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Home > Wildlife News > Wildlife Tours > Top Places To Go Birding In Gambia

Stunning birdlife and friendly people are two compelling reasons to go birding in Gambia, West Africa.

Gambia boasts more than 560 bird species, from residents to trans-African and European migrants. The country is completely geared up for showcasing its avian diversity, with many local communities working to preserve their natural environment and conserve the native wildlife of this West African country and the Gambia Birdwatchers’ Association providing many expert Gambian guides.

Want to go birding in Gambia?

The local specialist tour operators on Blue Sky Wildlife offer set departure or bespoke organised trips to Gambia. Enquire direct or book through Blue Sky Wildlife for the best deals.

Here is a selection of some of the top birding spots in Gambia that can easily be taken in on a week’s holiday with the help of a knowledgeable local guide and a driver well versed in navigating to the best spots and accommodating the needs of birdwatchers and wildlife photographers.

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Photo Credit: A Scissor-tailed Kite roost, Karanta Camara Gambia Birding Tours

Kotu Bridge

The Gambia Birdwatchers’ Association has its head office next to the Kotu Bridge, west of Banjul and near many of the beach-front tourist hotels, for good reason. There is a tower hide at the end of the bridge from which you can look over the mud flats and mangroves for good views of wading birds such as Saw-winged, Ring-necked and Grey Plovers, Whimbrels, Red Shanks and several types of heron, including Western Reef and Squacco.

Pied Kingfishers hover over the water before making dart-like vertical plunges to scoop up tiny silver fish. And they are joined by Giant, Blue-breasted and Malachite Kingfishers. This is an easy introduction to the delights of birding in Gambia as rumour has it up to 100 bird species have been seen from just this one spot.

After you have spent a while surveying the scene from a static position you can take an easy stroll around the creeks and rice fields that surround the bridge. Kotu golf course attracts Senegal Wattled and Black-headed Plovers and the trees and bushes provide perches for Bearded Barbets, Blue-bellied Rollers, Little Bee-eaters, Yellow-billed Shrikes, Double-spurred Francolins, Variable and Beautiful Sunbirds and many others.

Red Billed Hornbill

Photo Credit: Red-Billed Hornbill, Farakunku Lodges

Slightly less savoury an environment but definitely bird-rich, the Kotu sewage farm – euphemistically called Kotu Pond – is worth a look for White-faced Whistling Ducks, Spur-winged Plovers, African Jacanas, Senegal Thick-knees, Little Grebes, Black-winged Stilts and Marsh Sandpipers.

Little and Palm Swifts swoop overhead along with Red-crested and Wire-tailed Swallows. And in the scrub you can see Grey Plantain Eaters, African Thrushes, Northern Black Flycatchers and Pearl-spotted Owlets.

Tanji Bird Reserve

Venturing further afield than the tourist areas on this birding in Gambia adventure, you should head for the seaside town of Tanji in the far west of the country. This is where, in the afternoons, the brightly painted fishing boats bring home the day’s catch. A huge crowd gathers at the water’s edge waiting for the fish to arrive, scooped from the bottom of the boats into buckets and bowls. Benefitting from the fishy scraps discarded by the gutters and cleaners are hundreds of Grey-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Pink-backed Pelicans, Sandwich and Royal Terns and Turnstones.

Once you have enjoyed the spectacle, leave the hubbub behind and walk along the beach to the Bird Reserve, which is perfect habitat for Four-banded Sandgrouse. As you stroll through the prickly, ankle-high grasses in the dune scrub you can inadvertently flush several parties of sandgrouse that had previously been perfectly camouflaged. Disturbing the vegetation at certain times of year also draws out clouds of tiny Zebra White butterflies, so numerous you will feel as if you’ve strayed onto a Disney film set.

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Photo Credit: Egyptian Plover, Karanta Camara Gambia Birding Tours

Birds are everywhere: Golden Orioles, Little Bee-eaters and Bearded Barbets perched on the topmost tree branches, while Black-shouldered Kites occupy the bare spikes of dead trees. In the months of European winter this is one of the places Ospreys migrate after their breeding season has come to an end. If you can catch a glimpse of a leg ring it’s possible to track back to the country where it has nested.

Information about British Osprey rings can be found on the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation website.

Cape Point

If kingfishers are a favourite, a stop at Cape Point, north of Tanji and at the mouth of the River Gambia is a must. The lagoon that has formed behind sand banks at the seaside has extensive reedbeds and sandbanks around which crocodiles hide. Many Pied Kingfishers swoop down to benefit from the plentiful fish stocks in the lagoon and Broad-billed Rollers inhabit the trees.

