After several earlier trips to Ghana in 2006 and 2007 I started to get itchy feet again and wanted to get back to this friendly and safe country, probably currently the best place for birders desiring to see West African specialities.
My first week was spent visiting friends and staying at the very well run and friendly De-Mod hotel about 20 km from Accra just off the road to Cape Coast. The hotel is situated between Lake Waija and the hill known as “Broadcaster” due to the numerous masts on its summit. The hillside behind the hotel has many birds which include Yellow-crowned Gonolek, African Hobby, Lanner, Black-shouldered Kite, Yellow-billed Kite, Red-faced Cisticola, Mosque Swallow, Shikra, Ethiopian Swallow, Splendid and Copper Sunbirds, White-throated and Little Bee-eaters, Bar-breasted Firefinch, Senegal Thick-knee, Village and Vieillot’s Black Weaver, etc. Stone Partridges were also heard but not seen. Preuss’s Swallow is also a regular visitor to the hillside around Broadcaster. A stay here makes a good introduction to some of the commoner Ghanaian birds, over 40 species being seen in the immediate neighbourhood and it is cooler and less polluted than staying nearer to the centre of Accra.
For one or two people travelling in Ghana without a group the bus remains the most cost effective way of getting around, for example the 650km from Accra to Tamale by air-conditioned STC bus costs less than US$20 per person and taxis are not expensive for reaching the various sites. So once again Kalu and I travelled by bus, but of course more time is needed to get from place to place compared with having one’s own means of transport. Self drive cars are not usually available so car rental implies also the need for a driver and the additional cost of their lodging and food while travelling around.
On 23rd January I met up again with my friend and excellent local guide Kalu Afasi, www.malimbetours.com and we set off by bus to Cape Coast, 140km, on the first stage of our journey to Hans Cottage where we were to spend our first night. On arrival we birded around Hans Cottage, highlights being African Harrier Hawk, Squacco Heron, Green-backed Heron, the local breeding colonies of Village Weaver and Orange Weaver. We then took a taxi to Bremsu Lake the fresh water supply for Cape Coast, where the pump house still sports a plate referring to its construction in 1927 as the water supply for Cape Coast Colony! Our hope had been to find African Pygmy Goose and Finfoot, unfortunately neither were to be seen although they had both been present the previous week. We did see Grey Kestrel, Yellow Wagtail, African Pied Wagtail, Blue Spotted Wood Dove, African Jacana, Lesser Striped-swallow, Intermediate Egret, Pied Hornbill etc.
We made an early start to Kakum NP and its famous walkway having previously arranged to enter the park at 0600, rather than the normal opening time of 0800 which is too late for serious birding. Unfortunately in the mean time the Harmattan wind had started to blow strongly and birding conditions were poor with high winds and poor visibility that the birds clearly did not appreciate. The Harmattan, which blows from the Sahara, started very late in 2008/2009, more usually it starts in December. The wind is full of fine dust and can be quite annoying causing coughing. In spite of poor conditions the highlights were Red-fronted Parrot, Blue-throated Roller, Black-casqued Hornbill (family party comprising two adults and immature seen from very close up), Yellowbill, Yellow-spotted Barbet, Fire-bellied Woodpecker, Violet-backed Hyliota, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Ussher’s Flycatcher, Violet-backed Starling, Sabine’s Puffback, African Shrike-Flycatcher, Yellow-mantled Weaver, Red-headed Malimbe, etc.
After lunch we took a taxi ride to the well known Preuss’s Cliff Swallow roost site at Brenu. Before the arrival of the swallows towards dusk we saw Purple Heron, Green Turaco, Green and Common Sandpipers, Black-necked Weaver, Green-headed Sunbird, Vieillot’s Barbet, Simple Greenbul, Singing Cisticola, Splendid Sunbird, Red-eyed Dove, etc. Last but not least we were treated to the sight of a beautiful Shining-blue Kingfisher, a magnificent bird. As the light dimmed we started seeing more and more Preuss’s Cliff Swallows circling high overhead until finally they began pouring down into the roost site under a bridge as though sucked by a powerful vacuum cleaner, numbers were estimated as being between 100 and 200. For a few minutes the swallows were accompanied by a couple of dark swifts that appeared to be Common Swift.
