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Trip Report: African Bird Club Conservation Fund Tour to Angola in October 2005
A trip with Birding Africa lead by Michael Mills.


8-day birding tour to the fabled Angolan escarpment.

Join initiative with the African Bird Club to raise funds for the ABC Conservation Fund.

Highlights: Kissama National Park and Angolan scarp near Gabela: Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, Bubbling Cisticola, Golden-backed Bishop, Red-backed Mousebird, White-fronted Wattle-eye, Red-crested Turaco, Gabela Akalat, Gabela Bush-Shrike, Angola Cave Chat, Ludwig's Sunbird, Oustalet's Sunbird, Dusky Twinspot, Pulitzer's Longbill, Yellow-throated Nicator, Grey-striped Francolin, Monteiro's Bush-Shrike, Gabela Helmetshrike, Pale-olive Greenbul, Pale-billed Firefinch)


Detailed Tour Report

Our new joint initiative to raise funds for the Conservation Fund of the African Bird Club kicked off on a high note this October, with an 8-day trip to the fabled Angolan escarpment.

I met seven excited birders at Luanda’s International airport. Sunday afternoons are notoriously chaotic in the country’s capital, but this day was exceptional. The Palancas, national football team of Angola, were returning home from Rwanda, victorious and first-time qualifiers to the Football World Cup (2006). They were met by no less than a presidential welcome. Street sides were crammed with eager supporters and traffic brought to a standstill. Fortunately the team soon disappeared for their victory lap of the main city, drawing the crowds after them and allowing us to slip out of Luanda to the south. A breather at some spectacular sandstone cliffs near the Kwanza River provided a welcome stop, and the river floodplain itself revealed an unexpectedly pair of Long-legged Pipits, scurrying along the verge of the road. Another noteworthy stop was made to observe the large brown swifts that inhabit the coastal plain (and breed in buildings in Luanda), presumably an undescribed species for now called Large Brown Swift. We arrived at our comfortable lodge in time to enjoy a spectacular sunset and ponder what the rest of the trip would have in stall.

The first day was spent in the vicinity of the Longa River, providing a gentle introduction to Angola birding. The river itself produced an array of wetland species, including Little Bittern, Osprey, Slender-billed Weaver and Blue-headed Coucal (the latter two at the southern extremity of their range). Birding the dry thickets on the river banks proved very productive, with highlights including the attractive Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush and our first endemics, Bubbling Cisticola (slightly less striking), Golden-backed Bishop (not much better), Red-backed Mousebird (getting there) and, best of all, a pair of excited White-fronted Wattle-eyes.

The rest of the tour was focussed on the Angolan escarpment, where we spent 4 nights split between two localities. On the way up the escarpment we stopped at the spectacular Keve River falls, where an African Hobby darted overhead. We arrived at our first campsite with an hour of light to spare, and set off in search of our first forest birds. However, a heavy mist had already pulled in, and we would have to wait to the following morning to find Gabon Coucal (an expert skulker that remained hidden for some of the group), Black-throated Apalis, Red-headed Bluebill, Superb Sunbird and Yellow-necked Greenbul. We spent some time birding the old shade-coffee forests on the way to our second campsite, where highlights included Rufous Flycatcher Thrush, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird (previously known only from Cabinda, some 700km to the north!), Grey-crowned Negrofinch, Southern Hyliota and Olive-bellied, Carmelite and Little Green (range extension) Sunbirds. Nothing, however, could compete with our first Red-crested Turacos, the firm favourite.

We had two full days to explore Kumbira forest in the Gabela area. With everyone eager to see our main target, the fabled Angola Cave Chat, this was the first subject of our attention. At first light we set off, making only a couple of strategic stops as we climbed in altitude. The unobtrusive Gabela Akalat and striking Gabela Bush-Shrike were our most important finds. We continued up, out of the forest and into the rocky grasslands high on the slopes of Mount Njelo. After a hard slog, we’d finally dragged ourselves high enough to hear the distant fluty whistles of our target. Once everyone had caught their breath and found a good vantage, a short burst of tape drew the Cave Chat right in, which circled us and finally settled nearby on a prominent rock, where it sang its melodious song, occasionally moving into a cave where we suspect it was nesting. Perhaps “Cave Chat” is a suitable name after all.

Several other birds diverted our attention, including Striped Pipit, the endemic Ludwig’s Double-collared Sunbird and scarce Oustalet’s Sunbird, Miombo Rock Thrush, Mountain Wheatear, Rockrunner (right at the northern edge of its distribution), Wailing Cisticola, Grey Apalis and several striking Dusky Twinspots. We were all intrigued by the very dark black swifts that were flying in and out of their nests among the crags, uttering strange Little Swift-like calls. Perhaps these are the very poorly-known Fernando Po Swift that have been found at Mount Moco, or a new species all together? Hopefully time will tell. Once everyone had taking in the spectacular views across the valley, we wound our way back down the mountain, pausing to find a pair of little-known Pulitzer’s Longbill and Masked Apalis.

