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Ghana - rainforest and savanna birds - 17 November - 7 December 2009

Published by Stephen Blaber (steve.blaber AT csiro.au)

Participants: Steve Blaber, Tessa Blaber, Kalu Afasi

Introduction

Although we have lived and worked in Africa and are very familiar with the birds of south, central and east Africa, this was our first experience of birding in west Africa. The main objective was to see as many as possible of the endemics. After reading a number of trip reports and following the advice of Phil Edwards, we were fortunate enough to secure the help of Kalu Afasi (kamalu2000gh@yahoo.com) to arrange the logistics of our trip and to act as a local guide. Kalu’s local knowledge of the birds and particularly their calls is second to none, and we would not have done nearly so well without his help.

Logistics

We flew into and out of Accra on the daily BA flight from London. Kalu had hired a large, old (but comfortable) BMW for our trip ($70 per day) together with a reliable driver (Paul – recommended by Phil Edwards). The car was adequate for all the places we visited and stood up to the often bad roads, with just the occasional puncture. We did no pre-payments (except for a small deposit on the car) and paid for everything in cash as we went, although Kalu had booked accommodation at Mole National Park. We paid the total cost of the car hire on arrival. We took US$ with us and were able to exchange them at various foreign exchange dealers in different parts of the country. (1US$ = approximately 1.4 Ghanaian Cedis) and avoided using credit cards, although they can be used at Kakum and at Mole, due to the risk of scamming. We used a variety of hotels and lodges, all of them very reasonably priced. The most expensive, at Kakum and Mole, were about US$50 per day. Our total costs were about 1000 cedis for accommodation and 1000 cedis for food (both amounts including Kalu and Paul) and we spent about 550 cedis on petrol. The variety of Park and Wildlife fees came to about 400 cedis. We found Ghana to be a very friendly and safe place and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

Itinerary – main sites visited each day and accommodations

17 November – Arrived in Accra 1930 hrs. DeMod Hotel
18 November – Winneba Plains, plantation area north of Kakum, Hans Cottage Botel
19 November – Kakum NP – Hans Cottage Botel
20 November – Kakum NP, Brenu area, Hans Cottage Botel
21 November – Antwikwaa, Bonkra, Babevan Lodge Assin Fossu
22 November – Aboabo forest, Babevan Lodge Assin Fossu
23 November – Aboabo forest, Nurom Hotel Kumasi
24 November – Drive Kumasi to Mole NP via Boipu southern route, Mole Lodge
25 November – Mole NP, Mole Lodge
26 November - Mole NP, Mole Lodge
27 November – Drive from Mole to Navrongo (near Burkina Faso border), Tono Dam, Catholic Seminary accommodation, Navrongo
28 November – Tono Dam, Catholic Seminary accommodation, Navrongo
29 November – Drive from Navrongo to Bobiri Forest, Bobiri resthouse
30 November – Bobiri forest, Bobiri resthouse
1 December – Bobiri forest, Bobiri resthouse
2 December – Bobiri forest, Atewa, Alexco Hotel, Asiakwa
3 December – Atewa forest, Alexco Hotel, Asiakwa
4 December – Apapam forest, Bunso Arboretum, Alexco Hotel, Asiakwa
5 December – Drive to Accra, bush around Sakumo Lagoon, Sir Jones Hotel Tema
6 December – Shai Hills Reserve, Sir Jones Hotel Tema
7 December – Sakumo Lagoon area, Depart Accra 2345 hrs for London.

Narrative

18 November – after a restful and comfortable night at the DeMod Hotel on the outskirts of Accra we set off towards Cape Coast, stopping at the rather featureless and quiet Winneba Plains. Here we birded for most of the morning, with the following new birds: Simple Leaflove, Western Grey Plantaineater, Splendid Glossy Starling, Yellow-billed Shrike, Vinaceous Dove, Brown Babbler, Senegal Eremomela and Green Turaco. Other notables included Zebra Waxbill, Mosque Swallow, African Hobby and African Hawk Eagle. We arrived at Hans Cottage Botel on the Kakum road in time for a late lunch. Orange Weavers around the lake in the grounds were new for us. In the late afternoon we explored an area adjacent to the rainforest edge of Kakum National Park where Kalu had previously found Ahanta Francolin. No luck with the francolins, but lots of other new ones, including Dusky Blue Flycatcher, Olive-bellied Sunbird, Swamp Palm Bulbul, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Gabon Woodpecker, Speckled Tinkerbird, Cassin’s Spinetail, Preuss’s Swallow, Piping Hornbill, Blue-throated Brown Sunbird, Velver mantled Drongo and Buff-throated Sunbird.

