Gambia
Location
January TBC
Dates
8
Availability

Incredible 13 day African adventure

This outstanding 13 day tour in one of Africa’s top birding destinations includes 5 full days visiting the most productive areas in the coastal region and 5 days and 4 nights up river. Adventure, exceptional wildlife encounters, incredible weather and experiences that you will relish are on our daily agenda!

While on the coast we are based at a beautiful eco-lodge where we can relax, enjoy fine cuisine and sleep well after each day’s birding. We then travel deep into the country staying at 2 different camps, including boat trips along the river and creeks for specialty birds and wildlife. This is not just a trip but the experience of a lifetime in possibly one of the best birding areas in the world.

Amazing photo opportunities

The Gambia may be the smallest country on mainland Africa but with a species list of over 540 and regular flights from the UK it’s a fantastic first choice for those wishing to connect with Afrotropical specialties! The birding and photography opportunities here are second to none; and you might be lucky enough to see a hippopotamus  Nile crocodiles, warthogs, bushpigs, monitor lizards, chameleons, geckos,and several monkey species.  

Taste the exotic by venturing up river

On a recent exploration (December 2015) we recorded bird 247 species  in just five days! The diversity of habitats close to the major resorts in Serekunda  makes birding very accessible for travelers. However, Summit to Seashore Birding Adventures wants you to journey further afield and have taste the exotic! Click on the itinerary tab to see the amazing program that awaits you.

What is included?

  • Pick up and drop off at Banjul Airport (The Gambia)
  • In country transportation
  • Boat excursions
  • Ferry fees
  • Entrance fees to parks and reserves
  • Professional bird guiding
  • Accommodation
  • Bottled water
  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner (Exceptions: No meals 3 Jan, no dinner 15 Jan)
  • Summit to Seashore birding checklist

What is NOT included?

  • Airfare*
  • Any airport fees or taxes
  • Travel and health insurance
  • Extra soft drinks, alcohol and additional snacks

*You must book your own flights.

Note: The itinerary may change on any tour depending on factors out of our control such as weather and flight delays etc.. The tour leader’s decision on an alternative itinerary is final. Summit to Seashore do not book flights at this time but recommended the most convenient flight that connects conveniently with the tour. It is the responsibility of all guests to get to the pick up point as specified. Please familiarise yourselves with our terms and conditions policy before booking. See our FAQs and Terms and Conditions for more detailed information.

Additional information

Duration13-days
Groupsize8
LeadersEbrima Barry, Rich Mooney
Level of DifficultyEasy to Moderate
Weather25-30c, Dry season
CurrencyDalasi, Pound (GBP)
Required ImmunisationsConsult your GP, Yellow Fever

Day 1: Banjul Airport

Pick up at Banjul Airport at 21:00 and transported to our accommodation.

Day 2: Abuko Nature Reserve / Kotu Bridge, ponds, rice fields and Fajara Golf Course

After enjoying the first of many breakfasts together our adventure really begins as we travel northeast for an hour to the famous Abuko Nature Reserve. En-route we will notice a variety of doves, Hooded Vulture, Yellow-billed Kite, Pied Crow and a good chance of Lanner Falcon and Red-necked Falcon. Just before Abuko we will make a stop at the rice fields where we can expect over 40 species in under an hour – Beautiful Sunbird, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, African Harrier Hawk, Western Grey Plantain-eater, Lizard Buzzard, Violet Turaco, Black Crake for starters…it’s ‘full on’ at this site so be prepared to be amazed!

The pace slows down at Abuko Nature Reserve but don’t let that fool you as treasure lurks around every corner. At the Darwin Field School we look across the freshwater pond where Hamerkop, Giant Kingfisher, Green Turaco, African Hornbill and Squacco Heron are often encountered. As we make our way through the gallery forest we should come across such wonders as African Paradise Flycatcher, Copper Sunbird, African Thrush and Little Greenbul. We will make a stop at the reserves outside bar for a cool drink where Green Vervet and Red Colobus Monkeys keep us company. Keep your eyes peeled in the sky for Mottled Spinetail, Red-chested Swallow and African Palm Swifts, though don’t ignore the understory as Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu (one of my favorite birds), Lavender Waxwing, Bronzed Manikin and Western Bluebill are all probable.

Around midday we will head to Lamin Lodge which is set within the mangroves. Here we will have a bite to eat and rest while scanning for birds in the comfort of some shade. Once rested we head northeast to Kotu bridge, sewage ponds, rice fields and Fajara Golf course. This area has an incredible selection of birds all within walking distance of each other. Species you can expect here are Spur-winged lapwing, Bearded Barbet, Pied Kingfisher, Long-tailed Cormorant, Senegal Thick-knee, Blue-bellied Roller, Little Bee-eater etc.

