The west coast of The Gambia has a series of coastal lagoons, many of which have been created following commercial sand-mining activities. Tujering is one of them and includes both wetland and woodland habitats. First we visit a large open lagoon with sand edges ideal for loafing gulls and terns, and what looks like a blocked river valley with fresh water marshes and rice fields. Amongst many more, it’s worth a visit for Grey-headed Gull, Caspian Tern, Greater Painted Snipe, African Pygmy Goose, Wattled Plover, Black Egret, and Pied, Malachite and Giant Kingfishers.
From here we continue to the woodland area. Tujering wood was discovered as a birding site just few years ago but it has already become one of the most popular sites to visit. During the wet season some parts are used for farming but after the harvest it becomes overgrown. It is an easy place to bird and there is no need to walk too far – we stay on the track and spend time under the shady silk cotton trees which attract many birds, especially during the dry season. Birds to be expected include: Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver, Red-winged Warbler, Senegal Batis, Brown-backed Woodpecker, Little Buttonquail, White-fronted Black Chat, Brubru, Striped Kingfisher, African Harrier-hawk, Black-shouldered Kite, Black-billed Wood Hoopoe, Whistling and Singing Cisticolas, Black-crowned Tchagra, White-shouldered Black Tit, and many more.
With over 300 bird species found in Abuko Nature Reserve, a visit is essential for all keen wildlife watchers. Its gallery forest is some of the last remaining tropical riverine forest in the country, and the towering trees are spectacular in themselves. Its areas of woodland savannah attract yet more bird species. It is also a haven for reptiles, invertebrates, monkeys and small mammals. In 1968, Abuko became the first protected area to be established in The Gambia. It is 105 hectares in size and can be explored comfortably on foot. The Bamboo Pool near the entrance is an ideal spot for close views of kingfishers, herons and crocodiles. A highlight is the Black Herons, which can be seen shading the water with their wings when hunting for fish. Vultures, Yellow-billed Kites and bee-eaters circle above the forest. We will also keep our eyes open for views of monitor lizards and snakes, including the Puff Adder and Green Mamba.
The coastal village of Kotu offers interesting bush walks and access to wetland habitats. A very popular spot for birdwatching is Kotu Bridge, which has views over the open water of Kotu Stream and the palm trees which line the banks. Species we may encounter include Wire-tailed Swallow, Snowy-crowned Robin Chat and Senegal Thick-knee. In the rice-growing season the area is surrounded by beautiful green fields, and even in the dry season the bird life will not disappoint.
Tanji is a friendly fishing village right by the sea. The Tanji River Tarinti Bird Reserve boasts a wide range of habitats, including mangrove, lily pools, lagoons, scrub woodland and salt flats. There are no mapped trails, but with our help it is possible to see an excellent number of coastal and woodland bird species. These include terns, White-fronted Plovers, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, African Pied Hornbill and Four-banded Sandgrouse. Visiting migrants include Common Nightingales, along with Subalpine, Olivacious and Melodious Warblers. The reserve is home to over thirty species of raptor.
Gunjur is a fishing village located towards the southern end of The Gambia, about 45 minutes from the Senegambia area. Access is easy, with some areas of boardwalk. The area is protected by the village community and there is an interesting mixture of habitats including mangroves, woodland, farmland and vegetable gardens. Therefore we have a great mixture of species to look out for, such as: West African Crocodile, West African Fiddler Crab, gulls, terns, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Northern White-faced (Scops) Owl, Pygmy Kingfisher, African Golden Oriole and many more.
Sifoe is a popular village located between Gunjur and Brikama and it has some wonderful bird watching sites. Along the roadside there are tall mahoganys, oil palms and rice fields which are cultivated as vegetable gardens in the dry season. This is a good area for waxbills, bishops, starlings, falcons, rollers, Yellow-fronted Canary, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Lizard Buzzard, Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Pied Hornbill, African Jacana and African Pygmy Goose.
