Welcome to Birdquest

SIERRA LEONE

Sunday 14th January - Sunday 28th January 2018

Nik Borrow

The amazing Rufous Fishing Owl (Nik Borrow)

The amazing Rufous Fishing Owl (Nik Borrow)

A series of terrible events have befallen Sierra Leone since our last visit and in the aftermath of Ebola the country has been struggling to once again find its feet and their tourist industry is keen to encourage visitors to the country. Even though new roads are being built and accommodation standards have improved since our last visit, our third tour to Sierra Leone was still pretty tough going. We built upon the successes of our previous tours and added a new destination to the itinerary - the beautiful Loma Mountains where we managed to find two new ‘life’ birds for Birdquest in the form of Sierra Leone Prinia and Black-headed Rufous Warbler. We also saw a suite of species not seen on any other of our tours that included an incredible pair of Rufous Fishing Owls at a daytime roost, duetting Turati’s Boubous, gorgeous Emerald Starlings, rare Gola Malimbes, colourful Crimson Seedcrackers and Togo Paradise Whydah. Sierra Leone is a jewel of a country with pristine sandy beaches, glorious rain forest, picturesque mountains and rivers but sadly one has to battle with a poor infrastructure and some appalling roads in the remote areas that we visited during the tour. Normally we would have expected to see the amazing White-necked Rockfowl (or Yellow-headed Picathartes) on this circuit but despite trying at two widely separated colonies we inexplicably failed in this achievement. Whether it was due to the fierce Harmattan blowing or the large troop of monkeys that detected our presence at the critical hour is not clear but the lack of sightings was obviously disappointing for the group. However this failure was offset by many other amazing encounters with some very little known and rarely seen species.

This was mainly a forest-based tour aimed at trying to find some of West Africa’s most difficult birds and in particular focussing on those not found easily elsewhere and complimenting those found in Ghana. The timing is linked to the dry season, which may not be the best for the birds but it does facilitate getting round the country on roads that would become impassable quagmires in the rains. The journeys were often tedious and arduous necessities that got us from one birding site to another with potholes deeper than our vehicles often being the order of the day. The experience was punishing and sadly not without casualties as breakdowns became almost regular occurrences! Once free from the cars we were able to explore the forest during numerous walks. Using old logging trails and narrow footpaths we entered the dark interior where canopy birds were a neck-breaking challenge and mid canopy bird parties offered fleeting views of furtive species. Occasionally a shy denizen of the forest floor would put in an appearance. A lack of convenient hotels meant that we made regular camping stops and logistically these worked out well particularly as we had an excellent cook accompanying us and a surprisingly regular supply of beer was on tap! At Bumbuna and the Loma Mountains there was savannah and the chance of more open country birds such as The Emerald Starling but as temperatures regularly peaked at 38º Centigrade in the middle of the day the early mornings and late afternoons were the best times for bird activity. One of the breakdowns fortuitously allowed us to see Yellow-winged Pytilia, Dybowski’s Twinspot, Cameroon Indigobird, Togo Paradise Whydah and displaying Standard-winged Nightjars whilst in the forest itself the discovery of a Lowland Akalat was a great prize. In the impressive Gola Forest we managed to get great views of Congo Serpent Eagle and Long-tailed Hawk as well as the brilliant Gola Malimbe and the challenging and ultra-elusive Forest Scrub Robin. At Tiwai Island we stayed in a permanent tented camp and on the river enjoyed excellent looks at African Finfoot and Rufous Fishing Owl with Rock Pratincoles on the rocks and the sublime Egyptian Plover on the sandbanks. At night we hunted out Nkulengu Rail and Brown Nightjar. Our search for other Upper Guinea Forest endemics produced Brown-cheeked and Yellow-casqued Hornbills, ‘Western’ Yellow-billed Barbet, Little Green and Melancholy Woodpeckers, Timneh Parrot, West African and Red-cheeked Wattle-eyes, Green-tailed and Grey-headed Bristlebills, Western Bearded and Yellow-bearded Greenbuls, Fanti Saw-wing, Kemp’s Longbill, Sharpe’s Apalis, Rufous-winged Illadopsis, Copper-tailed Starling, Finsch’s Rufous Thrush, Ussher’s Flycatcher, ‘Orange-breasted’ Forest Robin, ‘Yellow-chinned’ Grey-chinned and Buff-throated Sunbirds and Red-vented Malimbe. Other specialties and ‘diamond’ birds included Latham’s Francolin (heard only), Red-chested Goshawk, Black-throated Coucal, Black-shouldered Nightjar, Standard-winged Nightjar, Blue-bellied Roller, White-bellied Kingfisher, Hairy-breasted Barbet (heard only), Spotted Honeyguide, Lagden’s Bushshrike, Red-tailed Leaflove, West African Swallow, Preuss’s Cliff Swallow, Puvel’s Illadopsis, Mangrove Sunbird, Maxwell’s Black Weaver and Gosling’s Bunting.

Egyptian Plover

Egyptian Plover