Jump to content
Dave Williams

Gambia 2016... another visit to the Smiling Coast

Recommended Posts

Dave Williams

This trip to The Gambia seemed a long time coming. It was booked way back in March, more than seven months previously. A lot can happen in seven months, not least a Brexit vote which of course has played havoc with the valuation in the pound, but ironically also seen a drop in demand for travel to The Gambia.

Why did we book so early? Well my travel companion Alan also needed to fit in a pre Xmas trip to Goa, I needed to fit in a trip with my o/h Claire, and as we were booking through our Gambian guide, we needed to confirm availability of accommodation "up river" before someone grabbed them all!

This trip was all about going further inland than either of us had ventured before. The objective to see one or two bird species not found on the coast. We'd been as far as Tendaba on our last trip, this time we wanted to go as far as Janjanbureh, the former colonial capital previously known as Georgetown.

We knew we had to go early in the season, pre Xmas in fact, to see one of the specialities, the Egyptian Plover, so with that in mind we caught the second charter flight of the season out of Manchester airport on 6/11/2016.

Our plan was 2 nights on the coast, 5 nights inland, 3 nights on the coast and back home again.

I had considered getting Claire to fly out and join me for the the latter part and indeed extending my stay but that would have made life awkward for Alan getting back from the airport. I wasn't going to leave Claire on the coast alone and she certainly didn't want to travel up river as the accommodation is basic. It was easier to leave her at home !

Now that would be mean and selfish wouldn't it? Me enjoying some winter sun whilst she was suffering the cold and damp of a British winter !

Simple solution, I booked a separate package tour for the two of us back to The Gambia, 10 days after the first one ended!

And so to our first trip with just Alan and myself.

Our anticipation and expectations were high, we had after all been before and knew what to expect, well of the places we had already been anyway.

Up early at 4.30 am, I picked up Alan from his home on the Wirral and we were sat enjoying our first beer of the trip in Manchester airport at 7.00am on a Sunday morning. It's part of the tradition now, something that has to be done!

Our flight arrived 40 minutes early, a taxi to the pre booked hotel, the Bakotu , had us ready to catch the last hour of daylight for a quick appraisal of the local area around Kotu before meeting our guide for the forthcoming trip.

Our first impressions were that there weren't many birds around on the mud flats at Kotu Bridge! Very strange.

I grabbed a couple of shots of a Little Bee-eater and that was about it really.


30953344441_c4c0f6bb91_b.jpg


We paid our guide the money for our trip upfront in £ notes and he went off to cash it before the exchange rate dropped any further. He had been given the option to quote in Dalasai way back when the exchange rates looked a bit dodgy but had opted not to in the hope that he would gain on a £ recovery. That was to be his loss, not ours but he had been given the chance to secure a fee in local prices.

On our last visit the exchange had been 70+ dalasi to the pound. It was currently standing at 52.

We ate in the hotel that first night and I noted that the prices of a meal seemed to have risen as a result. Oh well, such is life.

TBC

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave Williams

I was up early that first morning and decided I would have a quick stroll down to the beach and to see what had been reported as the change in the mouth of the river due to erosion by the sea. I had always chosen the Sunset Beach hotel which overlooks this area in the past. For reasons of cost and the need for a change to add some variety I had chosen differently this time. It seems it might be a good choice as the mouth of the river was virtually free of birds. No gulls, terns, Reef Egrets, Kingfishers.... nothing at all! This wasn't looking too good. The river now had taken a different course altogether from our last stay and the dynamic was different. The pools as the tide retreated no longer existed, instead the water flowed too fast to make fishing by the birds too difficult at that spot.

I returned to the hotel and following breakfast by the pool we headed off via the rear entrance of the hotel down through the mangroves, across the mud and on to the golf course.

Having spent many weeks on holidays in this area I know most places like the back of my hand.

The mud flats held a few birds, mainly Spur-winged Plovers. Most walked away from us but this one didn't.

30925053562_392a3fe4e1_b.jpg

It's only now I can see why!

We headed up to a bushy area near one of the tees, a spot where previously I have seen lots of species. Our only discovery a pair of Wattled Lapwing hiding in the rough.

31031628796_8aa298f027_b.jpg

As we approached the Clubhouse area a local approached us introducing himself as the Club President. He was enjoying a mug of tea and we spent a few minutes talking golf. As he knew the course well he offered to show us a tree that held a roosting Owl. We thankfully accepted. As we walked along the fairway he also told us that his favourite bird on the course was the Shining Blue Kingfisher. That rang alarm bells as the liklyhood of finding one in this location was extremely slim but that said, on out last trip an equally unlikely juvenile Finfoot was seen in the creek. Both birds were on our target list for way up river.

The tree drew a blank, so did several more. He suggested we try the Kingfisher. His apparent lack of any bird identification skills and the aimless walking around the reed beds confirmed he was basically a chancer. We were wasting time and we thanked him for his efforts. He demanded money, we refused as we had received nothing in exchange. We were back in The Gambia, it is a way of life for some. Was he the President of the club. In hindsight he didn't behave like one.

We crossed over the river which was now at low tide and stopped off at the Bird Guide Associations soft drink bar and garden. All the official guides are members and have identification as such. They have to serve time as an apprentice before being granted membership. I haven't a clue how many there are but it's very easy to find one, especially down at the bridge in Kotu were many tout for business from passing tourists.

Here in the garden there was just one. We ordered a couple of ice cold Cokes at a very reasonable 70 dalasai , the guide offered to show us an Owl in a nearby tree. Having fallen for that one we were somewhat reluctant so I offered him the 30 dalasai change just to tell us which tree. He told us he'd take us. There was no Owl but as it was about 20 yards walk from where we were sitting he had been well rewarded!

We left him behind, declining his offer of a walking tour to show us around and instead headed up to the nearby sewerage ponds.

If you are in to bird watching sewage ponds are a well known attraction. If you are not you must think we are nuts hanging around such places. Sewage of course holds potential hazards for humans but the birds thrive in such insect producing conditions.

The four very large ponds looked completely different to the past though. They were full of water and nothing else, well nothing obvious and that included birds. Gone were the lilly pads and other vegetation. There had been a massive clean up! A local approached us and demanded 50 dalasai entrance fee. I told him I wasn't paying unless I got a receipt. I hadn't a clue who he was, potentially another chancer. He returned with the new site boss who I think is Eastern European and a gang of heavies! I explained I wasn't handing money over not knowing who to and the boss agreed with me. I should have and got a receipt on payment. Seems that it's a new company running things now and they had seen the opportunity for extra revenue. I don't think it will continue unless the birding improves though!

My only photo efforts were of a couple of Little Grebes who were happy to swim under the surface of the water!

31031628236_88eeb5315c_b.jpg

We didn't hang around long and moved on towards the beach in search of the Painted Snipe hide.

That was another huge disappointment. The hide that was only recently built on my last visit 20 months ago had already fallen in to disrepair. Whether the Snipe are still there I don't know as I decided not to hang around to find out as Alan hadn't fancied the walk through the thick slimy mud and I didn't want to leave him waiting too long.

We decided it was now pretty hot and time for a little liquid refreshment at the nearby Kunta Kinte beach bar. There has been a lot of building development around here, perhaps the Snipe have found a new territory.

Moving on we reached the mouth of the river by the Palm Beach hotel and at last had some decent views of a few species.

A calling Common Sandpiper

30953220681_52468cd282_b.jpg

A basking Long-tailed Cormorant

31067381645_346acfa64f_b.jpg

Quite a few Spur-winged Plovers

30925178232_9623541c4c_b.jpg

Which seemed to try to chase off the Wattled Lapwings

31031627366_80a5bbeb2d_b.jpg

The agitated Lapwings gathered in a defensive group.

31067381405_69ffcf3829_b.jpg

A single Grey-headed Gull arrived at the scene.

30925055252_1613f5edc7_b.jpg

I had at least found some subject matter !

