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Ghana - North and South Mostly on Public Transport

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Old Sunday 18th November 2018, 22:11   #1
ovenbird43
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Ghana - North and South Mostly on Public Transport

My husband and I just got back from 2.5 weeks in Ghana, hitting areas in both the south and north part of the country. While it was largely a birding-focused trip, my husband is not really a birder and is also not keen on maintaining a frenetic pace throughout the trip, so I tried to design an itinerary that gave me a good shot at my most-wanted species while also including some non-birding and more relaxed stays at various points. We also wanted to do the trip independently, although I ended up springing for a guide to take us to Ankasa, since that seemed difficult to arrange using public transport vs. care hire (although see G. Peron's 2016 trip report on cloudbirders.com for details about how this can be done), and that was the one area that I really wanted to cover thoroughly.

It is very easy to get around Ghana via public transport and all standard sites can easily be reached using this method, but I did find the lack of private transportation to be limiting once at some of the sites - particularly Kakum and Mole National Parks, very little of which can be explored without access to a car. Most car rentals require you to hire a driver, although in Accra I saw billboards advertising self-drive rentals through Avis. I would recommend car rental to most independent birders visiting Ghana, although I don't regret my decision to use public transport - it saved us money and I just accepted that there were certain species I wouldn't have a chance to see, and we certainly had some adventures as a result.

Below is an overview of our itinerary:
Oct 30 - arrival in Accra
Oct 31-Nov 3: Anaksa Conservation Area, mini-tour arranged through Birding Tour Adventures and guided by Kwame Brown, whom I highly recommend. We were picked up at our hotel in Accra and dropped of in Cape Coast (our request).
Nov 3-4: Kakum National Park
Nov 5: travel to New Edubiase, evening in Bonkro for White-necked Rockfowl
Nov 6-8: Lake Bosomtwe
Nov 9-13: Mole National Park
Nov 14-15: Tamale and Accra, flight home

More details to follow.
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Old Wednesday 21st November 2018, 17:34   #2
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Looking forward to the report

Looking forward to seeing how you manage on public transport. We really enjoyed Ghana and Ankasa
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Old Thursday 22nd November 2018, 00:08   #3
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Day 1: Transport to Ankasa

We flew American Airlines from Gulfport to Accra, with a layover in London (last leg operated by British Airways), arriving in Accra at 8 pm on Oct 30. The immigration line wasn't too long but moved at a glacial pace, but it was punctuated by running into an old high school friend - after glancing at each other for half an hour thinking the other person was awfully familiar, she finally said something and we were blown away. What were the chances?!! After finally making it through immigration and customs, our hotel taxi driver was waiting for us and took us to Van der Salle hotel in the Osu area.

Our room was comfortable but I could barely sleep despite travel fatigue, between excitement and the bright display lights and frequent banging of the room's air-conditioner. The next morning began the first and possibly most exciting leg of our journey, four days a Ankasa with Kwame of Birding Tour Adventures. He had set a pick up time of 6 am at our hotel and he and his driver arrived early, so we were off promptly and missed a lot of Accra's infamous traffic, given that we were headed out of town while heavy traffic was heading in. The first birds of the trip were spotted along the road, ubiquitous Pied Crows and Little Swifts, Red-eyed Dove, Cattle Egret, Laughing Dove, and the only Black-crowned Night Herons of the trip flying over the outskirts of Accra.

Over the next few hours we made a few stops along the main highway, wracking up common but new-to-me birds like Village Weaver, Splendid Starling (oh the glossiness!), Red-faced Cisticola, Common Bulbul, African Pied Hornbill, and Pin-tailed Whydah, the last a stunning male in breeding plumage. A quick stop for a Northern Fiscal also yielded a Black-crowned Tchagra right out in the grass by the road.

At 11:30 we stopped along the road and walked to a pond set just off the highway, where there were a few pairs of Orange Weavers building nests. Little Bee-eaters hawked for insects above the lily-covered water, and Chestnut-winged Starlings and Western Gray Plaintain-eaters were building nests. Some commotion in the nearby scrub got our attention, and we watching a small mob of birds making a fuss over a snake in the trees, which slithered and dropped into the grass. Mobbers included cute tail-less Green Crombecs, calling and lifting their wings up; Olive-bellied Sunbird, Simple Greenbul, Little Greenbul, and Collared Sunbird. A Blue-spotted Wood Dove flew in to check what the fuss was about.

