A trip with Birding Africa led by Michael Mills.
Tour highlights as voted by participants: Swierstra's Francolin, Angolan Cave Chat, Monteiro's Bushshrike, Margaret's Batis, White-headed Robin-Chat, Finsch's Francolin, Bocage's Sunbird, Locust Finch, Pennant-winged Nightjar, Red-crested Turaco, Red-chested Flufftail and Pallid Honeyguide
Number of bird species recorded: 548
Angola is steadily becoming one of Africa's top bird watching destinations. With its great diversity of habitats, large species list and more than a dozen endemics, many of which are charismatic with striking plumages, it has the potential to become a popular destination if the difficult visa application process can be eased. The country has seen a rapid change in infrastructure during the last decade, first in road conditions and now in hotel infrastructure and available accommodation. For the first time we offered participants a hotel-basedtour, with only four nights spent camping during the entire 18-day visit. This was done without compromising on the birds, and the added comfort was much appreciated. In fact, the level of accommodation surpassed all of our expectations to the point that Angola can no longer be regarded as a hard-core destination.
We fared exceptionally well on the birds, seeing all of Angola's endemic species and a whole host of other goodies among the 548 species logged. The charts were topped by a fantastic crowing male Swierstra's Francolin at Tundavala that allowed us to watch it for at least five minutes. Point blankviews of a singing Angolan Cave Chat at Leba Pass and superb views of Monteiro's Bushshrike along the base of the central escarpment came in at number three in the "Bird of the Trip" contest. At number four, exceptional views of a pair of Margaret's Batis at Mount Moco were thoroughly enjoyed. A couple of sightings of the striking White-headed Robin-Chat near Kalandula came in fifth. Sixth was an unbeatable sighting of Finsch's Francolin at Tundavala, which came out into the open and eventually had to be chased off!
A lovely male Bocage's Sunbird in the Mount Moco region came in at seventh and amazing views of Locust Finch males and females in the scope were eighth. Ninth was a mesmerising display by Pennant-winged Nightjar near Kalandula. And in a tie for tenth we have Red-crested Turaco, the country's iconic national bird, excellent views of a male Red-chested Flufftail at Kumbira and a singing Pallid Honeyguide.
Other nominated species included two excellent sightings of Pulitzer's Longbill at Kumbira, wonderful looks at Gabela Helmetshrike, several encounters with Black-faced Canary, a displaying African Broadbill, lovely Cinderella Waxbill, point-blank views of Brazza's Martin, delightful Anchieta's Sunbird, excellent views of Gabela Bushshrike, several sought-after Anchieta's Barbet, some lovely Black-and-rufous Swallows and a male Blue Quail seen well in flight and even briefly on the ground. There were many other great birds seen during the trip, including Grey-striped Francolin, Hartlaub's Spurfowl, Ayres's Hawk-Eagle, Ludwig's Bustard, White-bellied Bustard, Rüppell's Korhaan, Royal Tern, perched Afep Pigeonand Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Red-fronted Parrot, Rüppell's Parrot,Coppery-tailed Coucal, African Barred Owlet, Rufous-cheeked Nightjar, Ruwenzori Nightjar, Fernando Po Swift, Bradfield's Swift, the brown-rumped form of Horus Swift, Red-backed Mousebird, Pale-billed Hornbill, Monteiro's Hornbill, Damara Red-billed Hornbill, Black-backed Barbet (both subspecies), Brown-backed Honeybird, Angolan Batis, White-tailed Shrike, White-fronted Wattle-eye, Yellow-belliedWattle-eye, Braun's Bushshrike, Rufous-bellied Tit, Yellow-throated Nicator, Forest Swallow, Angolan Lark, Benguela Long-billed Lark, Falkenstein's Greenbul, Black-collared Bulbul, Rockrunner, Red-capped Crombec, Bubbling Cisticola, the very distinctive and endemic bailunduensis race of Rock-loving Cisticola, Stout Cisticola, Chirping Cisticola, Brown-headed Apalis, Salvadori's Eremomela, Black-necked Eremomela, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Hartlaub's Babbler, Sharp-tailed Starling, Brown-chested Alethe, Gabela Akalat, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, Forest Scrub Robin, Miombo Scrub Robin,Angolan Slaty Flycatcher, Böhm's Flycatcher, Bannerman's Sunbird, Carmelite Sunbird, Ludwig'sDouble-collared Sunbird, Oustalet's Sunbird, displaying Bocage's Weaver, Golden-backed Bishop,Marsh Widowbird, Dusky Twinspot, White-collared Oliveback, Landana Firefinch, Angolan Waxbilland Fülleborn's Longclaw.
