Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Gambia Part 1

On January 13th my wife and I flew to Banjul in the Gambia for 10 days R&R.  While there two years ago I discovered that this is a top notch place to go birding so I "negotiated" a couple of days birding for me while Mrs B soaked up the sun by the pool.  To be fair she does not bird and I do not do long stretches on pool loungers so it kinda works out well.

In the week before I went I contacted a local guide I met on my last trip and who, in my humble opinion, is one of the best there is and loves his birding.  Musa Jatta has been guiding bird trips in Gambia and Senegal for 16 years and is a remarkably easy going and knowledgeable man, I will not go on and on but I highly recommend him and will put the details of his website and email at the bottom of the page and in the News Items Tab.  I prefer to use local guides rather than the tour company excursions mainly because the cash goes to the local people instead of paying bonuses to high flying executives.

We did two formal sessions in total and a third short trip with another friend but the Gambia is such an amazing spot for birding that you can also do a good days birding just walking around the hotel gardens.  In out case there was everything from Hooded Vulture, Yellow Billed Kite, Purple Glossy Starling, Hornbill, numerous types of pigeon and dove but more of that anon.   I have separated this into two blogs, both quite large, the first is of birds from around the hotel grounds, the second from out and about.

Would I go back, well yes, I think Mrs B has already booked but one thing, your cards are redundant there, cash is king.

Anyhow trip advisor apart we arrived late in the evening and it was getting dark as we made or way to the hotel room.  The noise of the birds was still all around and the excitement levels began to grow straight off.

Virtually every day the Red-billed Hornbill and his mate were chattering away in the trees.  Every now and again they would drop to the floor and explore in the grass or undergrowth.

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and they were often joined by little groups of the Common Bulbul making me feel right at home as their song is very similar to that of the White Cheeked Bulbul back in Saudi.

common bulbul (Pycnonotus barbatus)
This chap used to spend every evening foraging in the grass outside our bedroom window.  The Senegal Coucal is pretty common all over the area but we never did get to understand why everything else flew off when it arrived.  A little research required there I think.

Senegal coucal (Centropus senegalensis)
I took lots of photos of the Cattle Egrets in the hotel grounds, decided to post this one as it shows how tame they were, they casually march up the poolside and pose, then drink before flying to the trees for a casual preen.

cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)
However, by far the loudest of all the birds in the din was the group of Purple Glossy Starling

 purple glossy starling (Lamprotornis purpureus),

and not forgetting, of course, their long tailed cousins, the long tailed glossy starling.

long-tailed glossy starling (Lamprotornis caudatus)
The hotel does a daily bird feeding session for the carnivores in the area and this usually attracts a couple of different meat eaters.  The Hooded Vultures appear to have decided to hand around the area all the time now as its easier than seeking out food at the local dump.

hooded vulture (Necrosyrtes monachus)
This guy was just hanging about waiting for meals on wheels!

Joining them were significant numbers of Yellow Billed Kites which did not hang round much after feeding but certainly arrived in large numbers bang on cue.  At one session I spotted over 30 and unlike the vultures they never landed to eat, always catching food in the air.

yellow-billed kite (Milvus aegyptius)
All around the area there were small family groups of Brown Babbers hopping about among the trees and bushes.

brown babbler (Turdoides plebejus)
I spotted this couple preening each other, which I thought a bit strange as I have not seen other birds do that, one of the benefits of family living I expect.

brown babbler (Turdoides plebejus)
The Yellow Crowned Gonolek did not appear until the end of our stay but once he arrived he stayed for a few days.  They have this wonderful deep call that once heard you will never forget.

yellow-crowned gonolek (Laniarius barbarus)
The most common member of the crow family in this area is the Pied Crow, like their relatives these are quite large and pretty aggressive towards other birds.

pied crow (Corvus albus)
The White Crowned Robin Chat was also about in good numbers in the hotel grounds, there are two types of Robin Chat in the Gambia, more on the other in the next report.

white-crowned robin-chat (Cossypha albicapilla)
One bird I had not expected to see in the hotel grounds was the Broad Billed Roller, this one was perched above the swimming pool for a while, see sometimes lounging by the pool can be good too.

cinnamon / broad billed roller (Eurystomus glaucurus)
 Pigeons and Doves were there in abundance with my old friend the Laughing Dove of Saudi being fairly common.  However also very common were the Speckled Pigeon and a couple of other types, of which more later.

speckled pigeon (Columba guinea)
Across the country there are a number of members of the collared dove fraternity.  These guys were outside the bedroom every day attracted by the peanuts put their by the German bloke across the garden.

vinaceous dove (Streptopelia vinacea)
Pretty common around the hotel though a little more secretive were the African Thrush, their liking for the dense trees and grey colour made them a little less evident than some of the more brightly coloured birds.

African thrush (Turdus pelios)
Anyhow, much as I enjoyed my birding around the hotel gardens and seeing the Blue Breasted Kingfisher which was way too fast for me to get a picture of there were other forms of life about

This 3 ft Monitor was sitting in the storm drains right by a bedroom block, what can you say, some folk were fascinated, others petrified, I don't think it cares one way or another lol.

green velvet monkey
Also present were two troops of monkey, the grey lot were very brazen and would fight you for your beer at the pool side, ok a bit of an exaggeration, but they were naughty.

red colobus monkeys

The red guys were much more docile and essentially never bothered anyone, except of course when they came crashing through the trees overhead. Sometimes sounded like the whole tree would come down.

This little chap just walked up the wall opposite us in the bar.  Calm as you like.  Just a taste of the birding around the Gambia, I have to say it is the most acceptable birding I have done for a while, most was done strolling around the Hotel Gardens or simply sitting outside our room, torture!! More anon.

Guide Contact Musa Jatta. Email 

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