In late afternoon we reached the turnoff for Ankasa and made a few brief birding stops along the road, picking up a nice flyover African Cuckoo Hawk, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, and a stunning male Superb Sunbird. We checked into our rooms at the Frenchman's Rest - basic but comfortable, and then Tom took some rest while Kwame and I birded the last few km of road toward Ankasa. He called in a noisy pair of Swamp Palm Bulbuls from a small section of (what else) palms. A Gray-headed Nigrita perched up on a bare tree, offering good if distant views. I struggled with the multitude of female and plain-colored sunbirds, but a male Reichenback's Sunbird was unmistakable with its gray body and blue head. We reached the entrance gate at Ankasa, and in the fading evening light we spotted a Cassin's Flycatcher on a branch overhanging the stream, and a martin-like Ussher's Flycatcher flying overhead at the clearing around the reception. We returned for a dinner of grilled chicken with rice and tomato salsa and an early bedtime, excited for the next two full days exploring Ankasa.

Last edited by ovenbird43 : Thursday 22nd November 2018 at 00:10.
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Old Thursday 22nd November 2018, 00:34   #4
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Day 2: Ankasa


Overnight we heard a variety of unfamiliar sounds, although I was able to ID the distant booming calls of Nkulengu Rail, one of our targets for the next few days. We left our lodging at 5 am and went straight to the gates of the park. Not far inside the park we got out and walked, still in the dark of pre-dawn, to search for roosting Nkulengu Rail. No luck, but at dawn broke the forest was filled with new bird calls - many vaguely familiar from studying xeno-canto downloads but which I couldn't ID without help. Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo was one of the first birds to start in, although it didn't want to approach to Kwame's whistled imitations. The pure whistles of Pale-breasted and Black-capped Illadopsis emanated from the undergrowth, the latter coming in obligingly for a view. A Piping Hornbill flew in for a decent view, while a flushed Black Dwarf Hornbill was not so cooperative. A pair of Gray Parrots flew overhead, a frustratingly brief encounter. My favorite bird of the day was the Forest Robin, a beautiful songster that came in for good views. A real highlight of the morning was a large mixed-species flock along the main road that provided at least an hour of viewing - Yellow-spotted and Hairy-breasted Barbets, Slender-billed, Sombre, Plain, Honeyguide, Icterine, Western Bearded, and Yellow-bearded Greenbuls, the warbler-like Fraser's Sunbird, Black-headed Oriole, Shining Drongo, Blue-billed and Crested Malimbes. Nearby there was a puddle on the track attracting a few understory species, including flighly Red-tailed and Gray-headed Bristlebills, Finch's Flycatcher Thrush, White-tailed Ant Thrush, and White-tailed Alethe. So much to take in!

We returned to Frenchman's Rest for a 10:30 breakfast, then took a few hours' rest during which I wandered around the lodging grounds, spotting Diderick Cuckoo and trying in vain to spot a calling African Emerald Cuckoo. In the afternoon we returned to Ankasa and birded the next section of road. Things were rather quieter, but persistence steadily yielded new sightings: a group of 4 Little Green Sunbirds visiting a tree cavity filled with water, a male Sharpe's Apalis (one of the Upper Guinea Endemics), Least Honeyguide, Fire-bellied Woodpecker, and a cooperative pair of Red-billed Dwarf Hornbills. A real treat for both Kwame and I was an unexpected pair of Blue-moustached Bee-eater; this handsome species is usually sought at Atewa Range, a site that I had not included in my itinerary, and is not usually found at Ankasa (Kwame had only seen them here a couple times in 10 or so years). I got some terrible record photos that don't reflect the good views we had when we first spotted them. We wrapped up the day by trying unsuccessfully for owls at the camp above reception before returning for dinner and bed.

All in all a fantastic day! Despite the challenges in actually spotting birds, rainforest has long been one of my favorite habitats in the world.
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Old Saturday 24th November 2018, 19:54   #5
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A few photos:
Black-crowned Tchagra
female Superb Sunbird
Cassin's Flycatcher
Dusky-blue Flycatcher
Yellow-billed Turaco
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Old Saturday 24th November 2018, 20:13   #6
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Day 3: Ankasa

Another full day at Ankasa, with another 5 am start to try for owls and Nkulengu Rail. No luck with owls, and so close yet so far with the rails... we heard them flush from a roost area, it didn't sound like they went far, but 45 minutes of careful searching yielded nothing. We then moved on to the next stretch of road and spent the morning slowly birding our way farther into the forest, ending the morning at a small pond by the road.

