Angola has some unique birds, such as the Angolan Cave Chat. Photo: Tertius A Gous
Out of bounds for 30 years due to internal troubles, Angola began opening up to visitors in 2002 and birders now have an opportunity to sample its many unique avian delights. Until recently any birding tour there required camping but this tour is hotel-based throughout and still allows all the special birds to be seen.
The combination of varied habitats, high species diversity and a significant number of endemics and specialities make Angola a remarkable if little known African birding destination. With habitats ranging from Congo Basin and Afromontane forests to the Namib Desert, it’s no surprise that the country has a bird list of about 950 species.
We’ll begin by sampling the northern escarpment forests near Uíge where numerous Congo Basin birds occur alongside the endemic Braun’s Bushshrike. Next we’ll visit the broadleaved woodlands and gallery forests of the Kalandula area, which host forest specialities such as White-headed Robin-Chat and Bannerman’s Sunbird alongside miombo species such as Anchieta’s Barbet, Sharp-tailed Starling and Anchieta’s Sunbird. Then we’ll move on to the central escarpment, where Kissama National Park has dry forests at the escarpment foot while Kumbira Forest contains slightly moister forests at the top of the escarpment. Together these two sites hold almost half of Angola’s endemics and special birds, including Grey-striped Francolin, Red-crested Turaco, Gabela and Monteiro’s Bushshrikes, Gabela Helmetshrike, Gabela Akalat, Pulitzer’s Longbill, White-fronted Wattle-eye, Angola Batis, Yellow-throated Nicator, Yellow-necked and Pale-olive Greenbuls, Hartert’s Camaroptera, Black-faced Canary, Landana Firefinch and Golden-backed Bishop.
We’ll also explore the varied Mount Moco region’s Afromontane forests, montane grasslands and miombo woodlands. Here we’ll hope to see Swierstra’s and Finsch’s Francolins, Fülleborn’s Longclaw, Angola Swee Waxbill, Dusky Twinspot, Bocage’s and Black-chinned Weavers, Oustalet’s, Ludwig’s Double-collared and Bocage’s Sunbirds, Angola Slaty Flycatcher, Bocage’s Akalat, Huambo Cisticola, Black-and-rufous Swallow, Brazza’s Martin, Black-collared Bulbul, Angola Lark and Margaret’s Batis. Heading towards the arid coast we’ll then enter the northernmost tongue of Kalahari and Namibian escarpment habitat where birds such as Hartlaub’s Francolin, Rüppell’s Parrot, White-tailed Shrike, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Pririt Batis, Cape Penduline Tit and Kalahari Scrub Robin can be found.
The tour ends in the Lubango area, where we’ll visit Tundavala in search of Angola Cave Chat, Angola White-headed Barbet and Ansorge’s Firefinch, and we’ll make a day trip to the coastal deserts to look for Rüppell’s Korhaan and Benguela Long-billed Lark.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Luanda. Night in Luanda.
Day 2: After a quick look at the large dark swifts - currently thought to be dark Mottled Swifts - near our hotel, we’ll head out northeast on the road to Uíge. Our first stop will be for a walk in dry forest where we should see our first endemics: Red-backed Mousebird and Bubbling Cisticola are usually present, and Gabela Helmetshrike and Monteiro’s Bushshrike are both possible. As we approach Uíge in the afternoon we’ll stop in moister roadside forest to look for our first chance of Braun’s Bushshrike. Night in Uíge.
Day 3: We’ll spend a full day exploring various patches of northern escarpment forest within an hour’s drive of Uíge. Braun’s Bushshrike is the main target, but many other species are possible including Red-fronted Parrot, Piping Hornbill, Yellow-crested Woodpecker, Speckled and Red-rumped Tinkerbirds, Yellow-billed, Naked-faced, Bristle-nosed and Hairy-breasted Barbets, Cassin’s Honeybird, Black Bee-eater, Banded Prinia, Lowland Masked Apalis, Brown-backed Scrub Robin, Forest Chestnut-winged Starling, Black-winged Oriole, Dusky-blue and Sooty Flycatchers, Brown Twinspot, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, White-breasted Nigrita, and Orange-tufted, Green-throated and Little Green Sunbirds. White-collared Oliveback, discovered here in 2011, is also possible but rare. Night in Uíge.
