Gambia trip report 20th - 27th January 2017 - Paul Sullivan

Looking forward to a birding trip to The Gambia, and we were wondering if we would be able to go as there was a travel ban in place. Thankfully it was lifted in time and all was well for my second trip and Hazel, my wife’s, first, with Lamin again as guide.

After picking us up from the airport we made our way to Tanji eco-lodges. We checked in and Lamin took us round the local reserve where we soon racked up a long list of species, Hazel commenting that she had never seen so many different birds.  Various bee-eaters, sunbirds and doves adding to a quick list of forty species

The nest morning and the plan was to go upriver. On the way, we stopped at Bambakuno forest and Kampanti rice fields The rice fields gave us good views of black-headed heron and Malachite Kingfisher. Birding stops were plenty. A Biang we picked up Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, White-backed Vulture, Long-crested Eagle and Palmnut Vulture. Near Brumen bridge was our first sighting of Bateleur, Booted Eagle and Griffon Vulture. A roadside stop near Kalagi to check out a flock of vultures produced White-headed , Lappet-faced  and Ruppell’s Griffon  Vulture as well as Whalberg’s Eagle.

Jabdir rice field held many wetland species, and it was the Marabou storks that were my favourite here. From where we travelled on to Banasang quarry. This is a site well known for red-throated bee-eaters, and it did not disappoint with many being seen. Also here was Little Green Bee-eater and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. The final leg of the journey was to Georgetown and would mean crossing the ferry at Farafenni. Arriving at 1630 hours it was to be more eventful than expected. Of the three ferries only one was operational and large queues had formed.  After a long wait, we were fortunate to be promoted in the queue due to Lamin and our driver Suto’e excellent negotiating skills. So, onto the ferry and the alarm was raised that a man had gone into the water in a state of distress necessitating the calling of the coastguard. A comprehensive search found nothing and we arrived on the other bank a mere five hours later.  Whilst travelling to Georgetown we saw numerous bush fires before arriving to a welcome beer or two (temperature had been in the 40’s) and very good food.

After a sound night’s sleep, we explored the local area to find many new birds including Oriole warbler, Hadada Ibis, Violet Touraco, spur-winged goose, Bruce’s green pigeon and Blue-breasted Kingfisher amongst others. Then onto Wassu quarry where we picked up Exclamatory paradise wydah and African Hawk Eagle. We took the opportunity to visit Wassu stone circle too, well worth it if you can fit it in. Stopping near Ngayen Sanjal we soon spotted Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, our target bird for the area.

Next stop the well-known Tendaba camp which hosted a welcome swimming pool and, again, very good food. Not far from here we saw many good birds, Temminck’s Courser, Martial Eagle, Long-tailed Nightjar, Brown-rumped Bunting and Striped  kingfisher being a few. The highlight for me though was a self-found Northern Carmine Bee-eater amongst the European Bee-eaters, scarce at this time of year. At the camp itself an afternoon boat trip saw us getting good views of Finfoot and White-backed Night-Heron.

Back to Tanji the next day. A very pleasant place to stay with friendly staff. Whilst sitting here having a drink you can watch the birds drinking at freshwater pools. Here we managed long views of Western Bluebill.

A trip to Brufut woods and plenty to see: Red-necked Falcon, Copper Sunbird, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Pintail Whydah, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Cardinal, Green Turaco, African Green Pigeon, White-faced Scops Owl and, my target bird, Standard-winged Nightjar

The last two days were to be spent at Mandina Lodges. A bit of luxury here, with large swimming pool and a gorgeous floating lodge, not to mention the excellent food and service, highly recommended. It was from here that we said goodbye to Lamin and Suto but not before a trip to Farasutu forest. It was here we saw Greyish Eagle-owl, African Wood-owl, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Ahanta Francolin, Spotted and Greater Honeyguide, Diederik Cuckoo and Grey-headed Bristlebill.  Again, Lamin had delivered high quality birding and a very good driver in Suto.

From the lodge, whilst walking to breakfast one morning I had close views of Golden-tailed Woodpecker-a hard bird to find. We also disturbed a Finfoot from beside our lodge the same day. That was two sighting for this elusive species on this trip. A Goliath heron was patrolling the Mangroves by the bar, and Mangrove Sunbirds and Blue-breasted Kingfisher were commonly seen. A walk near the lodge and I managed to see a Green-headed Sunbird, one I had missed when Hazel found one at Farasutu the day before.  At Mandina a personal guide is provided and ours was very good at explaining local customs and traditions whilst we were out walking.He was also good at pointing out animal tracks, such as the Puff adder ones we followed. Perhaps it was a good thing we didn’t find one though.

We both had a very enjoyable trip and hope to return, perhaps in autumn next time when we would wish to have Lamin as our guide again.