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 significant numbers of endemics and specialities makes Angola one of the continent’s top birding destinations. With habitats ranging from Congo Basin forests to the Namib Desert it’s no surprise that the country has a birdlist of 940 species. The escarpments and highlands of western Angola hold isolated patches of Afromontane and Congo Basin forests where numerous endemics have evolved in isolation.
Based in Uíge the tour starts by sampling the northern escarpment forests 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 visit 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, Benguela Long-billed Lark, Cinderella Waxbill and Benguela Long-tailed Starling.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening in Luanda. Night in Luanda.
Day 2: After a quick look at the large dark swifts near our hotel, currently thought to be dark Mottled Swifts, we’ll head out northeast on the road to Uíge. Our first stop will be for a walk in some 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 near Uíge in the afternoon we will stop in some 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 for the day, 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 rather rare. Night in Uíge.
Days 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 enjoy a full morning in the Kalandula area, and then spend the afternoon driving to N’dalatando. Night in N’dalatando.
Day 7: We’ll spend the morning birding in the northern scarp forests at Tombinga Pass, looking for any species that might have eluded us until now. We’ll then drive to Muxima on the Kwanza River in Kissama National Park. Night in Muxima.
Day 8: The dry forests in the vicinity of Muxima offer 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. A whole host of dry forest birds is on offer, with Gabela Helmetshrike, Monteiro’s Bushshrike and White-fronted Wattle-eye top of the list. Other possibilities include African Barred Owlet, Red-backed Mousebird, Olive Bee-eater, 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.
Day 9: After some final birding in the Muxima area, we’ll drive to Conda on the central escarpment, from where we’ll explore Kumbira Forest. Night near Conda.
Day 10: 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 11: After some early morning birding in the Kumbira area we’ll drive to our base at Mount Moco on the outskirts of Huambo where we’ll spend four nights. Night near Huambo.
Days 12-14: The greater Mount Moco region is one of the most diverse in the country and we’ll spend three and a half days exploring 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, Schalow’s Turaco, Olive Woodpecker, Western Green Tinkerbird, Black-backed Barbet, Bocage’s Akalat, African Hill Babbler, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Ludwig’s Double-collared Sunbird and Thick-billed Seedeater. The forest edges support Huambo Cisticola (Angola’s newest bird species) as well as African Spotted Creeper, Red- throated Wryneck, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Dusky Twinspot, Angolan Swee Waxbill, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Oustalet’s and Bronzy Sunbirds, and Black-chinned Weaver. The surrounding grasslands and rocky areas hold an endemic race of Mountain Wheatear, Horus Swift, Angola Lark, Striped Pipit, Black-collared Bulbul, Broad-tailed Warbler (Fan-tailed Grassbird), Ayres’s/Wing-snapping Cisticola, and the hard-to-see Finsch’s Francolin. One day we’ll make a six-hour return hike to search for Margaret’s Batis in the largest remaining patch of Afromontane forest. Miombo woodlands and dambo grasslands in the surrounds of Mount Moco hold an equally impressive variety of birds. Pale-billed Hornbill, Miombo Pied Barbet (rare), Black-necked and Green-capped Eremomelas, a curious local race of Brubru, Miombo Scrub Robin, Miombo Wren-Warbler, Red-capped Crombec, Woodland Pipit, Salvadori’s Eremomela, Yellow-bellied Hyliota and White-breasted Cuckooshrike may be seen in the woodlands. However, the dambo grasslands hold the greatest interest, and here we will be hoping to find: Brazza’s Martin, Black-and-rufous Swallow, Fülleborn’s Longclaw, 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 area we’ll drive towards the coast, birding the wetlands of Lobito, where we should see Cape Teal along with a variety of herons and waders. Night near Benguela.
Day 16: The arid savanna and rocky hillsides some 50 km inland of Benguela form the most northerly tongue of Namibian Escarpment habitat and provide an opportunity to look for several species mostly associated with Namibia. We’ll spend an afternoon and a morning here. Hartlaub’s Francolins call from atop rocks in the early morning, and we hope to see Monteiro’s, Southern Yellow-billed and Damara Red-billed Hornbills, Rüppell’s Parrot, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Bare-cheeked Babbler, White-tailed Shrike, Cape Penduline Tit, Carp’s and Ashy Tits, Pririt Batis, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Black-chested Prinia, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler and Scaly-feathered Finch. We’ll also have an outside chance for Orange River Francolin. During the afternoon we’ll drive to Lubango. Night in Lubango.
Day 17: Views down the spectacular southern escarpment are best had from Tundavala near Lubango. The rocky area also 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) so we’ll have plenty to look for. We’ll also search for the recently rediscovered Angolan White-headed Barbet today. Night in Lubango.
Day 18: The road down from Lubango to Namibe starts at around 2300m on the Humpata Plateau, rapidly dropping down the spectacular Leba Pass to the lowlands below. Our first stop will be at the base of the escarpment where we’ll hope to see Bennett’s Woodpecker, Cinderella Waxbill, Hartlaub’s Babbler, and Benguela Long-billed Starling. As we drive west towards the coast, the habitat gets drier and drier. Initially arid bushveld is home to Karoo Chat, Chat Flycatcher, Cape Sparrow, Dusky Sunbird and Southern Fiscal, but eventually we’ll reach barred desert plains where we’ll hope to see Rüppell’s Korhaan and Benguela Long-billed Lark. Other possibilities here include Ludwig’s Bustard, Double-banded Courser, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Greater Kestrel, Pale-winged Starling, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark and Stark’s Lark. In the evening we’ll catch a flight to Luanda. Night in Luanda.
Day 19: The tour ends this morning after breakfast.
Updated: 13 May 2019