Mammalian highlights included Lord Derby's Anomalure at Kumbira and Southern Talapoin at Bimbe.
Detailed Trip Report
Our anti-clockwise loop through western Angola commenced at the country's chaotic capital Luanda. After freshening up after theovernight flight and grabbing a quick cuppa while watching Red-backed Mousebird, Holub's Golden Weaver, Red-headed Finch, Spectacled Weaver and Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush in the garden, we left the city to the south. En route to our first destination we made roadside stops for Southern White-crowned Shrike, flocks of brown swift thought to be Loanda Swift (Apus toulsoni - currently regarded as part of Horus Swift), and the elegans subspecies of Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill. We arrived in the Bimbe area at the foot of the central escarpment in the early afternoon and quickly set up camp before birding the surrounding thickets as the afternoon cooled. Almost the first birds seen were a covey of Grey-striped Francolin, one of the trickier endemics. The light was good and we managed to flush them a couple of times for some very good flight views as they glided across the open grassland to the next clump of forest. Angolan Batis was conspicuous by voice and we tracked down a lovely pair for our first views. Bubbling Cisticola was common, with several seen. Flocks of seedeaters were active in the area and included a group of endemic Golden-backed Bishops, at this time of the year in non-breeding plumage, which we studied in detail through the scopes. A party of Grey Waxbills were scoped in the tops of a baobab and Landana Firefinch, in my opinion no more than a subspecies of African Firefinch, put in a brief appearance. Later we tracked down a lovely male White-fronted Wattle-eye, which gave excellent views, and after dark we spotlighted a calling African Barred Owlet. What a first day!
Soon after sunrise the next morning we were up, but eating breakfast proved rather difficult. From our breakfast table we could soon hear the distinctive whistles of a nearby Monteiro's Bushshrike, which was quickly persuaded to show itself. It circled around us for about 15 minutes, sitting up at times to call and giving us the opportunity to admire its hefty bill and pale spectacles through the scope. Then some Pale-olive Greenbuls were heard nearby and successfully lured out of the thickets, and Forest Scrub Robin also showed rather well. The next biggie to appear was Gabela Helmetshrike, as a group of five were drawn in. They favoured the more exposed perches high up in the baobabs, which meant that once again the scopes came in handy, and we could study them in detail. We gradually made our way through breakfast and packed up camp, pausing every now and again to admire a nearby bird such as Swamp Boubou, the ansorgei subspecies of Long-billed Crombec, Hartert's Camaroptera and Carp's Tit. Before heading on our way to Benguela we made a wider foray through the surrounding area, and tracked down several other target species – Yellow-throated Nicator came out of its thicket, several Landana Firefinch sat up for improved views, Mottled Spinetail were seen overhead, on the escarpment Southern Hyliotas were seen well, Black Scimitarbill was seen, Southern Talapoin was a nice surprise and a bonus Brown-backed Honeybird was watched at length. By now it was hot and unproductive, so we continued our journey southwards and arrived at Benguela in the mid-afternoon after a productive waterbird stop in Lobito, with Marabou Stork, Cape Teal, Lesser Flamingo and a variety of other wetland species. First passing by our comfortable guest house to drop off our bags, we then headed for some nearby arid scrublands where Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Bokmakierie, Karoo Chat, Tractrac Chat, Chat Flycatcher and Dusky Sunbird were good additions before darkness fell.
At sunrise the next morning we could hear the strange croaks from a nearby Hartlaub's Spurfowl and soon we had a male sat atop some rocks in the scope. Namibian escarpment birds were common and conspicuous around us, and we quickly located White-tailed Shrike, Barecheeked Babbler, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Damara Red-billed Hornbill, lots of noisy Rüppell's Parrots, and a few other goodies such as Barred Wren-Warbler and Pririt Batis before starting our journey to Namibe in earnest, through some beautiful, rugged terrain. A roadside Benguela Long-billed Lark brought us to a rapid halt, and nearby we found Ashy Tit. Further on we found Pale-winged Starling, Great Sparrow and Monteiro's Hornbill, before we ascended on the flat gravel plains south of Lucira. Here in the late afternoon light we enjoyed some excellent looks at Short-toed Rock Thrush, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, four Ludwig's Bustards and some very close Rüppell's Korhaans before we rolled into Namibe to find our beach-side accommodation.
