The Gambia

December 11-18, 2009

Leader: James Lidster and local guides Solomon Jallow and Sering Bojang

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for more details
see Martin Selzer narration

December 9-10, 2009 (Wednesday/Thursday)
We left Philadelphia around 7PM for our overnight flight to London on British Air arriving at Heathrow Airport around 7AM. Because our trip officially starts on Friday morning at Gatwick Airport we'd arranged to be met at Heathrow by Southeast Bird Tours and, sure enough, there at the gate were Frank and Jeff ready to take us birding in the UK.

Luckily for us the weather was fairly nice after many days of heavy rain so we were able to enjoy some great local birding areas, always within earshot of the airport. We spent the day visiting Wraysbury Gravel Pits , Staines Moor , Ruislip Lido and ending the day with a great display of Red Kites near Marlow.

Highlights of the day were Great Crested Grebe, Gray Heron, Pochard, Tufted Ducks, lots of Red Kites, Sparrowhawk, Common Kestrel, flocks of Golden Plover, Lapwings, Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails, Dunnock, Stonechat, Blackbirds, Fieldfares, Redwings, Chiffchaff, Long-tailed, Blue and Great Tits, Jays, Magpies, Jackdaws, Rooks, Carrion Crows, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and THE bird of the day .... Brown Shrike.

Frank and Jeff then drove us to our Gatwick Hotel where we met Steve Rooke (managing Director of Sunbirds) who took us out to a lovely pub ("Ye Olde Six Bells") for dinner and a pint. A lovely end to a great day.

Our group in Gambia: Front row: (l to r) Roger Williams, Bridget Dunnigan, Naomi Murphy,
James Lidster, Sering Bojang. Back Row: (l to r) Mel Ab-Owain, Cathy Pasterczky, Martin Selzer,
Ted Maddeford, Bill Murphy, Lynn Jackson . Not shown (photographer): Dirk Van de Peer

December 11, 2009 (Friday)
Up bright and early and over to Gatwick Airport to meet James and the group for our Monarch Air flight to Banjul, The Gambia. After a few minor glitches that delayed our departure we were finally on our way around 10AM. It's about a 6 hour flight and after clearing customs, meeting our guide, Solomon, we drove to our hotel, the Kombo Beach Hotel, arriving around 5:30 PM. The sky was full of Hooded Vultures and Black Kites.

We settled into our rooms and then met the group for dinner.

Kombo Beach Hotel grounds

December 12, 2009 (Saturday)

Red Colobus Monkey

After a leisurely breakfast we boarded our bus and headed out to the nearby Abuko National Reserve. All along the roadsides there were tons of birds, on the ground, sitting on the wires. Red and Gray Hornbills, Shikra , Yellow-billed Shrikes, Blue-bellied Rollers, Western-Grey Plaintain-Eaters, Pied Crows , tons of doves and pigeons.

Abuko gave us a chance to walk through remnant forest tracts and bird around the small lake at the Darwin Field Station. In addition to the many birds, we had great looks at Green Vervet Monkey and Red Colobus Monkey.

Bird highlights included: Green and Violet Turacos , Giant and African Pygmy Kingfishers, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Snowy-crowned Robin-chat, Green Wood Hoopoes, Black-billed Wood Dove, Lavender and Orange-cheeked Waxbills , Yellow-breasted Apalias, Grey-backed Camaropteras, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Green-backed Eremomelas and Grey-backed Camaropteras.

We then headed over to the Lamin Lodge for a lovely lunch. It was a nice break to sit, eat a nice meal, have a cool drink, listen to the music and watch the water.

Spur-winged Plover

After lunch we birded around the area and then over to the Lamin Rice Fields where we found some nice waders like: Black Egret, Western Reef Heron, Hamerkop, Senegal Thick-knee, Purple Heron, Spur- winged Plover plus White-faced Scops-Owl. This was also a good place to work on the many doves and pigeons : Speckled Pigeon, Red-Eyed Doves, Namaqua Doves and Vinaceous Doves.

We then headed back to the hotel for dinner and the daily checklist.

White-faced Scops Owl

December 13, 2009 (Sunday)
Breakfast again at the hotel around 6:45AM.

Everywhere we noticed what I thought were moths attracted to the lights of the dining hall but on closer inspection they turned out to be butterflies. Called Caper Whites ( Belenois aurota), they are described as a big dry season migrant often attracted to lights. BINGO!. They are also known as "Brown-veined Whites".

