Monthly Archives: December 2019

19th & 20th Dec 2019 – Two Days of Winter Birding

A two day Private Tour in North Norfolk looking to catch up with some of our regular and scarcer winter visitors. We were very lucky with the weather on Thursday, when it was dry with some unforecast dry intervals. On Friday, although we didn’t get anything like as bad as the Met Office yellow warning for heavy rain in the morning implied, it did drizzle on and off and ironically got slightly worse into the afternoon. It didn’t stop us though, and we got out and saw some great birds on both days.

We met this morning at Titchwell. The walk from the car park was fairly quiet but a large flock of Goldfinches flew over as we got to the Visitor Centre. We decided to head straight out down the main path, but scanning the ditches failed to produce a Water Rail. As we got out of the trees, a Water Pipit flew over calling and dropped down on to the former pool out on Thornham grazing marsh. We had a quick scan from further up, but there is too much vegetation on here now, and it had disappeared out of view.

A Marsh Harrier was circling out over the reedbed the other side, a female, so we stopped to watch it. Another was perched in the dead trees at the back and a third, this time a male, drifted over towards the path. We got a good look at it, a rather dark male, with patchy grey in the outerwing. A Cetti’s Warbler called from somewhere deep in the reeds and a second bird was singing half-heartedly a little further along.

Marsh Harrier

Marsh Harrier – a darker male, circled over the reedbed

A flock of Lapwings came in high over the saltmarsh and a short while later we spotted another small group coming high over the Freshmarsh. They were probably on the move, fresh arrivals from the continent coming in for the winter.

The water level on the Freshmarsh is very high now, and there are next to no islands still exposed. At least the wildfowl seem to appreciate it – there were quite a few ducks, including lots of Teal. We stopped to admire some of the smart drakes, in their finest breeding plumage now, with bright green and chestnut heads and creamy yellow patches under their tails. Several small groups of Brent Geese flew in from where they had been feeding, out on the saltmarsh.

Brent Goose

Brent Goose – several small flocks flew in from the saltmarsh

The weather was surprisingly good, much better than forecast, with some bright patches in the sky, so we decided to head straight out towards the beach first. We had just walked over the bank towards the Volunteer March, when we heard a Water Pipit calling behind us. We turned to see it circle round and drop down in the near corner of the Freshmarsh.

So we walked back over the bank, and found the Water Pipit feeding on the flotsam on the edge of the water, just below the Parrinder Bank. We had a great look at it through the scope, very clean white below with well-marked black streaks, and a clean white supercilium. Very different from the more familiar and rather swarthy Rock Pipit, two of which flew over the saltmarsh the other side, calling.

Water Pipit

Water Pipit – feeding on the flotsam on the edge of the Freshmarsh

Even though the tide was in, it was not a particularly big tide today and there was still a good selection of waders on the Volunteer Marsh. There were one or two Common Redshanks in the channel below the main path and more birds at the far end, where the channel turns and heads away from the path.

We stopped to admire a smart Grey Plover in the scope. A couple of Knot were feeding nearby and a Dunlin flew in to join them, giving us a nice comparison of the three species side by side. Looking down the sides of the muddy channel, we could see one or two Curlew and more Redshank. Several more Knot were feeding in the taller vegetation out in the middle of the marsh, making them very hard to see.

Grey Plover

Grey Plover – one of several waders feeding on the mud on Volunteer Marsh

The Tidal Pool is now tidal again, with lots of exposed mud and islands, which means it is now a lot more productive. There was a nice selection of waders on here today. First up, we found a small roosting group of shanks – two Greenshanks, slightly larger and paler, very white below, together with two Spotted Redshanks. The latter were asleep, so we couldn’t get a look at their bills, but we could see the extensive white spotting on the wings and upperparts.

There were several Bar-tailed Godwits feeding on the small islands – and it was good to get a proper look at them through the scope. The spit at the back was packed with Knot and more sleeping Bar-tailed Godwits, and a mob of Oystercatchers were roosting on the island nearby.

