Working for birds in Africa

Important Bird Areas

Fri, 01/11/2013 - 12:45 -- abc_admin
Benin_Slender_billed_Gull

Slender-billed Gull Larus genei, with Royal and Sandwich Terns Sterna maxima and S. sandvicensis
Bouches du Roy, southern Benin
12 November 2010

Image Credit: 
Julien Gonin

These pages have undergone a major revision in March 2012 with newly available information.

BirdLife International has identified six Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Benin, covering 14,900 km2.

IBA code Site name Department
BJ001 W du Bénin National Park Borgou
BJ002 Pendjari National Park Atacora
BJ003 Ouémé river basin Borgou
BJ004 Lower Ouémé - Lake Nokoué - Porto - Novo Lagoon complex Atlantique, Ouémé
BJ005 Lake Ahémé and Aho complex Atlantique, Mono
BJ006 Lama forest Zou

1. W du Bénin National Park (BJ001): The W National Park covers a vast trans-boundary area of which 598,000 ha are in Benin in the extreme north of the country. It has been much less investigated than Pendjari National Park. The landscape is mainly flat and the habitat is much more wooded than in Pendjari, ranging from woodland with Bombax costatum, Crossopteryx febrifuga, Isoberlinia doka, Parkia biglobosa, Terminalia laxiflora and Anogeissus leiocarpus, to wooded or scrub savannahs. The area is drained by several seasonal rivers northward into the Niger, notably the Mekrou and the Alibori, bordered with rich riparian forests. A few water holes (Mare 25, Mare Barabou, Mare Boni) attract many mammals and birds such as Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, Abdim's Stork Ciconia abdimii which is common on passage, may breed in small numbers but is usually absent in the dry season (a “black-and-white” stork in November - March is more likely a Black Stork Ciconia nigra) and Hadada Bostrychia hagedash but large periodically inundated plains are missing and species associated with this habitat, notably African Openbill Stork Anastomus lamelligerus, Saddle-billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis and Northern Crowned Crane Balearica pavonina, are less common here than in Pendjari National Park.

As often in the open landscapes of West-African savannahs, a wide variety of raptors occur: Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus, Short-toed Snake Eagle Circaetus gallicus, Brown Snake Eagle Circaetus cinereus, Western Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus cinerascens, African Harrier Hawk Polyboroides typus, Dark Chanting Goshawk Melierax metabates, Gabar Goshawk Micronisus gabar, Red-necked Buzzard Buteo auguralis, African Hawk Eagle Hieraaetus spilogaster, Grey Kestrel Falco ardosiaceus, Red-necked Falcon Falco chicquera, African Hobby Falco cuvierii, Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus and many more are all common though in small numbers. Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus is not uncommon. Grasshopper Buzzard Butastur rufipennis is a common dry season intra-African migrant, while Ovambo Sparrowhawk Accipiter ovampensis is on the other hand an uncommon resident. Among night birds, the secretive Pel's Fishing-owl Scotopelia peli, is known to occur along the rivers, although challenging to find.

Benin_White_backed_Vulture

African White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus and African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer
W du Bénin National Park, northern Benin
Photos: Agnès Giannotti 28 December 2006:

Four-banded Sandgrouse Pterocles quadricinctus are very common in the dry season and can be seen every evening when they come to drink along rivers and pools. Red-throated Bee-eaters Merops bulocki are common near rivers (where they breed at the end of the dry season), and Little Green Bee-eaters Merops orientalis are common throughout the park. Black-headed Lapwing Vanellus tectus is widespread and easily seen from a vehicle. Red-billed Hornbill Tockus erythrorhynchus is also a common feature of the park, while the three common Glossy Starlings are Long-tailed Glossy Starling Lamprotornis caudatus, Purple Glossy Starling L. purpureus and Lesser Blue-eared Starling L. chloropterus.

