Trip Report: African Bird Club Conservation
Fund Tour to Angola in August 2006
A trip with Birding Africa lead by Michael Mills.
Birding tour to the fabled Angolan
Join initiative with the African Bird Club to raise funds
for the ABC Conservation Fund.
National Park and Angolan scarp near Gabela: Rufous-tailed
Palm Thrush, Bubbling Cisticola, Golden-backed Bishop, Red-backed
Mousebird, White-fronted Wattle-eye, Angola Slaty Flycatcher,
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, Black-collared Bulbul)
Detailed Tour Report
With light drizzle on the escarpment making last
year’s tour slightly damp, we decided to move forward by a month
or two this year’s tour. But would birds be as vocal, and would
we be able to match the success of last year’s week-long visit?
Our small group assembled at Luanda’s International
airport on 30 July. Soon we were headed south along Angola’s main
coastal road, weaving between potholes and dodging more-than-casual
Sunday-afternoon drivers. Our first stop on the outskirts of the
city produced a single Royal Tern alongside several Caspian
Terns. Just before the Kwanza River we refreshed at Mirador
de Lua, enjoying spectacular views off the eroded sandstone
cliffs before continuing. Further south, large flocks of large
brown swifts (probably an undescribed species that breeds in
buildings in Luanda) passed low overhead, all heading west, towards
their presumed Sandstone-cliff roosts. On arrival at the Longa River
we transferred to Noah’s Ark, for a peaceful 4km boat ride
down to our private island.
The first day’s birding was a relaxed introduction
to Angolan birding, spent in the vicinity of our comfortable lodge.
The focus of our morning walk was the dense riverside thickets along
the Longa River. In the very first thicket we notched up two endemics:
a flock of Red-backed Mousebird flopped from bush to bush,
as a female White-fronted Wattle-eye (the only wattle-eye
with completely white underparts) flitted restlessly in the undergrowth.
Soon to follow were Angola Batis and a pair of agitated Rufous-tailed
Palm-Thrush, accompanied by more widespread species such as
Narina’s Trogon and Golden-tailed Woodpecker. Moister
vegetation near the river yielded Bubbling Cisticola, whereas
drier habitat away from the river produced two distinctive subspecies:
the ansorgei subspecies of Long-billed Crombec (decidedly
short-billed) and small elegans subspecies of Southern
Yellow-billed Hornbill. To round off the morning, we found a
surprise pair of Pale Olive Greenbul, nearer the cost than
I had previously seen them. After a leisurely lunch and good siesta
we took a stroll along the nearby beach, where we watched Cape
Gannet plunge-diving for fish.
The rest of the tour was focussed on the Angolan
escarpment, where we spent 4 nights split between two localities.
On the way to the Gabela area we spotted a small flock of non-breeding
Golden-backed Bishops in an old maize field, and our first
Angola Swallows. Lunch at a forested river produced our first
moist-forest birds, including Buff-throated Apalis, but we
soon pressed on towards Conda, where a striking Red-necked Buzzard
welcomed us. We arrived at our campsite at Kumbira with plenty
of time for an introductory stroll, while Abel and Ventura ably
pitched camp. Not 100 m from camp and the clear whistles of Monteiro’s
Bush Shrike could be heard. After some patience we were rewarded
with excellent views of a bird calling from the canopy. A mixed
species flock produced our first Southern Hyliotas (the isolated
race on the escarpment perhaps a distinct species) and Pink-footed
Puffbacks. Nearby, a large flowering tree attracted many sunbirds,
including Superb Sunbird, and Black-faced Canary. To
round off the evening, an agitated, flycatcher-like Gabela Akalat
was spotted in the undergrowth. Not bad for a gentle introduction.
As the sky lightened above Njelo Mountain on our
first morning at Kumbira, we set off towards its rocky slopes. We
kept up a healthy pace, and after just an hour and a half emerged
above the treeline, well ahead of the sun. Another 30 minutes later
and we were in position. Across the rank gulley a pair of Dusky
Twinspots flitted restlessly between rock and grass thicket,
but the first notes from Angola Cave Chat had us all scanning
the trees higher up. ‘There it is!’ exclaimed Bob as the striking
black-and-white chat flew to a nearby rock and started to sing.