Early the next morning a short outing near Namibe didn't turn up too much, although we did have good views of the very pale local race of Grey-backed Cisticola before returning for breakfast with Cape Cormorant and Cape Fur Seal watched in the bay. After that it was west towards Lubango, with a long pause at the base of Leba Pass where we successfully tracked down a Cinderella Waxbill after a hot, lengthy search. It was deep inside a thicket and flushed before we could see it, but after a few tense moments we found it in the top of a tree and enjoyed it in the scopes for several minutes. Other birds seen on our walk included Violet-eared Waxbill, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, more Bare-cheeked Babblers, Meves's Starling, Hartlaub's Babbler and African Hawk-Eagle. In the early afternoon we climbed Leba Pass to escape the heat, being greeted upon arrival by a lovely Angolan Cave Chat that sang and gave excellent views. Nearby, a small forest patch produced excellent, eye-level views of Western Tinkerbird, while Verreaux's Eagle soared nearby and in the adjacent scrub Rockrunner gave brief views, before we continued on to our luxurious lodge in Lubango.
A pre-dawn start found us winding our way up to Tundavala, stopping to admire a calling Rufous-cheeked Nightjar next to the road. We arrived in rather gusty conditions and decided that we were pleased we weren't camping there. Slowly things woke up around us, but Swiestra's Francolin frustrated, giving just brief flight views. After a while working the scarp edge without much luck we turned to the grasslands, where we had absolutely superb views of Finsch's Francolin, which stood right out in the open and could be studied at length. Wailing Cisticola and Rufous-naped Lark were common here too. A nearby gulley produced a flurry of birds, with great views of Angolan Waxbill, good looks at Rockrunner, lots of Jameson's Firefinch of the distinctive ansorgei race, some Bradfield's Swift and a pair of Booted Eagles overhead, a party of Angolan Slaty Flycatchers and a welcome Miombo Tit. In the afternoon we birded an area of woodlands and grasslands on the other side of town, where Fülleborn's Longclaw was an excellent find, along with Tinkling Cisticola, Rufous-bellied Tit, Miombo Rock Thrush, Yellowbellied Hyliota and Levaillant's Cisticola.
The next day a quick pre-breakfast visit to Tundavala rewarded us with great looks atFreckled Nightjar and the highlight of the tour, a male Swiestra's Francolin sitting on a rock andcrowing away for about five minutes. We enjoyed superb views of this rare and striking species, asit sat not far away from us. We were also treated to our first good looks at Ludwig's Double-collaredSunbird and Wing-snapping Cisticola before happily returning to town for a heartybreakfast. The rest of the day was relatively uneventful, with the long drive to Huambo beingbroken up by a few short stops with Sharp-tailed Starling, Salvadori's Eremomela and Pearl-breastedSwallow along the way.
Our next destination was Mount Moco and its surrounds, and we allowed four days toexplore this bird-rich area, alternating between camping and hotel accommodation. With a varietyof habitats – miombo woodlands, open grassland, wetlands, cliffs and rocky areas, andAfromontane forest – there were a lot of new birds on offer. The region's most restricted habitat,Afromontane forests and forest edge habitats, turned up a lovely pair of Margaret's Batis thatcame to the forest edge to allow us excellent, eye-level views. It seemed fitting to see this speciesat its type locality. A pair of the nominate race of Black-backed Barbet posed well for the scopes.Our first Black-faced Canaries were located. Ruwenzori Nightjar of the endemic koesteri racewas seen superbly. Evergreen Forest Warbler skulked in the thickets, giving only brief views.Dusky Twinspot was seen well a few times. The endemic bailunduensis race of Rock-lovingCisticola, with its very unusual song, was watched at the forest edge, often calling from the tops oftall trees. Bocage's Akalat was spotted at the forest edge. Ludwig's Double-collared Sunbird showed well. And a host ofother species includedSchalow's Turaco, Red-throatedWryneck,Bennett's Woodpecker,Olive Woodpecker, Black-throatedWattle-eye,Gorgeous Bushshrike,White-tailed BlueFlycatcher, Black-collaredBulbul, African Hill Babbler,African Spotted Creeperand Bronzy Sunbird. Thesurrounding mountain slopeswere home to breeding blackswifts, which based on the factthat the only specimen from Mount Moco was ascribed to Fernando Po Swift probably belongedto that (dubious) species, the nigricauda subspecies of Mountain Wheatear, the moco subspeciesof Long-billed Pipit which may better be placed in Wood Pipit, Striped Pipit and Yellow-crownedCanary.
