ANGOLA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Angola Birding Tour: Day 1 The tour begins this evening at the southern city of Lubango, where we will stay for three nights.
Angola Birding Tour: Days 2-3 The stunning view from the cliffs of Tundavala near Lubango, which tower over 1000 metres up above the coastal plain far below, will certainly be a highlight of the tour. The wonderful panoramic view towards the coast stretches for many kilometres before disappearing into the haze. Beneath us hordes of Bradfield’s and Alpine Swifts whirl through the air and occasionally a magnificent Verreaux’s Eagle glides past. If we can tear ourselves away from the sheer natural beauty of these dizzy heights we will be able to explore the surrounding open ground where Red-capped Larks and Buffy Pipits are displaying. Amongst a maze of bizarrely-shaped rocky outcrops and stunted, windswept vegetation we shall search for the handsome endemic Angola Cave Chat, which is fairly common and easy to see here as well as the endemic Angola Slaty Flycatcher and localized Ludwig’s Double-collared and Oustalet’s Sunbirds.
This is one of the few known sites for the recently rediscovered Swierstra’s Francolin and we shall certainly be on the look out for this rare bird. In some of the gullies and little gorges some vegetation clings to the rocks and in these sheltered and moister places we should look for the delightful Bocage’s Akalat and the handsome Short-toed Rock Thrush. The local form of Yellow-bellied Waxbill is of interest here as it has now been split as a separate species and is known as Bocage’s (or Angolan) Waxbill. Brightly-coloured Jameson’s Firefinches can be found and we should also look for Yellow-billed Kite, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Lanner Falcon, Jacobin Cuckoo, Freckled Nightjar, Red-faced Mousebird, Rufous-naped Lark, Greater Striped and Angola Swallows, Rock Martin, Dark-capped Bulbul, White-browed Robin-Chat, Groundscraper Thrush, Familiar Chat, Wailing and Wing-snapping Cisticolas, Grey Apalis, Chinspot Batis, Variable Sunbird, Yellow White-eye, Southern (split from Common) Fiscal, Pied Crow, Yellow-throated Petronia, White-winged Widowbird, Blue Waxbill, Brimstone Canary and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.
A major feat of engineering has constructed a wonderful road that snakes down the precipice. As we descend we will check out likely patches of scrub for the attractive Rockrunner and the superb White-tailed Shrike that looks like some strange giant batis! The local form of the Yellow-bellied Waxbill is of interest here as it may well represent a distinct species and if we are lucky we will encounter Hartlaub’s Francolin or the ultra-elusive Cinderella Waxbill. Other species to watch for include Black-shouldered Kite, Rock Kestrel, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, African Olive Pigeon, Red-eyed, Ring-necked and Laughing Doves, Schalow’s Turaco, Little Swift, Crowned Hornbill, Black-collared Barbet, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Lesser Honeyguide, Black Cuckoo-Shrike, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, White-browed Scrub Robin, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Long-billed Crombec, African Paradise Flycatcher, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, Swamp Boubou, Cape Glossy and Violet-backed Starlings and Pin-tailed Whydah.
On our second full day we shall once again descend the escarpment, but this time continue along a fine highway into the deserts towards the town of Namibe in search of some dry country birds more typical of Namibia. Time will be limited, but in the more vegetated areas and river beds Grey-headed and Half-collared Kingfishers can be found, African Red-eyed Bulbuls sing cheerfully and we can also expect to find Rüppell’s Parrot, charming Rosy-faced Lovebirds, the recently split Damara Red-billed Hornbill, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, Pririt Batis, Carp’s Tit and Meves’s Starling. The small local form of the Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill that occurs here is of interest and may well be split as a separate species in the future. Away from the few watercourses, dry scrub covers the landscape. Here, Chat Flycatchers flit from bush to bush, Kalahari Scrub Robins sit up to sing from prominent perches, White-throated Canary is possible and flocks of Pale-winged Starlings can be found. As the road goes on we will pass handsome Mountain Wheatears that perch up on convenient posts or favour the isolated kopjes, while Tractrac Chats flick away from the roadsides. As the landscape becomes still more arid we can look for Benguela Long-billed Lark as well as Sabota, Spike-heeled and Stark’s Larks, and small flocks of Grey-backed Sparrowlarks. By regularly stopping for anything of interest the numerous birding opportunities could include other Namibian ‘specials’ such as Ludwig’s Bustard or Bare-cheeked Babbler.
