The Gambia is world-renowned for bird watching, having some 560 species of birds, so I was delighted when I heard that bird watching expert, Malick Suso was going to be my guide in The Gambia for an early evening walk through Bijilo Forest. I had met Malick briefly before and knew he was one of the best guides in the country with over 18 years experience. He is the guide of choice for BBC wildlife presenter and expert bird watcher, Chris Packham, The Gambia being one of Chris’ favourite bird watching destinations.
Bird watching with Malick Suso
We met up with Malick at The Kairaba hotel, where we were staying for a couple of days, and walked to Bijilo Forest about 10 minutes or so away. After a rather slow start our spotting took off, as Malick’s expert eye spotted a red-billed fire finch, then a pied kingfisher and then a black-capped babbler (don’t you just love those names?!) and on it went.
Each time Malick heard or saw a new species he expertly mimicked their call and with each new spotting, he set up his 30x zoom lens which enabled us to see these beautiful birds close up in incredible detail and clarity. Malick is the only guide in the country to have one of these and not only does it allow you to see these birds as if they were just a few inches away, anyone with a compact camera can hold it up to the viewer and take a picture that will look as if they had a seriously expensive, huge lens and were an expert at using it too! Annoyingly, all I had with me was my digital SLR.
For a couple of hours we wandered through the forest. We had a great stroke of luck as a red-billed hornbill settled on the ground and hopped from branch to branch, just a few feet from us, giving us ample time to snap away!
My favourite bird of the day, however, were the little bee eaters that we watched perched on a slim branch. I had seen photographs of them before, as I had many of the other birds we saw that day, and it was a real treat to finally see them for myself. Without a guide, though, I doubt we would have spotted many of them.
It costs just 30 Dalasi (that’s about 50p in the UK) to enter Bijilo Forest which we visited in part because of its convince, being just a short walk from hotel and our time was limited.
Best locations for bird watching near coastal resorts
Many of the hotels with larger grounds are good places for birdwatching. There’s been many a time that I eaten my breakfast in the company of cattle egrets. The Senegambia Hotel feeds vultures at 11am in their gardens and non-residents are welcome to come along to see them – and it is quite a sight as hundreds of vultures fill the air!
The following places are all within easy reach of Gambia’s coastal resorts and the best time of the day for bird-watching is either early morning or just before dusk.
Kotu stream area
Many birds, including pied kingfishers, can be spotted from the bridge leading in to the resort area and just a couple of minutes walk away you’ll find fields where more can be spotted including the little bee eater, Senegal parrot and blue-bellied rollers. The Bakotu Hotel in Kotu resort itself has a new bird watching platform overlooking the mangroves of Kotu Stream.
A network of paths leads you through this dry forest reserve with a central pool and viewing platform where you can see various kingfishers, turacos, paradise flycatchers, as well as the red colobus monkeys, monitor lizards and crocodiles.
This forest is home to the Legendary Dr Owl, a local ornithologist studying verrauxs eagle owls, the white-faced scops owls and long-tailed nightjar. Incredibly you can watch the latter here from just 3m away.
This is a dry scrubland and forest by a beachside lagoon. The birds easily spotted here include sunbirds, migrant warblers and gamebirds. Along the coast you are most likely to see waders, terns, gulls and ospreys.
For any twitchers out there here’s the complete list of the birds we saw that day.
Red-billed fire finch
Black capped babbler
Swallow tailed bee-eater
Northern black flycatcher
Disclosure: Although I have worked for The Gambia Experience, the sponsor of this trip, since 2005, I will always give you a completely honest opinion throughout my #BlogGambia posts, just as I would any other sponsored trip or review. My only bias, which I hope you will forgive me for, stems from my having fallen in love with The Gambia many years ago.