Trip report. Coastal The Gambia, January 8th-15th 2004

By Ian Stewart

To give some background, this was a Winter sunshine-type holiday that I booked at the last minute after seeing an advert in the window of a local travel agent. I knew that the Gambia had a good reputation for bird watching, no visa was needed, and the price was only ?300 for a 7 night package deal including airport transfers and insurance, so all things considered it was an attractive destination.  I went on my own (a bit of a rarity as it turned out, I only met one other solo traveller the whole week!), and with the intention of combining bird watching, relaxing, socialising and sightseeing. I have vague ambitions of being a travel writer, and so apologies if I tend to ramble off topic occasionally? In my defence, when I was reading other people’s trip reports I sometimes wished they would mention issues like ease of getting around, prices, things to be aware of etc.

I used the “Rough Guide to Gambia” (recommended!) and Barlow et al.’s “Field Guide to the Birds of The Gambia” (excellent, although I could only find it in hardback in Britain sadly. I personally think hardback field guides are ideal for coffee tables and bookshelves, but frustrating to use in the field). My package deal took me to the Holiday Beach Club, Kololi, which was a decent hotel with a nice pool and bar, and reasonably bird-rich gardens. Kololi itself is the busiest of the resorts with plenty of bars and restaurants, and the beach has recently been reclaimed and is actually quite pleasant.

Thursday January 8th En route to The Gambia

The trip actually started badly, as I had to get an overnight train from Newcastle in order  to reach Manchester airport in time for the 6.20am check-in. We were supposed to leave at 9.20 am, but sure enough, at 9.30am they announced that there was a four hour delay (My Travel flight)! I’d been at the airport since 3am, so it was a long wait until we eventually left at 1.30pm. We didn’t arrive into Banjul airport until around 7.30pm, by which time it was dark, so all my hopes of a quick hour or so of seeing some African birds before dinner were scuppered. In the end I just had a quick meal at the hotel, a few of the local beers (Julbrew – surprisingly good), then hit the sack.

Friday January 9th Kololi, Bijilo and Kotu

Because of yesterday’s travails, I didn’t wake until 9.50am, just in time to catch the hotel breakfast! After a quick omelette and coffee, I unpacked then birded from my balcony. The first Gambian bird I saw was pied crow, rapidly followed by small flocks of red-cheeked cordon-bleu finches (gorgeous!), lavender waxbills, bronze mannikins, Senegal parrots, ring-necked parakeets and, most amazingly, red-billed hornbills! These are great birds, and I was gob smacked to see them so unconcerned by people walking past a few feet away. I nearly always saw these in twos, and I wondered if a breeding pair remain together year round?

I then wandered down to Bijilo Monkey Park at the south end of Kololi, only a 10 minute walk from the hotel. This is a fun little place, with well marked trails and a good mix of  tall palms, leafy bushes, spindly trees and coastal scrub. The main attraction is the monkeys, with the green vervets being common, but the red colobus rather harder to spot (although on a later visit I was pleasantly surprised to find one casually eating a banana in full view!). I saw a nice mix of birds here including red-billed firefinch, more hornbills, little and swallow-tailed bee eaters, brown and black-capped babblers, green-backed camaroptera, broad-billed roller, oriole warbler, and looking up, the ubiquitous hooded vultures and black kites.

