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SIERRA LEONE

Sierra Leone Birding Tours: our Sierra Leone bird watching holiday explores a
country that has only recently started to register on the bird watching map. Our
Sierra Leone birding tour offers some marvellous frontier African birding, being
rich in West African specialities, including many Upper Guinea Forest endemics,
among which is the splendid Yellow-headed Picathartes or White-necked
Rockfowl. However perhaps more importantly there is a suite of charismatic
species currently not seen on any other of our tours such as Sierra Leone Prinia,
Black-headed Rufous Warbler, Turati’s Boubou, Emerald Starling, Gola Malimbe,
Crimson Seedcracker and Togo Paradise Whydah with also a real chance for the
rare and little known Rufous Fishing Owl.

Tuesday 14th January — Tuesday 28th January 2020
(15 days)


Leaders: Mark Van Beirs and Kenneth Gbengba

Group Size Limit: 7

Tour Category: Easy to moderate walking, accommodations range from comfortable to basic

Nightjars are commonly seen on the roads at night. This female Standard-winged Nightjar was particularly obliging (Nik Borrow)

Nightjars are commonly seen on the roads at night. This female Standard-winged Nightjar was particularly obliging (Nik Borrow)

Sierra Leone with its beautiful white sandy beaches washed by the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean is a small country (a former British colony) in West Africa that lies sandwiched between Guinea and Liberia. The capital city of Freetown is situated at the northern end of a mountainous peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean. The city was founded in 1792 as a resettlement for former slaves from Nova Scotia and it has had a colourful history ever since.

For the birdwatcher, its prime interest is its situation at the western end of the Upper Guinea Forests Endemic Bird Area. These forests, sadly now a shadow of their former glory as they have been fragmented by large-scale logging activities throughout the region, stretch eastwards to Nigeria. Those birders wishing to see most of the specialties and endemics of West Africa have to visit several of the finest of the surviving forests and in Sierra Leone, an interesting but relatively small country we have a marvellous opportunity to explore the Loma Mountains National Park, Gola Rainforest National Park and Tiwai Island Wildlife Sanctuary in search of numerous Upper Guinea specialities, including a number that are hard or impossible to see on bird tours elsewhere in West Africa.

Over 640 species have been recorded in Sierra Leone and 14 restricted-range species occur here that are strictly endemic to the Upper Guinea Forests EBA, while around 20 more can only be found in forested countries from here to the Nigerian/Cameroonian border areas. Sierra Leone is a particularly exciting destination for those interested in Upper Guinea Forest endemic birds. The country offers more of these specialities and better chances for many of these birds than does, for example, Ghana, but the road and accommodation infrastructure here is less developed, so travel here is much more of an adventure. The rewards of birding in Sierra Leone include some rarely seen species and the chance to make real ornithological discoveries.

During our journey through Sierra Leone we will travel through a variety of habitats including coastal mangrove, lowland farm bush, secondary and gallery forest, granitic inselbergs, scattered hills and mountains and ultimately the closed-canopy evergreen forests of the southeast and the Gola Forest.

We begin our adventure at Lungi where the International Airport is situated. From here we will head northeastwards to the town of Makeni, our base for exploring the savannahs at the base of the Sula Mountains at Bumbuna. Here we will have a good chance of finding the exquisite Emerald Starling and the restricted range Turati’s Boubou. We shall also be looking for the impressively tailed and parasitic Togo Paradise Whydah and also its pretty little host, the Yellow-winged Pytilia. Other granivorous birds here include Dybowski’s Twinspot, Magpie Mannikin and Crimson Seedcracker.

Next we continue to the Loma Mountains where in the grasslands above the forest we shall be looking for Sierra Leone Prinia, a species that despite its name is not actually endemic to the country but whose range does not extend within reach of any of our other tours. This area cannot be reached by road so we will be camping in this beautiful region. In the fine forests near our camp we will also look for Black-headed Rufous Warbler and other Upper Guinea endemics such as Yellow-casqued Hornbill, Melancholy and Little Green Woodpeckers, Finsch’s Flycatcher-Thrush, Sharpe’s Apalis, White-tailed Alethe, Grey-headed Bristlebill and Western Bearded and Yellow-bearded Greenbuls whilst there is a good chance for rarities such as Rufous-winged Illadopsis and Lowland Akalat.

Heading east to Kenema we have an excellent opportunity to see that most peculiar of all the Western African endemics, the Yellow-headed Picathartes or White-necked Rockfowl where the birds are usually readily seen even during the non-breeding season.

Visiting Gola Central, we shall penetrate deep into the Gola Rainforest National Park. Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has actively been helping in the protection and conservation of this beautiful forest that still harbours a healthy population of picathartes and we will visit another colony if necessary. The rare Green-tailed Bristlebill occurs here and other specialties we will be looking for include Brown-cheeked Hornbill, Fire-bellied Woodpecker, Red-cheeked Wattle-eye, Kemp’s Longbill, Ussher’s Flycatcher, Forest Scrub Robin, Red-billed Helmet-shrike, Copper-tailed Glossy Starling and Buff-throated Sunbird. The, ultimate prize here is the striking Gola Malimbe, a relatively unknown species. It was only recently reliably rediscovered in 2007 in a remote and relatively inaccessible part of Gola Forest where we have an excellent chance of seeing it for ourselves.
Our last location will be Tiwai Island, situated in the Moa River. Here, in the protected forest, primates abound, the rare Pygmy Hippopotamus can be found although it is only rarely seen and even the secretive White-breasted Guineafowl inhabits the forest although we would need much luck to see this difficult species. The wonderful Egyptian Plover is usually present at this time of year and there is a real chance of being able to locate a Rufous Fishing Owl.

