Ghana in January is always a pleasant and enjoyable birding tour but this one was to be the best so far for numbers of species and rarities located. In total we managed 328 species including a sensational 22 species of raptor in one day at Mole National Park which was probably helped by grass burning. The canopy walkway at Kakum produced several interesting species notably Yellow-casqued and Black-casqued Hornbills, Blue-throated Roller and Ussher’s Flycatchers. On the forest floor, brief views of Latham’s Francolins a rather secretive and scarce forest bird. Along the coast we encountered the rather localised Reichenbach’s Sunbird and hordes of wintering waders and terns. Further north around Kumasi we added African Finfoot, Shining Blue Kingfisher, Blue-headed Crested Flycatchers and Fraser’s Sunbird. Further north again at Mole National Park we were treated to a wide range of species including a few scarce and local birds – Red-necked Falcon, Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, Steppe Buzzard, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, Black Woodhoopoe. Western Pygmy Sunbird and Greyish Eagle Owls. Attewa Forest provided us with little-known African birds in Yellow-footed and Willcock’s Honeyguides, Grey-throated Flycatcher, Blue-headed Bee-eaters and Tiny Sunbird. On the final day at Shai Hills the beautiful Rosy Bee-eater, and three rare/uncommon ducks at Sakumo Lagoon.
My thanks go out to Augustus Asamoah for his encyclopedic knowledge of Ghana’s birds and wildlife and Eric Cudjoe who drove us around the sometimes manic road network of Ghana.
Birdwatching Breaks pioneered Ghana in 2002 and others have followed in our wake since.
January 13th/14th: UK, Accra, Sakumo Lagoon, Cape Coast Road, Kakum.
Weather: Hot and sunny 32 C.
From airports in the UK we flew into Frankfurt to connect with a Lufthansa flight to Accra via Lagos in Nigeria. The flight went smoothly and arrived on time despite fog at Frankfurt and a short refueling stop in Lagos. On arrival in Accra we were met by Eric our driver and transported to a hotel in the suburbs of Accra. The following morning we set off to Sakumo Lagoon a Ramsar site situated to the east of Accra. Common Ghanaian birds en route to Sakumo included Yellow-billed Kite, Pied Crow, Laughing Dove, Common Bulbul and parties of Little Swifts. On arrival at Sakumo we quickly noted the huge numbers of wintering Palearctic migrants. This included Greenshank, Common Redshank, Grey and Common Ringed Plovers, Marsh, Curlew, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Whimbrel, Little Stint, Collared Pratincoles and Sandwich, Common, Roseate, Black and Whiskered Terns. Resident species present included Little Bee-eater, Yellow-billed Shrike, Western Reef and Black Egrets, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Yellow-crowned Bishops and at least two Senegal Thick-knees. It was starting to get very hot as we returned to Accra and made a short visit to the headquarters of the Ghana Wildlife Society. Mature trees here had Green Woodhoopoe and Splendid Glossy Starling, and overhead Hooded Vultures. From here we travelled west towards the town of Cape Coast. Roadside wires attracted migrant White-throated Bee-eaters, Grey Kestrels and a lone African Red-tailed Buzzard. Next on the agenda was a small lagoon flanked by extensive reeds and scrub. Open waters here attracted White-faced Whistling Ducks and Common Moorhen. Other species present were African Jacana, Squacco Heron, African Grey Hornbill and overhead a migrant Osprey. Cape Coast was soon reached and our base for the next three nights. Gardens here attracted Woodland Kingfisher, Village and Viellot's Black Weavers, Bronze Mannikins, and a pair of African Pied Wagtails. After checking in we headed to the village of Kakum with its nesting Ethiopian Swallows. As the light started to fail a short walk added Little Greenbul, Simple Leaflove, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Tawny-flanked Prinia, African Yellow White-eye and a pair of dueting Senegal Coucals. returned to base after an enjoyable first day in Ghana.
January 15th: Kakum National Park and Kakum North.
Weather: Cool at Kakum then hot 33 C.
