Wednesday, 1 February 2012

January 24th to January 28th 2012

January 24th 2012
Flew out of a very wet Birmingham Airport and eventually had clear sky’s over the Western Sahara and thankfully the boredom of a six hour flight was lifted when we enjoyed panoramic views of the sandstone plains of Mauritania before arriving at Gambia’s Yundum Airport on time. Being my third visit to Gambia and most of the groups second with Halcyon Gambia once I was through passport control I grabbed a porter who I knew would jumped the queue and put my luggage though the security checks in double quick time so I was soon heading for the exit to be met by our guide for the week Mustapha. While I went outside to enjoy the heat it did not take long for Mus to round everyone up and once our luggage was loaded on to our mini bus we made our way to the Halcyon compound in Bijilo noting the usual first birds on any visit to Gambia, Speckled Pigeon, Black-headed Plover, Hooded Vultures and Cattle Egret while enjoying the glorious sunshine and getting use to Mus talking again about his beloved Barnsley in his mock Yorkshire accent, even though he has never been to the UK.

Halycon Compond

At the compound we were cheerily greeted by Bob and Jane our hosts and the rest of the compound staff and allocated our rooms. Once we had freshened up the last couple of hours of daylight was spent chilling out by the pool, watching the feeders, drinking beers and chatting as if we had never been away.

Red-billed Fire-finch

African Mourning Dove, African Palm Swift, Beautiful Sunbird, Black Kite,
Black-headed Plover, Cattle Egret, Common Bulbul, Grey-headed Sparrow, Hooded Vulture, Laughing Dove,Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Little Swift, Village Weaver,Pied Crow, Red-billed Fire-finch, Long-tailed Glossy Starling, Shrika,
Speckled Pigeon, Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleu, Squacco Heron, Village Indigobird, Vinaceous Dove, Western Grey Plantain-Eater.

January 25th 2012
Up early raring to go and after breakfast we boarded our minibus for the short journey to Koto Bridge which had hardly changed since our last visit except for a great hole in the bridge. Certainly no Health and Safety here – just a large stump jammed in to stop you splashing around 10 ft below. Loaded up with water we then went walk about revisiting Koto Creek, Casino Cycle Track, Lily Ponds and Koto Sewage Ponds before a welcome cold drink at the Gambian Birdwatching Association garden where they have a shelter to cool down. Once rested we returned to the minibus and moved on to Fajara Golf Course for a short walk before finally arriving at a beach bar at Cape Creek for Lunch. Birds were coming thick and fast so grateful for the peace and quiet the bar gave us – once the native dancing troop had stopped practicing – to my ears it was just a racket although I noticed a few of my group tapping along. Had to give the semi- naked bronzed wrinklies a wide berth while searching the beach then on to Brutfut for a stunning couple of hours. Mus had two party piece up his sleeve. The first was 2 roosting Verreaux's Eagle-Owls high in a palm tree – a longed for life tick for me and the second was taking us to a spot where he indicated there was a roosting Long-tailed Nightjar with in 6ft of us but it sure took 7 of us a while to locate this gem among the leaf litter. We arrived back at the compound hot, tired and 151 species under the belt.

Verreaux's Eagle-Owl, Brutfut. Colin Potter

Pygmy Kingfisher, Brutfut, Colin Potter

African Grey Hornbill, African Harrier-Hawk, African Jacana, African Pied-Hornbill, African Spoonbill, African Thrush, Bearded Barbet, Black Scimitar-bill, Black-billed Wood Dove, Blackcap Babbler, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black Egret Black-headed Gull, Black-headed Heron, Black-necked Weaver, Black-shouldered Kite, Black-tailed Godwit, Black-winged Stilt, Blue-bellied Roller, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Blue-cheeked Bee-Eater, Blue-headed Wagtail, Bronze Mannikin, Brown Babbler, Caspian Tern, Chiffchaff,Common Sandpiper, Crested Lark, Double-spurred Francolin, Eurasian Hoopoe, European Roller, Fork-tailed Drongo, Great White Egret, Green Sandpiper, Green Turaco, Green Wood Hoopoe, Green-backed Eremomela, Greenshank, Grey Heron, Grey Kestrel, Grey Plover, Grey Woodpecker, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Grey-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, House Sparrow, Intermediate Egret, Lavender Waxbill, Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Lesser Honeyguide, Little Bee-eater, Little Egret, Little Grebe, Little Ringed Plover, Little Weaver, Lizzard Buzzard, Long-tailed Cormorant,Long-tailed Nightjar, Malachite Kingfisher, Marsh Harrier, Mottled Spinetail, Namaqua Dove Northern Black Flycatcher, Northern Red Bishop, Olivacious Warbler, Orange-billed Waxbill, Osprey, Palm-nut Vulture, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Pygmy Kingfisher, Pink-backed Pelican,Pied Kingfisher, Plain-backed Pipit, Red-billed Hornbill, Red-billed Quelea, Red-chested Swallow, Redshank, Red-winged Warbler, Ringed Plover, Rosy Parakeet,Saced Ibis, Sand Martin, Senegal Coucal, Senegal Parrot, Senegal Thick-knee, Slender-billed Gull, Splendid Sunbird, Spur-winged Plover, Striped Kingfisher, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Variable Sunbird, Verreaux's Eagle-Owl, Violet Turaco, Wattled Plover, Western Reef Heron, Western Sub-Alpine Warbler, Whimbrel, White Wagtail, White-billed Buffalo Weaver,White-faced Whistling Duck, White-shouldered Black-Tit, Willow Warbler, Winding Cisticola Wire-tailed Swallow, Wood Sandpiper, Woodchat Shrike, Yellow Wagtail, Yellow-billed Shrike, Yellow-breasted Apalils, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Zitting Cisticola

