A Travellerspoint blog

Lazy Day at Bakotu

Chillin'


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

David wakes up feeling flu-like this morning, and as I am still suffering badly with Photographer's Elbow, we decide to take it easy today, starting with a stroll down to the observation deck after breakfast.

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Can't decide what to have for breakfast

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The elevated deck looks out over mangroves and the now dry river beyond, with a boardwalk weaving its way along the edge of it.

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I was hoping to spend some time here watching wading birds this morning, but my feathered friends seem to have other ideas.

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Grey Headed Gull

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Spur Winged Plover

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Senegal Thick Knee

Not sure what is going on here, with one of the birds lying down completely flat as the other one approaches – some sort of mating ritual maybe?

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Grey Headed Gull

After a somewhat disappointing bird watching session, we escape the heat and retire to the air conditioned room where we doze, chat and read for a while.

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It is somewhat warm today

I end up lunching on my own as David is still not feeling very good (the most dull and bland burger ever!), and afterwards I take a stroll through the gardens. The hotel grounds are beautiful, very well laid out with lots of flowers and trees with meandering walkways.

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Sacred Ibis

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Western Red Billed Hornbill

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I make a new friend

More relaxation follows, then drinks on our own little terrace outside our room before dinner.

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Chicken Yassa - very, very tasty, more than makes up for the disappointing burger at lunchtime.

After dinner we return to our outside patio where we sit and chat to the lovely night guard for a while before tucking in for the day.

Posted by Grete Howard 12:26 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds flowers cat relaxation hot seagull chilling ibis west_africa gull gambia bird_watching thermometer thick_knee plover hibiscus bakotu bakotu_hotel kotu observation_deck pre_dinenr_drinks Comments (1)

Tanji - Bakotu

A change of scenery


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

The driver who picks us up for the transfer is the most miserable Gambian we have met to date, and a poor driver to boot. His driving style is jerky and aggressive and he travels much too close to the vehicle in front. Thankfully the journey to Bakotu only takes half an hour. I recognise the turning to Kairaba Hotel where we stayed last time we came to the Gambia, some 23 years ago, although most places have changed beyond all recognition.

Bakotu Hotel

We turn off the main road and head towards a small strip of beachside hotels. After the last four nights, this is a bit of a culture shock. There are tourists. Lots of them. Shops, bars, restaurants. Hustlers. Bumsters. Advertising hoardings. Oh my!

Our first impressions of the hotel are not good. The driver 'dumps' us outside and when we enter the reception, it is full of cases with a number of departing guests milling around. We fight our way to the front desk and are allocated a room and a porter to take us there.

Straight through the reception is the pool area, with extensive gardens, pathways, plenty of greenery and lots of artefacts and statues.

I almost feel uncomfortable at the sight of all these semi-naked people and certainly very self-conscious of taking photos. The following images were taken the next morning when the hotel was much less busy.

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Our Room

Our room is nice and bright, and we are delighted to find two single beds, which will be a real luxury after the last four nights in one of the most narrow double beds I have ever slept in.

I have just kicked my shoes off when the manager comes knocking, terribly apologetic. This is not our room. Our room is next door, the one with A/C. Oh goody. The bad news it is it not ready yet. Oh well.

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There are a couple of armchairs and a table inside the room and a small patio outside with furniture too.

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Our room on the left

While the staff sort out the room for us, we take a walk outside the hotel grounds and are immediately accosted by the hustlers. A simple “no thank you” suffices though, they are not as persistent and aggressive as I remember from our last visit.

When we return, the room is ready and our luggage is inside. Time for a shower – with hot water – such a luxury!

Making the most of the A/C, we spend the rest of the afternoon in the room, with a very welcome ice cream from the on-site store.

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David is happy too – they have cider!

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There is a restaurant and a café in the hotel, we opt for the Baobab Café this evening.

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Gambian Groundnut Soup

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Pulled Meat Croquettes with Hummous sauce

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Sahel Curried Butternut with Coconut

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Bourgogne Stew

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Peach, Mango and Ginger Pie

The curry is nice, the rest is rather bland and mediocre. The other clientele are mainly chavs and Swedes which in some instances is one and the same.

As we leave the restaurant, we hear an almighty cacophony of frogs emanating from the pond. Mating frogs. What a racket!

.

We return to the room for more drinks before bed.

Posted by Grete Howard 12:04 Archived in Gambia Tagged gambia hustlers the_gambia tanji bakotu bakotu_hotel kotu touristy Comments (4)

Tanji Beach and Bird Bath

Last morning at Tanji


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

With no early morning bird trip booked today, we have a lie-in this morning and don't rise until 07:15. Luxury. It is also the first time in the four nights we've stayed here that we've had breakfast in the lodge.

After a lovely omelette, we go back to the room and pack for today's transfer to our next lodge, then take a long, leisurely stroll along the beach.

Tanji Beach

Tanji Bird Eco Lodge borders what could be a nice beach with a bit of TLC. As it is at the moment, it is littered with all sorts of rubbish washed up or discarded by fishermen. Other than the locals who are either using it as a short cut from one place to another, or are here to look for bait for their fishing trip; the beach is deserted.

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It could be so nice.

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The beach is suffering badly from erosion

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I was hoping to find some sea birds along the coast, but the only one we see is a lone Whimbrel.

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Instead I try my hand at some creative photography using the crashing waves as my subject.

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We return to the lodge and spend the remainder of the morning by the birding pool.

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With a drink, of course

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Black Necked Weaver enjoying a splash in the bird bath

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Red Eyed Dove

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Village Weaver

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African Silverbill

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African Silverbill

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Common Bulbul

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Black Necked Weaver

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Western Bluebill

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Pied Crow

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Red Billed Firefinch

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Common Wattle Eye

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Agama Lizard

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Western Red Billed Hornbill

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White Crowned Robin Chat

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Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher

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Yellow Throated Leaflove

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Snowy Crowned Robin Chat

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A Green Vervet Monkey tries to muscle in on the scene too

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Bronze Mannikins

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Red Cheeked Cordon Blue

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Grey Headed Bristlebill

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Senegal Coucal

Lunch

During our long chat with Haddy yesterday, we were asked what time we would like to arrange the transfer from Tanji to Bakotu for today. As we love it so much here, we decided we'd like to have one last lunch at this place before moving on.

