Sunday, 17 April 2016

Ghana 11th & 12th March 2016

Another two days from Ghana. The first half of the 11th was spent at Ankasa with the drive back to the Kakum area after lunch. It was a quite enough day but we did manage to finally see a Forest Robin after hearing a few on the trip so far. A Fraser's Eagle Owl was accidently flushed by a handful of participant's at the head to the trail but was gone in seconds. We had small numbers of Orange Weavers in amongst colony of Viellot's Black Weaver on the journey later on also.

Striated Heron

Cassin's Flycatcher on nest.

Rosy Bee-eater

Rosy Bee-eater

Rosy Bee-eater
Female Violet-backed Starling

Melancholy Woodpecker
The main target for the 12th was the White-necked Picathartes. There are only two species in the Picathartes family both of which are found in low numbers and are restricted to West Africa. This particular species is probably the main reason why most birders visit Ghana. They certainly lived to expectations and were probably the highlight for most of us on the trip. They are a truly unique bird. They are reasonably big bird that relies on good quality rainforest with rocky outcrops on which they make their mud nests. Their heads are bald and are somewhat reminiscent of a small dinosaur. We had excellent views of several birds in the area of the cliff face. The nearest village relies heavily on the income provided by visiting birders. As a result the locals can see a clear benefit in keeping the forest intact as without it the Picathartes would be lost. After a memorable time with the Picathartes it was onto Kumasi where we would spend the night before heading up the north and onto Mole National Park. There was an amazing thunderstorm on the journey to Kumasi with lighting flashing every 15 seconds, I've never seen anything like it. This continued for at least two hours and added to a highly memorable bus journey which I won't forget in a hurry...

White-necked Picathartes mud nest.
White-necked Picathartes

White-necked Picathartes

White-necked Picathartes
White-necked Picathartes

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Ghana 9th & 10th March 2016

I've had to combine two days for the one post as I managed to take very few shots over these two dates. Both were spent almost entirely in secondary and primary rainforest. We birded nearby at Kakum again on the 9th and made our way to Ankasa Conservation Area in the south west part of Ghana that evening. On our way to Ankasa we had a brief stop at an area of mangroves just in from the coastline. We were lucky here with at least five Hartlaub's Ducks along with Reichenbach's, Brown/Mangrove and Superb Sunbirds. We then spent the next two nights in Ankasa. As there are no hotels close to this area of rainforest we camped out for the two nights. Everyone really missed the air conditioning of a hotel room as it was so humid even throughout the night. Sadly Ankasa forest is the only remaining primary rainforest (never been logged) in the entire country. There are still a few Forest African Elephants in the forest but unsurprisingly are very difficult to see. Again like most of my time birding in the rainforest I found this type of birding rather frustrating. Our guide would regularly shout out wanted species that just wouldn't come close enough to be seen through the extremely thick foliage. Over the course of the two days we did manage to pick a nice selection of species included African Finfoot, Blue-headed Wood Dove, Great Blue Turaco, Shining-Blue & White-bellied Kingfishers, Blue-throated Roller, Black-casqued Hornbill, Yellow-spotted Barbet, Rufous-sided Broadbill, Red-billed Helmetshrike, Purple-throated & Blue Cuckooshrike, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, Pale-breasted Illadopsis, Olivaceous & Cassin's Flycatcher, Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher and Blue-shouldered Robin Chat.

African Pied Hornbill

Rufous-sided Broadbill. One of the highlights of the trip. Very odd looking passerine and was a bird family tick for me.

Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher

Shining-Blue Kingfisher
Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, the only one of the trip and this one was right up in the canopy.

Forest road obstruction which was quickly taken care of thanks to a machete and some muscle.

Group checking out the Chocolate-backed Kingfisher. Gives you an idea of how high up in the canopy it was!

Water hole in Ankasa.

Another water hole in Ankasa.

Entrance gate to Ankasa - seen better days!

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Ghana 8th March 2016

We spent the whole day back in Kakum National Park (looking a lot cleaner!) with a morning and evening session on the canopy walkway and platforms. Even though the forest was secondary growth it still contains some massive trees. The walkway consists of aluminium ladders with wooden planks for the floor with netting along the sides and metal wires and ropes which support the whole thing. These rope bridges connect seven huge trees which have sturdy wooden platforms. At its highest its about 40 metres / 130 feet off the ground. It certainly wasn't for those without a head for heights. Even though I've done a bit of abseiling in recent years I have to say it was initially a bit unnerving when you looked down along with the bouncing of the rope bridge. One of our group was particularly nervous and spent most of his time literally hugging the tree trunk when he finally reached each platform. As we were right in the forest canopy we had some decent views of species which spend most of their lives in this zone. These are normally quite difficult to see well and usually result in a very sore neck from looking straight up from the forest floor.
Our evening session was delayed for an hour or so due to a very heavy rain shower, one of only two during the entire trip. Given the habitat we were in, most of the day list consisted of passerines. Some of the highlights included Yellow-billed Turaco, Red-fronted Parrot, Yellowbill, Sabine's & Cassin's Spinetails, Chestnut/West African Wattle-eye, West African/Bioko Batis, Sabine's Puffback, Red-tailed, Ansorge's & Plain Greenbuls, Grey Longbill, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Sharpe's Apalis, Little Grey Flycatcher, Finsch's Flycatcher Thrush, Violet-backed Hyliota, Tiny Sunbird, Yellow-mantled & Preuss's Weavers. It was a little disappointing when the only hornbill species of the day was the very common Pied Hornbill. I was hoping for some of the forest species which Kakum is known for. We struggled a bit with the hornbills over the entire trip as it turned out. No sign of any Long-tailed Hawks or Congo Serpent Eagles which are also a possibility here.

