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Bird Watching - Maraya - Al Ula Old Town - Medina

A fascinating day, but not feeling my best

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Yesterday morning as we walked to the restaurant for breakfast, I noticed a few birds hanging around the hotel gardens. I wished I’d had my long lens with me at the time, so this morning I get up early to do some birding before breakfast.

White Spectacled Bulbul

Tristram's Starling

Red Backed Shrike

Spotted Flycatcher

Arabian Green Bee Eater

A couple of nice little lifers there (birds we have not previously seen).

After yesterday’s frustration and disappointment at having to explore the sites on a group tour, we decide to give the Al Ula Old Town excursion this morning a miss. Instead, we ask Bacha, our lovely driver, to take us to see some ultra-modern architecture that I have read about, as an alternative.

We encounter the first problem before we even get near the building – there is no entry to the site unless you are on a group tour organised by the tourist office. Groan.

Bacha, having previously spent some time in Al Ula, knows another way. That road too, is blocked off so we cannot enter. Looking at google maps, Bacha explores yet another possible way in, and it turns out to be third time lucky. This is the route taken by the construction vehicles, and Bacha sweet-talks the supervisor by talking to him in Urdu, the official’s native language (and one of several that Bacha can speak). The guard agrees to let us pass, but gives us only eight minutes inside, just about enough time to be able to drive around the building without stopping.

Trucks travelling to and from Maraya on the dirt road cutting through the mountainous desert scenery

So what exactly is Maraya? This is the world’s largest mirrored building (Mataya means mirror or reflection in Arabic) with 9740 mirrored panels, and is designed to blend into the desert landscape and rise from it like a mirage.


As part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan of greatness on the world tourism scale, Maraya has been coined the centrepiece of Al Ula’s growing cultural scene. The building features a restaurant (we were even told that foreigners are permitted to drink alcohol there, but whether that is true or not I have no idea), a concert auditorium, a wedding venue, a conference centre, and a place for art exhibitions to name a few.


This award-winning architectural masterpiece was completed in just 2½ months in 2019, and is constructed so that it can “move and adjust itself” to the wide range of temperatures in the desert.


Like a mirage, Maraya plays tricks with my mind – I struggle to make out what is the background and what are reflections as the building seemingly appears and disappears while we are driving around it. It really is quite extraordinary.




Much as I love history, seeing this unique reflective cube that has ostensibly been plonked amongst stunning rocky outcrops, adding to the beauty of the desert scenery, is of more interest to me this morning. I am so glad we had the opportunity to work around the rules and get a quick glimpse.

Spotting our car on the mirrored surface

By the time we get back into town, I am desperate for the loo and am grateful for the recent expansion of Al Ula to attract world tourists as I enter the modern toilet with a ‘proper’ western seat in the new bus station. I have never enjoyed having the ‘squits of the squats’, but with my bad knee, it could be pretty disastrous. I take some Ciprofloaxin (antibiotics that 'should' help clear up any diarrhea), just in case, for the long journey ahead.

Old Al Ula Town
This is where our itinerary was supposed to be taking us this morning, but when I see the large groups of people getting off the buses at the edge of the town and walking to the ruins of the old city, I am even more glad we opted out of the old and into the new this morning.


It’s an extensive site and not much is left of the once-important city.


It is said that Mohammed came through here on his way from Mecca and stayed for three days, which attracts a number of Muslims who come here to pray.



I sleep for a while as we make our way towards our last destination of the day: Medina. When I wake up, I am in dire need of a toilet. This. Very. Minute. Explaining my urgency to Bacha, he looks out for service stations, which are few and far between on these long-distance roads. He spots one and pops in to check it out for me. Closed. The second one is also closed. It is now becoming so desperate that I no longer care whether there is a seat or a hole in the ground, I just need to go!

Bacha pulls up at a mosque and finds the attached ablutions building open, with a communal toilet block. Hurrying as carefully as I can to avoid any sudden jerky movements, I rush in. As I open the door, my bowels scream “can I let go now?” with me pleasing “no, no, no, not yet!” I will spare you the gory details but suffice to say that for the first time ever on all our many travels, I don’t make it to the cubicle in time.

After changing all my clothes and cleaning up the mess (this was not the day to wear white trousers), I collapse with embarrassment in the car and immediately go back to sleep.

