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Dave Williams

The Gambia 2018

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Dave Williams

I will put a copy of my blog here on Safaritalk to help anyone who is thinking of visiting who might otherwise not see it. It's a copy of the script of my blog but it has different photographs in some parts but the same subjects so feel free to look at both!

I would point out the The Gambia's wildlife is primarily birds, the only larger mammals are a few Hippos which are found inland, a few deer, 3 species of Monkey and other smaller creatures. The bigger mammals like Rhino,Giraffe,Zebra have been re-introduced in a wild life park in neighbouring Senegal but it's the birds that most people visit both countries for. It's a haven for over wintering northern species as well as the resident ones.  

 

Edited by Dave Williams

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Dave Williams

I have lost count of the times I have been to The Gambia but for wife Claire and I it ticks all the boxes. Not too far to travel from the UK, low cost packages are available, winter sun and fabulous birding. When we returned from our very expensive but ultimately disappointing trip to the Far East I immediately checked out the internet to see what was available and found a 2 week package tour with Thomas Cook and staying at our new favourite hotel, The Bakutu, for less than £1200 B&B for the two of us, I grabbed it.

Why suffer the miserable British winter if you don't have to?

With one eye on our total budget I set off with little intention of taking a guided trip, I might take a taxi somewhere I knew if I got bored with the local birding, but I wasn't prepared to pay large amounts to see places I have already been to. Having stayed in the Kotu area of The Gambia I know exactly where to go and what to expect,,,, or do I ?!

Dependant on what time of year you visit you will find a different scene. By January the rice crops in the local fields have been gathered and the paddy fields have dried out. One or two might still be holding some water, and as it gets hotter, water is harder to find and as such these pools can be magnets for some species.I was delighted to find one such pool very close to Kotu Bridge which on my first morning gave me excellent views of African Spoonbill

25251011087_bfa3ffd906_b.jpgAfrican Spoonbill  Platalea alba by Dave Williams, on Flickr

and during the course of the week several other species too!

Cattle Egret

28373475059_a331f0d8f2_b.jpgCattle Egret   Bubulcus ibis by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Wood Sandpiper

39343847395_dcc4ceb800_b.jpgWood Sandpiper Tringa glareola by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Squacco Heron

26356815388_c94367c44c_b.jpgSquacco Heron   Ardeola ralloides by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Little Egret

28422133309_6ae403f592_b.jpgLittle Egret  Egretta garzetta by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Intermediate Egret.

40201997241_4b530814ac_b.jpgIntermediate Egret    Mesophoyx intermedia by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Some were regulars but others such as the Spoonbill and this Striated Heron were one off opportunities.

40229419301_92bf67f580_b.jpgStriated Heron   Butorides striata by Dave Williams, on Flickr

When you are staying locally it can get a bit monotonous walking the same paths every day, in fact the same paths you have walked many times before this trip, but you never know what might turn up and sometimes you get lucky.

To find a pool like this, so close to our hotel, where you can get up close and personal with your subject is why I keep on going back.

Great White Egret.

40391795802_4659d4e952_b.jpgGreat Egret  Ardea alba by Dave Williams, on Flickr

This isn't the only pool though, slightly further to walk but just as productive is the Badala pool.

TBC

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Dave Williams

Over the years I have been visiting The Gambia, the pool situated behind the Badala Park hotel has gone from a great birding spot to one that was virtually in accessible and now, back to brilliant!

The main attraction to me is that it's one of two spots in the locality that's excellent for Greater Painted Snipe which is a real favourite of mine.

Painted Snipe are a rather cautious bird so getting good views isn't easy but on my very first visit I managed to spot one.

A female who had just had a bath.

26347040048_36d38b89d7_b.jpgGreater Painted-snipe. Rostratula benghalensis by Dave Williams, on Flickr

 

She didn't notice me at first and I was able to get closer

26347039588_3e44e1dd49_b.jpgGreater Painted-snipe. Rostratula benghalensis by Dave Williams, on Flickr

but she must have heard the camera shutter and decided to move!

