|BIRDING TOURS FROM CAPE TOWN TO CAMEROON|
Cameroon - Full Report
Summary and Highlights:
Highlights on the Northern tour included, in sequence seen: Stone Partridge, White-crowned Cliff Chat, Rock Firefinch, Black Scrub-Robin, Cricket Warbler, Quail-plover, African Swallow-tailed Kite, Grasshopper Buzzard, River Prinia, Four-banded Sandgrouse, Long-tailed Nightjar, Egyptian Vulture, Black Crowned Crane, Black-faced Quailfinch, Fox Kestrel, Arabian Bustard, Sennar Penduline Tit, Egyptian Plover, Bearded Barbet, Spotted Creeper, White-crested Turaco, Bar-breasted Firefinch, Red-winged Grey Warbler, Oriole Warbler, Adamawa Turtle Dove, Grey-headed Oliveback, White-fronted Black Chat, Blue-bellied Roller, White-throated Francolin, Yellow Penduline Tit, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Rufous Cisticola, Dorst’s Cisticola, Red-winged Pytilia, Dybowski’s Twinspot, White-collared Starling, Brown Twinspot, Yellow-winged Pytilia, Standard-winged Nightjar, Spotted Thrush-Babbler, Willcock’s Honeyguide, Ross’s Turaco, Bamenda Apalis, Bronze-tailed Starling, Black-bellied Firefinch, Temminck’s Courser, Red-headed Lovebird, Brown-rumped Bunting, Gambaga Flycatcher, White-spotted Flufftail, African Pygmy Goose and Marsh Widowbird.
The Southern Highlands tour was memorable for Brown-backed Cisticola, Oriole Finch, Green Longtail, Little Oliveback, Western Green Tinkerbird, African Piculet, Yellow-breasted Boubou, Mountain Robin-Chat, Mount Cameroon Speirops, Red-faced Crimsonwing, Cameroon Olive Greenbul, Mountain Sawwing, Red-chested Flufftail, Tullberg’s Woodpecker, Masked Apalis, White-tailed Warbler, Cameroon Sunbird, White-naped Pigeon, Black-capped Woodland Warbler, Grey-headed Greenbul, Bar-tailed Trogon, Alexander’s/Bocage’s Akalat, Mount Kupe Bush-Shrike, White-throated Mountain-Babbler, Grey-headed Broadbill, Black-necked Wattle-eye, Ursula’s Sunbird, Golden Greenbul, Yellow-footed Flycatcher, Black Bee-eater, Tit-Hylia, Forest Swallow, Preuss’s Weaver, West African Batis, Woodhouse’s Antpecker, Bangwa Forest Warbler, Bannerman’s Weaver, Black-collared Apalis, Banded Wattle-eye, Cameroon Olive Pigeon, Bannermann’s Turaco, Cameroon Pipit, Brown Twinspot, Marsh Tchagra and West African Seedeater.
Finally, the Picathartes tour kicked off with Red-headed
Picathartes as its first bird seen by all participants! To follow were
Chestnut-breasted Nigrita, Spotted Greenbul, Grey Pratincole, African
Skimmer, Orange Weaver, Hartlaub’s Duck, Cassin’s Hawk Eagle,
Cassin’s Spinetail, Red-vented Malimbe, Lesser Bristlebill, Sjostedt’s
Honeyguide Greenbul, Rachel’s Malimbe, Yellow-casqued Hornbill,
Black-casqued Hornbill, Bare-cheeked Trogon, Blue Cuckooshrike, Woodhouse’s
Antpecker, Blue-headed Wood Dove, Rufous-sided Broadbill, Forest Robin,
White-browed Forest Flycatcher, Rock Pratincole,Vermiculated Fishing-Owl,
White-crested Tiger Heron, White-crested Hornbill and Johanna’s
DAY 1, 9 March: Douala to Maroua (Bird of the day = Reichenbach’s Sunbird)
Having arrived at various times during the night, we assembled shortly after sunrise in our Douala hotel garden. A short stint of introductory birding notched up Reichenbach’s Sunbird feeding in a flowering bush, as a pair of Grey Parrot screeched overhead. But we were soon back to Douala’s airport to fly to the north of the country. We arrived in Garoua perfectly on time, and continued northwards by road to Maroua, with Abyssinian Roller adorning some of the roadside trees. We arrived in Maroua too late for birds, but not for dinner…
