Gambia trip report 16th - 30th January 2016 Alan Boothroyd

Myself and a birding friend had a two weeks holiday based at the Sunset Beach Hotel in Kotu.  We had seven days guided birding that was organized for us by Lamin K Njie, spread out so that we could also spend a lot of time around the excellent Kotu area.

Lamin met us at the hotel reception the morning after our rather late arrival, to talk us through our excursions. The drivers and vehicles that he provided for us were very good and he also arranged for another good guide to accompany us when he had additional customers. He will also sort out things like money exchange and getting a local Sim card for phones.

Sunday 17th.  January

Lamin took us around the Kotu creek area and surrounding fields seeing the usual diversity of exotic species. We picked up Oriole Warbler, Malachite, Pied, and Giant Kingfishers, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Beautiful, Scarlet-chested, and Splendid Sunbirds, SubAlpine Warbler,  African Golden Oriole, Greater Painted-snipe, Black-headed Heron plus a wide variety of more every-day species.
In the afternoon Ismaila took over from Lamin for a walk around the golf course. I soon added my first lifer when Ismaila found seven African Silverbills. More good birds followed, Rufous-crowned Roller, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Variable Sunbird, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Yellow-billed Shrike and Fork-tailed Drongo with good photographic opportunities  virtually everywhere.

Monday 18th.  January

First stop this day was Brufut Woods with good birding getting underway as soon as we got out of the vehicle with a Pearl-spotted Owlet showing well in a large tree. Grey Woodpecker, Senegal Parrot, Northern Black Flycatcher, African Pied Hornbill, Lizard Buzzard, Lanner Falcon, Black-shouldered Kite, Yellow White-eye, Senegal Eremomela, Copper Sunbird, Yellow-breasted Apalis, and two immature Klass's Cuckoos were all added before we went to see the roosting Verreaux's Eagle Owl and the Long-tailed Nightjar, both of them being seen well.
During a break and cool drink at the rest point,  Lesser, and Greater Honeyguides came down to the watering place along with the numerous Finches, Weavers and Doves.
The eventful morning was followed by a trip to Tanji, to reveal Swallow-tailed, Blue-cheeked, Little, and European Bee-eaters, while overhead were several Fanti Saw-wings. A walk along the beach was disappointing in that there were no large gulls present and few waders. As always there was compensation with the great views of the likes of Caspian and Royal Terns with beautiful Slender-billed Gulls. As we were leaving the site there was a flyover by a squadron of Great White Pelicans.

Wednesday 20th.  January

A morning visit to Abuko delivered great views of the brilliant Green, and Violet Turacos which came close to the elevated watchpoint for photographs. The supporting cast consisted of African Pied Hornbill, Giant Kingfisher, Blue-bellied and Broad-billed Rollers, Senegal Coucal, and both Paradise Flycatchers. We moved into the trees to look for Western Bluebill which only put in one brief appearance despite the efforts of Lamin at several spots. Common Wattle-eye proved easy to see but the Buff-spotted Woodpecker refused to show. We then moved on to Lamin fields where we caught up with Black Heron, Bearded Barbet, Green Wood-hoopoe, Black Crake, African Golden Oriole, Lizard Buzzard, and Striated Heron.

Thursday  21st.  January

This day became one of the best birding days that I have ever had anywhere, a great variety of species plus some of the more desirable and difficult to see birds. A start was made at Farasuto, walking the Baobab punctuated fields. Three Dark Chanting Goshawks posed well to start our visit. These were followed by Pied-winged Swallows, Bonelli's Warbler, Klass's Cuckoo, Double-spurred Francolin, Rufous-crowned Roller, African Harrier Hawk, Purple Glossy Starling, Hoopoe, African Green Pigeon, Violet Turaco, Palm-nut Vulture, Little Weaver, Black-crowned Tchagra, Senegal Parrot, as well as the more or less everyday birds. We then moved to a site where we could see Northern White-faced Owl, then another short move to a site where we connected with White-backed Night Heron, one seen in flight. Also seen there were Little Greenbul and Giant Kingfisher.
The trip concluded at Bonto Forest where the usual finches etc. were coming to the drinking point, a Spotted Honeyguide providing a highlight. An African Pygmy Kingfisher also posed briefly. We then went into the forest with the local guide (Kawsu, I think), where he led us to African Wood Owl, Green Crombec, Green Hylia. The top bird of the day though, was undoubtedly the White-spotted Flufftail, which was seen at close quarters due to the efforts of Kawsu.