At our first stop we tracked down a displaying Rufous-sided Broadbill, doing its curious circular flight around a branch. Overhead we strained our necks to see a Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher. Next up, Kwame heard a group of Red-billed Helmetshrikes, and we tracked them down and got good views of them high in the canopy across the road. Farther along, we entered a wetter area of the forest with large puddles in the road that we had to negotiate. While trying to coax out a calling White-spotted Flufftail, I heard the distinctive, resonating calls of Yellow-casqued Hornbills in the distance. All thoughts of flufftails gone, we scrambled back through the puddles toward the sound, and with a bit of patience were finally rewarded when a magnificent Yellow-casqued Hornbill flew above the road in a whoosh of large wings and perched in a distant tree. A few birds continued to move about the area over the next half hour, offering distant but good views, followed by a flyover Black-casqued Hornbill - a brief look but the call clinched the ID. We continued the hornbill parade by tracking down a stunning White-crested Hornbill, which didn't stick around for photos but gave close views of this distinctive shaggy-crested species.

The rest of the morning was rather slower, and the pond did not yield the hoped-for species such as Hartlaub's Duck, but we did add Grey Longbill, Fraser's Forest Flycatcher, and the stunning Western Bluebill, the last of which we lucked into when it hopped out on the road ahead of us for a moment.

We returned for a late breakfast and short siesta before resuming our birding around 1:00. A storm was threatening, and we ended up waiting out a brief downpour at the park's gate, watching the swifts and swallows which continued to feed over the adjacent farmland despite the rain - the flock contained Barn Swallow, Lesser Striped Swallow, Square-tailed Saw-wing, Common Swift, Little Swift, and Sabine's Spinetail. When the rain let up we headed on to a trail that leads to an old camp. Not far in we finally managed to coax in a Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, with neck-breaking views of this species directly overhead. The rain soon returned, although not at a downpour, so we continued on. Things were very quiet over the next few hours, with nothing responding to playback, some distant monkeys crashing through the trees but too far to see. We returned to the main road at 4:30 and continued walking, where the highlight was a perched Long-tailed Hawk, a distinctive forest raptor with a long tail and deep rufous chest.

We wrapped up the day by trying once more for owls at the camp by the front gate, this time being rewarded almost immediately by an Akun Eagle Owl that flew in. No Fraser's Eagle Owl though by the entrance bridge, and we briefly heard but did not see the Nkulengu Rail.

Below: the only shot I managed of Yellow-casqued Hornbill - this was my second most-wanted species in Ghana (first being the Picathartes, naturally!).
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Old Saturday 24th November 2018, 23:13   #7
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Day 4: Travel from Ankasa to Kakum

After a 6 am breakfast, we checked out of the Frenchman's Rest and hit the road for Cape Coast, where Kwame and his driver would drop us off. We made a few brief stops along the way: once again at the ponds along the main highway just after the turnoff for Ankasa, and at the Ebi River - spots that often yield Hartlaub's Duck, but produced rather little for us this day. Really cool though was a large yellow and black spider with a golden silk web - beautiful! A quick stop by a small roadside pond just before Azuleti gave us good views of a pair each of Giant and Shining-blue Kingfishers, and a traffic jam just outside Takoradi allowed for drive-by views of a colony of Vieillot's Black Weaver.

We were dropped off at a trotro station in Cape Coast at the junction of N1 and the road to Twifo Praso, and got on a trotro heading north for 20 cedis. Expecting an hour ride, it was closer to 40 minutes with our driver, who easily clocked 120 kph between towns, exhilarating but also a bit frightening with my blocked view from the very back of the van. Our driver got ticketed at one of the police checkpoints - whether for speeding or overcrowding or some other reason, I don't know. We arrived at the entrance to Kakum around lunchtime, ignoring the hawkers that immediately swarmed us offering snacks and water, and checked in at the entrance gate to arrange a stay at the guesthouse just inside the park. I forgot to write down the amount we paid but it amounted to something like US $10 for the night. It was a bit stuffier than our accomodations outside Ankasa, since we just had the one window and couldn't get a cross breeze, but the noisy fan was sufficient to keep us reasonably cool. The plumbing or something to the building was broken, so we were given a couple tubs of water for flushing and for bucket showers (impressively, one of the women brought down a full container, surely weighing at least 80 pounds, carrying it on her head with apparent ease).

There's not much that can be done for free or unguided at Kakum, particularly if you lack your own transportation, so we settled in for a leisurely lunch at the onsite restaurant (I very much enjoyed the spicy goat stew with fufu), arranged for an early visit to the canopy tower the following morning, and then I wandered the short entrance road a bit. There is a good view of the forested valley below reception, so I spent some time looking out that way, marveling at the hundreds of Barn Swallows all moving westward during the last hour or so of daylight, and spotting a flyover Piping Hornbill. Mostly I found common birds of second growth such as Olive-bellied and Collared Sunbirds, Tawny-flanked Prinia, African Pied Hornbill, and Splendid Starling. At dusk I heard coucals (tentatively identified as Blue-headed Coucal) and a distant Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo. Since the restaurant closes at 4, we ordered a pizza at 3:30 and saved it in our room for dinner, along with a few Guiness Foreign Extra Stouts (7.5% ABV!). It was very pleasant once all the weekend traffic cleared out around 5pm (this was a Saturday) and we had the guesthouse and entrance grounds to ourselves save for one staff member also staying in the guesthouse.