Day 3: Tujereng Woods, Tanji Fishing Village, Brufut Woods

We start at Tujereng Woods this morning where we scan the fields and Silk Cotton trees for the specialties that breed here. Your first impressions will be somewhat suspicious as it doesn’t look that interesting but that will change. Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weavers, Red-winged Warbler,Brubru, Senegal Batis, White-fronted Black Chat, Diederik Cuckoo, African Cuckoo can be expected.

Our next destination is a walk along the beach at Tanji where we look for gulls, terns and shorebirds while Osprey circle above us. Lunch at the Tanji restaurant is very relaxing as we enjoy some shade whilst watching doves, manikins, weavers, waxbills come to the drinking bowls.

Once rested we head to the famous Brufut woods where you can expect some very special species. It is here that we will hopefully see honeyguides, woodpeckers, weavers, starlings, the giant Verreaux’s Eagle Owl at a known roost area, Long-tailed Nightjar, Leveillant’s Cuckoo, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Pin-tailed Whydah and the skulky but vocal Oriole Warbler!

Day 4: Bonto Forest, Farasuto Forest

Bonto Forest is our first port of call but en-route we will keep our eyes peeled for raptors and rollers. At Bonto we will spend our morning looking for such wonders as Green Hylia, Green Crombec and our target bird White-spotted Flufftail! This is an excellent area and we should connect with many forest species.

After lunch at Kuloro Village we head to Farasuto Forest. This area is best described as a wet evergreen type forest with giant trees, dark understory and humid. Baobab trees sit on the outskirts dispersed with large bushes in open areas. Targets here include Abyssinian Roller, Rufous-crowned Roller,  Greyish Eagle Owl, African Wood Owl, Northern White-faced Owl, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike and Snowy-crowned Robin Chat. As the forest opens up into some big ponds White-backed Night Heron breed and watch for Nile Crocodile!

Day 5: Penyem, Marakissa

We head east today in search of a few target species such as White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, White Helmetshrike and African Golden Oriole to name a few. We will take lunch at Marakissa River Camp and bird the surrounding rice fields, woodlands etc. Birds here should include herons, egrets, kingfishers, rollers, babblers, waxbills and raptors. 

Day 6: Kartong Sandmines

A lovely relaxed day today with very little driving. Just a 10 minute drive south of our accommodation we enter the Kartong Sandmines, though a quick stop just before we get there should produce Piapiac, Senegal Parrot, African Green Pigeon, Green Wood-hoopoe, Grey Kestrel, Yellow-billed Shrike, Long-tailed Glossy Starling and Fine-spotted Woodpecker. Kartong boasts an amazing wetland area with three big freshwater pools. The best way to bird this site is to walk around the edge of the pools, affording you different angles to scan for its special inhabitants. Once we have covered an area we will hop back in the vehicle and head to the next scanning point. There is bird life galore here including Squacco Heron, Purple Heron, Purple Swamphen, Greater Painted Snipe, Black Crake, Malachite Kingfisher, White-faced Whistling Duck, African Jacana and Spur-winged Goose. The top prize here is African Pygmy Goose so be vigilant!

Once we have completed a circuit of the pools we will take a stroll along the beach. Species to be expected in the scrub are Crested Lark, Swallow-tailed bee-eater, Oriole warbler, Black-rumped Waxbill. The beach itself holds shorebirds, gulls and terns. The one here that we really will be searching for is the prized White-fronted Plover!

At about 1300 we will head back to our lodge for lunch and a lazy afternoon where we will have time to relax, read, sleep, catch up on notes or simply laze around, taking advantage of the wonderful freshwater pool. There are plenty of birding distractions around our lodge and maybe if you’re patient, you will spot the tiny African Pygmy Kingfisher that makes an appearance from time to time. 

Day 7: Depart 05:30 / Up Country to Janjanbureh (Georgetown)

An early start is the order of the day as we need to put some miles on to get to our destination. However, this isn’t motorway driving and we will be birding along the way stopping at some outstanding sites for very special birds.

First we head to Banjul where we will take the ferry to Barra, crossing the mighty Gambia River where it empties into the Atlantic. As we board and cross we should get Gull-billed Tern, Royal Tern, Grey-headed Gull, Kelp Gull and Pomarine Skua!

Once on the north side of the river we head east for about 100 kms stopping at the Bao Bolong Wetland. Here we will search for waders then to Ngeyen Sanjal for bustards and Temminck’s Courser. Next stop Kaur Wetland for Collared Pratincole, plovers, herons, Knob-billed Duck then  lunch in Kaur. After lunch we continue stopping at a few more sites in search of Exclamatory Paradise Whydah and Egyptian Plover!

Arriving at Lamin Koto around 18:30 we take the ferry across to Janjanbureh and head to our accommodation for the next two nights.

