Llangors Lake meadow walk.
20th June 2018
Now that the weather has settled down and as we approach the longest day my focus, (excuse the pun), has switched from birds to insects, you have to vary your interests to suit the time of year or you will have a very lean time of it. Damselflies are on the wing in numbers, principally Common Blue, Blue Tailed, Azure and Large Red, and as bonus Susan and I have also seen,

Scarce Blue Tailed.

and Variable Damselfly.

We have also seen a few early Dragonflies, notably huge numbers of Four Spotted Chasers,

and also Hairy Dragonfly.

It is a lovely experience to watch a meadow for a few minutes and see how, when the sun comes out, these insects rise up and take to the wing. As we walked through the meadows surrounding Llangors Lake on a humid day this week.

Common Spotted Orchids were in evidence,

and also the much rarer Flowering Rush.

Some of the Nettles were covered in Peacock Butterfly caterpillars,

and two Large Skipper Butterflies were flying.

We look forward to the coming months as more insects will fly in the hopefully fine weather.
Damselflies with the Sigma 150-600 Contemporary lens.
10th June 2018
During this lovely spell of weather we have been enjoying lately there has been a good showing of Damselflies on the local ponds and streams. Over the last couple of years Susan and I have become more interested in both Lepidoptera and Odonata. We have always appreciated their obvious beauty, but having now paid more attention to their life cycles and behaviour we have become a great deal more interested in them. Over the last two days we have been out walking around these local streams and ponds and we have seen a number of Damselflies but only one or two Dragonfly species, however, it’s early yet. I now carry my Sigma 150-600 contemporary lens for these outings because it’s light enough to carry and at 600mm on the long end I can stand back from these insects and capture images without disturbing them. It’s the best of both worlds, and while a large telephoto isn’t the best for depth of field, as opposed to a macro lens, I don’t have to work so hard to get images.
I really can recommend this Sigma lens for this type of work and if anyone is interested in photographing these lovely creatures you won’t go far wrong in buying this lens. Macro photographers will need a dedicated lens to get really top images of course, but for casual walk around work the Sigma does the job.
We bumped into the Dragonfly recorder for Brecon this week and he told us about a Red Eyed Damselfly that had been seen at Llangors Lake. This insect is a first for the lake and is not usually seen this far west so we were out looking yesterday morning and were very pleased to find around ten of these lovely Damselflies in addition we saw Azure, Common Blue, Large Red, Blue Tailed and Scarce Blue Tailed Damselfly.
A very good collection for a morning’s walk.

