CAMEROON BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Cameroon: Day 1 The tour begins in the late afternoon at Douala airport in the commercial capital of Cameroon, where we will stay overnight.
Cameroon: Day 2 This morning we will visit a small pond where Hartlaub’s Duck is regularly seen and African Darter sometimes occurs.
We then continue southwards towards the border with Equatorial Guinea and Campo Ma’an National Park for a two nights stay.
The birds we are most likely to see during the drive include Western Cattle Egret, Yellow-billed Kite, Red-eyed Dove, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, African Palm and Little Swifts, Barn Swallow, Common Bulbul, African Thrush, Pied Crow, Vieillot’s Black and Village Weavers, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow and Bronze Mannikin.
We should arrive in time to look for one of Africa’s most-wanted birds the incredible Grey-necked Rockfowl (or Red-headed Picathartes) a bizarre-looking creature that looks as if it might be a hybrid between a crow and a vulture but is probably most closely related to the babblers. The two species of Picathartes (or rockfowl) are placed in their own family, making them doubly sought-after. This is an uncommon bird and hard to see, but we shall visit a known breeding site today and if we are quiet and patient we have a good chance of seeing this enigmatic creature at this locality as they seem to regularly frequent the nest sites in the late afternoon and evening. The nearest site lies only ten minutes easy walk away from the main road that cuts through the park and the birds seem fairly tolerant of people here! We have an extremely good chance of seeing the birds at this site but as this is the non-breeding season we may still be unlucky but with two afternoons budgeted our chances are greatly improved.
Cameroon: Day 3 Campo Ma’an National Park and its buffer zone cover 7000 square kilometres (2703 square miles) and is home to Western Gorilla, Chimpanzee and Forest Elephant, although we would have to be exceedingly lucky to see any of these animals in a country where poaching and the bush-meat trade is rife. At present, the infrastructure for tourism is not well developed in the park and there are no decent trails for birdwatchers that allow easy access into the forest. Most of our birding will be along the main road and small forest paths.
Our day will be spent gaining a good introduction to a wealth of lowland forest bird species. The trees are awesomely tall and the jungle thick but the wide road allows us to look up into the canopy more easily. A feature of this forest is the large numbers of Grey Parrots and some of the first sounds that we here in the morning will be these noisy birds as they leave their roost sites. Large hornbills including African Pied, Piping, White-thighed and Black-casqued, are still numerous here and can be seen frequently. Pre-dawn we may hear the grunting cries of the ungainly Nkulengu Rail, a bird that is rarely seen but often heard. Typically each morning the booming calls of Gabon Coucals echo through the forest before the sun rises and a Chocolate-backed Kingfisher pipes up, urging Great Blue and Yellow-billed Turacos to also add their disgruntled cries to the chorus. We will often hear the various ‘poops’ and ‘trills’ of Speckled, Red-rumped, Yellow-throated and Red-rumped Tinkerbirds and Yellow-spotted, Streaky-throated (split from Hairy-breasted) and Yellow-billed Barbets.
For the greenbul enthusiast, Campo Ma’an is a ‘must’ and is an excellent place to learn and compare the many species. Those that we can expect to encounter include Little, Little Grey, Spotted, Ansorge’s, Cameroon Sombre, Slender-billed, Yellow-whiskered, Golden, Honeyguide, Sjöstedt’s Honeyguide, Spotted, Icterine, Xavier’s, Eastern Bearded, Red-tailed and White-bearded Greenbuls and Lesser and Red-tailed Bristlebills. The noisy yet secretive Yellow-throated Nicator occurs here alongside the larger and more widespread Western Nicator.
There is a small chance of seeing the beautiful African Pitta. Although the birds here, of the form pulih, resemble African Pitta in plumage, having a more olive green breast, the voice distinctly matches Green-breasted Pitta. Some taxonomists argue that these two are one and the same species. We should also be on the lookout for Red-headed or Woodhouse’s Antpecker (a strange aberrant finch) and of course, there may always be the odd surprise or two!
