Ghana - August 2010
Ghana: 24 August – 5 September 2010
In August/September 2010, I took a birding trip with Ashanti African Tours to Ghana dedicating most of the time to rainforest birding. We got an impressive quality bird tally including many sought after secretive species (including the remarkable and very rare Yellow-headed Picathartes). Some of them together with other animals I captured with my camera. Please check my photo's under Ghana.
In total, I spent 14 days birding in the southern part of Ghana. The first 5 days I was on my own without a guide showing me the birding hot spots. I basically spent my time around my accommodation (Aplaku Guesthouse) in Aplaku (an hour west of Accra) trying to see as much birds as possible. In these first days I also took a boat trip around the Densu Delta (see the map below) and I spent one day at the Shai Hills Reserve (an hour north of Accra).
My actual 9 day Upper Guinea Rainforest Tour started the 6th day, on 28 August 2010. The tour was organized by Ashanti African Tours and besides myself the only participant was Joshua Murphy, a keen birder from Chicago, USA and the only birder that I know who goes after birds smoking a quality Corona cigar (even in the early morning!). We had two wonderful local bird guides: William Apraku (see header photo) and James Ntakor. Both of them were extremely knowledgeable, pleasant and spoke English very well. And, very important when you bird the rainforests, they were very patient and admirably persistent!!
We visited the following areas:
· Winniba Plains
· Winniba Lagoon
· Lily Pond at Mankesim
· Kakum NP (accom: Rainforest Lodge in Cape Coast)
· Ebekawopa (near Kakum National Park)
· Ankasa (accommodation: Hotel Grace in Half Assini)
· Brenu Plains (East of Cape Coast)
· Aboabo (Northern part of Kakum National Park)
· Bunkro (Picathartes site, north of Kakum National Park)
· Bobiri National Park (Butterfly Sanctuary)
· Atewa Farm Bush
· Atewa Forest
My Ghana trip tally amounted to 257 species including 157 lifers and many of the endemics, including the enigmatic Yellow-headed Picathartes (or ‘rockfowl').
This report summarizes especially the less common birds I saw throughout the trip. My complete bird tally is listed at the end of this report.
A summary of the various places I visited, in chronological order:
The Aplaku Guesthouse where I stayed at is situated an hour´s drive west of Accra at a hill slope some 1-2 kilometer from the sea. Looking down from the veranda, you have a nice albeit distant view over the sea.
Its immediate surroundings is dry hill country which is currently being developed with brick houses making the area increasingly look like a construction site. Despite of the construction going on, I had several walks through the hills and saw quite a few interesting birds: Ethiopian Swallow, Pin-tailed Whydah, African Grey Hornbill, African Palm Swift, Rufous-chested Swallow, Little Swift, Black-necked and Village Weaver, Singing and Croaking Cisticola, one very elusive Didric Cuckoo, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Purple Glossy Starling and one Shikra, nicely perched on a house antenna .
The Aplaku Guesthouse's garden proved also to be a nice heaven for birds: Grey-headed Sparrow, Laughing Dove, Common Bulbul, Northern Red Bishop, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, Black-rumped Waxbill, Black-crowned Tchagra with its distinctive call, Copper Sunbirds working the flowers, Bronze Manakins nesting under the roof, Yellow-fronted Canary, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Wilson's Indigobird and Senegal Coucal. Common Kestrels were flying constantly to and from their nest in the roof of one of the unfinished buildings. An occasional Hooded Vulture roamed by .
Down towards the seaside, I discovered a rewarding freshwater marsh where I found some herons such as Great Egret, Grey Heron, Western Reef Egret and Black-crowned Night-heron. In the marsh, some waders like Whimbrel, Black-winged Stilt, Common and Wood Sandpiper and Spur-winged Lapwing were present and Pied Kingfishers were everywhere. In the marsh more to the West, where farmers try to cultivate the land, I found three Collared Pratincoles, two Senegal Thicknees and a couple of Yellow-throated Longclaws relaxing on the ground. One Greenshank was feeding here also and a Black-shouldered Kite showed up only to disappear as quickly as it came .
