Blue-bellied Roller Coracias cyanogaster, Tanji Reserve, The Gambia
The Gambia Hotspots* is available for download. It was posted in January 2015 and contains updates from a correspondent who has visited a number of the key sites in recent months. It is well worth reading in conjunction with the information below.
Birdwatching can start almost anywhere in The Gambia and the grounds of some of the larger hotels are favourite locations. For birders new to Africa, the Senegambia Hotel gardens are a good place to observe birds at leisure and become familiar with some of the more common and a few of the less common species.
Abuko Nature Reserve is a small area of fenced forest and woodland located on the main south bank road, 3 km from the edge of the main urban centre of Serekunda. With a species list of about 200 including kingfishers, raptors, turacos, bulbuls and flycatchers etc., it is a good place to spend some time in the hides.
Many birders are happy to make at least two visits to the reserve as it is difficult to cover the whole reserve in one day. The main pool is always worth a visit and the new education centre here is a good place to find out from the park wardens what birds are about. The tour groups that pass through are a temporary distraction - they rarely stay in the hide for more than 15 minutes. Photographers will enjoy the photo hide at the end of the track by the main pool visitor centre. This needs to be booked in advance at the main entrance and a small fee paid. The hide is good for Violet Turaco Musophaga violacea, Green Turaco Tauraco persa, Verreaux's Eagle Owl Bubo lacteus, African Pygmy Kingfisher Ceyx pictus, Giant Kingfisher Megaceryle maxima and Splendid Starling Lamprotornis splendidus. There are also red colobus, green vervet and red patas monkeys and some big monitor lizards.
Bijilo is a small managed forest park close to the Senegambia Hotel with an interesting selection of birds including Stone Partridge Ptilopachus petrosus, White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis and Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat Cossypha niveicapilla.
Bund Road, Banjul has a stand of terns and pelicans opposite the wrecks. Waders, egrets etc. can be seen on the opposite side of the road in the mangroves as far as the pumping station. There are good views from the roof of the pumping station (at your own risk). The pool at the prison end of the road is worth a look although we would not recommend walking there from the pumping station in the heat of the day.
Camalou Corner, Botanical Garden and Cape Creek. This is a traditional taxi round with plenty of variety. You can bird Cape Creek from the track west of the bridge on the Cape road from Denton Bridge. At the Botanic Garden don't miss the large tree in the nursery area next door which can be a real treasure trove.
Koto area which includes a creek and sewage pools is several kilometres north of the Senegambia. For many years this site was not to be missed when staying on this part of the coastal strip. However, an oil leak from the power station higher up the creek and the development of hotels has degraded the habitat. The West African Bird Study Association has an information point at the bridge here so it is a good place to pick up a registered guide. The bridge used to be a good place to see Senegal Thick-knee Burhinus senegalensis, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater Merops hirundineus and a range of waders. Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus are common in the nearby fields. The sewage pools are an excellent place for White-faced Whistling Duck Dendrocygna viduata amongst other birds. Regrettably, the hotels have been pressing for these pools to be closed. We hope that the Kotu Creek site is recovering now and would apreciate news from correspondents regarding its status.
Lamin Lodge and Makasutu have both proved popular for non-birdwatchers being introduced to the delights of ornithology. Lamin Lodge is an extraordinary eating place serving food throughout the day, although the monkeys can be a nuisance as they rush in to grab any bread on the table (tough if you are having a sandwich).
Makasutu in particular has attracted favourable comments, because of the large areas of undisturbed forest. The development of Makasutu, with strong links with the local community, provides a good model for linking conservation and economic development for local communities. For more information about this see the Conservation page. It is important to understand that Makasutu is not just a birdwatching site. The entrance fee is expensive by Gambian standards but makes for a pleasant day out. The delight of being paddled through a creek with no engine sounds enables you to get much closer to the birds on the mudbanks and roosting in the trees (but try to ensure you avoid the noisy tour groups). Anyone visiting the site has to pay the full fee. The site is open from 08.00-18.00.
Sightings have included African Cuckoo Hawk Aviceda cuculoides, Stone Partridge Ptilopahcus petrosus, African Finfoot Podica senegalensis, Senegal Parrot Poicephalus senegalus, Brown-necked Parrot P.robustus, African Wood Owl Strix woodfordii, Blue-bellied Roller Coracias cyanogaster, Fine-spotted Woodpecker Campethera punctuligera, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike Malacanotus blanchoti, Piapiac Ptilostomus afer, large numbers of Brown Sunbirds Anthreptes gabonicus and African Silverbill Lonchura cantans. There is a also small population of West African Manatees in the bolons. To get there if you are not part of a group or with a local guide, you follow the Banjul Basse Highway to Brikama. Go beyond the main turn off to Brikama, carry along for a short while until you see a blue sign on the left (Kindergarten Bottrop from memory). Pass this sign for about 100 metres until you see a tarmac turn-off to the left. Follow the track through the village until it turns into a dirt track and the advice we have at this point is to hire a local person to show you the final 3 km! Gerri and Maurice from the Safari Garden Hotel also take a small number of visitors.