Other species very possible during our stay include Palm-nut Vulture, African Harrier Hawk, African Green Pigeon, Blue-headed Wood and Tambourine Doves, Yellowbill (this form being renamed Blue Yellowbill or Blue Malkoha when the eastern form is treated as distinct), European Swift, Blue-breasted and Woodland Kingfishers, Blue-throated Roller, Brown-eared, Gabon and Yellow-crested Woodpeckers, the nominate lowland form of Elliot’s Woodpecker, Square-tailed Saw-wing, Blue Cuckoo-shrike, the delightful Gabon Forest Robin, Rufous Flycatcher Thrush, Black-capped and Buff-throated Apalises, Olive-green and Yellow-browed Camaropteras, Yellow and Grey Longbills, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Green Crombec, Green Hylia, Fraser’s Forest and Sooty Flycatchers, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, Chestnut and Yellow-bellied Wattle-eyes, Pale-breasted, Brown and Blackcap Illadopsises, Fraser’s, Blue-throated Brown, Western Olive, Collared and Olive-bellied Sunbirds, Western Black-headed Oriole, Shining and Velvet-mantled Drongos, Blue-billed and Crested Malimbes, Grey-crowned, Chestnut-breasted and White-breasted Negrofinches and Black-and-white Mannikin.
Cameroon: Day 4 After some final birding at Campo Ma’an we will drive to Edéa for an overnight stay.
Our drive will take us parallel with the coast and we may well find Western Reef Egret and the warbler-like Brown Sunbird along the way as the latter favours mangroves and forested rivers near the sea.
Cameroon: Day 5 This morning we will explore the Sanaga River where, providing water levels are suitable, we shall find good numbers of the delightful Grey Pratincole with African Skimmers and a few White-fronted Plovers resting on the sandbanks. White-headed Lapwings with their pendulous yellow wattles occur and large numbers of Preuss’s Cliff Swallows nest under the bridge over the river and the glittering White-throated Blue Swallow occurs. Slender-billed and Orange Weavers may be found nesting along the banks, Simple Leaflove, Greater Swamp Warbler and Chattering Cisticolas sing from the rank vegetation and the surrounding ‘farm-bush’ will give us another chance for some forest edge species such as African Emerald Cuckoo and Green-throated and Superb Sunbirds. The gorgeous Black Bee-eater can often be found sitting on the wires in this area amongst the more numerous Little and White-throated Bee-eaters.
Other species to look for include Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher and the coastal specialist Reichenbach’s and Carmelite Sunbirds as well as Long-tailed Cormorant, Little Egret, Woolly-necked Stork, Lizard Buzzard, Little Stint, Common Greenshank, Blue-headed Coucal, Malachite, African Pygmy and Pied Kingfishers, Rufous-chested and Lesser Striped Swallows, Blue-headed and African Pied Wagtails, Long-legged Pipit, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Black-necked Weaver and Orange-cheeked Waxbill.
In the afternoon we will continue onwards to the capital Yaoundé for an overnight stay.
The ever-growing capital city of Yaoundé is set amongst rolling hills within the forest zone. There is not much to recommend this sprawling city to the traveller, but for the birder some interesting species can be found within easy reach of the centre. We will also be looking for one species in particular, the Yellow-necked Greenbul that favours farmbush and cassava plantations. Sometimes Red-fronted Parrots can be seen in the area and there is also a chance of Klaas’s and Didric Cuckoos, Mottled, Sabine’s and Cassin’s Spinetails, Speckled Mousebird, Naked-faced and Grey-throated Barbets, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Cardinal Woodpecker, Petit’s Saw-wing (split from Black), Brown-backed Scrub Robin, Banded and White-chinned Prinias, Masked Apalis, Common Wattle-eye, Green-headed Sunbird, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Splendid Glossy Starling, Grosbeak Weaver, Black-crowned and Black-headed Waxbills and Yellow-fronted Canary.
Cameroon: Day 6 This morning we shall take a flight to Maroua in northern Cameroon for an overnight stay.
As we leave the aircraft we shall be struck by a wave of dry heat, so very different from the humid air of Douala, for we are now well and truly in the Sahel. The town is home to Hooded Vulture, Shikra, Speckled Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Piapiac and rarely Grey-backed Fiscal, and there is often a pair of Red-necked Falcons in residence.
Near Maroua there are many rocky inselbergs that are home to Fox Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, Stone Partridge, Little Green Bee-eater, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Familiar Chat, White-crowned Cliff Chat (split from Cliff Chat), Rock-loving Cisticola, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Senegal Batis, Pygmy Sunbird, Speckle-fronted, Vitelline Masked and Little Weavers, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Lavender Waxbill, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and, if we are reasonably lucky, Rock Firefinch (a species first discovered in Cameroon by Birdquest in 2005). As dusk falls Greyish Eagle Owl or Freckled Nightjar may be seen.
Cameroon: Day 7 Today we will drive northwards to Waza for a two nights stay. The countryside as we drive north through the Sahelian landscape to Waza National Park becomes progressively drier and the habitats are home to a range of desirable species.