19 November – we arrived at Kakum National Park at about 6 am in order to be able to use the Canopy Walkway before it is opened to the public at 9 am; incredibly heavily used and noisy. It is open to birders during this time for a special fee. Kakum was our first experience of the charges levied by the Wildlife Department, which are somewhat variable, usually rather high and specifically target birdwatchers, and local knowledge is definitely required. Fortunately Kalu is very experienced in dealing with the different levels of officialdom and obtaining the right permit! Having got permission we spent three very good hours on the Canopy Walkway. The walkway links a series of platforms built around large forest trees at a height ideal for birding the canopy. The species new to us were: Bristle-nosed Barbet, Brown-cheeked Hornbill, Dwarf Black Hornbill, White-crested Hornbill, Yellow-billed Turaco, Spotted Greenbul, White-headed Wood-Hoopoe, Long-tailed Hawk, Forest Chestnut-winged Starling, Blue Cuckoo Shrike, Ussher’s Flycatcher, Tit Hylia, Black Casqued Hornbill, Finsch’s Flycatcher Thrush, Bates’s Sunbird, Sharpe’s Apalis, Black-winged Oriole, Naked-faced Barbet and Tiny Sunbird. This was one of the few places we saw any other wildlife, other than in the pot, and both Mona and Spot-nosed monkey were seen from the walkway.

Later in the afternoon we returned to Kakum to explore the interior and found Black Bee-eater on the edge, Sabine’s Spinetail overflying, and Yellow-bearded Greenbul, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul and Icterine Greenbul in the mid- and understorey.

20 November – Arrived at Kakum NP at about 6 am and spent about four hours birding the forest interior. Our targets were Rufous-sided Broadbill and Forest Robin. Several of the former were calling, but it took a while to finally locate one, but having done so we were rewarded with good views of its display. The Forest Robin was hard to find and it was only near the end of the morning that a pair responded positively to the tape and gave us good views. Other notables seen were White-tailed Ant-Thrush, White-tailed Alethe, Western Nicator, Red-tailed Greenbul, Blue-billed Malimbe and Green Hylia.

Later in the afternoon we drove to some wetlands and scrub vegetation around the Brenu river on the other side of Cape Coast. Red-faced, Singing and Black-necked Cisticolas were seen together with Splendid and Coppery Sunbirds. Other notables were Red-throated Pipit, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Red-chested Buzzard and Double-spurred Francolin.

21 November – the morning was spent at Antwikwaa – an area of mixed cultivation and rainforest remnants, rich in birds. We birded along a track through orchards of oranges, cocoa and cashew interspersed with patches of tall rainforest trees and tall grass. This was a productive place with many new species for us: Green and Lemon-bellied Crombecs, Western Bluebill, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Fraser’s Sunbird, Yellow-browed Cameroptera, Blue-throated Roller, Superb Sunbird, Red-vented Malimbe, Preuss’s Golden Weaver, Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch and Violet-backed Hyliota. As we were walking back to the car an Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo flew across giving us excellent views. Black Bee-eaters were present as well as the ubiquitous White-throated Bee-eater.

In the late afternoon we drove to Bonkra in order to climb the hill to one of the famed Yellow-headed Picathartes sites. This site is jealously guarded by the local people following the efforts of the Ghana Wildlife Society campaign to protect the Picathartes nesting sites and to promote their value as a money-earner from visiting birders. After securing a guide at the village we walked for an hour up a hill through dense forest, eventually clambering to the summit below which is a series of caves and an overhang which has about a dozen Picathartes nests. We reached there about 5.15 pm and settled down in semi-concealment to await the arrival of the birds coming in to roost. After about 30 minutes we were rewarded with great views of several birds. We could not stay too long as it was necessary to start back by 6 pm in order to avoid having to climb down the hill through the forest in the dark. In fact it was almost dark when we reached the edge of the forest at the bottom.

22 November – Both morning and afternoon were spent along the main track in the Aboabo part of Kakum NP. We had previously purchased permits for this area at the main entrance to Kakum. The highlights were Grey Longbill, African Dwarf Kingfisher, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Copper-tailed Starling, Fire-bellied Woodpecker, Grey-throated Flycatcher, Fraser’s Forest Flycatcher and Crested Malimbe.

