by Stephen Welch
This is a report of my first visit to Nigeria, or indeed tropical Africa. The purpose of the trip was primarily to visit my wife's family in Lagos, and birds were seen along the way, rather than vice versa! Nevertheless we did manage two trips to the Nigeria Conservation Foundation's (http://www.ncf-nigeria.org/) Lekki Reserve immediately E of Lagos and one to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture site (http://www.iita.org/about/ibadan.htm) 120km N of Lagos in Ibadan. Since we had access to local knowledge and facilities (though no local bird knowledge beyond a couple of trip lists), I'm perhaps not best qualified to offer advice on the practicalities of such a trip for other Western birders. Also, as a complete novice on African birds, this was primarily a familiarisation trip and the bird list is rather limited, mainly due to my inability to ID birds on call in the forest. Nevertheless, I've found very little other useful web-based information on visiting Nigeria, from a birder's perspective, so I thought I'd put together this report in case it's of interest to anyone else travelling that way.
Flights and preparation
We flew from London on Virgin. Prices on Virgin and BA were very similar, and higher than some budget carriers (e.g. the relaunched Nigeria Airlines (http://www.nigeriaairlines.com)). Flight prices are much higher between June and October, and then very high again in December, so November is a good time to go in that respect. There is also a good variety of birds at this time of year, with Western Palaearctic migrants present, and it's pretty dry out there which is a further advantage.
Flights both ways were about an hour late departing, mainly due to passengers arriving late. Otherwise, the flight was fine. We arrived at Murtalla Mohammad International Airport in Lagos and baggage claim took a while but we expected that. Upon emerging from the front entrance, about 6 noisy men surrounded us and took over our baggage trolleys. I thought: "That's it - all our luggage for the trip, gone!". However, we clung onto our trolleys and it eventually transpired that these men were trying to "help us". Not only that, when we got to our vehicle, they expected us to "dash them some small money" ' i.e. pay them! At that point an airport official drove them off, and we heard that they are actually quite strict about this now ' it used to be worse there. After the official had collected his small payment (not a "bribe", since he did not demand it, but it is expected and just the way that things work there) we were on our way ' with no more "wahala" = "trouble"! (try this site for a useful pidgin English dictionary: http://www.ngex.com/personalities/babawilly/dictionary/)
One other thing worth mentioning is the malaria vaccination. When we first planned to travel we were given paludrine/avoclor by our local travel vaccination centre (Hemel Hempstead, Herts, UK). However, when I had chance to research this on the web myself (a good site is http://www.cdc.gov/travel/diseases/malaria/ and http://www.cdc.gov/travel/regionalmalaria/wafrica.htm specifically for Nigeria), I found that this is no use for Nigeria as the P. falciparum is resistant to chloroquine. So we shelled out another £50 each for malarone, which was effective (i.e. I was bitten and it worked).
We arranged our own accommodation in Festac Town (Chelsea Suites hotel) which was cheap by UK standards (c. 3000 naira (<£15) each per day for a large a/c double room with fridge, TV etc.). This was not near any known birding sites though.
We also stayed at IITA in Ibadan (http://www.iita.org/about/ibadan.htm), which is a great birding site, but not marketed as such (I'm not aware of anywhere in SW Nigeria marketed as a birding site - awareness of the needs of visiting birders is generally extremely low). I feel sure that it was formerly mentioned on the above IITA web page that guest rooms are available at this site subject to prior booking, but apparently no longer so and the Fatbirder account by Peter Turner (http://www.fatbirder.com/links_geo/africa/nigeria.html) implies that an invitation is required to gain access to the campus. We sent an enquiry email in advance of our visit but never received a reply. We also attempted to reach IITA by telephone from the time we arrived in Lagos but could never get through (perhaps because we were calling from GSM mobiles to a landline number?). Upon arrival at the institute we were informed that it is impossible to book a room upon arrival. When we asked if we could book for the following day we were informed that it was only possible to book accommodation "in advance", i.e. by phone or email and that an "invitation" is indeed normally necessary. The reception staff were not familiar with the concept of a visit "for ornithology" and the site is a research institute and in no way tourist-orientated, so this was perhaps not surprising, but no less frustrating at the time! But in the end we did get in by virtue of the fact that I knew the name of the (RSPB-sponsored) Nigerian PhD Student studying the Ibadan Malimbe formerly mentioned on the RSPB's International section webpage (detailed info recently deleted in their webpage upgrade). Once we were able to talk to a member of the research staff (a helpful Danish lady) we were granted access and she very kindly showed us around. Accommodation turned out to be expensive at 8000 naira (c. £40) each, but the standard was OK and facilities provided for guests excellent (access to tennis courts, golf course, swimming pool etc.) - though as a birder you're unlikely to have time to use them! We also obtained, on loan, a recently updated complete species list for the site from the I-House reception. This included brief status information for all c.300 species recorded.