The Densu Delta wetland lies about 11km west of Accra in the river valley between the Aplaku-Takuse and Weija McCarthy hills. It comprises an open lagoon, saltpans, freshwater marsh and scrub and sand-dunes. The lagoon is separated from the sea by a large sand dike where fishermen work all day pulling their boats from and on to the beach while singing loudly .
The Dutch owner of my guest house was so nice to organize a 2 hour boat trip through the lagoon with some local fishermen. I guess you would not organize such a trip on your own but having the Dutch lady with us who personally knew the fishermen made it all feel very safe and secure. The boat trip was really excellent and provided a nice view on the lagoon and all the fishermen working there. Whimbrel were abundant and Sandwich and Little Terns flew everywhere making loud calls around the boat. Best birds were the Black Herons, some of them performing their umbrella position way of fishing, and one Malachite Kingfisher that nicely perched on a twig along the water.
Shai Hills Reserve
One morning, I went to Shai Hills Reserve, just one hour north of Accra, a dry savanna with trees, bushes and rocky hills. It is only 52 square km. There are two entrances to the park. The price for the tickets was relatively expensive. I hired a guide who seemed to be the only guide around: Emmanuel. At the entrance of the park I immediately found a group of Olive Baboons which hanged around quite opportunistically waiting for any food items coming from the visitors pockets.
The common species seen here include Red-eyed Dove, Grey-backed Camaroptera and Copper and Splendid Sunbirds. The grassy land hold a small group of Uganda Kob Antilope which we manage to locate.
Emmanuel showed me a group of palm trees where hundreds of Tomb (Vampire) Bats were hanging. As soon as we got to close, they all flew out in a big moving dark cloud and we got a good idea of how big these bats are.
Shai Hills turned out to be a place where I saw an array of birds that I would not see later on the trip. These were: a perched Lizard Buzzard; a group of Stone Partridge; Yellow-billed Shrike, Vinaceous Doves; Senegal Parrots; one White-crowned Cliff Chat (one of the main target birds here and now considered a separate species from the Mocking Cliff Chat) that we found immediately as soon as we approached the rocks; Northern Black Flycatcher; Senegal Eremomela; Brown Babbler; White-shouldered Black Tit; Short-toed Snake-Eagle; Osprey and one of the specialty birds of Shai Hills: the Blue-bellied Roller.
This was basically the place where our organized bird trip with African Ashanti Tours started. Winniba Plains, a mixed bush and grass savannah less than an hour's drive west of Accra. We walked around for a while and found Double-spurred Francolin, the stunning Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Compact Weaver, many Black-winged Bishops, Double-toothed Barbet, Levaillant's Cuckoo, Black-billed Wood-dove and a surprising Tropical Boubou. Some Flappet Larks were performing their strange display flights.
Around 1:00 pm we had lunch at the Village of Winniba where we saw an African Hobby flying over the restaurant. Next to the restaurant we found a Red-faced Cisticola.
After lunch, we went to Winniba Lagoon, at the coast just west of the town of Winniba and the Winniba Plains, where a lot of waders roost. Our van driven by our friendly driver Kawawa brought us into a group of houses along the shore until it couldn't get any further through the sand. The local people just looked at us as if we were from Mars. A little uncomfortable, we took out our binoculars and scope but it was only after a few minutes that the local kids very curiously joined us in admiring the birds through our equipment. They were so surprised to look through the binoculars to learn that the birds were suddenly very close!
The lagoon was full of Greenshank, Redshank and Sanderling. In addition, we found Royal Tern, Grey and Ringed plover and one Striated Heron. In the middle of the lagoon, we found surprisingly one American Golden Plover.
Lily Pond at Mankesim
1,5 hours later on our way to Cape Coast, we stopped at Lily Pond, a small lake along the road between Winniba and Cape Coast. At first it looked really calm here, but after 10 minutes, suddenly we found a White-faced Whistling Duck swimming in the middle of the pond and a Black Crake and African Jacana walking on the sides. In the adjacent reeds we found Yellow-crowned Bishops, Black-and-White Mannikins, Splendid Glossy Starlings and Green-headed Sunbirds. Our first African Pied Hornbill flew over.