Photos:
African Pied Hornbill
Shining-blue Kingfisher
spider with golden silk
Guiness
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Last edited by ovenbird43 : Saturday 24th November 2018 at 23:17.
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Old Sunday 25th November 2018, 21:10   #8
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Day 5: Kakum Canopy Walkway

We met our guide at 6 am and he took us out to the canopy walkway, which is a series of bridges suspended high in the canopy with platforms in between, offering superb views of the surrounding forest. He took us out to platform 3 and left us there, saying he would return later. It was amazing to have the place to ourselves, and platform 3 offers the most open views into the forest of all the platforms. There was a thick fog that never really lifted, but so many birds came close that it wasn't really a hindrance for birding (made for poor photography, though!).

The first bird I saw as we approached platform 3 was a Yellow-mantled Weaver, several of which were building nests in an adjacent tree. A small family of Rufous-crowned Eremomelas worked the branches just above the platform, and a snazzy Pruess's Golden Weaver foraged nuthatch-like in the same tree. A dark bird flew in, a Blue Cuckooshrike, whose striking blue coloration was mostly obscured in the fog and early morning light. Activity remained good for a solid two hours, with hardly a dull moment - Velvet-mantled Drongo, Black-winged Oriole, a pair of Violet-backed Hyliotas, Melancholy Woodpecker, Naked-faced Barbet, and Little Green Sunbird all came by. Sometime during the morning we were joined by a birding tour group (Rockjumper I believe), who had abandoned another platform that had been quieter - it thus became a bit crowded, but with many more eyes (not to mention and expert bird guide) we continued to see lots of goodies. These included a Spotted Greenbuls, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Forest Penduline-Tit, Blue Malkoha, Palm-nut Vulture, Maxwell's Black Weaver, and White-breasted Nigrita.

Around 8:30 our own guide had not yet returned, but activity had slowed a bit and we decided to move on a try a few of the other platforms. They were very quiet, and we had planned only to pay for 3 hours of birding, so we made our own way back to the reception. On the way we got nice looks at a low-foraging Buff-spotted Woodpecker and a Tit-hylia. We went to the restaurant to order breakfast, and found that they didn't open until 10 - given that, and the fact that our guide ended up only charging us for 2 hours, made me wish we had just stayed a bit longer on the walkway.

Although I had originally planned for two nights at Kakum and a second morning on the walkway, we had talked it over and decided only to stay one night - instead, we would stay in Cape Coast with tentative plans for some sightseeing, and to put us in easier position to head to New Edubiase the following morning. So at 11:30 we were picked up by a pre-arranged taxi and driven to Cape Coast. It was another short, wild ride with a speed demon, and we were dropped off at Prospect Lodge, which I had chosen out of the Bradt travel guide. However, when we got to the lodge, we saw signs pasted on the wall ordering all activities to be halted under order of the EPA, there was no wifi network detectable despite promises of its availability, and the owner insisted we sit down and chat for a bit. We decided to get up and move on, and after a bit of aimless wandering we consulted the book and settled on Kokodo Guest House.

We hailed a taxi to take us to Kokodo, and the driver didn't know the location - that's fine, but he seemed unable to comprehend the directions and map that I showed him, and despite talking to two strangers for directions he kept driving us further and further in the wrong direction. Finally we ended up at a hotel far on the outskirts of town, along N1. Here he got out to talk to the hotel reception, and it became clear that he was scamming us and wanted us to check into this hotel, rather than the one we had requested. We argued for a bit and in the end we just hauled our packs back on and set off walking down N1 - I don't think he or his hotel buddy were prepared for that outcome!

We walked for a bit, figuring we would eventually be able to hail another taxi. We hailed the first one that went by, Tom mentioning that the car looked familiar... it was the same guy who had just tried to scam us! What was he thinking, that we had already given up carrying our bags? We walked on, and had covered maybe half the distance of 3 km when we were picked up by another taxi and taken directly to Kokodo, no hassle. Whew!