I then got a tourist taxi (?2) up to Kotu creek. Whenever you arrive at Kotu bridge there are at least 3-4 guides waiting around, and I was immediately pounced upon by one (I would actually have preferred to walk around here myself, but they’re quite persistent). Still, we spent a pleasant afternoon walking around the mudflats and nearby grasslands in the gentle sunshine. Spur-winged plovers were common, and I saw several wattled plovers, Senegal thick knees, whimbrels, greenshanks, redshanks and a few hammerkops flying around like pterodactyls. Plenty of herons here, including reef, squacco and striated, also black egrets (none of them ‘umbrella fishing however!), long-tailed cormorants and grey-headed gulls. In the trees around the creek I picked up Abyssinian  roller (gorgeous!), pied kingfishers, grey and fine spotted woodpecker, then green wood hoopoes (I was pleased at this, as it was one of my target birds), closely followed by black wood hoopoe.  Really conspicuous here were grey plantain eaters – not one of the prettiest birds I’ve ever seen, but certainly one of the most striking. Round the back of the creek are four sewage ponds, where I bumped into a group of about 10 European birders! On the fringes of the ponds were many black-winged stilts, spur-winged plovers,  more of the common shorebirds, and a single jacana trotting around on the lilies in a pretty, albeit smelly, setting. The ponds also held a few little grebes plus about 30 white-faced whistling ducks (the only waterfowl I saw on the whole trip, to my disappointment). Plenty of egrets and herons here too, and we scanned one of the overgrown ponds for black crakes, but no luck. The guide charged ?10 for what basically amounted to 2 hours work, and to be honest, he showed me nothing that I couldn’t have found myself. He warned me at the time that I needed a guide for Kotu because it was dangerous to walk around by myself (there were indeed a few bumsters lurking behind bushes). However, more trustworthy guides that I later used just laughed when I told them this. I really recommend Kotu, especially as a first introduction to Gambian birding, as the herons and waders are very visible and photogenic and it’s easy to get around. I suspect that there are some really good birds hidden among the tangled mangrove roots which may be picked out by anyone who is able to give this place a thorough going over. You don’t need a guide here, and it’s probably safe, especially if there’s a couple of you.

Rather than get another taxi, I just walked back to my hotel in Kololi along the beach, a gentle stroll which took about 30 minutes. There were a few terns fishing along the shore, but I kept my binoculars and camera in my bag to avoid arousing suspicion from the topless sunbathers!!

Saturday January 10th  Kololi & Bijilo

I spent an enjoyably alcoholic Friday night with a group of Brits from my hotel, so I didn’t feel like doing much today! I spent an hour birding the hotel grounds, seeing the usual suspects plus yellow-billed shrikes and scarlet-chested and beautiful sunbirds then walked up to the nearby Senegambia hotel to watch the vulture feeding at 11.30, which I heartily recommend to birders and non-birders alike. This is a hilarious spectacle, as the hooded vultures jostle each other for last-night’s leftovers, while cattle egrets nip in between them and scoot off with the best bits of meat! Great photo opportunity. Birded the impressive grounds of the Senegambia for a while, getting good views of beautiful and splendid sunbirds, long-tailed glossy starlings, snowy-crowned robin chats, and two large (>3ft) monitor lizards! Got talking to one of the several guides (Pa Jallom) who hang around outside the Senegambia, and ended up booking an all day trip to the Pirang area tomorrow. Went back at my hotel for an hour or so of relaxing by the pool in the mid-day heat, then once the sun was starting to slide I went back down to the monkey park for a few hours, seeing rufous-crowned roller and blue-cheeked bee-eaters, plus African harrier hawk, some grey hornbills in amongst the red-billeds, the tail-less northern crombec and a yellow-fronted tinkerbird. Managed to get some half-decent photos of a small group of speckled doves after hiding in some bushes – this must be one of the most beautiful doves in the world.  I haven’t mentioned doves much in this report, simply because most of the species were present just about everywhere I went. Not a bad thing, of course, as even the common laughing dove is rather dapper when you get good looks at the shimmery throat. Went for a pleasant Indian meal at night washed down with a few beers, in bed by midnight for an early start tomorrow.

Sunday January 11th Pirang

My guide and driver met me at the hotel at 7am. It was still dark, and seeing the dawn come up over the African countryside during the 30 minute drive to Pirang was a great experience. We started off at a large flat area comprised of rows of sewage lagoons and dried out salt pans, which was actually private land but Pa tipped the guard to let us in. I regretted not having a telescope here, as some of the lagoons are only viewable from afar. Still, even with just binoculars I did well here, with good looks at pink-backed pelicans, yellow-billed and woolly-necked storks, sacred ibis, African spoonbill and African darter. Also common here were wire-tailed and mosque swallows, and the lagoon banks were littered with plain-backed pipits and crested larks. An unexpected treat was a lovely subalpine warbler in some bushes, a bird I’ve tried for several times in Europe without success. Also here were gull-billed and sandwich terns, and a healthy smattering of the smaller shorebirds, with close views of dunlin, curlew sandpiper and little stint. There were plenty more shorebirds further out on the salt pans, but without a telescope I couldn’t safely identify them. There were no African crowned cranes sadly, which was our main reason for coming here, and we bumped into another couple of guided birders who had also dipped.

