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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative


2023 Narrative

In Summary:  Ghana ranks high on the list of African birding destinations thanks to a combination of good infrastructure, excellent forest reserves, a well-established birding circuit, and a bird list approaching 800 species. Our October Ghana tour ended with great success, with ten species of kingfishers, eleven species of hornbills, seventeen species of sunbirds, and a number of new species for the tour such as Wahlberg’s Honeyguide (6th record forGhana), the localized Baumann’s Greenbul, Dorst’s Cisticola, and Fiery-breasted Bushshrike. It comes as no surprise that White-necked Rockfowl ranked first in the group’s Top 5 birds! Blue-moustached Bee-eater, Nkulengu Rail, Red-cheeked Wattle-eye, and Red-fronted Antpecker followed close behind. Overall, it was an excellent trip.

In Detail:  After an early breakfast we made the short drive over to the Shai Hills, an area of inselbergs, dry woodland, and savannah. Pulling into the gate we had our first mammal, a troop of Olive Baboons patrolling the main road hoping for handouts. From the reception area, we began walking a dirt road where we had our first taste of West African birding. A pair of Levaillant’s Cuckoos were found right off the bat along with some of the commonspecies in this habitat: flocks of Violet-backed Starlings, Vinaceous Dove, African Gray Hornbill, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, and Splendid Sunbird. A pair of Buff-spotted Woodpeckers flew in, but played hard to get, a Lizard Buzzard was spotted flying over, and Stone Partridges were calling from the tall grass. Further up the road we added the vibrant Violet and Guinea Turacos as well as their cousin the Western Plantain-eater, plus Senegal Batis, Black-crowned Tchagra, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, a trio of Senegal Eremomelas, Olive-naped Weaver, and an elusive Western Bluebill. From the thick tangles we had small groups of both Brown and Blackcap Babblers bouncing from one shrubby area to the next while a Puvel’s Illadopsis called from deep within. On the mammal side, some folks spotted a Bushbuck crossing the road and we all had great views of a Kob.

Once it started to warm up, we hopped into the vehicle and continued working our way toward some bat caves. Along the way we added Flappet Lark, Croaking Cisticola, Spotted Flycatcher, and Plain-backed Pipit. Among the bat caves we were able to get a response from an African Barred Owlet, but it stayed a couple layers back. In the caves we saw a few dozen tomb bats roosting in a large crevice.

After a successful morning, we headed back to our hotel for lunch and had Bar-breasted Firefinches and Copper Sunbirds in the garden. We then headed off for the long drive towards Kakum National Park, where we’d spend the next few nights. Along the way we visited the Winneba coastal lagoon, which supports migrant and resident shorebirds and terns. Upon arrival we were greeted by Western Reef-Heron, Black-winged Stilts, Whimbrel, Common Sandpiper, and plenty of Sanderlings running around the sandy banks. A couple roosting flocks of shorebirds consisted of Black-bellied, Common Ringed, and White-fronted Plovers, Ruddy Turnstone, and Common Greenshank. Common and West African Crested Terns were the most common terns within the tern flock, while a few Sandwich and singletons of Little and Black mixed in. Pied Kingfishers made several passes and, on our way out, we added a small group of Curlew Sandpipers, several Spur-winged Lapwings, and a several of Piapiacs.

The following morning a Giant Kingfisher greeted us after breakfast as we loaded up the vehicle before heading a short way down the road to Kakum National Park. This park protects 375 square miles of rainforest and was the focus of our attention for the next several days. What makes this park even more special is the existence of a canopy walkway, the only one of its kind in West Africa. From the walkway you can spot birds that would otherwise be nearly impossible to see from the dense cover below and we spent the whole morning on the canopy walkway tallying nearly 70 species! We walked the trail up to the start of the walkway making a stop to enjoy a very cooperative Rufous-sided Broadbill, which proceeded to do several acrobatic aerial displays.

