Bijilo Forest Park is just up the road from the Baobab hotel, and was to be the base for everyone’s projects coming up later on in the trip. It is accessible by either walking to the beach and entering the forest from there or by getting a taxi to the main entrance. It was free for us all to enter the forest as we were there with Roy who knows, and works with, the park manager. Even if you do pay, it is very cheap at only 30 dalasi. At the entrance are a few stalls where you can buy souvenirs at a good price compared to the other markets and feel less hassled when doing so.
As it was the dry season, most of the forest was, unsurprisingly, very dry and brittle. There was still an amazing variety of wildlife in the park and you could easily spend many days walking around the park to see many different species of birds, mammals and reptiles. There are different zones to the park, coloured in co-ordination with the amount of disturbance as it becomes further away from the entrance, effecting the species you may see along the way. There is also a scrub area along the beach side of the forest. This is where the bee eaters can be seen clearly; sitting on taller branches looking over the scrub, to scout their prey from and to eat their insects after being caught, which they bang on the perches to kill before eating.
Our second day in the Gambia was spent exploring Bijilo forest for the first time.
Day 2 – 14/04/12
After a restless, but surprisingly not overly hot, night, we got to the breakfast buffet for 8am. Here we met the rest of the group at 8.30am to travel in land rovers to Bijilo Forest Park entrance. We passed the stalls at the entrance and were greeted by the sometimes over-confident Green Vervet monkeys. They were interesting characters, the youngsters being quite confident already, as they are fed peanuts by visitors (and even by the rangers to gain more interest from the tourists – too much the mentality that if it isn’t easy to see, it’s not worth spending the time to look). Someone then spotted a troop of red Colobus monkeys. These are more elusive than the Green Vervets, but have become more confident over the years, although they don’t seem to take an interest in the food provided by the humans and will still spook easily. We all watched the Red Colobus for a while and I then went with the group Mamadou started to walk through the forest – I wanted to hear everything he had to say and see the animals he spotted, first impressions of him had inspired my enthusiasm for spotting the different species and photographing them.
One of the bird species which stuck in my mind was the striking Yellow Crowned Gonalek – and although the name describes it’s bright yellow crown, it also has a vivid crimson breast which can be seen darting through the undergrowth, only sometimes coming out into the trees. Mamadou’s knowledge proved to be amazing and his bird calls drew out the different species which may have gone unnoticed.
After having lunch at the hotel, we returned to the forest later in the afternoon with Roy leading the pack. First, we met the forest park manager, Suliman, who gave us a brief talk about the park at the entrance. As we were standing there, there were a few birds of particular interest and a group of Red Colobus – never a dull moment. It was exciting to see the resident Palm Nut Vulture, markedly different to the many Hooded Vultures we had already seen. Roy then had a ‘lifer’ – first sighting of a bird species in the Gambia – which was the Black Scrub Robin. He then also saw a Goshawk eating a squirrel not far into the trees, but unfortunately most of us missed that as well. Circling above the forest was also many hooded vultures going in to roost. There were some other raptor species, one of which Roy was unsure of the species (Paul got a picture for ID if possible), but he hoped it was a Barbary Falcon, which would be another first for Roy. It seems we continue to be the lucky conservation group, first started with the sighting of the last Golden Eagle in Cumbria. We also looked at ant lion holes, which are merely dents in the sand but contain ant-destroyers, with an ugly, maggoty body and enlarged mandibles. The ants would sink into the hole and into the hungry jaws of the ant lion. There were weaver ant nests, which are fantastic as the ants pull the leaf together to form an envelope and stitch them together with larvae silk. My two favourite species were the Little Bee Eater and the Blue Breasted Kingfisher – beautiful birds that you could get a clear view of to appreciate their colours and character.
Some of the bird species we saw were:
- Black Kite
- Hooded Vulture
- Palm Nut Vulture
- Lizzard Buzzard
- Plantain Eaters
- Red billed and African Grey Hornbills
- Blue Breasted Kingfisher
- Black Scrub Robin
- Little Bee Eater
- Common Bulbul
- Blue bellied Roller
- Snowy Crowed Robin-Chat
- Paradise Flycatcher