Sierra Leone schematic map showing hotspots
Sierra Leone Gola West
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.