Day 8: Wassu, Kunkiling Forest park

After breakfast we jump back on the ferry to re-cross the Gambia River and head to the Wassu Stone Circle area. These ancient stones, believed to be the burial site of chiefs and kings, are not only a National Monument, but also declared World Heritage site by UNESCO. So, we not only get to witness this incredible historical area, we also get to track down some smart looking birds; namely Northern Anteater Chat and Northern Carmine Bee-eater! Raptors should be on the cards too with Martial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, White-headed Vulture all possible. We will take lunch and some free time back at our camp before heading to Kunkilling Forest Park where we will search for forest species and one specialty – Adamawa Turtle Dove!

Day 9: Boat trip on The Gambia, Bangsang, Jahally rice fields, Tendaba Camp

Our day starts with a boat trip in search of specialties such as African Fish Eagle, African Finfoot, Swamp Flycatcher, Shining-blue Kingfisher, bee-eaters, rollers, woodpeckers, Hadada Ibis, Pel’s Fishing Owl and maybe a Hippo or two! Next we head south and cross the bridge off  the island and make a quick detour to Bansang Quarry to witness the comings and goings of a Red-throated Bee-eater colony. Other noteworthy birds here include Bush Petronia, Cut-throat Finch and Cinnamon- breasted Rock Bunting.

Whilst heading east on the South Bank Road we make another stop to see a breeding colony of Marabou Stork, for me, one of the iconic birds of Africa and a bird I ogled over in books when I was a young boy. The Jahally Rice Fields are on the agenda were herons and egrets are present but also in the area specialties like Black Coucal and Bruce’s Pigeon could be seen.

We will arrive at Tendaba around 18:00 and book into our rooms, have a quick drink before heading just up the road to a spot where we will watch for Standard-winged Nightjar! Here there is also a good chance of Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, African Scops Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Broad-billed Roller and Four-banded Sandgrouse.

Day 10: Tendaba woodland and airfield, Kiang West National Park

A casual relaxed day starting with a look around some local woodland and airfield where we should see shorebirds, terns and Slender-billed Gull. We will have lunch back at Tendaba and enjoy a lazy afternoon before heading out at 16:00 to Kiang West National Park. Here we should find a good selection of species including woodpeckers, Waxbills, Pygmy Sunbird, bee-eaters, Diederik Cuckoo, Greater Honeyguide, Black Wood Hoopoe, White-rumped Seedeater, Brubru, Senegal Batis, Striped Kingfisher, Village Indigobird, Little Weaver, African Grey Hornbill, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Namaqua Dove etc then back to camp for our last night up country.

Day 11: Boat trip, Kampanti rice fields, Raptor bridge, back to our lodge on the coast.

Our last morning up country is very special as we take a motorized canoe across the Gambia River for three hours and explore Kissi and Tunku Creeks. We slowly cruise between the mangroves watching the bird life unfold in front of us – African Darters sit spread-winged before us as we quietly cruise by. White-backed Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Intermediate Egret, Western Reef Heron, Green-backed Heron, Hamerkop will keep us company as we continue further in. Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Grey-headed kingfisher and White-throated Bee-eater are all expected as are Brown Sunbird and Yellow-crowned Gonolek that tease us from the bushes. As we advance the land opens up into wide wet marsh where Yellow-billed Stork, Wooly-necked Stork and Sacred Ibis feed. Bush Pig is possible and Nile Crocodile probable. Keep your eyes to the skyline too as Pink-backed Pelican pass over and if we are lucky, we may connect with a Black Crowned Crane! It is here where we just might end our journey with an incredible couple of species, Pel’s Fishing Owl and African Blue Flycatcher are occasionally found in this area – fingers crossed.

Back on the road we make stops at a few sites, including Kampanti rice fields and ‘Raptor Bridge’. African Harrier Hawk, Palm-nut Vulture, Grasshopper Buzzard, Dark-chanting Goshawk, Shikra, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Bateleur, Long-crested Eagle, African Hawk Eagle all possible and some probable. Vultures en-route should include White-backed Vulture, Eurasian griffon Vulture, Hooded Vulture and possibly Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, one spotted on my last trip. We then continue back to our base camp on the coast and collapse….and celebrate.

Day 12: Vulture Feeding, Kachikally Crocodile Pool

Our final day here in The Gambia will be a little more relaxed. Let’s face it, after 10 days in the field we’ve earned it! So, after a later breakfast and a lazy morning we will make our way to The Senegambia Hotel in Serrekunda. Here we will witness the daily vulture feeding. This is a great way to see up to 100 Hooded Vulture, up close and personal! There is plenty of other bird life within the grounds and a good chance of seeing Monitor Lizard. Once we have had our fill of vultures and browsed a few souvenir shops, for those who want, we will make our way to  Kachikally Crocodile Pool. This sacred site is just a 15 minute drive away and an interesting addition to our tour. Here you can see as many as 80 Crocodile, close enough to touch! Local Gambians believe this to be a place of healing and prayer. The remainder of our day will be spent back at our accommodation where we relax and enjoy the sun or take advantage of time to photograph the common birds within the grounds.  

