8th February 2020
I had good numbers of White-helmet Bshshrike
‘Morning’ I said to the manager pf Bintang Bolong Lodge as I passed him and guess what? He said nothing! As I finished my breakfast and returned to my room, I overheard the manager say ‘We made a mistake!’ to two of the guests. Were they complaining about something. If they were, his behavior was more considering than his immature behavior towards me. At least he was making an effort to communicate with them. I wanted to ask them what it was they were upset about but all I wanted to do was get out of the lodge as fast as I could and get on a Bus-taxi to my next detestation, Tendaba Camp.
For some reason I couldn’t book online and took the chance in hoping that there will be vacancies when I get to camp. In the bus-taxi, I started off, squeezed in at the back, when the side-kid that collects the money, told me to get in the front when someone got out. For over an hours drive for 75 dalasi, in the front was where I wanted to be, driving further east inland continuing along on the South Bank Road and as a result I got a Batlier following the road ahead of us. Through two of the villages I saw large flocks of Little Swift and on the wires, Rufus-crowned Roller. After the Kalaji checkpoint, where I was fully hand searched and held up for twenty minutes, after crossing the river, there were 60-70 African Griffon Vulture circling low next to the road with others on the ground.
Finally I arrived at Tendaba and started making the five kilometer walk towards the camp in the intense heat. Less than two kilometers away and I jumped on the back of a motor bike and was dropped at the entrance gates. Immediately, I discovered that it was Students Week 2020 and the rooms were fully booked! Also, they don’t supply tents as you are meant to bring your own! Shite!! I’m sure I didn’t see that on their FB page? Fortunately the boatman, Chris, said that he would put me up for the night. Early evening and I had a stroll around the area where I had some 30 European Bee-eater and a small flock of Black-rumped Waxbill. I would of seen more birds but I found myself being asked to be the sport photographer for a football match with the home team playing against the top of the league, Serrakunda. It was 2-1 to the league leaders and now I’ve got every email, mobile number, FB friend, twitter friend, Instagram, addresses of every footballer, manager, the bus driver, ball boy, groundsman wanting me to send the photos that I had taken of the game to them. From both teams!
Looking north across the River Gambia from Tendaba Camp
Black and Yellow-billed Kite
Some of the action during the first half of the football match
The second half and Serrkunda, not only changed their strip but also all 11 players as well to win 2-1 against the home side, Tendaba.
Looking across the River Gambia from Tendaba Camp
The boatman, Chris joined me for dinner at the camp and it was while were chatting that he got a message saying that his step-father had just died. He left me to be with his wife and son and asked me to come to the house later. I wasn’t goin to that as he needed to be alone with his family. At 01.00 I was given a blacket as I decided to sleep outside. Shortly before I was goin to sleep,tables and 100s of chairs were being put outside close to where I was sitting. I thought that they were preparing for a conference tomorrow. It wasn’t as I was told that the students, all 400 of them, were having a gala from 02.00 on wards! I was invited to stay at Gabreil’s house in the village instead and I slept like a log under a very noisy but very thankful fan.
A few hours later I was having breakfast at the camp and Chris turned up and asked me, if I wanted to go out on the boat with him and two bird tour leaders. At 08.30 we set off across the two kilometer stretch of water to the north side. A Gambian Mongoose was spotted searching for crabs and as we diverted off the Gambian River onto a smaller river the first bird of note were Brown Sunbird followed by an African Fish Eagle. Naturally when I saw a bird first before anyone else, I called it out before it moved on out of sight. I found it amusing when I would call out and point to where it was ‘Ring-necked Parakeet‘ This would be repeated by one of the bird leaders to his two clients ‘Look, Ring-necked Parakeet’ This continued throughout ‘Wholly-necked Stork‘ and as expected ‘Look, on the bank, Wholly-necked Stork’ However, I was very pleased when I heard one of them shout Goliaf Heron‘ In fact they hardly spoke to me although I was almost sitting on top of them in the boat.
African Fish Eagle
We saw 2 Goliaf Heron
And also 2 Wholly-necked Stork
There were up to 4 Montague’s Harrier all distant except for this individual
Along with Great Cormorant, Afrian Darter were all over the shop on the river
Returning to Tendaba Camp after being on the river for three hours
The Birdguides not making any conservation didn’t bother me but what really pissed me off is when we were traveling down a narrow part of the river. As we turned the corner, there was a boat, length ways across the water, blocking our way. I thought they were stuck and were revving the engine trying to break free but I soon discovered that it was another birdguide making sure that his client comes away with the photo he wants with his long lens by trying to get as close as they could to where the White-backed Night Herons were roosting. They were almost up on the bank smashing into the mangroves with the boat up the herons butt!! As they passed us, the bird flusher pointed in the direction to where the herons had been. I asked one of the leaders on our boat if they had just pushed the herons deeper into cover? He just said ‘Just look’ We were wasting our time and that was a species that Chris said we would see. Well I guess you would, if you had more bird tour leaders who thought about the welfare of the birds instead of their pocket and their clients. If only we were a few minutes earlier we would of seen the herons.
