to Gambia with Sunbird 4

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: to Gambia with Sunbird 4
From: "Vader Willem Jan Marinus" <>
Date: Tue, 17 Feb 2009 21:04:55 +0100


Much of The Gambia is savannah-like bushland, with a number of scattered
large trees, of which the baobabs are the most impressive and also at
least two species of palms are very conspicuous. In still drier areas the
vegetation consists of scattered bushes with bare. scantily grass-covered
areas in between. In one such area, along the north road, we chased and
discovered Savile's Bustard, a rather smallish bustard with heavily
patterned wings. While searching for this specialty, we also came across
two further species that are characteristic for this type of almost
steppe-like vegetation: two Temminck's Coursers, 'looking down their
noses' in typical courser manner (I think it is the curved bill that
strengthens this impression), and a pair of Spotted Thick-knees, easily
recognized as different from the so common Senegal Thick-knees by the
absence of any wingbars. An African Hawk Eagle soared high overhead.

Some miles before this area we had come across a place where there were
even more  (and larger) vultures in the trees than usual. It turned out
there was a dead donkey here, and some 30-40 vultures were feasting and
squabbling, with the typical high-stepping vulture threats much to the
fore. Most were White-backed Vultures, but there were also at least 10
Rüppell's Vultures, while we saw a few European Griffons in nearby trees.
As usual, once you have stopped for one sort of bird, you gradually find
also others , and so it was here too. Not only were here the usual
suspects, such as Red-billed Hornbills and W. Grey Plantain-eaters, but
here were also colourful and long-tailed Pygmy Sunbirds in the trees, as
well as perky Grey-backed Camaropteras and dainty Senegal Eremomelas, and
later we also discovered Bruce's Green Pigeon, with its grey head and
breast. Among the many swifts and swallows overhead a few were still
faster than the others, and they turned out to be Mottled Spinetails,
again a new bird for me (At the end of the trip I would have as many as
76!). A small flock of Chestnut-bellied Starlings  remained the only ones
of the entire trip.

In the coastal areas we walked through several savannah-like
'dunes'---not real dunes, I think, but the loose sand and the small hills
gave that impression at first sight--, and here there were also lots of
birds: several different bee-eaters, among which the Swallow-tailed
Bee-eater is maybe the most spectacular (Although the European Bee-eater
can hold its own quite well even here), my favourite Yellow-crowned
Gonoleks, coucals, various sunbirds, one more colourful than the next, the
droll White Helmet-Shrikes with their floppy crests, and always weavers,
mostly Village Weavers, and Long-tailed Starlings. The crow of the
Double-spurred Francolin was often heard, and now and then we saw one of
these birds run or fly away. And through very adroit playing of their
sound James and Solomon succeeded in luring the wonderfully dapper dark
Stone Partridges, like small bantam hens, to cross one of the wide sandy
trails, so that we could watch this skulker in detail. With the help of a
local farmer, Abdullah, who had sought for  us for hours that morning, we
also could watch a roosting Greyish Eagle Owl, well hidden in the crown of
a palm tree; and on the way back Abdullah once more showed his uncanny
talent by spotting a Barn Owl, that was even better hidden in another palm

In another place we visited some fields that for some reason or another
were walled, and here we had the chance to see a lot of different birds
again: two Cisticolas, the somewhat Sylvia-like Red-winged Warbler , the
dainty White-fronted Black Chat, Black-crowned Tchagras, and also a number
of northern species, a Common Redstart, Scruffy-looking Whinchats, a
Northern Wheatear, a Blackcap, and a few Common Whitethroats. A bare tree
was very thoroughly examined by a pair of the small Brown-backed
Woodpeckers, and there were also Grey Woodpeckers around, as well as a
European Hoopoe.

In a few places there are still remnants of denser and wetter forest left.
The Abuko forest, apparently in private hands, although there is also a
field station there, is maybe the most famous, and here one finds at once
a suite of different birds, that are rare outside these forests. We saw
the rare Ahanti Francolin (usually only heard) and many of the other
specialties of this area, such as the Small Greenbul (a rather forgettable
bird, although noisy), the beautiful and large Yellow-throated Leaflove
(Where do they find these names??), and the skulking Grey-headed
Bristlebill, all three in the bulbul family. We also saw, and I came to
love, the beautiful and quiet Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat (a bird that comes
quite close, if one only sits still), the very typical-thrush-like African
Thrush, the dapper Common Wattle-eye with its pleasant whistle, and the
utterly skulking Western Bluebill, an estrildid finch decked in stark
black and crimson. There were different woodpeckers here (Fine-spotted and
Buff-spotted) and different hornbills (African Grey and ditto Pied), there
were Palm Vultures in the tall palms, and we found a baby White-faced Owl,
apparently fallen out of the nest, which we took to the field station,
lest the monkeys got hold of it. Very spectacular birds here were the
Green Turaco, only seen here, and the still more spectacular Violet
Turaco, fortunately still present many places.

 During one of the last days we visted the Farasatu and Pirang forests,
also in the coastal areas, and here we added a few more woodland birds:
the enigmatic Yellowbill, a cuckoo of tangled vegetation, the
Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike (all these  bush-shrikes are singularly
beautiful), finally the Yellow White-eyes, and  also the northern
Puffback,which we had heard a lot but not yet seen properly.

This gives a first glimpse, I hope, of all the wonderful and colourful
birds one can see without too much trouble on even a short visit to The
Gambia. These reports are far from complete, of course: I haven't talked
about the 6 Painted Snipe in the Lamin ricefields, nor about the most
impressive Abyssinian Ground Hornbill in the woodlands near Tendabe. As
earlier mentioned, i have a complete annotated list, with even the birds
others saw, but which I missed (quite a lot).

Many thanks to James Lidster, who was a very good leader, to Solomon and
Abdu  the local guides, and Aladdin the driver, and to all the
participants who made this a most enjoyable trip for me.

                                                      Wim Vader, Tromsø
                                                     9037 Tromsø, Norway

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