As it happened, Pa had a back up site for the cranes (apparently they move between the two places and tend to just roost at the lagoons) which was only a short drive away. I don’t know the name of the place, but there is a river with a simple bridge, plus mangrove mud flats and a sizeable lake bordered by trees. We walked along the mudflats for quite a while, and my heart was starting to sink at the same rate as my feet, when Pa suddenly picked out a couple of cranes in the reeds which fringe the lake. It was quite a  feat actually, since their slender necks tend to blend into the reeds as they sway back and forth. As we tried to get closer they walked off into the lake, whereupon another two cranes emerged to afford us excellent views without having to go any further. African cranes were a real highlight for me, the golden fan of feathers on their heads is exquisite. We birded the area around the mangroves and bridge for a while, getting my first views of black-headed herons, bearded barbets and a couple of yellow-billed oxpeckers hanging precariously from the back legs of some donkeys.

We then went on a short tour of Pirang, where I got my first experience of a real African village. I also had gangs of kids running behind the taxi laughing and waving and shouting ‘toubab’, much to the amusement of the guide and driver! ‘Toubab’ is apparently a Gambian corruption of ‘two-bob’, the price early British colonists paid to hire a local as a servant, and is shouted remorselessly at Europeans away from the resorts. Although the general poverty of Pirang was obvious, I was struck by how amazingly happy the children were, something I was to notice throughout The Gambia.

After a short drive we found ourselves at an expansive  area of grassland dotted with trees, which I think was called Funda Bunte. This was Pa’s specialty raptor site, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. We were very lucky  in that this was the hottest, sunniest day I experienced all week, and by then it was the middle of the day so the raptors were out riding the thermals. The isolated trees there make great perches, and sure enough we soon got great views of lizard buzzards, grasshopper buzzards, dark chanting goshawks, and a black-shouldered kite. All four of these raptors, especially the latter two, are very sleekly patterned, sadly my photos didn’t do them justice. An hour of waiting around produced in-flight views of African harrier hawk, palm nut vulture, marsh harrier, short-toed, booted, Wahlberg’s, and brown snake eagle. These treats were topped off by a massive martial eagle circling directly above us, then a superb pair of bateleurs tumbling and twisting as they chased each other over the trees, which I thought might have been a courtship display. If the bateleur isn’t the world’s most colourful raptor then I don’t know what is!

A little bit further into the grassland we came across an area of burnt stubble and just as Pa had predicted, within 5 minutes we saw an Abyssinian ground hornbill! This bizarre bird was a real prize, a huge black shaggy beast which waddled around between the bushes. Not long after this, I had an unexpected bonus when a stone partridge ran across the road. This was definitely my best birding day in The Gambia, despite being pretty expensive (?40 – and that was ?20 less than Pa initially quoted me!). Upon reflection though, finding these places and birds would have been difficult if I’d tried it on my own, and could even have been dangerous if I got lost in the grasslands. The driver had a jeep too, which was ideal for the dry country tracks. Pa had ‘promised’ me three specialty birds (crowned crane, bateleur, ground hornbill) and he had delivered! A very good guide and a nice guy too – recommended.

Arrived back at the hotel around 5pm, which gave me enough time to get out of the sun and have a quick snooze before going on a tour of local bars organised by our AirTours reps. This was a great night to round off a great day! I met a lot of friendly people, and as luck would have it, our last port of call was a  disco-bar right opposite my hotel!