39508180014_af9e4c8afd_b.jpgGreater Painted-snipe. Rostratula benghalensis by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Still it was a great start!

A large part of the pool is filled with reeds and that's where many of the birds, including the Snipe often hide out. Hundreds of Cattle Egrets choose it as their overnight roost too but on one visit I also spotted a Purple Heron in there, the only one I saw in TG this year too.

26347402928_94fb241019_b.jpgPurple Heron  Ardea purpurea by Dave Williams, on Flickr

There was plenty of open water though and along the muddy margins there were several species of waders including the elegant Black-winged Stilt.

39240212305_744ecda563_b.jpgBlack-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus by Dave Williams, on Flickr

There was a pair that stayed for the duration I was there.

26265640768_72f2fd3b24_b.jpgBlack-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus by Dave Williams, on Flickr

A couple of Wood Sandpipers and a Greenshank appeared to be more or less permanent residents too and both species allowed really close approach despite me sitting out in the open.

39303436485_420a8b7923_b.jpgCommon Greenshank  Tringa nebularia by Dave Williams, on Flickr

You never seem to get this close in the UK, certainly not when in open view anyway.

26329036738_ca5131be48_b.jpgCommon Greenshank  Tringa nebularia by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Fishing further out in the pond was a Little Grebe which didn't get quite as close but presumably because the water was too shallow.

39540889885_16d22ff3be_b.jpgLittle Grebe  Tachybaptus ruficollis by Dave Williams, on Flickr

but you could still get those low level shots that are not possible from many of the places I visit at home.

My favourite shots though, well beside the Snipe, were of a pair of Speckled Pigeons that dropped in for a drink.

40194902452_6ce377a360_b.jpgSpeckled Pigeon  Columba guinea by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Not often you get an opportunity like this one!

39330344885_74ce04c6aa_b.jpgSpeckled Pigeon  Columba guinea by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Another species I was delighted to get close to was Marsh Sandpiper

40204902971_f820981f72_b.jpgMarsh Sandpiper   Tringa stagnatilis by Dave Williams, on Flickr

A rather elegant fine billed bird and one I hadn't been able to photograph as well as I would have liked to in the past.

28425103589_ef863323d7_b.jpgMarsh Sandpiper   Tringa stagnatilis by Dave Williams, on Flickr

This one just ignored me!

28425103369_41d60c3cf2_b.jpgMarsh Sandpiper   Tringa stagnatilis by Dave Williams, on Flickr

A Great Egret dropped by on one visit.

28390599729_6cc4f5db07_b.jpgGreat Egret  Ardea alba by Dave Williams, on Flickr

The setting sun giving me a problem with exposing the whites but the reflections on the pool were lovely.

It was the Snipe that kept dragging me back though, I was determined I could do better. On several visits I failed to locate them but the one day I got lucky, well sort of!

28440037379_f0031855c2_b.jpgGreater Painted-snipe. Rostratula benghalensis by Dave Williams, on Flickr

I had sneaked up on the feeding bird noticed when suddenly a Cattle Egret flew in so low the bird panicked and flew off!

28440038229_37f4270d5b_b.jpgGreater Painted-snipe. Rostratula benghalensis by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Curses! I stood up and walked back to the open end of the pool and casually walked out to my favoured spot to photograph the waders.

Stupid me hadn't noticed there she was, sat on the edge of the water, right out in the open.

28181272009_c417f5e2c0_b.jpgGreater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis by Dave Williams, on Flickr

With a quick shake she was off again.

39960778621_76a3e218c5_b.jpgGreater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Ah well, can't win 'em all!

 

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lmSA84

@Dave Williams - Great to hear the story behind the BY photos! I got to try find a way to do a long weekend in Gambia

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lmSA84

@Dave Williams - I also meant to ask - do you shoot mainly hand held or with a mono / tripod? 

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Dave Williams

@lmSA84  A long weekend wouldn't do it justice!!!!