Moving on to the bridge we wondered if there was news of our guide for the next 5 days. He had said he'd meet us there but earlier there had been no sign of him. It appeared he had had to take his baby daughter to hospital and the attempts to reach him by phone by a colleague had failed to bring further news.

Typically the other guides, aware of the situation, sensed an opportunity. Like vultures they made enquiries as to our intentions should our guide not materialise the next day.

It seems that this is a way of life and a few of them are more than willing to steal customers as soon as an opportunity presents itself. We had experienced this on our last visit.

We had of course paid a four figure sum upfront but we weren't unduly worried. We knew our guide of old and trusted him. Later in the evening we managed to contact him via Facebook and he assured us he would be set to go the following day.

We hung around the bridge for the rest of the afternoon, enjoying views of the Pied Kingfishers

31067379755_e3254f8363_b.jpg

Hunting from the recently added perches...a good move by someone.

30925054002_5bbf663dbc_b.jpg

Even the Reef Egret that used to spend time on the beach seemed to have adapted to the perches too!

31067380255_57fbdd8895_b.jpg

I guess if this was your first visit to the area you would still be impressed. Personally I looked forward to moving on up river to see if that would improve things.

A few beers, an excellent Indian meal and we were ready for an early bed before heading off in the morning.

TBC

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
offshorebirder

@@Dave Williams - some cracking photos in this thread! The drinking Spur-winged Plover is SUPERB. And I really like the Wattled Lapwing club raising objections.

 

Thanks for this TR - always interested to read about birding in The Gambia.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave Williams

True to his word our guide was ready and waiting outside the hotel at 7.30am. Our car, a well worn Pajero, and driver, already known to Alan from a previous trip, there with him.

It's amazing how much traffic is on the road heading in to the capital,Banjul, at this time of the morning. Once you clear this part of the country though there is very little on the roads at all but I wouldn't contemplate a self drive, too many obstacles to overcome as you'll find out if you read on!

Our first stop was at a place we had previously visited. Well known as a possibility for the Brown-necked Parrot.

Sure enough we had a fly past.

31018501652_bd3eb864ce_b.jpg

High in the sky we also had a Beaudoin's Snake Eagle patrolling the skies.

30794618890_5720eba462_b.jpg

I needed to use a 2.0x teleconverter on my 500mm lens to get something usable. This was to be a regular feature of the whole trip as most of the subjects were either small or at a distance. The problem with that sort of magnification is that it also suffers from atmospheric distortion, especially in hot conditions, and boy, it was hot! Regularly over 35 degrees.

With not a lot more to see we moved on a little and tried our luck on a bush track.

Bingo. Levaillant's Cuckoo. A lifer for Alan.

31018471832_1e61dd54ac_b.jpg

The shot was taken through the car window leaning over Alan !

Annoyingly the bird then turned around!

30340858934_a0b1abacb6_b.jpg

and just when you thought you would crack it, it only went and sat in a position obscured by a leaf!

31018490152_bfc007de04_b.jpg

Then of course it flew!

We carried on our drive to our next stop where in the past we had had some good views of raptors over a small pond area.

31047927311_67f090dba1_b.jpg

As you can see the main highway is a splendid tarmac'd road of excellent quality. We enjoyed a cold drink from the cool box before going in search of some target species. Just like last time they were there but the views were not nearly as good.

The Grasshopper Buzzard wasn't in the mood for allowing a close approach.

30340862364_48c1ba29e8_b.jpg

An African Harrier Hawk took refuge in a tall palm tree not too far away.

30794620910_ca64765fca_b.jpg

Another Levaillant's Cuckoo was seen but too difficult to photograph, all a bit of a disappointment really.

My friend Alan has acquired a few new toys since we travelled last, a Canon 7D2 and 100-400mm lens. His need for some opportunities was probably greater than mine on subjects we had previously seen, he has certainly embraced his new photographic hobby with enthusiasm!

Besides deciding to choose early November to try and see the Egyptian Plovers further up river, it's also the time to try and catch a photograph of the Bishops still in breeding plumage. They were playing hard to get whenever we stopped by the roadside but eventually I got lucky.

30794611280_31de90b0da_b.jpg

By early afternoon we had arrived at Tendaba Camp, a journey of around 140 kms. We had had a rather disappointing journey from a photographic point of view but had managed to add a few sightings to our tick list. I don't normally bother too much with counting species but when I'm with someone who does I enjoy the challenge of beating a target. On our last visit we had managed a total of 250 species we had both seen, at the moment we were way behind.

Those who have been to Tendaba Camp will recognise the warnings on the approach road.

31162048085_70ccc44894_b.jpg

It's the only place in the world I have seen them and that includes Ireland. They are deep dips in the road that serve as flood drainage I think. You can guess as to why they are so called, I have my own ideas no longer politically correct.

Entering Tendaba you are greeted by the signage that you are welcome to The Gambia's premier safari camp. Currently it's undergoing major building work and was unrecognisable on the river front where attempts are being made build river defences, reclaim the river mud banks and create a beach area in the process.

31162046985_1e46d14c0f_b.jpg

The old landing stage and some buildings such as the bar have gone.

31047927781_71bef2e19b_b.jpg

The place at the moment is pretty charmless to be honest.

31162046815_dd12fbf51e_b.jpg

Hopefully when everything is finished it will be a different story but somehow I doubt it.

These accommodation blocks have been here years now and are still in an unfinished state, in fact they are getting slowly worse.

31162047335_867d7cfebf_b.jpg

Whilst they are currently building extra accommodation maybe they should think about renovating the existing buildings first. They are basic to say the least.

My bed!

31162047575_ff106fec9e_b.jpg

I had no working lights on arrival but that was at least fixed in the bedroom area before it went dark. En suite facilities remained in darkness which maybe isn't a bad thing, and it was so hot a cold shower wasn't too much to put up with either. However, the fan in the next room to mine making a racket all night due to worn bearings was a real annoyance.

The communal dining area has had a major renovation to floor and roof but the food was worse than I remember but the most heinous crime was warm beer!

We had two nights of this with a further one on the way back too!

Ah well, the pursuit of speciality species doesn't always come easily!

The good news was that they have built a photographic hide nearby and my guide was anxious to take a look. As the heat died down we took a walk to investigate it. Advertised as 450m away it's probably twice that distance, passing through the local school grounds on the way.

At last a half decent photo opportunity when I spotted a grey Hornbill fly down on to the football pitch.

31126136266_95d2a2050f_b.jpg

It was having bath!

31126136146_27dcd1f2e9_b.jpg

Unfortunately, a dust bath doesn't leave you looking at your best!

30354848443_95ea327d99_b.jpg

Still, it was a nice little session, my first sense of achievement all day.

This was quickly followed by a sighting of a Bearded Barbet, a species I wanted a decent shot of.

31126137716_df2b449f7a_b.jpg

Our guide told us we would getting better views for sure, it's a common bird.We never did as it happens!

We walked on to the hide. No room for tripod use but a handy window sill and a bench seat was more than adequate. A round concrete drinking pool has been built to attract the birds but anyone with any photographic experience would soon point out that it's facing directly in to the sun for most of the day. The pool itself was a mess of bits of branch and stones dropped in the last of the evaporating water. Pretty dire really.

The good news was that there were a lot of birds visiting. This place had potential, that's for sure.

Black-rumped Waxbill.

31018502052_f000882442_b.jpg

Just needed a bit of a clean up.

Grey-headed Sparrow.

31126135706_403471f204_b.jpg

I would come back and see what I could sort out besides having the birds on the concrete perimeter of the pond.

Black-billed Wood Dove.

30354833563_e5248fc7b1_b.jpg

All that rubbish in the middle would have to go too, it was getting in the way.

I just hoped that this little beauty would make a return visit then. The Red-winged Pytillia was a lifer for me, Alan too. Best bird of the day as far as I was concerned.

31047931401_34aca72e09_b.jpg

With the light fading it was time to retreat to camp.

Never mind the conditions in camp, we had our first boat trip to look forward to in the morning!