Other accommodation can of course be found in Lagos - there are plenty of hotels on Lagos Island and Victoria Island (VI). However, I cannot recommend any in particular.
The way to travel is by hiring a car, driver inclusive, preferably from the hotel you're staying at, or on other recommendation. We paid about 6000 naira per day (c. £30), which was apparently double the going rate for locals. Mileage is nominally unlimited, but you might expect to have to add something for long journeys. If you cannot get one at a hotel, private taxis can be found at many transport hubs along the main roads. However, as an expat you might by overcharged for such a service and it is fraught with dangers. The hotel-based drivers are likely to be much more reliable, since whilst essentially independent, they are accountable to the hotels.
An alternative for longer journeys is an express bus, though the security would be less than in a private vehicle. An alternative for shorter journeys would be a "commercial vehicle" - i.e. a private taxi or minibus which can be identified by its orange colour and Christian message displayed on the back (often in Yoruba or pidgin-English in Lagos). However, if you're carrying birding gear, this would be an even less safe option and is not recommended.
In fact, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office site (http://www.fco.gov.uk) issues fairly serious warnings about travel in Nigeria and recommends against using any form of public transport. However, we found no problems whatsoever even on some of the roads specifically mentioned as notorious (e.g. the Ibadan expressway from Lagos) and it seems that the real danger is in travelling at night, when armed robbers operate. So as long as you can avoid night travel, you'll probably be OK.
Another issue that worried us before going was the "police checkpoints". We passed about 30 of these on major and minor roads, where police generally request papers and collect small payments from locals, but upon seeing me, an ex-pat, we were waved through every single one of these (these officials are apparently concerned about their international reputation, despite what one may think!).
General road safety is not an issue to be taken lightly either - accidents are fairly common and we saw several. Most vehicles are in poor condition and wearing of seat-belts is not practiced; for example, there was no seatbelt fitted in the car in which we travelled from Lagos to Ibadan (at break-neck speed) and in others it was carefully tied up out of the way as it is never used! On the other hand, the drivers are well-adapted to the conditions and highly skilful at their trade - another example was when our driver managed to slipstream a police vehicle through a "go-slow" - we cleared a serious traffic hold-up that might have delayed us for half an hour or so in just a couple of minutes!
Travel across Lagos is very much stop-go, with some nice stretches of road free of traffic and some very serious bottlenecks in places, often associated with poor road surface. The worst we experienced was a 2 hour delay trying to access the bridge from Victoria Island to Lagos Island. Furthermore, at any bottleneck hawkers and beggars abound and you need to keep your valuables out of sight. However, they are useful places for getting stuff you need - cold water, phone cards, snacks. Our best find was a much-needed Lagos Street map atlas which we bought for about 500 naira (c. £2.50) on the bridge between Lagos Island and Victoria Island. We were unable to obtain any detailed maps from abroad (it seems that the one we got there, published by West African Book Publishers (http://www.academypress-plc.com/westafricanpub.htm), cannot be obtained abroad), and we found that Nigerians in general do not tend to use maps to get around - so this is quite a prize!
Finally, note if you are a (white) Westerner, you will attract attention wherever you go, though less so on Lagos Island and Victoria Island, the main commercial centres. In fact, outside Lagos, any child seeing you will cry "oyinbo!" meaning "white person". If you're in a stationary/slow-moving vehicle, touts and hawkers will try to sell you anything and everything (as they do in fact with the occupant of any vehicle!) and you may be a particular target for beggars who inhabit thick traffic (many blind or disabled - this is the social security system). However, if you don't look interested, most quickly go away and will not pressure you - we had no trouble.
