Trip Report: Gambia, January 2003
BIRDING TRIPS IN THE GAMBIA - JANUARY 2003
Trip 1 - to Basse Santa Su
Monday 27th January
They were so well camouflaged that it was difficult to see how they could possibly have been spotted, especially while driving a car! It was a slightly overcast day, which was a bit unusual, which meant that it was an excellent day for driving long distances, as the car, which hadn’t got air conditioning did not get too hot, even when the windows had to be shut to keep out the laterite dust thrown up by passing vehicles. The macadam road surfacing was very good until just before we reached Kafuta. From here on up to Georgetown the surfacing varied between a badly deteriorating macadam surfacing with a multitude of potholes or a laterite road surfacing. In places this latter surfacing was relatively new and intact, elsewhere it had developed into a series of ruts, which sometimes forced us to drive on the "wrong" side of the road, which Abdou did at all times with great care for oncoming traffic including pedestrians and cyclists, while still managing to sight interesting birds on a regular basis. The macadam road surfacing from Georgetown to Basse Santa Su was, to our pleasant surprise, in excellent condition, with just the odd pothole present. This was due to the fact that this road is probably not heavily trafficked. To the east of Sibanor we stopped at the "Jacana Pond" on the south side of the road. However unlike the previous two years it was virtually dry and neither Jacanas nor Black Crakes were to be seen. However we did see a flock of White-crested Helmet Shrikes, Long Tailed Glossy Starlings, Gymnogenes, Squacco Herons, Wattled Plover, Blue Bellied Rollers and Namaqua Doves without much effort. We passed through Kalagi at 12:52, Nema at 13:52 and reached Soma at 14:55.
Just beyond Brikama Ba at 18:12 we saw a Brown Snake Eagle in a tree. At Fula Bantang at 18:31 we saw several Marabou Storks in high trees at the northeastern end of the village. We took the ferry onto MacCarthy Island and arrived at the Baobolong Camp in Georgetown (now called Janjangburreh) at 18:57. We slept in circular "huts" with shower and WC. Dinner from 20:30 to 21:15 consisted of a very good buffet meal accompanied by a reasonable French wine at a cost of 160 Dalasi.
Tuesday 28th January
We got up at 7:00 and walked to the river before breakfast at 7:30. We had scrambled eggs, omelet, bread and jam, coffee or tea. We packed up and drove out of compound at 8:05. We had a quick look at Janjangburreh. It was much smaller than we had thought it would be. Old colonial buildings were present including a slave-holding center. At the ferry back to the south side we saw a Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Gabar Goshawk, Bearded Barbet, Abyssinian Roller, Common Kestral. An African Fish Eagle flew over while we waited. By 8:48 we had crossed over and were on the road heading east. The road surface was extremely good and we made great time. We were in Bakadagy by 9:38 and arrived in Basse Santa Su at 9:58. As Abdou was originally from this town he met several relatives and friends as we traveled around.
We left the site at 14:05. On the way we had a brief glimpse of a Rufous Scrub Robin as it popped up and flew across the road. Just to the east of Jalangbera we saw three Abyssinian Ground Hornbills in fields to the south of the road at 16:50. We arrived in Tendaba Camp at 18:32 looking forward to a shower to remove the accumulated dust. A short visit to "Tendaba Airport" was rewarded with views of Four-banded Sandgrouse landing at dusk. We returned to Tendaba Camp, where we had a fairly basic meal with wine before retiring for the night.
Wednesday 29th January
After another short visit to the "Airport" area, where we had very good views of a Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, we were off again heading west at 13:07. We stopped for ½ hour for cold drinks at a new establishment located on the south bank of the river at Kalagi. Just east of Bwiam we saw a Striped Kingfisher, African Palm Swifts and Mottled Spinetails. We passed through Sibanor at 15:35, Bulok at 16:07, Kafuta at 16:14 and Mandinaba at 16:30. About 5 minutes out of Kafuta we were once more on a well surfaced road for which we were all grateful! We stopped in Brikama at 16:39, where we were entertained by the Woodcarvers and made some purchases. We left Brikama at 17:15 and were back in our rooms in the very comfortable Senegambia Hotel at 17:45, after a dusty, tiring but extremely interesting and rewarding trip.
Trip 2 - to Bijol Islands
Thursday 30th January
On 24th January we had visited the Tanji Bird Reserve and had discovered that it was possible to arrange a trip out to the Bijol Islands, which are located about 2 kilometers offshore and form part of the Reserve. Only a limited number of visitors are allowed to land in order to protect the flora and fauna. We arranged the visit in advance by phoning Dembo Kassama of the Tanji Bird Reserve, and we duly arrived at Tanji beach at 9:00. The cost was 200 Dalasi each.
The bird was seen about 11:30, which was about ¾ hour before low tide according to the boatmen. The bird was on the inter-tidal beach for about 1 to 2 minutes before flying off. It did not occur to us at the time to consider that it might have been a South Polar Skua (C. Maccormicki), but on checking Harrison’s Guide "Seabirds" subsequently we were confident that no lighter head or underparts were to be seen. On the way back to the mainland we saw two Skuas in the air, one a Great (probably the same bird) and the other a Pomarine harrying a Grey-headed Gull. We were pleasantly surprised to read in "The Field Guide to Birds of the Gambia and Senegal" (Barlow, Wacher and Disley) under status and distribution, that the Great Skua was "not proven in Gambian waters". We left the islands at about 12:30 after a bit of a struggle in getting the boat re-launched, and arrived back at Tanji beach at 13:00. Due to the lower state of the tide more rocks and shallows were observed on the return journey than on the way out. This was a very interesting trip, quite apart from the excellent birds which were observed, and the boatmen appeared to be quite expert, confidant and well trained. However people who do not particularly like sea trips might hesitate about making the trip except on very calm days. When in doubt don’t go, as there is always another day.
The unit of Gambian currency is the Dalasi. The rate of exchange was 24 Dalasi for €1 in travelers’ cheques (approximately 38 Dalasi for £1 sterling).
Abdou has an excellent eye and knows where to find birds. The cost of the trip to Basse Santa Su was most reasonable. If you are thinking of doing this trip, or just hiring a driver with an excellent knowledge of birds for a day you will not go astray with Abdou Rahman Bah.
We used the 1:400,000 Freytag and Berndt Road Map of the Gambia. The spellings of towns and villages were extracted from that publication.
© Copyright, Tolka Branch, Birdwatch Ireland 2006