Cassin's Spinetail

Sabine's Spinetail

Black-winged Oriole

Little Grey Flycatcher

Female Sharpe's Apalis

Rope bridge

Kakum National Park

Kakum National Park

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Ghana 7th March 2016

Quite a long day today. We were up an hour before sunrise to try for nightjars a short distance away from our hotel. We had around half a dozen Long-tailed Nightjars which all gave good views but none of the hoped for Black-shouldered or Plain Nightjars. The original plan was to spend the day on the rope bridge in Kakum National Park but as it was a public holiday the place was likely to be swamped by "civilians", it was decided to postponed our trip there until the following day when the masses would have dissipated. There were plenty of other good spots to be visited any way. We travelled a good hour and a half north of the park to an area of farmland with some remnants of secondary forest. The first stop didn't look all that special with just a small stream which formed the border between farmland and forestry. I was surprised to be told that our target here was White-spotted Flufftail. After a bit of a wait a male eventually showed to all present. While we were waiting a Dwarf Bittern briefly flew into some of the adjacent trees but quickly flew straight off again once it spotted us. Two good birds in quick succession! We saw an excellent selection of species over the next few hours including a stunning Black Bee-eater.

We then checked the River Pra where we had our only White-bibbed Swallows and Rock Pratincoles of the trip. Someone had a brief but distant African Finfoot which typically for the species promptly disappeared into thin air. I was a bit shocked to see the state of the river however. The levels of siltation were astoundingly bad. This was a result of illegal gold mining which occurs on the rivers from floating platforms. Illegal gold mining is a huge problem in the country despite recent crackdowns. Most of the money, organisation sand even some of the labour associated with a lot these operations come from China. Over a thousand Chinese workers have been deported from the country in recent years but it's difficult to see if it has made any significant difference with this huge problem. The drinking water has been polluted by chemicals used in the gold mining industry such as mercury, cyanide, lead, etc. There are also problems with child labour in these mines. During its time as a British colony the country was called The Gold Coast. It has the second highest amounts of gold deposits in Africa. Worth checking out the two short pieces on the issue below.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohrrE1rjzLo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ye3Bs7D_i98

Just before sunset we dropped into Kakum NP for Fraser's and Akun Eagle Owl. We managed to get excellent views of the latter. What was very disappointing though was the huge amount of litter dropped everywhere by the masses of tourists who had obviously been present during the day. A lot of the litter consisted of plastic bags which are used as water bags and are much common than bottles of water in Ghana. People just seemed to drop them where they stood even though there were a few rubbish bins in the vicinity. They appeared to be no effort from the park staff to start a clean up either. As an introduction to a "national park" it left a very poor impression on me. Unfortunately this was to be a common sight during the trip. Areas such as road checkpoints and toll stations had huge amount of rubbish in their immediate vicinity. They're seemed to be zero respect for peoples own villages, towns or cities by the local people themselves.

After evening dinner back in the hotel, three of us headed back out to a nearby forest where a moth trap had been put out for one of our tour members. As the trap wasn't working we had a quick walk around to look for more owls. We came across a Fraser's Eagle Owl calling from within a large area of forestry. We decided to head into the area to try and see it. The owl progressively moved further and further into the forestry with us following all the time. After a time it was obvious we weren't going to see it so we began to make our way back out of the forestry. It didn't take long for us to realise that we had completely lost our way. Secondary rainforest is difficult terrain to walk off pathway during daylight hours so it certainly was no picnic in darkness! There came a point where we thought we might have to spend the night in the forest but thankfully we managed to stumble across a trackway. To say we were relieved was a bit of an understatement!

Lesser Striped Swallow

Dusky-blue Flycatcher

Red-vented Malimbe

Yellow-browed Camaroptera

African Pygmy Kingfisher

Red-necked Buzzard

Mottled Spinetail

African Pied Wagtail

African Pied Wagtail
Black Bee-eater

Black Bee-eater
Rock Pratincole

Rock Pratincole
Long-tailed Nightjar

Long-tailed Nightjar

Akun Eagle Owl
Doing his little bit for deforestation :-(

Pra River. Like most Ghanian rivers it is severely damaged thanks to illegal gold mining taking place in the river itself.

African Giant Land Snail

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Ghana 6th March 2016

I'm not long back from 15 days spent in Ghana hence the lack of blog posts for the last while. I went with Ashanti African Tours and had a very enjoyable trip. Photographic opportunities were somewhat limited compared to some of my previous foreign trips especially compared to my American trips. Most species in Ghana were a little more difficult to approach and trying to see forest species in particular proved extremely challenging never mind trying to photograph them! I don't think I've ever had such a high proportion of "heard-only" encounters before on a birding trip. Despite having an extremely sharp and hard-working local guide - Victor Owusu a lot of species wouldn't play ball even with playback.
We arrived on the evening of the 5th March. The first bird of the trip the following morning was unsurprisingly Pied Crow followed shortly afterwards by the first lifer - Bar-breasted Firefinch. Our first site of the day was Shai Hills Resource Reserve where we had our only Mocking Cliff Chats of the trip. Later on we visited Sukomona Lagoon and Winneba Bay and Plains.

Senegal Coucal

African Grey Hornbill

Veillot's Barbet

Olive Baboon

Olive Baboon

Olive Baboon

Millipede

Shai Hills Resource Reserve

Depressingly common sight in Ghana.

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Street vendors

Roadside market

Roadside Water Melon and Pineapple stall.
Drying fish by Winneba Lagoon.