We settled into our comfortable rooms, and in the evening I walked along the road outside, which was fairly quiet and scrubby. Birds in the area included Spotted Flycatcher, Copper Sunbird, Senegal Coucal, Green Turaco, Double-toothed Barbet, as well as other widespread species. There was a big swarm of some flying insects high in the air, which had attracted the attention of Yellow-billed Kites, Gray Kestrels, and Eurasian Kestrels - and even some other species were joining in the feast, like Pied Crow, Common Bulbul, and African Pied Hornbill.

Below: Black-winged Oriole
Views from the Kakum Canopy Walkway
Walking along the N1 around Cape Coast
Giant bed at Kokodo Guesthouse
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Last edited by ovenbird43 : Sunday 25th November 2018 at 21:17.
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Old Friday 30th November 2018, 00:22   #9
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Day 6: Trek to Picathartes

We left Kokoko Guesthouse early in the morning and just walked the ~1 km to the bus station, where we sat sweating in the back of a van for a good hour or so before it left toward Kumasi. A few hours later we got off at New Edubiase, intent on finding Nina's Guesthouse to stay for the night, though we had no idea where it was located. After a bit of wandering around and fruitlessly asking for directions, then trying to buy a sim card only to realize that Tom had just lost his phone on the bus - we finally hailed a taxi that was able to find directions - it was a bit outside of town.

We settled in and grabbed some snacks for a light lunch before heading out around 2:00, walking back to town to try to find a taxi to take us to the village of Bonkro, about 14 km away. We flagged down a driver and I explained what I wanted and why - a ride to and from Bonkro with a wait of a few hours, and showed him the picture of the Picathartes in my field guide, hoping he'd heard of it. He seemed to recognize the bird picture, but it still took a bit of explaining and discussion before he seemed to fully grasp what we wanted and settled on a price of 150 cedis. Soon we were off - the road was paved most of the way to Bonkro so it didn't take much longer than 20 minutes to get to the village, where we picked up a local guide to take us into the forest. The taxi driver decided to join us on the hike.

Despite references to a 45-minute hike to the nest site, it only took us about 25 minutes to reach the overhanging cliff - the hike is fairly mild until the last section of steep trail. We were in place by 3:30, watching the sky apprehensively - there was a storm threatening to blow in, but we lucked out and only got a few sprinkles. I could hear forest birds all around, although I didn't really see any of them - Afep Pigeon, African Emerald Cuckoo, Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Green Hylia, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, and Gray-headed Nigrita among others, plus unidentified parrots overhead (likely Red-fronted). Finally at 4:20, one of the guides gestured and whispered that they were coming - and moments later a Yellow-headed Picathartes (aka White-necked Rockfowl) bounded into view. Here was the star bird of the whole trip - one of two enigmatic species in a family endemic to West Africa - I gasped in wonder.

The bird looked at us and then disappeared. We waited, the taxi driver gesturing to me and seeming every bit as excited about the encounter as I was. At 4:55 a group of 4 birds arrived from both directions and bounded around under the cliff face. It was getting dark in the forest understory, I snapped a few photos with the aid of a flashlight rather than the camera's flash, and then we quickly and quietly left, feeling elated on our hike back to the village. The evening was topped off with a Bates' Swift flying around above the village as we signed the guest log and paid the community fee and guide tips.

We returned to town, wandered around in a fruitless search for dinner before settling on some yogurt and bread, and turned in for an early night after a long, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately successful and exciting day.
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Old Friday 30th November 2018, 05:53   #10
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Congratulations on the Rockfowl - a truly global mega. I recall reading Gerald Durrell's book about seeing picathartes - I think in Cameroon, but don't recall which species it was.

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Old Friday 30th November 2018, 08:52   #11
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Very much enjoying this thread, Abby, which brings back a lot of memories. Quite impressed with how you managed to get around by public transport.
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Old Friday 7th December 2018, 12:43   #12
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Congratulations

Quote:
Originally Posted by ovenbird43 View Post
Day 6: Trek to Picathartes


Despite references to a 45-minute hike to the nest site, it only took us about 25 minutes to reach the overhanging cliff - the hike is fairly mild until the last section of steep trail. We were in place by 3:30, watching the sky apprehensively - there was a storm threatening to blow in, but we lucked out and only got a few sprinkles. I could hear forest birds all around, although I didn't really see any of them - Afep Pigeon, African Emerald Cuckoo, Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Green Hylia, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, and Gray-headed Nigrita among others, plus unidentified parrots overhead (likely Red-fronted). Finally at 4:20, one of the guides gestured and whispered that they were coming - and moments later a Yellow-headed Picathartes (aka White-necked Rockfowl) bounded into view. Here was the star bird of the whole trip - one of two enigmatic species in a family endemic to West Africa - I gasped in wonder.