For the next 30 minutes we watched the pair through the scope, as
they bounded with agility from rock to tree to rock. A couple of
Oustalet’s Sunbirds and large dark swifts (possibly Fernando
Po Swift) diverted our attention from time to time, and once
everyone felt they knew Angola Cave Chat inside out, we decided
to descend slightly to where Ludwig’s Double-collared Sunbird
was feeding on the forest edge. After some waiting a bright-chested
male perched on the treetop. A few other birds were flitting about,
one of which was a flycatcher. Angola Slaty Flycatcher! Absent
during all four of my visits last year, this was a real bonus. A
pair of flycatchers were actively feeding their two young, with
spotty wing coverts. Very satisfied, we descended back to camp for
a relaxed lunch. Having had a good workout in the morning we opted
for a gentle afternoon stroll, during which Bob finally laid eyes
upon his last Turaco, of the bright Red-crested variety.
Also seen were Grey-crowned Negrofinch, Hairy-breasted Barbet
and Black-throated Wattle-eye, and yet another endemic, a
rufous-capped Gabela Bush-Shrike, that sang from some dense
Some days start off slowly: our second day at
Kumbira was not one of these. Our planned morning walk kept being
postponed, as yet another ‘wanted’ bird drew us away from camp.
African Broadbill interrupted our breakfast, although admittedly
we did have to wait until later in the day to actually lay eyes
on one. Not 200m from our camp we managed to locate a spectacular
array of species: Red-faced Crimsonwing, Red-headed Bluebill
(only seen briefly), Yellow-billed Barbet, Blue-headed Crested
Flycatcher, Brown Illadopsis, Yellow-necked Greenbul, Yellow-throated
Nicator and a skulking Perrin’s Bush Shrike, keeping
to dense cover for most of the time. The best bird seen before we
left camp, although not by any means the most attractive, was Pulitzer’s
Longbill, which hugged a patch of dense, dry creepers. They
had not yet started calling yet too early in the season - so I
was relieved to have heard two notes from this individual, the only
trace of the species throughout our stay. Finally we managed to
tear ourselves away and head for some of the more intact forest.
On route we found Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Brown-capped Weaver,
Dusky Tit, Brown-eared Woodpecker, Olive-bellied and Carmelite
Sunbird, and a ridiculously tame juvenile Perrin’s Bush-Shrike.
Highlights in the forest were the first sighting of Lemon
Dove for Angola (submitted for publication in the Bulletin of
the African Bird Club) and brief glimpses of a Brown-chested
With all likely endemics now seen, we decided
to head for a nearby marsh for the afternoon. On arrival a Broad-tailed
Warbler flushed from besides the stream, showing off its impressive
tail. The surrounding thickets and tall grass hosted a pair of Tropical
Boubou, our first Pale-billed Firefinches, and a pair
of smart Black-collared Neolestes/Bulbul, much to
Bob’s delight. We returned very satisfied to camp, just in time
to listen to the usual cacophony from Grey-striped Francolin.
We managed to pinpoint more or less where one bird had roosted,
and after a hearty dinner, returned in hopes of spotlighting it.
Upon entering the first thicket, the beam of the spotlight caught
the francolin, squatting on a head-high branch. It sat, frozen in
the light, and once Tony had taken some photographs we returned
to camp to savour our latest success.
With just a handful of species still to be found
at Kumbira, we decided to pack up camp and head to the base of the
escarpment. But not before one last walk around Kumbira. Heavy mists
meant a very slow start. An excited male Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrike
was spotted in the treetops, only its call confirming its identity.
Square-tailed Drongo, rare at Kumbira, was also found, but
we soon decided to head to more open forest. Calls from a distant
Gabon Coucal caught our attention. We wandered in its general
direction, an unexpectedly flushed it from its sunning perch. Lots
of waiting and finally it hopped into view again, where it sat among
some dense tangles for at least 15 minutes. Back at camp, a Forest
Scrub Robin gave us the run-around before rewarding us with
obscured views, after which we hopped in the cars and bumping our
way back down the escarpment. The road was in disrepair and heavily
overgrown with tall grass, and it was with a great sigh of relief
that we reached our campsite. A short pre-dusk walk produced both
Mottled and Bohm’s Spinetails, Carp’s Tit, a surprise
Brown-backed Honeybird and several Grey Tit-Flycatcher.
The main aim of our last morning of birding was
to track down the Endangered Gabela Helmetshrike. Lots of focussed
searching, with African Barred Owlet and Little Green
Sunbird keeping us entertained as we went, finally produced
calls from a distant group of our target. We moved in their direction,
but they went quite for a while, making me wonder whether my ears
had deceived me. More patient waiting, and finally a trio of Gabela
Helmetshrikes flew overhead and landed in a nearby Baobab. Success
With all possible endemics under the belt (just
Swierstra’s Francolin and Braun’s Bush-shrike not seen, neither
of which occur in the area), we happily returned to Rio Longa for
our final night. The next morning we returned to Luanda and headed
our separate ways.
Thanks again to the Rio Longa staff for taking
such good care of us while camping!