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Gambia Africa's Jewel in the Sun

An 8-day birdwatching tour to Gambia

Warm yourself up this winter with a week of hot, tropical birding based at a comfortable hotel on the sun-drenched West African coast. With no changes of accommodation to worry about during our stay, this 8-day birdwatching tour to Gambia offers the perfect introduction to African birds. Our new and improved itinerary for 2018 features visits to a great range of locations within the Gambia's coastal region - and concludes with a boat trip on the Senegal border. Join us for our 48th tour to Gambia!

Tour Dates

2018

Spaces
2

Leaders
Gary Elton
local guides

Max Group Size: 12
Duration: 8 Days

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Cost: £1950

inc return charter flights - London Gatwick-Banjul, nonstop with Titan Airways

Deposit: £300

Single Supp: £100

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double spurred Francolin CK RGB FOGRA39 sharpened resized

Gambia is a good place to catch up with Double-spurred Francolin, a bird that’s all but disappeared from the Western Palearctic © Mike Crewe, Limosa

Running eastwards from the Atlantic Ocean, sunny Gambia is a slender finger of land seldom more than 40km across. But birdwatchers have quickly recognised that what this tiny West African republic lacks in size, it more than makes up for in sheer variety and wealth of birds. In fact, we only have to step into the grounds of our comfortable beachside hotel to be immersed in a world of Senegal Parrots, Western Red-billed Hornbills, White-crowned Robin-chats, Beautiful Sunbirds and Blackcap Babblers - species as exotic in appearance as they sound. And all within six hours flying time of home!

Birds are abundant everywhere in Gambia and we shall not only encounter a host of vibrant West African residents but have the pleasure of seeing many of our ‘own’ familiar summer migrants - here in their warm winter quarters. Among them Melodious, Subalpine and Western Bonelli’s Warblers, Woodchat Shrike, Whinchat and perhaps a Common Nightingale lurking in the undergrowth.

During our week in Gambia we will choose our programme from the wealth of top birding sites within the country's coastal region. From Tanji and Brufut Forests to the bird-rich areas around Kuloro, we will enjoy noisy flocks of busy weavers, bishops and waxbills in the cultivated lands; watch for Hamerkops, Giant Kingfishers, African Jacanas and snake-necked African Darters on secluded pools; and listen for Oriole Warbler, Brown-throated Wattle-eye and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher in areas of lush tropical canopy. As Green Monkeys and Western Red Colobus crash away through the treetops, a flurry of bright crimson wings might betray the presence of gorgeous Violet and Guinea Turacos.

Adding to the fun are the Gambia’s wetlands - coastal mangroves, marshes and tidal creeks - alive with birds and all within easy range of our comfortable hotel, with its inviting swimming pool and palm-fringed sandy beach. Amusing Black Egrets demonstrate their seemingly bizarre ‘umbrella’ feeding action alongside the larger and less eccentric Western Reef Egrets; Pied Kingfishers hover above the water like animated crossword puzzles and crowds of wintering waders are dwarfed by groups of enormous Pink-backed Pelicans.

A visit to the bird observatory and wetlands at Kartong - which lies at the southernmost tip of the country, close to the border with Senegal - completes our trip. Kartong may be one of Gambia's 'newest' birding locations, but the area is reckoned to be amongst the best anywhere in the country. Our day here should produce some very good birds, with African Swamphens lurking in the pools, migratory Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters hawking overhead and a chance of White-fronted Plovers on the beach. The ringing station regularly turns up a few surprises - our February 2017 group enjoyed two Cuckoo-finches, a vagrant to Gambia and part of an unprecedented incursion into the region by this peculiar species.

It's also at Kartong that we will enjoy a restful afternoon boat trip. As we travel by motorised pirogue along the Allahein River, the fringing mangroves and tidal flats might reward us with anything from the iconic African Fish Eagle or Goliath Heron to parties of Slender-billed Gulls and African Spoonbills. It's the kind of magical experience that makes our birding tours to Gambia so special.

Limosa has been operating bird tours to Gambia since 1994 and we have now run almost 50 trips there. Guide Gary Elton first visited Gambia for us in 2009 and our February 2018 holiday will be his 11th tour there for Limosa. Joining him as usual is our resident Gambian bird guide, Dembo Sonko, who now has more than a decade of experience guiding Limosa’s Gambia tours.

Purple Glossy Starling drinking Gambia Robin Chittenden robinchittenden.co.uk Jan 2011

Purple Glossy Starlings drop in to quench their thirst © Robin Chittenden, robinchittenden.co.uk

Day 1
ARRIVAL IN GAMBIA

Our one-week birdwatching holiday to Gambia begins with a morning flight from London Gatwick to the Gambian capital, Banjul. Afternoon arrival and transfer to our hotel at Kololi, on Gambia's sunny Atlantic coast.

We may arrive in time to enjoy a little late afternoon birding in the hotel grounds, where the likes of Green Woodhoopoe, Blackcap Babbler, Red-billed Firefinch and other exotic residents provide first-time visitors with a truly magical welcome! Night Senegambia Hotel

Days 2 - 7       
COASTAL GAMBIA: KOTU, TANJI, MARAKISSA, TUJERENG, BRUFUT, KULORO, FARASUTU & KARTONG

We will awake on our first morning to an unfamiliar chorus of African birds, including Common Bulbuls, White-crowned Robin-chats, and Laughing and Vinaceous Doves.