Tina Macdonald's "Birding hotspots" site (http://www.camacdonald.com/birding/) has information about Nigeria's birds at http://www.camacdonald.com/birding/africanigeria.htm and the Fat Birder information is at http://www.fatbirder.com/links_geo/africa/nigeria.html. There are couple of relevant articles on the African Bird Club website (http://www.africanbirdclub.org/feature/bushrike.html, http://www.africanbirdclub.org/feature/fishowls.html) However, I found only one trip report per se, from Marietta Deming posted on the Parrotdata website (http://www.parrotdata.com/articlesny/artikler.asp?aid=112).
I tried to contact in advance the birding guides listed for Nigeria on the Birding Pal website (http://www.birdingpal.org), but never received any replies.
I also contacted a couple of people whose birding experiences in Nigeria were mentioned on internet sites (Birdchat and the Birding-Aus Mail Archive) (http://birdingonthe.net/chat/2_May_2001_to_3_May_2001.html#12, http://menura.cse.unsw.edu.au:1080/2002/02/msg00177.html) and received from them very useful recommendations on sites to visit, including species lists. Much thanks to them! The mail on the former site contains useful info about field guides.
Phil Hall is listed as the bird recorder for Nigeria on the African Bird Club website http://www.africanbirdclub.org (details here: http://www.africanbirdclub.org/resources/recorders.html).
The only other bird contacts/information that I came across were a couple from the British International School who had a report pinned to the wall in the Lekki reserve visitor centre. This gave a monthly breakdown of the frequency of observation of 80 species for the first half of 2002 so they are clearly frequent visitors, but according to the information there, they were away doing research in another part of Nigeria.
The Fatbirder website lists bird books. Some time in advance of my trip I obtained a copy of "A Field Guide to the Birds of West Africa" by William Serle, Gerard J. Morel, Wolfgang Hartwig, a Collins field guide (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0002192047/ref=pd_sim_b_dp/026-9277891-5826003). Remarkably, I discovered that this Dr. Serle was one and the same as the former Church of Scotland minister and naturalist resident of the village of Drumoak just east of Banchory where I grew up! I later prepared these notes about him. I was also fortunate that the new Helm Identification Guide "Birds of Western Africa" by Borrow & Demey (2002) was out just in time for my trip. This is a truly excellent book, though I found it rather heavy in the field and had to dispense with it from my bag by the end of our stay. It is currently obtainable in the UK from the Birdguides estore http://www.birdguides.com/estore and from Amazon at the same price http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0713639598/ref=ase_fatbirder/026-9277891-5826003.
Due to lack of time, I did not get myself a copy of Claude Chappuis' (2000) 15 CD's of African bird sounds referenced in Borrow & Demey but this would have been an invaluable aid (c.f. http://www.bl.uk/collections/sound-archive/wildpublication.html#boa).
I've written a full chronological account including pretty much everything we saw for the benefit of other first time visitors who don't know what to expect. The systematic list follows at the end of this document and a few images are on a linked page http://www.geocities.com/steve_extra/Nigeria_bird_images.html. Individual birds shown on the images page are asterisked (*). There's also linked page on birds seen in my wife's family home "compound" (= "garden" - UK, or "yard" - US) at http://www.geocities.com/steve_extra/glist_festac2.html.
Saturday 9 November
We landed at Murtalla Mohammed International Airport at 5.30am when it was still dark; it became light remarkably quickly (to UK eyes) at about 6.30am and we came out of the building at 7.30am. The first birds identified were Pied Crows around the control tower, a Laughing Dove and African Pied Wagtail in the car park, whilst a swift flock proved a little more elusive (both Little and African Palm Swifts were identified here on our return trip).
The first day was spent mainly in Festac Town and a garden on 21 road extension. The town is a suburb of Lagos at the SW of the city just N of the Badagry expressway that takes you out west towards Ogun state and then on to the Benin Republic. It originated the FESTival of Arts and Crafts 1977 and the population is now said to be around the 100k mark. The perimeter of the town is clearly bounded on all four sides: on the south by the main expressway W out of Lagos, on the east by a wide stretch of open water - a branch of the main Lagos lagoon network which wends its way, in diminishing size, as far north as the airport (to the NW of Lagos) and on the north and west a further branch of the lagoon and scrub-type bush with marshy areas. Apparently, none of the surrounding "bush" is accessed by local people, due presumably to inhabitation by snakes, crocodiles etc and general inaccessibility due to marshes and open water. Thus the prospects for seeing some good waterbirds around the town initially looked good. However, there are no natural viewing points or access roads and the bridges over the lagoon branch in particular are not areas where one would want to loiter due to security issues, so in practice I was not able to see any birds from the perimeter roads and most species recorded at Festac were seen in flight overhead.