Speckle-fronted Weaver Sporopipes frontalis and African Silverbill Euodice cantans occur commonly, while the rare Emin’s Shrike Lanius gubernator has been found in the Mékrou river area. There are also a few records of African Skimmer Rynchops flavirostris on the Niger and several possible observations of River Prinia Prinia fluviatilis from Karimama area. The species has been recorded on the Niger side of the river however, so far, no certain records were made on the southern (Benin) bank of the river. This is worth further investigation.

Benin_Black_headed_Heron

Black-headed Herons Ardea melanocephala with Cattle Egrets Bubulcus ibis
Ile aux oiseaux, Niger River, northern Benin
Photo: Agnès Giannotti, 23 February 2012

The W du Bénin Park is undoubtedly of great interest for birds and wildlife. The “piste régionale” is open all the year round but the gravel roads and tracks inside can be rather rough during the dry season and nearly impassable during the wet season when the park is closed to visitors anyway. In the park itself a 4WD is pretty much a necessity. There are a number of small hotels in Kandi and one or two in Malanville. Within the park, the “Campement des Chutes de Koudou” has the only accommodation on the Benin side. Alternatively, it is also possible to camp in many places with a guide, and camping is free of charge. The Niger IBA page can also be consulted for more information on birds and accommodation on the Niger side of the park.

There are also a number interesting places and villages to visit around the park, including l'Ile aux Oiseaux (Birds Island) and Karimama area along the Niger River, where eco-touristic and community tours are developed under the incentive of Eco-Benin NGO. The eco-guides will warmly welcome you and invite you to discover the region. Information is available at http://www.tour-communautaire-parcw.net/ and http://www.ecobenin.org/ .

The park’s official website also provides a lot of useful information and advice. With the lack of international funding since 2010, the conservation situation is however very worrying.

Benin_Blue_bellied_Roller

Blue-bellied Roller Coracias cyanogaster and Long-crested Eagle Lophaetus occipitalis
Near Karimama, northern Benin
Photos: Agnès Giannotti, 26 and 27 July 2007

2. The Pendjari National Park (BJ002) is an area of 275,500 ha in the far north-west of Benin. The park is contiguous with the Arli-W-Singou complex which is a vast protected area in Benin-Burkina-Niger. The hills and cliffs of the Atakora range make the north-west one the most scenic areas of Benin. They provide a wonderful backdrop to the Pendjari National Park which, in its isolation, remains one of the most interesting in West Africa. The rocky cliffs of the area are sparsely wooded with Burkea africana, Detarium microcarpum, Lannea acida, Sterculia setigera and Combretum ghasalense. On the deep soils of some of the summits and the Atakora escarpment one finds a greater variety of plant species with Isoberlina doka and Afzelia africana. The Pendjari River has an interesting gallery forest. The park mainly comprises open savannahs, with areas of periodically inundated grassland dominated by Acacia sieberiana and Mitragyna inermis or Terminalia macroptera, and some dry clear forests. There are also large stocks of game including Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Roan Antelope, Western Hartebeest, Topi, Buffon’s Kob, Waterbuck, Hippopotamus etc. There is a high annual rainfall of c1,100 mm. Even though the Park is open all year round, it is not very accessible from mid-August to October during which time it is partly flooded.

Benin_Tanougou_Waterfalls

Tanougou Waterfalls, northern Benin
Photo: Johannes & Sharon Merz, 12 June 2011

The Pendjari is remote and even though the roads were repaired in 2011, a 4WD is strongly recommended. It can be arranged from Natitingou, where several hotels are available. Hotel Bourgogne (+229 90.04.17.55) is for instance highly recommended and can also arrange room or bungalow bokings within the park. There is an hotel in the remote part of the park along the Pendjari River, one at the Porga Gate and another two small hotels near the Batia Gate and at Tanougou Waterfalls. The park’s website, available in both French and English, provides a lot of useful information.