Day 4: After some final birding in the Uíge area we’ll drive to Kalandula Falls, stopping at various gallery forests and woodlands en route. Possible new birds for the day include Red-crested Turaco and Anchieta’s Barbet. Night in Kalandula.
Day 5: Our main reason for visiting the Kalandula region is to search for the striking and localised White-headed Robin-Chat in the gallery forests some 40 km north of the falls. Sharing the same habitat are species such as Narina Trogon, Grey-winged Robin-Chat, Bannerman’s Sunbird, Brown-headed Apalis, African Broadbill, and Cabanis’s Greenbul. We’ll also explore the surrounding woodlands which are the most reliable site for Anchieta’s Barbet and Sharp-tailed Starling. Other species of interest may include Pale-billed Hornbill, Rufous-bellied Tit, Anchieta’s and Western Violet-backed Sunbirds, Red-throated Cliff Swallow, Meyer’s Parrot, Retz’s Helmetshrike, and Miombo Scrub Robin. Night in Kalandula.
Day 6: We’ll drive to Muxima on the Kwanza River in Kissama National Park. We’ll pause near N’dalatando for some escarpment forest birding, but aim to arrive at Muxima in time for introductory birding in the general area. Night in Muxima village.
Day 7: Dry forests in the vicinity of Muxima provide some of the country’s most endemic-rich birding. In the early morning we’ll watch for Grey-striped Francolin on the sides of the road. As the day progresses, a host of dry forest birds are on offer with Gabela Helmetshrike, Monteiro’s Bushshrike and White-fronted Wattle-eye topping the list. Other possible species include African Barred Owlet, Red-backed Mousebird, Olive Bee-eater, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Pale-olive Greenbul, Swamp Boubou, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, Bubbling Cisticola, Forest Scrub Robin, Green Crombec, Purple-banded Sunbird, Yellow-throated Nicator and Angola Batis. Night in Muxima village.
Day 8: After some final birding in the Muxima area, we’ll drive down the drier coast, birding the coastal wetlands of Lobito, home to Cape Teal and a variety of herons and waders. Night in Benguela.
Day 9: The arid savanna and rocky hillsides some 50 km inland of Benguela form the most northerly tongue of Namibia’s Great Escarpment and provide an opportunity to look for several species mostly associated with Namibia. Hartlaub’s Francolins call from the rocks in the early morning, and we hope to find Bare-cheeked Babbler, Rüppell’s Parrot, White-tailed Shrike, Cape Penduline Tit, Carp’s Tit, Pririt Batis, Monteiro’s Hornbill and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill. Night in Lubango.
Day 10: Views down the southern escarpment from Tundavala, near Lubango, are spectacular. The rocky area holds a variety of grassland, escarpment and forest birds. The main attraction here is the localised Angola Cave Chat, but it’s found alongside Swierstra’s Francolin (rare), Freckled Nightjar, Bradfield’s Swift, Angola Slaty Flycatcher, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Angolan Swee Waxbill, Rockrunner, Tinkling and Wailing Cisticola, Buffy and Striped Pipits, Oustalet’s Sunbird and Ansorge’s Firefinch (split from Jameson’s Firefinch). We’ll also search for the recently rediscovered Angolan White-headed Barbet today. Night in Lubango.