Red Eyed Damselfly

Large Red Damselflies

Common Blue Damselfly

Azure Damselflies

Azure Damselflies
The Gambia 2018.
10th June 2018
A detailed report of the above trip is now available on the 'Trip Reports' page.
A visit to the the West Country.
02nd June 2018
Ham Wall RSPB – A superb nature reserve.
Earlier this week Susan and I went to visit relatives in Exeter and on the way down we called into Ham Wall nature reserve in Somerset. We have been visiting the ‘Somerset Levels’ for over thirty years and the area has always been good for marsh birds. However, it has really taken off over the last few years and it can now rival any marshes in the UK. It is superbly managed and it is no surprise when you see the scale of what has been achieved there, to find how many hitherto difficult and in some cases rare birds that are now being seen regularly. Ham Wall reserve is without doubt one of the best places in the UK to see the Common Bittern, a bird that until fairly recently was extremely difficult to find anywhere. These reclusive Heron’s successful colonization is well documented, however, they remain very secretive by nature, but at Ham Wall, if you are willing to sit in one of the hides, particularly the Avalon Hide, you would be unlucky if you didn’t see one of these birds in flight. In addition to Common Bittern there are regular sightings of Great and Little Egrets, Water Rails, Hobbies, Marsh Harriers and in addition to these, possible Purple Heron, Glossy Ibis, Squacco Heron, and Little Bittern. Cettis Warblers are singing everywhere and many warblers like Blackcap and Garden Warbler are numerous. The variety of Odonata is huge and in addition there are many Butterflies to see throughout the reserve.
We spent an hour in the aforementioned Avalon Hide and were indeed rewarded by great views of Common Bittern, our target bird. After we left for Exeter we decided even then to pay another visit to the reserve on the return journey. After an enjoyable day with family, (in particular our four year old nephew who was really excited to see us and soon to be joined by a new little niece, due in a month), we left for our overnight accommodation in a local village. We did this to ease the pressure on the parents to be because they have enough to do at the moment! We stayed in the aptly named Silverton Arms in the village of Silverton a quintessential English village situated a few miles from Exeter. This is a nice pub that we have stayed in previously, it has very comfortable rooms, good food and most importantly great beer.
After a most pleasant evening supplemented by a well cooked meal and washed down with a few pints of ‘Exmoor ale’ we retired to bed and slept well. On the return journey there was extremely heavy traffic on the M5 north motorway and we were glad to get off at Glastonbury and make our way to Ham Wall for another try at the Bitterns. We spent a few hours casually walking around the reserve and finishing off at the ‘Avalon Hide’. We were pleased again as we were treated to good views of the Bitterns flying across the reed beds. We left to continue our journey and to our dismay the traffic hadn’t eased at all, in fact it had got much worse! We had to endure a really tedious drive home with traffic at one point gridlocked from the M49 roundabout off the M5 north all the way to the Severn bridge tolls. It was a truly horrendous experience and the traffic didn’t ease for us until we turned off at the Celtic Manor junction for Raglan after which we enjoyed empty roads all the way home. When I arrived home and got out of the car I was walking like Groucho Marx, if you’re old enough you’ll know what I mean!! LOL

A few images from Ham Wall.

(On the way down).

(On the way back).

Glorious weather up on the hills.
24th May 2018
It’s an absolute pleasure to be out on the hills on these wonderful spring mornings. I have been out early all through this current spell of weather and one morning I set my kit up underneath an overhanging Hawthorn tree which was right opposite a few small and importantly, eye-level bushes. I was sat on my trusty ‘Walk Stool’ with some ‘Camo’ netting strung across the Hawthorn branches waiting to see if anything would fly in and perch on the bushes opposite. Surprisingly a chilly breeze had begun to blow and I was glad of the extra fleece that I always carry in my car. I spent about an hour just watching the area where I could hear male and female Cuckoos calling and also some Yellowhammers. Yellowhammers are a very much overlooked bird, but they shouldn’t be because they are so beautiful. After a while, just as I hoped, one of the Yellowhammers perched right at the top of a dead branch and began to sing.

I happily took the photograph straight away and I sat there contented because that was all I had really hoped to get. Then suddenly out of nowhere a male Cuckoo came fluttering on to the top of a small Ash sapling opposite, he was totally unaware of me and I very slowly panned my lens around to where he was perched, you have to be so careful with these wary birds.

I quickly shot him, but as soon as he heard the shutter he was off straight away, I was just too near, it was one of those things. However, I had a few frames before he reacted and that was doubly satisfying. Superb weather and two gorgeous birds, what more could you want?
The Gambia 2018.
20th May 2018
A portfolio of some of the birds we saw on a three week trip to The Gambia in 2018 is now in Latest Images, The Gambia 2018.
All images taken handheld with a Sigma 150 - 600 contemporary lens.
Mas's Magic in The Gambia.
11th May 2018
Driving down the track from our accommodation with ‘Mas’ (our very special bird guide), we pulled up alongside some palm trees. We had learned not to question his motives so we just strolled along with him. Then he started his bird mimicry and straight away, (he never failed to amaze us), a Pearl Spotted Owlet suddenly popped into view.

I was in the process of taking some shots when Mas shouts ‘Quick, Steve’, I looked around and a Violet Turaco was flying across the field in front of us. I managed to get a record shot as Mas exclaimed ‘You never see them in flight’.

What a stroke of luck it must have been Mas’s mimicry that attracted the birds attention, then again he says ‘Steve, turn around slowly’ and as I do so I can now see a Black Shouldered Kite in a tree behind us. (The ghost of the Savannah).

