Monday, December 31, 2012

Birding The Gambia - Last Bit: Passerines

There are many common, frequently seen birds in The Gambia that I have not shown on this blog. Red-billed Hornbill Tockus kempi is ubiquitous - it seems to be everywhere at once. African Grey Hornbill T. nasatus and African Pied Hornbill T. fasciatus are not as common but pretty reliable in woodland habitats. White-billed Buffalo Weaver Bubalornis albirostris and Village Weaver Ploceus cucullatus are both very common, the latter being seen in small flocks all over the shop!
White-billed Buffalo Weaver Bubalornis albirostris

Village Weaver Ploceus cucullatus
Sunbirds are fantastic - provided it's a male! We saw Brown, Pygmy, Scarlet-chested, Beautiful and Splendid. The females are all grotty olive and pasty yellow but the males are bonkers! (Apart from the Brown which has no right to be a Sunbird.)

Splendid Sunbird Cinnyris coccinigastrus
 Yellow-billed Shrike Corvinella corvine is the most common shrike and can be encountered most everywhere - it's fairly big, brash and bold.
Yellow-billed Shrike Corvinella corvine
Only three species of crow in The Gambia but there are plenty of two of them. Pied Crow Corvus albus and Piapiac Ptilostomus afer making up in numbers for what lacks in species as far as crows go. The Brown-necked Raven Corvus fuficollis is extremely rare in The Gambia with just a few coastal records
Pied Crow Corvus albus
Males of the Exclamatory Paradise Whydah Vidua interjecta and Sahel Paradise Whydah V. orientalis look identical. The guide book says that the latter has shorter tail streamers and a paler nuchal collar both of which are useless pointers in the field when confronted with a single bird. Females can often be identified by bill colour as can non breeding males. But the Gambian bird guides will all swear that it's where you see these that is key to identification. If you are north of the river it's a Sahel, if you are south of the river it's an Exclamatory! We saw birds on both the north and south so presumably we have seen both species. They both have these completely mad tails which blow about when they are in flight.
Sahel Paradise Whydah Vidua orientalis
 During December the Northern Red Bishop Euplectes afer males get really messy and scruffy and you can see them in all stages of moult.
Northern Red Bishop Euplectes afer
The other crow: the Piapiac (Imm) Ptilostomus afer is another omnipresent species. Immature birds have red bills and adults have black bills. This will be an immature then!
Piapiac (Imm) Ptilostomus afer
The Grey-headed Bristlebill Bleda canicapillus is a Bulbul and is fairly common in forest undergrowth but its close relative The Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus is common in every bush, tree and hedge and window-box. Properly named indeed.
Grey-headed Bristlebill Bleda canicapillus
Lots of Starlings, all glossy and shiny. The Long-tailed Glossy Starling Lamprotornis caudatus is about the commonest but there are plenty of Purple Glossy, Bronze-tailed Glossy, Greater Blue-eared and Lesser Blue-eared to keep Starling aficionados very happy.
Long-tailed Glossy Starling Lamprotornis caudatus
 Crested Lark  Galerida cristata on Bijilo island - just the spot!
Crested Lark  Galerida cristata
 Plenty of the Fork-tailed Drongo Dicrurus adsimilis. Drongo? Must mean something different in N.Z and Oz.
Fork-tailed Drongo Dicrurus adsimilis
 African Thrush Turdus pelios - the only Turdus on The Gambian list.

African Thrush Turdus pelios
Beautiful Sunbird Cinnyris chloropygius - a beautiful bird, an apt name and a male.
Beautiful Sunbird Cinnyris chloropygius
 Probably the second most frequent Ploceus weaver is the Black-necked Weaver Ploceus nigricollis
Black-necked Weaver Ploceus nigricollis
 That's all folks!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Still birding The Gambia: Various Non-Passerines