As we arrived, an African Openbill was seen flying E over the river - a very ungainly sight and the more so because of the peculiarly shaped beak and head. Dark herons and ducks overhead were not specifically identified, but the latter were probably White-faced Whistling Ducks, whilst Cattle Egrets and Black Kites were both common sights. Very familiar to a European were the Common Kestrels and Barn Swallows, though the identity of each still required more than a second glance due to the array of similar species present in West Africa.
Garden birds were the main focus for the rest of the day and these are described in more detail in the linked document (http://www.geocities.com/steve_extra/glist_festac2.html). Besides the resident flamboyant male Variable Sunbird* the main interest on the first day was that the resident weavers, discovered lurking in the top of the garden's mango tree, were Black-necked Weavers* (Ploceus nigricollis) of the brachypterus subspecies. Borrow & Demey described this species as a common resident in forest and savannah zones throughout West Africa. However, unlike its abundant compatriot, the Village Weaver, it is not usually associated with human habitation and the "habits" entry simply states "In pairs within forest clearings and edges, gallery forest and wooded savannah". Later in the week, another garden in Festac produced another surprise on this front with its own resident weaver species (see below).
Sunday 10 November
Following church, we set out along the coast road to Badagry, a site of great historical interest. The road is in fact some distance inland and is punctuated by many pockets of activity, with roadside markets and small settlements. Appropriately, some of the most obvious birds are the scavengers, with abundant Black Kites and Cattle Egrets filling the place of the scavenging gulls we have back in Britain. The egret in particular was most frequently observed near any human habitation, and especially on roadside rubbish dumps, whilst individuals or small flocks of kites were seen hanging in the sky nearly everywhere we went.
The role of insect-eater was also filled by a rather unexpected species - the Woodland Kingfisher! This large and noisy bird with azure-blue back and bright red bill could be seen hunting from roadside wire perches, and 10 individuals were logged along the route: 1 E of Lagos State University, 3 at Okokomaiko, 1 west of Abara, 2 at Imeke-Badagry and finally 3 very vocal individuals on wires above the entrance gate to the historic "First Storey Building" in Badagry itself.
More mundane were the small groups of doves and pigeons on roadside wires - Laughing Dove being the most common, in groups of up to 10, but Feral Pigeons occupied their usual niche in urban areas with for example a small group at the "Methodist shopping complex" in Badagry.
Large and noisy colonies of weavers were seen in roadside trees but not specifically identified at this stage (most would have been Village or Vieillot's Black Weaver (Ploceus nigerrimus)). Similarly, sparrowhawk, starling and ibis species over Okokomaiko and Okoka evaded specific ID.
Upon arrival in Badagry we went first to the First Storey Building on the waterfront. In the grounds were Variable Sunbird, Bronze Mannikin and 6 Grey-headed Sparrows with a further 6 of the latter along the shore road west. Along this road also the usual Common Bulbul, African Pied Wagtail and Feral Pigeon were seen and a Black-and-white Mannikin was perched on wires.
A total of over 50 swallows, all of which were apparently Barn Swallows, were hunting over the shore road, together with a House Martin and at least 5 African Palm Swifts. Surprisingly, no waterbirds could be seen on or around the lagoon itself, unless you count Black Kite.
Moving back inland there were more of the same swifts, swallows, pigeons, doves, kites and bulbul. We retraced our steps eastwards until doubling-back towards the coast down the road to the Whispering Palms resort. This produced a further 30 Barn Swallows together with the usual swifts, kites, doves, bulbul and an unidentified falcon species. Three more noisy weaver colonies were seen at Mosafejo Town and Ilado before we came across a fourth within the resort compound itself which turned out to consist of the abundant Village Weaver. These noisy birds with harsh chattering calls attended dangling nests which are approximately spherical but with short entrance funnels (nest shape is diagnostic amongst the weaver family).
