GHANA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Ghana: Day 1 Our Ghana birding tour begins this evening in Accra, where we will spend the night. An airport transfer will be provided.
Ghana: Day 2 This morning we will first drive to the Winneba area where during a brief stop at a lagoon we should see a selection of waterbird species such as Long-tailed Cormorant, Striated and Western Reef Herons, Western Cattle, Little and Great Egrets, White-faced Whistling Duck, African Jacana, Black-winged Stilt, Spur-winged Lapwing, Grey (or Black-bellied), Common Ringed and White-fronted Plovers, Eurasian Whimbrel, Curlew and Spotted Sandpipers, Sanderling, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, West African Crested and Sandwich Terns, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers, and African Pied Wagtail. Less usual possibilities include Black Heron, Intermediate Egret, Bar-tailed Godwit and Marsh Sandpiper.
At the nearby Winneba Plains, the remaining seasonally inundated grasslands and bushlands are home to species such as Black-winged Kite, African Hobby, Black-bellied Bustard, African Wattled Lapwing, Levaillant’s and African Cuckoos, Mosque Swallow, Flappet Lark, Yellow-throated Longclaw, African Moustached Warbler, Red-faced, Croaking, Singing and Short-winged Cisticolas, Red-winged Warbler, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Blackcap Babbler, Northern Fiscal, Yellow-billed Shrike, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Marsh Tchagra, Black-necked and Village Weavers, Vieillot’s Black Weaver (here of the distinctive form castaneofuscus, sometimes split as Chestnut-and-black Weaver), Red-headed Quelea, African and Bar-breasted Firefinches, Black-rumped Waxbill, Quailfinch, Bronze Mannikin, Yellow-mantled Widowbird and Pin-tailed Whydah.
Other species we should first encounter in the Winneba area include Yellow-billed Kite, African Palm and Little Swifts, Common Bulbul, Pied Crow and Northern Grey-headed Starling.
Afterwards, we head further west to Kakum National Park, where we will initially stay for two nights. We will begin our exploration of the Kakum area this afternoon.
Ghana: Day 3 Kakum National Park is just a short distance north of our hotel. The park was created in 1932, but was not officially opened to the public until 1994. It covers an area of 347 square kilometres and protects a mixture of semi-deciduous and semi-evergreen rainforest, although this has been selectively logged in the recent past. The park is perhaps most famous as the site of Africa’s first and only rainforest canopy walkway, built in 1995, that is comprised of about 350 metres of bridge suspended between six tree platforms that reach the grand height of 40 metres above the forest floor! We will be allowed special access to the walkway before and after the official opening and closing times so that we shall have the platforms peacefully to ourselves.
As the dawn breaks a pair of Red-chested Goshawks can sometimes be seen circling overhead, our attention drawn by the repeated “chip” display call. Velvet-mantled Drongos use the wires of the walkway as convenient perches and the tree snags provide good lookouts for the Upper Guinea endemic Ussher’s Flycatcher, as well as Yellow-mantled Weaver and Red-headed Malimbe. Red-fronted (and rarely also Grey) Parrots screech overhead as they leave their roosts, Blue-throated Rollers and White-throated Bee-eaters adorn the treetops and Naked-faced and Bristle-nosed Barbets gather to feed in the fruiting trees. Forest and White-headed Wood-hoopoes inspect the epiphyte-bedecked boughs and Upper Guinea endemic Melancholy and Fire-bellied Woodpeckers drum on the bare trunks and branches.
We shall be on the lookout for roving canopy bird parties that may include diminutive species such as the Upper Guinea endemic Sharpe’s Apalis, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, the pretty Violet-backed Hyliota, Lemon-bellied Crombec, the Upper Guinea endemic Kemp’s Longbill, Forest Penduline Tit and the tiny Tit-hylia. The much sought-after Congo Serpent Eagle and Long-tailed Hawk are regularly observed here, and it is fantastic to be on a level with canopy species that would normally be causing cricked necks as we stared upwards from terra firma! We can expect to find mouth-watering species such as Yellow-billed Turaco, Blue Cuckooshrike, Sabine’s Puffback and the gorgeous Upper Guinea endemic Buff-throated Sunbird. At this season Rosy Bee-eaters are non-breeding visitors and we will have our eyes to the skies in the hope of seeing them.
