Birding Africa












Trip Report

Complete Cameroon - Full Report

1 - 24 February 2004

- A report by Cliff Dorse -

Trip Leaders:

Callan Cohen and Michael Mills

Mt Kupe Bush-Shrike
Quail Plover

Next scheduled departure February 2005
(exact dates to be announced soon)


Summary and Highlights:

Cameroon is an essential destination for any birder serious about sampling Africa's best birds. Its mind-boggling diversity of habitats stretches from lowland equatorial forests, through highland forests, grasslands and Guinea woodlands, to the arid Saharan edge. Most notable of these habitats are the highland forests, which form the core of one of Africa's most significant Endemic Bird Areas, the Cameroon Mountains EBA. This region harbours a staggering 25 endemics, including the critically endangered Mount Kupe Bush-shrike (described in 1952 and only 25 individuals recorded since then) and mythical Bannerman's Turaco. Other key African species that are best searched for in Cameroon include African Piculet, Crossley's Ground Thrush, Quail Plover, Egyptian Plover, Spotted Thrush Babbler, Schlegel's Francolin and Cricket Warbler.

This tour is centred on the endemic-filled highlands, with the primary aim of finding all the Cameroon Mountains endemics (excluding Mount Cameroon Francolin, which requires three days of single-minded dedication). To complement this, and to record a representative cross-section of Cameroon's tremendous bird diversity, we also visit the more arid north and the lowland forest of Korup National Park.

For the third year running we successfully located all range-restricted species confined to the Cameroon Mountains, including Mount Kupe Bush-shrike, Banded Wattle-eye and Bannerman's Turaco. A further two taxa, Cameroon Pipit and Alexander's Akalat, usually regarded as species endemic to the Cameroon Mountains EBA, were also recorded. All but one of the EBA species were seen by all members of our party. This year we also succeeded in breaking the 600 species mark.

Who could forget the flock of Hartlaub's Duck at the roadside of the very first morning, elegant African Swallow-tailed Kites circling low overhead, a pair of Schlegel's Francolin quietly stalking by, saturation views of the bizarre Quail-plover, the deep, booming call of Nkulengu Rail ringing through camp at night, an Erythrina tree abuzz with 10 sunbird species, including Johanna's Sunbird, and the joy of a pair of Mount Cameroon Speirops after a long, hard slog up West Africa's highest mountain. Other highlights included repeated perch-views of the tricky Cameroon Olive Pigeon, a Beaudouin's Snake Eagle soaring nearby, dainty Grey Pratincoles chasing insects along sandbars, the localized Adamawa Turtle Dove cooing from the gallery forest, a pair of immaculate Rose-ringed Parakeet at their nest, Bannerman's Turaco swooping through mossy montane forests, a gorgeous Vermiculated Fishing Owl scoped in the spotlight, a male Standard-winged Nightjar silhouetted against the pale dawn sky, a male Bare-cheeked Trogon swallowing air before calling, a gaudy Blue-headed bee-eater hunting in a small forest glade, a pair of Blue-bellied Roller, a Black Dwarf Hornbill sitting silently in the rainforest canopy, a raucous party of White-crested Hornbills, the swooshing of colossal Black-casqued and Yellow-casqued Hornbill wings overhead, a pair of minuscule African Piculet feeding young, a pair of rare Rufous-rumped Lark and little-known Bannerman's Pipit, scolding calls from Sjostedt's Honeyguide Greenbul, the delicate Alexander's Akalat in the dark, moist forest under-storey, a crisp male White-fronted Black Chat calling from its prominent perch, the sweet, fluty call of Crossley's Ground Thrush, an agitated White-tailed Warbler flitting her stump-tail and a pair of Banded Wattle-eye.

Tour Itinerary:

1 February: Sanaga River

After an early morning breakfast, we left Douala and headed south towards Edea and the Sanaga River. As we headed out of the bustling city of Douala the habitat improved markedly and we soon were seeing small groups of Piping Hornbills on their morning forays. Our first stop was at an idyllic wetland, which was surrounded by relatively good condition forest. Hartlaub's Duck was the prize here, with three individuals of this beautiful but often elusive species allowing awesome views! Other notable birds at this stop included Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Carmelite Sunbird, Black Sparrowhawk, Grey Parrot and Bates' Swift. An additional six Hartlaub's Duck flew in and alighted in nearby trees.