23 November – An early morning return to Aboabo gave us Fanti Saw-wing, Red-billed Helmet-Shrike, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher and Forest Wood-Hoopoe. Grey-headed Bristlebill was finally seen after much frustration – a very hard bird to see well!

After an early lunch at the hotel we set off for Kumasi where we stayed the night after some money-changing and shopping. Kumasi is a very large, busy and crowded city and it is the seat of the traditional ruler – the Ashanti king.

24 November – Left Kumasi before first light for the long drive to Mole NP. Turned left off the main north road at Boipu and wended our way on rough tracks through savanna bush. The state of the road and slow driving made birding relatively easy and we picked up Grasshopper Buzzard, Pygmy Sunbird, Bush Petronia, Wilson’s Indigobird, White-crested Helmet-Shrike, Redwing Warbler and Red-throated Bee-eater before reaching the park.

Mole Lodge is on an escarpment overlooking a series of waterholes and savanna with good views of a variety of water birds as well as herds of Kob, a few Waterbuck and the odd elephant. There are apparently no predators in the park which makes walking safe. Baboons and Warthogs are relatively tame around the accommodation. We birded the area around the lodge late in the afternoon and found several new ones: Lavender Waxbill, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver and quite a number of Stone Partridges. At dusk we drove out of the park to the airstrip just down the road where Kalu has previously found a number of owls and nightjars. Driving slowly down the long tar airstrip we found several Northern White-faced Owls and an African Scops Owl. Several nightjars took off but eluded us.

25 November – We walked the area below the escarpment from 6.30 to 12.30 in the company of a ranger who kept a low profile and was there to comply with regulations. An excellent area for birds and new ones we picked up were Long-tailed Glossy Starling, Senegal Parrot, Black-billed Wood Dove, Purple Glossy Starling, Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Bearded Barbet, Red-shouldered Cuckoo Shrike, Black Scimitarbill, Shining Blue Kingfisher, Gambaga Flycatcher, White-shouldered Black Tit, Black-bellied and Black-faced Firefinches. Returning after 3.30 pm we found Senegal Thick-knee and Yellow Penduline Tit.

After dark we visited the airstrip again and had excellent close views of Long-tailed and Standard-winged Nightjars.

26 November – the morning was spent in the Magnori part of the NP. We explored along the river, the riparian forest and adjacent wetland and bush and found Violet Turaco, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Exclamatory Paradise Whydah, Northern Puffback and Black-capped Babbler. Along the road we found Brown Sunbird, and Stone Partridges were common.

In the late afternoon we returned to the bush below the lodge and had good views of Oriole Warbler and an overflight of Bruce’s Green Pigeon.

27 November – left Mole NP early for the long drive north and filled up with petrol in Damongo. The road to the junction with the main northern highway was very rough and our back bumper parted company with the car. After tying it on with string, we headed for the junction, where thankfully there was a tyre place as we badly needed air! With tyres fully inflated we headed on a good road for Tamale, the main town in the north. Here we had a late breakfast and made use of the internet at the 3 star Gariba hotel, while Paul the driver and Kalu took the back bumper to be repaired. After another long drive, with the vegetation gradually becoming sparser and drier, and the area less populated, and passing through Bolgatanga, we arrived in Navrongo, the closest town to the Tono Dam and only about 10 km from the border. After some discussions, we arranged excellent accommodation at the Catholic Seminary – quiet, clean and with secure, gated grounds. Following local recommendations we ate good meals at the Maygar Hotel on the side of town towards the Tono Dam. The hotel would be a good alternative for those preferring air conditioned accommodation, but more expensive and not as quiet an area.

In the late afternoon we visited the dam, specifically the bush and cultivation around the dam, but saw little as the grassland was being burned off providing a dramatic blend of fire and smoke and large numbers of kites.

28 November – Spent the morning and late afternoon in the bushland around Tono Dam. Our main targets were Chestnut-bellied Starling, which we found quite easily, and Sun Lark, which took a bit more effort. Other new species seen here were Vieillot’s Barbet and White-crowned Robin Chat. Other notables were Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Greater Honeyguide, Namaqua Dove, Spotted Thick-Knee, Bearded Barbet and Dark Chanting Goshawk.

29 November – All day drive from Navrongo to Bobiri Forest, stopping once to locate Western Olivaceous Warbler and again at Tamale to collect the repaired bumper and to have breakfast at the Gariba hotel. Drove through Kumasi and continued on for about 20 minutes to arrive at Bobiri Forest Resthouse just on dark, but in time for an excellent dinner on the verandah of the original building, now used as a library and sitting room.

