Working for birds in Africa

Hotspots

Tue, 01/15/2013 - 13:18 -- abc_admin
African_Emerald_Cuckoo_Ghana

Male African Emerald Cuckoo Chrysococcyx cupreus in Kakum National Park, Ghana. This bird perched obligingly adjacent to the overhead rope walkway in Kakum National Park and displayed for some 30 minutes.

Image Credit: 
John Caddick

Sakumo Lagoon is still a great birding destination despite its position in the heart of a sprawling metropolis. Lying about 30 km east of Accra and covering up to 350 ha, Sakumo Lagoon is perfectly situated for birding from the city in either the morning or afternoon. The main attraction at Sakumo is the open shallow estuary and flooded reedbeds which between September and April can support thousands of waders and an impressive list of estuarine related birds. The surrounding savannah also hosts a number of dry country species and birds of prey. A few hours birding in the morning or afternoon at Sakumo between October and April should produce upwards of 80 species. Sakumo was designated a Ramsar site in 1992.

Birds of Sakumo Lagoon Significant numbers of Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa, Spotted Redshank Tringa erythropus, Common Redshank Tringa totanus, Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia, Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus, Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnitilis, Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula and Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola crowd the shoreline. Depending on the water levels, the larger waders may patrol the open expanse of water, moving around in impressive noisy groups. Sakumo has also produced a number of vagrants to the west African coastline over the years including Buff-breasted Sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis, American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica, Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes and Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus.

Sakumo is home to healthy numbers of larger water birds including Western Reef Heron Egretta gularis, Green-backed Heron Butorides striata, Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax, Little Egret Egretta garzetta, Black Egret Egretta ardesiaca, Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia, Great White Egret Egretta alba, Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, Purple Heron Ardea purpurea, African Spoonbill Platalea alba and Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus. Many of these species breed at the lagoon between May and September. Although not restricted to the water, Black-headed Heron Ardea melanocephala and Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis are often present and Goliath Heron Ardea goliath used to occur. Despite being significantly outnumbered by the waders, Sakumo also attracts small numbers of waterfowl species such as the ubiquitous White-faced Whistling Duck Dendrocygna viduata and migrant Garganey Anas querquedula and Common Teal Anas crecca. In February 2005, 5 Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna were recorded at Sakumo.

Estuarine skies are never still, and Sakumo is no exception. Black Tern Chlidonias niger is truly common, while Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis and the impressive Royal Tern S. maxima make up the numbers. From June to October, the diminutive Little Terns S. albifrons flock into the area in relatively large numbers. They can be seen breeding in sun dried muddy footprints along much of the shoreline during this time. Migrant Common Tern S. hirundo and Arctic Tern S. paradisaea can also be present at the right time of the year. African Skimmer Rynchops flavirostris will treat lucky birders to a fly-by, but is by no means regular. Common black-headed Gull Larus ribidinus and Lesser Black-backed Gulls L. fuscus are also recorded on a not-so regular basis. A single Black Noddy Anous minutus was present in June 2005.

Away from the water margins the gracious Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola and the not so gracious Kittlitz's Plover Charadrius pecuarius can be found. African Wattled Lapwing Vanellus senegallus, Senegal Thick-knee Burhinus senegalensis and Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus are present all year round and are usually heard before they are seen. In December and January, succulent ground cover vegetation supports Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus and an evening walk at the right time of year can produce upwards of 20 of these birds. Other ground birds include Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava, African Pied Wagtail Motacilla aguimp and Plain-backed Pipit Anthus leucophrys. The large expanse of moist grasslands surrounding the lagoon release buzzing Northern Red Bishop Euplectes franciscanus and Yellow-crowned Bishop E. afer as well as clinking Black-faced Quailfinch Ortypgospiza atricollis and Black-rumped Waxbill Estrilda troglodytes. Winding Cisticola Cisticola galactotes and the ubiquitous Zitting Cisticola C. juncidis are found in any small patch of grass. From June, ‘popping’ Black Coucal Centropus grillii are relatively common and can be seen on large bushes or solitary mangrove trees. Ethiopian Swallow Hirundo aethiopica and Barn Swallow H. rustica hawk insects over grasslands and muddy shoreline.

