drink with us before leaving us to go home. I paid for his taxi home (D25) as he had offered to join us the following morning free of charge, just to get to know us and help us with the birds.
A few of the birds and creatures that we noted were: African Thrush, Brown Babbler, Beautiful Sunbird, Hooded Vulture, Grey-headed Sparrow, several Straw-coloured Fruit Bats, Praying Mantis, a Toad species and a Stick Insect species.
Bird of the day was a unanimous decision: Beautiful Sunbird.
After a very long day with 11 bird species on the list, 10 of them lifers, I went to bed, as we had to make an early start the next morning.
I woke very early (5:45) and got ready for the 7:00 start that we had arrange with Gib. The others were soon gathered at the front entrance, and we were soon met by Gib and new bird species all around. Some of the birds we saw on the short walk to Kotu Creek were Red-eyed Dove, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Red-billed Firefinch, Grey Kestrel and Lizard Buzzard. (A full species list with daily break-down is on a separate page.) The Creek was absolutely full of birds, some wading, some flying over, others drinking and bathing and a few feeding on insects on the mangroves. A few of the good ones were Little Bee-eater, Senegal Coucal, Blue-bellied Roller, Greater Painted Snipe and Green Wood Hoopoe.
As we passed over the bridge to the golf course we encountered more new species and quite large numbers of some of them. We all quickly observed that not only do you get a big variety of bird species in The Gambia, but also lots of individuals, making some flocks quite spectacular in their own right. This was to be noticed on many more occasions over the next 14 days. Good birds on the Golf course were Grey Woodpecker, Broad-billed Roller, Woodland Kingfisher and Abyssinian Roller. Going back over the Creek we watched a distant Black-shouldered Kite soaring around, then caught up with the only African Silverbills of the trip in the hotel garden, a pair with a juvenile. We had a meeting with the Gambia Experience rep at 10:30, who gave us a briefing about the sort of hassle we had already experienced for ourselves. Sering Bojang, our guide for the following 7 days met us afterwards, and we gave him a copy of our itinerary and wish list. We left it entirely in his hands as to where and when we should visit, but requesting a picnic lunch and some cool drinks, for the siesta in the heat of the day.
I had an omelet served with chips costing D35 from the hotel bar for lunch with some deliciously refreshing fruit juice (D15); the rest of the group had similar meals.
A Fine-spotted Woodpecker watched 30 feet from our balcony was a pleasant start to the afternoon birdwatching, then we met Gib again for a walk around the Sewage pools that are situated directly opposite the Badala Park front entrance. This cost a fee of D25. Gib suggested I pay D10 but the smallest note I had was a D25 so the man got lucky, and I think a couple of hours for a group of 10, all for £1.25 was just about acceptable. Birds here included: a juvenile Levaillant's Cuckoo and a flock of about 130 White-faced Whistling Ducks. Also we found what turns out to be a Gambian rarity, with only 4 previous sightings in the shape of a juvenile Little Gull. It took a while to convince Gib of this, as he had identified it as a White-winged Black Tern, but having never seen a Little Gull before he was happy to stand corrected. (We were fortunate enough to be able to do a similar thing later on the up-river tour - see Brumeng Bridge.) We watched an Olivaceous Warbler as we walked past the Badala Park hotel on our way to the cycle track. Our objective at the end of the track was the Long-tailed Nightjars, which we watched in the half-light of dusk, but before then we had the pleasure of a Pearl-spotted Owlet, a single Mosque Swallow, 2 Double-spurred Francolins, and the bird of the day both for me and the group was a Bearded Barbet, a fantastic red and yellow fronted bird with a huge beak and whiskers.
Species seen today totaled 97, 87 new for the trip and 65 of them were lifers, every one enjoyed until the next species came along. Definitely too many birds in one day to be able to take them one a bit at a time and enjoy them, but as we were to find almost all of them again later in the tour it didn't matter at all.
We returned from the cycle track to the hotel, where we had a Chinese meal from the restaurant within the Hotel grounds. I chose to eat Chicken and sweetcorn soup, followed by hot and sour vegetables, beef in black bean sauce and plain noodles. This was washed down with a few bottles of Julbrew, and cost me a total of D200 or £10 in Sterling. We were treated to some local African tribal dancing and music, on the stage by the restaurant. This is performed "after a long hard day in the fields". We laughed about this as it is not possible to work long and hard in those temperatures, then dance with the passion and speed that these people were doing. However, credit is deserved as the temperature was still in the mid 20's centigrade at 21:00 in the evening! We said goodbye to Gib until the next Sunday, paid his taxi fare again, and went to bed.
We were up at 6:30 for a 7:00 breakfast of Bread, cheese, ham, marmalade, banana and melon. Juice and Coffee were also available, and we ate a good portion. At 8:00 we met Sering, our Guide for the next 7 days and he introduced us to Citizen, our driver. The plan for the day was Abuko nature reserve, and we headed off travelling through the largest town in The Gambia, called Serekunda. This was a real eye opener for us, seeing real poverty just a few feet away from our faces. The buildings were no more than tin shacks, the larger ones some 20' X 20' and housing families of up to 15. The people wore clothes that were no more than rags to us. Some were selling their wares from dirty chipped bowls and trays, others at work, welding steel tube with no protective eye shields, or changing a part of a lorry engine in the middle of the road, or something more profitable like peddling cigarettes or dope. We were to look very closely at life on the streets on many more occasions, but the first time was the biggest culture shock that I have ever had.
At Abuko Sering paid the entrance fees for us (D31.50 each or about £1.60) and we were soon seeing more new birds. Many of them took our breath away, with their stunning colours and strange behavior, the pick of the bunch being Verraux's Eagle Owl with its "girlie pink eye lids", Giant Kingfishers and the fabulous Violet and Green Turaco's. One of the first animals we saw was Red Colobus Monkey (Colobus badius) crashing about in the canopy. We watched a couple of Nile Crocodiles (Crocodilus niloticus) gently breaking the surface of the water in the Crocodile pools, then we wandered along the lower part of the reserve for about 5 hours of solid birding. One or two of us were lucky enough to see a Maxwell's Duiker slowly creeping through the undergrowth, then a couple of Green Vervet monkeys (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus) crossed the path in front of us.
The light was not enough to get photos of them in the dense undergrowth, so we got back on the bus to go for lunch at Lamin Lodge, a venue that most birders seem to have either breakfast or lunch at. We had briefly met Steve Bird and his group from Birdseekers at Abuko, guided by Soloman Jallow, and they were also to join with us for lunch. Lunch consisted of a buffet of salad, rice, 2 types of fish, sauce, spaghetti bolognese and bread. This was washed down with Julbrew, or juice and a bottle of water, the usual melon and banana were offered for a dessert. This meal was pre-paid as part of our West African Tour, but would have cost about D100 or £5. I paid for the drinks however, which came to a very respectful D175, and I left a tip of D25. (Soloman and Sering go back quite a few years, Soloman passing on a lot of his knowledge to Sering as a young boy and helping to create one of the finest birdwatchers in The Gambia. The two of them have just set up a new company called "Habitat Africa" which will specialise in birdwatching tours in The Gambia and Senegal at very good prices. See their e-mail address in the appendix at the end to request more information.)
