Saturday 5 January 2019

The Gambia: Day 7: Down South on the beach...

13th December:

I was greeted by the newly decorated pine tree in the gardens as I headed down to breakfast in the dark and the realisation that Christmas was not far away...

They did not have tall enough ladders to reach the very top!
Our route took us south through some now familiar coastal areas (the ones we visited on the first full day) and the now usual suspects were seen on wires, trees and buildings but we only stopped to look at a very obliging Lizard Buzzard in a roadside palm. 
Lizard Buzzard

Lizard Buzzard

Our destination was a strip of coast not too far from the Senegal border at Kartong.  It appeared to be an unprepossessing strip of semi-cultivated land interspersed with pockets of scrub, reed beds and what I judged to be dune slacks and although it was hot and there was little shelter our walk south towards the end of the peninsular was full of birds. 

Palearctic migrants were once again in evidence with Sedge, Reed, Subalpine and Melodious Warblers tacking away while a Great Reed Warbler was heard and another briefly seen.   Brown and Blackcap Babblers scolded us and a couple of Red-necked Falcons were seen in the distance while Ospreys were constantly on view.  One of the latter was perched up on the huge stump of a distant palm and clearly had both a metal and blue Darvic ring but it was just too hazy to read.  

Melodious Warbler

Osprey  -
There is a very good chance that this is a British bird which is a wonderful thought.

A Giant Kingfisher became our first away from Kotu Bridge and Aby Rollers dotted the bushes along with Woodchats and two Yellow-billed Shrikes. Coucals laughed at us as we passed by and a single Lesser Blue-eared Starling dropped into the top of a mango. A couple of terratorial Gonoleks showed reasonably well and two Four Banded Sandgrouse exploded from cover just yards infront of us.

Aby Roller

Yellow Crowned Gonolek
A chance glance at a small overflying bird and a hasty pick up in the scope added a Violet Backed Starling to my list at least.  I followed it as far as I could hoping it would land for the rest of the party but it dropped out of sight.

Splendid, Variable and Beautiful Sunbirds darted around and Village Weavers roamed around in 'chipping' gangs. We did our best to search them for any new species but to no avail although we did find some more Black-necked eventually. Yellow-billed Kites and Hooded Vultures drifted over and flocks of Grey-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls headed north up the coastline that was out of sight beyond the dunes.

Two Mottled Spinetails zipped on cigar shaped bodies with similar Little Swifts for company but Red-chested Swallows were the only hirundines seen.  A flash of yellow and a male African Golden Oriole bolted from cover with the black eye mask and extra yellow wing feather edges showing well.  We saw two like this and the second flew right over our heads although quite how Paul got this shot I do not know!

African Golden Oriole - Paul French

The well vegetated dune slacks were superb and we could have spent half a day just scanning them in anticipation of new things appearing. White-faced Whistling Ducks were the most numerous species and the hundred or so already present were augmented by a flock of 180 that came in high from the north and after some Starling like murmurations descended to join the others.

White-faced Whistling Ducks

Three ungainly but gentle looking Spur-winged Geese were loafing amongst them on un-naturally long pink legs and a plump black and white speckled duck became our one and only Knob-billed Duck – albeit sans knob as it was of the female persuasion...

White-faced Whistling Ducks & Spur-winged Geese

White-faced Whistling Ducks & Spur-winged Goose

White-faced Whistling Ducks & Knob-billed Duck

We searched for Pygmy Goose with no joy but there was plenty to see with at least 16 African Purple Gallinules with requisite green backs, tearing up reeds by the roots and elegant African Jacanas doing what the books say they should be doing and trotting across lily pads on spindly long toes.  I even managed a mini-rush by the group when I found a single adult Moorhen...

African Purple Gallinules

African Jacana

African Jacana and lilies...

Eyes up produced at least four Harrier Hawks at the same time as well as a Palm Nut Vulture with a full crop and a Long-crested Eagle that spooked some of the duck on a low level pass.

Palm Nut Vulture

Harrier Hawk
Long-crested Eagle and I...

Four Malachite Kingfishers dotted the reeds like blue and orange jewels and Squaccos lurked in the grasses and exploded in flashes of snow white wings. There were a few waders to be seen with Black-winged Stilts and Spur-winged Lapwings, ten Wood Sandpipers and the first Common Snipe of the trip. Flava Wagtails appeared every now and then and one was definitely a male Blue-headed type

A family of pigs were rooting around in the marsh and were quite lucky that they did not bump into one of the three large West African Crocodiles that were lounging around.  The views were much better that on the boat yesterday morning.

West African Crocodile

Green Wood-Hoopoes greeted us down at the beach and the sky was full of the sound of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters but of the reported Carmines there was no sign.

Down at the beach... Carry On style

Well... ummm... yes...

Out to sea African Royal Terns fished alongside a pack of about 50 Little Terns and a Western Reef Heron danced after tiddlers in the shallows. 

Western Reef Heron

Our main quarry here was White-fronted Plover and we had to walk some way down the silvery shell (and plastic...mmm...) strewn sand before we found a few hunkered down with some very similar looking Kentish Plovers.  They appeared a little heavier set with a thicker bill and more bull necked appearance and the males had gingery breast spurs rather than black. 

White-fronted Plover

White-fronted Plover
 A little further south along the beach was a different country – Senegal and a vast flock of Caspian and Royal Terns, gulls and Pink-backed Pelicans occasionally dreaded out over the sea and back again.  With them were waders that thankfully came closer and we counted 50 each of Sanderling and Turnstone and 20 Grey Plover.

Senegal in the distance

A familiar call drew us to three Crested Larks on the beach. I am not sure what race they are down here but I could not see any appreciable difference from those of mainland Europe.  Common Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Greenshank and two Pied Kingfishers fed in a tiny tidal pool.

