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Ghana Trip Report, 27 December 2010 - 3 January 2011

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Dates: 27 December - 3 January 2010 (8 days)

Areas visited: Accra, savanna habitats at the Shai Hills, the wetlands of Sakumono Lagoon, and lowland tropical rainforest at Kakum National Park, Kakum Canopy Walkway, Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary and the Atewa Hills reserve.

Total number of bird species recorded: 279 species (of which 13 heard-only).

Highlight Bird Species
: Yellow-headed Picathartes, Fire-bellied Woodpecker, Little Green Woodpecker, Brown-cheeked Hornbill, Black Bee-eater, Rosy Bee-eater, Blue-headed Bee-eater, Blue Cuckooshrike, Brown Nightjar, Long-tailed Hawk,
African Piculet, Black Dwarf Hornbill, Latham's Forest Francolin, Tessmann's Flycatcher, Copper-tailed Starling, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher.

Highlight mammal species
: The flying squirrel Pel’s Anomalure, the strange and primitive primate, Potto, Lesser Spot-nosed Monkey, Lowe’s Monkey and the very rare Olive Colobus.

Detailed Trip report

The aims of our short, bird-filled, one-week tour of Ghana were to see Yellow-headed Picathartes, one of Africa’s most spectacular and sought-after birds, and to sample the rich forest avifauna of the Upper Guinea Endemic Bird Area. In all respects the tour was a resounding success. Logistics ran very smoothly, accommodation and transport were comfortable, and the birds played along well. We enjoyed sightings of Yellow-headed Picathartes on two consecutive days, with our second visit producing longer and clearer views. Besides this we had the opportunity to bird from the famous Kakum Canopy Walkway, which did not disappoint, and to visit several other sites within easy reach of the country’s capital city, Accra. These included savanna habitats at the Shai Hills, the wetlands of Sakumono Lagoon, and lowland tropical rainforest at Kakum National Park (accessed from Antwikwaa, Aboabo and near the park headquarters), Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary and the Atewa Hills reserve. In more detail, the trip went something like this…

Tour participants arrived in drips and drabs from various parts of the globe, with bad weather in Europe delaying one of our flights for 24 hours. While our spacious, comfortable, air conditioned bus made several trips between the airport and our conveniently-situated hotel, the early arrivals enjoyed a first gentle stroll near the hotel. Yellow-billed Shrike perched on the garden fence, a bright Common/Yellow-crowned Gonolek called from its exposed perch and a male Splendid Sunbird fed on some flowers, getting the trip off to a colourful start. Green Woodhoopoe nested in the roof of our hotel and cackled back and forth between its feeding grounds and complaining chicks.

Our first real birding was enjoyed at the nearby Shai Hills, where we picked out Senegal Batis and Senegal Eremomela in the early morning light. As the day warmed up bird activity did too, with the rich savannas providing more than enough to keep us occupied for a few hours: Vieillott’s Barbet and its larger cousin, Double-toothed Barbet, were cooperative, sitting up for prolonged scope views, as were both Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird. Rufous-crowed Roller and the very smart Blue-bellied Roller also played along nicely, although the striking Oriole Warbler remained well hidden. Other goodies notched up included a visiting Melodious Warbler, Northern Black Flycatcher, migratory Woodchat Shrike and Booted Eagle, a trio of Red-necked Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, smart Grey Kestrel, Stone Partridge, including one calling from an exposed, bare branch, Black-billed Wood Dove drinking at a roadside pool, shrieking Senegal Parrot, striking Violet Turaco, Western Grey Plantain-Eater, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Yellow-throated Longclaw, male White-crowned Cliff Chat, bulky Croaking Cisticola, Northern Crombec, Northern Puffback, strange-headed Purple Glossy Starling and fiery Bar-breasted Firefinch.