From 120ft up the canopy, we enjoyed a 360° view of the canopy. We quickly started picking up an abundance of birds including our first views of the more common African Green-Pigeon, Blue Malkoha, West African Pied Hornbill, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Speckled Tinkerbird, Black-winged Oriole, Velvet-mantled Drongo, Fanti Sawwing, Red-headed Malimbe, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, and White-breasted Nigrita. Over time and with some extra effort listening and scanning the treetops, we added Cassin’s and Willcocks’s Honeyguides, Melancholy Woodpecker, Violet-backed Hyliota, Lemon-bellied Crombec, a family group of Rufous-crowned Eremomelas, Sharpe’s Apalis, Ussher’s and Olivaceous Flycatchers, and a selection of sunbirds including Tiny and Johanna’s. We also had our first taste of the greenbul family where we focused on their calls. We tried picking some out of the canopy, and had good views of Slender-billed, Golden, and Honeyguide while Western Bearded, Little, Yellow-whiskered, and White-throated were heard below. On the raptor front, African Harrier-Hawks were prevalent along with a single Ayers’s Hawk-Eagle, a couple distant Palm-nut Vultures, and a Congo Serpent-Eagle, which could be heard calling, but never made an appearance.

After spending the morning on the canopy walkway, we headed back to our lodging for lunch. After an afternoon break, we returned to the canopy walkway to see if we could pull anything new out and managed to see some Black-casqued and Brown-cheeked Hornbills flying around, have great views of Bristle-nosed Barbet, and a couple Chestnut-winged Starlings. We stayed near the parking lot until dusk for our first attempt at some of the local eagle-owls, but only had dusk chorus of Olive Long-tailed Cuckoos and a calling White-spotted Flufftail.

The next morning was spent birding slowly along a dirt track not far from the canopy walkway. Yellow-billed Turacos showed very well, and we had excellent views of Western Dwarf Hornbill, Blue-throated Roller, Fire-bellied Woodpecker, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, and Naked-faced Barbet. Malimbes also made an exceptional showing with Red-vented, Blue-billed, Crested, and Red-headed all being seen. One of the real highlights of the walk was a Long-tailed Hawk. We were able to appreciate its long tail as it flew over the canopy. Elsewhere along the road we added several Red-billed Helmetshrikes and a flock of Chestnut-capped Flycatchers along with a Cassin’s Spinetail flying over the canopy.

After lunch back at our accommodation, and an afternoon break, we returned to the same dirt track where we poked around and relaxed until nightfall. While waiting, a Western Long-tailed Hornbill was a nice find and we heard yet another Congo Serpent-Eagle calling off in the distance. Right after nightfall we began our effort for the various owls that call this forest home. We had a pair of African Wood Owls calling right along the track, while a Nkulengu Rail simultaneously started calling from deep within the rainforest. In a few days, we would spend some time tracking down this rare and elusive rail. Soon after, another individual started calling from the other side of the road building up everyone’s anticipation.

After considerable success in the forest, we spent some time the next day checking out several sites that consisted of mainly farm bush, scrub, and forest edge. Before reaching our first stop, a small village had over a thousand swallows roosting on the powerlines including no fewer than a thousand Preuss’s Swallows, with a few Barn and Ethiopian Swallows mixed in. At our first spot, the farm bush provided Blue-headed Coucal, Whistling Cisticola, Kemp’s Longbill, Black-and-white Shrike-Flycatcher, Lowland Sooty Boubou, two petite African Pygmy Kingfishers, and an absolutely gorgeous Red-cheeked Wattle-eye! A Black Bee-eater also stole the show along with our first Gray Parrots, which screeched overhead. On the raptor front, Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle, Red-necked Buzzard, and Gray Kestrel all made an appearance.

The second half of the day was spent in another area of farm bush and scrub where we added Simple Greenbul, Gray-headed Bristlebill, Northern Yellow White-eye, and Mosque Swallow among others. We also had our best views yet of the stunning Buff-throated Sunbird, and had time to enjoy a large mixed colony of Naked-faced and Bristle-nosed Barbets, which had taken up residence in a large dead tree.

The next day was mostly a travel day, but we broke up the drive with some birding en route to our destination. First up, we spent nearly 2.5 hours along the road towards Brenu Beach. Before reaching the grasslands, we stopped in front of some houses with well-vegetated yards and ended up having several new trip-species in rapid-fire succession. Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Dideric Cuckoo, Marsh Tchagra, Red-faced and Singing Cisticolas, Northern Red Bishops, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, Black-rumped Waxbills along with Wilson’s Indigobirds and more of their parasitic hosts, Bar-breasted Firefinches. Among the many swifts and swallows was a Mottled Spinetail.

