Breydon Water, Norfolk, 25 February 2015

I spent a few hours (and walked a few miles!) at Breydon in the spring-like waether today and managed to winkle out a few goodies.
A Barn Owl near Bungay on the way started things off.
Despite a good long look with Peter Allard and another birder we failed to find the Richard's Pipits along the south wall although I did hear one very promising sounding call. A Peregrine flew over just as I arrived at the site near the windpump, 3 Stonechats, 1 Reed Bunting and then a nice male Bearded Tit showed nicely and a Cetti's Warbler was singing by the pumping station. The most noteworthy waders were an impressive c500 Avocets amongst even bigger numbers of Redshank, c30 Black-tailed Godwits and loads of Dunlin. On the walk back a Sparrowhawk was flushed from a bush and then 2 lovely Short-eared Owls sat staring at me in the horse paddock. No camera so the ropey shot below is phone-scoped.

Short-eared Owl, Breydon

Round on the north side a group of c12 Twite were showing nicely on the saltings by the Asda carpark and with time to spare I opted for a hike along the north wall. 2 Common Buzzards were displaying, c2000 Pink-footed Geese grazing plus a big flock of Golden Plovers, the usual waders and a single Little Egret but no sign of Rough-legged Buzzard. Driving home along the A47 however I finally caught up with Rough-legged Buzzard as one flew low over the road right in front of me c1 mile east of Stracey Arms. 2 more Short-eared Owls were quartering a field and a Marsh Harrier circled making it a great way to end the day.       

A Murmation of Starlings, Norwich, 17 February 2015

This Starling murmation has been a nightly event for weeks in central Norwich so I thought it high time I went and had a look. From the top floor of the multi storey at the top of St Stephen's Street about 3000 birds put on quite a show! For anyone thinking of going the show currently starts at about 17.00, entry is free!
A nice Red Fox by the A140 near Newton Flotman on the way home and 2 Common Buzzards at Bodney.

White-winged gull fail! Livermere Heath, Suffolk, 16 February 2014

I decided to nip out this afternoon for the Glaucous and Iceland Gulls just west of Honington at Livermere Heath. Not a heath in the true sense of the word - just extensive pig fields! I gave it a couple of hours scanning and re-scanning the thousands of gulls but couldn't find either! I did pick up 2 nice adult Caspian Gulls and an adult Yellow-legged Gull though so it wasn't all in vain. Little else of note there except large numbers of the more common gulls and a scattering of Stock Doves in the pig fields.

Yesterday a long country walk around Flordon and Hapton gave me a displaying pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers going nuts (!), Nuthatch, Grey Wagtail, Sparrowhawk and 2 Snipe flushed from marshy ground in the Tas Valley.

It's all go!  

Return to The Gambia, Day 8, 29 January 2015 - Casino Cycle Track

Our last day and as we only had a couple of hours available in the morning we opted for a quick walk along the Casino Cycle Track and the pool behind the Badala Park Hotel. Not before I got onto a Western Olivaceous Warbler in mangroves by our room though. A Black Crake ran quickly into cover beside the hotel entrance track while African Palm Swifts were pretty much ever present as usual, Senegal Coucal, Ring-necked Parakeet, 3 Sacred Ibis, 2 Squacco Herons, Black-headed Heron, Great White Egret, Long-tailed Cormorant and Black Heron were all on or around the marshes/paddies. The pond behind the Badala Park enabled me to get a good photo of the uber-common Black Kite and add the last 2 trip ticks - Common Moorhen and Black-tailed Godwit. Into the bargain there were also photographic opportunities for Yellow-billed Shrike, Green Woodhoopoe and African Jacana. Brown Babbler, Black-winged Stilt, Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Piapiac, White-billed Buffalo-weaver, Bronze Mannikin, Speckled Pigeon and Western Grey Plantain-eater were also seen before a ridiculously approachable Whimbrel was photographed on the hotel wall!

So, the trip was over and the fat lady was about to sing. In just 7 days I'd notched up 241 species of which 76 were new world birds for me. That was way beyond my wildest expectations and boosted my world list up well above the 1800 mark.    

