Welcome to Birdquest
Saturday 3rd September - Monday 21st March 2016
Mark Van Beirs
The magnificent Braun’s Bushshrike, the unique White-headed Robin-Chat, the captivating Angolan Cave Chat and the alluring Red-crested Turaco were the favourites of our third tour to Angola. Most people and birders have heard about Angola, but know very little about this civil war torn country. The older generation will remember the news about the ever ongoing conflict between the UNITA (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola) and the MPLA (Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola) after the country gained its independence from Portugal in 1974. This civil war was a really messy affair and was complicated by the fact that several factions were aided by the USA, Cuba, the USSR and South Africa in their geopolitical games. Meanwhile the country was covered with millions of lethal mines till peace finally arrived in 2002 when Jonas Savimbi, the charismatic leader of UNITA was shot. Angola is slowly recovering from this awful period and with its large deposits of oil, gas and diamonds is heavily courted by the Chinese, whose influence is visible all over the country. Although the country has many riches, they are very unevenly distributed and most of the population is still extremely poor. For the international birder Angola holds an interesting range of specialities and a vast array of habitats: from the Namibe desert in the extreme south to the humid lowland forests of the Congo basin in the extreme north with in between vast swathes of miombo woodland. Most of the endemics occur in the escarpment forests and mountain habitats of the central plateau which constitutes the Western Angolan Endemic Bird Area which harbours 13 Restricted Range species (of which 7 are threatened). Conservation is definitely not a priority of the government as we could witness in the ongoing sad destruction of habitats everywhere. Especially the fragile montane forests which are now restricted to just a handful of narrow, steep gullies are highly threatened. Angola is a really beautiful country which holds amazing scenery like the spectacular Tundavala escarpment and the imposing Calandula Falls, one of the largest waterfalls by volume in Africa. For all of us it was very strange to be in Africa and not to see any mammals. We only saw a couple of monkeys and a few squirrels, but we did see quite a bit of bushmeat offered on the roadsides. A very sad situation! Angola is not an easy country to visit, as some nationalities have extremely difficult and costly visa requirements. All participants thoroughly enjoyed the camping, as we were in the hands of a very experienced, helpful and efficient crew. We slept in large tents, had the luxury of a hot water shower and a large chemical toilet and were given great food throughout. Our three 4x4 vehicles coped easily with the sometimes atrocious roads and in contrast to previous tours to this country, we never encountered any real police hassle. Once, a police officer wanted to fine us because we had luggage on the backseat, but luckily, Gonzalo, our Mr Fix-it, managed to talk the officer out of such folly.