In my last post I told you how Lamin began to renovate our bird pool – you can read all about that here.
The next day, Lamin also re-lined the small pool, which is mainly used by the smaller birds – we didn’t want them to feel left out!
However, taking photos of the pool area isn’t very easy. The sun shines there quite nicely in the morning, but by lunchtime it’s blocked by surrounding trees, and then the forest area as it sinks in the west. Although it isn’t possible to have the sun all day, Lamin thought that if we gave one of the nearby palm trees a haircut, it would allow more light during the late morning, and also provide some fence posts and leaves for our perimeter fencing. Again, deforestation has made it very difficult to cut sticks and leaves from the forest around us as we used to, so now we must rely on our own trees.
In true Gambian fashion, cutting back a tree is as simple as shinning up armed with a machete and hacking off branches as you go! So duly armed, Lamin set to work while I took photos, hoping fervently I wasn’t going to get a snap of him falling out of the tree!
Not many people are lucky enough to have their own bird hide, but here at Balaba we have our own special hide. It started a while ago when we decided to make a bird pool to attract the birds and other wildlife. We then decided to convert one of our rooms into a hide.
When I first came to Balaba in 2008, we were surrounded by forest and there were only a few compounds in the area. But in only nine years, most of the forest around us has been cut down as people move into the land and begin to build. The first thing they do is to cut down the trees – not only does this limit the shade they have, but of course it also destroys the wildlife habitat too.
At Balaba, we have quite a large area of land, so Lamin has left a ring of forest around the compound in the middle, and we have many mature trees. The loss of the forest around us means that we do attract lots of birds, as they have very little forest left in the area now.
Lamin made the bird pool a couple of years ago, but like everything here, it’s deteriorated quite a lot, so last week he decided to give it a bit of a makeover.
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First he added a new layer of cement to the large pool – it seemed to have developed a slow leak.
Sprinkling a little dry cement
The finished surface
Smoothing the surface
He also patched up our clay bowl that had a crack in it.
Cementing the interior
And the exterior
Smoothing the cement out
Then he cut some long shoots from our malina trees (which grow very straight) and fitted them horizontally to hold the fence posts in place.
Lamin checked every fence post, rooting out the ones that had gone too far, and realigning those that could be reused. Pampuran sticks have wicked razor-sharp edges to them. If you cut yourself, the wound gets inflamed very easily, so they need to be handled with care.
Lamin also removed the old leaves which were in a very fragile condition.
Next he cut some palm leaves to size with his cutlass (machete), and painstakingly constructed the fence with a patchwork of leaves.
This created a barrier that (hopefully) will keep pigs, goats and cows at bay but let small birds through. Animals are allowed to roam free during the dry season, and it’s amazing how much damage they can do in a short time!
Birds always like to land on a nearby perch before flying down to the ground to check that the coast is clear and free from predators. So we used more malina branches to make two long perches above the fence – this also gives me some good photo opportunities.
Finally, Lamin replaced the clay bowl that we fill with water.
Strangely, it’s the larger birds that like this one. One of the funniest sights I’ve seen is a huge African harrier hawk trying to fit into a small bowl for a bath!
Next time I’ll tell you about how Lamin finished the renovations.
Here at Balaba, we’re only a few kilometres from the border with southern Senegal. Ten minutes’ drive and we’re in the border village of Kartong, which lies next to the Allahein River which forms the border. In fact, we have to go through immigration control every time we go to buy fish at the beach!
But one of my favourite activities is to go for a dawn river trip to see the birds, followed by breakfast on the beach. It’s one of the attractions that we offer to our tourists, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been myself. So since our friend Naomi, together with her family, was staying with us for a few days, we decided to do the trip.
It meant Lamin and I were up before six, boiling water for tea and collecting plates, cups, knives etc, together to take with us. We also need mats to sit on, all kinds of spreads for our bread, and of course, I needed my camera and binoculars. The birds are always quite active in the mornings, and there are fabulous birds such as the African Fish Eagle and ospreys to see.
Behind this ordinary-looking mud-blocked hole is a truly amazing story.
Hidden away in one of the Rhun Palm trees here at Balaba Nature Camp is the nesting hole of a pair of Red-billed Hornbills. Until two weeks ago I had no idea about how Red-Billed Hornbills nest, and the more I’ve found out, the more amazed I am. So I thought I would share the story with you.
Here at Balaba Nature Camp we have several bird baths around the camp to attract the beautiful birds that live around us. One of our pools is sited right next to the forest edge, especially to encourage the shy birds, and this has been a real success. We have lots of birds visiting every day. However, over the last few days, some of the bigger birds have been trying to have a bath in our rather small bird bath! These tend to be quite shy birds, such as the Violet Turaco and the Western Grey Plantain Eater.
So Lamin thought it might be a good idea to try and build a larger pool which might give them a better chance of having a bath.
So here is your step-by-step guide to building a bird pool Gambian-style. (I should explain that my camera went on strike while I was photographing, and some of the earlier ones didn’t save properly, so the photos only start some way into the instructions!)