The Gambia: Gateway to Africa Tour
The Gambia: Gateway to Africa Tour
The Gambia is Africa’s smallest mainland country and is located between the Sahel transition zone and the subtropics of West Africa. Despite its small size, the diversity and number of birds and the array of wildlife on offer is rather staggering and is a huge draw. The country also has a long-established tourist infrastructure, is safe, and full of very friendly people. Its huge range of birds and long history of tourism makes the country an ideal place for an introduction to the wonderful African continent. Its small size means that the country can be covered well during a short period. Our small group tour will give you a great opportunity to explore this exciting country, with a seemingly endless list of birding highlights.
The highly prized Egyptian Plover is a stunning species and a big target on our tour (photo Ray Purser).
Following International Ornithological Congress (IOC) taxonomy (v11.1 in May 2021), The Gambia has an impressive bird list of 620 species, which is made up of a wide range of tropical African species and, during the northern winter (when our tour is timed), a mix of Western Palearctic migrants. Two of the most highly sought-after resident species include Egyptian Plover and Hamerkop, both are monotypic families and possible on this tour.
We will visit a range of interesting locations during the tour, that are both easy to bird, but are also capable of springing an exciting surprise or two. During the tour we will also visit several Important Bird Areas (IBAs), sites that have been identified as being particularly important for birds, including Allahein to Kartong Coast IBA, Jakhaly rice-fields IBA, Kiang West National Park IBA, Pirang Forest Park, and Tanji River (Karinti) Bird Reserve.
Northern Carmine Bee-eater is one of many stunning bee-eaters we will look for on this tour.
Something that will be new (and exciting!) to visitors is the abundance of birds in and around the Senegambia Hotel, our base for much of the tour. This modern hotel has all the facilities any visitor could ask for, plus beautiful, safe grounds that have recorded over 200 bird species. A walk around the gardens should give us at least 50 species during our visit and we can also take in the excellent and informative daily vulture feeding, where scores of the Critically Endangered (BirdLife International) Hooded Vulture come down to feed.
From our hotel we will explore a range of coastal sites nearby, before spreading our wings further afield to more remote coastal locations. We will then take a four-day journey upriver to the heart of The Gambia. Here we will see traditional African villages and come across birds that are not present near the coast. This is The Gambia in its truest form, and away from the hustle and bustle of the coast, it is a peaceful country. Regardless of where we go, we will meet friendly, welcoming people who also contribute to a wonderful visit to this tiny part of Africa.
The massive Goliath Heron can be surprisingly shy and a sighting like this would be a real bonus for our tour.
The list of species we can hope to see on this tour is huge. We will get to see a wide range of shorebirds (waders), birds of prey, herons, egrets, pelicans, rollers, bee-eaters, kingfishers, sunbirds, warblers, glossy starlings, hornbills, finches, barbets, and so much more, including highly sought-after African species like African Finfoot, Egyptian Plover, Black Crowned Crane, Goliath Heron, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Guinea and Violet Turacos, Blue-bellied Roller, Red-throated Bee-eater, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, and Oriole Warbler.
We are confident you will thoroughly enjoy this birdwatching tour of The Gambia whether it is your first visit to Africa or your first to West Africa. We are also sure that if you love birding in Africa and have been to the amazing continent many times, that you will also get a lot out of this fabulous tour and you could also extend your time in West Africa by joining our Senegal: West African Wildlife Adventure. Our exciting 13-day tour to neighboring Senegal follows on immediately after this tour and covers a large part of this under-visited country and is a real adventure into the wilderness. Some of the highlight species we will target on that trip include Arabian Bustard, Savile’s Bustard, Scissor-tailed Kite, River Prinia, Golden Nightjar, Sennar Penduline Tit, Cricket Warbler, White-crowned Lapwing, Adamawa Turtle Dove, Black Coucal, Little Grey Woodpecker, Quail-plover, Red-throated Bee-eater, Neumann’s Starling, Pied-winged Swallow, Egyptian Plover, White-crested Tiger Heron, and Mali Firefinch, just to name a few goodies!
Itinerary (10 days/9 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Banjul, transfer to Senegambia Beach Hotel
Welcome to The Gambia! Those of you from northern latitudes will know you are somewhere exotic and exciting as the instant heat hits when you step off the plane. You will be met at the airport by your Birding Ecotours tour leader and local Gambian birding guide. From here we will transfer you to The Gambia’s most popular, and very comfortable hotel, The Senegambia Beach Hotel. After your long flight we would recommend relaxing, either by the numerous pools and bars, or in your room if you prefer to escape the heat for a while (though we know you will find it hard to resist getting started on the birding off your balcony as soon as you arrive!).
