Day 1 Friday
We meet in a comfortable airport lounge before we fly from Gatwick to Gambia. We transfer to our comfortable Hotel, where we stay for the full week. The immediate area hosts a wide variety of birds, and our African list will quickly mount up as we briefly explore the hotel grounds where we might see a variety of small finches and weavers amongst other common species.
Our hotel is a great place for optional early morning and evening birding, and sometimes we will also relax here in the heat of the day. All rooms have en-suite facilities. We can change money within 50 yards of our hotel.
Depending on our arrival time we may have time for a leisurely walk around the hotel and adjacent area before dark. This will be our first chance to see a variety of raptors, doves, rollers, kingfishers, herons and passerines, some of the West African species that will become familiar during our trip.
Day 2 Saturday
In the morning we take a leisurely walk around the adjacent Kotu Creek and surrounding rice fields and acacia woodland, getting to grips with some commoner West African species. The tidal creek and immediate surroundings are excellent for waders, herons, egrets, kingfishers, raptors and doves as well as Double-spurred Francolin, White-faced Whistling Duck, Yellow-billed Shrike, Glossy Starlings and cumbersome Western Grey Plantain-eater. Today we should see Abyssinian, Blue-bellied and Broad-billed Roller, Green Wood-hoopoe sitting in a palm tree or a Black Heron doing its famous umbrella fishing technique! We may also see Grey Kestrel and Greater Painted Snipe this morning and reach about 70 species by lunchtime. We will eat at our hotel or nearby.
In the afternoon we go to Brufut Woods, a bird sanctuary since colonial days. This protected woodland and scrub is home to African Paradise Flycatcher, African Green Pigeon, Senegal Parrot, Violet Turaco, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Klaas’ Cuckoo, various sunbirds and finches and roosting Northern White-faced Owl and Long-tailed Nightjar.
We may see Green Vervet Monkey, Gambian Sun Squirrel, West African Monitor Lizard and Agama on this or indeed any day.
Our birdlist will probably be over 100 species today and many will become familiar quickly.
Day 3 Sunday
This morning we visit the scrubby fields and woods at Tujering. This open habitat holds many different species from yesterday. We hope for Osprey, Red-necked Falcon and Shikra among the raptors warming up and the blooming kapok trees attract a variety of nectar-feeding species to their orange flowers. Variable, Splendid and Scarlet-chested Sunbird, African Yellow White-eye, Yellow Penduline Tit, Vieillot’s Barbet and several weavers are typical, and maybe African Golden Oriole and Fine-spotted or Brown-backed Woodpecker. Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat, Western Olivaceous Warbler and Woodchat are European migrants and we look for swifts and hirundines on the move overhead.
We take lunch at a nearby eco-lodge, maybe with quick stops at a sand quarry and a river mouth. This lodge has water in pots and pools for the local birds and mammals so we can relax in the shade and wait for wood-doves, mannikins, finches and forest specialities such as Western Bluebill. We often see Green Vervet Monkey, Banded Mongoose and Gambian Sun Squirrel and garden plants attract Citrus Swallowtail butterflies.
After a rest we drive to Tanji village. This is a bustling fishing village which smokes fish, with all the sights, sounds and smells that entails! It is superb for a variety of coastal birds and we look for Royal, Caspian, Little and Sandwich Tern. Lesser-crested Tern can be a good find. Working our way through the gulls should reveal Grey-headed, Slender-billed, Yellow-legged and maybe all three subspecies of Lesser Black-backed Gull. This is the northern limit of Kelp Gull, so we look out for this speciality and scarce White-fronted Plover. Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone, Whimbrel and Ringed Plover will be among familiar shoreline birds, and less familiar may be the Pink-backed Pelicans sitting on the water or on fishing boats. Just north of Tanji village we expect Giant and Pied Kingfisher and Crested Lark and White Wagtail.
Day 4 Monday
This morning we visit rice fields for an assortment of wetland birds and raptors. We should see Striated, Squacco and Black Heron, Black Crake, African Jacana, Common Greenshank and Green Sandpiper and perhaps Little Bittern.
African Harrier-hawk, Lizard Buzzard, Grey Kestrel and Red-necked Falcon favour this habitat and passerines such as Bearded Barbet, Piapiac, Grey Woodpecker and Blue-bellied Roller find plenty of food.
Mid-morning we enter Abuko, the oldest reserve in The Gambia, one of the few remaining areas of primary gallery forest now surrounded by urban sprawl. Forest birds here include stunning Green and Violet Turacos, Ahanta Francolin, Pied Hornbill and Western Bluebill as well as Red-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-headed Bristlebill, Buff-breasted Woodpecker, Little Greenbul and Common Wattle-eye. Mammals include Red Colobus and Green Vervet Monkey as well as the shy Maxwell’s Duiker and Bushbuck.
A hide overlooks a pool in the forest and there are West African Crocodiles lurking here. Blue-breasted, Malachite, Pygmy and Giant Kingfisher live here as do Hamerkop, Black-headed Heron, Palm-nut Vulture and Snowy-crowned Robin-chat. Swallows to look out for are Fanti Saw-wing and Pied-winged.
It is lunchtime now and afterwards we explore Tambi wetlands and the Bund Road by the Gambia River. The rich mud attracts flocks of Dunlin, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling and Grey Plover. Yellow-billed Stork and Pink-backed Pelican can make everything else look very small.
Thorough searching may produce scarcer waders such as White-fronted Plover or Marsh Sandpiper, Gull-billed Tern mix with other terns and Greater Flamingoes will stand out. Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Red-chested Swallow use the trees and overhead wires while Crested Lark and White Wagtail are on the sandy ground.