Black Kite


Yellow-billed Shrike

African Jacana

Green Woodhoopoe


Return to The Gambia, Day 7, 28 January 2015 - Tujereng Woods & Kotu Creek

Following the traditional poor breakfast at the Palm Beach we met Ebrima at 07.45 for the 25 minute drive south to Tujereng Woods. Turning off the main road by the 'cement for sale' building (see the Gosney guide) we parked up beside the track and began a long morning exploring the area. At first sight it doesn't look anything special with low bushy trees and scattered large flowering silk cotton trees but the birding here was superb. Almost straight away a distant perched up African Golden Oriole was picked out but first up of the target species was Red-winged Warbler which proved to be relatively common here with c8 being seen throughout the morning. In the look stakes my fave bird here was the diminutive Senegal Batis, after a couple of brief views one showed superbly for my camera. The fruiting/flowering trees were a magnet for birds and a pair of White-fronted Black Chats were seen well underneath one of them while watching Splendid Sunbirds, Variable Sunbirds, Yellow-fronted Canarys and Greater Whitethroats in the tree above. A little further on 2 more target birds fell in quick succession - a brief view of a Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver followed by prolonged views of a pair of Brown-backed Woodpeckers. Walking around we picked up plenty of other species too  - c3 Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Beautiful Sunbird, 2 Northern Grey-headed Sparrows, 1 Little Weaver, 2 Vitelline Masked Weavers, 2 Black-crowned Tchagra, Woodchat, 2 Tawny-flanked Prinias, 2 Yellow Wagtails, a fly-over African Spoonbill and a patrolling Beaudouin's Snake Eagle. 3 perched Pied-winged Swallows were very nice but totally eclipsed by a mega White-shouldered Black Tit on the return walk!         

Splendid Sunbird

Yellow-fronted Canary

Brown-backed Woodpecker

White-shouldered Black Tit

African Spoonbill

Red-winged Warbler


Beaudouin's Snake Eagle

Senegal Batis

Senegal Batis

Leaving the woods we had one last stop by the coast road less than a mile away. Parking up and wandering through a gate into an open walled wood an African Green Pigeon perched high above us (tick!) and Ebrima started calling. Very quickly a bird called back and flew in - a lovely Pearl-spotted Owlet! It sat still for some while allowing some great views and photos.
African Green Pigeon

Pearl-spotted Owlet

Back at Kotu Beach we opted for a late afternoon walk to Kotu Bridge. A nice close Black-headed Heron distracted me just outside the hotel gates as we ran the usual gauntlet of would be taxi drivers, guides and peddlers of tat before we got to the bridge. Ebrima was keen to find me what has become my Gambian bogey bird so while Belinda enjoyed green tea with his wife and the other guides we set off in search. c30 White-faced Whistling Ducks and 3 Black-headed Plovers flew over while the creek area held the usual culprits of Pied and Blue-breasted Kingfishers, Grey Plover, Common Redshank, Wire-tailed Swallows, Red-billed Firefinches and Bronze Mannikins before I returned to Belinda and some tea of my own. Quickly though Ebrima shouted from the bridge which had me running (much to the amusement of the other guides!). The bird had been lost by the time I reached the spot but with Ebrima's mate entering the mangroves to flush it out it finally gave itself up - Malachite Kingfisher, at last! Just afterwards 2 Oriole Warblers showed nicely before we headed back to the hotel via some greasy snacks from the lady at the roadside with her wok. Back at Palm Beach we picked up Pink-backed Pelican and 2 Hamerkops.     

Black-headed Heron

Bronze Mannikin

Malachite Kingfisher

Return to The Gambia, Day 6, 27 January 2015 - Georgetown, Bansang Quarry, Fula Bantang, Brikama Ba & Farasutu Forest

We'd stayed overnight in a room at the Baobolong Camp in Georgetown with a room right beside the Gambia River. After breakfast (and Pied Kingfisher and Yellow-crowned Gonolek) and a bit of a delay while Ebrima's vehicle had a logo painted on the back we departed to make our way to our first destination of the day Bansang Quarry. We were distracted on the way by a perched African Hawk Eagle which on closer inspection turned out to be 2.  