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Fish and chips

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One last coffee under our favourite umbrella

It is always hard to say goodbye when you have been treated like part of the family as we have here. Spending four nights in the same hotel is rather unusual for us, so we have really got to know the staff quite well.

The driver who picks us up for the transfer is the most miserable Gambian we have met to date, and a poor driver to boot. His driving style is jerky and aggressive and he travels much too close to the vehicle in front. Thankfully the journey to Bakotu only takes half an hour.

Posted by Grete Howard 06:49 Archived in Gambia Tagged beach monkey waves rubbish crow lunch lizard birding trash coffee erosion pollution flycatcher dove fish_and_chips west_africa weaver bulbul finch gambia omelette bird_watching hornbill eco_lodge coucal cordon_bleu the_gambia tanji robin_chat bristlebill cordon_blue mannikin firefinch tanji_bird_eco_lodge bluebill leaflove tanji_beah creative_photography slow_shutter_speed silverbill wattle_eye verver_monkey saying_goodbye Comments (3)

Marrakissa

Another heavenly place


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I slept surprisingly well last night, despite the upset tummy yesterday afternoon and several rather unpleasant dreams overnight.

We are meeting Abdoulie first thing, who will be our birding guide for the morning. He is early, and so are we.

Brikama

Heading for Marrakissa, we drive through Brikama, which is the second largest town in The Gambia, and absolute pandemonium. I try some of my usual drive-by shooting (photographically speaking) as we are stuck in the traffic jam. The following images are photographed through the window glass of the car, so apologies for the somewhat inferior quality.

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Waiting for the school bus

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Bread delivery

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Coffee on the go

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Hitching a ride

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Heading for the Laundry

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Donkey Cart

Likky Bom

The sign on the rear bumper of a bright yellow car puzzles me greatly and I ask Abdoulie what it means. He is as bemused as we are, and to our surprise pulls over the driver to ask him. “It's my nickname” says the mystified kid in charge of the adorned car “nothing more than that”. I do wonder if he realises what sort of connotations the sign has, albeit with a slightly different spelling.

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Marakissa

First we stop on a bridge to check out the birdlife along the wetlands area.

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Senegal Coucal

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Wire Tailed Swallow

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Great Egret

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Double Spurred Francolin

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Cashew fruit with the nut hanging down below

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Red Eyed Doves

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Squacco Heron

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Western Plantain Eater

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Purple Glossy Starling

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Senegal Parrot

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Red Billed Firefinch

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Yellow Fronted Tinkerbird, doing its best to hide

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Common Bulbul nest building

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Yellow Throated Leaflove

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Piapiac

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Lizard Buzzard

Ants

Abdoulie warns us to be careful when stepping over the marching ants. Too late, David has already been invaded. Lots of jumping, shouting and a few choice words later, he drops his trousers in the middle of the field to get rid of the ants. Thankfully I am too busy laughing to photograph it.

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White Faced Whistling Ducks

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African Jacana

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Fine Spotted Woodpecker

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Woodland Kingfisher

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African Golden Oriole

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White Billed Buffalo Weavers

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Long Tailed Glossy Starling

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Blue Bellied Roller

Black Faced Quail Finch

We see a number of these little birds fly out of bushes without warning, but trying to photograph them proves extremely difficult.

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Eventually Abdoulie takes my camera and goes off stalking them.

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After a lot of time and effort, he manages to creep up on one of the quail finches on the ground to grab a quick shot. Good man – I have to say I admire his patience.

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Yellow Throated Leaflove

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Grey Heron

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Village Weaver

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Pin Tailed Whydah

What an amazing place this is turning out to be. I shall leave you here now and continue in another blog entry. Ciao.

Posted by Grete Howard 04:37 Archived in Gambia Tagged ants roller woodpecker heron starling weaver oriole bulbul gambia jacana swallow coucal francolin cashew_nut the_gambia piapiac whistling_ducks glossy_starling plantain_eater firefinch abdoulie brikama bread_delivery licky_bom bumper_sticker marakissa tinkerbird leaflove buffalo_weavers quail_finch whydah Comments (4)

Marakissa River Camp

Another Birdie Heaven


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Marakissa River Camp

Abdoulie takes us to this delightful camp for refreshments and bird watching. The camp is set on the riverside (there is a hint in the name), and features many different species. We spend a couple of delightful hours here, nipping between the covered terrace overlooking man made water pools, and the river below.

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Abyssinian Roller

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Yellow Billed Shrike

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Beautiful Sunbird, preening

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Purple Glossy Starling

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Yellow Throated Leaflove

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Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu

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Lesser Honeyguide

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Piapiac (AKA Black Magpie)

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Scruffy Looking Village Weaver

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Western Plantain Eater

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Black Crake

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Giant Kingfisher

Kingfisher Diving

While we are down at the river's edge, I spot a Pied Kingfisher in the corner of my eye, just about to dive into the water. I swing my camera around and manage to grab a quick shot as he carries his lunch away.

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Having devoured the fresh snack, he comes back, sitting on a nearby branch, contemplating his next move.

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Feeling hungry again, he hovers over the river, hoping to spot a fish.

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Bingo! Not only did he manage to catch one (just – he is barely holding on to it by the tip of its head), but he also speared a dead leaf.

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Which is now stuck on his beak.

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Speckled Pigeon

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Palm Nut Vulture

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Western Reef Heron

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African Black Kite

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Great White Egret

Back up at the terrace we are joined by the two Dutch ladies we met at Brufut and Tanji. It seems that we are all doing a very similar birding circuit.

