Working for birds in Africa

Sierra Leone

News

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Tingi_Hills_Sierra_Leone

Sierra Leone Tingi Hills River

Image Credit: 
Andrew Hester
Red-billed Firefinch

Red-billed Firefinch

Image Credit: 
David Monticelli

These are largely unconfirmed records published in recent Bulletins of the African Bird Club for information only.

from ABC Bulletin 22.1

Two nests of Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus with two chicks and two eggs, respectively, were found at Tissana village, near the main peninsular road leading to Freetown, in mid-January 2015; although the species is known to be resident in the country, breeding had not been documented previously. An African Pitta Pitta angolensis was photographed at a mining site at Kono, in the east, on 27 April.

from ABC Bulletin 21.1

A female Eurasian Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus was observed at Guma Dam, Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve, near Freetown, on 14 March 2013; there are few records in the country.

from ABC Bulletin 18.2

The following records, from February - March 2011, were made in the north-eastern part of Gola Forest. A singing Yellow-throated Cuckoo Chrysococcyx flavigularis was seen at the forest edge near Mogbaima on 1 and 6 March. A Brown Nightjar Veles binotatus was singing in forest near Congo on 10 - 11 March. A male Yellow-casqued Hornbill Ceratogymna elata was observed bringing food to a sealed-up nest in a large tree adjacent to the Moro River on 28 February - 5 March. A singing Yellow-footed Honeyguide Melignomon eisentrauti was near Mogbaima on 6 March, with another daily at exactly the same spot in the Congo / Levuma area on 7 - 11 March. Gola Malimbe Malimbus ballmanni was observed once near Mogbaima, in a mixed-species flock.

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A presumed Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris was photographed at Kenema rice fields on 11 November 2010; if accepted, this would be the first record for Sierra Leone and one of only a handful records in West Africa.

During a visit in February 2010 the following records were made. A flock of 40 African Openbills Anastomus lamelligerus was found at Bumbuna on 17th; there appear to be no previous records from this area. The same day, a Beaudouin's Snake Eagle Circaetus beaudouini was near a bush fire north of Mile 91; this is slightly south of the range given in Borrow & Demey (2004. Field Guide to the Birds of Western Africa). Cassin's Hawk Eagles Spizaetus africanus were observed at Guma Dam on 6th and at Tacugama on 19th; although the species has been noted there in recent years, there are apparently no historical records from the peninsula. A Great Snipe Gallinago media was noted in a swamp in Gola East and another in the rice fields at Kenema. Two Brown Nightjars Veles binotatus were seen at Tiwai on 10th; this species was only recently discovered here. Three Red-throated Pipits Anthus cervinus were at the Kenema rice fields on 12th, where it seems to be regular. A pair of Gola Malimbes Malimbus ballmanni with two full-grown young were seen in Gola North.

A flock of 15 – 20 swifts, identified as African Black Apus barbatus and Bates’s Swifts A. batesi, flew over the Kambui Hills, near Kenema, on 14 May 2009.

Records from February - June 2008 include the following. In ricefields at Kenema, a Lesser Jacana Microparra capensis was found on 7 June; there is apparently only one previous record for Sierra Leone. Also there, on 12 - 13 March, were two Great Snipes Gallinago media. A Rufous Fishing Owl Scotopelia ussheri was flushed at very close range from dense shrubbery on Tiwai Island on 10 March. Also at Tiwai, two singing Brown Nightjars Veles binotatus were seen in flight on 13 - 14 February; the species was also heard there on 9 March; these records constitute the first for Tiwai and the westernmost to date. The species was only recently discovered in Sierra Leone, in Gola Forest. A European Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus was photographed at Tiwai on 15 February. Records of Dusky Crested Flycatcher Elminia nigromitrata and Superb Sunbird Cinnyris superbus at Guma Dam, on the Freetown peninsula, on 10 February, appear to be new for the area and represent westward range extensions.

During a survey of the Loma Mountains, from 14 February to 2 March 2008, 257 bird species were recorded, which brings the total number known from the site to 332, i.e. more than 50% of the species recorded in the whole of Sierra Leone. Yellow-casqued Hornbill Ceratogymna elata was still relatively common at low and mid-altitudes and Baumann’s Greenbul Phyllastrephus baumanni was found both at high (1,300 - 1,400 m) and low altitudes. Several Black-headed Rufous Warblers Bathmocercus cerviniventris were singing. Three family parties of Sierra Leone Prinias Schistolais leontica were encountered in bracken and shrubbery at forest edge at 1,300 - 1,400 m. White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus and Emerald Starling Lamprotornis iris were also observed and excellent views were obtained of the shy and little-known Grey Ground Thrush Zoothera princei.

Records from a visit in November - December 2007 include the following. A juvenile Long-tailed Hawk Urotriorchis macrourus was seen on Tiwai Island on 4 December. A Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo was chasing cliff swallows near Bumbuna Dam on 12 December. A pair of Grey-throated Rails Canirallus oculeus was observed at Lalehun, Gola North, on 7 December. Ricefields near Kenema held four Great Snipe Gallinago media on 6 December. A male Yellow-throated Cuckoo Chrysococcyx flavigualis was seen at Kambui North on 10 December. A Pearl-spotted Owlet Glaucidium perlatum found in the Bumbuna area on 11 December is outside the range indicated in Field Guide to the Birds of Western Africa (Borrow & Demey 2004). In the forest near Lalehun, Gola North, an adult and a juvenile Olivaceous Flycatcher Muscicapa olivascens were seen on 8 December, whilst a Gola Malimbe Malimbus ballmanni was found nest building on 26 November.

