Monday 7 January 2019

The Gambia: Day 8: Anyone for golf?

14th December:

And so the final morning was upon us and breakfast called me from my room one last time. A strange call reminiscent of a Scops Owl came from one of the trees in the garden so I grabbed my head torch and had a scout round but to no avail. Only after we had finished did the mystery caller reveal itself to be a sheepish Shikra!  

The plan was to head north a short way and explore the shallow wetland along the Old Cape Road.  As usual we entered at a seemingly random point from the main road where we grilled a large mixed flock of Village Weavers, Bishops and Mannikins. Our path took us through small cultivated areas that felt more like an allotment than anything else. 

People were tending their plots with Cattle Egrets in tow and lifted their heads to say hello and Little Bee-eaters, three Roller species and Yellow-billed Shrikes were spying out for insects.  

Blue-bellied Roller

Yellow-billed Shrike


Double Spurred Francolins called around us and a couple rocketed up at our feet in a flurry of wings and shouting. One even did the decent thing and perched up long enough to get the scope on it and even see the name giving leg appendages!

Double Spurred Francolin - honest!

Red Billed Hornbills flopped around and a couple of White-billed Buffalo Weavers stayed still long enough for a good look.  Yellow-billed Kites and a Red-necked Falcon were seen and there were heaps of Pied Crows mooching about.

Red Billed Hornbill

Red Billed Hornbill

White-billed Buffalo Weaver

We emerged onto the dried up surface of the lagoon and wandered out until we could scan for waders and such like.  Wattled and Spur Winged Lapwings dotted the shallows in small elegant groups and Ringed Plovers, Grey Plovers, Whimbrel, Greenshank and Redshank were all seen. 

Fiddler Crab Burrows

Wattled and Spur Winged Lapwings

A very long-billed Curlew with white underwings was seen probing the mud and a Green Sandpiper laid to rest the last of the three ‘new for trip’ species I had seen on my walk at Tendaba.

An immature Black Crake broke from cover and scuttled on red legs between the clumps of small mangrove.  It obviously did not like the patch it ended up in and repeated the manoeuvre in reverse much to our delight.

Black Crake

Black Crake at hyperspeed

Royal, Caspian and Gull-billed Terns drifted around and Grey-headed and Slender-billed Gulls were settling out near some Pink-backed Pelicans and Sacred Ibis

Pink-backed Pelican

Up above four Palm Nut Vultures were attracting attention but not quite as much as the immature Harrier Hawk that took a thrashing from a gang of pied bullies. It perched up in a palm to catch its breath where the almost Egyptian Vulture like head became obvious.

Pied and Malachite Kingfishers were seen and a Woodchat became our last one of the trip.

Palm Nut Vulture and Pied Crow
Harrier Hawk

Harrier Hawk sulking
Pied Crow

Pied Crow with a can opener...

Pied Crows

Pied Crow and Speckled Pigeon

I never tyred of Pied Crows...

With time pressing on we were then driven the short way to the Fajara Golf Course where an interesting walk along the crispy brown fairways ensued. There were not exactly many golfers on the course but we were all intrigued by the greens which were, well, black and smelt like bitumen.

This black sand obviously made for an interesting putting surface and each player had a caddy with a thick wad of what looked like rubber that would be used to smooth out the surface between the ball on the ‘green’ and the hole...

There were plenty of birds to be found noisy Bulbuls, Plantain Eaters and Long-tailed Glossy Starlings in the palms and Wood-hoopoes and Hornbills poking around in the rough.  A Fine Spotted Woodpecker showed very well and the shrubs held Beautiful and Variable Sunbirds while Tinkerbirds did what they do best.

Green Wood-hoopoe

A view over the mangroves revealed all three Rollers again as well as a shining green and white male Klaas’s Cuckoo and a smattering of Little Bee-eaters, Village Weavers and Doves.  Sacred Ibis and Weeweewee Ducks dropped in and both Senegal and Ring-necked Parakeets were seen.