We headed back to Abuko, parting company with Birdseekers, who seemed to be on a mission to see more species than we were, but at a more hectic pace. We saw a few species during the afternoon that were not seen again on the tour, so I was pleased with Sering's judgement on this. Birds included: African Golden Oriole, Yellow-throated Leaf Love and Grey-headed Bristlebill. As we approached the turnstile exit, several local traders ran to their stalls that are lined up just outside the reserve. They all wanted to sell us carved animals, but we were tired and just wanted to get back to the hotel, get showered and rest. Another visit would have been a good thing, because the prices being offered for the carvings were exceptionally good value, and I would recommend anybody visiting the Reserve, and also wishing to purchase carvings as souvenirs to carry some money and barter for them here.
Back at the hotel we showered and got ready for our evening meal, which we had at Sailors again. This time we got 2 Taxi's to take us, and had them wait for up to 3 hours, which cost only D100 (£5) for each taxi. This time I had the Barracuda which was very good, and I paid D200 for my meal, again about £10 (the bill for the group was D1895 for 3 courses, coffee and beers.) We discussed the bird of the day over dinner, my choice being Verraux's Eagle Owl, and finally the group decided on the same, with other contenders being: African Golden Oriole, Snowy-crowned Robin-chat and Giant Kingfisher. I logged 73 species for the day, 34 new for the trip and 33 of them lifers. Not bad for a difficult-to-watch, densely planted woodland.
An incident during the night caused more than a few tears to be shed laughing at breakfast this morning. Dave was woken at about 5:00 by somebody who was attacking him. His fear was only slightly abated when he realised it was Richard who was still in a state of sleep, possibly being affected by Lariam the anti-Malarial drug we were all taking. Richard woke moments later, his heart pounding almost as fast as his Dad's was! But completely unaware of the fracas he had started which the Groves' heard in the room opposite. Dave suffered a painful shoulder for the next few days as a result of the attack, my cheeks hurt for ages after with all the laughing that I did. (We all think Richard did it to stop Dave's being able to do the roll call at the end of the day, but he denies it.)
We had our breakfast and met our guide and driver at the usual time of 8:00. This mornings' venue was Bijilo Forest Park, which is a different woodland to Abuko, more open with very different trees, and different birds as well. It was similar in that birds were still hard to find and see well.
A steady walk along the first 2 or 3 hundred meters allowed us good photographic opportunities of Red-billed Hornbill, Little Bee-eater Green, Vervet Monkeys and a variety of butterflies and insects. Good birds seen here included 6 Oriole Warblers (Moho), our first Grey-backed Cameroptera, and both species of Wood dove. We were to learn by heart the tone of the call of the two most common doves today: the 6 syllable call of the "I am a Red-eyed Dove" and the 3 syllable "go away" of the Vinaceous Dove. Sering kept on repeating them during the day, and by the end of it the birds were driving us insane as they spoke their "co coo co coo cooo coo".
We left Bijilo and headed towards Brufut and stopped for lunch in the shade of a large tree on the side of the new airport-to-coast road. The area will be known as Brusubi, and it was a great place to watch raptors and swallows while we kept out of the harsh midday sun. (We never actually stopped birding in the heat of the day, just sat down in the shade and watched birds flying by for a couple of hours, until it started to get a little cooler.) Our picnic lunch was strips of beef, chips, onions, tomato sauce and mayonnaise in a roll, with bananas and fizzy fruit juice to wash it down! The Gambians interpretation of what us British want to eat does take some weighing up at times, I wonder what I will give to them when they visit us in 2001?
I was pleased to call Mosque Swallow here and also take pictures of a Black-shouldered Kite perched in a tree not very far from us. 2 Wahlberg's Eagles caused more than a little excitement, as did the Short-toed Eagle, 2 Peregrines and the numerous Hooded Vultures, which always seemed to try to look a little like some other species of raptor, depending on how high they were soaring.
It was slightly amusing, and a little embarrassing to be present the first time that a Muslim washes his face, hands and feet, then begins to chant and pray. This is exactly what Citizen did whilst we were relaxing. The time was 14:00 and it was possible to hear people being called to prayer to a nearby Mosque. Sering was excused prayers because his was attending to his duty, which was guiding us, but he had to make up for it when he got home in the evenings. (A good point at which to state I have no religion, but respect the morals and teachings of all faiths, and my belief that "Mother Nature" is the ultimate power. She provides the environments and diversity to produce life, and the same environments and diversities of life to take it away.)
A few moments of prayer and Citizen was back with us, ready to drive us to Abuko rice fields where we saw numerous waders, egrets and herons, and also large numbers of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters (about 40) and about a dozen Broad-billed Rollers, all swooping down to take a drink of water from the partially flooded fields. This was an area that you could spend all afternoon standing still, and see new species flying backwards and forwards. In fact it would have been nice to spend more time there, but it eventually gets dark, and you have to get food! When you go make sure it is a place you visit. Sering will see that you are in the right place.
Other special birds here were: Greater Honeyguide, Namaqua Dove, Lizard Buzzard, 2 Pearl-spotted Owlets and 5 White-crested Helmet Shrikes.
We moved from Abuko to some fields near Lamin in search of some really special birds, and we got lucky. We watched 3 Temminck's Coursers fly around before landing some 80 meters away. Also added to the notebook were a couple of Four-banded Sandgrouse, and a few Wattled Plovers to make up the numbers. Four children from the house nearby came to watch us more closely. They don't get to see many Two-babs, and were curious as to what we were interested in. I turned my telescope on their father and invited them to look. They all giggled and were quite impressed to see "Dad" brought so much closer. We gave them a sweet and a lollipop each and left the area to go back to the hotel and get ready for dinner.
Bird of the day for me was Little Bee-eater, or rather a group of them at Bijilo that I was able to watch and photograph quite well. The group's decision were the Broad-billed Rollers that we watched at Abuko rice fields. The species total for the day was 93, 17 were new trip species and 8 were lifers, how much longer can we keep this up?
I purchased 9 drinks from a vendor by the Abuko rice fields which cost me D110 (£5.50) a rip off by Gambian standards, but very welcome in the heat of the late afternoon! We tried the hotel restaurant situated above the Chinese, it was OK but we didn't think it was good enough to re-visit. My fish was actually only partially cooked and served up cold, which I do not like. All of my hot food must be hot, not lukewarm or cool; else it's not a good meal. It's a simple as that for me, get it hot and you're half way there, but the price was quite acceptable at D200 again, including plenty of Julbrew. We did Gamble's roll call and hit the sack, where Rob, Mark and myself set about writing up our notes in a little more detail. It was this ritual that kept us up 'til after 12:00 most evenings, and with getting up almost religiously at 5:45 to open up the dump valve, it meant sleep was becoming a precious thing.
Breakfast at 7:00 and as usual we had coffee, bread and marmalade with bananas for a little extra goodness. We did it al fresco today though, as it was very warm inside. There was no repeat performance from Richard last night, and Dave reported a better night's sleep. Today we were going to Tanji (pronounced Tanye) synonymous with Clive Barlow, a co-writer of the field guide of The Birds of The Gambia and Senegal. We didn't see him there, but do appreciate his involvement in creating an area that will with luck not succumb to development over the next few generations. My particular favourites here were: a Melodious Warbler, the yellow body so vivid in the bright sunlight, a flock of about 30 African Green Pigeons and 2 Lavender Waxbills that perched all too briefly in a bush close by. Also 3 Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters were seen closely and photographed on the way back, and then we were treated to views of a single White-fronted Plover. We watched all of the various tern and gull species on the shore, just singles of Kelp and Audouin's Gull, but many of the Caspian, Royal and Lesser Crested Terns. 2 Arctic Skuas harried terns off shore which was a bit of a surprise to me, I really didn't expect to see them here, but there was no reason why we shouldn't as they are quite common.