I guess I should have mentioned, the package holiday was pretty cheap so we only got 15kg of hold luggage and 6kg of cabin. You don't need many clothes and I have to admit I "cheated" on the cabin by stuffing pockets etc.

In the end I took my 500mm , 100-400, 1DX2 and 5D3 plus a tripod in the hold. However I hardly used the tripod as the 500mm is fairly lightweight and it's much easier to react to photo opportunities if you aren't lugging a tripod around.Sometimes the photos suffered from the lack of a steady base, when you looked at the results feet were cut off , wing tips missing etc etc but if you take a few one will be OK! ( Hopefully!)

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Ratdcoops

Your photo’s are just beautiful @Dave Williams.

I have recently upgraded to a bridge camera which is far and away beyond comparison with my previous cameras. As I have been practicing with this I have been attempting to shoot birds, it really has given me an appreciation for the skill/art required to produce this quality of shot. Why won’t they just stay still out in the open? 

I am happy with how much I have progressed  in the two weeks I have had the camera but some people are in another league. I don’t expect, or even aspire reach the heights of people such as yourself @Geoff, @Peter Connan, @Tdgraves, @xelas, but I am inspired by the images and they help me to see what is possible. Sorry to any of the other great photographers I have missed I just grabbed the first that I thought of as I posted.

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Dave Williams

@Ratdcoops You are too kind with your flattery! There is no doubt that the equipment does play a part in achieving a good image but the best photographers could achieve better than me with the simplest of equipment. If there is anything we can do to help you now you have taken the first steps to addiction do let us know! 

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Dave Williams

As an overview to what I'm talking about in terms of places I thought it a good idea to share some maps and photos of Kotu. The photos are old ones I'm afraid as I didn't take any scenic style ones this last visit.

The aerial view of Kotu demonstrates just how much undeveloped land there is in and around the creek and it's this that makes it such an attractive proposition to someone like me who gets easily bored lying by the pool.

26621811498_7724cc3978_b.jpgKotu by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Compare it to the road map and I have attempted to show the various routes that can be taken from the Bakutu Hotel to the main places I am mentioning.

26621811668_72920f202e_b.jpgKotu map by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Leaving the hotel via the back footpath you avoid going over the mud flats which can be viewed from a platform in the hotel's grounds.

[26621811258_0d2f7a77c1_b.jpgPC110019 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Instead you turn a sharp left through a pathway through the bushes and you emerge on to a path leading on to one of the golf course fairways which appear parched and brown on the aerial map.

26621808618_e71c6d9496_b.jpgPC110025 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

The golf course is popular with birders but from a photographers point of view I find it has less of an appeal.

Turning right  and up the hill along the fairway you will pass the "green" and beyond it a bridge across the creek. Another right takes you along a raised path avoiding the mud in the mangroves although having said that the path had worn down considerably this time as it probably gets totally submerged on the odd occasion.

26621837938_2d66810d7a_b.jpg2015-01-12 at 14-45-43 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

 

Follow your nose past the bird guides garden place ( you can get a cold inexpensive soft drink here too) and you reach the path marked on the map as "Wandelpad".

From here you have various options to explore, including directly across towards the sewage ponds.

39597199505_4590209334_b.jpg2015-01-12 at 10-37-47 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

These ponds used to be excellent but totally revolting. One pond would be full of fresh sewage, another covered in lush growth of lily and other pond plants whilst two appeared to be full of water.A couple of years ago a new management company took over and the pools were all cleaned out but it appears as if plants have now been deliberately put in each corner which helps attract birds once again. Birders are charged a nominal amount to wander around them but I preferred to visit the other water holes on the grounds that they were more hygienic!

Back to the "Wandelpad" and that will take you through the rice fields down to the main road and Kotu Bridge. 

39597202825_9537973890_b.jpg2015-01-12 at 08-56-50 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

A daily vulture and kite feeding programme happens near here at around 11.00am.It's also a central meeting point, the place where the bird guides tout for business and a great spot to do some photography too. The bird guides have started running canoe trips from here too and they are proving very popular.