Yundum is best known for Temminck's Courser Cursorius teminckii but Yellow Penduline Tit Anthoscopus parvulus and Yellow-mantled Widowbird Euplectes macrourus have also been seen.
Tanji, The Bijol Islands, Brufut and Marikissa
Brufut is always worth a visit in conjunction with Tanji and woodland around the village produces a wide variety of birds. This area was managed by WABSA: Birdfinders and the Exmoor Falconry Centre have funded the reserve which has a well and a hide to enable visitors to view the Verraux Eagle Owls Bubo lacteus which breed in the area. We understand that the area is now being managed by a local community group with the intention that all the revenue will go direct to the community.
Tanji (Karinti) Nature Reserve: despite the damage done by the road widening, the site is still worth a visit. There is an area around the seasonal pool, behind the reserve office, with a walk towards the lagoon area (the guides on the reserve will be happy to show you and tell you what is around). This is a good site for Bruce's Green Pigeon Treron waalia and Oriole Warbler Hypergerus atriceps. The tern stand is best viewed from a track that goes across the scrub nearer to the bridge into Tanji itself.
The Bijol Islands: Royal Tern Sterna maxima, Caspian Tern Sterna caspia and waders nest, roost and feed on The Bijol Islands. You may see turtles and dolphins during the trip over. To minimise disturbance to the birds, the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management run trips to the islands twice a week from October to March and just once a week from April to September. Access is prohibited at other times. In February 2003 the charge was D200 per person with a minimum of D400. You will be given an official receipt and the money goes towards the cost of patrolling the area to deter egg thieves and other disturbances. The boat departs from Brufut fishing centre and as it is launched from the beach, wear appropriate clothing and shoes - you may get a little wet. Remember to take your shoes on to the Island as your feet may get burned very quickly. The trip usually lasts for about two hours but will be affected by the tide and conditions. To book the boat to The Bijol Islands contact the R&D unit, Department of Wildlife email: email@example.com If you are already in the country you can make contact by phone 375888 / 903511 / 919213 or fax 392179 or an alternative is to contact Mr Amadou Camara at the Tanji River (Karinti) Bird Reserve on 910398.
The maximum number of visitors is five per trip and the normal minimum is two visitors. If one person wishes to travel on their own they will have to pay the equivalent of two adult fares. Guides travel free provided there are two other full fare paying passengers, otherwise the visitor should pay for the guide. Children go free providing there are two full fare paying passengers on the boat. All proceeds from the trip go to the conservation of wildlife in The Gambia. The boat was donated by the British High Commission. The visitor trips are a way of meeting the running costs of the boat as well as informng a larger number of people about the importance of these breeding sites.
Tanji Nature Park / Paradise Inn is a good place for lunch and a drink followed by a little bird watching in the shade of trees overlooking the river. Follow the signs from Tanji village. Sightings around the grounds have included African Finfoot Podica senegalensis and during the rainy season, Shining Blue Kingfisher Alcedo quadribrachys.
Marikissa: South of Brikama on the road to Darisalmi. The area around the bridge and back towards Marikissa is particularly profitable. Good for kingfishers, raptors, rollers and parties of migrating birds. Black Crake Amaurornis flavirostra is seen regularly around the pond by the bridge. A local co-operative is developing the fields beyond the bridge - please remember that the crops are their livelihood and do not trample over the seedlings. Drive on to Darisalmi and turn right following the sign to River Lodge. The causeway is an excellent viewing point for waders and raptors and the grassland around River Lodge (which has an upper viewing platform) produces more species. Do not attempt to cross the causeway in a vehicle unless you are confident you can do so safely but if you make it we recommend the fish and chips.
A morning visit here produced many species including Grey Kestrel Falco ardosiaceus, Violet Turaco Musophaga violacea, Blue-breasted Kingfisher Halcyon malimbica, Broad-Billed Roller Eurystomus glaucurus, Lesser Honeyguide Indicator minor, Yellow-throated Leaf-love Chlorocichla flavicollis, Senegal Eremomola Eremomela pusilla, Blackcap Babbler Turdoides reinwardtii and Beautiful Sunbird Cinnyris pulchellus.
East of Brikama, the dried shrimp pools are probably the best known site for Black Crowned Cranes Balearica pavonina. There has been some difficulty in gaining access although some of the local bird guides seemed to have come to an arrangement with the new management. A correspondent reported in 2004 that "Pirang Shrimp Farm has now been completely closed to birders with metal gates built across the only access track. Up to 4 Black Crowned Cranes are still in the area but many of the specialist birds can now only be seen from a distance. Habitat Africa are trying to make arrangements for their guides to accompany birdtours on to the site."