African Hawk Eagle

African Hawk Eagle

Arriving at Bansang Quarry it wasn't long before we located the target species - Red-throated Bee-eater which have a breeding colony here. We saw at least 20 of these beauties plus a few other goodies into the bargain - Several Bush Petronias and Cinnamon-breasted Buntings plus loads of Northern Red Bishops and Red-billed Quelea, 2 Cut-throat Finches and a curious transitional male Exclamatory Paradise Whydah.   

Bush Petronia

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting

Cut-throat Finches

Exclamatory Paradise Whydah

Red-throated Bee-eaters

Leaving the quarry we headed back westwards on our gradual trundle back towards the coast. It wasn't long before the car squealed to a halt with a 'fuck' from Ebrima and within seconds we were feasting our eyes upon a real mega as a White-headed Vulture circled over the road. This endangered species was a real surprise. A less exciting Griffon Vulture was also at the same spot before we moved on to the village of Fula Bantang where nesting Marabou Storks are easy to come by in roadside trees. A Grey Kestrel shared the same tree and then a kettle of White-backed Vultures circled high over.   

White-headed Vulture

White-headed Vulture

Grey Kestrel

White-backed Vultures

Marabou Stork

Moving on to the nearby village of Brikama Ba we were escorted over to lone tree which held a roosting Verreaux's Eagle Owl staring down at us with it's distinctive pink eyelids!  

Verreaux's Eagle Owl

For the next few hours we drove back west towards the coast with a few nice birds being seen en-route. Best of all were a total of 3 Bataleurs but we also saw African Harrier Hawk, 2 Dark Chanting Goshawks, Shikra, 2 African Grey Hornbills, 2 Rufous-crowned Rollers, litteraly dozens of Abyssinian Rollers, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark, Black-headed Weaver, 2 Common Redstarts, 2 Fork-tailed Drongos and a very welcome lifer as 2 Bearded Barbets flew along a line of bushes by the road.


We were making good time on the journey back so I managed to persuade Ebrima that we had plenty of time for a re-visit to Farasutu Forest which we'd particularly enjoyed 2 days previously. It proved a good call because in just an hour it came up trumps with some much sought after birds. Initially just by the gate a Brown-throated Wattle-eye showed briefly but nicely as we made our way to the small feeding/drinking station. There was nothing too stupendous here but a chance to sit down and watch Blue-spotted Wood-dove, Black-necked Weavers, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Black-rumped Waxbill and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu. A walk through the forest livened things up a notch with White-crowned Robin-chat, a couple of African Thrushes, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher and nice views of the elusive Grey-headed Bristlebill. The reserve guide then came up trumps as he located a roosting African Wood Owl high in the trees in a dark enclosed area of woodland. What a beauty! Things hadn't finished yet though as Ebrima grabbed my arm and pointed out a Spotted Honeyguide perched at head height on a think vine. Now this is a very hard bird to get in the Gambia! We wandered out to the ponds at the rear of the forest to see Giant Kingfisher, 2 huge Nile Crocodiles, loads of Senegal Thicknees and Wattled Plover before ambling back through the woods. The visit still had 2 stings in its tail though as first we spotted 2 Ahanta Francolins moving quietly along the forest floor before 3 Stone Partridges exploded from beside the track! Both lifers for me.      

Brown-throated Wattle-eye

Black-necked Weavers

Blue-spotted Wood-dove

African Wood Owl

Spotted Honeyguide

Senegal Thicknee

Dropping us off back at the Palm Beach Ebrima offered us a discount on a half days guiding to Tujereng Woods the following morning. As this site holds a number of new birds for me it would have been rude to say no...!

Return to The Gambia, Day 5, 26 January 2015 - Ngeyen, KM21 Waterhole, Kaur/Panchang Wetlands & River Gambia NP

After checking out at Tendaba Camp we headed east to the ferry crossing point to get to the north bank of the Gambia River. Thanks to Ebrima's 'negotiating' (or should that be bribery!) skills we managed to jump the queue at this mega busy bottleneck and get over on the vehicle ferry with a delay of only about an hour. That hour was put to good use birding though with 2 Intermediate Egrets on the river bank, Red-rumped Swallows and House Martins overhead and both Palm Nut Vulture, Caspian Terns and a Gull-billed Tern over the water. Best of all however was a fly-over African Spoonbill, my first lifer of the day!