Day 13: Flight back to the UK 

Free time for a visit to the beach or a walk in the woods. Depart our accommodation at 16:30 – 17:00 for airport.

On the 20th December 2015 I travelled to Gambia on a week long family break and birding reconnaissance with my wife and youngest son, staying at the Kombo Beach Hotel close to Serekunda. During our stay I managed to see an incredible 247 species, 195 of them new birds for me. Add to that Monitor Lizards, 3 species of monkey, Bushpigs, Nile Crocodiles, an incredible range of habitats, culture, music and wonderful friendly people.

FULL CHECKLIST

The Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa and is located on the west coast, south of the Sahara and surrounded on three sides by its neighbour Senegal. On its western border the Gambia River meets the Atlantic Ocean. With a species list of over 540, regular flights, a well established infrastructure for tourists and safe environment, it’s easy to see why Gambia is a good first choice for experiencing the wonder of African birds.

There are two main field guides – Birds of the Gambia and Senegal by Clive Barlow and Tim Wacher (1997) and the newer Birds of Senegal and The Gambia by Nik Borrow and Ron Demey (2011), published by Christopher Helm. Both books are equally as important in not only preparing for the trip, but their use in the field. The first edition gives an in depth account of all species, highlighting identification, habitats, status and distribution and breeding with very accurate plates. The newer guide has range maps and a shorter accounts brief conveniently positioned opposite each species plate. It also has a great quick index at the back so you can immediately find birds by group.

During my visit, Ebrima W. Barry, an experienced and long established bird guide escorted me on four full days of birding and Junkung Jadama for one day. Both guides are very knowledgeable about birding within Gambia, familiar with vocalisations, habitat and local ‘hotspots’. Both are also registered with the Gambian Birdwatching Association and members of WABSA (West African Bird Study Association).

We arrived at Banjul Airport at 19:27 on the 20th December 2015. Our accommodation and flights were booked through Thomas Cook and we were greeted at Banjul Airport by a representative who had arranged a taxi for us. A twenty minute drive put at us at the Kombo Beach Hotel; our home for the next week and conveniently located next to Kotu Creek and Fajara Golf Course.

21st December 2015
Abuko National Nature Reserve,  Kotu Bridge, Fajara Golf Course, Kotu Sewage Ponds

After breakfast I had time for a short walk on the beach before meeting my guide Ebrima. Yellow-billed Kite was my first new bird of the trip with many individuals coasting over my head in the post dawn light. Next a Pied Crow, Speckled Pigeon, Laughing Dove and Common Bulbul.

Ebrima greeted me at the hotel gate at 07:30 am where we jumped into his vehicle and headed for the famous Abuko Nature Reserve. Abuko is Gambia’s first nature reserve, receiving its official status in 1968. First, however, we made a stop at the Lamin (Abuko) rice fields from 08:00 – 09:10 am. Within an hour we had tallied up a species list of over 45 birds, all but 2 being lifers for me. Stand out birds were African Harrier Hawk, Senegal Coucal, Western Grey Plantain-eater, Violet Turaco, Yellow-billed Shrike and Palm-nut Vulture!

A short drive put at us at Abuko around 09:20 am where we spent the next few hours. The woodland birding here was as expected; a little slower paced than what I had just experienced, but held gems around every corner. We first stopped at the main freshwater pool near the Darwin Field School where we got Giant Kingfisher, Hamerkop (building nest), Black-headed Heron, Green Turaco, Piapiac, Squacco Heron and African Grey Hornbill.

Continuing on we headed through gallery forest where we began connecting with some real specialties – both African Paradise Flycatcher and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher were seen well. Beautiful Sunbird, Copper Sunbird, Splendid Sunbird, African Thrush, Little Greenbul also made the list before stopping at the drinks bar at the opposite end of the reserve. Here we relaxed and had a bite to eat and drink whilst enjoying the comings and goings of both Green Vervet and Red Colobus Monkeys. Above us Hooded Vulture enjoyed the thermals and joining them were African Palm Swifts, Fanti-sawing, Mottled Spinetail and Red-chested Swallow.

En-route back to the vehicle we located one of the reserve specialties, and high on most birders wish list – Western Bluebill. Shortly after this we got Black Crake, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu; a common but most beautiful bird and flagged as one of my own targets to see.

We stopped for some lunch back at Kotu before continuing on. After checking the feeding station next to the bird guides HQ we scanned the exposed mud from the Kotu bridge. Common birds of this area such as Spur-winged Lapwing, African Wattled Lapwing, Whimbrel, Hamerkop, Redshank and Pied Kingfisher were all present and in the bushes, Little Bee-eater, Northern Crombec and Fork-tailed Drongo made an appearance. A walk around the nearby sewage ponds produced yet more new birds such as White-faced Whistling Duck, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Intermediate Egret, Long-tailed Glossy Starling and both Blackcap and Brown Babbler. Our final area to check on day one was the Fajara Golf Course and it was as good as I had read about. Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Broad-billed Roller, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Black-crowned Tchagra, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Bearded Barbet, Woodland Kingfisher and Levaillant’s Cuckoo all showing well. Our day finished around 18:30 back at the hotel with a daily total of 105 species.