We had our pack-up lunch in a small garden by some water holes at Madiana. The now customary "roll," this time with egg, chips, onion and sauce, with melon and banana for dessert, then Orange and Coke to drink. This place was a very well shaded site under some large trees, and there was a series of pools, fringed with reeds. We were able to watch up to about 200 Bronze Mannikins coming to drink and bathe here, along with Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher and the hybrid Paradise Flycatcher. A few lucky observers saw Black Crake quite well here, my views were very poor. Blue-breasted Kingfisher was seen, again only briefly, but the Harrier Hawk, Lizard Buzzard and Wahlberg's Eagle were all seen at close quarters and for several moments.
We went to Brufut woods for the afternoon, which was again different to Abuko, Tanji and Bijilo. I'm no tree expert, but there are many different varieties at all 4 locations, making the type of woodland very different and also the fauna that lives there. The first birds we saw were new to us: a pair of Bush Petronias, a male Violet-backed Sunbird, and a Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird. Northern Crombec, Fanti-sawwings, Mottled Spinetails and a Tawny-flanked Prinia with a nest were also located. After a little calling, Sering managed to locate a single male Senegal Batis (which would be bird of the day for most people, but I think that the views of the Tinkerbird would win today), then almost immediately Green-backed Eremomelas were seen in the next tree. A short walk along a narrow track produced a Striped Kingfisher, which looks so out of place perched in a tree, not overhanging a river, but over a field. Another Green Turaco was well watched before we departed for the hotel and dinner.
After we had showered, we decided to eat at Ngala Lodge, an up market hotel with Nouveax Cuisine restaurant. Taxis cost D100 each for 3 hours waiting, and my meal that was a little on the small side, was very well prepared and very tasty. I had Chicken and Brie in puff pastry, followed by Shark and Blue Grouper in white wine sauce, then Camembert with honey and thyme for dessert. I paid D400 for this meal with drinks (£20) which I consider to be good value for the quality. It certainly lives up to its recommendation.
Bird of the day was the Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, both for the group and me. Bird species seen today totaled 121, with 41 new for the trip, and 22 lifers.
Breakfast was taken with strawberry jam instead of marmalade today, a delightful change to the menu! I made a quick phone call to Ivor at work today just so he could pass on the message that we were all OK to my family. (My phone line was being changed from BT to NTL and I had no idea what my new number was.) 3 minutes cost D100 or about £5 in English.
We were picked up at 8:00 and taken towards the capital of The Gambia, Banjul. The road leading towards Banjul is "built up" and called the Bund road. This area although extensive, is full of birds, and we first had a look into the eastern side that borders the river Gambia. The tide was high at the time, and no mud was showing, therefore there were no wading birds to see, but 2 Pied Kingfishers were perched on the overhead wires along with a Western Reef Heron.
We got back on the bus and went in to Banjul to get some water, before visiting the Cape Road and then an area called Camalou Corner. These were not very productive as regards new species, but wherever you seem to go, there are birds, birds and more birds. Having said not very productive, we did see 6 Sacred Ibis, a single Ruppell's Griffon Vulture and another Namaqua Dove, before the very drab and uninteresting looking Copper Sunbird. (I suppose if I saw this in Leicestershire it would be very colourful and a very interesting bird!) I think that if we had seen the bird with the sun directly on it and much closer than we did, we would have seen the beautiful copper-bronze iridescence better.
Lunch was eaten near by a farm between Lamin and the rice fields of Abuko; Dave had named it Lamin Farm for his log. Beef, chips and onions was in the rolls today, and small banana pancakes (similar to donuts) with Bananas for desert and Vimto to drink. Mark caused a bit of an uproar when he went to take a picture of 2 ladies taking a siesta nearby, he asked permission first, which was granted, then they asked him for some money. He felt deep into his pocket and retrieved 50 Bututs (about 2.5 pence) He gave this to one of the ladies, who started shouting about it and was obviously insulted by the offer! Sering made some joke about it and found a few more coins in the bus to give the lady before she chastised Mark physically. (Who ever heard of paying 2.5 pence for a photo? We know Mark was temporarily unemployed at the time, but even that was a little bit much don't you think? Ha ha ha)
Birds seen here were: Juvenile Martial Eagle, Lavender Waxbills and good views of Olivaceous Warbler. We moved off earlier than usual because we had quite a long drive to Marakissa, an area west of Brikama that is often visited by British birdwatchers. Sering knew it well, and took us into woodland before visiting and crossing the stream. Several good species were seen here and include Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Blue-breasted Kingfisher and a Western Banded Snake Eagle; all seen perched in different trees and in good light.
My bird of the day was one that I had seen before but not nominated: Green Turaco (Guinea Turaco), the group had chosen the Martial Eagle, with Northern Puffback, Slender-billed Gull and Western Banded Snake Eagle also nominated. The total number of bird species today was 107, with 20 of them new for the trip and 9 lifers.
On the long haul back to the hotel, there was another incident, but this time it wasn't Richard. There were sirens wailing in the distance, but getting closer every moment. (I was facing backwards so I didn't see any lights flashing at this point) Suddenly Citizen hit the brakes hard and swerved quite violently off the road and on to the track at the side, where we went into a sideways slide, then stopped. The sirens and flashing lights belonged to a diplomatic convoy which took priority of the road (both sides apparently) causing us to have to get off of it rapidly. Sering gave Citizen a "proverbial" (we could tell by the tone of his voice) and we set off again, this time without any major hiccups. The minor hiccup was the door of the minibus which kept opening every 20 minutes or so. I held it shut for most of the journey's, just to save time as Citizen had to get out to shut it for us, delaying us from getting to our destination.
It was late when we got back to the hotel, so we decided to eat at the Chinese within the hotel again. I had Pancake rolls, Hot and Sour vegetables again, Chicken in Black Bean sauce and Beef Noodles. With several beers I paid D145 which translated is about £7.50. The group bill was D1378 but I had been given D1600, so I put D100 back to the kitty and gave the waiter quite a big tip. He questioned this, as it was bigger than he was used to, D122 is about £6. I told him that he got lucky, and with a polite smile and thank-you he wrapped one of the D50 notes in a napkin and tucked it away under his arm. I presume that the tips are shared, and the other D50 and change went to the pot. I don't think that a group of 9 dining in England would consider a tip of that size anything less than normal, and the waiter (Mad Max) was very good.
Mark made a comment this evening about the numbers of sunbirds at every site that we stop at. They could be compared with Blue Tits here, as almost every garden, thicket, or tree has some in it. Another note today is that when we visit the various sites, children come running alongside the bus shouting "Toubab" "Toubab" at us. We call back and wave of course which makes them wave and shout even more. Toubab is the name that the Gambians call white people, and is derived from "Two-bob" the slang for Two Shillings, which is the price that the White man paid for a slave just a few generations ago! Kunta Kinteh lives on, and a tour can be taken to visit the village where Alex Haley apparently retraced his "Roots". It has been since shown that this TV programme was not completely truthful, but no newspaper would ever let that fact get in the way of a good story, and the basic story line is correct. How far I wonder, have we come since then? Not as far as we would like to think we have is my answer!
We had passed through Serekunda again today, and I am totally amazed by the people who live and work here in their tiny shanty town shacks, all built from a combination of cement, wood and corrugated iron sheets. Many of these homes are no more than 20 feet square and house families of up to 15! Our driver, Citizen informs us that he has 10 children, and Sering says his father has two wives, giving him (I think) 7 sisters and 8 brothers! This is not too far away from the families our grandparents were used to, but how would we cope with a dozen kids in our world of material things?
