Birding Africa
    BIRDING TOURS FROM CAPE TOWN TO CAMEROON

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trip Report

Birding Cameroon
(In Pursuit of Highland Endemics)

26 February - 30 March 2002

- Full Trip Report -

By Michael Mills and Callan Cohen

michael@birdingafrica.com and callan@birdingafrica.com

  • Birding Africa, 21 Newlands Road, Claremont, 7708, Cape Town, South Africa
  • Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Contents:

1. Introduction
2. Highlights
3. General Information:
- Money - Climate and Timing - Eating and Drinking - Transport - Dangers, Bribery and Corruption - Accommodation
4. Birding Spots
5. Detailed Itinerary
6. Acknowledgements
7. Literature
8. Contacts

See Also: ANNOTATED SPECIES LISTS:

BIRDS & MAMMALS
(MS Word Document)

1. Introduction:

The highlands of Cameroon form one of Africa's most important Endemic Bird Areas, harbouring 25 endemic bird species (a further two are found on Bioko/Fernando Po, a tiny offshore territory of Equatorial Guinea). These include many elusive and charismatic species such as Mount Kupe Bushshrike, Mount Cameroon Francolin and White-throated Mountain-babbler. In addition to endemic-filled highland forests and grasslands, Cameroon encompasses a plethora of habitats. Stretching all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Chad, dry Sahelian landscapes, Guinea Woodlands, forest-woodland/grassland mosaic of the Adamawa Plateau and tropical lowland forest are squeezed into Cameroon's borders. Cameroon's combined uniqueness and diversity make it a top priority for African birders.

Our primary aim was to see all the Cameroon Mountain endemics (except for those confined to Bioko). This is reflected in our itinerary: 5 days at Mount Kupe, 3 days on Mount Cameroon, 2 days in the Bakossi Mountains and 1 day in the Bamenda highlands. Our secondary aim was to sample the full cross-section of habitats in Cameroon. The most neglected of these were the lowland forests: only 1.5 days in Korup National Park. We had hoped to visit the remote Dja Faunal Reserve in the south of the country, one of the largest expanses of lowland forest in Cameroon, but decided instead to explore the Bakossi Mountains and re-visit Mount Kupe. In retrospect this paid off.

What follows is a summary of our trip, which, we hope, will be useful to fellow travellers and birders. Good birding information, still of relevance, is supplied in a number of other reports and articles (see OReferencesı section), most notably the report by Webb. Our report does not aim to replace these, but supplements them with some up-to-date information.

2. Highlights:

Some of the highlights of our trip included:

  • Finding, after dedicated searching, all 25 species of birds endemic to the Cameroon Mountains, including Mt Cameroon Francolin (a single male on the forest floor was the culmination of two day's searching), Bannerman's Turaco and White-throated Mountain-babbler - the famous "Kupeornis" of the central highlands and possibly the bird in Cameroon with the most character!
  • Obtaining video footage of Mount Kupe Bushshrike. We invested a lot of time trekking along slippery mountain paths for this bird, which eventually rewarded us with over three hours viewing and video footage of a total of 4 birds.
  • Obtaining over 600 sound recordings of bird vocalisations on minidisc, including most of the highland endemics.
  • Testing the excellent new fieldguide to the region by Nik Borrow and Ron Demey, and the set of Chappuis CDs, which both added tremendously to our trip.
  • Exploring the Bakossi Mountains, a truly spectacular wilderness area complete with Chimpanzees, Drill and a host of mountain endemics.
  • Videoing, in the central woodlands, the elusive Spotted Thrush Babbler and Standard-winged Nightjar, as well as seeing the spectacular Oriole Warbler and White-collared Starling and Adamawa Turtle Dove, the latter two with curiously localised distributions.
  • Five Quail Plovers, the first confirmed records of River Prinia for Waza (which Nik Borrow also later confirmed to be common) and an obliging pair of Cricket Longtails in the far North.
  • A final species tally of 530 birds, which could probably have been boosted a bit with concentrated lowland forest birding (although we'll save this for Gabon...)

3. General Information:

General travel information is provided in The Rough Guide: West Africaı. Below is a brief summary and some information birders may find useful.

MONEY:

Changing money can be a frustrating experience! It is important to plan ahead as most birding sites are well away from places to change money. Most banks (even in Douala) don't accept Traveller's Cheques (TCs) and when they do (Euros are more widely accepted than $US) they will request to see your purchasing agreements, give poor exchange rates and charge ridiculously high commission. Take a supply of TCs for emergenciesas emergency supply but it is advisable to make sure that you have enough hard currency ($US or Euros) in cash to pay for your expected expenses. Exchange rates for cash are much more favourable. Black market exchange, a thriving industry in Cameroon, will ensure slightly better rates than banks (CAF750/$US in Douala instead of the 707 from banks). Absurdly, though, $US notes with "small heads" will only fetch CAF720 on the black market.

CLIMATE AND TIMING:

Cameroon has a distinct wet and dry season. During the wet season (May-August in particular) gravel roads become mud baths and many of the birding sites will be almost impossible to reach. Almost all birding trips run during the dry season (December-April) when access is easier. Most birds seemed to have just finished breeding at the time of our visit (many juveniles in the south and whydahs in partial breeding plumage). With little experience it is difficult to know whether December or January would be a more favourable time to visit; it is likely that many species will be more vocal early in the breeding season, although Quail Plover and Swallow-tailed Kite seem easier towards the end of the dry season. Take your pick!

The north of Cameroon was very hot (40°C+ at Waza) and dry. If you visit the North between November and April you will need nothing more than hot weather clothing ­ donıt forget sandals, a hat and sunscreen. The south is a bit more complicated. It can be quite cool in the highland forests, especially on Mount Cameroon in the early morning, although for most part it is pretty warm. In the lowlands it is tremendously hot and humid. Bring light clothing that dries quickly. Rainfall is possible at any time in the south, so waterproof gear is a must.