The park was first studied in the 1970s when a preliminary list of 225 species was established. This was not exhaustive, however, and it has now extended to over 300 species. It includes many raptors of which African White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus is common here, Rüppell’s Vulture Gyps rueppellii and White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis are encountered in small numbers and there are a few isolated records for Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus. Fox Kestrel Falco alopex is a not uncommon resident, while African Swallow-tailed Kite Chelictinia riocourii is a rare dry season visitor. Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax, Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus, Secretary Bird Sagittarius serpentarius, Western Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus cinerascens and Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle Circaetus beaudouini are occasionally recorded. The Pendjari is also notable for large conspicuous species such as Yellow-billed Stork Mycteria ibis, African Openbill Stork Anastomus lamelligerus, Saddle-billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis, Northern Crowned Crane Balearica pavonina, African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer, Denham’s Bustard Neotis denhami and Abyssinian Ground Hornbill Bucorvus abyssinicus.

Benin_Ground_Hornbill

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill Bucorvus abyssinicus
Pendjari National Park, northern Benin
Photo: Johannes & Sharon Merz, 7 January 2011

Additional interesting species recorded (although some of these might be found across the whole country) include White-faced Owl Ptilopsis leucotis, Spotted Eagle Owl Bubo africanus, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl Bubo lacteus, Pearl-spotted Owlet Glaucidium perlatum, White-backed Night Heron Gorsachius leuconotus, Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus, Kurrichane Buttonquail Turnix sylvaticus, Spotted Dikkop Burhinus capensis, Bronze-winged Courser Rhinoptilus chalcopterus, Temminck’s Courser Cursorius temminckii, Plain, Freckled, Long-tailed and Standard-winged Nightjars Caprimulgus inornatus, tristigma, climacurus and Macrodipteryx longipennis, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater Merops hirundineus, Pied-winged Swallow Hirundo leucosoma, White-crowned Robin-Chat Cossypha albicapillus, Heuglin’s Wheatear Oenanthe heuglini, Familiar Chat Cercomela familiaris, White-fronted Black Chat Myrmecocichla albifrons, Pallid Flycatcher Bradornis pallidus, Blackcap Babbler Turdoides reinwardtii, Red-winged Pytilia Pytilia phoenicoptera, Black-rumped Waxbill Estrilda troglodytes, and Togo Paradise-Whydah Vidua togoensis. Bush Petronia Petronia dentata is the most abundant bird species with hundreds encountered.

Mottled Swift Tachymarptis aequatorialis is occasionally encountered on passage. Cardinal Woodpecker Dendropicos fuscescens, and especially Brown-backed and Fine-spotted Woodpeckers Picoides obsoletus and Campethera punctuligera are normally common in woodland, while Golden-tailed Woodpecker Campethera abingoni is much less common and found exclusively in dense riparian forest. Among passerines, you may wish to train your identification abilities on the several cisticolas, at least Short-winged Cisticola Cisticola brachypterus, Red-faced Cisticola C. erythrops, Singing Cisticola C. cantans, Black-backed Cisticola C. eximius, Zitting Cisticola C. juncidis, Winding Cisticola C. galactotes, Rufous Cisticola C. rufus and Croaking Cisticola C. natalensis are to be found in grasses and scrubs and Rock-loving Cisticola C. aberrans have been reported in the more rocky areas. Alternatively, you may, or prefer looking for the brilliant but uncommon African Blue Flycatcher Elminia longicauda (more likely to be found only in Bondjagou forest).

The areas around Camp Numi at Batia and around Tanougou waterfalls, down the Atacora escarpment, are worth a visit, especially since they are easily accessible on foot. Several interesting species are to be found: Freckled Rock Nightjar Caprimulgus tristigma, Yellow-throated Leaflove Chlorocichla flavicollis, White-crowned and Snowy-crowned Robin-Chats Cossypha albicapillus and niveicapillus, Familiar Chat Cercomela familiaris, Mocking Chat Myrmecocichla cinnamomeiventris, Rock-loving Cisticola Cisticola aberrans, Oriole-Warbler Hypergerus atriceps, Red-winged Warbler Heliolais erythropterus, African Blue Flycatcher Elminia longicauda, Blackcap Babbler Turdoides reinwardtii, Green-headed Sunbird Cyanomitra verticalis and Cabanis's Bunting Emberiza cabanisi.