Breakfast was the usual with marmalade today, and we met Sering and Citizen at 8:00. We went off to do a different part of the Bund Road area today, which was not influenced by the tide. Firstly we stopped by the pumping station where we watched a shoal of about 10,000 Yellow-tailed Mullet, keenly avoiding the Western Reef Heron and Pied Kingfishers that were eyeing them up.
We had good views of a Sub-alpine warbler here, only my second ever sighting, which gave me almost as much enjoyment as any of the African species that we saw on the trip. Sering took us into the suburbs of Banjul and down a street that almost came back to where we had first stopped, but this time within viewing distance of some shallow lagoons with plenty of mud, and birds. To get to the lagoons we had to walk through the front entrance of a metal workshop and out of their rear door. It was probably more of a shock for Mark and myself (as engineers) to see the tools and methods that they were working with, than for those guys having a bus load of Toubabs passing through their business, just to look at a few birds. Outside of the workshop was an open sewer, where all of the everyday waste products combined and became grey coloured and were trickling slowly towards the lagoons. The smell was just the same as when you have to unblock a drain here in Britain, not pleasant, but not unbearably foul either. We carefully walked across a make shift bridge over the cess and out to see some more birds, which as promised were plentiful, and some lifers were picked up here, included: 1 Marsh Sandpiper, several pairs of Quailfinches and a pair of Chestnut-backed Finch-larks. We were lucky enough to find a pair of Village Indigobirds here, but not close enough to photograph them.
The local women who were washing their clothes nearby particularly interested me. Clean water was collected into a large bowl, carried on their heads to the edge of the sewer, then an item of clothing was selected, watered, soaped then rubbed vigorously, rinsed then rinsed again before being wrung dry and laid out in the sun to dry thoroughly. We could just imagine our women taking a basket of clothes to the nearby brook and doing the same on a lovely cold day in mid December!
We moved on to Sting Corner where we stopped for a couple of hours for lunch. There were no new species here, but again it was good to relax over lunch and take in views of birds like: Little Bee-eater, Grey Kestrel, and Striped Kingfisher.
After we had eaten, we traveled to Lamin rice fields, which was an area quite close to and almost overlooking Lamin Lodge. We had a very good look at Bruce's Green Pigeon here and then had a couple of sightings of Montagu's Harrier. First we saw a second winter male (just like the one on Birdrace day, Rob) then a second ring-tailed bird, more distant which I took to be a female. I saw 2 Orange-cheeked Waxbills, which were very nice, much better than my previous views behind wire in an aviary. We retraced our steps and stopped by a tree in the middle of Lamin village very close to where Sering lives. This was a site for White-faced Scops Owl, which was showing, but only just. We left Sering here as he needed time to say his prayers and get ready to join us for dinner a little later on.
Bird of the day for me was Bruce's Green Pigeon (just edging out the Subalpine warbler) and also the group, who had also nominated Montague's Harrier and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. Birds seen today totaled 97, with 10 new birds for the trip and 6 lifers
We got back to the hotel and showered ready for dinner. Sering arrived, and we suggested to him that it should be his choice as to where we would go to eat. His choice was the Al-Amir at the Senegambia Hotel; a Lebanese owned restaurant that I can now say was a very good choice. The owner suggested that he could arrange for platters to be brought out to us with a selection of different starters, then main courses on. We all agreed that this was a good idea, as none of us had tried Lebanese food before (except Sering), and we all got to try a little bit of everything. Almost all of the food was eaten by fingers, which I enjoyed thoroughly. It was almost like having barbecued food, but perfectly well cooked. The meal cost D250 each (we paid for Sering's food) including drinks, and the taxis were D70 each but we needed 3 of them as they were only small cars. I paid for Sering's Taxi fare home, participated in Gamble's roll call and went to bed.
Today we were to travel to Pirang, where there is a failed shrimp farm. Why it failed I do not know, but the area is a little bit like Titchwell Marsh would be if it almost dried up (and about 10 times larger.) Some old friends were quickly sighted here like Sand and House Martins, a Northern Wheatear, Chiffchaff and Yellow wagtails. New birds included: 1 Plain-backed Pipit, 1 Long-crested Eagle, c. 20 Rufous-chested Swallows, 4 African Spoonbills and 9 Yellow-billed Storks which were a very distant but confirmed sighting. The area also produced White-fronted Plover, Kentish Plover and several species of Hirundines. Well worth another visit!
We were followed by the usual array of children, but there were more of them this time. They were constantly asking the same two questions:
They then gave their name and went on to describe how much they enjoyed walking with you, and that they would like to be in school, only that their father was dead and that they would like to write to you in order that you may send them money, with which they could feed their family. It would be easy to feel sorry for these children except that they all have the same story, and their fathers give them a telling-off a little later on for harassing us! Some of them are obviously worse off than others, but you can't help them all, and if you agree to write to one of them, all the others give you grief for not choosing them. The best way is to help a school by donating equipment directly, which helps many children where it is needed the most - with education. (See day 10)
We left Pirang and visited an area called Faraba Banta where we saw more new species in the shape of: Oxpeckers, Grasshopper Buzzard, African Hobby and Tawny Eagle. We left this site and headed to a place called Bamba Kuno where we sheltered from the sun and had lunch before an afternoon walk around some woodland. Lunch was the usual cob, banana and pop but with the added attraction of Sering performing with a football for entertainment. Most of us had a bit of a kick around and some local children joined in. Paul had given the ball to Sering yesterday, but asked for it back so that he could give it to the children to take to use in their school. (He promised to replace the ball in the morning) We watched a Vieillot's Barbet before being astounded by a piece of Sering's magic...
He called like a Pearl-spotted Owlet, and 7 or 8 different species of bird almost instantly surrounded us, looking for the unwelcome intruder. We watched Yellow-fronted Canaries, a Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Northern Crombec, a male Senegal Batis, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, 2 Green-backed Cameropteras, a Lavender Waxbill and Melodious Warblers all darting around the bushes next to us for the next few minutes. A truly memorable moment. Some more good species were picked up here that included Heuglin's Masked Weaver, Black-winged Bishop and a female Black-faced Firefinch.
We returned to the hotel again satisfied with a great day out, and again invited Sering to join us for dinner. Bird of the day for the group and me was Vieillot's Barbet; other nominations were Grasshopper Buzzard, African Spoonbill and Black-winged Bishop. 85 species were seen today, 17 new for the trip, 13 of them were lifers.
On the way back to the hotel I was able to watch a large lorry follow us for several miles. It must have been at least 3-4% twisted as I could see the back end of the wagon quite clearly, and watched in horror as the driver steered the vehicle back and forth, across the road in an attempt to keep it moving forward. I was really horrified when it started to come past us at some 50mph, then amazed to see 3 guys sat on the top of the loaded wagon without a care in the world! I think at least 80% of the vehicles on the road here would not pass a MOT test in the UK, but this is Africa, and almost anything that moves has wheels and a hooter seems to be allowed.
I needed to get quite a lot of money changed for our trip up-river, about £625 in total, which worked out at about D12,500. Believe me when I tell you that this is an impossible amount of money to carry in a wallet. In fact I was only just able to get it into 2. The largest Gambian denomination is D50 that meant I was carrying 250 individual notes (plus the Pounds Sterling I would need to pay Gib.) It took 3 visits to the Exchange Bureau in order to get it all in D50 notes, as they try and give you D25's when D50's are in short supply.
