The plan for the morning was to take a three hour boat trip through the mangroves at Tendaba, which lie on the opposite bank of the expansive Gambia River. We were to leave at 8am, but naturally the boatman had to land his catch or some such first, so we eventually departed at 8.30. This gave us time to take in the still morning of the river, with Pink-backed Pelicans idling by, and a few wading birds in the exposed mud from the jetty. A pair of Pied Kingfishers, the first of many for the day, were successfully fishing just offshore. We had requested a private boat for the two of us, but felt sorry for a couple of Danes who would otherwise have had to wait 2 hours for the next “cultural” trip. Our kindness paid off, since the trips were priced by the boat, which was 1600 dalasis, so this was halved between us.
The boat took the main waterway through the mangroves at a very leisurely pace. This combined with the stillness of the morning, and a very acceptable temperature, to make the journey itself very enjoyable. From the off, it was obvious that there are three speciality birds which can be seen regularly here – African Finfoot, Pel’s Fishing-Owl, and White-backed Night-Heron. We skilfully managed to duck out on all three, but this didn’t spoil the outing in the least bit, such was the quality of the birds on show. Pied Kingfishers were particularly numerous, but we were getting used to them (to a degree), so they were upstaged by a collection of Blue-breasted & Malachite Kingfishers, some of both obliging by staying on their waterside fishing perches as we passed.
One speciality bird to be seen here is Mangrove Sunbird, and they didn’t disappoint, if not in visibility, since they were more often than not active within the leaf cover, but in numbers. Some did show well enough for identification. Another was Goliath Heron, and this was nearly missed – we had become so used to the plethora of Grey Herons (as well as Western Reef Herons), that we almost bypassed a single Goliath silhouetted against the sky. The boatman retraced our steps for a good look. Bee-eaters were far from in short supply. Blue-cheeked were apparently the most numerous, but were also supported by lesser counts of White-throated & European, with a single Swallow-tailed in tow. Raptors were generally in short supply, with only Short-toed Eagle and Montagu’s Harrier.
This rather long journey took in some poor roads on the South side of the river, and two ferry journeys. The first was at the terminus of the poorer roads (Farafenni Ferry), the other an arduous wait for the short crossing to Georgetown, where the delay was apparently due to a broken down vessel. Naturally some stops were made, both for individual sightings and for a couple of sites. The former included a small collection of vultures. The coastal area only offered Hooded Vulture, so it was nice to see flying White-backed, and a perched juvenile White-headed. A group of Starlings on the North side of the river turned out to be Purple, to add to many unidentified flying Blue-Eared seen, and the copious numbers of Long-tailed Glossies (especially numerous on the North Bank). A special mention had to be said for the glamorous Abyssinian Roller, which is so regularly encountered that it is almost renamed “just another Roller”.
Soma Wetlands were the first of two significant water habitats to be encountered. Both can have the potential of Egyptian Plover, although the word was that they had now moved upriver. Soma is a large area of brackish, open salt marsh, bisected by the road. It was very hot and exposed there when we arrived, with a heat haze covering the distant water edges. Wading birds were here, but relatively sparsely distributed, with the pick being Marsh Sandpiper, a group of Sanderlings, and a single Kentish Plover.
Kauur Wetlands were more productive, and the temperature had dropped considerably when we exited the car. They looked to be more of an open freshwater pool or two, and held good numbers of wildfowl in the form of White-faced Whistling-Ducks and uncombed Comb Ducks. Waders were also in ready presence – I managed to sift out a Kittlitz’s Plover from the much more numerous Senegal Thick-knees, Collared Pratincoles, Marsh Sandpipers, and Black-winged Stilts.