Monday, 18 March 2019

The Gambia 2019 Part 1 Familiar ground.

We hadn't specifically planned to return to The Gambia this winter but I always keep an eye out for a good deal and when we spotted 2 weeks at our favourite Gambian hotel we thought "Why not!"
At a similar price to our first visit almost 10 years ago it certainly was a good deal. Current exchange rates were not dissimilar to our last visit at around 63-4 dalasai to the pound but we noticed a rise in some prices, particularly drinks and as a fair proportion of our budget is spent in this direction it made a noticeable difference. A pint of draught beer was 200d in the hotel across the road, a 330ml Julbrew 110d in our hotel bar, or 70d in their shop. Elsewhere you could still find a cheaper price  particularly during"Happy hour(s)" where the price dropped to 60d.
The Gambia is an attractive proposition purely on the weather, particularly at the time we went. You are hardly likely to see rain as the dry season is well under way, perfect for sunbathing and escaping the British winter, not quite so good for bird watching and photography as it turned out.
One of the other benefits is it's not too far to travel either, the flight takes approximately 6.5 hours from Manchester flying with Thomas Cook. However, having booked this holiday based on attractive flight departure times 4 weeks before we were due to tavel we received an email to say that the times had changed.Instead of a 1610hrs arrival, it was now 1940hrs. Even worse, instead of arriving home at Manchester at 2335hrs we would now land at 0330hrs  instead. Ah well, we'd worry about that later!
The outward flight was fine but by the time we were delivered to the Bakotu Hotel it was past 2100hrs and at reception we were given the news they didn't have a room for us for the first night, instead we'd have to put up with one of their self catering apartments 100m or so down the road.
Not a lot you can say about that but we were promised a move the next day so it just meant we couldn't really unpack, so it was drop everything and find somewhere to eat before last orders.
Reporting back to reception the following morning after breakfast we were told we'd be allocated a room after 1.00pm. Ah well.
I headed off with my camera down to Kotu Bridge where the bird guides hang out and others gather to see what's about. Claire made use of the apartments private balcony.
Down on the bridge I was immediately aware of some changes. I have never seen so many birds fishing around the bridge at the same time.

The fishing fleet.

There were at least 40-50 Long-tailed Cormorants
Long-tailed Cormorant   Microcarbo africanus
and there were more arriving by the minute!
Never before have I seen so many Pink-backed Pelicans in the creek either and they too were joining in the fishing fleet.
Pink-backed Pelican  Pelecanus rufescens
There certainly seemed to be plenty of fish about, the Cormorants were popping up everywhere with their bills filled.
Long-tailed Cormorant   Microcarbo africanus
It made for some interesting photo opportunities even if the species are ones I have seen before.
Long-tailed Cormorant   Microcarbo africanus
Just for the record, and for my Photo Big Year where I'm trying to photograph more species than last year I snapped some of the usual subjects like the Western Reef Egret
Western Reef-egret  Egretta gularis
but one bird in particularly grabbed my attention.
Yellow-billed Stork!
Yellow-billed Stork   Mycteria ibis
I'd only ever seen one before and that was a juvenile on passage many years ago so I was delighted to see this one. One of the guides told me that they were regulars so I wasn't too concerned that I only had my smaller 100-400mm zoom lens as the bird was a good distance, maybe 200m away. I would catch up with one later...I hoped!
Meantime it was a visit to the vulture feeding site nearby. I wasn't interested in the feeding, far too many birds to isolate one for a half decent snap, however, as they pre-empt the 10.30hrs feeding time they start to arrive individually so a bit of fun getting flight shots.
Hooded Vulture  Necrosyrtes monachus
They are not the most photogenic species though!
Hooded Vulture  Necrosyrtes monachus
Quite the opposite in fact!
Hooded Vulture  Necrosyrtes monachus
Still they proved an interesting subject for the time being!
Hooded Vulture  Necrosyrtes monachus
It was getting hotter by the minute and the sun was getting too bright for photography too so I wandered back to see if our room in the main hotel was ready which eventually it was.
A nice surprise too!
The Bakotu is only a 3* hotel but it's ideally placed with good birding on the doorstep as well as easy access to local restaurants and the beach. They'd improved to rooms too!
Bakotu hotel, Kotu, The Gambia.
Comfortable mattress toppers now on the beds
Bakotu hotel, Kotu, The Gambia.
Plenty of space for everything and best of all a new bathroom with a very sophisticated shower too!
Bakotu hotel, Kotu, The Gambia.
It was worth waiting for after all even if the first day was largely disrupted waiting to unpack.