The second full day was spent in the forest in the main valley, where we notched up a great array of forest species. We found Yellow-throated Nicator, Brown-chested Alethe, Least Honeyguide (range extension), Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Perrin’s Bush Shrike (a big crowd pleaser), Yellow-billed Barbet, Mackinnon’s Fiscal, Pink-footed Puffback, Brown-capped Weaver, Red-headed Malimbe, Green Hylia, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, Brown Illadopsis, Dusky Tit, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Black-faced Canary and Red-necked Buzzard. Everyone was impressed by a male African Emerald Cuckoo that perched nearby, its green plumage shimmering as it caught the sunlight. A pair of African Broadbill were busy building a nest, while the localised Angola Batis was seen several times, always high in the canopy. Some were fortunate to see Forest Scrub Robin (voted skulker of the trip), but no-one had trouble spotting the dagger-billed Monteiro’s Bush Shrike perched on the treetop. The day was rounded off with superb views of African Wood Owl.

On return to the coast, we made a detour in search of the little-known Gabela Helmetshrike. On route, a pair of Grey-striped Francolin (until then only heard) flushed from the road right in from of the lead vehicle. Obviously those in the back vehicles were not going to be impressed, until we noticed a little brown ball of fluff running down the track. Everyone alighted and followed the francolin chick until it disappeared into the undergrowth. Of course this was followed by a discussion on the merits of ticking birds in juvenile plumage… which no doubt still rages through the offices of the African Bird Club.

Upon reaching our target area, we were welcomed by numerous Mottled and Bohm’s Spinetails. Some concentrated searching went unrewarded for a while, until suddenly three Gabela Helmetshrikes were spotted nearby. To begin with they were very flighty, but finally settled down and allow us to approach at close quarters, where several good photographs were taken and eight birds observed in all, including juveniles. Before heading back to the lodge we notched up several other species, including African Barred Owlet (range extension), the near-endemic Pale Olive Greenbul, endemic Pale-billed Firefinch and Madagascar Bee-eater.

Everyone was pleased to be back at the lodge, where they could sit in comfort and reflect on a couple of days of fine birding. On our final day we returned to Luanda, stopping to watch a colony of Orange Weavers constructing their nests and a Blue-breasted Kingfisher. A fine ending to a great trip!

Michael Mills

A special word of thanks to our ground staff for the excellent job they did at ensuring that we had seven happy campers. The food was superb!

Practical tour information

Focus For keen birders and world listers. Designed to see all of Angola's endemic birds.
Photography Many participants on our trips are amateur wildlife photographers. And when we get excellent views of a bird or mammal, some time is usually spent watching and photographing it. However, this is not a photographic tour and once the majority of the people have felt that they have absorbed the animal or bird to their satisfaction, then we move on in search of the next encounter. Thus, while the photographic opportunities are very good, the group will only occasionally wait for somebody who wants to spend even longer getting better photos.
Fitness A moderate level of fitness is required. Most walks will be done in cool conditions and will last less than 3-4 hours. The walks are generally in relatively flat areas with occasional inclines, but some steeper hikes are involved.
Timing We run our tour before the rains and while birds are breeding.
Climate Warm in the lowlands and warm to cool in the highlands.
Comfort Mainly camping with some hotel accommodation. A dedicated chef will prepare the meals.
Transport Several four wheel drive vehicles.
Getting There Please enquire
Group Size 10
Top birds Red-crested Turaco, Red-backed Mousebird, Swierstra’s Spurfowl, Gabela Helmetshrike, Gabela Bushshrike, Monteiro's Bush-Shrike, White-headed Robin-Chat, Angola Cave Chat, Pulitzer’s Longbill and Gabela Akalat and White-fronted Wattle-eye
Booking Please email us if you wish to book. You will receive the booking form and conditions and a tour information pack.

About Birding Africa

Birding Africa is a specialist birding tour company customising tours for both world listers and more relaxed holiday birders, and combining interests in mammals, butterflies, dragonflies, plants and other natural history. Our guides know the continents birds like few others; we've written two acclaimed guide books on where to find Southern Africa's and Madagascar's best birds and will guide you to Africa's and Madagascar's most diverse birding destinations. Birding is more than our passion, it's our lifestyle and we are dedicated to making professional best value trips filled with endemic species and unique wildlife experiences. Since 1997, we've run bird watching tours in South Africa and further into Africa for individual birders, small birding groups and top international tour companies. We've run Conservation Tours in association with the African Bird Club and work with and consult for a number of other top international tour companies and the BBC Natural History Unit

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