Other species to look out for include Palm-nut Vulture, African Harrier-Hawk, African Cuckoo-Hawk, Black Sparrowhawk, Red-necked Buzzard, African Green Pigeon, African Emerald and Klaas’s Cuckoos (and with luck Thick-billed Cuckoo), Yellowbill (or Blue Malkoha), Sabine’s, Black and Cassin’s Spinetails, Bates’s Swift, White-crested, African Pied, Brown-cheeked, Black-casqued and Yellow-casqued Hornbills, Cassin’s Honeybird, Lesser Striped Swallow, the pretty Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Blue-throated Brown, Little Green, Green, Collared and Superb Sunbirds, Yellow White-eye, Black-winged Oriole, Forest Chestnut-winged and Splendid Starlings, and Grey-headed, Chestnut-breasted and White-breasted Nigritas (or Negrofinches).
As the day warms up and more walkway visitors arrive, we shall move into the cooler interior of the forest and explore some of the trails that run through the park. In particular, we shall be looking for skulkers such as Upper Guinea endemic Grey-headed Bristlebill, White-tailed Alethe, Finsch’s Rufous Thrush and Western Forest Robin (here of the form inexpectatus, sometimes split as Ghana Forest Robin). We shall try hard to find a displaying Rufous-sided Broadbill, while a confusing array of greenbuls occurring here includes Little, Little Grey, Ansorge’s, Plain, Slender-billed, Yellow-whiskered, Golden, Honeyguide, Spotted, Icterine, White-throated, Western Bearded and Red-tailed Greenbuls, and Red-tailed Bristlebill. Other species here include Black Cuckoo, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Grey Longbill, Green Crombec, Green Hylia, White-tailed Ant Thrush, Olivaceous Flycatcher, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatchers, West African Wattle-eye, Brown and Blackcap Illadopsises, Fraser’s, Olive and Olive-bellied Sunbirds, Shining Drongo, Blue-billed and Crested Malimbes, and Western Bluebill. Primates, which can be elusive, include Lesser Spot-nosed Monkey, Lowe’s Monkey and the rare Olive Colobus.
We shall also visit the walkway in the late afternoon and stay out until dark. We stand a reasonable chance of seeing the little-known Brown Nightjar and there is also a real possibility of Fraser’s Eagle-Owl. We may also hear other nocturnal species such as the strange-looking Nkulengu Rail and Latham’s Forest Francolin. Night mammals can be a hit-and-miss affair, but we shall look for Demidoff’s Galago, West African Potto and the stunning Pel’s Anomalure.
During our stay in the Kakum area, we will also visit areas of farmbush. These areas have been cleared for cultivation and cocoa and are extremely degraded but nonetheless hold some interesting birds, including the beautiful Black Bee-eater. Piping Hornbills and the Upper Guinea endemic Copper-tailed Starling and Red-billed Helmetshrike are usually easy to see here. If we have not already done so, it is also a great place to see Speckled, Red-rumped and Yellow-throated Tinkerbirds.
Another area, partly comprising secondary forest, holds Red-cheeked Wattle-eye, Puvel’s Illadopsis and Lowland Sooty Boubou.
Other species we may well see in the Kakum area include Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle, Lanner Falcon, White-spotted Flufftail, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Tambourine Dove, Didric (or Diederik) Cuckoo, Senegal and Blue-headed Coucals, Mottled Spinetail, Chocolate-backed, Woodland and African Pygmy Kingfishers, Little Bee-eater, Yellow-billed Barbet, Thick-billed Honeyguide, Purple-throated Cuckooshrike, Simple Leaflove, Swamp Palm Bulbul, Whistling Cisticola, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Yellow-browed and Olive-green Camaropteras, the skulking Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Narrow-tailed Starling, Copper Sunbird, Western Bluebill, Orange-cheeked Waxbill and Black-and-white Mannikin. Not too far away we will check out some rivers and streams where we should find a colony of Preuss’s Cliff Swallow, the glittering White-bibbed (or White-throated Blue) Swallow, Ethiopian Swallow, Rock Pratincole and White-headed Lapwing.
There are also reasonable chances here for the striking Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Black-billed Dwarf Hornbill, the diminutive African Piculet, the Upper Guinea-endemic Little Green Woodpecker, Little Grey Flycatcher, Black-and-white Shrike-Flycatcher, West African Batis, Kemp’s Longbill, Red-vented Malimbe and Maxwell’s Black and Preuss’s Golden-backed Weavers. We shall also be on the lookout for the inexplicably localized Tessmann’s Flycatcher.