The bird looked at us and then disappeared. We waited, the taxi driver gesturing to me and seeming every bit as excited about the encounter as I was. At 4:55 a group of 4 birds arrived from both directions and bounded around under the cliff face. It was getting dark in the forest understory, I snapped a few photos with the aid of a flashlight rather than the camera's flash, and then we quickly and quietly left, feeling elated on our hike back to the village. day.
Congratulations. One of my favourite birding moments was seeing the Picathartes
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Old Saturday 8th December 2018, 17:29   #13
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Day 7: Lake Bosomtwe

With the Picathartes in the bag, we deviated from the standard birding circuit with a plan to relax for a few days at Lake Bosomtwe, a crater lake to the southeast of Kumasi. The lake is rimmed with small villages, most easily accessed via the lakeside village of Abono, with several lodges located within a few km of town along a rough dirt road that leads around the lake. We had made reservations for three nights at the Green Ranch - we got there from New Edubiase by taking a trotro north and getting off at Bekwai, taking a trotro from there to Kuntanse, and hiring a taxi from there direct to the Green Ranch.

Despite all the changes of vehicles, the trip went smoothly and we never had to wait long, and we arrived at the Green Ranch at 11:30 am, too early to check into our room. We spent the next few hours sitting on the upstairs porch that overlooks the lake, enjoying some beers and lunch, and watching the birds that came by. White-throated Bee-eaters were particularly common, sometimes flying by in flocks of about 20. There was a papaya tree that frequently attracted a Double-toothed Barbet. Common and expected species included Western Plantain-eater, Laughing Dove, Speckled Tinkerbird, Common Bulbul, and Green Hylia, but a pair of Black-and-white Shrike-flycatchers was a real unexpected treat - a striking, cartoonish species I had really hoped to see, but which is apparently rather localized. Awesome!

In the late afternoon I wandered the dirt road a bit to either side of the Green Ranch. Habitat here was mostly farm scrub with some patches of trees. Species included Pin-tailed Whydah (males in breeding plumage), Bronze Manakin, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Black-necked Weaver, Little Greenbul, Simple Greenbul, White-throated Bee-eater, and Green-backed (Gray-backed) Camaroptera. A distant Klaas's Cuckoo called, though I never could see it. A Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat flew across the dirt road right in front of me, giving me brief views of a long-tailed orange-and-gray bird - I later heard it singing near dusk, but it wouldn't come out when I played my xeno-canto download on my phone.

In the evening we had a delicious dinner at the Green Ranch, topped off with bananas and homemade chocolate, and watched the evening thunderstorm roll across the lake.
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Old Saturday 8th December 2018, 20:04   #14
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So few people do trips by public transport this days. I haven't done so for some time; I think I've hired a car for at least most of every trip for over ten years. It's inspiring me to follow your lead: it looks fantastic.
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Old Sunday 16th December 2018, 17:30   #15
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Days 8-9: Lake Bosomtwe


The next two days were pretty relaxed, I did some casual birding in the mornings and evenings around the ranch, enjoying the displaying Black-winged Bishops in the area and seeing the Black-and-white Shrike-Flycatchers a few more times. There was a laminated map of the area in our room that showed the location of roads and trails, so one day Tom and I walked around the lake toward Lake Point Guesthouse to where there was a trail marked on the map a bit before the guesthouse that followed a valley up to the rim. We had no luck finding the trail - it certainly wasn't signposted from the main road, and it seemed like it started from somewhere in the middle of a small village named Obo. So we turned around, finding a small group of Naked-faced Barbets on the walk back, and fending off hoards of curious children anytime we walked through a village.

In Abono we made plans with the boat driver at the information center to be taken across the lake the next day, for a rather steep fee of 350 cedis for 3 hours. Our map described a valley on the other side of the lake, downslope from the village of Konkoma, with good riparian forest that harbored monkeys, and undoubtedly some good birds as well. We were picked up the next morning at the lakeside at Green Ranch and taken across to a village (I didn't write the write name down, but it was maybe a kilometer or so north of where the valley enters the lake) where we were able to disembark. At the edge of the lake was some tall emergent vegetation that held African Swamphen and some nests that appeared to belong to Grosbeak Weaver (sadly no weavers were in evidence). Our guides walked us through the village, following the track through cocoa plantations, until it became a trail ascending a steep rise that formed one wall of the valley. At this point we had already burned through half our allotted time, but I convinced the guides to let us press on a little and do some birding now that we had reached a bit of secondary forest. We spotted Red-bellied Paradise-Flycatcher, Black-necked Weaver, heard Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, and caught a glimpse of a striking male Red-cheeked Wattle-eye. Too soon though we had to turn around, without having actually made it to the valley - the wattle-eye was a nice find and was to be the only sighting of the trip, but all-in-all it had been a waste of time and money trying to reach the valley by boat - anyone wanting to bird this area would be better off renting some bicycles to get there on one's own, or from reaching the trail from outside the lake valley via Konkoma.

