Yellow-headed Picathartes is perhaps the star bird of the tour Photo: David Fisher
Lying on the Gulf of Guinea along Africa’s tropical western coast, Ghana is a country rich both in ancient tradition and in the history of Europe’s early colonial expansion into West Africa. Today it is a vibrant and colourful country stretching from the blinding white beaches of the Atlantic through dense, deep green rainforest to the open savannah of the Sahel, and one that plays host to over 750 bird species.
Our tour begins amidst the lagoons of the Gold Coast, where migrant waders from Europe swell the numbers of resident waterbirds. We then move inland to the primary tropical rainforests of Kakum National Park, home to a world-famous canopy walkway that will place us at eye-level with a vast array of rainforest species, including numerous hornbills, greenbuls and barbets. Our tour also includes an exciting couple of days at Ankasa, an area seldom visited by birders, and a trek into the forest will take us to the secret home of the cave dwelling Yellow-headed Picathartes, one of Africa’s most evocative birds.
Elsewhere we visit the wide open spaces of Mole National Park, an essential part of any visit to Ghana, where Bateleurs float across the golden grasslands and Red-throated Bee-eaters hawk for insects in the rich woodland. Ghana has a well-deserved reputation as one of Africa’s friendliest and safest countries, qualities that are still only enjoyed by a small number of tourists.
Day 1: The tour starts with a flight from London to Accra. On arrival, we will be met by our ground crew and transferred to our hotel for the night. Night near Accra.
Day 2: As the vast majority of international flights arrive late into Ghana we will have a relaxed start this morning, enjoying breakfast before departing our hotel and heading towards Winneba lagoon. This coastal lagoon supports a wide range of resident and migrant waders and terns, with White-fronted Plover and Royal Tern both possible, alongside Yellow-billed Kites, Pied Kingfishers and our first selection of doves and sunbirds. After lunch we continue towards Kakum and an afternoon birding farmland scrub close to our hotel. We hope to see Red-headed Quelea, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, Bar-breasted Firefinch, Village and Compact Weavers, Splendid and Copper Sunbirds and both Red-faced and Whistling Cisticolas. As dusk falls we will make our first attempt to see Fraser’s Eagle Owl. Night near Kakum.
Days 3-4: Kakum National Park is part of a huge protected area of rainforest covering 375 square miles and is the focus of our attention for the next two days. Besides the fabulous forest, Kakum is perhaps best known for its amazing aerial walkway that stretches through the forest canopy 120 feet above the ground. The forest canopy is rich in bird life and no two visits to the walkway are the same. With an ever-changing mix of mouth-watering Upper Guinea forest specialities and superb African birds we could hope to see any of the following species: Congo Serpent Eagle, Red-thighed Sparrowhawk, Cassin’s Hawk Eagle, Blue-headed Wood Dove, African Grey and Red-fronted Parrots, Yellowbill, Bristle-nosed, Naked-faced and Hairy-breasted Barbets, Melancholy and Fire-bellied Woodpeckers, African Emerald Cuckoo, Yellow-billed Turaco and possibly Great Blue Turacos. Hornbills are well represented and we could encounter Piping and White-crested Hornbill as well as Velvet-mantled Drongo, Black-winged and Western Black-headed Orioles, Blue Cuckoo-shrike, Violet-backed Hyliota, Ussher’s Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, a selection of Greenbuls including Golden, White-throated, Western Bearded, Honeyguide and Icterine, Sabine’s Puffback, Preuss’s Golden-backed Weaver, Red-headed and Blue-billed Malimbes and many species of Sunbird including Fraser’s, Johanna’s, Buff-throated, Olive, Blue-throated Brown, Little Green and Collared.
On one afternoon we will return to the canopy as hornbills become more active as they feed before roosting. This offers our best chance of Brown-cheeked and both Black and Yellow-casqued Hornbills. The atmosphere in the afternoon can be very different from the morning and if we stay until dark we hope to hear, and possibly see, Brown Nightjar and maybe Fraser’s Eagle Owl.