Other species we may well encounter include Western Cattle Egret, Black-headed Heron, Little Sparrowhawk, Steppe Buzzard, African Hawk-Eagle, Martial Eagle, Grey Go-away-bird, Klaas’s Cuckoo, White-browed Coucal, African Palm Swift, Striped Kingfisher, Little and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, Purple Roller, Violet Wood-hoopoe, African Hoopoe, Acacia Pied Barbet, White-headed and Crested Barbets, Rattling and Grey-backed Cisticolas, Black-chested Prinia, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Scarlet-chested, Purple-banded and White-bellied Sunbirds, Lesser Grey Shrike, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Black-backed Puffback, Eastern Black-headed Oriole, Fork-tailed Drongo, Cape Crow, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, White-browed Sparrow Weaver, Southern Masked Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Southern Red Bishop, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-billed Firefinch and Golden-breasted Bunting.
Angola Birding Tour: Day 4 Today we will drive to Benguela for an overnight stay. This afternoon we will visit an area of impressive Baobabs set amongst dense thickets and kopjes (rocky outcrops) inland from the coast. We should see our first near-endemic Red-backed Mousebirds, as well as Bateleur, White-rumped Swift, Miombo Scrub Robin, African Stonechat, Sooty Chat, Croaking and Short-winged Cisticolas, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Pale Flycatcher, Black-crowned Tchagra, Holub’s Golden Weaver, Yellow Bishop and Yellow-fronted Canary. There will be a number of otherwise Namibian specialities, similar to those found at Tundavala, so we will have a chance to catch up on any that we may have missed.
Angola Birding Tour: Day 5 After some more birding inland from Bunguela, we shall continue our journey to the Huambo area, where we shall stay for four nights.
Angola Birding Tour: Days 6-8 Mount Moco supports an isolated patch of Afromontane forest and as a result some special birds can be found here. This is the site where the secretive and threatened endemic Swierstra’s Francolin was first rediscovered. Fernando Po Swift is also known from the mountain and Finsch’s Francolin and Angola Lark can be found in the grasslands. The miombo scrub holds Bocage’s Sunbird, and also Dusky Twinspot, and in the lush forest patches Laura’s Woodland Warbler, and Margaret’s Batis can be found. In the scrubby areas we will look for the striking Black-collared Bulbul, the distinctive local form of the Red-faced Cisticola, sometimes split as Lepe Cisticola, and Pale-billed Firefinch. Two other special birds in this area are Black-and-rufous Swallow and Bocage’s Weaver.
Other species to be found in the area include African Goshawk, Augur Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, Kurrichane Buttonquail, Black-bellied Bustard, Coppery-tailed Coucal, White-fronted Bee-eater, Western Tinkerbird, African, Long-billed and Striped Pipits, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Evergreen Forest Warbler, Rock-loving and Zitting Cisticolas, African Dusky and White-tailed Blue Flycatchers, African Hill Babbler, Spotted Creeper, Bronzy Sunbird, Red-headed Weaver, Red-collared Widowbird, Fawn-breasted Waxbill, Thick-billed Seed-eater and Cabanis’s Bunting.
Angola Birding Tour: Day 9 Today we head northwest towards the scarp forests around the town of Gabela and then onwards to Kumbira Forest where we will stay for two nights at Conda. The tarmac road takes us almost to Gabela itself but then we leave it for a dirt road that twists and turns, getting narrower and narrower, until we reach our destination. We will make some stops for birding along the way.
Angola Birding Tour: Day 10 Kumbira Forest is an area of degraded habitat on the southern scarp that was selectively logged before the civil war. Despite not being pristine habitat, however, it is teeming with birds. Patches of forest adjoin farmbush (mainly old coffee plantations) and these cover the slopes beneath the impressive quartzite cliffs of Njelo Mountain.