Al Anbariah Restaurant
On the outskirts of Medina we stop at a traditional restaurant where we meet up with our local guide, another Ali. As a traditional hospitality greeting, the manager brings out an incense burner – thankfully it is only symbolic, as both David and I can feel our eyes stinging and noses running as soon as the smoke hits us.

Ali orders a selection of dishes for our lunch. What a spread! The plates just keep arriving, there must be enough food to feed around 20 people.


I really shouldn’t eat much, if anything, but I don’t want to offend, either, so I take just a very small helping.


Fattoush - a salad of tomatoes, cucumber, mint, parsley, and toasted pitta bread


Shorba - a complimentary soup offered by the management as part of the hospitality

Selik - rice with milk served with chicken in a spicy sauce

Another different type of rice with chicken

Molichia - a green vegetable sauce to go with the chicken and rice, which is made from a vegetable known in English as jute mallow

Bamya - a chicken and okra stew

Camel kebabs with bread and a yogurt sauce

After all that food, a dessert is brought out.

Echestraya - a pudding made from bread, milk, rosewater, sugar, and date honey. It is similar to a crumble and absolutely delicious!

And there is Arabian coffee to finish, of course.


Medina is the second holiest city for Muslims after Mecca, and I am requested to wear an abaya and hejab as we tour the holy sites this afternoon.


Ali, our local guide here in Medina

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi AKA The Prophet's Mosque or the Grand Mosque
Along with thousands of other people, we head to the Grand Mosque in time for the afternoon prayers. As non-Muslims, we are not permitted to enter the mosque compound, but Ali finds us the perfect viewpoint where we can observe the many different nationalities who have made their way here to pray, some of whom have come from afar.




We see people from Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, other Arab nations, and more, all heading for the Tomb of Mohammed to pay their respects. Muslims believe that the rewards of praying in Al-Masjid an-Nabawi are better than 1,000 prayers in any other mosque.



The large courtyard in front of the mosque is covered in the most amazing and ornate umbrellas that are being lowered automatically as we arrive. I would love to see the courtyard from the inside with all the umbrellas up.

Umbrellas being lowered

According to the internet, this is what it looks like:

Photo: King Eliot, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, that is never going to happen, so I make the most of soaking in the incredible ambiance that surrounds this place. Despite still feeling pretty rough, I am totally mesmerised by this place, with its peaceful and reverent atmosphere.


The umbrellas are completely folded up now, and blend seamlessly into the rest of the architecture.


The surrounding area is one huge hotel complex, with more springing up by the minute.


Still, they are struggling to meet demand. When I see the number of people here today, just an ordinary day, not even a Friday, I cannot begin to imagine what this place is like during Hajj (the annual pilgrimage).


These images from the internet show the sheer scale of the haram of the mosque (the sanctuary area inaccessible to non-Muslims).




Hejaz Railway Museum
The former railway station has been turned into a museum with artifacts from the age of the railways and earlier.


By now I am suffering from some bad stomach cramps, so I stay in the car with Bacha while David and Ali go in. The museum is very crowded, so they don’t stay long. The following images are screen grabs taken from David’s video.

The foyer

Model of the museum

Museum exhibits

While we are waiting, a man knocks on the window of the car, holding up a bunch of grapes. “Medina grapes,” he says as he hands Bacha the fruits and walks off. The last thing I would want to eat right now, is unwashed grapes. Bacha tries one, screws his face up, and states: “No good”. As I say to Bacha, perhaps that is why the chap is giving them away.

Not long afterwards another man comes along offering grapes – this time Bacha just waves him on.

Quba Mosque
Built in 622AD as the Prophet Mohammed migrated from Mecca to Medina where he made his home, this was the very first mosque to be constructed anywhere in the world. At the time, it had palm trees for pillars and leaves for the roof, and it was built by the Prophet himself and his companions. Over time, various caliphs have renovated and extended the mosque to the super-mosque we see today, with four minarets, 56 domes, and a capacity of 15,000 devotees.


Bacha explains that to Muslims, this is a very special place to pray, and he excitedly asks if he and Ali can go and make their sundown prayers here as he has never had the opportunity before. Right at the start of this tour, we told Bacha that we are very happy for him to stop at any time to make prayers during the trip, and he has briefly done so on a couple of previous occasions. Meanwhile, David and I are left babysitting the car, which is double parked in the overfull car park.

Alia Al Madina Farm
No trip to Saudi Arabia is complete without a visit to a date farm. This place, the oldest farm in Medina, is reached via a long fenced alley; and once inside there is a touristy open-air space that is a peculiar mixture of workshops, a café, shops, and a museum.