Monday January 12th Fajara, Kotu & Tanji

Monday morning was a write off since I didn’t get leave the disco until 3am! Got out of bed at 11 and immediately got a taxi up to the Fajara golf course, where I had a refreshing ‘brunch’ in their club house. By an amazing coincidence, they were showing the second half of the Manchester United-Newcastle football match on Sky, so as a Newcastle fan, it was an enjoyable meal! The Gambians are really into British football by the way, so I recommend that you grab a few used soccer shirts from charity shops before you leave – they’d be great presents for someone who has been especially helpful. The rather dry golf course held black-headed plover, some piapiacs,  more green wood hoopoes, rufous-crowned and broad-billed rollers plus long-tailed glossy starlings, and at the end of the course boundary I found myself back at Kotu creek. I spent maybe an hour here seeing a giant kingfisher as well as most of the shorebirds and herons I’d seen on my last visit. I got talking to a guide here about sites for painted snipe (another target bird), and after a small incentive, he led me to a nice lily pond behind some houses along the track to the Palma Rima hotel (I later saw people scoping this out from the main Kololi-Kotu road, on the other side of the pond). Here we saw sacred ibis, at least 20 jacanas, and at least 5 black crakes, they were very easy here. Sadly no painted snipe, but apparently they’re most active leading up to dusk.

Had a fast walk back to Kololi, as I was meeting the bird guide (Libau) from my hotel to go to Tanji, a large reserve with a busy road running through it. I felt a little cheated by Libau to be honest, because he originally told me that he had his own jeep so we would be able to easily explore the various parts of this large reserve. Sure enough, he didn’t have his own transport, so we spent the first 5 minutes haggling with a taxi driver, who simply drove us down there, dropped us off, then picked us up again three hours later! Also,  I was disappointed with Tanji, or at least the bits I saw (though I gather it is best around Oct-Nov when the seabirds breed). It’s a huge place, and I think a better guide, with  better transport, would have got me to the best parts. We went on a rather perfunctory trip to the beach, seeing royal, Caspian, gull-billed and sandwich terns, plus grey-headed, slender-billed, kelp and lesser black-backed gulls, and also quite a few shorebirds, with bar-tailed godwit and grey plover common. In a clearing near the beach we saw several bearded barbets, orange-cheeked waxbills, white-shouldered black tit, sulphur-breasted bush shrike, white-billed buffalo weaver, and then nearer the road, we saw a lovely pair of what was a top target bird – green turaco! I got great views of these simply stunning birds. We then walked across the road and into the scrub on the other side, though we didn’t see much really. I did note that black-faced weavers were more common here than the village weavers ubiquitous elsewhere. Several francolins scattered in front of us, which Libau said were Ahantas, though I never got good enough looks to distinguish them from the much more common double-spurred. My Rough Guide stated that you need to hire a local to see the best birds at Tanji, but I really disagree. If you put most of the day aside you could easily explore this reserve by yourself, with a word of caution not to wander too far from the road on the landward side as you could easily get lost among the cattle trails. The road which bisects the reserve is pretty busy, so as long as you stay within hearing distance of the traffic you’ll be OK.  A few nights later I had dinner with a friendly young Dutch couple who told me they’d just cycled down to Tanji from Kololi – I wish I’d done that myself to be honest, it would have saved me ?20.  Libau certainly knew his birds, but he wasn’t the most active guide I’ve ever known!

Tuesday January 13th Up to Jinack Island

Today I decided to head north to escape the crowds, and so after breakfast I got a tourist taxi up to Banjul (?5), stopping off for a brief look out over the Tanbi wetlands from Bund Road. It was fairly quiet here unfortunately, with a smattering of the common shorebirds and gulls and terns. In retrospect I wish I’d stayed here longer, but the area leading up to the nearby ferry terminal looked very busy and I’d been warned against pickpockets, so I took my taxi driver’s advice and allowed myself to be driven through the masses and shepherded to the ticket office and onto the ferry. The Banjul-Barra ferry is chaotic, being absolutely jam packed with all manner of people, animals and vehicles, and the back entry ramps are actually left down during the crossing – I had to wonder if cars ever roll back into the sea after a heavy wave! I saw a few birds from the ferry, including 2 pomarine skuas, and close up views of royal and lesser crested tern, as well as being entertained during the crossing by a small flock of sandwich terns fishing in the boat’s wake!