Ghana: Day 4 After a final birding session in Kakum, we shall drive westwards, towards the border with Ivory Coast, to Ankasa Conservation Area for a four nights stay.
We will stop en route to look for Mangrove and Reichenbach’s Sunbirds and Orange Weaver.
Ghana: Days 5-7 Ankasa Conservation Area is an area of superb wet evergreen forest that only suffered relatively light logging between 1960 and 1974. The visit will certainly be worth our while for the high forest offers our best chance for some of the more elusive Upper Guinea Forest endemics and we will be making a special effort to find Yellow-bearded Greenbul, Green-tailed Bristlebill, Rufous-winged Illadopsis and Red-fronted Antpecker. African Finfoot is sometimes seen here and the little forest pools hold White-bellied and Shining-blue Kingfishers, Hartlaub’s Duck, Nkulengu Rail and sometimes Spot-breasted Ibis or even a White-crested Tiger Heron.
At night, there is a good chance of encountering Fraser’s and Akun Eagle-Owls, and African Wood Owl, and a slim chance for Sandy Scops Owl.
We shall bird inside the forest on narrow trails beneath the tall trees and cathedral-like stands of giant bamboo, as well as along the main track. Other species we can expect here include Black Crake, Blue-headed Wood Dove, Great Blue Turaco, Black-throated Coucal, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Yellow-spotted and Hairy-breasted Barbets, Square-tailed Saw-wing, Western Nicator, Black-capped Apalis, Fraser’s Forest Flycatcher, Pale-breasted Illadopsis, Tiny and Johanna’s Sunbirds, and Western (Black-headed) Oriole.
Ankasa is a truly splendid forest tract and here, as well as looking for the species highlighted above, we also have catch-up chances for just about every West African forest bird species mentioned for other Ghana locations!
Ghana: Day 8 After a final morning at Ankasa we shall return to Kakum for an overnight stay.
During the afternoon, we shall visit an area of coastal scrub where we have a good chance of finding the skulking, restricted-range Baumann’s Olive Greenbul and where we also have a chance to catch up on anything we may have missed earlier at Winneba Plains. There could also be Compact Weavers and Yellow-crowned, Northern Red and Black-winged Red Bishops present but at this season they will all be in their non-breeding dress and hence difficult to identify.
Ghana: Day 9 We will spend the morning further exploring Kakum National Park.
In the afternoon we will visit a site where Yellow-headed Picathartes (or White-necked Rockfowl) has been relatively recently rediscovered in Ghana. By contributing to a community-based project, we shall have special permission to visit the breeding site of this rarity, thus allowing us a marvellous and intimate opportunity to see this endangered species. Unlike many rockfowl sites, this one is easy to access. The rocks where the birds nest are about an hour’s uphill walk, initially through cultivation but then mainly along a narrow forest trail. Apart from a steep five minutes climb to the rocks themselves, this is a relatively easy walk by humid tropical forest standards. The birds are usually very obliging, being furtive rather than shy, and good views are sometimes quickly obtained however visitors should be prepared to have to sit and wait quietly for a long time, and the walk back may then be in darkness. The experience of seeing one of the two members of this extraordinary family will certainly be the trip highlight.
Afterwards, hopefully with everybody highly elated, we shall overnight at nearby Bonkro.
Ghana: Day 10 We will spend the morning in the forest around Bonkro. This is an area with some potential, over and above the fabulous Picathartes. Indeed, even the very rare Upper Guinea-endemic Western Wattled Cuckooshrike has been recorded here on a few occasions!
Afterwards, we will head north to Kumasi for an overnight stay. An evening visit to Bobiri may turn up an interesting nightbird. Nkulengu Rail, Fraser’s and Akun Eagle-Owls, and Brown Nightjar all occur here.
Ghana: Day 11 Today we will drive north to Mole National Park for a three nights stay. During the journey, we will watch the habitat change to broad-leaved Guinea Savanna woodland and the open plains that are typical of this region.
Along the way, we will visit a remaining forest patch and cutover area at Opro Forest where we should find Guinea Turaco, the striking Blue-bellied Roller, Double-toothed Barbet and, with luck, Fiery-breasted Bushshrike.
We will arrive at Mole by late afternoon and after dinner, we will search for the Standard-winged Nightjars that frequent the airstrip. Long-tailed Nightjar also occurs here and we will also be on the lookout for both Greyish Eagle-Owl and the delightful Northern White-faced Owl.