We will be exploring this scenic area for some little known endemics such as the unassuming Gabela Akalat, Pulitzer’s Longbill and Gabela Bush-Shrike (split from Lühder’s). Easiest of all should be the bush-shrike as it seems to be common here and its calls are frequently heard. The akalat however is typical of its congeners, being shy, quiet and elusive with a hardly perceptible song and we will need some luck and patience if we are to find it. Out of these three species the longbill is definitely the least common, but it has a loud and distinctive song and if it is vocal we should be able to track it down. We should also find the attractive Monteiro’s Bush-Shrike and try to tease out a Pale-olive Greenbul or Forest Scrub Robin that sings its sweet song from the dense tangles from the undergrowth. One endemic that should give us no problems at all is the gorgeous Red-crested Turaco as they are very common here and can often be seen bouncing through the canopy or flashing brilliant red as they take to the air. Equally colourful is the stunning Perrin’s Bush-Shrike and we should have the first of many chances to see this gorgeous bird here. The pretty Black-faced Canary can also be found here and the ubiquitous endemic Bubbling Cisticola sits up singing from seemingly every available perch. The endemic Hartert’s Camaroptera (split from Grey-backed) is common here and should present little problem tracking down. The booming hoots of Gabon Coucals may reach our ears well before we can first catch sight of the birds themselves.
Other species in these forests include Palm-nut Vulture, African Harrier Hawk, Lizard Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, African Hobby, Red-chested and Diderick Cuckoos, Spotted Eagle-Owl, African Wood Owl, Mottled Swift, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Brown-eared, Buff-spotted and Elliot’s Woodpeckers, Petit’s Cuckoo-shrike, Falkenstein’s and Yellow-whiskered Greenbuls, Yellow-throated Nicator, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Brown-chested Alethe, Black-throated and Buff-throated Apalises, Green Crombec, Green Hylia, Southern Hyliota, Ashy, African Blue and Blue-headed Crested Flycatchers, Rufous-vented and Bates’s Paradise Flycatcher, the gorgeous Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye, Brown Illadopsis, Dusky Tit, Olive-bellied, Green-headed and Carmelite Sunbirds , Mackinnon’s Fiscal, Many-coloured Bush-Shrike, Brown-capped and Compact Weavers, Black-winged Bishop, Red-faced Crimsonwing, Green Twinspot and Grey Waxbill.
Angola Birding Tour: Day 11 From Kumbira we will drive northwards towards N’Dalatando for an overnight stop. The scarp forests continue here and we will be on the lookout for Red-fronted Parrots that screech overhead as they search for ripe fruits in the large trees
Other birds we may well see include Red-necked Buzzard, African Green Pigeon, Tambourine Dove, Green and Great Blue Turacos, African Emerald Cuckoo, Blue Malkoha, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Black-casqued Wattled, African Pied and Piping Hornbills, Naked-faced, Streaky-throated and Yellow-billed Barbets, Speckled and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds, Cassin’s Honeybird, Green-backed and Yellow-crested Woodpeckers, Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrike, Bocage’s Bush-Shrike, Black-winged Oriole, Little, Plain and Honeyguide Greenbuls, Red-tailed Bristlebill, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, Yellow Longbill, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, African Shrike-flycatcher, Sooty Flycatcher, Chestnut-winged Starling, Green-throated and Superb Sunbirds, Red-headed Malimbe and Yellow-mantled and Thick-billed Weavers.
Angola Birding Tour: Day 12 Leaving the scarp forests behind, we shall pass through miombo woodland before arriving at Calandula (or Kalandula) for a two nights stay. Nearby are the magnificent Calandula Falls. These falls drop 105 metres and span some 400 metres making them one of Africa’s greatest in volume of water and are certainly worth a look! Further on a bridge across the river should hold a colony of Red-throated Cliff Swallows, while African Marsh Harrier, Blue-breasted Bee-eater and Fan-tailed Widowbird haunt the riverside vegetation. The diminutive African Pygmy-Goose is also possible in the area.