A belated but noteworthy record is that of a Thick-billed Cuckoo Pachycoccyx audeberti seen in December 2004 north of Freetown.

Highlights of five weeks of field work in Gola Forest, from 22 January to 28 February 2007, include the following: two large groups of White-breasted Guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides (one numbering c.20) in primary forest in Gola North, Black-collared Lovebird Agapornis swindernianus (first definite record for the country) also in Gola North, Rufous Fishing Owl Scotopelia ussheri on a small stream on the edge of Gola East, Brown Nightjar Caprimulgus binotatus found to be widespread and locally common, being very vocal at this season (first Sierra Leone record was in Gola in 2006), several small groups of Bates’s  Swift Apus batesi (also now confirmed for Sierra Leone, cf. Dowsett 1993, Tauraco Res. Rep. 5: 30–36), two Yellow-footed Honeyguides Melignomon eisentrauti in song (Gola East and Gola North), a male Western Wattled Cuckoo-shrike Lobotos lobatus (near Belebu, Gola North), at least three Lagden’s Bush-shrikes Malaconotus lagdeni holding territories in primary forest (Gola North), and the rediscovery of a small population of Gola Malimbe Malimbus ballmanni (pairs in three different mixed bird parties, one with a juvenile) in unlogged primary forest in Gola North c.9 km east of Lalehun, which is not far from the site of the original sightings by Geoffrey Field in 1971-76.

A pair of Blue-headed Coucals Centropus monachus was singing in a small marsh next to a rubbish tip in the centre of Kenema, and another bird was seen flying across a marsh between Kenema and Gola; surprisingly, these are the first records for the country of what has doubtless been an overlooked species. Two pairs of Chattering Cisticolas Cisticola anonymus were holding territory in low farmbush in a forest clearing (Gola North); the more usual habitat in Sierra Leone consists of small natural swamps. Also of note were large numbers of African Black Swifts Apus barbatus (up to 100+) over forest and farmbush (identified mainly by their characteristic calls), two observations of Baumann’s Greenbul Phyllastrephus baumanni singing in low, rank Chromolaena farmbush, and a pair of Black-capped Apalis Apalis nigriceps on a hill near Belebu (new for Gola).

The most interesting record of a birding trip in November 2006 involved two Rufous Fishing Owls Scotopelia ussheri on Tiwaii Island on 14th. Other species of interest, albeit at known localities, included White-breasted Guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides (five at Zimmi on 15th), Sierra Leone Prinia Schistolais leontica (one at Bumbuna on 19th) and Gola Malimbe Malimbus ballmanni (a pair with a juvenile at Gola Forest North on 17th). At Bumbuna, a male indigobird with greenish-blue gloss, white bill and pale legs, making the contact call of Zebra Waxbill Sporaeginthus subflavus, was identified as Jambandu Indigobird Vidua raricola; other indigobirds in the area, with white bills and red legs, were Village Indigobirds V. chalybeata.

During a bird census carried out in Sierra Leone's coastal wetlands in January-February 2005, four species were found that had apparently not been reported previously: five Great White Pelicans Pelecanus onocrotalus were counted at the Scarcies estuary and 253 at Yawri Bay, 12 Eurasian Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia at Scarcies, 18 Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata at Yawri, and a Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus, also at Yawri.

Among the more interesting records made during a birding trip to this little-visited country in the second half of November 2005 were a Least Honeyguide Indicator exilis, claimed from Tiwai Island, two Yellow-throated Cuckoos Chrysococcyx flavigularis in Gola Forest and, intriguingly, Chattering Cisticola Cisticola anonymus in a flooded area south of Gola; the latter would confirm the existence of an isolated Upper Guinea population of this species.

The following information from Andrew Hester and Craig Pearman gives further details of this visit.

Tiwai Island is a block of forest situated in the impressive Moa River. An afternoon walk on Tiwai produced Latham's Forest Francolin Francolinus lathami, African Finfoot Podica senegalensis, Rock Pratincole Glareola nuchalis, Blue-breasted Kingfisher Alcedo quadribrachys, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher Halcyon badia and Yellow-casqued Hornbill Ceratogymna elata.

The following morning dawn chorus at Tiwai included Red-chested Goshawk Accipiter toussenelii, Great Blue Turaco Corythaeola cristata, Yellow-billed Barbet Trachyphonus purpuratus, Pale-breasted Illadopsis Illadopsis rufipennis and a number of the more common Greenbuls such as Yellow-whiskered Andropadus latirostris, Little A. virens, Little Grey A. gracilis and Slender-billed A.gracilirostris. Other species of interest included White-spotted Flufftail Sarothrura pulchra, Black-throated Coucal Centropus leucogaster, Black-casqued Hornbill Ceratogymna atrata, White-crested Hornbill Tockus albocristatus, Least Honeyguide Indicator exilis, Finsch’s Flycatcher-Thrush Neocossyphus finschii and Western Bluebill Spermophaga haematina.

In the Bumbuna area, there was Turati’s Boubou Laniarius turatii as well as a plethora of dry country birds, including an obliging Pearl-spotted Owlet Glaucidium perlatum which conveniently brought in Double-spurred Francolin Francolinus bicalcaratus, Vinaceous Dove Streptopelia vinacea, Black Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus aterimmus, Senegal Eremomela Eremomela pusilla, Northern Black Flycatcher Melaenornis edolioides and Emerald Starling Lamprotornis iris.