Western Red-billed Hornbill occurs within the grounds of our hotel.
We will be spending the next five nights at this fabulous hotel and its grounds are famous for being home to a whole host of magnificent and often shockingly colorful bird species. You are of course welcome to explore at your leisure, but both of your guides will be on hand to give you a fully guided tour of the grounds during the afternoon. This is a great chance for you to get familiar with the more common species found on the coast of The Gambia. Species found here include Hooded Vulture (this species, along with many other vultures from around the world is now deemed Critically Endangered by BirdLife International), and other species possible include Green Wood Hoopoe, African Grey Hornbill, Western Red-billed Hornbill, Broad-billed Roller, Bearded Barbet, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Oriole Warbler, Long-tailed Glossy Starling, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Beautiful Sunbird, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Western Plantain-eater, Yellow-billed Shrike, plus much more. There are great photo opportunities here too!
Yellow-crowned Gonolek is one of many exotic (and colorful) species found in the garden of our hotel, and is part of the bushshrikes family, endemic to Africa.
It is also worth looking out for European migrant species around the garden, many of which overwinter in The Gambia. Such species can include Black Kite, Common Swift, Pallid Swift, Common Chiffchaff, and Western Olivaceous Warbler, while off the hotels private beach Pomarine Jaeger (Skua), Grey-headed Gull, Caspian Tern, Sandwich Tern, West African Crested Tern, Common Tern, and Lesser Crested Tern can regularly be seen.
In the evening we will meet to discuss the exciting trip ahead and enjoy the wonderful food of the Senegambia which has an incredible variety of culinary offerings from The Gambia and further afield. We will also use this time to answer any questions and cater to any needs you may have. We will also carry out the first of our nightly checklist sessions where we will go through all of the sightings from the afternoon. We will do checklist sessions each night as well as provide eBird checklists for everyone who wants them, so you can spend more time concentrating on the birds!
Overnight: Senegambia Beach Hotel
Day 2. Birding Brufut Forest and Tanji Bird Reserve
We will begin our first full day in The Gambia with an early start at Brufut Forest, a small area of woodland and scrub about 30 minutes south of our hotel. This is one of many very productive coastal sites we will visit and Brufut is a great location to get to grips with the more common Gambian bird species, but also some rarer birds and Western Palearctic migrants.
Many of the more common species will be ones mentioned above that we should also be able to find around our hotel, but there will be plenty of new species to enjoy. The most striking species to be found here include African Green Pigeon, Guinea Turaco, Violet Turaco, African Golden Oriole, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Long-tailed Glossy Starling, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Broad-billed Roller, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Splendid Sunbird, and Lavender Waxbill.
The striking and beautiful Swallow-tailed Bee-eater is a really sought-after species and a highlight of any visit to The Gambia.
As with most areas of woodland on the coast, birds of prey and owls will also be a key feature, with species like Black-winged Kite, Hooded Vulture, Shikra, Black Kite, Lanner Falcon, Lizard Buzzard, Palm-nut Vulture, Northern White-faced Owl, and Pearl-spotted Owlet all being frequently recorded here.
After spending the morning at Brufut we will move to the coast and visit Tanji Bird Reserve. This area of coastal woodland, scrub, and sandy beach supports a huge number of bird species and it is easy to add another 50-70 species during a short visit here!
Western Palearctic shorebirds (waders) will be the main feature here with Common Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Eurasian Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Greenshank, and Common Redshank all being regular here. Gulls and terns are also a large part of the Tanji reserve experience, attracted by the nearby Tanji open air fish market, with Grey-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Caspian Tern, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, and West African Crested Tern (a recent split from Royal Tern) likely to all be present.
A typical scene on the coast of The Gambia. Huge numbers of terns and shorebirds (waders) gather to feed and roost and we will enjoy spending time grilling them to see what we can find.
Away from the beach we will explore the low coastal scrub, dunes, and coastal forest. Here we should come across many of the species we saw this morning and several new species. More open areas can hold Stone Partridge, Four-banded Sandgrouse, Pied Crow, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, and a range of Estrildid finches (waxbills, munias, and allies) including Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Red-billed Firefinch, and Bronze Mannikin. Large flocks of Village Weaver should also be present in the area and these can be joined by the smaller and rarer Little Weaver.