This was dreamland, one of our favourite Raptors of all time. We climbed back into the vehicle and as we were driving down the track I was thinking ‘We haven’t even reached the main road yet’. This really was top draw birding for us.
Sunbirds of The Gambian Savannah.
11th May 2018
The general Savannah in the Gambia consists of large open areas of low to medium scrub interspersed with stands of trees. This can then be interrupted by dense forests of magnificent older trees, these Savannahs become very hot, dry and dusty out of the rainy season. Nevertheless they provide a seemingly endless habitat for birds. You cannot, unlike birding in the UK, go more than a hundred yards without seeing something very nice. Some of the most colourful birds to see in these Savannahs and indeed in everybody’s garden, are the Sunbirds, these beautiful little birds are not shy and will come quite close to a human. They are typically very busy little birds and will be seen hovering around flowers looking for food. They will also come to drink wherever they can find water.
Below are a few photos of these lovely little jewels.

Variable Sunbird.

Scarlet - chested Sunbird.

Splendid Sunbird.

Beautiful Sunbird.
Verreaux's Eagle Owl in The Gambia.
11th May 2018
Today we were on the track of a special bird of the forest, we had the services of a local warden who Mas, our guide, knew well. We had walked for about an hour in dense forest and seen some very nice birds on our way. However, our main quarry was the Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, a huge bird found in the Gambian woodlands. We stopped at a stand of very large and obviously old trees and the guide searched these trees for about a minute and then pointed an Owl out to us. We would never have found it ourselves, you have to employ the services of these guides because they know where the bird’s favourite trees are. What impressive birds these Owls are, standing about two feet tall! They have, comically, pink eyelids which stand out from their overall grey plumage. Well worth the walk through he woods.

A Bluebell Morning.
09th May 2018
The Bluebells are late coming out in our local woods. Last week there were hardly any showing, principally because of a cold and gloomy late April and when I visited a local woodland it was very disappointing. However, I thought that the sunny spell of weather over the bank holiday weekend must have brought them out. It only takes a few warm sunny days to encourage wildflowers to bloom.
I was out early again yesterday, full of hope on another spectacular morning, and I headed straight to the same Bluebell woodland. I was not disappointed, there had been a total transformation and the woodland floor was carpeted with a spectacular showing of flowers.
It really lifts your spirits, (not that my spirits need lifting on these glorious spring mornings), to see such a wonderful natural spectacle and I would recommend anybody to just go for a walk in one of these woods now and embrace the natural world.
I walked around the woods encountering superb vistas at every turn, what a glorious scene was laid out before me. I was stopping every fifty yards just to gaze in awe at the beauty of these simple little flowers.

A few images of the woods.

Cuckoos on a beautiful Spring Morning.
07th May 2018
Yesterday I decided to take advantage of this glorious weather and go out walking this morning up on the local hills. The alarm went off at 05.00 and I awoke to a stunningly beautiful morning. It was already light and there was birdsong all around my garden. I had arranged my kit last night to save time, I had a quick cup of tea and a slice of toast and I was out and gone. At 05.45 I was walking on a local hillside, Willow Warblers were displaying, Wood Warblers were singing their ‘spinning coin’ song and Tree Pipits were parachuting out of the sky singing as they dropped down into the tops of the trees. It was an absolute pleasure to be out and I felt so privileged to be walking on these hills that are right on my doorstep. However, my quarry was a female Cuckoo that I had been watching for a few days, it wouldn’t be easy, it never is, but if you do your homework you are in with a chance.
My mantra;
Do your homework. Get up early. Wear muted colours. Be quiet. Be patient. If you can’t adhere to these criteria then forget photographing birds like Cuckoos. They are so sharp, and once they see you then you won’t get near them.
I knew the area she was frequenting and I made my way there straight away and got underneath some Hawthorn trees. After about half an hour I could hear a male Cuckoo distantly, but no sign of the female. I would happily photograph the male but it would be nice to get the female because almost all Cuckoo photos you see are male. They must outnumber the females, it looks that way anyway.
The male came nearer and I managed to shoot him on the top of a Hawthorn bush with a Hairy Caterpillar in his beak, which was a good start!