Map

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Sierra Leone schematic map showing hotspots

Image Credit: 
John Caddick

References

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BirdLife International (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.

BOWLER, J., HUNTER, J. and SESAY, J. (2013) Surveys of Emerald Starling Lamprotornis iris in Sierra Leone. ABC Bulletin 20(1) pp 31-38. 

CONWAY, A., HERNANDEZ, S. and CARROLL, J.P. (2010) Rufous Fishing Owl Scotopelia ussheri camera-trapped at midday near Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone. ABC Bulletin 17(1) pp 90-91.

DEMEY R. and OKONI-WILLIAMS A. (2015) The birds of the Loma Mountains, Sierra Leone. ABC Bulletin 22(1) pp 43-63.

DOWSETT-LEMAIRE, Fr. and DOWSETT, R. J. (2008) Selected notes on birds of Gola Forest and surroundings, Sierra Leone, including three new species for the country. ABC Bulletin 15(2) pp 215-227.

KLOP, E., LINDSELL, J.A. and SIAKA, A.M. (2010) The birds of Gola Forest and Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone. Malimbus 32(1) pp 33-58. 

LAMBERT, F. (2009) Birding in Sierra Leone: an emerging West African destination. ABC Bulletin 16(1) pp 92-97.

LINDSELL, J., Van Der WINDEN, J. and SIAKA, A. (2007) Extension of breeding range of Preuss's Cliff Swallow Hirundo preussi into south-east Sierra Leone. ABC Bulletin 14(2) pp 187-188.

LINDSELL, J., KLOP, E. & SIAKA, A. (2008) First record of Brown Nightjar Veles binotatus for Sierra Leone. ABC Bulletin 15(1) pp. 82-84.

MONTICELLI, D. (2012) Interesting sightings from south-east Sierra Leone, including the first Tawny Pipit Anthus campestris for the country and the first evidence of Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris for West Africa. ABC Bulletin 19(1) pp 52-55.

MONTICELLI, D., KOROMA, A.P. and BANNAH, D. (2015) Observations of Rufous Fishing Owl Scotopelia ussheri in Sierra Leone. ABC Bulletin 22.2 pp 183 - 189.

OKONI-WILLIAMS, A.D., THOMPSON, H. S., WOOD, P., KOROMA, A.P. and ROBERTSON, P. Sierra Leone chapter pp 769-778 in FISHPOOL, L.D.C. and EVANS M.I. editors (2001) Important Bird Areas in Africa and Associated Islands: Priority sites for conservation. Newbury and Cambridge, UK. Pisces Publications and BirdLife International (BirdLife Conservation Series No.11).

THOMPSON, H.S. and FOTSO, R. (1995) Rockfowl the genus Picathartes. ABC Bulletin 2(1) pp 25-28.

VAN DER WINDEN, J., SIAKA, A., GBENGA, K., DIRKSEN, S. & POOT, M. (2008) First records for Sierra Leone of Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata and Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus. ABC Bulletin 15(1) pp. 108-109.

WOOD, P. (1995) White-necked Picathartes: how to see one. ABC Bulletin 2(1) p 29.

Contacts

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African Bird Club representative

Momoh B Sesay momoh4bird@yahoo.com

Previous Reports

2010 report from Kenneth Gbenga

2009 report from Kenneth Gbenga

2008 report from Kenneth Gbenga

Contacts

The BirdLife International partner is

Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL)
P O Box 1292,
Freetown,
Sierra Leone.

Physical address:
2 Pyke Street,
Freetown,
Sierra leone.

e-mail: cssl@sierratel.sl

Bird recorder and checklist compiler

Geoffrey Field

37 Milton Grove

New Milton

Hampshire

BH25 6HB

UK

Conservation

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Sierra_Leone_Picathartes_roost

Sierra Leone Kambui Hills Forest Reserve

White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus nest and roost site

Image Credit: 
John Caddick
White-necked Picatartes

White-necked Picatartes

Image Credit: 
David Monticelli

Sierra Leone is party to a number of international agreements including Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution and Wetlands.

The country has many issues which impact the environment in common with many African countries such as rapid population growth, harvesting of timber, expansion of cattle grazing, slash-and-burn agriculture which has resulted in deforestation and soil exhaustion, civil war depleting natural resources and overfishing.

The Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) is an active organisation with a mission to promote conservation and management of natural resources for sustainable development in Sierra Leone.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and its partner organisation in Sierra Leone, CSSL, and the Sierra Leone Government, will embark on a two-year pilot project with the aim of managing 75,000 hectares of the Gola forests for conservation, in cooperation with local communities.

The Gola rainforests, in south-eastern Sierra Leone, are the last remaining rainforests in the country. They are among the most important forests in West Africa for a range of magnificent, threatened birds and other wildlife. Further information about this work can be found at www.rspb.org.uk/sierraleone/.

Conservation News

14th April 2008: Communities unite to protect White-necked Picathartes

A survey of the Western Area Peninsula Forest (WAPF) in Sierra Leone has discovered two new breeding colonies of the Vulnerable White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus, in addition to the 16 sites already known. The survey was part of a one-year project carried out by volunteers from the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL, BirdLife in Sierra Leone), the University of Sierra Leone, and the government’s Forestry Division, with help from local communities.

The project, funded by the Disney World Conservation Fund (DWCF), also established a network of trained wardens in villages surrounding the WAPF reserve.

White-necked Picathartes is a flagship for bird and habitat conservation in Africa. Its extant population is restricted to the fragmented Upper Guinea forest in Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with historical records from Ghana - though none since the 1960s.

