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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Gambia

Friday 4 December to Friday 11 December 2020
with Paul French and a local leader

Price Pending

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The dazzling Egyptian Plover is one of Gambia’s prizes. Photo: James Lidster

The tiny country of The Gambia is tucked away on the tropical west coast of Africa. Despite its small size—just over 190 miles long and little more than thirty miles wide—The Gambia has become a favored haunt for birdwatchers from all over the world because its comfortable beach hotels that are designed for people escaping winter’s gloom also give birdwatchers access to some superb habitats, many within a day’s journey of the coast. These habitats include sandy beaches, coastal lagoons, mangroves, dry forest, and a few relict, gallery-forest patches. Here we’ll encounter bird families endemic to the continent alongside more familiar European migrants. We’ll also spend three nights upriver to look for a variety of different species, including Egyptian Plover. Whether you are looking for an introduction to birding in Africa or just somewhere warm to spend a relaxed, bird-filled week, The Gambia is perfect.

Day 1: The tour begins with a flight from London, England, to Banjul, The Gambia. On the transfer to our hotel and if time allows, we’ll have a chance for some birding. Kotu Creek is a great place to get to know some of the more common birds, and we should see Long-tailed Cormorant, Western Reef Heron, Senegal Thick-knee, Spur-winged and Yellow-wattled Lapwings, Pied and Giant Kingfishers, Little Bee-eater, Piapiac, Wire-tailed Swallow, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, and maybe even Oriole Warbler. Night near Banjul.

Days 2-3: We’ll spend our first days birding close to our hotel. A remnant patch of gallery forest at Pirang is a great site for Green and Violet Turacos, Yellowbill, Green Crombec, Green Hylia, and Little Greenbul. The woodland here can be very productive, and we’ll spend a morning looking for Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Common Wattle-eye, Little Greenbul, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Grey-headed Bristlebill, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Blackcap and Brown Babblers, African Thrush, Collared Sunbird, and Western Bluebill. It’s also the only site for the skulking White-spotted Flufftail, and with patience and luck we may be able to coax one into the open. Owls are also a distinct possibility here, with the huge Verreaux’s Eagle Owl and the rather more diminutive Northern White-faced Owl both present. The nearby shrimp ponds are sadly now off limits to birders, but birding around the perimeter could produce Yellow-billed Stork, Northern Red Bishop, Quail-finch, and Crested Lark.  

A visit to the coastal savannah at Tanji is a must on any Gambian itinerary. Vieillot’s and Bearded Barbets, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Black-crowned Tchagra, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Variable Sunbird, and Oriole Warbler are regular while Black-shouldered Kites float overhead, and Ospreys transport their catch of the day torpedo-like to a favored perch. Down on the beach the flocks of gulls and terns should contain a hulking Kelp Gull or two among the Grey-headed Gulls or with luck a Lesser Crested Tern among the Royal and Sandwich Terns.

Nearby Brufut, Tujering, and Yundum each have a different selection of species. Their open habitats are ideal for striking Blue-bellied, Rufous-crowned, and Abyssinian Rollers, as well as small parties of Blue-cheeked, Little, and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters. Careful checking of the swallow flocks should reveal Wire-tailed and Pied-winged Swallows while woodland clearings are the preferred haunt of Fanti Saw-wing. Raptors will be in evidence throughout the tour, and during these first few days we hope to see Lizard Buzzard, African Harrier-Hawk, or maybe a sleek Grey Kestrel or a dashing Red-necked Falcon. Several sites now host dedicated drinking pools for birds which can be rewarding in the heat of the day. Every ”water bar” is different, but hordes of Black-rumped Waxbills can be present along with Yellow-fronted Canary, Cut-throat Finch, and Greater Blue-eared and Bronze-tailed Glossy Starlings, as well as scarcities such as Spotted Honeyguide and Green-headed Sunbird. Nights near Banjul.