In particular today we will be looking for the elusive and secretive Quail-Plover, a nomadic cousin of the buttonquails, which occurs in dry scrub and grassland. If we are fortunate we will flush one from under our feet, when its lark-like flight action and striking wing pattern will become immediately apparent. With some more diligent searching, we should find the wonderful little Cricket Warbler in the same area (a species first discovered in Cameroon by Birdquest in 1995) and if we are extremely fortunate we will find a Golden Nightjar. In the skies overhead we should see the graceful African Swallow-tailed Kite as it searches for insectivorous prey. Normally there are also the heavier-looking Black-winged Kites around for comparison.
During our meanderings, we should flush White-bellied Bustard. This area is a good place to see the localized Red-pate Cisticola and Black Scrub Robin with their long, cocked tails. Chestnut-bellied Starlings and Green-winged Pytilias are numerous and other likely species include Black-headed Lapwing, Namaqua Dove, Blue-naped Mousebird, Crested Lark (and perhaps Singing Bush Lark), Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark, Ethiopian Swallow, African Scrub Robin (split from Rufous-tailed), Northern Wheatear, Zitting Cisticola, Northern Crombec, Southern Grey Shrike, Black-crowned Tchagra and Chestnut-crowned Sparrow Weaver.
In another area, we shall also try to find some of the more difficult specialities that creep into the region, but which can be more hit and miss to find. These include Savile’s Bustard, the tiny Sennar Penduline Tit and even the decidedly uncommon Little Grey Woodpecker.
During our search, we should enjoy a number of other species including the glorious Abyssinian Roller and spectacular Yellow-crowned Gonolek as well as Senegal Coucal, Green Wooid Hoopoe, Black Scimitarbill, Central African and perhaps Eurasian Hoopoes, Vieillot’s Barbet, African Grey and Northern Red-billed Hornbills, Brown Babbler, Fork-tailed Drongo, Greater Blue-eared and Long-tailed Glossy Starlings, Beautiful Sunbird and African Golden-breasted Bunting.
The Campement de Waza is attractively situated on one of the rocky inselbergs and all the simple rondavels have air conditioning. They are also home to several pairs of Western Barn Owl, while Long-tailed Nightjars can also be seen.
Cameroon: Day 8 Waza National Park is situated in the northern panhandle of Cameroon, south of Lake Chad and within the ‘inundation zone’ of this vast but shallow lake although the extent of the seasonal flooding is no longer how it was in the past. During the rains much of the reserve floods, but at this time of year the water levels have dropped and access to most areas becomes practicable. Part of the reserve is acacia savanna, the remainder grassland and vast areas of dried out swamp. The numerous small waterholes teem with waterbirds and also attract many dry-country species desperate for water in this hot and harsh environment. The scenery is enlivened by the presence of the barren Waza Rocks, huge inselbergs that tower above the surrounding plains.
Birdlife is abundant and the richest of any area in the entire Sahel, the band of arid country extending right across Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia. This is still one of the best places for the stately Arabian Bustard, but even here they can remain surprisingly elusive. Coveys of Clapperton’s Francolins scurry for cover and huge flocks of Helmeted Guineafowl scuttle to and from the waterholes where, contrary to the situation in much of the tropics, the middle of the day can be a productive time.
Our attention will be focussed on the many waterholes where flocks of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and African Mourning, Vinaceous, African Collared, European Turtle and Black-billed Wood Doves and huge swirling flocks of Red-billed Queleas, Northern Red Bishops and Bush Petronias come down to drink. Many raptors are attracted to these small oases: historically flocks of vultures passed the heat of the day loafing by the pools but nowadays these numbers have dwindled to just a few individuals. However, we should see Lappet-faced, Rüppell’s Griffon, African White-backed and Egyptian Vultures. The surrounding trees provide lookouts for Dark Chanting Goshawk, Grasshopper Buzzard, Long-crested, Wahlberg’s and Tawny Eagles (and sometimes Martial and occasionally Steppe or Booted Eagles). As water becomes scarcer so those birds that rely on it become more concentrated around the rapidly evaporating pools. Large numbers of Black Crowned Cranes are a feature of the wetlands and we should also find the unassuming, restricted-range River Prinia.
Depending on the amount of water still existent, other birds of the floodplain we could well see include Squacco, Grey and Black-headed Herons, Western Great and Intermediate Egrets, African Openbill, Saddle-billed and Marabou Storks (and sometimes Yellow-billed and White Storks), Sacred Ibis, White-faced Whistling Duck, Spur-winged Goose, Knob-billed Duck, Garganey, Black-winged Stilt, Spur-winged Lapwing, Common, Green, Wood and perhaps Marsh Sandpipers, and Sand Martin (or Bank Swallow). West African Swallow (split from Red-rumped) is also sometimes present.