With a host of terrific birdwatching spots to explore within easy distance of our hotel, we shall not need to journey far to enjoy our first full day in the field. Hooded Vulture, African Wattled Lapwing, Speckled Pigeon, Western Red-billed Hornbill, Bearded Barbet, Blue-bellied Roller, Yellow-billed Shrike, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Piapiac and the gaudy Yellow-crowned Gonolek are among an abundance of birds awaiting our discovery.

Not far to the south, Brufut Forest and Tanji Bird Reserve offer an attractive mix of coastal Guinea Savanna woodland, running down to open dune scrub and sandy beaches at Tanji. Here we may find residents such as Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Black Scimitarbill, Fanti Saw-wing, Stone Partridge, Broad-billed Roller, Northern Crombec, Senegal Eremomela (easier to see than to say!), the exquisite Variable Sunbird and the comical-looking White Helmetshrike. This can also be a good spot for wintering warblers and other Palearctic migrants - or maybe we will come across a roosting Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, its surreal pink eyelids drooping heavily as it dozes at in the shade.

At Tanji beach, the chaotic mix of people and birds around this busy fishing village can be electric. When the boats are in, the sight and sound of so many birds - tussling Ospreys, Slender-billed and Grey-headed Gulls, and Caspian and Royal Terns, often at close quarters - can be a real spectacle! The beach here is perhaps the most reliable place in Gambia to look for Kelp Gull. Pied Kingfishers perch on roadside wires, while the presence of familiar winter waders such as Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling along the shore will remind us of home - even though the tropical temperatures may not!

The fields around Tujereng offer wide skies - great for scanning for raptors and we have seen African Harrier-hawk, Wahlberg’s Eagle and Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle here. Mixed flocks of weavers and glossy starlings may conspire to tax our identification skills and other delights include Striped Kingfisher, White-fronted Black Chat and Black-crowned Tchagra. Iridescent Splendid Sunbirds, Senegal Batis and Singing and Whistling Cisticolas are among species we regularly see at Tujereng, alongside a range of more familiar European birds such as Wryneck, Melodious Warbler and Common Nightingale.

A little further from our hotel, we'll find village life around Kuloro provides just the right mix of cultivation and scrub to produce a wealth of good birding. A bewilderment of doves provides a background to our birding here as we seek out prinias, cisticolas, cameropteras, waxbills, bishops and weavers a-plenty. We shall also be keeping our fingers crossed, hoping that our local contacts can point us in the direction of roosting Northern White-faced and Greyish Eagle Owls. In the denser swamp forest at nearby Farasutu, we may even be lucky to find the elusive African Wood Owl to our list (as we did on our February 2017 tour!), whilst also enjoying forest specialists such as Grey-headed Bristlebill, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Green Crombec and Yellow-throated Leaf-love.

Marakissa lies close to the southern border with Senegal and its varied habitats - including secondary woodland, scrub, swamps and ponds - are another great place for birds. We've enjoyed African Green Pigeon, Greater Honeyguide, Grey-headed Bushshrike, African Golden Oriole and Northern Puffback here in the past. Nests of the noisy and highly gregarious Village Weaver are impossible to miss as they adorn many of the trees at Marakissa. Over lunch at a nearby river camp we can watch for thirsty birds visiting the lodge’s strategically placed drinking containers: Piapiacs, Brown and Blackcap Babblers, and Long-tailed and Purple Glossy Starlings are regularly seen - along with cheeky Gambian Sun Squirrels.

A week at the coast also offers the prospect of some exciting wetland birding and we'll spend some time investigating the network of rice fields, beaches, tidal inlets and open mudflats. Here, one could watch for hours as comical Black Egrets prance about the shallows, then suddenly ‘freeze’ and flick open their ‘umbrella wings’; while the heavier and altogether more ‘boring’ Western Reef Egrets stalk the tidal flats for crabs and fish. Royal and Caspian Terns, Osprey, Black-winged Stilt, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers and bug-eyed Senegal Thick-knees add to the strange mix of familiar and unfamiliar as dazzling Pied Kingfishers hover above the shallow water before plunging in for their next meal.

We round off our stay in Gambia with a visit to one of the country's 'newest' birding hotspots - Kartong, an area of worked out sand pits, pools and coastal scrub which lies at the southernmost tip of Gambia, close to the border with Senegal.

Taking a picnic breakfast with us from the hotel, we make an early start for Kartong, for early morning here offers the best chances of seeing the likes of Comb Duck, Allen’s Gallinule and African Swamphen, while Black Crakes and White-faced Whistling-ducks are generally rather less difficult to see. Thanks to the presence of a bird observatory here, Kartong has a happy knack of turning up species that can be difficult to find elsewhere in Gambia - and a surprise is always on the cards! We will enjoy lunch locally and may also be fortunate to see one or two species in the hand, courtesy of the bird ringers. Raptors hunt across the area and we have seen Brown Snake Eagle and the peculiar Palm-nut Vulture - the latter uniquely a raptor that’s largely vegetarian!