Angola Birding Tour: Day 13 One of the main reasons for visiting the Calandula region is to visit the site where the beautiful and little-known endemic White-headed Robin Chat was collected as recently as 1966. Some visiting birders rediscovered the species in the area in 2004 and we also found this enigmatic bird here on our first visit in 2005. We will have left behind the Guinea forests and have now entered the distinctive Brachystegia or miombo woodland with its twisted trunks and stunted branches that covers much of Angola. The avifauna of the area is enhanced by the varied habitat, with miombo woodland merging with the slender gallery forests and open areas that occur along the rivers that flow into the Congo basin.
The beautiful White-headed Robin Chat should not be difficult to find, as it appears to be reasonably common in this area and has a loud and distinctive song with which it duets with its partner. Another major speciality in this area is the little-known and restricted-range Brazza’s Martin, which is now known to occur in the area on a regular basis.
Out in the miombo itself we shall search for the localized Anchieta’s Barbet, the glorious Anchieta’s Sunbird and the colourful Sharp-tailed Starling. Other miombo birds occurring here that we may not have encountered include Black Scimitarbill, White-breasted Cuckoo-Shrike, Neddicky, Green-capped Eremomela, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Southern Black Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied and White-winged Black Tits, Amethyst Sunbird, Brubru, African Golden Oriole and Yellow-mantled Widowbird.
In the gallery forests, White-spotted Flufftails hoot from the safety of dark, damp and tangled undergrowth that also offers hiding places to pretty Grey-winged Robin-Chats. African Broadbills whirl round like little mechanical toys upon their perches and Brown-headed Apalises ‘chip’ away from the canopy.
We may also find Ross’s Turaco, Levaillant’s, Black and African Cuckoos, Blue-headed Coucal, Narina’s Trogon, Chocolate-backed and Shining-blue Kingfishers, Double-toothed Barbet, Olive Woodpecker, Mosque Swallow, Cabanis’s Greenbul, White-chinned Prinia, Anchieta’s Tchagra, Brown Illadopsis, Square-tailed Drongo and Dark-backed and Weavers.
Angola Birding Tour: Day 14 Today we continue even further north, to Uige for a two nights stay. We should look out alo9ng the way for Meyer’s Parrot, Black Coucal Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Black-backed Barbet, Banded Martin, Little Rush and Moustached Grass Warblers, Fan-tailed Grassbird, Whistling Cisticola, Pale Wren-Warbler, Salvadori’s Eremomela, Western Violet-backed Sunbird, Tropical Boubou, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow and Brown Twinspot.
Angola Birding Tour: Day 15 The northern scarp extends to the Uige area and this higher ground is covered by a finger of lush evergreen and semi-deciduous Guinea Forest that projects southward from the Congo into Angola. The type of forest that cloaks the attractive hills in the Uige region is evergreen and semi-deciduous and part of the southern extension of the Guinea Forests. The district is blessed with a warm, wet climate that is perfect for growing coffee. In many areas the undergrowth has been cleared, but the large shade trees that dominate the coffee plantations have been left. This combination makes for a surprisingly marvellous habitat for birds and should provide more opportunistic birding. Our prime target here will be the brightly coloured and rare endemic Braun’s Bush-Shrike, so we shall be listening out for the tell tale croaks that should alert us to its presence. Both this species and the more southerly Gabela Bush-Shrike share some vocalisations with the more widespread Lühder’s Bush-Shrike (Lanius luehderi) with which they were once lumped, but they also seem to have repertoires of their own as well. Since the discovery of Braun’s Bush-Shrike in 1939, remarkably few birders have seen this little known and highly localized species that is classified by BirdLife International as ‘Endangered’.
