Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Ghana: Antekwa to Ankasa

This morning we headed to an area of forest called Antekwa, which consisted of farmbush interspersed with tall trees. A Red-chested Goshawk greeted our arrival and allowed us decent scope views before flying off. We then spent some time trying to call in a White-spotted Flufftail and Puvel’s Illadopsis, both of which just called back but some compensation came in the shape of a lovely little Red-cheeked Wattle-Eye – such as exquisite bird. We then drove on a little further and spent the remainder of the morning birding in an area of taller trees, but not before securing stunning views of a much more co-operative White-spotted Flufftail that hung around in its damp little corned for a full ten minutes but usually obscured by vines and branches.

White-spotted Flufftail

Continuing on a flock of Viellot’s Black Weavers perched up in the top of a tree, an Ashy Flycatcher was scoped, and a Black-throated Coucal gave the briefest of views. I really liked the lively Yellow-browed Cameroptera that fed beside the track giving its very distinctive call. We tried several times for Congo Serpent-Eagle without any joy, but had nice looks at Velvet-mantled Drongo, Red-rumped Tinkerbird and a pair of Hairy-breasted Barbets. And that was our lot this morning, with the drive back to the lodge enlivened by a pair of African Dwarf Kingfishers perched right out in the open on telegraph wires – never seen that before!

African Pygmy Kingfisher

Following lunch we set out on the 4 hour drive to Ankasa, stopping along Cape Coast to scope a few Hartlaub’s Duck in a roadside lagoon. The same area also had Brown Sunbird, Malachite Kingfisher, African Jacana and a stunning male Reichenbach’s Sunbird at point blank range. 

Reichenbach's Sunbird

Brown or Mangrove Sunbird

Hartlaub's Duck 

We reached Ankasa around 5pm and dropped our gear off at the campsite before driving for what felt like ages deeper into the forest to the first of a series of secluded pools. It was really quiet and apart from another Hartlaub’s Duck and a fast-moving flock of Red-billed Helmet-Shrikes we didn’t see anything else. Attempts at calling in Akun Eagle Owl only resulted in an African Wood Owl calling back, so we returned to the camp for dinner and a cool shower.

So 59 lifers in 3 days isn’t bad considering I’ve birding extensively in Gambia, as well as other places such as Ethiopia, Namibia and Kenya, which just goes to show what a top destination Ghana really is. And during the night an Akun Eagle Owl was calling from the surrounding forest.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Kakum TickFest

Have been struggling to come up with a way to adequately describe todays proceedings but suffice to say it was, for me, one of the finest days birding I have experienced for quite a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy the tours I lead (and I wouldn’t do them if I didn’t!) but I’m just looking at this personally because I had 47 lifers today! That is probably more than I’ve had for the past 3 years combined!

Anyway, what to say about Kakum Canopy Walkway, apart from it being an engineering masterpiece? Whilst perusing other trip reports I have to say I was in no way prepared for the walkway and didn’t know what to expect and i think most other trip reports just gloss over or take a swift detour when it comes to the facts. Here is what I observed today: this walkway is suspended up to 40m above the forest floor, it consists of a series of wooden platforms fixed around some pretty thick tree trunks (all very safe and well maintained), joined by a series of walkways. These walkways are basically what seemed to me super long aluminium ladders fused together for say 200 yards (the distance between each platform) with planks of wood bolted over the rungs of these ladders, all surrounded by a thick rope mesh. So you can’t fall and it is perfectly safe, however the walkway moves and is UNDULATING, which means that certain parts, usually near each end, are on a little incline. There you go. Maybe I’m a big girl, maybe not but that’s how I saw it today.

Kakum Canopy Walkway
If you can overcome your nerves then the view amongst the canopy is superb and the birding is fantastic. I spent over 4 hours and notched up a lot of great birds, but I did sneak off trail and grab some delightful views of my Desirable Species No 1 – Rufous-sided Broadbill in the gloom of the forest first. Anyway, personal favourites from my time here were a gang of Red-billed Helmetshrikes, the stunning Preuss’s Golden-backed Weaver, Black Dwarf-Hornbill, Brown-cheeked Hornbill, White-crested Hornbill complete with an extraordinarily long tail, Violet-backed Hyliota, Sabine’s Puffback, the really cool Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Yellow-spotted Barbet, Naked-faced Barbet, Finsch’s Flycatcher-Thrush feeding on berries just below the walkway, Rufous-capped Eremomela, Yellow-billed Turaco, and a pair of totally awesome Black Bee-eaters. This latter species may well be a “tarts tick” but I was over the moon to have caught up with it and spent a magical 20 minutes scoping them from one of the platforms. Oh and I didn’t carry the scope up here, my amazingly sharp local guide Victor did!

Black Dwarf Hornbill
Other species I saw up here included: Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Fire-bellied, Little Green and Melancholy Woodpeckers, Black-winged and Western Black-headed Orioles, Grey Longbill, Crested and Blue-billed Malimbes, Little Green, Johanna’s, Collared, Blue-throated Brown, Western Olive and Tiny Sunbirds, Red-tailed, Yellow-whiskered, Honeyguide, Little Grey, Ansorge’s, Western Bearded and Slender-billed Greenbuls, Fraser’s Forest Flycatcher, a distant Piping Hornbill, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Green Hylia, Cassin’s Spinetail, Speckled Tinkerbird, Palm-nut Vulture, Yellow-mantled Weaver, Ussher’s Flycatcher, West African Wattle-eye, Yellowbill, Red-bellied Paradise-Flycatcher, Forest Chestnut-winged Starling, and both White-breasted and Grey-headed Negrita. Phew – good birds huh?

