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The Gambia – A first Visit (january 2018)

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TonyQ

The Gambia – A first Visit

 

January 2018

We were inspired to visit by the excellent trip reports of  @lmSA84 and @Dave Williams, and we also thank them for advice given. (Dave has also posted another report (he was there just as we left!) with great practical details of the Kotu area.) It is easy to get to from the UK (6 hour flight) and the weather in January was great – warm, sunny, dry.

 

We loved it!

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It is a birding destination, not really a place to go to see mammals (though we did see three species of non-human primates, squirrels and some others). I have tried to make this report of interest to non-birders. (I have posted more pictures of birds in my “Big Year” thread)

 

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The Gambia is the smallest country in mainland Africa, about 50km wide at its widest, and with a population of less than 2 million. The River Gambia runs through the country, and it surrounded on three sides by Senegal, and by the Atlantic Ocean on the fourth side. English is one of the official languages.

 

We booked a package through “The Gambia Experience”. As their name suggests they specialise in The Gambia!

 

https://www.gambia.co.uk/

(The website has lots of information about the country and hotels.)

Thomas Cook also do packages from the UK, and very cheap deals are available – especially at short notice. (I think Thomas Cook do not offer Mandina Lodge, the second of our bases).

 

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TonyQ

Our Itinerary

Kairaba Hotel 7 nights

Mandina Lodge 4 nights

 

We stayed on the coast at the Kairaba Hotel (B&B) for the first part of our trip and were very happy with it. It has spacious grounds with lots of birds. An excellent breakfast served from 6.30am – ideal for 7.00am or 7.30 pick-up from birding guide. (Also easy to make a packed lunch from the breakfast!).

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View from our balcony

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Part of the grounds

A few birds from the hotel...

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Yellow-billed Shrike (from our balcony)

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Broad-billed Roller5ab24994b5bad_GambiaTR5-12.jpg.36a6a58a939899c45ef392690b154ad9.jpg

Senegal Coucal

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Pied Crow

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African Grey Hornbill

 

 

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TonyQ

There were also other interesting creatures in the grounds -Callithrix Monkeys(will see later - like a Vervet) and these very handsome Western Red Colobus (both new to us)

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The area outside the hotel is fairly busy, with lots of restaurants etc. (The Gambia is a winter sun destination) We were happy eating in them – not fine dining but fine, with some very good fish.

Edited by TonyQ

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TonyQ

During this part of the trip we used a bird guide we had booked while we were still at home.

You can arrange guides when you are there – if you go to Kotu there are guides at the bridge touting for business. We didn’t want the hassle – but having been there it wouldn’t be that difficult.

 

To find a guide in advance, we looked at trip reports, (including those of Dave and lmSA84)

We approached a couple who were already booked.

 

We eventually chose  Mustapha Kassama

 

mustaphakassama@yahoo.com

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Scanning the trees for birds...

He is the first bird guide we have used, and we are not expert birders by any means, but we were very happy with him. He had a good car with working seat belts (it is actually owned by his uncle), drove safely, turned up on time and worked hard. He had good local knowledge and was good at finding birds, identifying them and at helping us see them. He was very patient, especially with me as I find seeing small birds high up in trees against the light very difficult. His English is good, doesn’t talk all the time but talks interestingly. He never asked for extra money for anything. We did buy him an occasional cold drink when we were having one. He provided his own food. If we go again we will use him again. (He was one of the guides used by Dave Gosney on his trip  when putting together his book and DVD - "Finding Birds in the Gambia")

 

We did one Full Day (7am – 6pm), and 4 “short days” – these varied from 7.30-1pm to 7am-3pm. We had “one day off” in the middle, and the morning of the day we changed hotels we also relaxed.

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TonyQ

Kotu Creek

This is a short rive from the hotel (about 20 minutes?) and a good place to spend the first morning. On our "day off" we went on our own in the afternoon. (A taxi from near to the hotel, wait as long as we want - we stayed about 3 hours - and return cost the equivalent of about £8).

@Dave Williams gives excellent practical detail (as well as his superb photos) in his recent trip report.

 

Here I have put together some photos from our two visits. This sort of trip is not a visit to wilderness. You are visiting land where people farm, work and live. We thought that makes it interesting.

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Malachite Kingfisher

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Common Ringed Plover

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Female Firefinch

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Spur-winged Lapwing

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Common Sandpiper

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Western Reef Egret

And interacting with the human environment...

 

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Village Weaver

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"Are you looking at me?" Village Indigo Bird

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Obviously no acceptable response.....

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TonyQ

Kotu continued....

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There were lots of crabs when the tide was out

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Pied Kingfishers are always a pleasure to watch

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It was a very good place to practice photographing hovering birds

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And sometimes they were successful!

