Balaba Nature Camp is my ‘home patch’. It’s my home when I am in The Gambia – an eco-lodge run by my husband and myself. We are situated close to the border with southern Senegal, between the villages of Gunjur and Kartong, and the camp is nestled in the forest. Balaba is managed in as sustainable way as possible, with solar electricity and water from the well. But most importantly, the camp is an oasis of woodland where we do our best to encourage the local wildlife, especially birds.
But even within the camp there are a number of distinct areas, and this has helped us to enjoy a wide variety of species.
The centre of the camp is ideal for relaxing in a hammock or sitting in the restaurant to watch the birds. Here there are lots of surrounding trees, and this is a good place to see the Grey-backed cameroptera, the Green-backed Eremomela, and other birds such as the Common Bulbul.
We have a bird bath here, which is popular with several species of dove, Northern Black Flycatchers and the African and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatchers. We also have a beautiful albino squirrel that likes to sneak a drink.
On the path leading to the rear gate, we have let the shrubs grow taller, and this is a hive of activity for the sunbirds, including the Beautiful Sunbird, the Splendid Sunbird and the Variable Sunbird.
The kitchen is the best place to find Hooded Vultures – especially if we’ve prepared fish or meat recently. And behind that there is the main road out of the camp, where you will see babblers, Green Wood Hoopoes and other woodland birds, as well as the occasional Stone Partridge. The well is quite a busy place, as we draw all our water here for washing, cooking and watering our very large garden, and the neighbours often come in to get water too. But this hasn’t put the birds off. We have two bird baths here, and these are the favourite haunts of the Lavender Waxbills, Bronze Mannekins, Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu and weavers. Both the Village Weavers and the Black-necked weavers love bathing here, and you can also see the Red-billed Firefinch and Village Indigo bird around. And the Blue-breasted Kingfisher often sits on the cross-piece, taking a quick dip in the water buckets when he can.
Our large garden is always teeming with birds. Weavers, firefinches and other small birds help keep the pests down amongst the vegetables, whilst the citrus trees are popular with cisticolas. Blue-bellied rollers, Rose-ringed Parakeets and Senegal Parrots are often seen in the larger trees, as well as the occasional raptor such as the Shikra or the African Harrier Hawk. We have cleared an area behind the garden that is not yet planted up, and you can often see flycatchers, hornbills, and other woodland birds here.
The forested areas surrounding the main camp are a great place to sit and watch the birds. Brown Babblers and Blackcap Babblers are often rooting through the undergrowth, Green Wood Hoopoes make chattering feeding parties, and the Yellow-crowned Gonolek is a common sight. Hornbills are also seen regularly, including the Red-billed and Pied Hornbills. Violet Turacos nest in the trees, and the Western Grey Plantain Eater can often be seen flying between branches. We have also had a pair of Hamerkops nesting in one of our trees.
One of my favourite spots is the verandah outside our house. Here I can watch the two bird baths that are a little bit like an airport, with birds coming and going the whole time. The African Thrush likes to visit, as well as the Snowy-crowned Robinchat, weavers, Lavender Waxbills and firefinches. It’s here that we have our most exciting species – a male Western Bluebill is a daily visitor here.
Just behind the bird baths, there is a small area that is often alive with sunbirds.
Overhead, you can often see Osprey, pelicans and other raptors heading for the nearby river. At night we can hear the White-faced Scops Owl, and we can also hear the Verreaux’s Eagle Owl (although it’s harder to spot!).
Of course, I’ve only mentioned a few of the birds that we see here at Balaba. We have 80 birds recorded on our Balaba Bird List that can be seen here, and we keep a checklist of the birds we see. Our guests always enjoy seeing the amazing variety of birds, even if they aren’t birdwatchers. I think I am very lucky to live in such a beautiful place with such a wonderful variety of wildlife, but I can honestly say I never get tired of seeing what each new day brings.
If you want to know more about staying at Balaba Nature Camp please click here for more information.
Balaba Nature Camp Bird list (updated 11 Match 2014): Balaba Bird List
February 2014 Bird List: February 2014.Balaba Bird List