A kettle of Hoodies and Kites appeared above us and with them was a fine Lanner and a couple more Ospreys but Austin picked up something different and soon we all had great views of an African Hawk Eagle that felt like a more compact Bonelli’s Eagle to which it is related.

Hooded Vulture

African Hawk Eagle

The Ospreys were not amused by its appearance and gave it a good seeing to until it moved off north.

African Hawk Eagle getting some Osprey attention

It was time to move on but a final glance from the bus as we bumped back the way we had come revealed seven Black-headed Herons dotted across the marsh that we had only been looking at an hour before hand!  This confirmed what I had seen from the bus the day before in my semi-conscious state and it was good to get the whole group onto this smart heron.

Black-headed Heron

Lunch was taken just a few miles away from where we had walked and was accessed by following tyre tracks across a dried up mud pan through the mangroves with occasional arrow signs to keep Ali going in the right direction.

Our repast this time was taken outside overlooking the river at a place called Stala (I think) and into Senegal. Shawn and Austin amused themselves for the entirety of lunch by creating their ebird new country list.

Whimbrel, Pied Kingfishers and the fringes of the huge tern flock we saw earlier kept us entertained as did an English couple staying in one of the chalets who were obviously on a fishing holiday. He caught nothing while we were there but each time she cast off she had hooked in within a few seconds.  The first catch was a curious shaped Black Angel but the second was a much larger beast and more worthy of the dinner pot than the first although I can’t remember what it was called. She well deserved her two bouts of applause from our table although I do not think hubby was overly amused.

Terns and a Yellow-billed Kite
Two fish in a bucket and a single fly just for Phil...

Up above the usual big BOPS circled with a pair of Lanner and a Harrier Hawk to add interest while the Baobab shading the dinner lean to was home to Willow and Subalpine Warbler and a delightful diminutive juvenile Klaas’s Cuckoo.

It had probably been sitting there the whole time we ate, perfectly blending in with the dappled light in shaded of green and brown. What a cute little Cuckoo.

Klaas’s Cuckoo
Village Weaver

Village Weaver nests

...and this superb cicada that entertained us during lunch

Possibly the best Mackerel Sky I have ever seen

It looks like you are staring at silver sand ripples left on a beach through shallow tropical blue waters...

A lazy lunch later we moved off to our final stop of the day at Tajereng.  It appeared pretty random and was similar in many ways to the dry parts of Kartong.

A path was followed through the low bush and Little Bee-eaters, Pied-winged and Red-chested Swallows hawked in front of us. The bee-eaters are no bigger than the swallows and even after a week, the size in flight still threw me but it was nice to get close to a couple of these expert insect catchers and have the light in our favour for a change. 

Red-chested Swallow

Pied-winged Swallow

Little Bee-eater

Little Bee-eater

Little Bee-eater
Gonoleks sang and a Viellot’s Barbet showed well but it was the party of Yellow Penduline Tits that captivated us as they fed completely unconcerned in the dead nettle type plants.  Paul said that such good views once, let alone twice were exceptional.  We thought there were three but this doubled when they decided to move off.

Yellow Penduline Tit

Yellow Penduline Tit

Yellow Penduline Tit

As we approached a walled area of cultivated land Gill found a pair of White fronted Black Chats one of which posed long enough for some images. White front is barely appropriate though as it only had a few white flecks on the forehead.

White fronted Black Chat

White fronted Black Chat
Continuing the black theme, both Fork-tailed Drongo and African Black Flycatcher hunted from the trees behind us and it was while scanning a large bare Baobab that I found another small greeny Cuckoo; this one being fed by a small Weaver of some description.

African Black Flycatcher

It was quickly identified as a Diederik Cuckoo and attracted plenty of attention from all the local avifauna as well as us.

Diederik Cuckoo

Diederik Cuckoo

In the twenty minutes we watched it, the same tree was visited by inquisitive Prinias, a Common Whitethroat, Woodchat Shrike, both small Hornbills, Cordon Bleus, a Coucal and Long-tailed Glossy Starling. The surrogate parent never returned though to confirm the identification.

Diederik Cuckoo & a Woodchat

West African Red-billed Hornbill

Senegal Coucal

All the usual doves were around with especially good numbers of Speckled Pigeons that were sharing a tree with another Black-headed Heron!  Double Spurred Francolins were vocal and I actually saw a couple quite well as I poked my head over the wall.  A Gambian Sun Squirrel ran the other way at the same time and a rotund Western ground Squirrel briefly watched us from the path.

Black-headed Heron

The last thicket we checked before heading back held two African Golden Orioles and a party of Beautiful Sunbirds while a Pearl Spotted Owlet responded to Santos’ impersonation but never came in.

Everyone was starting to flag and so we headed back to the hotel as the light started to fade but even then managed a brief sortie into the gardens where a couple of splendid White Crowned Robin Chats hopped around on the lawn like gaudy Blackbirds and with the ISO cranked all the way to 3200 I managed to get a couple of pics.  The garden was directly opposite the spot where we saw our first on day one and it was good to get better views.  Plantain-eaters and Blackcap Babblers were chattering away post roost and the Broad-billed Rollers hawking above the trees once again rounded up the day’s avian delights.

White Crowned Robin Chat

White Crowned Robin Chat

I had one last desire before dinner and that was to capture a sunset over the sea from the beach and with a little time to spare I dashed down there to watch Sol sink behind a distant cloud bank. Everything was orange, there were people - locals and tourists - strolling along the pristine sand and wading in the shallows, fisherman dragging their boats in, bare back horse riders, picture postcard palm trees and waggy tailed dogs.

It was the perfect end to my last full day...

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