The day started badly and got worse as the hours rolled on. Up in plenty of time to make the 8am ferry from Banjul to Barra (5.45am), we crushed ourselves in the all too small 4x4 which had been provided, were ready to go, and then . . . nothing. The battery was dead, inexplicably, since it had just been driven to the hotel. A “mechanic” was fetched by Lamin, the guide/driver, and he hammered a couple of wires and battery terminals with a screwdriver before we managed to get the engine going with the tried an tested bump start. The plan was then to wholly re-jig the week, taking the road South of the river to Tendaba, rather than the ferry crossing to the North. This was to facilitate changing the battery at a town en route, where we would meet another member of the company. This is where things went downhill even further. The battery he had bought didn’t fit, so they went off to find another five minutes away. Almost an hour later, the pair returned with distilled water and no battery! The decision was then to go to the local market to get a battery, which they completed in less than the half hour promised (my demeanour probably did little to discourage their haste!).
Despite running the gauntlet of the kids wanting to know your name, and then try to winkle money from you, and the clamour of a typical bustling, but not endearing, town, we spotted one or two birds through the throng while waiting. Pick was a Shikra circling over the main road, with a couple of Plantain-eaters at the top of a tree for some time. 4 Long-tailed Glossy Starlings were directly above us. Alongside this was the opportunity to people watch, and marvel at the contrast between this hub of humanity and home.
The journey to Tendaba Camp probably covered barely 60 miles, but the initially decent tarmac roads descended into red and rough wide tracks, which rumbled and jostled the car no end. Another not so memorable feature was the plethora of checkpoints – mainly police, but also two army (one being at the end of the Western Division, where a bridge crossed the river). Some good birds were also to be occasionally seen. This was headed by a Purple Roller just outside of Kotu, alongside a Black-winged Kite. Some distance into the poorer tracks, we stopped to admire a Dark Chanting Goshawk, when a Grey Woodpecker appeared in the tree below.
We finally arrived at Tendaba Camp at around 1.30pm. Lamin asked us whether we would like to have a lie down, or see some birds. Had to think about that one for some time!!! We set off back along the long entrance track, and stopped short for images of the copious Long-tailed Glossy Starlings. No luck with these, but a Marsh Mongoose appeared in the mangroves. We spent some time trying to get good views of a large band of Senegal Parrots, and failed dismally, but did catch up with a Bruce’s Green Pigeon. One of the main locations at Tendaba is the inappropriately named Tendaba Airport, since there is no airport to be seen, and there is little likelihood that one was ever intended. On the contrary, the area covers some saline lagoons, with a marshy grassland and small pool. The latter was covered first, and delivered big time with an over-flying Grasshopper Buzzard. These are not the easiest of raptors to find, but the rufous in the wings during flight is very distinctive.
Turning towards the small marshy pool itself, the wading birds had to wait until a few sticks over a hidden well were scoured, to sort out the small flock of Black-rumped Waxbills, since they were accompanied by a single Red-billed Quelea (the most numerous bird in the world, and we saw just the one!) and a non-breeding LBJ. The pool contained a group of 7 warring Hamerkops, a handful of Squacco Herons, and some agitated Wattled Lapwings overhead. A group of 5 small buzzing finch type birds eventually gave away their identity as Black-faced Quail-Finches, when one was finally spotted away from the cover of the grass next to the pool. An Abyssinian Roller to the rear looked stunning in the direct light.
The circumnavigation of the salt lagoon, which did hold a small amount of water in three pools, was in an exposed and high heat, with the ground underneath often slippery. A single Caspian Tern accompanied a group of Gull-billed Terns. Other birds on the lagoons were in low numbers, comprising Spur-winged & Ringed Plovers, Wattled Lapwing, Wood Sandpipers, and Black-winged Stilts.
Before finding a way back to the track, a Brown Snake-Eagle was seen perched on an exposed tree in the marshy area. Quite a group of European Bee-eaters were hunting over the track earlier, but these had dispersed when we were on the return. Good numbers of Western Red-billed Hornbills punctuated the teeming Vinaceous Doves along the track, with a couple of African Grey Hornbills thrown in for good measure. Apart from a pair of Bearded Barbets feeding on a fruit tree, no new birds for the day were seen on the return leg to the accommodation.