GENERAL INFO & SITE ACCOUNTS
After South Africa in 1999 this was our second visit to the continent of Africa. This time our journey brought us to the Gambia in West-Africa. This small country is probably the most accesible country of the region and has good accomodations and with 550 species a very large birdlist. To reach the country there is only a 5˝ hours flight involved, and numerous tour operators offer tourpackages to the region. We booked a two week package with a dutch touroperator called Olympia. The first week we made an organized tour into the interior of the Gambia including a two day visit to Senegal. The tour was organized by a local organisation called Gambia Tours (http://www.gambiatours.gm/) Although the tour was a standard tourist trip the itinerary allowed us to do some birding on our own most mornings and late afternoons. Besides that we were very lucky that our guide Sehouna was interested in birds also. While travelling from one place to another we stopped at several places allowing us to scan the area for birds. In the second week we stayed at the Senegambia Beach Hotel and made trips to interesting birding sites near the coast by taxi. Senegambia was a very good choice because its large garden provided quite some good birds. We also did a daytrip with Mass Cham who is the resident birdguide at Senegambia. On our last day we made a private tour with Sehouna to Marakissa.
As a result of being a popular destination for thousands of European birders the information on birdwatching on the web is widely available. Dozens of reports are published on sites like http://www.birdtours.co.uk/, http://www.travellingbirder.com/ and lots of general info is available at http://www.fatbirder.com/ and at www.bsc-eoc.org/links/links.jsp Another interesting website with lots of comprehensive onsite information can be found at http://www.gambiabirding.org/. The best field guide for the region is “Birds of The Gambia & Senegal” by Clive Barlow published in 1997. Another good option (since 2004) is the excellent fieldguide version of “Birds of Western Africa” by Nik Borrow.
We would like to thank the following people for their contribution and for making our trip such a huge success:
Jawo who was our very friendly and reliable driver during our first week tour.
Sehouna who was our cheerful guide during the first week and on a private tour to Marakissa.
Mansah our birdguide at Bird Safari Camp.
Pa our birdguide at Abuko.
Tamba Suso our taxi driver on two ocassions to Abuko.
Weekly charter flights leave from Amsterdam to Banjul costing about € 340 without airport taxes. You will probably find a better deal by booking a tourist package through one of the tour operators. Tour packages are sometimes offered as low as € 450 for a nine day stay including flight, hotel transfer and hotel plus breakfast. There are also flights leaving from Duesseldorf (Germany), Brussels and several airports in the UK.
Self driving in the Gambia is not really recommended. Except the new paved road from the airport to the coastal resorts most roads are in very poor condition and signposting is very bad and in some places even not existing. Your best bet is using taxis which can be hired by the hour or even for a whole day against very reasonable prices. However it is advisable to agree a price beforehand.
The climate of the Gambia is dominated more by rainfall than by temperature. Generally the rainy season is from June to October. Temperatures range between 28 and 35 degrees C throughout the year. During our stay in March we had warm to hot weather throughout with not one drop of rain.
ACCOMMODATIONS & FOOD
There are dozens of hotels available at the coast ranging from adequate to very good quality. We stayed at the Senegambia Beach Hotel (http://www.senegambiahotel.com/) which was very good with nice rooms in the main building and in smaller buildings scattered through the large bird rich garden. During our trip into the interior lodging ranged from basic (but clean) to luxurious. In Senegal we stayed in the luxurious Hotel Keur Saloum (http://www.keursaloum.com/) and Hotel Relais de Kaolack (www.senegal-online.com/relais-kaolack/). In the Gambia we stayed at the basic Bird Safari Camp (http://www.bsc.gm/), Tendaba Camp and the luxurious Sindola Safari Camp (www.kairabahotel.com/startseite_sindola.htm). Food quality was generally very good with a wide variety of ingredients. During the first week food was mostly served in a buffet form. In Kololi at the coast the “main street” outside the Senegambia Hotel was lined with several good restaurants. Our favorite ones were Ali Baba (having a nice garden and live music) and the Italian restaurant just outside the Senegambia hotel.
Finding good birds in the Gambia is possible at almost every place. Just a short walk outside the hotel or even in the hotel garden itselves produces quite some good sightings. However there are several sites worth mentioning in particular. Below I give a short description of the sites we visited during our stay. More comprehensive describtions can be found at http://www.gambiabirding.org/:
Keur Saloum: we birded the area around our hotel which is located near Toubacouta (Senegal) about 50km north of the border with the Gambia. The area is part of the Saloum Delta National Park. The park mainly consists of mangroves in a maze of rivers and creeks. Unfortunately we had not much time here. To really enjoy the area you would have to make boot trips which can be arranged at the hotel. Despite that birding the woodlands and mangrove edges produced some very good birds.
Kaolack is a provincial capital in Senegal located about 100km north-east of Keur Saloum. Our hotel was located outside the sity right at the banks of the Saloum river which was good for terns and gulls in particular.
Bird Safari Camp: this lodge is located near Georgetown on Mac Carthy Island. The area consists of forests, grasslands, rice fields and surrounding freshwater river habitat which produces quite an interesting range of birds.
Basse: the best spot for viewing Egyptian Plover (from November to February).
Tendaba Camp: basic camp at a great location along the river. It is surrounded by scrubs, woodlands and open savannah plains just to the east at Kiang West National Park. A boat trip to Baobolong Wetlands Reserve on the opposite side of the river is a must. The area consists of one of the tallest saltwater mangroves of West Africa.
Senegambia Beach Hotel: the large garden of this hotel can certainly be mentioned as a birding hotspot on it’s own. We saw about 40 species in the garden.
Bijilo Park: a small reserve close to the Senegambia hotel which is locally called monkey park. Indeed we saw many monkeys (including red colobus) but the park also produced some trip ticks like White-throated Bee-eater and Ahanta Francolin.
Abuko: reserve with remnants of rainforests around a small pond only about 20 km from the coast. Certainly one of the most rewarding sites near the coast. The reserve has a bird list of 200 species. The surrounding rice fields also provided some very good birds like Painted Snipe and Black Heron.
Brufut: excellent savannah woodlands on the way to Tanji Bird Reserve which consists of woodlands, seasonal pools and a lagoon.
Marakissa: located south of Brikama towards the border with Senegal. An excellent area with forests, cultivated fields, ponds and a river.
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