In the more open areas, we should find superb Northern Carmine Bee-eaters and Northern Anteater Chats (which favour the termite mounds as lookout posts), and possibly Common Ostrich. Overhead we may see the Short-toed Eagle, Bateleur, Gabar Goshawk, Eurasian Marsh, Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers, and Common Kestrel. In the more vegetated stands of acacia bush, we will look for Spotted Thick-knee, White-billed Buffalo Weaver, Yellow-crowned Bishop, African Silverbill, Cut-throat, Red-billed Firefinch, Black-rumped Waxbill, Sahel Paradise Whydah, and White-rumped Seedeater. With luck, we will also find the attractive Sudan Golden Sparrow, although at this season they can look very worn.
Among the Palearctic migrant passerines wintering in this region are Tawny Pipit, Common Redstart, Western Olivaceous, Eastern Olivaceous, Subalpine Warbler, Common and Lesser Whitethroats, Western Bonelli’s Warblers, and Masked and Woodchat Shrikes, but most are thin on the ground.
Waza has a fine collection of large mammals, indeed an outstanding one by West African standards but the park has suffered from falling water levels and poaching in recent years. However, we will be on the lookout for Common Warthog, Kordofan Giraffe (often with attendant Yellow-billed Oxpeckers), Topi, Roan Antelope, Kob, Red-fronted Gazelle, Common Jackal, Patas Monkey and, if we are lucky, African Elephant or even Lion.
Cameroon: Day 9 After some final birding in the Waza area we will drive south to Garoua, a town situated on the Bénoué River which flows westwards to join the mighty Niger, for an overnight stay.
Cameroon: Day 10 We will try and arrange a visit to the grounds of a mining operation this morning to look for the restricted-range Chad Firefinch, but as with all mining areas, access may or may not be granted. There are also possibilities to see White-headed Barbet and Flappet Lark in this area and with great luck even the rare and localized Emin’s Shrike.
We will then continue southwards to Bénoué National Park for a two nights stay at the idyllically situated Campement de Bufflé Noir. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Cameroon: Day 11 Bénoué National Park lies within the Northern Guinea Savanna belt and the typical habitat consists of low, rocky hills covered in open broad-leaved woodland and dissected by small watercourses.
The highly localized Adamawa Turtle Dove is one of the prized birds here. Its movements are not well known and numbers fluctuate, but we will be making a special effort to find it. Along the riverbed below the lodge, we should find the unique Egyptian Plover as it performs its strange backward ‘hop-jumps’ whilst searching for food.
Other birds favouring the watercourses include the most unusual Oriole Warbler (or Moho) and also Green-backed or (Striated) Heron, Hadada Ibis, Hamerkop, African Fish Eagle, Western Banded Snake Eagle, African Hobby, Senegal Thick-knee, Three-banded Plover, Grey-headed and Giant Kingfishers, Red-throated Bee-eater, Wire-tailed and Grey-rumped Swallows, and Swamp Flycatcher. In the tangled riverine vegetation we will be looking for Yellow-throated Leaflove, Snowy-crowned and White-crowned Robin Chats, Red-faced Cisticola, the delightful Red-winged Grey Warbler, Yellow-breasted Apalis, African Blue Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Blackcap Babbler, Tropical Boubou, the gorgeous Black-headed Gonolek, Black-headed Weaver, Bar-breasted and Black-bellied Firefinches and White-cheeked Oliveback.
Some of the best birding is in the lodge gardens where fruiting trees attract many species including Bruce’s Green Pigeon, colourful Violet and White-crested Turacos, Western Grey Plantain-eater and Bearded Barbet. White-headed Vulture and Red-necked Buzzards soar overhead.
Huge Abyssinian Ground Hornbills stalk the woodland or scrubby areas that also hold Brown and Beaudouin’s Snake Eagles, African Hawk-Eagle, Grey Kestrel, Double-spurred Francolin, Senegal Parrot, Pearl-spotted Owlet, White-rumped Swift, Striped Kingfisher, Rufous-crowned and Blue-bellied Rollers, Fine-spotted, Golden-tailed, Brown-backed and Grey Woodpeckers, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, White-fronted Black Chat, Red-faced, Singing, Dorst’s, Croaking, Short-winged, and Rufous Cisticolas, Red-winged Warbler, Senegal Eremomela, Lead-coloured, Northern Black Flycatcher, White-shouldered Black Tit, the localized Spotted Creeper, Scarlet-chested, Variable and Western Violet-backed Sunbirds, Yellow White-eye, Yellow-billed Shrike, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike, Brubru, Northern Puffback, White Helmet-shrike, Purple Glossy Starling, Red-headed Weaver, Black-winged Red Bishop and Cabanis’s Bunting. If we are fortunate we will find two or three of the more uncommon birds of the area, which include White-throated Francolin, the beautiful Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Yellow Penduline Tit, Heuglin’s Masked Weaver, Red-winged Pytilia, Black-faced Firefinch, West African Seedeater (split from Streaky-headed) and Brown-rumped Bunting.