A single Red-breasted Merganser was diving out in the middle of the water, unusual to see on here, amongst the several Pintails which were busy upending. We got the scope on the Pintails for a closer look – the drakes looking very smart now, in full breeding plumage, with their long, pin-like tails. There are more Little Grebes on here too now, including one which had climbed out onto one of the islands for a preen.

Little Grebe

Little Grebe – one of several on the Tidal Pools, not often seen out of the water

Continuing on to the beach, the tide was in. Apparently a couple of trawlers had just gone through and flushed most of the ducks. Those that were still here were a long way out. Scanning carefully,  we found four drake Long-tailed Ducks, but they were very distant, and we could only see them when they flapped. There were lots more Red-breasted Merganser on the sea, off towards Scolt, including some smart drakes. And several Great Crested Grebes.

A Goldeneye flew in from the east. While we were watching it, another drake Long-tailed Duck flew past the other way, coming in from the direction of Thornham Point. The Goldeneye turned to follow it, and they both flew past us close inshore. It was a much better look at the Long-tailed Duck than the ones on the sea in the distance. As it flew past beyond the concrete blocks it looked for a second like it might land, but then it turned and flew back out towards the windfarm.

On our way back, we called in to Parrinder Hide. All the ducks were getting spooked by Marsh Harriers flying over the bank, so there were none close to the hide now. We did see more Water Pipits – probably at least two now. And there were several Lapwings on the one island which remains out above the water. Continuing on, we stopped by Island Hide to watch a pair of Reed Buntings which were feeding on the path. They flew up into the trees and perched there, flicking their tails and flashing their white outer tail feathers.

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting – feeding on the path to Island Hide

When we got back to the tree, there seemed to be lots of birds feeding along the path. There were several Chaffinches on the ground and tits in the bushes beside the path. As we stopped to look, someone called us over to say they had found one of the Water Rails down in the ditch. It was busy feeding, digging around in the wet leaves, and well hidden under the tangles of branches. There was a Chiffchaff in the bushes here too, and as we got back almost to the Visitor Centre, we stopped to watch a Goldcrest flitting around right beside us.

Water Rail

Water Rail – feeding under the tangle of branches in the ditch

We had a break for lunch today – back at the Jolly Sailors in Brancaster Staithe. Afterwards, we drove further east along the coast to Warham.

It was fairly quiet as we walked up along the track. There were a few Blackbirds which flew out of the hedge ahead of us, and a Kestrel perched on the corner of the old barn. As we got to the end, a flock of Long-tailed Tits was working its way through the tops of the trees, and several Yellowhammers flew over calling.

We could hear the unmistakable sound of Pink-footed Geese approaching, and looked up to see several skeins flying in overhead from the fields. We watched them head out across the saltmarsh and drop down to roost on the flats beyond. From out on the coastal path, we could see a long line of Pink-footed Geese on the mud in the distance.

There were three Marsh Harriers way out over the beach when we arrived. Thankfully it wasn’t long before a Hen Harrier appeared too, a very smart grey male. It was a bit closer too, hunting back and forth over the back of the saltmarsh. We had a good view of it in the scope. Otherwise, there were several Little Egrets and Curlews out on the saltmarsh, plus a small group of Golden Plover and a well camouflaged Brown Hare.

We had a brief glimpse of a Merlin, too quick for everyone to get onto as it disappeared straight into some bushes. While we were scanning to see if we could find it again, what was presumably the same male Hen Harrier appeared, further over now, close to where the Merlin had been, but it too dropped down out of view.

Eventually the Merlin came out again, and we watched as it flew across fast and low over the saltmarsh. It was about to land on the top of a bush, but suddenly set off again instead, in pursuit of small group of Meadow Pipits. The Merlin chased one of the pipits higher and higher into the sky, both of them circling round and round. Then the Meadow Pipit dropped down vertically, with the Merlin in pursuit, before the two of them towered up again.

For a minute or so, the Merlin and the Meadow Pipit twisted and turned, up and down. Then suddenly the male Hen Harrier appeared below them, and as we watched it came up and grabbed the Meadow Pipit which the Merlin was chasing. Amazing! The Hen Harrier dropped down into the bushes with its prey and the Merlin disappeared off too, with nothing to show for its efforts.

