Today was departure day from Georgetown, and the plan was to catch the first ferry over to the North bank of the river, and then stop either at birding sites or for promising looking birds on the way. Unbelievably, after the bad luck we had had with cars over the week, this plan was actually put into action, but was again almost thwarted, being rescued by a turn of good luck for once. It turned out at breakfast that the ferry had broken down, and wasn’t going to be fixed in a hurry. However, Bob (the Wild Gambia owner, who had brought yesterday’s replacement 4x4 for the Basse trip) had organised another car the previous evening for the North bank tarmac roads. The driver had arrived late, missing the last ferry, so we already had the car on the side of the river where we wanted it, and only had to catch a small boat to get there.
We were initially heading for Wassu, with its different habitats, but were sidetracked briefly by a group of hirundines on the telegraph wires overhead. The difference in size and build of the Mosque Swallows was in interesting contrast to the attendant Red-rumped & Red-chested Swallows.
The pools either side of the road just before Wassu were parked by and covered for some time. The initial impression was a many fewer African Jacanas than when we had passed by some days ago, but this was made up for by many other species which were apparent as we explored the surrounds. The African Mourning Doves which we had noticed preferred waterside habitat at Tendaba Mangroves were also here, but only as a pair. Beneath them was the first brace of many Senegal Thick-knees which were at the water’s edge. While following a roving group of Green Wood Hoopoes through the bushes lining the pools, other birds were unearthed. A small group of Senegal Parrots were the first of the trip to allow reasonably close approach – not usually easy due to their camouflage and wary nature. A trio of Brown Bulbuls were at the base of a tree hosting singles of Northern Puffback and Subalpine Warbler. As we were about to leave, our attention was drawn to three Bruce’s Green Pigeons opposite to where the car was parked.
Wassu paddies at first looked like mundane paddyfields with the standard birds we had seen before – overflying Marsh Harriers with a scattering of wading birds. When we reached a bridge over a stream, this changed somewhat. African Mourning Doves were a little more numerous and vocal than at the pools. A wader which flew up from the base of the stream edge was Greater Painted Snipe. A small flycatcher caught our attention – the first of two Swamp Flycatchers, which showed much less of the indistinct breast band than we had expected.
The stone circles at Wassu had been the area we had been looking forward to. This dry and fairly open patch is reputed to hold Carmine Bee-eaters, but sadly not today. Overall, the area was a disappointment, with only a group of Tawny-flanked Prinias and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Larks to show for our efforts. The handful of Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on herded cattle were an addition to the surprisingly low overall trip count.
The rest of the journey, apart from a short stop at the very hot and exposed Baobolong Wetlands, which held the usual waterbirds already seen on the trip, was spent travelling and stopping when we saw something interesting. There were three notable encounters of three notable birds. Lamin had briefed the driver as to the size and appearance of breeding plumage Whydahs. By chance, it was me who noticed something which looked promising around 70 metres into the bush from the road. Two good pieces of luck – it turned out to be a displaying male Exclamatory Paradise Whydah with his admiring harem, and there was a track through the bush to where he was showing off. His plan seemed to be to sit on top of one of 5 favourite bushes for a short while, three of which were now close to where we stood, and then bedazzle the onlooking females with his ridiculously long tail.
Second stop was when I spotted what looked like a large eagle on the ground in a stubble and low bush field. After backing up the car for a look, what proved indeed to be an impressive African Hawk-Eagle flew up from the deck, and landed in a nearby tree. This was a little thoughtless, since the tree was in full foliage, and the quarry took some time to find. It did make amends by soaring the short distance to a bare tree, and posed for a short time. Lamin had also seen a Warthog on the opposite side of the road while we were busy with the raptor, but it managed to evade us.
Third stop was yet another bird high on our wanted list – an Abyssinian Ground Hornbill perched in a tree! The bird had looked like a large dark shape when we first saw the outline, and its constant attention to preening wings meant we weren’t sure what it was. Being a ground bird half way up a tree didn’t make the matter easier. However, it raised its head eventually, and was found to have a mate not far away – in another tree!
The rest of the journey to the ferry at Barra was uneventful. The ferry journey itself was quite productive, if not interminably slow. The shoreline beyond the Barra side held a few Whimbrels, Oystercatchers, and a unidentified godwit. On the way over, we were joined by Lesser Crested Terns, Kelp & Grey-hooded Gulls, and both Arctic & Pomarine Skuas as we approached the Banjul side. Over the Banjul terminal, and oblivious to the depraved humanity below, were swarms of Little Swifts.