Day 11: The road from Lubango to Namibe starts on the Humpata Plateau at around 2300m and rapidly drops through the spectacular Leba Pass to the lowlands below. Our first stop will be at the base of the escarpment where we hope to track down Cinderella Waxbill, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Bennett’s Woodpecker and Benguela Long-tailed Starling. As we drive west towards the coast the habitat gets drier and drier. The arid bushveld is home to Dusky Sunbird, Karoo Chat, Chat Flycatcher, Cape Sparrow and Southern Fiscal, and we’ll later reach barren desert plains where Benguela Long-billed Lark and Rüppell’s Korhaan are the main targets. Other possibilities include Ludwig’s Bustard, Double-banded Courser, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Greater Kestrel, Pale-winged Starling, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark and Stark’s Lark. Night in Lubango.
Day 12: Today is a travel day, as we start our journey back north to Luanda, this time taking the inland route through miombo woodlands. Night near Huambo.
Days 13-14: The greater Mount Moco region is one of the most diverse in the country, and we’ll have two days to explore its Afromontane forests, montane grasslands, miombo woodlands and dambo grasslands. A significant amount of time will be focussed on Mount Moco itself, where the forests support diminishing populations of Swierstra’s Francolin, Ludwig’s Double-collared Sunbird, Bocage’s Akalat, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Olive Woodpecker, Western Green Tinkerbird and Black-backed Barbet. The forest edge also supports Huambo Cisticola (Angola’s newest bird species), Yellow-throated Leaflove, Dusky Twinspot, Angolan Swee Waxbill, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Oustalet’s Sunbird, Bronzy Sunbird, Spotted Creeper, Red-throated Wryneck and Black-chinned Weaver. The surrounding grasslands and rocky areas hold an endemic race of Mountain Wheatear, Horus Swift, Striped Pipit, Black-collared Bulbul, Angola Lark, Broad-tailed Warbler (Fan-tailed Grassbird), and the very hard to see Finsch’s Francolin.
Miombo woodlands and dambo grasslands surrounding Mount Moco hold an equally impressive variety of birds. Black-necked and Green-capped Eremomelas, the curious local race of Brubru, Miombo Scrub Robin, Miombo Pied Barbet (rare), Miombo Wren-Warbler, Red-capped Crombec, Woodland Pipit, Salvadori’s Eremomela, Pale-billed Hornbill, Yellow-bellied Hyliota and White-breasted Cuckooshrike may be seen in the woodlands. However, the dambo grasslands hold the greatest interest, and we’ll hope to find Brazza’s Martin, Black-and-rufous Swallow, Fülleborn’s Longclaw, Sooty Chat, Chirping Cisticola, Fawn-breasted Waxbill, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Brown Firefinch, Locust-Finch, Hartlaub’s Marsh Widowbird, Bocage’s Sunbird and Bocage’s Weaver. Nights near Huambo.
Day 15: After some final birding in the Mount Moco region, we’ll make our way to the central escarpment. Night near Conda.
Day 16: Kumbira Forest is home to three endangered central-scarp endemics, namely Pulitzer’s Longbill, Gabela Bushshrike and Gabela Akalat. Unfortunately, slash-and-burn farming has caused major population declines in all three species although the akalat is still common and the longbill normally not too hard to find. The bushshrike has become rather rare and hard to locate, having been fairly common only 15 years ago, so we may have to search for it at some backup sites. Other birds we may find at Kumbira include Red-crested Turaco, Angolan Naked-faced Barbet, hyliotas of uncertain affinity, Dusky Tit, Yellow-throated Nicator, Yellow-necked and Pale-olive Greenbuls, Brown Illadopsis, Hartert’s Camaroptera, Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye, Forest Scrub Robin, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Pink-footed Puffback, African Broadbill, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, Superb Sunbird, Black-faced Canary and Grey Waxbill. Night near Conda.
Day 17: After some final birding in the Kumbira Forest area, we’ll return to the coast and drive north back to Luanda. If time allows, we’ll stop at the Kwanza River to look for Brown Sunbird, and at Mussulo Bay for some wader watching. The tour ends this evening at the international airport in Luanda.
Updated: 23 November 2020