From here we continued on towards Kakum, with a short stop at Sakumono Lagoon, where throngs of water-bird held our attention as long as we were there. Herons were well represented by Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Black Heron and Western Reef Heron. Large numbers of Collared Pratincole were resting on the mud flats among thousands of waders that included Senegal Thick-knee, Spur-winged Lapwing, African Wattled Lapwing, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Common Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper and impressive numbers of more common Palaearctic species.

Our patience was tested as we moved on westwards through Accra’s traffic, although a large roost of Straw-coloured Fruit Bat provided some excitement. Unfortunately we only had time for a short stop (seeing Piapiac beside the road) on our journey towards Kakum. The most impressive feature of the birdlife on this stretch was the healthy numbers of Hooded Vulture around every town and village.

Kakum National Park was our main focus area for birding on the tour, and we enjoyed two-and-a-half days in the area, during which we notched up an impressive species list. We kicked off proceedings with a stint on the fabulous Canopy Walkway, where Black-casqued Hornbill and White-crested Hornbill welcomed us in the morning, and Brown Nightjar and Brown-cheeked Hornbill bade us farewell in the evening. Bird activity was high for much of the morning, with more than 50 species seen over the course of our stay. Dominant groups included trios of localised woodpeckers (Little Green Woodpecker, the striking Fire-bellied Woodpecker and Melancholy/Gabon Woodpecker) and pretty nigritas (Chestnut-breasted Nigrita, Grey-headed Nigrita, White-breasted Nigrita), quartets of bright forest weavers (Preuss’s Golden-backed Weaver, Yellow-mantled Weaver, Red-headed Malimbe, Red-vented Malimbe) and noisy barbets (Speckled Tinkerbird, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Yellow-billed Barbet), and a quintet of bulbuls (Plain Greenbul, Slender-billed Greenbul, Golden Greenbul, Honeyguide Greenbul, Swamp Palm Bulbul). Yellow-billed Turaco, Black-winged Oriole, Splendid Glossy Starling and Forest Chestnut-winged Starling gorged themselves on an abundance of fruit, whereas mixed flocks of small insectivores carefully gleaned the outer canopy of larger trees. The latter group included Cassin’s Honeybird, excitable Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, tiny Tit-Hylia, Black-capped Apalis, localised Sharpe’s Apalis, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, desirable Violet-backed Hyliota, little-seen Little Grey Flycatcher (expertly spotted by Jonas) and Little Green Sunbird, species for which we enjoyed better views than one becomes accustomed to, without the neck ache associated with craning to see birds in the canopy. Other highlights were Sabine’s Puffback, Grey Longbill, a group of smart Red-billed Helmetshrike (seen on more than five occasions during the trip), bright Blue Cuckooshrike, Velvet-mantled Drongo, Yellowbill, White-headed Woodhoopoe and some fly-over Rosy Bee-eaters.

Mammals were well represented at Kakum: during daylight hours were watched a mixed group of Lesser Spot-nosed Monkey, Lowe’s Monkey and very rare Olive Colobus feeding near the Canopy Walkway, and after dark we enjoyed prolonged views of the spectacular flying squirrel Pel’s Anomalure and the strange and primitive primate, Potto.

During the rest of our stay at Kakum we spent the bulk of our time birding along roads that cut through secondary forest. Raptors were reasonably well represented, with a single African Cuckoo Hawk, several European Honey Buzzard, Palm-nut Vulture, perched Red-chested Goshawk and lone Long-tailed Hawk seen. Joining them in the skies were several aerial-feeding insectivores that included Sabine’s Spinetail, Bates’s Swift and more Rosy Bee-eaters. Black Bee-eater and White-throated Bee-eater gave much better perched views, as did Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Blue-throated Roller, the scarce Black Dwarf Hornbill, Naked-faced Barbet, Bristle-nosed Barbet, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Yellow-spotted Barbet, popular African Piculet, African Emerald Cuckoo and gabonensis subspecies of Black Cuckoo.