EATING AND DRINKING:

As usual, we took our own supply of muesli and powder milk for breakfasts. Lunches are a little more complicated as little snack food is available. We took a fair supply of biscuits, nuts, tuna and dried fruit to supplement locally purchased bread and sardines. A reasonable variety of fruit was available as was good local chocolate, "Chococam". At most places we ate dinner in "restaurants". When camping, however, we did our own catering. Rice, onions, tomato paste and sardines were the usual. These items can be purchased in almost any small town (including Mundemba and Nyasoso), although all supplies should be brought at Nyasoso when going to the Bakossi Mountains.

Bottled mineral water is fairly widely available, although it may be advisable to stock up at larger towns if you have your own transport. When camping a water-filtering device will be very handy, especially in Korup where it will be almost impossible to carry all the drinking water you need. Carbonated soft drinks and beer are also widely available. The locally produced brand of soft drink "Top" is worth a try, particularly Pamplemousse and Ananas flavours.

TRANSPORT:

Making your way around Cameroon can be done by a variety of means of transport. Car Hire is, in general, expensive and will stretch the pocket of budget travellers. In the north (at least for Waza NP and Benoue NP) where public transport does not enter the main birding areas and birding on foot is potentially dangerous due to the presence of large game, car hire is the only feasible means of transport. Roads are poorly sign posted and insurance rates extortionate, making it advisable to hire a vehicle with a driver from a local ground agent. There are seemingly few options when it comes to choosing a ground agent in Cameroon, especially if you want to correspond via email. We hired a minibus and driver at US$55 per day excluding fuel and tollgate fees. Having a car is of little use in the south as 90% of birding is done on foot, well away from roads. Having your own vehicle, however, will save time and nerves and allow for random birding stops between the main sites. Anyone who can afford the expense of hiring a car would be well advised to do so. Those who are on a tighter budget may wish to use public transport in the south, as we did.

Flying between major cities is easy and often the most efficient way of getting around. Air Cameroon operates an efficient internal flight network, with flights connecting the north (Maroua and Ngaoundere) and south (Yaounde and Douala) almost daily. This is the most convenient way of travelling between the two main birding Oregionsı, although it comes at a price. We paid $US 115 for a one-way flight, Douala-Maroua. It is essential to confirm flights before departure and to arrive well in advance for your flights (at least 1.5hrs before departure) as seats are allocated on a first-come-first-serve basis. A ticket is no guarantee of a seat.

The train journey between Ngaoundere and Yaounde/Douala provides a budget alternative to flying. CAMRAIL runs a nightly daily, overnight service from Yaounde to Ngaoundere. We had planned to travel in the reasonable comfort of first-class. Two days prior to our planned departure we visited the train station in Ngaoundere to reserve our seats. This was done without any fuss and we were instructed to arrive at the station before 6:30 pm on the evening of our departure (scheduled for 7:30 pm) to pay for the tickets. We were not allowed to pay in advance. We arrived from Ngaoundaba Ranch at 5pm to find, to our utter dismay, that our seats had been sold. With no option available we had to take crowded, uncomfortable, second-class seats. Due to various delays we spent 18 painful hours on the train and become rather too intimately acquainted with the 90 other people in our carriage. This is one of the irritations of travelling in Africa - no matter how much care you seem to take, you are never guaranteed anything. Given our experiences we would not advise anyone else to travel by train, although we may just have been unlucky. In some ways it was an experience not to be forgotten!

Public road transport comes in a variety of forms. Ubiquitous yellow taxis operate within the main urban areas. The whole vehicle can be hired, or a single seat taken (mostly 4 passengers per vehicle). Longer taxi hauls in Douala (e.g. to the motor park in Bonaberi for transport to Limbe, Buea, Kumba and Bamenda) cost 1000 CAF pp while airport transfers cost 3 000 CAF for the vehicle. Away from Douala and Yaounde fares are much lower with a single 'drop' usually costing 100 CAF for shorter trips and 150 CAF for longer ones (e.g. from Mile 17 to Buea Town). Taxis can also be hired for longer trips. We hired a taxi from Douala to Mundemba for 70 000 CAF and from Bamenda to Bafut-Ngemba forest reserve and Bafut for CAF 15 000. This is a rather expensive option and should only be used when share taxis do not operate the desired route. All taxi prices are open to negotiation. If you are only taking a seat, rather than the whole taxi, there is usually an additional cost for luggage.

Share taxis (mini-busses and various other vehicles) run set routes, from motor park to motor park, departing when all seats have been taken. They are usually quite crowded (e.g. 7 passengers in a normal sedan). Fares are set although you should negotiate the fee for your luggage. This means of transport is inexpensive (e.g. Douala to Buea costs 1000 CAF) but can be time consuming, uncomfortable and nerve-racking. Whilst travelling from Douala to Mundemba we spent more time waiting around in motor parks than actually driving. When, at last, drivers hit the road, time suddenly becomes precious and passenger safety of little importance. A much better option, feasible with a group of at least 4 people, is to take all the seats in a minibus. You can negotiate a price in this case (aim for a price slightly lower than the cost of all the seats). This means you can depart immediately and your requests for more responsible driving will hold more sway. We travelled in this fashion from Mundemba to Kumba (24 000 CAF), Kumba to Nyasoso (20 000 CAF), Nyasoso to Loum (17 000 CAF) and Loum to Douala (16 000 CAF). Try to get the taxi to drop you at your preferred destination. Travelling from Loum to Douala we got dropped at our hotel, although you will have to go via the motor park to get permission for the vehicle to deviate from its set route (the driver will organise this). Note that the point of departure for Buea, Limbe, Kumba and Loum from Douala is in the suburb of Bonaberi a few kilometres south the Wouri River, and no longer at ORound pointı.

Lastly, Agencies de Voyage run busses and mini-busses on set routes for fixed prices, from their company offices. For longer trips (e.g. Yaounde to Bamenda and Bamenda to Loum) this is the most comfortable, inexpensive way to travel, although services are less regular than from motor parks. Prices are much the same as those for share taxis.

DANGERS, BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION:

Itıs worth being aware of diseases in Cameroon. It is advisable to take your own medical kit. Malaria is reportedly prolific, although there were few mosquitos around at the end of the dry season. Regardless it is advisable to take Malaria prophylaxes. Make sure that you have all the recommended inoculations, especially Yellow fever (compulsory) and Hepatitis A. Obviously the best way to avoid diseases is to maintain a high level of hygiene. Birding localities, however, often require forgoing this. Amongst our group we managed to get away with only 2 fungal infections and one brief but severe bout of fever whilst in Cameroon.