We’ll also be birding other areas of the park away from the canopy, where we’ll search for such gems as African Cuckoo-hawk, Black Sparrowhawk, White-spotted Flufftail, Rock Pratincole, Black and Rosy Bee-eaters, Cassin’s, Sabine’s and maybe Black Spinetails, Red-billed and Black Dwarf Hornbills, Blue-throated Roller, Preuss’s and White-throated Blue Swallows, Western Nicator, Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrike, Forest Robin, Forest and White-headed Wood-hoopoes, Yellow-billed and Yellow-nosed Barbets, Red-rumped and Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Red-billed Helmet-shrike, Green Crombec, Tit-hylia and both Copper-tailed and Forest Chestnut-winged Starlings. There is still much to discover in these areas and if we are really lucky surprises may include a Yellow-footed Honeyguide or African Piculet.
During the heat of the day there will be chance for a swim or relax at our hotel. Nights near Kakum.
Day 5: After a final morning around Kakum we’ll continue our journey westwards to spend two nights in Ankasa, an area of pristine tropical rainforest on the border with Ivory Coast. It is said to be one of the last homes of Chimpanzee in Ghana although they are seldom seen. As there are no suitable hotels within 2 hours of the forest we will spend two nights camping. Our ground agents will have walk in tents, with beds, all ready for us on arrival. There are also toilet and shower facilities, power, our own chef and cold drinks! This allows us to be on site for first and last light - a very special experience.
Day 6: At the time of writing only a few birding trips have been made to Ankasa but the mouth-watering list of birds includes a second chance for many of the species from Kakum along with many more new birds possibly including Hartlaub’s Duck, African Finfoot, Crested Guineafowl, Shining Blue, White-bellied and Chocolate-backed Kingfishers, Rufous-sided Broadbill White-tailed Alethe, Piping Hornbill, Square-tailed Saw-wing, Yellow-bearded Greenbul, Black-capped Apalis, White-tailed Ant-Shrike, Dusky Blue and Blue-headed Crested Flycatchers, Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch, and Pale-breasted and Blackcap Illadopsis. In the evening we’ll head out for some night birding with the very rare Akun Eagle Owl our main target but African Wood Owl is also present and we could even hear the mythical Nkulengu Rail. Night camping.
Day 7: We will spend the whole morning birding around Ankasa, before having an early lunch back at camp. From Ankasa we begin our journey back towards Kakum, birding en route where we hope to find Orange Weavers and both Brown and Reichenbach’s sunbirds. After several days of forest birding there will be a change of scenery before getting to our hotel. Brenu beach road offers some excellent open country birding with Black-winged Kites and Lanner Falcons likely overhead and passerines in the scrubland including Marsh and Black-crowned Tchagra, Oriole Warbler, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike, Red-headed Quelea and Black-rumped Waxbill. Night near Kakum.
Day 8: After a final morning birding around Kakum our attentions will be turned towards the main target of our tour, the Yellow-headed Picathartes. Everything about this bird is special and after around an hours walk up a forested hillside we’ll take our places and wait patiently for the star to appear. Numbers vary, but we stand a very good chance of seeing this elusive, forest species as it returns to its rocky overhang to roost. From our vantage point we’ll then make our way back downhill and to the bus, arriving at our next hotel for a late dinner and (hopefully) a celebratory drink! Night in Kumasi.
Day 9: Our new itinerary now includes a visit to Offinso forest, just a couple of hours drive from Kumasi. This has now become one of the more reliable sites in the country for not only Blue-moustached Bee-eater but also for Capuchin Babbler. This forest also contains Afep Pigeon, Black Sparrowhawk, Bioko Batis and if we are lucky Yellow-footed Honeyguide. After a mornings birding we eat lunch in a local restaurant before starting the drive to Mole, and as we go, we’ll notice the birdlife start to change along the route as we head towards drier country. African Grey Hornbill will become the default hornbill and new raptors should include Grasshopper Buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawk and possibly Beaudouin’s Snake-eagle. Once we reach our lodge, and while our ground crew check us into our rooms, we can head straight for the terrace, enjoy a cold drink and have our first look at the water hole as dusk approaches. Species here should include White-faced Whistling Duck, Hadada Ibis, Hamerkop, Helmeted Guineafowl, Black Crake, Broad-billed Roller and Grey-headed Kingfisher. Mammals will also be present, and although African Elephant is rare at this time of year, we’ll see Kob, Bushbuck, Waterbuck and Warthog. Olive Baboons and several species of monkey also inhabit the park. Night at Mole.
