On Thursday morning we headed south towards Gunjur and Kartong. Paul Stammers had been asked by a friend to look up Colin Cross, who now runs the Kartong Bird Observatory. They made contact during Week 1 and JJ realised that it was an excellent place for birdwatching. Group 1 carried on with their original itinerary, but it was decided that Group 2 would visit this reserve – good decision. Colin met us along with his two dogs and we started out on our tour. We saw so many different species of birds including White-faced Whistling Ducks, Black Crake, African Hobby, Rufus Crowned Roller and Liz Jameson’s favourite of the trip, an African Harrier-Hawk with an amazing fluorescent bubble-gum pink face. It almost goes without saying that we saw Ospreys too! One juvenile came to bathe very close to our left (photo) whilst to our right we watched in awe of a crocodile – mouth wide open showing his teeth. As we wandered on, Colin showed us where he had found a crocodile’s nest (!) and then on the fence, not a metre away, an Olive Sand Snake watched us walk by (see photo). We arrived back at Colin’s house and gathered on the veranda where he explained about a charity which he has set up. Colin is a retired schoolteacher and moved out to The Gambia a year ago. He gives money to parents of sick children to pay for visits to a doctor. If medicine is required, he gives them money upon receipt of the prescription and asks to see the drugs as proof. It was the 20th January and he had already received over 100 requests this year; we were all happy to make a donation.
We carried on to Kartong beach (Week 2 Video Diary Kartong Beach) and watched Ospreys fishing. We were really hoping to spot the Lake District juvenile, No.12, who fledged last summer and is satellite-tagged. Sadly, we didn’t catch up with him but I’m sure the photos that Tim will be sending to Pete Davies of that Project, illustrating where he is fishing regularly, will cheer them up, especially after the loss earlier this month of his sibling, No.11, in Northern Senegal. As Tim has mentioned, quite a few ringed Ospreys have been identified by our team; mainly German birds but also a French one and several Scottish ones. They must all be pleased to learn that their birds are alive, I know Roy Dennis has confirmed that some of the Scottish birds spotted were ringed by him, comforting news for him to receive.
On Monday we returned from Senegal on the Barra-Banjul ferry; I had read that these ferry crossings were not for the faint-hearted, they were not wrong. Once we were off the ferry we took an hour to look around Banjul market, busy, bustling and full of smiling faces as ever. As a keen cook, I asked JJ if he would show me the Fish Market. Whilst he was deciding which direction to take, we were approached by a lovely Gambian lady who offered to show around. The fish were amazing and it was interesting to see the Butter fish and Lady fish which we had been eating regularly. We also saw Needle fish which we hadn’t eaten, but on the last morning on Tanji Beach an Osprey caught one and flew right over our heads with it. We ate very well throughout the week and one memorable lunch after we had visited Colin was a national dish – Domoda – Gambian Ground Peanut Stew – definitely will be trying that at home. The lady who showed us around the market eventually led us back to her own stall. It actually turned out that she used to live in Hackney and had friends in Leicester – what a small world. She had a beautiful baby daughter just two weeks old and only weighing 1.5kg at birth. Whilst she was helping Paul to decide on a colourful shirt, I cradled the baby (family photo).
On day one we had seen 3 Ospreys from the bus on the short journey to The Paradise Inn. On arrival there, I immediately left my bags in my ‘hut’ and wandered a mere 30 yards to the creek. There, with Vikki and Liz, an Osprey carrying a fish, flew right over our heads. That was the beginning of a wonderful week – an abundance of Ospreys every day including our last morning. I made an interesting discovery on that last morning – I discovered how John manages to stay one step ahead of the rest of us to obtain the best photos (see above photo). We are all really looking forward to seeing his photos and to hear their tales of Northern Senegal. It was an amazing trip and I long to return.