Whilst birding in the north of Cameroon keep a lookout for large game (lions and elephant), although this is a very minor threat.

Bribery is rife in southern Cameroon. Roadblocks are frequent and will usually include a passport check (it is vital to keep your passport on you at all times, even if you are just walking 50m from your room) and a hackling session between your driver and a uniformed man over the amount of the fineı. In the north the latter is excluded. On arrival, custom officials immediately demanded a bribe of CAF 5000 from Michael, which he refused to pay.

ACCOMMODATION (by locality):

In the larger town and cities there is a range of accommodation available, although at many of the birding sites visitors are restricted in their choice. Below are the details of accommodation we used. Directions for many of these are given in the Rough Guide, with many other options listed too.

Douala

- Foyer du Marin: Good value, clean and convenient with a swimming pool and good value restaurant. A luggage room is available, free of charge, to guests. The only complaint that we have are electricity cuts at night - makes having an air conditioner rather academic - although management are planning to purchase a generator. Make reservations at least 2 weeks in advance. Double with air conditioner and private ablutions cost CAF 13000; triples cost CAF 16000.

- The Sawa Hotel is one of the best in Douala, and is situated in a far nicer area, but comes at a price. Those who can afford it will enjoy the luxury.

Mount Kupe

- At least three privately run Guesthouses are available in Nyasoso, namely Lucy's, Thekla's and the Woman's Centre. We stayed at Thekla's and Lucy's. They were similar, although Lucy's had better food and a nicer sitting room. Thekla's holds the advantage on the ablutions front, which are outside at Lucy's. It is also possible to camp (no charge) on the mountain, although there are no facilities, only smallish forest clearings. We camped at Max's camp (1550 m), but there is also Zinker's camp at 1100m along Max's trail, near the forest boundary, and a campsite on the Shrike trail at 1850m.

Waza National Park and surrounds

- Campement de Waza provides the only comfortable accommodation in the area (air conditioning and private ablutions), although there are reportedly other options around, including camping. Thirty years ago Campement de Waza would have been fantastic, with its well-chosen situation. Unfortunately it has become rather run down with time, although it is still clean, has a pool and restaurant and a great view. At CAF 16 000 for a double and CAF 20 000 for a triple it is slightly overpriced. Meals are expensive: CAF 6000 for a three course meal (soup starter, basic main course and fruit for dessert), although it is also possible to order omelettes and French-fries for about half the price.

Benoue River


- Spending a night in Garoua breaks the long trip from Benoue to Waza and provides the opportunity of birding the Benoue River. There are a number of accommodation options in Garoua mentioned in the Rough Guide. We stayed at the rather decrepit hotel, which is not even worth mentioning.

Benoue National Park

- Campement de Buffle Noir is one of a number of campements in the area. This one seems to have the upper hand among birders as it is situated in the bird-rich riparian stretch, with excellent birding in and around the campement. Much like Campement de Waza it is rather run down, but has a fantastic setting. Doubles are CAF ????Rooms are slightly more expensive than at Waza and m. Meals are the same prices as at Waza.

- Ngaoundaba Ranch - The ranch provides its own tourist-class accommodation, similar to that in price and quality to the campements at Waza and Benoue. Doubles are CAF ??? and triples ????, although there are slightly better, more expensive rooms. Meals are more reasonable and of better quality than the former two at Waza or Benoue. It is reportedly also possible to camp here, although we did not personally confirm this.

Yaounde

- Hotel Frecheur. Great value for money with clean, spacious, air-conditioned rooms at very reasonable rates. Directions are given in the ORough Guideı. There is, of course, a very wide range of hotels to choose from here.

Bamenda

- Ideal Park Hotel was the bargain of the trip with spacious double, self-contained rooms for 6500 CAF. The restaurant provides great meals at ridiculously low prices. The only downside is the rather unpleasant situation.

Mount Cameroon

- The night before and after our trip up the mountain we spent at the Mount Cameroon Ecotourism Organisation Guesthouse. Clean, spacious and well run, we can strongly recommend it at only 3000CAF pp, although it can only accommodate 4 people (2 doubles). The Mountain Hotel is a more upmarket option in Buea. On the mountain we spent one night camping at Nitele hunters camp and another at the radio towers. There are no fees for camping.

Korup National Park

- Hotel Iyaz in Mundemba is one of the only options, although we cannot recommend it. It is run down and overpriced at CAF 8000 for a double with fan and private ablutions. Power cuts at night meant no fan and water! Avoid the restaurant unless rubber chicken suits your palate. Unfortunately we did not have time to explore other options.

- Rengo Rock Camp (now CAF 3500pp/night) is one of a number of camps in Korup National Park. Situated in the forest next to a forest stream it has 4 fairly spacious wooden huts (two with bunk beds), a kitchen (fire cooking) and pit lavatories. Mattresses and cooking equipment can be hired from the WWF/National Park Tourist Office. According to our guide (Chief Josef) Chimpanzee Camp is larger, providing a better clearing for birding. There are also other camps with the same facilities.

4. Birding Spots:

Below is a short description of the birding sights we visited. After the siteıs name we make a personal recommendation of how long a stay at each site deserves. Other information includes guides, entrance fees and key species.

Mount Kupe (3-5 days):

Regarded by many as the most strategic birding site in Cameroon for its good birding and relatively easy access (only 3-4 hours from Douala, mostly on good roads). This community forest protects an area of montane forest holding many species endemic to the Cameroon highlands. It was made famous by the rediscovery of the Mount Kupe Bushshrike in 1989. Most of the specials occur at higher altitudes and include Mount Kupe Bushshrike, White-tailed Warbler, Little Oliveback, White-throated Mountain-babbler, Alexanderıs Akalat, Mountain Robin-chat, Grey-headed Broadbill, Ursulaıs Subird, Cameroon Olive Pigeon and Cameroon Olive, Cameroon, Grey-headed and Western Mountain Greenbuls. Below the forest border (at 1100m) most of the understory and smaller trees have been cleared away for agriculture, creating a more open habitat (usually called Ofarm bushı) for easy, productive birding. Most species found in this habitat are widespread Afrotropical species, although this is a particularly good site for Preussı Weaver, African Piculet, Speckled Tinkerbird, Black-necked Wattle-eye, Forest Swallow, Batesı Swift and Pale-fronted and Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch. It seems that there are very few recent records of Zenkerıs Honeyguide or Red-headed Picathartes.

