Memorable Day at Marakissa River Camp, The Gambia.

27th April 2018
Marakissa River Camp is a compact but 'very basic' hotel surrounded by bird filled gardens. It was about an hour’s drive from our accommodation at Farakunku Lodges. As well as getting superb views of a Blue Breasted Kingfisher, see a previous blog, there was much more to see. As soon as we arrived Mas, our guide, went looking for birds on the river and as we were watching another stretch of the river, which backs right onto the gardens we could see many Pied Kingfishers. These Kingfishers are ubiquitous throughout The Gambia and if you are not careful you can switch off and become blasé about them, however, they are lovely birds and are very entertaining and can sometimes be seen in groups of up to ten birds, hovering or perched up chattering together.

We were preoccupied watching these comical birds when our attention was caught by something moving in the undergrowth, suddenly a huge lizard broke cover and came walking towards us, unbelievably it was a Monitor Lizard and it was now coming directly towards us, obviously, for whatever reasons, either we were oblivious to it or it just didn’t care about us. However, when it heard my camera shutter firing, (because I couldn’t miss this unique photographic opportunity), it stopped about ten feet away and moved back into the undergrowth but not before giving us superb views as it walked along scenting the air,

A great start to the day!!
We then saw a Blue Breasted Kingfisher flying past us up river, a beautiful spectacle in flight. Numerous other birds were in evidence around the reserve’s drinking pots especially Purple Glossy Starlings.

Rarely will someone ever get such opportunities to photograph lovely birds up close like you can here. The wonderful thing about Marakissa is that it is not a reserve and therefore there is no entrance fee, it is totally laid back, you can just have a cup of tea, coffee or a cold beer and perhaps a sandwich and the gardens are yours, where else can you see birds like that!! We had been sat down watching the drinking pots for about an hour when suddenly out of nowhere a Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher landed briefly in front of us.

What a lovely bird.

Then another cracking bird flew in and perched above one of the pools, a Malachite Kingfisher.

These tiny little jewels are only around 13cm. It proceeded to dive into the water to fish and remained totally unaffected by our presence - superb! It couldn’t get much better than that – or could it – the call went up from the Dutch owner of the hotel, ‘A giant is here’. We knew what he meant and I scrambled for my camera, heart thumping and to my disbelief a female Giant Kingfisher was now on the branch above the pool.

These birds are something to behold, up to 46cm, (18ins), from tail to beak. She just perched there watching the water for small fish. I managed to keep the lens still by leaning against a tree and took some real close-ups of this magnificent bird. We sat back down breathless and enjoyed a sandwich for lunch, what a morning’s birding.

After lunch we spent the last two hours relaxing watching the drinking pots and after seeing more nice birds we were thinking of packing in and driving back to Farakunku when something dropped down out of the trees onto one of the drinking pots. We slowly got up out of our seats to get a better view and we could now see a Shikra perched on a pot drinking.

These birds are striking Sparrowhawk – like birds and I couldn’t believe it was allowing me to photograph it, what an end to the day. However, incredibly it wasn’t the end, sharp eyed Mas said ‘Steve, look up’ and as I did I couldn’t believe my eyes, a Lizard Buzzard was perched there just looking at us.

I prayed it would stay perched there for me to get a shot and thankfully the photography gods answered my prayers as I blazed away at what is a superb bird of prey, now it really was the end of a truly memorable days birding!!