With this task done I was ready to go out for dinner, so we waited for Sering to arrive, then took him to our "regular" restaurant: - Sailors. The 3 taxis were again D70 each, and I had Barracuda in Garlic (D40 or £2.00) followed by Ladyfish with rice and chips (D80 or £4.00). The total cost for me was D250 as we had drunk a few bottles of Julbrew, and we paid for Sering's meal again. I paid for Sering's taxi home again having returned to the hotel, and after he had left, I asked for people to give me a donation that I would pass on to Sering and Citizen as a bonus for their services. I received a total of D1525 and decided to split it D1225 and D300. This would be given to them in Mark's special video ceremony after the trip to Yundum the following day. We completed the roll call (I think) and retired to our rooms.
We decided that today should be an easy day, with birding in the morning, and then the rest of the day for relaxing and sorting out the required items for the trip up-river. Paul and Jonathan decided to stay at the hotel all day, so when Sering arrived to collect us there was a little more room on the bus. (I gave Sering another football that replaced the one we had given away yesterday.)
We traveled to Yundum, close to the airport, and enjoyed several new species within a fairly small area. A couple of hours birding produced: 5 Bearded Barbets all together in 1 tree, a singing Cisticola, Black-rumped Waxbill, a single Cut-throat Finch, a male Brown-backed Woodpecker, both Bronze-tailed and Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starlings, a Red-winged Warbler and then a juvenile (red-billed) Diederik (Didric) Cuckoo. Just when we thought it couldn't get any better we saw a Chestnut-bellied Starling. With the also-ran species that in their own rights were very good we were very well satisfied with the morning's birding. We got back to the hotel and had a little presentation for Sering and Citizen. We gave Sering a bonus of D1225 and also my unworn 1999 Birdfare T shirt, and Rob's Leicester City shirt. Sering had started out as an avid Arsenal fan, but by the end of the week he was definitely thinking about changing to City. We gave Citizen a D300 bonus, and also I gave him my sunglasses and a big bag of sweets for his children. Mark took some video footage of the moment, and we all shook hands and parted company. Sering said that he had found us to be the best group that he had ever led, probably because we all knew each other and often go out together. Professional ornithological tours are made up of birders from all over the country, with different attitudes and lifestyles, which the guides have to break into and create comradeship to get the same response as he got from us right at the beginning of our tour. Sering likes a joke, and we finished our time with him just the same as we had started, with a laugh, a handshake and then we wished him good luck in the future with his new business "Habitat Africa"
Rob decided to spend the afternoon at the Sewage works and Cycle Track, I went for an aromatherapy-healing massage which was excellent value at D2500 or £12.50 for a one and a half hour total body massage. The rest of the guys laughed at me when I came out of the parlour, but it was me that was laughing, as I felt better at that time than I had done for weeks. Gib made an appearance again at this time; he had brought his friend with what can only be described as one of the best vehicles on the road. We looked at it but saw straight away that we would not all get in it as it was only a 9 seater and there was 9 of us plus the driver and Gib! We suggested that this would not be suitable and Gib went off to find another bus. "I'll only be 10 minutes," he said. So we waited and waited and after an hour went and showered ready for dinner. Gib eventually returned with another bus which was only marginally bigger, but we could all get on with our luggage, so I gave Gib a £300 advance on the up-river trip so he could get the bus and driver sorted out. We spent some time making more notes, and 5 of us visited Sailors again for dinner. Rob, Jon and I were accosted by the local tribal dancers and made to do a bit of a tribal jig for a couple of minutes. Unfortunately Mark had not brought the video out, so there is no evidence of Rob dancing with a Haystack, in which was concealed a man. At least Jon and I danced with females! Dinner cost me D250 for the usual meal and drinks, plus I had to use D50 from the kitty to cover for Jon's meal. I had Shrimp cocktail, Garlic bread and Barracuda Steak, lovely! We met up with the others who had stayed behind at Badala Park and went through the routine roll call before getting to bed.
Bird of the day was the 5 Beardet Barbets for me, and the Chestnut-bellied Starling for the group. The total species count for the day was 55 with 9 new for the trip and 9 lifers
We got up at 5:30 for a 6:30 departure, but the driver was late, and we didn't get away until 7:30. This pissed me off a little as we could have slept an hour longer and had some breakfast before our long journey up-river. We set off and stopped at an area called Mandinaba, which was a site for Hadada Ibis. 2 birds were seen although not close enough to see them well, which was a little disappointing, but with all of the other species around it was still a pleasant site. We continued up the road a little to a village called Kuloro, which is Gib's birthplace. It was here that Gib had arranged for the Headmaster and some children from the primary school to meet us. They do not usually attend school on Sundays, but today about 80 children and the 4 teachers came along to receive the gifts that we had taken for them. I asked my company to donate some pens for the children, and I was given 600, to which I added another 200 and a football. Paul had brought along some footballs as well, and he wasted no time in getting 2 blown up for the children to play with. They had never had a proper ball before, and it was a humbling experience to watch them and see the excitement that they were obviously getting from this moment. We went into one of the classrooms, which was furnished with benches and tables that were made from various packaging crate materials. They were obviously well used and cherished, as 2 other classrooms had no furniture at all in them! This school receives no money from the government of The Gambia and relies on the parents of the children and charitable donations in order to survive. The children were aged between 4 and 7, and they sang a thank you song to us before we went outside and took some photographs of them and played with the footballs. My next problem is getting some paper to them so that they can use their new pens. There are now about 250 children in 4 classes, one ream of paper would give each child 2 sheets, so I reckon that I would need to send 20 reams to give them a working supply, which would need topping up every so often. (If I can get Monarch Airlines to fly it free of charge, I'll send a pallet load over.)
We said our goodbye to the teachers and children, with promises to help a little more, and re-visited Pirang. We picked up a rather scruffy looking Spur-winged Goose here and also 7 Yellow-billed Storks and 5 African Spoonbills. We got the same hassling from the children as we had done on Friday, but some were happy when we gave them our empty water bottles. A short drive along a bush track at Faraba Banta gave us good views of 2 Grasshopper Buzzards and a juvenile Dark Chanting Goshawk. We stopped along a road near to the village of Killy for lunch, which were cheese triangles and a very doughy French stick. Bananas, Oranges and melon to follow with water to wash it all down with.
Birds seen here included Striped Kingfisher, African Hawk Eagle, Namaqua doves, and Rufous-chested Swallows.
We continued to Brumeng Bridge that spans the Bintang Bolon, a larger tributary of the River Gambia, where we stopped to look for another target species, and were rewarded quite quickly. A couple of juvenile Bateleurs flew over with a Lanner Falcon, and very shortly afterwards, we saw a superb adult male with another juvenile or female bird. A Yellow-billed Stork at close quarters was nice but a shout for Wooly-necked Stork had us scanning the horizon looking for another lifer. We were not disappointed to discover that the bird was not a Wooly-necked Stork at all, Gib had called it wrong (the second mistake that he could be forgiven for): it was a Saddle-billed Stork, not very often sighted in The Gambia at all, and another lifer for Gib as well as most of us. This bird had a problem with one of its legs, which was hanging rather limply below it, making it very recognisable, as we would find out later.