With a bunch of eager birders, we set off before first light. As the sun was rising over the Far North Province, we neared some rocky hillsides south of Mora. A foray around the base of the hills flushed a Greyish Eagle Owl, and as the first rays of sun hit the rock-tops, so did Stone Partridge. Other birds in attendance were a pair of striking White-crowned Cliff Chat and the well-named Rock-loving Cisticola, which certainly seemed to favour some of the large boulders. However, it was the calls of some nearby firefinches that was of greatest interest, and after some patient waiting we had a loose flock of about 10 Rock Firefinch foraging on and between rocks. Rather pleased with our good start we headed back to the vehicle, notching up Bruce’s Green Pigeon and Speckle-fronted Weaver as we went. Our aim was to get to the plains north of Mora before the searing heat; it was only 7 am and already starting to warm up rather too enthusiastically. Soon though we reached our destination, and started out across the plains in search of our quarry, a certain buttonquail-esque bird of uncertain origins. As we went our attention was diverted by Rufous Bush Chat, Black Scrub-Robin, a very smart pair of Cricket Warbler, Crested Lark, a complaining Black-headed Lapwing, several Red-pate Cisticola and Chestnut-bellied Starling. We were just thinking about turning back for breakfast when the shouts rang out: Quail-plover, Quail-plover! A couple of nervous moments passed, but we soon had a trio firmly in our view. We watched for about 15 minutes as they foraged around the bases of bushes, vanishing into nothing, until being re-spotted some distance away. Once our birding appetites subsided we made our way back to the vehicle, spotting Yellow-bellied Eremomela en route, and drove back into town to see to our stomachs. By 9 am we had omelets on our plates, and Rock Firefinch and Quail-Plover on our lists.
After breakfast we trundled further northwards, making numerous stops for roadside birds: Blue-naped Mousebird, our first graceful African Swallow-tailed Kite, a circling Booted Eagle, and other raptors such as Montagu’s Harrier, Grasshopper Buzzard, Gabar Goshawk and Dark Chanting Goshawk. Nearer Waza we walked along the edge of the floodplain, successfully finding River Prinia, Northern Crombec, European Hoopoe (resident senegalensis subspecies), Lesser Whitethroat and Northern Long-tailed Starling. Arriving at Waza we found many Ethiopian Swallow, and, quenching their thirst at a leaking water pipe, African Silverbill, White-rumped Seedeater and Black-rumped Waxbill. After a good siesta we headed back south along the main road, finding Northern Ant-eater Chat on our drive through Waza Village. On the edge of the floodplain we added to our list Short-toed Eagle, African Collared Dove, Little Green Bee-eater, Sahel Paradise Whydah (several in partial plumage) and a surprise Red-backed Shrike. Loose groups of Northern Carmine Bee-eater lazily drifted across the road. At sunset we were treated to a spectacle of hundreds of Four-banded Sandgrouse coming to drink, with Long-tailed Nightjar nearby and Serval and Spotted Thick-knee spotted on our drive back after dark.
Our progress out of camp was delayed by a surprise Black-eared Wheatear, but we were soon at the entrance to Waza National Park, completing visitor formalities. The first waterhole was a hive of activity, with hundreds of birds concentrated around the receding waters, including Yellow-billed Stork, African Openbill, Garganey, Knob-billed Duck, Spur-winged Goose and Spur-winged Lapwing in attendance. But we didn’t pause long, as our main quarry was to be found on the plains beyond. As we drove we carefully scanned the grassy drainage lines. Clapperton’s Francolin scurried from the roadside, whereas Ostrich strode more confidently. Our efforts were rewarded with a flock of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, but Arabian Bustard was nowhere to be found. We spent the rest of the day hopping from oasis to oasis, finding Black-crowned Night Heron, Barn Owl, Egyptian Vulture, Rueppell’s Griffon Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, Pallid Harrier, Tawny Eagle, Secretarybird, Lanner Falcon, flocks of Black Crowned Crane, Black-billed Wood Dove, European Turtle Dove, European Hoopoe (migratory epops subspecies), small groups of drinking Black-faced Quailfinch and several small flocks of Zebra Waxbill. We also found a confiding Kurrichane Buttonquail and flushed a Common Quail from some grassy plains. The highlight came at the last minute: a pair of Fox Kestrel perched on one of the large Waza Rock outcrops.