In Sierra Leone, numbers are estimated at 1,400, with populations in forest reserves close to the minimum for long-term viability, and numbers are apparently stable or declining very slowly. The survey established that the number of nests in the WAPF colonies had fallen by 20 percent in the ten years from 1997 to 2007.

Much of the project work was carried out by members of one of Africa’s longest established Site Support Groups, PAGE, the Peninsula Action Group for the Environment. “This group commands considerable respect and recognition among the local communities,” said CSSL volunteer Arnold Okoni-Williams. “Through PAGE’s influence and facilitation, the project team was able to plan and execute project activities with minimal difficulty at all village levels.” A number of awareness-raising seminars and training sessions were held in the villages around the WAPF, which Okoni-Williams says has resulted in a common understanding and a strong commitment to conserve the species and its forest home.

The major achievements of the project include:

  • A complete database with details of geographic locations and ecological status of the 18 known sites, and population data. This is being used for monitoring and management purposes.
  • A wardening system around all known Picathartes colonies through a network of trained SSG members in 11 communities around the forest reserve.
  • Over 1,000 local people are now aware of the status and conservation needs of the White-necked Picathartes through village seminars, posters and brochures, and radio programmes.
  • Capacity of the project team, PAGE and local communities have been enhanced for sustainable site-level conservation initiatives.

“We are grateful to DWCF for their timely intervention to contribute to saving one the most isolated populations of White-necked Picathartes, for the sake of posterity and overall global biodiversity conservation,” Okoni-Williams added. “We continue to rely on their support on this and other potential conservation programmes in the future.”

The ‘International Action Plan for White-necked Picathartes’, developed by the BirdLife International Africa Partnership, sets out to address the conservation needs of the species through habitat protection and local partnership development, with the ultimate aim of stabilizing and/or increasing the population among range states.

Source: BirdLife International

10th December 2007: Giant rainforest in Sierra Leone wins protection

A rainforest in Sierra Leone has won protection from the country's government for an indefinite period in a move heralded as one of the first examples of a state using forest conservation to cut its carbon emissions.

President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone is expected today to back the plans to make the 185,000 acre Gola forest, about half the size of London, the nation's second national park. This will protect at least 50 species of mammal, 2,000 different plants and 274 species of bird, 14 of which are close to extinction.

It is hoped that Gola, close to the Liberian border in the south-east of the west African country, will become the flagship site in a network of national parks planned by the President.

The Gola project is being funded by the European Commission, the French Government, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Conservation International.

Source: The Independent

21st June 2006: Gola spared from logging

Gola rainforest, one of Africa's top biodiversity sites, is to be managed to benefit local communities, rather than being logged, thanks to a ground-breaking project implemented by the Government of Sierra Leone in co-operation with two BirdLife Partners: the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone (CSSL) and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK).

The 75,000 ha Important Bird Area (IBA) forest will be protected from legal and illegal logging. Local people from seven chiefdoms have been recruited by the project to patrol the reserve, and will have a key role in managing the project. The RSPB and CSSL are working with the Government to secure the logging rights to Gola, and are financing development projects such as the construction and repair of schools and other community buildings that will directly benefit up to 100,000 local people. A fund will be established to meet the cost of managing the forest for biodiversity for the long term, and to support continuing community development programmes.

His Excellency Alhaji Dr Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, President of Sierra Leone, commented: "This is a new approach in forest protection that will address not only the protection of the forest and its biodiversity, but will also provide sustainable benefit to the local community in perpetuity."

More than 270 bird species, including 14 globally threatened are found at Gola. They include Rufous Fishing-owl Scotopelia ussheri, Gola Malimbe Malimbus ballmanni (both Endangered), and the Green-tailed Bristlebill Bleda eximius and White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus (both Vulnerable), the latter a charismatic species recognised as a symbol of African conservation. Gola is also important for threatened mammals including pygmy hippopotamus, forest elephant and zebra duiker.

Source: BirdLife International News

Books & Sounds

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The western and central parts of Africa now have an excellent guide in the Birds of Western Africa by Borrow and Demey. It is a fantastic reference work and thoroughly recommended. It covers 23 countries south of the Sahara, from Mauritania in the northwest, to Chad and Central African Republic in the east, and Congo Brazzaville in the southeast, including the Cape Verde and Gulf of Guinea Islands. The paperback version is much more portable than the hard cover edition and it is ideal for the field, although there is less detail.

Birds of Africa south of the Sahara also covers the same countries except the Cape Verde Islands.

 

Book image: 
Book info: 
Birds of Western Africa, Nik Borrow & Ron Demey, Helm, Hardback.
Book description: 

Helm Identification Guide. 147 plates depicting over 1280 species in 2800 individual figures. Covers Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Rio Muni, Gabon, Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, part of Mauritania and the islands of Sao Tome, Principe and Bioko (Fernando Po). All the species described are illustrated in colour apart from a few vagrants, which are depicted in black-and-white in the text. Distribution maps are provided for the majority of species (except vagrants). 832 pages.

Book image: 
Book info: 
Field Guide to the Birds of Western Africa, Nik Borrow & Ron Demey, Helm, Softback.
Book description: 

Helm Field Guide. Utilises all the plates from the Helm ID Guide by the same authors, with a concise, authoritative text on facing pages, to create a guide covering all 1,304 species found in the region. The guide also contains an updated colour distribution map for each species and a number of new images have been painted just for this guide. Covers Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Rio Muni, Gabon, Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, part of Mauritania and the islands of Sao Tome, Principe and Bioko (Fernando Po). 512 pages.

