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  • Writer's pictureEbrima Sidibeh

"WOS News Winter 2024: Gambia Bird Tour with Tim Vine - A Must-Read Adventure for Bird Enthusiasts!"

The Gambia is a renowned birdwatching hotspot offering a spectacular array of species, all within close reach. The country itself is a small thin one, which follows the River Gambia inland from the west coast, surrounded by Senegal on all sides barring a very short Atlantic coastline. Alongside its rich birdlife, it offers sunny weather almost all year round (its rainy season coinciding with the UK summer, June-Sept), is relatively cheap to get to and stay in, and not too long a journey - flights can be less than £400 return and London to Banjul is six hours direct. You can see why Chris Packham is a regular visitor.

And the country is well-geared up to support any visiting birder, with countless guides ready to offer day trips or longer excursions to all of the main birding areas. I strongly recommend anyone considering a trip gets in touch with the excellent, hugely experienced Ebrima Sidibeh - @gambianbirder on X / Twitter, or his very good website is:

I stayed in a hotel on the coast close to Kotu Creek for the majority of my trip, where the Gambia Birdwatchers Association has its small HQ and the guides congregate. The birdwatching starts right here: within moments of standing on the bridge of the Creek I saw four species of Kingfisher, including Giant and Blue- breasted. Around the trails were Grey Hornbill, the stunning Oriole Warbler, and close by a Pearl-Spotted Owl. There is an incredible array of raptors: Hooded Vulture patrol the beach, Lanner Falcon race overhead, African Harrier Hawk and Yellow-billed Kite circle the area. If you love your waders and waterbirds then you’re in for a treat - African and Eurasian Spoonbill, Senegal Thick-knee, various Greenshank, Redshank and Sandpipers, the beautiful Greater Painted Snipe and a number of heron and night heron are all around, including the Black Heron, with its unique style of fishing, forming an umbrella with its wings over its head to offer

shade to passing fish...The list goes on - Violet Turaco, Blue-cheeked and Little Bee-eater, Caspian Tern, Senegal Coucal - all seen within 10 minutes’ walk of my hotel. Day trips away from the main coastal area reaped huge reward too. Nearby Pirang Bolon Woods, an hour or so from the coast, gave us an eclectic mix that included Blue-bellied Roller, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, African Goshawk, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl and White-faced Scops Owl. Also the stunning Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher.

Abyssinian Rolle

We also ventured south to Kartong, an area of coastal scrub and marshland, where we saw everything from Grey Kestrel, Striped Kingfisher and Allen’s Gallinule to Palmnut Vulture, Vieillot’s Barbet and Abyssinian Roller (see pic). Kartong also demonstrated what a rich array of birds from across Europe either migrate here or pass through it. A field we came to was covered in Yellow Wagtail - but various different sub-species from the continent: all-yellow birds like we see in the UK, but also blue-headed Iberian ones and even darker headed ones from the Caucasus and Russia. A remarkable melting pot.

On a week's holiday you could confine yourself to day trips from your coastal hotel resort and still see 150 birds+ in a week. I ventured off the beaten track and inland, upriver with Ebrima for three nights, ending up in the wonderful island town of Janjanburah, situated in the middle of the Riber Gambia, accessed by bridge from the south or ferry from the north. Along the way, we stopped at various incredibly rich birding spots, including one area of farmland where we saw 12 different species of bird of prey in one hour! These included Lizard and Grasshopper Buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawk, four species of Snake Eagle including Beaudouin’s and Western Banded, as well as Long-crested and TawnyEagle.

A boat trip from Janjanburah also got us the beautiful African Finfoot, and a quarry

near Wassu had a huge colony of Red-throated Bee-eater, catching locusts in their acrobatic flight. If, like me, Bee-eaters are your thing, then The Gambia really is superb for them. I saw seven different types in the nine days I was there, including Swallow- tailed, Little Green and White-throated. Five different Rollers, seven Kingfishers (including the diminutive, forest- dwelling African Pygmy Kingfisher), five Woodpecker, and five Owl.

Speaking of owl, one bird we looked for upriver around Janjanburah is the stunning yet elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl. It remained elusive to me, alas - but in speaking to Ebrima since my trip, he tells me has now located one regularly within 90 minutes of the coast, and is guarding its location carefully so as to not have it scared away.

Red-throated Bee-eater

Malachite Kingfisher

My list totalled 212 species in nine days, and with only five of those days with Ebrima,

it demonstrates that you can still see an enormous amount by yourself. But The Gambia has some dedicated guides who are working incredibly hard to protect, preserve and promote the very special biodiversity of their country, and by taking them you will be supporting their worthy cause, as well as tapping into their vast knowledge of their bird-rich country.

Photos by Tim Vine

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