Thursday, 3 November 2016

GHANA 2016: Ankasa, Bonkro & Bobiri (30 October-3 November)

This is the second blog covering a successful Zoothera trip to Ghana.

Sunday 30 October. A good night in the tent, breakfast at 05:00 and we left shortly after 05:30 just as getting light. We drove into the reserve at Ankasa in two jeeps but despite my best efforts to be in the first, to maximize my chance of seeing Blue-headed Wood Dove on the road, I ended up in the second. I barely saw the first wood dove on the track as it flew just when I got my bins on it.  Fortunately a second bird soon after was more obliging. It was a decent day with some good species seen but few birds overall (I only saw 23 species). The highlight for me was a White-bellied Kingfisher but it wasn’t on view for long and some missed it. It showed twice and I saw it well in bins but both times it flew just as I’d got it in the scope. Other new birds were a distant Western Bronze-naped Pigeon and a Western Bearded Greenbul while a pair of Hartlaub’s Duck flushed from a forest pool. A lunchtime wander started poorly with me slipping thigh deep into a stream while trying to cross it on bamboo poles but I soon dried out and a walk back along the main track produced good views of White-tailed Alethe, I had earlier only seen a shape. I continued to the pylon ride but nothing was moving during half an hour watching there until it started raining. As seemed to usually be the case on the trip the afternoon session was quiet with my best/most unusual sighting being an African Dwarf Kingfisher flying over low forest by the river just before dark. Nothing was calling during another brief wander down to the river after dark. 
forest pool at Ankasa where White-bellied Kingfisher put in a brief appearance
bamboo patch at Ankasa. Here I discovered that it really wasn't a good idea trying to cross a forest stream on loose bamboo poles. 
Small Striped Swordtail
large orange moth
like a small plane waiting to take-off
Monday 31 October. Breakfast at 05:30 and we left at 06:00 walking a circular trail starting by the river. Initially a rather frustrating experience with Paul hearing a few things but playback being fairly ineffective with just the odd shape glimpsed. That was until Paul located a calling Yellow-throated Cuckoo which showed well in the scope. It was soon followed by a small greenbul flock containing Yellow-throated behaving like a nuthatch. Despite these I was somewhat disappointed when we returned via the main track at 10:00. Lunch wasn’t until 11:45 and rather than return to the camp to pack, which I had pretty much done, I agreed to be back by 12:00, happy to skip lunch, and promptly returned to the river trail, anticipating pottering along it for an hour before returning. I had gone less than 100m down the trail when what I assumed was a small mammal bolted across in front of me. I froze, pretty sure it had continued out of sight down the slope. It hadn’t and a slight movement revealed a Nkulengu Rail! It walked away, doubling back before going over the ridge. I had a good view of its head and heavily streaked upperparts but its legs remained hidden. It was somewhat like a giant prehistoric Corncrake. Brilliant to see in daylight, I had been fortunate to see one previously, a bird spotlighted before dawn in Cameroon. I sat on my stool hoping it might return but it didn’t. After 20 minutes a Slender Mongoose ran across the track following the same trajectory, less than 25m away. It stopped, sniffed, turned around to look at me and then continued. Five minutes later I heard what I thought were alarm calls from further down the track. I moved 30m further on and sat again, soon seeing a couple of Swamp Palm Bulbuls making most of the noise. At first I thought there might be a roosting owl but they were moving around and I began to wonder if they were ants. A juvenile White-tailed Alethe then two or three adults confirmed this. I watched the alethes for almost an hour during which time I also saw Rufous-winged Illadopsis, an impressive Grey-headed Bristlebill and a perched Red-chested Goshawk while a fast flying small owl, presumably Red-chested, shot over. I returned to the bridge where John and Ron were and took them back along the trail. The ants had moved further away although a couple of alethes were still about and Ron saw the bristelbill. Unfortunately Ron left for lunch as five minutes later a White-bellied Kingfisher appeared and sat briefly a metre above the ground ending my best ever two hours in a West African forest. I had been very fortunate but the contrast between what I had seen myself by just sitting, albeit in the right place, and with the group was very marked. There was even some pineapple left when I returned to the camp to collect my bag. We departed at 12:15 and drove to the Ebi Mangroves seeing Reichenbach’s and Mangrove Sunbirds before the 3 hour drive back to Rainforest Lodge where we arrived at 18:00.
Ankasa camp, my tent was the second on the left
Ebi mangroves
Mangrove Sunbird nest
Red-black Striped Snake at Ankasa, a harmless snake that I felt brought some good fortune
Red-chested Goshawk
White-tailed Alethe, best features hidden 
a very smart bird when seen well
it didn't seem troubled by me sitting quietly on my seat
Tuesday 1 November. Breakfast at 05:00, we departed at 05:30 and returned to Abrafo farmbush. Two Red-cheeked Wattle-eyes responded although hardly settled but I was very fortunate to be well positioned to see the first in full view a reasonable distance away for 2-3 seconds. It was probably the best one could hope for of a really stunning bird and one of my main targets. The second I only saw as a small fast moving shape although Ron saw it well if also briefly. We left at 09:30 and drove to Bonkro arriving at 14:15, having had lunch on the way (no birding options there). It was a steady half hour walk up to the picathartes rocks where I unwisely as it turned out chose the far end of the viewing bench. It gave me a better view of the two nests under an overhanging cliffs and if birds came in from the rear of the cliff. They didn’t, my view of the bird that came in being blocked by a large tree. We were tightly packed on the bench and for the first five minutes I couldn’t see it at all as it stood motionless. By leaning across John I managed to see its head and sometimes its upper breast but it was very uncomfortable doing so. After 10 minutes it moved more into view and Paul suggested I come and stand behind everyone else. This gave unrestricted views but the light was poor and it was hard to hold my camera still without something, ideally my knees, to rest on. We watched the bird until 15:45 by which time one of my legs was shaking. John had just moved and I sat down, looking forward to more views, when without any warning or discussion Paul called time and everybody else stood up. A superb bird but I was not ready to leave and would have happily stayed until dark.  Seeing just one bird was a little disappointing too, but at least there wasn’t an issue about which bird to look at. It also wasn’t jumping around as I had expected so despite being very impressive the experience wasn’t in danger of extending my top four birds ever to five, although under different circumstances it might have been good enough to.  We did have quite a long drive, although arrived at our destination in Kumasi before 19:00 hrs so not particularly late.
Black Bee-eaters at Abrafo
White-throated Bee-eater