Entry to the Whispering Palms compound cost 200 naira (c. £1) and gave us access to a large resort area with picnic tables under coconut trees. The advantage over public beaches was in the lack of touts and hawkers - in fact the place was nearly deserted so we were free to roam around. The waterfront afforded a clear view over a vast stretch of lagoon to the forested coastal strip. Here, as elsewhere, the water was deserted, but 3 Grey Herons passed west and 5 Black Kites hung overhead. A female sunbird at the main building was probably a Splendid Sunbird, a common species, but a second very drab sunbird perched on a branch at a volleyball court sported bold white markings above and below the eye making it a Brown Sunbird (Anthreptes gabonicus). This was confirmed by the call, a sharp high-pitched "spinck" followed by a gentler descending "djwee" or "tchay" type call. This species is mapped by Borrow & Demey for S Nigeria southward and other places from Ghana W but not for SW Nigeria. The "habits" description was a good match though in the statement "singly or in pairs in mangroves and forested riverbanks".
Few new birds were seen on the homeward trip, but there were two more Woodland Kingfishers and the first Western Grey Plantain-eater of the trip at Mosafejo Town, and 5 presumed Hadada Ibis in flight over the expressway just east of the "22km" bus turning point.
Monday 11 November
We went into Lagos town and got a taste of urban birding. Perhaps not surprisingly, the same species attending human habitations in other areas were the most prominent, i.e. Cattle Egret and Black Kite. Nevertheless, it did look odd to Western eyes to see Cattle Egrets hopping around the main road on Lagos Island which was otherwise just as busy, noisy and "urban" as any city centre street in the UK; similarly, 13 Black Kites hanging on the updrafts around a 15-storey corporate HQ - what a sight that would have been in central London!
The above were complemented by more urban birds, a bunch of Pied Crows, 15 Feral Pigeons, Laughing Doves and Common Bulbuls with the odd Barn Swallow and African Palm Swift overhead. At this time of the morning (9am) a general movement of Cattle Egrets was also apparent with 40 W along the south shore of the island in a 20 minutes period (i.e. the time taken to clear the "go-slow").
We then headed off out of Lagos E on the Epe expressway to the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (http://www.ncf-nigeria.org/) Lekki reserve, opposite the Chevron oil company. This is easy to find and there is a large open building housing visitor displays at the entrance (pictured on the front page of their website - under development). There is a small café and toilets at the rear.
We headed out onto the reserve which had an excellent infrastructure in the form of a raised board walk through the whole of the forested area and a track through an open savannah area, constituting a trail with a figure of eight plan. The first area is pretty wet and is punctuated by viewing areas and hides over small ponds, but there seemed to be no large water bodies visible from the reserve. A tree house on the initial anticlockwise branch affords good views over the forest.
Setting off clockwise, species of bulbul/greenbul, barbet and monkey in the first forested area went down as unidentified, but we soon had fantastic views of White-throated Bee-eaters hawking over the marsh to the left. In addition to the ubiquitous Common Bulbuls there was a group of Palm Swamp Bulbuls here. This species was very easy to pick up with a distinctive call like a tape-recorded conversation played too fast. There were also a group of Fanti Sawwings (an all-dark swallow species) and then a fine male Fire-bellied Woodpecker which landed high on a tall dead tree.
At a covered swamp hide we had more of the same and a pair of beautiful Violet-backed Starlings paused briefly in a tree. A Green-backed Heron flew in and gave fantastic views low in a tree above the pools. Monitor Lizards could be seen moving under the board walk in the swamp, but we did not catch sight of any of the crocodiles which were said to be present.
Just outside the swamp hide, a male Tiny Sunbird was perched high in an overhanging tree, unusually remaining stationary for about a minute, enabling me to separate it with certainty from the more expected, and almost identical, Olive-bellied Sunbird.
In the savannah area we saw a much larger group of monkeys high in the canopy. It was much easier to see birds here, and there was a flock of Rufous-chested Swallows perched in a tree near the path and a Collared Sunbird in a small copse. There were the usual Bronze Mannikins and Common Bulbul, with Black Kites and African Palm Swift overhead. Towards the eastern end of the area, 3 African Pied Hornbills and a Western Grey Plantain-eater flew over, all remarkably large (c. 50cm) and conspicuous birds. Finally, a small group of Red-vented Malimbes were foraging in trees at the entrance to the forest area.
On our way out, further Greenbul species were seen but only the Little Greenbul was positively identified due to its distinctive song (ending abruptly on a rising note).
It was interesting to note that the entire reserve was deserted - the only people we saw were a couple of the local guards from the entrance hut, but we found that they knew little about the bird-life.