22nd December 2015
Farasuto Forest, Bamakuno Forest, Kampanti rice fields (Raptor Bridge View Point), Kalaji Bridge (Military Check Point), Tendaba, Tendaba Airfield, Kiang West National Park

Another 07:30 am pick-up and before we had even got to the vehicle Ebrima pointed out a Northern Puffback that was calling from the bushes. Shortly after this we were passing through the Bijilo area where we added Lanner Falcon which flew across the road in front of us. This was followed by a Red-necked Falcon that was sat on street light, a Blue-bellied Roller perched on a wire and tree full of nesting White-billed Buffalo Weavers.

We arrived at Farasuto Forest at 08:30 am, greeted by a cracking view of Abyssinian Roller. We then met with Ebrima’s friend and local bird guide, Ebrima Ceesay. Standing in a clearing surrounded by giant Baobab Trees and smaller bushes we noticed birds everywhere. With two ‘Ebrima’s’ calling out birds and seeing birds myself I didn’t know which way to look. Blackcap Babbler, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Variable Sunbird, Little Weaver and while trying to get a photo of a Beautiful Sunbird Ebrima Barry frantically gestured to me. By the sound of his voice and gestures I knew it must me something good. It was –Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike!

Next I was escorted to a roosting site of Greyish Eagle Owl. This owl was located by Ebrima Ceesay prior to us arriving and if that wasn’t enough, I was shown a Northern White-faced Owl on a nest! It can’t get any better than this I thought but it did. Minutes later I was staring up one of the most difficult owls to see in this area – African Wood Owl. It was at that point I knew that this day was going to be epic and it was. There was a calling Ahanta Francolin and then a good look at Snowy-crowned Robin-chat. Exiting the forest we then came into an opening with some big ponds where we got Nile Crocodile, White-backed Night Heron, Bar-breasted Firefinch and a fly-over African Fish Eagle – the only one of the trip.

En-route to Bamakuno Forest we stopped for Little Swift and Great White Pelican. On the dirt track at Bamakuno Bateleur, Long-crested Eagle and Wahlberg’s Eagle were also added. This great raptor list continued as we drove further east adding Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle, Eurasian Griffon Vulture, African Harrier Hawk, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Shikra and Grasshopper Buzzard.

Our next stop was the Kampanti rice fields also known as the Raptor Bridge View Point. Here we spent about 1 ½ hours raptor watching and had some lunch and a cold fanta. We got second views of some of the birds we had already seen, which I was very happy about, but also added Palm-nut Vulture, Malachite Kingfisher and 2 male Exclamatory Paradise Whydah. On the road again we continued with our luck this time seeing Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, African White-backed Vulture, Brown Snake Eagle and African Hawk Eagle.

At 15:30 we pulled into Tendaba camp, sorted out our room, had a quick drink then headed back out of camp for some more birding. First stop was at Tendaba Airfield where we got Gull-billed Tern and Slender-billed Gull.The next 2 hours we birded within the Kiang West National Park. I would compare my time in this area to how I felt at the Boy Scout Woods in Texas many years ago – incredible! ‘We hit a hot spot’ and the birds were coming in thick and fast. At one point Ebrima literally grabbed me while I was looking at a Striped Kingfisher – at the same time he had Senegal Batis, Brubru and Swallow-tailed Bee-eater in the same bushes and didn’t want me to miss them. It was chaotic and frantic but we got some good birds – Cut-throat Finch, Pygmy Sunbird, White-rumped Seedeater, Greater Honeyguide, Black Wood Hoopoe, Red-billed Quelea, White Helmetshrike and Diederik Cuckoo to name a few.

By dusk we were positioned up the road from Tendaba camp. Here we waited quietly in hope of seeing Standard-winged Nightjar. Unfortunately this bird was a no show but it didn’t matter, we had had an outstanding day. Our dusk vigil didn’t go un-rewarded. First up was a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl which flew over the road, it’s pink eyelids clearly seen. Next an African Scops Owl began calling from some nearby trees followed shortly by a brief look at Pearl-spotted owlet. The finale was a Broad-billed Roller hawking insects overhead and two Four-banded Sandgrouse that came whizzing past us. 137 species seen including 6 owls.