With some key birds missing from our hit list, we devised a plan of action for our last few hours at Waza. Sunrise saw us back in the park. Much to our relief Arabian Bustard proved rather easy today, with three birds spotted within two hours. Then we headed out to the floodplain edge along the main road, quickly finding a pair of Sennar Penduline Tit feeding in the Acacia sahelica woodland – so far so good. Finally, we tracked down Yellow-crowned Gonolek, finding also Black Scimitarbill, our first Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Pygmy Sunbird, Beautiful Sunbird, White-billed Buffalo Weaver and Cut-throat Finch. We waited out the heat of the day in our cool rooms, before heading down to Mora in the late afternoon, where a walk produced White-bellied Bustard and Golden-breasted Bunting, before heading on to Maroua for the night.
Breakfast in our hotel garden was rather quiet, although we could hear Rose-ringed Parakeet calling nearby and found Lesser Honeyguide and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird before continuing southwards. A stop at a rocky hillside produce our fist Senegal Eremomela, the Benoue River at Garoua turned up Egyptian Plover, Bearded Barbet fed in a tree at the roadside, and a large river-side fig tree attracted Western Plantain-eater and a flock of big-headed Purple Starling. Once off the main road we stopped as we encountered birds, notching up Brown-backed Woodpecker, Heuglin’s Wheatear, Spotted Creeper, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver and Cabanis’s Bunting on the drive to the Camp of the Black Buffalo. We settled in to our accommodation and then watched birds in the surrounds. A sleek Grey Kestrel perched along the river banks, a covey of Double-spurred Francolin scurried through the dense undergrowth, Red-throated Bee-eater hunted insects between the huts, White-crested Turaco and Violet Turaco vied for our attention from the opposite river bank, Preuss’s Cliff Swallow flitted up and down the nearly-dry riverbed, with the occasional White-headed Lapwing, and Yellow-bellied Hyliota, White-winged Black Tit, Western Violet-backed Sunbird and Variable Sunbird joined a Pearl-spotted Owlet mob just before sunset.
Our pre-breakfast amble down to the Benoue River was as productive as ever. Scarcely out of camp and a pair of Bar-breasted Firefinch was spotted in some dry tangles. Next Senegal Batis was piping above our heads, followed shortly by a pair of neat Red-winged Grey Warbler and a striking Oriole Warbler. The distant purring of a dove had us spinning on our heels, as we swiftly back-tracked to find its source. Not long afterwards we spotted the culprit - a striking Adamawa Turtle Dove perched near the top of a riverside Faidherbia tree. Senegal Parrot screeched over the adjacent woodland, whereas Moustached Grass Warbler skulked in its grassy under-storey. In the dense river-side thickets we found a band of noisy Black-cap Babbler while a White-crowned Robin-Chat fed quietly on the track. Along the river itself were Grey-headed Kingfisher, noisy Red-faced Cisticola and noisier Black-headed Gonolek, and a pair of drinking Adamawa Turtle Dove. A flock of Heuglin’s Masked Weaver (including some males in full breeding plumage) came to drink, and Swamp Flycatcher hunted insects over the water. However, the highlight of the walk was a party of Grey-headed Oliveback, expertly spotted by John and watched quietly feeding in the treetops through the telescope.
Then it was back to camp for breakfast and off into the woodlands, where it was already beginning to warm up. Our second stop turned up a pair of scarce White-fronted Black Chat, followed by a pair of striking Blue-bellied Roller and, as we turned for lunch, our first Red-necked Buzzard. The highlight of the return journey was a superb pair of White-throated Francolin, trying their best to remain hidden in a clump of grass, but just too inquisitive not to show themselves at all. After a welcome siesta and lunch we returned to the woodlands. We managed to spot a lone Yellow Penduline Tit singing from the top of a low tree, and an Abyssinian Ground Hornbill striding purposefully through the woodland.