TBC.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave Williams

The creaking fan in my neighbour's room had me awake early so I was showered and down to the dining area for breakfast by 7.00am. Food isn't served until 7.30am but there was a welcome cup of coffee to get me going for the day. Not only that but with few guests up and about internet access was possible so an opportunity to catch up with the news.

Had Donald Trump really won the election?!

It seems that The Gambia's premier safari camp has for more Gambians attending medical conferences than bird watchers. There were no more than half a dozen birders and their guides and drivers whereas locals outnumbered us by tenfold at least. Not a problem, just few like minded tourists to exchange news with.

A breakfast of baked beans, bread, processed cheese triangles and a wafer thin slice of omelette was uninspiring but would keep me going. The boat set off at 8.00am, four birders and accompanying guides etc.

We were soon of the opinion that there weren't many birds around here either. On our previous visit we had noted that the evening trip was better than the morning one but this was really quite poor numerically. Once again we had some sightings for our tick list, some lifers amongst them.

Spur-winged Goose.

31047931001_8abb15f200_b.jpg

and a martial Eagle on her nest.

31018488332_3aff97e432_b.jpg

That nest was probably half a mile away!

30340858374_de58a32e1c_b.jpg

Alan debated with himself as to whether it actually merited a tick on his list, in my opinion the eyes have it!

As well as these two we had views of more familiar subjects like Darters and Great Egrets.

30354848883_36aea82ff0_b.jpg

but one I hadn't seen at this location were Wooly-necked Stork.

31059686491_db62bdd15c_b.jpg

Numbers of White-breasted Cormorant were down from hundreds last time to a current handful.

31018470732_0060de3462_b.jpg

We had to assume that they had yet to return for their breeding season although perhaps they have found a new location.

The prize species for this trip though was the White-backed Heron.

A shy and mainly nocturnal bird, a pair were actually on a nest on the edge of the river.

30794608650_d6bb102672_b.jpg

The minute we approached the parent left the nest in which there were a couple of chicks and headed off to join it's mate a short distance away.

I got one shot off using my 100-400 lens before changing.

31047923691_1a669ddc4b_b.jpg

The boat turned back for one more view.

30354834033_789b8be20f_b.jpg

30794607630_b2f1e0cb89_b.jpg

As they had retreated some distance I was now using the 500mm lens with a 2x converter in a rocking boat with all sorts of leaf and branches in the way of a clear view.

31047924221_7c8f8b0d2b_b.jpg

It was a case of 14 frames per second in the hope I would get something worthwhile to keep and the results are better than I expected but not as I would really want. However, somethings are more important than a picture and that includes minimising disturbance. A noisy boat with petrol fumes flooding the area was not desirable so we left them in peace very quickly. Hopefully they will rear their chicks successfully With only one boat making two trips a day lets hope they get the peace they need.

That was it then, back to camp where I was pleased to hear our guide suggest another visit to the photo hide!

He had arranged with the local person assigned responsibility to look after it to take out the branches from the pool and top up the water. I wanted to try a perch to see if that made for better opportunities photographically.

I found a suitable stick, a bit of breeze block and a couple of wedges and hey presto, let's see if it works.

Bingo! Within minutes I was getting all sorts perched on it!

Vitelline Masked Weaver

31162044655_79c151cb5a_b.jpg

Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu

30794608050_0fba1d2a49_b.jpg

Lavender Waxbill

31018490742_4f3285c748_b.jpg

Village Weaver

31162046145_9da29d6f02_b.jpg

Common Bulbul

31018501382_2a13f4e8c4_b.jpg

but best of all, a Red -winged Pytillia

31047931741_93fb99d479_b.jpg

And not just an adult but a juvenile too!

31126129736_ce533a200d_b.jpg

Another cracking bird to arrive was a Cut-throat Finch

30340862844_aa3b6ab19c_b.jpg

Again, joined by a juvenile bird I think although I'm not 100% on that ID..

31018500632_3a6431cc25_b.jpg

It was satisfying that the perch worked in bringing the birds out in to the open but again, the results were not 100% aesthetically pleasing but I had little to work with. The hide's minder wanted to put more up but I persuaded him to stop at two ! It's about quality not quantity and the more perches the less chance you have your camera on the right one. Still, it's a start and I wonder how things will progress.

More natural looking surrounds would be better of course and that is very achievable with a little effort, in the meantime I grabbed shots were I could when birds landed in the bushes.

Northern Red Bishop

30340858224_2036f307ac_b.jpg

The Bishop is starting to revert back to non breeding plumage.

31018485282_f1edd3b397_b.jpg

Given a choice of either this Black-rumped Waxbill shot

31018502442_bfbd2dec2f_b.jpg

or this one

31126137276_a845593876_b.jpg

It's a no brainer. But shots " au naturel " are not always a viable option.

pleased the Cut-throat Finch obliged though!

30340862594_c6a6cd48bf_b.jpg

I spent several happy hours, by this time on my own save the "minder". Overcome with the heat Alan had retired to camp. He's not quite as passionate about photography as I am. No gain without pain as they say! It was pretty damn hot in there though, especially with nothing to drink.

Eventually I left and after a break back at camp we headed off for a guided trip in to the nearby national park.

We were searching for the Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, one we missed last time too. For Alan it was high up his wanted list and although I had seen one distantly in Kenya, I decided it would feature in my top five too. I would like a decent shot and if it took some time to find one so be it.

Oh, well. If things came easily there would be little point.

Alan was delighted to see another first, a fly past Bataleur, we had a Exclamatory Paradise Whydah, a lifer for us both.

31018499792_8c3baf187f_b.jpg

and this Striped Kingfisher

31162048615_5089faf4ba_b.jpg

displaying in a nearby tree.

31162048385_d804d39c8a_b.jpg

The light was fading by now but fair do's, our guide was as keen as ever as we went off in search of Nightjars.

It was Alan and myself that decided to call an end to the day. The attraction of a shower and a thirst quencher an even more attractive proposition even if the beer was warm.

We updated our species list, it was still very lightweight. It had been a mixed bag of a day really. In hindsight wasn't that bad but there again my hopes had been set too high I supposer.

Tomorrow a new adventure would take us further inland than ever before. I was really looking forward to it but would my expectations fail yet again?

TBC

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
offshorebirder

Good stuff @@Dave Williams. Wow - a Bearded Barbet, and nesting White-backed Herons with chicks! I also like the sequence of the dust-bathing Grey Hornbill and Cut-throat Finches are one of my favorite small African birds.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
pault

Wow, what a dump that place looks. No wonder your wife wouldn't want to go. But the birds are wonderful. The improvised perch was a real winner!

 

I remember another report mentioning thoise biriding guides hanging out on the bridge. A bit surreal and even fuuny at first, but a real shame when you think about it.

 

"no longer politically correct"

I am not sure it would ever have been politically correct, outside the British army when putting down an uprising However, being pedantic aside, I assumed it was not intended in this way as Irish crossings and Irish bridges are actually significant (and clever) improvements on the ford that are still used around the world (I first heard the term in Australia) including in Ireland. So I had assumed the name was because their assumed origin was Ireland - since Ireland certainly has a lot of water and rivers that would have needed fords. I may be completely wrong about that though and admit my partial Irish heritage makes me incluned to such a view.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Livetowander

I'm loving this report! And looking forward to more. Nice job with the pictures.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave Williams

 

 

I remember another report mentioning thoise biriding guides hanging out on the bridge. A bit surreal and even fuuny at first, but a real shame when you think about it.

 

It's no different to taxis at a rank ! These guys charge a disproportionate fee compared to the average wage. It's one of the best paid jobs around if you can lure the clients. Some, like ours, have made bookings via the internet and emails, websites and Facebook. The average wage is around £1.50 a day in TG, they can easily multiply that twenty or thirtyfold and more. The biggest problem is that most don't own a car and they have to split the proceeds with the owner and or driver. When it comes to selling they are persistent to the point of annoyance at times.