A pair of Hartlaub's Duck, Africa's most striking and only true rainforest duck.

Large numbers of Preuss's Cliff Swallow were in attendance as we crossed the Sanaga River near Edea. We soon arrived at our destination, a large patch of lowland forest, and proceeded on foot. To those whom have not experienced lowland forest birding before, the experience could be considered somewhat overwhelming! It proved quite challenging for all to get on to the numerous canopy species as they flitted restlessly past, allowing split second views. When they did eventually pause, the spotting scopes were invaluable in allowing all in the party to have a good look. We were inundated by a barrage of Greenbuls that included Golden, Red-tailed, Spotted, Cameroon Sombre, Slender-billed and Little. Other notable birds included Great Blue Turaco, Grey-throated and Yellow-spotted Barbets, Chestnut Wattle-eye, White-thighed Hornbill, Brown-eared Woodpecker and Yellow-throated Tinkerbird. A drive along the north bank of the Sanaga produced numerous stunning Grey Pratincoles, undoubtedly one of the most attractive waders, and African Skimmer.

2 February: Douala to Waza

An early flight saw us arriving in Maroua by mid-morning, where we met Gabriel, our excellent driver for the next seven days. A stop for lunch in town was very productive; highlights included Sub-alpine Warbler and Rose-ringed Parakeet at a nest. The drive north to Waza was punctuated by numerous stops. At each stop the spectacular bird diversity of the arid Sahel continued to astound us. Our first "massive" bird of the north was Swallow-tailed Kite, which saw the vehicle being evacuated in mere seconds! Raptors, as could be expected, were well represented and we soon added Short-toed Eagle, Grasshopper Buzzard and Fox Kestrel. Other roadside birds included Crested Lark, Southern Grey Shrike, Grey-backed Fiscal Shrike, Chestnut-bellied Starling and Northern Carmine and Little Green Bee-eaters.

Seedeaters were common in and around the Campement de Waza. Mixed flocks continually come to drink during the heat of the day, holding Black-rumped Waxbill, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu and African Silverbill. An afternoon drive dedicated to finding the localized River Prinia was successful and also produced Clapperton's Francolin, Sahel Paradise Whydah and Speckle-fronted Weaver. A stop at a water hole after dusk produced fleeting views of Four-banded Sandgrouse and more extended views of some Long-tailed Nightjars.

3 February: Waza National Park and Mora

An early morning start saw us at the entrance to Waza National Park, where we saw our first Black Crowned Cranes flying overhead. The park was alive with birds, including numerous Eurasian migrants such as Wryneck, Woodchat Shrike, Whinchat and Western Marsh Harrier. A good number of vultures waiting patiently around a water hole allowed us excellent views of Egyptian, Ruppell's Griffon, African White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures. The sun was however getting high and our target bird, Arabian Bustard, was notable by its absence!

Back to camp for lunch and we were ready to launch an assault on the farmlands north of Mora. Our first target bird here was Cricket Warbler, which was located without too much difficulty. Our attention now shifted to the highly enigmatic Quail Plover. It was however beginning to get dark, so we decided that a more intensive and concerted effort would be employed the following day. Just after dusk we decided that a "shot in the dark" for the Golden Nightjar was called for. We were part of the group that located this master of camouflage here last year, a first record for Cameroon. Although our efforts failed to turn up any nightjars, they did not go totally un-rewarded; we found two wonderful White-bellied Hedgehogs.

4 February: Waza National Park to Maroua

The morning of the fourth saw us put in a final effort to locate the Arabian Bustard, for which we headed back into the park. Intensive scanning revealed nothing and time was running out. We were just starting to discuss turning around when a large bustard took to the air some 20 meters from us. Success! We then made a beeline out of the park towards Michael, whom had been tasked with locating Sennar Penduline Tit. He performed his task with diligence and also produced a group of Spotted Redshanks.