The tourist office in Nyasoso town will help you arrange your stay, including accommodation, compulsory guides (3500/day) and porters (3000/trip), and will collect your forest fee (2000/pp/day). It is also possible to hire tents, cooking equipment and other camping gear from the office, as long as they are not being used for research purposes. Unfortunately neither of the guides we used were particularly knowledgeable, although Victor was very skilful with his machete and constructed a great campsite for us, including a small cooking shelter.

Waza National Park and surrounds (including Mora) (2-3 days):

This area has a variety of habitats, ranging from floodplains and ponds and deciduous woodland to dry, open Sahelian savanna. The landscape is punctuated by rocky outcrops that hold species such as Stone Partridge, Fox Kestrel, White-crowned Cliff Chat and Rock-loving Cisticola. The best birding is outside of the National Park, along the main road about 10km south of Waza. Here many waterbirds congregate at the pools and the acacia shrub holds River Prinia and Sennar Penduline Tit, amongst others. Little Grey Woodpecker is also a possibility and Swallow-tailed kite is not uncommon along the roadside, especially at the end of the dry season. For a chance of seeing Arabian Bustard you will have to enter the National Park (5000pp/day payable at the entrance gate where you can arrange for a compulsory guide; 3000/day) with its many dirt tracks; large raptors and vultures are also more numerous here. The National Park lies on a large floodplain and is closed during the rainy season. Our guide was quite good at spotting mammals (Patas Monkey, Kob, Red-fronted Gazelle, Golden Jackal and Roan Antelope are some of the possibilities), although birding was not his forte. The more grassy areas north of Mora hold Cricket Longtail, Black Scrub Robin and, best of all, Quail Plover. Night drives are reported to be fantastic for nocturnal mammals although our driver was adamant that it was unsafe to drive around at night, so we cannot verify this.

Benoue National Park (1-2 days):

This reserve is situated on the Benoue plains, a vast area of Guinea woodlands between Garoua and Ngaoundere. The general woodlands hold species usch as White-fronted Black Chat and Heuglinıs Wheatear and if you are very fortunate, Eminıs Shrike. The best birding, however, is along the Benoue River. Here we found Red-winged Grey Warbler, Senegal Batis, Violet Turaco, White-crowned Robin-Chat, Adamawa Turtle Dove, Oriole Warbler, Egyptian Plover and White-cheeked Oliveback, and Bar-breasted and Black bellied Firefinch in the campementıs grounds. Mammals of interest include Red-flanked Duiker and Kob, and if you are very fortunate, Derbyıs Eland. As with all national parks there is a CAF 5000pp/day entrance fee, payable at the office at Campement de Buffle Noir, where you will also have to collect your compulsory guide (3500/day). Our driver informed us that only the most direct route to the Campement, leaving the main road at Banda, was still negotiable and even this wasnıt in the best of shape. Allow 1.5 hours to drive the 27km from the main road to the campement.

Ngaoundaba Ranch (2-3 days):

Ngaoundaba is a privately owned cattle ranch, 1.5 hrs from Ngaoundere on a rather poor dry-season road, that protects some of the woodland and forested gullies that used to cover the whole Adamoua plateau. Birding here is fantastic with great species such as White-collared Starling, Standard-winged Nightjar, Brown and Dybowskiıs Twinspot, White-cheeked Oliveback, Spotted Thrush Babbler, Blue-bellied Roller, Lady Rossıs Turaco, Grey-winged Robin-Chat and Leaflove to whet you appetite. No entrance fee is applicable and no guides are available. All birding can be done on foot as long as you are reasonably fit.

Bamenda highlands (1-2 days):

The most accessible spot for the Bamenda highland specials is the Bafut-Ngemba Forest Reserve,; only 45mins from Bamenda, although the last 3km are on a rough track. The reserve is quite extensive, protecting some important patches of forest, although the most accessible area, the area around Lake Awing, is very degraded and mostly covered in Eucalyptus plantation. Concentrate birding in the forested gullies, particularly those closest to Lake Awing. At the time of our visit both Bannerman's Turaco and Banded Wattle-eye still occurred, although neither were common, and it is probably only a matter of time before they disappear from here. Other species include Bannermanıs Weaver, Dybowskiıs Twinspot, Yellow-breated Boubou, Brown-backed Cisticola, Bangwa Forest Warbler and Cameroon Mountain Greenbul. There seems to be no entrance fee here.

Bakossi (2-4 days):

The Bakossi mountains are an area of lower montane forest to the west of Mount Menunguba. They have hardly been explored, despite their richness and uniqueness. Access is quite difficult and facilities non-existent, although those that take the trouble of accessing this remote area will be rewarded with beautiful forests and the opportunity to see some rare animals. Highlights of our visit here, as though the forest was not enough, included Mount Kupe Bushshrike, Lyre-tailed Honeyguide, White-throated Mountain-babbler (common), Grey-headed Greenbul, Red-fronted Antpecker and Dusky Blue Flycatcher. The access situation in the Bakossi mountains is in a state of flux at the moment and we hope to be able to post updates to this web page once local initiatives have been launched.

Mount Cameroon (1 day, plus 2 for the francolin):

Mount Cameroon is probably the most significant birding area in Cameroon, although the difficulties with accessing it make it a rarely-visited spot. Mount Cameroon Francolin, Mount Cameroon Speirops, Mountain Sawwing, Cameroon Pipit and Cameroon Evergreen Forest Warbler are virtually confined to the mountain, and it is also a good place to see White-tailed Warbler, Oriole Finch, Little Oliveback and Red-faced Crimsonwing. A fairly new, but well organised group, the Mount Cameroon Ecotourism Organisation, make arrangements for visits to the mountain and work with local communities around the mountain. Porters (3500/day), guides (5000/day) and hiring of camping/hiking can be arranged through the office. A daily Omountain feeı is also payable here (3000/pp/day). The office staff may also be able to help you hire a 4x4 (essential) to drive you up the track to the radio station. Otherwise you are in for a lot of walking.

