Gambia with Sunbird 3

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: Gambia with Sunbird 3
From: "Vader Willem Jan Marinus" <>
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2009 14:01:19 +0100

                                    TO GAMBIA WITH SUNBIRD 3. WETLANDS

We visited Gambia in the dry season, but we found a lot of wetlands
anyway; clearly the country is much less dry than e.g. Namibia which I
visited last autumn. These wetlands were of many different types, and as I
have written once before, my knowledge of the English language is
insufficient to give each type its proper name , I don't know exactly what
are pools, ponds, tarns, lakes, etc etc. Some were inside dense forest,
others in completely open terrain, some looked quite stable, while others
were slowly drying out. Some had substantial vegetation of reeds, Typha
and such, while others had muddy banks trampled by cows and no vegetation
at all. But there were lots of wetlands altogether, even if one excludes
all the tidal areas of mangrove and saltmarsh.

How strange then, that there are hardly any ducks in Gambia! Near our
hotel there were constantly smaller and larger flocks of White-faced
Whistling Ducks around, but we did not see very many of those elsewhere,
and of other 'ducks' we solely found a few Spur-winged Geese flying
overhead twice, two African Pygmy Goose in one wetland and a single female
Eurasian Wigeon (A great surprise, as it is not even in the  Barlow &
Wacher book) in another one. Nor were there any coots, and we saw only a
single Purple Swamphen, and at one place a few Moorhens. I do not know or
understand what makes Gambia unattractive for waterfowl, and would very
much appreciate to be enlightened on this point.

Just as in the mangroves, there were herons and egrets galore also in many
of the other wetlands, and we ended up with 14 different species, although
this included only a single Intermediate Egret. The most numerous wetland
herons (Cattle Egrets were ubiquitous) were Grey Heron and W. Reef Heron,
with Great White Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons and Squacco Herons
also quite common. Storks, on the other hand, we saw very few, besides the
Black Storks of the mangrove forest only a very few Yellow-billed Storks.
One place we saw a distant largish flock of spoonbills, but they were too
far away to make out the species.

If there were few waterfowl, there were lots of shorebirds, not very large
numbers, it is true , but a great diversity. Especially the large shallow
pool surrounded by cattle-trampled dried mud, near Kaur, was amazingly
productive (It also held the one wigeon). here there were lots of plovers
(Grey, Little Ringed, Ringed, and Kittlitz), sandpipers ( Ruff,
Greenshank, Wood, Common, Marsh,  and Curlew Sandpipers., and even a
phalarope). In addition, many Pratincoles hawked insects over the  muddy
shores, and the deeper parts held Black-winged Stilts (We had seen a
single Avocet earlier that day) and there were the usual Senegal
Thick-knees, Spur-winged and Wattled Plovers. At another, more vegetated
wetland, Whiskered Terns did the hawking, together with various swallow
species, and a flotilla of Pink-backed Pelicans flew overhead, while a few
smaller pools yielded Green Sandpipers. No wonder that this quite special
day, in which we took the morning ferry from Banjul to Barra, and drove
along the north road to Georgetown (now Janjanbura) yielded more than 160
bird species for that one day!

A very different type of wetland were the small lakes (ponds?) in the
forest, such as the one in Abuko, or the one in the Farasatu woodland,
where a pair if Giant Kingfishers nested. In Abuko, the brush along the
pond held many loafing Night Herons, and on shaded muddy bannks large
numbers of Senegal Thick-knees and a pair of Wattled Plovers loafed and
shared the area with Nile Crocodiles. Up in the trees sat Grey and
Black-headed Herons and African Darters, and on the shore W. Reef Herons,
Long-tailed Cormorants and a very busy pair of Hamerkops that constantly
collected nesting material.  Black crakes surried along the waterline, and
also Red-billed Firefinches clearly showed an affinity for the shoreline.
Also here there were Pied and even Giant Kingfishers, and we also had the
good fortune to watch a wonderfully close Pygmy Kingfisher, a bird i had
missed several times before. Pied-winged Swallows and African Palm Swifts
flew overhead, and a few times also the all dark Fanti Sawtail flashed
past. And it was also here I saw my first Chiffchaff of the year!

In the last issue I'll talk about the savannah brushland, and the few
remnants of denser forest.

                                                            Wim Vader,
Tromsø Museum
                                                            9037 Tromsø,

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