Gambia is the tiny country tucked away on the tropical west coast of Africa. Despite its small size—just over 190 miles long and little more than 30 wide—Gambia, with its many varied habitats, has become a favored haunt of birdwatchers from all over the world. It combines beach resort accommodations with day-trip access to superb sandy beaches, coastal lagoons, mangroves, dry forest, and most productive of all, Abuko Nature Reserve. We’ll visit all of these and also spend two nights up the Gambia River to look for Egyptian Plover. Whether you are seeking an introduction to birding in Africa or would just like to spend a relaxing bird-filled week somewhere warm, Gambia is the perfect destination.
Day 1: The tour starts with a flight from London to Banjul, from where we’ll transfer to our hotel on the Atlantic coast. If time allows, there will be a chance for some birding on the way. Kotu Creek is a great place to get our eyes trained to a different continent, and we should see Long-tailed Cormorant, Western Reef Heron, Senegal Thick-knee, Spur-winged and Yellow-wattled Lapwings, Pied Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, 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, especially at Abuko Reserve, whose well-marked paths lead through dense areas of forest to small pools where Hamerkop, Black-headed Heron, and Giant Kingfisher are all possible. The woodlands here can be very productive, and we’ll look for Buff-spotted Woodpecker, both Violet and Green Turacos, 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.
Gambia was top notch! It was such a pleasure being on this tour – it was completely stress free – and the birds were amazing. James Lidster and the local guides were a fantastic combination. John Oates, UK November 2011
A visit to the coastal savannah at Tanji should produce Vieillot’s and Bearded Barbets, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Black-crowned Tchagra, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Variable Sunbird, and Oriole Warbler, while Ospreys and Black-shouldered Kites regularly float overhead. Down on the beach the flocks of gulls and terns might contain a powerful Kelp Gull or two among the Grey-headed Gulls, or an equally impressive Caspian Tern dwarfing the nearby Royal and Sandwich Terns.
Nearby Brufut, Tujering, and Yundum have a different selection of species; the open habitat here is 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, and the woodland clearings are favored by Fanti Saw-wing. Raptors will be in evidence throughout the tour, and during these first few days we hope to see Lizard Buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawk, African Harrier-Hawk, and maybe a sleek Grey Kestrel or dashing Red-necked Falcon. Nights near Banjul.
Day 4: Today is essentially a bird-filled traveling day, and we’ll leave our hotel early to ensure that we catch one of the first ferries of the morning. Once on the north bank of the river, we’ll travel east by road and will soon see our first Northern Anteater Chats and Mottled Spinetails, and maybe even a Chestnut-bellied Starling. The open savannah of the north bank is brilliant for raptors, including African White-backed and Ruppell’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, Ruff, and White-faced Whistling Duck. After a quick lunch we’ll search for Savile’s Bustard—they’re never guaranteed, but just hearing their strange song in the intense African heat is a memorable experience. Abyssinian Roller is the most common representative of the family, and we might even chance upon a Northern Carmine Bee-eater or Yellow-billed Oxpecker. Before catching a ferry back to the south bank of the river, we’ll explore yet another wetland, famous for being the best site in the country for Egyptian Plover. This exquisite species is never common, but we hope to see several. Small scattered pools can act like magnets to passerines, and one such pool often provides us with excellent views of Exclamatory Paradise Whydah, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Yellow-fronted Canary, and Bush Petronia. Depending on ferry times, we’ll arrive at our accommodations in time for a late dinner. Night at Tendaba Camp.
Day 5: Today we’ll take to the water to explore secluded creeks. Drifting quietly among the mangroves, we may chance upon the much-desired African Finfoot, White-backed Night Heron, or African Blue Flycatcher. These species all require a great deal of luck, but there will be plenty of other birds to enjoy while we look—maybe a stately African Fish Eagle sitting on an exposed branch, or 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 specialty of the mangroves is Mouse-brown Sunbird, a rather drab species, especially compared with the Scarlet-chested, Splendid, and Pygmy Sunbirds that we should have seen by now. Kingfishers abound, as do shorebirds such as Eurasian Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, and Common Greenshank, and several species of dove, namely African Mourning, Red-eyed, Laughing, and Vinaceous.
We’ll return to the camp for lunch and maybe a siesta before exploring the nearby dry savannah. Notable birds in this area include White-shouldered Black Tit, Black Scimitarbill, African Yellow White-eye, Senegal Batis, Brubru, and maybe an Abyssinian Ground Hornbill. As the evening approaches, we may chance upon Four-banded Sandgrouse, and once it is dark, African Scops Owl, Spotted Thick-knee, and perhaps a Long-tailed or Standard-winged Nightjar. Night at Tendaba Camp.
Day 6: After a leisurely breakfast we’ll start our bumpy journey toward the coast, stopping en route for new birds, which could include a massive Martial Eagle or African Hawk Eagle, the poorly named Brown-rumped Bunting, Black-winged Red Bishop, 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 possibly producing Stone Partridge or a roosting Greyish Eagle Owl. Night near Banjul.
Day 7: Our final full day of birding will be flexible, depending on which species we haven’t yet seen, but we usually make a visit to Pirang Forest. This is one of the best sites in the country for Green Turaco, Yellowbill, Green Crombec, and Green Hylia, as well as more chances for paradise flycatchers, wattle-eyes, and Little Greenbul. 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. Night near Banjul.
Day 8: There will be chance for some final birding close to our hotel in the morning before we catch a flight back to London, where the tour concludes.