We returned again to Kakum early in the morning but once again conditions were extremely poor and we added very few new species. Fortunately this was made up by an excellent afternoon spent at Antwikaa. This area is always excellent and makes a very pleasant walk with many species to be seen, highlights being Red-necked Buzzard, Tambourine Dove, Didric Cuckoo, Rosy Bee-eater, Bristle-nosed Barbet, Gabon Woodpecker, Little Greenbul, Slender-billed Greenbul, Swamp Palm Greenbul, Violet-backed Hyliota, Green Hylia, Green Crombec, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Tit-Hylia, Green Sunbird, Black-and-white Shrike-Flycatcher (pair displaying), Preuss’s Weaver, White-breasted, Chestnut-breasted, and Grey-headed Negrofinch, etc. In the evening we returned again to the Kalum walkway but little was seen, Naked-faced Barbet, Pied Hornbill, Yellow-mantled Weaver Blue-throated Roller and Red-fronted Parrot were about all there were in the continuing bad Harmattan conditions.
As the visits to the Kakum walkway had not been very positive I decided to have a lie-in and bird around Hans Cottage during the morning of the 26th while Kalu visited the walkway with another client. The fields behind Hans Cottage are quite productive and a highlight was a wintering Woodchat Shrike, also seen were Whinchat, Pin-tailed Whydah, Yellow White-eye, Spotted Flycatcher, Slender-billed Greenbul, Senegal Coucal, White-throated Bee-eater, Hooded Vulture, Pied Hornbill, Black-winged Oriole, Pied Kingfisher, etc. After lunch we took a bus to Assin Foso where we stayed at the Hotel Babevan Lodge just outside the town.
After leaving the hotel before sunrise we took a taxi to Aboabo where we arrived at daybreak, we arranged for the taxi to wait while we birded two different tracks. The dirt roads through this forest are always very productive and many new species were seen, highlights being Ayre’s Hawk-eagle, African Goshawk, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Klaas’s Cuckoo, White-crested Hornbill, Black Dwarf Hornbill, Yellow-billed Barbet, Naked-faced Barbet, Golden Greenbul, Cameroon Sombre Greenbul, Red-tailed Bulbul, Little Grey Greenbul, Frazer’s Forest-flycatcher, Green Sunbird, Blue-throated Brown Sunbird, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, Blue-billed Malimbe, in addition a group of about 100 Pied Hornbills were seen dispersing from their roost site.
The 28th was spent in getting from Assin Foso to Kumasi by Metro Mass, ~100km, and then from Kumasi to Tamale by STC bus, 390km, and the only sightings of note were the first Speckled Pigeons which are common in Tamale. Note: We did not visit any of the Yellow-headed Picathartes sites on this trip as I had seen them in 2007 and felt that this vulnerable species is probably getting enough visitors without adding repeat visits to the visitor load.
After a night in Tamale I was awakened by the very loud calls of an African Scops Owl which was present in the trees around the hotel, unfortunately the light was not good enough to be able to pick it out. Getting to Mole National Park is not the easiest thing using public transport as there is only one local bus a day which does not connect with any of the long distance buses. To avoid hanging around in Tamale for most of the day we finally decided to hire a taxi to take us to Mole. Kalu managed to negotiate a very good price so we gained an additional half day of birding in Mole. The taxi driver had never seen an elephant so perhaps this was part of the deal, fortunately he spotted his elephant when we arrived so he was happy! The dirt road is very long but had recently been re-graded, (many roads appear to have been re-graded immediately prior to the elections!), so that it was relatively smooth although dusty; Tamale to Mole takes about 3 hours depending on road conditions. Driving to Mole we saw a number of new species, including our first and only Namaqua Dove, numbers of Abyssinian Rollers, Senegal Parrots, Rufous-crowned Roller, a group of Piapiacs, and numerous Grasshopper Buzzards. On arrival in Mole new species included Familiar Chat, African Golden Oriole, Bearded Barbet, Northern Puffback, Senegal Eremomela, Pygmy Sunbird, Pied Flycatcher, Bateleur, a distant view of an African Fish Eagle, numerous White-headed and African White-backed Vultures, Bush Petronia, Northern Black-flycatcher, Yellow-fronted Canary, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, etc.
We arranged for a ranger for an early morning walk below the escarpment into the reserve, visiting the reserve is not permitted without an armed ranger because of the elephants that are present around the water holes and elsewhere amongst the bushes. We began the walk at daybreak and new species include Woolly-necked Stork, Black-crowned Night Heron, Hadada Ibis, Hamerkop, Palm-Nut Vulture, Marsh Harrier, Lizard Buzzard, Stone Partridge, Helmeted Guineafowl, Gambaga Flycatcher, numerous Senegal Thick-knees by the water holes, Vinaceous Dove, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Violet Turaco, Red-throated Bee-eater, Grey Woodpecker, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Senegal Batis, Lavendar Waxbill, Long-tailed Glossy Starling and Western Violet-backed Sunbird etc. My personal favourite was a magnificent white morph male African Paradise Flycatcher, it knocked the socks off the more usual red morph.