Then some time later I could hear the female’s soft bubbling song and I could see her flying around the Hawthorns looking to land on a suitable perch, these birds always have their preferred vantage points and they inevitably use them at some time. I got myself ready, pointing my lens at one of the favoured bushes and predictably she came in and perched out in the bright sunshine, facing in my direction about twenty yards away.

I shot her straight away, it’s great when planning comes to fruition! However, she was being mobbed by Meadow Pipits.

I knew she wouldn't stay long but then the male came steaming in anyway and landed on the same bush and they were both off and flying away, interacting as they disappeared into the distance. Sometimes you only get one chance and you have to be prepared, but she was ‘In the Can’ to use motion picture parlance and I happily continued on my walk enjoying a stunning morning. It’s worth getting up anyway these mornings but if you get some success then it’s even better!
Cuckoos in the Beacons, spring is here.
04th May 2018
At long last after an appallingly bad April in terms of weather, where rain fell on an almost daily basis, skies were grey and temperatures remained low, there now appears to be light at the end of the tunnel with favourable weather forecasts in evidence. The land is still draining down and the little stream in my garden that only usually runs in winter has finally dried up. This little stream is a good weather barometer as it is very reactive to rain falling up on the mountain above my house. Let’s hope that this is the end of the bad weather because if it had carried on it would have had a negative effect on the birds breeding programme.
I was walking earlier on this week in a local deciduous woodland hoping to see some Bluebells but I was very disappointed to see the lack of flowers in bloom, they should be out in profusion now. However, the forecasted sunshine and warm temperatures will bring them out next week and I will try and get some photographs of what is one of nature’s most glorious spectacles.
Susan and I took advantage of the nice weather yesterday and went walking up on a local hillside, we could hear a few Tree Pipits singing and could then see them parachuting down into the tops of trees. We always like to see them doing this, it is quite comical. We walked on a good bit further and then we could hear an unmistakable call, the one we have been waiting for… Cuckoo, Cuckoo, at last our favourite spring bird! We could see one flying in the distance and then surprisingly another and then another, three in total. Two were flying around disputing territory, great to see them doing this, they were rocketing through the trees, chasing each other relentlessly. Then suddenly there was a gentle ‘Bubbling’ call, a female Cuckoo, things went up a notch then with all three males flying around calling for the female. One landed in a tree and I was able to shoot it quickly.

Hand-held with my Sigma Contemporary lens, very useful in these situations. Others were flying around and I managed a few shots as they whizzed by.

It was a great spectacle and two males shot by us at head height as we were standing near some bushes, we could hear the ‘Whoosh’ of their wings as they passed us. One of the great spring spectacles, we don’t get it every year but it’s great when it happens. A very enjoyable walk on a lovely spring morning.
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!!
River cruise in The Gambia.
22nd April 2018
Part of our pre-arranged birding itinery included a boat trip along the River Allahein. This river forms in part the border between The Gambia and Senegal. It is quite a wide, fast flowing river but with some shallows containing a few small islands scattered along its length. Huge mounds of discarded Oyster shells can be seen piled high along its banks and in some places these shell mounds seemed to be part of the actual river bank. There were no specific birds on our list for this trip and we just gently motored along seeing what was around. We had quite a large boat to ourselves and therefore had the option to sit wherever we liked to see any wildlife that was on offer. As we meandered along shoals of small flying fish kept us company, leaping out of the water beside our boat. There weren’t many boats around and the ones we did see were crowded with people just on trips up and down the river, however, it is better, if you want to see wildlife, to pay a little more and have the privacy and freedom of your own boat. Generally the tourists that fill these boats are not really interested in the river’s wildlife as none we passed contained anyone using binoculars, they just go for the cruise and that’s fair enough, each to their own. However, as we slowly cruised passed a small island containing Pink-backed Pelicans,

Juvenile in flight.