Book image: 
Book info: 
Birds of Africa South of the Sahara, Ian Sinclair & Peter Ryan, New Holland, Softback.
Book description: 

Second edition, including 500 new images and 400 updated distribution maps. Unrivalled coverage of African birds in a single volume. 2129+ species covered with an additional 101 vagrants briefly described. Revised to reflect the latest changes in taxonomy. Species descriptions give precise identification features highlighting differences between similar species as well as briefly reporting habitat, status and call. Annotated illustrations portray distinctive plumages as well as diagnostic flight patterns and major geographic variants where applicable.

Visiting

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Pels Fishing Owl

Pels Fishing Owl

Image Credit: 
David Monticelli
Black-and-White Mannikin

Black-and-White Mannikin

Image Credit: 
David Monticelli

Birding tours

Birding EcotoursBirdquest and Rockjumper organise tours to Sierra Leone.

Trip reports

We have received a December 2005 trip report and travelled to Sierra Leone on the ABC supported Rockjumper tour of December 2009 and the information in these pages is based on the experiences of those trips.

This downloadable trip report was written by Robert Langhendries and Benoît Forget following an independently organised birdwatching trip to Sierra Leone in January 2010. "We hope the first of its kind of independent bird trip to this - magnificent and safe (!) - country of Sierra Leone will motivate others to do so!

Logistics

General: we would not advise independent travel to Sierra Leone and you should use the facilities of a tour operator or a ground agent with local knowledge of the country. The national language is English although tribal languages and 'pidgin' English are spoken. The road system is not sign-posted and its quality is variable although some of the main highways have metalled roads. As such, you would be advised to hire a car with a driver. There are no internal flights or railway routes as far as we are aware.

Flights: there are regular flights from London to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone as well as from some other European countries. There are also flights from other west African countries such as Ghana and links to Kenya and on to South Africa. Our experience is that there is a high possibility of delays with the African flights and you should allow plenty of time to travel to and from Sierra Leone. The airport is situated at Lungi which is on the other side of a very wide estuary from Freetown. The best ways to get between Freetown and the airport are to use the regular helicopter or boat services. Travel by road requires a long journey around the estuary on poor quality roads. There is no bridge across the estuary.

Visas: visas are expensive and necessary for nearly all visitors and best obtained in advance through your local embassy. Our advice is to check with your local embassy and / or its website and get your visa early as it can be a complicated process which may require letters of introduction from contacts in Sierra Leone as well as a firm travel itinerary.

Vaccinations: your local doctor should obviously be consulted about health matters and the range of inoculations which is advised. A Yellow Fever certificate is essential as proof of vaccination at the time of writing and this may be checked thoroughly on arrival and before the immigration desk is reached.

Driving: you would be well advised to use a local person to drive his own or a hired vehicle. There are good metalled roads between Freetown and other major towns such as Kenema. The roads in and around Freetown and the Western Peninsula are of a very poor standard and travel times are long for relatively short distances. In addition, traffic volumes are high near the central areas of Freetown. Roads can also be rough outside of other main towns although this is not always the case. There are some good and reasonably fast unmetalled roads in the Bumbuna area for example. Please note that our experience is based on travel in the dry season.

Currency: the local unit of currency is the Leone and at the time of writing the exchange rate was about 3,600 to the US Dollar. Euros and Pounds can also be exchanged and you will need local currency in many places. You can change money at the airport but the exchange rate is thought to be low so it might pay to ask your local contact to find you a foreign exchange dealer in Freetown. There are no ATMs in Sierra Leone as far as we know.

Timing: based on our experience, December is a good time to visit Sierra Leone for birding and travel. This is after the end of the wet season. Even in December, the humidity in the forests is very high and days can overcast and hot. .

Travel Guide: the Bradt Travel Guide to Sierra Leone by Katrina Manson and James Knight contains considerable detailed  information on the above and many other topics. This is published by Bradt Travel Guides Ltd, UK and The Globe Pequot Press Inc, USA.

Safety

See UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office for the latest safety and travel information.

Other safety and health issues are no different from those in many African countries. Guidebooks, travel companies and websites provide much of the advice one needs, but key points warrant repetition here: (1) be aware of the risk of malaria and seek current advice, sleep in a sealed tent or under a net and take prophylaxis as recommended; (2) always ensure you have sufficient water and some method of purification (even if this comprises a pot and a campfire for boiling); (3) do not underestimate the danger of being in the sun for too long, ensure you use sun-block, drink plenty of water and wear a hat; (4) be aware of the risk of AIDS; (5) ensure that you take a reasonably-equipped first-aid pack with you including supplies of hypodermic and suturing needles.

Hotspots

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Sierra_Leone_Birding_Hotspots

Sierra Leone schematic map showing hotspots

Image Credit: 
John Caddick
Gola_West_Sierra_Leone

Sierra Leone Gola West

Image Credit: 
Andrew Hester
Black Bee-eater

Black Bee-eater

Image Credit: 
David Monticelli
Shining-blue Kingfisher

Shining-blue Kingfisher

Image Credit: 
David Monticelli

This information was compiled following a trip made by Andrew Hester and Craig Pearman in December 2005, and the ABC supported Rockjumper tour of December 2009.

Freetown

Within a short distance of the centre of the capital, Freetown, it is possible to find some exceptional birds. The capital is at the northern end of the Western Area Peninsula Forest. This peninsula contains areas of quality forest, some of which are on private property and require permits.