As dusk falls we may see Four-banded Sandgrouse winging their way to drink or the extraordinary Bat Hawk hunting over the gardens, while at night we should be able to locate an African Scops Owl. There is even a slim chance of locating the huge Pel’s Fishing Owl.
Large mammals are less in evidence in the thick cover here than at Waza, but there are some differences in the fauna of the two reserves and here at Bénoué we may well find Hippopotamus, Bushbuck, Waterbuck, Kongoni (or Hartebeest), Olive Baboon, Tantalus Monkey and Guereza Colobus.
Cameroon: Day 12 After some early morning birding at Bénoué we will continue southwards and ascend the dramatic escarpment that divides the Adamawa Plateau from the lowlands of the Bénoué Plain, continuing to Ngaoundaba near the town of Ngaoundéré for a three nights stay.
On the way, we will visit a rich freshwater lake where, if water levels are right, we may find Purple Heron, Glossy Ibis, African Pygmy Goose, Black Crake, African Jacana, Collared Pratincole and Yellow-throated Longclaw. Yellow-billed Duck occurs here at the westernmost edge of its range and we may even find birds such as African Swamphen, Lesser Moorhen, Lesser Jacana or Marsh Widowbird.
Cameroon: Days 13-14 The rich grassy uplands of the Adamawa Plateau provide excellent birding. Our accommodation at Ngaoundaba overlooks a volcanic crater-lake frequented by Greater Painted-snipe, African Water Rail, Common Moorhen, Winding Cisticola, Yellow-mantled Widowbird and sometimes Compact Weaver and is surrounded by lush gallery forest. In the evenings there is a magical atmosphere as the air is filled with the sound of rushing wings as thousands of starlings and flight after flight of egrets come in to roost on an island covered in palms. At the same time, small numbers of Black-crowned Night Herons are leaving to feed in the surrounding countryside.
Our main priorities here are to find the very localized endemic Bamenda Apalis, (which we first discovered at this locality in 1990), the restricted range White-collared Starling and the beautiful Dybowski’s and Brown Twinspots. There is also a good chance of finding the secretive Spotted Thrush Babbler and if we are lucky, the pretty Schlegel’s Francolin or Brown-chested Lapwing.
Starlings are much in evidence and we can expect to see Violet-backed, Bronze-tailed Glossy, Lesser Blue-eared and. We even recorded the first sightings of Wattled Starlings for West Africa here in 1990. In the strips of gallery forest we will look for Scaly Francolin, the shy White-spotted Flufftail (easier heard than seen), Red-headed Lovebird, the spectacular Ross’s Turaco, African Cuckoo, Double-toothed Barbet, Greater, Lesser and Willcocks’s Honeyguides, Green-backed Woodpecker, African Leaflove, Dark-capped Bulbul, Grey-winged Robin-Chat, European Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Northern Double-collared, Copper and Splendid Sunbirds, Square-tailed Drongo and Spectacled Weaver.
Nearby areas of open grassland and forest-savanna mosaic hold a variety of different species including Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Eurasian Hobby, African Wattled Lapwing, Temminck’s Courser, Horus Swift, Broad-billed Roller, Sun Lark, Mosque Swallow, Plain-backed and Tree Pipits, Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike, Whinchat, Heuglin’s Wheatear, Sooty Chat, African Moustached and Willow Warblers, Whistling Cisticola, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Pale and African Dusky Flycatchers, Western Black-headed Batis, Common Fiscal, Grey-headed Bush-shrike, Marsh Tchagra, African Golden and Eurasian Golden Orioles, Baglafecht Weaver, Blue-billed Firefinch, Red-headed Quelea, and if we are lucky, Yellow-winged Pytilia.
At this season we may see the first Abdim’s Storks migrating northwards. At night we may find Northern White-faced Owl or Black-shouldered Nightjar, while there is even a chance of encountering the spectacular Standard-winged and Pennant-winged Nightjars.
Cameroon: Day 15 We will set off early today and drive back to Garoua in order to take a flight to Yaoundé for an overnight stay. We should arrive in time for some birding in the Yaoundé area.
