Kau-ur and Georgetown
Leaving Tendaba we drove to the ferry crossing between Yelitenda and Bambatenda. On the way we had a couple of stops, first for Wahlberg's Eagles (three) and then for a superb adult Beaudouin's Snake-eagle which appeared in the distance, flew closer, and eventually just lazily flew over us and began circling as it gained height on a thermal. Quite superb – everyone was making suitably appreciative noises as we all enjoyed this very special moment.
So, to the ferry and an insight into Gambian culture. The actual river crossing had many vehicles waiting to cross, a huge line of lorries was parked along the side of the road, some, we were told, having been there or expecting to be there, for weeks. To get across requires one to put money in the right hands (despite the sign up the road encouraging people to 'Say no to bribery'). We went for a walk whilst others did the business. Black Kites were common and we had a nice adult White-backed Vulture with them. Looking at the lorries we found a few supporting Osama Bin Laden so we suggested to our Canadian friends they stay quiet in case someone mistook their accents as American!
As we crossed on the ferry we saw two Yellow-billed Storks flying across the river and a circling flock of about 200 Great White Pelicans in the distance. Now we were on the North Bank and about to experience the North Bank Road, a road of legend and of enormous potholes! How true the stories were. Fortunately we soon stopped at a waterhole, happy to find one since many of the usual waterholes had dried up already. Our driver took the bus off to find fuel and we sat beneath a huge tree to have lunch. It was 104 degrees Farenheit in the shade. After eating some of us braved the sun to check out the waterhole, a good one with a nice marshy surround. Here we had six Black Egrets, some doing the famous umbrella feeding technique which I was very pleased to see, two Great Egrets, two Hamerkops, seven Little Egrets, one Intermediate Egret, six Grey Herons, eight Squacco Herons and a Yellow-billed Stork.
Back in the shade of the trees we added a nice male African Golden Oriole, a circling adult African Harrier-hawk, African Mourning Dove, a Grey Woodpecker, three Green Wood-hoopoes and five Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on horses in an adjacent field.
The driver appeared with a fueled vehicle (good news since the air-conditioning requires fuel and without it we would have suffered severely) and we headed off to find another waterhole. En route we had brief views of flying Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-larks. We found what looked like a good waterhole and settled down with 'scopes to watch the area. There were two main spots the birds came to: only one could be viewed at a time so birds being called were often invisible to some of the group. Still, it was a great area even if it was very hot and almost impossible to find shade – the things we do for birds! Who could be unhappy with excellent views of Lavender Waxbills, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleus, Yellow-fronted Canaries and Bush Petronias? Plus, three adult, full-tailed Exclamatory Paradise Whydahs coming to drink and then flying around in that amazing bouncing way, an immature Pin-tailed Whydah, Northern Red Bishops (mostly in eclipse although some had a few remaining red feathers), Laughing and Namaqua Doves and White-rumped Seedeaters. The best birds were a male Sudan Golden Sparrow which landed where I couldn't see it, flew off and landed in a nearby tree which I could see, and a pair of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings.
Next stop was the famous Kau-ur wetlands, sadly rather dry this year but still with some open water and marshy areas. Almost as soon as we had stopped and set up 'scopes someone found our main target bird – the superb Egyptian Plover. We eventually saw at least five birds, some feeding on the road in front of us. A Common Moorhen was found, then a Purple Swamphen. In the middle distance a flock of about 1000 Collared Pratincoles wheeled in the air only to disappear into the marsh as they landed. Spur-winged Lapwings and African Wattled Lapwings were expected and duly found as were Senegal Thick-knees and a couple of African Jacanas. Unexpected, at least by me, was a flock of European Turtle-doves. Other migrants were Yellow and White Wagtails, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, Marsh Sandpiper, 44 Ruff and large flocks of Sand Martins. Rather fortuitously I found a lone Brown-throated (Plain) Martin amongst them which Helen and Pete B also got on. The others had all gone on ahead and so missed this one. It would have been rather challenging to try to explain where it was in a whirling flock of martins!
Last stop was a small lake somewhere – I have no idea where we were. We again had a specific target bird here and, with its lilies and open areas plus shady reed-fringed banks, this lake looked very suitable. As ever it was the keen eyes of Solomon that found the birds, a pair of African Pygmy Geese. These birds sat out in the open for a while and were enjoyed by all before disappearing into the reeds. Two more Egyptian Plovers were found here and numerous eclipse bishops were identified by Solomon as Yellow-crowned. A tick but it would have been nice to see a breeding male – oh well. Still, later on we came across a Rüppell's Griffon-vulture as we continued to head towards Georgetown.
It was not our intention to try to get to Georgetown in the daylight. We were aiming to get nightjars on the way and so needed a fading or set sun. Glimpses were had as birds shot off the road and we eventually stopped and got out Vaughan's mega torch. Birds flew and when hit by the beam dived to the ground and sat on the road. using this we managed to confirm we had Long-tailed Nightjars in view. Once these were done we started the final leg to our camp for the night.
Georgetown is on an island on the river. The ferry doesn't run late – we were late! Fortunately Solomon had family with influence on the island and when we arrived the ferry made an appearance! After a very long but productive day we arrived at Bird Safari Camp to find their lone generator had broken down and there was no power. No power = no light and no water! An interesting situation somewhere where streetlights are something other people have and where a group of sweaty tourists had just arrived! Still the stars in the sky were fantastic and who could complain when serenaded by African Scops-owls?