Caspian Tern Sterna caspia
I want to finish this Gambia birding trip blog before the new year so I have decided to lump all of the rest of my photos into just two groups: remaining various non-passerines and finally the passerines.
One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to Bijilo island just off the coast near Ghana Town. There is a fishing village on the coast here and you can hire a boat to take you out to the island (which is really a sand bar). I advise you do this as it is a fantastic bit of luxury sand surrounded by azure waters.
Here be Slender-billed, Audouin's, Lesser Black-backed, Grey-headed and Yellow-legged Gulls. Caspian, Sandwich, Little and Royal Terns. Ringed, Little-ringed, Grey, Kentish and White-fronted Plover. Osprey, Western-reef Egret and Grey Heron.
Grey-headed Gull (2nd W) Larus cirrocephalus
 We also saw an adult Brown Booby as well as Great Cormorants and some dead stuff washed up onto the sands.
Slender-billed Gull Larus genei
African Jacana Actophilornis africanus is a common species.
African Jacana Actophilornis africanus
 And so too is the Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensis another one of those birds which you will see in just about every hotel grounds as well as in most scrub and open habitat.
Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensis
There are only three species of parrot on The Gambian list: Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri, Senegal Parrot Poicephalus senegalus and Brown-necked Parrot Poicephalus robustus. We saw plenty of the first two but none of the third.. The guide book of choice 'Birds of Senegal and The Gambia' by Nik Borrow and Ron Demey have the latter as 'very local, uncommon and declining' and I can vouch for that!
Fortunately the Senegal Parrot is very common, obvious, noisy and good to photograph.
Senegal Parrot Poicephalus senegalus
 Brufut woods is a great place to see Long-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus climacurus. Local guides have two or three individuals staked out and you can get worryingly close to the birds! The disturbance to these day time roosting birds is bound to become a serious concern - if it isn't already.
Long-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus climacurus
The common owl of The Gambia - the Pearl-spotted Owlet Glaucidium perlatum could be heard every evening, night and morning just about everywhere.
Pearl-spotted Owlet Glaucidium perlatum
 Unlike the Verreaux's Eagle Owl Bubo lacteus which had to be searched for. Again the local guides know just where to look and there are a couple of well-known roosting sites.
Verreaux's Eagle Owl Bubo lacteus
 There are at least thirteen species of Pigeon and Dove in The Gambia. Training your eye to spot the difference between four types of 'collared dove' and the two Wood Dove is the most difficult aspect but the rest are all very distinctive. A pigeon/dove is everywhere - you even stop looking at them after a day or so. Even the guides ignore them, which is a shame as some of them are quite beautiful birds.
Red-eyed Dove Streptopelia semitorquata
African Mourning Dove Streptopelia decipiens
Bruce's Green Pigeon Treron waalia - the best looking pigeon in the world?
Bruce's Green Pigeon Treron waalia
 Laughing Dove  Streptopelia senegalensis. - bound to keep you amused!
Laughing Dove  Streptopelia senegalensis
The next post will cover some of the passerines seen on the trip and that will wrap-up birding in The Gambia. Thanks for taking the time to follow this blog.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Not Birding The Gambia Pt 1: Other Critters

And now for something completely different. Not birds at any rate! If you are birding in The Gambia you are bound to come across other major life forms as well as tourists and the locals. Reptiles abound - skinks and lizards frequently - big, poisonous snakes, unfortunately not at all. Although to pinch a line from Wikipedia 'There are 40 snake species, nine of which are venomous, such as cobras, puff adders and Mambas, genus Dendroaspis; the first two are common. The non-venomous species are pythons' OK safe then!
Plenty of these:
Nile Monitor Varanus niloticus
Only a couple of these Yellow-winged Bats found by our bird guide looking for anything that flies!
Yellow-winged Bat Lavia frons
But plenty of these in the evening flying around the pools of every hotel. Big with a two and a half foot wing span - stay alert!
Fruit Bat Eidolon helvum

!!!!!. Just west of McCarthy Island in the river there is this:
Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius
The most common monkey - especially on the coast. A good place to see these Calithrix monkeys is probably your hotel...whichever one it is.
Green Monkey or Calithrix Chlorocebus sabeus
This Western Red Colobus Procolobus badius in the Abuko Nature Reserve was the only one that we saw. This is the species favoured by hunting packs of Chimpanzees! But that can't account for their scarcity here. No chimps...further east Chimps but no Red Colobus.
Western Red Colobus Procolobus badius
We found a  small group of Red Patas Monkeys down near the beach close to the Footsteps Eco Lodge and they took as much interest in us as we did in them. They didn't have cameras.
Red Patas Monkey Erythrocebus patas
 Long shots of these Baboons from a moving boat - mean looking critters living alongside the Chimpanzees.
Guinea Baboon Papio papio
 Chimpanzee - gregarious and noisy and not at all friendly towards the Red Colobus Monkey. These were on, what was once, a rehabilitation island in the River Gambia. There are, I believe, upwards of 40 individuals now and they don't need no rehabilitatin'!
Chimpanzee Pan troglodytes

Birding The Gambia Part 6: Waders

Twenty-five species of waders seen on the trip and although we had great views of Egyptian Plover Pluvianus aegyptius- a target bird - we failed to find any Painted Snipe Rostratula benghalensis even though we spent ages sweating in the scorchio sun searching rice fields and ditches. Apparently Greater Painted Snipe is not too difficult to see!
Lots of Sandpipers - Common Actitis hypoleucos ironically being not as common as Green Tringa achropus which was about as common as Wood T. glareola pictured here on the edge of a rice field.
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus was by far the most common wader in The Gambia followed by Senegal Thick-knee Burhinus oedicnemus. These could be found wherever it was slightly moist!
Senegal Thick-knee Burhinus oedicnemus

Senegal Thick-knee Burhinus oedicnemus
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus was fairly frequent around the edges of rice fields and so were Ruff Philomachus pugnax but for sheer spectacle of numbers in flight you could not beat the swirling flocks of Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola.
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
A swirling flock of Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola in a rice field on the south bank of the river near McCarthy Island.
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola

