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From: "Vader Willem Jan Marinus" <>
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2009 12:08:27 +0100

                                          TO GAMBIA WITH SUNBIRD 2. COAST

Our hotel was practically on the beach and from the terrace we looked out
at  a mangrove creek and further left the sandy beach. There were always
lots of gulls on that beach, here mostly Grey-headed Gulls, calling very
much like our Black-headed Gulls, but with grey hoods instead of dark
chocolate brown. These gulls were in all transitions from complete winter
plumage to immaculate summer finery. On the creek mouth there were nearly
always a flock of loafing Senegal Thick-knees (we would find that this is
the case many places in Gambia) and some shorebirds: a few Ringed Plovers,
a despondent looking Grey Plover, a Greenshank or two, usually also a
Whimbrel, and always several Common Sandpipers, that seemingly preferred
the mangrove mud to the beach sand. Along the mangrove creek there were
also always herons: Grey, Black-headed, W. Reef, and Little and Great
Egrets, and often a few Black-winged Stilts, while Pied Kingfishers
hovered overhead and plunged for fish. The marshy areas a few yards inland
held large flocks of White-faced Whistling Ducks, and usually also a few
Black Egrets and Sacred Ibises, and often a Wood Sandpiper.

But all this was nothing compared to the wide sandy beaches at Tanjil,
where the main occupation of the villagers, fish-smoking, no doubt was
partly responsible for the large numbers of gulls here; but clearly this
also was an established roost, where, in addition to the Grey-headed
Gulls, also large numbers of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and smaller numbers
of Kelp Gulls and immaculate Slender-billed Gulls loafed. Patient scanning
showed that that was not all: there was also at least one Yellow-legged
Gull present  and a small group of Audouin's Gulls, while tern roosts
included Caspian, Royal and Sandwich Terns. Flocks of Sanderlings sprinted
along the shoreline, and there were also many Turnstones and Ringed
Plovers, and even a few Barred Godwits and European Oystercatchers,
besides the usual Greenshanks and Whimbrels, and surprisingly many Grey
Herons, totallly outnumbering the reef herons here. While the more
intrepid birders scanned the sea and discovered a few Arctic Skuas and
even three Gannets, I searched the tidelines--once a marine biologist,
always a marine biologist! Lots of different bivalves here---the Arca
blood cockles are clearly collected for consumption--, but few snails. And
very funny small sand dollars, with a fringe of excrescences, the like of
which I had never seen before---a few even survived the journey back to

On the way to this beach we had to traverse a belt of bushland, where
Brown and Black-capped Babblers larmed, and where I had my first views of
the bird that would become my trip favourite, the  bushshrike
Yellow-crowned Gonolek, a symphony in black, crimson and yellow. In
addition, this is an inveterate skulker, that one hears all the time (the
pair duets very skilfully), but for a long time does not see at all. And
then suddenly curiosity overcomes the birds and they show themselves in
the open on top of a bush for a short time, before completely dropping out
of sight again. Close to the shore, to my surprise I heard Nightingales
scold and even sing short bits of their enormous repertoire, and the
foreshore also held Crested Larks and (elsewhere) Woodchat Shrikes.

The Gambia river is tidal over much of its length in Gambia, and therefore
often fringed with mangrove, at some places forming a veritable mangrove
forest. One morning, at Tendabe, we had the opportunity to explore these
mangrove areas in a small boat for four hours or so, and this yielded i.a.
very good photo opportunities (not for me, unfortunately, I seem to have
developed a photo block).
These mangrove creeks are the realm of the  many species of herons and
egrets, with here Western Reef Herons the most numerous of all; but we
also found two pairs of the strange, large-eyed and somehow
prehistoric-looking White-backed Night Herons, and a shy Goliath Heron,
constantly disappearing 'around the corner'.

The other dominant birds here were African Darters, with up to 10 in one
tree, and Long-tailed Cormorants, while also the strange Hamerkops were
regularly seen. The most common shorebirds were also here Whimbrels (very
good crabcatchers!), Greenshanks and Common Sandpipers. Three soaring
Black Storks overhead were a big surprise , as this is by no means a
common  bird in Gambia. Yellow-billed Kites were common here, as were W.
Marsh Harriers, and we also saw some snake eagles overhead.

Of land birds, pairs of Senegal Coucals  and Red-billed Hornbills occurred
quite regularly, as they do most places in Gambia, and this was also a
good area for kingfishers, especially Pied Kingfishers, but also the
jewel-like Malachite Kingfishers, and the pale blue Blue-breasted
Kingfisher, a new bird for me. And there were surprisingly many
bee-eaters, with a quite large and loose flock of White-throated
Bee-eaters the greatest surprise  (there were also Blue-cheeked bee-eaters
here). Smaller birds were often difficult to see in the dense mangrove
trees, and I missed i.a. the beautiful African Blue Flycatcher and the
puffbacks that we heard regularly. But a small and indeed 'mousy'
Mouse-brown Sunbird posed willingly near its nest in an isolated branch
sticking out of the water.

On our return to the lodge on the other bank of the river a flock
Turnstones foraged on the mud, Little Swifts clearly nested under piers
along the water's edge, and in the trees at the hotel we found various
estrildid finches and sunbirds, as well as the ubiquitous doves and

 As mentioned before , I have an (sparsely) annotated bird list from the

Vader, Tromsø Museum
Tromsø, Norway

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