We left camp early, deciding to bird some of the more
distant woodlands on our way out. Unlike the previous morning, bird activity
was very low, but we did manage to find a party of Rufous Cisticola and
a singing Dorst’s Cisticola. Red-winged Warbler was a little more
colourful, and Red-winged Pytilia and Rufous-crowned Roller even better.
Then it was time to head for the Adamawa plateau, with Yellow-billed Shrike
and Lesser Blue-eared Starling en route. We paused in Ngaoundere for lunch,
before continuing to the famed Ngaoundaba Ranch. A short rest was followed
by a productive walk around the crater lake. The first special to surrender
was Dybowski’s Twinspot, with a pair feeding in some low, dry tangles.
Next was White-collared Starling, although giving only flight views. Giant
Kingfisher made a racket nearby, and Shari’s Sawwing flitted along
the forest edge. At a patch of deep, damp forest we managed to coax a
Grey-winged Robin-Chat into view. A flock of Brown Twinspots took flight
before we could really get to grips with them, and Whistling Cisticola
taunted us as it called from the palm-thickets, but not so the pair of
striking Yellow-winged Pytilia, which sat in the bare branches of a tree.
Then it was back to camp to watch flocks of starlings coming to roost.
DAY 8-9, 16-7 March: Ngaoundaba Ranch (Spotted Thrush Babbler; Gambaga Flycatcher)
With two full days we had ample time to explore Ngaoundaba. Our first morning saw us out before first light, stalking through the light woodlands after thin, insect-like calls. “There it is!” I whispered, as the spotlight beam focused on a male Standard-winged Nightjar sat on the ground. Then it was up, its two extraordinary appendages closely shadowing its dance in the light-beam. Just it time, as the sky was lightening in the east, so we repositioned to a nearby patch of gallery forest. Below, the rich chorus of a Spotted Thrush-Babbler clearly rang out, so we stalked into the undergrowth. Our eyes quickly adjusted, and we soon spotted the singers nearby, as they flitting in some low tangles. Overhead a group of Leaflove made a real din, pausing every now and again to give us a view. But we soon returned to our vantage point, where the light was more favourable, to watch Willcock’s Honeyguide hawking insects, a flame-shouldered Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, a Yellowbill skulking in some treetop tangles, colourful Ross’s Turaco, Blue-breasted Kingfisher in full song, White-chinned Prinia feeding quietly on the forest edge, and a pair localized Bamenda Apalis. Our return for breakfast was slowed by Bronze-tailed Starling feeding on the ground, a pair of Black-bellied Firefinch, more Yellow-winged Pytilia and our first rather Splendid Sunbird. With so many target birds under our belt by the first morning, we had ample time to explore new areas in the surrounds. During the rest of our stay we racked up a long list of species, including many Temminck’s Courser, Double-toothed Barbet, Black-headed Batis, Red-rumped Swallow (migratory rufula subspecies), White-breasted Cuckooshrike, African Dusky Flycatcher, Piapiac, Baglafetcht Weaver, better views of Brown Twinspot and Abdim’s Stork. The highlights, however, were a pair of Red-headed Lovebird, affectionately allopreening, a confiding pair of Red-winged Pytilia feeding quietly on the ground, a pair of singing Brown-rumped Bunting, and a pair of scarce Gambaga Flycatcher, agitated by the calls of a Pearl-spotted Owlet.
Some final birding around the ranch allowed us to see White-spotted Flufftail, Square-tailed Drongo, Oriole Warbler, Palm-nut Vulture and African Black Duck, before heading for Garoua. We paused for a while at Lake Dang, watching Yellow-billed Duck, African Pygmy Goose and a trio of non-breeding male Marsh Widowbird. On route we spotted several Brown Snake Eagle, but little else, so birding at the Benoue River for the last hour was very welcome. Along the river were Senegal Thick-knee and several Egyptian Plover, which allowed us to approach rather close. Waterside thickets were home to Winding Cisticola, and several migrant warblers, including Great Reed Warbler. Several Red-rumped Swallow (resident domicella subspecies; West African Swallow) drifted lazily overhead, and in the agricultural fields we spotted Crested Lark, a surprise pair of African Pipit (rare in Cameroon) and a lone Red-throated Pipit.