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African Thrush

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Blue Bellied Roller

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Beautiful Sunbird

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The female sunbird is nowhere near as colourful as the male

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Orange Cheeked Waxbill

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Red Billed Firefinch

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A squirrel joins in the fun

Having had our fill of birdies this morning, we head back to the lodge, getting stuck in a very hot car as we hit a traffic jam along the way.

Lunch

It is lovely to see lots of people have come for lunch here at Tanji today – a big birding party plus a few other couples. We get a very warm welcome from our favourite waitress Awa, who throws her arms out and shouts our names as soon as she sees us. She has drastically changed her appearance from yesterday by going from long, black hair to extremely short, pillarbox red! It suits her. Mind you, she is such a pretty girl she'd look good in anything.

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Butter fish in a delicious spicy sauce, served with chips.

We are watched during lunch by a troupe of the local Green Vervet Monkeys, as well as a couple of birds

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Red Billed Firefinch

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Grey Backed Camaroptera

After a delightful siesta, we spend the rest of the afternoon chatting to Haddy, the owner of Tanji Eco Bird Lodge, hearing all about her plans for the property as well as solving all the world's problems. As you do.

Dinner

Dinner is a low key affair again as usual, with just the two of us and staff.

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Chicken Yassa

After dinner we retire to our room to let the staff go home while David and I share a few drinks on the balcony, going over the delights of the day.

Posted by Grete Howard 03:45 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds monkeys wildlife kite wild africa birding squirrel roller heron vulture west_africa kingfisher starling shrike finch gambia bird_watching sunbird eco_lodge vervet_monkeys thrush cordon_bleu wildlife_photography the_gambia tanji the_gambia_experience cordon_blue piapiac crake plantain_eater firefinch waxbill tanji_bird_eco_lodge abdoulie marakissa leaflove marakissa_river_camp wild_birds kingfisher_diving camaroptera siest haddy chicken_yassa Comments (2)

Afternoon at Tanji Bird Eco Lodge

Finally: the Bluebill.


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a great morning's birding at Abuko, we return to Tanji Bird Eco Lodge for the rest of the day. First of all I want to catch up on emails as I didn't really have much time last night – almost as soon as we'd got the password, we were off to the room where there is no wifi.

Communication completed, I go to my favourite seat in the house: overlooking the bird baths. The staff are busy refilling the various pools, and the birds are making a racket from the surrounding trees, excited at the prospect of a dip and a drink.

I, on the other hand, am waiting patiently for the Bluebill to appear. We saw him here on the first day, but it was too dark to take photos at the time, and he hasn't been back since. So we wait. And wait. And wait.

Our patience pays off, and just before lunch he rocks up. What a beauty!

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Western Bluebill

Lunch

When Sarra asked last night what we wanted to eat for lunch today, we both craved curry and I suggested shrimps. The chef went out to buy them especially this morning, and very good they are too; quite spicy. Mmmm

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The pain in my arm - photographer's elbow – has not abated any during the morning, so I text my good friend John (who is also my chiropractor) for advice. He suggests getting a bottle of cold beer and holding it against the painful area, then drink it afterwards. Now you know why we love him so much!

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Being a glutton for punishment, I forego resting my arm, and head back to the bird pool. After a short while, David retires to the room for a siesta, and I ask him to grab me a bottle of water from the bar before he goes. Awa, our delightful waitress, gets him a cold one from the fridge, and he brings it over for me before he leaves.

Finding that the seal is broken when I go to open the bottle, I assume that David has taken a swig out of before giving it to me, and continue to glug around a third of a litre in one go. It is mighty hot here, and keeping up the fluids is important.

Five minutes later a distraught Awa comes running out, and with obvious horror in her voice asks: “The water? You haven't drunk it...?”

When she sees how much is missing from the bottle, she is full of distressed apologies, but promises that I won't get ill as she takes away the offending bottle (of what I now hope is 'only' tap water and nothing more sinister) and brings me a fresh, SEALED one.

With the thought still in the back of my mind of what the unclean water might do to my tummy, I concentrate on the birds again.

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A scruffy Common Bulbul

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African Thrush

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Angry looking Black Necked Weavers

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Blackcap Babbler with photobombing friend

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Snowy Crowned Robin Chat showing off his beautiful markings

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Village Weaver doing his best Village Idiot impersonation

Bath time Fun

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With the thought of the potentially contaminated water I drank now dominating my mind, I am becoming increasingly paranoid, and I start analysing every real or imagined 'feeling' in my stomach. As an IBS sufferer, I am used to my tummy being talkative and uncomfortable after eating, but is this something more foreboding? When after another twenty minutes or so, I hear donkey-like noises from my belly, I decide to go back to the room while I still can.

Wise move. I only just made it. A good excuse for a siesta, I guess.

Dinner

After the customary Duty Free drinks on the balcony, we head down to the restaurant for dinner. Having ordered it last night, we know exactly what's on offer this evening. Thankfully it seems that the little 'episode' earlier was just that, and I feel fine again now. Phew.

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Fish Dodoma - absolutely delicious!

The jewel in the crown of Tanji Bird Eco Lodge is undoubtedly its staff. Awa and Adama, who are gorgeous inside and out, are twins and have only recently started working here at Tanji, but have already carved out a little niche for themselves with their bubbly personality and service mindedness.

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Another highlight this evening is the resident spider in the toilet by the restaurant, about the size of my splayed palm.

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He's a beauty!

