Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa, located on the western tip of the continent, it’s bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean and otherwise completely surrounded by Senegal. The Gambia spans an area of 11,295 square km. The River Gambia divides the country into two and stretches almost 500km inland.
The Gambia is gifted with an abundance of avian life with rich and diverse habitats, from Rivers, Savannahs, mangrove Farmland, to Wetlands Estuaries, Coastal forests, Scrub, Hotel Gardens which together harbours more than 550 bird species.
Bird watching in the Gambia is easy and very relaxing, meaning you don’t necessarily have to drive to a National Park or go afar for good viewing and great photos. Your backyard or Hotel ground will very likely have plenty of beautiful and exotic birds. The country boasts a well-developed network of professional Bird Guides, a good tourist infrastructure, provides convenient good quality accommodation and fabulous cuisine in most locations.
CLIMATE AND BEST TIME TO VISIT
The Climate is perfect in the winter. The dry season runs from November to May, when there is almost no rain and the temperature hovers around 27ºc with the relative humidity stable between 50 and 60%. During the rainy season the humidity rises to as high as 80ºc and the average temperature reaches 28ºc, although the stabilizing factor of the ocean keeps the weather pleasant and the evening downpours provide a relaxing freshness. The wet season is the time of cultivation, during which the country’s verdure and vegetation are simply stunning.
Although birding is great all year round, the best time to visit is during the dry season, November to March, when the birdlife is more diversely mixed with both local and intra African and visiting migratory birds from the Palearctic and other parts of the world, plus an opportunity to see the colourful wet season breeders such as Whydahs, Weavers, and Bishops.
BEST BIRDING HABITATS
Gambia is small, with excellent road networks making traveling within the country easier, there are a number of excellent bird watching sites located on the coastal belt including Brufut Woods, Abuko Nature Reserve, Tanji Bird Reserve and Kartong Sand Mines, these areas provides some of the best opportunities to see an outstanding array of mainly coastal birds. A little further inland, bird watching sites such as Marakissa Woods, Penyem Forest, Pirang Shrimp Farm, Farasutu and Bonto Forest offer some forest and wetland birds. In the interior of the country Tendaba Camp provides an ideal base for exploring the flagship Kiang West National Park, Boablong Wetland Reserve. On the north of the river, the seasonal flooded Wetlands, swamps, plus agricultural areas on the north bank, provide habitat for highly desired birds including the beautiful Egyptian Plover, the endangered Black Crowned Crane, and the magnificent Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, there is also an interesting mix of both resident and migratory waders and water birds. Raptors fill the air and are especially easy to view as the dry season advances and Kiang West National Park, Kampanti Rice fields and Kunkilling Forest are some best places to see raptors in profusion. The River Gambia and many of its tributaries provide vital habitats for a huge array of birds, including the rare Shining Blue Kingfisher, African Fish Eagle, Palm-nut Vulture, African Finfoot, many raptors, water birds and waders of all sizes, colours and shape.
For me, although very slightly biased, The Gambia offers birders from Europe an escape from winter and excellent birds. As a member of the Andalucia Bird Society and an approved guide, it would be an enormous privilege to welcome fellow members to my country and show them the huge diversity of birdlife here. Thank you to the Society for giving me the opportunity to promote birding in The Gambia. I live in hope of meeting you soon.
Article: Mustapha Manneh ABS Member
Photos: Peter Jones
Note: The views expressed in articles are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Society.