An extensive wetland area is found behind village, formed by tributaries of the Allahein River flooding from Kartong to Sifoe and Marakissa. These wetlands are often maintained throughout the dry season by tidal movement of salt water flushing gently in and out from the main river. The wetlands host many different bird species, and we can expect to see terns, gulls, storks, ibises, spoonbills, kingfishers and both species of pelican. Numerous waders, herons and egrets will be busy fishing, eagles and vultures will be soaring overhead and, as with any of these wetland sites, countless dragonflies will be darting all around us.
Every birder should visit this new community forest, located to the north of Kuloro Village. It is surrounded by several different habitats including farmland, vegetable gardens, rice fields, and mangroves where sometimes White-backed Night Heron has been known to breed. Other birds we can expect to see include: Yellow-throated Leaflove, Green Crombec, Greater and Spotted Honeyguides, Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike, Ahanta Francolin, Yellow-breasted Apalis, and Green-headed, Copper, Violet-backed and Collared Sunbirds. We will also visit the nearby Bunto Forest which, amongst others, can provide views of Red-chested Cuckoo, Brown-necked Parrot, Yellow-throated Longclaw and Yellow-mantled Widowbird.
Bulock is visited on the way up-country, where it forms the boundary between Kombo and Foni near Kafuta Forest. This savannah habitat is filled with tall termite mounds and a rich mixture of trees such as ironwood, silk cotton, rosewood and acacias. These provide perches for many savanna birds, such as the tiny Rufous Cisticola, the striking Martial Eagle and the vibrant Abyssinian Roller, often seen perched along the roadside. Also to be found are large mixed feeding parties of waxbills, weavers and queleas; and more secretive species such as Senegal Eremomela, Brown-rumped Bunting, Red-winged Pytilia, White-breasted Cuckooshrike and Red-headed Weaver.
Another site to visit on the way up-country, Faraba Sutu is one of the newer areas in The Gambia that not many bird guides have yet started to visit. Situated near Kafuta, the habitat is a mixture of grassland, small trees, tall oil palms and vegetable gardens. Numerous species can be found in this area, including: Northern Puffback, Yellow-Crowned Gonolek, White-crested Helmet-shrike, Variable and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Northern Black Flycatcher, Yellow Penduline Tit, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Vieillot’s Barbet, Stone Partridge, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk, Shikra, Grasshopper Buzzard and Long-crested Eagle.
KANILAI GAME PARK AND NATURE TRAILS
Kanilai game park is a large area of woodland and savannah with a number of artificial watering holes. The park contains some large mammals such as Burchell’s Zebra, Kudu, Eland, Wildebeast and Blesbok. Unfortunately none of these species has ever been native to west Africa but the area also contains naturally occurring troops of Callithrix and Patas Monkeys (the latter being the fastest monkey in the world), and other mammals like Scrub Hare, Honey Badger, Striped Ground Squirrel and Gambian Sun Squirrel. Of course, there are also many species of birds to look out for as well, including Piapiac, Helmeted Guineafowl, Black-billed Wood Dove, African Grey Hornbill and various raptors.
SAPU RICE FIELDS
This area, consisting of a mixture of rice fields and gallery forest along the river bank, has long been known as one of the birding hotspots of up-country Gambia. There have been some good birds recorded here, including the rare and elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl, and we would also be hoping to see species such as Black Coucal, Swamp Flycatcher, Yellow-crowned Bishopand African Finfoot. Over-head we would be looking out for White-backed Vultures, Ruppell’s Griffon Vultures, Montagu’s Harriers and Marsh Harriers.
This village is much the same as many others passed through as we travel up-country, but it is worth a stop to see the large colonies of nesting Marabou and Yellow-billed Storks. Perched high in the tops of baobab, silk cotton and mango trees, they make quite a spectacle and afford some great photo opportunities.
