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Red-throated Bee-eater

Red-throated Bee-eater
join us for a fantastic tour of The Gambia this November

Saturday, November 30, 2013

THE GAMBIA 2013 - DAY 12 - 26TH NOVEMBER



BONPO MARSH – PIRANG SHRIMP FARM - FARA BANTA TRACK

As the tour approaches its end we now struggle to see new species so we have to target specific areas to find them. Today we set off to the southeast to a small marsh area in the hope of finding Yellow-throated Longclaw. We walked through very boggy areas without success but we did find a Yellow-mantled Widowbird a very good bird for our tally. A Goliath Heron was another good find along with several other ‘nice to look at birds’ such as Northern Red-bishop, we also found two species of Cisticola, Zitting and Black-backed and a brightly coloured Yellow Wagtail. Our raptor-watchers enjoyed great views of Grey Kestrel and Long-crested Eagle.
Yellow-mantled Widowbird

 As we were very close to Pirang Shrimp farm we decided to make a quick visit there. A while back you were able to walk around the huge pools there but now you are restricted to looking into the farm from a dirt track, nevertheless the pools were covered in birds and it was great birding.
Northern Red-Bishop
 
A channel ran along one side of the track whilst a mangrove swamp was on the other. The channel  held several species including a Green Sandpiper which some of the group hadn’t caught up with yet. The sky was full of swifts and swallows: Mosque, Red-chested and Wire-tailed Swallows with Palm and Little Swifts. Both the Malachite and the Pied Kingfisher were present.
Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver



It was the main pools that held masses of birds, there was gulls, terns, egrets, herons, pelicans and storks. Also many waders and a few ducks, two good sightings were African Spoonbill (we had only seen this species in flight up until now) and Eurasian Spoonbill a new bird for the trip.
Masked (Vitelline) Weaver

 After our visit to Pirang we spent the rest of the day at the Fara Banta Bush Track. First we had our picnic lunch a the make-shift shelter then we spent almost 3 hours in the new bird hide erected close to a couple of purpose built watering troughs, just for the birds. It was amazing there, constant bird activity and over 20 species coming to drink. We particularly wanted to see Black-faced Firefinch but that little blighter (which had been seen already that morning) failed to turn up! 
Lavender Waxbill


A Pygmy Kingfisher was delightful, it perched very close to the hide and made several dash-and-splash soiree’s into the drinking troughs. 
 
Pygmy Kingfisher



Another nice bird to see was the Red-winged Pytilia we had had scant views of this bird at Tendaba but now we had them in full view and very close. The Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver also delighted the group, a superbly marked bird and called ‘Weaver’ because of the its nest building method.
Red-winged Pytilia



Red-cheeked Cordonbleu
 
Yellow-fronted Canary
At 4pm we decided to go in search of the elusive Firefinch but after an hours in the afternoon sunshine we failed to find one, we enjoyed the time though seeing many other species. We ended the day with only two new species, I said it was going to be tough!

THE GAMBIA 2013 - DAY 11 - 25TH NOVEMBER


MARAKISSA LODGE AND SURROUNDING WOODLAND

This was a lovely relaxing day with gentle walks a long lunch and some good birding. The only downside was the weather, it was hot and humid, too hot in the early afternoon to go out walking. 
FINE-SPOTTED WOODPECKER



Marakissa is a small eco-lodge near the Southern border, Senegal is within throwing distance, it has savannah woodland some rice fields, a lagoon and some dense primary forest. We started our walking a couple of kilometers from the lodge, we began by walking through open woodland. 
A Yellow-billed Shrike

The whole area is under threat from development as a new road has recently been built and sand for the road building material has been taken from the forest, there are now 3 huge quarries and this has now denuded the forest as unique habitat has been destroyed.

Bird life was good in parts and quiet in others we found a lovely Fine-spotted Woodpecker and an unexpected Western Bluebill (this bird is usually found in the dense undergrowth of Abuko not sitting in a tree in open woodland!). Blue-bellied Rollers were nesting in a broken palm, a couple of Black-crowned Tchagras called before showing really well.