Day 4: We’ll rise early to cross the mighty Gambia River from Banjul to Barra on one of the first ferries of the day and continue east to explore the open savannah of the north bank, marvelling at the marked differences in the bird life that are immediately apparent. We should soon be seeing our first White-rumped Seedeaters, Northern Anteater Chats, Mottled Spinetails, and maybe even Chestnut-bellied Starlings. The north bank is brilliant for raptors, including African White-backed and Rüppell’s Vultures, Grasshopper Buzzard and Lanner Falcon. Passing through wetlands and marshes, we should see Pink-backed and Great White Pelicans, Black Heron, Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns, White-breasted Cormorant, Collared Pratincole, and Ruff and White-faced Whistling Ducks. In contrast to the Banjul area, Abyssinian Roller is the most common representative of the roller family, and we might even chance upon Four-banded Sandgrouse, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, or Yellow-billed Oxpecker. Small scattered pools can act like magnets to passerines, and one such pool often provides us with great views of Gosling’s Bunting, Yellow-fronted Canary, and Bush Petronia. Arriving at our new and well-appointed camp, we’ll explore the surrounding area for species such as Savile’s Bustard, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, and Black-crowned Crane. Night at Morgan Kunda Lodge.

Day 5: We’ll have a full day to explore around camp. Our main target will be one of Africa’s most iconic birds, the incomparable Egyptian Plover. Not a plover and not found in Egypt, it is nonetheless one of the most elegant and striking denizens of the Sahelian rivers. A small wetland holds a couple of pairs of these, and other possibilities here include Black-headed Lapwing, the flamboyant Sahel Paradise Whydah, various weavers, Pygmy Sunbird, Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark, Rufous-chested Swallow, and the West African race of Red-rumped Swallows. Overhead, raptors should be much in evidence with Brown and Beaudoin’s Snake Eagles competing for the skies with Dark Chanting Goshawk and Wahlberg’s and Long-crested Eagles, and there is always the possibility of the huge Martial Eagle. Night at Morgan Kunda Lodge.

Day 6: We’ll take to the water to explore the secluded creeks of the Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve where, drifting quietly in our boats among the mangroves, we may chance upon the much-desired African Finfoot, White-backed Night Heron, or African Blue Flycatcher. To spot all of these species requires a great deal of luck, but there will be plenty of other birds to enjoy while we search—perhaps a stately African Fish Eagle sitting on an exposed branch, groups of African Darters drying their wings, or a selection of herons from Western Reef to Squacco and from the small Striated to the aptly named Goliath. Another speciality of the mangroves is the Mouse-brown Sunbird, a rather drab species, especially compared to the Scarlet-chested, Splendid, and Pygmy Sunbirds that we will hopefully have seen by now. Kingfishers abound, as do Eurasian Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, and Common Greenshank along with several species of dove, including African Mourning, Red-eyed, and Laughing and Vinaceous Doves. We’ll finish our boat trip by crossing the Gambia River and docking at the famous Tendaba Camp, where we’ll arrive in time for lunch and possibly a siesta before we explore the dry savannah nearby. Specialities in this area include White-shouldered Black Tit, Black Scimitarbill, African Yellow White-eye, Senegal Batis, Brubru and Abyssinian Ground Hornbill. As the evening approaches, we may chance upon Four-banded Sandgrouse and, once it’s dark, African Scops Owl and Spotted Thick-knee. Long-tailed and Standard-winged Nightjar are also possible. Night at Tendaba Camp. 

Day 7: After a leisurely breakfast, we’ll start our bumpy journey back towards the coast, stopping en route for new birds which could include African Hawk Eagle, the poorly named Brown-rumped Bunting, Black-winged Red Bishop, Yellow Penduline Tit, or a flock of White-crested Helmet Shrikes. If time allows, we may visit the Faraba Banta Bush Track, famed for its raptors and woodland species, as well as its possibly producing Stone Partridge or a roosting Greyish Eagle Owl. Night near Banjul. 

Day 8: Our final day should allow us some time for birding in the morning, so we’ll target any local species that may have eluded us so far, perhaps visiting Pirang forest again or the bush country at Brufut. We’ll then head back to the hotel to freshen up and check out, have lunch while looking out over the Atlantic, and then head to the airport and our flight back to London where the tour concludes.

Created: 18 February 2019

Prices

  • 2020 Tour Price Not Yet Available
  • (2019 Tour Price $3250)

Notes

This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.

Questions? The Tour Manager for this tour is Erin Olmstead. Call 1-866-547-9868 or 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size 10 with two leaders.

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