It was a great display. The light was starting to go now, so we decided it was time to head for home.

We met again the following morning in Wells. The weather was not great – it was drizzling steadily – but at least there was no sign of the threatened yellow weather warning for heavy rain that the Met Office had belatedly decided we were going to get. At least they are reliably wrong with their forecasts!

We made our way down to the edge of the town, and pulled up in a gateway overlooking some fields. There were lots of Golden Plover huddled next to a flood in one of the fields, looking convincingly like clods of earth on first glance, and more Lapwings in another ploughed field beyond. A male Marsh Harrier came slowly past, hunting, and a rather dark Common Buzzard was perched on a post further back.

Scanning further across, we quickly found the Rough-legged Buzzard we had come to see, perched on the top of a bush back towards the car park. We had a quick look through the scope from here, just in case it decided to fly off. It was back on to us, but we could see its very pale head and just make out the white base to the tail visible between its folded wings. Then we drove round to the car park for a closer look.

From the edge of the car park, we got the Rough-legged Buzzard in the scope. It was a great view from here – we could see the distinctive blackish belly patch, contrasting with the pale head. Then it took off, flashing its black carpal patches, and flew round the back of the bushes out of sight.

Rough-legged Buzzard

Rough-legged Buzzard – the juvenile at Wells showed very well in the rain

We had been talking earlier about winter thrushes, so when we heard a Fieldfare call, we walked over towards the football pitch to see if we could find it. There was no sign of it at first, just a few Brent Geese flying round, then two thrushes flew up and landed on top of a tree at the back of the pitch. One was smaller than the other, a Redwing and Fieldfare side by side, a good comparison in the scope. We had also hoped we might find the Rough-legged Buzzard hunting round this side but we couldn’t see it from here.

Walking back round to where we had seen it earlier, we found the Rough-legged Buzzard back on the same bushes. We couldn’t resist another look through the scope, and we watched as it regurgitated a pellet, the indigestible remains of what it had been eating.

We could hear a Mistle Thrush singing behind us, so we turned to see two distantly on the wires over towards the town. A Meadow Pipit flew up and landed on some wires too, this time a bit closer. There were several Chaffinches in the hedge, and a Greenfinch landed in the top of a taller tree, where we could hear it calling. Eventually the Rough-legged Buzzard took off again and flew round out of sight once more, so we decided to move on.

Our next stop was round at Holkham. As we drove up along Lady Anne’s Drive, we stopped to admire a covey of Grey Partridge right next to the fence. They were rather damp, but it was a good view of them from the minibus.

Grey Partridge

Grey Partridge – one of two coveys by Lady Anne’s Drive

We parked at the top of the Drive. After all the recent rain, there is a lot of water on the grazing marshes now. There were lots of Wigeon feeding out on the grass, with a few Teal, Shoveler and Mallard scattered round too. However, all we could find was just one distant Pink-footed Goose, which we got in the scope. There were several Redshank and a few Curlew out on the wet grass too.

Wigeon

Wigeon – there were lots feeding on the flooded grazing marshes

As it was still just drizzling, still no sign of the forecast heavy rain, we decided to brave the weather and walk out onto the saltmarsh. As we walked down the boardwalk the other side of the pines, we spotted a large flock of Brent Geese out in the middle feeding. More Brent Geese flew over from behind us and dropped down to join them. We walked over for a closer look.

One of the geese on the front of the feeding flock stood out – it was a little darker than the others, with a slightly more obvious white flank patch and extensive white collar. It is a Black Brant hybrid, a regular returning bird which has been coming back to exactly the same spot with the same flock of Brent Geese each winter for several years. Looking through the flock more carefully, we found a Pale-bellied Brent Goose too. The vast majority of our wintering Brent Geese are Dark-bellied Brents, which breed up in Central Siberia. The Pale-bellied Brent immediately stood out, with its much paler flanks and belly. A very interesting and instructive flock of geese!