Once on the north bank we headed east once more and made our stop at the arid desert-like fields at Ngeyen where we found our target bird after a brief search - Temminck's Coursers. In all we had 4 birds here with several Northern Wheatears, a Woodchat, a flock of Yellow-crowned Bishops, a ringtail Montagu's Harrier, Grasshopper Buzzard, 2 European Bee-eaters and then a very welcome addition - 3 Chestnut-backed Sparrow-larks

Temminck's Coursers

Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark

Next up was another roadside stop at a waterhole at KM21 (see the Gosney guide). We gave this spot about 20 minutes during which time the numerous Namaqua Doves were joined by 2 Blue-spotted Wood-doves, loads of Red-billed Quelea, Northern Red Bishops and Black-winged Red Bishops coming to drink while a Beaudouin's Snake Eagle flew over.

Namaqua Doves

A partially wooded lake at Kaur Wetlands was our lunchtime spot and what it was a lunch I'll not forget in a hurry! Ebrima was intently scanning the shore of the lake but after about 10 minutes I got onto what he was looking for - 2 Egyptian Plovers - boom! This is THE species everyone wants to see up river but by late January they are very difficult as the numbers have dropped to nearly nothing. I'd never thought this species was a realistic possibility but what do I know! The tree surroujnding the lake held hundreds if not thousands of Namaqua Doves but the other star was a splendid male Exclamatory Paradise Whydah which posed nicely in a tree top. Several Long-tailed Glossy Starlings were knocking about as were 4 Black-winged Stilts, 1 Wood Sandpiper and a group of Cattle Egrets. A scan of the tree then revealed several Black-rumped Waxbills and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu plus some nice views of a Western Olivaceous Warbler.  

Long-tailed Glossy Starling

Egyptian Plovers

Egyptian Plover

Exclamatory Paradise Whydah

A very quick stop at a large wetland a little further along the road (mainly to pass on our Egyptian Plover info to another tour group) gave me Kentish Plover, Ringed Plover and Little Stint for the trip list before we moved on again.

Panchang Wetlands was our next destination, another convenient roadside location. This one did the business with a lovely pair of African Pygmy Geese and a single Comb-billed Duck amongst a large flock of White-faced Whistling Ducks. 6 African Jacana were close to the road and then a Black-shouldered Kite was in a roadside tree just as we moved on.

African Pygmy Geese

Black-shouldered Kite

Now it was time for the part of the trip Belinda had been looking forward to above all other  - a boat trip on the Gambia River to see some mammals. We boarded the boat at the village of  Kuntaur eagerly surrounded by the local children. Picking up our guide from the River Gambia NP a little firther down the river (compulsory if visiting the site) we were soon watching a huge adult Hippopotamus in the river. We went on to see 3 of these beasts including 2 young. Bird wise things started off quietly with Intermediate Egret, 2 Hamerkop, Senegal Thicknees, a large flock of Red-billed Quelea and a feeding flock of Collared Pratincoles but the quiet was quickly broken by a really close sub-adult African Fish Eagle then a posing Palm Nut Vulture. Senegal Parrots, Ring-necked Parakeets and Little Bee-eaters were being regularly seen as we neared 'baboon island' and our guide started calling like a mental thing! After a while it worked well as 2 Chimpanzees came to the edge of the island to investigate. These animals are fantastic and looking into their eyes you can see they are closely related to us humans. We also saw 2 others, less well but including a very big male at the top of a palm. Then Ebrima called a fly-over Spur-winged Goose and my afternoon was complete! The birding hadn't finished yet though, on the return ride I found a Swamp Flycatcher low down in the mangroves and we also scored with 3 Striated Herons, Purple Heron, Broad-billed Roller and Melodious Warbler.      

African Fish Eagle

African Fish Eagle

Palm Nut Vulture

Striated Heron

Broad-billed Roller

Purple Heron