Our first ever trip to The Gambia started on 12th March when we landed at Banjul Airport at 9:00 at night arriving at our hotel at 10:00 so no birds seen until next morning.
This was a last-minute decision as a trip we were supposed to go on was cancelled just before we were due to go!
As this was our first trip to The Gambia I knew that the vast majority of the birds would be new, this proved to be the case when I went outside our bungalow at first light to see Black Kites, which I later found out were Yellow-billed Kites and Hooded Vultures overhead, Yellow-billed Shrike, Red-billed Hornbill and various doves in the grounds.
I meet my guide Lamin K Njie at reception for our first tour around the nearby Kotu rice fields and golf course. Birds seen included Painted Snipe, Spur-winged Plover, Little Bee-eater, four Kingfishers, Malachite, Pied, Giant and Blue-breasted and to think we often struggle to see one Kingfisher in the UK! Various Egrets including Hamerkop, a very strange looking heron, my first Sunbirds, Beautiful and Splendid, very pretty little Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu’s, Jacanas and Senegal Thick-knee were just a few of the 51 new birds recorded that first day. Unfortunately, I had to call an end to it late afternoon as I was suffering with the heat, but I don’t think I missed much.
Next day was a rest day enabling me to recover somewhat from the heat of the first day though I did manage to sneak out and do a bit of birding! Found a few new ones myself, first of which was a Lanner Falcon which drifted low overhead, an Abyssinian Roller on telephone wires, Variable Sunbird and a Yellow-crowned Gonolek which refused to be photographed.
The 15th was my first full day trip with Lamin to Faraba Banta, Bonto Forest and Farasutu Forest which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, but birds were everywhere! High lights being African Harrier Hawk, Western-banded Snake Eagle and Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle. Other raptors included Shikra, Grey Kestrel and Palm-nut Vulture. Both Senegal and Brown-necked Parrots, though the Brown-necked was the target bird it decided not to land to give us decent views. Here we ticked off four owls, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, African Wood Owl, White-faced Scops Owl and Grey’s Eagle Owl. Whilst making our way through the forest I spotted a family of Baboons. Other good birds were African Pygmy Kingfisher, White-backed Night Heron, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Bearded Barbet, Violet Turaco, White-crowned Robin Chat, Common Wattle-eye, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Green-headed Sunbird and Lavender Waxbill.
The 16th was another full day with Lamin to Abuko Nature Reserve and Lamin Rice Field. Another good day with a variety of herons and egrets including Intermediate, Squacco, Western Reef, Black-headed, Striated and Black Egret doing the shading thing with its wings and not forgetting African Spoonbill and Sacred Ibis. In the woods we had a showy Lizard Buzzard and I found a hawk sat a branch, I just managed to get Lamin onto it before it flew off and he confirmed it was an African Goshawk which he didn’t think we would get! Today I ticked three Rollers, Broad-billed, Blue-bellied and Rufous-crowned, both Violet and Green Turaco and Pygmy and Collard Sunbird. Bird of the day was Pearl-spotted Owlet which gave us a bit of a run-around. It was also a day of swifts with African Palm Swift, Little Swift and Mottled Spinetail, swallows were not to be outdone with Fanti Saw-wing Swallow, Wire-tailed Swallow and Pied-winged Swallow. Pied and Grey Hornbill appeared as did my only crocodile though it was mainly submerged.
The 17th was the last full day with our guide Lamin which was to Tujereng Wood and Brufut Woods, but it started off with seven Great White Pelicans flying over the hotel. Birds of Prey included Dark-chanting Goshawk, which is one I always hoped to see, Shikra, Lanner Falcon and a very showy Red-necked Falcon. Doves included Namaqua Dove and African Green Pigeon. Another kingfisher, Striped Kingfisher making it six for the trip in an area of no water which fed on insects. Long-tailed Nightjar was the only one we saw which was found with help of a local guide and a distant Klaas’s Cuckoo which was unexpected as it was the wrong time of year! Other notable birds were both Greater and Lesser Honeyguide, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Snowy-crowned and White-crowned Robin Chats, two flycatchers Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher and Black Flycatcher. Warblers were made up with Singing Cisticola and Zitting Cisticola though I still prefer the old name of Fan-tailed Warbler, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Senegal Batis, Northern Crombec and Grey-backed Camaroptera.
The final day and a half were more relaxed with a visit to Serekunda Market which was interesting and Banjul which only added Crested Lark to the list and a last morning on the beach with two new birds African Silverbill and my only duck, White-faced Whistling Duck before heading back to the airport and our flight home.
It was a great time for both of us and wouldn’t have been possible without the experience and knowledge of our guide Lamin, how he found some of these birds is unbelievable. Trip list was 173 with 141 new birds which I am happy with. A more intense birding trip would have gained me more birds, but I was more than content with what I got.
Would we do it again? Yes, but not in March when some of the birds are in moult but probably November or December and include a couple of days “up river” for the specialties in that area.