Black Brant hybrid

Black Brant hybrid – with the regular flock of Dark-bellied Brents

We carried on along the path on the edge of the saltmarsh, out to the cordon. There was no sign of any Shorelarks here today, but it was quite wet, with lots of standing water. There are also only five so far this winter and they have been very mobile. We did find a nice flock of Snow Buntings though, feeding on the edge of the saltmarsh at the far end of the cordon. They were surprisingly hard to see until they flew up, flashing the white in their wings. There were about 50 Snow Buntings in total, some much paler than others, a mix of Scandinavian and Icelandic birds.

Continuing out onto the beach, we could see several Red-throated Divers just offshore, fishing just behind the breakers. We had some very good views of them in the scope – paler adults with their white faces and beady eyes, and a darker juvenile with duskier cheeks. We could see their distinctive upturned bills. A very pale, winter plumaged Great Crested Grebe was diving nearby.

Further out, we could see some very large rafts of Common Scoter, looking like long oily slicks until you looked through binoculars. A couple of Eider were out on the sea too, and several Red-breasted Mergansers including some smart spiky-haircutted drakes. Two distant Long-tailed Ducks flew across away to our left, but we lost sight of them round behind the dunes. Otherwise, there were surprisingly large numbers of Wigeon on the sea today, closer in, presumably having been flushed off the grazing marshes and sought the safety of the water out here.

We had planned to walk back along the beach, but it started to rain more heavily now so we decided to walk straight back to the minibus instead. It was already after midday by the time we got back (the forecast ironically had suggested the rain would ease in the afternoon!), so we drove round to Burnham Overy Staithe for lunch. On our way there, we could see large number of Pink-footed Geese in a potato field just beside the road, but there was nowhere to pull in for a closer look. It was nice to get in the warmth of The Hero and take the opportunity to dry out a little.

After lunch, we had a quick walk out along the seawall. The rain had eased off again, but it was still very grey and damp. The tide was in, and a single female Red-breasted Merganser was diving in the channel. A lone Common Scoter had walked up onto the shingle bank further back towards the dunes.

There had been Cattle Egrets out here still in the last couple of days, but there was no sign of any cattle now – they must have just been taken in. There were plenty of Little Egrets enjoying the many wet puddles in the fields.

There were lots more Wigeon out on the grazing marshes here. We had a nice view of a small group of Pink-footed Geese and Greylags together, feeding on the grass just below the bank. A good comparison and our best look at some Pinkfeet. A big flock of Brent Geese flew up from out on the saltmarsh over towards the dunes.

Pink-footed Geese

Pink-footed Geese – feeding on the grazing marsh with the Greylags

We stopped to scan from the corner of the seawall. There were about a dozen Barnacle Geese out here, very smart looking little geese, but most likely feral birds from Holkham. There were loads of waders out on the flooded grazing marsh too, Redshanks and Curlews, several little groups of diminutive Dunlin, lots of Lapwings, and a large flock of Golden Plover further out. It looked like it might be about to rain again, so we set off back to find the shelter of the minibus.

On our way back east, we stopped again at Holkham. There were not many geese feeding on the grazing marshes today – a few Greylags and a pair of Canada Geese with them. But scanning carefully, we eventually managed to find a small group of White-fronted Geese over at the back, in the mist. We could see their white fronts through the scope, when they lifted their heads.

We still had a small amount of time before we were due to finish, but we didn’t fancy venturing out in the rain again. We popped in for a quick look at the pools east of Wells, where we could have a scan from the bus. There was a single Little Egret out on one of the pools, but no sign of any other egrets here today. There was plenty of of water here, but it was rather quiet today. Something seemed to have been spooking the birds – the Teal were all in the grass and very flighty. The Lapwings were very jumpy too, and everything took off and flew round. Presumably a raptor had just been through.

It was time to call it a day now and head back to dry out properly. It had been a very enjoyable few days, despite the weather today, with a great selection of some of our finest winter birds.

26th Nov-3rd Dec 2019 – The Gambia, Part 4

…part 4 of the photos from our recent trip to The Gambia (ahead of a tour there in 2020), the final part of the week.