23rd December 2015
Tendaba Canoe Trip, Baterling Track, Kiang West National Park

After a good night’s sleep and a nice breakfast we climbed into the boat that would take us across the Gambia River and into the mangroves. Onboard was the captain and his helper, two other Brits and their guide, Ebrima and myself. The trip across the river was smooth sailing with no problems followed by 3 wonderful hours puttering along Kissi Creek and Tunku Creek. It was an extremely enjoyable time just sitting back and seeing not only new birds but good numbers of certain species such as African Darter, Great Cormorant, Western Reef Heron and Blue-breasted Kingfisher. African Spoonbill and Sacred Ibis were added to our list followed by Brown Sunbird. Continuing on we started to see Wooly-necked Stork, a Montagu’s Harrier then a fortunate encounter 3 Black Crowned Crane!

Nile Crocodiles casually slipped into the water in front of us as we made our way along, reminding us that we were not always at the top of the food chain. Yellow-crowned Gonoleks called from the bushes, kingfishers sat proudly on their perches while African Darters sunned their wet wings in the morning sun. Already we had listed about 40 species but had a few more to go. Yellow-billed Storks came next and affording us close up looks then a perched Grey-headed Kingfisher, Mosque Swallow then White-throated Bee-eater. We ended up with over 50 species from the boat including another good look at White-backed Night Heron on a nest.

We arrived back at camp just after 11:00am and after sorting out our gear we hit the road back to the west coast. Just outside of the camp a Gabar Goshawk circled above us, its trademark white rump showing well and a reminder that anything could show up at anytime. The route back was taken via the Baterling track leading to Kiang West National Park. Today we were on the lookout for Spotted Thick-knee but to no avail, though we did get cracking views of Black-rumped Waxbill and Bush Petronia whilst searching. With time working against us we continued our journey west stopping again at the Kampanti rice field adding African Green Pigeon.

A little further up the road Ebrima quickly pulled over and we both jumped out – our prize… a fly-over light-phased Booted Eagle! The euphoria of this great raptor didn’t last long as we realized that the clutch had gone on the vehicle. The next ½ hour was a little tense as Ebrima fought through the gears to get us to a mechanic. Our main obstacle was getting through Police checkpoints of which there are many. Usually you come to a complete stop before you are waved on. As changing gears was a real problem Ebrima had to try coast through the checkpoints shouting out the window he had clutch problems. With sweat pouring down his face, swerving around dogs, goats people and overtaking traffic he still managed to shout out birds – “African Golden Oriole”! Luck, however, was on our side and we pulled into a backstreet mechanic that Ebrima new. Within 20 minutes the clutch was repaired to allow us to get on our way. Try to get that kind of speed and service in the UK!

24th December 2015
Tujereng Woods, Tanji Bird Reserve and beach, Brufut Woods

Today I met with Junkung Jadama and one of his trainee guides Baba Drammeh. Junkung, also known as JJ, previously worked for Parks and Wildlife, is a professional Bird Guide and coordinator for The Rutland Water Osprey Project in West Africa. Baba has completed 2 of his 3 year apprenticeship to become a bird guide but has been interested in wildlife and birds since he was very young.

Our first stop today was at Tujereng Woods which is located inland on the west coast. Woods isn’t the best descriptive word for this area as it is more a mix of cultivated and overgrown fields with large bushes, some smaller trees and large Silk Cotton Trees. The birding here was again exceptional with an impressive 60 species seen in just over an hour. Birds of note included Senegal Batis, Greater Honeyguide, Yellow Penduline Tit, Vieillot’s Barbet, Pied-winged Swallow, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow. Chestnut-crowned Sparrow Weaver and Black Flycatcher.

A short drive north put us at the Tanji Bird Reserve around 13:30 and just in time for lunch. Drinking and bathing areas for birds have been positioned opposite the dining area so even while you are eating you can do some bird watching. Red-billed Firefinch, Lavender Waxbill, Brown Manikin, Black-necked Weaver and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu were all present.

At About 15:00 we headed down to the beach close to the Tanji Fishing Village and walked the shoreline. Here there were a few Osprey to keep JJ busy checking for leg bands. The majority of the gulls were Grey-headed Gull but Yellow-legged, Kelp, Slender-billed and Lesser Black-backed Gull were also present. There were also a good number of terns, Royal, Caspian and Sandwich all seen but no Lesser Crested Tern. Waders included Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Sandpiper, Grey Plover and Whimbrel.

Our final stop for the day was the famous Brufut Woods. This is one of the places I was really looking forward to seeing and it didn’t disappoint. We didn’t have much time here but we got what we came for. On arrival, and before we even had a chance to get out of the car, we got 2 Pin-tailed Whydah. This absolutely wonderful bird was not yet in breeding plumage but still looked amazing to me.

Aba Jarju, a very important man to know in Brufut Woods joined us for our walk. Aba is a guide here and not only is he skilled at recognising calls but pariculalrly gifted at locating ‘tough to see’ birds. He lead us along a maze of narrow paths finally stopping at a dead end. Here he knelt down and pointed under some bushes. Sitting about four feet in front of us was one of the main target birds – Long-tailed Nightjar! Infact there were 2 Long-tailed Nightjar, male and female. With light fading we continued on to another roost site, this time for a much bigger bird – Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. Though I got this bird outside Tendaba on the second night, this time I really got to have a good look. My luck was still holding as we made our way back to the vehicle, finally getting a decent look at Oriole Warbler then both Levaillant’s Cuckoo and Diederik Cuckoo.