Cameroon: Day 16 This morning we will have some time to catch up on some of the forest birds around Yaoundé before commencing our drive onwards to Bamenda. This morning we should be on the lookout for Bristle-nosed Barbet, Swamp Palm Bulbul, Violet-backed Hyliota, Little Grey Flycatcher, West African Batis, Green Sunbird, Black-shouldered and Pink-footed Puffbacks, Black-winged Oriole, Narrow-tailed and Forest Chestnut-winged Starlings and Preuss’s Golden-backed Weaver.
We will drive along the border of the forest zone to the Bamenda Highlands, where the climate is pleasantly cooler, and the Anglophone town of Bamenda for a two nights stay.
Along the way, we cross the Sanaga River where we should see Rock Pratincole. We should arrive in time to look for Neumann’s (split from Red-winged) Starling near our hotel.
Cameroon: Day 17 During our stay in the Bamenda region we will visit remnants of the montane forest which once covered these highlands in search of the endemic specialities of the area: the extremely localized and endangered Bannerman’s Turaco, the striking Banded Wattle-eye and Bannerman’s Weaver. We also have a fair chance of finding Green-breasted Bush-shrike. A bird with an interesting story here is the endemic Bangwa Forest Warbler that was historically misidentified as Cinnamon Bracken Warbler before being re-identified as Evergreen Forest Warbler and then finally split as the present species! These are some of Cameroon’s most endangered birds as a direct result of the intense pressure being put on the forest by the growing human population. Much of the land has been cultivated and woodland has been reduced to small areas.
Other bird species restricted to the Cameroon highlands and the Obudu and Mambilla Plateaus in neighbouring Nigeria which we should find here include Cameroon Olive Pigeon, Cameroon Montane, Western Mountain and Cameroon Olive Greenbuls, Mountain Robin-Chat, Brown-backed Cisticola (split from Chubb’s), Green Longtail, Cameroon Sunbird, the glorious Yellow-breasted Boubou and Shelley’s Oliveback.
At a small crater lake, we may find African Black Duck and in the surrounding countryside, we can also expect a variety of other montane forest birds and species of wider distribution. Species to look out for include Little Grebe, Black Sparrowhawk, Green Turaco, African Black and Mottled Swifts, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, White-headed Wood-hoopoe, Western Green Tinkerbird, Tullberg’s and Elliot’s Woodpeckers (of the montane johnstoni race), Thick-billed Honeyguide, African Broadbill, Red-rumped Swallow, Rock Martin, Mountain Wagtail, Cameroon and Bannerman’s Pipits, Grey Cuckooshrike, African Stonechat, African Yellow and Garden Warblers, Stout and Pectoral-patch Cisticolas, Black-collared Apalis, Black-throated Apalis, Grey Apalis, White-bellied Crested Flycatcher, Grey-chested Illadopsis (more often heard than seen), Ruwenzori Hill Babbler, White-bellied Tit, Orange-tufted Sunbird, Forest White-eye, Mackinnon’s Shrike, Waller’s Starling, Black-billed and Brown-capped Weavers, Yellow Bishop, Red-collared Widowbird, Red-faced Crimsonwing, Pin-tailed Whydah, Thick-billed Seedeater and Oriole Finch.
Cameroon: Day 18 After some final birding in the Bamenda region we will drive to the remote village of Nyasoso at the foot of Mount Kupe for a four nights stay.
Once the headquarters of a BirdLife initiated and subsequently WWF-financed conservation project for Mount Kupe, Nyasoso is a remarkably friendly place where the local villagers show a warm hospitality to visiting birdwatchers (just about the only foreigners they ever encounter). We will be staying in a small guesthouse run by a local family and the pleasures of staying in an African village, seeing local life close to and meeting ‘real’ people more than compensate for the simple standard of accommodation here. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Cameroon: Days 19-21 Mount Kupe is an isolated mountain for the most part covered in pristine forest. Over 300 species have been recorded from the mountain, including some of the rarest and most localized birds in West Africa. It is perhaps most famous for the bush-shrike that bears its name, Mount Kupe Bush-shrike and we will, of course, be making a great effort to see this elusive bird during our stay, although it has now become a little more reliably seen in the nearby Bakossi Mountains which we will also visit.
Several trails, some rather steep, ascend Mount Kupe and take us into marvellous undisturbed forest, dripping with moss and harbouring a wealth of birdlife, but we do not necessarily need to make the effort very often as we should also be able to visit the nearby Bakossi Mountains where we can gain altitude more quickly by using four-wheel-drive vehicles than on foot!