We fared very well in the miombo woodlands too. Here the highlights were an excited partyof Black-necked Eremomelas, a confiding Böhm's Flycatcher found after a lengthy search,Miombo Double-collared Sunbird, several Salvadori's Eremomelas, a displaying PallidHoneyguide, African Cuckoo-Hawk, a circling Ayres's Hawk-Eagle, churring Square-tailedNightjars, Green-backed Honeybird, the unusual affinis subspecies of Brubru, the male lackingany rufous, Wood Pipit, White-winged Black Tit, Rufous-bellied Tit, Grey Penduline Tit (of thegreen-backed, yellow-fronted ansorgei subspecies), Red-capped Crombec, Miombo Wren-Warbler, Miombo Scrub Robin, full plumage male Oustalet's Sunbird (after having seen eclipseplumage birds at Tundavala) and a couple of pairs of Orange-winged Pytilia.
Grasslands and wetlands were another major focus, and arguably produced the best birds,the pinnacle of which was a lovely, purplish male Bocage's Sunbird watched at length through thescope. Other local specialities were Angolan Lark, popular for its unusual song, brilliant views ofLocust Finch scoped on the ground, with even the fine white spotting clearly visible, two pairs ofscarce Brazza's Martin, one of which approached us to within a few metres, lots of lovely Black-and-rufous Swallows and a colony of bright and noisy male Bocage's Weavers. And these weresupplemented by a female White-bellied Bustard, Capped Wheatear, a lovely male Blue Quailseen well in flight and on the ground, displaying Fan-tailed Grassbird, Red-faced Cisticola (ofthe local lepe subspecies, previously split as Lepe Cisticola), a full plumage Long-tailedWidowbird, Fawn-breasted Waxbill, Orange-breasted Waxbill, Quailfinch (subspecies notMargaret's Batis (c) AP Leventisdetermined), Stout Cisticola and Marsh Widowbird, several Coppery-tailed Coucals, White-throatedSwallow, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Red-throated Cliff Swallow, Chirping Cisticola,Red-winged Francolin (heard only) and several more Fülleborn's Longclaw. The swallow familydeserves a special mention, with 12 species seen in one day!
From here it was just a short skip and a jump to the central scarp forests, where the now-famousKumbira forest was the focus of our visit. We based ourselves in Conda but spent onenight camping (the last of the trip) in the forest itself. Kumbira is home to three Endangeredendemics, which were the main focus of our visit. We did well to have two excellent sightings ofPulitzer's Longbill (even scoped!), super views of Gabela Akalat and, admittedly after quite astruggle, a wonderful sighting of Gabela Bushshrike on our first day, which meant that the rest ofour time could be dedicated to tracking down some of the other specials. Angola's iconic nationalbird, Red-crested Turaco, was very popular, as were a male Red-chested Flufftail that gaveexcellent views, a Gabon Coucal that gave good but brief views, a displaying African Broadbill,Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye, a very co-operative Brown-chested Alethe and several CarmeliteSunbirds. Other birds worth of mention were the angolensis subspecies of Hairy-breastedBarbet, Pink-footed Puffback, Petit's Cuckooshrike, the gabela subspecies of Dusky Tit, moreYellow-throated Nicators, lots of Falkenstein's Greenbuls, Lowland Masked Apalis, SouthernHyliota, Brown-capped Weaver, a male Red-headed Bluebill, scarce Magpie Mannikin (a newrecord for Kumbira) and Black-faced Canary. Atnight we spent some time admiring a Lord Derby'sAnomalure and had brief looks at the yet-to-bedescribed Kumbira Bushbaby (Galagoides sp).
