Wednesday, 7 December 2016

GHANA 2016: North to South (7-12 November)

This is the final posting recounting a sucessful trip to Ghana with Zoothera. We had spent over two weeks slowly working our way up towards the border with Burkino Faso where we would spend a day before heading back to south Accra, hopefully picking up some of the birds we'd not already encountered.

Monday 7 November. After the usual 05:00 breakfast and 05:30 departure we drove to Sapeliga.  We had a short stop in open scrub on the way seeing Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Rufous-crowned Roller, Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Yellow-billed Shrike, Yellow-billed Oxpecker and a displaying Exclamatory Paradise Whydah. We arrived at Sapeliga at about 08:00 and walked a short distance to the bank of the White Volta. Here a finger of Burkino Faso cuts into Ghana but more importantly it is a reliable site for Egyptian Plover. Ashanti fund local villagers to protect the birds and we had picked up a ‘guide’. We walked no more tan 500m along the river bank to where the plovers were. We saw 8, 2 of which may have been in Burkino Faso (the only species I noted there). We enjoyed the plovers for an hour or so, also seeing single pairs of White-crowned and Spur-winged Lapwings on the sandy river banks. There were Chestnut-bellied Starlings and African Silverbills by the village but a brief look for the scarce White-rumped Seedeater was unsuccessful. We left the area soon after 10:00 and were back at the hotel in Bolgatanga a couple of hours later at about 12:15. Lunchtime birding options here were non-existent.  We left the hotel at 15:00 driving for an hour to Tono Dam where we stayed until dusk. It as rather quiet although we added a few nice species to the trip list, e.g. Spotted Thick-knee, Chestnut-backed Finch-Lark, Speckle-fronted Weaver and Quailfinch and saw another two Four-banded Sandgrouse. Although I had seen them before I hoped to see Northern Carmine Bee-eater but we failed to encounter any, perhaps we were too early?

Egyptian Plovers by the White Volta


stunning from any angle
but always a little distant
this one jumped into the sand with both feet to disturb insects

the same bird with a rather colder cast (bridge camera rather than digiscoped)
I particularly liked the way the white supercilium extended beyond the rear of its head, very flashy
White-crowned Plovers by the White Volta
one of the above digiscoped



another very smart wader
village near the border
cattle herder, cattle and Yellow-billed Oxpecker (on thw white cow just to the left of his stick)

still on the white cow, out of range of its tail
Northern Red-billed Hornbill
there was some uncertainty within the group as to whether the hornbills were Northern or Western. close examination of their ranges indicated Northern as does the lack of black facial skin/markings
Northern Ghanaian scenes from the bus 


Lizard Buzzard



Rufous-crowned Roller


with large grasshopper


and a bit of vegetation
birding at Tono Dam

very well camouflaged Spotted Thick-knee at Tono Dam

Tuesday 8 November. With five days left we were now heading back south, hopefully to see some of the birds we missed on the way north. Today was mainly a travel day, heading halfway across Ghana to Kumasi.  We departed from the Premier Hotel at 05:30 and headed straight to the Tongo Hills for a second chance at Rock-loving Cisticola. We arrived at 05:45 and were successful almost immediately. The five Rock Kestrels seen on our first visit were still present as were a couple of Gosling’s Buntings.  We were back on the main road by 06:15 and it was then a long drive south with few stops - one for a couple of Beaudouin’s Snake Eagles on pylons and the other for lunch. The Beaudouin’s, which were soon after the Mole turn-off, were particularly welcome having missed them on the drive north. We saw a few birds from the bus, notably Black-headed Heron, Grasshopper Buzzard, Spur-winged Goose and Namaqua Dove and arrived in Kumasi at 17:00, somewhat earlier than anticipated.
carrying large items on one's head was second nature to most Ghanaians, perhaps it explained their excellent posture?
babies slung on the back was standard practice too
colourful street scenes

colourful dresses too

another abandoned truck, this one morbroken down that crashed
Colonel Gaddafi was still big in Kumasi, this was the third taxi I'd seen with his image on it
I wasn't rushing to change my flight home for this one