25th December 2015
Kartong Sand Mines and Tujereng Woods

My Christmas present today was a free pass to go birding – not a problem and much appreciated. Day 5 and I was back in the company of Ebrima W Barry. Our destination – The Kartong Sand Mines. Kartong sits at the southernmost point of Gambia, close to the Senegal border. Fresh water pools now fill these old mines making it an exceptional wetland area with reedbeds. Initially we stopped just outside of town and scanned some trees getting better looks at African Green Pigeon.

We arrived about 08:30 am, scanning a smaller pond first and observed usual suspects such as Cattle Egret, Spur-winged Lapwing, Malachite Kingfisher, White-faced Whistling Ducks, Black Crake, Squacco Heron, African Jacana and Marsh Harrier.

As we continued on to my surprise the reserve was much bigger than I expected. It had good access around it and once we had scanned an area we simply moved up to the next in the vehicle. New species here included Purple Swamphen, Greater Painted Snipe and Plain-backed Pipit. Our main targets in this area were Spur-winged Goose and African Pygmy Goose. Ebrima got a quick glimpse of the Spur-winged but they were gone before I got a chance to see them. We carried on both on foot and vehicle, scanning from different angles. We added Purple Heron then 2 juvenile Spur-winged Geese mixed in with some whistling ducks. We continued past the wetlands and onto the beach in search of another specialty. Our first reward came in the form of two wonderful Crested Larks. After a while we began to see waders close to the water – Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover, basically everything other than what we were looking for.

It is at this point I should pause and explain something. This was day 4 with Ebrima and I had already learned lots about him. He knows the birds the land the people and hotspots and seamlessly ran each day with precision timing. He took care of details and made sure I was always fed, watered and comfortable – the icebox full of cold drinks in the back of his vehicle was very welcome. But what impressed me more than that was his hunger, instinct and focus. He has been in the field for a long time and has led many groups and individuals but led each day with me like it was his first. Enthusiastic and dedicated.

We reached as far as we could go, the tide cutting us off and so began the walk back – that’s when I heard Ebrima say “there you are”. Following his pointed finger I connected with our quarry – 40 feet in front of us was a White-fronted Plover! This cracking little peep took off at speed like a clockwork toy across the sand. We doubled back on ourselves which allowed us another look and to our amazement we found about 15. We must have simply just walked passed them on the way up, though not surprising considering their camouflage. That didn’t matter now – Ebrima was grinning like a Cheshire Cat and so was I.

Our appetites were getting the best of us and we pushed on north up the Kombo Coastal Road turning west from the town of Sanyang until we hit the coast and Paradise Beach Bar. Not many birds here but a cold drink and the best Omelette and chips I’ve ever had made up for it.

By 16:20 we were at Tujereng Woods for a second viewing. A missed cuckoo sp, a skulking Red-winged Warbler then a stringy look at the rear of a Brown-backed Woodpecker greeted us on arrival and we sensed our luck might be running out. We needn’t of worried, there were still a few surprises to come. Another good look at Yellow Penduline Tit was followed by my first Black-winged Bishop. The cuckoo sp that had slipped away previously put in a second appearance, this time giving us chance to scrutinize its features – a mostly yellow bill and darker grey wings, back and nape confirmed African Cuckoo. Within minutes of this sighting a second cuckoo appeared, this time a beautiful adult male Klaas’s Cuckoo. Another scan of the fields before we left paid off in the form of a male White-fronted Black Chat!

26th December 2015
Fatala Game Reserve – Senegal, Casino Cycle Track at Kotu

Today’s itinerary was a little different as I joined my family on an excursion to the 6000 hectare Fathala Wildlife Reserve in Senegal. This trip was organised through Gambia Tours who picked us up at our hotel at about 07:30 am. We joined other participants on a tour bus which took us to the ferry at Banjul. The logistics of getting to Fathala were well organised and our guide was very informative, explaining much about the history of Gambia and Senegal.. Whilst waiting for the ferry next to the harbour I noted a few birds such as Gull-billed Tern, Grey-headed Gull, Kelp Gull, Sandwich Tern, Royal Tern and Caspian Tern. We all boarded the ferry as foot passengers as a second vehicle would pick us up in Barra. En-route I kept my eyes peeled for Lesser-crested Tern but didn’t see any. I did, however, get up to 9 Pomarine Skua which was new for the trip.

