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.