There is an interesting gallery behind Camp Numi in Batia, in which Green Turaco Tauraco persa is resident and where Red-chested Cuckoo Cuculus solitarius has been reported during early rainy season. Other species to look out for are Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser superciliosus and Red-headed Weaver Anaplectes rubriceps.

The stream at Tanougou is more important than the one in Batia and especially above the waterfalls. It offers regular sightings of African Finfoot Podica senegalensis and Shining Blue Kingfisher Alcedo quadribrachys. Tanougou is also a good place to look out for Estrildid finches such as Lavender Waxbill Estrilda caerulescens, Black-bellied and Black-faced Firefinches Lagonosticta rara and L. larvata seen often, and the occasional White-cheeked Oliveback Nesocharis capistrata has been reported. Other species to look out for include Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike Coracina pectoralis, and Tit-Flycatcher Myioparus plumbeus. White-throated Francolin Francolinus albogularis, a rare resident, has been recorded in farmland south of Natitingou.

Benin_Beaudouins_Snake_Eagle

Beaudouin’s Snake Eagle Circaetus beaudouini
Pendjari National Park, northern Benin
Photo: Alain Fossé, 28 January 2010

3. The Ouémé River Basin (BJ003) is a vast and very diverse site of 465,343 ha covering three contiguous forest reserves: the Forêt Classée de l'Ouémé Supérieur, which lies north of the Forêt Clasée de Ouari-Maro, itself north of the Forêt Classée des Mont Kouffés. The area has not been extensively investigated but Dowsett & Dowsett-Lemaire already set up quite a long list from a recent visit in 2009.

The main vegetation type around Bétérou is Sudanian Isoberlinia-Pterocarpus woodland. Close to the village of Ouari Maro the landmark is the rocky hill of Soubakpérou, rising to 620 m above a plateau lying at 300-400 m. The hill is still a tourist attraction, although the project that tried to protect the patches of forest and develop ecotourism in the reserve is now defunct through lack of funding. The tourist path is well marked, and a number of trees still bear signs with names on, while others have been cut down. Rocky woodland is characterized by Bombax costatum, Burkea africana, Pterocarpus erinaceus, Vitellaria paradoxa, etc. The woodland in the part of the reserve near Agbassa is less damaged than around Ouari Maro. The vegetation between Agbassa and the river is mostly dry woodland, some Anogeissus deciduous forest, with narrow strips of riparian forest along tributaries, where Green and Violet Turaco Tauraco persa and Musophaga violacea are present. Much of the savannah stretching out from this area is also of interest. African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer occurs on the river, Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus, Brown and Beaudouin’s Snake Eagles Circaetus cinereus and C. beaudouini have also been recorded here. Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus has been recorded in the Ouémé Supérieur. Ahanta Francolin Francolinus ahantensis still occur in small numbers. Allen's Gallinule Porphyrio alleni probably breeds here while Lesser Moorhen Gallinula angulata is an uncommon wet season visitor. Grey Pratincole Glareola cinerea has been recorded at Bétérou where African Pygmy Goose Nettapus auritus was also recorded. Red-headed Lovebird Agapornis pullarius is an uncommon resident of riverine forest and remote areas of savannah woodland. Thick-billed Cuckoo Pachycoccyx audeberti has been recorded in the Ouémé Supérieur near Bétérou as has Black Cuckoo Cuculus clamosus. Pel's Fishing-owl Scotopelia peli still occurs on the river where it is said by fishermen to be not uncommon. Pearl-spotted Owlet Glaucidium perlatum is not uncommon, while the sound of Northern White-faced Owl Otus leucotis is one of the nocturnal features of the area. Shining-blue Kingfisher Alcedo quadribrachys has been recorded in deep shade on small streams in the area. Swallow-tailed Bee-eater Merops hirundineus is not uncommon in undisturbed areas of savannah woodland. Piping Hornbill Bycanistes fistulator is common near Ouari Maro, with concentrations of up to 10 birds feeding on figs. Spotted Honeyguide Indicator maculatus was seen in dense riparian forest on the Ouémé, while the rare Willcocks’s Honeyguide Indicator willcocksi usually associated with Guineo-Congolian secondary forest was found near Agbassa. Red-shouldered Cuckoo-Shrike Campephaga phoenicea and African Blue Flycatcher Elminia longicauda are not uncommon in riparian forests while White-breasted Cuckoo-Shrike Coracina pectoralis is encountered in undisturbed woodlands. Oriole Warbler Hypergerus atriceps occurs in the gallery forest. Rufous Cisticola Cisticola rufus appears common in Kouffé, while Whistling and Singing Cisticolas Cisticola lateralis and C. cantans are more local in woodland. Yellow-bellied Hyliota Hyliota flavigaster occurs in the Ouari-Maro Forest and is not uncommon in all the savannah woodlands and Ashy Flycatcher Muscicapa caerulescens was recorded once in thin riparian forest down the Agbassa escarpment, where Square-tailed Drongo Dicrurus ludwigii was also present. Western Violet-backed Sunbird Anthreptes longuemarei was also recorded in riparian forest on the Ouémé river (near Agbassa) and in rich woodland in Kouffé, while the rare Emin's Shrike Lanius gubernator has been recorded in the dry season in the bush between Ouari Maro and Bassila. This area can be visited easily from the attractive town of Parakou and Bétérou or from Bantè.