Day 6 – 1st December, afternoon

After our morning boat trip, we packed up and left Tendaba Camp late morning. After crossing the new Senegambia Bridge over the Gambia River, we stopped for lunch in an area of peanut fields. When an Abyssinian Ground Hornbill flew up out of the vegetation in the middle of the fields, we nearly spat out our sandwiches! We hurried over and found a family of 3 of them, hard birds to find here these days.

We made several more stops as we made our way further inland along the North Bank Road. We watched birds coming down to drink at a couple of waterholes. The marshes at Kaur failed to find out main target species, but did produce three Black-crowned Cranes instead, another difficult bird to catch up with here. Thankfully, we found two Egyptian Plovers a little further along at another site – a bird I have dreamed of seeing since I saw them in a book as a boy. Mission accomplished!

Our last stop was at a quarry, where we stood in the middle of clouds of Red-throated Bee-eaters visiting their nest holes as the sun started to drop. Magical! Then we drove on to Janjanbureh (Georgetown) for the night.

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill – wins the prize for the oddest looking bird of the trip!

White-rumped Seed-eater

White-rumped Seedeater – another surprise, in a tree by the road where we stopped for lunch

Red-billed Quelea

Red-billed Quelea – common, a serious agricultural pest, we saw one flock of several thousand

Sahel Paradise Whydah

Sahel Paradise Whydah – one of several we saw at the waterholes

Black-headed Lapwing

Black-headed Lapwing – we found a small flock at one waterhole

Black-crowned Crane

Black-crowned Crane – these three were at the marshes at Kaur, but very wary

Egyptian Plover

Egyptian Plover – the key target species upriver in The Gambia – Mission Accomplished!

Red-throated Bee-eater

Red-throated Bee-eater – we finished the day in a breeding colony with them all around us

Day 7 – 2nd December

In the morning, we took a boat from Georgetown along the Gambia River. The key target species here was African Finfoot – we were frustrated at the first creek by a tangle of fishing nets blocking the way, but eventually found one further downriver just as we got to the end of the second creek. There were several other good birds here to keep us interested though, while we were looking.

After the boat trip, we left Georgetown and headed over the bridge to the South Bank Road for the long drive back to the coast. We had several stops on the way, for raptors perched by the road and at a couple of small lilypad-covered wetlands. It was late afternoon by the time we got back to the Senegambia.

Oriole Warbler

Oriole Warbler – we had great views of a pair of this secretive species at a nest by the river

Grey-headed Kingfisher

Grey-headed Kingfisher – the commonest kingfisher along the river here

Palm Nut Vulture

Palm Nut Vulture – we saw several along the river, including this one which flew over the boat

African Fish Eagle

African Fish Eagle – we saw a couple in the trees on the bank of the river

Guinea Baboon

Guinea Baboon – we saw three species of primate on the boat trip this morning

African Finfoot

African Finfoot – we eventually found this young bird at the mouth of one of the creeks

Dark Chanting Goshawk

Dark Chanting Goshawk – our best views of this species, on a roadside pylon on the way back

Brown Snake Eagle

Brown Snake Eagle – we stopped to photograph a pair in the trees by the road

African White-backed Vulture

African White-backed Vulture – circled low overhead while we were watching the eagles

Day 8 – 3rd December

Our last day, we had to check out at midday to make our way to the airport for our afternoon flight home. Rather than have a relaxing morning, we managed to squeeze in a couple of very quick visits to two coastal sites we had not managed to get to before our trip upriver.

We started at Tujareng, an area of peanut fields and overgrown cultivations. With the change in habitat-type, a quick walk round here produced several species that we had not seen elsewhere. After that we were pretty much out of time, but we still managed to have the briefest of stops at Brufut woods after cutting across country on dirt tracks to avoid the traffic. In about 45 minutes we added a few more species to the list, including the last new bird of the trip just as we were walking back out of the trees – Black Scimitarbill, a scarce species which we thought we were going to miss.