With an hour to spare before breakfast we returned to the Benoue River, adding Isabelline Shrike to our list and enjoying close-up views of Black-faced Quailfinch. Then it was to the airport to make sure we got our boarding passes for Douala. We arrived in Douala in the mid-afternoon, and in the evening we met up with the rest of the group, who’d been visiting Limbe Botanical Gardens, where they’d seen Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher, Western Reef Heron and Pale-fronted Nigrita.
Mount Cameroon, West Africa’s loftiest peak, is perhaps the best spot at which to kick off a Cameroon Mountains endemic quest. With its own endemics (speirops and francolin) and Mountain sawwing shared with only Bioko, it is a very strategic destination indeed, and conveniently situated just an hour outside of Douala. By 0615 we were getting into our climbing rhythm at 1000 m altitude, the mountain unusually clear ahead of us, following heavy overnight rain. Flocks of seedeaters fed in the agricultural land, including many Orange-cheeked Waxbill and Black-crowned Waxbill. Both Chattering Cisticola and Brown-backed Cisticola, our first Cameroon Mountains endemic, were evident. Soon we reached the forest border, the calls of Green Longtail luring us upwards. Our first stop was for the bold Oriole Finch, followed shortly by Grey Apalis and Green Longtail. Next was our first sighting of Little Oliveback, a bird which we must have seen another 10 times during the day, but never grew tired of. Other forest birds we paused for on our speirops mission included Yellow-billed Turaco, Naked-faced Barbet, Western Green Tinkerbird usually feeding low in the understorey, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Western Mountain Greenbul, White-bellied Crested-Flycatcher, Brown-capped Weaver, African Hill Babbler, Thick-billed Seedeater, Black-billed Weaver, Black-winged Oriole, and three highly sought-after species, the diminutive African Piculet, dashing Yellow-breasted Boubou and local Mountain Robin-Chat. By 10h30 we were entering the realm of speirops, and to everyone’s great delight (and relief) a small flock of chattering Mount Cameroon Speirops was spotted next to the trail, allowing excellent repeat views as they actively flitted bout. With our main mission achieved, we pressed on a little further to the upper forest border, where we picnicked while watching Red-necked Buzzard soaring below. After a much-deserved rest, it was time to start our slow return-journey, this time carefully watching out for swallows. Some of the group saw Red-faced Crimsonwing on the track, and managed to spot a calling Evergreen Forest Warbler or Cameroon Olive Greenbul skulking in the dense undergrowth. It took some time, but we eventually spotted our first Mountain Sawwing, flitting about a small forest clearing, with two more sightings to follow later. During the rest of the walk we spotted a snappy-looking Banded Prinia, a pair of Waller’s Starling, flushed a covey of Scaly Francolin, found a small flock of Scarce Swift circling low overhead, and even managed to lure out a female Red-chested Flufftail for everyone to see! Then it was into the vehicles and back to our comfortable hotel in Douala, tired by content.
After a welcome cup of coffee and croissants, we were soon on our way to Nyasoso, beating the morning traffic rush. En route we paused for European Honey Buzzard, Black Sparrowhawk, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, African Pied Hornbill and Preuss’s Cliff Swallow. A short introductory stroll around Nyasoso produced Green-backed Woodpecker and Mackinnon’s Shrike, but after a short rest we made our way for the strategic Bakossi Mountains, en route finding Narrow-tailed Starling and Sooty Flycatcher. After meeting with the village elders and performing an alcohol-demanding libation ceremony to ensure the success of our mission, we were on our way. Bracken-covered hillsides were home to flocks of White-throated Bee-eater, with small patches of forest holding Yellow-spotted Barbet, Tullberg’s Woodpecker, Masked Apalis, an excited pair of Black-throated Apalis, Green Turaco and Dusky-blue Flycatcher. At the main forest border we paused to admire a White-tailed Warbler, and our first Cameroon Sunbird, before turning for home. The highlight of the day, however, was still to come, as a pair of large pigeons was spotted feeding distantly at the forest edge. Swinging the scope in their direction we were soon watching a pair of very scarce White-naped Pigeon, a first for Birding Africa in Cameroon, sitting low down in some secondary growth! Happily we returned to Nyasoso, with much to look forward to for the following day.