Denser habitat was slower to bird, but we picked out Black-throated Coucal from within a thicket, enjoyed excellent views of the skulky Kemp’s Longbill on our third or fourth attempt, and had Yellow-browed Camaroptera and Olive-green Camaroptera sitting out on the edge of their thickets. Maxwell’s Black Weaver, Little Grey Greenbul, Red-tailed Greenbul, two sightings of West African Batis and prolonged scope views of Finsch’s Flycatcher Thrush were all noteworthy. The two groups perhaps best represented were flycatchers and sunbirds, the first group including the swallow-like Ussher’s Flycatcher seen hunting from exposed branches above the canopy, Fraser’s Forest Flycatcher, Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher, a pair of loudly-singing Tessmann’s Flycatcher and Dusky-blue Flycatcher. Sunbirds including Fraser’s Sunbird, Olive-bellied Sunbird, Johanna’s Sunbird, Superb Sunbird, Green Sunbird, and best of all, several sightings of the unusual Buff-throated Sunbird. Three of the least cooperative species were Ahanta’s Francolin which called nearby but refused to show, Blue-headed Wood Dove that was seen only in flight, and Red-fronted Parrot that refused to land.

By contrast, birding in the forest under-storey was slow and frustrating, although we were rewarded with prolonged views of a displaying male Rufous-sided Broadbill, several sightings of White-throated Greenbul and Icterine Greenbul, and good looks at Western Forest Robin for some of our group. Surrounding the forest we were met by a different suite of species, including bustling colonies of Preuss’s Cliff Swallow, Village Weaver and Vieillot’s Black Weaver. Areas will tall grass held Singing Cisticola, and along the Pra River we found White-throated Blue Swallow and the rufous-naped form of Rock Pratincole.

From Kakum we continued inland to look for the main bird of the trip, Yellow-headed Picathartes. Given how important the bird is to most people, we dedicated two full afternoons to this species, which turned out to be an excellent choice. On the first evening a bird came in but was probably disturbed by fidgety local guides, meaning only half of the group enjoyed views of the bird before it faded back into the forest. On the second day, however, better crowd control meant that everyone who made the effort to return a second time enjoyed spectacular and prolonged views of Yellow-headed Picathartes. Whew! And hooray!

Between our two afternoon visits to the picathartes cave we took the time to bird some nearby forests, where several other goodies were added to the list. Black Spinetail was seen well overhead alongside Cassin’s Spinetail, Willcocks’s Honeyguide perched for scope views, Simple Leaflove fed near the forest edge, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul emerged from its dense tangles, Red-chested Owlet called from its exposed perch, Western Bearded Greenbul showed off its yellow beard, Olivaceous Flycatcher was seen and heard calling, albeit briefly, and Red-tailed Bristlebill, Western Nicator, Whistling Cisticola and Narrow-tailed Starling were all spotted. After dark a pair of Long-tailed Nightjar sat in the road, giving excellent views in the headlights.

Our next destination was the birdy Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary not far from Kumasi. During the early morning we watched birds from a forest clearing where many species could be seen clearly feeding in and calling from the tops of some large emergent forest trees. Highlights here were a perched, singing Forest Woodhoopoe, Maxwell’s Black Weaver and Red-fronted Parrot. Overhead we watched Afep Pigeon and African Grey Parrot. In the forest itself we tracked down a thicket-loving Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, a pair of Purple-throated Cuckooshrike, the tiny Lemon-bellied Crombec, African Shrike Flycatcher, noisy Dusky Tit feeding recently fledged young, a bright male Tiny Sunbird, Western Black-headed Oriole and Crested Malimbe. We also had our best looks at Copper-tailed Glossy Starling of the trip, being able to study their plumage in detail. Finally, before hopping in the vehicles we managed to spot a Western Least Honeyguide on its canopy call-perch.

