Cooing Speckled Pigeons canoodling competed with the sounds of the 6am meuzzin drifting across the River Gambia and collided with the first braying Ass of the day – it was morning at Baobolong Camp and time to get moving.
Two Janjanbureh coffees down, we had the opportunity to scan the trees around the jetty before we headed back across the river in the pea green boat – African Golden Oriole, Western Olivaceous Warbler and Yellow Throated Leaflove were hard to get good views of in the canopy, Black Crowned Night Heron and African Fish Eagle flapping over the river were a bit easier to pick up.
Does Bazzo know this is called MacCarthy Island I wonder??
Anyway, all aboard, across the water, meet up with Yahoo and the van, and off we go.
Was that a Bronze Tailed Starling amongst the other inky blue critters at the landing?
More starling pain awaited just down the road at Juremah Koto, but then so did Bearded Barbet, Tawny Flanked Prinia, Little Weaver, White Rumped Seedeater, Piapacs and Oxpeckers.
Lesser Blue Eared Starling? The eye is orangey, but the bill is quite stout… When starlings get taxing, run away.
We moved on to spend the morning around Wassu, heading off road to the Red Throated Bee-Eater breeding colony just outta town.
Birding was excellent here, Western Grey Planet Eater, Bearded Barbet and Grey Kestrel watched us from high bare branches as we walked along the dusty track towards the old sand quarry.
A fine Gabar Goshawk cruised around the trees at a respectful distance.
The lovely Red Throated Bee-Eaters were swooping about everywhere already, gorgeous things, with Little Greens about too.
Despite our shambling approach, and the arrival of the local raggedy-assed kids, the bee-eaters continued to perch around us as the temperatures soared.
I’m not sure exactly what Ebrima said to the local kids, although I think it was something along the lines of “FFS guys, I’m trying to show these rubes as many birds as possible, gimme a break and take the Huck Finn stuff elsewhere”…
Huck, Tom and the guys fell back and contented themselves with a sand throwing contest as we enjoyed Queleas, Bishops and Waxbills in the scrub.
Huck, Tom and the guys looked to be having more fun.
Mercifully with the rising temperatures came the raptors and an adult and juve Ruppell’s Griffon were soon circling above us as a Northern Anteater Chat sang from the edge of the quarry.
White Backed and Hooded Vultures wheeled around in the dusty blue too and were joined by a memorable Tawny Eagle.
We retraced our steps and a bit of imitation on Ebrima and Chris’s parts quickly brought in an angry looking Pearl Spotted Owlet which glowered down at us from the shady branches, and Huck, Tom and the guys joined us again.
They obviously thought we were crackers, the owlet just thought we were rude.
Green Wood Hoopoes flapped in as we headed back to the van, and for once we saw a Village Indigobird with a modicum of breeding plumage left. Alongside a de rigeur Abyssinian Roller.
From the sand quarry we said our goodbyes to Huck and the gang and drove the short distance down to the Wassu Stone Circles.
It’s a bit like Stonehenge, except without the huge stones, Hawkwind groupies and bank managers from Salisbury wrapped in white bedsheets pretending to be druid grand-wizards.
The atmosphere was not particularly mesolithic.
But it was pleasingly Tolkien-free and the birding was great.
A stunning Mottled Spinetail, picked up by Trops, ripped through the sky above us – too fast for me, but Neill got a cracking shot, Yellow Fronted Tinkerbird, Pygmy and Beautiful Sunbirds were in the trees and as we walked into the scorching scrub, Red Rumped Swallows whizzed around us.
A pair of Spotted Thick-knees burst from the cover in front of us, but refused to show on the deck, unlike a Whistling Cisticola, which sat still long enough to confuse us.
All this before luncheon.
We couldn’t have our snap though before a breathtaking visit to the rice paddies just outside Wassu – who needs food when the birding is this good?
Brown Snake Eagle, Black Headed Heron scrutinising the local rush hour traffic, our first huge Marabous of the trip, Palm Nut Vulture, African Darter, Long Crested Eagle, Swamp Flycatcher, Northern Carmine Bee Eater, Yellow Billed Shrikes, Subalps, Yellow Wags, Wood Sands – just wow!!
Rice paddies may be one of the best birding habitats in the world – everything is nice and flat and open, and at the right time of year they draw in hordes of birds….
The diversity was stunning – birds everywhere, migrants and residents vyed for the attention of sun-seared northern eyes.
“The grey clouds of Lancashire weigh heavy on our shoulders”, as the splendid Mr John Thomason would say.
Ain’t anti-malarials grand???
Yahoo and Ebrima took us back to the river where we hopped aboard the boat again to go to the MacCarthy Island Baobolong Camp buffet luncheon experience.
Very swish (in a hot, dusty outdoors sort of way), if a bit stressful trying to acquire the last Julbrews in the Upper River Division ahead of thirsty Dutch and American birders.
They never stood a chance.
A chicken domada and too many Julbrews down, we had a quick look around the village before setting sail again.
Beautiful Sunbird, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, African Golden Oriole and a superb Shikra were just fab.
Trying to ask the local youngsters for directions back to the jetty it became apparent that word we’d scoffed all the sweets we’d brought as treats for them, had spread fast.
The price of selfish and excessive Moam consumption I suppose, but with directions like that, the lack of roundabouts here began to make sense.
Luckily the River Gambia was big and obvious and we fell back on board, full of Julbrew and domadas and up for more birding.
White Backed Vulture thermalled above the river, a particularly well-marked male Marsh Harrier (well done sir) showed off over the waterside trees and a burly Western Banded Snake Eagle took the rays.
