Gambia trip report 6th - 16th November 2016 by Alan Boothroyd

Gambia  Trip Report: 6th - 16th  November 2016 by Alan Boothroyd

After a second visit to Gambia in the month of January, Dave Williams and myself decided to do a trip "upriver" in November, with the dual purpose of seeing the specialities and also the likes of the Weavers and Bishops in breeding plumage. We finalized a trip of ten days, two nights at the Bakotu Hotel in Kotu, followed by two nights at Tendaba, two nights at Baobalong Camp at Janjanbureh, a further night at Tendaba on our way back to the coast with finally three nights again at the  Bakotu.The upriver part of our stay was organized by Lamin K Njie, vehicle, accommodation, and also taking care of items like getting a local simcard for our phones. 
Sunday 6th November 2016
After an uneventful flight, we were able to get in a bit of birding around the Kotu Creek area before dark. Our first impression was that there were fewer birds in the area, both numbers and species, compared to previous visits in January. The main birds of note being Giant and Malachite Kingfishers, Blue-bellied and Broad-billed Rollers and a few Fanti Saw-wing Swallows. We met up with Lamin who informed us that he would meet us at 07.30 on Tuesday for our upriver trip
Monday 7th November 2016
The day was spent around the Kotu Creek atea, taking in the sewage ponds and a walk around the golf course. The sewage ponds have been cleaned up to such an extent that the bird activity is a poor shadow of what it was in January, Little Grebe, Common and Wood Sandpiper, a few Black-winged Stilts and the odd Spur-winged Lapwing  were around and a flock of Little Swifts dropped in for a drink. There is now a charge of 50 Dalasi for birdwatchers viewing the pools, at first we thought this was a scam until the site manager appeared, explained the situation and issued us with a receipt. The golf course was as empty of birds as it was players, a few Piapiac, Green Wood-hoopoe, Red-billed and Grey Hornbills being of most interest. Please note that this is purely a personal observation over a couple of days, numbers / species could well have increased after our visit.
Tuesday 8th November 2016
Lamin and driver Cham picked us up at 07.30 and we started our journey to Tendaba, our first stop being at Tanneh, where last time we had seen Brown-necked Parrot. Lamin thought that it was a bit late in the day to catch up with one but he soon saw one fly in to some dense cover. We quickly added Brown, Western Banded, and Beaudouin's Snake Eagle, Wahlberg's Eagle and a life bird for me, Levaillant's Cuckoo. Our next stop produced male Northern Red Bishop, Yellow-fronted Canary, Variable Sunbird, but not the desired Black-faced Firefinch. Another stop at a bush track yielded Lesser Blue-eared Starling, Copper Sunbird and another Levaillant's Cuckoo. A short visit to a waterhole at Kampanti was quite productive for raptors, African Harrier-hawk, Grasshopper Buzzard, Afrian White-backed Vulture, Lanner Falcon, also Bearded Barbet, and yet another Levaillant's Cuckoo. We had a brief stop just outside Tendaba where we picked up Village Indigo Bird and a White-rumped Seedeater. Our final visit of the day was to a small hide at Tendaba, on the way there we had Bearded Barbet and Grey Hornbill. At the hide there is a small drinking pool, various finches and weavers were coming down to the perches placed around. 
Wednesday 9th November 2016
A boat trip across thee river was the start of the day, as we made our way to the boat we had a flyover of a few Spur-winged Geese. As we entered the mangroves a large flock of White-throated Bee-eaters flew over. Numerous African Darters lined the banks, either taking flight or literally dropping into the water. The Great Cormorant colony was empty and there seemed to be less waders than January, particularly Senegal Thick-knee, Sacred Ibis and Whimbrel, although Common Sandpipers were plentiful. A large pair of Nile Monitors draped along an overhanging branch gave an alternative photographic exercise. In the top of a distant Baobab tree, amongst the nests of White-billed Buffalo Weavers, sat a barely visible Martial Eagle on its own nest. A highlight of the trip was seeing White-backed Night Herons with young in a low-lying nest.During the afternoon, we went back to the Tendaba photo hide where once again we had good views of the finches etc., but added Cut-throat Finch and Red-winged Pytilia, both lifers for me. Later on, we drove out to some fields and soon after exiting the vehicle Lamin called out Bateleur, this was a much wanted bird, I had only ever seen one, a distant immature bird. This adult was circling at some distance but gradually came closer until it was virtually overhead, and not too high up either. This started a run of good birds for us, Rufous-crowned Rollers, Red-billed Quelea, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Northern Wheatear and many Grey Hornbills. I saw what I first thought was a windblown piece of grass which turned out to be a male Exclamatory Paradise Whydah! As the sun lowered Lamin found a Striped Kingfisher and we also had Black-headed Lapwing. A search for Nightjars drew a blank, but we did see a couple of Four-banded Sandgrouse.
Thursday 10th November 2016