Saturday  23rd.  January

Tendaba was to be our next destination, for an afternoon boat trip and birding at various sites on the way. We were joined by a trainee guide from Abuko, also called Lamin. The first stop yielded three Helmeted Guineafowl perched in a large tree. A Pearl-spotted Owlet was heard calling. Yellow White-eye, Yellow-billed Shrike, Green Wood-hoopoe, were seen before Lamin found three Brown-necked Parrots. A final bird at this site was Yellow-bellied Hyliota.
We then moved on to a site looking for the Black-faced Firefinch, which we missed, as we could not spend too much time at each site. Along the road we had perched Grey Kestrel, Dark Chanting Goshawk and Grasshopper Buzzard before our next roadside stop at a waterhole. Lamin first found a Lizard Buzzard quickly followed by African Hawk Eagle, Lanner Falcon, African Harrier Hawk, Brown Snake Snake Eagle,  Palm-nut, and  African White-backed Vultures.
Our last stop before Tendaba was at some roadside fields where Lamin soon found some Temmink's Coursers.
The boat trip along the mangrove-lined channels is, in my opinion a "must do", there is always the chance of some very difficult birds, but the variety of species is excellent. Pink-backed Pelican, Woolly-necked Storks, and White-throated Bee-eaters were seen just after entering the channels. Overhead were European Bee-eaters and a Beaudouin's Snake Eagle. A brief sight of White-backed Night Heron was followed by a Grey-headed Kingfisher and an immature African Fish Eagle. Glossy and Sacred Ibis walked the banks with Woolly-necked Storks. There are also the numerous Herons and African Darters to see and the Great Cormorant colony is a sight to behold and smell!

Tuesday  26th.  January

Marakissa was first stop this day, as soon as we exited the vehicle we saw Yellow-throated Leaflove, Northern Black Flycatcher, Grey Kestrel, and Swallow-tailed Bee-eater. Birding was quiet but we still had African Golden Oriole, Green Turaco, Purple Glossy Starling, Lizard Buzzard, immature Dark Chanting Goshawk, Violet Turaco, Broad-billed Roller, Black Crake, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Fork-tailed Drongo. Finally, Lamin found a Woodland Kingfisher before we went to the lodge. Lamin found the African Scops Owl but we could not locate the Grey-headed Bushshrike.
We then went to Peyem  and picked up Wahlberg's Eagle, Blue-bellied Roller, Violet Turaco, Lanner Falcon, and a lifer for me White Helmetshrike.

Friday  29th.  January

Last trip of our package was to Tujering, Lamin quickly found Striped Kingfisher, Viellot's Barbet, Wryneck, White-fronted Black Chat, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Grey Kestrel, Pygmy Sunbird, Yellow-fronted Canary, Red-winged Warbler, Whistling Cisticola, Cardinal Woodpecker, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, White-shouldered Tit, Senegal Batis, Pallid Swift, Bush Petronia plus numerous Swifts and Hirundines. We waited by the vehicle as Lamin walked the fields looking for Black-headed Lapwing, it didn't take long before he found two birds which were very wary and kept their distance.
We had a brief stop at Kartong at the hottest part of the day so we didn't walk the site. Purple Swamphen, Purple Heron, and a lone Yellow-billed Oxpecker were added to the trip list.

A total of 205 species was seen during these seven trips, more species could have been added, but we were concentrating on trying to get some of the more "difficult" birds. Lamin K Njie took care of all the arrangements for vehicles and guiding and found us some good birds, sometimes through sheer persistence and determination!  Lamin knows all the sites, the birds, and their calls. I would recommend him to any visiting birder, whether experienced or not.