NORTHERN BLACK FLYCATCHER


We tracked a couple of elusive species after some hard work, the Little Greenbul showed fairly well, it is a small dark green non-descript species whilst the Leaflove proved to be a much harder species to track down, we found a group of 4 of them but they never showed that well despite their noisy calls.

Violet Turaco
Some brighter species seen included: Splendid Sunbird, Beautiful Sunbird, Green Turaco, Abysinian Roller, Bearded Barbet, Red-billed Firefinch and Red-cheeked Cordonbleu.
TOO BIG FOR THE CAMERA - NILE CROCODILES ON THE BANK OF THE LAGOON AT MARAKISA



Our circular walk ended around 11 am as we boarded the bus and drove the 2km to the lodge. This lovely  tranquil setting next to a large lagoon soon livened up when we arrived and we quickly found a lot of birds. The owners are bird lovers and provide drinking pools for them. We found Black-capped Babbler, Long-tailed Glossy Starlings, Piapiacs and several other species coming down to drink.
a Wattled Lapwing


On and around the lagoon we found Giant Kingfisher, Hammerkop, Wattled Lapwing, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Orange-cheeked Waxbills and a couple of crocodiles!!


Over a long lunch and a couple of short walks we found a nice selection of species, a roosting African Scops Owl was a very nice find as was Violet Turaco, Bearded Barbet, Double-spurred Francolin, Northern Crombec, Yellow-billed Shrike, Green Wood-Hoopoe, Brown Babbler an Osprey and a Long-crested Eagle circled over us.

there has obviously been a tiff here - Hammerkops
African Scops Owl

At 4pm we set off down the track towards Senegal to look for more species in open grass fields our first stopped was our last because the bus broke down! We watched egrets and herons on a flooded area then the bus broke down, the battery was completely flat, so after a wait and a jump-start we got going again but the driver stalled it and the battery was flat again. So we abandoned our birding and waited for a new bus to arrive which didn’t take long. We returned to the hotel and arrived at 6:30pm in time to take a shower and get ready for dinner.We had only 3 new the list but we had a gentle peaceful day out in a lovely tranquil setting.

Friday, November 29, 2013

THE GAMBIA 2013 - DAY 10 - 24TH NOVEMBER



TENDABA TO SENEGAMBIA HOTEL WITH BIRDING STOPS AT KIANG WEST – KALAGI – FARA BANTA

The weather continued to be hot and sometimes humid but we managed to find shelter and a little breeze for most of our birding excursions. We said goodbye to Tendaba for the second time and set off to the nearby Kiang West forest trails. We only travelled a short distance along the track when a shout of ‘cuckoo’ went up. We stopped abruptly and jumped off the bus to view a Great Spotted Cuckoo, a nice bird for our list. Whilst watching the cuckoo we came across about 15 other species within about 5 minutes two of which were also new for our trip list and both were European Migrants too! First a couple of Whinchats were seen in the long grassy scrub and then a Willow Warbler appeared very close in a small tree. It was a nice start to the day, just scanning around the open fields of this savannah forest we could see a multitude of species how about this for a 180 scan: Striped Kingfisher, Abysinian Roller, Grasshopper buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Whinchat, Senegal Parrot, Fork-tailed Drongo and at least 4 species of dove. 
group shot standing in front of a termite mound

We walked down the track and entered a more dense woodland and within the next hour or so we found a good number of new species. Northern Crombec  (a tail-less  little nuthatch type of bird), White Shouldered Tit, Brown-rumped Bunting, Yellow Penduline Tit, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver and the most wanted bird a Scimitarbill ( formerly Black Woodhoopoe).

