Friday, 27 February 2015

Gambia Bird Watching 2015. Day 4 cont. Tanji

Lunch was at Tanji Bird Reserve Eco Camp. As normal despite the orders being phoned through the lunch was very slow to appear. This was of little consequence to me as I was not having it. I settled down in a picnic chair with a beer in the arm pocket, the tripod/camera in easy reach (I only had to lean forward slightly) and situated between a couple of small watering  holes set up by the lodge staff and snapped away happily at the birds coming to the water.

On the warbler front we enjoyed chiffchaff, willow warbler, melodious warbler, blackcap (male and female), and common whitethroat.

Melodious warbler


The more exotic species included red-bellied paradise flycatcher, common wattle-eye, grey-backed camaroptera, little bee-eater, lavender waxbill, and a number of the common finches, weavers and doves and sunbirds. We even had poor views of a snowy-crowned robin chat, the only one we saw from memory, but unfortunately this stayed deep in the scrub and no usable images were obtained.

Little bee-eater

Common wattle-eye

Grey-backed camaroptera

Red-bellied paradise flycatcher

Red-billed firefinch

And all this without moving - well I did move a couple of times get another beer and to go to the loo.
There is no doubt that large hotel/eco camp's gardens are superb places to photograph birds - the number and variety of birds can be large and they are used to being in close proximity to human.(See last years trip report where Angie and I stayed at the Karaba Hotel

By the time lunch was finished the afternoon was drawing on and there was no time to look around the reserve itself so we went straight to the beach by the fishing boats. It was pandemonium – people everywhere, a host of boats hauled up and hundreds of birds - the beach was alive with gulls, bar-tailed godwits and terns. As always when we first arrived the kids flocked to us but my normal tactic of saying hello then looking down the camera pretending to be busy meant I wasn't pestered for very long. 

Royal and Caspian terns

Again the group fragmented with some going to see what fish were being landed, some trying to find a Cape/Kelp gull and some (like me) enjoying some quality time with the birds on the shore-line, filling up memory cards on ridiculously close encounters with slender-billed and grey headed gulls, and bar-tailed godwits.
As with the woods the best approach was actually not to approach at all but to find a bit of beach they wanted to be on (ie near a discarded fish), stand still and be patient. Eventually they would work their way along the shore-line to you, at times coming so close you had to back off to keep the whole bird in focus. 

Juvenile slender-billed gull

Slender-billed gull

Bar-tailed godwit

Grey-headed gull

There was also a small flock of pink-backed pelicans just off shore but other than a few quick shots these remained largely ignored.

Pink-backed pelican

All in all a brilliant day and all re-lived the last few days as I've been going though the hundreds of shots taken!.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Gambia Bird watching 2015. Day 4 Brufut (part 1) and Tanji (part 2)

Day 4. 2nd Feb.

Today we went to Brufut in the morning, Tanji Bird Reserve for lunch with the afternoon spent on the beach at Tanji. I tried to condense what we saw into one post but the number and variety of birds seen meant the post would be too long so to prevent boredom setting in (in me as well as you) I have decided to split it into 2 parts. The second part will be just about the Tanji - TheBird Reserve Eco -lodge and the beach..

This turned out to be an good day for birds and an excellent one with the camera and whilst I didn't get good shots of everything I saw I was pretty pleased with what I did manage.
Arriving at Brufut the coach had trouble passing the piles of rubbish accumulating on the tracks to the woods -a significant increase over the last 12 months. Heaven only knows why so many Gambians have a total disregard for their local environment and are content to live among piles of rubbish. Anyway by taking a short detour we got there and parked up beside the rubbish dump and immediately got onto an African green pigeon. 

After that we wandered down a track a few yards and entered a field surrounded by a tall hedge and wall. There were birds constantly moving through the hedge. The bulk of the team settled in a place where they could scan a lot of the hedgerow but I moved to one corner (out of sight of the others and with the light behind me) where I would be closer to the birds  - most of which seemed to use the same couple of perches. Here I had sunbirds (splendid, variable and beautiful that I know of), yellow fronted canary, indigo bird, African silver bill, paradise flycatcher, northern black flycatcher, lavender waxbill. Overhead several lanner falcons were seen though always quite distant.

Variable sunbird

yellow-fronted canary

Northern black flycatcher

Red-bellied paradise flycatcher

Lavender waxbill

Indigo bird

In two of the pictures above the birds are feeding on the red flowers. I don't know what the bush is called but it is a favourite feeding place of the small finches so if you find one it's well worth hanging around for a few minutes waiting to see what turns up. Another very popular tree is an acacia with the sunbirds being particularly fond of these.
After half hour or so we moved on seeing violet turaco (flying) and, eventually, a singing cisticola. We then we stopped at a fig tree for 15 minutes and got good views of yellow-throated leaflove, Senegal parrot, and copper sunbird.  A little further along another stop gave us bearded barbet, a Western Bonelli’s warbler, and another yellow-throated leaflove.

Singing cisticola

Senegal parrot

Copper sunbird (male non-breeding)

Bearded barbet

Yellow-throated leaf love

Western Bonelli's warbler

Moving on we found a swallow-tailed bee-eater which allowed us to get quite close considering the number of people trying to get photographs and then, in the same area, similarly good views of a lizard buzzard.