Great Blue Corythaeola cristata, Yellow-billed Turaco Tauraco macrorhynchus, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher Halcyon badia, Yellow-casqued Hornbill Ceratogymna elata, Cameroon Sombre Greenbul Andropadus curvirostris, Fire-crested Alethe Alethe diademata, Yellow-browed Camaroptera Camaroptera superciliaris and White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus can all be seen.

There is an extensive estuary to the north of Freetown where large numbers of waders can be found. Mangrove swamps further south in the area of River No.2 hold White-backed Night Heron Gorsachius leuconotos, Shining-blue Kingfisher Alcedo quadribrachys and breeding Blue-billed Malimbe Malimbus nitens, and beaches in this area have large flocks of Royal Tern Sterna maxima.

Close to the centre of Freetown, a private golf course for which permission to visit is required has an excellent selection of birds including Pied-winged Swallow Hirundo leucosoma, Oriole Warbler Hypergerus atriceps and Crimson Seedcracker Pyrenestes sanguineus.

Tiwai Island

Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary is on an island in the Moa River in the south-east of Sierra Leone and close to the Gola West Forest Reserve and the Liberian border. The island forest is pristine and unlogged and holds a wealth of birds and primates. There is a permanent campsite on the island which makes it possible to stay and be out early each day to investigate the many trails.

Special birds on the island and near the local villages include African Dwarf Kingfisher Ceyx lecontei, Finsch's Flycatcher-Thrush Stozirhina finschi, Buff-throated Sunbird Chalcomitra adelberti, Maxwell's Black Weaver Ploceus albinucha and Red-vented Malimbe Malimbus scutatus.

A boat trip on the river around the island at dusk is possible and Hartlaub's Duck Pteronetta hartlaubii, Egyptian Plover Pluvianus aegyptius, Rock Pratincole Glareola nuchalis, Blue-breasted Kingfisher Halcyon malimbica, Brown Nightjar Caprimulgus binotatus and White-throated Blue Swallow Hirundo nigrita were all seen well.

Kenema

Kenema is a large town and a good base to see a number of special birding areas including the Kambui Hills and has easy access to the Gola North Forest Reserve. It is not far from the Liberian border.

Kambui Hills

There is a well known White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus breeding colony in the Kambui Hills. Reaching the colony requires an hour's walk through a mixture of farm bush and mature forest. The walk over difficult terrain is well worth it however as it is possible to get outstanding views of these amazing birds at a distance of about 10 metres. Four White-necked Picathartes were seen during a recent visit to the site.

Other species of interest en route include Long-tailed Hawk Urotriorchis macrourus, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon Columba iriditorques, Black-Bee-eater Merops gularis, Yellow-casqued Hornbill Ceratogymna elata, Buff-throated Chalcomitra adelberti and Johanna’s Sunbird Cinnyris johannae.

Kambui North

Although the forest is degraded and there was evidence of logging activity, the long climb is well worth the effort. Birds seen included Red-chested Goshawk Accipiter toussenelii, a large flock of Mottled Swifts Tachymarptis aequatorialis, Naked-faced Barbet Gymnobucco calvus, Cassins' Honeybird Prodotiscus insignis, Whistling Cisticola Cisticola lateralis and a group of Red-headed Malimbes Malimbus rubricollis.

Rice Paddies

There are many areas of rice paddies in the vicinity of Kenema and a late afternoon visit found African Crake Crex egregia, Forbes's Plover Charadrius forbesi, Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis, Great Snipe Gallinago media, Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus and Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus as well as other Palearctic migrants.

Gola Forest

The fragmentation of the original Gola Forest as a result of logging and other overexploitation has resulted in 3 discrete forest blocs known as Gola East, Gola West and Gola North. Gola West and East may be renamed as Gola South and are in the vicinity of the town of Zimmi and Tiwai Island. Gola North is best reached from Kenema. In 2007, the President decreed to upgrade the status of the Gola Forest Reserves to become Sierra Leone's second National Park.

Gola East

Special birds in Gola East Forest Reserve are Yellow-casqued Hornbill Ceratogymna elata, Long-tailed Hawk Urotriorchis macrourus, Blue-headed Wood Dove Turtur brehmeri, Yellow-throated Cuckoo Chrysococcyx flavigularis, Hairy-breasted Barbet Tricholaema hirsuta, Golden Greenbul Calyptocichla serina and Sharpe’s Apalis Apalis sharpii and Red-billed Helmet-Shrike Prionops caniceps. The flooded wetland to the south of the forest supports a good variety of birds including Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus, Chattering Cisticola Cisticola anonymus (Upper Guinea population), Sooty Boubou Laniarius leucorhynchus, and Crimson Seedcracker Pyrenestes sanguineus.

Gola West

Special birds here are White-spotted Flufftail Sarothrura pulchra, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon Columba iriditorques, Yellow-throated Cuckoo Chrysococcyx flavigularis, Sabine’s Spinetail Rhaphidura sabini, Spotted Honeyguide Indicator maculatus, Little Green Woodpecker Campethera maculosa, Blue Cuckoo-Shrike Coracina azurea, Cameroon Sombre Greenbul Andropadus curvirostris, Spotted Greenbul Ixonotus guttatus, Icterine Greenbul Phyllastrephus icterinus, Forest Robin Stiphrornis erythrothorax, Usshers’ Flycatcher Muscicapa ussheri, Rufous-winged Illadopsis Illadopsis rufescens and Copper-tailed Starling Lamprotornis cupreocauda.

