Cameroon March/April 2012
Lowland Rainforests and Bamenda Highlands
March 24th. Arrival
We arrived in Douala, the capital of Cameroon, checked through customs, and were out into the heat and humidity of the airport to collect our luggage. Our guide was waiting for us and we were soon loaded up and off to the hotel for the night. We stayed at the Foyer du Marin, and after dinner and a cold beer we got a good night’s sleep and were ready the next morning.
March 25th. Transfer to Campo, birding on the way
Waking in a foreign country is always fun, with the first hints of bird song you’ve not heard in ages to get the blood pumping. I was out in the predawn heat, recording African Thrush and Common Bulbul in the grounds of the hotel. Our guide soon showed up and we loaded the car, while the sounds of Brown-throated Wattle-eye came from a large tree next to the parking lot.
We drove through the morning traffic, heading south along the road to Edea. Our guide knew of a roadside pond where we would stop, and soon enough we were overlooking it. Surrounded by woods this small pond, on first inspection from the road, didn’t look like it held much. We did, however, chance upon a Piping Hornbill in a tree overlooking the pond, and a flyby of a Grey Parrot was nice. We decided to walk down to the water, where we spooked up a Senegal Thick-knee. Scanning the water we began to find birds: African Darter, Squacco Heron, and Malachite Kingfisher. A Western Nicator sang from somewhere deep in the forest surrounding the water, and the sudden flap of wings drew our attention to a pair of Hartlaub’s Ducks as they flew away from us onto a dead snag in the middle of the pond for some great scope views.
We continued south from here to Edea for breakfast, crossing a bridge over the Sanaga River, where there was a nice crop of Preuss’s Cliff Swallows on the wires. In the grounds of the restaurant I found a Western Yellow Wagtail and several Bronze Mannikins and spooked up a Blue-spotted Wood Dove, which flushed from the grasses and shot away from me, chestnut wings working quickly to get it to cover.
After breakfast we crossed back over the river and took a road that leads along the edge of Lac Ossa Wildlife Reserve. We stopped along the dirt road to check the river, finding several African Skimmers, Yellow-billed Kite, Grey Heron, Common Greenshank, and Barn Swallow. A large colony of Village Weavers chimed in from above before we crossed over through some farm land to the forest. Once at the edge of the forest, the birds came thick and fast. Little Greenbul, which would be the most vocal bird of the trip, chimed in, while a Western Nicator sang from deeper in the forest. We found a spot where we could get into the open understorey and soon found a Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher.
We followed some noise until we came across a group of Red-tailed Greenbuls, a lovely female Chestnut Wattle-eye, Yellow-lored Bristlebill, Icterine Greenbul, and a Western Bluebill singing from cover. We followed a trail that led us out to some open grassy/bush area, where we found several Chattering Cisticolas and a Little Bee-eater resting on a palm. Some playback drew in the noisy cisticolas, and we had them dancing all about us making a racket.
Back out on the road we found an Olive-bellied Sunbird singing in a roadside tree, and while recording it I picked up the song of a Eurasian Reed Warbler singing in the riverside vegetation.
We climbed into the car for the drive down to Kribi, now that it was becoming too hot for birding. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant overlooking an inlet, where we had some wonderful fish and watched as Malachite and Pied Kingfishers eyed the water and plenty of Yellow-billed Kites meandered around, waiting for a morsel.
We continued south after lunch to Campo, with a few gendarme stops along the way, and arrived and dropped of our stuff. Then we went to meet our guide, who was running late. Once he arrived we drove for a while, as it became darker and darker. By the time we stopped it was almost dark, and by the time we got to the rock where the picathartes nest, it was night and we’d either spooked them on the way in or they were somewhere else. We waited for a bit, but to no avail, so we headed back to our hotel for the night.
March 26th. Birding Campo Ma’an National Park, transfer to Buea
We started out early this morning and headed into the park, where we spent some time walking the road with nice rainforest on either side. As soon as we got out we were surrounded by the song of Little Greenbul and Western Nicator. In the distance the wailing call of Black-casqued Wattled Hornbills became evident as they flew towards us and past. A female stopped for a scope view and continued to call, while an African Pied Hornbill joined the chorus, flying over the canopy.