Benin_African_Pygmy_Goose

African Pygmy Goose Nettapus auritus
Sô-Ava, Lower Ouémé basin, southern Benin
Photo: Bruno Portier, 19 June 2011

4. The Lower Ouémé–Lake Nokoué–Porto-Novo Lagoon complex (BJ004) covers an area of 91,600 ha, with an extensive lagoon / lake of c. 16,000 ha lying just north of Cotonou and with an opening to the sea in the middle of the city, near Hotel du Lac. The Ouémé River flows from northern Benin south to the Gulf of Guinea and is the largest river in Benin. The lower part of the river expands into a large delta with floodplains that flood seasonally receiving most of the water from the Ouémé River and its northern tributaries. The western arm discharges into Lake Nokoué and the eastern part into Porto-Novo Lagoon. The delta extends north of Lake Nokoué for c.70 km, decreasing in width from 31 to c.7 km.

The lake itself is only accessible by boat, from either Cotonou (Hotel du Lac), Abomey-Calavi (the well-known embarcadère to Ganvié, mentioned in all travel guides) or Akassato-Sô-Ava, a little further north to Abomey-Calavi (ask for the “embarcadère de Sô-Ava” along the main road heading north after Abomey-Calavi). Interesting floodplains, mainly the Plaine du Sô, can be easily accessed from Sô-Ava, Zinvié or Sedjè-Dénou. The Plaine du Sô near Akassato is a mixture of fields, small tree clumps and marsh, mainly flooded with Paspalum grassland and some open water. The area, lying at no more than half an hour drive from downtown Cotonou, is of course heavily disturbed by cultivators, fishermen, children … but birdlife is really astonishing here and the number of surprises may be beyond what you expected. Lying about 15 km north of Cotonou, the Plaine du Sô is perfectly situated for birding from the city, either in the morning or in the afternoon. BEES-ONG organises ornithological guided tours in Sô-Ava and on Nokoué Lake.