Four-banded Sandgrouse

Four-banded Sandgrouse – we found three hiding in a field by the track

Wattled Lapwing

African Wattled Lapwing – our best views of this species this morning

White-fronted Black Chat

White-fronted Black Chat – one of the highlights at Tujareng, not easy to catch up with

Long-tailed Nightjar

Long-tailed Nightjar – pointed out by the forest guide, roosting in the bushes at Brufut

Black Scimitarbill

Black Scimitarbill – a tricky species to find, and a very welcome last addition to the list

It had been a great week, a whistle-stop tour of The Gambia (you could really allow more time to try to do the whole country!). We managed to see 275 different species (with two more added since we started writing this blog, which we had missed off the list, plus a few more we only heard), including some scarce ones we hadn’t expected to catch up with. It was very easy birding, with some fantastic photo opportunities too.

We can’t wait to go back again next November!

26th Nov-3rd Dec 2019 – The Gambia, Part 3

…part 3 of the photos from our recent trip to The Gambia (ahead of a tour there in 2020).

Day 5 – 30th November

On our way upriver, we called in at a couple of sites still close to the coast. We started very early at Bonto Forest, in order to try to catch up with White-spotted Flufftail first plus a couple more species of owl, which were all expertly shown to us by one of the forest guides. Then continued on from there to the nearby Pirang shrimp farm. It was hot by this stage, and although we didn’t manage to find the American Golden Plover here we did see a good selection of waders, gulls and terns and picked up several open country passerines we had not seen before.

From there, we headed inland and upriver. After a stop for lunch at AbCas Creek, we were aiming for Tendaba, where we had an afternoon boat trip booked on the Gambia River. Unfortunately we hadn’t banked on the President of the Gambia being on tour this afternoon! We were ushered to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere by the police and had to wait well over an hour there, before eventually the President’s cavalcade appeared. There were hundreds of vehicles – starting with blacked-out 4x4s, followed by an odd assortment of random government vehicles and finishing off with hundreds of ramshackle minibuses full of supporters. Needless to say, by the time they had all passed by, and we were able to continue on to Tendaba we had missed our boat!

White-spotted Flufftail

White-spotted Flufftail – we had great views of a pair, whistled in by our forest guide

Verreaux's Eagle Owl

Verreaux’s Eagle Owl – perched high in a tree in the forest

White-faced Scops Owl

White-faced Scops Owl – a pair were in some scrubby trees by the forest entrance

Western Grey Plantain-eater

Western Grey Plantain-eater – a very common relative of the Turacos

Violet Turaco

Violet Turaco – glowing in the sunshine at Bonto

Namaqua Dove

Namaqua Dove – showed well on the paths at Pirang shrimp farm

West African Swallow

West African Swallow – now split from the more familiar European Red-rumped Swallow

Yellow-throated Leaflove

Yellow-throated Leaflove – a pair were in the trees at AbCas Creek Lodge while over lunch

Abyssinian Roller

Abyssinian Roller – the commonest roller in the open countryside

Patas Monkey

Patas Monkey – one of four species of primate seen, a large troop was just outside Tendaba

Day 6 – 1st December, morning

After missing our boat trip yesterday while we waited for the President’s procession, we had to reschedule it for this morning. Fortuitously, it meant we had more time on the boat, as there were lots of things to see and some great photo opportunities as we explored the mangrove-lined creeks along the bank of the Gambia River.

African Darter

African Darter – very common along the creeks, drying their wings in the mangroves

Blue-breasted Kingfisher

Blue-breasted Kingfisher – the commonest kingfisher here

Striated Heron

Striated Heron – we saw several in the mangroves along the creeks

Hamerkop

Hamerkop – seen at several sites, but the best views were from the boat

Goliath Heron

Goliath Heron – the biggest heron, we only saw one which flew up ahead of us

Intermediate Egret

Intermediate Egret – along with Great White Egret, common along the creeks

Montagu's Harrier

Montagu’s Harrier – a palearctic winter visitor, this male landed in a tree next to the creek

Pink-backed Pelican

Pink-backed Pelican – another species seen at several sites, but with great views from the boat

Spur-winged Goose

Spur-winged Goose – several flew over as we sailed up the creek

Malachite Kingfisher

Malachite Kingfisher – this one was fishing on the edge of the creek

White-breasted Cormorant

White-breasted Cormorant – we sailed past a large breeding colony in trees beside the creek