The lodge is situated inside a bird reserve of the same name, and with no other habitation for miles around, there is next to no light pollution here and the stars are really out in force this evening. Despite feeling decidedly tipsy, I attempt some astrophotography before going to bed.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:53 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds beer africa dinner stars west_africa siesta bulbul astro gambia bird_watching eco_lodge shrimps night_photography upset_tummy starry_night astro_photography astrophotography thrush the_gambia tanji babbler robin_chat tanji_bird_eco_lodge abuko gambia_experience bluebill photographer's_elbow water_bottle fish_dodoma starry_sky Comments (2)

Abuko

Big day today: Lifer # 1000


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I spent most of the night tossing and turning, trying to find a position that didn't hurt my arm. That'll teach me for spending so long at the waterhole photographing the birds. Not. I even struggle to bring my hand up to my face this morning, affecting washing, brushing my teeth and hair, and eating. Photographer's elbow. A bit like a tennis player having played in an all day tournament after normally just having a game once or twice a week. The pain won't stop me going out taking photos of birds though.

Abuko

This morning Malick is taking us to Abuko. He's decided that we are going to be better off walking along the plantations just on the outskirts of the woods, rather than inside the thick forest itself, where the conditions will be rather difficult in terms of photography: dark and too many branches in the way. Sounds good to me.

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Onions

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Bitter Tomato

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Sweet Potato

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Mango

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Tapping the palm toddy

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Scarecrow. Or should that be scaredog?

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I don't think the strips of cloth hung from this pole to keep the birds away from the crops are working too well.

We almost immediately spot birds in the trees and on the ground. As before, any lifers (new species to me) will be denoted with *

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Sacred Ibis

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African Grey Hornbill

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Hooded Vulture

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Blue Breasted Kingfisher*

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Grey Woodpecker*

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Woodland Kingfisher

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Spur Winged Plover

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Striated Heron

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Black Crake

Malick warns us to be careful as we step over the ants who are making their way along a well-defined path.

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African Jacana

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Senegal Coucal

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White Billed Buffalo Weavers*

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Two different species of Egrets - Intermediate and Cattle

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Squacco Heron

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Black Heron

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David testing out his directional microphone, hoping to cut out some of the "click click click" he normally gets on his videos from my photography.

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Blue Bellied Roller*

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Giant Kingfisher with a Tilapia in his beak

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Rose Ringed Parakeet

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Pied Crow

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Gull Billed Tern*

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Red Eyed Dove

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Long Tailed Cormorant

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Senegal Thick Knee*

This is a very special and important moment in my birdwatching mission – my 1000th lifer!

Ta da!

While I have been interested in seeing and photographing birds for a very long time, it is only in the last 13 years or so that I have taken it to the next level and making a point of identifying and recording the birds I see. I would not consider myself a serious birder, but I am an ardent list-maker, so to make 1000 different species makes me jubilant and proud.

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Little Bee Eater

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Hammerkop

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Broad Billed Roller

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Hooded Vulture

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Reef Heron

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Purple Heron

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Long Tailed Cormorant

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Great White Egret

I came to The Gambia with a very short wish list, consisting of only three species that I really wanted to see: Western Bluebill, Western Plantain Eater and the Abyssinian Roller. Having ticked off the first two yesterday, Malick promised me the roller today. He succeeded in spotting it, and the bird put on a delightful display for us.

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The perfect finish to a perfect morning's birdwatching. Thank you Malick.

Posted by Grete Howard 06:36 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds crow birding mango ants roller woodpecker heron egret vulture ibis parakeet dove west_africa kingfisher plantations garlic cormorant sweet_potato tilapia gambia bird_watching hornbill hammerkop thick_knee coucal tern the_gambia malick_suso crake afraica abuko bitter_tomato palm_toddy scarecrow 1000th_lifer lifer life_tick Comments (3)

Afternoon at Tanji

Making a splash


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Afternoon at Tanji Bird Eco Lodge

As soon as we get back to Tanji Bird Eco Lodge from our birdwatching at Brufut this morning, we head for the bird baths, of course.

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Black Necked Weavers

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African Silverbill

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Common Bulbul

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Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher

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Snowy Crowned Robin Chat

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Western Red Billed Hornbill

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Common Wattle Eye

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Red Billed Firefinch

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Village Weaver

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Grey Headed Bristlebill

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African Thrush

Lunch

As I said yesterday, we are the only overnight guests at the lodge, although other visitors come for a drink or just to watch the birds at the bath; including the two Dutch ladies we saw this morning at Brufut. For lunch, however, there is just the two of us, and we sit at one of the tables on the ridge overlooking the sea beyond.

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Fish with spicy sauce

After lunch I return to the paddling pool while David goes to the room for a siesta. The girls have been in to make the bed and have lovingly created some more designs with flower petals.

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Black Necked Weaver

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Red Cheeked Cordon Blue

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Village Weaver

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There is quite a pool party going on.

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Black Billed Wood Dove

All through the afternoon, birds come and go, different species, some of which are familiar to me, but many of whom I'd not seen before this morning. I am absolutely captivated by the goings-on and can't tear myself away.

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This poor little bulbul has a bent beak, and I am not sure if it is a birth defect or whether he has collided with a window or similar. He is still alive, so is presumably able to survive on soft fruits and suchlike.

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The Little Bee Eaters dart in from the confines of the trees, swoop down for a brief dip in the cool water and once again return to the safety of the woods. All in the blink of an eye.

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Blue Spotted Wood Dove

I am particularly fascinated by the splashing in the shallow water. Dialling in rapid shooting on my camera, I fire off picture after picture after picture of the weavers (mainly) cleaning their feathers.

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There is even a squirrel who makes a brief appearance at the water hole.

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Feeling a slight twinge in my elbow from spending the last ten hours or so photographing birds (taking nearly 5000 pictures in the last 24 hours while holding a heavy lens in the air); I figure it is about time to call it a day. Popping into the bar on the way back to the room, I grab the last three Cokes to go with the Duty Free rum for me, and the last beer for David; for us to enjoy a little snifter in the room before dinner. It looks like we have drunk the bar dry. Again. This seems to be a fairly regular occurrence on our travels.

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Dinner

By the time we wander down to the restaurant for something to eat, the bar has thankfully been restocked, and we can both enjoy a beer with our food tonight.

