A Birder's Paradise

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Tanji, Western, Gambia
Saturday, January 19, 2013

As we neared Paradise Inn Lodge in Tanji,  V noticed a flock of tiny blue birds land on the fence close to the road. He tried to get M's attention, but she was preoccupied with confirming directions to the lodge and by the time she was done, the flock had dispersed. Based on V's description, M speculated that they were probably Cordon Bleus, a species we had seen earlier in the Serengeti. Eager to see them again, we were constantly on the lookout for them for the next couple of days that we spent in Tanji.

While The Gambia doesn’t tempt tourists with huge mammals, it is a popular destination for birdwatchers. More than 560 species have been recorded within its boundaries, including many migratory species that use the coast as a flight path between Europe and the tropics.  Located on the coast, Tanji is an area of lagoons, coastal scrub and dry woodland. Due to this wide variety of habitat, over 300 species have been recorded at the relatively modest Tanji River Bird Reserve.

We got a shared taxi from Banjul to take us to Dippa Garage (in Serekunda) and transferred to another shared taxi to Tanji village which is situated a couple of kilometers from the Bird Reserve. (In these parts, a shared taxi is simply referred to as a car, we learned that hiring a taxi for exclusive use is referred to as taking a town car!). As we were dropped of at the main road at the edge of the village, someone pointed us to the road leading to the lodge we were headed to. Enquiries at a nearby store seemed to indicate that our destination was not far, it is walking distance the man said. (Always a bad sign when someone cannot articulate distance in measurable units, even if approximate!). We decided to walk. 

The road, though paved, was covered in several inches of sand. After what seemed at least a kilometer, we saw the first signpost indicating a turnoff for the lodge. Heartened by the sign, we continued to trudge along the narrow dirt path through the village. As it turned out it was well over 2 kilometers and with heavy packs, we were slightly annoyed by the bad information. But when we did reach Paradise Inn Lodge, all such feelings quickly melted away. The lodge is stunningly located at the edge of a forest and overlooks a stream bordered with mangroves. Round stone huts are scattered throughout the property and stepping out of your room you are under large shady trees that are teeming with birds.

Within minutes of arriving we were dazzled by sightings of the Beautiful Sunbird, the African Grey Hornbill and Long-tailed Starlings. Spur-winged Plovers and Senegal Thick-knees were staking their ground by the water's edge. A Western Reef-Heron was fishing in the stream and Pied Kingfishers were whizzing over the water using the stream as a highway. The resident Lappet-faced vulture seemed unconcerned even when we approached it to get a closer look. A Yellow-billed kite put on a display on the top of the tall baobab tree. The air was filled with the screechy calls of the Western-grey Plantain Eater that competed with Long-tailed Starlings for the most dissonant birdcall. This truly was Paradise. We fell in love with this place almost immediately!

Due to its proximity to the Tanji Bird Reserve, the lodge is favored by birdwatchers who come and stay here for several days. We were not prepared specifically for birdwatching on this trip since we did not bring our binoculars or any field guides from M's collection at home. But we put our 20x zoom cameras to good use, not to mention the best optics in the world, our eyes!  Fortunately the lodge had a comprehensive field guide to the birds of Gambia.  We would try to get a good photo of all the unfamiliar (and familiar) species and then use the guide to ID the species.. 

Video of monkeys crossing a stream at Paradise Inn Lodge
 
Waking up to the chorus of birds is always a pleasure and M had the added pleasure of being able to just step out for a bird walk first thing in the morning. We made several rounds in and around the property through the day chasing birds perched on trees and along the waters edge. After each round M would pore over the guide to ensure correct identification. 

We went to the Tanji Bird Reserve for a few hours,  walked along an existing trail through the park and made a few trails of our own. It yielded several shore birds, including Caspian Terns, Great White Heron, Curlew, Ruddy Turnstone. We had a great view of a Grey Headed Kingfisher. But the highlight was a Yellow-crowned Gonoleck, a striking bird with a distinctive call that we chased back and forth between two shrubs for several minutes.