Kakum National Park
In the evening of 29 August, we arrived at our accommodation near Kakum National Park, the recently built Rainforest Lodge, which was very comfortable albeit that the supply of electricity had some occasional start-up failures and the staff was still trying to get used to their new jobs in the lodge. Probably one of the best accommodations in the region for the near future, as soon as staff and the lodge manager have proved to work together efficiently.
Although the Kakum National Park was created in 1932, it wasn't officially opened to the public until 1994. Covering an area of 347 square kilometers, it is a mixture of semi-deciduous and semi-evergreen rain forest although this has been ‘selectively' logged in the recent past and anyone expecting pristine forest would be sadly disappointed. The park is perhaps most famous for it being the site of Africa's first and only rain forest Canopy Walkway. Constructed in 1995 it is comprised of about 350 meters of bridges suspended between six tree platforms that reach a height of up to 40 meters above the forest floor. On the platforms there is space for 4-5 birdwatchers with telescopes.
The Canopy Walkway is not for those with a poor head for heights. It provides a unique opportunity to see the birds actually in the forest canopy and the platforms around each tree are very sturdy, offering good support for a scope.
After taking shelter because of the rain, we finally went across the first stretch which is about 25m long and settled onto the platform. At first it was rather quiet because of the rain and it seemed that nothing was moving and then some calls alerted us to the presence of some nearby activity and it proved to be the comings and goings of various sunbirds: Blue-throated Brown Sunbird, Superb Sunbird, Green Sunbird and one of the main target birds: Buff-throated Sunbird.
We also saw a confusing array of Greenbuls with Slender-billed Greenbul and the bright Golden Greenbul being relatively common as well as Plain Greenbul, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, White-throated Greenbul, Honeyguide Greenbul, Swamp Palm Greenbul, Simple Greenbul and Spotted Greenbul, showing its characteristic wing flashing display. This was just the beginning of the acquaintance of the typical African Rainforest bird family of Greenbulls! Without the proper study, they all look alike!!
We managed to see all kinds of Upper Guinea endemics such as the Little Green Woodpecker. The spreading canopies allowed Western Black-headed Oriole, Black-winged Oriole, Grey-headed and White-breasted Negrofinch, Red-headed and Red-vented Malimbe and Fire-bellied Woodpecker to work their way through the foliage above our heads.
From the second platform the moss and epiphyte covered branches of the larger trees attracted both Forest and White-headed Wood-hoopoes and we had a great scope view of another main target bird: Black Bee-eater returning each time back on a tiny branch from its insect hunt.
Back on the ground, we found Cassin's Spinetail roaming the air and African Green Pigeon hiding in a tree top. We also tracked down White-tailed Alethe and Grey Parrot.
The late afternoon on the Canopy Walkway produced some other species. There were
Brown-cheeked Hornbill and the enormous and prehistoric-looking Black-casqued Hornbill present. After a thorough rainforest floor search, we finally found the Blue-headed Wood-dove (that somehow more than once managed to remain hidden for Joshua who turned out to spent quite some time within the next few days to finally add this species to his list). In addition, we had good views on Sharpe's Apalis, Tiny Sunbird, Black-collared Lovebirds flying over and a quick moving Chestnut-capped Flycatcher.
Our attempt to attract Fraser's Eagle Owl on one evening around 6:30 pm was unfortunately not successful. Maybe also due to the rainy weather that day.
Ebekawopa (near Kakum National Park)
The morning of 31 August was spent at this part of Kakum NP. This area is less dense rainforest and much easier to bird. We saw the incredible tiny Tit-Hylia here, a species that is claimed to being Africa's smallest bird.