A short walk from a remote village will take us through bracken and grassland into the trees where, along narrow hunter’s trails, we can explore beautiful mountainous forest, wreathed in low cloud, that is far away from tarmac roads and bustling cities. In particular, we shall be hoping to find the highly localized White-throated Mountain Babbler (whose generic name Kupeornis reflects its principal home) that form busy noisy flocks often with the very attractive Grey-headed Greenbul. Grey-headed Broadbills perform their ‘clockwork’ display flight from the murky depths of the forest. Alexander’s Akalat (split from Bocage’s), White-bellied Robin-Chat and Crossley’s Ground Thrush are all secretive inhabitants of these dense forests and we should also be on the lookout for Black-capped Woodland Warbler, Black-necked Wattle-eye and Ursula’s Sunbird.
During our stay, we will also explore the ‘farm-bush’ between the village and the true forest, where the relatively open habitat provides good opportunities to see a variety of forest edge species. From Nyasoso itself we may see Bates’s Swift or perhaps an Ayres’s or Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle soaring over the mountain. In the tall elephant grass in the farm-bush and secondary growth, we may find Little Rush Warbler. Buff-spotted Flufftails are often heard but seeing one is quite a different matter! Fraser’s Eagle Owls are quite common around the village and we shall hope to locate one at night. The delightful and diminutive African Piculet is relatively easy to see amongst the isolated forest trees that shade the coffee, yam and banana plantations.
Other birds to look for in this habitat include Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Cassin’s Honeybird, Petit’s and Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrikes, Brown-chested Alethe, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Southern Hyliotas of the race slatini, Ashy, Yellow-footed and Dusky-blue Flycatchers and the distinctive Black-and-white Flycatcher, Forest Penduline Tit, the diminutive Tit-Hylia, Little Green, Tiny and Bates’s Sunbirds, Fiery-breasted, Many-coloured, Bocage’s and Lühder’s Bush-shrikes, Purple-headed Glossy Starling, Red-headed Malimbe and Pale-fronted Negrofinch.
Amongst the tall forest trees and tangled vegetation in these mountains, we will also search for Olive and Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoos, Red-chested Owlet, Bar-tailed and Narina’s Trogon and Mountain Sooty Boubou. The rarely seen Zenker’s Honeyguide has even been recorded from these slopes.
Cameroon: Day 22 After some final birding on Mount Kupe we will head for Buea on the slopes of Mount Cameroon for a two nights stay.
A short stop in the pleasant botanical gardens at Limbe should produce Cassin’s Flycatcher and perhaps one or two other new birds.
Cameroon: Day 23 Today we will explore Mount Cameroon. Rising straight from the ocean to 4070m, this isolated massif, which is by far the highest mountain in West Africa, holds a wealth of montane specialities. Long isolated from other highland areas in Africa, Mount Cameroon and its associated highlands have developed a remarkable endemic avifauna without parallel in the region. The montane forest extends to about 2000m, after which it gives way to at least ornithologically, rather uninteresting grasslands. Frequently clouds are draped across the flanks of the mountain, lending a rather mysterious air to the dimmer recesses of the forest, but when they clear one can enjoy magnificent views of the great peak high above, green ridges on all sides and, far below, the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
We will already have seen the majority of the possible species, which means that we will be concentrating on a few restricted-range specialities such as Mountain Saw-wing, the local form of the Evergreen Forest Warbler (sometimes split as Cameroon Scrub Warbler), White-tailed Warbler and the enigmatic Mount Cameroon Speirops.
We will walk up the famous ‘Guinness Track’, named after the famous annual race up the mountain and back that used to be sponsored by the Guinness beer company, in order to reach the open grassy areas above the tree-line where the rather weird-looking speirops is most likely to be found. The walk will initially take us over open cultivation and regenerating bush where we should hear Red-chested Flufftails calling and we may see furtive Western Bluebills. Then we continue through stunted and very degraded woodland and once inside the forest, we will look for species such as Wood Warbler, African Hill Babbler, Forest Chestnut-winged Starling and Dark-backed Weaver. Birds like Cameroon Olive Pigeon and Shelley’s Oliveback are sometimes easier to see on Mount Cameroon than elsewhere. At the tree-line, there is often a pair of Peregrine Falcons to be seen.
Cameroon: Day 24 You will be transferred to Douala, where the main section of our Cameroon birding tour ends this evening.
(Those taking the extension will continue to Korup.)