Our final destination of the trip was the Atewa Hills reserve, an area of very productive mid-altitude forests two hours from Accra. Unfortunately the track leading up into the hills was overgrown and impassable by car, which meant we had a long walk ahead of us to reach the better forest higher up. The farmbush area leading up to the reserve was very productive, however, and the avifauna dominated by flocks of colourful seed-eating birds such as Orange-cheeked Waxbill, African/Blue-billed Firefinch and Black-and-white Mannikin, and a single juvenile male Western Bluebill that showed very well. We also enjoyed excellent perched views of African Hobby here.

Most of the time, however, was spent in the reserve, where Puvel’s Illadopsis put in a brief appearance in the half-light. Under-storey birds were quite vocal, although elusive. Green-tailed Bristlebill and White-tailed Alethe showed briefly for the quicker members of the group, but Blackcap Illadopsis and Brown Illadopsis were heard only. However, some fantastic and tricky birds were seen over the course of our final morning, including a male Latham’s Forest Francolin stalking through the leaf litter, a perched Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo that we walked away from, a bright male Narina’s Trogon, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher perched in the top of a tall, open tree (the nest with three eggs found by Holger), several pairs of colourful Blue-headed Bee-eater, a local speciality, a dazzling, though bullet-like Red-cheeked Wattle-eye, which after much persistence everyone eventually saw perched, noisy Shining Drongo and several scarce Maxwell’s Black Weaver. From here it was a short drive back to Accra where we went our separate ways.

Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Michael Mills .

Practical tour information: Ghana

Please also visit our tour calendar and trip reports.

Focus Yellow-headed Picathartes, one of Africa's most unusual birds. For keen birders.
Photography Many participants on our trips are amateur wildlife photographers. And when we get excellent views of a bird or mammal, some time is usually spent watching and photographing it. However, this is not a photographic tour and once the majority of the people have felt that they have absorbed the animal or bird to their satisfaction, then we move on in search of the next encounter. Thus, while the photographic opportunities are very good, the group will only occasionally wait for somebody who wants to spend even longer getting better photos.
Fitness A moderate level of fitness is required. Most walks will be gentle and across relatively flat terrain.
Timing This tours runs during the dry season, when access to sites is easier and birding is unlikely to be interrupted by rain.
Climate Warm and humid.
Comfort Basic but reasonably comfortable accommodation, mostly with air-conditioning.
Transport Air-conditioned vehicles.
Getting There Please enquire.
Group Size This depends on the particular trip. Please enquire.
Top birds Yellow-headed Picathartes and "Upper Guinea" endemics such as Brown-cheeked Hornbill, Sharpe's Apalis, Grey-headed Bristlebill.
Top mammals The flying squirrel Pel’s Anomalure, the strange and primitive primate, Potto, Lesser Spot-nosed Monkey, Lowe’s Monkey and the very rare Olive Colobus.
Booking Your booking can be secured with a booking form and deposit of GBP 300. You will receive confirmation and our tour information pack with practical information on what to expect and how to prepare for the tour. The balance is due 3 months before the tour. Email us about availability.

About Birding Africa

Birding Africa is a specialist birding tour company customising tours for both world listers and more relaxed holiday birders.  We combine interests in mammals, butterflies, dragonflies, botany and other natural history aspects and will guide you to Africa's and Madagascar's most diverse birding destinations. Our guides' knowledge of African birds and birding areas is our greatest strength and together we have rediscovered species, shared exciting observations with the birding community and had a fun time exploring our home continent.  We've even written two acclaimed guide books on where to find Southern Africa's and Madagascar's best birds. Birding is more than our passion, it's our lifestyle, and we are dedicated to making professional, best value trips filled with endemic species and unique wildlife experiences. Since 1997, we've run bird watching tours in South Africa and further into Africa for individual birders, small birding groups and top international tour companies. We've run Conservation Tours in association with the African Bird Club and work with and consult for a number of other top international tour companies and the BBC Natural History Unit.

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