I had picked up a small escort of local school kids on the crossing, who took me to Barra fort. This isn’t really worth a visit, although there was a gorgeous Abyssinian roller perched on the base of the shipping beacon, tail streamers waving in the sea breeze. With the kids’ help, I got a place in a land rover (?1) to get me up to Jinack island. After about 30 minutes of bouncing along the dried up river beds, we arrived at a river which local kids take you across in a canoe (be prepared to help bale!). I had shared the taxi with two Dutch girls and we had a drink on the beach before walking about half a mile to the Madinyana safari camp where I booked a night. When I arrived there were maybe 30 people there (it’s a popular place for a day trip), but they soon departed, along with the Dutch girls, leaving just 6 other guests and me. I had a quick snack, dumped my gear in my room (which was actually a thatched hut!) then walked along the now-deserted beach to a nearby lagoon, where there was an osprey, plus more bar-tailed godwits, Senegal thick knees, my first white-fronted plovers, oystercatcher, sanderlings, turnstones, green and wood sandpipers, grey plovers, whimbrel, curlew, herons, egrets etc. By far the best bird here, however, was pygmy sunbird. I saw several of these at Jinack and they are amazing,  tiny, shiny birds with long tail streamers. After walking along a bush path for another 10 minutes a funny thing happened - people started greeting me in French! Sure enough I had walked into Senegal!  I had to get back for dinner, so I didn’t go too far after this,  but I did have a pleasant barefoot stroll along the long curve of the bay in the surf. For the first time in The Gambia I actually felt relaxed. After joining the other guests for an affable meal,  we went down to the beach and sat around a camp fire drinking beers, swapping stories, and gazing up at the stars. There is no electricity after 7.30pm, so the way back to the huts is lit with kerosene lamps! The beds are really cosy, I fell asleep with my hut door open listening to the waves – a moment that will stay with me forever! I really recommend this place if you like relaxation, it’s only ?10 a night,

Wednesday January 14th – returning from Jinack

Got up at 8am and spent a couple of quality hours exploring the trails leading away from the lodge. These were jumping with birds and I saw maybe a dozen gonoleks, a couple of species of roller, a roosting barn owl, a tchagra, both species of green pigeon,  tawny-flanked prinias, purple glossy starlings, bush petronia, grey-backed camaroptera , orange-cheeked and black-rumped waxbills, plus several European warblers including a ringed reed warbler and an olivaceous warbler, plus a few I couldn’t ID (after all these colourful African birds it was a shock to be faced with  European LBJs!). A good site for sunbirds, mostly copper, variable and pygmy, and also double-spurred francolins, with two sitting in a dead tree affording me probably as good looks at a francolin as is possible to get. Also here was a large monkey different to those a Bijilo, with a red furry crest, which I thought might be a tamarin. I had to get back for the 10am breakfast (Gambian Maybe Time!), but since the morning was warming up I took my shoes off and had an easy walk back through the shallows.

I decided to walk back to Barra, at the head of the bay, which is about a 2 hour journey according to the lodge staff. I walked for maybe an hour, seeing a few more oxpeckers clinging to cows lying on the beach. I started to feel a little unwell after inadvertently taking a malaria tablet in the morning as well as last thing the previous night, and the combined effect of the two, plus the heat, plus the strength sapping walk took it out of me. Luckily, there was a party of Brits on a day trip who kindly took pity on me, and after some water and a spell in the shade I felt OK, and ended up travelling all the way back to Kololi with them on their coach. Beware of the mid-day sun!

Apologies for waxing lyrical about the Madiyana Lodge but I really recommend this place to birders and non-birders. It is quiet and safe, the staff are friendly, it is reasonably priced, and it is just an amazingly atmospheric place to stay. It might be a good place to come as a couple if one person is interested in birding while the other would prefer to just relax in a hammock with a couple of paperbacks. The area around it really deserves to be explored by birders. I hadn’t encountered that sort of bush/scrub habitat elsewhere and consequently I saw different sorts of birds. Apparently if you keep going inland you get to even drier habitat, which would probably be good for larks, pipits, wheatears, sandgrouse etc. A word of warning however: Jinack Island is a notorious marijuana growing region, and it is cultivated openly in the villages. I took a few photos of the rows of plants in people’s back gardens, but only when nobody was looking!