Typically, on our last morning I wandered the short distance to the bridge.

 

Unknown guide "How about we take a mornings walk together?"

Me. "I leave for the airport in an hour"

Unknown guide "How about a trip on the boat?"

Me. "I said, I leave for the airport in an hour"

Unknown guide "Let's make it half an hour then?"

 

I politely said no again and walked away. Often they follow you to continue the sales pitch but on this occasion I think he realised he couldn't win.

 

 

Edited by Dave Williams

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave Williams

Breakfast over we were away from Tendaba Camp by 8.00am. First stop was only a short distance from the camp entrance. Bruce's Green Pigeon up in a tree. Just as it was last time almost two years previously!

We got out to see if we could better our previous visit's photographs but were soon distracted by our guide having spotted a better subject.

Grey-headed Bush-shrike.

31194952075_5ebecef564_b.jpg

I'm not sure why but Alan had put this down on his much wanted list.For him a lifer although not so for me. I was delighted for him though and it had got the day off to a flyer.

My personal top 5 targets were all very possible over the next couple of days so expectations were high.

What would the day bring next?

I hadn't expected what it did!

The journey on to Janjanbureh could be continued south of the river but that would mean missing some key birding sites, the alternative is to catch the ferry at Farafenni, a busy bustling river crossing town which comes as a bit of a surprise as it's in the middle of nowhere. A lot of the ferry traffic is lorries crossing through from north to south Senegal. Gambia is a very narrow country of no more than about 20kms width at this point and the alternative for heavy goods traffic is a long drive of around 500kms to avoid the ferry. Trouble is the ferry capacity is very limited and lorries can be made to wait up to 14 days to get a crossing. A bridge is currently being built but in the meantime Farafenni reaps the benefit as a trade centre.

I decided to take a photograph of all this activity. as we pulled in to town.

31194938555_095de9f0cc_b.jpg


Not happy with the view over the drivers shoulder I wound down the window and took a couple of pictures just as we slowly ground to a halt. Unfortunately we were passing a policeman that I hadn't noticed as we did so!

Oops!

On our way this far we had driven through many police checkpoints as well as a couple of armed military ones. I'm not daft enough to try and take photos knowing the sensitivity around the issue.

The policeman ordered me out of the car and immediately demanded my camera, a tiny point and shoot Olympus Tough.

I was very apologetic, explained I hadn't meant to take his picture and offered to delete it immediately.

I was lead off to the Police Station and the pleas for leniency by my guide and driver dismissed and they were sent off to leave me standing alone as the policeman disappeared off across the street too.

I wasn't worried particularly, the whole scenario was ridiculous really, but I did wonder if I would get my camera back. After 5 minutes he returned and lead me down to a seat in front of a nearby coffee shop were he accepted a mug from the stall proprietor. He shook my hand, a good sign I guess, then lectured me on my wrong doing. He accepted nothing sinister was meant in my actions and after some grovelling by me my camera was returned, the offending pictures deleted. I showed him that I wasn't going around taking pictures of the security checks and he seemed unimpressed at my holiday snaps which I have to admit are boring to say the least. That can't be said about the snaps of Anfield, home of my beloved Liverpool FC, but he obviously wasn't a footy fan either.

After a delay of 25 minutes we were on our way. I think Mr Policeman took pleasure at being able to demonstrate his authority over foreign tourists in front of his usual home crowd.

Our driver and guide obviously had some useful contacts at the ferry because we were bumped to the head of the queue for the next crossing.

Let the birding continue!

Not far east of Farafenni we stopped at the side of the road in the shade of a tree. The surrounding fields were being used for the cultivation of peanuts, Gambia's primary crop.

31194940415_6845d8c1a1_b.jpg


30373940684_938670a30f_b.jpg

Whilst our guide headed off in search of birds, we enjoyed a refreshing slice of watermelon

30373941044_b52d032d9a_b.jpg

followed by some freshly gathered peanuts that we purchased from three young farm workers who happened to be passing.

30373941394_74c504872e_b.jpg

After a while we spotted the guide signalling for us to join him. What had he found? A Courser perhaps? No, what he'd found was one of the top targets, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill. I had included it in my list as i knew how much Alan wanted to see one. Pre-trip our guide had given us a 50% chance, the lowest of my nominated 5 so this was a great find.

We walked at least half a mile across the hot dusty fields, through long coarse grasses, many adorned with sharp barbed seeds that cling to you as you pass.

But it was worth it. There were two Hornbills in a tree and our guide decided that they would fly out if we approached and head in to open ground. This indeed they did, giving clear if fairly distant views.

We followed after them, never getting that close really. I had my 2x converter on the 500mm yet again but here the heat haze cancelled out the benefits of magnification.

30827664170_b7198963e1_b.jpg

Still I got some half decent record shots.

30827666140_d89f78128e_b.jpg

They flew off, each in to a different tree and using a different one for cover I was able to to the closest point yet for a view of the female before they both decided to fly back from where they had come from initially.

Those white wing panels were something of a surprise when you see them in flight!

30387840433_46b2c0e16a_b.jpg

Our luck hadn't ended there though. The guide had almost trodden on a roosting Standard-winged Nightjar as we crossed the field. It had flown just a short distance so we relocated it and took advantage of an unusual photo opportunity.

30387866403_aa17f6097c_b.jpg

A bird sat perfectly still should be an easy photographic subject. Not so! The wind blowing the grass across the bird and the shallow depth of field at close distance are all obstacles that need thinking about.

500mm at f4 big crop

31080874921_e5c614fce8_b.jpg

1000mm at f22 little crop

31194949075_fb95c4e559_b.jpg

A little movie gives a better idea of the problems

31194528775_17fb357efa_b.jpg

Having tried as many options as I could think of we left the bird in peace. We even found a pair of Black-headed Lapwing on the same field. Giving much closer views than we had had at Tendaba, that was another plus for this stop.

31080878001_ec43942f4a_b.jpg

As Alan pointed out, had I not been detained we might not have seen any of this, nor might we have arrived at Kauur wetlands at precisely the moment two Egyptian Plovers were right next to the road!

The Egyptian Plover was No 1 on my target list. It's the reason to come to The Gambia pre December before they return north. I had been told that there was 100% chance of seeing one and here it was, right in front of me.

30387870173_c435bc3771_b.jpg

I descended the sharp slope of the causeway to get down to the birds level for better photographs.

30827702600_711eb89bae_b.jpg

What a beauty, and very confiding too.

30387869933_6ff83c1072_b.jpg

This was what the trip was all about for me, one on one with my subject.

30387869313_156f6be4b4_b.jpg

The encounter was over all too soon though so I went in search of others along this stretch. Surprisingly there were only about 4 different birds seen where I had expected them in large numbers.

I did find a Yellow Bishop in breeding plumage though. The sighting was extremely brief though, still I did see one!

30827688280_8a2b7709ed_b.jpg

Our day was indeed memorable but there was more to come. Next stop Wassau sand pits, home of the Red-throated Bee-eater amongst others.

When we got out of the car dozens of the Bee-eaters emerged from their nesting holes and most flew to nearby trees some distance away. The odd one was in much lower bushes and made for an easier photo target.

31080875621_a20bfbdb49_b.jpg

I decided to sit down and wait to see if any returned to their holes and sure enough my patience was rewarded with the odd one.

31080875381_6f52dce802_b.jpg

One with a Bee even!

31194949675_a70ef41574_b.jpg

The afternoon was passing quickly, the light was poor and our guide wanted to get to the ferry so we left on the promise we'd return next day.

Sure enough, there was a queue for the small car ferry so instead we left the vehicle and driver behind whilst we took a small boat over to out accommodation for the next couple of nights, Baobalong Camp.

31195366035_718683042e_b.jpg

Now I had read that this camp was even worse than Tendaba. Basic to say the least!

I was to be pleasantly surprised. Maybe we got the best rooms as we were first to book in for the night, I don't know, but mine was basic but fine. They even provided soap and toilet paper!