Then it was time to head southwards, back to Quail Plover country. This time, after just 20 minutes of transecting the fields, two minute birds rose up from our feet and whirled away on their black and white wings. We had them! After painful stalking and scanning one of the birds was located on the ground where it allowed extensive scope views. The bird put on the whole Quail Plover show and exhibited its amazing chameleon-like walk! Spirits were high as we headed south to Maroua, only stopping once at an impressive rocky hillside were we saw Rock-loving Cisticola, White-crowned Cliff-chat and Stone Partridge.

5 February: Maroua to Benoue

A travel day that allowed us an hour's birding at the rocky hill north of Maroua. Senegal Batis, White-headed Barbet and Lavender Waxbill were the highlights of the morning. We arrived at Benoue National Park at dusk, and did a night-drive towards the camp. On-route to our accommodation at Campement du Buffle Noir we saw several mammals, including Senegal Galago, White-tailed Mongoose and Red-flanked Duiker.

6 February: Benoue National Park

Waking up at dawn in the spectacular surrounds of Campement de Buffle Noir was a real treat! Getting started on our walk to the river was problematic as everywhere you looked was another stunning woodland bird! Birds in and around the camp included Northern Black Flycatcher, Senegal Parrot, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike, White-crowned Robin Chat and Senegal Eremomela. On the way down to the river we located Red-throated Bee-eater, Bar-breasted Firefinch, White-cheeked Oliveback, Fine-spotted Woodpecker, Oriole Warbler, Red-winged Grey Warbler, Bearded Barbet, Violet Turaco and the localized Adamawa Turtle Dove! An excellent record for Cameroon was the pair of Black Stork, which drifted leisurely above us. An afternoon drive was equally productive with Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Black-faced Firefinch, White-fronted Black Chat, Brown-backed Woodpecker and Western Grey Plantain-eater. African Scops Owl and Freckled Nightjar were the spoils of a stint of post dusk birding.

Egyptian Plover can be reliable seen along the Benoue River

7 February: Benoue to Ngaoundaba Ranch

Despite being primarily a travel day, the slow drive out of the park was very rewarding! Blue-bellied Roller, Dorst's Cisticola, Northern Long-tailed Starling, Beaudouin's Snake Eagle, Double-spurred Francolin and Bruce's Green Pigeon were among the birds added to our ever-increasing trip list.

Our journey along the main road to Ngaoundere was interrupted by two very profitable stops, which produced Piapiac and Sooty Chat. After a lunch stop in Ngaoundere we headed for Ngouandaba Ranch, arriving with a few hours of sunlight remaining. This time was put to good use and Yellow-throated Leaflove, Black-crowned Waxbill, White-crested and Ross' Turaco were amongst the numerous specials seen around the beautiful crater lake. The sight and sound of thousands of starlings coming in to roosting on a lushly vegetated island was truly a spectacle. The striking White-collared Starling was conspicuous amongst its more numerous, typically coloured relatives.

Forest and rank vegetation surround the crater lake at Ngaoundaba Ranch

8 February: Ngaoundaba Ranch

The first few rays of sunlight washed over us as we drove out from the ranch headquarters for some early morning birding. We were soon very much awake as we all started to scan for the Rufous-rumped Lark that Michael, whom was walking ahead, had seen only moments before. After several anxious minutes the bird was relocated and we were able to saturate ourselves with great scope views. Sun Lark was next on the menu, but our attention was soon drawn to the Schlegel's Francolins calling nearby! A combination of silence, stealth and discreet playing of the bird's call proved effective, and a pair of these small francolin ventured into the open.

Dybowski’s Twinspot, just one of many striking finches on offer in Cameroon.

