A Day Out In Gunjur: Birding With Sulayman Janbang
by Lucas Barrow-Townsend
Gunjur is currently witnessing some of the worst levels of environmental destruction in The Gambia…that story can be found all over our social media channels. This story is all about the beautiful, and diverse environments in the region, that we personally got to witness on an incredible bird watching journey through thick jungle, open savannah, sandy beaches, murky lagoons, and accidental man made wetlands (more on that later); all led by one of Gambia’s most knowledgable bird watchers Sulayman Jabang.
On our first ever birding adventure we saw 63 different bird species, including a couple of rare finds, like the beautiful Rose Ringed Parakeet and the notoriously shy Violet Turaco. It really was a fantastic morning, and will certainly not be our last birding trip in The Gambia, we still have over 500 species to find after all.
The day showed us just how beautiful Gunjur is, having visited several times and not seen the amazing things we saw that day. The sheer diversity of flora and fauna in such a small space is amazing. At 7.15am at the end of the forest ‘road’ we came to a clearing with a serene lake shrouded with mist and lined with mangroves, coconut, mango, and cashew trees, it reminded me of the epic landscapes of south east Asia, and I felt embarrassed (travelling to Gambia at least 30 times in my life) that I hadn’t seen it before. Little did we know, there was much more beauty to come
A short walk through the Gambian bush led us to open savannah, the environment Africa is most famous for, and here the (excuse the pun) eagle eyed Sulayman came into his own! Spotting a Grey Woodpecker perched on a the very top of a huge coconut palm over 150m away, without binoculars (not an exaggeration). He then quickly set up the telescope for those of us who have human eyes to take a look. Sulayman’s eagle eyes would show themselves off on several other occasions throughout the day of course.
The newest environment in Gunjur is the accidental wetlands created as a by-product of the horrific sand mines that litter the Gambian coast. In Gunjur however, they have transformed into a true African paradise! The conditions caused by the sand mining… vast, but relatively shallow canyons dug out of the ground have now filled with fresh rain water over the last 5 years. It has created a birders dream, and it is utterly beautiful. Most of the destruction has now greened over and the wetlands have filled with wildlife. In fact we saw 23 species of bird at this habitat, more than any other during the day, and it would have been more too, if Sulayman would let us count the Seagull or the Crow :). This environment is the perfect example of how nature can adapt and regenerate itself, if given the chance. We even saw a huge crocodile sunbathing on the sandy banks.
We are undoubtably question askers. Becky and I want to know everything about the environments we explore. Becky admittedly was more interested in the birds than myself, but I LOVE trees, and want to know all about them. Sulayman was quite simply excellent. His knowledge about the Gambian environment is second to none and answered all of our many, many in depth questions. What’s even more heartwarming to see, is this 50 year old Gambian birder, who has been birding just in Gambia his whole life get so excited, every time we saw or heard something interesting, ‘wow, wow’ WOW” was exclaimed on regular occasions.
Gunjur is such an interesting place. An environmental hub in Gambia, with beautiful habitats and plenty of Green Gambians. If you’re in Gambia…Gunjur is a must!