Day 5 Tuesday
This morning we head inland to Marakissa Rivercamp. After a warm welcome from Adama, the owner, we can chill out overlooking the river before choosing a walk in the surrounding woodland and wetland or an hour-long canoe paddle. We paddle ourselves (no experience necessary) along this shallow creek and there is time both to walk and canoe before lunch. Black Crake, Striated Heron, Giant and Malachite Kingfisher, Hamerkop and numerous Senegal Thick-knee as well as West African Crocodile and Monitor Lizard are regularly seen before we even move away from the camp. Raptors rise on the warm thermals and we have seen three species of Snake Eagle and Booted Eagle as well as African Harrier Hawk and Osprey whilst walking or from the canoes.
The walk allows us to find Senegal Parrot, Pearl-spotted Owlet, White Helmet-Shrike, Senegal Eremomela, Cardinal and Grey Woodpecker, and tussocks in the wetlands hide Greater Painted and Common Snipe. Ponds with giant Waterlilies may hold Woodland and Pygmy Kingfisher as well as African Jacana and Black Crake.
In the canoes we can get very close to herons, egrets and waders such as Senegal Thick-knee, Wattled and Spur-winged Lapwing and Black-winged Stilt as well as Black Crake and fishing Pied and Giant Kingfisher. Yellow-crowned Gonolek and Sedge Warbler live in the mangroves and a specialist, Mouse Sunbird, occasionally sits up for us.
Before and after our tasty lunch we can sit and watch at close range the many water pots, hoping for new birds like Greater, Lesser or Spotted Honeyguide, a variety of starlings including Greater and Lesser Blue-eared as well as now familiar birds such as Piapiac, Red-billed Firefinch, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Bronze Mannikin and Beautiful Sunbird. Very relaxing!
In mid-afternoon we head back to our hotel via wetland and grassland. This habitat should give us Gull-billed Tern, Marsh Sandpiper, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Abyssinian and Rufous-crowned Roller, Double-spurred Francolin, perched raptors and maybe Red Patas Monkey.
Day 6 Wednesday
Today we travel to habitats at the edge of the mangroves lining the Gambia River. First we visit Mandina Ba, a mix of woodland, wet grassland and productive gardens for an opportunity to see African Green Pigeon, Red-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Variable, Splendid, Copper and Green-headed Sunbird. Tawny Eagle breeds here and Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle hover, looking for prey.
We move on to Farasutu Community Forest to look for forest birds coming to water. All three Honeyguides visit, Pygmy Kingfisher and Black-rumped Waxbill may be new for us, and we walk the forest looking out for Oriole Warbler and Green Crombec as well as camouflaged African Wood Owl and White-backed Night Heron. We enter light woodland to seek out Greyish Eagle Owl and Long-tailed and Standard-winged Nightjar.
Lunch is prepared by local people at a nearby house with a garden set out to attract birds. There are water pots and we relax in the shade checking out numerous Northern Red Bishop, Orange-cheeked Waxbill and Red-billed Firefinch for scarcer similar species, Honeyguide species are frequent and constant attention may reward you with a Pygmy Kingfisher zipping in to bathe. Common Redstart and Blackcap like this garden too.
In the afternoon we move on towards Pirang, an area with dense forest which still has declining Verreaux’s Eagle Owl and we visit a shrimp farm good for waders and open country birds such as Blue-cheeked and White-throated Bee-eater, Black-faced Quailfinch and Long-crested Eagle.
Day 7 Thursday
For our final full day we head south down the coast to Kartong Bird Observatory, rightly regarded as the richest bird area in The Gambia.
Varied habitats include wetlands, sandy grassland with light woodland and seashore with lagoons. If possible we join the Kartong Ringing Group during one of their field sessions, and the opportunity to see kingfishers, bee-eaters and other birds being ringed is unforgettable, and recently we found Wahlberg's Honeyguide, one of the country's rarest birds, being weighed and ringed here.
Wetlands may contain Spur-winged Goose, White-faced Whistling Duck, Comb-billed Duck or Eurasian ducks in wet years and there are Purple Swamphen, Black Crake, Greater Painted and Common Snipe and Marsh Sandpiper. Migrating hirundine flocks may have Mosque and Red-rumped Swallow, and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater groups occasionally have stunning Northern Carmine amongst them.
Raptors are a feature here with chances of Black-shouldered Kite, Long-crested, Wahlberg’s and Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle while Osprey can be common. The grassland and woodland contain Tawny-flanked Prinia, Plain-backed Pipit, Four-banded Sandgrouse, Grey-headed Kingfisher and European migrants such as Hoopoe, Western Subalpine Warbler and Woodchat Shrike.
The whole area is very large but if time and tide allow us to check out waders on the beach we may see Sanderling, Kentish and White-fronted Plover.
We drive to a local eco-lodge for lunch before spending a couple of hours on a covered pirogue exploring the river and mangroves of the Allahin River, the border with southern Senegal. There is a spectacular roost with many hundreds of Slender-billed and Grey-headed Gull and equal numbers of Caspian, Royal, Sandwich and a few Lesser-crested and Gull-billed Tern. Pink-backed Pelican are sometimes joined by Great White Pelican. Oystercatcher and Turnstone provide a familiar touch and small waders like Curlew Sandpiper and Little Stint feed on the mud. This boat trip gets us close to Pied, Malachite and Giant Kingfisher and is proving reliable for the scarce and shy Goliath Heron. Another massive bird to look out for is African Fish Eagle and we have seen adults and immatures here so look carefully among the numerous Osprey. After a day rich in birdlife we drive north up the coast to our hotel and dinner.
Day 8 Friday
If we have an afternoon flight, there will be an option for a bird walk from the hotel in the morning with our guide. See how many of the birds you now know! Alternatively, you can relax with a walk along the beach or visit the craft market. After lunch we transfer back to the airport and arrive at London Gatwick in the evening.