Wednesday 9 November
. Breakfast at 05:00, we left at 05:35 for a much anticipated return to Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary. We arrived at 06:15 but it was a very quiet morning with little activity. John heard a Congo Serpent Eagle responding to playback and glimpsed it flying through the canopy in a roadside clearing but there was no further response. Further along the road some of us saw African Grey Parrot in its roost tree but I only heard it calling as it flew off, while in a denser area of the forest we again heard Brown Illadopsis but it slipped away unseen. We were leaving at 10:15 with Red-billed Helmet-Shrike the best bird I’d seen, when John suggested a final stop to try once more for the serpent eagle. We duly did and as we were getting out of the bus two superb Forest Wood Hoopoes flew across the clearing landing in trees opposite where they gave good if somewhat distant views. We drove to a lunch stop at a posh restaurant complex (Linda Dor) near Atewa. While birding around the car park after lunch, Wire-tailed Swallow and a flock of 35+ White-throated Bee-eaters being notable, a fire tender dangling a crashed ambulance came in, scary. We’d earlier seen several roadside wrecks and road safety seemed a real issue in Ghana. Fortunately our driver Anim was very good but seemingly lots of others were not. We left Linda Dor at 15:00 and drove to a nearby dirt road where we birded the farmbush along it to the start of the Atewa trail. Pygmy Kingfisher and Black Bee-eater were nice while as the light was starting to fade two flocks of Red-fronted Parrots and 70+ White-throated Bee-eaters flew over and Tit-Hylia and a Lemon-bellied Crombec were seen somewhat briefly in nearby treetops. We left at 17:30 arriving at the Nelsban Hotel an hour later.

the day's carnage on Ghanaian roads. If you are injured in an accident who are you gonna call?
not 193
the latest crash is recovered


Speckled Tinkerbird at Atewa
Black Bee-eater at Atewa


Thursday 10 November. Breakfast at 05:00, we departed at 05:30 arriving at the start of the Atewa trail at 06:30. It was a steady climb up through thick but selectively logged forest towards the ridge. As usual we were hearing more than we were seeing, including Brown illadopsis again. Being a group of 11 on a narrow forest trail did not help, but an hour and a half in and about half way up a pair of Blue-moustached Bee-eaters put on a good show making our efforts very worthwhile. We continued up to the ridge seeing with varying degrees of satisfaction White-tailed Ant-thrush, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush and Pale-breasted and Blackcap Illadopsis although my views of the latter did not warrant a notebook entry.  We stopped for lunch along the ridge. I wandered a few hundred metres back the way we had come without seeing anything. I had thought of continuing further along the ridge but as we were going a bit further after lunch I decided not to. Big mistake as Rod had gone that way and encountered a good flock seeing Narina Trogon and Little Green Woodpecker amongst others.  We caught up with Rod’s flock or a similar one and I briefly saw a Little Spotted Woodpecker. Activity on the ridge seemed good during the middle of the day although we only heard Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo and Many-coloured Bush-shrike both of which would have been new. Activity continued on the way down and Rod found a Bioko Batis which Nick got in the scope allowing excellent views. I also improved on my Lemon-bellied Crombec view but not by much although I only had poor views of a calling Red-chested Cuckoo. We returned to the bus at 17:00 and while the others rested and cooled off thanks to its a/c I went and sat scanning the clearing hoping something might be flying over on its way to roost. Little was but some impromptu pishing caused a male Western Bluebill to fly up into nearby vegetation and then cross the track. Very nice. At dusk Paul attracted a Black-shouldered Nightjar which gave tantalising flight views until Nick spotted its eyeshine as it sat in the back of a bush. A good finish to a very enjoyable day spent almost entirely in good habitat – I wasn’t a big fan of farmbush even though it held some nice species. It was then almost an hour’s drive back to the Nelsban Hotel.