30373944664_4a666908a9_b.jpg

What I did like was that there was a small intimate atmosphere compared to Tendaba. Fellow guests, only a dozen or two were all tourists it seemed, and conversation over meal times was interesting.

31080872631_62b71bdb17_b.jpg

Oh and the food was excellent too but before dinner I was off for a walk to see what I could find locally.

Accompanied only by my guide, Alan had had enough excitement for one day and decided to take a rest. His loss unfortunately as I saw a couple of species we didn't see elsewhere.

Scarlet-breasted Sunbird

31159507866_555a15e113_b.jpg

Red-necked Falcon

31159508236_7cf81d7bbd_b.jpg

but what I was really concerned about where the stocking views I had had of a pair of Verraux's Eagle Owls.

High in a tree, the light fading fast, a pair were sat side by side and being mobbed by Long-tailed Starlings

31080866931_dabef40be4_b.jpg

I didn't have much time to mess around, I had a 2x converter on my 500mm still and I was hand holding the lens.

Camera shake a real possibility I had a shutter speed of 1/640th sec but that meant an ISO of 16000. The noise would be dreadful even if I deliberately over exposed.

I dropped the shutter speed to 1/340th and risked motion blur.

31194937235_b8b860550f_b.jpg

In the event both were acceptable record shots.

The Owls flew but we relocated the female, this time out on the open side of a tree. Using the bare 500mm I could get a much more reasonable ISO but not the same clear view.

31080866501_fc789fd256_b.jpg

Still what an experience, what a day.

Alan wasn't too bothered at missing out as he'd seen all the species before.

Refreshed we had a few beers after dinner, a chinwag with our new found friends and then off to bed in anticipation of the next day.

TBC

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
TonyQ

@@Dave Williams

Stunning photos and very engaging writing. I am enjoying this a lot!

I think the Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu is my favourite so far.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
lmSA84

@@Dave Williams - I'm really enjoying this. I didn't get the chance to go up river so it's great to see the locations, experiences and most of all the birds. Very jealous of the Egyptian Plover and Ground Hornbills.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
egilio

Lovely! Love the Egyptian plover, bee-eater and all the small birds!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave Williams

Don't misunderstand me, Baobalong Camp is pretty basic but I was loving it. Maybe it was because it was an all new Gambian experience after many previous visits. Maybe it was because I was seeing new birds. I'd already clocked up 3 out of 5 of my top targets, the Ground Hornbill,Egyptian Plover and the Red-throated Bee-eater which when added to the new "lifers"of Spur-winged Goose,Martial Eagle,Red-winged Pytilia and the Exclamatory Paradise Whydah represented a pretty decent haul.

Alan was adding even more new species to his life list but talking of lists we hadn't actually updated ours for a couple of days.

What was happening to my enthusiastic birding mate?

He was morphing from a ticker to a clicker !

He'll deny it of course but he has caught the bug, actually it's worse than a bug, it's a full blown disease. He has a bad case of lens lust and I know he's eyeing up a Canon 400mm f4 DO Mk2 lens. This disease won't kill you, it just wipes out your bank account. "Shrouds don't have pockets" was a regular expression from a recently deceased pal of mine.

Having departed this world prematurely, for him it was the right choice to live life to the full.

Anyway, back to the trip.

We were in with a chance of further increasing the score by firstly returning to Wassau and the sand quarry. Another target the Carmine Bee-eater was to be found there, but only in the morning apparently.

First we went in search of another species, the Black Coucal. We failed on that but added Black-headed Weaver. Another lifer, great start!

31067771552_3631eaa57e_b.jpg

The main event of the morning though was to be the Bee-eaters and luckily they didn't let us down.

There weren't many, maybe a dozen and they were located some way from the Red-throated Bee-eater colony.

One or two were sat in a nearby tree.

31211007925_66de39b204_b.jpg

Giving me the best photo opportunities I have had with the species.

They were burning rubbish not far away and the smoke and burning surrounds sends up the insects which is perhaps what the Bee-eaters were waiting for, but they weren't alone. Abyssinian Rollers were flying in in greater numbers than I have ever seen before.

31210954635_3ef6926890_b.jpg

Both were flying too high to get the detailed shots I was after but it was at least something.

30404120113_969051fed1_b.jpg

Flying much higher was a Beaudouin's Snake Eagle

30390732744_b65633f8d0_b.jpg

Legs dangling, he looked ready to swoop down on a victim but changed his mind and drifted higher in the thermals.

We moved on the the Red-throated Bee-eater colony.

30387863313_44c9542708_b.jpg

The nest holes were all vacated it seems, they were certainly not feeding youngsters at this time. The weather was a lot brighter than the previous day but the photo opportunities were still rather poor. They were all do distant high in the sky flying or sat in trees.

In fact I had more luck with a fly past Mottled Spinetail.

31210953465_286a977f41_b.jpg

I decided to concentrate on another species I had only just seen for the first time , the Northern Anteater Chat.

31210952915_9ebb6b476b_b.jpg

Alan had seen one the previous day, so I was pleased to have caught up with one myself. In fact today there were three of them!

31210953005_5b1b612025_b.jpg

I imagine they are a family.

We spent quite some time in the sand pits, long enough for our driver to make a brew of his favourite green China tea!

30387862643_871ef3a98b_b.jpg

There's a lot more to preparing it than simply pouring water from a boiling kettle too. Very sweet and syrupy it's not my favourite tipple, give me a Julbrew any day!

Having had our fill, and with the sun getting hotter we retreated back towards camp with a quick stop to see the stone circles, a World Heritage Site, on the way.

31080871821_48a611f2ba_b.jpg

Getting back to camp involves taking the ferry as Janjanbureh is actually on an island in the middle of the River Gambia but there is a bridge conneecting the other side of the island, the way we would be heading back to Tendaba the following day.

30387862263_28c59bf887_b.jpg

I wasn't exactly elated with my mornings results with the Bee-eaters but there again at least I'd seen them. Another couple who went the following day only saw two Carmine's and they were very distant so I have no right to complain. I must admit though, having photographed European Bee-eaters from hides with purpose built perches well situated I think that they are missing a big opportunity at the quarry. There again it's pretty typical of the approach in The Gambia. Maybe the biggest problem is that none of the guides there actually takes photographs and they need some one experienced that has the time to put a suitable plan in to action.

Anyway, it was siesta time back in camp, well for some anyway. I went off in search of the Owls I had seen the previous evening. It was a long hot walk and my reward was zilch, however, when I was almost back in camp I did get a shot of a Little Green bee-eater that was better than anything I had seen earlier... you get them in the quarry too.

31210953675_92d43d7a0a_b.jpg

We all met at the river bank in camp at 3.30pm for the next little escapade, another boat trip. The small boat was big enough for 6-8 people but there were just four of us including the boatman and our guide. It took the boatman 10 minutes to get the engine started but we eventually moved off only to pull in to shore about 100 yds down river.

Why ? To refuel of course !

We then had problems getting the engine started again. This was getting a bit frustrating as we would be missing the best light of the day soon. 30 minutes had already passed by and we had gone nowhere. Once again, so typical Gambia. This should have been done before picking us up, the boatman had been sat around doing nothing while waiting for us.

Finally on our way we passed by a few familiar species sat in branches over hanging the river. The engine stalled a few times, we inhaled lots of fumes every time it was restarted. However, we were getting really annoyed when we sailed past what was a first for both of us, a Pygmy Goose.

Slow down I cried, the engine was going flat out to stop it stalling I guess.

By the time we turned around we had gone well past it, I had grabbed a couple of shots but over exposed them far too much.

31175542306_995b4384a9_b.jpg

We requested another drive past which the boatman attempted to do but stalled the boat in the process. Too far away for a decent shot we could only look on as the goose got fed up of the disturbance from the coughing , spluttering boat.

Breakdowns were a feature of the trip. That and the driver spending more time looking at the cigarette he was rolling than keeping an eye out for something to see.

We did manage some half decent views though.

