Report: African Bird Club Conservation Fund Tour to Angola in October
A trip with Birding Africa lead by Michael Mills.
8-day birding tour to the fabled
Join initiative with the African Bird Club to raise funds
for the ABC Conservation Fund.
National Park and Angolan scarp near Gabela: Rufous-tailed
Palm Thrush, Bubbling Cisticola, Golden-backed Bishop, Red-backed
Mousebird, White-fronted Wattle-eye, Red-crested Turaco, Gabela
Akalat, Gabela Bush-Shrike, Angola Cave Chat, Ludwig's Sunbird,
Oustalet's Sunbird, Dusky Twinspot, Pulitzer's Longbill, Yellow-throated
Nicator, Grey-striped Francolin, Monteiro's Bush-Shrike, Gabela
Helmetshrike, Pale-olive Greenbul, Pale-billed Firefinch)
Detailed Tour Report
Our new joint initiative to raise funds for the
Conservation Fund of the African Bird Club kicked off on a high
note this October, with an 8-day trip to the fabled Angolan escarpment.
I met seven excited birders at Luanda’s
International airport. Sunday afternoons are notoriously chaotic
in the country’s capital, but this day was exceptional. The
Palancas, national football
team of Angola, were returning home from Rwanda, victorious and
first-time qualifiers to the Football World Cup (2006). They were
met by no less than a presidential welcome. Street sides were crammed
with eager supporters and traffic brought to a standstill. Fortunately
the team soon disappeared for their victory lap of the main city,
drawing the crowds after them and allowing us to slip out of Luanda
to the south. A breather at some spectacular sandstone cliffs near
the Kwanza River provided a welcome stop, and the river floodplain
itself revealed an unexpectedly pair of Long-legged
Pipits, scurrying along the verge of the road. Another
noteworthy stop was made to observe the large brown swifts that
inhabit the coastal plain (and breed in buildings in Luanda), presumably
an undescribed species for now called Large
Brown Swift. We arrived at our comfortable lodge
in time to enjoy a spectacular sunset and ponder what the rest of
the trip would have in stall.
The first day was spent in the vicinity of the
Longa River, providing a gentle introduction to Angola birding.
The river itself produced an array of wetland species, including
Little Bittern, Osprey,
and Blue-headed Coucal
(the latter two at the southern extremity of their range). Birding
the dry thickets on the river banks proved very productive, with
highlights including the attractive Rufous-tailed
Palm Thrush and our first endemics, Bubbling
Cisticola (slightly less striking), Golden-backed
Bishop (not much better), Red-backed
Mousebird (getting there) and, best of all, a pair
of excited White-fronted Wattle-eyes.
The rest of the tour was focussed on the Angolan
escarpment, where we spent 4 nights split between two localities.
On the way up the escarpment we stopped at the spectacular Keve
River falls, where an African Hobby
darted overhead. We arrived at our first campsite with an hour of
light to spare, and set off in search of our first forest birds.
However, a heavy mist had already pulled in, and we would have to
wait to the following morning to find Gabon
Coucal (an expert skulker that remained hidden for
some of the group), Black-throated Apalis,
Superb Sunbird and Yellow-necked
Greenbul. We spent some time birding the old shade-coffee
forests on the way to our second campsite, where highlights included
Rufous Flycatcher Thrush,
(previously known only from Cabinda, some 700km to the north!),
Southern Hyliota and
Little Green (range extension) Sunbirds.
Nothing, however, could compete with our first Red-crested
Turacos, the firm favourite.
We had two full days to explore Kumbira forest
in the Gabela area. With everyone eager to see our main target,
the fabled Angola Cave Chat, this was the first subject of our attention.
At first light we set off, making only a couple of strategic stops
as we climbed in altitude. The unobtrusive Gabela
Akalat and striking Gabela
Bush-Shrike were our most important finds. We continued
up, out of the forest and into the rocky grasslands high on the
slopes of Mount Njelo. After a hard slog, we’d finally dragged
ourselves high enough to hear the distant fluty whistles of our
target. Once everyone had caught their breath and found a good vantage,
a short burst of tape drew the Cave
Chat right in, which circled us and finally settled
nearby on a prominent rock, where it sang its melodious song, occasionally
moving into a cave where we suspect it was nesting. Perhaps “Cave
Chat” is a suitable name after all.
Several other birds diverted our attention, including
Striped Pipit, the
endemic Ludwig’s Double-collared
Sunbird and scarce Oustalet’s
Sunbird, Miombo Rock
Thrush, Mountain Wheatear,
Rockrunner (right at
the northern edge of its distribution), Wailing
Cisticola, Grey Apalis
and several striking Dusky Twinspots.
We were all intrigued by the very dark black swifts that were flying
in and out of their nests among the crags, uttering strange Little
Swift-like calls. Perhaps these are the very poorly-known Fernando
Po Swift that have been found at Mount Moco, or
a new species all together? Hopefully time will tell. Once everyone
had taking in the spectacular views across the valley, we wound
our way back down the mountain, pausing to find a pair of little-known
and Masked Apalis.
The second full day was spent in the forest in
the main valley, where we notched up a great array of forest species.
We found Yellow-throated Nicator,
Least Honeyguide (range
extension), Petit’s Cuckooshrike,
Perrin’s Bush Shrike (a big crowd pleaser),
Mackinnon’s Fiscal, Pink-footed Puffback,
Brown-capped Weaver, Red-headed Malimbe,
Green Hylia, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher,
Brown Illadopsis, Dusky Tit, Hairy-breasted
Barbet, Black-faced Canary and
Everyone was impressed by a male African
Emerald Cuckoo that perched nearby, its green plumage
shimmering as it caught the sunlight. A pair of African
Broadbill were busy building a nest, while the localised
Angola Batis was seen
several times, always high in the canopy. Some were fortunate to
see Forest Scrub Robin
(voted skulker of the trip), but no-one had trouble spotting the
dagger-billed Monteiro’s Bush
Shrike perched on the treetop. The day was rounded
off with superb views of African Wood
On return to the coast, we made a detour in search
of the little-known Gabela Helmetshrike.
On route, a pair of Grey-striped Francolin
(until then only heard) flushed from the road right in from of the
lead vehicle. Obviously those in the back vehicles were not going
to be impressed, until we noticed a little brown ball of fluff running
down the track. Everyone alighted and followed the francolin chick
until it disappeared into the undergrowth. Of course this was followed
by a discussion on the merits of ticking birds in juvenile plumage…
which no doubt still rages through the offices of the African Bird
Upon reaching our target area, we were welcomed
by numerous Mottled and Bohm’s
Spinetails. Some concentrated searching went unrewarded
for a while, until suddenly three Gabela
Helmetshrikes were spotted nearby. To begin with
they were very flighty, but finally settled down and allow us to
approach at close quarters, where several good photographs were
taken and eight birds observed in all, including juveniles. Before
heading back to the lodge we notched up several other species, including
African Barred Owlet (range
extension), the near-endemic Pale Olive
Greenbul, endemic Pale-billed
Firefinch and Madagascar
Everyone was pleased to be back at the lodge,
where they could sit in comfort and reflect on a couple of days
of fine birding. On our final day we returned to Luanda, stopping
to watch a colony of Orange Weavers
constructing their nests and a Blue-breasted
Kingfisher. A fine ending to a great trip!
A special word of thanks to our ground staff for
the excellent job they did at ensuring that we had seven happy campers.
The food was superb!