Saturday, 3 October 2015

The Day of the Picathartes

Drove the short distance to the Abrufo section of Kakum forest and spent a productive and very nice few hours birding the farmbush and then taller, mature forest a bit later. First goodie of the day was a Red-cheeked Wattle-Eye giving the best views yet and I liken this species to a miniature Bird-of-Paradise as it is so stunning. You just have to see it….! At the same spot a Puvel’s Illadopsis skulked, but not that well and I got bins on it, but a Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat was a true arch-skulker and never showed but sang away from a dense area of brush. Nearby a Brown Illadopsis showed briefly, and then a Black Bee-eater posed on top of a bush – just a shame it was so overcast and dull as the photo doesn’t do the bird justice at all. 

Black Bee-eater

A West African Wattle-Eye also appeared, and there was a Guinea (Green) Turaco and some Western Bluebills around as well. Then a Honeyguide Greenbul sat out in the open, a Superb Sunbird appeared, and both Green Crombec and Red-rumped Tinkerbird gave repeated views. 

Honeyguide Greenbul

Then we followed a trail into the forest and had excellent views of a Western Nicator right out in the open. But I most remember this trail for the huge antswarm I stood way too close (hence the burning sensation up my legs) to whilst trying to get a photo of one of the four White-tailed Alethe’s feasting on huge numbers of bugs, crickets and some really ugly spiders all fleeing the maelstrom of ants. 


White-tailed Alethe

Anyway, a little while later we stood out in the now beating sunshine in an open area and scoped my first Bristle-nosed Barbet and tinkered with a calling Black Cuckoo that flew low overhead a couple of times. There was also a Naked-faced Barbet here and a European Honey Buzzard flew over. 

Tit Hylia

Eventually we had to return to the minibus, but not before Victor spotted a Tit Hylia along the trail up ahead and I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see this species – the smallest bird in Africa no less! And it showed really well too. So then we set out on the two hour drive to the lunch stop and from there it was another hour to the village where we walked into the forest for one of those Holy Grail birds.


 
Cassin's Hawk-Eagle


Thankfully, it was a much shorter walk to the picathartes stake-out than I anticipated and after a 30 minute walk through the forest (and a Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle soaring overhead) we arrived at the small cliff and as we rounded a corned a flipping Yellow-headed Picathartes shot out from the shadows and off into the forest. Damn! So I settled into a groove behind a tree where I had a view of the whole arena below the overhanging cliff where one nest was visible. It was 3.20pm and I thought I’d made a mistake in not sitting down but at 3.50pm some movement off to the right caught my eye and I froze as sure enough there was a picathartes standing amongst the tangle of vines and leaves. Wow! I daren’t move and could hardly breathe as it made a few hops and came out into the open a bit more before pausing once again. After several minutes had passed I slowly moved the camera and fired a few shots, and the bird didn’t seem bothered by this – but it was only maybe 9 or 10 metres away. Still not moving I waited and waited and thankfully the bird moved up onto a rock in full view and began to preen – holy cow! 


Then, over the course of the next 40 minutes I was fully able to enjoy the whole ‘picathartes experience’. A second bird also came in, and I was really lucky they had arrived early as the light was still good enough to get some decent shots (well I was shooting on f2.8 at iso 1250 giving me 1/20th) but on the tripod it was good enough. At one stage, and I’m guessing it was the male, hopped right up to me until just a metre away and looked me right in the eye. How stunningly incredible was that? 


Even more incredible was that ‘he’ came back around 5 minutes later and did exactly the same thing. I must admit I thought I was being reasonably inconspicuous and barely moved the entire time I was here, and using the wireless shutter remote with LiveView worked a treat – thank you Nikon. 




Yellow-headed Picathartes

Well at 4.30pm both birds melted back into the forest and I did the decent thing and retreated as well. Walking back towards the village a Red-chested Owlet began calling and amazingly I spotted it perched high overhead in the foliage of a super tall tree. 

Red-chested Owlet

What an afternoon. All that remained was to drive a couple of hours to my last night’s hotel and count up my 86 lifers scored in just 6 days birding here so far….




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