Sometime in the spring of 1999 I found out that I was going to have a break from my studies in the end of October. I spoke to my father about this and he suggested a one-week trip to the Gambia. Since he's been there once before (February 1999), he was familiar with the fauna and also had made contact with two bird guides (see below), something which I later learned was a necessity.
The timing of the trip was governed by my studies at the University of Lund. I reckoned I just couldn't skip a whole week of studies, so this break was very welcome indeed. In retrospect, most of the weavers, widowbirds, sunbirds etc. were in full breeding plumage, so I really couldn't complain!
When we planned the contents of our trip we decided to travel upstream to Basse and Tendaba. My father was keen on visiting these places because he only visited coastal sites in February. For myself, as a first-time visitor in the Gambia, I reckoned I was going to see many new species wherever I went, so I decided to go for it. Besides, such species as the Egyptian Plover loomed at Basse...
Some of the trip reports we read before our departure expressed doubt about whether a trip inland would be a waste of time or whether it's time well spent. Despite this concern we decided to go upriver. Note that the people who wrote these reports did not travel upstream. Anyway, we found that this little adventure of ours not to be a waste of time. We did see a lot of nice birds up-country!
As previously noted, my father knew two bird guides whom he hired during his first visit, in February 1999. The guides, Gib and Seedy Saidy, were recommended to us by Mr Gruff Dodd, whose thoroughly written trip report my father read in preparation for his first stay in the Gambia. Our guides took care of all the arrangements; planning the contents of the trip, transportation (driver plus gas), accommodation at Tendaba Camp and Fulladou Camp at Basse, lunch (day 2-6), breakfast and dinner (day 4 and 5), the creek tour at Tendaba and ferry crossings.
We really can recommend Gib and Seedy as bird guides. They have an extremely good ability of spotting birds. Moreover, we made two very nice friends in Gib and Seedy. In short, we had the most wonderful time with these very friendly chaps.
Gib can be contacted at P.O. Box 2239, Serekunda, The Gambia.
Perhaps some of you ask: Is it necessary to spend money to hire a bird guide? Well, it's possible to proceed from trip reports and books about birdwatching in the Gambia. But you will miss quite a few species and most of all, you don't have a clue of all the different calls and sounds (at least I hadn't!). Moreover, you will also encounter a lot of people trying to sell different things to you (mostly a problem at sites located near cities, hotels etc.). When you're with a bird guide you tend to be left alone. But I must emphasise that most of the people are very friendly. They're just curious and want to know where you're from etc.
But to take the best advantage of the trip I think it's necessary to hire a bird guide because of their superior knowledge about the local birds and sites as well. In short, they know where to look.
We stayed at the African Village in Bakau the first four nights. My father stayed here during his stay in February and found it to be a nice hotel, something which I agreed with. We ordered a room with view of the Atlantic Ocean. This was quite useful, as we had great views of Grey-headed Gulls and Pied Kingfishers from our balcony.
When we travelled up-country we stayed one night at Fulladou Camp at Basse and one night at Tendaba Camp, both nicely situated along the Gambia River. The quality of these camps were quite satisfying. Both had water and electricity, although they turned off the generator during the night at Fulladou Camp, so unfortunately we couldn't use the fan in our room.
Birds of the Gambia by Clive Barlow, Tim Wacher and Tony Disley is a must. Overall, it's an excellent book with very accurate drawings.