Each time we passed through Tanji village, little children along the way would continuously scream hello at us. The slightly older ones chased after us to shake our hands and with a wide smile on their face asked us for Bic (pens). They did not seem too disappointed when we told them we had none to give them. They seemed genuinely happy shaking hands with strangers.On the morning that we were to depart from Tanji, we went for a morning walk through the neighborhood streets, pausing in front of the large baobab which had been very birdy on the previous evening. That morning we even added the Splendid Sunbird to the list. But no sign of the Cordon Bleus.We went back to the lodge to retrieve our bags and finally leave. A few short meters from the lodge, at the exact location that V had noticed them before, a flock of blue landed under a tree, their cheeks fiery red.  Both cameras went snap-happy. A mixed flock of Cordon Bleu and Fire Finch. M was ecstatic.

Full list of bird species seen at Tanji / Grounds of Paradise Inn Lodge

 Long-tailed Glossy Starling
 Beautiful Sunbird
 Pied Kingfisher
 Malachite Kingfisher
 Grey headed Kingfisher
 Spur winged Plover
 Red-billed Hornbill
 African Gray Hornbill (F)
 Fork-tailed Drongo
 Long-tailed Cormorant
 Lappet-faced Vulture
 Tawny Eagle
 Western Grey Plantain Eater
 Senegal Thick-knee
 Senegal Parrot
 Western Reef-Heron
 Piapiac
 Common Redshank
 Common Greenshank
 Ringed Plover
 Caspian Tern
 Royal Tern
 Grey-headed Gull
 Ruddy Turnstone
 White wagtail
 Yellow-crowned Gonoleck
 Long-billed Curlew
 White Pelican
 Great White Egret
 Little Egret
 Pied Crow
 Pied Hornbill
 Laughing Dove
 Vinaceous (Collared) dove
 Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher
 Red-cheeked Crodon-bleu
 Woodland Kingfisher
 Brown Babbler
 Splendid Sunbird
 Rose-ringed Parakeet
 Common Bulbul
 Senegal Coucal
 Capuchin Babbler 

 
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Comments

In Thanjavur district a "car" meant bus. A car or an automobile was known as a "pleasure !." Don't know why ! From kvbigman@gmail.com, on Feb 21, 2013 at 05:15AM
Whaaaat ??? Bird watching in The Gambia ?? Never would have guessed. From Ramesh, on Feb 26, 2013 at 09:15PM
Video added : Monkeys crossing stream at Paradise Inn (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhSKIon3w2s) From Malini and Venkatesh, on Mar 2, 2013 at 02:17PM

Pictures & Video

Rooms at Paradise Inn Lodge set amidst trees
Rooms at Paradise Inn Lodge set amidst trees
Tanji street - note internet cafe
Tanji street - note internet cafe
Lappet-faced Vulture
Lappet-faced Vulture
Kids on the streets always greeted us
Kids on the streets always greeted us
Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu
Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu
They love to be photographed
They love to be photographed
Women at the water pipe at Tanji
Women at the water pipe at Tanji
Tanji street in the evening
Tanji street in the evening
The mighty Boabab tree
The mighty Boabab tree
Football game schedule listed on the street
Football game schedule listed on the street
Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu
Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu
Woodland Kingfisher
Woodland Kingfisher
African Grey Hornbill
African Grey Hornbill
Vinaceous Dove Grey-headed Kingfisher
Grey-headed Kingfisher
Western Grey Plantain-eater
Western Grey Plantain-eater
Senegal Thick-knee
Senegal Thick-knee
Spur-winged Plover
Spur-winged Plover
Piapiac Laughing Dove Beautiful Sunbird
Beautiful Sunbird
Malachite Kingfisher
Malachite Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher Caspian Tern (orange bill) and Grey headed Gulls
Caspian Tern (orange bill) and Grey headed Gulls
Red-billed Hornbill
Red-billed Hornbill
Senegal Parrot Pied Hornbill Baboon ready to jump and woodland kingfisher
Baboon ready to jump and woodland kingfisher
Beautiful Sunbird
Beautiful Sunbird
Senegal Coucal Map of Western Gambia
Map of Western Gambia
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