The interesting species regularly encountered around here include: African Openbill Stork Anastomus lamelligerus usually in flocks of 20-30 birds but occasionally up to 100-200, African Pygmy Goose Nettapus auritus, African Crake Crecopsis egregia, Lesser (Allen’s) Gallinule Porphyrula alleni, Lesser Moorhen Gallinula angulata, Common Pratincole Glareola pratincola sometimes in good numbers exceeding a few hundred, Forbes's Plover Charadrius forbesi, African Black and Blue-headed Coucal Centropus grillii and C. monachus, White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis, Plain-backed Pipit Anthus leucophrys, Winding (Greater Black-backed) Cisticola Cisticola galactotes (very abundant), Slender-billed and Black-headed (Yellow-backed) Weavers Ploceus pelzelni and P. melanocephalus capitalis, Yellow-crowned Bishop Euplectes afer, Zebra Waxbill Amandava subflava and Pin-tailed Widow Vidua macroura.

There are also a number of exciting rarities that you still have a good chance of seeing here as well, among which Great Snipe Gallinago media (several records), Marsh Owl Asio capensis (several records), Swamp Nightjar Caprimulgus natalensis (one record to date), Banded Martin Riparia cincta (two records) and the recently discovered Anambra Waxbill Estrilda poliopareia, which is usually found in small flocks of up to 5-20 birds, but up to 50 together were witnessed recently, although the total world population was estimated at no more than 1,000 birds by Birdlife International prior to the discovery of the species in Benin.

Birding on the lake itself is also very interesting and offers beautiful scenery. The noise of the motor is however somewhat tiresome after a few hours. Black Egret Egretta ardesiaca, Little Egret E. garzetta, Western Reef Heron (Egret) Egretta gularis and Great White Egret Egretta alba are often fishing around or gathered in busy and noisy roosts. During the northern winter, there is an important population of wintering Black Tern Chlidonias niger and Whiskered Tern C. hybrida is present in small numbers. Osprey Pandion haliaetus is also present but is apparently uncommon. Scores of Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica and Sand Martins Riparia riparia often occur and Ethiopian Swallow Hirundo aethiopica is almost always mixed in these flocks. Pied, Senegal and Malachite Kingfishers Ceryle rudis, Halcyon senegalensis and Alcedo cristata offers good photo opportunities.

A wide range of accommodation is available in Cotonou and consulting recent travel guides might be the best option to have up-to-date information. In the city, the Hotel du Lac (mid prices class) is to be recommended, offering a good view over the mouth of Nokoué Lake and holding a few nesting pairs of Mottled Spinetail Telacanthura ussheri. If you would like to stay in Ganvié and overnight on the lake, Hotel Germain is a perfect place for an early morning birding walk along the lake. In a delightful coconut grove, at about 10 km from the centre of Cotonou, the Village Vacances Assouka offers a wonderfully chilled ambiance with spacious rooms and well-equipped bungalows. The Hotel offers direct access to a waterway that leads to Lake Nokoué, and pirogue trips can easily be arranged. In Akassato, a little further north on the same road heading to Abomey and Parakou and very close to Sô-Ava, and surrounded by a secondary growth forest of c. 10 ha, the recent Palm Royal Hotel (06°31’41’’N 02°21’35’’E, Tel.: (+229) 21.38.58.66 / 97.39.70.11) offers the opportunity to see some forest species in a quiet and relaxing place very close to Cotonou. Black-shouldered and Long-tailed Nightjars Caprimulgus (pectoralis) nigriscapularis and C. climacurus both sing here during the dry season. Leaflove Pyrrhurus scandens and Snowy-headed Robin-Chat Cossypha niveicapillus can also be heard or seen in the hotel’s forest.