A forest patch just a short distance away was the next destination. Here numerous seedeaters were feeding on the forest edge, among them a pair of exquisite Dybowski's Twinspot. These birds proved to be very obliging and allowed their full-framed images to be digi-scoped! Other birds of the forest edge included Splendid Sunbird, Red-headed Weaver and Cabanis' Bunting. The forests themselves concealed many highly desirable birds and we located Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Spotted Thrush Babbler, Grey-winged Robin Chat and the endemic Bamenda Apalis. Leaflove was highly vocal but remained in thick foliage, making us work very hard before everyone obtained satisfying views. A night drive rounded a great day off with Black-shouldered Nightjar.

9 February: Ngaoundaba Ranch to Douala

A morning flight from the town of Ngaoundere to Douala meant that we had to leave the ranch by 8 am. In an effort to maximize birding time we were out birding at five! The hour of sleep that were sacrificed was soon forgotten as a Standard-winged Nightjar rose from the road as our vehicle approached. Its elaborate standards were clearly evident as it took off in the moonlight. After a little effort the bird was relocated on the road where it sat for all to enjoy. We then proceeded to the forest edge where we were saturated with views of two Willcocks' Honeyguide as they hawked insects.

The plain-faced Willcock’s Honeyguide lacks both the black submoustachial stripe and white loral spot of other similar species.

10 February: Douala to Buea

After spending a night at our hotel in Douala, which had by now began to feel very much like "base camp", we headed for Buea. A midday stop at Limbe Botanical Gardens produced the first White-throated Bee-eaters of the trip as well as a family of Cassin's Flycatchers and Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher. It was then onwards to Buea where we had time to relax and contemplate the long hike up Mount Cameroon that awaited us the following day.

11 February: Mount Cameroon

At 6 am the next morning we were on our way to launch our assault up Mount Cameroon. While waiting for our guide in the village, a flock of nine Cameroon Olive Pigeons alighted in the upper, exposed branches of some nearby trees, basking in the early morning rays of sunlight. Soon we were on our way, halting periodically. The high number and quality of birds in the forest ensured that the going was relatively slow. Cameroon Sunbird, Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye, Naked-faced Barbet, Cassin's Honeybird, Green Longtail and White-breasted Negrofinch all put in an appearance on the lower slopes. Time was however limited and we had to ensure that we allowed enough time to locate the two specials found only above the tree line on Mount Cameroon. As we ascended we did spot White-bellied Crested Flycatcher, Brown-backed Cisticola, Red-faced Crimsonwing and Gabon and Tullberg's Woodpeckers. A well-deserved break was called for as we left the forest and entered the grassland. The going was tough and the frequency and length of the breaks began to increase. The sight of our first target however, Mountain Saw-wing, spurred us on! The main target bird, Mount Cameroon Speirops, was however proving to be more elusive. A Scaly Francolin exploding from Hugh's feet provided some excitement. Eventually, after much persistence, we were rewarded and a pair of Speirops that allowed extended views. The mood was one of satisfaction mixed with pure relief! After glimpsing views of the local race of Evergreen Forest Warbler we started the tough downward hike. Needless to say, we all were pleased when we stumbled back to where our vehicle waited.

12 February: Douala to Bamenda

Two Swedish birders, Cathrin and Rolf, had arrived in Douala the previous evening to join us for the second leg of the trip. The long drive to Bamenda allowed ample time for all to get well acquainted. After unpacking and enjoying a quick lunch at the Skyline Hotel, we were off to Bafat-Ngemba Forest Reserve. The term "forest reserve" is a euphemism for plantation, but good birding is still to be had here. Before the light faded we located Bannerman's Weaver with its undescribed young, Grey Apalis, Mackinnon's Fiscal, Yellow-breasted Boubou and Thick-billed Seedeater.

13 February: Bamenda Highlands

Yet another early morning start saw us heading to Mount Oku. The forest here is in excellent condition and the area was alive with birds! Top birds here included Black-collared Apalis, Elliot's Woodpecker, Brown-capped Weaver, Oriole Finch, Western Mountain Greenbul and African Hill Babbler. The two specials here, Banded Wattle-eye and the famous Bannerman's Turaco, were both very obliging. The high, treeless areas produced Cameroon Pipit and Pectoral-patch Cisticola, as well as Bannerman's Pipit, sometimes treated as the bannermani subspecies of Long-billed Pipit. An afternoon drive towards Bali produced stunning views of Tit-hylia, Blue-billed Firefinch and Orange-tufted Sunbird, while Bamenda Apalis was seen only fleetingly.