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Sarra, the manager, comes over for a chat and asks: “You want wine? I'll get you wine for tomorrow”.

Followed by “We have internet, a service we offer to The Gambia Experience. 200 Dalasi for the duration of your stay”.

As I do like to be in touch with the world (really?), I reply with gusto “Great. What's the password?”

“I will go and get it”.

Sarra proceeds to walk over to a pile of papers and start to rummage. Nothing. He pokes around in the bar. Still nothing. Continuing his search in the kitchen, it is apparent he still has not found what he is looking for. Nor in the office. Eventually he wanders off to one of the bedrooms, presumably still looking for the elusive piece of paper with the code on it.

The food arrives, but still no wifi password. Oh well, it is not that important anyway.

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Chicken and chips, Gambian style. The chicken is served in a delicious sauce, but I am missing my veggies. I find the vast majority of restaurants, both in the UK and abroad, serve far too few vegetables with their meals for my liking.

Just as we finish our food, Sarra comes back with the password and I am yet again in touch with the world.

Acutely aware that we are the only guests in the lodge, we vacate the restaurant and retire to our room for the night so that the staff can go home. Before we go, we ask for an extra duvet to put on the bed - not something I expected to do here in the Gambia.

The room is eerily dark, with the only sound coming from the crashing waves and rustling palms. Pure heaven.

Posted by Grete Howard 16:47 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds africa birding flycatcher dove wifi weaver bulbul gambia bird_watching hornbill eco_lodge thrush bee_eater the_gambia tanji robin_chat bristlebill the_gambia_experience cordon_blue firefinch tanji_bird_eco_lodge tanji_bird_reserve bird_photography wood_dove wifi_password Comments (1)

Brufut

So many lifers


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Yet again Lariam (malaria prophylaxis) upsets my sleep with a series of bad dreams: while faced with a plethora of colourful birds, my camera refuses to operate despite repeatedly and frustratingly pressing the shutter. I wake up agitated and distressed, realise it is thankfully just a dream and return to sleep. And the dream. The same horrid dream. This repeats itself time and time again and by the time the alarm goes off at 6am, I am exhausted.

Birding Pool

Knowing we are too early for the breakfast, and will be out for most of the morning, we grab some snacks from our bags and head to the bird pool to wait for the guide to arrive.

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As it is still fairly dark, photography is almost impossible, so we just sit and enjoy until Malick turns up.

Police Check Point

We pre-booked Malick – Chris Packham's birding guide of choice - through The Gambia Experience before we left home, just to make sure we had a couple of days of serious birding organised. Having someone who knows where to go and the transport to take us there is half the battle.

As with so many African countries, The Gambia has its fair share of Police Road Blocks where they check the drivers' paperwork. It also acts as an opportunity to investigate the birds that hang around here, feeling on rubbish left behind.

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Yellow Crowned Gonolek

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Red Cheeked Cordon Blue

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Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher

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Western Red Billed Hornbill

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Brown Babbler

Brufut

Our destination for today, however, is Brufut, a community-organised bird sanctuary protected by the West African Birds Study Association.

Before we reach the woods themselves, we stop near some habitation at the edge of a few plantations and take a short walk to see what species can be found around here. We are very excited to spot so many 'lifers' (species new to us, indicated by * below) in such a small area.

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Yellow Billed Shrike*

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Stone Partridge*

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Piapiac*

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White Crowned Robin Chat*

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White Faced Whistling Ducks

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Greater Honeyguide*

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Village Weaver

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Blue Bellied Roller*

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Senegal Wattled Plover*

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Black Crake

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Long Tailed Glossy Starling

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Fine Spotted Woodpecker*

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African Jacana

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Pied Crow

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White Billed Buffalo Weaver*

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Greenshank

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Spur Winged Plover

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Beautiful Sunbird (female)

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Bearded Barbet

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Splendid Sunbird (female)

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Copper Sunbird*

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Intermediate Egret

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Northern Red Bishop in non-breeding colours*

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Variable Sunbird (female) The female sunbirds all look very similar.

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Common Sandpiper

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Pied Kingfisher

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Black Headed Heron

The plantations include such crops as cashew nuts and mango trees.

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Unripe cashew fruits with the nuts not yet having developed - they will be hanging down below when ripe

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Mango fruits

Brufut Woodland Bar

We continue to an area known as Brufut Woods, where there is even a bar serving drinks. Fearing that they may not be open this late in the season, Malick had already contacted them by phone earlier, to make sure they put the kettle on.

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A number of benches are set out, overlooking an area with several bird baths in the trees and on the ground. I notice that rather than putting out food for the birds so that they become dependent on humans for feeding, only water is provided. I like that.

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This is the civilised way of photographing the birds.

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We spend the next couple of hours watching, photographing, and listening to the birds, seeing their family squabbles, how they interact with each other and some obvious pecking orders.

As before, any lifers are denoted with *

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Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu

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Senegal Coucal

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Black Billed Wood Dove*

I usually have a wish list of birds (or animals) I wish to see when we travel, and this is one of only three on my list this time:

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Western Plantain Eater*

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Bronze Mannikin

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Yellow Throated Leaflove*

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Laughing Doves

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Common Bulbul

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Red Billed Firefinch (female)

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Black Necked Weaver*

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Greater Honeyguide*

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Lavender Waxbill*

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Orange Cheeked Waxbill*

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African Thrush*

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Splendid Sunbird

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Hooded Vulture

We employ the services of a local guide to help us go in to the woods to look for the Long Tailed Nightjar which is often found in this area. After a short moment of concern when the bird is not where he saw it half an hour earlier (as nocturnal birds, nightjars don't tend to move far during the day unless they are spooked), he spots it on the ground, very well camouflaged.

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We start making our way back to the main road, along dirt tracks frequented by more animal carts than vehicles.

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But first, Malick wants to check out some palms on the way.