We moved down the road a bit until the calls of several Spotted Greenbuls got our attention. They passed us by, while the ‘poop….poop…poop’ song of a Blue-headed Wood Dove was coming from the thick forest in front of us. More hornbills joined the fray with several Piping Hornbills coming close in the tree behind us. A lone Woodland Kingfisher added his color to the surroundings, as several Olive-bellied Sunbirds chimed in as we closed on the village.
We stopped here for some tea and bread, while another pair of Piping Hornbills entertained us from a tall tree behind the village. Spotted Greenbuls drifted past along with several Swamp Palm Bulbuls. A lone African Pygmy Kingfisher eyed us from the washing line in someone’s front yard while we sipped our tea.
After breakfast we ventured through town to try and find the Great Blue Turacos we’d heard earlier. With some playback they soon turned up and gave us a great show of bowing and lifting their tails as they called and moved about the palms and trees to the back of one of the houses that butted up against the forest. Behind us a male Black-casqued Wattled Hornbill called constantly before flying off into the jungle.
We went back to the hotel after this and loaded up before heading to another part of the park. On the way we found a small canopy flock consisting of Grey Longbill and several sunbirds as well as a Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird. A Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher moved through the palms in front of us, but we were running out of time and needed to get on the road, so we climbed into the car and began the journey north.
The rest of the day was spent on the drive up to Buea, with stops in Kribi for lunch and some afternoon traffic in Douala. We arrived in the evening at our hotel, ready for some rest.
March 27th. Birding Mount Cameroon
We woke before sunrise and listened to the birds outside our rooms. Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Splendid Starling, and Pied Crow all called from the open grass and palm trees behind the hotel. We could see Mount Cameroon from our rooms as it was not covered in clouds, which was nice.
After breakfast we got our stuff and drove to the foot of the mountain, where we met our guide for the day. Then we began the slow hike up the steep slopes of this massive volcano.
We hiked through open farmland, picking up some good initial species like Whinchat, Long-legged Pipit, and a surprise Brown-crowned Tchagra. Several Mackinnon’s Shrikes were calling, and as we approached the edge of the forest we heard our first Grey-headed Nigrita. A circling Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle was a nice find, and a Brown-throated Wattle-eye called from the cover of a wooded gully. A hidden sunbird sang up-slope in a flowering tree, and we later figured out it was Johanna’s Sunbird from the song I recorded. Another hidden singer turned out to be Mountain Robin-Chat, which responded well to the playback of its own song and it came in for some close views.
From here we continued up into the forest proper and began to pick up some fantastic birds. A pair of Mountain Sooty Boubous sang from an area of open forest. Grey Apalis sang noisily, while a Cardinal Woodpecker drummed and called from the canopy above us. A small group of African Yellow White-eyes called and moved through the canopy, and the first of many Western Greenbuls were heard calling and moving through the understorey. They were joined by the first of many African Hill Babblers, and the constant, repetitive single note of a Thick-billed Honeyguide led us to its location. While we were enjoying this bird, the loud burst of song and call from a group of six or more Yellow-billed Turacos got our attention as they bounded through the understorey and canopy in front of us. We followed them uphill for a while to where the trail opened up and spooked a Banded Prinia that rattled on for a while.
In a banana plantation we found two small grey flycatchers that we at first thought were African Dusky and didn’t pay too much attention to, but I did make a recording. The recording didn’t sound at all like African Dusky, and we think it might have been two Yellow-footed Flycatchers. We didn’t notice the yellow feet, but then we were looking almost directly up at them.
Continuing on we headed uphill again till we leveled off on a little flat part of the trail that was under a huge tree and surrounded by thick understorey. Here we encountered a small flock of birds, prize among which was a pair of Green Longtails that sang well and moved about above us for some nice looks. A White-bellied Crested Flycatcher was seen briefly, and a Cameroon Sunbird put in an appearance.