The weather was finally clearing up producing a sudden number of around 30 new species, including Green Crombec, Grey Longbill, Red-bellied Paradise-Flycatcher, African Goshawk, Red-thighed Sparrow-hawk perched on a tall dead tree, Western Nicator, Yellow White-eye, Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Johanna's Sunbird, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Yellow-billed Barbet, the stunning Crested Malimbe, Western Blue-bill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill and a whole lot of Greenbulls, including Slender-billed, Yellow-whiskered, Little Grey and Icterine Greenbull.
Our next destination was Ankasa National Park, close to the border of Cote d`Ivoire. It is a large rainforest, 504 square km. Ankasa is a fabulous area for wildlife in general and birdlife in particular with some enormous trees and splendid vegetation. It is an area of wet evergreen forest that between the years 1960 to 1974 only suffered relatively light logging.
The main target birds here are Dwarf Bittern, White-breasted Guineafowl, Little Green Woodpecker, Hartlaub's Duck and African Finfoot. Only the first two we didn't see. The other three were all lifers.
On the left from the bridge at the entrance down at the river, during our three visits, we always found a Cassin's Flycatcher perched on a branch over the water.
A long sandy road leads into the park. Because it had been raining, we had some difficulties driving the road. Quickly after entering the park, we found the road blocked by a fallen tree. We decided to further walk the road and bird alongside it while our driver Kawawa would chop the tree to clear the road.
We found quite some good birds next to the road: Black-bellied Seedcracker, the park´s specialty: Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Yellow-bearded Greenbul (which proved easy to see here), Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch, Pale-breasted Illadopsis, Great Blue Turaco, Blue Cuckoo-Shrike, Fraser´s Forest Flycatcher, Usher´s Flycatcher and Ashy Flycatcher.
Around 8:00 am our driver picked us up again to drive further into the park. An hour later we reached Nkwanta Camp, the park´s headquarters about 8 km inside the park, where we ate our carried lunch from the hotel.
Along the main service road a little further through the reserve, there are a number of pools of varying size that might offer decent prospects. At the first pool we immediately saw two Hartlaub's Duck's flying away, a magnificent Shining Blue Kingfisher and a Blue-breasted Kingfisher. After some further investigation, I found a Blue-billed Malimbe hidden in the bush.
At the second pool, we found one Square-tailed Saw-wing flying against the blue sky. Moving along to the third pool, James and I caught sight of an African Finfoot but it slipped away instantly before Joshua and William could get a glimpse. At this pool we saw the two Hartlaub's Duck's again, this time sitting in a distant tree.
Scanning the canopies regularly is tiring and walking the trails is strenuous at times but the prospects of that next bird kept us going. We were fortunate, I believe, in being such a small group as I would imagine that large groups will find it difficult for everyone to connect with some quite elusive species.
In the late afternoon, when we drove back towards the entrance of the park, a group of three stunning Crested Guineafowl came out on the road, and were admired at a fairly close range.
Our attempt to attract Akun Eagle Owl around 6:30 pm only produced the distant call of an African Wood Owl.
The next morning, on 2 September, we revisited Ankasa NP again and chased some very hard to find birds through the dense forest. However, it was all worth it. Even the ants who especially got to Joshua resulting in a full striptease while I could only burst into tears from laughing, could not spoil that morning. The highlights were: Tambourine Dove, Rufous-winged Illadopsis, Black Cuckoo, Yellowbill, Frasier´s Sunbird, Brown-eared Woodpecker, Finch Flycatcher-Thrush, Blue Flycatcher and Rufous-sided Broadbill.
A little east of Cape Coast we visited an area with coastal savanna and a small river. I found this place very nice and quite relaxing after some days of intensive and difficult rainforest birding.
The place is famous for Preuss Swallows, that go to roost under a very small bridge. Just before sunset the swallows get together in a huge flock, before they dive fast to the roosting bridge.
In the area we also saw Western Grey Plantain-eater, Flapped Lark, Red-winged Warbler, two quite secretive Snowy-crowned Robin-chats, Piping Hornbill, Little Bee-eater, Blue-headed Coucal, Fanti-Sawwing and a lot of Veillot's Black Weaver nests.