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Wire-tailed Swallow

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Little Bee-eaters - such beautiful birds, we really enjoyed spending time with them

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Agama Lizard

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And some local transport (a tourist shot that distorts -notice I do not post cars and lorries!)

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xelas

Beautiful! Another TG report, and with added details, I might be tempted to switch TC with TG! Please add as many "what to do beside birding" info as possible, @TonyQ!

Edited by xelas

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TonyQ

Thank you @xelas I will try but we didn't do much else:).  (What is TC?)

 

On our second day we went to Lamin Rice Fields and Abuko Forest Reserve (Left hotel 7.30, returned at about 2.30pmm)

The rice had been harvested earlier in the year, so it was possible to walk on raised sections, enjoying a variety of birds (I am only putting a couple in here).

As we walked, we could hear distant singing from a local church (it was Sunday).

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Black-headed Heron

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Lanner Falcon

We then went a short distance to The Abuko Forest reserve, with lovely walks through shady forest, a viewing place overlooking a pool at The Charles Darwin Research Centre, and another hide overlooking a small pool.

 

Soon after we were in the forest we were delight to see a group of Western Red Colobus

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Reaching the Research Centre we spent a long time looking at visitors to a small lake

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African Jacana

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African Pygmy Kingfisher

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Giant Kingfisher

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Hemerkop with meal

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African Harrier Hawk

 

 

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TonyQ

Walking further through the forest

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Black Crake (not yet developed red legs and yellow beak)

We then came to a hide overlooking a small shady pool, attracting many birds and other creatures...

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A squirrel coming for a drink (Possibly Gambian Sun Squirrel?)

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Western Bluebill

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Lavender Waxbill

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Bushbuck

It walked very cautiously towards the pool, but unfortunately another human visitor to the hide made an excited noise, and the antelope retreated into the bushes.

 

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Monitor Lizard - we heard it rustling through dry leaves befoer we saw it - it sounded like a person walking.

Edited by TonyQ

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TonyQ

On the way out of the forest we were please to see more Red Colobus

5ab2920ae3e2c_GambiaTR2-15.jpg.8b659743a7a50c4620cfa4f820b0c2fb.jpg

 

5ab29214d7a59_GambiaTR2-16.jpg.220cac45a468abdbfe6518d59eff6255.jpg

 

Continuing on we also saw a Callithrix Monkey

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It was interesting to compare the shape of their heads, especially the jaws. The Colobus is largely vegetarian, eating a lot of leaves; the Callithrix as a more varied diet.

We continued on to Lamin Lodge for a nice fish lunch, and saw more Callithrix Monkeys, including one showing a speciality

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Eating crabs!

 

On the way out we were fascinated to see some Mudskippers. I remember hearing about these when I studied Zoology, but they were much smaller than I had imagined.

5ab293c46702d_GambiaTR2-32.jpg.f822b62c56bea05058f8ac35543ff5df.jpg

It was fascinating to see them use their front flippers like legs. They can breathe through their skin and the lining of their mouth when out of water.

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Ritsgaai

Fascinating and beautiful birds you saw, @TonyQ. Looking forward to the rest of the TR.

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xelas

And I am also enjoying all the other creatures you have found in TG! (TC = The Caribbean).

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Treepol

@TonyQ The Gambia looks an ideal winter escape and you have so many beautiful photos of scenery, birds, animals and even a mudskipper. I particularly like the Pygmy Kingfisher and Lavender waxbill.

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offshorebirder

Thanks for this TR @TonyQ - especially the details about your guide, who sounds very satisfactory.  

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Anomalure

Nice report! Would be good for a short visit, as I'm more into mammals than birds... Btw, your squirrel is a Gambian Sun Squirrel and the antelope is a Maxwell's Duiker (nice find!), not a Bushbuck.

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pault

You got some great pictures - what a nice collection of birds - and it sounds like a very nice experience.

 

Typical of a birder to (i) say "we are not really birders" and (ii) misidentify the mammals. :D 

 

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Dave Williams

You certainly did The Gambia in style Tony. I'm looking forward to hearing about Mandina Lodges... someone else is on their way there tomorrow!

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michael-ibk

Very good to now get more bachground about all your beautiful BY photos. You make the Gambia look very appealing. All the birds are great, but I also love the Monkeys - and especially the mudskippers, they have always fascinated me.

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TonyQ

@Ritsgaai @xelas @offshorebirder @Treepol thank you

@Anomalure thank you for your comment and for your identifications, especially the Duiker. Although we saw some interesting mammals, I don't think I would go just to focus on those. I think you need to be interested in birds to make a full trip. It is possible to go to neighbouring Senega which I think has more mammals, but we didn't go.