Further up the road we added Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Double-spurred Spurfowl, and Black-winged Kite before walking off the main road onto a sidetrack. Here we called in the localized Baumann’s Greenbul, which immediately responded and made a couple quick flights, but didn’t cooperate very well. Overhead our first Hooded Vultures joined the omnipresent Yellow-billed Kites while a flock of 50 White-faced Whistling-Ducks circled overhead.

We had lunch along the coast where we enjoyed some bonus shorebirding. We had a nice flyby of two Bar-tailed Godwits before continuing down the road a short distance to target Mouse-brown Sunbird. It didn’t take long before we spotted a couple of these unique sunbirds. Our final stop before reaching our lodge was a small wetland, which hosted Orange Weavers among the more common Chestnut-and-black Weavers along with our first Common Moorhens and Little Grebes. After an exciting hour traversing an incredibly muddy track in a couple 4x4s, we arrived at our brand-new accommodation right at the edge of the expansive Ankasa National Park, our home for the next three nights.

Our first full morning in Ankasa was spent focusing on several forested swamps. The first waterhole was the most productive, producing a Shining-blue and the smaller White-bellied Kingfisher along with a White-tailed Alethe that took a bath in a stream, offering excellent views of its white outer tail feathers and rufous crown.

Above the water a Black Bee-eater appeared and sat on an exposed branch offering extended scope views and photographic opportunities. The second swamp didn’t produce anything new, but the final swamp had a pair of Black-bellied Seedcrackers, which appeared to be nesting in the immediate vicinity. Other new birds detected this morning were Shining Drongo, White-tailed Ant-Thrush, and plenty of greenbuls including Green-tailed Bristlebill, Red-tailed Greenbul, and White-bearded Greenbul.  We took a short break after lunch, which was conveniently when it rained. In between showers, the gardens around the lodge produced our first Square-tailed Sawwings and our best views of Reichenbach’s Sunbirds consisting of three individuals chasing each other around. After the rain let up, we birded until dusk to try our luck at the bizarre Nkulengu Rail.

These birds, despite being rails, roost high up on branches together. Once they gave their namesake song, the local drivers and ranger took off running to track them down before they stopped calling. While waiting for them to return to lead the way, an African Wood Owl called not too far away. Shortly later we had confirmation that they had found the roosting birds, and we were soon rewarded to superb views of five birds huddled together on a branch over our heads. As if this wasn’t enough, we picked up an Akun Eagle-Owl right across the entrance to our lodge… an excellent ending to the day.

Our second day in Ankasa, we began along the two-track in forest where we quickly picked up a couple Red-billed Dwarf-Hornbills up in the canopy giving their haunting calls. Further along the road we spotted a Blue-headed Wood-Dove and Tambourine Dove sharing a puddle in the middle of the track. We then focused our attention on a productive trail where we finally saw an Orange-breasted Forest Robin after many attempts along with the Upper Guinean endemic Yellow-bearded Greenbul. Blackcap and Pale-breasted Illadopsis called from a distance, but we did manage to track down a Rufous-winged Illadopsis, another Upper Guinean endemic.

We tried once again for Gray-throated Rail at a traditional site but received no response. We did pick up on our first views of Spotted Greenbul as it played hard to get over our heads. By now the skies darkened and the rain had started so we worked our way back to the lodge. The sun briefly shined through long enough to allow us to spot an Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, which had been a heard-only up until now. After lunch the plan was to head back into the forest, but that was hindered by heavy rainfall, which lasted the rest of the afternoon through the early evening. Before dark, some of the group had Cassin’s Flycatcher on the stream behind the accommodation and after dark we had a Fraser’s Eagle-Owl calling.