Swallow-tailed bee-eater

Lizard buzzard

A few minutes later we all got absolutely fabulous views (and pictures) of the lizard buzzard which had moved to a new, more open location and it seemed totally indifferent to our presence and the noise of our cameras. It just sat there looking around as we all clicked away.

Lizard buzzard

Our next port of call was to see a pair of roosting white-faced scops owls but the views were very obscured then we were shown long tailed night-jar. There were 2 asleep under the bush but I could only get clear views of one of them. This bird seemed a lot lighter in colour than the one I saw last year.

Long-tailed nightjar

We had a quite a long stop at a refreshment stand (lemonade etc) the forest rangers have set up and whilst there a green turaco threatened to come down to the watering stations. However I think there were too may of us for it's liking and it stayed high and partially obscured in the trees.

Green turaco

Our final notable birds in Brufut came in the form of a pair of cardinal woodpeckers - the female in their hole and the male moving around the tree top, eventually settling down for a preen.

Cardinal woodpecker

All in all an excellent morning.

The second part of day 4 will be covered in s different posting.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Gambia Bird watching 2015. Day 3 Kartong

Day 3. 1st April. 

Kartong is adjacent to the Senegal border where a nature reserve is being established and a ringing course was being run (the bird observatory is actually marked on Google satellite view). Several of the group were interested in ringing so we went down – to see the ringing, have a wander around the reserve and to have a river trip.
The drive down was very productive on the raptor and roller front with us seeing lots of blue bellied and Abyssinian rollers, a long crested eagle, harrier hawk, grey kestrel and dark chanting goshawk to go with the shikra seen at the hotel.  As always we saw black and yellow billed kite.

Grey Kestrel

Dark Chanting Goshawk

Ringing is what ringing is but we did see western olivaceous and subalpine warblers in the hand as well as a few local species.

The walk (open dry scrub and low trees behind the beach) yielded several woodchat shrikes, numerous blue cheeked bee-eaters plus a sulphur breasted shrike and a tscharga both of which I failed to see - I could see something moving in the back of the bush but I couldn't discern any details. Unfortunately this turned out to be quite a common occurrence – trying to get 8 people onto a shy bird is not easy especially if like me you tended to be the tail-end Charlie because you’d been trying to get some shots of blue-cheeked bee-eater that were flying about or a sunbird or two.

Blue-cheeked bee-eater

Beautiful sunbird

Also during the walk we found a grey-headed kingfisher (the only one of the trip). This did sit still and whilst Steve and I managed to close the distance a little it was still too far away and the lighting conditions poor.

The walk did include a session on the beach where we looked, in vain, for a reported Hudsonian whimbrel but we did stumble across a white fronted plover. I'd  spotted a small wader and got the camera onto it before I realised it was a small plover which was when I alerted the others. I started taking shots but had only managed a couple of pictures when it took off like road runner not even stopping when it noticed something overhead. Not great pictures but pleasing to get something as this was the only time we saw one.

White-fronted plover

I heard a warbler calling (possibly a subalpine by the call) and whilst waiting (in vain) for it to emerge I amused myself with some Namaqua doves. These were not seen around Kotu but everywhere else they seemed one of the most common of the doves.

Namaqua dove - top left juvenile

Namaqua dove - male

After the walk we had some lunch by the river where a whimbrel came close as it fed on a small jetty on a discarded bread roll and a flock of mixed finches were close to the coach and were coming to drink from water dripping from some sort of refrigerator behind the kitchen.

Red-billed firefinch - female
Throughout the 2 weeks most of the places we went to lunch were expecting us, the orders were phoned through in advance but always, without fail, it still took a couple of hours for the food to arrive! Hurrying is not part of the Gambian psyche.   However as this was always during the hottest part of the day and the birds had gone quiet I suspect no real damage was done. I tended to not have lunch and normally found a shady place to sit and wait for some birds to come in range of the camera.

The boat trip started with us going downstream to some sandbanks (these too can be seen on Google satellite view just down-stream of the “local border crossing” into Senegal). The sandbanks held good numbers of Caspian, what I now believe were Royal terns and a few Sandwich and gull billed terns. my problems were 2 fold, I expected to see lesser cresteds but it seems Royals are the more common and from the field guides I expected the Royals to be close in size to the Caspians but in fact they were significantly smaller (American Royal terns  (which I have seen) are bigger than African). Unfortunately I didn't get a decent shot of Royals, Sandwich and Caspians together.

Sandwich tern plus Caspians

Royal tern plus Caspians
Caspian (tail clipped - I was too close)

On the gull front there were the normal grey headed gulls and I suppose 40-50 slender billed gulls – the latter being a new bird for me. Whilst I took loads of pictures most were rubbish what with the movement of the boat, not being able to control the light direction and having to constantly twist to get on a bird as the boat swung in the flow of the river and the breeze. 

Behind the gulls, on a small inlet, were a small flock of pink -backed pelicans.

After the tern fest we moved upstream and into some mango lined channels. This was actually quite disappointing with very few birds seen though we did pick up African darter (new tick), malachite kingfisher (too distant and small to photograph), purple heron and saw several ospreys.

African darter


On the way home we stopped off at some fields situated behind a housing development to see black headed plover and also seeing African wattled plover.

Black-headed plover