In the evenings we enjoyed watching thunderstorms form across the lake and roll in, and we befriended a couple of young women from Germany who were planning to travel to Mole the same day as us, so we made plans to share a taxi to Kumasi and travel together the following morning.

Photos:
Black-winged Bishop
Laughing Dove
Collared Sunbird
Splendid Starling
White-throated Bee-eater
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Old Sunday 16th December 2018, 17:38   #16
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Some more photos:
Pin-tailed Whydah
African Pied Wagtail
Bronze Mannikin family
storms seen from the Green Ranch balcony
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Old Sunday 23rd December 2018, 15:01   #17
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Day 10: Travel to Mole

A taxi picked the four of us up at 5 am and took us to Kumasi for 120 cedis, dropping us off at a bus headed for Tamale. After a bit of a wait the bus started off. En route it made one impromptu stop for people to get off and pee on the side of the road, and a scheduled stop at a rest area that had bathrooms and food. It took about 6 hours to reach Fulfusi, where we got off and hired a taxi for 150 cedis that would take us straight to Mole Motel inside the national park grounds.

During most of the trip I hadn't been booking hotel rooms in advance (except for a day in advance for Green Ranch) - it would have been wise to book Mole Motel in advance though, the only beds left were in separate male and female dorms. It didn't save us any money either, as the cost for two dorm beds was about the same as the most basic double room. On well - we checked in, and with only an hour of daylight remaining to search for a few birds, I was grateful we had made such an early start to the day.

Mole Motel is situated at the edge of an escarpment, overlooking a waterhole and a vast expanse of woodland stretching to the horizon. The scrub at the edge of the escarpment was hopping with birds, most entirely new for the trip and the majority were lifers - such as stunning Pygmy and Beautiful Sunbird males in breeding plumage, Bearded Barbet, Northern Black Flycatcher, Pale Flycatcher, Red-throated Bee-eaters, Abyssinian Roller, Western Violet-backed Sunbird female, Little Weaver, Red-cheeked Cordonbleu, and Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-Weaver. Out by the waterhole I could see Spur-winged Goose, Helmeted Guineafowl, Senegal Thick-knee, Hadeda Ibis, and a single immature African Fish Eagle. Too soon the sun set and dusk settled in, and I looked forward to spending the next few days here. After dinner (Tom had ordered me a pizza topped with guineafowl while I was birding) we spotted our first mammals by the dorms - Warthog and Harnessed Bushbuck.

Photo: Beautiful Sunbird
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Old Sunday 23rd December 2018, 15:43   #18
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Day 11: Mole - guided hikes and drives

In my excitement to start birding I misjudged the local sunrise time and left my dorm room in the pitch black of 5:15 am, and had to wait a bit for birds to start to rouse. One by one I was greeted by unfamiliar calls, many of which I was able to identify later - a Red-chested Cuckoo, the omnipresent sound of Vinaceous Dove, the liquid whistles of Yellow-crowned Gonolek. As the sun rose I had much better views of the waterhole and fields beyond than the evening before (the escarpment faces west), and I could see Wattled Lapwing, Palm-nut Vulture, and a variety of herons. A bare tree full of birds held Bruce's Green Pigeon and Senegal Parrot. At 7:00 I returned to my room to get ready for our guided hike.

Due to the presence of potentially dangerous wildlife (mainly elephants), hiking without an armed guide is prohibited in most areas of the park. Unless you have your own vehicle, the only way to explore to the park is to join one or more of the daily guided trips, which include hikes down the escarpment and safari drives. We opted to join the hike in the morning and the drive in the afternoon.

Naturally, the guided hike was geared toward the average tourists' interests and did not mesh super well with my desire to stop for every bird - but I still managed to see some good species and had an enjoyable time just getting to walk out into the bush. Good finds included a brief view of a pair of Violet Turacos, and a pair of Abyssinian Ground Hornbills that got the attention of the whole group. In addition we saw many Kob.

In the heat of the afternoon we mostly relaxed and tried (and failed) to stay cool. We spent some time at the overlook, watching an African Elephant bathe in the waterhole. Late morning was a good time for vultures and raptors - we observed White-headed, Hooded, and White-backed Vultures, a flyover Lanner Falcon, a distant Banded Snake-Eagle, and three Eurasian Marsh-Harriers working the fields behind the waterhole. Three Woolly-necked Storks were foraging out in the field and would occasionally circle around in the thermals before settling back down.