We then found 3 species of woodpecker in short space of time, Grey, Fine-Spottted and Brown-backed, the later being our new bird. The sky always held a few species but nothing out of the ordinary, a Woolly-necked Stork was the only none raptor.
Brown-backed Woodpecker


Soon it got too warm for us and the bird-life and so we reluctantly left the area and set off on our journey to the coast. At 12 noon we stopped at Kalagi Brdige where a nice restaurant sits on the banks of the wetland, we had a huge panoramic view of open sky as we sat to eat our meal.

An open expanse of sky means raptor watching and it soon started with a pair of Lanner Falcons circling just above us. We noted 4 or 5 Ospreys, 3 species of vulture which included our second sighting of Griffon Vulture, the other two were White-backed and Hooded Vultures. Other raptors seen: African Harrier-Hawk, Grasshopper Buzzard, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Yellow-billed Kite, Bateleur, Shikra and an African Hobby.
Lesser Blue-eared Glossy starling


A nice breeze came off the water as we watched a huge flock of Little Swifts (200+) were flying around and diving down to their nests under the bridge. We also Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Cutthroat, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Hammerkop, a Common Redshank, Spur-winged Lapwings, Senegal Thick-Knee and Red-chested Swallows.

We continued our journey with a couple more stop before got to suburbs of Banjul. A raptor watch found us watching several birds including a pair of African Hawk-Eagles, they soared very close to us.

A second stop was to look for African Brown Parrot, we did see them but only in flight, a bonus for us was a sighting of Long-crested Eagle, we saw this beauty perched and in flight as it dashed after a dove, it looks great in flight with huge white wing patches.

We arrived at the Senegambia Hotel at 6pm in good time to shower and get ready for dinner. It was like walking into the Ritz after being in the camps upriver!!


The beautiful Brown-rumped Bunting




Our list was now approaching 280 species so new birds were becoming hard to find, but there still about 30 possible new sightings and we have 4 days left to enjoy.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

THE GAMBIA 2013 - DAY 9 - 23RD NOVEMBER



GEORGETOWN ISLAND BACK TO TENDABA – STOPPING AT WASSU – PANCHANG MARSHES – KAUR WETLANDS – KM 31 WATERHOLE – SOMA MARSHES – TENDABA ‘AIRFIELD’

It was another transfer day as we travelled back towards the coast along the north bank, the weather was hot again with a clear sky all day and temperatures around the 28-30C. There was a breeze for most of the day especially when we stopped at open marshes.
Carmine Bee-eater


After a delay getting off the island at Georgetown due to a broken ferry we finally made it to Wassu. We revisited this place because there were one or two species missing off our list that could be found there and we needed better views of Carmine Bee-eaters. The short drive along the north bank to Wassu was punctuated with short stops to look at raptors and rollers, they were everywhere, sitting on wires, poles and dead branches. 

A short walk near the quarry at Wassu produced our wanted species and fantastic views of the Carmine Bee-eater, we also saw our first White-rumped Seed-eater and our first (Little) Green Bee-eater and many more Red-throated Bee-eaters, in fact at some point all three were sitting in the same tree! 
cut-throat (finch)


We found a flock of swallows perched on a huge dead tree, they were mostly Red-chested Swallows but also Mosque Swallows and a Sand Martin, another tree held a good number of Long-tailed Exclamatory Whydahs and as we walked near the quarry we found Northern Ant-eater Chat, flocks of bishops and weavers and hundreds of Red-throated Bee-eaters.
Green Bee-eater


The sky above us always held a raptor or two we noted Brown Snake Eagle, Hooded & White-backed Vultures, African Harrier-Hawk, African Hawk-Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier and Lanner Falcon. But the best of all was the sighting of a huge Martial Eagle, this bird remained in view for 10 minutes and was mobbed by a Shikra, the Shikra looked absolutely tiny next to the massive bird.

the group at Soma wetlands


Well after that bird fest we moved further westward and stopped at small marsh area where the pools held extensive tall reeds and open water with some covering of lilies. A pair of Black Crakes were seen almost immediately, they showed beautifully,  then a small flock of African Silverbill was found in a bush nearby, a good start. A Giant Kingfisher hovered above a pool across the road and then we found one of the gems of the trip when we scanned a flock of bishop birds, in amongst them was a Sudan Golden Sparrow, what a little beauty, it shone like a beacon in its drab surroundings. 