As we travelled back we saw a Pied Kingfisher hunting over the Five Cowrie Creek from the Maroko Road on VI. We went down to the "Bar beach", the SE end of VI to have a look for sea birds and were surprised that there was not a single bird in sight on the visible sandy beaches or over the sea.
We took the third mainland bridge back west affording views over Lagos Lagoon. A couple of Long-tailed Cormorants and a Great White Egret were at the southern end whilst a larger group of smaller presumed Little Egrets were on a northern island.
Cattle Egrets were apparently attract by fires at roadside rubbish dumps with a group of 6 at one in Ijora, together with 6 Feral Pigeon and a Black Kite and 3 more west of Oshodi Market. Again, an African Openbill circled high over the Festac Town eastern lagoon.
In the late afternoon, c. 10 House Martin and a Little Swift circled above the garden in Festac. Bronze Mannikins and an African Pied Wagtail passed overhead, with a Pied Crow at dusk - just like in Britain where the crow is one of the first to rise and last to retire!
Tuesday 12 November
This was a mainly non-birding day spent in and around Lagos.
6 African Openbills were circling over Ijora (Ijora Causeway/Eko Bridge junction) with 6 Black Kites and a Common Kestrel nearby.
On the pools by the national theatre, Ijora, there was a good array of wetland species, including a flock of c. 10 Black-winged Stilts and plenty of egrets and herons. Wooly-necked Stork and Hadada Ibis were new.
Long-tailed Cormorants and egrets were again seen at the south end of the Third Mainland Bridge.
Wednesday 13 November
First thing in the morning in the yard, the skulking female Variable Sunbird was sighted confirming presence of a pair.
We set off back to Lekki and were happy to see a couple of Senegal Parrots high in a tree over Liverpool Road, Apapa. At the Ijora flyover, African Openbills were again soaring but 2 Western Reef Egrets in flight near the road onto the Eko bridge were new.
At the S end of Lagos Island, plenty of Cattle Egrets were moving again, with 40 NW and 21 SE over Lagos Harbour. 2 Western Grey Plantain-eaters were seen here with a couple more over the NW end of VI. Nothing new on VI with the usual Cattle Egrets (10 at a pavement rubbish dump, others on the Five Cowrie Creek), Black Kites (10+), Feral Pigeon (6), African Palms Swifts (6) and Laughing Dove, plus 2 Common Kestrels over Ozumba Mbadiwe Avenue.
As we set out east on the New Epe Expressway a probable Purple Heron flew over north. Victoria Garden City held the usual suspects - 15 Laughing Dove and Common Kestrel, a few Barn Swallows at a petrol station not far beyond, and probable Sand Martins and Little Swift nearby. We followed the expressway past Chevron towards Eleko beach (about 20km east, turning right down towards the coast at Ibeju for the last couple of miles).
A probable Shikra was perched on roadside wires and there was a weaver colony and 2 buzzard sp. over at the turn. 10 Bronze Mannikin frequented the Eleko beach checkpoint.
The Eleko beach itself was very beautiful, but deserted save for a few touts looking after beach-huts. The beach and sea were equally devoid of bird life, with the only species seen out over the sea being Black Kites - a total of 20, and several migrant egrets in the far distance.
Back at the NCF Lekki reserve we again saw the Palm Swamp Bulbuls and heard the Blue-spotted Wood Dove in song. Fewer species were apparent in the forest area this time, probably because it was later in the day (nearer midday) than the first visit.
Palm Swamp Bulbuls were also seen in the savannah, along with the same species as the earlier visit. A cisticola species in song seemed to be a Winding Cisticola (not seen on first visit).
Back near the entrance lodge, we recorded further African Pied Hornbill, White-throated Bee-eater, a flock of 6 Bronze Mannikins and a Collared Sunbird, together with 2 Red-eyed Doves and several unidentified bulbul species (mainly heard).
On the journey back, a group of 20 Black Kites were seen over water to the NW of the British International School to the north of Lekki Expressway. 10 more were near the VI-Lagos Island bridge and 6 and the Ijora bridge. There we also saw 2 Pied Crow over the power station.
Near the National Theatre we saw 2 beautiful Spur-winged Plovers at a small pool.
As we came back into Festac over the Badagry expressway bridge we saw 2 Pied Kingfishers perched on wires.
