A great introduction to African birding

2022 Dates
  • 18 Jan - 25 Jan 2022
Duration8 Days
2022 Price
£2495 pp
£175 single supplement. Deposit £500

pre-flight airport hotel and lounge are inc.

Max Group Size12

The Gambia is a small, narrow West African country, with a short coastline onto the Atlantic Ocean, otherwise completely surrounded by Senegal. In the area close to the sea there is a wide variety of habitats within just a few miles: estuary, mangrove swamp, riverine forest, marshland and the edge of the West African Forest.

The Gambia is a superb option for British birders because it offers the nearest forest jungle to the UK, is easily accessible from London, and boasts comfortable hotels with easy birding close to the airport. This holiday is seen as a simple and straight-forward introduction to African birding, and seldom going further than one hour’s drive to birding sites, the holiday will be based entirely at the bird-rich coastal strip, largely considered to be very safe and friendly to British tourists. The Gambia is dry and sunny after the rains stop in November and many local birds are intra-African migrants, so the best sites vary annually according to rain patterns in the wet season. Our local guide’s knowledge means that we will visit the best sites for birdlife.

Birding promises to be exceptional, and we will almost immediately see Red-billed and Grey Hornbills, Broad-billed Roller, Senegal Coucal, Beautiful Sunbird, Hooded Vulture and many more. Our first morning's stroll from our hotel will produce fine views of some spectacular species. As usual, we shall be keeping an eye on the general wildlife of the area including some spectacular butterflies, reptiles and monkeys such as Green Vervet and Red Colobus. 

Transport is by small coach with local driver. Please note that all the major roads are now  asphalted but minor roads remain sandy and can be rough. We minimise travelling so this trip is gentle in pace and as comfortable as possible. There will be short walks of up to two miles over relatively flat terrain, and you should wear walking boots or shoes.

Enjoy your complimentary pre-flight overnight hotel before your holiday begins. Full details from our office!

Day 1 Tuesday
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 Wednesday
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 Thursday
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 Friday
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 Saturday
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 Sunday
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 Monday
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 Tuesday
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.

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

Please note: all itineraries are given as a guide only. Actual holiday content may vary according to the judgement of your guide, and elements beyond our control (eg weather).

What's included in your holiday price:

Price includes return scheduled flight from London Gatwick – Banjul, airport taxes, baggage up to 20kg, hand luggage to 5kg, in-flight meal, airport transfers, and the services of a Heatherlea leader and professional local guide, ground transportation, accommodation and meals including breakfast and lunch, evening meal and water during the day. Pre-flight airport hotel and lounge included subject to terms and conditions.

What's not included in your holiday price:

Travel to and from London Gatwick before and after holiday, baggage above 20kg, incidental tips, drinks with meals, expenses of a personal nature and personal insurance.

More Holiday Information

Accommodation is in a, friendly hotel located near the beach. The hotel is ideal for our Heatherlea group. Rooms are comfortable, clean and attractive with en-suite shower. Air conditioning is not standard but can be booked at an additional cost.
Food is usually a continental breakfast (tea, coffee, juice, rolls, boiled eggs etc), lunches are often taken at Eco-lodges in the bush which have water to attract birds and we can relax in the shade over a leisurely lunch, or perhaps at our hotel depending on our itinerary. Evening meals are at local restaurants with a wide choice. Vegetarian and other diets are welcome.
Walking is generally light/moderate. There may be some track and road walking over generally flat terrain, though generally an average level of fitness is required. We take advantage of the cooler mornings and late afternoons to see wildlife when it is most active, usually returning to our hotel in the early evening.
Weather will be dry and hot! The Gambia enjoys virtually uninterrupted sunshine and high daytime temperatures with almost no rainfall from November to June. Daily temperatures average 30°C, although it can be considerably cooler in the early mornings and evenings in January.
VISA  British passport holders do not require a visa to enter the Gambia. A full British 10-year passport is required for entry into The Gambia, valid for at least 6 months after your date of arrival back in the UK.
Health  Although inoculations are not compulsory for entry from the EU, certain medication, including anti-malarial tablets, are recommended. The Gambia is just one of many countries where the risk of contracting malaria is very real but this is an avoidable illness provided adequate precautions are taken. Before travelling consult your doctor about suitable anti-malarial medication, and on arrival take adequate precautions against mosquito bites. Please be aware of latest health advice regarding airline flights. If you suffer from a heart condition, deep vein thrombosis or other condition which may be affected by airline flight we recommend you consult your doctor before departure.
Group size is restricted to 12 clients maximum.
Flights are by scheduled airline, from London Gatwick. If you wish to add an extension either before or after your holiday, please contact us and we will be happy to arrange this for you.

Your Leader/s:

Ian Ford: Ian joined Heatherlea in 1999 and joins us again this year as a Senior Guide. Ever popular with guests and fellow guides alike, Ian is a highly experienced Heatherlea leader. Ian is very much looking forward to your company in the Gambia. Ian will be joined by an expert local guide.


Other birding and wildlife holidays in Gambia

Why choose Heatherlea for your African wildlife holiday?

Our overseas holidays are planned with care to offer great birding and wildlife, led by capable Leaders who really look after you. Every holiday is run the 'Heatherlea Way', and we hope our Overseas Adventures remind you of the quality and care so many of you enjoy in Scotland. That means rewarding and exciting days in the field, and good quality accommodation and meals, with a real flavour of the country we are visiting. Heatherlea always seek to include the personal touches that make all the difference.

Heatherlea holidays are not ‘dawn to dusk’ expeditions. Our less-intensive approach is ideal for those who want to relax whilst experiencing the best wildlife watching, and wherever possible we organise early or late activity on an optional basis. We also take sensible breaks when in very hot places and regular comfort breaks on every holiday whenever possible. All itineraries are planned carefully around the best wildlife opportunities, and you won’t miss out on memorable wildlife, whilst enjoying relaxed, informal days that are great fun.

The really important part of any wildlife holiday is the experience for you, our valued customer. Heatherlea invest in many things to offer you the best possible service;

  • We have been organising birding and wildlife holidays for over 30 seasons, and have a highly experienced and capable office team. We also offer a telephone and email service outside normal office hours.
  • Heatherlea overseas holidays have a maximum of 12 clients per trip, putting the emphasis on personal service, and helping you get the best possible experience.
  • Our holidays often include things which others might invite you to pay yourself, for instance Departure Taxes and tips to hotels.
  • All elements of our holidays are sold under our own licence, ATOL 6113. Under ‘Flight-Plus’ legislation it is a legal requirement of any tour operator to hold an ATOL licence for the supply of any overseas holiday where a flight is involved, if that holiday includes either overseas accommodation and/or car hire. It can be a criminal offence for an operator to book flights as part of a package without an ATOL licence. Heatherlea also hold full Tour Operator Insurance for your added protection.
  • Heatherlea is your complete wildlife holiday provider. Our ‘Back Office’ team can organise all your pre-flight and other travel needs. Our specialists will help you book the right services, at the best price. Book holiday extensions through us, and your ATOL protection is extended further. We don’t charge extra for this service.
  • Heatherlea is a limited company, registered in Scotland, and registered to pay VAT (applies to all holidays within the European Union).

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About Heatherlea Holidays

Contact Information

The Mountview Hotel, Nethybridge,
PH25 3EB Scotland

T: 01479 821248