Arriving in Barra at 09: 30 we proceeded to our second tour bus then onto the border checkpoint located north of Fass and south of Karang in Senegal. Passports and medical cards showing yellow fever status had to be stamped. Once through customs we continued on arriving around 11:00 am. After some organizing we boarded a giant open sided truck and entered the game park. The next 1 ½ hours was spent bumping our way around the many small tracks centered around a watering hole.

Our first encounter was with 3 Zebra and some Warthogs. Amazing to see these wonderful animals at close range. Unlike a Zoo, here at the wildlife reserve there is no guarantee to see the animals but luckily we found a few. Next was a fantastic sighting of Giraffe; a male, female and young, Roan Antelope and lastly one of the reserve’s main stars – Giant eland or Lord Derby eland Antelope.

Prior to embarking on our mini safari we had ordered our lunch for the day, so on return to the camp we all sat down and enjoyed a pizza and cold drink, all included on the tour. Once fed and watered we climbed back onto the tour bus and headed for Barra. Our timing was very tight and at the harbour we literally had to run for the ferry. It was quite a surreal moment to be honest, especially as I hoisted a goat onto my shoulders to help a local man – only in Gambia!

We arrived back at our hotel around 17:15 where I met up with Ebrima at Kotu Bridge. We took a walk along a path commonly known as the ‘casino cycle track’ and it is here where I finally got excellent views of Pearl Spotted Owlet! I have sneaky suspicion that Ebrima had located this bird prior to me getting back as he knew I really wanted to get a better look. Just past Badala Park Hotel, which is next to the trail, is a small path leading to Badala Park Pool. This little wetland is definitely worth checking – African Darter, Cattle Egret, Black-tailed Godwit, Common Sandpiper, Long-tailed Cormorant, Black-winged Stilt and White-faced Whistling Duck Greater Painted Snipe all present.

27th December 2015
Local area – Kotu Bridge, Fajara Golf Course, Kotu Sewage Ponds and Casino Cycle Track, Katchikally Crocodile Pool, flight back to England

My morning started with one more walk around the local area with Ebrima. While waiting for him near Kotu Bridge I got my final lifer of the trip – White-crowned Robin Chat. There were 3 individuals feeding along a path next to the birders hut. We totaled 56 species on our walk including 2 new trip birds – Subalpine Warbler and Green Sandpiper. After saying my farewells to Ebrima and some of the other guides my family and I had one final excursion to Katchikally Crocodile Pool. This sacred site is visited not only by tourists but by local people as it is known for its healing powers and also a place of prayer and blessings. There are approximately 80 crocodiles here and some close enough to touch.

The Gambia was everything I hoped it would be and more. Having never been to Africa it definitely was an eye opener and very different than anything I have ever known. The comfort of the resorts and hussle and bussle of high pressure sales in the touristy areas seemed in complete contrast to the Gambia I experienced. Having spent most of my time in the field and getting to meet local people away from the coast gave me the opportunity to have a very different view. I have yet to meet a more friendly people than those I met on my travels. When we had vehicle trouble people helped without thought of reward and at both mechanics the problem was dealt immediately with no fuss. The Police and Military were always polite and respectful, as were we, and on more than one occasion made eye contact with me and inquired if I was ok.

My intention for this trip was to finally see some African birds but also for research, the aim being to bring a group here myself. What you have read above is a taste of what would be in store. The return trip will include 4 nights and 5 days up country where we will encounter Hippopotamus, Baboons. Chimpanzees and a host of birds that will include such specialties as African Finfoot, Egyptian Plover, Brown-necked Parrot, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Shining-blue Kingfisher, African Blue Flycatcher, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, White-headed Vulture and Marabou Stork – and that’s just for starters!


TOP 27

During our Exotic Birding in the Gambia tour we hope to connect with close to 300 species, many of which highly prized specialties. Summit to Seashores Top 27 is really just a bit of fun, as even the most common birds are obviously special. So, the list below represents not only the rare but the good the bad and the ugly! We are very aware of our customers hopes and dreams when planning a trip, so here are some targets that are high on our priority list.

  1. Marabou Stork
  2. Hadada Ibis
  3. Wooly-necked Stork
  4. Spur-winged Goose
  5. African Fish Eagle
  6. White-headed Vulture
  7. Bateleur
  8. White-spotted Flufftail
  9. Black-crowned Crane
  10. Savile’s Bustard
  11. Temminck’s Courser
  12. White-fronted Plover
  13. Egyptian Plover
  14. Greater Painted-snipe
  15. Verreaux’s Eagle Owl
  16. Pel’s Fishing Owl
  17. Standard-winged Nightjar
  18. Shining-blue Kingfisher
  19. Northern Carmine Bee-eater
  20. White-breasted Cuckooshrike
  21. African Finfoot
  22. Oriole Warbler
  23. Pygmy Sunbird
  24. Northern Anteater Chat
  25. African Blue Flycatcher
  26. White Helmetshrike
  27. Exclamatory Paradise Whydah
Gambia birding