Farakunku Tree and Bird Sanctuary, The Gambia.

13th April 2018


Farakunku tree and bird sanctuary was set up by Heather, the owner of the lodges to preserve plants, trees and to encourage the local wildlife by providing much needed water in a purposely dug pool and many locally-made clay pots and woven baskets. To maintain these water levels Alpha, one of groundsmen, hand draws the water from a very deep well which had been dug out for this purpose. It was quite an effort to draw so much heavy water to the surface from a 9 metre deep well.
This private garden is quite large and consists of three shelters with seating, enabling guests to observe the many and varied birds that come to drink, mainly in the evenings, after a typically hot and dry Gambian day. Susan and I went to this garden usually from 4.30pm – 6.30pm most days which we found was the most productive time.
The following is the first of three blogs to illustrate ‘just a few’ of the birds we saw there.
On our first evening we sat quietly in anticipation not knowing quite what to expect. We heard Blackcap and Brown Babblers in the trees and before long these gregarious birds came to drink from one of the pots in front of the shelter.





They seemed to have no fear of humans, totally ignoring our presence. Susan saw something moving to our left and to our delight an adult Greater Honeyguide came into view.



This intriguing bird is widely found in sub-Saharan Africa and like a Cuckoo it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, Bee-Eaters are a favourite species. When the Honeyguide chick hatches it is equipped with sharp hooks at the tip of its beak, and at only a few days old uses these ‘weapons’ to kill its siblings and monopolise the supply of food
It has long been known in many parts of Africa that people and Greater Honeyguides work together to find wild-bees nests which provide a valuable resource for them both.
Honeyguides give a special call to attract people’s attention, then fly from tree to tree to indicate the direction of the bees’ nest. Humans are useful collaborators to the Honeyguide because of their ability to subdue stinging bees with smoke and chop open their nests to take the sticky rich honey for themselves and leave the wax and larvae within for the Honeyguide.
Not only do Honeyguides use calls to solicit human partnership, but in some cases, humans use specialised calls to recruit the bird’s assistance. Research in Mozambique has revealed that by using specialised calls to communicate and cooperate with each other, people and wild birds can significantly increase their chances of locating vital sources of calorie-laden food.

Next at the drinking pots was a Forked Tail Drongo



and then a family group of Piapiacs the latter being very raucous birds, similar in habits to our Magpies.



We were also entertained by a Western Grey Plantain Eater.



These birds are full of character and like to balance on the flimsiest of branches to enable them to eat the delicate yellow flowers that appear to be their favourite food. It was an enjoyable couple of hours and it was a real privilege to have this garden on our doorstep.