Nile Monitor

Nile Monitor – a couple of these large lizards were living under the cormorant colony

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater – there were lots of European and White-throated Bee-eaters here too

Wooly-necked Stork

Woolly-necked Stork – we saw several in the more open areas at the far end of the creek

Beaudouin's Snake Eagle

Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle – flew low over the boat as we sailed back down

Little Swift

Little Swift – nesting underneath the quay at Tendaba, affording great low-level views

It had been a very enjoyable and wildlife-filled morning out on the boat, but now we had to pack up and continue our journey upriver, to try to see some of the most prized species…

26th Nov-3rd Dec 2019 – The Gambia, Part 2

…part 2 of the photos from our recent trip to The Gambia (ahead of a tour there in 2020).

Day 3 – 28th November

We headed slightly further afield today, to the area around Farasuto. We walked in through an area of overgrown fields with scattered trees. A flowering tree held a good selection of sunbirds feeding on nectar. A small reserve has been set up here with drinking pools and pots and we stopped here for a while to watch the variety of birds coming in to drink.

Afterwards, we made our way on to the Farasuto Forest Community Nature Reserve, with the local forest guide taking us on a short diversion on the way there to show us Greyish Eagle Owl and Standard-winged Nightjar. The Forest itself added African Wood Owl and, on the edge of the mangroves beyond the trees, White-backed Night Heron. In the afternoon, we went back to the first place with drinking pools and also explored the neighbouring cultivations here.

Striped Kingfisher

Striped Kingfisher – a bird of dry savannah woodland

Scarlet-chested Sunbird

Scarlet-chested Sunbird – one of the visitors to the flowering tree

Spotted Honeyguide

Spotted Honeyguide – coming for water at the drinking pots

Greyish Eagle Owl

Greyish Eagle Owl – we were shown a pair roosting in the trees

Standard-winged Nightjar 1

Standard-winged Nightjar – a male with its large wing feather ‘standards’ not fully grown

Standard-winged Nightjar 2

Standard-winged Nightjar – the female, lacking the oversized wing feathers

African Wood Owl

African Wood Owl – our second owl species of the day, in Farasuto Forest

Senegal Thick-knee

Senegal Thick-knee – there were lots on the edge of the mangroves, beyond the Forest

Violet Turaco

Violet Turaco – the highlight at the drinking pots in the afternoon was a pair of these stunners

Blackcap Babbler

Blackcap Babbler – also came down to drink

African Thrush

African Thrush – another visitor to the drinking pools

Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird

Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird – not uncommon but hard to get good views of in the open

Bearded Barbet

Bearded Barbet – a spectacular looking barbet

Senegal Parrot

Senegal Parrot – common, but often well hidden in the trees

Day 4 – 29th November

Today we made our way down to Kartong, an area of old sand mines on the coast in the far south of The Gambia, close to the border with Senegal. The pools here held a good variety of waterbirds, the surrounding open savannah woodland was packed with migrant warblers from Europe and we then made our way through the mangroves and out onto the beach.

In the afternoon, after it had cooled down a little from the heat of the day, we stopped on our way back at Tanji fishing village – a good spot for gulls, terns and waders. We finished with a walk through Tanji bird reserve, an area of open bushes and scrub behind the coast.

Saddle-billed Stork

Saddle-billed Stork – a rare visitor, this young bird had been at Kartong for several days

Greater Painted Snipe

Greater Painted Snipe – another highlight at Kartong, albeit a duller male

White-faced Whistling Duck

White-faced Whistling Duck – common anywhere there is water

African Harrier Hawk

African Harrier Hawk – one of the commoner raptors, in open countryside

Plain-backed Pipit

Plain-backed Pipit – we flushed several as we walked through the savannah woodland

White-fronted Plover

White-fronted Plover – our main target, out on the beach, roosting with Kentish Plovers

Grey-headed Gull

Grey-headed Gull – the commonest gull, very good views at Tanji fishing village

Royal Tern

African Royal Tern – common, fishing offshore at Kartong and Tanji with other terns

Lizard Buzzard

Lizard Buzzard – hunting from the wires at Tanji

Little Bee-eater

Little Bee-eater – one of the commonest of the several bee-eaters

Pied-winged Swallow

Pied-winged Swallow – encountered at several sites, this one our first at Tanji

Pied Hornbill

Pied Hornbill – the scarcest of the three common hornbills

Having enjoyed a very productive few days on the coast, it would be time to start heading inland and upriver tomorrow.