An early start today with a visit to the canopy walkway at Kakum National Park. The walk to the walkway is steep in parts along a rather uneven trail. We heard Grey-headed Bristlebill, Honeyguide Bulbul, Yellow-whiskered and Icterine Greenbuls, Grey Longbill and Brown Illadopsis (all birds of the forest floor). We reached the walkway which stretches out over a large area of forest. From the first viewing platform we observed Red-fronted Parrot, African Green Pigeon, Sabine's Puffback, Yellow-mantled Weaver, Black-winged Oriole and Slender-billed Greenbul. Platform two was to be our main stopping place for the morning as we watched for flocks of birds feeding in the canopy. Noisy and visible species included African Grey Parrot, Blue Cuckooshrike, Yellowbill, Velvet-mantled Drongo, Chestnut-breasted and Grey-headed Negrofinches and Cassin's Honeybird. A large bare tree with three large crowns was particularly productive with sightings of: Red-headed Malimbe, Forest Woodhoopoe, Levaillant's Cuckoo, Tit Hylia, Hairy-breasted and Naked-faced Barbets, Spotted Greenbul, Superb, Green, Little Green, Buff-throated and Blue-throated Brown Sunbirds, Violet-backed Hyliota and Chestnut-capped Flycatcher. In the highest dead trees Ussher's Flycatchers and overhead Common Swift, Mottled and Cassin's Spinetails. We also heard Red-rumped and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds, Swamp Palm Bulbul, Yellow-billed Turaco, Red-tailed Bristlebill, Tambourine Dove, and Gabon Woodpecker. We left the canopy walkway at 0930 and headed back to base for brunch with Latham's Forest Francolin near the entrance. At 1430 hours we met again to visit another sector of Kakum National Park. Green-backed Heron was added behind our chalets before lunch. Beyond the main entrance to Kakum we headed straight on and turned left down a rather rutted road leading into the northern part of Kakum National Park. About one kilometer down the road we stopped to study a group of swallows (all Barn). Further on we heard the distinctive calls of Ahanta Francolins and had views of Black-necked Weavers and Black and White Mannikins. Near a cleared area with large trees a few Black Bee-eaters, African Pied Hornbills, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Olive-bellied Sunbird and a calling White-spotted Flufftail. The weather started to close in with distant thunder. This had an effect on birdlife as it quietened down somewhat. Beyond the rangers hut we again checked several large trees recording flocks of African Green Pigeons, Splendid Glossy Starlings, Blue-spotted Wood Doves and the ever-present calls of Little Greenbuls. Earlier we heard Olive-green Camaroptera but it failed to respond to our calls.
January 16th: Kakum North, Kakum National Park (lower trail), Cape Coast, Brenu Akyinim.
Weather: Overcast and humid 29 C.
We left early in order to be at Kakum North by first light. The first stop beyond the park headquarters was extremely productive for Yellow-browed and Olive-green Camaropteras, Rufous-crowed Eremomela, Green Crombec and Kemps Longbill. Overhead African Grey Parrots flying into the mist. Sunbirds were also noted including Collared, Buff-throated and Olive-bellied. A bonus came in the form of Red-billed Helmetshrikes, Speckled Tinkerbirds and three very visible and noisy White-crested Hornbills. Further down the track we caught up with Swamp Palm Bulbuls and Dusky Blue Flycatchers. On our return towards the main road Green Hylia and a single Red-rumped Swallow. From here we visited the national park restaurant for breakfast. After we embarked on a walk around the lower trail network. Birding was tough along the trail although we managed to locate Forest Woodhoopoe, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Honeyguide Greenbul and a pair of Buff-spotted Woodpeckers. The distinctive calls of Fraser's Forest Flycatcher echoed around us but we could not locate this specialised bird of West African forests. On the return leg of the trail we came across Blue-billed Malimbes, Common Bristlebill and a calling Red-rumped Tinkerbird. Back to base and out again at 1530 to visit habitats near Cape Coast. We headed westwards along the coast and visited an extensive wetland area dotted with large trees and seasonal pools. A fruiting tree proved a magnet for sunbirds with Splendid, Copper, Carmelite and Reichenbach's all being seen well. In addition to these colourful birds we added Double-toothed Barbet, Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starling and migrants from Europe - Marsh Harrier, Spotted Flycatcher and Garden Warbler. Towards dusk White-throated Bee-eaters started to occur in large numbers plus small flocks of Black-rumped Waxbills and Bar-breasted Firefinches. A few Pruess' Cliff Swallows were also noted along with African Palm Swifts. In the distance we could hear Double-spurred Francolin, Green Turaco and Yellow-headed Gonolek. The last birds of the day were northbound Wood and Green Sandpipers flying into a shallow pool. A great days birding in Ghana. Tomorrow we return to the canopy walkway before headed north to Assin Focil.