We continued with our journey to Tendaba Airport where we saw about 6 Wooly-necked Storks, and 7 Red-rumped Swallows, both lifers for most of us. There were in excess of 100 Pink-backed Pelicans at Kwinella, which is passed on the way to Tendaba Camp, which is where we were to spend the night, and would make a good place to stop at and spend more time at if we were to return. We had a drink and were shown our rooms, which were all singles with a larger than average bed in them. There was a sink, shower and toilet en-suite, a table and chair, an overhead fan and also mosquito nets over the bed. A very comfortable and fair priced place to stay. The prices are as follows: D165 for the room (£8.25), D100 (£5) for buffet dinner and D50 (£2.50) for breakfast. £15.75 for Bed, Breakfast and evening meal in a single en-suite room is what I call very good value. The surroundings make the camp a very nice place indeed, and I can thoroughly recommend it.
We quickly left our bags in the rooms and headed to the jetty for a pirogue trip across the River Gambia to slowly cruise the creeks called Kisi and Tunko. These were marvelous areas to visit, and we got close to many species including: White-throated Bee-eater, White-backed Night Heron, Malachite Kingfisher, 3 Montague's harriers - 1 male 1 female, 1 juvenile male, a Booted Eagle, European Bee-eaters, a Goliath Heron, 2 Blue-breasted Kingfishers and also a quick glimpse of a Giant Clawless Otter that dashed into the undergrowth as we passed it by. The trip cost the group D800 (£40) and a D50 tip for the boatman. We spent over 2 hours in the boat, which was quite hard on the backside, but I felt it was well worth it, and should be considered a must for all birders visiting the camp. We showered and met for dinner at 19:00 that consisted of fish soup and bread, potatoes, rice, fish, meat and salad, with Pineapple pieces for desert. I paid the bill of D3600, which allowed me to fold one of my wallets, and fit it into my camera bag where it was more secure. The other I carried in a body belt, which increased my waist by about 2".
My bird of the day was Malachite Kingfisher, and the group chose the Saddle-billed Stork just ahead of the Bateleur and Long-crested Eagle. The day total was 84 species with 12 new for the trip and 9 were lifers.
We started today with a breakfast of bread, cheese and coffee with bananas and juice. Having already paid the bill, we were ready to set off straight away, but we purchased postcards and rather nice T-shirts (D60 or £3.00 each) before we re-visited Tendaba Airport. The target species was Abyssinian Ground Hornbill which unfortunately we didn't see, however, we did see another Saddle-billed Stork, which turned out to have a dodgy leg - it was the same bird that we saw yesterday at Brumeng Bridge. We had to make do with this and a male Village Indigobird as consolation for missing the Hornbills; oh well we can't see everything anyway can we? And there are a few species that we can chase up if we ever get to return here. A Short-toed Eagle and Peregrine were at Yellitenda Ferry, where we crossed to the North side of the river, and a Northern Anteater Chat was seen at Ferefenni.
As we drove from Ferefenni to Ballang Har we saw many species of note, the better ones being: Exclamatory Paradise Whydah, a few splendid full breeding plumaged males and the more drab females, several Chestnut-backed Sparrow-larks, Plain-backed Pipits, at least 9 Abyssinian Rollers and a White-backed Vulture. Some good birds from the bus window. A dead Red-necked Nightjar was found on the road, unfortunately it was the only one we saw, and not quite up to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to get it on the list.
At Ballang Har we added Marabou Stork and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting before a stop at the Kaur Wetlands. This deserves more time than we had to scan all of the area properly, but we were happy with a flock of about 15 Kittlitz's Plovers, 43 Collared Pratincoles, and distant flight views of Black-crowned Cranes. Several Red Patas monkeys (Erythrocebus patas) were seen crossing the road near here which were a new animal for the trip, and we soon arrived at another area called Panchang Wetland. This site was sent straight from heaven, as the first things we saw were 2 Egyptian Plovers, at least 4 African Pygmy Geese, 2 European Turtle-Doves and a Black Crake. The first 2 lifers, the doves were new for the trip, and the Crake was showing very well. Many other good species just became "padders" as we filled our notebooks up.
The journey from here to Georgetown produced more excellent birds, and good counts of Abyssinian Rollers were made. I had at least 11 on my side of the road, and Rob had more than 20 on his. A single European Roller was seen just before we reached the ferry that would take us on to the island where the Bird Safari Camp was located. At the camp we were introduced to Stephen Jones the owner, and quickly went to our rooms to shower and get rid of the red dust that had covered us on the long journey. We met for a drink and then dinner at 20:00, which was buffet style and had 3 different dishes. I remember the spaghetti bolognaise, and vegetable curry with rice, but I don't remember what the 3rd dish was. A side salad was also available, and Banana Flambé was dessert. Again I was keen to get rid of a wallet full of Dalasi, so I spoke with Dawda (David as we called him) the manager who agreed on my price of D4700 for 2 nights dinner, bed and breakfast for 9, and also Gib and the Driver.
Stephen introduced me to a lady from Utah USA by the name of Olivia. She was also a birder and was keen to join us on the trip the following day to Basse and Bansang, so Stephen asked me if we could possibly help? Of course was my reply, and I cleared it with the rest of the group (just to be on the safe side, it was their holiday too, and I didn't want to force anything on them.) We arranged to go straight after breakfast, so it was necessary to take an early night and get a few notes done as well.
The bird of the day was without a doubt Egyptian Plover, although Exclamatory Paradise Whydah got a vote as did a badly identified Brown Snake Eagle. The bird was eventually declared as a Western Banded Snake Eagle, fortunately for the person concerned, as a Kangaroo court was about to be arranged during the roll call. The number of species seen today was 84, with 15 new for the trip and 11 lifers.
A few species were watched before breakfast was served, including several Lesser and Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starlings, a Western Banded Snake Eagle, and a group of 10 Broad-billed Rollers. After continental breakfast we added Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Bruces Green Pigeon and Long-crested Eagle before setting off for Basse Santa Su. Basse was a similar sort of place to Serekunda, in that the street sellers were almost peddling their wares in the road rather than at the edges, and the same items were on offer. We went off the "main" track onto a side trail that came to an abrupt end by a brick-making factory. We got off the bus to see a Lanner Falcon in the air with a pair of Red-necked Falcons, and 2 Red-throated Bee-eaters perched in a nearby tree. Our target species here was Carmine Bee-eater, but we were not in luck with them. We did see 4 Egyptian Plovers by the river, and a total of about 15 Abyssinian Rollers.
I had purchased a snack of bananas for the group, D15 or £0.75 for 12, but feeling more peckish, we decided to have lunch at a café that over looked the river, which was in hindsight a complete waste of our time. We were keen to get out of the mid-day sun, but I was not prepared for the wait for my omelet. We had to wait for an hour and 25 minutes until we were all eating; the chef was seen to go out to collect bread and eggs, and then attempted to cook omelets for all of us before serving any. Cold omelet is not my ideal food, but some of the group were lucky as they got the ones made last, and ate hot food. The sandwiches that accompanied the omelets were fine, but my enjoyment was spoiled by the abuse of GMT, which now should mean Gambia maybe tomorrow! I refused to leave a tip here as I do not believe the service was very good, in fact it was poor, but the price of the (cold) food and drinks was good, costing a total of D325 for 12 meals including 2 to 3 drinks each.
We had a second look for the Bee-eaters again without success, and headed off to see the Red-throated Bee-eater colony at Bansang. This colony was supposed to have about 300 pairs nesting at it, and I would say that I saw about 200 birds, without looking at getting an accurate count of them. We were certain that we saw a Wilson's Indigobird here, as the bird showed very pale legs, and the correct colour sheen, but as we saw the following morning, Village Indigobirds can appear that way in strange light conditions. We saw a couple of White-backed Vultures soaring here, and also several Grey-rumped Swallows with the Red-rumped Swallows. 3 Cinnamon-breasted Buntings were drinking with a small party of 8 Black-rumped Waxbills and several Northern Red Bishops. 2 male Exclamatory Paradise Whydahs were amongst the supporting cast of species recorded here, and the site deserves more time than we were able to spend there.
