Day 1: We always like to start a Gambia tour at the Kotu sewage ponds; it's not too far from the hotel, there are lots of birds and it has a certain ambience! Only one of the four ponds now has open water but enough to attract a few common and familiar waders, gulls and terns plus a few White-faced Whistling Ducks. It makes for a gentle start. From there we walked along the edge of the nearby creek and wetlands to see more waders, herons and egrets and then after lunch turned our attention to woodland birds at Tujereng. The total of 109 species recorded during the day was a pretty reasonable start. Among the highlights were Ayres's Hawk Eagle, Northern White-faced Owl and several species of dazzling sunbirds.
Kotu Sewage Ponds
Day 2: Our destination this morning was Marakissa, about an hour's drive away. On the way we passed through Brikama, the second largest town in The Gambia (the largest is Serrekunda). We spent the morning in savannah woodland, birding under a clear blue sky but with a strong wind blowing that we could have done without. In the afternoon we were at a wetland near Darsalami. The day produced more than 90 species but the highlight was probably the enormous lunch served to us at Marakissa River Camp. The food on this trip was excellent throughout but this was an exceptional meal!
Western Reef Heron
Day 3: We visited The Gambia's best-known and most-visited birding site, Abuko Nature Reserve. Although this is a still a great place to see birds, there is no doubt that it has been deteriorating for some years and Birdlife International have suggested that a lowering of the water-table is at least partly to blame. The reserve also looks as though it could do with some more active management. For several of the group the highlight of the afternoon walk across the nearby ricefields was seeing a Black Heron perform its 'umbrella' feeding routine.
Day 4: Gulls, terns and waders dominated the day. In the morning we were at Tanji, The Gambia's largest fishing village, where there were hundreds of birds to search through. After lunch we drove to Banjul and made our way through the rather grim Half Die area (the name Half Die apparently dates back to an outbreak of cholera in 1869 which killed half the population) and picked our way through the garbage to a lagoon that is consistently the best site in the country for Greater Flamingo. There were also lots of waders and about 150 Slender-billed Gulls there. Later, we saw another 150 or so Slender-billeds further along the coast. The species total for the day was 110.
Day 5: We spent the first part of the morning at the former Scan-Gambia Shrimp Farm at Pirang. This site has the potential to be one of the best birding areas in the country if only it could be properly managed but for reasons known only to him, the present (Swedish) owner is not only refusing access to birders but seems to have spent the last two or three years turning it into something akin to a desert. We had to content ourselves with viewing from outside the fence and scanning across the area and all of the 'ponds' we could see were completely dry. Even so there were plenty of birds around with a Long-crested Eagle proving particularly popular. Later, visits to Faraba Banta bush track and Farasutu Forest made this another 100 species day with Black-faced Firefinches a definite highlight.
Welcome to Pirang!!
Sita Joyeh Island Resort
Day 6: After two days of much better weather, we returned today to quite cool and rather windy conditions resulting in comparatively poor birding but we still saw about 80 species. We were at Sangchumeh in the morning and Brufut in the afternoon. At last we saw a Pearl-spotted Owlet instead of just hearing imitations and recordings of its calls and we found a roosting Long-tailed Nightjar hidden in the leaf litter.
Coming soon: Week 2 – the Upriver Experience