Thursday 14 November
We set out for Ibadan first thing in the morning, going to "Mile 2" to find a car that would take us. In Festac at the Badagry expressway entrance there were c. 10 Ethiopian Swallows and 2 Village Weavers on wires, and 10 Cattle Egret scavenging.
As we travelled north, the usual suspects could be seen from the car - 15 Feral Pigeon at the roadside north of Bagada within the urban area and beyond that, 6 more Black Kite, 3 Pied Crow, 2 Western Grey Plantain-eaters and a weaver colony in a palm by the time we reached the Benin City turn. Thereafter, there was no sign of any human habitation for many miles and the area adjacent to the road consisted entirely of scrub and more developed forest. Very few birds were seen in this zone - the only noticeable groups were 20+ Black Kite and 5 Pied Crows soaring over a presumed rubbish dump east of expressway. A Long-crested Eagle was spotted soaring high over bush to the east of expressway about 30 km S of Ibadan.
Arriving at a market towards the east of Ibadan, not far from the University, groups of Feral Pigeons totaling 26 individuals were logged, together with 5 more Black Kites and a probable Red-footed Falcon.
Entering the IITA grounds (see above under "Accommodation") the first birds seen were Western Grey Plantain-eater, and, appropriately, the "African" versions of Thrush, Pied Hornbill and Pied Wagtail.
We went down to the lake area and saw the expected waterbirds - the 4 white egret species, Squacco* (6), Purple (2) and Grey Herons and at least 20 African Jacanas*.
I walked through the forest from the end of the Old Road and heard many birds which I was unable to identify! However, I did get definite Splendid Sunbird, Common Bulbul, Red-eyed Dove and many Tambourine Doves in song (and probably Blue-spotted Wood Dove), with Laughing Dove and African Grey Hornbill on the fringe near the lake. Also on the forest fringe were probable Shikra, Broad-billed Roller and Woodland Kingfisher.
At the north end of the lake was a gathering of Spur-winged Plovers* (12+), White-headed Lapwings* (2 pairs) and 2 Senegal Thick-knees*. Young African Jacanas were running along the water's edge.
Heading back past the east of the lake, a Double-spurred Francolin was calling and a Whinchat was feeding in the maize; a Plain-backed Pipit was spied near the road, apparently of the expected zenkeri race. At least 6 Western Grey Plantain-eaters frequented the gardens areas to the west of the campus.
Near the International House (I-house) there were 25+ African Thrush on the lawns together with 5 Yellow Wagtail and African Pied Wagtail and Grey-headed Sparrow. At dusk, 10+ Splendid Glossy Starlings gathered for roost on the south side of I-house, Pied Crows passed over to their own roost and c. 500-1000 large fruit bats were seen moving over SE, having presumably spent the day in forested areas to the NW.
Friday 15 November
Setting out at 6.15am, the first species seen were the African Thrushes on the lawns (6.20am) and an African Hobby flew over calling.
A Splendid Sunbird frequented the bushes at the fuel compound and two Plain-backed Pipits* were again at the roadside. These were of strikingly different appearance - one with buff-underparts and the other with very pale-underparts leading me to suspect that the latter was of one of the paler-bellied western races (i.e. gouldii or ansorgei; video footage was taken, included on the linked Plain-backed Pipits page (http://www.geocities.com/steve_extra/plain-backed_pipit.html).
10 Senegal Thick-knee* and 10 Spur-winged Plovers were gathered at the promontory with a small building. An Intermediate Egret* was filmed; there was a general southwards passage of egret species high over the lake, and Grey Herons crossed back and forth at lower levels.
At the rice paddies area a mixed flock of waders in flight included snipes (presumed Common Snipe) and 20-30 small waders (mainly Common and Wood Sandpipers) and 3 Greenshank. Common Sandpiper and Wood Sandpipers were also seen foraging in the paddies.
Returning to the campus, at the tree patch by the entry road, there were 5+ Red-eyed Doves, 5 Pied Crows, 3+ Western Grey Plantain-eaters, 2 Common Bulbul, a Splendid Sunbird and another African Pied Hornbill. A Yellow-throated Longclaw flitted around over the grassland to the south of the road whilst 2 Whinchat were now found in the maize on the north side.
Setting out again after breakfast, there were the same species as previously near I-house, but also Common Kestrels and 8 Little Swift. A pair of Grey Kestrels and a Woodland Kingfisher were in the gardens on the west of the campus.