Moving past some Western Greenbuls and a singing Brown-throated Wattle-eye we came to another steep section, and once at the top of this it mercifully leveled off for a bit. We took a break here for a minute with the constant serenade of Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird. Our guide disappeared downhill for a few minutes and came back saying he’d seen a pair of Bar-tailed Trogons. Excitedly I put on some playback, and within seconds we had a pair moving through the canopy next to us. We enjoyed some great views of these birds while they flew around in the understorey before we left them to continue on upslope to Camp 1.
Along the way there were stops for two very nice Shelley’s Olivebacks, Oriole Finch, Black-winged Oriole, Northern Double-collared Sunbird, and Cameroon Greenbul. Near a particularly thick patch of understorey brush and bamboo we heard a very loud song and stopped to check it out. It was distant, and with the constant calls of other birds around us the recording I made wasn’t very good. With no response from the bird I waded into the bush and came out at a small clearing with waist-high ferns, and across this small gap I could hear the bird singing clearly. I recorded a few minutes of song then hit the playback. Within seconds the bird shot across the gap into the ferns in front of me. It moved furtively through the understorey, and my views were limited to a small brown blob moving quickly through the greenery. I moved back to the trail and used some more playback, and the bird came to the edge of the trail but was never more than just some movement. A long brown tail here, a bit of brown body there. It sang constantly and I was able to figure out later it was an Evergreen Forest Warbler.
After this bird we moved up through a narrow section of trail, where we had Chubb’s Cisticola, Black-billed Weaver, and some more Western Greenbuls before emerging at Camp 1. We stopped and had lunch there, and when I disappeared into the bush for a bathroom break I was soon surrounded by singing and calling Brown-throated Wattle-eye. An African Hill Babbler came in to inspect me at one point for a nice close look.
Back at the camp we saddled up and continued on through the thick ferns and vine tangles that dominated the sides of the trail. We encountered several Yellow-breasted Boubous up here, and as we were going up a particularly narrow section of steep trail we found a Cameroon Olive Pigeon, a country endemic, perched up above us. It sat long enough for us all to get a look but became nervous as I pulled up my camera, so I only got a shot as it began to take off, cutting off the head. When we came out of the forest we could see where it opened up at the tree line above us. We tried there for Mount Cameroon Speirops, another endemic bird, and soon had a small group moving past us at eye level in the trees below us. They made their way across the gap and uphill into the foliage, so we followed around the bend and up. Where the trees began to clear out we had several Mountain Saw-wings wending their way through the canopy, and Yellow Bishops moved about in the ferns.
Sadly we had to begin to make our way back down, and after an hour we were nearing the bottom. The trail down was uneventful with few birds calling in the early afternoon, or they had been seen earlier so we didn’t take too much effort with them. The best birds on the way down were back out in the farm bush, where we found a small group of Black-crowned Waxbills; this would be a common bird in the highlands, but as they were another lifer it was nice to see them.
We met our driver at the bottom with the car and loaded up to drive to Kumba for the night.
March 28th. Birding Lake Barombi Mbo, transfer to Mundemba, birding on the way
We started the day at Lake Barombi Mbo, where a trail leads to the lake. Our first birds were a nice pair of White-chinned Prinias in some tall grasses. Once past these noisy birds we heard the distant song of a sunbird, and with some recorded playback it landed in the tree above us and continued to sing. It turned out to be an Olive Sunbird, which continued with us down the pathway, calling and singing. Green Hylia and Red-tailed Greenbul were heard along here, and the constant ‘poop…..poop’ of a Yellow-billed Barbet echoed through the canopy.
Once at the lake we could see several Reed Cormorants, and the trail that circles around the lake yielded some nice birds in a banana growth. A calling Red-tailed Greenbul came in very close and scolded us, though it wasn’t until later, when we found two juveniles down the slope near the water’s edge, that we realized what she was angry about. A pair of Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatchers called and sang from cover, and another forest ‘poop’er in the form of a Tambourine Dove sang from the thick vine-tangled cover on the edge of the forest.
We returned slowly back to the overlook, where we found a Grey Longbill and a juvenile African Pygmy Kingfisher flitting along the edge of the bank. A Cassin’s Flycatcher sat motionless on a log protruding from the edge of the lake, and nice scope views were had of this bird. We walked the path back to the car, stopping near to the end to record a distant African Emerald Cuckoo.