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Grey Woodpecker*

Having seen them here in the last couple of days, this is what he was looking for:

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Red Necked Falcons*

And so ends a very productive morning's birdwatching. Now back to the lodge for the rest of the day.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:41 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds crow africa birding coffee mango woodpecker heron egret vulture dove malaria west_africa kingfisher starling plantations weaver falcon shrike bulbul dreams finch barbet gambia lariam nightjar bird_watching hornbill sunbird jacana cashews coucal plover thrush sandpiper life_list robin_chat mefloquine malaria_prophelaxis malaria_tablets nightmares disturbed_sleep police_check_point chris_packham malick_suso the_gambia_experience gonolek cordon_blue brufut brufut_woods piapiac whistling_ducks honeyguide crake glossy_starling greenshank red_bishop mango_trees cashew_nuts cashew_trees plantain_eater mannikin firefinch waxbill Comments (4)

Gatwick to Tanji

Better late than never


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

As expected, the hotel room was way too hot overnight (it is a common problem with Premier Inns) and I didn't sleep very well. The benefit of this is that I will then hopefully sleep on the plane, making the flight go quicker.

After dropping off the car at the valet parking, we head for the Titan check in desk. It is a number of years since we travelled on a charter flight, and I am concerned about my hand luggage which is full of camera equipment and borderline as far as the weight limit goes. To mitigate this, David is carrying one of my lenses in his backpack, and another in his coat pocket, whereas I slip all the batteries in my pocket and wear one of the cameras around my neck with yet another lens on it.

As it turns out, all this worry has been for nothing – they don't even give the hand luggage a second glance, yet alone weigh it.

Wondertree Restaurant

Duty Free purchase comes next, then breakfast.

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David's full English

I order pancakes with bacon and syrup.
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Flight

Boarding is simple and straight forward and we strike lucky with a row to ourselves.

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As we settle in, ready to relax for the next six-and-a-half hours, our hearts sink a little when the captain comes on the intercom with an announcement: “Things don't seem to be going too well for us this morning; we have developed a technical fault and have to go back to the stand to get an engineer to check it out.”

Oh dear.

One hour later, he updates us: “We're ready to go, air traffic control is ready, but Eurocontrol is not ready”.

At this point he switches the engine off to save fuel, which of course means no A/C. The cabin becomes hotter and hotter and hotter as people's patience wears thinner and thinner. After some (uncomfortable) time, he reassures us: “I am aware that you guys are getting rather warm back there...” and switches the power back on.

More time passes before the next announcement: “A restricted no-fly zone has cropped up in the south of France, so our flight path needs re-routing.”

More waiting time.

That sorted, we are informed that “we need a courier to push us out from the stand and they are all at the other side of the airport”.

At this point the lady across the aisle from us becomes very irate, shouting obscenities, calling the captain a liar, refusing to switch her phone off etc. While I understand that nerves are getting frayed and tempers short, that sort of outburst is not doing her – or us – any favours.

We finally take off two hours and twenty minutes late. What should have been a 6 and a half hour flight, now becomes nearly nine hours of having to sit in this tin can.

The flight itself is reasonably painless after all that, with quite good food (spicy chicken noodles and a very nice chocolate and orange mousse). Wine, of course, has to be bought – and paid for – separately. I guess we have been spoilt over the years with scheduled long haul flight where everything is included.

Banjul Airport

The modern terminal building has been added since we were last here; in fact, it is not fully completed yet. We are last in the queue for immigration, but it doesn't matter as the luggage has only just started to arrive when we get out there.

Some things have never changed since we were here last, 23 years ago: porters wishing to change the British coins they have been given as tips into notes which they are then able to convert into Dalasi, the local currency. I am happy to oblige.

My bag arrives and we watch everyone else collect theirs, one after the other. Still no sign of David's. Some bags go round and round, again and again, but David's is not one of them. More and more people are leaving the baggage area and heading for the customs and exit. Still no sign of David's bag. With only a handful of passengers still remaining around the carousel, all apparently in possession of their luggage, the belt stops. Without David's case. After a few tense moments, I spot it, partly hidden by the curtain at the entrance to the belt, stopping just short of actually coming into the baggage area. Phew.

Tanji Bird Lodge

As expected, we have a private minibus transfer to the hotel. Our accommodation for the first five days is in a very small eco-lodge with just eight rooms, and it soon becomes apparent that we are the only tourists staying here for those nights.

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The lodge is all very open plan, with a thatch-covered bar and tables in amongst the trees as well as on a ridge overlooking the ocean for eating and drinking.

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A meandering path leads us to the four simple brick huts housing two rooms in each.

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There is no A/C in the room, but it has been designed with a high domed ceiling to help disperse the heat, and with slatted windows, the sea breezes are allowed to flow through.

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The inside is basic but adequate, featuring a narrow double bed which has been lovingly strewn with flower petals. In all the years we've travelled and all the hotels we've stayed in, this is a first for us. We have had petals on the bed before, of course, but never has it spelled out our name – such a special and personal touch.

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Domed ceiling

The bathroom has a shower and toilet but no running hot water (we were fully aware of that when we booked), and we cannot seem to manage to get any water out of the shower hose, only through the tap. Cold bucket showers it is then. In this heat, that can be quite refreshing, and is an excellent way to preserve water.

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Bird Baths

But first things first: bird watching. The lodge is set inside Tanji Bird Reserve, and have enticed birds to visit the grounds by providing a series of bowls and pools filled with water. To encourage human visitors, chairs and benches are available for us to sit on as we watch our feathered friends come to bathe and drink; with strategically placed tables for our drinks too of course.