Gola North

The forest surrounding the village of Belebu is still in relatively good condition and from here, one can walk into Gola North. The forest edge around the village was very and a couple of hours can be spent here productively. In 2009, we saw Thick-billed Cuckoo Pachycoccyx audeberti, Melancholy Dendropicos lugubris and Fire-bellied Woodpeckers D. pyrrhogaster and Red-shouldered Cuckoo-Shrike Campephaga phoenicea. A previous party had also seen Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill Tockus camurus, Wilcocks’s Honeyguide Indicator willcocksi, Western Bearded Greenbul Criniger barbatus, Ansorge's Greenbul Andropadus ansorgei and Puvel's Illadopsis Illadopsis puveli.

To visit the primary forest areas of Gola North, it is necessary to walk a further 9 kilometres from the village along a trail and camp in the forest. There are no campsites so it is necessary to take food, water, camping equipment and all provisions. The trail produced some superb species including Blue-headed Bee-eater Merops muelleri, White-crested Hornbill Tropicranus albocristatus and a pair of displaying Red-cheeked Wattle-eyes Dyaphorophyia blissetti.

It is worth spending a few days in the forest as there are several species which are difficult to find elsewhere. Highlights of a recent trip were Afep Pigeon Columba unicincta, Black Dwarf Hornbill Tockus hartlaubi, Brown-cheeked Hornbill Bycanistes cylindricus, Narina's Trogon Apaloderma narina, Rufous-sided Broadbill Smithornis rufolateralis, Green-tailed Bristlebill Bleda eximius, Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye Dyaphorophyia concreta, Fraser's Sunbird Deleornis fraseri, Lagden's Bush-Shrike Malaconotus lagdeni and a solitary splendid male Gola Malimbe Malimbus ballmanni.

Bumbuna

The town of Makeni is a good base from which to explore the savanna areas around the village of Bumbuna. There are no reserves specifically but frequent roadside stops and exploration of some of the countryside is rewarding. Special birds of this area are Red-chested Flufftail Sarothrura rufa, Pearl-spotted Owlet Glaucidium perlatum (believed to be a relatively new species in Sierra Leone), Abyssinian Roller Coracias abyssinicus, Greater Honeyguide Indicator indicator, Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla, Fine-spotted Woodpecker Campethera punctuligera, Red-winged Warbler Heliolais erythropterus, Senegal Batis Batis senegalensis, Blackcap Babbler Turdoides reinwardtii, White-shouldered Black Tit Parus guineensis, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike Malaconotus blanchoti, the localised Turati's Boubou Laniarius turatii and Emerald Starling Lamprotornis iris, Yellow-winged Pytilia hypogrammica and Red-winged Pytilia P. phoenicoptera, Dybowski's Twinspot Euschistospiza dybowskii, Jambandu Vidua raricola and Cameroon Indigobirds V. camerunensis and Togo Paradise Whydah Vidua togoensis.

Tingi Mountains Hills

This Forest Reserve has limited vehicular access and means that a walk of some 10 km to the base is required. The walk starts over a locally made suspension bridge across one of Sierra Leone’s fast flowing rivers where Shining-blue Kingfisher Alcedo quadribrachys, Cassin’s Flycatcher Muscicapa cassini and Brown Sunbird Anthreptes gabonicus can be seen, while Emerald Starling Lamprotornis iris, Little Weaver Ploceus luteolus and Dybowski's Twinspot Euschistospiza dybowskii have been seen in the rice fields and acacia scrub. European Honey Buzzard Pernis apivorus, Vinaceous Dove Streptopelia vinacea, Vieillot's Barbet Lybius vieilloti, Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos, Singing Cisticola Cisticola cantans, European Pied Flycatcher Ficedula hypoleuca, Red-cheeked Wattle-eye Dyaphorophyia blissetti and Fiery-breasted Bush-Shrike Malacanotus cruentus have all been seen in the somewhat drier open landscape with forested patches. Possible species in the mountain rivers and forested ravines are Red-necked Buzzard Buteo auguralis, Fanti Saw-wing Psalidoprocne obscura, Mountain Wagtail Motacilla clara and Chestnut-winged Starling Onychognathus fulgidus.

Species

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Black-winged Red Bishop

Black-winged Red Bishop

Image Credit: 
David Monticelli

Country checklist and status

You can download and print a checklist for Sierra Leone.

Endemic species

There are no species endemic to Sierra Leone.

Near endemic species (found in 3 or less African countries)

Turati’s Boubou Laniarius turatii
Emerald Starling Lamprotornis iris

The following species of the Upper Guinea forests Endemic Bird Area are found in Sierra Leone.

White-breasted Guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides
Rufous Fishing-owl Scotopelia ussheri
Brown-cheeked Hornbill Bycanistes cylindricus
Western Wattled Cuckoo-Shrike Lobotos lobatus
Green-tailed Bristlebill Bleda eximius
Yellow-bearded Greenbul Criniger olivaceus
Black-headed Rufous Warbler Bathmocercus cerviniventris
Sierra Leone Prinia Prinia leontica
Sharpe's Apalis Apalis sharpii
Nimba Flycatcher Melaenornis annamarulae
White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus
Rufous-winged Illadopsis Illadopsis rufescens
Copper-tailed Starling Lamprotornis cupreocauda
Gola Malimbe Malimbus ballmanni

Threatened species

Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni Vulnerable
White-breasted Guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides Vulnerable
Rufous Fishing-owl Scotopelia ussheri Endangered
Western Wattled Cuckoo-Shrike Lobotos lobatus Vulnerable
Green-tailed Bristlebill Bleda eximius Vulnerable
Yellow-bearded Greenbul Criniger olivaceus Vulnerable
Sierra Leone Pinia Prinia leontica Vulnerable
Nimba Flycatcher Melaenornis annamarulae Vulnerable
White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus Vulnerable
Gola Malimbe Malimbus ballmanni Endangered

The lists of endemic, near endemic and threatened species have been compiled from a number of sources including the African Bird Club, BirdLife International, and Birds of the World Version 2.0 ® 1994-1996, Dr. Charles Sibley and Thayer Birding Software, Ltd. For further information on Sierra Leone’s threatened species, see BirdLife International.