Down towards the lake, new birds at a small patch of trees to the north of the road were 3 Levaillant's Cuckoos* and a singing Willow Warbler!
Back at the rice paddies (10am) I was able to scrutinise the wader flock more carefully. Most birds were Wood Sandpipers* (19) but there were also 4 Greenshank*, 2 Common Sandpipers and three presumed Common Snipe overhead. 2 Black Crake* were seen lurking between the paddies. 2 more Plain-backed Pipits* were again filmed (one of each race) together with two more lanky birds which were subsequently determined to be Long-legged Pipits* (a species which has recently expanded its range N towards Nigeria). Yellow Wagtail* and Yellow-throated Longclaw were also present. 13 White-faced Whistling Ducks * were resting on the bank of a small pond to the east of the paddies, and took to the water on seeing me.
A bird I took to be an Anhinga was seen flying off north up the lake; I've subsequently learnt that this species is very scarce in SW Nigeria (Phil Hall, personal communication), so I would not want to claim a definite sighting. More Grey Herons (ad. and juv.) were fishing on the shore. At the south end of lake, 21 Common Sandpiper* were perched on the rail over the outflow with a single Green Sandpiper and an African Pied Wagtail. 2 Greenshank there may have overlapped with those seen in the rice paddies. A further Woodland Kingfisher* was lurking in a bush.
Along the west shore of lake, a Black-headed Heron* was perched high in a lakeside tree, another Grey Kestrel was logged and many Tambourine Doves (and other doves?) were in song.
In the forest fringes, more sunbirds were flitting about, including Olive-bellied and Superb* and the impressive Senegal Couchal was glimpsed in flight. The African Grey Hornbill* was seen again. At least 40 Cattle Egrets attended a herd of cows, watched over by a cattle-hand.
Towards the north end of the lake, more sunbirds were seen, including Collared Sunbird, along with 3 Common Bulbuls. Waterbirds included Purple and Squacco Heron, and 5 Black Kites were overhead. A flock of about 10 White-throated Bee-eaters were hawking over the forest where more Tambourine Doves were calling.
A bulbul species audio-recorded (various calls) and glimpsed disappearing into cover was a probable Grey-headed Bristlebill.
At the north end of the lake, 20 Spur-winged Plovers were gathered but only two White-headed Lapwings.
On the east shore a Grey Kestrel was fly-catching over fringe of lake and feeding egrets included Intermediate and 2 Great Whites. Two Double-spurred Francolins were calling in the maize.
Sadly, we had to leave at this point, and headed back into Ibadan to take a look at the university. Similar species to those seen in the city on the previous day were logged, with the addition of Little Swifts and kestrels.
As we left Ibadan I spied 3 presumed Palm Nut Vultures distantly in a tree. Apart from that, the only species seen on the journey was Black Kite. The first Cattle Egrets were seen moving north along the expressway about 20km from Lagos.
Saturday 16 November
This day was spent in the garden in Festac. Similar species to those seen previously were recorded, though a Yellow White-eye foraging for insects in the lime bush was new.
Sunday 17 November
In the morning, 3 African Openbills moved east over church on 2nd avenue in Festac.
We spent the afternoon in a garden off 22 Rd. where the most interesting inhabitants were Slender-billed Weavers*. A pair of Bronze Mannikins* were accompanied by 5 young and there were the usual Common Bulbuls and Variable Sunbird. All of the above probably felt a little uncomfortable at the noises emanating from a vocal pair of Common Kestrels nearby. Overhead were mixed flocks of Barn Swallow, African Palm Swift and Little Swift. Finally, there was a roost flight of c. 20 Splendid Glossy Starlings passing over towards dusk.
Monday 18 November
We departed early for the airport. More Splendid Glossy Starlings were seen in the Awuwo Odofin Housing Estate. At least 20 Cattle Egrets frequented the Apapa - Badagry expressway junction rubbish dump.
At the airport, 15 swifts, including Little and Palm Swifts, circled the control tower and at least 5 Ethiopian Swallows were hunting around the "F" finger. The usual Black Kites, Laughing Doves and Pied Crows* were present, with Yellow Wagtail and Grey-headed Sparrow on the ground and a Village Weaver scavenging at a rubbish skip. So we left Nigeria, sad but happy.