Turn left and continue to the next right to take you to either the big pool behind the Badala Park or follow the road down to the Palm Beach hotel , go through the hotel grounds and on to the beach.

The Greater Painted Snipe hide is located around there.

26621841318_300308a80f_b.jpg2015-01-12 at 12-08-34 by Dave Williams, on Flickr

Inexplicably having spent time and effort building it the Bird Guides Association have let it fall in to virtual total disrepair since I took this photo 3 years ago although curiously access to it through the mangroves has been greatly improved by a pathway of old car tyres filled with hard mud.

Once you have arrived at the beach you can also continue south for approximately 4 kms until you reach the Senegambia Hotel which is fairly obvious due to the number of people on sun loungers which are above the now constructed tidal protection scheme. The Senegambia gardens are worth checking out as are those of the Kairaba Hotel too. Both theses hotels are located in the popular Senegambia Strip area. A lot more food and drink options here but a lot noisier and crowded too once out of the hotel grounds.

It's a matter of personal preference of course but Kotu is my favoured location. Some folk are disparaging of the tourist area altogether but I like the fact you have a choice of eating and drinking each evening whereas staying elsewhere you can be stuck with no choice other than to stay put.

TBC

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michael-ibk

Really enjoying this Dave. All the practical advice you are giving is very helpful, and it´s also very interesting to know how you managed to take all your superb photos.

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PeterHG

Truly enjoying your report @Dave Williams ! Great photography again and lots of useful info in the last episode. Thanks for both, I am tempted more and more....

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offshorebirder

Thanks for the info and nice photos @Dave Williams.

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xelas

That is so helpful, Dave! Maybe you should add The Gambia to your Safaripal profile? BTW does Thomas Cook offers regular trips to The Gambia in winter, or you are only using them when they have offers?

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TonyQ

@Dave Williams

I will certainly copy your report if we go back to The Gambia. Really useful practical information as well as your wonderful photos.

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pault

Great information here.  Beautiful bird pics too,

 

Coincidentally, I was banned from visiting Gambia last night! I am loathe to mention it as I will probably be incoherent, but it is such a coincidence I come across this in the morning. Their Prime Minister apparently came out and said sex tourists shouldn't come to Gambia but should go to Thailand instead! Did not go down well in Thailand or with the wife and she was quite adamant it deserved a boycott... even though I was not aware Gambia was in our plans any time soon. Hopefully she'll have forgotten by the time we retire and have time for more countires, as I like the look of it and the price sounds right for those retirement days.

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pault
On 28 กุมภาพันธ์ 2561 at 5:33 AM, pault said:

Great information here.  Beautiful bird pics too,

 

Coincidentally, I was banned from visiting Gambia last night! I am loathe to mention it as I will probably be incoherent, but it is such a coincidence I come across this in the morning. Their Prime Minister apparently came out and said sex tourists shouldn't come to Gambia but should go to Thailand instead! Did not go down well in Thailand or with the wife and she was quite adamant it deserved a boycott... even though I was not aware Gambia was in our plans any time soon. Hopefully she'll have forgotten by the time we retire and have time for more countires, as I like the look of it and the price sounds right for those retirement days.

 

If I could edit this post I would. I just realised I did worse to Gambia that their Prime Minister did to Thailand!  Sincere apologies for the distraction @Dave Williams  Just ignore the rambling idiot bit. 

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Dave Williams

@paultI am away from home at the moment so I'll finish my report later but just been speaking to a couple of people who have been to TG recently and it seems the sex grade is alive and well and particularly on show in Kololi at night times. In Thailand old men with pretty young girls are a common sight, in TG it's old women with young men. My recommendation is to stay away from the Senegambia Strip, the main tourist area. Mind you I did read that police raided a hotel in Thailand and arrested 33 Russians who had enrolled on a course to improve their sex lives within marriage. I asked Claire if she thought it might make a good Christmas present for me but she said it was a waste of money. Not sure how to take that answer!!

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xelas

First there is demand and then there is supply! For me, I will always prefer to visit a country where sex for money is allowed over the country where being LGBT gives you a prison time!