THE MOST WANTED EGYPTIAN PLOVER - WHAT A STUNNER





The next new species was Yellow-crowned Bishop a flock of them sat in the reeds with some of the males still in their yellow and black breeding outfits. We then concentrated on the pools and red–beds looking for the Purple Swamphen, we never found one but instead we had great views of a Dwarf Bittern, another superb find and a most wanted species, fantastic. We also had views of Common Moorhen, Sedge Warbler and African Reed Warbler. 

Back in the scrub we found Cut-throat (Finch), many Namaqua Doves and huge flocks of bishops and weavers. We left the marsh in high spirits after a great visit.



On the road again we motored on, noting more raptors as we travelled, we saw: Grasshopper Buzzard, Grey Kestrel, Red-necked Falcon and lots of vultures. We turned off the main road after a few kilometers to look at a few secluded pools and just at the side of the road we found a flock of Egyptian Plovers, they we so obliging we got to within 5 meters of them, you can image the superlatives coming from the photographers in the group.
African Silverbill


Our next stop was at one of my favourite places in the Gambia, the Kauer Marsh. This huge wetland has large areas of open shallow water with clumps of reed and stretches for several hundred meters on either side of the road.

There are always lots of birds at Kauer and today was no exception. There were over 1,000 Collared Pratincoles standing in the nearest pool to our right and with them were: Ruff, Marsh Sandpiper, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt and the star Kittlitz’s Plover.


A KITTLITZ'S PLOVER



We also added White Wagtail to our list and we saw many Senegal Thick-knees, Wattled Lapwing, Spur-winged Lapwing, White-faced Whistling Duck, Malachite & Pied Kingfisher, Little Ringed Plover, Little Stint and a couple of Yellow Wagtails. The last bird we found was a Cinnamon Breasted Bunting another little beauty.

It was now getting passed lunch-time so we drove for 10 minutes more and stopped by a road-side drinking pool. As we sat eating our fruit, bread, fish and melon many birds came to drink. We had superb close views of the Cinnamon Breasted Bunting, Whydahs, Namaqua Doves, Red-cheeked Cordonbleu, Black-rumped Waxbill and hundreds of Red-billed Quelea, Northern Red-Bishops and Village Weavers. A number of Little Swifts dropped in to drink just as we were leaving.

DARK-CHANTING GOSHAWK

We had to cross the river to get to the south bank at Fara Fenni which went very smoothly without much of a delay, 3 ferries were running so that the queue was small. From the boat a huge ‘kettle’ of Yellow-billed Kites rose up and with them were two Black Kites.

After a short while we drove through Soma and turned onto the road to Banjul, this section has no tarmac and so it is slower, but from the coast to Georgetown there now only about 15 kilometers of dirt track and soon that will be tarmac. We stopped just outside of Soma to look at the wetlands, not too many species were present and we didn’t add anything to our list but the breeze was nice and the light was very good. A Couple of Egyptian Plover were walking on the main road ahead of us as we pulled away.

A couple of quick impromptu stops came next, first to watch a small flock of White-crested Helmet Shrikes and then to scope a pair of Black-headed Lapwings that were feeding on a peanut field.

Lastly we stopped at the ‘Airfield’ just outside of Tendaba, we searched for Plain-backed Pipit but came away empty handed. The late afternoon light was just fantastic we scoped the wetland (which was once a runway) and noted: Pink-backed Pelican, Black-winged Stilts, Common Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Caspian Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Great White Egret, Little Egret, Western Reef Heron and lots of common birds in the bushes and scrub. That last 30 minutes of the day was so tranquil, colourful and yet full of life it was hard to drag ourselves away from it, but go we did.

Tendaba was waiting for us, we checked into the same rooms and we went to the same bar before dinner and drank a nice cold beer before a lovely dinner.