KORUP NATIONAL PARK EXTENSION
Cameroon (Korup): Day 1 Today we shall drive to Korup National Park, situated near the Nigerian border, for a four nights stay. The journey takes us around the base of Mount Cameroon, through intensively cultivated lands with rubber and oil palm plantations. As always, we shall stop for anything interesting en route. We will spend the first and last nights at a hotel in Mundemba, near the southern boundary of the park, and the other two nights in a basic camp inside the park itself.
Cameroon (Korup): Days 2-4 Korup National Park was created in 1986 and covers an area of 1,259 square kilometres (486 square miles). This pocket of rainforest is believed to have survived the last ice age and has been aged at over 60 million years old! Within the park boundaries, the majority of western African lowland forest bird species are well represented and we will certainly be kept busy trying to find them.
To enter the park we will cross an impressive suspension bridge spanning 120 metres (394ft) across the Mana River (where Rock Pratincoles can be seen on the rocks below). On the far side, the wall of ancient forest rising from the riverbanks is awe-inspiring. The huge Yellow-casqued Hornbills are also best seen from this vantage point as the forest canopy is so dense that, from inside, one can usually only hear their loud wing-beats as they pass overhead. We will enter the forest on one of the main paths, which is still used as a trail into Nigeria, and then continue on well-maintained sandy trails for 8 kilometres (5 miles) to Rengo Camp, our base for the next two nights.
During our stay, we will wander over rolling hills and swampy valleys, cross many shallow streams and climb rocky outcrops scattered with enormous gneiss boulders where the almost mythical Picathartes build their unusual mud-cup nests. At times the forest can be very quiet and seem absolutely devoid of birdlife, but then the silence is broken as a Red-chested Cuckoo, or perhaps the distinctive forest form of the Black Cuckoo, betrays its presence by its distinctive call. A feature of Korup is the ant swarms that are usually regularly encountered. Whenever we come across one we should be prepared for a flurry of activity. Fire-crested Alethes and White-tailed Ant Thrushes are often attracted by the mayhem created amongst other small forest inhabitants by these ferocious ants. Mixed bird parties roving through the forest at all levels are regularly encountered.
Here in Korup, we shall be looking for such specialities as the stunning Bare-cheeked Trogon, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill and the richly coloured Rachel’s Malimbe. If we are lucky we will find two or three of the more elusive specialities, which include Latham’s Forest Francolin, Black Guineafowl, Black Dwarf Hornbill and White-crested Hornbill (the latter perhaps following a troop of monkeys). By quietly watching the forest streams we could encounter African Finfoot, as well as Shining-blue and White-bellied Kingfishers, and in the damper areas, a White-spotted Flufftail may be lured into view. If we are lucky we will find one of the less easily seen raptors, such as African Crowned Eagle or even Congo Serpent Eagle.
At night we can try to find African Wood Owl, but the beautiful Sjöstedt’s Owlet is best looked for during daylight. A pair of Vermiculated Fish Owls sometimes frequent the camp area so we have a good chance of seeing this impressive speciality.
Another major speciality here is the shy, rare and endangered Red-headed Picathartes (or Grey-necked Rockfowl). It is an uncommon bird and notoriously difficult to see outside of the breeding period (in the height of the rainy season when the park is largely inaccessible), but should we have failed at Campo Ma’an or simply wish to see some more then we can make a concerted effort to find it by sitting quietly at one of the nest sites and hoping that they visit in the late afternoon, as they are habitually known to do. If we are quiet and patient we have an excellent chance of seeing this enigmatic creature while in Korup.
Other species we may well encounter at Korup include Red-chested Goshawk, Black-throated Coucal (easily heard but harder to see), Black Spinetail, African Dwarf Kingfisher, Blue-headed Bee-eater, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Grey-throated and Shrike Flycatchers, Dusky Crested Flycatcher, White-spotted Wattle-eye, Yellow-mantled Weaver and Red-vented Malimbe. More uncommon species include Spotted Honeyguide, Rufous-sided Broadbill, Olivaceous and Chestnut-capped Flycatchers, and Maxwell’s Black Weaver.
There is still a certain amount of legal hunting and illegal poaching inside the park, which means that mammals are wary and infrequently seen. We may, however, be lucky enough to come across any of the following primates: Preuss’s Red Colobus and Mona, Crowned, Putty-nosed and Red-eared Monkeys. If we are very fortunate we will also encounter the endangered Drill. We may also glimpse an Ogilby’s Duiker or a Blue Duiker as it crashes away through the undergrowth to safety.
On our last day, we shall walk the 8 kilometres from Rengo Camp back to the Mana suspension bridge for an overnight stay in a proper bed in Mundemba.
Cameroon (Korup): Day 5 After some final birding around Mundemba we will return to Douala, where our tour ends this evening.