Continuing further north and east, our next destination was the area north of Kalandula falls,known as the most accessible site for Whiteheaded Robin-Chat. We based ourselves in theonly comfortable hotel in town, and with a good tar access road reached our birding areas after only a30-minute drive. A preliminary visit produced good looks at White-headed Robin-Chat for some ofthe group, a very welcome and long-hoped-for Anchieta's Barbet and, on the way back, aspellbinding display by a male Pennant-winged Nightjar. The next day we kicked off in the galleryforests, where sunbirds were on our mind and after a lengthy wait we managed to secure goodlooks at some very active Bannerman's Sunbirds, with Green-headed Sunbird alsopresent to add some confusion. We were surprised to find Bates's Sunbird here too, a species I thought I had seen here before although Ihad never obtained definitive views. Other goodies in the forests were Square-tailed Drongo,Brown-headed Apalis, a showy (at least for a few seconds) Grey-winged Robin-Chat, moreRed-crested Turacos and Narina Trogon. We also took time to track down another White-headedRobin-Chat, which showed well to those whom it frustrated yesterday. On the grassymargins of the river we found a lovely male Marsh Tchagra, termite-hawking Brown Twinspotsand a juvenile African Hobby. Our remaining targets were to be found in the surroundingwoodlands, the two highlights being an irate party of Pale-billed Hornbills and a delightful pair ofAnchieta's Sunbirds that sat up for the scopes. During our forays we also found African BarredOwlet in the day, more Anchieta's Barbets, Whistling Cisticola, Retz's Helmetshrike, Grey-headedBushshrike and Western Violet-backed Sunbird.
Continuing to our most northerly point at Uige town to track down our only remainingendemic, we stopped along the way to the northern scarp forests to admire a macclounisubspecies of Black-backed Barbet. With two days to explore the bird-rich northern-scarp forests,we used two different hotels to gain access to the Quitexe and Quibaxe areas. Obviously weturned our attention first to Braun's Bushshrike, and after a short walk were enjoying good looksat a pair of these bright and beautiful endemics, seen again later. This meant we now had ampletime to track down other wanted birds, of which there were many. Good flight views of Black-casquedHornbill were welcome, as were scope views of Least Honeyguide, Western Bronze-napedPigeon and Afep Pigeon and more Red-crested Turacos.
A long list of other species was seen: Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo called from a thicket and flashed across the road, Great BlueTuraco, Black Bee-eater, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Yellow-billed Barbet, displaying Cassin'sHoneybird, Yellow-crested Woodpecker, Elliot's Woodpecker, perched Red-fronted Parrot,African Shrike-flycatcher, Purple-throated Cuckooshrike, Black-winged Oriole, Velvet-mantledDrongo, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher,Square-tailed Saw-wing, Yellow Longbill, Banded Prinia, White-chinned Prinia, Black-throatedApalis, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Scaly-breastedIlladopsis, Chestnut-winged Starling, Narrow-tailed Starling, Brown-backed Scrub Robin,Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Sooty Flycatcher, Orange-tufted Sunbird, Yellow-mantled Weaver,Crested Malimbe and Red-headed Malimbe.
Two other species require a special mention. We located some White-collared Olivebacks, which unfortunately didn't stick around for long; thesewere discovered in Angola on our 2011 tour and only confirmed earlier this year. And the biggest surprise of the trip was seeing at least six Forest Swallows, a species never recorded from Angola before. We spent a long time studying them in detail to make sure they were not Square-tailedSaw-wings. At first the rapid flight action – not the lazy flight of a sawwing – drew our attention, and the swallow-like calls further strengthened our suspicions. But when we obtained excellent views of birds flying low along the forest track so that we could see their rufous throats,all doubt was erased.
With so many great birds under the belt, we could afford to enjoy a relaxed end to the trip,which we chose to spend along the coast south of Luanda, padding our list. At the Kwanza Rivermouth Royal Tern was prominent and in the nearby mangroves we found several MangroveSunbirds. A final stint of birding at Mussulo Bay, with Pearl-spotted Owlet seen on the way,added several Palaearctic waders to our lists, plus White-fronted Plover and displaying DesertCisticola. It's always good to end with a cisticola!
A Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Michael Mills.
Download the full list of species seen on this tour.(PDF 320 KB)
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