Days 10–11: We’ll have two full days exploring Mole National Park where we hope to see a good range of savannah species including Stone Partridge, Violet Turaco, Blue-bellied and Abyssinian Rollers, Red-throated Bee-eater, Brubru, Scarlet-chested and Pygmy Sunbirds and Striped Kingfisher. In the heat of the day there will be chance for a swim in the pool, easily the best place to watch raptors drifting overhead from Bateleur, Martial, Wahlberg’s and Tawny Eagles to White-headed and African White-backed Vultures. Alternatively, it is possible to sit in the shade and scan the watering hole where there is a good chance of Spur-winged Goose, Saddle-billed and Woolly-necked Storks paying a visit.
We’ll tailor our afternoon birding to search for missing species but all manner of birds are possible including Forbe’s Plover, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Bruce’s and African Green Pigeons, Four-banded Sandgrouse, Senegal Parrot, Red-headed Lovebird, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, African Pygmy, Giant and Blue-breasted Kingfishers, White-shouldered Black Tit, Yellow White-eye, Spotted Creeper, Red-shouldered and White-breasted Cuckoo Shrikes, Senegal Batis, Brubru, Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Oriole Warbler, African Paradise, Pale and Lead-coloured Flycatchers, Lavender and Orange-cheeked Waxbills, Square-tailed Drongo, Green Wood-hoopoe, Greater Honeyguide, Wilson’s Indigobird, Togo Paradise Whydah and Cinnamon-breasted Rock Bunting.
In the evenings we’ll stay out until dark to look for Greyish Eagle Owl and African Scops Owl as well as Long-tailed Nightjars. In some years Standard-winged Nightjars are also present. Nights at Mole.
Day 12: After a final few hours birding around Mole we will begin our journey back towards the more humid south. There will undoubtedly be birds along the road but our main aim will be to reach Bobiri in time for a few hours birding. Long-tailed Hawk and dwarf hornbills may be possible, and as dusk falls we stand another chance of hearing Brown Nightjar. Night in Kumasi.
Day 13: We start the day with an early visit to Bobiri butterfly reserve. This stretch of forest is rich in bird life and specialities may include Long-tailed Hawk, Fire-bellied Woodpecker, Narina’s Trogon, Fraser’s Forest and Chestnut-capped Flycatchers, Red-billed Dwarf and White-crested Hornbills, Tambourine Dove, Cassin’s Honeybird, Afep Pigeon, Purple-throated Cuckoo Shrike and both Crested and Red-headed Malimbes. This small area of forest also holds African Piculet and Yellow-footed Honeyguide, but they are never easy.
After a mornings birding we continue south, stopping for lunch en route before arriving at Shai Hills reserve for a few hours birding before dark. This is a great area for Lizard Buzzard, Oriole Warbler and Ahanta Francolin and being here in the evening will give us new possibilities including Barred Owlet and both Black-shouldered and Plain Nightjars. Night near Shai Hills.
Day 14: We will return to Shai Hills after an early breakfast. The mixture of savannah scrub and rocky outcrops is home to several species that we will not have had chances for during the tour. Our main targets will be White-crowned Cliff-chat, Rock Martin and Double-toothed Barbet but there will be plenty more to keep us busy. The open landscape is good for raptors, Blue-bellied Roller and both Vieillot’s and Bearded Barbets are present, as are Croaking and Short-winged Cisticolas, White Helmet-shrike, Northern Crombec and White-shouldered Black Tit. After lunch at our hotel we will drive to Sakamona lagoon. This coastal lagoon not only holds some great African species such as Black Heron, Kittlitz’s Plover, Malachite Kingfisher and Yellow-throated Longclaw but is also home to scores of wintering waders and terns, including Collared Pratincoles, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Royal and Caspian Terns. It has an unbeatable reputation for rarities, especially American shorebirds, so we may have one last surprise in store. We then return to our hotel, where we have arranged a late check out and a chance to repack, shower and an early dinner before making our way to Accra’s international airport, to check-in for our evening overnight flight to London, where the tour ends on Day 15.
Updated: 05 January 2016