African Fish Eagle,

30404048153_ce33a940b5_b.jpg

Palm Nut Vulture

31175542486_6bfe3e6a23_b.jpg

Black-crowned Night Heron

31067771872_5138c5918f_b.jpg

but best of all, another first for me, Swamp Flycatcher.

31210952545_abb975fc04_b.jpg


31210952395_dec817d9c6_b.jpg

We did get views of both Grey-headed and Woodland Kingfishers but the highly desired Shining Blue Kingfisher stayed well out of sight as did my only unseen Top 5 target... the African Finfoot.

Still, I would have settled for 4/5 before we set off so I was still happy, well with the birds anyway.

The boat was something else.

On the way back we put in on the opposite bank where you catch the ferry and our man disappeared off to buy some new spark plugs. Hey, ho, the boat now started first time. Why hadn't he done all this in the first place? To make matters worse he actually had the nerve to ask Alan, who was last off the boat,for a tip. Alan being Mr Nice guy obliged.

Oh well, it was only a few pounds, didn't exactly break the bank but it doesn't encourage better service for those who follow either.

Typical Gambia

TBC.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
pault

Maybe it's just my mood, or maybe it was the weather, but that last set of bird photos was particularly good. Fabulous bee-eaters.

 

Re. the boat I guess you were paying for the fuel and spark-plugs and he could buy neither untill you were seated in the boat and he knew he was getting paid? Otherwise, I guess that is why we pay the excessively big bucks sometimes for African trips... everything that can go wrong or get delayed quite possibly will! Still got your shots and your ticks though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave Williams

The stay at Baobalong was all over too quickly, with hindsight and with 5 nights to arrange I would have stayed there for 3 and just 2 at Tendaba. If there is a next time I will probably do it that way. Some choose to cut out Tendaba altogether and if you stick to the south bank road you can do it with ease in a day as you don't need to catch a ferry, the road is good and there is little traffic. You would then of course have to make the return journey from Baobolong to Farafenni if you wanted to catch up with the Egyptian Plover and Hornbill site and there is the rub...it's as much distance doing that as the whole route to the coast.

Anyway, we had a second boat trip out of Tendaba to look forward to in the evening and there were a couple of places to visit on the way there too. We took the easy route over the bridge to leave the island.

31192369666_36e56bb3c4_b.jpg

First stop was to a Marabou Stork nesting site,

31113683381_743469823a_b.jpg

The views were obscured, the surrounding grassland difficult, the sun was in the wrong direction but the worst bit we had become surrounded by children!

30387857343_2ac54fc783_b.jpg

Those are just a few of them! In many places you are a star attraction, obviously tourists and with some incredibly strange long lenses, tripods and cameras. You can't blame them really, I'd have done the same in their position.

We moved on again, this time driving through a crowded, busy market town. Sharing narrow passageways with pedestrians as well as donkey drawn carts is challenging for any driver, one of several reasons the the advice not to try self drive.

31080873251_1d2d80c2ea_b.jpg

Parking the car we walked to a large tree. More Verraux's Eagle Owls and showing oh so well too.

30404047983_67a6a35f80_b.jpg

I was pleased that Alan would get a photo opportunity after all.

31210952115_7bd95c62ac_b.jpg

Moving on we were soon in an area rice fields and once again, Black Coucal was the target. Once again we failed to locate one but we did come across a Black-faced Quailfinch which was a good find.

31210954315_9ea3e8747f_b.jpg

It was getting hot, very hot. With no cover whatsoever we were glad to abandon our search after a good hour.

31080876741_0a0a16ab35_b.jpg

That's me scratching my mossy bites! The Gambia is a fairly high risk zone when it comes to malaria, so those minute insects are Africa's biggest killer . Taking anti-malarials is a must.

What we did find though was evidence of one of the few mammals you might come across in The Gambia.

30860444490_1d2d430abe_b.jpg

It's Africa's deadliest mammal apparently with more fatalities caused than any other species.

You don't try to shoo it away if you find it munching your crops, you have to accept the devastation I guess.

31113677631_76702d3a2f_b.jpg

Depending on which way you look at it and how close you were at the time, we fortunately didn't see a Hippo in the flesh on our walk about.

Next stop was when our driver spotted some Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on some roadside cattle.

Did we want to stop?

You bet we did!

One of my favourite species to photograph if you get lucky with a pose.

31227748755_f8b7f7667b_b.jpg

That's the nearest I got , it wasn't to be my lucky day.

31113670791_d9cf3ec751_b.jpg

Neither cow nor bird were prepared to co-operate with the latter flying off to find a new friend to feed on.

We were pleased to have stopped though as while we were there a Long-crested Eagle flew in to view.

31192370326_63a26ba409_b.jpg

Then another big bird appeared to land in a distant tree.

"Dark-chanting Goshawk!" said our guide.

Alan wanted a view through the telescope.

What he found was a magnificent Martial Eagle. The view through the 'scope was fabulous but we had to try and capture it on camera.

We set off through the undergrowth once again, fighting our way through the usual long grass and barbed bushes. The Eagle flew as we approached but headed to a distant tree that was within the possibilities of reaching. We carried on.

Then we saw it!

30406878704_233f309277_b.jpg

Not the Eagle unfortunately but a juvenile Dark-chanting Goshawk which is what our guide had probably seen in the first place.

31192370896_f24137d395_b.jpg

It didn't hang around long and neither did the Martial Eagle. The latter was destined to be nothing more than a memory, but what a memory. In Alan's opinion it was the bird of the trip and I wouldn't dispute that.

There was one more notable site to visit en route to Tendaba and that was a place noted for Spotted Thick-knee. We found them without too much problem but they too were camera shy. Bigger and longer legged than previous Thick-knees I have seen they couldn't half run fast through the bushy scrub. I managed no more than a record shot as the two we found took flight when I didn't expect it.

31113670971_bed204def5_b.jpg

Won't win any prizes with that one!

Back at Tendaba we didn't have long to wait before we set off on our boat trip. This time there were just five on the boat and our views were unobstructed.

The last time we had been at Tendaba, the evening boat trip had been far better than the morning one. Regrettably that wasn't the case this time around. There was an even bigger lack of birds than a couple of days previously.

By far the greatest numbers were African Darters.

31116432841_a894ea7762_b.jpg

They look sleek when they are sat on a branch but, unusually sighted on the muddy bank, not quite so!

31116432751_e811cb74fa_b.jpg

They are pretty ungainly when they drop like a stone in to the water too, but once in they are superbly designed for underwater hunting.

On this trip there wasn't a Cormorant to be seen, the Storks had all left too, it was very disappointing.

One of the problems was it was low tide, yes the river drops a few metres even this far up stream. Many of the back channels were too shallow for our boat. No way could we go the route that took in the view of the distant Martial Eagle so hopes of one sat outside the nest were gone too.

Our biggest hope was left in a better sighting of the White-backed Night Herons. Very skittish this time they vanished as soon as we approached and we told our boatman to leave them alone as we didn't want to be responsible for the disturbance.

Probably our best views were of a displaying Blue-breated Kingfisher


30862987860_30e2f93a28_b.jpg

30409528354_1917a09ca7_b.jpg

At first glance they are very similar to the Woodland Kingfishers too.

31086650662_c0456213bb_b.jpg

Similar size, similar colours but quite distinctive differences around the head.

31086650412_e7c8fc3b13_b.jpg

So that was it really, oh except for this monster, a West African Crocodile!

30863108610_e8d4a9c72f_b.jpg

They can be skittish too, this one headed for the water long before we got very close.

It was back to Tendaba Camp then. The sun setting over the river was a stunning sight.

Alan tried to make me a saintly figure.

30409422964_38bdde2432_b.jpg

While I was trying for something a bit arty with the aid of a waterproof camera!

31227746955_fa6b1d87ab_b.jpg

Our last night up river then.

Another iffy meal, some more tepid beer and off to bed.