Two trip reports were used for the preparation of the trip:
|October 27th||Flight from Copenhagen to Banjul, via Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. Arrival around 3 p.m.|
|October 28th||Morning: Fajara Golf Course, Kotu Stream, Bridge and Sewage Ponds. Afternoon: Camalou Corner and Bund Road. Evening at Palma Rima Hotel.|
|October 29th||Morning: Abuko. Lunch at Lamin Lodge. Afternoon at Brufut Woods and Bridge.|
|October 30th||Morning: Marakissa. Lunch in the village of Brikama. Afternoon at Yundum Woods.|
|October 31th||Transportation to Basse. Stops at Pirang, Brumen Bridge, Bansang Quarry and a few other sites.|
|November 1st||Transportation to Tendaba. Stops at Sami Bridge and Kaur Wetlands. Evening walk around Tendaba Camp.|
|November 2nd||Morning creek tour to Tunku Bulong. Lunch at Tendaba Camp. Transportation back to Bakau with a stop at Kanpanti. Dinner at Gib's house.|
|November 3th||Morning birding at Bijilo and Casino Cycle Track. Flight back to Copenhagen, again via Gran Canaria, in the evening after a 2 hour delay.|
Left Copenhagen airport at 8.45 a.m. (1.5 hour late). Arrived at Banjul International Airport around 3 p.m. The Gambia greeted us with a temperature of 40°C - quite a contrast compared with the chilly weather back in Sweden! Since we were the first Scandinavian tourists for the season, about 10 dancers performed outside the airport terminal - a touch of Africa!
En route to our hotel in Bakau, a lot of the commoner species were seen, e.g. Long-tailed Glossy Starling, Vinaceous Dove, Pied Crow and Hooded Vulture.
Gib, Seedy and the driver (also named Seedy!) met us outside the hotel at 8.00 a.m with a Land Rover 4WD, a jeep with its best days behind. According to Seedy, it was used by a Swedish(!) farmer, before it was shipped down to the Gambia.
At Fajara Golf Course many new species were seen. This site is a very good introductory site to the Gambian birds. Among the more interesting birds were three Pearl-spotted Owlet, responding to Seedy's and Gib's whistling sounds. Very nice views in the scope indeed. The two fake eye-patches in the neck were clearly visible. The only Lanner Falcons of the trip were seen here, one of them with a Black-headed Plover in its claws! Also, a splendid male African Golden Oriole was seen, sitting in top of a bush. Other new birds included Bearded Barbet, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Black-billed Wood Dove, Wire-tailed Swallow, Green Wood Hoopoe, Bronze-tailed, Greater and Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling and Northern Black Flycatcher.
We then moved on to Kotu Bridge. Here, a Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, a Malachite Kingfisher, a flock of Bronze Manakin and a Western Harrier Hawk were seen. But the most interesting species of this site, the Yellow-throated Longclaw, was unfortunately not seen.
Next, we visited the near-by Sewage Ponds. This area produced a flock of White-faced Whistling Ducks, Fork-tailed Drongo and Squacco Heron.
Gib and Seedy dropped us outside our hotel for a few hours of siesta. In the hotel garden, two White-crowned Robin Chats were seen.
At 3.30 p.m. Gib picked us up for an afternoon trip to Bund Road. Our first stop was however at the numerous ponds along the Old Cape Road. New birds included Splendid Sunbird and Levaillant's Cuckoo. We also took a brief stop at Camalou Corner to look at a colony of White-billed Buffalo Weavers. Then we headed for Bund Road, where a huge flock of Lesser Crested Terns were seen, but no Royal Terns. Other new birds were Pink-backed Pelican, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Sacred Ibis and an African Mourning Dove. Next, we headed to the Palma Rima Hotel, where 2-3 Long-tailed Nightjars beautifully performed at dusk.
Gib picked us up at 7.30 a.m. for a morning excursion to Abuko. Here we saw some good birds; Violet and Green Turaco, Blue-breasted and Giant Kingfisher, African Thrush, Common Wattle-eye, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Little Green Bulbul, Snowy-crowned Robin-chat, African Pied Hornbill, Black-headed Heron, Fanti Saw-wing, Black-shouldered Kite, African Jacana (with 4 small chicks), African Darter, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher and Red-billed Firefinch.
Although we did see quite a lot of species, I found Abuko somewhat a bit hard to to overlook. The forest is very dense and the trees are very high. To obtain maximum yield of Abuko you must, as noted in other trip reports, visit the site several times.
