Our pre arranged vehicle and driver arrived at the Sunset Beach bang on time. 8.00am as arranged with Heather through the Farakunku Lodge booking.
With a creditable 95 species seen in the first two days we wondered how we could top that but were optimistic of some different species when heading inland and further up river.
We picked up our guide, Lamin the genuine, that's Lamin K Njie, on our way and he was soon asking us what special targets we had. Alan had Abyssinian Ground Hornbill top of his list, I was less specific but would be happy with some Coursers and Pratincols. We both hoped to see Carmine Bee-eater and Egyptian Plover but were told that wasn't likely to happen. We had two boat trips booked and I'd hoped that we could do one on this first day in the evening, the other on the last morning before we left thus leaving the middle day free to go a bit further afield searching for some of our targets.
We hadn't travelled far when Lamin announced we were going to stop at Bonto Woods as he'd phoned his contact and the Owls were showing well. Fair enough I thought and stop we did.
Not 25 yards from the "car park" and guide hut and there it was, our first Owl of the trip.
Northern White-faced Owl
Now Owls are usually very difficult so I couldn't believe I had only taken 4 shots in a few seconds and, happy with the result, was ready to move on and leave the Owl in peace. Amazing !
We walked on to see the Verraux's Eagle-Owl not too far away.
The female was sitting on the nest.
She isn't going to win any beauty competitions that's for sure. Neither is the male.
He was sat in dense foliage and in poor light but the view was half decent. He decided not to hang around though and flew to a new perch so we left him in peace too.
A quick look at the water troughs back at the guide hut then we were on our way, we were due to return the following week anyway but as Alan said, an Owl in the bag is better than not, grab your opportunity while you can. Likewise, the next stop was the Brown-necked Parrot territory and again, they obliged although at distance and with the sun behind them. A "lifer"
Off we went yet again before another stop on a forest track. This time Lamin successfully found us some more new species, more lifers for both Alan and myself.
Amongst them, White-shouldered Tit
and the rather uncommon and desirable "tick" of Black-headed Firefinch
All nice birds but it reminded me why I don't tend tho do guided birding very much. Great to find new species, not always great from a photographic point of view when more time is needed to stake out territories and habits.
That's not always true though as our next stops demonstrated. Firstly roadside Piapiacs
both adult and the pink billed juveniles.
A Grasshopper Buzzard was another lifer and despite the perch gave fabulous views
Well you can't blame the birds for taking advantage of the man made perches, they are perfect for raptors.
Dark Chanting Goshawk
But fortunately from an aesthetic point not all were found on metal. This Lizzard Buzzard was very confiding.
Allowing me to wander around looking for different backgrounds to the perch, even add and remove teleconverters to my lens too!
On we travelled. The road to Tendaba is a superb tarmac highway now with not a great deal of traffic on it, mainly lorries and bush taxis as most locals can't afford to own and run a car. Many people have to walk miles everyday, it's all part of their everyday life but most drivers are happy to give people a lift whenever they can too, even if the seat is a bit precarious !
One thing that was certainly in evidence though were the number of police and army checkpoints. We must have passed a dozen and more on our way to Tendaba.We passed them all without incident and in every case the authorities were smiling and pleasant even if the proximity of an AK47 is a little disconcerting.
The drive from the coastal tourist zone now only takes about 2 hours non stop but despite leaving at 8.00am we didn't actually arrive at Tendaba until mid afternoon.
Tendaba... now there's a place to conjure up the imagination ! I have heard first hand experience and read loads of comments about Tendaba camp. Trip Advisor reports are pretty dreadful.
We were prepared for the worst and as a result pleasantly surprised. Ok we had the Deluxe rooms which have limited availability I guess, many reports are based on the "standard" ones.
My room was OK and for the record I took a couple of shots just after I arrived.
Yes, I have just dumped my camera gear on the bed ! A proper bed not a concrete slab with a mattress which I believe the standard rooms have, the hanging curtain is the doorway through to the ensuite toilet and shower. A proper toilet and a freezing cold hand held shower but both soap, a towel and toilet paper were provided. Luxury!
Back in the sleeping area there was a TV and a satellite receiver I think. I didn't try either. OK the door is missing of the cupboard but that saves having to open it ! There was an air conditioning unit in my room too, Alan wasn't quite as lucky, he had a fan. There again I didn't try the A/C as it wasn't needed. Alan on the other hand had the benefit of a foot wash in his bathroom which I didn't. OK it was obligatory every time you used the sink as the waste pipe wasn't connected properly but hey ho, a minor complaint ! No the only thing I would fault the room on was that the mosquito net refused to secure itself to the corners of the bed so during the course of the night it slowly became less effective, first making me feel like a fish caught in a net before leaving half of my body exposed to the mozzies. A top tip, take a can of fly spray !
Anyway, our boat trip was due at 4.00pm and we had a boat booked just for us.
Firstly you cross the rather wide and tidal river before heading up the side channels in the mangroves on the far side. Birds were plentiful, particularly Grey Heron and Darters it seemed.They were everywhere. Grey Heron I wasn't so interested in as we see plenty here in the UK but Darter was something I haven't seen much of, particularly giving views like these were.
Every overhanging branch seemed to have one sitting on it, usually they flew as the boat approached. Sometimes flying past the boat too !
Some decent photo opportunities then ! One of the best were a pair of Nile Crocodiles. One on the bank and an even bigger one in the water.
The one in the water was a whopper and we were only feet away.
I noticed that the guide started bailing out the water at the bottom of the boat with a little more enthusiasm! You would be in big trouble if you found yourself in the water with these two.
However,before sailing we had hoped for 4 target birds... Goliath Heron, Finfoot, White-backed Night Heron and Pel's Fishing Owl.
The first target bird we came across was the Night heron. The views were so obscured I was amazed that the guide had spotted one. Hardly a view but well, could we tick it ? We decided yes and no ! We could add it to our list but not claim it. Does that make sense ? No, but neither does bird watching !!!!
The one species our guide was confident of was the Goliath Heron but by the time we saw one the light was fading and the views distant.
A lifer but a disappointing encounter as far as I was concerned. The next was a mixture of elation and frustration. Almost as we left the mangroves to cross back over to camp the guide spotted the Pel's Fishing Owl. How, I don't know as it was so well camouflaged high up in the now poorly lit tree canopy. The boatman was instructed to reverse, a manoeuvre that meant we were all about to be overcome with engine fumes again ! Still, a bit of carbon monoxide poisoning is a small price to pay because it seems not everyone gets to see this one, in fact it's a bit of a rarity. A combination of noise and fumes and the Owl was soon off but I had managed to fire off a couple of shots. The guides were keen to see what I had got, amazed that I had anything at all. No one else they told me had managed one before. The camp manager asked me to send a copy for their web site, it was a bit embarrassing as the shot is no more than a record shot, certainly not one to be proud of. Still, it is a Pel's Fishing Owl !
I had come away with some I was proud of though. This Darter popped up in front of the boat complete with it's captured prey.
More engrossed in it's dinner than our presence it ignored us completely.
As we passed close by all I could get in the frame was the bird's neck and head.
and we witnessed the demise of the fish as it disappeared down the Darter's throat.
Well pleased with that one we headed back for some celebratory beers and, despite previously grim reports, a rather superb dinner.
No Finfoot on the first attempt but maybe next time !