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Photo Credit: Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Karanta Camara Gambia Birding Tours

Purple Herons creep on long legs along the grassy margins of the pool while Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters buzz by. It’s not unusual to see Caspian Terns and African Rift Herons flying past, while lower down Little Swifts skim over the water. Tiny Malachite Kingfishers perch on slender fronds close to the surface of the lagoon, not far from the motionless knobbly heads of almost submerged crocs.

Abuko Nature Reserve

Abuko Nature Reserve, just north of Banjul Airport, was the first protected wildlife area in Gambia, having been declared a nature reserve in 1968. Over the years the original designated area has been added to until it has reached its present size of 106 hectares. Around this there is a 300m buffer zone where no development or agricultural encroachment is allowed.

The dense evergreen forest of Abuko is one of the few remaining examples of intact gallery forest in the country, a type of habitat that requires much surface water. The River Lamin flowing through it provides that water.

Here the rare Rhun Palm grows well. This is good for building materials, although permission is now required to harvest it. Strangler figs weave a deadly fretwork around their host trees and beside the sandy paths large termite colonies rise like miniature jagged mountain peaks.

The bird list for the forest numbers 250 species and it is home to Western Red Colobus, Patas and Vervet Monkeys and the Senegal Bushbaby. These monkeys are well camouflaged in the greenery, vines and trailing aerial roots, but their cat-like calls and chatter give them away.

Scarlet Chested Sunbird

Photo Credit: Scarlet Chested Sunbird, Farakunku Lodges

Gambian Red-legged Sun Squirrels run up and down the thick trunks of mature Mahogany and Iroko trees, and Nile Crocodiles and Gold-speckled Monitor Lizards lurk amongst the water lilies and hyacinths in a large, cool pool formed by the River Lamin. There is a hide overlooking the pool and bird species that can be seen there include Violet and Green Turacos, Harris Hawks, Hammerkops, African Grey Woodpeckers and Palm Nut Vultures.

Smaller species flitting through the tall trees and in amongst the dense undergrowth include African Golden Orioles, African Thrushes, Red-bellied Forest Flycatchers, Black-necked Weavers, Snowy Crowned Robin Chats, Western Bluebills, Common Wattle-eyes and Blue-spotted Wood Doves.

This pool was used historically for water collection but is now a great spot for kingfishers. In just a short space of time it’s possible here to see three of Gambia’s nine species of kingfisher – Giant, Woodland and African Pygmy.

Pirang Forest

Southeast of the capital, Banjul, lies the community-run forest of Bonto Pirang. This precious area of 65 hectares of natural woodland bounded on all sides by encroaching agriculture is one of the best places for rare forest species, particularly those woodland birds with limited distributions. For instance, it is the only place in Gambia to find Puvel’s Illadopsis and a good location for African Pied Hornbill.

Pirang is the best example of gallery forest left in Gambia and its variety of bird life demonstrates its important to the ecosystem. Here you can encounter White-spotted Flufftail, Great Sparrowhawk, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Swamp Palm Greenbul, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Collared and Green-headed Sunbirds, and Western Bluebill, among many others. It is also a very good place for butterflies, with 84 species recorded.

Senegal Parrot

Photo Credit: Senegal Parrot, Farakunku Lodges

Deep in the forest and very well camouflaged at the top of a tall baobab tree you can encounter a bird with a body like a fluffy grey Emperor Penguin chick perched incongruously on a branch. Above the almost rectangular torso sits a huge round head with a face defined by black crescents, large ear tufts and big dark eyes – a male Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, over 65cm (2ft) tall, surveying his territory.

The upkeep of the forest comes only from the small entrance fee they ask of visitors and the wardens dedicate themselves to making the area important to the community so that no more trees are felled for fuel or to extend the red sorrel and millet fields and vegetable patches.

Makasutu Forest

This conservation area, home to troops of Guinea Baboons and lumbering Monitor Lizards, is a little off the beaten track, but it is a paradise of both land and water bird species. You can take a sunset cruise from Mandina Lodge to glide quietly along the Makasutu section of the river watching African Darters and Goliath Herons coming and going through the mangroves.

Wahlberg’s Eagles and Ospreys pass by but the excitement of those birds of prey is far surpassed if you across a cluster of Black Kites that has come to roost by the riverside. In the lowering light you gradually see more and more of them, until you lose count at more than 200, perched amongst the trees, limed white with their droppings.

Spendid Sunbird

Photo Credit: Splendid Sunbird, Farakunku Lodges

In a small backwater off the main Mandina River you arrive at a small tree-covered island where multiple branches reach right down into the water. The boatman shuts off the engine and allows the boat to drift into the bank opposite where you wait in silence for the show to begin.

