The replacement car was delivered after the 7am breakfast (which arrived at 7.30), and we found ourselves in an open-topped Jeep which actually worked (and continued to do so for the whole day). The ferry to the South of island traversed, we made our way to Bansang, which only took around half an hour. It was strange to be back into the regular police check mode – a welcome respite was had yesterday when we couldn’t go anywhere.
Once at Bansang town, we made a swift stop to view the paddies within the edge of town, only to view a Wattled Lapwing and a few other bits and bobs. However, we were eager to find the Bansang Quarry, where Red-throated Bee-eaters were reputed to be found throughout the year. We left this to Lamin, who drove beyond the town to an open area. It didn’t look right, but we bowed to his better judgement and walked the open habitat for a while. We did pick up the first African Fish-eagle and Scarlet-chested Sunbird of the trip, but predictably no Bee-eaters. We persuaded Lamin to make a call to found out if there was better information, and then to pass the outside of town. As we drove through a cut in the hill, we picked up a Bee-eater call, and quickly located a Red-throated Bee-eater above us. We eventually got close views, and picked up a Shikra as well, wondering whether the actual quarry was over the opposite hill.
So we climbed up and did indeed find the quarry proper, along with a good number of Bee-eaters around us. The bonus came in the extra birds we found. A Pygmy Sunbird and a couple of Bush Petronias were on the ascent up the hill, and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks were mixed in with more on the bush clad plateau. The bushes around the top of the rim had a different mix. Cinnamon-breasted Bunting was the pick, although there was competition from a pair of Cut-throat Finches among the numerous Village Weavers.
For 11 years we had planned a return to The Gambia someday to go upriver, and one of the principle reasons was to see Egyptian Plover. We had checked with the information that they would still be present at this time of year, and so had been monitoring pools since being in this part of the country. This had been in vain, although we knew that the birds had generally moved upriver. So it was off to Basse, which was a much more reliable site. The town was much larger than I expected, and after we had picked up some extra water, we took a left through the markets in the streets to eventually reach the river. This was the site of the ferry crossing – both with the larger vehicle carrier, and also smaller canoes. Lamin had a word with one of the chaps who owned one of the half dozen or so punt canoes (Dembo Camara for those looking for a name to ask for), and bartered to price for one hours trip to look for the bird from 150 to 125 dalasis. We added a sweetener of 50 dalasis for finding the bird.
The reward wasn’t necessary, since I spotted a couple of Spur-winged Lapwings upriver on the opposite bank, with what looked like a smaller bird. Scope up and the quarry was found – an Egyptian Plover within punting distance. It didn’t take too long to reach the opposite bank, and it became obvious that the bird was completely unperturbed by our presence, so we allowed the boat to drift slowly towards it, after warding off the noisy approaches of a pair of local kids no doubt intent on letting us know at the tops of their voices that we were “twobobs”.
This journey was eventful for not necessarily the right reasons. The first stop was to look for Carmine Bee-eaters, which was at a river bank along a track which was taken from one of the villages on the main road. The track terminated in a small village and the river bank. It also terminated at the site of a swarm of angry bees. The villagers must have been amazed at the site of two tourists and their Gambian guide dancing and swatting furiously, and then making a hasty exit from the area in the car. For the record, we had a total of 9 stings between us – no-one was spared the pleasure. We did stop a little further up the track to take in a pair of Cardinal Woodpeckers, but were quietly glad to be away from the place.
A lot further towards Bansang, we stopped to admire a Dark Chanting Goshawk perched above us, and managed to dig out a good selection of birds in the surrounding bush. Pygmy Sunbirds were the closest yet, and a pair of Yellow-fronted Canaries were intermittently singing and then eluding us. A Green-winged Pytilia was briefly spotted in the thickets. On the opposite side of the road, a remarkably plain and washed out brown bird at the top of a tree proved to be juvenile Exclamatory Paradise Whydah.