Arrived back in Kololi at around 6.30pm, checked my e-mail and caught up with the football scores, then back to the hotel for a rest, a shower, and a change of clothes. Went out at night to the Almira Lebanese restaurant (fantastic) then several last-night beers with a lively middle-aged couple from Blackburn.

Thursday January 15th Preparing to leave

The last day of the holiday was very annoying really, since the holiday reps take your return flight tickets and get your boarding passes on your behalf (great), but then insist that you meet then to get them back (not so great). I’d missed the rep on Wednesday afternoon, since it took a while to get back from Jinack Island, and so I had to wait around on Thursday (with others in a similar situation) for her 10-11am call-in but she didn’t turn up! If I’d known that she wasn’t coming then I’d have packed my stuff first thing in the morning, left it in the foyer, then went off for 3-4 hours of birding at Abuko reserve. As it was, by the time I realised she wasn’t coming, there wasn’t enough time to go, so I ended up trooping around Bijilo for a third time in a fruitless search for white-cheeked bee-eater. I did see a couple of pearl-spotted owlets, so it wasn’t an entirely wasted day. Still, this was a sour note to end a holiday on, so if you go to The Gambia on a charter be very wary of this frankly inefficient system. Looking back, it was a mistake to leave Abuko until the final day of the holiday, and so the trip list suffered. C’est la vie!

A final word of warning regarding Banjul airport: unless your suitcase or bag is locked, take your binoculars or camera onto the plane with you. After your check-in, your bags go onto the plane via a side room, and there have been several instances of things being stolen from bags while they’re out of sight like this. Even the check-in staff themselves warned me about this.

Final thoughts on The Gambia

Seven (well, six!) days isn’t much time, and there was more to see in just coastal Gambia than I’d anticipated. If I went back, I would definitely go to Abuko and Lamin early on in the trip, then head along the river to Tendaba and Basse for some of the classic birds (Egyptian plover, carmine bee-eater etc). I didn’t do this on my trip because I didn’t want to spend my holiday sitting in taxis. Plus, if you’re by yourself the price of taxis soon adds up, so I would probably go to these places as part of a trip. If anyone is going to The Gambia around this time in 2005 and has a spare place, drop me a line!

Ian Stewart
University of Kentucky, USA

PS. I have put a small piece about the other notorious aspect of Gambian life (bumsters) below.


The bumsters are, to be frank, a pain in the a**e, and I won’t unreservedly recommend a trip to The Gambia in case anyone blames me for a troublesome holiday. I am reluctant to return to the resorts simply because of the hassle, which has to be experienced to be believed. I was probably an easy target because I was mostly walking around by myself, and several people have told me I look like a hippy (!), which probably prompted the numerous offers of drugs on the streets and beaches. Within an hour of arrival I had a member of the hotel staff bring me drugs in my own room, which made an unusual welcome to The Gambia! Marijuana is common, although I was offered harder stuff. (Not that I have got anything against drug use, but travellers who indulge here should be aware that they could be being taken in an expensive ‘sting’ where the police arrest you and charge a fee to drop the charges, a percentage of which goes back to the seller who tipped them off). Prostitution is also rife and apparently tolerated, to the extent that some women are apparently facultative prostitutes – as I found out when the woman cleaning my room propositioned me!  I soon learned that you never admit that it’s your first time in The Gambia, and you never tell people that you’re there by yourself.