We drove back through Kumba and picked up some supplies before heading west towards Ekondo Titi. The heat was up by the time we got there, and we decided to skip lunch as it was somewhat spicy and I didn’t want to get any hotter than I already was. We continued down the bumpy road towards Mundemba, eventually stopping in a nice area of forest that lined the road on both sides. No sooner had we gotten out of the car that an Olive-green Camaroptera began its long drawn-out call from the foliage beyond us. Some playback had the bird right in front of us for a long song session, so much so that it continued on for some time after we’d moved on.
A small bird party moved through the trees to our left, and we enjoyed a small group of Red-tailed Greenbuls, a pair of Elliot’s Woodpeckers, and a Red-vented Malimbe, a few small sunbirds went unidentified, and a distant calling Western Nicator was seen briefly through the canopy foliage. A Yellow-lored Bristlebill sang from the deep foliage next to the road but was never coaxed out, and from behind us the song of a Black Cuckoo echoed from the top of the canopy. Once recorded I played it back, and it shot right over our heads and into the forest beyond, where it continued calling. We moved down the road a bit, finding a Blue Malkoha feeding in the understorey, but as it was really getting hot now in the afternoon we decided to move on as most of the activity had stopped.
We arrived in Mundemba in the early afternoon and got settled at the Boseme Inn, a nice little place. I decided to hit the creek next to the hotel to take some pictures of damselflies. Soon after a huge storm rolled in and dumped a huge amount of rain on us, which cooled things down a bit, but everything was soggy, including me, as the rain had driven in sideways and was coming in under the door. After the storm abated I spent some time looking around, finding Olive-bellied Sunbird, Village Weaver, Lesser Striped Swallow, Red-eyed Dove, an African Harrier-Hawk, and the local Pin-tailed Whydah that was chasing a few females around the grounds. After dinner we settled in for the night.
March 29th. Birding Korup National Park
I’d been looking forward to today after seeing pictures and reading the list of birds that live in Korup NP. We began early and arrived at the Mana footbridge to meet our porters. Once everyone was loaded up we began the hike, first climbing up and crossing the suspension bridge. From the far side we looked back on the oil palm plantations before dropping down into the forest. We spent the next five hours making our way to the camp, following the narrow trail and stopping for canopy flocks, which included Blue-billed and Crested Malimbes, Buff-throated Apalis, Red-tailed Greenbul, African Emerald Cuckoo, Green Hylia, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Slender-billed, Icterine, and Yellow-whiskered Greenbuls, and Yellow Longbill. The forest floor was alive too with Fire-crested Alethe, White-spotted Flufftail along one of the creeks, and a nice close pair of singing Pale-breasted Illadopsis. By the time we were nearing the camp I was getting a bit drained, as I’d gone through almost 4.5 liters of water and sweat, most of that back out. We arrived at the camp soon enough, and I was able to drop gear, rehydrate, and have some lunch.
We spent the afternoon resting, while I sat and did some recording and watched as a Yellow-throated Tinkerbird excavated a hole in a dead tree next to the clearing. Around 4:30pm we loaded up again and headed out into the forest. Once more the activity was good, and we came across an active party containing more Red-tailed Greenbuls, but a noisy Shining Drongo was the main attraction. Once into an open area of forest a Yellow-casqued Wattled Hornbill erupted into song above us, and we heard an Eastern Bearded Greenbul, which did circles round us as I played back a recording of it. Yellow-spotted Barbets ‘purred’ from the canopy as we made our way to Picathartes Knoll. Once there we settled in for the long wait. While we sat there a Rufous-bellied Paradise Flycatcher happened by the entrance, and we could hear Little Greenbul, Great Blue Turaco, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, and Fire-crested Alethe. As it got closer to dark several Forest Swallows began to circle through this huge grotto. When it was almost dark there were about 20 in the area, settling into one of the old oicathartes nests, calling, and jostling for position. We’d spoken to a couple of German birders, who had not seen the picathartes and said it had not been seen in six weeks as the forest was so dry. So we didn’t hold out too much hope, and when none showed we began the hike back to camp in the dark. We were serenaded on the way back by the evening chorus of insects and a distant African Wood Owl. Closer to camp we could hear a Sjöstedt’s Owlet, which continued calling through dinner. After we’d eaten I hiked into the forest to get closer to the bird and make some recordings.