Bannerman's Turacao

14 February: Bamenda to Nyasoso

Breakfast was followed by a stint of birding from the viewpoint in front of the hotel. The most notable birds here were a splendid male White-crowned Cliff-Chat and a pair of Neumann's Starlings. It was then back to Bafat-Ngemba to try for Bangwa Forest Warbler. As could be expected this skulking warbler gave us quite the run-around before all had obtained good views. Western Green Tinkerbird, which had been eluding us, finally allowed great views too. We then headed for Nyasoso at the foot of Mount Kupe.

15 February: Bakossi Mountains

After a great start of a pancake breakfast, courtesy of Lucy's Guest House, we were off to the nearby Bakossi Mountains. On route we had great views of a male Western Bluebill, Sooty Flycatcher and Forest Swallow. At Kodmin we were ushered into the chief's hut where we partook in the mandatory libation ritual. It was then back to birding mode and Petit's Cuckoo-shrike, Common Cuckoo and Ursula's Sunbird were seen in the cultivated areas near the forest edge. Deeper into the forest we located a female White-tailed Warbler feeding confidingly in the undergrowth, as well as Bar-tailed Trogon, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Thick-billed Honeyguide and Pink-footed Puffback. The enigmatic special of the area, Mount Kupe Bush-shrike, remained our focus. After some searching we found a single bird, but it flitted restlessly through the mid-strata, allowing only brief views. The drive back to Nyasoso produced Green Turaco and Dusky-blue Flycatcher.

16 February: Mount Kupe

Soon after first light we headed on foot from Lucy's Guest House and started up the infamous Max's Trail. Birding in the secondary forest was very prolific and the first bird party we located comprised of Wood Warbler, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Black-capped Apalis and an unusual Hyliota, intermediate between Violet-backed and Southern and possibly still undescribed. Other birds of the secondary forest included Black-and-White Shrike-Flycatcher, Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, African Piculet (with young!) and Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush. In the primary forest we were privileged to see Crossley's Ground Thrush, Alexander's Akalat, Yellow-billed Turaco and Yellow Longbill. Our slog up Max's Trail eventually yielded Little Oliveback. Locating these little gems was relatively easy but obtaining good views of them was another matter altogether! Eventually all obtained satisfactory views and we began the long walk back down. A non-bird related highlight was the finding of a spectacularly camouflaged chameleon, Rhampholeon spectrum.

Crossley's Ground Thrush

17 February: Bakossi Mountains

It was back to the Bakossi Mountains where we located White-bellied Robin Chat, Black-necked Wattle-eye, Bates' Paradise Flycatcher and Sabine's Spinetail. Mount Kupe Bush-shrike was again elusive, each time showing us a little more if its plumage. Eventually everyone had obtained some sort of view and we headed back to the village of Kodmin, hearing the incredible display flight of Lyre-tailed Honeyguide above the forest canopy and, regrettably, out of sight.

18 February: Lower Bakossi Mountains

We were dropped off near Kodmin at an impressive flowering Coral Tree (Erythrina sp). The Coral Tree was alive with sunbirds and we recorded 10 species including, Blue-throated Brown, Superb, Johanna's and Bates'. Michael and Simon then returned to Douala in order to collect Luba, who joined us for Korup, and the supplies for our stay at Korup. We then proceeded to walk back towards the 'main' road where we had a taxi waiting to take us back to Nyasoso. The walk produced Luhder's and Bocage's Bush-Shrikes as well as crippling views of Rufous-crowned Eremomela. That evening we were lucky enough to accompany a herpetologist who was based at Nyasoso on a walk to a chameleon study site. We located numerous Chamaeleo monteum and several frog species. The highlight for many was the sighting of Africa's most primitive primate, Potto (Perodicticus potto).

19-24 February: Korup National Park Coming soon…

Next scheduled departure February 2005
(exact dates to be announced soon)



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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