This is a trip report on a family “birding holiday” taken in The Gambia, during the last week of Feb and the first week of March this year.
I’m sure you have read all the other reports, so I won’t bore you with travelling details. All I will say is we took a package deal with Thomas Cook. We stayed at The Bakotu Hotel in Kotu. This is probably the main hotel for visiting birders to the Gambia now, (taking over from the Senegambia Hotel). We even had Chris Packham staying here at the same time!! It is a quiet hotel with no TV’s, music or entertainment, which adds to its appeal!! (however, if you want all of that, you can cross the road & use an alternative hotel) very chilled & laid back. The staff are great and are always friendly and helpful. Your room is laid out similar to a local tribal home, very well done with the option to hire a fridge if needed. The grounds are full of birds and wildlife. Sit around the pool late afternoon/early evening and you will enjoy the sight of Broad-billed Rollers, Common Bulbul, Beautiful Sunbirds & Gambian Fruit Bats! coming down to drink, (the Fruit Bats roost in the Captains Table restaurant at The Bakotu!!). The resident troop of Green Vervet Monkeys will keep you entertained around the grounds, but don’t feed them, they can get rather feisty and they have some rather impressive gnashers on them!! The Nile Monitors however are no problem at all, an impressive lizard reaching 6ft in length!
Although decent birds can be seen all around the hotel grounds, the main spot the resident birders gather at is on the viewing platform overlooking Kotu Creek itself. This spot comes into its own during the very hot afternoons, especially on returning to the hotel after a mornings birding with your guide, (more on that later!!). Daily encounters from the platform included Spur-winged Lapwing, Wattled Lapwing, Senegal Thick-knee, Greenshank, Redshank, Grey Plover, various Sandpipers, Blue-bellied Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, Broad-billed Roller, Blue-bellied Roller, Little Bee-eaters, Hooded Vulture, Palm-nut Vulture, Shikra, Grey-headed Gull, Caspian Tern, plus countless Herons, Egrets, Ibis and Spoonbills & lots more!!!
The hotel grounds also offer access to the Fajara Golf Course, saving a long walk around to the entrance. As golf courses go this one is awful!!, how anybody can enjoy a game on this sparse course is beyond me!! (and I used to play quite a bit!!). However the birding is worthwhile with Violet Turaco, Double Spurred Francolin, various Sunbirds, Rollers, Kingfishers, waders, Woodpeckers, Glossy Starlings, plus lots more easily seen. We also had Red-necked Falcon (the only one of the holiday). The golf course is also noted as a regular site for Black-headed Lapwing, we failed to see them there but we did get good views at several other sites.
The area known as Kotu creek is a fantastic area for birding. Several trip reports and web sites have suggested that the area is no longer good for birds!! Rubbish!! If you came here on a family, (non birding) holiday and treated this area as your `patch` you could achieve 100+ species with a little effort. The sewerage pits still attract many different species and with a little `local knowledge` you can connect with goodies such as Greater Painted Snipe, Sacred Ibis, African Spoonbill. The Gambian Bird Guides Association have a `garden` set up on the edge of the rice paddies, here you can take a break, have a cold soda or a hot tea & watch the many birds that visit the site. Here we had Yellow-billed Shrike, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Grey Woodpecker, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Grey Backed Eremomela, Shikra & lots more.
If you want to maximise your efforts while in The Gambia you will need plenty of local knowledge!!. This comes in the shape of a `local bird guide`. There is certainly no shortage of them!!!, especially in the Kotu area. At `the bridge` the Gambian Bird Guides Association have a hut which is filled with guides of varying expertise!! All of them will approach you on the bridge to try and convince you that they are the guide for you!! and unless you are prepared to spend a couple of hours haggling over your desired itinerary against the max amount you are prepared to spend, you are better off pre-booking a guide long before you set off on holiday. Lets be honest, without any information on your guide it is pot luck as to how good they are!! Be warned there are plenty of time wasters, (and excellent guides to be fair!!), in The Gambia.
I, as most travelling birders do, trolled the internet for months gleaning information about the best places to visit, when to go, where to stay, etc, etc. A guide who’s name cropped up on several trip reports was a local birder called Ebou Barry. I emailed him with a list of desired species and desired destinations. After a few emails back & forth, everything was arranged and still 10 months to `lift off`!!!. Transport was included in all our trips out as Ebou has 2 vehicles including a 4x4, which was needed most of the time!!
On arrival in The Gambia, Ebou met me at the hotel and arranged to take us out the following morning around the Kotu creek area as an introduction to Gambian birds. He also confirmed our schedule during our stay. This was tailored to our needs as my wife has an knee replacement surgery coming up. Ebou is an excellent birder who has an abundance of knowledge from where to find birds, identifying them from calls and of course visually. Always on time, speaks excellent English and has plenty of patience. Whether you are a novice or expert birder, Ebou will bird accordingly. You are paying not only for his knowledge of birds but also his `local knowledge`, those extra special moments such has kneeling 2ft from roosting Long-tailed Nightjars or the site of roosting Verreaux`s Eagle Owls, Northern White-faced Owl, African Wood Owl, or that special spot for Western Bluebill, Pin-tailed Whydah, the list goes on!! The exact itinerary I will break down later in this piece.
So, the bottom line as far as guides goes!!!…. I have birded around the world and have used `local guides` to enhance my visits on many occasions. Ebou is one of the best we have had! Apart from the points previously mentioned, he is good fun to be with, great sense of humour and a great pride for his country and its wildlife, though a dodgy taste in music!! I thoroughly recommend him. His contact details are as follows, (don’t hang around though!! He gets booked up quickly from November- April).