Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The final hurdle Day 13

So here we are at last, Day 13 and our last "in the field" day.
We had to decide where to go, Alan, with no previous experience was happy to go along with whatever I thought best. We needed 5 new species to make a combined list of 250. It was a bit of a tall order but we had to give it a shot.
First port of call was to be Pirang Shrimp Farm, one you hear reports of varying results and one where I had been to on my first visit to the Gambia and seen species like Quail Finch which would have been a new one to our list. Today we also had a new driver, Baccaray. As it happens, Baccarat is a Rastafarian, and a really nice guy but I later found out as a Rasta he's a target! The first police check point we came to he was asked for his documents. His licence he could produce but someone ( who won't be named Moses) had forgotten to leave the insurance documents in the car too. It appears that all was settled amicably with the appropriate monies changing hands... without receipts of course.
That only caused a small delay, but the puncture we got at Pirang took a lot longer for him to fix as it also appeared there wasn't jack in the car either. Whilst Baccaray went about solving how to change the wheel, Alan,Lamin and myself went to check out what we could see.
Not a lot as it happened !
I wandered up on to the bank which overlooks the shrimp ponds and was very quickly approached by a local who told me I had crossed over the no-go line and I'd have to go back. It was an amiable kind of telling off. I didn't ask him why the area was so sacrosanct but I did mention that the ponds were extremely dry. In fact they were bone dry. There wouldn't be a shrimp in here for many a long month if indeed not year. Once again, the lack of rain and global warming was discussed. I told him we were getting too much rain in the UK and as he rightly pointed out, what is largely an inconvenience for us is matter of life and death for them. A sobering thought.
Anyway, I had managed to capture an image of a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater in the out of bounds area.
Little Green Bee-eater  Gambia
But what I had been after was a Cut-throat Finch shot, it was also one of the species I had seen before but Alan hadn't. Unfortunately he missed it that day too !
To kill time whilst waiting for the tyre change, Lamin and I walked the half mile or so to the river. Not much to report down there but with nothing better to do I took some shots of Pied Crow, realising as yet I hadn't taken any at all.
Pied Crow   Gambia
We were about to leave when Lamin spotted a Zitting Cisticola, a new one at last.
Zitting Cisticola   Gambia
Not a good shot even for a record but I think he called it correctly.
Next stop was just off the entrance to Pirang village and the cemetery. Here we got our second prize for the day, not one but a pair of Pearl Spotted Owlet.
Pearl Spotted Owlet    Gambia
Happy with that, amazingly a Lanner Falcon flew briefly overhead. One for Alan if not for me. My request to visit Pirang had paid off after all but to be honest Lamin had been right to question my request to go there, I wouldn't recommend a visit to anyone else.
By this time we had lost at least and hour and a half because of the tyre change so we made a change to our pre planned trip. Lamin Rice fields were dropped and instead we headed straight for Banjul and the Bund Rd.
We had considered Abuko, I think it's been renamed Eagle Heights, but it was always an iffy call. With most of the likely possible species we'd get there already seen we decided to give it a miss. It was a longish walk and 500 dalasai ( over £21 for three of us) to get in and sit in the photo hide on the off chance of a Western Bluebill. No we'd miss that too. It seems that Abuko has been taken over by some Europeans who want to make it more of a zoo and hawk flying centre. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has actually been since this change happened but I do know the local bird guides aren't too happy about the huge increase in entrance fee.
No, the Bund Rd was a place we hoped we'd see Flamingoes, one of the very few likely spots in The Gambia.
As we got closer, security increased dramatically. Banjul was ringed by police and army checkpoints but we got past them all without a problem. Parked up overlooking the mudflats we had distant views of hundreds of gulls and waders. 
Pied Avocet ! 2 to go !
Alan got his scope set up whilst I chased after a Woodcut Shrike along the side of the road.
Woodchat Shrike   Gambia
In the process I spotted a White Wagtail and when I got back, too late to point it out to Alan, he'd had a Ruff which was no longer there for me to see either ! Just one to go then!
Then Alan got them, way, way in the distance. Yellow-billed Stork.
Lamin and I set off across the mud flats to try and get closer for a photo but we abandoned it half way there. The mud was crusty but underneath was who knows what. It looked disgusting and I wasn't about to sink in to it !
I made do with this.
Yellow-billed Stork  Gambia
Magnificent, we'd done it. 250 species seen by both of us. Not a bad result at all and by far the best haul I have had on a birding trip.
Satisfied we left but on the way back towards Cape Point we were stopped by the army checkpoint. A friendly exchange of words in a dialect that I can't understand and a handshake saw us on our way. Both the squaddie and our driver would make superb card sharps. I only just caught sight of the corner of the note as it was palmed away.
With nothing doing at Cape Point we decided on one last nostalgic visit to where we had begun our adventure. Kotu Bridge and the guiding hut.
Sat in there for 30 minutes I was able to get some shots of Blackcap Babbler
Blackcap Babbler  Gambia
and White-crowned Robin-chat
White-crowned Robin-chat  Gambia
but the top target was too elusive and I failed to get it, Oriole Warbler. Still, we saw it. 
A great way to finish.
Heading back to Farakunku for the last time, dropping Lamin off on the way, we reflected on what a brilliant trip it had been.
Tomorrow we were heading home, but we had one last day to wander locally as we didn't need to be in the airport until early evening.
TBC

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