The Explore group (a small group tour operator) that we saw yesterday is already here, it seems.


First, we are shown how these seats are made from rope and palm leaves. While the place is touristy in appearance, there is no sales pressure.


The main item produced here is dates. There are so many different dates, and we are shown the best ones in the area. Neither of us is particularly fond of dates, but after being given a taster, we buy some date syrup, at great cost.


In the ‘museum’ part of the complex, we are shown how the farm may have looked in the early days.


Archer’s Hill
There is a lot of Islamic history tied to this hill, mostly because of the Battle of Uhud that took place here in the 7th century between the non-believers of Makkah, and the Muslims. In the battle, 50 archers were posted on Archers' Hill to protect the Muslim army from attack, under strict instructions from Mohammed to stay there. Some members of the army, however, mistakingly believed the battle was over and deserted their post, which led to the Makkah army gaining an advantage resulting in a great loss of lives for the Muslims.


Ali manages to obtain special permission for us to drive around the site rather than walk, because of my knee injury.


Martyr’s Cemetery
Many pilgrims come here to visit the sacred hill, as well as the cemetery next to it, where the bodies of 70 martyrs from the battle are buried. It serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of disobeying the Prophet Muhammed.


Bacha goes to pay his respect at the cemetery.

Sayyid al-Shudada Mosque
The mosque is named after Mohammed’s uncle, Hamzah (full name Sayed al-Shohada Hamzah ibn Abdul Muttalib), who was killed in the aforementioned battle. The mosque is a recent structure, completed in 2017, but replaces another mosque structure that was originally attached to Hamzah’s tomb.



Delights Inn
When we get to the hotel, the Explore group is already there, checking in. One lady has a problem, and it takes the single receptionist ages to get through them all.

By the time it is finally our turn, we get the usual dreaded question: “Have you booked?” Yet again they struggle to find our reservation, but eventually, some 20 minutes after we first arrived, we do have somewhere to retire to.

The room is small, but the bed is enormous. I do not feel like eating anything this evening after my mishap earlier, and as there is no restaurant in the hotel itself, we just retire to bed. David ate a lot at our late lunch, anyway.

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this fascinating trip for us.


Posted by Grete Howard 22:33 Archived in Saudi Arabia Tagged hotels desert mosque cemetery museum grapes farm toilet birding mirage arabia medina parasols flycatcher saudi shrike dates muslims runs bulbul middle_east mohammed starting hummus bird_watching saudi_arabia birdlife ksa undiscovered_destinations ciprofloxacin diarrhoea bee_eater grand_mosque bird_photography arabic_coffee al_ula sahary_resort maraya al_anbarian_restauarnt camel_meat incense_burner tomb_of_mohammed fattoush shorba selik molichia bamya camel_kebabs echestraya al_masjid_an_nawwabi the_prophets_mosque quba_mosque unbrellas haram hejaz hejaz_railway_museum railway_museum alia_al_madina_farm date_farm archers-hill battle_of_uhud uhud martyrs_cemetery sayyid_al_shudada_mosque hamzah sayed_al_shohada_hamzah_ibn_abd delights_inn Comments (0)

A day of doing very little at Mandina Lodges

Our last day in The Gambia

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Having foregone the early morning coffee delivered to our room this morning, we sleep in until we wake naturally, and wander down to breakfast when we are ready.


We choose the full works today:

Fresh fruit, fruit juice and coffee

Continental selection: bread, jam and butter – as always there is too little butter, it seems to be the same all over the world!

Full English: eggs of choice (I have vegetable, cheese and chilli omelette), bacon sausage, baked beans and tomato. I am rather surprised to be offered bacon in an Islamic country – I am assuming the chef is not a practising Muslim.

The day is spent between the shade on our private terrace with a book (and my camera by my side, just in case); on the bed in the cool room with a book; in the bar with a cold drink and a book; and in the pool cooling off - without a book.

Egret on the neighbours' deck

Western Plantain Eater


Common Bulbul

African Palm Swift


Western Plantain Eaters

Common Bulbul





Channelling my creative side...

I love the artwork dotted around the grounds.






Our last night here at Mandina Lodges is as uneventful as the day has been.

Prawns in Black Bean Sauce with Noodles

The fish cakes are disappointing as they seem to be mostly potato, but the home made tartare sauce is delicious

Apple Fritter with Ice Cream - or rather ice cream with apple fritter

And so it is off to bed.