Although somewhat difficult to access, the vast expanse of flooded grass and reedbeds at the inlet supports typical skulkers and shy species such as Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis, Black Crake Amaurornis flavirostra and Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio. Little Rush-Warbler Bradypterus baboecala can be heard near the thick reedbeds. Floating vegetation on secluded backwaters provides African Jacana Actophilornis africanus with feeding opportunities.

The scrub surrounding Sakumo supports typical west African savannah species such as Western Grey Plantain-eater Criniger piscator, Yellow-crowned Gonolek Laniarius barbarus, Purple Glossy Starling Lamprotornis purpureus, Vieillot's Barbet Lybius vieilloti, Vinaceous Dove Streptopelia vinacea, Brown Babbler Turdoides plebejus, Copper Sunbird Cinnyris cupreus and Grey Woodpecker Dendropicos goertae. The line of trees running down the southern side of the ‘Resort’ is a good place to start. In summer, any suitable woodland near Sakumo is overflowing with Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta, listen out for their sparrow-like contact call. A large tree planting exercise will hopefully bring in more woodland species in years to come.

Birds of prey are often a highlight and up to nine species have been seen around Sakumo in a couple of hours. Regular species include Black Kite Milvus migrans, Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus, Western Marsh Harrier Circus aeruginosus (year round), Shikra Accipiter badius, African Hobby Falco cuvierii, and Black-shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus. The palms in the south-western corner are a popular spot for Grey Kestrel Falco ardosiaceus and Lanner Falcon F. biarmicus. Other species include Montagu’s Harrier Circus pygargus on the northern grasslands and Gabar Goshawk Micronisus gabar around the Resort.

Birding Sakumo Infrastructure at Sakumo is fairly limited, but two ‘bird hides’ are present on the eastern and western sides. Neither are particularly good, with the eastern being rather inaccessible and the western being poorly situated. However, on rainy days, the structure on the western shoreline can be quite a good spot to sit. The best way to explore Sakumo is to walk the shoreline and numerous paths covering the scrub and grasslands. The shoreline is obviously a focal point of activity, but be careful not to disturb nesting birds. Getting there From Accra, take the coastal road towards Tema. If you are unsure which is the coastal road, go to the Labadi Beach Hotel and then keep on driving. After approximately 22 km, you pass through a police barrier. Soon after the barrier, a road joins from the left and there is a large service station with an assortment of shops. Take the next right after about 500m and drive as far as you can, about 2.5 km. At the T-junction, turn left and then right again. Take the first left and go as far as you can. At the T-junction turn right and then follow the road as it becomes dirt. The road passes a golf club and then finally reaches a “Resort”. Park here and walk east towards the lagoon.

Kakum National Park is without doubt the site of the greatest interest in Ghana. Situated near to Cape Coast, west of Accra, this park is a gem. It comprises mainly old secondary forest, its canopy walkway gives stunning views and offers what is arguably the best forest birding in West Africa. Unfortunately the park does not normally open until 09:00 and this obviously restricts the birdwatcher somewhat! It is worth checking to see if an early entrance can be arranged in advance of your visit. The surrounding area however also offers some excellent birding. Among the many species within the park are Red-thighed Sparrowhawk Accipiter erythropus, Long-tailed Hawk Urotriorchis macrourus, Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus, Black Bee-eater Merops gularis, Rosy Bee-eater M. malimbicus, Forest Wood-hoopoe Phoeniculus castaneiceps, White-headed Wood-hoopoe P. bollei, at least six species of hornbill including Brown-cheeked Bycanistes cylindricus, Fire-bellied Woodpecker Dendropicos pyrrhogaster, a range of greenbuls, Finsch’s Flycatcher-Thrush Neocossyphus finschii, Sharpe’s Apalis Apalis sharpii, Sabine’s Puffback Dryoscopus sabini, as well as a range of malimbes and barbets to name but a few. The general area has Cassin’s Hawk Eagle Spizaetus africanus, White-spotted Flufftail Sarothrura pulchra, Red-winged Warbler Heliolais erythroptera, Forest Penduline Tit Anthoscopus flavifrons, Viellot’s Black Weaver Ploceus nigerrimus and many more. On a recent trip (April 2013), the participants were lucky enough to hear and then see Nkulengu Rail Himantornis haematopus at its night time roost site.