In mid-afternoon I heard a bit of a ruckus in the scrub near the overlook, and found that it was a group of small songbirds mobbing a Pearl-spotted Owlet. One by one new birds popped into view to take their turn at scolding the owlet - Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Senegal Batis, Northern Puffback, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, White-shouldered Black-Tit, Northern Crombec, Willow Warbler, Senegal Eremomela, plus several sunbird species, sparrows, mannikins, and the cordonbleus. I could have run to my room to get my camera, but instead I stood transfixed for a good 40 minutes.

At 3:30 we joined one of the 2-hour game drives. While again targeting mammals, we did stop for a few birds - another pair of Abyssinian Ground Hornbill and a group of spectacular Long-tailed Starlings. A few birds that I identified on the fly were Broad-billed Roller, Northern Red-billed Hornbill, Rose-ringed Parakeet, and Double-spurred Francolin.

Back at the dorms just before dark, Tom found a pair of Stone Partridges dustbathing, and I saw a wintering Pied Flycatcher. We ate a quick dinner and then gathered with some others for a night drive, which is not part of the daily schedule and needs to be arranged separately. We saw 5 different Grayish Eagle-Owls, one or two actually in the road. Mammals included bushbabies (eye shine only), jackal, Common Genet, plus Kob and bushbuck. We stopped for a Puff Adder in the road - quite a sight, this beautifully-patterned snake was puffed up and moved off the road like an arrow, rather than winding side-to-side like most snakes. On the way back, we took a few moments to shut off the engine and lights and just enjoy the stars and the sounds of the woodland at night - which included a calling African Scops Owl.
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Old Monday 24th December 2018, 20:26   #19
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Day 12-13: Mole

The next day was somewhat relaxed in the morning, with tentative plans to go on a birding walk with some folks we had just met but that ended up falling through. The Pearl-spotted Owlet made another appearance, this time when my camera was in hand. Tom and I set off in the afternoon to walk to the abandoned airstrip outside the park gates, about three miles from the motel and labelled as a hotspot in ebird, with the primary goal of searching for nightjars. The walk along the main entrance road was fairly quiet, but I did see the only Brown Babbler of the trip and spotted two Exclamatory Paradise-Whydahs, males in full breeding plumage, flying high over the road. They sure looked comical, tiny birds appearing to struggle against the drag created by their outrageous tails. We reached the airstrip shortly before sunset, and I found myself wishing we had set out earlier - there seemed to be good bird activity, but I didn't manage to get on much and too soon the activity quieted down (and the mosquitoes came out). Just as it was getting too dark to see, a nightjar flew by my head - judging by the shape it must have been a female (or non-breeding male) Standard-winged Nightjar. No amount tape-playing could get any kind of response though; similarly the concurrent Rockjumper tour had also failed on this species - just a bit too early in the dry season. A Long-tailed Nightjar was calling however, and we managed good views (and crappy photos) of two individuals before setting off for the walk back to the hotel.

The next morning I met one of the park's birding guides for a 6 am birding-specific walk down the escarpment (I had arranged this the afternoon before). The main goal was to reach a good spot for Oriole Warbler, but the walk was overall great throughout. We got good locks at the common, striking, but skulking Yellow-crowned Gonolek by the waterhole, where we also had Malachite and Blue-breasted Kingfishers. There was a big group of Long-tailed Starlings that gave better, more sustained views than I had gotten on the game drive the other day. The Oriole Warbler spot was a wet area surrounded by patches of trees and scrub, and was just hopping with birds. Green Woodhoopoes and Black Scimitarbill made an appearance, and a group of seedeaters contained Lavendar Waxbill and Village Indigobird among some of the more common species. A large mixed feeding flock was in the area, with Yellow-breasted Apalis, Willow Warbler, Western Olivaceous Warbler, Melodious Warbler, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Gray-headed Bushshrike, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, and more. We stopped at a few places and I played the Oriole Warbler call - we finally got a bite at one spot, an Oriole Warbler sang back and a pair approached and peered out of a nearby bush. What a cool bird! A skulky species with yellow underparts and blackish head scaled with gray - I didn't manage any photos but we did enjoy some good views as the pair worked their way through the brush before melting back in. Another trip highlight for sure!

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Red-billed Firefinch
Pearl-spotted Owlet
Long-tailed Nightjar
Long-tailed Starling
Red-throated Bee-eater
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Old Monday 24th December 2018, 20:34   #20
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A few more photos:
African Grey Hornbill
Village Indigobird
Harnessed Bushbuck
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