30406871094_e44c26e9e2_b.jpg

The shower was oddly placed so that you struggled to get under it, especially as there was a big hole where it drained away. However, the good news was there wasn't a ceiling fan in this room, instead a nice quiet stand up one!

31113672521_d592522bd7_b.jpg

The strange thing is they leave the generators running all night but turn them off at 6.30am leaving you to get up and dressed in the dark!

Still, you can really complain, from what I can gather it only costs about £12 a night for half board!

At that price, a bargain!

TBC

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
xelas

Staring at your blog and re-reading it here, your latest trip to Gambia reveals more of your exceptional photographic skill ... and your excellent writing! Not happy to read about self-driving and tepid beer, though. But one cannot have it all, I assume.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave Williams

 

Still, you can really complain, from what I can gather it only costs about £12 a night for half board!

At that price, a bargain!

TBC

 

That should have read you can't complain !!

 

 

and the Dark-chanting Goshawk was of course an African Harrier Hawk.

 

Thank's Alan for pointing out my mistakes!

Edited by Dave Williams

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Atravelynn

You have a birding spectacle here. Glad your guide materialized. Interesting the reaction from others in the industry when it appeared he could be delayed. You don't just have bird shots, you have birdlife shots. Plus that "bit arty" snap.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave Williams

Our trip "up river " was over all too soon and today we were heading back to Kotu and the Bakotu hotel but that had some compensations. Comparative luxury, good food and , most desirable of all, an unlimited supply of cold beer!

Leaving straight after a breakfast of cold baked beans and omelette which only I ate ( if the beers had been that cold they would have been OK!) we loaded up the luggage and off we went.

The car was pretty full when we left camp as we were now loaded to the gunwhales with firewood to take back home.

31080873021_d7c9fa6b80_b.jpg

Once again we stopped immediately outside the gates, no Bush-shrike but the pigeon was still there.

30406879194_dc39db6046_b.jpg

and in a moment of Deja Vu a Double-spurred Francolin appeared at the side of the road before running across.

31192370606_8ef4a8d492_b.jpg

Exactly the same as 2 years previously only I got better snaps this time around!

During the course of the journey a huge sack of charcoal was added to the roof and a few of watermelons joined us in the cab. Room in the back was a bit cramped as we had to make room for my camera bag now the back was full. Still the watermelons travelled in comfort and arrived back in pristine condition. I'm not sure the savings on the purchases were greater than the increased fuel consumption of a thirsty V6 petrol Pajero but that wasn't our concern.

From memory other than shopping stops we only made one birding stop other than the regulation road blocks. At one the soldier on duty questioned my tripod that had been in open view in the back of the vehicle. You'll notice from the picture above it has camouflaged legs. I bought it with them on and they do make it more comfortable to carry, especially when it's cold.

The soldier demanded our driver get it out for examination. He'd no idea what it was and wanted to know why it was in the back of the car and camouflaged. Fair do's the driver wasn't intimidated by the gun the soldier was toting and gave back as good as he got telling him it wasn't his fault that his guests had arrived at the international airport with it.

Without further ado we were allowed to carry on but for the one and only time on the journey at one of the police checks a subtle request for money resulted in a note or two exchanging hands very surreptitiously. Our guide admitted after he'd passed over some cash, he said the policeman was an old friend and former boss.

Some friend!

Anyway, we were heading to Farasuto Woods and a meeting with our contact there, the Owl Man. A phone call had confirmed the Owls were present and had been showing well.

I think you have to take much of what you are told with a pinch of salt and in fact it's best not to have any expectations at all!

Owl can be extremely difficult to see never mind photograph. The local guides amaze me that they can see them so easily when sometimes it takes me an age to spot what they are trying to show me.

First species was the Greyish Eagle Owl. Last time it had been a bit of a 'mare.

31227873565_893417ac37_b.jpg

This time I think I did marginally better. That shot might look as if the bird is on the same level as me but it isn't. It's directly above me looking down.

Attempts to get in to a similar position with the Northern White-faced Owl were no better than the one taken with the branch of a tree across it's middle!

31227873315_0b3a7522bd_b.jpg

But the last one was the worst of the lot!

The African Wood Owl was a first for me and when we arrived at the tree the bird was sitting nicely in full display. I spotted it straight away for a change but our guide decided to try the new toy Alan had bought him as a gift. A laser pointer.

The minute he turned it on, the Owl moved and that was without pointing it in the Owls direction.

Damn! Co-incidence ? Maybe but we know how sensitive the Owl's eyes are to light. They need to be used with care and consideration. Another example will follow in a later episode of this blog!

As for the Wood Owl, well despite all the efforts of the guides to find a better vantage point the best photo I could manage was this one.

31192371586_e50c1cf6b0_b.jpg

Looks more like a wasp's nest than a bird!

Never mind, that's the way it goes sometimes. Out of the woods we did get lucky and I got my first ever shots of a Gabar Goshawk so that was an unexpected bonus.

31227768045_65f8b818b7_b.jpg

After this we were happy to get back to the hotel where we arrived at mid-afternoon.

31113674281_e420e5c6b1_b.jpg

Yes, there was even a watermelon stored under the drivers legs!!!

TBC.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
offshorebirder

Wow - in post #14, you can see the spines in the tip of the Mottled Spinetail's tail! "Sick photo" as the youngsters say.

 

I love the displaying Kingfishers too!

 

Great TR @@Dave Williams - thanks for taking the time and making the effort.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Livetowander

Your experience with the boatman shopping for parts made me laugh, having found myself in the same situation a few times. Well, I'm laughing now, but I don't think I was at the time. All part of the adventure.

Edited by Livetowander

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
xelas

David, as a great birder and excellent photographer, You'll never walk alone!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave Williams

David, as a great birder and excellent photographer, You'll never walk alone!

 

Thanks! At least in The Gambia I can watch them play their next two matches!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Dave Williams

It's been a while since I updated the blog and you'll soon discover why but in the meantime let me take you back to the last two days I spent with Alan on our trip.

After five days constantly on the go "up river" we decided we needed to slow the pace down a little and spend one of our days at least just chilling out and perhaps wandering locally from our hotel. As much as anything as a favour to our guide we decided to take one more trip, a full days guided birding somewhere local to the coast. We decided on Brufut Woods and Tanji Beach. Neither Alan nor myself had any firm preferences so it was easy to come to a decision.

Our guide quoted us a price of £55 when we said we should get a special price for the business he had already received and we thought that fair. He then told us he was already booked with a tour but also happened to be going to Brufut and would see us there. Our driver would pick us up at 7.30am on the Tuesday if he and the hired Pajero was available otherwise not to worry, someone else would be there.

I stressed at the time it would be no problem not to bother. We would love to see our driver again but we could travel by taxi and organise another guide down at the bridge or even when we arrived at Brufut. A taxi to Brufut is quoted at £14 approximately plus waiting time which is £2 per hour tops ( at the then lower exchange rate).

We could have arranged the trip ourselves for considerably less than the agreed fee but we were happy with the terms.

After a day of wandering locally we became aware that there wasn't too much about in the Kotu area so were pleased to be heading out again on the last full day.

Sure enough we were picked up at 7.30, same vehicle, different driver, different guide.

Off to Brufut we went. We never did see our original guide there.

Even there seemed a little quiet compared to previous visits, fewer Sunbirds frequenting the bushes as you walk from the drop off point. Tricky little blighters to photograph as they are constantly on the move it seems I was pleased to find this one having a rest!


31241548530_db3f7ed1bb_b.jpg


A dark bird with a bright background is always a challenge but I think this effort is better than previous ones. Just!

A walk along a deeply wooded path revealed rowdy Senegal Parrots feeding at the top of the trees and once again that contrast challenge.

31241549350_fd4130d342_b.jpg

Down at ground level we were in deep shade so an opportunity to catch a Red-bellied Flycatcher actually sitting still and singing was a huge bonus.

31614273395_b43774e451_b.jpg

Hand holding my 500mm with a 2x TC needs a reasonable shutter speed, I chose 1/400th, the minimum f stop is f8 at this combination so the auto Iso bumped to 8000. Far from ideal but better to capture something rather than nothing.

