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.
The finished surface
Smoothing the surface
Sprinkling a little dry cement
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.
As you know, one of the most fantastic things about Balaba Nature Camp is its beautiful birds. The Gambia is famous for its birds – in fact, many tourists come especially to see them. Lamin has worked hard at Balaba to maintain the trees and unspoilt forest around us, which has become increasingly important as the area around us is being deforested at an alarming rate. We have always put out containers for the birds to drink from (usually a plastic container cut in half!), but last year you may remember Lamin decided to build a larger pool next to the forest edge to encourage some of the shyer birds. This was a great success, so this year he thought it was time to build a concrete one instead.
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.
At Balaba Nature Camp we have worked hard to keep the environment as natural as possible. When Lamin first came to live here nearly 20 years ago he lived here alone, with no near neighbours, in unspoilt forest. Monkeys, deer and hyenas were regular visitors, and people thought he was ‘crazy’ for wanting to live here! He has managed the trees very carefully here, ensuring that they are felled when necessary, and planting fruit trees such as bananas, oranges and other citrus fruits, and straight malinas which are great for use as timber. But he has kept the trees, and the whole compound is a beautifully shaded haven.
This blog post is especially for my lovely granddaughter Alyssa, because I know her mum reads all the blog entries to her, but if you are very good, I’m sure she won’t mind if you read it too!
THE STORY OF THE LITTLE WHITE-FACED OWL
This is a true story, that happened in The Gambia in April 2012. In The Gambia, the toilets are different from the toilets in the UK – they don’t have water in them, but people dig a huge pit instead, so that everything can turn back to soil again. You might wonder what a toilet pit has to do with a story about a little White-Faced Owl, but if you read on you will find out. Lots of visitors are interested on how the toilets work in The Gambia, so Lamin dug a special pit so that they could see what it looks like.
One day Numo (Lamin’s brother), came and told us that a little White-Faced Owl was in this big pit behind one of the huts. We went to look, and sure enough, sitting in the corner was a very small owl, who wasn’t looking at all happy. He glared hard at us and hissed very crossly. We thought that he may need a rest before flying away, but the next day he was still there, so we thought we had better rescue him.