Tuesday 1 January 2013

Gambia again - a week in the sun

Yes, I know I went to the Gambia last year but this year Lynne came with me. It was just a week and we agreed that I would go birdwatching in the morning and Lynne would read her Kindle on the beach and get a tan. It worked out something like that but with a few unexpected twists.

Kombo Beach hotel. We had a ground floor room.
 The journey out was uneventful. On Tuesday 20 November a 6-hour flight from Gatwick. There is no time difference so we arrived late afternoon and settled in in time for dinner, unpacked, did the crossword, put tripod and lens together ready for the morning. Realised I’d forgotten my hat so decided to get one at the local bazaar. The only hat I could get was too big, had no style and was very floppy but it did, at least, keep the sun off. Don't laugh, now!

Not exactly 'a la mode' but it kept the sun off!
In fact, later, I realised it was a great advantage.
When we were accosted by children or locals they
largely ignored me because I looked so stupid!
After I bought the hat I was accosted by a bird guide, Ebou Barry, who wanted me to go on a trip with him. I agreed to go on Thursday to Abuko.

Senegal coucal

On Wednesday morning I set off to go round the Kotu Bridge, the paddyfields at the back leading on to the sewage ponds! It was hot and I re-acquainted myself with many familiar birds.

Wattled plover
Of note were the Senegal coucal, wattled plover, yellow-billed kite, squacco heron, Senegal thick-knee, green wood-hoopoe, hooded vulture and especially the ubiquitous but charismatic pied kingfishers.

Pied kingfisher, hovering
Long-tailed glossy starling
I wandered slowly round old haunts first visited on my Birdfinders trip last year. I was trying to get a shot of a subalpine warbler when I met this bird photographer with the same lens as I had (but he had better cameras). I got talking to him and after 10 minutes or so I realised he was Dave Williams, the author of a blog about a previous visit to the Gambia which I had read shortly before leaving England! What a small world!

Dave Williams, Claire and me
We agreed to do some visits together and I spent quite a lot of my birdwatching time with Dave during the week of our visit. Dave was there with his wife, Claire, for a whole month!

Red-billed hornbill
Malachite kingfisher
Grey kestrel with lizard prey
Shikra (L, similar to our sparrowhawk) being mobbed by a pied crow.
On Thursday Dave and I set off for Marakissa (having decided it would be better than Abuko). All went well until Ebou got stuck in soft sand when he took the wrong track towards Marakissa. He then tried to get out, spun the wheels and dug himself deeper into the sand. It took about 40 minutes to dig the car out. First we jacked up one drive wheel, filled in the hole with sand and stones. Then we did the same to the other wheel.

Me 'helping' jack up the wheels of Ebou Barry's car when he got stuck in the sand.
Eventually we got to Marakissa but it was quiet and Ebou didn’t seem very keen to find any birds for us. He knew the birds we did see but he had no recordings to attract others. The highlights were a long-crested eagle and a grey-headed bush-shrike.
Long-crested eagle

Grey-headed bush-shrike

As the morning wore on I started to feel queasy. At Marakissa I had diarrhoea. I drank tea and flat cola (flat cola seems to be the current 'cure' for bad stomach). After our visit to the reserve we got into the car and started back. I had travelled in the front on the way down. I told Dave I’d love to offer him the front seat, but the way I felt I needed to have access to an open window and the back window didn’t open!! Dave generously got in the back.  My prescience was accurate. No sooner had we reached the main road than I threw up violently, several times, even while we were going. This left me empty. I felt somewhat better but I still just wanted to go back to the hotel and lie down. Lynne bought me some local potion to make me feel better:

Lynne's heart was in the right place.
I had to decline her kind offer of medicinal beverages!

Black herons are the only birds
who shade themselves from the
sun with their wings while fishing
He's seen something interesting. Damn that sun!
That's better. Now I can see!
(greenshank in foreground)
I ate nothing until dinner the following day, but I was well enough to go out the next morning. Lynne had booked to go on an all-day trip on an army lorry to various places including a school and a village compound. She enjoyed it.
Schoolchildren on Lynne's visit.
Typical Gambian house. This isn't just
the bedroom; it's the whole house!
You can tell Lynne enjoyed the day trip. She looks so happy!
This was taken by one of the kids. It was supposed to be
Lynne with his friends but he was overzealous with the zoom!
Dave had arranged another trip with another Dave (Dave 2) in a taxi to Tanji, a local fishing village. Tanji was good. We had views of many gulls (grey-headed, lesser black-backed and kelp), bar-tailed godwits, sandwich, royal and Caspian terns but, unusually, no sanderlings!

Bar-tailed godwits. Dashing through the surf!
Western reef heron.
(Spur-winged plover in front, greenshank behind)
We then moved on to Tanji Bird Reserve where the highlight was a group of four-banded sandgrouse which kept flying 50-100 metres or so every time we flushed them. We spread out. Dave 2 was the main benefactor as Dave 1 and I flushed a group and they landed near him, allowing him to get amazing shots of one of them landing. When we flushed them again I did manage a reasonable shot but they were more distant and harder to lock onto. Nevertheless, sandgrouse are very difficult to see at the best of times so any sort of shot is an achievement!!

Four-banded sandgrouse
I felt slightly guilty that Dave 1 didn’t get a shot! Sorry Dave!

Brown babbler
The next day we stayed around the usual places. The highlight being some little bee-eaters which were quite tame and who all alighted on one reed stem, weighing it down.
Little bee-eaters
Here’s a picture of me taking their photo!:
Try and ignore that hat!
Lesser blue-eared glossy starling
On the last full day I went with Dave to see if the Medical Research Council would let us in to their compound as I had heard from someone on the plane that it was very good for birds. They wouldn’t let us in, so we went instead to the monkey sanctuary. We saw few monkeys and very few birds! This was surprising. Well, after that we went to the Senegambia Hotel, where Dave assured me I would be able to see nearby white-crowned robin-chats. He was absolutely right. There were two of them which came very close indeed. The only trouble was that they were too close, sometimes directly above our heads! Also they like dark places and the light is always poor. Therefore my photos are not the best.

White-crowned robin-chat
Blue-breasted kingfisher
And then it was time to go. After packing, I went to the stallholder who had sold me my hat and gave it back to him. He was at his Singer sewing machine making more stuff. He was quite pleased to have it back so he could sell it again.

Red-cheeked cordon- bleu (Yes, really. Cordon-bleu!)
The trip home was OK after we had checked in. However, I had left our tickets on the table of Africell at the airport on the way in when I wanted to buy a few Dalasi credit. The Gambia Experience, our tour operator, said it was no problem as they could do new tickets for £10 each. Trouble was we were eventually last in the queue and only then did they start writing them out! We ended up pretty well the last to be checked in and our nerves were getting frayed by then. After that everything was plane sailing (pun intended)! We took off early, met our taxi easily and we were home well before midnight to sleep in our own bed again. Aahh!