Gambia 24 March
Having heard all about some friend’s recent trips to The Gambia and the earliness of the Easter holidays, we decided to make some last minute arrangements to spend a week there. I managed to find a package run by Thomas Cook at the Senegambia Hotel through Co-operative Travel for Monday 24th – 31st March. The hotel comes highly recommended as the place for birders to stay; I concur. The standard of the hotel is pretty standard but definitely one of the better ones in the country.
The next challenge was to gen up on what we were likely to see. Getting trip reports from late March was impossible – everyone goes between October and January, with a few into February. The weather at that time of year was set to be hot and sunny with no rain but at least the humidity wouldn’t be too bad. I got the name of a guide from our friends and contacted him via e-mail. I was surprised that he was available but when we got there we realised just how few birders there were at that time of year. We booked his services for the duration of our stay.
The flight from Manchester took 6 ¾ hours: the transition from freezing temperatures in Blackburn to the dry heat of The Gambia was startling! We’d got a little money changed before we got there (D100 notes) for the taxi ride to the Hotel (D500 + tips). I advise you keep hold of your bags as there will be a myriad of porters trying to take them from you so that they can wheel them to the taxi – they expect a £1 tip as you won’t have any small notes – we had three try to ‘help’. Having said that, they were all very friendly. The ride to the hotel took about 15 minutes and was smooth (I told the driver he would only get a tip if we had a smooth journey).
We started to see many of he birds that would become rather familiar to us over the next few days: Black Kites, Hooded Vultures, Pied Crows were all immediately obvious along with the doves perched everywhere (later determined to be Red-eyed and Laughing). Piapiacs also put in an appearance and a distant raptor was almost certainly a Black-winged Kite.
At the hotel we were immediately pounced upon by more porters. We checked in and were taken to our garden room (Drongo21) through the magnificent gardens that were full of bird song even at 2:30 in the afternoon. We freshened up (quickly), unpacked the bins and guide books and set off to find the bar and somewhere to watch birds and get familiar with the commoner ones.
The hotel grounds are full of birds. We saw some 54 species from the grounds of the hotel during our stay and that was mainly down to a few minutes in the morning or late in the day. Red-eyed Doves and Laughing Doves abound as do the noisy flocks of Village Weavers. A flock of Bronze Manikins fed in the tree outside our balcony. We ordered some much needed refreshment and settled down to watch the almost tame Cattle Egrets and Hooded Vultures as they came down to drink from the numerous leaky taps. Next to the bar area there was a quiet patch of vegetation with no passing tourists. Here we saw our first male Beautiful Sunbird in song sat next to a Broad-billed Roller. Brown Babblers picked up scraps from around the tables and the racket in the nearby thicket was caused by two Black-capped Babblers and our first Senegal Coucal.
Further round we met the specialities of the gardens; White-crowned Robin Chat (up to two daily) and Yellow-crowned Gonolek. Grey plantain Eater and Red-billed Hornbill were next along with African Thrushes and the ubiquitous Common Bulbul. Green Wood-hoopoes called from the palms.
We needed a bit of a rest so having had an initial burst of adrenalin and we got ready to meet Tijan, our guide to arrange our next few days.