Gradually, a few egrets drift in to land in the trees. Then the crowds begin to arrive. Flight after flight of white birds swooping over the mangroves and coming to rest with much fluttering and adjusting position on the island’s trees. Hundreds, then thousands of birds congregate on the branches and the whole island begins to turn white. It is one of the most amazing bird spectacles to witness while birding in Gambia.

Marakissa Woods

No birding in Gambia trip would be complete without a visit to Marakissa Woods in the southwest of the country, as it is a hotspot for birds of all kinds. Walking around the extensive woods you can encounter a huge variety of birds, from larger species such as African Gray and Red-billed Hornbills, African Harrier Hawks, Eastern Grey Plantain Eaters and Violet Turacos, to tiny, brilliantly coloured birds such as the Northern Red Bishop, seen clinging to a Couscous millet spike, and the Beautiful Sunbird with its long tail streamers sipping nectar from a flower-laden bush.

Marakissa is under the guardianship of two village communities and there are camps run by members of the community with basic but comfortable rooms for anyone wanting to stay. The woods they protect harbour many birds of prey – Banded Ghost Hawks, Hooded Vultures, Lizard Buzzards, Yellow-billed Kites, Wahlberg’s Eagles and Grey Kestrels. And there are water birds aplenty, such as Senegal Thick-knees, African Jacana and Wattled Plover.

If you’re passing through, River Camp offers a great lunch stop overlooking a creek where noisy weaver birds dart in and out of their pendulous nests hanging from waterside trees. The owners have cultivated gardens specifically to attract birds, with pools of fresh water and feeding stations offering fruit, sugar water and grain. They even have a pond stocked with young Tilapia fish that helps to tide the local kingfishers over dry spells when the creek levels drop.

Bearded Barbet

Photo Credit: Bearded Barbet, Karanta Camara Gambia Birding Tours

The large Baobab tree outside the communal areas at the camp attracts dozens of Hooded Vultures to roost, and in the creek crocodiles lurk, only coming into view on the shoreline when it is quiet enough. Further along the creek it’s possible to enjoy the treat of an African Scops Owl sheltering from the heat far up in the crown of a tree.

Kampanti Rice Fields

When you have finished exploring the birdlife along the coast and south and west of the capital, Banjul, you should take the road ‘up country’, following the Gambia River further upsteam to visit some of the country’s most important wildlife conservation areas.

First stop on this part of a birding in Gambia trip should be the Kampanti rice fields. If you make a dawn start you will be there to witness this green and cool oasis in the early morning light. It’s a spot that attracts great numbers of birds of prey – Black Kites and Harrier Hawks perch in small trees around the rice fields, and Yellow-billed Kites soar over the growing crops. Here you can also find Martial Eagles, Bedouin Snake Eagles, Grasshopper Buzzards and Bateleur Eagles.

Pied Kingfisher

Photo Credit: Pied Kingfisher, Karanta Camara Gambia Birding Tours

You tend to see the greatest numbers in this location at noon, when the heat forces the raptors to seek out the fields to find cooler places for an hour or two. But if you get there earlier you can enjoy the time as the sun rises to its highest point watching waders such as African Jacanas picking their way around the paddy fields. The vegetation on the fringes of the fields also shelter Splendid Glossy Starlings, African Golden Orioles and Broad-billed Rollers.

Soma Wetlands

If you are travelling up river, the town of Soma is convenient for a lunch stop or a sweet coffee bought from a little snack shop in the town’s main street. Outside the town are wetlands that attract a myriad of birds such as Black-winged Stilts and Pink-backed Pelicans. Here you can watch as an Osprey plunges into the water and emerges with a large fish.

From this point you take the road to the ferry at Yelitenda for the crossing from the south bank of the River Gambia to the north. The road is always lined with dozens of lorries, crossing the country to get from one part of Senegal to the other. As Senegal wraps around Gambia, this route shortcuts many miles of inland travel to a point where the river is narrow enough for a bridge, so it is worth what can sometimes be a day’s wait to occupy one of the few truck spaces available on the mainly car and foot passenger ferry.

Greys Eagle Owl

Photo Credit: Greys Eagle Owl, Karanta Camara,Gambia Birding Tours

The closer you get to the ferry, the more roadside stalls appear, selling everything from iced water and fast food to sunglasses and socks. The busy throng of people, cars and trucks don’t deter the wildlife, though, and while you’re waiting for your turn to cross the water you can enjoy small flocks of Woolly-necked Storks passing over and Abyssinian Rollers swaying on the telegraph wires.

Kau-ur Wetlands

Crossing to the north bank you turn east and make your way to the Kau-ur Wetland, a vast area of pools, mud banks and rice fields that stay wet even st the height of the dry season, where hundred-strong Ruff and Collared Pratincole flocks can make an impressive sight. The scrubby bushes are populated by Yellow-backed Weavers and tiny cerulean-blue Red-cheeked Cordon-bleus.

