Sunday, 9 February 2014

Gambia Bird watching. Intro and Day 1

This last week I have been to the Gambia on holiday with my wife, Angie. As always these are holidays with some birding rather than birding holidays; the normal routine being to bird up until breakfast (taking breakfast as late as possible) then do the tourist bit or laze by the pool for the rest of the day.
We stayed at the Kairaba hotel,  Kololi which is literally next door to the better known Senegambia Hotel. Like the Senegambia the Kairaba has large gardens and most of my birding was done there with one brief excursion to look round the Senegambia to watch the vulture feeding. From my very limited experience the Kairaba seemed more birdy than the Senegambia despite the gardens of the latter being the larger. Now it may be that I just got more familiar with where the birds hang out at the Kairaba but one thing is certain; tree cover is far more extensive in the Senegambia so the birds I did find were mosty in the shade. This isn't just my view because I met 3 photographer/birders who whilst staying at the Senegambia had given up there and spent just about all of their time in the Kairaba grounds - the security staff by the beach entrances to the hotels do not challenge the tourists/birders who flit from one hotel to the other..
Due to how far west the Gambia it is still too dark to bird at 7.00 and photography is near impossible before 8.00. By 11.30 it's getting pretty warm and nearly everything disappeared so it was laze around the pool time until the last couple of hours of daylight though there were one or two exceptions which will be discussed.

We did have 2 x 1/2 day excursions booked with a local guide (Mustapha Manneh and we went to Kotu stream/adjacent rice fields/sewage farm (my wife liked that!!) and Fajara on our first trip out and Brufut woods the second but more about that later.

The first mornings birding was on the 1st Feb and I woke at 6.30 to near total darkness but went out in the half light of 7,30 to have a look around. With the exceptions of the bulbuls it was pretty quiet really and I saw very little until I returned to the little stream (artificial) right beside the block we were staying in.

The artificial Stream with the sea the other side of the wall.

Here I spotted a pair of yellow-billed shrikes (first in the small banana tree centre right, then in the dead tree on left of the stream by the back wall) and a squacco heron down by the lilies.

Yellow-billed shrike

Squacco heron
I stood around here for the next 2 hrs taking around 500 pictures as species after species turned up.

Senegal coucal

Senegal coucal

White-crowned robin chat

Village weaver

yellow crowed gonolek
Blackcap babbler
There were a pair of coucals living by the stream under the hibiscus you can see on the left of the stream picture and with care you could get within 6 feet of them.There were a family of 5 yellow-billed shrikes that roamed the garden and I think 2 pairs of gonoleks. There were several family groups of babblers and they could be seen just about anywhere and there were at least 5 robin chats in the garden but this was the one and only time I saw the blackcap babbler in the garden though it's possible they were overlooked as I concentrated on other targets. The real issue with all these birds (with the exception of the shrikes) were their determination to stay in the shade.
The other notable find on this first morning was the beautiful sunbird. As it turned out there were probably at least 5 males (plus associated females) in the garden but they were difficult to photograph as they tended to inhabit the tree tops. This one, taken on the first morning was the only one to come low.
Beautiful sunbird

Beautiful sunbird

I was to spend a lot of time trying (and failing in most cases) to get better pictures than these.
At 10 I got the text to say it was time for breakfast. It had been an incredible introduction to the pleasures of Gambian bird watching.

A number of other birds showed that I didn't manage to get satisfactory shots of in this first session so these I'll save for another blog posting.

1 comment:

  1. Nice report so far Steve, I remember we stayed at the Senegambia, loads in the gardens.