Then began the long, hot night in the tent. I couldn’t sleep in the heat, so I lay there most of the night. I was serenaded by hordes of insects and the wailing cry of western tree hyrax. Around 2:30am the distant bellow of a Vermiculated Fishing Owl began, joined shortly after by a Sandy Scops Owl. Just before sunrise the Sjöstedt’s Barred Owlet began again, not wanting to be left out of the equation.
March 30th. Birding Korup National Park, transfer to Nyasoso
With the sun rising the area became brighter and we could see what we were doing. The morning chorus was full of birds while eating breakfast. We ran back and forth, tracking down the White-browed Forest Flycatcher near the creek and a very vocal Yellow-billed Turaco. Ansorge’s Greenbul sang from the edge of the forest, and both Grey and Yellow Longbills sang from the forest interior. A distant Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill sang from the depths of the forest, and a close African Green Pigeon wound up its three-stooges-like song, “yeoww…whoa…whoa…purrr…purrr…purr”, typical of the genus. Blue-headed Wood Dove was a constant companion ‘poop’ing away in the forest interior. Once we had eaten and packed, we began the day with our local guide leading the charge.
No sooner had we started that the local pair of Lyre-tailed Honeyguides began doing song flights from the forest near us. We stopped for another target, but the distant, descending cries of a Bare-cheeked Trogon didn’t lure it in to its own playback, so we moved on. It didn’t take long, though, until we were onto another one. Our guide scanned the mid canopy next to the trail until he found it, and we crept into the jungle so we could spot it. He kindly held the mic for me while I went back for my scope – yes, I know I should have brought it in the first place, but we were making a new trail through the thick undergrowth. Once back with it, though, I set it up and watched this, my last African trogon, sing away before it fluttered off to a new spot and began to sing all over again.
After enjoying this fantastic bird we continued on our way back to the bridge, stopping for other great birds like White-spotted Flufftail and Chestnut and Yellow-bellied Wattle-eyes. Once at the bridge we stopped half way over to look down on the Rock Pratincoles where they were nesting. Though we did not see the nest, the pair was there, and we enjoyed some nice looks at them from above.
Once across the bridge we loaded up the car for the journey back to the hotel. We tipped our porters, as they’d done a hell of a job carting in our stuff and setting up camp. The shower back at the hotel was a welcome sight. After lunch we made our way to Nyasoso for the night, stopping for a group of Preuss’s Cliff Swallows on the bridge, which were collecting water and mud from one of the pools that had collected after a rain shower.
March 31st. Birding Mount Kupe
After breakfast we began the hike up Mount Kupe. We made our way past the school and up through some farm bush and agricultural fields, finding White-chinned Prinia. At the edge of the forest we craned our necks to find a juvenile Black Cuckoo, looking more like an Banded Prinia with all the bands across its body. Several African Emerald Cuckoos were seen and heard here. What sounded like the song of an oriole turned out to be a Western Nicator, and the staccato calls of a Red-eyed Puffback alerted us to its presence. A crested, brown and white bird turned out to be a female Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, which flew to where the male was singing in the canopy. Up in the green, beyond sight, was also the constant call of Yellow-spotted Barbets that remained unseen.
In a lone cecropia we found a Chestnut-breasted Nigrita building a nest and calling constantly, but after a few pictures we continued up into the more forested area of the mountain. The hike was steep and tiring, but we found a small plateau, where we stopped for a snack and some water. The constant song of a Blackcap Illadopsis surrounded us, but despite playback it would not show. A Black-winged Oriole was seen at one point, and the song of a Grey-headed Broadbill was heard, but only once. It too didn’t respond to playback. We heard a Mountain Sooty Boubou call once, but it stopped immediately, and as it was already getting quiet we decided to head back down.