After lunch at Lamin Lodge, where a Gull-billed Tern was seen, we headed for Brufut Woods. Brufut is more "birdwatching-friendly" than Abuko, mostly due to its open wood land character. Nevertheless, both sites are worth visiting, preferably more than once. We didn't, however, because of our tight schedule.
Birds seen here included Pin-tailed Whydah, Rufous-crowned Roller, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Scarlet-chested, Western Violet-backed and Variable Sunbird, Klaas's Cuckoo, Stone Partridge, Vieillot's Barbet and Black-crowned Tchagra.
Next, we moved to Brufut Bridge, where we were looking for the African Green Pigeon, but we only heard it. Also, a Little Weaver was seen. Just as we were to jump up on the jeep two Four-banded Sandgrouses flew by. On the way back to the hotel (about 20 min drive from Brufut Bridge), a White-faced Scops Owl was heard. To start the jeep again we had to push it. This was the first time we did this, but not the last...
Gib picked us up at 6.45 a.m. Our destination for this morning was Marakissa Woods. En route to this site, we saw Tawny-flanked Prinia, Village Indigobird and Yellow-fronted Canary.
Marakissa is a very nice woody area scattered with a few ponds. The first kilometer we walked through an area with open woodland, which produced quite a few new species; White-crowned Helmet Shrike, Northern Puffback, Northern Crombec, Green-backed Eremomela and Lavender Waxbill. We also had good views of Grey-backed Camaroptera, African Golden Oriole, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, African Green Pigeon (after yesterday's "miss") and Bearded Barbet.
We then walked another kilometer until we reached a small wetland. The species we were looking for here was the Black Crake, which we didn't see. Instead another species of kingfisher was added to our growing list - Woodland Kingfisher, sitting in top of a small tree, where it could be studied very well. Also, a singing Siffling Cisticola and flock of Lavender Waxbills were seen.
Next stop was Marakissa Bridge where the "target" species was the African Pygmy Kingsfisher. No matter how much we looked into every tiny bush along the stream we didn't manage to see it. Well, we didn't leave completely empty-handed, having a close but short view of a splendid male Western Violet-backed Sunbird.
Gib had planned lunch at a restaurant at Jahsu River Camp near the Senegal border, but both the restaurant and the camp had been closed. But the trip was not in vain, when we turned the jeep around to head back when I discovered an Intermediate Egret, clearly showing its diagnostic yellow upper-legs.
On the way back we made another try on the Pygmy, but failed once again. Gib now decided to eat lunch in the village of Brikama, where we had a delicous shrimp sandwich.
Around 3.00 p.m. we drove to Yundum, after a short and very warm stop at Kabafita, where we had a good view of 2 Stone Partridges. This afternoon had to be one of my warmest in my life. One may think that the later in the afternoon it is, the cooler it gets, but no. This was an exception above the normal. It just kept getting hotter and hotter! Ever Gib complained...! Futhermore, the relative humidity was approaching 100%...
Despite the immense heat we managed to spot a few new birds: Yellow-shouldered Widow-bird, Striped Kingfisher and the first Dark-chanting Goshawk of the trip. Later that afternoon we positioned ourself by the pool, where the Four-banded Sandgrouse are supposed to drink. But since the raining season just had ended there were a lot of newly formed pools, and unfortunately they chose to drink at one of those. Nevertheless, we had great views of a singing Snowy-crowned Bush-chat - normally a notorious skulker.
When our driver cruised through the chaotic traffic of Serekunda, Gib and I managed to see two Barn Owls flying at dusk.
Today we started our long journey upstream. According to the itinerary the Saidy brothers had planned, Seedy would guide us during the rest of the trip.