Benin_Black_Tern

Black Tern Chlidonis niger on fishing nets (traditional ‘Acadja’ fish farming)
Nokoué Lake, southern Benin
Photo: Bruno Portier, 13 September 2011

5. Lake Ahémé and the Aho complex (BJ005) is an extensive area of marsh and lake covering 45,000 ha in the lower Kouffo river and Lake Ahémé. It runs from Ouidah to Grand Popo, where the Mono River drains into the sea in a delta named “Bouches du Roy”. The main attractions at Bouches du Roy are the open shallow estuary, relicts of mangroves and patches of flooded reedbeds which between September and April can support hundreds of waders and an impressive list of estuarine related birds. On the seaside, Royal Tern Sterna maxima is common, while Damara Tern S. balaenarum has been recorded as “wintering” (during the northern summer). Little Egret Egretta garzetta, Great White Egret E. alba, Purple Heron Ardea purpurea, Black Crake Amaurornis flavirostris, and Pied Kingfisher Ceryl rudis are all more or less common features of the marshes. White-fronted Plover Charadrius marginatus is not uncommon on the beach at Grand Popo and probably breeds along the shoreline here. Western Reef Heron Egretta gularis also occurs and Osprey Pandion haliaetus and Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus are regular Palaearctic visitors. Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus is seasonally abundant here.

Along the road from Ouidah to Grand-Popo and Togo, the southern end of Lake Ahémé at Guézin (c. 06°23’44”N 01°55’41”E) hosts interesting numbers of waders: Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis, Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula, Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus, Common Redshank T. totanus, Marsh Sandpiper T. stagnatilis, Green Sandpiper T. ochropus and Wood Sandpiper T. glareola are not uncommon in the same area. Forbes's Plover Charadrius forbesi is an occasional visitor. White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis is very common during the dry season, while the less common Rosy Bee-eater M. malimbicus has been also recorded near the Mono River. There is a possible record for Parasitic Weaver Anomalospiza imberbis in this area.

This is a very interesting and one of the most accessible birding areas in the country. Many shorebirds will be encountered as well as a good number of savannah species to be found in the hinterland. The Auberge de Grand Popo is a particularly pleasant place to stay (hotel and restaurant on the beach is very reasonable but booking is necessary. Brown Sunbird Anthreptes gabonicus (recently discovered in Benin, where it is apparently restricted to coastal lagoons and coconut plantations) is present around bungalows in the Auberge’s garden. Access to the mangroves, as well as to the Bouches du Roy, is possible from here. Organise your boat as soon as you arrive, bearing in mind that tides will determine when you can go across. Boats are best negotiated with the assistance of the staff of the Auberge.

A little further north, in Possotomè, on the east side of Ahémé Lake, Eco-Benin NGO provides eco-touristic and community tours on and around the lake.

6. The Lama Classified Forest (BJ006) situated 75 km north-west of Cotonou is the largest remnant of dry semi-evergreen forest in the whole of Benin and is without doubt the forest site of greatest interest in the country. It can be reached by taking the RNIE-2 sealed road heading north from Cotonou to Bohicon, and turning left onto a gravel road in the village of Massi, where a yellow sign indicates the entrance of the Forêt Classée de la Lama. Unfortunately, the gate at the entrance does not normally open until 08.00 am and this obviously restricts the birdwatchers somewhat! It is worth checking to see if an early entrance can be arranged in advance of your visit. 

Although the classified area covers 16,250 ha, only about 11,950 ha are effectively covered with forest consisting of 7,169 ha of teak plantations and 4,777 ha of remnants of original habitat known as “le Noyau Central”, an ecological island at the core of the forest for conservation purposes. The “Noyau Central” has been regenerated with native species and a reforestation program run with German funds set up large teak plantations in the perimeter area. It is now completely and efficiently protected within the limits of the “Station Forestière de la Lama”, itself surrounded by a very wide firebreak. The Lama has no streams or swamp forest sensu stricto, but the soil gets water-logged in the rainy season, and small depressions and many ditches fill up with water in the shade of the forest. The natural forest is in one block crossed by 7 parallel trails or “layons”, numbered 9 to 15, and evenly spaced 900 m apart and there are some perpendicular paths in places, for research purposes. The longest trails are between 7-8 km (layons 14 & 15) or just under 7 km (layons 11, 12 & 13). If your time is limited, the best forest section to visit is along layon 12.

