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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Ghana

2016 Narrative

After a leisurely start around Winneba lagoon we set off to Kakum, where we were to spend three days and nights exploring the nearby habitats. We had some great birds, amid some quiet spells as well. Finally coming away with some really special birds including Akun and Fraser’s Eagle Owls, both Black and Rosy Bee-eaters, Long-tailed Hawk, Cassin’s Hawk-eagle, African Cuckoo-Hawk, White-spotted Flufftail, Rock Pratincole, White-headed Lapwing, White-throated Blue Swallow, four species of spinetail, Fire-bellied and Melancholy Woodpeckers, Western Nicator, White-tailed Alethe, Violet-backed Hyliota, Red-cheeked Wattle-eye, Preuss’s Golden-backed Weaver as well as spending a morning on the famous canopy walkway! Our accommodation here is probably the best we stay at, close to the birding, good food and friendly staff.

For a change of scene, birds and beds we once again spent two nights camping in Ankasa. Once we worked out the best way to rearrange our mattresses and which cold shower was the best to cool off in we were treated to great food by Francis the ‘resident’ chef and some very impressive birding, not least some prolonged scope looks at Hartlaub’s Ducks but also Red-thighed Sparrowhawk, Blue-headed Wood Dove, Rufous-sided Broadbill, Blue-throated Roller, Piping Hornbills, Chocolate-backed, White-bellied and Shining Blue Kingfishers, Yellow and Western Bearded Greenbuls, Yellow-browed Camaroptera and Red-billed Helmet Shrike. Once again it’s great to see the change here now that the ground agents have set up this camp. Believe me, camping here is 100% better than the nearest hotel!

During our forest birding we also saw lots of different sunbirds, including Johanna’s, Buff-throated, brief looks at Reichenbach’s for some and lots of Collared and Olive-bellied. We were teased by illadopsis and bristlebills at several locations, a reminder that West African forest birding can be very tough at times.

Leaving Ankasa behind we spent an enjoyable couple of hours at Brenu Beach Road which was a raptor special with two close African Hobbys, several Black-winged Kites, a juvenile Pallid Harrier (according to the Birds of Ghana by Dowsett and Lemaire the first coastal record since 1995) and several Grey Kestrels. Nearby we saw Snowy-crowned Robin-chat and Marsh Tchagra.

The Picathartes day is always exciting, and although we spent the morning birding elsewhere there is a certain anticipation to the day. An urgency to move on towards our target. Even lunch on that day had an air of anticipation about it, although it was probably more an anticipation about whether we would actually get served before the picathartes became extinct. And soon we were on our way, off the tarmac road, onto dirt tracks, smaller villages. We passed the school building being constructed by money raised by our ground agents (Ashanti African Tours) and arrived at the final village. Time to fill our water bottles and then we made our way in silence, slowly meandering our way uphill. The path isn’t difficult, and much of it is shaded but it’s the middle of the day and the time that most sensible people would be having a siesta or a swim (those options were available on other days!) We followed our guide at a steady pace, and within 40 minutes we were at the last section, a short, steep climb to a couple of wooden benches where we would sit and wait for the stars of the show. We needed to be still and quiet, no fidgeting, no talking, no waving of arms and after 10 minutes all was going well, and then Stuart looked up, movement had caught his eye and there (at a safe distance I hasten to add) was a beautiful Green Mamba, probably over 2 metres in length, moving through the canopy above us! I know snakes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but to have such a good view of what is a very shy snake was a real treat. Ok, concentrate again everyone….and about 30 minutes later the first picathartes appeared. It bounded in, cleaner than seemingly possible for a bird that spends its entire life bouncing around the forest floor or clinging to a mud nest on a rock wall! The first bird was brief, but we all saw it, but then it or another came back, and again, and again. Over the next hour we were treated to very special looks of at 3 different picathartes, sometimes partially obscured by trees, and then one bound and they were back on their favourite rock. They were certainly aware of our presence, but didn’t seem bothered. One bird even went and clung briefly to a nest!

The light was now fading and it was time to head downhill again, and after an hour we were back at the bus, welcomed by children singing in the village. What an experience (even after doing it 10 times the magic of seeing a picathartes doesn’t fade!). Of course dinner would be late, but I don’t think anyone minded.

The next day was a travel day, heading north to Mole. The road is now much improved, and we even had time to stop along the way to admire Grasshopper Buzzard, Namaqua Dove and a Beaudouin’s Snake-eagle. Our time at Mole was spent making the most of the early mornings, taking a siesta after lunch and then trying to extract a few goodies out of the late afternoon heat.

This worked well and we came away with a mouthwatering list of birds including Wahlberg’s, African Hawk and Martial Eagles, Woolly-necked Stork, Stone Partridge, Forbes’s Plover, Greater Painted Snipe, Four-banded Sandgrouse, Greyish Eagle Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Red-throated Bee-eater, Abyssinian Roller, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike, White-fronted Black Chat, Oriole Warbler, Pygmy Sunbird and Exclamatory Paradise Whydah. On top of this a nice selection of mammals with African Elephants the undoubted stars. 

Back towards Kumasi there was chance for a last day of forest birding, Stuart and Victor managed to see the Blue-moustached Bee-eater which frustratingly cleared off just before we arrived. Our final mornings forest birding was at Bobiri, and first we had brief views of three Red-billed Dwarf Hornbills, closely followed by a very obliging Black Dwarf Hornbill and amazing looks at African Grey Parrots, a species rapidly declining in the wild due to the pet trade.

Having now reversed the tour the last couple of years we arrived once again at Shai Hills in time for some nightjarring. Not before we had seen White-crowned Cliff Chat, and both Yellow-rumped and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbirds. As dusk fell we started with a super African Scops Owl at close range, soon followed by Black-shouldered Nightjar, then Long-tailed and Plain Nightjars. As we drove slowly towards the park entrance the ‘commentary’ from the back of the bus was as entertaining as the nightjars themselves. With over 35 nightjars in 50 minutes seen it was a close run thing with the Long-taileds pipping the Plains to the post! What an amazing experience, another late dinner but another case of ‘wouldn’t have missed that for anything’!

The last morning, we returned to Shai Hills, and still managed to see new species up until the last minute with Brown Babbler and (for some) Green or Guinea Turaco being seen. From there we stopped briefly at Sakumono Lagoon, seeing our first Black Herons and Yellow-throated Longclaws before an afternoon to repack, shower, lunch, shower again and off to the airport.

Ghana has come a long way as a tourist destination since we did our first trip there in 2008, this ‘progress’ with regards to service and food, etc. is mainly down to having such a great ground crew. From the minute we arrived we were not only looked after from start to finish, but thanks to Victor’s great eyes and ears, Martin’s safe driving and Mike’s infectious laugh and love of sharing his knowledge and love of Ghana and its culture we really were spoilt! And if Victor ever decides to quit as a bird guide he might also be the most efficient, friendly, smiley waiter the country has to offer? Thanks guys!

 - James Lidster

Created: 01 December 2016