Korup National Park (3-5 days recommended):

An area of extensive primary lowland forest on the border of Nigeria, the most accessible of its type in Cameroon. This is the best site in Cameroon to see Red-headed Picathartes, as well as a wide range of lowland species. We would recommend at least 3 full days at this site, especially since it takes a full day's travelling to reach Mundemba from Douala. This site is far easier to reach in the dry season, as the road from Kumba to Mundemba is untarred and the 150km stretch can turn into a mud bath during the rainy season. For an early start to the Park, it is imperative to arrive before 4:30pm the previous day to make arrangements at the WWF Tourist Office (near Iyaz Hotel) before it closes. We arrived too late and consequently only entered the park at 11am the following day, wasting almost a quarter of our time here. Guides are compulsory (3500/day), but our guide, Chief Joseph, was not particular helpful although he obviously knew all the trails and it would have been impossible to find Picathartes knoll without him. Entrance fees are now 5000pp/day. Porters (3000/day), and camping equipment can be hired from the Tourist Office too. To get to the park entrance (10 km from Mundemba town), hire the 'project vehicle', a LandRover in excellent condition (15000 to be dropped and collected later), or make sure you have your own 4X4 transport. The bridge over the Mana River was being repaired during our visit. Fortunately the river levels were low enough to allow us to walk through the riverbed.

Dja Faunal Reserve (4-5 days):

Dja is an extensive area of tropical lowland forest situated in the south of the country, towards the border of Gabon. Although access is a challenge, the prospect of seeing the largest known Red-headed Picathartes colony, Gorilla, Chimpanzee and Forest Elephant, is a strong lure. The Somalomo area, from where the park is best accessed is also the area where most of the recent reports of Batesı Weaver come. ECOFAC is in charge of conservation and tourism in the reserve and should be contacted before a visit.

It takes a full day to travel from Yaounde to Somalomo, with public transport going to Somalomo on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays and returning on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. The area we were recommended to visit was Boumair, an old research camp maintained as a tourist camp, which has great primary forest, large forest clearings and inselbergs nearby. The downside is that Boumair is a 30km walk from Somalomo. From Somalomo it is also possible to arrange trips along the river, surely a good site for Fishing Owls. Access to the reserve costs CFA 5000pp/day, compulsory guides CFA 3000/day and porters CFA 2000/day.

5. Detailed Itinerary:

(general movements, notable events and important species)

Feb 27: Michael visited Limbe Botanical Gardens (Fanti Sawwing and Red-necked Buzzard en route) where he found Grey-crowned Negrofinch, Green Crombec and Western Reef Heron. Night in Limbe.

Feb 28: Michael birded the Botanical Gardens early in the morning and late afternoon. Highlights were White-throated Bee-eater, Superb Sunbird, Simple Greenbul, Western Bluebill and Carmelite Sunbird. Night in Limbe.

Mar 1: Early morning in Limbe Botanical Gardens and afternoon in Douala meeting up with Callan, Gus, Margie and Peter at Foyer du Marin.

Mar 2: A frustrating day, spent travelling. Gus, Margie and Peter hired a taxi from Douala to take them to Mundemba while Callan and Michael took all day to reach Mundemba as they travelled by share taxi. A little roadside birding near Ekondo Titi produced Brown-crowned Eremomela, Orange-cheeked Waxbill and Carmelite Sunbird. Night in Mundemba.

Mar 3: We visited the tourist office at opening time (8am) and only arrived at the reserve at 11am. We made our way to Rengo Rock Camp, speeding up once bird activity died down, covering the 9km by 4pm. Bare-cheeked Trogon was the highlight. After making a few quick arrangements at the camp we headed for the nearby Picathartes Knoll. Unfortunately it had started to cloud over and became quite stormy. By the time we arrived at the knoll the wind had picked up, it was raining hard and visibility in the forest was poor. We looked at a few old nests and waited around the rocks for a while in failing light with no success. We returned back to camp in the gloom of the forest.

Mar 4: Up before dawn, we birded the track to Rengo Rock, staying around the rock for about 1hr before heading back to camp. Highlights included our first Black-capped Illadop sis and Cassin's Hawk Eagle and Blue-throated Roller at Rengo Rock, and the only White-browed Forest Flycatchers, Blue Cuckoo-shrike and Purple-headed Starling of the trip. At around midday we packed camp and started our walk back to the Mana River. At 5pm we arrived at the river and waited in the riverbed for about 40min watching hundreds of Black-casqued and Yellow-casqued Hornbills flying to nearby roosts. Quite a sight! At 6pm the project vehicle picked us up and took us back to Mundemba.

Mar 5: We spent the first 2hrs of the day birding around Hotel Iyaz, seeing Simple Greenbul, Blue-throated Brown Sunbird and Western Bluebill. We then organised a share taxi to take us to Kumba and from there on to Nyasoso, arriving at about 4:30. We went straight to the Mt Kupe forest project office to organise our stay. By the time we had organised guides, porters and supplies for our stay on the mountain it was dark. Night in Nyasoso.

Mar 6: Our guide was late in arriving so we birded the secondary shrub around the guesthouse until he arrived. After making some final arrangements we set off up the mountain, heading up Max's trail. Birding was productive in the farmbush, slowing our progress, but not without reward. Yellow-footed Flycatcher, Black-throated Apalis, Brown-crowned Eremomela and Rufous Flycatcher Thrush were among the highlights. We reached the border of the forest at around 13:00. Bird activity had died down, so we pushed on up to Max's campsite arriving at around 15:30. A group of Little Olivebacks was in the clearing when we arrived. After setting up camp we did a little birding around the clearing where it was still light enough to bird. Night on Mt Kupe.