Tendaba camp lies on the southern shore of the River Gambia, 150km from the coast. Its close proximity to both Kiang West National Park and Baobolong Wetland Reserve makes it a must for all birders and wildlife enthusiasts. Boat trips into the wetlands can produce many excellent birds like White-backed Night Heron, African Finfoot, Mouse-brown Sunbird, Senegal Parrot, African Spoonbill and Woolly-necked Stork. Other wildlife to be seen includes African Clawless Otter, West African Mudskipper, Nile Monitor and Western Red Colobus. There are other great nearby sites to visit too, and early morning walks to the airport and rice fields can reveal a wealth of birdlife such as Pearl-spotted Owlet, Tawny Eagle, Four-banded Sandgrouse, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Namaqua Dove, Stone Partridge, Grey-backed Camaroptera and Rufous-crowned Roller. The camp grounds themselves are even excellent for wildlife, with large groups of finches, weavers starlings and other birds coming to water holes and Agama Lizards scuttling around. At the end of a long day’s birding, one can enjoy a delicious buffet in the open air restaurant, whilst moths and hunting geckos are attracted to the lights.
JANJANBUREH TO BASSE
Boat trips in the Janjanbureh area can provide excellent views of Hippopotamus and Guinea Baboon, as well as a wide variety of bird life, such as Pel’s Fishing Owl, African Fish Eagle, Black-crowned Night Heron and Hamerkop. Evening exploration of woodland near the town should turn up African Scops Owl and Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. En-route to Basse, a stop at Bansang Quarry is a must for wonderful views of a colony of Red-throated Bee-eaters. Basse is The Gambia’s eastern-most main town and the last river crossing point before Senegal. The attractive waterfront is one of the best places in The Gambia to see Egyptian Plover, amongst many other species. It is also worth spending a short while exploring the town, especially the market, and one can look out for large groups of roosting Straw-coloured Fruits Bats in large trees around town.
Have you ever fancied bird watching on a desert island? If so, then Jinack Island with its mangroves, coastal lagoons, fresh water pools and extensive scrub is the place for you! Great for waders and many of the other coastal species, the island is also a hotspot for migrants and you never know what you might find whilst enjoying the remote beauty of the area. Jinack Lodge (www.jinacklodge.com) offers the best accommodation on the island, where you can stay overnight in a comfortable bungalow, or just visit for the day.
ALBREDA AND JUFFUREH
When travelling along the north bank, these two villages lie so close to each other that it’s difficult for a visitor to tell where one ends and the other begins. Albreda is famous for its old trading post and slave factory. Juffureh is the place where Kunta Kinteh, a forebear of the American author Alex Haley, was taken as a slave around two hundred years ago. Both of these villages have very good bird watching sites and they are also the stepping-off point for visiting James Island. The variety of habitats and the historical importance both make this area well worth a visit.
This is a large area on the north bank of the River Gambia, between Farafenni and Kaur. The habitat is similar to that of the dry Sahel of northern Senegal. Extensive farms have been cleared around the villages, where crops such as ground-nut, sorghum and millet are grown; and trees like bush mango, acacias, mahogany, ironwood and silk cotton have been retained. Quarries in the area retain water during the dry season. This habitat creates a home for species like White-bellied, Black-bellied and Savile’s Bustards, Temminck’s Courser, Singing Bush Lark, Desert Cisticola, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill and many species of raptor.
NIOKOLO KOBA NATIONAL PARK
Niokolo Koba National Park in south-east Senegal is the premier site in the region for large mammals and rare birds. It is over 9,000 km2 (almost the size of The Gambia) of uninterrupted wilderness and has been designated a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve, reflecting its global importance. This little visited park is the highlight of our two week trip up-river and if you enjoy birds and other wildlife, this park is a must. Over 330 bird species have been recorded in the park, including impressive species such as Arabian Bustard and Black Crowned Crane. The 80 mammal species include Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Waterbuck and Chimpanzee; and a vast array of other wildlife includes many amphibians, reptiles and fish.