There are plenty of Senegal Thick-knees and Spur-winged Plovers, Collared Pratincoles and Kittlitz’s Plovers, too. And this is the place to find the beautiful Egyptian Plover searching for insects where the cracked earth meets the shallow pools. White-faced Whistling Ducks, Purple Swamphens, Little Bitterns and Greater Painted Snipes can all also be seen.

Standard-winged Nightjar

Photo Credit: Standard-winged Nightjar, Karanta Camara Gambia Birding Tours

As it is also an area that is home to many species of raptor, further along the road you might be lucky to come across some roadkill which will attract a crowd of dozens of vultures of different species performing their valuable service as carrion clearers. You can find Hooded and White-backed Vultures and extremely impressive Ruppell’s Griffon Vultures as well as lofty Marabou Storks that will happily join the throng.

Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project

Cross over the Gambia river again at Janjangbureh, formerly Georgetown. This was a slave-gathering area in the time of the slave trade and there is a small museum at the side of the river that brings home the reality of those dark days.

Further west, at the end of a half-hour rutted road journey is the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Project headquarters, close by the River Gambia National Park. This centre was set up in 1979 to establish a refuge for Gambia’s few remaining chimpanzees and provides an interesting departure from a birding in Gambia trip.

Chimpanzee

Photo Credit: Chimpanzee, Karanta Camara Gambia Birding Tours

The river glides round several large islands that have never been populated and so contain some of the few examples of pristine native forest left in the country. The chimpanzees live on these islands in safe seclusion, protected by the local community and the government and studied by researchers led by a primatologist. They share the islands with Red Colobus, Senegal Bushbabies and Green Monkeys and many bird species, such as Squacco Herons.

Once a day, in the late afternoon, fruit and ground nuts in biodegradable brown paper bags are left in strategic places on the islands for the chimps. This gathers them in a natural way so that the researchers can check them over without interfering with them, and visitors can get close-up pictures.

A boat trip round the islands can also lead to an unexpected and exciting encounter. In the shallower water between two islands you can come across groups of hippos, ducking and diving as they make their way across a submerged sandbank, the younger ones play-fighting and giving low, grunty roars.

Bao Bolong Wetlands

Accommodation in this area of Gambia is limited but you can spend a night in the basic rooms at Tendaba Camp. The camp is functional and the meals good, and you will be surrounded by fellow bird enthusiasts as it is a well-known stopping point. The area around the Camp is great for birdwatching with a variety of different habitats to explore.

From here you can go by small boat to explore the saltmarsh, mangrove and savanna woodland of the Bao Bolong Wetland. This is a tidal RAMSAR site and designated as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area by Birdlife International.

The loud three-toned whistle of a Banded Kingfisher may accompany you as you enter one of the creeks that wends its way through the mangroves. If the tide is low you will see the dark muddy banks under the exposed mangrove roots peppered with the holes of Fiddler Crabs. Masked Mongooses come down to those banks in search of a crustacean breakfast.

Abyssinian Roller

Photo Credit: Abyssinian Roller, Farakunku Lodges

All along the creek, perched on branches above the water, are African Darters. These Cormorant-like birds with their long flexible necks plunge into the water with a great splash chasing their prey. With their sinuous necks weaving backwards and forwards it’s easy to see why they’re known as the ‘snake bird’.

Every now and then, the mangroves give way to vast stretches of saltmarsh covered in a green lawn of succulent plants through which every type of egret and heron you could ever wish to see prowls. There are Great, Intermediate, Little and Western Reef Egrets. Black, Black-headed, Grey, Purple, Striated, Squacco and the hugely impressive Goliath Herons.

Hiding in the mangroves at the edge of the marsh you can find a huge-eyed White-backed Night Heron roosting in the gradually warming day. Great White Pelicans and Woolly-necked Storks form squadrons flying overhead. A Great Cormorant breeding colony occupies a stretch of the creek. Hundreds of nests in various stages of production decorate the forks in the sparsely leaved and heavily limed trees.

Gambia truly is a land full of surprises and birding spectacles. For a small country, just 200 miles long and 30 miles wide, it has a rich array of habitats and a wide range of interesting species. The birdwatching guides of Gambia will give you a warm welcome and a great introduction to the birds of Africa.

Organising a Trip to go Birding in Gambia

The specialist local tour operators on Blue Sky Wildlife can offer organised or bespoke trips to Gambia. Book with them direct or through Blue Sky Wildlife for the best deals. There is an enquiry form on their pages that will put you in touch direct for all your questions and requests.

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