Leaving Tendaba in the morning for Janjanbureh, we had only gone a few yards when Lamin had spotted some Bruce's Green Pigeons high up in a roadside tree. We got out to take some pictures and then Lamin quickly called us away to a Grey-headed Bush-shrike, as high on my  wanted list as it was in the tree. Getting the ferry across the river at Farafenni proved to be a bit of a drama, Dave was innocently taking photos or the very colourful goings-on at the approach to the ferry. He inadvertently included a policeman in a shot, who was not best pleased to having his picture taken. Dave had to accompany him to the police station, all turned out well eventually, but it could have been very different if we didn't have Lamin and Cham with us. We eventually got across without further incident.Lamin called a stop under some shade and whilst we had some much needed watermelon he went out into the fields in pursuit of Abyssinian Ground Hornbill. After some time he signaled us to follow him, he had found three birds which we saw both foraging and in flight, albeit at some distance. To top that, as we were taking photos of the Hornbills he flushed,  then tracked down a female Standard-winged Nightjar, both species were lifers for me. Our next stop was Kaur wetlands, hoping for the Egyptian Plover, we were not to be disappointed, two birds were on the mud just yards from the roadside, we also scored with Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Black Crake, Mosque Swallow and a nice male Yellow-crowned Bishop. Onward to Wassu, as we arrived at the sand pits, large numbers of Red-throated Bee-eaters were perched in the surrounding vegetation, a remarkable display of colour, we spent quite some time taking photographs. The day ended for me after settling in to Baobolong Camp for much needed shower, meal and refreshment (beer).
Friday  11th November  2016
The day's birding began with a visit to a site for Black Coucal, we failed to connect with this bird but had good views of a nest-building Little Weaver, very close Malachite Kingfisher and Winding Cisticola. We then returned to Wassu for the Northern Carmine Bee-eater, several of which were seen along with a flyover Beaudouin's Snake Eagle. Another visit to the Red-throated Bee-eaters also gave us Little Green Bee-eater, Shikra, Ruppell's Vulture and three Northern Anteater Chats. In a small tree were several Red-throated Bee-eaters, Village Indigo Bird, Grey-headed Sparrow, Mourning Dove and a superb male Exclamatory Paradise Whydah, a real mix of species.In the later afternoon, we had a boat trip, hoping for African Finfoot and Shining Blue Kingfisher, but missed out on both although Lamin sighted one kingfisher briefly. We did rack up a few good birds, African Fish Eagle, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Palm-nut Vulture, and Swamp Flycatcher. A single African Pygmy Goose was a much wanted but brief encounter.
Saturday  12th  November  2016
We left Baobolong Camp after breakfast, on our way back to Tendaba, and went to a site for Marabou Stork, there were several high in the trees, but did not give good photographic opportunities, also in the area was African Fish Eagle, Blue-bellied and Abyssinian Rollers in good numbers. Further on, in some tall trees in a field, Lamin pointed out two Verreaux's Eagle Owls, posed nicely. Black Coucal evaded us once more at a site which did give us a very confiding Black-faced Quailfinch. A brief stop at some wetland produced Grey Kestrel, Shikra and Gabar Goshawk. As we were driving along, Lamin called a halt to have a look at a large raptor that he saw land in a tree, what he thought was a Snake Eagle turned out to be an adult Martial Eagle. This gave great views but when we made an attempt to get pictures it flew off and we were unable to find it again. Further on we stopped at a roadside site for Spotted Thick-knee, which we saw but proved to be very wary and flighty.      We paused to view some wetlands and saw our only Goliath Heron and a flyover Long-crested Eagle, I am sure the site could have produced much more if we could have stayed longer. Not long after we settled into our rooms we went on an afternoon boat trip which didn't yield anything that we hadn't seen before but we had good views of the White-backed Night Heron.
Sunday  13th  November  2016
Leaving Tendaba, we had only gone a few hundred yards when we saw a Double-spurred Francolin walking on the road, the best view that we had. Lamin took us to Farasuto and met with Kawsu, the local guide, to show us some owls. First up was a Greyish Eagle Owl, followed by a Northern White-faced Owl. Both of these birds were difficult to see and we would never have seen them without the guide's assistance. The final owl seen was an African Wood Owl, which although originally perched in the open, moved deeper into the foliage. Next up was a walk to some ponds for a White-backed Night Heron which stayed hidden. Lamin then found us a Bar-breasted Firefinch, another lifer. This was the last birding stop of our upriver trip. Once again Lamin had found us some great birds.
Monday  14th  November 2016
The day was spent around the Kotu Creek area and the golf course, the Malachite Kingfisher showed well and four Oriole Warblers flew across the creek. One thing we did note is that there appeared to be an influx of Wire-tailed Swallows, on our earlier visits we hadn't seen any at the creek.Tuesday  15th  November  2016Our las full day, Lamin was unavailable to guide us but arranged a guide (Baccary) and vehicle to take us to Brufut woods. Splendid Sunbirds posed for the cameras but Red-bellied Paradise flycatcher didn't oblige so well. A much wanted Black Scimitarbill gave us good close views as did a flyover Lanner Falcon before we entered the woodland proper. We were taken to see a Northern White-faced Owl, Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters and the Long-tailed Nightjar, also picking up a Woodland Kingfisher deep in a bush. The usual finches and doves were at the Woodland Bar when we stopped by for a soft drink.

Wednesday  16th  November  2016

The morning was largely spent preparing for our afternoon flight home. I hope that nobody gets the idea that I am being negative about the birding around the creek and golf course area, it is just an impression of lesser numbers and species as compared to previous trips in January as opposed to November. Maybe some of the birds were still to arrive? Dave will let me know as he returns on the 26th! All told, we saw 209 species in 10 days compared to 254 in 14 days on our last trip together.On reflection, the whole trip went very well, all the arrangements being taken care of by Lamin K Njie. He worked very hard to find us some of our "wanted" birds and with the driver Cham, led us through the minefield of checkpoints and ferry crossings. The upriver part I thoroughly enjoyed as certain birds can only reliably be seen by doing such a trip. So, once again, thank you Lamin K Njie for all your efforts and company.

Click here to view trip images