The weather greatly improved for our final morning of birding around Ankasa. The two-track through the forest was far muddier than before and at one point we had to stop the land rovers and rescue a Dwarf Crocodile to drive forward. It was likely hunting frogs in the flooded road. Rufous-crowned Eremomelas, Red-tailed Bristlebill, and Black-capped Apalis were added to our growing list along with a surprise pair of Red-fronted Antpeckers, a very challenging species to catch up with! We had extended views of both the male and a female. Great Blue Turacos were also heard from a distance as their load raucous calls can travel great distance. While working our way back out on the two-track to pack up our things and move on, we made one last ditch effort for Red-chested Owlet and were rewarded with extended views of this tiny owl.

We birded some farmbush on the edge of Kakum National Park the following morning. The birding was very productive with a nice variety of birds including Vieillot’s Barbets, White-spotted Flufftails, West African Wattle-eye, Lowland Sooty Boubou, Gray Longbill, and Puvell’s Illadopsis. Continuing inland, we made a brief stop along the Pra River adding White-throated Blue Swallow and Magpie Mannikin.

We eventually made it to our community-run accommodation in the village of Bonkro where the local population hosts birders. Ecotourism in this area helps protect the population of White-necked Rockfowl. This is an incredible success story where the forest bordering the village was protected from imminent logging and the community now benefits from the tourism. We checked into our accommodation and set off before dinner for one of, if not the, highlight bird of the tour. Rockfowl, also known as picathartes, nest on rock overhangs in rainforests. We positioned ourselves on a homemade bench and waited for them to return to the boulder to roost for the night. It didn’t take too long before we had superb views of three individuals pouncing around the boulder. A truly magical experience!

After a full traveling day, we arrived at Mole National Park in the evening where we had time to check in and relax before dinner. We were now in northern Ghana, which is characterized by savanna and, with that, a whole host of new species that utilizes mosaics of scrubby woodlands and grasslands. This park is also home to a good diversity of mammals, so anticipation was high for the next couple days.

After breakfast the next morning we headed north, stopping just north of camp where we had our first taste of birding in Mole. Sahal Bush Sparrows, Long-tailed Glossy Starlings, and Northern Red-billed Hornbills were common as were the striking Red-throated Bee-eaters, which were continuously flying overhead in small flocks. We managed to pick out a couple Northern Carmine Bee-eaters as well. Before hopping back into the vehicle, we had Red-headed Lovebird, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Northern Black Flycatcher, White-shouldered Black-Tit, Red-winged Pytilia, and a selection of migrants such as Whinchat and European Pied Flycatcher. Much to our surprise, a pair of Black-faced Firefinches were working the road edge along with a Red-billed Firefinch and Lavender Waxbill. Driving further north we added Black Scimitarbill, the wacky Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Hamerkop, and a host of raptors namely Bateleur and Dark Chanting-Goshawk. We eventually arrived at an open grassland area where we tried our first attempt at finding Forbes’s Plover. Nothing yet, but we did pick up several Sun Larks. On the drive back to camp for lunch, we stumbled upon a Wahlberg’s Honeyguide, which is about the 6th record for Ghana.

After lunch and an afternoon break during the heat of the day, we drove over to a pond where birds tend to congregate. We were soon joined by the likes of Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Red-winged Prinia, Northern Crombec, Willow Warbler, colorful Pygmy and Beautiful Sunbirds, a Gosling Bunting, and of course a Pearl-spotted Owlet, which had responded to our tape. We then headed back to the open grassland area to try our luck for the Forbes’s Plover. Late evening meant that the temperature was better and after quite a bit of searching, a couple Sun Larks, and a stunning Exclamatory Paradise-Whydah later, we eventually found a pair working an area of bare ground. Success! It was nearly dusk now, so we lingered a bit longer and obtained excellent views of Long-tailed Nightjars and heard an African Scops-Owl. On the drive back to camp we spotted a few Standard-winged Nightjars along the road and no fewer than ten Grayish Eagle-Owls!

Of course, Mole isn’t all about birds. Some of our other highlights included Patas Monkeys, Savanna Hare, Common Warthogs, Striped Ground Squirrels, Rainbow Skinks, and a bonus Senegal Chameleon crossing the road.