Adult in breeding plumage.

we also saw Royal and Caspian Terns and a single Osprey. Suddenly, Mas our guide sat bolt upright and gestured to the boat man to pick up speed. We asked him what it was and he enthusiastically said 'Goliath Heron' - Mas didn’t get exited very often so we knew this was a good bird to see. As we approached this magnificent bird it made its way right to the top of the bush it was perched in giving superb views.

It was obviously watching us and I was praying it would remain for me to get a shot. We inched closer and closer until we were in range and I was very happy to get a few decent shots. These Herons are the biggest in the world standing almost five feet tall with a wingspan of seven and a half feet, they dwarf a Grey Heron!!
Suddenly it flew, taking off like a light aircraft disappearing up river, what a bird. We continued along the river and we could see some birds standing in the water in the distance. As we approached we could see they were Yellow-billed Storks.

Some African Spoonbills were amongst them.

We cruised past them taking some shots as we passed, and then Mas said to the boat man, ‘Cut the engines’ and there incredibly was the Goliath Heron again, fishing in the shallows at the edge of the Mangroves.

Once more we had some great views and shots of this huge bird as we quietly floated by. The engines were then restarted and we happily cruised back to a restaurant on the river bank for lunch, not before tipping the boat man for his efforts, it takes skill and knowledge of the river to get close to these birds without grounding the boat in the shallows. An excellent morning on the river with some great birds.
A trio of Raptors in The Gambia.
17th April 2018
Today we found ourselves in a local area named Tujering Woods. This area is not really a woods, it is more an open area sparsely populated with trees and scrub. First impressions are that it wouldn’t be very good for birds but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It held a large and diverse range of species and there are virtually no quiet spots in the whole area, there is something to see continually. After seeing birds like Yellow Penduline Tit, White Fronted Black Chat, Striped Kingfisher, African Silverbill, Red Winged Warbler, Beautiful Sunbird, Zitting Cisticola etc etc. We spotted one of our all-time favourite Raptors up in a Palm Tree, a Black Shouldered Kite.

For me personally it has always been a bird I have struggled to see well and after my first viewing of one many years ago in a Cork Oak woodland in Portugal when I thought it was so beautiful - I wanted more!

I managed to slowly get closer to the bird by sneaking from bush to bush and taking shots as I went along, at least you have some images doing it this way if the bird flies away. I had taken some reasonable shots of this ghost – like bird with its ruby red eyes and elegant light coloured plumage, I was hoping for more when suddenly it became very animated, I knew it wasn’t me because I had been very careful, then suddenly a different Raptor flew into a nearby tree causing the Black Shouldered Kite to fly off. I turned around to be confronted by a Dark Chanting Goshawk.

Another beautiful bird. I took a few shots before it also flew off in pursuit of the Kite, what a few minutes! We walked a little further on and in another Palm Tree we could see a medium sized bird which turned out to be a Grey Kestrel.

Another cracking bird, a lovely trio of Raptors. This area turned out to be very productive indeed and was a great morning’s birding.
Farakunku Tree and Bird Sanctuary, The Gambia, Part 3.
13th April 2018
I was not always able to photograph all the birds we saw in the garden and sometimes you just have to be content with seeing the birds – after all that is what birdwatching is all about. We had brief views of two Violet Turacos, Rose-Ringed Parakeets and a Lizard Buzzard which flew within three feet of our heads as it snatched a lizard off the wall behind us. Having said that we had great success watching and photographing many lovely birds in the garden and on our penultimate visit we saw a flash of colour in a tree, right in the corner of the garden – unbelievably three Bearded Barbets briefly dropped onto a lower branch affording us good views before they flew away.

Other regular visitors to the water pots were Long Tailed Glossy Starlings, African Thrush and Yellow Billed Shrike, all very common birds.

At the end of the day we were treated to a real flash of colour as two beautiful birds visited the garden, first to arrive was a Senegal Parrot, which we had seen flying over on a few occasions but had only seen perched once before.

Then soon after the star turn of the afternoon came wandering along one of the paths, a Yellow Crowned Gonolek, totally unfazed by our presence.

There were also dozens of small birds such as Bronze Manikins, Blue Cheeked Cordon Bleus, Lavender Waxbills and Red Billed Fire Finches around the drinking pots.