The butterflies on the way back were interesting with varying colors, but there was little in the way of birds. We had a brief stop for lunch before continuing down, where we found a singing Chestnut-bellied Nigrita, African Emerald Cuckoo, Black-winged Oriole, and a pair of Black-faced Rufous Warblers calling as they darted in and out of the thick understorey. A few other common species were found, but nothing major to report until we got back to the rooms. We cleaned up and rested for a bit and in the afternoon we took a walk along the fields and the nature trail.
We found Long-legged Pipit and Black-crowned Waxbill in the school fields, and in a stand of cane we encountered a singing Greater Swamp Warbler. The agricultural fields at the back held Blue-headed Coucal, Grey-backed Camaroptera, and Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, as well as Village Weaver, African Blue Flycatcher, and Little Greenbul. Several Scaly Francolins were heard somewhere farther off, but nowhere could we get to them. As the biting insects were taking a toll on me we decided to head back for dinner.
April 1st. Birding Nyasoso to Bamenda
We started along the road from Nyasoso to the next village, stopping in secondary habitat and finding a Red-eyed Puffback to start, and as a Grey-backed Camaroptera continued to sing we saw a juvenile Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle perched on a stump in one of the banana fields. Tambourine Doves sang from the thick areas of forest, and close by in the grasses several Bronze Mannikins jumped around. The sweet song of Brown-throated Wattle-eye echoed around while we watched a perched Black Saw-wing with its almost drongo-like forked tail. A woodpecker landing in a close tree next to the road turned out to be a Gabon Woodpecker, which was nice. Since we were at the town now we loaded up the car and continued north to Bamenda.
After driving up into the highlands via Baffousam, we arrived in the afternoon in Bamenda and had some time to relax on the back porch and listen to the birds in a forested patch behind the hotel. Red-faced Cisticola was common along with Splendid Starling, and we also found a Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat. As dusk descended, a huge colony of Woermann’s fruit bats near the city took to the darkening skies. These impressive bats looked quite large and were fun to watch as they circled the huge massif to the left of us. From a gully below us came an occasional whistled phrase, which I thought might be from a frog, as I only heard it a few times before we headed for dinner. I couldn’t figure it out.
April 2nd. Birding the Mankon Sacred Forest
Today we started off with a drive to the Mankon Sacred Forest, where we spent the morning birding. We arrived to a chorus of birds as soon as we stepped out of the car. We began the trail that rings the forest with several Copper Sunbirds moving about a flowering bush, while a Brown-throated Wattle-eye sang from cover in the forest behind. We could also hear several White-throated Bee-eaters calling in the early morning light. As we walked along the first section of trail we could look up into the forest, and we must have birded along here for an hour and only moved for about 100 yards – it was so birdy! While Lühder’s Bushshrikes continued to call from just out of visual range in the back of the forest, we found a pair of Grey-headed Olivebacks flitting around a vine tangle together with several Black-necked Weavers. A pair of Cardinal Woodpeckers called and hammered away on the vegetation above us, while a Common Bulbul called from the edge of the forest in the more open vegetation. The raucous calls of a Square-tailed Drongo alerted us to its presence, which was joined soon by the duet of a pair of Tropical Boubous, that most typical of African sounds, which always seems to make its way into movies, especially of east Africa. This pair continued to sing in this area for hours and was seen well on a couple of occasions. Next the fluty song of a Black-winged Oriole came from the top of the canopy along with the constant ‘poop…..poop….poop’ of a Yellow-billed Barbet. While we were enjoying the antics of a pair of White-chinned Prinias, several Guinea Turacos burst into song and gave us some great looks as they moved through the tops of the trees in front of us.
From this area of thick trees the trail wound past an open area of farm bush, where we found Brown-crowned Tchagra, White-bellied Tit, Red-faced Cisticola, Yellow-fronted Canary, and several small groups of White-throated Bee-eaters.