We began the next morning at the Mole Airstrip for an attempt at White-throated Francolin. Although it did not cooperate this time around, we did add Green Woodhoopoe, Rufous and Dorst’s Cisticolas, Yellow-billed Shrike, and some very cooperative Bearded Barbets to our list. At a nearby waterhole, we had African Woolly-necked Storks, Spur-winged Geese, White-backed Vultures, Black-headed Weavers, Broad-billed Roller, Senegal Thick-Knee, and breeding-plumaged Yellow-crowned Bishops along with a West African Crocodile.

After lunch we took a short walk through a dry forest adding Fine-spotted and Brown-backed Woodpeckers, and Gray Tit-Flycatcher while driving the gravel roads yielded Slender-tailed and Gambian Mongoose. Before dusk, we made a good effort to find our final two target species in the area. We quickly found White-fronted Black Chat and then back at the Mole Airstrip, we heard, but didn’t see, a group of White-throated Francolins. We did, however, find a Northern White-faced Owl and Yellow-winged Bat.

The next day was another travel day as we worked our way back south. Everyone in the group had previously seen Egyptian Plover, so we opted to skip the extensive detour for this species in order to get to our next accommodation in good time. Along the way we stopped on the edge of a village for a very cooperative Blue-bellied Roller sitting on the powerline, our only one of the tour. With the additional time gained from not detouring for the plover, we were able to check into our hotel and then head to the Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary for dusk where we recorded Fraser’s and Akun Eagle-Owls and the deep-forest loving Brown Nightjar.

We returned to Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary the following day to spend the morning slowly birding the road through the forest. By now having spent a lot of time birding other forests including Ankasa and Kakum, we enjoyed a lot of repeat views of species we had previously seen. This didn’t stop us from finding new species, however, as we added Brown-necked Parrot, Forest Scimitarbill, and Gray-throated Tit-Flycatcher along with a heard-only African Piculet. A real surprise was a Spotted Blind Snake that we discovered along the road. After a pizza picnic back at the headquarters, we jumped back into the vehicle and headed to our next destination.

The following morning promised to be an exciting day with a couple big targets on our wish list: Blue-moustached Bee-Eater and Nimba Flycatcher. Both of these species require an upward climb at a steady pace in order to reach the prime area on top of the Atewa Range before it becomes hot and quiet, which would greatly decrease our chances. We set off in the early morning and climbed our way up making few stops with the exception to try for a Yellow-throated Cuckoo, which simply wouldn’t come in for views. Once we reached the top, the birding quickly picked up. Careful scanning in the canopy picked out Purple-throated Cuckooshrike, Forest Penduline-Tit, and Green Sunbird. Continuing along the ridgetop trail we added West African Batis, Narina Trogon, Little Flycatcher, and a heard-only Forest Scrub-Robin. A real surprise was a stunning Fiery-breasted Bushshrike, a rare species in Ghana. This was quickly forgotten when we found several Blue-moustached Bee-eaters with at least one sitting on an exposed vine for an extended amount of time. These are without a doubt one of the most astonishing bee-eaters in Africa.

By now the sun was high in the sky and it was warm out. Despite a lot of effort, we did not stumble upon a Nimba Flycatcher. Still, we were elated with such a successful morning and worked our way back down the mountain. Just before reaching the vehicle, which was waiting for us, we added Compact Weaver and Little Bee-eater in the farmbush. We had been in Ghana for a couple weeks now, which allowed us to focus on new species only, while also enjoying the songs and calls of species we had already seen. Along the way we were busy pointing out every vocal bird, which pushed our day list to an impressive 115 species!

Sadly, the next day was our final day of the tour. Since we had quickly walked up the Atewa Range the previous morning, we returned today to enjoy the lower reaches of the trail at a slower pace. We had a relaxing morning, enjoying excellent views of African Emerald Cuckoo, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Double-toothed Barbet and others before we headed back towards the capital city of Accra and our evening flights home.

Despite the occasional power outage or cold shower, it was a very rewarding and successful tour seeing nearly all our targets and adding a decent number of new species to the cumulative Ghana checklist. Of course, the White-necked Rockfowl was rated top bird of the tour by the group, with Blue-moustached Bee-eater coming in second.

-          Ethan Kistler


Created: 16 January 2024