The locals call Spur-winged Plover Vanellus spinosus 'Gentlemen in Black Coats' and it is not hard to see why. Again a common enough bird in The Gambia.
Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus
Slightly less common are African Wattled Lapwing Vanellus senegallus and Black-headed Lapwing Vanellus tectus although both are resident and frequent enough to guarantee sightings. The Wattled Lapwing tends to be quite flighty but the Black-headed Lapwing is a bit more approachable.
Black-headed Lapwing Vanellus tectus
But it is likely to be the Egyptian Plover Pluvianus aegyptius that is at the top of most visiting birder's 'most-want-to-tick' list. We saw a couple of these cracking birds quite close to the roadside in small wetlands along the north bank road. Travelling due east the road is lined with kilometre markers and past Km 57 and close to Km 58 there is a small although obvious pool on the north side of the road. Good site No. 1. A little further east - perhaps just past Km 58 is a pool to the south of the road. This is good site No. 2. There was also Black Crake, African Pygmy Goose, Collared Pratincole and a Moorhen that could have been a Lesser Gallinula angulata but was probably a Common G. chloropus. I didn't pay much attention to the bill 'cus I'd forgotten that Lesser Moorhen existed!
Egyptian Plover Pluvianus aegyptius

Egyptian Plover Pluvianus aegyptius
This bird is even more spectacular in flight and I had great views at the first site as a bird flew in low over the water.
Egyptian Plover Pluvianus aegyptius




Monday, December 24, 2012

Birding The Gambia Part 5: Diurnal Raptors

If the number of raptors - generally being at or near the top of the food chain - is high then it can be considered a healthy sign as to the state of the eco system within which they fit. If this is the case then the Gambia is pretty healthy at the moment. We saw nearly thirty different species and we missed quite a few that you would hope to see during a dry season visit. We didn't manage to see a Bateleur  Terathopius ecaudatus which was a major disappointment for me as this was my main target species. Still - another reason to go back.
Red-necked Falcon Falco chicquera was fairly frequent although views of perched birds were often distant - such as this:
Red-necked Falcon Falco chicquera
 Whereas Western Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus cinerascens was a bit more approachable but not as frequent. We had to travel a fair way east before encountering any species of Snake Eagle but Beaudouin's Circaetus beaudouini, Brown C. cinerus and Western Banded C. cinerascens are all resident species and can be encountered in suitable habitat. Short-toed Snake Eagle C. gallicus is a palearctic visitor so the dry season is the best time to see this.
Western Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus cinerascens
We only saw the one Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus, a fly over adult and the camera's auto focus could not latch on quick enough so I just managed this blurry shot:
Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus
 We saw a good number of Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis but again they were all quite distant or flying past a fast moving boat. This one was nesting at Abuko Nature Reserve but was miles away and this is the best I could manage. As well as palm nuts they do feed on small animals, fish, crabs, insects and birds.

Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis
I think that Lizard Buzzard Kaupifalco monogrammicus was the most frequent small raptor. Buzzard is a bit of a misnomer as the bird is clearly a hawk - as is the Grasshopper Buzzard Butastur rufipennis. If you hear only one raptor calling in The Gambia I would bet on a Lizard Buzzard. We heard one nearly every day - wherever we were.
Lizard Buzzard Kaupifalco monogrammicus
 This is a shot of a Long-crested Eagle Lophaetus occipitalis that drifted over an area near the Bird Safari Bird Camp. You can just see a little of its distinctive long crest.
Long-crested Eagle Lophaetus occipitalis
We saw a couple of Grasshopper Buzzard Butastur rufipennis but I did not manage to get any decent shots. This was about the best:
Grasshopper Buzzard Butastur rufipennis
 Hooded Vulture  Necrosyrtes monachus everywhere and very common. I expected to wake in the morning and see a couple of these sitting at the end of the bed. Like all vultures they are not a pretty sight. If vultures are your thing Gambia is your place.
Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus
We saw three Dark-chanting Goshawk Melierax metabates and, fortunately, lots and lots of Fork-tailed Drongos  Dicrurus adsimilis  - so not to worry too much about this one:
Dark Chanting Goshawk Melierax metabates eying a Fork-tailed Drongo Dicrurus adsimilis for lunch
 Brown Snake Eagle Circaetus cinereus - just a couple but what a poser this one was:
Brown Snake Eagle Circaetus cinereus
Yellow-billed Kite Milvus migrans parasitus is a subspecies of Black Kite Milvus migrans and is, not surprisingly, distinguished by its all yellow bill and darker head. Both birds can be seen in large numbers, most everywhere and most anytime. After Hooded Vulture this was the most common raptor in the whole of The Gambia. They are really good at cleaning up the beach after a B. B. Q.

Yellow-billed Kite Milvus migrans parasitus
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus is another palearctic visitor and this one was hanging around the hotel on the Atlantic coast. It was the only one we saw in The Gambia but we did see a lot of Grey Kestrel F. ardosiaceus although why I didn't photograph any I don't know.

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
We saw a couple of African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer and this one was nesting on the north bank of the river Gambia north of the Bird Safari Camp. Not a particularly decent picture but you can see what it is.
African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer
This African Goshawk Accipiter tachiro was in dense foliage in the Abuko Nature Reserve and hand-holding a 400mm lens in poor light is guaranteed to produce fuzzy shots like this:
African Goshawk Accipiter tachiro