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Giant Kingfisher

Remarkably accessible and exotic, Gambia is a top destination for birds in the winter.


It is hardly surprising that Gambia is a popular winter destination for birdwatchers and general holiday-makers alike. Situated strategically on Africa's west coast, at this time of year this tiny country sees a sumptuous array of resident species joined by vast numbers of migrants from the north, (perhaps paralleling our own movements!). 

This week-long day holiday takes a leisurely look at some of the finest spots within this exotic country and within a short distance of our base are freshwater lagoons, estuaries, mangroves, savanna and ancient gallery forest. 

Not forgetting of course the lush garden of our top class hotel, in itself a wildlife magnet with dazzling sunbirds, striking gonoleks and prehistoric (but harmless) water monitors all around. 

Next date to be confirmed
8 days (7 nights)

Economy class flights, accommodation with private facilities, full board (breakfast, lunch, dinner), transport by private minibuses, tips and services of Wild Insights leaders.

Travel insurance and items of a personal nature such as drinks, laundry and phone calls.

Day 1. Depart Gatwick/Manchester/East Mids/Bristol a.m. Arrive Banjul p.m. Transfer to hotel and check-in. Time and light permitting we will have an introductory stroll around the gardens.

Day 2. Our first full day will focus on local sites starting with the verdant hotel gardens where many species of sunbirds, waxbills, mannikins and finches can be found. Exotic Yellow-crowned Gonoleks and White-crowned Robin-chats are very easily viewed here. Later we will aim for the Casino Cycle Track where the mixed habitat of coastal scrub with acacia, rice fields and oil palms attracts a wide range of birds including Blue-bellied Roller, Yellow-billed Shrike, Little Bee-eater, Red-billed Hornbill, Striped, Woodland, Giant and Pied Kingfishers, Lizard Buzzard, Gymnogene and Red-necked Falcon. Pearl-spotted Owlets are regularly found skulking in the oil palms and the golf course is a favoured spot for Black-headed Plover and White-faced Scops Owl. Kotu Stream is also a great spot for waders including Painted Snipe in the quieter parts. In the evening , as dusk sets in we will look for nightjars nearby.

Day 3. This morning we will visit Brufut Woods, a beautiful unspoilt place where Fanti Saw-wings glide around the trees, overlooked by the mighty Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. This is a good place for a range of forest species such as Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Little Greenbul, both Violet  and Green Turacos and Yellow-throated Leaflove. For the afternoon, just south along the coast, Tanji Bird Reserve provides a fine mix of open areas, scrub, woodland and coastal lagoon attracting a rich diversity of bird life. African Pygmy Kingfisher, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Black-crowned Tchagra and White-crowned Helmet Shrike are found amongst the scrub while the more mature forest attracts Northern Puffback and Violet Turaco. Along the shore, Common, Royal, Sandwich and Caspian Terns drift back and forth while Senegal Thick-knees patrol the lagoon edges.

Day 4. Today we travel a little further, to the beautiful riverside habitat of Marakissa. As well as the usual array of waders, kingfishers, raptors, shrikes and bee-eaters this is also a known site for various raptors including Grasshopper Buzzard, Tawny Eagle and African Hawk-eagle. The scrub and savannah of the Yundum area will be our destination for the afternoon. This area is very rich in birds including Yellow Penduline Tit, Scarlet-chested Sunbird,Temminck’s Courser, Wattled Plover, Black-crowned Tchagra, and a wide variety of raptors such as Black-winged Kite, Long-crested Eagle, Lizard Buzzard, Red-necked Falcon,  Lanner, plus, occasionally, Martial Eagle and White-headed Vulture.

Day 5.  Our destination today is Abuko, one of Gambia’s most famous reserves. Primeval gallery forest and shady pools provide a taste of what much of West Africa was once like and supports an extraordinary concentration of wildlife. Several specialities can be seen here including Hammerkop, Snowy-crowned Robin-chat, Palm-nut Vulture, Green and Violet Turacos and Western Bluebill. During the hotter part of the day, any small stream or puddle draws multitudes of birds to drink and bathe, particularly seed-eating mannikins weavers and waxbills plus the insectivorous African and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher and even visiting raptors such as Shikra and African Goshawk. Crocodiles bask on the lake edges where African Jacanas with unbelievably long toes pick their way amongst the lilies. Sectretive Sitatunga antelope quietly browse the forest edge, overseen by Red Colobus and Red Patas monkeys. Our final stop for the day will be Kotu Ponds (sewage works!) which is an excellent site for waders including Marsh and Wood Sandpipers, plus Black-winged Stilts.

Day 6. Today’s programme will start at Mandina Ba, a beautiful area of scrub and woodland intermixed with very non-intensive cultivation, a stone’s throw from the River Gambia. Grey-headed Bush-shrike can be found here along with Northern Puffback and Green-backed Eremomela. From there we move to the edge of the river and cross over to Baobab Island, a delightful spot packed with birds including Klass’s Cuckoo, Mottled Spinetail, Common Wattle-eye and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. A boat trip will give us the chance to experience the vastness of the River Gambia with its network of channels and mangroves. Following this we will then visit the Fabara Banta bushtrack, well known for its array of raptors including Lanner, Bateleur, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Grasshopper Buzzard and Wahlberg’s Eagle. Time permitting we will call off on the way back at Pirang for Black-crowned Cranes.

Day 7. For our last full day we will head for Bijilo Forest Park, one of the most substantial stands of Rhun Palm remaining in the area. Here we might encounter Black Flycatcher, African Grey  and Red-billed Hornbill, Palm Nut Vulture, Black-winged Kite, White-throated Bee-eater, Bearded and Viellot’s Barbets and one of the great vocal stars of the Gambia, the Oriole Warbler. The afternoon will take us to the tidal creeks and mudflats along the Atlantic, Old Cape and Bund Roads, haunt of every imaginable fishing bird from Black and Western Reef Egrets to Ospreys and Pink-backed Pelicans plus a wide array of waders.

Day 8. Our last morning will be spent locally, another chance to wander, at leisure, the bird-rich gardens and coastal scrub before regretfully heading back to the airport for our late afternoon flights home.

Louisa Thompson 0207 3864682