Driving upriver and Tendaba Camp
Today we left the coast and headed up river to Tendaba Camp, a drive of about 70 or so miles. We were in a coach with air-conditioning! Luxury! Our driver was not one for going slowly, whether the road was a good one or a more typical Gambian road. At one point we were waved into a police check post, the driver slowed down, pulled over towards the policeman, then, for no apparent reason, accelerated away to the accompaniment of police whistles!
Of course we did actually stop on the way but only for birds and only in places without signs so I'm not sure where they were. At one point I think we stopped at or near Brikama Forest Park. Wherever we were we hoped for new species and being inland a bit would hopefully help. Our first stop, apparently randomly selected because it looked the same as miles of other terrain, was a bushy wooded area. We walked along the road and almost immediately got a Yellow Penduline-tit. Obviously the leaders knew things we didn't! Also here were Northern Crombec, Yellow-fronted Canary and Black-crowned Tchagra.
Now it was time to penetrate the bushes. We found a narrow path and followed it into the savannah. Stopping after about 20 metres we were treated to good views of a White-shouldered Black Tit as Swallow-tailed and European Bee-eaters flew overhead. A bit further on we came across Bush Petronia and our first White-rumped Seed-eater. Then we found a Grasshopper Buzzard, a juvenile Bateleur flew over and we managed to track down a singing Brubru on top of a tree. Later the group split and some had White-crested Helmet-shrike, others didn't – I didn't, Helen did! Nonetheless, a worthwhile stop I feel.
Next stop, possibly at Brikama, just after we spotted a Hoopoe, was caused by the appearance of a raptor sitting in a lone tree in the middle of a field. We crept a bit closer and 'scoped the bird – our first Brown Snake-eagle, it's yellow eyes watching us with disdain. This open area also held a pair of Grasshopper Buzzards, European Bee-eaters, two Pallid Swifts, Mosque and Rufous-chested Swallows. At one point another Brown Snake-eagle arrived and two were in the sky together, one being mobbed by a Grasshopper Buzzard – magic stuff! Suddenly a cuckoo was called, tracked down and identified as African Cuckoo, another good bird to get, with a bill showing much more yellow than its European cousin. Back by the bus an adult and two juvenile White-backed Vultures flew over, and a Rufous-crowned Roller was found. A short drive later we came across 10 White-crested Helmet-shrikes so we all caught up on that one – a great relief! This bird was my 999th species in my life. Canadian Pete was also close to 1000 and we were excited to know what would be our 1000th birds.
Next stop, Tendaba Camp – by the river, nice rooms with mosquito nets! We saw little on our first quick look around the area: one Slender-billed Gull on the river, two Ruddy Turnstones, Black Kite and White Wagtail. After lunch I promised not to see my 1000th bird unless the others were present and three of us headed back to our rooms. We did a bit more exploring of the area on the way and, as destiny would have it, found my 1000th bird. A small pool of water had attracted some birds, 12 Black-rumped Waxbills. So 1000 for my life. Others rushed back for the others whilst I staked out the site. Before the others arrived all the waxbills disappeared into nearby trees! Everyone did see them, eventually!
4pm arrived and, covered in mossie repellent, we gathered by the jetty for our pirogue trip up a bolong (creek). First we had to cross the river Gambia – it's only a mile or so across at Tendaba! We had a distant view of the nest of an African Fish Eagle and eventually managed to see a bird sitting on the nest. Ospreys were seen on the riverside trees and, as we approached the entrance to the bolong, we flushed a Goliath Heron which flew up the bolong away from us. As we entered the bolong the engine was cut and we drifted along, eyes peeled for anything moving in the mangroves or trees. We spotted a Mouse-brown Sunbird and, as we cruised the bolong we saw eight more and heard many more than that. African Darters were easily seen as were Pink-backed Pelicans and Whimbrels. All finally caught up on Blue-breasted Kingfisher. Fiddler Crabs were abundant on the mud, one excited person pointed out Cribbler Flags but we knew what they meant.
We didn't see the hoped-for African Finfoot and only a few managed to glimpse a shadow that was a White-backed Night-heron. Still, good birds were had such as Black-headed Heron, 14 European Bee-eaters in a tree, a lot of Common Sandpipers, a female or juvenile male Pallid Harrier, wintering Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers and calling African Mourning Doves, a great noise, a kind of cheerful laughing bubbling. As the light fell we had a pair of Brown-necked Parrots streak past looking noticeably different from the more common Senegal Parrots. Fun was had as we again crossed the river when we got stuck on a sandbank! A bit of rocking and judicious use of the engine soon had us free.
Next day we had a walk around Tendaba airfield – disused. More woodland to check plus open damp grassland. Stone Partridges could be easily heard but not seen. We again found the African Fish Eagle's nest and could again see a bird was present. The walk took us through open country with scattered bushes, over to the swampy grassland. On the way to the damper areas we had six Great Cormorants, Osprey, Senegal Coucal, Brubru, Western Bonelli's Warbler, various Glossy Starlings, Palmnut Vulture, Senegal Parrot and Grey Hornbill. The damper area held a few Zitting Cisticolas, and, in the nearby trees, Senegal Eremomela, Black-crowned Tchagra and a fly-past by a Gabar Goshawk. Two Sacred Ibis fed in a field with Hamerkops and another tree held Northern Crombec and a Willow Warbler (which was hunted for so our Canadian friends could tick it).
A nearby large tree held a male Grey Woodpecker plus two stationary Mosque Swallows and a Rufous-crowned Roller. The tree next to that held two great-looking Bruce's Green Pigeons and we had another Levailliant's Cuckoo. A small bird perched on an open branch attracted my attention and I put the 'scope on it. 'Cut-throat' I immediately shouted and directed everyone to the lovely male bird sitting for all to see.
More searching yielded Black-shouldered Kite, Fork-tailed Drongo, Grey Kestrel, Namaqua Doves, two White-rumped Seedeaters and a Yellow Penduline-tit. We flushed a Stone Partridge from some tall grass. By the time we had completed the circuit we were all centimetres taller due to the mud on our boots. We then took turns to borrow a screw-driver to scrape the boots clean.