With our introduction made the previous day, we immediately forged ahead, stopping briefly for a Blue-headed Coucal but eager to get to the main forest. Soon were reached the steep, narrow ridge, a large flock of birds greeting our arrival. Viewing conditions were tricky, but most people managed to spot Black-capped Woodland Warbler, Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye, Pink-footed Puffback and Grey-headed Greenbul. After nearly two hours of slowly stalking along the narrow forest path, there came a loud, harsh chattering from the steep valley just to our right. Mount Kupe Bush-Shrike! We quickly back-tracked to a level area, and with everyone ready, played a short bout of playback. A short while latter came a loud whirring of wings, as one of Africa’s rarest birds flew to a large, nearby tree. One or two people managed brief views, and although the bird hung around for a while, it was reluctant to make itself seen, so we decided to leave it in peace and make a second attempt later. Before lunch we spotted a striking male Bar-tailed Trogon, a Cassin’s Honeybird and Alexander’s/Bocage’s Akalat. After lunch we returned to our bush-shrike stake-out. This time luck was on our side, and a loud whirring of wings was followed by a Mount Kupe Bush-Shrike appearing in clear view on some nearby tangles. Walla, and time to crack open the celebratory Mambo bars! Much encouraged by this success, we continued for a while in the forest, nearly seeing a singing Crossley’s Ground-Thrush, before heading back to the village. Back in the more open areas we found Elliot’s Woodpecker, Petit’s Sawwing, Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Honeyguide Greenbul, Luehder’s Bush-Shrike and, best of all, a large group of chattering, and very unusual, White-throated Mountain-Babbler. A fine ending to a fabulous day.
With our main targets in the Bakossis secured, it was time to turn our attention to Mount Kupe, where we had two full days to explore its great diversity. One day was focused on slightly higher altitude species, found above the main forest border. Certainly the main highlight here was a fabulous displaying Grey-headed Broadbill, which buzzed away enthusiastically to everyone’s amusement. Other notable birds included a family party of Black-necked Wattle-eye, with young, an Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo (for some), Black-capped Illadopsis and Grey-chested Illadopsis, White-bellied Robin-Chat and the endemic Ursula’s Sunbird. However, diversity was higher lower down, and with time we collected an impressive number of birds: Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Golden Greenbul scoped feeding in a treetop, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Yellow Longbill, Yellow-footed Flycatcher, an excited party of Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Bocage’s Bush-Shrike, Red-eyed Puffback, Speckled Tinkerbird, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Gabon Woodpecker, Western Nicator, Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Rufous Flycatcher Thrush, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Black-capped Apalis, Olive-green Camaroptera, Dusky Crested-Flycatcher, Bates’s Paradise Flycatcher, Tiny Sunbird, Bates’s Sunbird, Western Black-headed Oriole, White-breasted Nigrita and Western Bluebill. However, the best birds were a group of very colourful Black Bee-eater, a party of tiny Tit-hylia, scarce Forest Swallow, seldom Preuss’s Weaver, diminutive West African Batis (scoped) and unusual Woodhouse’s Antpecker, the latter showing exceptionally well for all.
With the Bamenda highlands beckoning, we decided to get on the move and spend the afternoon birding at our next destination. Roadside birding near Nyasoso produced a perched Red-chested Goshawk, Mottled Spinetail and Red-rumped Swallow (resident kumboensis subspecies; West African Swallow) breeding under a road bridge. But we pushed on and wound our way up into the Bamenda highlands, where we found Common Kestrel (resident rufescens subspecies) perched near the roadside. Our arrival in Bamenda we celebrated with an impressive rainstorm, so we had lunch while we waited for the weather to improve. Once the rain eased, and after admiring a couple of Neumann’s Starling feeding on the cliffs just below our hotel, we made for the nearby Lake Awing. However, the rain was not over, and it continued to drizzle on-and-off for the rest of the afternoon, which meant hopping in and out of the vehicle at regular intervals. Still, we managed to spot Bangwa Forest Warbler skulking in the undergrowth, track down our first Bannerman’s Weaver, find Mountain Robin-Chat and African Hill-Babbler, watch a pair of bold Black-collared Apalis, and obtain brief views of a male Banded Wattle-eye. At the grassland edge we found our first White-bellied Tit and Pectoral-patch Cisticola displaying over the grasslands, before returning to town to discover that our hotel had no running water! After a quick couple of phone calls we were back in the vehicles and down to central Bamenda, soon to be installed in our comfortable new hotel, running water and all.
