Senegal and The Gambia may not be known for big animals, but they are famous for bird-watching! The Dairhills are not serious bird-watchers, but we love going out with a guide who knows their birds and seeing some cool specimens. We did four bird-watching outings in the two countries, and were not disappointed.
But first, a lizard. You may remember Andy's lizard obsession from South America. He was excited to find this guy in St. Louis, northern Senegal, but the lizards only got bigger and better as we went further south.
Our first major birding outing was to the Parc National des Oiseaux de Djouj, about 70 kilometers from St. Louis. We organized a half-day trip through the St. Louis tourist office and got a great English-speaking guide named Ben.
The Parc is the third-largest bird reserve in the world--it's mostly wetland-ish, and you tour it by boat. Mostly you're there to see large numbers of migratory birds, rather than anything very exotic.
For example, we saw trees full of cormorants...whose poop apparently kills the trees!
The most spectacular sight was thousands upon thousands of pelicans all around us--in the water, in the air. Andy got this great shot, you can really see their colorful bills...
...and also this awesome action shot of pelicans in different stages of landing on the water.
The park also hosts some fun non-bird wildlife. This large monitor lizard was out for a swim...
...and this croc was actually really small, but he looks ferocious in the super-zoom!
Best of all, we saw our first warthogs of Africa!
Check out this mama and her four babies--they were hanging around right by the boat landing. Andy might have made me sing "If I was a young warthogggg" from The Lion King when we spotted these guys...
OK, on to The Gambia! The birding there was really fantastic--if you ever go, we can put you in touch with a couple of really good guides. While staying on the coast, we did a half-day trip to the Abuko Nature Reserve, a small park with tons of birds and monkeys, with a guide named Fatou Colley, who is the only female birding guide in the area as far as we know.
Our first sight in the reserve was a giant termite mound. We've seen even fancier ones since, that look like castles.
We're working from memory here, so we may get some names wrong, but we think this guy is a pied kingfisher. We saw many fun kingfishers up and down the country...
Like this malachite kingfisher, also at Abuko. It took many, many shots for Andy to get this guy in focus.
Abuko also had abundant monkeys--the first we've seen in the wild in Africa! Here is the patas monkey, which was all over the park.
The slightly rarer, but still pretty common red colobus monkey.
OK, this guy was in the little zoo within the park, not in the wild. I realized I'd never seen a hyena in person before--apparently they are very hard to keep at zoos so we don't really have them in America. I think I'd only ever seen one animated in, you guessed it, The Lion King.
Near the hyena cage were some (wild) vultures, snacking on something dead.
If you think I remember this pretty bird is called, you are wrong. Sigh.
One of the last birds we saw at Abuko was this black-backed night heron, which is very rare for the area. Check out its huge eye! You can tell when your guide is a real bird-nerd when you see how excited they get to spot stuff like this...
Some lizards of Abuko:
Our next stop, a couple of hundred kilometers up the Gambia River, was Tendaba, a small village with a tourist camp (with pool!) and boat trips to nearby nature reserves. Unfortunately, the (extremely battered) public minibus dropped us 5 dusty kilometers away from the town. The walk was long and hot, but we did see these cool trees with fruits like big fuzzy Christmas ornaments along the way.
While we stayed at Tendaba camp, we found the staff there less than helpful in arranging trips to see birds and wildlife, so we ended up going out in a boat with the competing "Eco-Tourism Camp" down the road. There is really nothing eco about that camp, but our guide Faye definitely seemed more knowledgeable than the guide at Tendaba.
Anyway, that evening we set out in a pirogue (motorized canoe) on the Gambia River for Kiang West National Park. This is the one picture in this post that I took (from the dock before we left), and I am darn proud of it.
We saw a few fun birds at the national park, but the light wasn't great so we have no pictures. The next morning, however, we did a very nice pirogue tour of the nearby Baobalong Wetlands, where we saw many herons, egrets, kingfishers, and some more exotic birds.
Here is a nice heron, not sure what kind.
And here is a nice baobab tree. They are very big, and often the only type of tree you'll see in the dry climates here. I had to read a book in French called "Le Baobab Fou" (The Crazy Baobab) in college, so I've always wanted to see one in person. Funnily enough, they are not leafy right now, but a lot of them still have fruit. (Bouye, the juice made from the fruit of the baobab, is delicious, by the way.)
OK, our last birdwatching tour was done on the island of Georgetown, also known as Janjangbureh, even further up the Gambia river. With the river nearby and forest and scrubland on the island, it is known as one of the top bird-watching spots in The Gambia.
Rather than pay for an expensive boat tour, we asked around town to find a bird guide who would do a walk with us. Several people offered to guide us, but we were looking for someone "professional"--i.e., someone who at least had their own binoculars and a bird book. We finally lucked out and found Solomon, a local artist who also has a tourist camp (Solowin Camp) with his German-born wife, who offered to take us on a tour for $3 US an hour. The tour was excellent--we paid double, and we told him he really needs to raise his rates for the future!
Anyway, my favorite bird that we saw in The Gambia was this guy, the Abyssinian Roller. We saw him first at Kiang West, but finally got a picture in Georgetown.
We saw lots of cool birds in Georgetown, but the most awesome was probably this red bearded barbet. Sorry we didn't have time to edit photos so you could see it more clearly, but this guy has bristles underneath his bill that look like a beard. Crazy!
In short, if you love watching birds, you should definitely visit The Gambia. (And let us know when we're going, because we got stuck with a whole bunch of Gambian money at the border and can't find anywhere to trade it now, so we will swap it to you at a good rate!)