Important Bird Areas

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Tingi_Hills_Sierra_Leone

Sierra Leone Tingi Hills

Image Credit: 
Andrew Hester
Gola Malimbe

Gola Malimbe

Image Credit: 
David Monticelli

Over 640 bird species have been recorded in Sierra Leone of which over 430 are resident and over 130 are regular seasonal migrants including 90 Palearctic migrants. There are 23 species of global conservation concern. The forests of eastern Sierra Leone form the western part of the Upper Guinea forests Endemic Bird Area (EBA) and 14 of its 15 restricted range species occur in the country. Some 174 species of the Guinea-Congo forests biome and 28 of the Sudan-Guinea Savanna biome are known from Sierra Leone. The coastline forms part of the eastern Atlantic flyway for migrant waterbirds and is probably one of the major stop-over and wintering sites for many Palearctic waders along the coast of west Africa.

10 sites in Sierra Leone have been identified as Important Bird Areas (IBAs) covering a total of 5,776 km2 or some 7.9% of the land area. These have been surveyed and species lists are available from CSSL (see contacts). Another 10 sites are regarded as potential IBAs but they have not yet been surveyed.

Two sites cover coastal wetlands and mangroves and between them are estimated to support a total of between 130,000 and 200,000 Palearctic waders annually the majority being winter visitors. 36 wader species have been recorded at Sierra Leone river estuary with large numbers of Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula, Kentish Plover C.alexandrinus, Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola, Sanderling Calidris alba, Curlew Sandpiper C. ferruginea and Common Redshank Tringa totanus. Yawri Bay is located 60 km south-east of Freetown and 46 species have been recorded in the bay including Red Knot Calidris canutus, Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia and Royal Tern Sterna maxima.

Lake Sonfon and environs is a lake and inland wetland situated in a remote area in the mountainous north-east of the country and 60 km south of the town of Kabala. A total of 105 species have been recorded from this poorly surveyed area including Pied-winged Swallow Hirundo leucosoma, the near-endemic Emerald Starling Lamprotornis iris, Red-winged Pytilia Pytilia phoenicoptera and Dybowski’s Twinspot Euschistospiza dybowskii.

Six sites have forest habitat: Loma Mountains non-hunting Forest Reserve in the mountainous north-east of the country has a species list of 245 including Rufous Fishing-owl Scotopelia ussheri, White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus and Sierra Leone Prinia Prinia leontica; Tingi Hills non-hunting Forest Reserve is located in the easternmost mountain ranges close to the Guinea border and has a species list of over 200 including Yellow-casqued Hornbill Ceratogymna elata, Black-headed Rufous Warbler Bathmocercus cerviniventris and Rufous-winged Illadopsis Illadopsis rufescens; Kangari Hills non-hunting Forest Reserve is situated on a range of hills in the south-central region and has a species list to date of 115 which includes Brown-cheeked Hornbill Bycanistes cylindricus, Green-tailed Bristlebill Bleda eximius and White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus; Western Area Peninsula non-hunting Forest Reserve is part of the Freetown peninsula and contains the only remaining patch of tropical forest in the west of the country with over 300 species recorded which includes the vulnerable White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus and the near endemic Turati’s Boubou Laniarius turatii and a large number of other species of the Guinea-Congo forests biome such as Red-thighed Sparrowhawk Accipiter erythropus, Ahanta Francolin Francolinus ahatensis, Green Turaco Tauraco persus, Naked-faced Barbet Gymnobucco calvus, Brown-eared Woodpecker Campethera caroli, Vieillot’s Black Weaver Ploceus nigerrimus and Red-headed Malimbe Malimbus rubricollis; Kambui Hills Forest Reserve in the south-east has over 200 species recorded including Long-tailed Hawk Urotriorchis macrourus, Black Bee-eater Merops gularis, Ansorge’s Greenbul Andropadus ansorgei, and Fraser’s Sunbird Deleornis fraseri; and Gola Forest Reserve is the largest area of Upper Guinea rainforest in Sierra Leone (it also includes the Tiwai Island game sanctuary) with the largest number of nesting sites of White-necked Picathartes Picathartes gymnocephalus and good numbers of White-breasted Guineafowl Agelastes meleagrides plus all known threatened species from Sierra Leone, including Western Wattled Cuckoo-Shrike Lobotos lobatus, Gola Malimbe Malimbus ballmanni and Rufous Fishing-owl Scotopelia ussheri. Tiwai has 120 species of birds and is being rehabilitated to support tourist visitors and scientific researchers as it did before the war.

Outamba-Kilimi National Park is situated in the north of the country close to the Guinea border within the Sudan-Guinea Savanna biome and has a list of 256 species including the near endemic Turati’s Boubou Laniarius turatii and Emerald Starling Lamprotornis iris.

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

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