Aboabo (North-Eastern part of Kakum National Park)
We only birded this area for a few hours in the morning of 3 September.
The forest here is open, as it has been logged in the past but still holds some big trees. I have to say that I really liked the place. The park has a quiet forest track winding through a disturbed, but supposedly good birding forest.
In spite of its good reputation, we did not find a lot of exciting birds. We found: Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Pygmy Kingfisher, Little Greenbul, Red-billed Helmet-Shrike, Speckled Tinkerbird, Little Green Sunbird and after some patience with our sound tape: Kemp´s Longbill!
We heard (that is …. William did) White-spotted Flufftail and Black Dwarf Hornbill but we never got to see them, although James tried very hard with his sound tapes!
Bunkro Village (Picathartes site, just north of Kakum National Park)
From Aboabo, it took us a two hour drive to reach the remote Bunkro Village, close to Edubease, that “guards” this Picathartes site and met up with the guides that were to lead us to the rocks where the Yellow-headed Picathartes nest. After a gently uphill hike of an hour and only the last five minutes being a climb up the steep slope, we reached the rocks where the nests were situated. In the roof of two big, overhanging rocks on a hillside we counted approximately 15 mud nests attached to the rocks, similar to those of house martins but very much bigger. This particular site is very well monitored and protected. Naturally it is necessary to be as unobtrusive as possible with the birds, which are notoriously cautious of humans, which was why we arrived when we did at around 2:00 pm. We settled ourselves down on the rocks and awaited the birds' appearance.
The first signs that we had were at 4:30 pm when James detected some movement in the forest but neither of us could see anything. We were sitting there for more than 3 hours and I had become disappointed because taking photos was no option anymore because of the incoming darkness. The three locals who had guided us to this place were even sound to sleep on the rocks behind us.
But then at 5:31 pm, just before we decided to leave, as if from nowhere, a single bird appeared from the rocks and landed on a branch opposite from us, with Joshua and me gaining the first view. As we turned towards it, the bird clearly detected our presence and quietly but fairly quickly hopped across onto another branch and disappeared. Joshua and I could tell that our guides William and James were relieved that we did not have to leave this place without seeing the number one target bird of Ghana!
So that was it – 2 hours driving, one hour gentle hiking and 3,5 hours sitting on a rock for a five second sighting of this enigmatic species. Was it worth it you may ask, just to see Yellow-headed Picathartes? Of course it was! When might we get the opportunity to see such bird again in our lifetimes?
Bobiri National Park
Early morning on 4 September 2010, we drove to Bobiri Forest, one hour's drive south of Kumasi (where we stayed the night before in Hotel Champion International) which is a small, rather dry rainforest with over 400 different species of butterflies and a lot of birds. The forest is actually a Butterfly Sanctuary. It has not been heavily logged, but the surrounding area is still logged.
This reserve is a very pleasant place to spend a number of hours of steady birding and we were rewarded with a couple of new species such as Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill (one of the main target birds here), Red-tailed Greenbul, Little Grey Flycatcher and Dusky Tit. A beautiful Grey Kestrel perched on a branch allowed us to have a good look at it.
Atewa Farm Bush
Atewa is a group of hills about 2 hours drive north-west of Accra and a 3 hours drive from Kumasi. Atewa has basically two birding sites: the Atewa Farm Bush and the Atewa Forest.
The Atewa Farm Bush is at the foot of the Atewa Forest which is on a mountain range.
The Atewa Farm Bush is a mixture of farmland and uncultivated land and was very productive even at the time when we arrived (4:00 pm) producing: White-spotted Flufftail after some hilarious sound tracking by James; Red-headed Quelia; Blue-headed Coucals skulking in shrubs; some Grosbeak Weavers, a Black Sparrow Hawk, a Black-and-White Flycatcher, male and female Northern Puffbacks, a couple of Marsh Tchagra's, one Buff-spotted Woodpecker and our one and only flying Palm-nut Vulture.
