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Entries about the gambia experience

Morning Boat Trip at Mandina Lodges

Such variety of bird life


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

I get up early this morning to catch the sunrise – there is a beautiful mist rising over the river.

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Sensing some movement out of the corner of my eye, I spot a new bird (to me) in amongst the foliage: a Mangrove Sunbird.

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Speckled Pigeon

Catching the sunrise was not the only reason I got up early today; we are off on a boat trip through the mangroves this morning.

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It's a glorious sunrise.

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An old boat lies moored near the lodge.

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The water is very still, creating beautiful reflections.

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Guinea Baboons

Just around the corner from the lodge, where our tributary meets a wider river, the trees are full of baboons. There are five different species of baboons worldwide, and the Guinea Baboons found here in The Gambia are the smallest.

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These are a new (sub)species for us, and I am very excited to see and photograph them at such close quarters.

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It looks like there may be more baboons here in the future.

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I am so in love with their facial expressions.

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African Darter drying out his wings.

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Great White Egret

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Green Backed Heron

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Blue Breasted Kingfisher

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Pied Kingfisher

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Rose Ringed Parakeet

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African Darter

A crocodile sunbathes on the bank of the river.

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He doesn't look too friendly.

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I hope he didn't hear me and is coming for his revenge!

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I am very excited to see this elegant and flamboyant Violet Turaco fly over – another new one for me.

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One of the birds on my wish list when I came over here, was the Western Plantain Eater. Here they are two-a-penny!

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Oyster Factory

Oysters are big business around here, with the meat being eaten, and the shells burnt to make lime which is mixed with water to make house paint, and with sand to make cement. There are no wasted elements as anything left is used for chicken feed.

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Oysters growing on the mangroves

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Pied Crows mobbing a Harrier Hawk

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Greenshank

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Spur Winged Plover

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Senegal Thick Knee

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Common Sandpiper

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Whimbrel taking off

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Long Tailed Cormorant drying his wings out

And so the morning's boat trip is over, and we are back at the lodge in time for lunch.

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I am absolutely fascinated by the bats in the ceiling of the restaurant.

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Isn't he cute?

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Look at him yawn! ♥

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Today there is also a Speckled Pigeon in the rafters.

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Mr Heron is back in position in amongst the mangroves as usual.

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He is after the crabs, of course.

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I am not sure what is happening here – it looks like the big crab is stalking the little one.

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We return to the room for a little siesta, but find we are not alone.

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This girl is looking down on us from the rafters.

It looks like she is raising a family.

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I know every mother thinks their babies are the most beautiful in the world; but, I'm sorry, there is nothing remotely attractive about these chicks.

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I drift into a light snooze, knowing that I am being looked over by the pigeon family.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:36 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds wildlife river sunrise africa crocodile hawk lunch forest birding pigeon dawn crabs baboons bats heron parakeet croc west_africa kingfisher cormorant oysters siesta gambia boat_trip bird_watching crows sunbird darter thick_knee plover sandpiper river_trip the_gambia the_gambia_experience greenshank plantain_eater wild_birds mandina_lodges makasutu mandina makasutu_forest guinea_baboons turaco oyster_factory Comments (6)

Pool time at Mandina Lodges - swimming with Bee Eaters

A new experience for us


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After lunch we retire to the swimming pool, relaxing, reading, swimming, birdwatching. The pool area is full of at least two dozen little White Throated Bee Eater, swooping down into the water, to catch bugs on the surface, or just for a cooling dip.

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They are so fast, and never dive in the same place twice, making it impossible to catch them on the camera. This is the nearest I got:

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After little success using my small waterproof camera, I risk the SLR with my long lens into the pool.

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I don't do much better with the 'proper' camera.

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Looking rather bedraggled after his dip in the pool

A Fanti Saw Tail joins in – a new species to us, but sadly another rubbish photograph.

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Swimming with dolphins is so yesteryear – to be really hip in 2019, you've got to have been swimming with bee eaters. It really is quite something to have them splashing all around us in the pool!

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David in the pool

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We return to our own private balcony for the rest of the afternoon.

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Strange elongated fish in the river - trumpet fish?

The river is teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes.

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At times there appears to be a feeding frenzy, with the surface of the water covered in ripples.

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Palm Nut Vulture flying overhead

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Common Redshank

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Pied Kingfisher

Tourist boat – everything around here is very low key.

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Black Headed Heron

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Hooded Vulture

The kingfisher keeps returning, and hovering above the river for quite some time before diving in after a fish. Again and again and again he does this, providing us with endless amusement.

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We watch as Angela and Keane set off for their sunset cruise.

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Malin, the chef, comes to our room to ask what we would like for dinner, and stays chatting. And chatting. And chatting. He explains he is just about to embark on a hotel management course in Camberley, UK, and says he wants to come and stay with us while he is studying. I don't think he quite realises the distances involved in England, Camberley is well over two hours' drive away from us, each way, even without traffic. Not that I have any intention whatsoever to invite him to stay with us. Sorry Malin, it ain't 'appenin'.

The lights is fading now, but I stay on the balcony taking (bad quality) photographs of the birds flying around.

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Abyssinian Roller

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The Pied Kingfisher is still here, skimming the surface now.

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Common Sandpiper

Dinner

Soon it is time to tear myself away from the birds (which I can hardly see any more anyway, in the quickly fading light), and have a shower before wandering down to the restaurant for dinner.

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Tuna Salad

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Cottage Pie

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Chicken Curry

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Chocolate Ice Cream

The ceiling above the restaurant is home to a large colony of bats. Every evening we see them flying around.

