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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 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, 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 tangles.

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 Alethe.

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 at last!

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. 

Michael Mills

Thanks again to the Rio Longa staff for taking such good care of us while camping!

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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