January 17th: Kakum National Park, Assin Focil, Bankuro.
Weather: Hot and humid 32 C.
Today we returned to the canopy walkway in Kakum National Park. On the way towards the walkway we heard Black Sparrowhawk, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher and Rufous-sided Broadbill. Once on the walkway we recorded similar birds to our last visit with the addition of African Harrier Hawk, Black-casqued and Yellow-casqued Hornbills, Blue-throated Rollers, Fire-bellied Woodpecker, Crested Malimbe, Copper-tailed Glossy Starling, White-breasted Negrofinch and Golden Greenbul. Near the end of the walkway we encountered a pair of Icterine Greenbuls and an African Emerald Cuckoo. Walked back down to park headquarters for brunch and then back to base to pick up luggage. At 1330 we headed inland towards the town of Assin Focil. Checked in at the hotel and then headed straight to Bankuro a remote village near a protected forest area. En route we found a Lanner Falcon perched in the top of a large tree. At Bankuro we picked up our two local guides and started to walk through the forest. After c45 minutes we reached a Yellow-headed Picathartes nesting area on isolated cliff faces. We waited for sometime and I eventually had poor views of a bird going into roost.(The breeding cliffs are often unattended for 8 months of the year). We waited until dusk to no avail before walking back to the bus and onto Assin Focil for the night.
January 18th: Assin Focil, Kumasi, Owari, Bobiri.
Weather: Overcast and humid 27 C
On the road at 0600 hours for the trip north to Kumasi, the second city of Ghana. We passed through one of the main gold mining areas and onto Owari our first birding stop. We started the walk from the main gate towards the dam. To my surprise the first bird of note was an African Baza sitting quietly on a wire in the open - great views. Further down the track we located a noisy Blue-breasted Kingfisher calling from a low perch. The walk around the lake was totally unproductive with the dam offering us the best views. On the lake itself White-faced Whistling Ducks, African Pygmy Geese and African Jacanas. On the dam Common and Green Sandpipers and a Striated Heron. It was starting to get very hot as we joined the main road into Kumasi a rather dusty, bustling town littered with old cars and grime. Checked-in at a hotel on the eastern outskirts. After lunch we made the short trip to Bobiri an interesting patch of forest. Birding was initially quiet but a feeding flock provided us with Red-headed Malimbe, Yellow-mantled Weaver, Velvet-mantled Drongo and Red-billed Helmetshrikes. In the distance we could hear African Wood (Afep) Pigeons and a Narina Trogon. Our last new birds were Black-throated Coucal and Lead-coloured Flycatchers. As dusk fell the birds disappeared and we headed back to base. We return to Bobiri in the morning for another chance of Ghana's special forest birds.
January 19th: Bobiri, Owari.
Weather: Hot and overcast 30 C.
After breakfast we revisited Bobiri forest reserve. Large trees attracted feeding flocks of malimbes, weavers and sunbirds. Pruess's Golden Weaver and Bristle-nosed Barbet were seen well. Deep in the forest we heard the distinctive calls of Long-tailed Hawk, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill and Black Cuckoo. Walking along the dusty track was an enjoyable affair with excellent views of Western Nickator and Blue-throated Brown, Superb, Collared, Olive-bellied, Olive and Fraser's Sunbirds and Black-winged Orioles. In the denser forest we enticed Blue-headed Crested Flycatchers into view. At 11am we headed back to base for lunch and went out again at 1430 to visit Owari. In took ages to pass through Kumasi with its heavy traffic and air pollution. At the entrance gate of Owari a Broad-billed Roller perched in a dead tree. We straight to the dam area and started scanning the lake. Within minutes we had located the rather scarce and localised African Finfoot. Similar birds on the lake and in lakeside trees to yesterday morning. Added bonuses were Giant and Shining Blue Kingfishers near the dam, plus the commoner herons, egrets and migrant waders from further north. Tomorrow we head north to Mole National Park and a different habitat and birds.