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David's preferred way to spot birds

We see a surprising amount of birds in the short time we are here this afternoon (by the time we get settled in to the room, we only have around half an hour left of daylight). They come to bathe and drink, or maybe just hang around with their mates. Here is a small selection:

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Blue Spotted Wood Dove

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Blackcap Babblers

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Red Eyed Dove

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Village Weavers

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Snowy Crowned Robin Chat

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Black Necked Weaver and Grey Headed Bristlebill

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Laughing Dove

Dinner

As is the Howard tradition, we enjoy a Duty Free tipple in the room before going down to the restaurant for dinner. We find it surprisingly chilly, with a cool wind, to the point of wearing a fleece. We never expected that in The Gambia; in fact, while packing we contemplated whether or not to bring any type of warm clothing at all. Just as well we did.

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As the sun goes down, some interesting clouds appear, later taking on a muted pink hue from the setting sun.

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With us being the only two guests in the lodge this evening, catering is down to what they have in the kitchen, which is fish and chicken.

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We choose butter fish, which is thankfully de-boned and absolutely delicious. I have mine with rice while David orders chips.

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With a glass or two of the local beer, of course. While the main religion here in The Gambia is Islam, they are a secular nation and quite liberal – the country even has its own brewery.

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Being situated inside a bird reserve, there is no light pollution here. Walking back to the room in almost complete darkness, we are glad to see someone has been to the room and switched our outside light on while we were eating dinner. How thoughtful.

We have only had a couple of beers each this evening, but David really struggles to get the key in the lock. s we are fiddling, a knock from behind the door makes me jump – there is someone in our room! Then it dawns on us: this is not our room. It seems we have tried to enter the room where the manager was sleeping. Oops. Sheepishly we continue to our own room and make a mental note of leaving the outside light on tomorrow night.

Being used to a super-king sized bed at home, we worry that the four-foot bed in this place is going to feel rather cramped. Surprisingly, it doesn't, but it is somewhat chilly this evening so we reluctantly grab the duvet from the cupboard and put on the bed. While the bed is narrow, the duvet is miniscule. It is basically a single quilt inside a double cover. It looks like we will have to cuddle up all night, then.

Once the lights are out, the room is pitch black. The sort of blackness that you cannot imagine without having experienced somewhere with absolutely no light whatsoever. Your eyes never get used to it. You cannot see anything. At all. I make sure my torch is within groping distance, and drift off to sleep.

The Gambia Experience featuring Tanji Bird Eco Lodge

Posted by Grete Howard 10:59 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds hotel flight airport breakfast dinner birding dove weaver gatwick titan bird_watching delay valet_parking check_in bajul charter_flight wondertree tanji tanji_bird_lodge bird-bath babbler robin_chat bristlebill butter_fish narrow_bed Comments (4)

Home to Gatwick

The Gambia here we come


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After having to cancel our trip to Norway recently while looking after my terminally ill father: culminating in his death at the end of a long and stressful period of our lives; I felt the need to book something. Anything. I didn't want to have to spend time planning a 'proper' adventure, but I did want to go somewhere reasonably exotic. Having contemplated a return to The Gambia a couple of times in recent years (we first visited in 1996), it seemed a perfect destination: hot, sunny, relaxing, comfortable, friendly, excellent bird watching and not too long a flight.

So here we are, in the car on the way to Gatwick for an overnight stay before our early morning flight tomorrow.

Premier Inn at Gatwick Manor

After checking in to the hotel, we crack open a bottle of something alcoholic in the room (we do like to have a little tipple while we are getting ready) before sauntering down for an early dinner. We find there are no vacant tables in the restaurant, but the bar is reasonably empty, so we eat our food there instead.

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With mostly traditional pub dishes on the menu, I choose carefully. It is not that I don't like traditional food, but when I go out to eat I prefer to have dishes that I would not normally have at home.

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Very tasty mushrooms in Stilton and black peppercorn sauce on toasted sour dough bread for starter.

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Battered halloumi and chips. One of my frustrations with classic pub menus is that so much of it is deep fried (why not just simply grill the halloumi rather than adding extra grease and calories?) and most things seem to be served with chips, which I am not overly keen on.

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David, having more of a traditional palate than me, chooses pie and chips for his main course.

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My choux bun with Prosecco strawberries is disappointing. The berries appear to have come out of a tin and there is too much cream for my liking. David fares much better with his apple and sultana crumble with a hint of cinnamon. As usual David asks for custard and ice cream, but unlike most other places we have eaten over the last few years, he get charged extra for one of them.

Almost as soon as we have finished eating, we retire to the room to make sure we get some sleep before tomorrow's early start. Watch this space for further updates from The Gambia.

Posted by Grete Howard 09:36 Archived in England Tagged dinner gatwick gambia premier_inn gatwick_manor the_gambia pub_food halloumi pie_and_chips Comments (2)

Ndutu (cheetah) - Ngorongo picnic - Arusha Part 2

Malisa finally finds us a cheetah


View Tanzania for Lyn and Chris' 40th Anniversary 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Hyena

Sporting an old wound on his hind quarters, probably as a result of a slap from a lion while trying to steal food, this guy looks rather sorry for himself.

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A few more adults and sub-adults are scattered around in the long, dry grass.

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Not far away we come across their den in an old disused aardvark hole.

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This family cackle (collective noun for a group of hyenas) consists of at least two different litters of pups, six weeks and four weeks old respectively.

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Hyena pups are born black and start to grow their spots at around two weeks old.

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Elephants

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Common Flat Lizards

We spot these little reptiles from a great distance because of their bright, almost luminous, colours. They are a new species to us, causing some excitement, at least for me. I am bemused by their name though - surely there is nothing 'common' about these flamboyant lizards?

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Dik Dik

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Little Bee Eater

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Steenboks

It is easy to tell the genders of steenboks apart, as only the males have horns.

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Giraffe

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Love the photobomb!

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Elephants

Down on the Big Marsh

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Cheetah

Since we left the lodge this morning, Malisa has been driving around from bush to tree, mound to rock, all across the plains, checking out all the usual places cheetah are known to hang out. Here in Ndutu, cheetah are usually quite easy to spot and Malisa is determined not to leave here until we've seen one. Finally we find not one, but two: a mother and her one-year old cub.