 

As for the answer, @Dave Williams, take it with a grain of salt :D!

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Dave Williams

There isn't a lot more to add to my trip report really. I did as you can see and read, I spent most of the two weeks in the locality of our hotel but, it being a popular birders hotel, I managed to find two like minded guys who invited me to join them for a half day trip which they had negotiated at an affordable but still expensive £35 per person. We left the hotel at 7.30 and returned by 1.00pm. Where we went I can't be sure, all I know was it was inland somewhere and we spent our time walking across dry and dusty peanut growing fields and along an even dustier back road. However, this trip added 12 new species to my list, none of which I saw elsewhere, but it was more a birders trip than a photographers which isn't anything I was bothered about, I already knew what to expect having done similar in the past.

Typically the views would be distant with little time spent hanging around for better views or discovering territories. The photos more likely to be record shots than prize winners.

Yellow Penduline Tit   Anthoscopus parvulus

Still those Penduline Tits were "lifers" and likewise, the Brown-backed Woodpecker was one I had never seen before either.

Brown-backed Woodpecker Dendropicos obsoletus

and not all the shots were taken at distance either, our guide Mustapha Manneh certainly knew how to lure out numerous species by imitating an Owlet calling.

This Senegal Batis was a favourite.

Senegal Batis   Batis senegalensis 52018-01-29


As the three of us had enjoyed each others company, and we were pleased with our guide, we decided to take another trip. They told me Mustapha had mentioned a boat trip so I told them I would find out where he was talking about. I thought perhaps one on the River Gambia but no, it was the one I have done previously near Kartong. I was certainly up for that!

Kartong is probably my favourite place in The Gambia, well on the coast anyway.Although it's near a village it's largely undeveloped and the sand mines and surrounds offer brilliant birding. The day didn't quite turn out as expected though, Mustapha had a few stopping places on the way and we saw some cracking birds as we drove along.

The White-crested Helmetshrike is one I hoped to photograph on this trip and although I only had a brief attempt I was reasonably happy with the result.

White-crested Helmetshrike   Prionops plumatus

A herd of cattle produced one of my favourites. Yellow-billed Oxpecker.

Yellow-billed Oxpecker   Buphagus africanus

No problem getting close there then!

Mustapha was particularly delighted to find a trio of White-fronted Black Chats

White-fronted Black Chat. Oenanthe albifrons

Me? I was happy with everything!

African Golden Oriole  Oriolus auratus

African Golden Oriole was nice but a bit distant, the Woodchat Shrike was a full framer out of the car window.

Woodchat Shrike   Lanius senator

I guess the real irony though was that both the Kartong area and the boat trip didn't deliver as I thought they might!

We didn't really have time to spend getting nearer to species in the old sand pits so photos were distant but we saw plenty of new species. Likewise the boat trip didn't deliver it's star bird, the Goliath Heron. All we saw was a very distant and very fleeting glimpse.

Goliath Heron  Ardea goliath

Barely recognisable isn't it!

We did have compensations though. A fabulous view of African Fish Eagle form the boat.

African Fish Eagle  Haliaeetus vocifer

and of a Long-crested Eagle as we left Kartong.

Long-crested Eagle   Lophaetus occipitalis

and the day wasn't finished yet. We stopped off at Tanji beach, a great spot for some wader and seabird shots.

Caspian Terns

Caspian Tern  Hydroprogne caspia

Slender-billed Gull

Slender-billed Gull    Larus genei

Sanderling

Sanderling   Calidris alba

and one of the best places for photographing Godwits.

Bar-Tailed Godwit  Limosa lapponica

It was a truly fabulous day out adding some great photo opportunities and another 26 species to my trip list.

It demonstrates just how much more you can achieve with transport and some local knowledge.

I have used several guides in past years and Mustapha is as good as any but in fairness they all know their stuff. I have questioned how much they charge in the past too. Their demands are usually too high in my opinion compared to the average Gambian wage. I  know they have a short season but.....