Birdquest has operated tours to Sierra Leone since 2008.

Kenneth Gbengba is Sierra Leone's top birding guide by a wide margin. Kenneth has pioneered birding tours in his country and has an unrivalled knowledge of where to find Sierra Leone's key bird specialities. If you go with Kenneth you can be confident you are with the country's leading bird guide. He is also great company and has a grasp on logistics that one really learns to appreciate in remote parts of West Africa!

Accommodation and Road Transport:  The hotel at Lungi is of good standard. In most locations we will stay in simple or basic guesthouses, although with private bathrooms. On Tiwai Island we will stay in a permanent tented camp with shared bathroom facilities. In the Loma Mountains and Gola Forest we will spend our nights in simple tented camps set up by our local outfitters. Road transport is by 4x4 vehicles. Roads are highly variable in quality, ranging from good to bad.

Walking: The walking effort is generally easy or moderate, although in the Loma Mountains there is a shallow river to cross and the climb to the base camp is more difficult, being about 6 kilometres and often fairly steep. The following day we will start in the dark and climb for about 4 kilometres up a trail that is steep in places to reach the grasslands in the Loma Mountains in order to see the Sierra Leone Prinia. The walk to the Gola Malimbe campsite in Gola Central is 9 kilometres (5.6 miles), but on an easy trail.

Climate: It will be hot and humid. At this season there is mainly dry weather, although there is always the possibility of rain at any time. At this time of year the Harmatan wind usually blows south from the Sahara, reducing temperatures.

Bird Photography: Opportunities are worthwhile.

SIERRA LEONE BIRDING TOUR: PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: our tour prices include all tipping, including tips for local guides and drivers. Some bird tour operators do not do this, yet for participants these costs are an unavoidable part of the tour. The value of these inclusions on this Birdquest tour amounts to approximately: £130, €150, $180.

2020 provisional prices

£3290, €3750, $4570 Freetown/Freetown. Deposit: 10%.

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.

Single Accommodation Supplement: £294, €335, $409.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in Pounds Sterling and Euros are based on £1 = $1.390 and €1 = $1.220.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

Beautiful sandy beaches fringe the Sierra Leone coastline along the peninsula and forests holding populations of Yellow-headed Picathartes can be seen clothing the mountains in the background (Nik Borrow)

Beautiful sandy beaches fringe the Sierra Leone coastline along the peninsula and forests holding populations of Yellow-headed Picathartes can be seen clothing the mountains in the background (Nik Borrow)

Tiwai Island is situated on the Moa River and exposed sandbanks are home to visiting Egyptian Plovers surely the most sublime of all waders (Nik Borrow)

Tiwai Island is situated on the Moa River and exposed sandbanks are home to visiting Egyptian Plovers surely the most sublime of all waders (Nik Borrow)

Tiwai Island holds some classic West African forest species and a number of Upper Guinea Forest endemics and we are birding here in a beautiful setting (Nik Borrow)

Tiwai Island holds some classic West African forest species and a number of Upper Guinea Forest endemics and we are birding here in a beautiful setting (Nik Borrow)

25 photos View Gallery Photos From SIERRA LEONE
The Yellow-headed Picathartes is the jewel in the crown of all the Upper Guinea Forest endemics and can be reliably found in the forested hills of the Freetown Peninsula (Nik Borrow)

The Yellow-headed Picathartes is the jewel in the crown of all the Upper Guinea Forest endemics and can be reliably found in the forested hills of the Freetown Peninsula (Nik Borrow)

A sighting of the rare Gola Malimbe is the main prize in the remote forests of Gola North (Nik Borrow)

A sighting of the rare Gola Malimbe is the main prize in the remote forests of Gola North (Nik Borrow)

We only see Turati's Boubou on the Sierra Leone tour and it is an Upper Guinea Forest endemic that can be found even in Freetown itself (Nik Borrow)

We only see Turati's Boubou on the Sierra Leone tour and it is an Upper Guinea Forest endemic that can be found even in Freetown itself (Nik Borrow)

Sharpe's Apalis is a common but somewhat unassuming Upper Guinea Forest endemic that is usually easy to see (Nik Borrow)

Sharpe's Apalis is a common but somewhat unassuming Upper Guinea Forest endemic that is usually easy to see (Nik Borrow)

Beautiful Blue-moustached Bee-eaters are reclusive forest dwellers and can be remarkably elusive at times (Nik Borrow)

Beautiful Blue-moustached Bee-eaters are reclusive forest dwellers and can be remarkably elusive at times (Nik Borrow)

The striking castaneofuscus West African form of Vieillot's Black Weaver was historically considered to be a separate species known as Chestnut-and-black Weaver (Nik Borrow)

The striking castaneofuscus West African form of Vieillot's Black Weaver was historically considered to be a separate species known as Chestnut-and-black Weaver (Nik Borrow)

Secretive Red-chested Goshawks of the small West African form macroscelides are to be found in the forested areas (Nik Borrow)

Secretive Red-chested Goshawks of the small West African form macroscelides are to be found in the forested areas (Nik Borrow)

West African Wattle-eyes can often be seen in pairs or small groups. The species is named after the female's plumage (Nik Borrow)

West African Wattle-eyes can often be seen in pairs or small groups. The species is named after the female's plumage (Nik Borrow)

Many of the flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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