26th Nov-3rd Dec 2019 – The Gambia, Part 1

Not a tour, but a prelude to one. Next year, we are running a tour to The Gambia, so we took advantage of a quiet week to head down there for a look around. It was great – the variety of birds, with a mix of African species and Palearctic migrants, easy-going,  good logistics and with no time difference to worry about. The country is a nice introduction to Africa for anyone who hasn’t been before, as well as offering a variety of species for anyone who has been to other parts of the continent previously.

We only had a week but we packed in several days along the ‘Smiling Coast’ (which is where next year’s tour will be based), as well as two nights travelling ‘upriver’ to pick up a few specialities which are not usually seen on the coast. We managed to see 273 species in a week (with the help of several of the local guides), which was pretty impressive, including some sought after birds. The photographic opportunities were very good too – we returned with so many photos, we have had to break this blog post into four parts!

Day 1 – 26th November

By the time we got to the Senegambia resort, which is where we would be staying while we were on the coast, it was already late afternoon and we didn’t have much time to explore but we did have an hour or so in the grounds which allowed us to familiarise ourselves with some of the commoner species.

Speckled Pigeon

Speckled Pigeon – common, coming to drink from the sprinklers at the hotel

Piapiac

Piapiac – a long-tailed member of the crow family

Brown Babbler

Brown Babbler – one of two species of babbler, found in noisy groups

Day 2 – 27th November

The Kotu Creek bridge is a famous birdwatching location in The Gambia and not far from many of the main tourist hotels. We spent the day in the Kotu area, walking the ‘cycle track’ down to Kotu Creek and the bridge in the morning and then back to the bridge and round to the golf course in the afternoon.

Yellow-billed Kite

Yellow-billed Kite – one of the commonest raptors in The Gambia, seen everywhere

Hooded Vulture 2

Hooded Vulture – the other ubiquitous raptor in The Gambia

Hooded Vulture 1

Hooded Vulture – the birds come to daily vulture feeds in the tourist areas

Shikra

Shikra – the commonest of the hawks

Pied Kingfisher 1

Pied Kingfisher – the commonest of the kingfishers, very good views at the bridge

Pied Kingfisher 2

Pied Kingfisher – hovering over the creek right by the bridge

Giant Kingfisher

Giant Kingfisher – the ‘daddy’ of the kingfishers and easy to see at the bridge

Black Heron 1

Black Heron – the blackest of the egrets

Black Heron 2

Black Heron – in distinctive fishing mode, its wings spread overhead like an umbrella

Black Heron 3

Black Heron – the fishing method seemed to be very successful

Beautiful Sunbird

Beautiful Sunbird – the commonest of the sunbirds

Variable Sunbird

Variable Sunbird – holding territory, singing and displaying, at a flowering tree

Long-tailed Glossy Starling

Long-tailed Glossy Starling – common, and the most distinctive Glossy Starling with it’s long tail

Red-billed Firefinch

Red-billed Firefinch – the commonest of the small, colourful Estrildid finches

Western Olivaceous Warbler

Western Olivaceous Warbler – the commonest of the European migrant warblers

Senegal Coucal

Senegal Coucal – we saw several during our stay

Yellow-billed Shrike

Yellow-billed Shrike – regularly encountered in cultivations and open savannah woodland

Fine-spotted Woodpecker

Fine-spotted Woodpecker – we found several in the cultivated areas beyond the creek

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater – a distinctive species which showed very well around the golf course

Pearl-spotted Owlet

Pearl-spotted Owlet – one of two we saw today, this one up on the golf course late afternoon

It was really enjoyable first couple of days with a fantastic variety of species seen, with more to come…