@pault  Thank you. A year ago I would have denied being a birder. Now I say I am not an expert birder. I think this statement will be true for a very long time. I agree that I am also not an expert mammal watcher (or indeed an expert in anything:)). One of the big advantages of Safaritalk is that there are people who know things!

@Dave Williams  Mandina might be reported on tomorrow (depending on weather)

@michael-ibk Thank you - we found the mudskippers fascinating.

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TonyQ

So to the next day. A full day to Pirang Forest and surrounding areas. Pick up from hotel at 7.00am and return at 6pm. We take a packed lunch.

 

It is fascinating to drive through small towns and villages as the sun is coming up.Groups of school children in smart uniforms cycle or walk to school, different coloured uniforms in different villages. Women in brightly coloured clothes lay out pieces of cloth by the side of the road and make neat arrangements of fruit and vegetables to sell during the day. Crowded taxis and buses take people to work. Stalls sell snacks; other stalls sell clothing and houshold essentials.

 

We get to Pirang.

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Main track running through forest

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A Long-crested Eagle flys by

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Senegal Parrots

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The very striking Violet Turaco

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Verraux's Eagle Owl. Local guides tend to know where owls are roosting and can show visitors.

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Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher

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Brown Babblers

A number of places called "Jungle Bars" offer places to sit in the shade in the middle of the day, and will sell you a cold drink. They also offer cold drinks to the local birds who are ready to take advantage of this gift. This water container is one of the more photogenic of those used - I will show others later!

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Black-rumped Waxbill

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Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike in very dark forest

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Standard-winged Nightjar. It would be invisible as it rested during the day, but again, locals know where to find them

 

We arrive back at the hotel by about 6pm, a quick shower and out for an evening meal, tired but happy. Cold beer was much appreciated.

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pault

The first picture in the latest set is wonderful! 

The last is pretty cool as well. The forest looks like a lovely environment.

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TonyQ

@pault thank you  - the forests are lovely places to walk

 

Our next day was a "day off" in that we did not use our burd guide (when planning we thought we would need a day off after a very full previous day!). We had a slightly later breakfast did a bit of birding in our hotel grounds. We then visited the grounds of the Senegambia Hotel next door. At around 11am thy put food out for vultures. Hooded vultures are very common in The Gambia and you see them pretty well everywhere. The food also attracts some other birds

5ab62d91af310_GambiaTR4-8.jpg.cf42a0b6c69d6591bc54c9c782946038.jpg

 

5ab62d9e6f870_GambiaTR4-4.jpg.d37723dcd5651c3a94c43390945543a8.jpg

Hooded Vulture - Adult

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Youngster

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Yellow-billed Kite - these were also very common in all the places we visited

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Yellow-billed Kite

After a lesiurely lunch (veg curry, aubergine curry) we got a taxi from near to the hotel to Kotu Creek area (photos put in the Kotu section earlier in the report). We also had time for a bit of relaxation on our balcony

5ab62f241acf7_GambiaTRP-2.thumb.jpg.b8c97579d7aa2945d5558ddc0ebe36ef.jpg

A common sighting on our balcony

Edited by TonyQ

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TonyQ

Next day Brufut Woods and Tanji Beach, leave hotel 7.30, return 3.30pm.

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Swallow-tailed Bee-eater

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Splendid Sunbird

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Tawny-flanked Prinia

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Yellow-fronted Canary

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TonyQ

We also stopped at a Jungle Bar for a drink

5ab630f6091a9_GambiaTR6-7.thumb.jpg.0aa2acbb5a65ab0e310e2daefdd30305.jpg

Fork-tailed Drongo

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Watercontainers not quite so photogenic! - Lavender Waxbill

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Yellow White-eye5ab631224b523_GambiaTR6-9.thumb.jpg.34503dd3ffcf09aa54f2460059385cc0.jpg

A local guide knew where this wonderful Long-tailed Nightjar was resting. We were thrilled to see it!

On the way to Tanji beach we stopped at another patch of open ground with trees and bushes and saw

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Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

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TonyQ

We moved on to Tanji beach, next to a fishing village, busy and rather smelly!, but with interesting birds

5ab632e8d6865_GambiaTR6-20.jpg.8d1a9979130f12b7029b1d9a926a7e1b.jpg

Beach with Grey-headed Gulls (Note: other beaches do not look like this!)

5ab632f35ca1d_GambiaTR6-11.jpg.a47bef05942dd80e5f6ad90218f40c2e.jpg

Caspian Tern

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Pink-backed Pelican

Back to relax at the hotel where we saw this fine fellow

5ab63304b7b6f_GambiaTR6-14.thumb.jpg.5942e08ccd4611366d9a28553a3865db.jpg

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