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Every time we think we have a great view for photographs, the cats turn their heads and/or bodies the opposite direction, so we end up driving round and round the tree several times to try and get a decent picture.

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As we have a long way to go to get back to Arusha today, we reluctantly leave the cheetah behind. Only for the cats to move to a different position as soon as the car starts up. So we stay for a little while longer.

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But we really have to go. But then the cub gets up. Just a little bit longer.

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Now we truly must make a move. But then mum gets up. Just a few more photographs.

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Then they sit down again.

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Look at those claws!

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It is absolutely necessary for us to get on our way now. Then they start licking. We can't go quite yet.

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There comes a time when we cannot put off our departure any longer, and we all agree that this is a very special 'leaving present'. What a way to go out on a high.

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We start to make our way back to Arusha, but we have a considerable distance to cover yet (another seven hours driving at least).

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Goat Herds

One of the main differences between National Parks and Conservation Areas in Tanzania (we are currently in the latter) is that wildlife share the Conservation Areas with the local people and their livestock, who are banned from National Parks.

We see a couple of young kids with erm... young kids (ie. baby goats). One of the children is leading a new born goat, so new he is still very wobbly (the goat, not the child). Lyn and I get totally carried away snapping pictures of this cute little one, until the infuriated adult herder comes over to shout angrily at Malisa. “He is unhappy the you will sell the photo and get lots of money while he gets nothing”. Malisa assures him that no-one is intending to make a profit from selling the pictures of his baby goat, but we slip him some money anyway.

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Endulen

Apparently devoid of all vegetation, our surroundings still appear to support a vast number of giraffes. What on earth do they find to feed on?

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Leaving the sanctity of the vehicle to 'answer the call of nature' in this barren, desolate and forbidding area, we find ourselves roasting in the formidable heat and sandblasted by the violent gusts carrying clouds of dust. With no vegetation or human habitation as far as the eye can see, you would not survive long on foot in this furnace-like terrain.

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Lake Eyasi

The temperatures drop noticeably as we climb to higher altitudes. We will be reaching the same altitude as the highest mountain in Norway at some stage on our way to Arusha today – that rather puts it into perspective.

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Maasai Country

Vegetation has begun to appear, both wild and cultivated, as has a few Maasai settlements including a school and even a small hospital. The Maasai people have a reputation as fierce warriors, and are not always terribly hospitable to outside visitors. The children, however, break into a sprint as they see our car approaching, hoping we will stop and maybe bestow them with a gift in the form of a pen, sweets or money.

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This is not the place to make a 'call of nature', but both Lyn and I are desperate. After what seems like an eternity, but in reality is only about an hour, Malisa finally finds a suitable spot with no kids or houses within sight. Phew. A communal "ahhhhhh" can be heard from all sides of the vehicle.

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Augur Buzzard

This magnificent birds is sitting close to the road, but doesn't automatically fly off as soon as we pull up in the car, as they usually do. When he starts to look around, we stay for a while, hoping he might fly off.

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And he does, skimming the ground at low level, presumably looking for mice or other small rodents.

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Accident

Oops. It looks like the left front wheel of this vehicle has sheered off.

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Nyati Transit Picnic Site

Positioned near the Ang'Ata Camp we stayed at the first night out in the bush, this picnic area has stunning views out over the Ngorongoro Crater.

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We are joined for lunch by a number of Black Kites who soar overhead, ready to swoop on any unattended food. The seagulls of Ngorongoro.

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While I am busy photographing the flying birds, I hear some distant music. Coming from my trouser pocket. Having spent the last six days with no mobile signal, it takes me a while to register that the noise is my phone ringing. Panicking that there is a problem with my dad, I am relieved when it is only a confirmation of an appointment the day after we get back.

Dirt

I notice that my face and neck is covered in dust from the dirt tracks in the park today. As always, I am looking forward top getting in the shower tonight.

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On our way again

Once we reach Lodoare Gate and exit the Conservation Area, the road is sealed and very smooth, sending me into a nice, comfortable slumber. It is also very steep and winding, and we see a number of accidents along the way, far more than we have ever seen in the past.

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Mount Meru

Just outside Arusha, we meet up with Tillya at a modern shopping mall, where the clean, modern toilets are very welcome. A quest to spot a Shoebill rumoured to be hanging around the local fields is fruitless, however.

From here we hit the urban jungle with traffic jams, road works and pedestrians milling round. By the time we reach Kia Lodge near the airport, it is dark and quite late. We have to say goodbye to Malisa here, as he will be going home to his family tonight, so the lodge will arrange our airport transfer tomorrow morning. Parting is always such sweet sorrow, but David and I have already decided that we will be back in 15 months' time.

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Every time we leave Tanzania after a safari, we wonder how any subsequent trip could possibly live up to the one we have just had. This time is no exception – it seems like each time we come, the safari experience gets better than the next.

Having travelled a great deal, using a vast number of operators, including a dozen or so different safari outfitters, I can categorically confirm that Calabash Adventures tops them all. Malisa, who has been our driver-guide for the last three safaris, and Dickson, who took us for the previous three, both have exceptional knowledge in all areas pertaining to the natural world, charming personalities, delightful sense of humour, and graceful compassion towards both man and beast.

Tillya, the owner of Calabash Adventures, is devoted to ensuring each and every client gets the most out of their time in the bush and has the best time ever.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:19 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds elephants kite africa safari tanzania lizard birding cheetah picnic accident den maasai giraffe ngorongoro hyena goats bird_watching buzzard game_drive ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area dik_dik bee_eater augur_buzzard mount_meru nyati steenbok hyena_den hyena_pups cackle common_flat_lizard little_bee_eater big_marsh goat_herds baby_goats endulen lake_eyasi nyati_transit_picnic_site picnic_site black_kite Comments (1)

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