For the first few days, whenever you look ahead expect to see a small cluster of people waiting for you. Most of these people will greet you in a friendly manner, shake your hand etc, but within a few minutes, I can almost guarantee the conversation will turn to money. Most of these requests are for maybe ?1, to buy cell phone minutes/powdered milk for their infants/taxi fares/gifts for the village elders/gifts for local schools etc, but every now and then someone apparently thought I was a millionaire – on two occasions complete strangers told me their families were sick and needed visiting, then ‘did I have 50 dollars towards the airfare’! Even walking by the sea there’s no escape, it’s like a black comedy as one by one the locals at the beach head set off on diagonal runs to intercept you. The first few hours I actually hid my binoculars in my bag when people approached, because as soon as people see them, they will either try to hire themselves as guides or fix you up with a friend as a guide (who may not be any good). I also got occasional requests for my home address, which I never gave out. These may have been innocent, but I had genuine fears of British immigration officials suddenly appearing on my doorstep a few months later with a freshly-arrived Gambian in tow.

Unfortunately, all of these negative experiences tended to make me tar all Gambians with the same brush. This was a pity, as I did meet a few Gambians who were genuinely friendly and just wanted to talk (the staff at the Fajara golf course and the Jinack safari camp for example). To be blunt though, 95% of the people I met around the resorts just want your money basically, though in fairness they are never aggressive. In a way I can’t blame them, as anyone who can afford the flight there is rich in their eyes. Still, I don’t buy the logic that this means Europeans should dish out money to all and sundry, and this attitude to tourists is desperately short-sighted because ultimately, people will stop going there if they feel it’s a hassle. The bumsters do take the gloss away from the place, but to end on a positive note, The Gambia has some brilliant scenery, the weather is agreeable, food and drink isn’t cheap but it’s reasonable, and the birding is fantastic. Many people who go there return in another year (I saw a figure of 30% somewhere), and I only highlight the bumster issue so people know what they’re getting into. If you go on an organised trip you will be largely immune from the bumsters, since they don’t approach you if you’re with a local (something I learned to turn to my advantage once I got a bit more street-wise). In my experience, if you can afford to hire a good guide and transport for the duration of your visit, then do it, and you’ll have a holiday with more birds and less stress. My sincere wishes of good luck to anyone who goes to The Gambia – despite some detractive elements, I had a very good time overall!

Bird list (total = 182, not bad, given that I was by myself and not birding full-bore)