Mar 7: We awoke to the calls of Sjostedts' Owlet, which we failed to located despite much effort. We spent the rest of the day above the campsite, slowly working our way up to 1900m. Highlights included Cameroon Greenbul, Cameroon Olive Greenbul, Ursula's Sunbird and Mountain Black Boubou. Most time was spent about 50m above the campsite where we were told that a Swedish group had seen Mount Kupe Bushshrike 2 weeks previously, but we weren't as lucky. At midday Margie and Peter left and went back down to Nyasoso. Night on Mt Kupe.

Mar 8: Again we tried for the Owlet before dawn, again without success. We spent the first few hours above the campsite at 1550m, trying for the Bushshrike again. Although we failed to find it, we did see White-bellied Robin-Chat and Cameroon Olive Pigeon. Around midmorning we decided to try below the campsite and spent the afternoon slowly moving down to 1350m and back up to the campsite. At 1400m was a large foraging flock which contained White-throated Mountain-babbler. Night on Mt Kupe.

Mar 9: We packed up camp as it was getting light and started down the mountain. At 1350m we came across a large foraging flock, this time with understory species, and spent about 1hr watching and listening. Still we found no Mt Kupe Bushshrike, although Green-breasted Bushshrike was a highlight. We arrived in Nyasoso at noon, to repack and shower before our arranged taxi picked us up at 13:00 and took us to Loum. From Loum we hired another minibus that took us all the way to Foyer du Marin in Douala. We spent the rest of the afternoon changing money and emailing. Night in Douala.

Mar 10: We caught the 8:30 flight to Maroua, arriving at 12:40. Our minibus collected us from the airport and took us into Maroua to get some supplies before heading for Waza. Roadside views of Grasshopper Buzzard and Chestnut-bellied Starling kept us entertained. North of Mora we stopped to try for Quail Plover, instead finding Cricket Longtail, Black Scrub-Robin, Black-headed Lapwing and Rufous Bush Chat. We also made a successful stop at a large rocky outcrop, finding Stone Partridge and Fox Kestrel. It was getting dark so we pushed on, arriving in Waza just after dark. Our driver told us that it was dangerous to drive at night and was clearly not keen. Not knowing how true this was we decided to play it safe, missing out on the opportunity for good nocturnal mammal viewing. Night in Waza.

Mar 11: At sunrise we headed south towards Mora for about 8km to bird the pools and Acacia shrubland on the edge of the floodplain. Highlights here included River Prinia, surprisingly common on the floodplain, Sennar Penduline Tit and Sahel Paradise Whydah and also Patas Monkey and Red-fronted Gazelle. Once we had located our target species we headed south for another 25km to an area of deciduous woodland. We took a long, hot walk through the woodland. Highlights here included our first Senegal Parrot and Swallow-tailed Kite and our only Striped Ground Squirrel. In the afternoon we headed into the Waza NP, visiting the many water holes which teemed with bird life, although nothing of particular note. The best mammals were Golden Jackal, Roan Antelope and Kob. Night in Waza.

Mar 12: As we hoped to reach Benoue NP by dark we made an early start southwards. After much debate we decided to settle for a night in Garoua and to have another try for Quail Plover. We finally succeeded in finding at least 5 birds, eventually seen on the ground. Elated, we continued on our way only stopping at Maroua to visit a bank and for one or two roadside birds such as Fox Kestrel and Northern Carmine Bee-eater. We arrived in Garoua in the mid-afternoon continuing to the nearby Benoue River to find our first Egyptian Plovers before it got dark. Night in Maroua.

Mar 13: We left well before dawn to reach Benoue NP before it got too hot. We entered the National Park along the track from Banda. Along the track we found Bearded Barbet, Heuglin's Wheatear, Purple Starling and Yellow-bellied Hyliota, amongst others. At midday most caught up on some lost sleep, while others sat around the leaking water towers watching 3 species of Weaver (Village, Black-headed and Lesser Masked), 6 species of Sunbird (Copper, Green-headed, Beautiful, Pygmy, Western Violet-backed and Variable) and a variety of seedeaters (Grey-cheeked Oliveback, Red-billed and Black-bellied Firefinches and Orange-cheeked Waxbills) bathing and drinking. In the afternoon we took a drive to the hippo pools, finding Spotted Creeper, West African/Streaky-headed Seedeater, Cabanis's Bunting and Red-winged Warbler on the way. At the hippo pools were Egyptian Plover, Cassin's Grey Flycatcher and White-crested Turaco. Once it was dark we drove back to camp, hoping, without success, for some nightjars. Night in Benoue NP.

Mar 14: We spent the first few hours of the day enjoying some fantastic birds along the Benoue river. Highlights included Oriole Warbler, Violet Turaco, Adamawa Turtle Dove and Fine-spotted Woodpecker. The drive back to the main road was rather uneventful, except for a sighting of White-fronted Black Chat. At the main road we continued south to Ngaoundere where we stopped briefly before heading to the nearby Ngaoundaba ranch. Late afternoon birding around the ranch produced Brown Twinspot. Night at Ngaoundaba Ranch.

Mar 15: Gus and Margie had to return to Ngaoundere for their flight to Douala so we wasted no time in trying to find a few good birds before they had to depart. We struck it lucky immediately, with a pair of Blue-bellied Rollers perched along the track to the entrance. Birding the wooded gullies we managed to locate Spotted Thrush-babbler, Ross's Turaco and Dybowski's Twinspot before Gus and Margie had to depart. The rest of us spent the morning birding the area near the entrance, finding Grey-winged Robin-Chat and White-Collared, Bronze-tailed and Splendid Starlings. At around midday we walked back to the ranch, flushing a breeding-plumage Standard-winged Nightjar on the way. We spent the afternoon around the lake, adding Yellow-throated Leaflove and Bamenda Apalis to our list. We tried for Schlegel's Francolin in the late afternoon by playing and listening in areas with good grass cover, but not a peep. Night at Ngaoundaba Ranch.

Mar 16: At dawn we headed back towards the entrance, this time flushing 3 Standard-winged Nightjars on our way and a single male Pennant-winged Nightjar. In addition to the species seen the day before we found Leaflove and Gambaga Flycatcher. At midday one of the staff at the campement rode his bicycle to the main road to summons a taxi. After a longish wait our lift arrived and we headed back to Ngaoundere seeing Piapiac on the way and also a probable Brown-chested Lapwing. At Ngaoundere we headed for the train station for our mildly disastrous train ride to Yaounde (see 'Transport' section for details). Nigh on the train.