Chris did a great job boating us around for three hours and he wouldn’t let me pay him. Also, the birdguide did make an effort to talk to me but very briefly.We had dinner with the photographer who wanted to get every feather detail on the White-backed Night Herons. Talking to the German photographer I discovered that he’s just a ticker and hasn’t really got an idea about birding or what he’s looking at. I guess that’s when you hire a birdguide but for one that doesn’t care how much he disturbs the species they are after. He also showed me the photos he took on his trip on the river and for some reason didn’t show me the night herons. Chris and I had to hit the highway as I was goin back to Mamuda and Chris was making his ways to his mothers near to Brikamma. He had organised a car to take us up road to the junction to hop onto a bus-taxi. It was the bird leader that had flushed the herons with his client that was taken us the 5 kilometer to the highway. ‘How much will it be?’ I asked him. 200 Dalasi! For a few minutes up road, 200 Dalasi! If this was someone from the village or was skint, then I wouldn’t hesitate to give them that sum and also pay for Chris but this was a guy whose doin pretty well with tips added on. ‘I’ll hitch mate’ As I walked away Chris called and said that he will take us for nothing.
As we approached Kalji checkpoint, I got out just before the river as it looked a good area for larks. I wasn’t disappointed and got 3 male Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark. The Savannah had been burnt to cinder waiting for the rainy season to arrive when it all grows back again. Smoke was still smoldering as I walked through and inside I saw a single Grasshopper Buzzard, 6 White-helmeted Bush-shrike and a female Redstart of note. After an hour I returned to the highway, put my arm up and five minutes later I was on my ways to Brikamma on a bus-taxi. 24 people like sardines in the wagon that would be 15 in the UK and the return drive was pretty dangerous with close encounters involving other cars and lorries. Typical travelling in Gambia I’ve learned while being here.
The area where the larks were hanging out
Grasshopper Buzzard hunting in the burnt out area
White-helmet Bushshrike deasting on a Preying Mantis
South Bank Road to Brikamma
Some advice If visiting the West Coast of Gambia; When you arrive at the airport, there will be some guys asking if you need a taxi? You folow them and they open the door for you to jump in the taxi and then wait for a tip. Now you can give them the tip like I did to add to the wand of money he’s already got in his hand or you can walk out of the airport and make your ways to the row of taxis that stick out like a sour thumb on the side of the road. If I had known before then I would of rather given that tip money to others that need it later on while I was in Gambia.
Don’t use yellow or green taxis if you can and try and use the shared bus taxi if you want to save money that is. They mainly use the main roads from one town to the other and if you stand at the side of the road, with in five to ten minutes, you will picked up if you put your arm out. The only place that I know of where there is no use of shared taxi is from Turntable to Senegambia. If you do use a yellow taxi, then don’t ask them where your goin, ask them where are they goin and it turns out a lot cheaper.
Try to avoid travelling at night on bus-taxi. While changing at Brikamma as I was being pushed around to get onto the bus, I felt a hand reaching into my pocket but that’s as far as I got because turned around. There were a lot of younger kids, 8 to 12 years old, bare foot and dirty ripped clothes also trying to pick-pocket at the garage at Brikamma.
Like Sanyang fishing village, there a lot of westerners that your guys known as ‘bumsters’ target. They were will show you around the fishing village and how it works and then ask you for money as their boat is broken and they can’t get any food. The truth is they have no boat and never been fishing in their life. It’s not just young men. We had a woman from the village approach Graham and I and asked if we had some money for bread as there boat has not been out to catch fish for a month as it’s broken. This could be true but as I turned around, being very weary of two young boys messing about very close to me, one of them tried to reach for the zip on my back-pack. I said, I’m goin as them two just tried to pick-pocket me. She understood and replied that they’re doin no harm. They’ve just come to look at the sea. Sure they have as I observed them scanning around for their next target.
Just always be aware of your suroundings and whose following you whereever you go, especilly after dark. Again at night while walking the crowded back streets of Brikamma, I had a kid following me and I pulled over to the side to let him pass, keeping a careful eye on him.
What I did find out about being in Gambia is that most we came across were so friendly and always welcoming. Always there to help in any way they can. I was also picked up by a Gambian in his 4×4 when I put my arm up for a bus-taxi to stop. He took me from Turntable to Sanyang for nothin and also picked other folk up along the way. We noticed that the children come out to say hello when you pass and want to shake your hand. Many times, I was in a cafe getting to know a local on the other table and his mate would come in, shake his hand and as he could see I was talking to his friend, would make the effort to shake my hand. I must shake up to 10 to 20 people a day when I leave Mamuda. I had a great time during my stay in Gambia and sometime in the future I will return. However, I think that Graham and I were ten years to late, with all the destruction of the habatit being lost to housing and Cashew plantations but if we left it another ten years, then somewhere like Brufut, it wil almost be gone in most places that we visited.