Back at the Bird Safari Camp Tim and I got lucky with a view of a Long-tailed Nightjar, whilst all of us saw the female White-faced Scops Owl, which caused a lot of confusion because of its size. Several observers thought it was an African Scops Owl, but the orange eye colour and facial shape convinced me as soon as I saw it. (I must admit to going back for a second look to check!)
Bird of the day was a unanimous decision: Red-throated Bee-eater. Species for the day totaled 62, 3 new for the trip and 3 lifers. We were slowing down with new birds rapidly now, which is what you would expect after about 280 species, but there were still a few more to see.
We showered and went to the dining room for dinner which consisted of beef curry, rice, vegetable Domoda, corned beef hash, spaghetti again and bananas for dessert. I used up the rest of the entrance fee kitty, the emergency fund kitty and a little extra paying for the drinks that we had here, which came to a hefty £80! That is about £4 per person each night, with Julbrew costing £0.75, we averaged between 5 and 6 bottles each. Now I know Jonathan was attempting to set some sort of record, but there was no wonder he felt rough during the day, Ha ha ha.
Woke up at 6:40, having had the longest sleep of the trip so far, had breakfast and prepared to leave. We did a little birding around the camp before we went, getting good views of 2 White-crowned Robin-chats, Puffback Shrike, Common Wattle-eye and a distant Gabar Goshawk. We also had varying views of a Stone Partridge dashing across the path and through the undergrowth. Just as we went to pick up our belongings to leave, we saw what I called a Wilson's Indigobird, having pale legs not red. But as I moved to get he sun from the side, and not behind it, the leg colour appeared more flesh coloured, and none of us could detect brown primaries. We concluded straight away that the bird seen yesterday in similar lighting conditions, was probably the same as what we were looking at now, and could not be positively identified as Wilson's at all. (Strike 1 from the list Mr. Species log man.)
We said our good-byes to Stephen and David and set off for the ferry that would take us back over the river to the South side. As we got out of the bus to await the ferry, another car pulled up, and a bird fell off the front of it. Somebody picked it up and started poking and prodding it, and I asked to hold it. It was still alive, but I wasn't sure that it would live for long, but I let Mark take a few pictures of it before I put it in the shade of some bushes, out of harm's way. It would either die in peace, or recover and be able to fly away in its own time. It was an Abyssinian Roller, but unfortunately Mark had problems with the tape that he recorded this event on and it is not usable. One of the locals, who had seen this little story, came over to me and thanked me on behalf of the bird for my compassion. I found this quite strange, as I would have not been at all surprised to see the bird culled by one of the people and taken away to be eaten later. (Maybe it is just me that is a barbarian?)
Anyhow, we crossed the river and traveled a short distance to Fulabantang, where there is a colony of Marabou Storks, and we observed several adults and also a few immature birds still in/on/by their nests. On the journey back to Tendaba we stopped at another Bolon called Minimi Bolon. Here we got fairly good views of African Fish Eagle. The first one was distant, but then Dave noticed a flock of pelicans suddenly take flight, and we saw that the reason was another Fish Eagle was flying over. A great view for me as I quickly picked it up in the scope. We added Short-toed Eagle, another couple of dozen Abyssinian Rollers, and more Marabous before we arrived back at Tendaba Airport. Gib was not giving up on the Abyssinian Ground Hornbills just yet, and we drove onto the airfield to have another look. The Saddle-billed Stork was still there with 11 Wooly-necks, and at least 10 Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were hanging about on one of about 40 oxen. So we failed again with the Hornbills, but there is hopefully always another opportunity in the future to return, hopefully as a professional tour leader?
We traveled on to Soma where we had lunch of Domoda at a very shoddy looking restaurant, but I must say the food was hot, and it was delivered within about 15 minutes, so I cannot complain. Oh yes I can, I didn't much like the peanut sauce that is the dish of Domoda, so I just ate a little and heaped down plenty of rice, then offered the remainder to one of the children who was looking in on us. He ate it very quickly, and was pleased to have Jonathan's meal as well (Jon was still not 100% from the day before.) A couple more children arrived, and a couple more plates were offered and eaten. Then a lady selling large Batiks (printed cloth) arrived and showed us her wares. I was quite taken with the material (I don't know why) and bartered with her to reduce the price. I am now the proud owner of about 10 square meters of dyed, printed cloth, which set me back D100 or £5. Gib treated us to the meal as a discount on our fee. The meal cost D50 for all of us, and the drinks Kaye paid for, costing D30 or about £1.50 for the 10. Excellent value again (especially Gib's discount, ha ha. I don't begrudge him a penny at all, but as he now knows us well, we will take the Mickey out of him a little.)
We had a slice of melon each and then left Soma to return to the hotel at Kotu. We stopped along the way, to view Patas Monkeys crossing the road, and we also saw another Wahlberg's and a Short-toed Eagle. Bird of the day for me was African Fish Eagle; the group also chose The Fish Eagle. Other nominations were the Long-tailed Nightjar that Dave and Richard got up early to look for, and the Abyssinian Roller that was even more beautiful close up in my hand than it appears 5 meters away on a bush. Tim wanted to vote for the Nightjar also and got up everybody's nose with his explanation that it would have been the best had he seen it, and he was sure that it was anyway! Oh to have him on a referees committee: "yes that sounds like a so-and-so, I'm sure it must be a good bird." Hey Tim, what about the possibility that Dave and Richard were stringing? Would you vote for a Pel's Fishing Owl on that basis? Glad that you were there anyway! Only 50 species seen today, but 3 were both new for the trip and lifers.
Having got back to the hotel, we showered and went out to dine at Sailors again, I sampled the shrimp cocktail again, and then a steak with rice and chips. D225 was my share of the bill, which included a dessert, coffee and the usual helping of Julbrew. We had decided that as Gib had already taken several hundred pounds of us for his part of the trip, we would only be giving him a tip of D100 each (D900 as a whole.) And that he could sort the driver's tip (if any) as it was Gib that hired him in the first instance.
I had decided not to go out with the group today as I had to get the flight tickets to Foxy the rep from The Gambia Experience, in order that he could get our seating arrangements sorted out for the flight home. Richard, Paul and Jonathan also stayed behind, in order to relax a little, as the last few days in the minibus were beginning to take its toll. I wanted a present for my wife and planned to get a leather bag from one of the traders at some stage today, and as one guy was getting his things out just after breakfast, I bartered with him. I eventually got a nice brown bag with about 4 pockets on and a pair of leather sandals for D525 (£26.25). I didn't realise until it was too late that Dave heard me saying D500 to the man and actually paid that just for a bag. The trader must have enjoyed that, but even so Dave didn't pay an obscene amount, I just got a better deal.
I then made a phone call home just to let the kids know that I would be very soon back with them, then went out with Richard to the Sewage pools and Kotu creek. We were followed around the sewage pools by a couple of guys trying to show us birds (without any binoculars) which was a little annoying, but it didn't stop the overall enjoyment of seeing the birds once again. No new species were seen, but the Double-spurred Francolin that burst from its roost in a bush, and the 5 or so Blue-bellied Rollers were highlights.
