Breakfast over we were away from Tendaba Camp by 8.00am. First stop was only a short distance from the camp entrance. Bruce's Green Pigeon up in a tree. Just as it was last time almost two years previously!
We got out to see if we could better our previous visit's photographs but were soon distracted by our guide having spotted a better subject.
I'm not sure why but Alan had put this down on his much wanted list.For him a lifer although not so for me. I was delighted for him though and it had got the day off to a flyer.
My personal top 5 targets were all very possible over the next couple of days so expectations were high.
What would the day bring next?
I hadn't expected what it did!
The journey on to Janjanbureh could be continued south of the river but that would mean missing some key birding sites, the alternative is to catch the ferry at Farafenni, a busy bustling river crossing town which comes as a bit of a surprise as it's in the middle of nowhere. A lot of the ferry traffic is lorries crossing through from north to south Senegal. Gambia is a very narrow country of no more than about 20kms width at this point and the alternative for heavy goods traffic is a long drive of around 500kms to avoid the ferry. Trouble is the ferry capacity is very limited and lorries can be made to wait up to 14 days to get a crossing. A bridge is currently being built but in the meantime Farafenni reaps the benefit as a trade centre.
I decided to take a photograph of all this activity. as we pulled in to town.
Not happy with the view over the drivers shoulder I wound down the window and took a couple of pictures just as we slowly ground to a halt. Unfortunately we were passing a policeman that I hadn't noticed as we did so!
On our way this far we had driven through many police checkpoints as well as a couple of armed military ones. I'm not daft enough to try and take photos knowing the sensitivity around the issue.
The policeman ordered me out of the car and immediately demanded my camera, a tiny point and shoot Olympus Tough.
I was very apologetic, explained I hadn't meant to take his picture and offered to delete it immediately.
I was lead off to the Police Station and the pleas for leniency by my guide and driver dismissed and they were sent off to leave me standing alone as the policeman disappeared off across the street too.
I wasn't worried particularly, the whole scenario was ridiculous really, but I did wonder if I would get my camera back. After 5 minutes he returned and lead me down to a seat in front of a nearby coffee shop were he accepted a mug from the stall proprietor. He shook my hand, a good sign I guess, then lectured me on my wrong doing. He accepted nothing sinister was meant in my actions and after some grovelling by me my camera was returned, the offending pictures deleted. I showed him that I wasn't going around taking pictures of the security checks and he seemed unimpressed at my holiday snaps which I have to admit are boring to say the least. That can't be said about the snaps of Anfield, home of my beloved Liverpool FC, but he obviously wasn't a footy fan either.
After a delay of 25 minutes we were on our way. I think Mr Policeman took pleasure at being able to demonstrate his authority over foreign tourists in front of his usual home crowd.
Our driver and guide obviously had some useful contacts at the ferry because we were bumped to the head of the queue for the next crossing.
Let the birding continue!
Not far east of Farafenni we stopped at the side of the road in the shade of a tree. The surrounding fields were being used for the cultivation of peanuts, Gambia's primary crop.
Whilst our guide headed off in search of birds, we enjoyed a refreshing slice of watermelon
followed by some freshly gathered peanuts that we purchased from three young farm workers who happened to be passing.
After a while we spotted the guide signalling for us to join him. What had he found? A Courser perhaps? No, what he'd found was one of the top targets, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill. I had included it in my list as i knew how much Alan wanted to see one. Pre-trip our guide had given us a 50% chance, the lowest of my nominated 5 so this was a great find.
We walked at least half a mile across the hot dusty fields, through long coarse grasses, many adorned with sharp barbed seeds that cling to you as you pass.
But it was worth it. There were two Hornbills in a tree and our guide decided that they would fly out if we approached and head in to open ground. This indeed they did, giving clear if fairly distant views.
We followed after them, never getting that close really. I had my 2x converter on the 500mm yet again but here the heat haze cancelled out the benefits of magnification.