Posted by Grete Howard 11:33 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds book breakfast africa dinner swimming pool birding egret creative artwork prawns west_africa bulbul gambia omelette bird_watching bacon swift the_gambia plantain_eater makasutu makasutu_forest full_english_breakfast continental_breakfast reading_a_book manidian_lodges creative_side fish_cakes Comments (7)

Tanji Beach and Bird Bath

Last morning at Tanji

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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.






It could be so nice.



The beach is suffering badly from erosion




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


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









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



With a drink, of course


Black Necked Weaver enjoying a splash in the bird bath

Red Eyed Dove

Village Weaver

African Silverbill

African Silverbill

Common Bulbul

Black Necked Weaver

Western Bluebill

Pied Crow

Red Billed Firefinch

Common Wattle Eye

Agama Lizard

Western Red Billed Hornbill

White Crowned Robin Chat

Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher

Yellow Throated Leaflove

Snowy Crowned Robin Chat

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

Bronze Mannikins

Red Cheeked Cordon Blue

Grey Headed Bristlebill

Senegal Coucal


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.

Fish and chips

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)


Another heavenly place

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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.


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.

Waiting for the school bus

Bread delivery

Coffee on the go

Hitching a ride

Heading for the Laundry

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.



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

Senegal Coucal

Wire Tailed Swallow

Great Egret

Double Spurred Francolin

Cashew fruit with the nut hanging down below

Red Eyed Doves

Squacco Heron

Western Plantain Eater

Purple Glossy Starling

Senegal Parrot

Red Billed Firefinch

Yellow Fronted Tinkerbird, doing its best to hide

Common Bulbul nest building

Yellow Throated Leaflove


Lizard Buzzard


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.


White Faced Whistling Ducks

African Jacana

Fine Spotted Woodpecker

Woodland Kingfisher

African Golden Oriole

White Billed Buffalo Weavers

Long Tailed Glossy Starling

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.


Eventually Abdoulie takes my camera and goes off stalking them.


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.


Yellow Throated Leaflove

Grey Heron

Village Weaver

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)

Afternoon at Tanji Bird Eco Lodge

Finally: the Bluebill.

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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!

Western Bluebill


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


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!



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.

A scruffy Common Bulbul

African Thrush

Angry looking Black Necked Weavers

Blackcap Babbler with photobombing friend

Snowy Crowned Robin Chat showing off his beautiful markings

Village Weaver doing his best Village Idiot impersonation

Bath time Fun




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.


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.

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.


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


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.


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)

Afternoon at Tanji

Making a splash

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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.

Black Necked Weavers

African Silverbill

Common Bulbul

Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher

Snowy Crowned Robin Chat

Western Red Billed Hornbill

Common Wattle Eye

Red Billed Firefinch

Village Weaver

Grey Headed Bristlebill

African Thrush


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.






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.


Black Necked Weaver

Red Cheeked Cordon Blue

Village Weaver

There is quite a pool party going on.

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.

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.

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.

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.





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


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.



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.




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.

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)


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.


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.

Yellow Crowned Gonolek

Red Cheeked Cordon Blue

Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher

Western Red Billed Hornbill

Brown Babbler


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.

Yellow Billed Shrike*

Stone Partridge*


White Crowned Robin Chat*

White Faced Whistling Ducks

Greater Honeyguide*

Village Weaver

Blue Bellied Roller*

Senegal Wattled Plover*

Black Crake

Long Tailed Glossy Starling

Fine Spotted Woodpecker*

African Jacana

Pied Crow

White Billed Buffalo Weaver*


Spur Winged Plover

Beautiful Sunbird (female)

Bearded Barbet

Splendid Sunbird (female)

Copper Sunbird*

Intermediate Egret

Northern Red Bishop in non-breeding colours*

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

Common Sandpiper

Pied Kingfisher

Black Headed Heron

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

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

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.



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.


This is the civilised way of photographing the birds.



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 *

Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu

Senegal Coucal

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:

Western Plantain Eater*

Bronze Mannikin

Yellow Throated Leaflove*

Laughing Doves

Common Bulbul

Red Billed Firefinch (female)

Black Necked Weaver*

Greater Honeyguide*

Lavender Waxbill*

Orange Cheeked Waxbill*

African Thrush*

Splendid Sunbird

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.


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


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


Grey Woodpecker*

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

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)

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