We wandered to the creek and picked up another hustler on crutches, who didn't get the message either. We looked over the creek and Richard picked out a Peregrine that gave us good views, and we were then hassled by a "proper" bird guide, who asked if we were watching the Grey Kestrel? We explained that it was a Peregrine Falcon, and he immediately said we didn't know our birds, and that it was not a Peregrine as they are rare and that we perhaps needed his guiding services. I suggested to him that with identification skills like his he should consider getting another job, and that he was a disgrace to the decent guides around. I didn't get his name after that, so I can't warn any potential visitors to The Gambia to avoid him. Well I suppose I can, use Sering Bojang, Solomon Jallow, Tamba Jefang, Gibril or Seedy Saidy! Give the others a wide berth.
We wandered the golf course and to the supermarket where we picked up a drink and also some souvenir sweets for work, before having lunch at the hotel and a relaxing afternoon in the pool and the shade. The others returned from their excursion to re-visit some of the sites previously mentioned. They had added Cardinal Woodpecker, Southern Grey Shrike, European Spoonbill and probably a European Golden Oriole to the list, and also had second sightings of Spur-winged Goose and Yellow-throated Leaf-love.
Bird of the day for the group was Cardinal Woodpecker, mine being the "superbly, splendid" Beautiful Sunbird that I still didn't get to photograph. Species today totaled 46. 4 seen by the others were new for the trip list, and I added no lifers. Jon had purchased a nice necklace from one of the traders by the pool, and as I liked it, I went down to get one for my 7-year-old daughter Nicola. Jon said he paid D150 for it, so I was happy to get mine for D125. I also bought 5 small wooden elephants from a wood carver for D130, which was a present for my 6-year-old son Billy.
We were split on the venue to eat this evening, Paul suggested Ngala Lodge again, but most people wanted feeding with a quantity of food, not quality. Some of us wanted to try the Al-Amir again, and the others decided on Sailors for a final time. Dave, Richard, Rob, Mark and myself ate our way through the menu as it was brought out to us, and apart from some shrimps that were drowned in garlic thoroughly enjoyed it. Mark, Dave and Rob tried the Turkish type of smoking bottle, where flower scented wood smoke is drawn through water, and seemed to enjoy it. I was happy drinking the Baileys that was offered as a complimentary drink.
We returned to the hotel and had another drink with the others, and I think we attempted a roll call, before hitting the sheets for a final peaceful night's sleep.
The final day, at first it seemed to take forever to arrive. We had taken our time birdwatching on every day, and time did not fly by as it often does when you are having fun. We were all now quite ready to go home, and the final day always drags on, as you seem to be forever waiting. First packing, then hanging around until it's time to vacate the room, then waiting for the shuttle bus, then the check-in and wait for the airplane. That's just the beginning as we had a 90 minute delay, then a 5.75 hour flight, then another 3 hours to get the bags, find the car and drive back to Melton via Leicester. Somebody needs to invent a way of picking up your bags, leaving you free to do what you want for the day and picking you up just in time to get on the plane to go home. (Richard Branson's Virgin does it in Florida I believe.)
We had a little stroll on the beach and a paddle in the sea before a final omelet lunch at Badala Park. I had promised my trainers to my washerman Seedy, and he gave me his address so that I could send him a copy of a photo that I took of him by the pool early one morning. We waited in the hotel reception until the bus arrived, then made the short journey to the airport.
A basket was handed around to make donations for school education, that would be matched by the Gambia Experience Company. I later found out that 3 people in our group had put £10 notes into the hat, the first seen by the rep. When the basket got back to the front there was no sterling in it at all, and the rep asked Paul to confirm what he had put in. Some low down scumbag of a Brit had stolen the English notes for their own gain. Not one item of ours had been stolen in two weeks with our Gambian hosts, then when you mix with the English again, something goes wrong. In hindsight, Paul and Tim agree that they should have made an issue there and then, and got the Gambian police involved, hopefully resulting in one or maybe two miserable thieving Bastards being locked up for a year or two. They had obviously not had the pleasure of visiting a school in The Gambia to see how needy these children are. I just hope my paper gets there without any problems.
It is on that rather sad note that the trip was to come to an end; we got on the plane and returned home, eventually getting to bed at 4:30 Saturday morning. My kids then had me awake at 6:30! (Can I return to The Gambia for a good night's sleep?)
My bird of the trip was Abyssinian Roller, as we saw so many of them, some very close, and with the one that I held we were able to see it in great detail. Other species that came near the top of my list of choices include, Bearded Barbet, Little and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Blue-bellied and Broad-Billed Rollers, Malachite and Blue-breasted Kingfishers, Green and Violet Turaco's, Yellow-crowned Gonolek and Beautiful Sunbird. A complete trip list with daily break-down is presented in a separate page.
Man, I think I've gotta go back and see them all again! Does anybody out there reading this report need a tour leader?
Firstly I would like to thank Urs Geiser for a splendid web site containing a massive array of trip reports, from which I was able to gain many ideas. I hope all of you who read this report will continue to send your own personal experiences to him, this can only increase the enjoyment of each and every foreign holiday for birders worldwide.
Also the individuals that have taken the time to type up their own tours and send them forward to Urs: Gruff Dodd, Allen and Nancy Chartier, Dirk Vanackere & Marc Tailly, Johan & Nils Waldermarsson and Sven Lindahl.
The following professional birdwatching companies whose itineraries have also influenced my own: Birdfinders, Avian Adventures, Limosa and Ornitholidays, I probably owe you a large thank you as well, and when my kids have grown up, left home, and I'm wealthy enough, I'll take a trip with you.
Claire Mihalop of "The Gambia Experience" for her quick replies to the queries that I had about my proposed itinerary, using West African Tours.
Sering Bojang: a new friend. His unbelievable ability to call birds and his knowledge of the birds of the Gambia is something very special. He is also a very pleasant person and informative guide, whom I would unreservedly recommend to all potential birders visiting the country.
Gib Saidy, like Sering, another friend for life, and a very knowledgeable guide.
All of the staff at Badala Park Hotel, especially Seedy for getting my laundry done for me.
The people at Tendaba Camp and Bird Safari Camp for making our short stay most pleasant.
The people of The Gambia, who make the country what it is: an experience never to be forgotten.
Finally I would like to thank my travelling companions, without whom I would not be able to do what I enjoy doing; birding, travelling, having good food and drink and then planning the next trip.
Having spent the last 18 months acquiring trip reports, planning the itinerary, booking the holiday, guides, up-river accommodation and arranging payments totaling tens of thousands of Dalasi to various people, then typing this tome, I think I've earned a bit of a rest. Tim will be arranging the accommodation and flights to the Isles of Scilly this year and I will concentrate on planning "Oscar's Tour" in 2002.
Howard Orridge for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bird report collection assembled by Urs Geiser: http://www.camacdonald/birding/tripreports/
The Gambia Experience: http://www.serenity.co.uk/, e-mail: email@example.com
Bird Safari Camp: http://www.bsc.gm/, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sering Bojang & Soloman Jallow:
address for Sering Bojang: C/O Bakary Bojang, President's Office, State House, Banjul, The Gambia, West Africa
The Gambia tourism: http://www.gambia.com/tourism/tourism.html
Gambia tourist hotels/flights: http://home.clara.net/nalle/
Kulanjang Birdwatching and Expedition Tours: http://members.xoom.com/_XMCM/sidibeh/index.htm
Bird links to the world: http://www.bsc-eoc.org/links/link_afr.html
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