25th March – Abuko/Cycle track/Kotu.

I was up before dawn – a bit pointless really, I could have waited for the Gambian alarm clocks (Bulbuls) that started up their “quick doctor quick” song about 10 minutes before it was light enough to attempt to see anything. I headed for the beach and saw my first Grey-headed Gulls, Caspian and Royal Terns and Speckled Pigeon. Palm Swifts flew overhead and a Yellow-billed Shrike showed for me on the way back to my room.

Tijan was waiting for us at 8am to take us to Abuko for a morning’s birding. En route we saw a few Blue-bellied Rollers on the roadside wires and White-billed Buffalo Weavers around a couple of colonies with their huge nests. We paid our D35 entrance fee and entered the forest. The first bird we saw was one of those that Bernie really wanted to see – Giant Kingfisher, a female sat right out in the open over a rapidly drying pool. It wasn’t far to the field centre and a magnificent view over the Crocodile Pool (of which there were several). 

Almost immediately, Bern was in raptures as a Pied Kingfisher came in and sat on the brach right outside the viewing platform. We also had several Darters, Grey Hornbill, Jacana, Squacco, Night and Grey Herons. A Shikra sat in a tree on the opposite side of the pool and Little Greenbuls were calling. Senegal Parrots flew over and Black-necked Weavers were nesting close by. We left the area, reluctantly and headed deeper into the forest – there were several Black-billed Wood-doves, Common Wattle-eyes and Yellow-throated Leafloves, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Violet and Green Turacos, Bearded Barbet, African Paradise Flycatcher, Palm-nut Vulture and a magnificent Western Bluebill. We could hear Green Hylias but couldn’t pin their canopy song-post.
As we left the forest the number of birds dropped but we added Splendid Sunbird and Swallow-tailed Bee-eater. We reached the ‘zoo’ that only has a few Spotted Hyenas and Baboons now, and got some much needed cool refreshment. We didn’t hang around and headed back to the pool where several different birds had appeared: single Hammerkop, Sacred Ibis, Black Heron, Black-headed Heron and Fanti Saw-wing and two Wattled Plovers.

We headed back to the hotel but asked Tijan to take us via the town of Serrekunda rather than the rather bland main route – fantastic. We started to get a feel for what the real Gambia was about – the colours, sights, sounds and smells are an experience as is the state of the ‘road’.
We spent a quiet couple of hours having a late lunch but adding Long-tailed Glossy Starling, Abyssinian Roller and Lavender Waxbill to the list.
We met up with Tijan at 4:30 to go up to Kotu. We parked by the Palma Riva hotel and made our way up the famed “Casino Cycle Track” towards Kotu. The fields were full of the commoner birds and a distant pool held a couple of Spur-winged Goose along with a Sacred Ibis. Spur-winged Plovers were noisily displaying. Another lily-strewn pool behind the Badala Park Hotel had lots of Jacana’s, at least 20 Wood Sandpipers, a Malachite Kingfisher and an Intermediate Egret. Then a mega – a Painted Snipe in the reeds.
Further along the track we came to the bridge at Kotu creek where we met the gang of bird guides. There were several Senegal Thick-knees on the mud-banks and Little Bee-eaters in the mangroves. As well as several waders, we saw the flock of around 120 White-faced Whistling Ducks, Our first Reef Herons and Red-chested Swallows.
At the end of a fantastic but fairly relaxed first day we’d notched up 100 species.

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