I'm sorry I wasn't there to collect the competition entries at the last meeting. Well, actually, I'm not really sorry, because I was on a two-week bird photography tour in The Gambia. It was my first time in Africa and quite an eye-opening experience. Creature comforts were not up to European standards (to put it mildly), but this was more than compensated for by other things. The people are incredibly friendly: it's the first time I've been waved at by soldiers (sailors, maybe, yes!) or had a passport official saying she wanted to be my friend. The friendliness makes you feel humble when you see the remaining walls of a fort at one place where men, women and children were herded underground before being shipped off as slaves.
The other great compensation, of course, was the reason for the trip, the birds. The Gambia is famous in the bird-watching world and some 500 species have been recorded there. The keen birders in our group were able to tick off nearly a half of those in our two weeks. I've included pictures of some of the assorted varieties of kingfishers, but there are also several kinds of colourful bee-eaters, rollers, sunbirds, flycatchers and more: even the starlings are a brilliant glossy blue. Then there are all kinds of storks, egrets, herons, ibises and waders, plus a variety of eagles, kites, hawks, vultures and other raptors. My only regret is that I didn't manage to get more of them in focus and that I'm rapidly getting past the stage when I can steadily hand hold a 500mm lens pointing up in the sky. Still, I did manage to get enough good shots to be happy.
I'm afraid that I'll also be away for the competition night itself, as we'll be visiting our daughter and family currently living in Jerusalem. Apart from the usual tourist sights, we're also going to a place where there are thousands of overwintering cranes. Yet more birds! I know, life's just one long rush.
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