This forest has been the subject of some investigation from 1999 to 2011 and that has allowed the identification of many species for which there had been no previous records in Benin. Getting used to vocalisations is pretty much a necessity in order to obtain a good bird list in the dense ecosystem of the Lama. Given the richness of the local avifauna, one can find a few species that are likely to be encountered on a single visit. These include African Cuckoo Hawk Aviceda cuculoides, Ahanta Francolin Francolinus ahantensis (common but more often heard than seen), Crested Guineafowl Guttera pucherani which is not uncommon, White-spotted Flufftail Sarothrura pulchra (skulking but in forest understorey), Tambourine Dove Turtur tympanistria, Black-throated Coucal Centropus leucogaster, Narina’s Trogon Apaloderma narina, Rosy Bee-eater Merops malimbicus (a non-breeding visitor), White-crested Hornbill Tropicranus albocristatus (in dense forest), Speckled Tinkerbird Pogoniulus scolopaceus, Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrike Campephaga quiscalina, Little Greenbul Andropadus virens (the most widespread forest bulbul), Cameroon Sombre Greenbul Andropadus curvirostris, Baumann’s Greenbul Phyllastrephus baumanni (common on all layons in transition woodland), White-throated Greenbul Phyllastrephus albigularis (common in dense forest and the larger thickets in transition woodland), Grey-headed Bristlebill B. canicapillus, Western Nicator Nicator chloris, Forest Robin Stiphrornis erythrothorax, Green Crombec Sylvietta virens, Grey Longbill Macrosphenus concolor, Buff-throated Apalis Apalis rufogularis, Chestnut Wattle-eye Dyaphorophyia castanea, Brown and Puvel's Illadopsis Illadopsis fulvescens and I. puveli, Northern Red-billed Helmet Shrike Prionops caniceps and several species of sunbirds.

Among the rarer species recorded here, a few are worth mentioning: Black Goshawk (Sparrowhawk) Accipiter melanoleucus, Red-thighed Sparrowhawk Accipiter erythropus, Cassin’s Hawk Eagle Hieraaetus africanus, Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus (a rare wanderer), Western Bronze-naped Pigeon Columba (delegorguei) iriditorques, Thick-billed Cuckoo Pachycoccyx audeberti, Blue-throated Roller Eurystomus gularis, Buff-spotted Woodpecker Campethera nivosa, Fire-bellied Woodpecker Thripias pyrrhogaster, Fraser's Forest-Flycatcher Fraseria ocreata and Ashy Flycatcher Muscicapa caerulescens. During Dowsett & Dowsett-Lemaire’s field work in 2009, a local forest guard gave them a convincing description of African Pitta Pitta angolensis, both in plumage and display noise, the birds becoming noisy with the first heavy rains and formation of pools, usually not before late April or May (Dowsett & Dowsett-Lemaire, in litt.).

At dusk, Black-shouldered Caprimulgus nigriscapularis, Plain Caprimulgus inornatus and Long-tailed Nightjars Caprimulgus climacurus can be seen or heard on roads and at the edge of teak plantations. Standard-winged Nightjar Macrodipteryx longipennis can be seen on the firebreaks while African Wood Owl Strix woodfordii is also often heard.

The forest is also a refuge for a rich mammalian wildlife. Forest antelopes and bushpigs may be very difficult to see but with a bit of luck monkeys such as Mona Monkey Cercopithecus mona or, if you are particularly fortunate, the endemic Red-bellied Monkey Cercopithecus e. erythrogaster or an elusive flying-squirrel could be seen in the canopy. Olive Colobus Procolobus verus is also recorded from the Lama. The Lama forest is thus of immense importance for the survival of several species but in particular this monkey endemic to the Dahomey Gap, the Red-bellied Monkey, locally known as ‘Zinkaka’.

Benin_Lama_Forest

A typical clear forest portion on layon 13 in the Lama Classified Forest, southern Benin
Photo: Bruno Portier, 16 November 2010

For further details, download the country IBAs from BirdLife International.

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