Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Kartong Bird Observatory Day 6

The trip up to Tendaba, although something we both had looked forward to, certainly wasn't ever intended as the highlight of our trip, if anything the trip to Kartong Bird Observatory was the most highly anticipated. So much so in fact we had already decided that the included trip to Kartong which was part of our birding package with Farakunku wouldn't be enough and had asked Heather to arrange a second one too.
You can see lots of information here on their web site:-


Alan had already met both Heather, husband Moses ( Farakunku's owners) and Colin Cross from the Observatory when he visited the Birdfair at Rutland last year. On our arrival at Kartong we were greeted like old friends and Colin took us on a guided walking tour around the area surrounding the observatory which covers a wide variety of terrains from reeded pools to beach and scrub. Colin is very interested in photography too so it made my visit all the more interesting as he pointed out some good spots that he uses himself. It was agreed on the next visit I'd be using them myself ! In the meantime I just salivated at the potential !
It's a reasonable distance to the beach but it was lovely to take in the fresh sea air once again. I could have spent a day just sat there waiting for whatever opportunity might present itself.
A Ringed Plover sprinting past perhaps ?
Ringed Plover  Gambia
Maybe a fly by Bar-tailed Godwit
2015-01-16 at 11-38-08
Or maybe just wait until the birds work their way closer towards you, searching for food.
Grey Plover & Bar-tailed Godwit   Gambia
Colin was keen to show us his special birds though, firstly the Hudsonian Whimbrel. I am sure I am not the only one who would have walked past this bird without spotting the difference from the rest of the Whimbrels. Standing they look very much alike but in flight the obvious difference is exposed with the lack of the white rump.
Hudsonian Whimbrel   Gambia
We followed the birds to try and get a closer shot but they kept on walking away from us so we left them in peace, instead moving along the beach to see if we could get some distant views of nesting White-fronted Plover. We soon found them but stayed a very good distance away , so much so that a any photograph would have been pointless, as these shy birds have become very uncommon and it would be tragic if their nest was disturbed by thoughtlessness. 
Whilst viewing the Plovers I suddenly notice that a Whimbrel had sneaked up behind  us. Amazingly, the Hudsonian !
Photo opportunities were amazing as it happily walked along with me in attendance 
Hudsonian Whimbrel   Gambia
and stopping occasionally if there was a possibility of food.
Hudsonian Whimbrel   Gambia
We headed back towards the Observatory when we spotted a Beaudouin's Snake-Eagle, yet another lifer for the trip, along with the Plover and Whimbrel.
Beaudouin's Snake-Eagle   Gambia
and immediately after we had great views of Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, another lifer for us both.
Hudsonian Whimbrel   Gambia
We'd had a superb walk and celebrated with a welcome cold beer before leaving for the boat trip that had been organised for after lunch. Lunch taken, another excellent fish and chip offering, it was time to board but first we had another trip list addition, and lifer for Alan in a fly over African Fish Eagle which had unsuccessfully tried to steal a fish from an Osprey. It was a welcome sight, one we thought we might have had at Tendaba but didn't.
African Fish Eagle    Gambia
The boat sailed across the middle of the river which isn't very wide and over to the fast disappearing sandbanks as the tide comes in. There were Slender-billed and Grey-headed Gulls
Grey-headed Gull    Gambia
Caspian,Sandwich and Royal Terns, by now standing in water.
Royal & SandwichTerns   Gambia
I'd like to say we could add them to our Gambia list but in actual fact, strictly speaking we were now in Senegal as the border between the two countries runs up the middle of the river.
Now I'd been eyeing up a male Marsh Harrier all morning so despite the fact this one was in Senegal, it wasn't a new listing ! 
Marsh Harrier   Gambia
I really love these birds, they always look quite strange in photographs too, looking slightly as if they were painted.
Marsh Harrier   Gambia
We kept adding ticks for our list, in fact the day brought us 25 new birds, but perhaps the best was kept almost to the last.
A Goliath Heron !
Goliath Heron   Gambia
That's dust coming from that shake down ! Unlike the one in Tendaba this one was unfazed by our , standing extremely close to us  on the shore.
Goliath Heron   Gambia
What a huge and magnificent bird! We had half hoped he'd fly and show us the incredible wingspan but he was happy to wander up a mound of old oyster shells for a better vantage point across the river.
Goliath Heron    Gambia
A great day in superb company. We finished with another beer before heading back to Farakunku.
In his written guide book, Dave Gosney describes Kartong as possibly the best birding site in The Gambia and I have to agree on his appraisal. What makes it so good is that there are few if any people around so no one to bother you and if you choose to take the company of Colin Cross which I highly recommend, you'll have not only an expert guide but great company for the day too. His views on birds and birding are refreshingly honest. He's passionate about wildlife but he's also a realist too.
Get in touch !
Fortunately we had had the foresight to book two trips , couldn't wait for the next one now !
Our trip total now had jumped through the 200 barrier and stood at 214. Not bad for 6 days, surely it had to slow down soon!

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