Mar 17: We arrived in Yaounde late in the morning and headed straight for our hotel to recoup. We spent the afternoon emailing and booking bus tickets to Bamenda. Night in Yaounde.

Mar 18: Callan and Michael bade Peter (who was going back to the UK) farewell and took their bus to Bamenda. We arrived early in the afternoon and spent the rest of the day organising our stay. Night in Bamenda.

Mar 19: We took a taxi to the nearby Bafut-Ngemba Forest Reserve where we spent the morning. Bangwa Forest Warbler, Brown-backed Cisticola, Yellow-breated Boubou, Thick-billed Seed-eater and Bannerman's Weaver were all common whereas Oriole Finch, Cameroon Mountain Greenbul, Bouvier's Orange-tufted Sunbird and, most importantly, Bannerman's Turaco and Banded Wattle-eye were more of a challenge. The biggest surprise of the morning was a pair of Dybowski's Twinspots that we were able to watch at close range. In the afternoon went to Bafut to visit the Fon's Palace, made famous by Gerald Durrellıs ³The Bafut Beagles², stopping on our way through Bamenda to visit the Bamenda Highlands Project office of BirdLife International. At the Fonıs Palace in Bafut, Neumann's Starling perched on the rooftops. Night in Bamenda.

Mar 20: We caught the early morning bus to Loum, seeing many Preuss' Cliff Swallows during our brief stop in Kekem. At Loum we caught a share taxi to straight to Nyasoso, arriving in time to make arrangements for our stay at the tourist office and to try our luck at a long vacated Picathartes site, unsuccessfully, on the upper Nature trail. We only returned to the village after it was dark as we wanted to see Potoo and Palm Civet, both of which remained elusive. Instead we heard Red-chested Owlet and Fraser's Eagle Owl and saw Conura robusta, a massive frog of the same genus as goliath frog, the largest frog in the world. Night in Nyasoso.

Mar 21: We spent the morning birding along the Nature Trail, seeing Bates's Swift, Forest Swallow, Luedher's Bushshrike, Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, African Shrike-flycatcher, Black Bee-eater and Buff-throated and Black-capped Apalis. At midday we returned to Nyasoso to arrange our visit to the Bakossi Mountains. In the late afternoon we birded the lower Max's trail. Night in Nyasoso.

Mar 22: Before dawn we headed for Max's trail. During the course of the morning we saw Black Bee-eater, Preuss' Weaver and Pale-fronted and Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch and heard Many-coloured Bushshrike and Sabine's Puffback. After a few hours on the Max's trail we headed for the Bakossi mountains. We spent ages making arrangements with the local chief and villagers, by which time it was too late to continue into the depths of the forest, where we had hoped to camp.

Mar 23: It was pouring with rain at dawn so our start to the forest was delayed for a while. Once the rain abated we headed in to the forest and spent a while slowly scanning the forest for Mount Kupe Bushshrike, seeing many White-throated Mountain-babblers and Grey-headed Greenbuls before hitting the jackpot. At first we had rather poor views of a Bushshrike, but we managed to retain contact over the next 3hrs, during which we had amazing views of a pair and we managed to obtain video footage and sound recordings.

Mar 24: We began our return journey at first light. The trails in the area were typically overgrown with regular tree falls making our progress quite slow. At times we even had to crawl on our stomachs through the damp forest litter. Along the way we located another pair of Mount Kupe Bushshrikes and heard Lyre-tailed Honeyguide displaying above the canopy, frustratingly out of view. At 14:30 our lift arrived and we headed back to Nyasoso in the rain. Night in Nyasoso.

Mar 25: After settling our account with the tourist office we caught a taxi to Loum and on to Douala. In Douala we collected our supplies before heading to Buea for the last leg of our trip. It all took rather long and we only arrived after dark, too late to visit the Mount Cameroon Ecotourism Organisation office. Fortunately Michael had visited the office at the beginning of the trip and knew where to find the office manager, Mosisa. We explained to Mosisa that we had hoped to hire a 4X4 to drive us up to the radio station. Unfortunately it was too late, but early the next morning Mosisa managed to find someone with an old Landrover who was willing to drive us up. Night in Buea.

Mar 26: After purchasing supplies and waiting for our guide (Jonas) to arrive we headed to Bonakanda where we picked up our porters. The drive to the radio station took about 1.5hrs. From the radio station we walked the 7km down to Nitele hunters camp, stopping on the way for our first views of Mount Cameroon Speirops and Cameroon Evergreen Forest Warbler as well as Oriole Finch and Mountain Robin-Chat. We set up camp and then headed into the forest to listen for our quarry - Mount Cameroon Francolin. In the evening we heard one pair calling and managed to pinpoint their approximate location for the following morning. Night at Nitele.

Mar 27: We entered the forest at sunrise and headed to where we though the Francolin had roosted. After a while we heard them call a short distance away. We found an area where the understory was less dense and Jonas cleared a patch for us to sit in and built a low shield to conceal us. Over the next 3hrs we tried to call the birds in. Although the came closer initially they stopped well short and then stopped responding to our call-up. Jonas suggested that we try lower down in the forest. By this stage it was 11am and we had given up hope for the morning. About 1km on we managed to get a lone bird to respond. Once again we found an area with more open understory and managed to call the bird in for excellent views. Having succeeded in our mission we headed back to camp, packed up and walked back up to the radio station where we spent the night.

Mar 28: We started down the mountain (a 19 km walk) just after sunrise, stopping for views of Cameroon Pipit and Swifts, which may have been Scarce although we could not be certain that they were not Bates'. At around midday the weather closed in and it began to pour with rain. We walked the last 4km or so in heavy rain with a river of water gushing down the track, up to our shins at times ­ quite an experience! The highlights on the way down were a male Red-faced Crimsonwing and a White-tailed Warbler. We arrived in Bonakanda at around 14:00 where we caught a taxi back to Buea. During the afternoon we came to realise that the following day was Good Friday and a public holiday. This meant that our plan to go to Limbe to cash traveller's cheques the next day would be fruitless, and also that we had too little cash to settle our account with the Mount CEO office. Very embarrassed we managed to locate Mosisa and explain our predicament. He very trustingly agreed that we could settle the account via our Cameroonian contact, as the Mount CEO office had no bank account into which we could make an electronic transfer from South Africa. Night in Buea.