Still I got some half decent record shots.
They flew off, each in to a different tree and using a different one for cover I was able to to the closest point yet for a view of the female before they both decided to fly back from where they had come from initially.
Those white wing panels were something of a surprise when you see them in flight!
Our luck hadn't ended there though. The guide had almost trodden on a roosting Standard-winged Nightjar as we crossed the field. It had flown just a short distance so we relocated it and took advantage of an unusual photo opportunity.
A bird sat perfectly still should be an easy photographic subject. Not so! The wind blowing the grass across the bird and the shallow depth of field at close distance are all obstacles that need thinking about.
500mm at f4 big crop
1000mm at f22 little crop
A little movie gives a better idea of the problems
Having tried as many options as I could think of we left the bird in peace. We even found a pair of Black-headed Lapwing on the same field. Giving much closer views than we had had at Tendaba, that was another plus for this stop.
As Alan pointed out, had I not been detained we might not have seen any of this, nor might we have arrived at Kauur wetlands at precisely the moment two Egyptian Plovers were right next to the road!
The Egyptian Plover was No 1 on my target list. It's the reason to come to The Gambia pre December before they return north. I had been told that there was 100% chance of seeing one and here it was, right in front of me.
I descended the sharp slope of the causeway to get down to the birds level for better photographs.
What a beauty, and very confiding too.
This was what the trip was all about for me, one on one with my subject.
The encounter was over all too soon though so I went in search of others along this stretch. Surprisingly there were only about 4 different birds seen where I had expected them in large numbers.
I did find a Yellow Bishop in breeding plumage though. The sighting was extremely brief though, still I did see one!
Our day was indeed memorable but there was more to come. Next stop Wassau sand pits, home of the Red-throated Bee-eater amongst others.
When we got out of the car dozens of the Bee-eaters emerged from their nesting holes and most flew to nearby trees some distance away. The odd one was in much lower bushes and made for an easier photo target.
I decided to sit down and wait to see if any returned to their holes and sure enough my patience was rewarded with the odd one.
One with a Bee even!
The afternoon was passing quickly, the light was poor and our guide wanted to get to the ferry so we left on the promise we'd return next day.
Sure enough, there was a queue for the small car ferry so instead we left the vehicle and driver behind whilst we took a small boat over to out accommodation for the next couple of nights, Baobalong Camp.
Now I had read that this camp was even worse than Tendaba. Basic to say the least!
I was to be pleasantly surprised. Maybe we got the best rooms as we were first to book in for the night, I don't know, but mine was basic but fine. They even provided soap and toilet paper!
What I did like was that there was a small intimate atmosphere compared to Tendaba. Fellow guests, only a dozen or two were all tourists it seemed, and conversation over meal times was interesting.
Oh and the food was excellent too but before dinner I was off for a walk to see what I could find locally.
Accompanied only by my guide, Alan had had enough excitement for one day and decided to take a rest. His loss unfortunately as I saw a couple of species we didn't see elsewhere.
but what I was really concerned about where the stocking views I had had of a pair of Verraux's Eagle Owls.
High in a tree, the light fading fast, a pair were sat side by side and being mobbed by Long-tailed Starlings
I didn't have much time to mess around, I had a 2x converter on my 500mm still and I was hand holding the lens.
Camera shake a real possibility I had a shutter speed of 1/640th sec but that meant an ISO of 16000. The noise would be dreadful even if I deliberately over exposed.
I dropped the shutter speed to 1/340th and risked motion blur.
In the event both were acceptable record shots.
The Owls flew but we relocated the female, this time out on the open side of a tree. Using the bare 500mm I could get a much more reasonable ISO but not the same clear view.
Still what an experience, what a day.
Alan wasn't too bothered at missing out as he'd seen all the species before.
Refreshed we had a few beers after dinner, a chinwag with our new found friends and then off to bed in anticipation of the next day.