Anyway, for our full day out and including the boat trip we paid a fraction more than our half day.

How come? Because I negotiated and as I have the experience I know what is realistic.They will take as much as they can get out of you, they too are persuasive negotiators who will prey on the lack of knowledge new comers might have!

Mustapha was still happy with his pay day and so were we.

 

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Dave Williams

It's good to see more and more interest in The Gambia from those with a birding interest on Safaritalk. I know of three of us  who have gone or are going this year and I have a feeling more will follow in due course.

This is not a "Big Game" safari country, that has been made clear by those who report it but there is a lot more to Africa for those who want to fully explore the continent. Recent elections give The Gambia hope of a brighter future and tourism can play a huge part as there is little in the way of anything else to support the country. 

The good news it's a short hop from Europe, the weather is excellent and it's a very safe destination too.

Oh, and most importantly it's affordable. Very affordable in fact but it also has some sufficiently up market properties for those who are looking for added luxury and they still come at a reasonably competitive price.

So if you live in a grey damp climate and you are desperate for a bit of a winter sun fix, do give it some consideration.

Oh and any questions, feel free to ask!

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xelas

I am surely among those interested to visit The Gambia sooner then later! So, beside birding as such, what else one can expect from going there? Staying inside resort is really not our thing, so how and where one can spent his day(s)? How did Claire filled her time while you were birding?

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Dave Williams

@xelas Now there's the rub as we say! Not a lot of other touristy things to do really other than fishing( if you call that "touristy") Apparently the West African coast has some of the world's best fishing and some big competitions are held here but you need to hire a boat I guess. A few fish from the beach.

Other than that there are the local markets for what interest they might hold, wood carving and knitted Bob Marley hats, wicker work woven baskets and some colourful clothing are about all that might attract a buyer.( I give Claire an open cheque book and they never get cashed:lol:)

You can of course sign up to visit a local village, family, school etc which many people do. Not my thing really but many tourists "adopt" a family or child, supporting them with cash. I'm not sure this is a good idea as it encourages more of the locals to seek out tourists wanting to befriend them for this very reason. My personal view is that it is better to visit the country, spend some money in the tourist regions, create more jobs and wealth that way. Financial support favours the few and doesn't encourage work either!

In the many times we have been Claire has only been on one or two outings as there is little to see. I certainly wouldn't ask her to go "up country" as the accommodation is very, very basic. For me a great adventure, for her not so.

So yes, her time is spent relaxing by the pool or going for a walk along the beach with me. She has a well deserved rest after all she does for me at home!

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xelas

Thanks Dave! Relaxing by the pool is not that bad of an idea, and our last visit to Bequia, we have mostly walked along the beach from one beach bar to another. I assume renting a car for a few days is out of question?!

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Dave Williams

@xelas Probably a lot cheaper to get a taxi to be honest. Not many places to drive to really either, if there is a ferry involved you need to have contacts or you can wait forever. You also need some knowledge of where to go.

For anyone wanting a complete package I would highly recommend Farakunku Lodges, excellent accommodation but the one drawback is that they only have a dipping pool rather than a swimming pool.

I wrote a blog about my stay there here

https://davewilliamsnaturephotography.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/the-gambia-ticks-all-boxes-introduction.html

We did a bit of our own thing then took up a 7 day package that included 6 days bird guiding but they offer other options too. 

Farakunku's web site here

http://www.farakunku-lodges.com

There are only 4 rooms so not many guests ! Not always the most sociable either. My pal Alan and I, plus Claire when she joined us were the only ones who turned up for pre dinner drinks. It's also some distance from anywhere else, even the beach is an hour's walk but to me that was the charm. However, we haven't been back yet as we like having the choice of where to eat and drink each evening instead of staying in.

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lmSA84

@Dave Williams - great report, particularly the local knowledge you shared re. Birding at Kotu.

 

@xelas - Dave’s right, it really is a birding and beach location. But we also did a boat trip up The Gambia at Mandina which was excellent and we did a half day cooking course with a trip to the local market for ingredients 

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