This coastal scrub is also a superb migrant trap and several wintering species from the Western Palearctic can be found here including Melodious Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Willow Warbler, Western Subalpine Warbler, Woodchat Shrike, and Common Nightingale and in the neighboring coastal forest, we will search for an exciting range of species including Blue-bellied Roller, Bearded Barbet, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Blackcap Babbler, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, and several species of sunbirds, including Variable Sunbird and Splendid Sunbird.
As with every day on the coast we will return to the Senegambia hotel to cool down by the pool (or watching/photographing birds in the garden) and go through the daily species list.
Overnight: Senegambia Beach Hotel
The stunning Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat is often elusive in its coastal forest home but can occasionally give amazing views like this.
Day 3. Birding Marakissa Wood, River Camp, and Penyem Woods
Today we will take an hour drive south to Marakissa, close to the border with Senegal, where we will spend the whole day birding. The habitat here is different from our first couple of days birding, with mangroves, river channels, and more dense sub-tropical forest. We will begin at Marakissa Wood, a fragment of the sub-tropical forest which previously covered this whole area. Forest birding is (as usual) a challenge, but the rewards can be high and Marakissa holds some superb species, including Greater Honeyguide, Spotted Honeyguide, Northern Puffback, Violet Turaco, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, African Pied Hornbill, African Grey Hornbill, Northern Crombec, and the fantastically named Grey-backed Camaroptera, and Tawny-flanked Prinia.
Marakissa is also well known for supporting a wide range of birds of prey including Hooded Vulture, Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Yellow-billed Kite, African Harrier-Hawk, Lizard Buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Grey Kestrel, and Red-necked Falcon and we will constantly be on the lookout for all of the above.
There are many great wetlands, and therefore fantastic wetland birding, around Marakissa, and these can hold a wide range of species associated with this habitat. Standout species here include Black Crake, Giant Kingfisher, Striated Heron, Hamerkop (a unique, monotypic family), Dwarf Bittern, and Black-headed Heron, while the neighboring open areas hold good numbers of Abyssinian Roller, Blue-bellied Roller (a stunner!), Senegal Parrot, Yellow-billed Shrike, Piapiac, numerous sunbirds and flocks of Estrildid finches.
After an action-packed morning birding session we will have lunch at the Marakissa River Camp. One of the many great parts of visiting The Gambia is being constantly surrounded by birds, and lunch here is no exception. Exploring the area around the river camp should give us a wide range of herons and egrets, including Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Black Heron, Western Cattle Egret, and Squacco Heron.
Hamerkop is a monotypic family and is an incredible bird, it builds a humongous nest too!
The campgrounds could also give us new species for our tour, such as White-faced Whistling Duck, Spur-winged Lapwing, African Darter, Reed Cormorant, Palm-nut Vulture, Red-chested Goshawk, Green Wood Hoopoe, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Singing Cisticola, Purple Starling, Northern Black Flycatcher, White-billed Buffalo Weaver, and much more.
After lunch, we will head to the nearby Penjem Woods. The habitat here is similar to Marakissa Woods, so is more of an insurance policy in case we missed any of the key species in the morning. However, it is an excellent area, and some new species could be possible here, like Double-spurred Spurfowl, African Palm Swift, Black Scimitarbill, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Woodland Kingfisher, Copper Sunbird, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Gabar Goshawk, and Yellow-bellied Hyliota.
Overnight: Senegambia Beach Hotel
The striking Palm-nut Vulture is one of a huge number of birds of prey on offer in The Gambia.
Day 4. Birding Kartong and Berending Woods
Today we will explore the area around the amazing Kartong Bird Observatory, around a one-hour drive south of our hotel. This expansive site is a mixture of scrub, dunes, low level forest, and sub-tropical forest all bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the border with Senegal. It is a hugely productive area and a week at the site can easily yield over 200 species. Despite only having a day here, we should still have no problem recording a great range of exciting birds, with 100 species during our birding session a very achievable target. Due to the huge species list we have summarized the more frequently found species, but it is a site where literally anything can be found.
Depending on the water level, shorebirds (waders) from the Western Palearctic can be present here in significant numbers on the beach and nearby pools. Species that are regular at Kartong include Black-winged Stilt, Grey Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Eurasian Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Red Knot, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, and Wood Sandpiper.