Kiang West National Park and Tendaba
Bird Kiang West National Park en route for Tendaba or whilst you are based at the camp. The track to Batelling from the Kwinella Tendaba road is just about manageable and will take you to some excellent birding with plenty of shaded cover for the birds. It is well known for sandgrouse which fly up from under your feet, Blue-breasted Kingfisher Halcyon malimbica and White-winged Black Tit Parus leucomelas. We are disappointed that many local guides do not take you into the park itself - we have heard tales that the road from Batelling to Toubab Kolon Point is impassable or that the water hole is dried up and then find this is not the case at all - the road to Toubab Kolon Point is better than the Kwinella Batelling track and in the third week in December there was still plenty of water in the water hole. Even if the birding is not of the same order as the aforementioned track the view at the waterhole provides some welcome relief to the flatness of The Gambia and there is always a good chance of something interesting arriving to drink. Lamin Sanyang of the Dept of Parks and Wildlife Management is often around in Batelling to direct you to the waterhole but if not, just follow the road towards Toubab Kollon Point and stop when you come to a clearing with a shelter to the right of the road. The footpath to the waterhole heads off just to the right of the road. Sitatunga and Roan Antelopes may be seen in the park if you are particularly fortunate.
Tendaba: There are three main areas to visit around Tendaba itself. The essential trip is by boat across to Kisi and Tunku Bolons which can produce a wonderful array of birds including African Darter anhinga rufa, Green-backed Heron Butorides striata, Goliath Heron Ardea goliath, Woolly-necked Stork Ciconia episcopus, African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer, African Blue Flycatcher Elminia longicauda (at the entrance of the bolons) and Brown Sunbird Anthreptes gabonicus. White-backed Night Heron Gorsachius leuconotos is seen frequently and occasionally Pel's Fishing-owl Scotopelia peli and African Finfoot Podica senegalensis. Clawless Otters are a strong possibility here. Organise your boat as soon as you arrive, bearing in mind that tides will determine when you can go across. Sunhat and water are essential. The airstrip produces raptors, Abysinnian Ground Hornbills Bucorvus abyssinicus and sandgrouse. The third area is the savannah/ track to Batelling described under Kiang West above.
Georgetown & Basse
There are many pools on the road on the north side of the river from Farafenni (just east of Tendaba) to Georgetown. At Georgetown itself the camps will direct you to profitable spots around the island and will organise boat trips for you - keep your eyes peeled for African Finfoot Podica senegalensis along the river.
Kunkilling Forest Park and Tankandam Community Forest Eco Trails 5 kms east of Janjanbureh. A new community based site managed by the Forestry Department. It is an intact piece of Sudan-Guinea savannah by the River Gambia. There has been no forest fire here for many years. Key species include breeding African White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus, African Finfoot Podica senegalensis, Bronze-winged Courser Rhinoptilus chalcopterus, Spotted Thick-knee Burhinus capensis, Adamawa Turtle Dove Streptopelia hypopyrrha, Shining-blue Kingfisher Alcedo quadribrachys, Yellow-bellied Hyliota Hyliota flavigaster, Grey-Tit Flycatcher Myioparus plumbeus, Black-faced Firefinch Lagonosticta larvata plus all 5 species of primate found in The Gambia. Tickets are D100 per person (about £2.00 Sterling) which includes dusk access. 60% goes to the local community and 40% to the Forestry Dept. Tickets should be puchased at Forestry HQ in Janjanbureh. Guides will also require tickets. The site is open throughout the day and dusk walks are encouraged. Clive Barlow, ornitholigical consultant for the project, has developed four trails. Named after nearby villages, these were opened up by local people and not a single tree was destroyed in the process.
Bansang Quarry: This site is now being managed by WABSA, the Gambia Birding Group having funded the fencing of half the quarry to protect the nest holes of the Red-throated Bee-eaters Merops bulocki. Watching these wonderful birds at their roost just before sunset could be one of the most magical experiences of your trip. There will be other birds drinking from the pools to distract you further. Be careful not to miss the last ferry back to Georgetown. It is good at other times of day but as it is a sun trap, you will not want to stay long, until the hut planned by WABSA is built.
Basse: For many years, this has been the recognised spot for viewing Egyptian Plover Pluvianius aegyptius. Start at the jetty or the veranda of Traditions. However we have been told that the birds are seen less frequently following floods earlier in 2003 - although the owners of Traditions say they still see them early in the morning. Northern Carmine Bee-eaters Merops nubicus can be seen in the fields east of Basse but you may have to walk some distance to find them. Great Snipe Gallinago media used to be seen in the marsh area just east of Basse but changes in drainage meant this species had not been seen (or at least reported) for some years. We are delighted to reported that Kev Roy, who birds the Prufut Swamp as his local patch, reported seeing a Great Snipe here in January 2004. He also saw a Bluethroat Luscinia svecica with complete blue patch on the same day.
Sindola is situated in an area of bush some distance from the river so the number of species is naturally more limited than at the riverside camps. The well irrigated grounds attract birds from the surrounding bush. Species seen in late evening and early morning in the grounds of Sindola Lodge on one trip incuded Western Grey Plantain-eater Crinifer piscator, Mottled Spinetail Telecanthura ussheri, Abyssinian Roller Coracias abyssinicus, Bearded Barbet Lybius dubius and Pygmy Sunbird Hedydipna platura.