After breakfast, it was off to Tujering . This is an area of scrubby grasses and woodlands and we had quite a few really nice birds here. Double-spurred Francolin, Standard-winged Nightjar, Four-banded Sandgrouse and White Helmetshrikes. There were also lots of passerines like Striped Kingfisher, Red-winged Warbler, Senegal Eremomela, Senegal Batis, Wryneck, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, Diedrick’s Cuckoo and Brown-Backed Woodpecker.

Little Bee-Eater

During the walk it became clear that Solomon was not feeling well and by the time we got to lunch he was seriously ill: a relapse of malaria. While we enjoyed a great lunch at Anna's Sandplover Inn Solomon called in a replacement guide. While we were very sad to see Solomon leave us, we were very happy to meet his student, Sering Bojang who would be with us the rest of the trip.

Lunch at Anna's also gave us time to enjoy Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Abyssinian Roller, Common Sandpipers and Common Redshank, Grey-headed, Slender-billed, Lesser Black-backed and Audouin’s Gulls, Royal, Caspian, Gull-Billed and Sandwich Terns. Shorebirds included : Grey and Ringed Plover, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Sanderling, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwit.

After lunch we headed out to Tanji . Birds here included :Fanti Saw-wing Swallows, African Green Pigeons, Brown and Black-capped Babblers, and 2 potential "splits" Spanish Yellow Wagtail (iberia) and Western Yellow Wagtail (flava).

African Green Pigeon

Then it was back to the Kombo Beach Hotel for dinner and checklist. Tomorrow will be a big day as we begin the move inland to Tendaba Camp.

December 14, 2009 (Monday)
Up early to make the first ferry out of Banjul for the north Shore and the town of Barra.

Sunrise over Banjul

Arriving at Barra

Arriving at the north shore we drove west along the north road. There were numerous opportunities on this long drive to stop at various birding sites and we picked up lots of new birds like: Wahlberg’s Eagle , Beaudouin’s Snake Eagles, Grasshopper Buzzards, Saville’s Bustard and Brown Snake Eagles but the real "target bird" which determined how far west we needed to travel was the rare and elusive Egyptian Plover and we were extremely lucky to get great looks at 2 birds.

Egyptian Plover ..YIP! YIP!

watching at the water hole

As it was getting late we headed back to Farafenni for the ferry crossing back to the south shore and Tendaba Camp, our home base for the next 2 days. But first we stopped at a watering hole to watch hundreds of birds bathing: birds like Red-billed Quella, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Black-rumped Waxbill and Sudan Golden Sparrow. .

Just before getting into Tendaba we stopped in the gathering darkness and had both Long-tailed and Standard-winged Nighjars soaring over the fields. It was incredible to see the full "standards" on the Standard-wingeds; an awesome bird.

It was late when we arrived; just enough time for a late supper and checklist before falling into bed after a very long and very birdy day.

riverside at Tendaba Camp

December 15, 2009 (Tuesday)
Up early for a quick breakfast before boarding our boat for a trip back across the Gambia River to a creek known as Kissitunku, on the north side. We spent a fun 3 hours cruising along the creek and getting up-close and personal look at many birds. It's amazing how close you can get to some of these birds when you're in a boat.

Lots of fly-over birds like Spur-winged Geese, Sacred Ibis, Woolly-necked and Yellow-billed Storks

We also had lots of Western Reef Herons, Pied, Malachite, Grey-headed and Blue-breasted Kingfishers , African Darters, Whimbrel, Senegal Thick-knees, Greenshanks, Goliath Herons and an adult White-backed Heron . Lots of opportunites for the photographers in the group.

We got back to camp around noon in time for lunch and a brief siesta before heading out again in the late afternoon for a trip to Batelling Bush Track . The thermals were right and it was perfect for watching soaring raptors like Brown Snake Eagles, Beaudouin’s Snake Eagles, Grasshopper Buzzards, Montague Harriers, a young Martial Eagle, Yellow-billed Kites and Dark-chanting Goshawks.

Viellot's Barbet

We also got good looks at Bearded and Viellot’s Barbets, Spotted Thick-knee, Rufous-chested and Mosque Swallows, Yellow Penduline Tit, Yellow White-eye and a Red-winged Pytilia . We were also able to spot a small group of Stone Partridge feeding by the roadside.

Bearded Barbet

On the way back to camp we ended the day by getting goot looks at African Scops Owls . Then it was time for dinner and the daily checklist.

December 16, 2009 (Wednesday)
It's breakfast and an early departure from Tendaba as we begin the long drive back along the south road to the coast. We start by returning the Batelling where we added White-shouldered Black-tit, Pale Flycatcher, Brown-rumped Buntings and Rufous Cisticola. One of the target birds on this return trip was Abyssinian Ground Roller which can be found anywhere along the way but can also be easily missed in the high grass. Fortunately our driver spotted a bird disappearing in the back of a field and we were able to chase it down and get good looks before it flew off.

