Casino Cycle Track
This was another trip with Birdfinders. Two weeks of pretty intense birding, often in great heat. I have to say it was well worthwhile. Some people had literally hundreds of lifers and we made some good friends. People were willing to help others and we had a good team spirit. Vaughan, Solomon and the team of drivers were all excellent, ensuring everyone saw the birds – Solomon really is The Gambia's top birder and everyone seems to know him. Without him the trip would not have been the success it was. Vaughan is well-equipped, capable and at all times very professional; and he's a good birder too. The tour organization was excellent, the accommodation simple in places but we weren't there to lie around! The food was acceptable if a bit similar each day but a bit limited for vegetarians (fortunately we are not). For those worried about strenuous exercise in the heat, we did stop at lunchtimes, usually for about three hours. On the days we returned to the hotel this gave people a chance to try out the swimming pool, which is a very good way to cool down. Should anyone need a recommendation for a birding holiday company we happily recommend Birdfinders.
So, to the tour. After an uneventful six-hour flight to The Gambia we arrived and braced ourselves for the heat. Surprisingly, as we left the plane, it didn't feel as dramatically different to the UK temperatures as we thought it would – little did we know what was coming up. By the time we got to the baggage collection area we were much hotter and beginning to feel we were in a tropical country.
As ever, when arriving in a new country, we kept seeing new birds and had no time to identify them. Teasing glimpses occurred everywhere and we did manage to identify Cattle Egret, Western Marsh-harrier, Pied Crow, Yellow-billed Shrike and a Shikra. Then we were heading for the hotel but still with noses to the window for more frustrating views of possible lifers. Even though everything seen from the coach was likely to be seen later we were still tense. We did manage to see African Grey Hornbill, African Palm Swift, Long-tailed Glossy Starling, Hooded Vulture, White-billed Buffalo-weaver, Piapiac and Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling. Our advice to newcomers to The Gambia is to relax a bit – we saw all these birds again later and, of course, much better.
After checking in to the hotel we met by the pool and were joined by our local leader Solomon Jallow (top birder, excellent eyes) for a walk along the famous Casino Cycle Track – don't be misled, cars drive along here too. Yes, it was still hot, even at about 4.30 in the afternoon. We were about to have one of those times when birds keep on coming and almost everything is new.
Casino Cycle Track
Red was the order of the day with a pair of Red-billed Hornbills, a pair of Red-billed Firefinches, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleus and Red-eyed Doves – four lifers in as many minutes with more appearing all the time. Grey-headed Sparrows put in an appearance, a bird that was more attractive in real life than in the guides; Green Wood-hoopoes were heard, then seen clinging to the trunks of palm trees whilst in the grass we both heard and saw Double-spurred Francolin.
Further along the path we came across Brown Babblers and a fine Bearded Barbet. A Palmnut Vulture flew overhead and a pool amongst ricefields held Cattle and Western Reef-egret. A Senegal Coucal was found in a nearby bush and a 'ticking' Red-winged Warbler had everyone peering into the tall grass for a look. On the short walk back we added African Harrier-hawk, White-headed Whistling-duck, Speckled Pigeon, a Northern Crombec and a male Village Indigobird in a pathside tree and a Pearl-spotted Owlet flew past only to disappear into a tree and never to be seen again. That made 28 lifers on our first day!