One of the hailed conservation success stories of Africa is the Bamenda Highlands project spearheaded by BirdLife International. Mount Oku is one of the few sites in Africa where forest is said to have increased in recent time, rather than dwindled. For birders, these forests hold the last hopes for the bright Bannermann’s Turaco. Today it was our privilege to pay this renowned site a visit. As we slowly bumped our way towards Oku’s lofty peaks, farmlands held Cabanis’s Bunting and Double-spurred Francolin. At the forest edge to paused to admire Cameroon Mountain Greenbul and, feeding in the track, a pair of Red-faced Crimsonwing. However, the most pristine forest lay ahead, so we pressed on until the deep rasps of turacos drifted through the misty morning air. We waited patiently as a turaco moved around, out of sight. A large, dark bird landed nearby - Cameroon Olive Pigeon! A pair of these handsome pigeons were sitting quietly in the tops of a Hagenia tree. Eventually our Bannermann’s Turaco showed itself, perching some distance away, where it proceeded to preen for at least 15 minutes, giving superb scope views. After everyone had looked, and looked again, we decided to head off the main track in search of Banded Wattle-eye. After about thirty minutes of quietly stalking through the undergrowth, some soft churrs helped us pinpoint a pair of Banded Wattle-eye feeding low in the undergrowth, allowing close-up views. Finally we headed out into the nearby grasslands, quickly tracking down both Cameroon Pipit (split from African Pipit) and a pair of singing Bannermann’s Pipit (split from Long-billed Pipit). With our work at Oku complete we decided to do some exploration at a nearby forest site. En route we stopped for improved views of Bangwa Forest Warbler and to grab lunch at a roadside village. Our hoped-for forest, however, turned out to be rather difficult to reach, so we ended up exploring some woodlands and gallery forests instead. Highlights here included superb views of Brown Twinspot, a pair of Marsh Tchagra, several Mountain Wagtail, West African Seedeater and brief views of Dybowski’s Twinspot.
With the most important day of the trip ahead of us, we wasted no time in hitting the road for Yaounde. We had a little surprise up our sleeve; a visit to a site for Cameroon’s most sought-after bird, Red-headed Picathartes. We arrived in Yaounde slightly later than hoped, and were delayed by the late arrival of our 4-wheel drive. Eventually we were on our way, but time was running out and the exact location of the site uncertain. To everyone’s relief the drive was shorter than expected, but we still had a walk of unknown duration ahead of us. Once again we were pleasantly surprised, and by 1730 we were crouched in position, a curtain of leaves concealing our presence from the Picathartes’s lair. Just as we were beginning to think we were out of luck, something moved distantly to our right. And there it was: Red-headed Picathartes! Some tense moments passed as it disappeared behind a large boulder with only some of the group seeing it, but it re-appeared soon, this time much closer where everyone could watch it cautiously feeding among the boulders, its ornate blue-and-red head aglow despite the fading light. As quickly as it arrived it vanished back into the forest. We quietly slunk out of our hiding and back down the narrow forest path, speechless with the sense of great privilege for what we had just seen. There was nothing to say; nothing that could be said. Just Picathartes.
With Douala not-so-far from Yaounde, we had ample time to explore the road between Cameroon’s two largest cities. Near the Sanaga River, a stop in some roadside forest proved very productive. A Chestnut-breasted Nigrita flitted from tree to tree, joined by Ansorge’s Greenbul, Lemon-bellied Crombec, a flock of Spotted Greenbul and our first Fraser’s Sunbird. Deeper in the forest we found our only Brown-eared Woodpecker of the trip, plus Green Hylia, Chestnut Wattle-eye and Icterine Greenbul. However, the highlight was finding a Servaline Genet on its day rest, where is sat to be admired for a good quarter-hour. From here we moved on to the Sanaga River, where we concentrated our efforts on some large sand bars. White-headed Lapwing was spotted first, but we soon turned our attention to several very handsome Grey Pratincole. Other birds joining them included White-fronted Plover, African Skimmer and two Osprey. Little Bee-eater hunted along the river banks, and a small colony of Orange Weaver busily built its nest. There was only one thing left for the day: to stop at some roadside pools in search of Hartlaub’s Duck, where we quickly spotted two birds perched in a tree and a third one sitting in the quiet backwaters. Finally, on to Douala.