Fraser's Forest Flycatcher
Green Hylia
Red-tailed Greenbul
We walked along some of the trails on the way back to the parking area and managed to see Swamp Palm Greenbul, a pair of Sharpe’s Apalis, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, a cracking White-tailed Alethe skulking in the leaf litter, and an even more skulking Western Forest Robin that took me ages to get a good view of. Leaving here we drove to the Pra River and saw Rock Pratincole and White-bibbed Blue Swallow straight away, and driving back to the lodge a mixed flock of Preuss’s Cliff Swallows and Ethiopian Swallows on some telegraph wires in a village.

After lunch and a bit of a rest back at the lodge we drove to a different section of Kakum Forest and despite high temperatures this afternoon I was very pleased to get decent, albeit neck-breaking, views of an Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo overhead. There was also Black-winged Red Bishop, Black-and-white Mannikin, Cassin’s Honeybird and a Blue-headed Wood-Dove. Moving to another open area at the edge of the forest we had a Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Little Greenbul, Whistling Cisticola and Orange-cheeked Waxbill. Whilst waiting for the sun to set, which seemed to take ages, several Black-throated Coucals were calling but we were unable to get a decent view of them. 

Fraser's Eagle-Owl
Then just after dusk Victor played the call and in flew a Fraser’s Eagle-Owl, which landed above us and remained long enough for me to get my usual standard of owl photo ie not sharp. But whatever, I was so excited to see this beauty and was a great way to end a stunningly great day’s birding.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Ghana - Going Solo....

So i've been home far too long and after the summer break i've hopped on a British Airways direct flight to Accra in Ghana. It's only a little over 6 hours to get here and you are in a whole new world of superb west African birds. I'm travelling on my own with the excellent Victor Owusu from Ashanti African Tours as my local guide.

So breakfast was at 5.15am and we were soon off on the 20 minute drive to Shai Hills where we spent a pleasant morning’s easy birding, following a track through grassland and dense bushes with some taller trees interspersed as well. I was feeling very relaxed and enjoyed getting nice scope views of species such as African Grey Hornbill, Viellot’s Barbet, Senegal Parrot, Splendid Sunbird and Violet-backed Starlings. A little nearer was a pair of Northern Puffbacks, although I much preferred a Yellowbill that came in quite close to us and posed out in the open briefly. Just around the corner in an area of dense bushes with some rocks below we had a mad little session with several Yellow-throated Leafloves moving around us, followed by my first lifer – Simple Leaflove. Then a Grey-headed Bristlebill appeared for a short while, with Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Cardinal Woodpecker, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, Grey-backed Cameroptera, an African Thrush and a pair of Oriole Warblers as well. It was a very exciting 20 minutes and in the end everything showed really nicely.

Simple Leaflove

Further on we scanned some cliffs in the hope of seeing White-crowned Cliff-Chat, but nothing was showing except a Lead-coloured Flycatcher and a superb Violet Turaco that flew a long way over the grassland to land in a nearby tree. 

Violet Turaco

Then a Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird began calling and I eventually managed to get the scope on it, and a little further on a Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird showed well, along with a Black-necked Weaver

Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird

We walked further and on reaching some more open grassland habitat managed to sort out both Croaking and Siffling Cisticolas. Further scanning revealed the first of 3 Blue-bellied Rollers seen this morning, along with Tawny-flanked Prinia and a pair of Yellow-throated Longclaws. So by now it was 9am and was starting to get hot although we had some nice cloud cover that certainly kept the temperature bearable. 

Black-bellied Bustard

Then we drove quite a long way along the dirt track towards a cave and along the way we saw White-shouldered Black Tit, Gabar Goshawk, Flappet Lark, Black-bellied Bustard and a family of Lesser Black-winged Lapwings. I was very pleased with the latter species and a new bird for me, and it was nice to watch them from the minibus as they didn’t seem to mind our presence and I fired off a nice sequence of shots…

Lesser Black-winged Lapwing

Up at the cave there was nothing happening but we did get a reply to the African Barred Owlet, which seems to be the standard thing according to other trip reports. So we drove back to the cliffs and this time truly nailed White-crowned Cliff Chat with a pair flying in and landing high above us – another lifer as this is now split from Mocking Cliff Chat. The same area also had a pair of Lanner, and incredibly both Double-toothed and Bearded Barbets to round off a very enjoyable morning. We also saw a Rufous-crowned Roller and several Woodland Kingfishers on telegraph wires as we drove back to the hotel.

After lunch we set off to Sakumono Lagoon where Kittlitz’s Plover, a flock of Collared Pratincoles and a few Black Herons were the highlight. It was really hazy, but it was 1pm and rather hot. There were lots of other species present but viewing in these conditions wasn't nice, so for the record there was also: Eurasian Wigeon, White-faced Whistling-Duck, Squacco Heron, Western Reef Egret, Ethiopian Swallow, Little Swift, African Palm Swift and others….

The drive through Accra wasn’t fun and I dozed off to the melodic strains of Nirvana from my iphone! Luckily I woke just in time for our arrival at Winneba Lagoon and its flock of 40+ Royal Terns and a few common waders, which did include a White-fronted Plover. The nearby Winneba Plains was our last stop in the late afternoon and although we didn’t spend long here the views of two different African Moustached Warblers were great, whilst there was also Yellow-mantled Widowbird and Red-faced Cisticola to entertain us as well. Glad we saw the lapwing and bustard earlier today as the grass was really tall here and there’s no chance of seeing them here at present.

So that was our day and all that remained was a two hour drive to the Rainforest Lodge, my base for the next 2 nights to explore Kakum. Can’t wait…