The distance between Bakau and Basse is 375 kilometers, a distance you travel in 4-5 hours with Swedish road conditions. But the conditions of the Gambian roads are far from the Western standards. The average speed with which you travel seldom exceeds 35 km/h, with the exception of the road between Brumen Bridge and Basse on the South Bank where the road is paved and has almost no holes, which allowed us to drive at the breathtaking speed of 60 km/h.
Our first stop was Pirang. No Black-crowned Cranes, but instead two species of Bee-eaters: Blue-cheeked and White-throated. Other new birds included Pied-winged Swallow and Palm-nut Vulture. Seedy spotted three species of white egrets sitting in the same tree: Great White, Intermediate and Cattle Egret. Very educational! The Intermediate is much more closer to Cattle in size.
When passsing through the village of Faraba N'Ding just a few kilometers from Pirang, Seedy spotted a flock of Mottled Spinetails.
After this stop it was time to resume our journey. A few short stops along the road produced Wahlberg's Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Yellow-billed Oxpecker and Brown Snake Eagle.
Next in line of sites to be visited was Brumen Bridge, an excellent site. It began when Seedy discovered 3 Bruce's Green Pigeons. Then, within 10 magic minutes, we saw an adult African Fish Eagle, White-backed Vulture, Woolly-necked Stork, Tawny Eagle, Yellow-billed Stork, the only Black Egrets of the trip and an immature Bateleur.
A few kilometer further on, Seedy spotted another Bateleur, this time an adult one - a real beauty! I don't know how many times I've been looking in bird guides dreaming about seeing an adult Bateleur and now it finally has happened!
Next stop was the village of Fulabantang for a close view of a colony of breeding Marabou Storks.
We then proceeded to a site I unfortunately don't know the name of. This area of open woodland along the road was very productive. Species seen here included Namaqua Dove, White-fronted Black Chat and Brubru (only heard). I managed to discover a male Green-winged Pytilia, a quite rare species. It was only the second time Seedy had seen this species.
In Bansang Quarry we stopped to look at colony of breeding Red-throated Bee-eaters. This must be the most beautiful bee-eater I ever seen. The combination of so many warm colors makes it hard to stop looking at it. The plate in the book doesn't do it justice, it is much more beautiful in reality. At this site we also saw a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.
Around 6.45 p.m., 12 hours since our departure from Bakau, we reached Basse. In the town(!) along a small stream we saw 2 Egyptian Plovers. Then we headed to the ferry berth only to find that the last ferry across the river had left. But after the evening prayer and a bribe from Seedy the ferryman started the ferry again. Money talks...
At 6.45 p.m. we had breakfast at the camp, listening to a White-faced Scops Owl. After the breakfast we checked out and started our long journey towards Tendaba. The road on the north bank, as previously noted, is far from good.
Along the road we had a three new species; Grasshopper Buzzard, Paradise Whydah (what an enormous tail!) and a pair of Red-winged Pytilia. Also, there seemed to be an Abyssinian Roller in every tree. They were very common along the road.
Next stop was Sami Bridge, where a brief walk along the stream produced Lead-coloured Flycather, African Paradise Flycatcher (only seen by my father and Seedy), Spur-winged Goose and Purple Heron. Other good birds included a flock of Red-throated Bee-eaters.
Back on the road we had quite a few "quick-ticks" from the jeep; White-headed Vulture, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Grey-headed Kingfisher and a Black Coucal. We also saw two Little Green Bee-eater, 5 Egyptian Plovers and a light-morph Tawny Eagle, which caused us some trouble to identify at first.
Kaur Wetlands, the next site we visited, proved to be an excellent site. Here we had a flock of over 500 Red-winged Pratincoles and also about ten White-crowned Plovers. According to Seedy this is the only site in the Gambia where you can see these two species. Kaur also proved to be an excellent site for Egyptian Plover. We saw about 20 at this site. Other good birds here were Yellow-crowned Bishop and Kittlitz's Plover.