Mar 29: We had a leisurely start to the day before heading back to Douala. We spent our final afternoon in emailing, repacking and catching up on notes before our midnight flight departed for Johannesburg via Nairobi.


6. Acknowledgements:

First of all we would like to thank Gus and Margie Mills and Peter Osborn for their fantastic company, mammal identification and good humour during the earlier part of our trip (1-15 March). A number of people helped us with preparations for the trip ­ thanks to Ian Sinclair, John Hornbuckle, Peter Ryan, Jacques Rossell, Claire Spottiswoode, Eve Holloway and all the authors of previous trip reports.

7. Literature:

For general travel information The Rough Guide: West Africaı by Jim Hudgens and Richard Trillo is indispensable. As far as bird field guides are concerned, The Birds of Western Africaı by Nik Borrow and Ron Demey is without equal. Despite the bulk and price it is an absolute must. We cannot recommend it highly enough. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammalsı by Jonathan Kingdon is the best mammal guide, although the layout is not particularly user-friendly. Below is a complete list of references:

Trip Reports:

- Davies, C. Cameroon Trip Report - South West Mountains: Bamenda Highlands, Mount Cameroon, Mount Kupe (13 March - 17 March 2001)
- Gantlett, S., Gibbins, C., Sykes, C., Webb, R. Cameroon (27 December 1994 - 18 January 1995)
- Hornbuckle, J. Cameroon Trip Report (20 March - 13 April 1997)
- Vermeulen, J. A birding Trip to Cameroon (December 1997)

General References:

- Andrews, S.M. (1994) Rediscovery of the Monteiro's Bush-shrike Malaconotus monteiri in Cameroon. Bull ABC 1.1, p 26-27.
- Borrow, N. and Demey, R. (2002). The birds of Western Africa, Christopher Helm Identification Guide Series.
- Bowden, C.G.R. and Andrews, S.M. (1994) Mount Kupe and its birds. Bull ABC 1.1 p 13-17.
- Bowden, C.G.R. (2001) The birds of Mount Kupe, southwest Cameroon. BirdLife International, Malimbus 23, p 13-44.
- Dolton, P.J. and Wood, P. (1995) How to see each Picathartes. Bull ABC 2.1, p 29-30.
- Dowsett-Lemaire, F. and Dowsett, R.J. (2000) Birds of Lobeke Faunal Reserve, Cameroon, and its regional importance for conservation. Bird Conservation International 10, p 67-87.
- Fishpool, L.D.C. and Evans, L. (2001) Important Bird Areas in Africa and associated Islands: Priority sites for conservation. Pisces Publications: Article: Fotso, R., Dowsett- Lemaire, F., Dowsett, R.J., Cameroon Ornithological Club, Scholte, P., Languy, M. and Bowden, C. Cameroon, p 133-159.
- Green, A.A. (1995) Finding Grey-necked Picathartes in Korup National Park, Cameroon. Bull ABC 2.1, p 101-102.
- Hivekovics, A. and Palatitz, P. (1998) Summary of a study by Hungarian ornithologists on Mount Cameroon. Bull ABC 5.2, p 97-100.
- Hudgens, J., Trillo, R. (1999) The Rough Guide: West Africa.
- Kingdon, J. (1997) The Kingdon field guide to African mammals. Academic Press, London. - Rodewald, P.G., Dejaifve, P.A. and Green, A.A. (1994) The birds of Korup National Park and Korup Project Area, Southwest Province, Cameroon. Bird Conservation International 4, p 1 - 69.
- Scholte, P., de Kort, S. and van Weerd, M. (1998) The Birds of the Waza-Logone Area, Far North Province, Cameroon. BirdLife International, Malimbus 21, p 16-50.
- Stattersfield, A.J. and Capper, D.R. (Senior Editors), Dutson, G.C.L., Evans, M.I., Mc Clennan, R.K., Peet, N.B., Shutes, S.M., Sutart, T.E.H., Tobias, J.A., Wege, D.C. (Additional Editors) (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. BirdLife International, Lynx Edicions.
- Stattersfield, A.J., Crosby, M.J., Long, A.J., Wege, D.C. (1998) Endemic Bird Areas of the World: Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation. BirdLife International, Birdlife Conservation Series No. 7, p 312-318.
- Thompson, H.S. and Fotso, R. (1995) Rockfowl, the genus Picathartes. Bull ABC 2.1, p 25-28.
- Wheatley, N. (1995) Where to watch birds in Africa. Russel Friedman Books cc.
- Williams, E. (1998) Green-breasted Bush-shrike Malacontus gladiator and its relationship with Monteiro's Bush-shrike M.monteiri. Bull ABC 5.2, p 101-104.

8. Useful Contacts:

BirdLife International:
http://www.birdlife.org

Cameroon Ornithological Club (BirdLife partner):
Email: coc@iccnet.cam
Address: P O Box 3055, Messa, Yaoundé, Cameroon

ECOsystemes Forestiers dıAfrique Centrale or ECOFAC:
Dja Faunal Reserve Office
situated in Bastos, Yaounde, near the old restaurant "Le Baroque".
Tel/fax: 2 20 94 72
Email: ecofac@camnet.cm
Web: http://www.ecofac.org/

Foyer du Marin:
Douala Postal Address: B.P. 5194, Douala, Republic of Cameroon
Tel/Fax: (00 237) 42.27.94 Mobile tel: (00 237) 91.54.52
Email: douala@seemannsmission.org

Lififa Travel Agency, Buea For 4X4 hire up Mount Cameroon:
Email: Lifafatourismagency@yahoo.com

Mount Cameroon Ecotourism Organisation:
Email: mountceo@icc2000.cm

World Wide Fund for Nature, Cameroon:
http://www.wwfcameroon.org


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