Blue-moustached Bee-eater on the trail up to Atewa ridge
a very smart bird although the blue moustache wasn't easy to see, at least not from below


blue moustache a bit more obvious from this angle






Friday 11 November. I was hoping for another chance to visit the Atewa ridge, an early breakfast and late lunch would have allowed it but it was not to be. Instead we had breakfast at the usual time, departed at 05:35 and drove for 40 minutes or so to a slightly different area of farmbush. There Paul found some Compact Weavers in a damp area at the back of a coco plantation. Other good birds in the area included Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Blue-bellied Roller, Vanga Flycatcher, West African Wattle-Eye, Thick-billed Weaver, Red-headed Quelea and Western Bluebill. We returned to the start of the Atewa trail where some of us had a final walk 300m up it hoping for better views of Lemon-bellied Crombec. It was not to be but a good flight view of a Black-throated Coucal was reasonable compensation. We had had a good morning in the farmbush and probably seen more than we could have expected to in a dash up to the ridge although I’d still have liked to have tried it. We left at 10:45, drove the short distance to Linda Dor for an early (11:00-12:00) lunch after which it was a slow drive to the coast. Behind the port at Tema, on the edge of Accra was Sakumono Lagoon although as it had been on our first morning at Winniba Lagoon the tide was unhelpfully high. We saw a few herons and waders, most notable additions for me being Little Bittern and Pintail, before continuing to the Erata Hotel, our first accommodation, near the airport.
Atewa Farmbush, the forest ridge was in the distance mostly obscured by clouds (and trees)
Coca plantation - Ghana is well know for coca production although it is native to South America 
processing the Coca crop
hard to imagine the white gunge being turned into chocolate
more car wrecks
Ghanaian plains on the way to the coast
Saturday 12 November. Our last day. We had breakfast at 05:00 and departed at 05:40 arriving at the Shai Hills reserve just before 07:00 - a nice area of savanna and woodland around some rocky outcrops. We saw Red-necked Buzzard, Lesser and Greater Honeyguides, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Snowy-crowned Robin-chat, Croaking and Short-tailed Cisticolas, Blackcap Babbler and Yellow-throated Longclaw, many additions to the trip list. Best though was a superb roosting Barn Owl found by Anthony near the bat cave. I would never have found it, never have looked up too concerned not to lose my footing amongst the bat droppings! We left Shai hills somewhat reluctantly at 11:00, the last birding of the trip, and had another posh lunch at a hotel nearby before returning to the Erata at 14:00. Ron left at 15:45 for an early flight to Dubai and then Brisbane and after seeing him off I walked around the block to some waste round but saw nothing. While doing so I encountered a young man who had moved to Accra from Kumasi for work, selling chewing gum at traffic lights. I could well believe him when he told me it was hard work, dangerous and didn’t pay much. It brought home, not that it was needed, how fortunate we were. We packed and left the hotel at 18:00 when we were driven to a restaurant at the airport. Our flight departed somewhat late at 23:45 arriving at Heathrow at 06:00 the following morning. We said our goodbyes at the luggage carousel. I caught the tube to Victoria and after an hour and a half my booked train home to Shoreham-by-Sea. It had been a successful and enjoyable trip with an interesting group ably led by Nick.
Shai Hills
stubby-billed Lesser Honeyguide
bizarrely-billed Bearded Barbet
Vermillion Forester or something similar?
Yellow-throated Longclaw showing its claws


heading for the unphotogenic bat cave
views from above the bat cave


Barn Owl by the bat cave
from a different viewpoint
it was best from here
owls are superb, even the more familiar ones

back to the bus
looking for larks, we didn't find any
but a Greater Honeyguide was some compensation

traffic light vendor
Many thanks to Nick Bray for putting on such a successful tour and being an excellent and easy going leader - being able to wander off when the opportunity arose was much appreciated. Thanks to John for sharing and Anthony, Ron, Chris and Gail and Susie and Robin for excellent company and some good finds. Ashanti provided excellent ground arrangements, Anim for careful driving and Paul, Ebernezer and Emanuel were superb and very knowledgeable local guides.