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When we first arrived, I wondered why the dining tables were not positioned under the domed roofs - I have since come to realise that they are strategically placed to avoid any droppings.

The end of another lovely day - the stars twinkle over Mandina Lodges.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:03 Archived in Gambia Tagged fish bird africa dinner pool birding swimming_pool bats roller heron vulture kingfisher gambia bird_watching waterproof_camera sandpiper bee_eaters the_gambia the_gambia_experience swimming_with_bee_eaters saw_tail redshank Comments (7)

A lazy morning at Mandina Lodges

Taking it easy


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

Coffee is delivered to each room every morning, at a time of your choice. We have ours outside at 07:30 this morning, while watching the beautiful sunrise over the river.

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We're not the only ones enjoying the sunrise.

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The morning goes something like this:

Breakfast
Bird watching
Walk around the grounds
Bird watching
Back to room
Sit outside
Birdwatching
Snooze

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Cheese and chilli omelette, sausage and beans = a great breakfast

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Pied Kingfisher

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Black Headed Heron

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Another one of the fifteen cats at Mandina Lodges

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Village Weavers and Red Eyed Dove in a plant pot on the island in the middle of the pool

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Laughing Dove

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Bats in the ceiling of the restaurant

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The birds are fed every day

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Lovely bougainvillea in the grounds

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Village Weaver

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Black Kite - it looks like he has caught something - a mouse maybe?

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Black Necked Weaver

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Beautiful water reflections in the river

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Long Tailed Cormorants

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David at the poolside

Lunch

We eat our lunch in the shady bar, while watching a Whimbrel trying to catch a crab on the mud flats. The crab gets away several times before the bird finally managed to grab it.

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The crab has lost its claw.

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He still managed to escape though.

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But not for long.

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A Grey Heron wants to get in on the action.

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As well as a Western Plantain Eater.

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Time for another siesta.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:52 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds reflections dog river cat sunrise breakfast kite wild africa forest birding coffee bats crab heron dove whimbrel west_africa weaver gambia omelette bird_watching cormorants the_gambia the_gambia_experience plantain_eater wild_birds mandina_lodges makasutu mandina makasutu_forest water_reflections Comments (8)

Bakotu Hotel - Mandina Lodges

Transfer Day


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Transfer day. After a leisurely breakfast, we get picked up for the transfer to our next – and last – lodge on this trip. The journey takes the best part of an hour, with the last half on dirt tracks that the driver describes as “African Massage”.

Mandina Lodges

The modest track leading down to the lodge from the main road is not indicative of the opulence that meets us at the lodge. Linda, the manager, greets us warmly and gives us a briefing about the lodge and its surroundings. I am a little disappointed that we do not have a private guide as advertised in the brochure, but share with a single lady from the UK. I can, however, understand the desire to keep staffing levels down this late in the season, especially as this evening there are only five of us staying.

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Reception area

Porters take our luggage as we are shown to the room along elevated wooden boardwalks.

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The rooms are nicely spread out to allow for plenty of privacy.

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There are nine rooms at Mandina, including four floating lodges, one of which we are staying in.

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Our lodge is # 3

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As we are in the third room from the main public area, there is just one lodge beyond ours. The gangway from the main boardwalk leading across to our room varies in steepness according to the level of the tide.

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The gangplank leads to a floating terrace where there are two sunbeds, plus a covered area with a couple of chairs and a table.

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Another gangplank leads across to the room itself, which is also floating on the river.

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The room has a small balcony that wraps itself around on three of the four sides, offering great views up, down and across the river.

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The wood panelled inside is spacious with a four poster bed in the centre of the room.

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The en suite bathroom is open to the elements out the back of the room.

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A preservation order forbids the owners to bury pipes under the lodges, so the toilet is fitted with a de-compostable plastic bag which takes a bit of getting used to. It is changed every day, but flushing it can be a little awkward, and the sound when you pee is rather disconcerting.

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Once we have settled in, we check out the large free form swimming pool.

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We're amazed to see a Pied Kingfisher nonchalantly sitting at the edge of the pool.

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He dives down into the pool, not for food, but to cool down in the hot, midday sun.

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Dotted around the pool are covered sunbathing areas (or rather shady areas to get away from the sun), again spaced apart for privacy.

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There is also a firepit, surrounded by chairs for sharing stories and keeping cosy on those chilly winter evenings.

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A large wooden deck leads down to the river, where the lodge's boats are moored.

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The restaurant features large, heavy metal chairs and ornate mosaic decorations on the floor.

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We saunter down to the bar area, where there is a little bit of a cooling breeze.

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David is delighted to find the bar stocks cider, while I choose a non-alcoholic ginger drink with a real punch.

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Fancy going all the way to West Africa to drink British cider!

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My ginger punch looks like mud but tastes delicious.

The bar overlooks the mud flats around the mangroves, which are dry when we arrive, but as we stay for a while drinking and enjoying some lunchtime sandwiches, the water rises with the tide.

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The mud appears to be moving, and on closer inspection we see hundreds of little Fiddler Crabs.

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Odd looking Mudskippers, who appear to have legs, fins and wings, also frolic in the shallow waters.

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The flowerpots attract Red Billed Firefinches.

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After lunch we retire to our new home for a siesta in the midday heat.

Posted by Grete Howard 03:27 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds africa pool bar birding crabs swimming_pool cider west_africa kingfisher transfer siesta boardwalks finch gambia firepit bird_watching the_gambia the_gambia_experience firefinch wild_birds bakotu kotu mandina_lodges makasutu mandina floating_lodge makasutu_forest four_poster_bed outside_toilet mangoves mud_flats fiddler_crabs muskippers Comments (6)

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

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)

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