This morning we were off for the final leg of the tour:
a visit to the lowland forests of Korup National Park. After a minor delay
we were on our way, soon dodging potholes, rather unsuccessfully, between
Buea and Kumba. After Kumba we turned west to Ekondo Titi, after which
we slowed down for some roadside birding. It was Cassin’s day, with
a Cassin’s Hawk Eagle spotted in the distance, followed by a group
of Cassin’s Spinetail flying low overhead and ending with a Cassin’s
Flycatcher along a stream. Along the way we added also Velvet-mantled
Drongo and Red-vented Malimbe to our list. At Mundemba we found Bates’s
Swift and John spotted a Black-bellied Seedcracker.
DAY 22-25, 30 March to 2 April:
With Picathartes already secured, we decided to stay
an extra night in Mundemba and spend only two nights at Rengo camp. This
not only made for a more comfortable stay, but allowed us to explore more
of the park, as we could spend a whole day on trails near the park entrance,
on a day trip. Overall birding at Korup was very slow, partly due to rainy
weather that seemed to dampen bird activity. Still, we managed to notch
up a respectable list. Mixed-species foraging flocks were, as always,
a prominent feature of the birding here. Icterine Greenbul and Red-tailed
Greenbul were the most conspicuous flock members, but were often joined
by a host of other bulbul species such as Xavier’s Greenbul, Eastern
Bearded Greenbul, White-bearded Greenbul, Red-tailed Bristlebill and Lesser
Bristlebill. One flock found contained a pair of scarce Sjostedt’s
Honeyguide Greenbul. Other regular members of flocks included various
species of malimbe, with Blue-billed Malimbe and Crested Malimbe being
most common, but Red-headed Malimbe and Rachel’s Malimbe also being
seen. Other birds seen in flocks included Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Blue-headed
Crested-Flycatcher, Pale-breasted Illadopsis, Little Green Sunbird, Shining
Drongo and Fraser’s Sunbird. Another feature of Korup is the impressive
numbers of hornbills. This year Yellow-casqued Hornbill seemed to outnumber
all other species (besides African Pied Hornbill), followed in number
by Piping Hornbill, White-thighed Hornbill and Black-casqued Hornbill.
Overhead we spotted African Crowned Eagle, a single Bat Hawk and two groups
of Sabine’s Spinetail. Viewing in the mid- and under-storey was
more challenging, but with time we located the sought-after Bare-cheeked
Trogon, a noisy, male Blue Cuckooshrike, a trio of Woodhouse’s Antpecker
building their nest, a rich-rufous Blue-headed Wood Dove, Yellow-crested
Woodpecker, the ever-popular Rufous-sided Broadbill, in clock-work-toy
display, many Fire-crested Alethe, the odd White-tailed Ant-Thrush, Forest
Robin and a dapper White-browed Forest Flycatcher. Along the Mana River,
Rock Pratincole was present as always. However, perhaps the two greatest
highlight, although not see by everyone, were a Vermiculated Fishing Owl,
seen briefly on a day roost, and a striking White-crested Tiger Heron,
which flushed off a small forest stream and perched out in the sunlight
for about 15 seconds before disappearing into the dark green for good.
We were pleased to return to Mundemba and the following morning made our way back to Douala, but not before finding Red-headed Quelea around town. The initial stretch of the drive back to Douala was rather productive, with large numbers of Great Blue Turaco seen, a flock of Afep Pigeon flying over, a male White-crested Hornbill perched out in the open, a noisy band of Swamp Palm Bulbul and a pair of striking Johanna’s Sunbird spotted. The rest of the drive was rather uneventful, except for some temporary vehicle problems. Needless to say, we were pleased to arrive back in Douala, where most of the group wasted no time in hopping onto their Europe-bound plane.
With most of the group now departed, a short visit to the Wouri River produced several new birds, including Long-legged Pipit, Carmelite Sunbird and Brown Sunbird, just to round off the trip.
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