Migratory passerines are also present here with Woodchat Shrike, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Willow Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, Western Subalpine Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Common Nightingale, Western Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Crested Lark, and Western Bonelli’s Warbler being the most numerous species.
African species that we may not have come across so far, but are often found at Kartong, include Spur-winged Goose, African Pygmy Goose, Greater Painted-snipe, Woolly-necked Stork, African Swamphen, Namaqua Dove, Pink-backed Pelican, Black-headed Heron, Striped Kingfisher, Brubru, Oriole Warbler, Whistling Cisticola, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Red-billed Quelea, Northern Red Bishop, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, and Plain-backed Pipit.
Kartong also has its own star species, with the beach area being a breeding site for White-fronted Plover, a shorebird species right at the northern edge of its range in The Gambia.
Overnight: Senegambia Beach Hotel
Pied Kingfisher is the most numerous kingfisher species in coastal areas of the country.
Day 5. Birding Farasutu Forest and Pirang Forest
Our final day of near-coastal birding will see us visit two areas of forest a few miles into the interior of the country. We will start early to spend the morning at Farasutu Forest, which is one of the best sites on the coast to see Greyish Eagle-Owl, Spotted Honeyguide, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Senegal Thick-knee, Bar-breasted Firefinch, Giant Kingfisher, White-backed Night Heron, and Green-headed Sunbird.
Other highly desirable species seen here can include Hamerkop, Martial Eagle, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Northern White-faced Owl, Long-tailed Nightjar, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, African Green Pigeon, White-throated Bee-eater, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, and White-crested Helmetshrike.
An incredibly exciting-looking bird, White-crested Helmetshrike (photo Mattias Hofstede).
During the afternoon we will visit the nearby Pirang Forest and fishponds. The species list on offer here is vast, with a huge range of shorebirds (waders), waterbirds, birds of prey, hornbills, pigeons, doves, swifts, bee-eaters, rollers, and passerines occurring, with some visits to the fishponds seeing over 100 species in one day.
There will be many species that we will be familiar with by now, but new offerings could include Double-spurred Spurfowl, Namaqua Dove, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Standard-winged Nightjar, Marsh Sandpiper, Slender-billed Gull, Yellow-billed Stork, Glossy-backed Drongo, Northern Yellow White-eye, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, and Quailfinch.
Overnight: Senegambia Beach Hotel
Day 6. Transfer to Tendaba Camp, birding en route
Today we leave the coast for a few days and begin the journey to the interior of The Gambia. We will travel along the south bank road as far as Tendaba, a village 80 miles (130 kilometers) from the coast and one of The Gambia’s most famous birding locations.
The open areas en route are popular for birds, with species like Helmeted Guineafowl, Stone Partridge, Double-spurred Spurfowl, Four-banded Sandgrouse, Diederik Cuckoo, and Dark Chanting Goshawk possible. A tributary of the Gambia River near the start of our journey will give us more views of wetland birds, with interesting species like African Wattled Lapwing, Greater Painted-snipe, Little Stint, Dwarf Bittern, Striated Heron, and the rare Kittlitz’s Plover all possible here, and we will search nearby forests for the elusive but beautiful White-spotted Flufftail, a highly desired species.
Greater Painted-snipe is a stunning species, and also quite unique in that the females are brighter and more colorful than the males.
Further into our journey we will pass close to the border with Senegal. This is one of the best areas in the western part of The Gambia to spot raptors, and species here can include African Harrier-Hawk, Hooded Vulture, White-backed Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Rüppell’s Vulture, Bateleur, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Lizard Buzzard, Grasshopper Buzzard, Black Kite, and Lanner Falcon.
We will then turn north back towards the Gambia River where we will stop to explore the Kiang West National Park. This is another chance to get familiar with many of the species we have seen previously and the national park is home to several species that are harder to find on the coast, these can include Brown Snake Eagle, Black Scimitarbill, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver, Sahel Bush Sparrow, and Brown-rumped Bunting.
Finally, we will arrive at Tendaba. This camp alongside the Gambia River, and its surrounding habitat, is home to a huge range of species, with far too many to list here. However, the star of this part of The Gambia is the beautiful Egyptian Plover. This shorebird is a monotypic family and is highly prized, and we will spend plenty of time looking for it while birding in the area.