Ankasa is in the south west of Ghana near the border with Côte d'Ivoire. It is a large area of primary rainforest which holds a number of Ghana's special birds including several Upper Guinea endemics. In a one and a half day visit in late April 2013, species seen included Shining-blue Kingfisher Alcedo quadribrachys, White-bellied Kingfisher A.leucogaster, Blue-throated Roller Eurystomus gularis, White-crested Hornbill Tropicranus albocristatus, Black Dwarf Hornbill Tockus hartlaubi, Willcocks's Honeyguide Indicator wllcocksi, Green-tailed Bristlebill Bleda eximius, Western Bearded Greenbul Criniger barbatus, Forest Robin Stiphrornis erythrothorax, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher Trochocercus nitens, Rufous-winged Illadopsis Illadopsis rufescens, Fraser's Sunbird Deleornis fraseri, Blue-billed Malimbus nitens and Red-headed Malimbe M. rubricollis. In addition, Hartlaub's Ducks Pteronetta hartlaubii were present on some roadside lakes en route to the main forested areas. These ducks were difficult to see and tend to fly as soon as they see the movement of people.

Mole National Park situated in the central north of the country is not to be missed. A good five hours drive north of Kumasi the last section of the ‘road’ from Tamale, about 80 km, can take up to another three hours to cover depending on the condition of your vehicle. It is however well worth the trip. The park has a range of antelopes as well as a large population of African Elephants. Birds found here include Hamerkop Scopus umbretta, White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis, Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus, Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus, Pel’s Fishing-owl Scotopelia peli, Freckled Nightjar Caprimulgus tristigma, African Pygmy Kingfisher Ceyx pictus, Northern Carmine Bee-eater Merops nubicus, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill Bucorvus abyssinicus, White-crowned Robin-Chat Cossypha albicapillus, Grey-headed Malacanotus blanchoti and Sulphur-breasted Bush-Shrikes Telophorus sulfureopectus, Orange-cheeked Waxbill Estrilda melpoda, Red-winged Pytilia Pytilia phoenicoptera and Cabanis’s Bunting Emberiza cabanisi.

The Bobiri Forest Reserve is located just south of Kumasi. It has many of the species found at Kakum but also offers several that may be easier to see here. These can include African Cuckoo Hawk Aviceda cuculoides, Red-thighed Sparrowhawk Accipiter erythropus, Black Sparrowhawk Accipiter melanoleucus, Tambourine Dove Turtur tympanistria, Red-fronted Parrot Poicephalus gulielmi, a range of cuckoos, Narina’s Trogon Apaloderma narina, Blue-throated Roller Eurystomus gularis, Black Dwarf Tockus hartlaubi and Red-billed Dwarf Hornbills T. camurus, Bristle-nosed Gymnobucco peli and Naked-faced Barbets G. calvus, Sharpe’s Apalis Apalis sharpii, Chestnut-capped Erythrocercus mccallii and Blue-headed Crested Flycatchers Trochocercus nitens, Dusky Tit Parus funereus and Red-billed Helmet-Shrike Prionops caniceps.

The Shai Hills Reserve is situated about an hour east of Accra and offers a completely different habitat with a new range of birds including Lizard Buzzard Kaupifalco monogrammicus, Grey Kestrel Falco ardosiaceus, Red-necked Falcon F. chicquera, Green Tauraco persa and Violet Turacos Musophaga violcea, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater Merops hirundineus, Double-toothed Barbet Lybius bidentatus, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-Shrike Campephaga phoenicea, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat Cossypha niveicapilla, White-winged Black Tit Parus eucomelas and White Helmet-Shrike Prionops plumatus.

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