Ghana: Days 12-13 At 4840 square kilometres (1869 square miles), Mole National Park is Ghana’s largest reserve and mainly consists of open Guinea Savanna woodland dissected by lushly vegetated riparian watercourses. There are also areas of open grassland and swamps in the floodplains and around waterholes. At least 314 species of birds have been recorded from the park as well as some 90 species of mammals.
A waterhole lies below our hotel, which is situated on a 250m (820ft) high escarpment offering breath-taking views over the park. The lure of water attracts many birds and mammals that need to quench their thirst in the dry heat and Exclamatory Paradise Whydahs are possible visitors. The pool is also home to Hamerkop, Woolly-necked and Saddle-billed Storks, Hadada Ibis, Greater Painted-snipe, Senegal Thick-knee and Grey-headed and Giant Kingfishers.
During our visit we will mainly explore the park on foot, taking walks with our armed park ranger. In this way, we should find White-throated and Double-spurred Francolins, Stone Partridge, Violet Turaco, Senegal Parrot, Sun Lark, Senegal Batis, the stunning Yellow-crowned Gonolek, White-crowned Robin-Chat, White-fronted Black Chat, Rufous Cisticola, Senegal Eremomela, the fascinating Oriole Warbler (or Moho) and, if we are fortunate, Forbes’s Plover and Rufous-rumped Lark.
As the day heats up so the conditions improve for raptor watching and we shall be on the lookout for African White-backed, White-headed and Hooded Vultures, Lizard Buzzard, Shikra, Bateleur, Beaudouin’s and Brown Snake Eagles, Wahlberg’s Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, Red-necked Falcon and Grey Kestrel.
During our walks we shall also be looking for Helmeted Guineafowl, Black-headed Heron, Spotted Thick-knee, Black-billed Wood Dove, Laughing, Red-eyed and Vinaceous Doves, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Western Plantain-eater, Red-headed Lovebird, Brown-necked Parrot, African Scops Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Red-throated Bee-eater, Purple and Broad-billed Rollers, Green Wood-hoopoe, Black Scimitarbill, Abyssinian Ground, African Grey and Northern Red-billed Hornbills, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Bearded Barbet, Greater and Lesser Honeyguides, Eurasian Wryneck, Fine-spotted, Golden-tailed, Grey and Brown-backed Woodpeckers, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, African Paradise Flycatcher, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, White-shouldered Black Tit, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Northern Crombec, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, African Thrush, Northern Black, Pale, Swamp, Pied and African Blue Flycatchers, Grey Tit-flycatcher, Brown Babbler, the wonderful African Spotted Creeper, Scarlet-chested, Pygmy and Beautiful Sunbirds, Woodchat Shrike, Brubru, Northern Puffback, Black-crowned Tchagra, African Golden Oriole, Square-tailed and Glossy-backed Drongos, Purple, Lesser Blue-eared and Long-tailed Glossy Starlings, Bush Petronia, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow Weaver, Little, Heuglin’s Masked and Red-headed Weavers, Black-bellied, Red-billed and Black-faced Firefinches, Lavender Waxbill, Red-winged Pytilia, Yellow-fronted Canary and Brown-rumped and Cabanis’s Buntings. Less common possibilities include Greater and Lesser Honeyguides.
Likely mammals include Olive Baboon, Green (or Callithrix) Monkey, African Savanna Hare, Kintampo Rope Squirrel, Striped Ground Squirrel, Common Genet, Common Warthog, Buffon’s Kob, Bushbuck and Yellow-winged Bat. More uncommon possibilities include African Savanna Elephant and Patas Monkey.
Ghana: Day 14 After paying a short visit to the ancient mud and reed mosque at Larabanga, which dates back to 1421, we shall head further north to Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region for a two nights stay.
Our journey will take us through more savanna woodland and we shall break our journey for lunch in Ghana’s third-largest city of Tamale and stop to see the restricted-range Black-backed Cisticola.
Visiting Ghana’s far north is important for seeing a number of specialities, as well as other species only found north of Mole. In addition, the Egyptian Plovers here are very approachable and photographable.
In the late afternoon, we shall visit the Tongo Hills where our target species will be the localised Fox Kestrel and Rock-loving Cisticola. Other species that we may see include Dark Chanting and Gabar Goshawks, Grasshopper Buzzard, Speckled Pigeon, Eurasian Hoopoe, Red-chested, Wire-tailed and West African Swallows, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Red-billed Quelea and Gosling’s Bunting.