Other interesting species around Tendaba include African Pygmy Goose, European Honey Buzzard, African Fish Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Long-crested Eagle, African Hobby, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Guinea Turaco, Violet Turaco, Standard-winged Nightjar, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Woodland Kingfisher, Brown-backed Woodpecker, and much more.
Overnight: Tendaba Camp
Days 7 – 8. Transfer to Janjangbureh and Birding Janjangbureh
We will continue east along the Gambia River and further into the heartland of this amazing country, once again stopping en route to enjoy the birds of the interior.
A small tributary near the village of Soma will be our first stop, where we should come across numerous exciting species. Once again, this is another opportunity to look for species we may have missed previously, or gain repeat views of others, with potential species including Spotted Thick-knee, Hadada Ibis, Egyptian Plover, Hamerkop, Black Heron, Rüppell’s Vulture, Bateleur, Black Crowned Crane, Bronze-winged Courser, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Black Coucal, and others. Continuing east we will explore more wetlands on the banks of the Gambia River where key species include African Pygmy Goose, Marabou Stork, Montagu’s Harrier, African Fish Eagle, and Red-necked Falcon.
The prize of The Gambia is the beautiful Egyptian Plover. This is one of the most wanted birds on any trip to the country (photo Mattias Hofstede).
We will aim to reach Janjangbureh by the afternoon where we can immediately begin exploring yet another fantastic birding area. Many of the inland species will be familiar to us by now but there is always a chance of a surprise in this area. The habitat is a mixture of lush riverside forest, mangroves, and interspersed open areas, meaning that the species variety is high here.
Key species we will look for include Egyptian Plover, African Fish Eagle, African Finfoot, Swamp Flycatcher, Green Bee-eater, and Red-throated Bee-eater, plus numerous species of bird of prey.
African Fish Eagle is one spectacular raptor!
The following morning, we will enjoy a boat trip from Janjangbureh along the Gambia River. This is a great way to spot a great many species and get close-up views of birds like Goliath Heron, Giant Kingfisher, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, African Darter, Spur-winged Lapwing, Striated Heron, and birds of prey over the river including Palm-nut Vulture, White-backed Vulture, and Western Banded Snake Eagle.
Around Janjangbureh we will have a chance to look for some of The Gambia’s large mammals and reptiles. Species in the area can include Aardvark, Guinea Baboon, Crested Porcupine, African Dwarf Crocodile, Nile Monitor, and Hippopotamus.
Overnight: Janjangbureh Camp (Two nights)
Day 9. Transfer back to Banjul, birding en route
After a morning of birding around Janjangbureh we will depart westwards and retrace our steps along the south bank of the Gambia River. We will use this drive to look for improved views of any key species.
Once we arrive back for a final night at the wonderful Senegambia Beach Hotel, we will have time to relax or explore the grounds of the hotel one last time. We will then have our final dinner in The Gambia and use this time to go through the extensive list of species we have seen, and choose our bird of the trip, no easy task with so many wonderful species on offer.
Overnight: Senegambia Beach Hotel
Saddle-billed Stork is probably one of the best-looking members of this cosmopolitan family.
Day 10. Departure
Sadly, all good things must come to an end and this morning, after a final local birding session, we will transfer to Banjul International Airport for your flight home. Those of you that are continuing with our Senegal: West African Wildlife Adventure Tour may stay in the hotel and explore the grounds or relax by the pool.
Overnight: Not included
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes must use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.Download Itinerary
During our small group tour, you will be driven by your guide in a comfortable vehicle. This tour does involve some longer walks but these will be on flat, firm ground, except for some sites where the ground may be sandy.
Throughout the coastal part of our tour, we will stay in the wonderful Senegambia Beach Hotel. This hotel is as good as hotels get, even by Western standards and features every facility you could want. The grounds of this hotel have also recorded over 200 bird species so serve as a great way to get to grips with the more common African species. They also feed the resident Hooded Vultures at 2pm every day which makes for a great spectacle (of what is now a Critically Endangered species).
Temperatures during our tour will be hot to very hot. In coastal areas, day temperatures are typically 86 – 95F (30 – 35C), falling, eventually, to around 70F (21C) at night. Humidity is generally low unless we encounter an overcast day where the temperature will be lower but significantly more humid. Our visit to upriver areas will see the temperatures climb further where we can expect 95 – 104F (36 – 40C), falling, eventually, to around 75F (24C) at night.