Friday, December 21, 2012

Birding The Gambia Part 3: Kingfishers

 Missed a couple of these! Nine species on The Gambian list and we managed to see seven. We failed to see Shining Blue Kingfisher Alecdo quadribrachys but I was not surprised as it is only normally seen during the wet season (April - Sept) and is pretty uncommon then. The other one we missed was Striped Kingfisher Halcyon chelicuti - one that you should expect as it is fairly common in dry savannah bush and we spent a lot of scorching time in dry savannah bush believe me! Still you can't have it all.
Malachite Kingfisher Alcedo cristata was regular enough especially around the edges of rice fields and along the tributaries of the river. It's a common resident and should be guaranteed on any trip. Pretty much the same as Striped then!
Malachite Kingfisher  Alcedo cristata
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis is a poser. They hang around on highly visible perches, hover next to your camera lens and fly around your boat. If you miss one its incessant high-pitched call will make sure that you connect. They like to be photographed and barely move when you try to stroke one. Feeding almost exclusively on fish they plunge dive - for fish.

Pied Kingfisher  Ceryle rudis
African Pygmy Kingfisher Ceyx pictus was the first species of kingfisher that we saw. One was using the fresh water plunge pool at the Footsteps Eco Lodge as a drinking pool or more probably it was taking insects from the surface of the water. Either way it was fast. What?
African Pygmy Kingfisher  Ceyx pictus
Woodland Kingfisher Halcyon senegalensis or Senegal Kingfisher as it is sometimes known is most famous for being the bird on the bottle of the Gambian beer: JulBrew - the only beer that is available in The Gambia. Not a bad beer but a bit samey night after night. Still safer than the palm wine - in more ways than one if you see how it is gathered. This is a wet-season breeding visitor and they become quite uncommon during the dry season so it was not going to be an easy bird to see. This one was from a moving boat in the east Gambia and is not a great shot.

Woodland Kingfisher  Halcyon senegalensis
This Blue-breasted Kingfisher Halcyon malimbica was also taken from a moving boat - but it was moving slowly. This species tends to be the most common along the banks of The Gambia River as it is a specialist at exploiting the insects of the mangroves. A resident species and one that should be encountered on almost any birding trip to The Gambia.
Blue-breasted Kingfisher  Halcyon malimbica
 We only saw a couple of Giant Kingfisher Megaceryle maxima (apt scientific name!) and Abuko Nature Reserve near Bakau is as good a place as any to see this, the world's biggest kingfisher. And it is big - a massive bird that is more difficult to find in the dry season as it tends to be a wet season visitor. The other frequent kingfisher at Abuko is the Pygmy Kingfisher so you can see the biggest and one of the smallest together.

Giant Kingfisher  Megaceryle maxima
  This is a really bad picture of Grey-headed Kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala but it completes the set of  photographs of kingfishers seen. They were uncommon along the eastern section of The Gambia River and the boat was always whizzing along and more often than not I saw these birds as they were disappearing behind me. This species is a partial migrant - some move north into Senegal during the rainy season and then further south during the dry season. Not always expected to be encountered and very rarely providing a photo opportunity so I had to make do with this crummy shot!
Grey-headed Kingfisher  Halcyon leucocephala
 Herons next then!

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