Later, we will take a leisurely boat trip along the Allahein River, where mighty Goliath Herons and brilliant Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters feed, and we may be lucky to see the local pair of iconic African Fish Eagles. Nights Senegambia Hotel

Day 8                                                       
MORNING BIRDING LOCALLY OR AT LEISURE AT THE HOTEL, FLY LONDON

For those that wish, there will be time this morning to enjoy some final birding, perhaps with a last look about the grounds of our hotel or a short excursion nearby - or simply to relax beside the hotel’s inviting pool, if you prefer.

We take an early lunch at an excellent local restaurant before transferring to the airport this afternoon. Check-in for our return flight to London Gatwick, where our birding tour to the Gambia concludes this evening.

Long tailed Nightjar day roost Gambia Gary Elton Feb 2011

A fantastic encounter with this roosting Long-tailed Nightjar © Gary Elton, Limosa Holidays

What To Expect

A week of tropical birding based at a comfortable hotel on the sun-drenched West African coast. With no changes of accommodation to worry about during our stay, this 8-day birdwatching tour to Gambia offers the perfect introduction to African birds. Our new and improved itinerary for 2018 features visits to a great range of locations within the Gambia's coastal region - and concludes with a boat trip on the Senegal border.

In Gambia at this time of year expect “12-hour tropical days”, typically beginning with daybreak/breakfast at around 7.00am, usually with a rest after lunch (when it is hot and relatively birdless) and concluding with nightfall at around 7.00pm.

It is hot all year round in Gambia, which means bird activity is generally at its peak during the first few hours of daylight, and to a lesser extent again in the late afternoon and early evening as temperatures start to decline. So while the pace of this tour is relaxed, with easy walks in search of Gambia's abundant birdlife, please note that we will be making relatively early starts to enjoy the best birding before it gets too hot.

Gambia has a hot tropical climate with temperatures pretty much constant all year. During January-March, expect it to be hot, sunny and dry, coolest first thing in the morning and evening, with daily temperatures typically in the range of 16-38C (61-100F). A wide brimmed sun hat is essential and use of an appropriate barrier cream and sunglasses strongly advised. We are unlikely to experience any rain at this season.

Birds

200-240 species.

Mammals

There are few large mammals in Gambia but plenty of incidental wildlife to enjoy - from crocodiles and monkeys to butterflies and day-flying bats.

Accommodation

7 nights accommodation at the coast, staying at the Senegambia Hotel, one of the Gambia’s most popular tourist hotels. Set in 20 acres of tropical gardens, the beach and swimming pool make it a great place to relax for those that wish to take some time out from our organised birding programme. All rooms are air-conditioned and en suite.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner at the hotel on Day 1 and concluding with lunch in Gambia on Day 8. Food at the hotel is good, mostly western in style. Some lunches (and one breakfast) will be picnics, with our lunches generally taken at lodges away from the hotel.

Walking

Easy, but you do need to be aware of the heat and be sure to drink plenty - it will be hot every day! Short walks (up to 2 miles) over easy terrain - there are no hills in Gambia!

Sturdy training shoes or comfy walking shoes with sturdy corrugated soles for grip and protection against thorny scrub are advised.

Travel

Travel from the UK to Gambia is by charter flight, nonstop from London Gatwick to Banjul with Titan Airways.

Flight Upgrades
A limited number of seats with increased legroom may be available on some flights - please ask for details at time of booking, if interested. Where available, the upgrade supplement is typically in the region of £300 per person (price and availability subject to confirmation by the airline/operator at time of booking).

Ground Transport  Small bus with local driver.

Boat Trips

Our tour price includes a boat trip by covered pirogue fitted with an outboard motor. Please note that this trip is dependent on the tide (though we haven't missed out yet) and generally lasts for a couple of hours.

Beautiful Sunbird Gambia Rupert Pye Jan 2011 50D 4360A

With its long tail streamers and shining emerald-green plumage, the male Beautiful Sunbird is unmistakeable © tour participant Rupert Pye

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1 AM, Gambia tour ... Thoroughly enjoyed the trip, thank you. Could not fault either leader... [empty string]
2 RS, Gambia tour ... We approached our first trip to Africa with some [needless!] trepidation but came home eager to return. Instant immersion in the sights and sounds of the "Smiling Coast" and the delights of the huge range of birds in the hotel grounds made us feel relaxed and at home... Our second trip with Robin, who appears to have a relaxed approach but is in fact very attentive, ensuring everyone gets the best out of their trip... [empty string]
3 MG, Gambia tour ... Just a short note to say how much Phil and I enjoyed our week in The Gambia. The hotel was very comfortable, the birds were amazing and Brian was the "business"! He really did a magnificent job... He has a great sense of humour and his enthusiasm was contagious and Phil and I will definitely be coming along on another trip. Thank you, once again, for a lovely holiday... [empty string]
4 JP, Gambia tour ... The birdwatching was great and the Gambia is a birdwatcher’s paradise. It was my first trip with Limosa and I would certainly travel with the company again... [empty string]
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