this one was rather washed out
Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird
Ghana street scenes
mobile shoe shop

picathartes rock from my unwisely chosen position, the bird appeared behind the big tree
my first view, leaning across John
it had a really hefty bill but the light was poor and most of my images were not sharp

nice to finally see all the bird
its pale legs and impressive toenails were not the first thing one noticed

having a stretch
bird of the trip by some distance
I would have happily stayed to dusk, and gone back the next day ...
 Wednesday 2 November. Breakfast at 05:00, we left at 05:30 arriving at Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary at 06:15. Paul found a roosting Red-chested Owlet and we saw Long-tailed Hawk, Sabine’s Puffback and Red-billed Dwarf, Black Dwarf and White-crested Hornbills during the morning session. We also had flight views of Brown-necked and Grey Parrots, although mine of the former were little more than a silhouette and not quite good enough for a new bird. Frustratingly Afep Pigeon was heard from a large fairly open tree but managed to slip out with only John glimpsing it and a calling Brown Illadopsis was not in an area where it would be viewable to the group. John and I stayed at Bobiri while the others returned for lunch, not that the extra time made much difference, us both seeing different White-tailed Alethes but little else. We had hoped to make more of an inroad into the good birds that were obviously there. The afternoon was quiet and we stayed to dark when Paul successfully taped in a Brown Nightjar. We were back at the HQ at 18:45 and the hotel at 19:30.
forest trail at Bobiri
Red-chested Owlet

birding the dirt road through Bobiri
Crimson-spotted Forester at Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary, one of the most attractive butterflies I've seen
Mocker Swallowtail
Narrow-banded Green Swallowtail
tall trees at Bobiri
Thursday 3 November. Breakfast at 05:00, departed 5:30 for Offinso farmbush where we arrived at 07:30. It was already starting to be quite warm. We walked the track to 10:00 before turning back. Birding was generally quiet not helped by my missing any sort of decent view of the best bird, Capuchin Babbler, a combination of poor eyesight and positioning - being slow to go in by which time it would have been better to stay outside. We were back at the bus at 11:45 and soon driving north towards Mole with a long lunch and a few brief unproductive roadside stops on the way. We arrived at Mole at 18:00 as it was getting dark.
Giant Pouched Rat
female Vanga Flycatcher

a bird with attitude
we were sorry not to be around another day for the miracle service, I could have asked for an African Pitta! 
market day?

about to cross the Black Volta
Grasshopper Buzzard

Abyssinian Roller

northern villages

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