We continued to the end of the forest, where we found a singing Superb Sunbird and finally located the oriole we had heard earlier. A Little Greenbul accompanied us while we were here, singing constantly. Out in the open areas of forest we found several Square-tailed Saw-wings, when from behind us a mechanical note let us know that a Grey-headed Broadbill was doing displays behind us. It continued to do this for some time, and eventually it landed on a branch where I could see it through a window in the trees. Just as quickly as it had landed it was off again, doing a circle of its lek, and landing again close by, but this time not in view.
We then made our way to the fon’s palace at Mankon, birding along the way. New stuff we encountered in the fields and farm bush on the way back was Johanna’s Sunbird, Singing Cisticola, and some Speckled Mousebirds, while at the forest edge we found Thick-billed Seedeater, Grey-headed Nigrita, and Green-throated Sunbird.
We arrived at the palace for a quick tour before we headed for lunch. After lunch we spent the afternoon at the fon’s palace at Bafut, which was quite interesting. We returned in the late afternoon to get some more rest, but this time I was prepared and as night fell I got one recording of the mysterious whistle I’d heard the night before. I attached a speaker and played back the song, and out of the night sky flying towards me was a huge nightjar, which then turned away from me and headed down the length of the hotel, singing its whistled song once more before disappearing into the night. I was so shocked that it came in on the first playback that I didn’t have a flashlight handy, so I never got a great look at the bird. But it does not sound like any nightjar I had listened to before on either the Chappuis African Bird Sounds or Cleere’s Sound Guide to Nightjars. A few other people I spoke to have no clue either. It still remains a mystery.
April 3rd. Transfer to Oku, birding on the way
We started the day early and began the climb up to the Oku region. We ascended the rolling hills with their grass cover and sparse trees. Rocky outcrops were common, and boulder-strewn slopes would occasionally be dotted with a village. We arrived at the Kilum Ijim Forest, one of the largest remaining patches of Afro-montane forest in West Africa, and got out at its beginning to bird along the road. Yellow-breasted Boubou was one of the first birds we encountered, together with a noisy party of Chubb’s Cisticola. Black-collared Apalis was common here along with African Stonechat.
From higher up on the slope next to which we were walking I heard a distant Bannerman’s Turaco; hearing this endemic bird got my heart racing. We proceeded up the road after it, and once around a bend the forest changed to lichen- and moss-covered trees with thick foliage. As the turaco continued to bang away in the distance we were surrounded by birds, with Senegal Coucal and several White-headed Wood Hoopoes calling as a light rain began to fall. Ruwenzori Hill Babblers sang intermittently, with the call of the stonechats a constant. An endemic Banded Wattle-eye called once but was not seen, while a Mountain Robin-Chat voiced its rather odd, un-Robin-Chat-like song. Eventually several Bannerman’s Turacos began to sing at once, and one came in quite close, flashing its crimson-colored wings as it glided across the road in front of us. They spent a while surrounding us with their loud songs, but they only gave us a brief look before they were moving out of view in the canopy.
Grey Apalis began with its loud song, accompanied by the deeper song of Yellow-breasted Boubou. We continued down the road, looking where we could for birds in the thick roadside forest. Black-capped Woodland Warblers sang intermittently, mixed with Northern Double-collared Sunbirds.
We arrived at the overlook to Lake Oku and had some food before we decided to head down to the lake itself. The steep trail wound its way through the damp forest, and before we were even at the lake we could hear the numerous calls of Little Grebes all across it. Once at the shore we could see their multitude out on the water. There was little else here, though, so we hiked back up to the car. From here we made our way round to Oku and our lodge for the night. We spent the late afternoon around the lodge as it was raining, so we thought it best to stay inside with the cooler temps than what we’d been used to in the lowlands.
April 4th. Birding Mount Oku and the Oku area
We arrived at the foot of Mount Oku for our hike up into the moss-draped forest. In the agricultural fields we were met by a Pectoral-patch Cisticola that circled above us doing its display flight. Several African Stonechats were seen as we hiked up through the bean fields. Near the top we encountered several Bannerman’s Pipits; these darker and more heavily streaked pipits belong to the Long-billed Pipit complex, are found only in the highlands of West Africa, and might one day be split.