Ghana: Day 15 This morning we will go birding along a river frequented by the amazingly beautiful Egyptian Plover and we will have plenty of time to watch this unique bird. Also found in this area (or at Tono Dam) are Black-headed Lapwing, African Mourning Dove, the strange Piapiac and White-billed Buffalo Weaver. If we are lucky we will come across the local resident race africana of the Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin (sometimes split as African Scrub Robin) the restricted-range Yellow Penduline Tit or Golden-breasted Bunting.
This afternoon we will be watching the activity around Tono Dam as thirsty birds such as Speckle-fronted Weaver, Black-bellied Firefinch, Cut-throat Finch, Zebra Waxbill and African Silverbill come and go amongst the waterbirds such as Spur-winged Goose and Knob-billed Duck. Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Abyssinian Roller and Bronze-tailed, Greater Blue-eared and Chestnut-bellied Starlings add splashes of colour to the proceedings and other species to look for include Great Spotted Cuckoo, Four-banded Sandgrouse, Namaqua Dove, Little Green Bee-eater, the restricted-range Vielliot’s Barbet, Singing Bush Lark (uncommon), Zitting Cisticola and migrants such as Common Whitethroat and Western Olivaceous, Melodious, Great Reed and Western Bonelli’s Warblers.
Ghana: Day 16 Today will be spent retracing our steps back to Kumasi for an overnight stay.
Ghana: Day 17 This morning we shall visit Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary. This site offers further chances for Afep and Western Bronze-naped Pigeons and there is a good chance for other forest species we may have missed up to now, such as Red-thighed Sparrowhawk, Black-throated Coucal, Red-chested Cuckoo, Forest Wood Hoopoe, Black Dwarf Hornbill, African Piculet, Willcocks’s Honeyguide and Grey-throated Flycatcher. Narina Trogon can often be found here and we could find a surprise or two. The spectacle of hundreds of colourful butterflies is quite something. As the morning activity subsides we shall transfer to the Tafo area for a two nights stay.
This afternoon we shall begin our exploration of the Atewa Range, concentrating on the farmbush that holds species such as Compact and Thick-billed (or Grosbeak) Weavers.
Ghana: Day 18 The Atewa Range Forest Reserve is an IBA (Important Bird Area) containing remnant evergreen rainforest, an endangered habitat within Ghana. This hilly area reaches an altitude of 770m and, although the forest has suffered from much logging in the past, it nonetheless remains incredibly ‘birdy’, with the open nature of the forest facilitating viewing of canopy species.
Here we have the chance of finding some very localized birds, although some of the best have the ‘if we are lucky’ caveat placed upon them. We have occasionally found the rare Nimba Flycatcher at Atewa, so we shall be inspecting the tall trees carefully for these black-coloured birds that run along the large boughs! In addition, the superb Blue-moustached Bee-eater is regularly seen here (this is probably the best site in Ghana for the species). Sometimes a Yellow-footed Honeyguide is to be found.
The forest also gives us another chance for species such as Green-tailed Bristlebill and Rufous-winged Illadopsis. Most of the Ghanaian records of Lowland Akalat come from Atewa and Red-fronted Antpecker also occurs, although we would be very fortunate to see either of these difficult species. Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, on the other hand, seems to be a little easier to see here than at other sites, and Many-coloured Bushshrike is regularly observed.
Ghana: Day 19 After a final morning birding at Atewa we shall drive to Kalakpa Resource Reserve in the Volta Region for a two nights stay. Along the way, we will stop at the wide Volta River to look for the relatively restricted-range Pied-winged Swallow.
Ghana: Day 20 Situated in the forest/savanna transition zone, Kalakpa Resource Reserve protects some 320 square kilometres of savanna and wide gallery forest. At least 153 species have been recorded from the reserve and, although birding here is often quiet, there are some good birds around.
In particular, we shall be wanting to find the secretive and patchily-distributed Capuchin Babbler, Ahanta Francolin, Black-shouldered Nightjar and Spotted Honeyguide, as well as White-crested Helmetshrike and Green-headed and Splendid Sunbirds. We also have further chances for the uncommon Thick-billed Cuckoo and for the pretty Northern White-faced Owl.
‘Etchécopar’s Owlet’, a West African form which was formerly sometimes split from African Barred Owlet, is very occasionally found at Kalakpa, but this seems to be a rare bird everywhere in its range.
Ghana: Day 21 After some final birding at Kalakpa we will head back to Accra, where our Ghana birding tour ends in the evening at the airport.