There was one last treat on this walk with only our second Black Heron of the trip, down in a creek which, although it did not allow a close approach, showed very well and was hunting using its classic umbrella shade trick to illuminate glare. Magnificent! 

Black Heron

Black Heron

Black Heron

Black Heron

More Lapwings and several Pied Kingfishers occupied the channel further up where we crossed through towards the main road and yet another Palm Nut Vulture drifted low overhead. Our path suddenly appeared on the main road and we were only 50yards from the Kotu Bridge about where the Woodland kingfishers had been but I could not refind them.

Hooded Vultures were gathering in the trees and I was told that feeding time was imminent. 

Wattled Lapwing

Pied Kingfishers

Collecting Jungle Juice...

Lunch was booked for 12 just down the road in another hotel overlooking the sea so we were dropped off at the Kombu Beach with the intent of relaxing for a while and finishing packing bags.

Mmm... what? Actually stop birding? Was my bag packed? Affirmative... Was there time to sneak back to the Bridge? Affirmative... 

A most enjoyable hour ensued with a final look at the Pied Kingfishers, Wire-tailed Swallows, Thick-knees and Herons while a gang of Pink-backed Pelicans seemed intent on hoovering up all the small fish in a combined smash and splash attack with a party of sinuous Long-tailed Cormorants trying to muster in on the action and pick up the panicking fish that got away.

Pied Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher

Great White Egret

Common Sandpiper

Pink-backed Pelicans and Long-tailed Cormorants

Pink-backed Pelican and Long-tailed Cormorants

Pink-backed Pelican

Pink-backed Pelicans

Pink-backed Pelican

From the melee up the road it was now feeding time and I had the spectacle of a mob of Kites, Hoodies and Crows trying to hastily dispose of a huge pile of meat scraps that had been put out on a concrete pad.  The Kites were in drop in and snatch mode while the Hoodies lolloped around looking even more like Buzzy, Flaps, Ziggy and Dizzy from the Disney animated Jungle Book.

Presumed immature Yellow-billed Kite

Presumed immature Yellow-billed Kite

Yellow-billed Kites

Hooded Vulture

There was still time for me to check down the track alongside the hotel where we had the Oriole Warblers. It did not disappoint and I spent my last few minutes in the field with four White Capped Robin Chats at just a few feet range. That white cap almost looks crested at the rear and I wonder of it gets raised in display?  An African Grey Woodpecker landed right in front of me and Chiffchaffs and a Western Olivaceaous Warbler foraged above.

African Grey Woodpecker

White Capped Robin Chat

White Capped Robin Chat

Kingfishers had been such a focal point of the whole trip that it was highly appropriate that a monster-billed Blue-breasted should crash down into the mud after a crab and emerge still gleaming in shades of blue and white to become the last bird my bins would be used on before the long journey home.

I walked the few short minutes back to my room with a wry smile, changed and freshened up and headed for the bus.  Lunch was taken on a balcony overlooking the calm Atlantic on an overcast but pleasant afternoon watching Gambian life unfold around us.  There was nowhere for me to go, I was forced to sit still and relax and at this point in proceedings I could not have been happier doing anything else.

The rest of the afternoon was as you would expect; a journey back through the maelstrom of traffic to the airport, a long wait to even enter check in and then the joy of discovering that you could sit outside in the fresh air out of the sun with a cold beer once you had dropped off your bags.

And so I had ended as I began with a beer in hand but with the joy of looking at that bottle label and remembering that Woodland Kingfisher wing stretching in the dappled sunshine...


The final scores on the doors.... list reads from left column to right column:


  1. Your final picture of the Pied Kingfisher is a cracker. I can also appreciate your new headline picture of the Roller. A reminder of a profitable Gambia adventure. Lawrence

  2. Wow, what an truly amazing trip Howard. I have really enjoyed wading through all your blogs. I cannot believe how many wonderful birds you got to see. Your photographs beautifully showed so many birds I have never seen before. So interesting!