Friday, 18 November 2016

Gambia 2016. Part 2. Kotu Creek and surrounds

I was up early that first morning and decided I would have a quick stroll down to the beach and to see what had been reported as the change in the mouth of the river due to erosion by the sea. I had always chosen the Sunset Beach hotel which overlooks this area in the past. For reasons of cost and the need for a change to add some variety I had chosen differently this time. It seems it might be a good choice as the mouth of the river was virtually free of birds. No gulls, terns, Reef Egrets, Kingfishers.... nothing at all! This wasn't looking too good. The river now had taken a different course altogether from our last stay and the dynamic was different. The pools as the tide retreated no longer existed, instead the water flowed too fast to make fishing by the birds too difficult at that spot.
I returned to the hotel and  following breakfast by the pool we headed off via the rear entrance of the hotel down through the mangroves, across the mud and on to the golf course.
Having spent many weeks on holidays in this area I know most places like the back of my hand.
The mud flats held a few birds, mainly Spur-winged Plovers. Most walked away from us but this one didn't.
Spur-winged Plover The Gambia 2016
It's only now I can see why!
We headed up to a bushy area near one of the tees, a spot where previously I have seen lots of species. Our only discovery a pair of Wattled Lapwing hiding in the rough.
Wattled Plover  Gambia 2016-2
As we approached the Clubhouse area a local approached us introducing himself as the Club President. He was enjoying a mug of tea and we spent a few minutes talking golf. As he knew the course well he offered to show us a tree that held a roosting Owl. We thankfully accepted. As we walked along the fairway he also told us that his favourite bird on the course was the Shining Blue Kingfisher.  That rang alarm bells as the liklyhood of finding one in this location was extremely slim but that said, on out last trip an equally unlikely juvenile Finfoot was seen in the creek. Both birds were on our target list for way up river.
The tree drew a blank, so did  several more. He suggested we try the Kingfisher. His apparent lack of any bird identification skills and the aimless walking around the reed beds confirmed he was basically a chancer. We were wasting time and we thanked him for his efforts. He demanded money, we refused as we had received nothing in exchange. We were back in The Gambia, it is a way of life for some. Was he the President of the club. In hindsight he didn't behave like one.
We crossed over the river which was now at low tide and stopped off at the Bird Guide Associations soft drink bar and garden. All the official guides are members and have identification as such. They have to serve time as an apprentice before being granted membership. I haven't a clue how many there are but it's very easy to find one, especially down at the bridge in Kotu were many tout for business from passing tourists.
Here in the garden there was just one. We ordered a couple of ice cold Cokes at a very reasonable 70 dalasai , the guide offered to show us an Owl in a nearby tree. Having fallen for that one we were somewhat reluctant so I offered him the 30 dalasai change just to tell us which tree. He told us he'd take us. There was no Owl but as it was about 20 yards walk from where we were sitting he had been well rewarded!
We left him behind, declining his offer of a walking tour to show us around and instead headed up to the nearby sewerage ponds.
If you are in to bird watching sewage ponds are a well known attraction. If you are not you must think we are nuts hanging around such places. Sewage of course holds potential hazards for humans but the birds thrive in such insect producing conditions. 
The four very large ponds looked completely different to the past though. They were full of water and nothing else, well nothing obvious and that included birds. Gone were the lilly pads and other vegetation. There had been a massive clean up! A local approached us and demanded 50 dalasai entrance fee. I told him I wasn't paying unless I got a receipt. I hadn't a clue who he was, potentially another chancer. He returned with the new site boss who I think is Eastern European and a gang of heavies! I explained I wasn't handing money over not knowing who to and the boss agreed with me. I should have and got a receipt on payment. Seems that it's a new company running things now and they had seen the opportunity for extra revenue. I don't think it will continue unless the birding improves though!
My only photo efforts were of a couple of Little Grebes who were happy to swim under the surface of the water!
Little Grebe The Gambia 2016-5
We didn't hang around long and moved on towards the beach in search of the Painted Snipe hide.
That was another huge disappointment. The hide that was only recently built on my last visit 20 months ago had already fallen in to disrepair. Whether the Snipe are still there I don't know as I decided not to hang around to find out as Alan hadn't fancied the walk through the thick slimy mud and I didn't want to leave him waiting too long.
We decided it was now pretty hot and time for a little liquid refreshment at the nearby Kunta Kinte beach bar. There has been a lot of building development around here, perhaps the Snipe have found a new territory.
Moving on we reached the mouth of the river by the Palm Beach hotel and at last had some decent views of a few species.
A calling Common Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper  The Gambia 2016-7
A basking Long-tailed Cormorant
Long-tailed Cormorant The Gambia 2016-6
Quite a few Spur-winged Plovers
Spur-winged Plover The Gambia 2016
Which seemed to try to chase off the Wattled Lapwings
The Gambia 2016-11
The agitated Lapwings gathered in a defensive group.
Wattled Plover The Gambia 2016-9
A single Grey-headed Gull arrived at the scene.
The Gambia 2016-14
I had at least found some subject matter !
Moving on to the bridge we wondered if there was news of our guide for the next 5 days. He had said he'd meet us there but earlier there had been no sign of him. It appeared he had had to take his baby daughter to hospital and the attempts to reach him by phone by a colleague had failed to bring further news.
Typically the other guides, aware of the situation, sensed an opportunity. Like vultures they made enquiries as to our intentions should our guide not materialise the next day.
It seems that this is a way of life and a few of them are more than willing to steal customers as soon as an opportunity presents itself. We had experienced this on our last visit.
We had of course paid a four figure sum upfront but we weren't unduly worried. We knew our guide of old and trusted him. Later in the evening we managed to contact him via Facebook and he assured us he would be set to go the following day.
We hung around the bridge for the rest of the afternoon, enjoying views of the Pied Kingfishers
Pied Kingfisher The Gambia 2016-18
Hunting from the recently added perches...a good move by someone.
Pied Kingfisher Gambia 2016-16
Even the Reef Egret that used to spend time on the beach seemed to have adapted to the perches too!
Western Reef Egret The Gambia 2016
I guess if this was your first visit to the area you would still be impressed. Personally I looked forward to moving on up river to see if that would improve things.
A few beers, an excellent Indian meal and we were ready for an early bed before heading off in the morning.

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