As we put-putted east Helmeted Guineafowl, Robin-chats and Gonoleks scattered from the waterside overhang, and when we traversed the river and rounded a bend, the whole hip hop-opotamus thing began to make sense.
A certain member of the crew had been carefully honing his rapping skills for precisely this moment.
Four Hippos surfaced to glower at us in the dazzling afternoon sun and the Hip-Hop-potamus was born…
You will all be devastated to learn that the powerful effects of Malarone mean I am sadly unable to remember the exact words of the rap, but the Hippos, Ebrima, boatmen, egrets, dead pythons, Red Colobus Monkeys, Baboons et al looked equally startled.
“Top to bottomamus, hypoteneuse” and…ooh look there’s a monkey!
Perhaps Neill, some career paths, like channels guarded by four intimidating Hippos, are best left unexplored.
We docked at Kunkilling Forest Park and clambered ashore, before marching into a dry forest, strangely autumnal with all the crunchy leaf litter.
Birding troosers were back on and we were twitching in the late afternoon sun.
After a bit of trekking past slow-coach tortoises (get a move on), Warthogs, and African Paradise Flycatchers (sit still why don’t you?) we heard Adamawa Turtle Dove, but it was another hour or so before we clapped eyes on it.
Neill, having mercifully given up the Hip Hop career picked up one of these big, dusky turtle doves speeding into cover, but it took some time before we pinned it down with the help of a local guide, who’d been showing tourists baboons.
As you do.
A cracking dove – and a hard species to get to grips with.
The dry forest of Kunkilling was not without other charms, as African Grey Woodpecker, Blue Bellied Roller and Black Billed Wood Dove filled our bins. Senegal Eremomelas were far more yellow than the field guides prepared me for, and Grey Backed Cameroptera was worth stumbling and crashing onto the iron-hard dirt to get a look at.
Northern Black Flycatcher flitted amongst the branches, but apart from the turtle dove a bruiser of a Grey-Headed Bush-shrike was something to remember as the bird and its massive bill clambered about the canopy.
Returning to the boat, we headed back to MacCarthy Island, checking the bankside overhang for Finfoot without success, but as it got darker, Standard Winged Nightjar hawked around us and amazing Yellow Winged Bats skittered out over the water.
Seeing the bats swinging around the boat was like watching giant flying goldfish in the early evening mosquito-loving gloom, or maybe the Malarone was kicking in again.
Occasionally they hung from branches by the river like drying Sycamore leaves.
Back on dry land, the wonderful Yahoo had driven the wheels round to meet us for the next day and we tried for nightjars by crawling along the riverside tracks with the lights on full beam and all the windows open.
After four hundred yards no-one could breathe with all the dust, let alone see, and we returned nightjar-less to Baobolong Camp for a superb dinner of goat masquerading as beef and mucho Julbrew.
Why hide your true identity, when you taste so good??
Think I lurvve this country.
Another astonishing day – perhaps we could live without Egyptian Plover after all….
Janjanbureh/Georgetown – Wassu- boat trip – Kunkilling Forest – Janjanbureh/Georgetown:
African Fish Eagle, Yellow Billed Kite, African Golden Oriole, Vinaceous Dove, Speckled Pigeon, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Yellow Throated Leaflove, Black Crowned Night Heron, Hooded Vulture, African Mourning Dove, Gtr Blue Eared Starling, Long Tailed Starling, Bronze Tailed Starling, Cattle Egret, Pied Kingfisher, Great White Kingfisher, Oxpecker, Abyssinian Roller, Senegal Parrot, Piapiac, Bearded Barbet, Tawny Flanked Prinia, Village Weaver, Little Weaver, White Rumped Seedeater, Rose Ringed Parakeet, Gabar Goshawk, Namaqua Dove, Grey Kestrel, Western Grey Plantain Eater, Northern Red Bishop, Red Billed Hornbill, Red Billed Quelea, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Long Tailed Starling, Red Throated Bee-Eater, Scarlet Chested Sunbird, African Harrier Hawk, Black Rumped Waxbill, Northern Anteater Chat, Grey Heron, Black Headed Lapwing, Laughing Dove, Cut-throat Finch, Yellow Fronted Canary, Tawny Eagle, Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, White Backed Vulture, Pearl Spotted Owlet, Green Wood Hoopoe, Mottled Spinetail, Chestnut Backed Sparrowlark, Spotted Thick-knee, Yellow Fronted Tinkerbird, Shikra, Whistling Cisticola, Little Green Bee-Eater, Marsh Harrier, Yellow Billed Shrike, Broad Billed Roller, Brown Snake Eagle, Ruff, Black Winged Stilt, African Jacana, Yellow Wagtail, Zitting Cisticola, African Darter, Palm Nut Vulture, Long Crested Eagle, Swamp Flycatcher, Subalpine Warbler, Black Stork, Marabou Stork, Wood Sandpiper, Northern Carmine Bee-Eater, Redstart, Common Bulbul, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Spur Winged Plover, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Brown Babbler, White Crowned Robin Chat, Helmeted Guineafowl, Black Crake, Striated Heron, African Grey Woodpecker, African Paradise Flycatcher, Blue Bellied Roller, Black Billed Wood Dove, Adamawa Turtle Dove, Senegal Eremomela, Grey Backed Cameroptera, Northern Black Flycatcher, Grey Headed Bush-shrike, Red Necked Falcon, Standard Winged Nightjar, Four Banded Sandgrouse.
Mammals: Hippo x4, Red Colobus Monkey, Green Vervet Monkey, Baboon sp, Warthog x16, Yellow Winged Bat, Gambian Sun Squirrel.