Atewa Mountain Forest Reserve
In the early morning of 5 September 2010, we drove to this mountain range which is situated in Kibi District and is covered with logged forest for which we needed the gate to be unlocked. We collected the key holder in Mid Tafo and climbed into his 4x4 and made our way into the reserve via a very rough logging track suitable only for a 4x4 and even then with some difficulty.
The first hour proved to be a fairly frustrating morning with many birds being very elusive because of the rainy and foggy weather conditions. And I have to say, my stomach condition that day did not add to the atmosphere either (!).
The birding here is anyway difficult as it involves following fairly obscure tracks within the forest and a fair bit of canopy scanning, but what it might lack in frequency of sightings it makes up for in their quality and the overwhelming nature of the forest itself. It is home to some quite stupendous trees of enormous height like African Redwoods, amongst others. Some time was spent in pursuing individual species which could be heard (Red-chested Cuckoo!) and we were rewarded after much pursuit with very good views of White-tailed Ant-thrush which was catching ants on the road in front of us.
Finally, the sun appeared and we managed to see some great birds! Other new and notable birds were: 2 wonderful Blue-headed Bee-eaters sunning themselves on a branch, a specialty of this range and the only place in Ghana to see them; Green Twinspot, Grey-headed and Red-tailed Bristlebills, Olive-green Camaroptera.
Having looked out for snakes during the whole trip, I was finally rewarded with a beautiful 50 cm long Thirteen-scaled Green Snake (Philothamnus carinatus) who crossed the road. After having it chased for a while, I was able to calm it down so we could have a close look at it. The great pictures leave a wonderful memory of it!
However, the main prize of the morning had to be the two dazzling little Red-cheeked Wattle-eyes which shot back and forth like a speeding bullet which turned out to be also a lifer for James.
I look back on this trip with a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction; until then I was unsure what Ghana as a country would have to offer and was both surprised and delighted by how much I enjoyed being in the country. I would highly recommend Ghana as a birding destination for the more adventurous birder. And I would highly recommend Ashanti African Tours as the tour organization for your Ghana Upper Guinea Rainforest Bird Tour.
I was very happy with my eventual bird tally (257) and, in particular the quality of the sightings and the number of endemics and lifers (157) that I have seen.
Bird List for Ghana – 24 August – 5 September 2010
White-faced Whistling Duck
Black-crowned Night Heron
Western Reef Egret
Long-tailed Cormorant/Reed Cormorant
Congo Serpent Eagle
Red-chested (or African) Goshawk
American Golden Plover
Grey Plover/Black-bellied Plover
Common Ringed Plover
Red-eyed Turtle Dove
Black-billed Wood Dove
Blue-spotted Wood Dove
Blue-headed Wood Dove
African Green Pigeon
Great Blue Turaco
Western Grey Plantain-eater
Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo
African Emerald Cuckoo
Sabine's Spinetailed Swift
Cassin's Spinetailed Swift
African Palm Swift
African Pygmy Kingfisher
Forest Wood Hoopoe
White-headed Wood Hoopoe
African Pied Hornbill
African Grey Hornbill
Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill
Long-tailed (or White-crested) Hornbill
Little Green Woodpecker
Brown-throated (or Common) Wattle-eye
Red-billed (Chestnut-bellied) Helmet-shrike
Orange- (or Sulphur-)breasted Bush Shrike
Yellow-crowned (Common) Gonolek
Western Black-headed Oriole
White-shouldered Black Tit
White-throated Blue Swallow
Lesser Striped Swallow
Preuss's Cliff Swallow
Red-winged Prinia (Warbler)
|Simple Greenbul (Leaflove)
Swamp Palm Bulbul
Common (or Red-tailed) Bristlebill
Western Bearded Greenbul
African Yellow White-eye
Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling
Splendid Glossy Starling
Purple Glossy Starling
White-tailed Ant Thrush
Fraser's Forest Flycatcher
Northern Black Flycatcher
Little Grey Flycatcher
Little Green Sunbird
Blue-throated Brown Sunbird
Northern Grey-headed Sparrow
Vieillot's Black Weaver
Northern Red Bishop
African Pied Wagtail