30 November and 1 December – two full days birding the Bobiri Forest. We walked the main logging road as well as some of the trails leading out from the resthouse. The clearing just down the road from the resthouse was very productive and new species for us were Afep Pigeon, Johanna’s Sunbird, Black-throated Coucal and Chestnut-capped Flycatcher. Further along the logging road we found African Piculet, Pale-breasted Illadopsis, Sabine’s Puffback, Green Sunbird, Blue-headed Wood Dove and Golden Greenbul. On trails in the forest we finally caught up with Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill after hearing them calling and getting them to respond to playback.

2 December – after checking out of the resthouse after an early breakfast we walked the 2.2 km to the gates. Along the way and still in the forest we found two species that had so far eluded us – Kemp’s Longbill and Dusky-crested Flycatcher.

Drove to Asiakwa, on the old highway to Accra, but only about 3 km from the junction with the new highway. Checked into the Alexco Hotel in Asiakwa. No food but good restaurant at Linda Dor on the main highway. In the afternoon we walked up track to the gate to Atewa Forest, but although lots of birds saw nothing noteworthy. Some gunshots and chain saws heard!

3 December – whole day on the Atewa track – walk of about 11 km. The main target was the Blue-headed Bee-eater. At the locked gate (originally installed by mining company) we were lucky to encounter a noisy party of Puvel’s Illadopsis, hard to see, but eventually giving good views. Buoyed by this good start, we set off up the hill, encountering several feeding flocks. One of these gave us Spotted Honeyguide while another contained both Shining Drongo and Yellow-Spotted Barbet. We finally got good views of Black-capped Apalis near the summit. Reaching the summit we stopped for a brief lunch before setting off along the lateral trail to look for the bee-eaters. No sign of the bee-eaters, but we had crippling views of a Chocolate-backed Kingfisher and spent time hunting down a group of Red-tailed Bristlebills. Returning to the summit we finally found a pair of Blue-headed Bee-eaters hawking insects from a perch over the trail. We listed more than 50 forest species from along the Atewa track, so it is a very worthwhile site!

4 December – the morning was spent on the Apapam road. This is a little used tar road that crosses the Atewa range and we walked from the start of the forest to the high point of the road – an easy 3 km walk each way. Early morning was productive with many forest species. The highlights for us were Black-bellied Seedcracker and Forest Penduline Tit.

The late afternoon was spent at the Bunso Arboretum, a facility of the Ghana CSIR located a few km along a turn off adjacent to the Linda Dor complex on the main road. This site probably warranted more time and was full of birds. We had good views of a pair of Black and White Flycatchers, a species that had so far eluded us.

5 December – drove to Accra and checked into Sir Jones Hotel in a quiet residential area of Tema. Spent the afternoon around Sakumo Lagoon exploring the bushland and adjacent golf course. Plenty of birds including lots of Senegal Parrots, Senegal Thick-Knees, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Gabar Goshawk and African Hobby, but no sign of our target species, the Double-toothed Barbet.

6 December – all day at Shai Hills Reserve. A morning walk from the main gate down through the savanna to the wetland area finally got us Senegal Batis and Double-toothed Barbet, but no Blue-bellied Rollers. We spent the heat of the day and had lunch at the nearby Shai Hills Resort until about 3 pm after which we drove to the northern gate of the park. Walking in from the ranger complex our target was Blue-bellied Roller, said to favour burnt over areas with scattered trees, and it was not long before we located several pairs of this magnificent bird. Another notable species in the grasslands here was Flappet Lark. Park entrance fees cost us 80 cedis so the birds did not come cheaply!

7 December – a brief visit to Sakumo Lagoon with no surprises before returning to our hotel to pack for our evening departure.

In summary, Ghana was a relaxing and productive birding destination and we recorded a total of 341 species of which 156 were lifers. Kalu was an outstanding bird guide and trip organiser and Paul, our driver, was always ready for those early starts, good company, and a safe driver. Thank you Kalu and Paul!




By Phil Gregory (sicklebill AT optusnet.com.au) December 28, 2009

An interesting report Stephen, we were there not long after but did not go north to Mole, which I will do next time. Our main quest was the Picathartes, which worked out OK, and whatever we could scrounge of the Upper Guinea endemics.\r\n