A further excursion in the park in the evening brought with it Northern Crombec, Bateleur, Rufous Scrub-robin, Village Indigobird, Senegal Coucal, Brown Babbler, Black-crowned Tchagra, Marsh Harrier, Hamerkop, etc.
We made a further walk below the escarpment with the ranger and further new species were seen including Black Crake, Double-spurred Francolin, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Broad-billed Roller, African Thrush, Wire-tailed Swallow, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Snowy-crowned Robin-chat, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Yellow-billed Shrike, Red-winged Pytilia, Red-billed and Black-faced Firefinch, Black-crowned Tchagra, Fork-tailed Drongo, Red-billed Hornbill, many Red-throated Bee-eaters, Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling, White-headed and White-backed Vultures were present throughout the day. Our last sighting at Mole was an intriguing harrier that we had seen perched on the ground in the marsh below the escarpment and which later began hunting around the hotel. The bird was completely sooty-black with no markings to be seen, the only contrasting colour was from the light coloured legs which were often dangling as it hunted around the hotel area. It clearly was not a Black Harrier and our belief is that this was a totally melanistic Marsh Harrier.
This marked the return to Accra, an early start saw us catching the Metro Mass bus that leaves Mole at 0415. We left late as the driver had managed to cut himself in his room and needed patching up before we could depart. The bus started out from Mole with only a dozen passengers or so but quickly filled up on the way until it was standing room only. The bus made good speed and was as fast as the taxi and arrived in Tamale not long after 0700. Unfortunately the only STC bus from Tamale to Accra leaves at 1600 on Sundays so it was a long wait, being Sunday virtually everything was closed. We did find an Internet café however that was not too far from the STC bus station. The STC bus left on time and we made very good time and arrived in Accra at about 0300. The overnight buses are very much faster than the day buses as the stops are shorter and there are no delays due to road works and heavy traffic. The taxi back to De-Mod Hotel at that time in the morning was also extremely rapid 15 minutes instead of around an hour during the day. Before departing from Mole we noticed a greyish owl fly by and shortly after we got much better views of it when it perched on a pole not too far from us, it was a Greyish Eagle Owl.
This was a “chill-out” day, but early in the morning we heard Stone Partridges calling behind the hotel and the pair of Splendid Sunbirds were still very active in the garden of the hotel and a Red-fronted Cisticola was singing.
This was to be our last day of bird watching and our destination was the famous Sakumono Lagoons which we reached by a mixture of Tro-Tro, (local bus), and taxi. On arriving at the seaward side we were greeted by a group of about a dozen Black Herons, a species that had always eluded me during previous visits to Ghana and they treated us to a demonstration of their well-known fishing technique using their arched wings as a shade. Many palearctic waders were present, the most numerous were Black-winged Stilt, we also saw Common Sandpiper, Cattle Egret, Long-tailed Cormorant, Little Egret, Reef Egret, Ringed Plover, many Greenshank fishing together, a solitary Whimbrel, Wood Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Kittlitz’s Plover, Senegal Wattled Lapwing, Spur-winged Lapwing, Avocet (a new bird for Kalu), Collared Pratincole, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, etc. We also saw White-fronted Whistling-Duck, Black-headed Heron, Grey Heron, Squacco Heron, Common Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, several Marsh Harriers, African Spoonbill, etc.
3/02/2009 to 5/02/2009
The only bird watching was around the De-Mod Hotel, and Black-shouldered Kite, Mosque Swallow, Ethiopian Swallow, Hooded Vulture, Yellow-billed Kite, Splendid Sunbird, Common Bulbul, Bronze Mannikin, Bar-breasted Firefinch, Tawny-sided Prinia, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Pied Crow and Yellow-fronted Canary were the species most often seen.
Mike Bowman firstname.lastname@example.org
Kalu Afasi email@example.com
Total Species 245
African White-backed Vulture
Eurasian Marsh Harrier
White-spotted Flufftail (heard only)
Western Grey Plantain-eater
Black Dwarf Hornbill
African Pied Hornbill
African Grey Hornbill
African Pied Wagtail
Western Violet-backed Sunbird
Blue-throated Brown Sunbird
African Yellow White-eye
African Golden Oriole
Lesser Blue-eared Glossy-starling
Vieillot's Black Weaver
Maxwell's Black Weaver
Mike Bowman/Kalu Afasi