January 20th: Kumasi, Mole National Park.
Weather: Hot and sunny although hazy in Kumasi 33 C
We left the polluted air and congestion of Kumasi and travelled north towards the border with Burkina Faso. Birds were few and far between en route as many areas had been recently burnt. Rest stops for supplies and food at Techiman and Kintampo. Before the junction At Fufulsu we stopped for Grasshopper Buzzards and, a Brown Snake Eagle perched on top of a pylon. On reaching the junction we turned west to the town of Damongo and north into Mole National Park. A long tough drive for our driver Eric ended at 1530 as we pulled into the Mole Hotel overlooking a large stretch of savanna and two water-holes. After checking-in ( a rather protracted affair) we birded around the extensive grounds and overlooks. Trees attracted Grey Woodpecker, African Thrush, Willow Warbler, Senegal Eremomela, Beautiful Sunbird, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow Weaver and Bush Petronia. From the overlook several species were noted around the water-holes including Woolly-necked Stork, Hamerkop, Hadada Ibis, Spur-winged and African Wattled Lapwings, Senegal Thick-knees, Helmeted Guineafowl and Double-spurred Francolins. Our final birds were a group of roosting Long-tailed Glossy Starlings. We ended the day watching the final moments of the opening African Cup of Nations football match between Ghana and Guinea, thankfully the host nation won 2-1 to the delight of our driver and birding guide.
January 21st: Mole National Park.
Weather: Hot with light winds 34 C.
At first light we visited the terrace area where Little Weaver, Beautiful Sunbird and Bush Petronias were feeding in a flowering tree. Below us Black-headed Heron and Black-corwned Night Heron around the second water-hole. The trees added Pied Flycatcher, Senegal Batis, White-shouldered Black Tit and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds. A Lanner Falcon flew past and dropped down in search of prey. Back for breakfast followed by another walk towards the path leading downwards into the water-hole area. From the breakfast table African Grey Hornbill and Rufous-crowned Roller. Overhead the first of many Bataleur's. We picked up our guide and started to walk down towards the water-holes. In the last tree Melodious Warbler, Northern Black Flycatcher and Grey-backed Camaroptera. Shortly afterwards we added adult African White-backed Vultures and a Gabar Goshawk. The thirty minutes or so produced a steady passing of raptors including: African Hawk Eagle, Tawny Eagle, African Red-tailed, Grasshopper and Steppe Buzzard (latter is rare in Ghana), a juvenile Ruppell's Griffon Vulture (nearest are in the north of Cote de Ivoire), African Harrier Hawk and Eurasian Kestrel. Other notable birds were Saddle-billed Stork, House Martin (hundreds) and African Palm Swifts. Next on the agenda was a viewing platform overlooking a rather muddy water-hole awash with Nile Crocodiles. More birds of prey here with Shikra, European Honey Buzzard (pale juvenile) and Short-toed Snake Eagle. Estildid finches were also prominent comprising of Red-billed, Blue-billed and Bar-breasted Firefinches, Orange-cheeked Waxbills, Pin-tailed Whydah and Northern Red Bishops. Back to base to rest in the heat of the day. From the terrace a wintering Common Redstart. Back out again at 1600 hours to visit another area of Mole National Park. We started birding beyond the primary school in a recently burnt area. Red-throated Bee-eaters were catching insects from dead trees and two Togo Paradise Whydahs flew past in their breeding plumage. Our amazing raptor day continued with up to two Red-necked Falcons and a Lizard Buzzard perched motionless on a bare branch. Birds were moving around everywhere into roost and looking for trees with berries and fruit. Purple Glossy and Long-tailed Glossy Starlings appeared in reasonable numbers along with Senegal Parrot and a group of Brown Babblers. Near a culvert we heard African Paradise Flycatchers and observed Tawny-flanked Prinias. To our amazement another two raptors were added - Palm-nut Vulture and Beaudouin's Snake Eagle. The light was starting to fade as we returned to the school (by bus) with a party of Stone Partridges along the way. An incredible birding day had come to an end in Mole National Park.
