I have to say I had many hours of little action during my two weeks, sometimes getting a little frustrated but at the end of the day, patience and persistence paid off.
The debate about wether you get wetter standing still or walking in the rain has never been answered definitively I don't think but I do know that when it comes to photography standing still wins hands down .
I saw far more species when I was with Alan on the first trip, 200+ in fact. In the second visit I doubt I hit 50 but when I look at the photos I took the best are from the second trip.
Standing on the bridge I was occasionally invited to partake in a trip by one of the guides but by and large I was left in peace. I think they realised they were flogging a dead horse with that one as they began to realise what I'm about and why tours are not the best way to photograph subjects. Fine for tick lists but not always for photography. A brief conversation with a couple of birding strangers I spoke to at the airport on departure and they asked me how many species I'd seen to reply somewhat superiorly that they had over 300 but they had of course been out with the best guides. Whatever suits. For me a bit of both was perfect.
Time spent with Claire was too.
Gambia has always been a firm favourite and I will probably return yet again one day. I have noticed changes though. The area around Kotu wasn't as good as I remembered it from my last long term stay 3 years ago. I returned briefly for a couple of nights 2 years ago but didn't have time to really take a look around then.
There are a number of factors to consider if you are thinking of going. Pre Christmas you are just in to the dry season in November. This year everything was late. Rice crops were still in the fields, less open ground to view things.
Slowly more and more development is creeping in, habitat lost to both building and cultivation. The sewerage ponds, once a birding magnet, have been totally modernised.... and ruined! Clean water is all very civilised and healthy but it comes at a cost!!! The water that runs out of Kotu Creek as the tide goes out has totally changed the landscape around the beach making close contact with the birds in these areas much more difficult.
But birds are still there if you look, it would be interesting to see what it's like post Christmas.
The Gambia deserves better. Two years ago tourism was ruined by the Ebola scare that never reached that part of Africa. I'm not sure if that is why there were at least 40-50 seats empty on each of the 4 flights I was on this year. Maybe it's the world economy, the drop in the pound. I certainly noticed the difference this time around. The local currency was worth 25% less than our last visit but prices on many things seem to have risen too.
Then there are the bird guides and chancers known as "bumsters", the latter seemingly on the increase again and bird guides were outnumbering potential clients by far too.
Some people find the hassle you get too much to contemplate and never return. Personally I have a thicker skin.
Gambia's biggest problem is it's economy and unemployment problems. It's a poor country and it needs change which can only come from the top. While we were there free elections were held. For 24 hours or more the phones and internet were unavailable. A sure sign that the current incumbent and Presidential dictator had every intention of nullifying the results if they didn't suit. Much to the amazement of everyone it was announced he'd lost and that he accepted the result. The oppressed population started to show their true feelings for the first time without fear of redress.
It lasted a week or so before he changed his mind and decided he wouldn't step down. When we drove to the airport it was obvious where a couple of new armed checkpoints had been installed. What happens next remains to be seen but it won't help the tourist industry from which a huge chunk of the countries revenues originate.
No, the country needs tourism. It needs foreign visitors to spend their money in hotels, restaurants, and other tourism ventures. To do so it needs to get rid of the negative images. It needs to create jobs and share the wealth appropriately so everyone benefits.. Adopting families, as some tourists have done, is just a short cut to creating an unfair society and also ensuring that tourists continue to be hassled by those who seek similar support.
If you enjoy birdwatching or just need a sunshine break in the depths of winter, do consider The Gambia. Just 6 hours from the UK, no time difference and virtually guaranteed sun most of the time you will be well received on the Smiling Coast.
Go for it.
I hope my blog inspires you to do so.
Happy Christmas all.