These couple of hours in the garden rounded off nicely what were already good days, because there were no bad birding days for us in Africa. In addition we always had a superbly cooked dinner to look forward to, followed by a relaxing couple of hours on the veranda with an ice cold beer.

Below is a short Youtube video of some of the birds at the garden.
Farakunku Tree and Bird Sanctuary, The Gambia, Part 2.
13th April 2018
On another evening in the Sanctuary a group of Green Wood Hoopoes came to drink.

These lovely, delicate, birds, with long white flecked tails and a long red de-curved bill are a joy to watch, it was a large family group of adults and juveniles. This group visited the garden for three or four days and then totally disappeared, much to our disappointment. Nevertheless there were many other birds to take their place – one evening we saw a hitherto shy bird, a Senegal Coucal come to drink right in front of us.

This was followed amazingly by a Blue Bellied Roller, a gorgeous bird.

It’s some experience to have these lovely birds just 20 feet away, it’s amazing what a pot of water can do!
Suddenly six feet away clinging to a small sapling there was a Fine Spotted Woodpecker making his way to drink from a small hanging water basket.

We kept very still and quiet and had amazing views of this lovely bird and at one stage a female joined him to drink. While watching the Woodpeckers we hadn’t noticed a Grey Backed Cameroptera looking for insects on the ground near our shelter.

These tiny birds are very Wren-like in their habits and appearance and are easily overlooked. Then a beautiful long Tailed Glossy Starling flew into one of the trees just before we left for the evening.

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.
Curious Osprey in The Gambia.
10th April 2018
On one of our free days we usually had a taxi to a specific location that was recommended by Heather the owner of the Lodges we were staying at. These taxis involved a driver employed by Heather so they were honest and reliable, which is quite important, especially if you are for example a woman travelling on your own. These were mainly bird orientated destinations but with an opportunity to get some lunch and to see some local culture. One of these destinations was the Tanji Eco Lodge where you can stay in what looked like nice lodges right above the beach and also there was a nice restaurant and bar there. We wandered along what was ostensibly a deserted beach, the only thing we saw was a pair of shoes with a Cuttlefish placed beside them, both of which we presumed must have belonged to a fisherman. We walked about half a mile along the beach to a couple of lagoons where there were lots of Caspian and Royal Terns and the odd Pied Kingfisher. Perched in a distant tree we could see an Osprey eating a fish, we thought there would be one or two still around so we waited to see if one would come and fish in the lagoons. Sadly this didn’t happen and so we made our way back up off the beach and through a small boggy area and up into an open wood.
As we walked through this sparse woodland we saw a further four Ospreys all sitting in the trees. However, as we approached them they just took off and they proved too shy to get any shots. We had given up any hope of a photograph when unexplainably another Osprey, obviously a more curious bird came flying towards us and for whatever reason proceeded to hover above us giving very nice views indeed. Sometimes there’s no explaining wildlife behaviour, but we weren’t complaining! I managed to take some half decent shots before it also then flew away.

Contented, we walked back to the restaurant and enjoyed a very nice lunch indeed cooked by the two young men on duty, these young men in The Gambia really are very good cooks.
A very nice end to a morning’s birding!
Bearded Barbet.
08th April 2018
We were out early one morning in the local Savannah just walking around with Mas and he was mesmerising us with his mimicry, he had birds coming to us instead of us looking for them! On a very few occasions I thought I’d seen something he’d missed and I’d say ‘what was that Mas’ and without looking up he’d say what bird it was, he’d obviously seen it, he never failed to amaze us. A little later on he stopped and said ‘Bearded Barbet calling distantly’, we have seen Barbets in India but only brief views and they were another of our sought after species to see. Then he starts making this weird noise and unbelievably a Bearded Barbet starts responding. ‘He is coming’ he says and after a few more calls there is a Barbet in a tree in front of us!!

I know this sounds like I’m making this up but honestly I’m not and I can’t believe it as I’m photographing two Bearded Barbets right in front of us, I was in shock! We would never have seen birds like this without Mas’s expertise, quite unbelievable.