The remaining distance to Tendaba was fruitless, with the exception of two Yellow-backed Weavers seen from the Farafenni ferry and another 2 Egyptian Plovers at Soma Bridge (according to Seedy they seldom are observed this far west).
When we reached the camp I looked at myself in the mirror. My pants and my t-shirt were completely stained of all the dust that we encountered on the road. Furthermore, my skin was all red, this not due to the sun but again from the dust.
After a quick installation, we took an evening walk to the adjacent airfield. Seedy managed to spot a pair of Greater Honeyguides sitting in a tree. Also, a Cardinal Woodpecker and a hunting African Hobby were seen. One the way back to the camp - it was dark by then - a White-faced Scops Owl was heard. Seedy whistled in order for us to see it. The bird did come closer but unfortunately I was the only one who got a (very) short glimpse of it. Back at the camp we took a well needed shower.
In the evening we had dinner together with a party of German "ordinary" tourists. They too were going to take the creek tour the following morning, and worse, at the same time as we!! But Seedy knew the boat man and rescheduled our trip to 7.00 instead of 7.30 a.m.
Morning creek tour to Tunku Bulong, situated on the opposite side of the River Gambia. This was a very comfortable way of birdwatching, moving slowly deeper into the mangrove marshes. We spent almost 4 hours in this area and had fantastic views of many, many birds: Mouse-brown Sunbird, African Spoonbill, Subalpine Warbler and Hadada Ibis. But the highlight of the trip was when saw two nesting White-backed Night Herons, at a distance of 2 meters! Absolutely breath-taking! We also saw some "old" species such as Woolly-necked Stork, Yellow-billed Stork, Spur-winged Goose and Grey-headed Kingfisher.
After this fantastic creek tour, we took a warm and quite empty walk west of the camp, the best birds seen here was European Roller and European Bee-eater, thus completing both the "Bee-eater" and the "Roller lists". We had now seen all 8 species of Bee-eaters and all 5 species of Rollers that occur in the Gambia!
After lunch we packed and headed west again. After a while on the road Seedy told the driver to stop. We went back about hundred meters and saw a family group of five Abyssinian Ground Hornbill sitting in a tree. Fantastic! Really huge birds.
The next stop was the small village of Kanpanti where we stopped to look at raptors. A Palm-nut Vulture was immediately seen, and after a while I discovered a pair of African Hawk Eagles. We also had "road-side views" of two immature Bateleurs further along the road.
Then we visited Gib and Seedy's father's home in Faraba N'Ding for some peanuts directly from the harvest. The father wasn't home, but we bumped into him later on the main street. He wore a beautiful, long, blue dress. After a short conversation with his father, Seedy decided it was time to head back to Bakau.
At 8.30 p.m. Gib and his brother Seika picked us up for dinner. They served Beef Domada, a spicy, excellent dish. After a great evening with our guides, we took a sentimental goodbye of Gib, since Seedy was going to guide us on our last morning in the Gambia.
Seedy & Seedy picked us up at 7.30 a.m. for a walk in the Bijilo. Empty at first, but at the end of the track we had fantastic views of the otherwise skulking Oriole Warbler - four of them. Back at the jeep, we had an hour before we had to be back at the hotel so we decided to take a walk along the Casino Cycle Track. This proved to be wise, since we saw an immature Red-winged Warbler here.
Around 11 a.m. we said goodbye to Seedy and Seedy. The rooms were to be left no later than 12 a.m., and since the bus to airport didn't leave until 6 p.m. (the plane was delayed 2 hours) we spent the afternoon at the hotel's restaurant with view over the ocean. A Black-headed Gull was seen here, the last species of the trip, number 224. While waiting for the flight at the airport restaurant a Barn Owl flew over our heads.
Please observe that the number of birds noted aren't always the exact numbers. Some of the more common species might be observed more than noted below.
The nomenclature and phenology used below follows the one used in A Field Guide to the birds of the Gambia and Senegal.
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