Little grebe  Kotu
Pink-backed pelican Kotu, Pirang, Tanji
Hammerkop  Kotu, Pirang
Great cormorant Kotu, Pirang
Long-tailed c’rant Kotu, Pirang
African darter  Pirang
Cattle egret  most sites
Squacco heron  Kotu
Striated heron  Kotu, Pirang
Black egret  Kotu, Pirang
Intermediate egret most sites
Reef heron  most sites
Little egret  Kotu, Pirang
Great white egret most sites
Black-headed heron Pirang
Grey heron  most sites
Woolly-necked stork Pirang
Yellow-billed stork Pirang
African spoonbill Pirang
Black-crowned crane Pirang
White-faced whistling duck Kotu
Sacred ibis  Kotu, Pirang
Osprey   Jinack, Bijolo
African harrier hawk most sites
Palm-nut vulture most sites
Pied crow  everywhere
Hooded vulture everywhere
Martial eagle  Funda Bunte
Wahlberg’s eagle Funda Bunte
Booted eagle  Funda Bunte
Bateleur  Funda Bunte
Brown snake eagle Funda Bunte
Short-toed eagle Funda Bunte
Black kite  everywhere
Grasshopper buzzard Funda Bunte
Black-shouldered kite Funda Bunte
Marsh harrier  Funda Bunte
Dark chanting goshawk Funda Bunte
Shikra   several places
Lizard buzzard Funda Bunte, Tanji
Double-spurred francolin most places
Stone partridge Funda Bunte
Black crake  Kotu
African jacana  Kotu
Senegal thick-knee most places
Black-headed plover Fajara
Spur-winged plover most places
Wattled plover  most places
Grey plover  Tanji, Jinack
Ringed plover  Jinack, Tanji
White-fronted plover Jinack
Curlew   Tanji, Jinack
Whimbrel  everywhere
Bar-tailed godwit everywhere
Greenshank  everywhere
Common sandpiper everywhere
Green sandpiper Kotu, Jinack
Wood sandpiper Kotu, Jinack
Common redshank Kotu, Pirang, Jinack
Oystercatcher  Jinack
Black-winged stilt Kotu, Jinack, Tanji
Ruddy turnstone Tanji, Jinack
Little stint  Pirang
Sanderling  Tanji, Jinack
Dunlin   Pirang, Jinack
Curlew sandpiper Pirang, Jinack
Pomarine skua  Barra ferry
Grey-headed gull everywhere
Slender-billed gull Tanji, Jinack
Kelp gull  Tanji
Lesser black-backed gull Tanji
Caspian tern  Pirang, Tanji, Jinack
Royal tern  Barra ferry, Pirang, Jinack, Tanji
Lesser crested tern Barra ferry
Sandwich tern  everywhere
Gull-billed tern Pirang, Tanji
Common tern  Kotu
Laughing dove most places
Blue-spotted wood dove  most places
Black-billed wood dove most places
Speckled pigeon most places
Bruce’s green pigeon Jinack
African green pigeon Jinack
Red-eyed dove most places
Mourning dove most places
Vinaceous dove most places
Piapiac   Kotu, Pirang, Fajara
Senegal coucal everywhere
Barn owl  Jinack
Pearl-spotted owlet Bijilo
Palm swift  everywhere
Black wood hoopoe Kotu, Fajara
Green wood hoopoe Kotu, Fajara
Giant kingfisher Kotu
Pied kingfisher everywhere
Broad-billed roller Bijilo, Pirang
Blue-bellied roller Pirang, Kotu, Jinack
Rufous-crowned roller Kotu, Jinack
Abyssinian roller Kotu, Barra, Jinack
Swallow-tailed bee-eater Bijilo
Blue-cheeked bee-eater Bijilo
Little bee-eater most places
Little green bee-eater most places
Rose-ringed parakeet  everywhere
Senegal parrot  everywhere
Grey plantain eater everywhere
Green turaco  Tanji
Yellow-fronted tinkerbird Bijilo, Tanji
Bearded barbet Tanji, Pirang
Red-billed hornbill everywhere
Grey hornbill  Bijilo, Tanji
Abyssinian ground hornbill Funda Bunte
Grey woodpecker Kotu, Bijilo
Fine-spotted woodpecker Kotu
Crested lark  Pirang, Tanji, Jinack
Plain-backed pipit Pirang, Jinack
Wire-tailed swallow everywhere
Mosque swallow Pirang
Fork-yailed drongo Bijilo, Fajara, Pirang
Common bulbul everywhere
Oriole warbler  Bijolo
Blackcap babbler everywhere
Brown babbler  everywhere
Snowy-crowned robin-chat Bijilo, Kololi
African thrush  everywhere
Reed warbler  Jinack
Olivaceous warber Jinack
Subalpine warbler Pirang
Tawny-flanked prinia Jinack, Tanji
Green-backed eremomela  Bijilo, Jinack
Northern crombec Bijilo, Jinack
Grey-backed camaroptera  Jinack
White-shouldered black tit  Tanji
Pygmy sunbird Jinack
Variable sunbird  most places
Scarlet-chested sunbird  Kololi, Pirang
Splendid sunbird  most places
Beautiful sunbird most places
Copper sunbird Jinack, Tanji
Black-crowned tchagra Jinack
Sulphur-breasted bush shrike Tanji
Yellow-crowned gonolek Jinack
Yellow-billed shrike most places
Greater blue-eared glossy starling Kololi, Kotu
Purple glossy starling Kololi, Kotu, Jinack
Long-tailed glossy starling most places
Yellow-billed oxpecker Pirang, Jinack
Yellow-fronted canary Tanji
House sparrow Kotu only
Grey-headed sparrow everywhere
Bush petronia  Tanji, Jinack
White-billed buffalo weaver Tanji, Kololi
Red bishop  Pirang, Tanji, Jinack
Village weaver everywhere
Black-necked weaver Tanji
Orange-cheeked waxbill Tanji, Jinack
Lavender waxbill everywhere
Black-rumped waxbill Jinack
Red-cheeked cordon-bleu  everywhere
Red-billed firefinch everywhere
Bronze mannikin everywhere