January 26th 2012
A beautiful Black-shouldered Kite sitting on a roadside telegraph pole greeted us as we drove out of Bijilo along with Lizzard Buzzard and Grey Kestrel on our way to the riverine forest reserve at Abuko where we had a leisurely walk finding a number of good species with the highlight for most being the Western Bluebill, Grey-headed Bristle Bill and 2 Buff-spotted Woodpecker before leaving which gave us chance to enjoy the attention of the stall holders and a cold drink chatting to the locals before moving on to Lamin Rice Fields.

Painted Snipe by Graeme Dunlop

Here our visit produced the hoped for Painted Snipe with at least 2 showing well amongst the mangroves while the small agricultural plots held many species new for our trip list.
Over a long lunch at Lamin Lodge the food went flying as we scrambled to see a flyby Goliath Heron go past our lofty position watched by a sharp eyed Green-eyed Velvet Monkey who despite our gallant efforts finally made off with the sugar bowl. As the heat of the day subsided we searched the surrounding fields and tracks behind Lamin Lodge village finding a delightful Western Violet-backed Sunbird but missed by seconds the White-crowned Robin-Chat.
Back early at the compound giving us chance to pack for tomorrows up country trip then enjoyed the sight and sounds of the compounds garden and feeders while downing a few very welcome cold Beer’s

Buff-spotted Woodpecker Common Wattle-Eye European Bee-eater Fanti Saw-wing Giant Kingfisher Goliath Heron Grey Headed Bristle Bill Grey Plantain-eater m, Hammerkop, Kestrel Lanner Falcon Little Greenbul Moorhen Painted Snipe Pied-winged Swallow Purple Heron Red-bellied Paradise-Flycatcher Red-eyed Dove Reed Warbler Sandwich Tern Scarlet-breasted Sunbird Sedge Warbler Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat Western Bluebill Western Violet-backed Sunbird Yellow-fronted Canary Yellow-throated Leaflove

January 27th 2012
Needing an early start to catch the ferry to Barra over the Gambian River for our journey to Georgetown we dragged poor old Bob and Jane out of bed at some ungodly hour for breakfast and were mightily impressed that our mini-bus had transformed into a coach when our new driver Aladdin and his renovated 22 seat “Skylark” arrived. By Gambian standards this was luxury and boy did we benefit from having plenty of spare room for our gear and a window seat each.
Once we were parked up inside the dock awaiting the ferry’s arrival we stood on the quayside adding a few tern and gull species before boarding and heading for the top deck which gave us panoramic views of our crossing. The highlights were a couple of Skua species, Royal Tern and 100s of African Palm Swift flying low so you could actually appreciate what they looked like as normally they are so high overhead.
Once Aladdin had eased past the disembarking traffic and passengers we left Barra be hind and headed east though we hadn’t gone far when a call for a comfort stop produced over 60+ roosting Bruce’s Green Pigeon.

Bruce's Green Pigeon by Colin Potter
Further on Mus spotted a helmet-shrike and as we charged off the coach we had excellent roadside views of 2 White Crested Helmet-shrike along with 2 African Golden Oriole and 2 African Green Pigeon. We continued our journey stopping at various wetlands which produced many new species for the trip and one or two lifers for the group. The best were Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Cut-throat, Southern Grey Shrike, Sudan Golden Sparrow and Yellow-billed Oxpecker at Kerewan, Pin-tailed Whydah at Batung Wetland and Kaur Wetland produced many species including Kentish Plover, Kittlitz's Plover, Knob-billed Duck and Spur-winged Goose. In between theses locations we also had from the coach Exclamatory Paradise-Whydah, 2 Northern Anteater-Chat, Lanner Falcon and 3 Ruppell's Vulture.
As the long journey continued we were soon jolted out of our fatigue and slumber by Mus announcing we are going to look for coursers and bustards. Having spread out and with Lamin on point duty and Mus using his knowledge of the area we managed to find 4 Temminck's Courser, Black-bellied Bustard, 2 White-bellied Bustard and a Savile's Bustard so it was a dusty sweaty, smiling gang that returned to the coach totally buggered but most experiencing 4 life ticks from one area - magic.

Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark by Colin Potter

The rest of the journey was a mixture of fortunes such as failing to find any Egyptian Plovers and seeing 3 more White-bellied Bustard before arriving just before dusk at Georgetown. We needed to be on the south bank and could see our accommodation but we were the 11th vehicle awaiting the ferry which could only take four at a time so while we waited we looked for Pearl-spotted Owlet finding two. Eventually we crossed in the dark allowing stunning view of the clear sky’s including a few constellations I had not seen before. Once we arrived at the Baobalong Camp we freshened up then it was out again for a look for nightjars and owls finding one unidentified nightjar species and hearing a Verreaux's Eagle-Owl.

African Golden Oriole ,African Green Pigeon, African Oriole, African Silverbill, Arctic Skua, Avocet, Black Rumped Waxbill, Black Tern, Black-bellied Bustard, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Bush Petronia, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark, Collared Pratincole, Common Redstart, Common Tern, Cormorant, Curlew Sandpiper, Cut-throat, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Exclamatory Paradise-Whydah, Four-banded Sandgrouse, Grasshopper Buzzard, House Martin, Kentish Plover, Kittlitz's Plover, Knob-billed Duck, Little Green Bee-Eater, Little Stint, Little Tern, Marsh Sandpiper, Med Gull Montagu’s Harrier, Northern Anteater-Chat, Northern Wheatear, Pygmy Sunbird, Pied Hornbill, Pin-tailed Whydah, Pomarine Skua, Purple Swamphen, Quail, Red-necked Falcon, Royal Tern, Ruff, Ruppell's Vulture, Sand Partridge, Savile's Bustard, Southern Grey Shrike, Spur-winged Goose, Sudan Golden Sparrow, Temminck's Courser, Western Bonelli's Warbler, White Crested Helmetshrike, White-backed Pelican, White-bellied Bustard, White-winged black Tern, Yellow-billed Oxpecker.

January 28h 2012
The intensity of dawn to dusk birding and long travel days can start to wear you down so it was very welcome just to walk 200 yards from our accommodation down to the rivers edge and board our motorized covered canoe for a trip along the north bank at first light.

We soon spread out but I was unfortunately not on the bank side when a shout of hippo had me racing to the other side but too late. Those on the ball were lucky enough to see its nostrils and ears and hear it snort before submerging –damn. New trip birds came thick and fast with plenty of activity in the river-side vegetation where we had at least 14 kingfishers of three species, 6 Swamp Flycatcher, 4 African fish Eagles and 2 Striated Heron amongst the many herons and egrets.

African Fish Eagle

The main highlights was the 10 Red-throated Bee-Eater a must see species when up river along with the 2 elusive African Fin-foot hiding amongst the mangrove roots, a close fly by Long-crested Eagle that flew over then perched allowing good views and the large amount of Turtle Dove’s we flushed as we chugged along at a leisurely pace. The icing on the cake was on our way back when I took an interest in a small clump of trees covered in vines and somehow managed to spot what I thought was an owl roosting. The canoe turned round and a closer look showed a Verreaux's Eagle-Owl just sitting quietly half way up – magic.

African Fin-foot by Colin Potter

Once back on dry land we finished packing, loaded the coach and left Georgetown for Bansang Quarry further up country where we had more Red-throated Bee-Eater plus Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and European Golden Oriole added to our trip list before heading back wast to Tendaba. Though a lot better since being re-graded there’s no luxury like the north road tarmac and this road is very dusty and a boneshaker but somehow you get use to it and a number of stops produced more children than birds at some locations.

Aladdin our superb driver who never stopped smiling and one of the nicest guys you can ever meet and was always a favourite with the children - not surprising since he has 11 of his own.

Highlight from the coach was Rufous Crowned Roller at the junction for Georgetown when we slowed for a military check point and at the village of Fula Bantang a Donkey carcass attracted 2 Ruppell's and 18 White-backed Vulture while overhead a Beaudouin's Snake-Eagle circled though out our short stay. Nearby a Marabou Stork colony had at least 40 of these big ugly beasties

Marabou Stork

Arrived at Tendaba where Dave and I had the local ladies in stitches as our room allocation meant we were expected to share a bed but that but was soon sorted out and we appreciated the running water to freshen up which was a lacking at Georgetown.
Once we had gathered ourselves we were out again to nearby Kiang West looking for Abyssinian Ground-Hornbill but we not quick enough when one was seen by Mus going back in to the forest undergrowth then we eventually made our way to an ideal spot for nightjars and waited for the sun to go down. After a short wait we managed at least 4 Standard-winged Nightjars but the there show was stolen by the 2 calling African Scops Owl with one appearing in adjacent tree.

African Fin-foot, African Fish-Eagle, African Scops Owl, Beaudouin's Snake-Eagle, Broad-billed Roller, Brown Snake Eagle, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, European Golden Oriole, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Greater Honeyguide, Grey Hornbill, Long-crested Eagle, Marabou Stork, Oriole Warbler, Purple Glossy Starling, Red-rumped Swallow, Red-throated Bee-eater, Ruddy Turnstone, Rufous-crowned Roller, Standard-winged Nightjar, Striated Heron, Swamp Flycatcher, Turtle Dove, White-backed Vulture,

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