Sering Bojang

Stopping at Brumen Bridge we were treated to soaring Bateleurs as well as White-backed, Ruppell’s Griffon and Hooded Vultures . There are certainly lots of raptors all over The Gambia.

Continuing east we stopped at a small woodlot and marsh area where we saw Black Crake and a Woodland Kingfisher perched quietly in the trees. We've had great luck with Kingfishers on the trip getting 8 out of 9 expected species.

Woodland Kingfisher

We had to keep moving because we were meeting a local birder who had staked out a pair of Grayish Eagle-Owls for us at his local patch, the Farababanta Tract. He guided us past numerous trees (all looking alike) to a small grove where we were able to pick out the very well concealed birds deep within the tree.

Back at the Kombo Beach Hotel we enjoyed the hot showers after Tendaba (only cold water showers), a lovely meal and the usual evening checklist.

December 17, 2009 (Thursday)
This morning after breakfast we headed for the Pirang Shrimp Ponds and Forest . Most of the ponds had no water and we weren't allowed in but we walked the road along the ponds and managed to see quite a few birds: flocks of Eurasian and African Spoonbills , Great White Pelicans, two Long-crested Eagles, Crested Larks , Yellow Wagtails, Pygmy Sunbirds and White-throated Bee-eaters.

scanning the shrimp ponds

Leaving the open ponds, we headed over to the more forested area. Despite the large number of people who use this area, there are still lots of great birds like both Paradise Flycatchers, Green Crombecs, Pied Hornbill and several Collared Sunbirds.

It was then time for lunch and we drove to Marrakissa Lodge run by a Dutch man and his Gambian wife. We enjoyed a lovely meal and watched his feeders where we were entertained by Piapiacs, Purple and Long-tailed Glossy Starlings, White-crowned Robin-Chats and a Greater Honeyguide

After lunch we continued birding the area where we finally saw the supposedly "very common" Pearl-spotted Owlets and at a small marsh we added Common Snipe and African Jacana.

It was then time to head back to Kombo Beach for our "farewell" dinner and the final checklist.

December 18, 2009 (Friday)
This was to be our last day in the Gambia. Since we were not scheduled to fly out until late afternoon we had time for some morning birding. Our first stop was just down the road from the hotel at Kotu Creek where we got great looks at Oriole Warbler. Solomon was back to join us for our last day and he seemed much better, thank goodness. We were sorry to lose him early in the trip but birding with Sering was so amazing.

It was then on to Brufut Woods trying to pick up some of the birds we'd missed as we added some very good birds like Grey-headed Bush-shrike, a pair of White-faced Scops Owls, Klaas’s Cuckoos, Copper Sunbirds and, finally, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl .

Heading back to the hotel we made out last stop at the local water treatment pond. No birding trip is complete without such a visit and we did manage to pull out some very nice birds including great looks at African Pied Hornbill. We'd seen distant views of this bird before but this bird was extremely cooperative and gave us great looks.

African Pied Hornbill

Then, it was all over. We went back to the Kombo Beach to pack up and headed out to the airport. We'd been told the plane was delayed by bad weather in the UK but we figured it was better to wait at the airport. Little did we know the saga yet to unfold. The short version ... the plane was 3 hours late arriving, then after loading everyone on board we couldn't take off because of a mechanical problem so we were off-loaded and returned to our hotel to await repair parts. After a 1 day delay, we finally took off around 9PM on Saturday (December 19th)

December 20, 2009 (Sunday)
We finally got into Gatwick around 3AM and hot-footed it over to Heathrow only to find out our Saturday flight had been cancelled due to bad weather in the US. Good news, BA would re-book our flights at no extra cost. Bad news... there were no seats available until Tuesday (December 22). Good News... BA would give us vouchers for 1 night's lodging, 3 meals and shuttle bus tickets.

So we ended up staying at the nearby Renaissance Hotel for 2 days, waiting for our re-booked flights. The weather in the UK was so cold and dreary none of us felt like going out and exploring so we just hung out, sleeping and reading.

December 22, 2009 (Tuesday)
Finally .... we got on a plane headed for the states. We couldn't get a flight directly into Philadelphia so we ended up flying to Boston and then catching a US Air flight to Philadelphia. Things actually went pretty well; flights were on time, luggage travelled with us and connections were made. We got back into Philadelphia around 11PM and I was home, safe and sound, before midnight. All in all, not that bad although it was a bit stressful at the time.