Next stop was out in the open. A Black Scimitarbill spotted by our guide.

31241551920_59b981b62d_b.jpg

I tried to get a bit closer edging through the well established tall undergrowth.

31614274575_1aae34b41b_b.jpg

It was grooming so I had to bump the shutter speed, this time I ended with ISO 6400, the limit I am usually happy with.

My view was still obscured but it decided to move to another tree. My approach perhaps?

31241548240_98cfbe82e1_b.jpg

More out in the open, more photographic challenges with light and obstacles, I had to settle for what I had. Far from ideal but much better than last time we had seen the same bird in the same place.

It was getting hotter and we decided it was time to have a break at the juice bar which also happens to be the drinking pool station.

I was hoping for a visit from the Turacos, especially the Violet. In the past I hadn't failed.

There was little to see and I was amazed to see the latest benefit for visiting birders.

30805096873_b47df93007_b.jpg

Yes, the trees have been numbered just incase you can't tell left from right I guess.

31614997735_d6c5c044f3_b.jpg

It's difficult enough trying to get a decent shot when the drinking vessels are so ugly, blue paint just adds to the eyesore.

Typical Gambia.

Opportunities abound. Opportunities are missed.

Next stop was to see one of the most photographed birds in The Gambia if not Africa.

Long-tailed Nightjar.

They are incredibly hard to spot even from a few feet so the knowledge of the local Brufut guide was essential in showing us today's roost spot which is always in a very small area of undergrowth.

To speed up the process of the constant procession of birders coming to see the bird, the guide has added technology to help them spot it.


31614274105_a3351b86f4_b.jpg

It's only when I got home I realised half my shots... I didn't stay very long as the bird is constantly disturbed.... had red laser dots in them!

31241555890_b52638cd85_b.jpg

At least this one didn't!

The Nightjar left to the next group of visiting birders, a dozen on tour, you do wonder if the disturbance is fair but the bird has roosted here for years and is well accustomed to the comings and goings I guess.

Our Brufut guide had one more target to find us.

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater.

30772587454_9f12d955dc_b.jpg

Again, in deep shade with the bright sky behind the tree making photography difficult, still, another tick to our trip list.

For his troubles I noticed the local guide received 100 dalasai, £2 from our guide for his help in finding the target birds. Considerably less than I assume our trip guide would expect.

Next stop was the Tanji bird reserve where for a few hours we sat and watched the drinking pools. Nice to sit in the shade, have a cold drink and see what turned up.

Once again, conditions where really difficult as the pools were in pretty dark conditions.

We saw a few birds though!

31614997215_10f9487a60_b.jpg

Depth of field severely limited by low shutter speed of 1/125sec at least I had my tripod to steady things for the likes of this shot demonstrating some of the wonderful colour variations of the Finch species.

With just one bird to concentrate on you can just about get away with ISO 5000.

31468087312_ce6bb5b879_b.jpg

The peace and quiet of our chosen place was soon to be disturbed by the arrival of the dozen (Dutch?)

birders we had seen earlier. They were booked in for lunch which was laid out on a long table behind us. They weren't anywhere near as irritating as their local tour guide who was constantly shouting when the next course was ready, what birds were at the pools etc etc.

One bird was of particular interest to everyone. The furtive Levaillant's Cuckoo

30772590284_ac4ae13494_b.jpg

Several times it came close to making a full appearance only to disappear in to the bushes again.Too much disturbance I guess.

Fully rested we then headed of to the beach up by the fishing village. Alan wasn't too keen on wandering too far and I wasn't bothered either. We had a quick stop at the waters edge, added another 10 species to our trip list which included a new "lifer" from a photographic point of view.

White-fronted Plover.

31500814101_a7e1f7cb01_b.jpg

With that done we headed back to Kotu, slightly earlier than we originally planned but it was a very hot day and enough was enough for the time being.

Our guide for the day told us that our original guide would collect payment from us the next day so we gave gave him and the driver a small tip ( but much larger than the Brufut guide had received) assuming they would also be paid as arranged.

When the sun had gone down a bit Alan and I headed down to the Bridge to see if anything new had turned up.

I was distracted by a feeding family of African Silverbills.

30804355483_e2cda9315b_b.jpg

That could have been a really nice capture except for the cursed leaf!

Another brief visitor to the bushes was a Beautiful Sunbird, again most shots had have the subject obscured but i quite like this one!

31241552420_ac7de430a5_b.jpg

Back at the hotel we had had views of Shikra

30772588324_d47a401eef_b.jpg

and Red-billed Hornbill

30772588764_c37c9ec085_b.jpg

but excellent though the Bakutu Hotel is in other ways, from a birding prospective it had failed quite badly in providing many birds in the well vegetated grounds.

Our last night and another visit to the excellent Tandoori for curry and beers and that was our trip nearly over.

There was one surprise to come though.

Our guide met us the next day and we paid him the agreed fee which was counted out to him.

Alan had mentioned he had some gifts for the trainee guide from his previous visit who we had failed to meet up with this time around. Our guide said he could pass them on. Alan went to fetch them but on his return he was told that there had been a mistake, the guiding fee was £55 per person. When I returned to the scene I'm afraid I exploded in rage! There was no way I would have agreed to pay £110 for a day trip locally... and that was supposedly discounted. I refused to pay anymore embarrassing Alan in to the process no doubt. I told our guide that it was a ridiculous price, the rate used to be around £70 no matter how many people. He said the exchange rate had gone down dramatically hence the increase.

Anyway, on reflection Alan decided I was right. For the duration of our tour we had been buying the drinks, tipping the guides and boatmen along the way. Alan had spent over £100 on gifts.

In my opinion some of the guides are just too greedy. I'm not the only one to think so either. They prefer to sit all day doing nothing rather than offer their services at a sensible price.

With petrol cheaper than the UK, places like Tendaba and Baobalong available for only around £10-£15 per night the opportunity to make a big profit on a fee of £1100 for 5 nights was there to be taken. Why push it further?

But they do. An offer to change money for you means they will take a small slice off the rate, you will no doubt get requests for donations for this that and the other.

Before leaving for TG I had asked the guide to keep an eye out for a particular wooden carving I wanted to take home. Last time there I paid 700 dalasai for similar. He emailed to say he could arrange to get one made for 8000! When I was there I got one made for 1400.

Anyway, despite my moment of rage we were soon back to happy chatty and the guide didn't seem too concerned that I had challenged him or refused to cough up more.

It's the way they operate and from experience I know.

I have deliberately not mentioned who my guide was because it would be wrong to single him out. They are all the same it appears to me. In actual fact as a guide ours was excellent and in fairness he went the extra distance to find target birds for us.

On my last visit an agreed fee for a local walk of £30 was paid only to be asked "You couldn't make it £40 could you?"

A friend on an overnight trip was suddenly asked if he'd like to sponsor him.

"To do what?"

"Camouflage paint the car" came back the reply.

He was so taken by surprise by the request he handed him some cash!!

It's the way they work.

If you can live with that then you'll love The Gambia.

I still do.

I was soon to return too.

Home for 10 days then back with wife Claire for another 2 weeks in the sun.

I just hoped the local birding had improved by then as I had already decided my budget for trips had been blown already.

My 10 days with Alan had cost only slightly less than the two weeks with Claire would do. Fair's fair. We would spend on things Claire wanted to do instead.

T.B.C.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This topic is quite old. Unless updating a photographic thread with new images, please consider starting a new discussion. Thank you.

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

Safaritalk uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By using Safaritalk you agree to our use of cookies. If you wish to refuse the setting of cookies you can change settings on your browser to clear and block cookies. However, by doing so, Safaritalk may not work properly and you may not be able to access all areas. If you are happy to accept cookies and haven't adjusted browser settings to refuse cookies, Safaritalk will issue cookies when you log on to our site. Please also take a moment to read the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy: Terms of Use l Privacy Policy