Many of the other species that can be found here will be familiar to anyone who has travelled in West Africa and species that we can expect to find include Buff-spotted Flufftail (more likely to be heard than seen), Western Bronze-naped and Afep Pigeons, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Dusky and Olive Long-tailed Cuckoos, Mottled Spinetail, Speckled Mousebird, Black Bee-eater, Woodland and African Pygmy Kingfishers, Broad-billed and Blue-throated Rollers, Bristle-nosed Barbet, Least Honeyguide, Cardinal Woodpecker, Black Saw-wing, Lesser Striped Swallow, Slender-billed and Simple Greenbuls, African Thrush, Banded Prinia, Masked Apalis, Dusky-blue, African Blue and Black-and-white Flycatchers, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Tit-Hylia, Blue-throated Brown, Copper, Green, Western Olive and Collared Sunbirds, Pink-footed Puffback, Velvet-mantled Drongo, Narrow-tailed Starling, Splendid Glossy Starling, Crested Malimbe, Black-necked, Vieillot’s Black and Village Weavers, Grey-headed, Chestnut-breasted and White-breasted Nigritas, Orange-cheeked and Common Waxbills, Red-headed Bluebill and Bronze and Black-and-white Mannikins.
Angola Birding Tour: Day 16 Today we will head towards Muxima and the Quiçama (or Kissama) National Park, which is situated on the coastal plain to the south of Luanda and is a rich mosaic of thicket and riparian forest. We will be staying here for two nights.
Angola Birding Tour: Day 17 Quiçama (or Kissama) National Park overlooks the floodplain of the Cuanza River, while the surrounding area is a pleasant mix of gently undulating land covered in thorny thickets and punctuated with imposing and very photogenic baobabs and stunning candelabra-like Euphorbias. We shall concentrate on finding our remaining Angolan endemics, including the dapper endemic White-fronted Wattle-eye, a species that is not uncommon but which can be tricky to find at times. A more difficult bird is the secretive endemic Grey-striped Francolin, which can be tricky to lure from the safe cover of the densest thickets, but we shall be making a big effort to track this one down. Roving flocks of White Helmet-Shrikes may put in an appearance, but our target here will be their much rarer endemic cousin, the Gabela Helmet-Shrike. Fortunately not all the species are difficult and we should find Angola Batis quite easily. Golden-backed Bishops also occur in the park, although unfortunately at this time of year they will not be in their colourful breeding plumage.
Throughout the park Lilac-breasted Rollers decorate the bare bushes that cover the dry landscape and during our stay we should also encounter more widespread African species such as Marabou Stork, African Fish Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, Helmeted Guineafowl, Red-necked Spurfowl (of the striking nominate race), Spotted Thick-knee, Senegal Lapwing, Senegal Coucal, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Horus Swift (including the dark-rumped form ‘toulsoni’), Green Wood-Hoopoe, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, African Pied Wagtail, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Wattled Starling, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver and Yellow-crowned Bishop. At night we may find one or more of the following; Bronze-winged Courser, Southern White-faced Owl and Square-tailed Nightjar. We will overnight at a game lodge in the park.
Angola Birding Tour: Day 18 After some final birding at Muxima/Quiçama, we will head for Luanda. We will have a chance to stop along the coast, including at thew mangroves at the mouth of the Quanza (Kwanza) River and at a lagoon on the Mussulo Peninsula.
Various stops should produce Orange Weaver and Brown Sunbird, as well as a good selection of waterbirds such as Little Grebe, Long-tailed Cormorant, African Darter, Pink-backed Pelican, Little, Intermediate and Great Egrets, Hamerkop, Black-winged Stilt, Common Ringed, Kittlitz’s, Three-banded, White-fronted and Grey (or Black-bellied) Plovers, Sanderling, Little Stint, Ruff, African Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Curlew, Marsh, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Grey-headed and Cape Gulls, and Caspian, Sandwich, Common, Arctic, Black and White-winged Terns.
We will reach Luanda airport by the evening, where the tour ends. Luanda is a bustling and expensive city that is experiencing a building boom following from the newfound oil wealth available in the country. The lavish modern buildings here are in stark contrast to the poverty of much of the country. We should see the mysterious swifts flying over the city that have still not been identified for sure, but which are currently considered Mottled Swifts.