January 23rd: Mole National Park, Kumasi, Accra road south of Kumasi.
Weather: Hot and sunny 32 C.
Today was essentially a travel day back towards Accra via Kumasi. We were due to stay in Kumasi but all hotels were full due to the African Cup of Nations football competition. Before setting off from Mole we visited an area for Greyish Eagle Owls which duly obliged. The journey south was broken up by lunch at Techiman and to obtain funds at Sekondi the latter a bustling lively town. The only new birds of note were Blue-bellied Rollers north of Techiman feeding in cashew trees. After passing through Kumasi we joined the rather busy Accra road and turned off to our hotel accommodation for the night. Tomorrow should provide us with forest birds and hopefully new species for the trip.
January 24th: Atewa Forest Reserve.
Weather: Hot and sunny 32 C.
We checked out of the hotel and travelled the short distance to the main Accra-Kumasi highway. Breakfast taken here and one of the few reliable and 'food safe' roadside stops. Atewa was our main birding area today a forest area straddling a high ridge (seriously affected by illegal logging activities). Large trees en route attracted African Hobby, African Harrier Hawk, Viellot's Black Weaver and parties of Black-winged Bishops (the latter feeding in tall grasses). At the forest entrance we recorded a wintering Wood Warbler and nesting Grey-throated Flycatchers a scarce and localised West African endemic. We started to walk slowly up the old logging track. The commoner forest species were present but a bonus came in the form of Willcock's Honeyguide a little known species of West Africa. We studied the bird for sometime feeding slowly around a vine-infested tree. Black and White Shrike Flycatchers calling in the distance plus European Honey Buzzard and brief views of Sooty Boubou. Further up the track displaying Cassin's Hawk Eagles and Ansorge's Greenbul. Returned to the restaurant for lunch with another visit to Atewa at 1400 hours. We drove up to the highest point and walked along the ridge. After a few minutes we were looking at a pair of Blue-headed Bee-eaters a rather rare and scarce forest bird. To our amazement some extremely rare and little-known species were found including Yellow-footed Honeyguide walking along and inspecting a tree bough for food. Tiny Sunbird, Blue-headed Wood Dove and a calling Yellow-throated Cuckoo followed with a showy Pale Flycatcher. Time was pressing as we returned to the main highway and travelled to Accra for our final night in Ghana.
January 25th: Accra, Shai Hills, Sakumo Lagoon (inland sector).
Weather: Hot and humid 33 C.
Up and out at 0530 for our last day in Ghana. The first birding destination was the Shai Hills a savanna area bordered by rocky outcrops to the north east of Accra. On arrival birding was extremely quiet but little did we know what was in store later in the morning. The first new trip species were Heuglin’s Masked Weavers and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbirds. Near a small pond we finally caught up with Snowy-crowned Robin Chats, a female Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike and several Croaking and Siffling Cisticolas. In the distance we located a pair of European Bee-eaters perched in a dead tree. As we were leaving Shai Hills we stumbled across one of our target species the beautiful Rosy Bee-eater. Prolonged and close views of this range-restricted African endemic. We decided to have another look at Sakumo Lagoon where birdlife had lessened somewhat to the previous visit. Royal Tern and African Spoonbills were new additions to the list. We headed inland towards the golf club and scanned the inner section of Sakumo Lagoon. To our amazement we located Garganey, Northern Pintail and Northern Shoveler all three rather uncommon in coastal Ghana. On the mud flats a flock of Black-tailed Godwits, Kittlitz’s and White-fronted Plovers. Time was getting on as we left for the hotel to change, shower and freshen up for the journey back to Europe. The flight left on time, the end to a great birding adventure in Ghana.
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