Once the fields stopped the forest began, and we were soon on a trail working our way through it. Several African Dusky Flycatchers sang above us and moved about the canopy, and we enjoyed them while waiting for a group of boys going to collect wood to pass us. The loud song of a pair of Black-collared Apalis got our attention next, and with playback of their recording they came in close and were easy to observe.
We continued up the slope through the forest, finding Little Grey and African Dusky Flycatchers, Northern Double-collared Sunbird, Black-capped Woodland Warbler, and a group of Grey Apalis chasing each other and bill-snapping. A rather loud group of White-headed Wood Hoopoes and a nice pair of White-bellied Crested Flycatchers in a bamboo thicket entertained us before the foliage began to peter out and we were on a trail with steep sides and a long drop either way we looked. We stopped here as we could hear several Bannerman’s Turacos calling in the distance. We waited while they moved closer across the gulley below us. At one point we spotted them in a gap before they disappeared back into the cover of the canopy. They had stopped calling for a while when one flew across the gap in front of us with its bright red wings. A brief cackle, and a pair landed in the forest on the slope below us. We made our way back down the trail as quietly as we could, but we still managed to spook them across the trail, where one sat in the understory, bobbing its tail and head and calling nervously. It eventually tired of us and dropped off its branch and into the gully on the other side.
From here we started back down while taking a different path, where we caught up with a pair of Banded Wattle-eyes, a pair of singing Mountain Robin-Chats, Ruwenzori Hill Babbler, and a rather noisy and territorial Bangwa Forest Warbler that continued to circle us, singing the whole time. We pushed off farther down the trail, eventually stopping to check a canopy flock that contained two Bannerman’s Weavers. They were only seen briefly as they moved with the crowd, and as quickly as they had come they were gone.
We continued down the in hopes of finding the birds again and came across a Cameroon Sunbird singing in the understorey of the forest. We stopped several times to try and find the weavers again, but they always seemed to push off farther down the slope when we stopped. Our consolation was a singing Black-winged Oriole from the top of the canopy and a Western Greenbul.
Eventually we caught up with the weavers by luck when we stopped to record a Northern Double-collared Sunbird. While recording the sunbird we heard the call of several weavers and turned to see a nice pair move across the open patch in front of us to some head-high bamboo, where the male sang before dropping down into the tall grass and then out the other side into the forest. They inspected the branches around them before disappearing back into the forest. I hadn’t realized it, but we were almost at the end of the trail, so we stopped to have lunch. Some fresh pineapple was enjoyed before we headed back out into the agricultural fields.
Here we came across a Yellow-fronted Canary and more African Stonechats before we moved through a tree line to find a Common Kestrel dive-bombing another while calling aggressively. We watched this for a bit before the song of a pair of Singing Cisticolas caught our attention. We recorded the antics of these two birds as they hopped around in a line of cedars. Then it began to rain, but thankfully our driver was waiting with the car and we loaded up and went back to the lodge for an afternoon rest.
Once the rain had abated we headed over to Oku to look at the fon’s palace. I found a wood carving of a Bannerman’s Turaco, and my ability to talk myself into wooden bird carvings saw me fork over $20 for a not great but sentimental rendition of the one bird we’d really come here to see. After our little tour of the palace we went back to the lodge, and while the others rested I took a walk through the village back to the agricultural fields. I’ve always seemed to have luck going out by myself and finding a new bird for me, and this time was no exception.
As I walked through the village I came across some Cameroon Sunbirds moving about some flowering bushes and some Chubb’s Cisticolas. Winding my way through the dirt streets I came to the edge of the farmland, where I found a Mackinnon’s Shrike hunting for insects from a phone wire. I passed across the fields on a narrow path and followed it to a tree line of pines, where two small farms lay. The tree line headed towards the mountain, and in the distance I could hear a bird singing that I wasn’t familiar with. Holding up my mic I recorded the song and played it back. Although it wasn’t a great recording the bird soon appeared in the pines close by and began singing again. It turned out to be a bright yellow Cabanis’s Bunting. I’d really not expected this here. It sang for quite some time, moving slowly about the line of pines until it was joined by a female. The male changed his song and got more insistent about his singing, getting quite close to the female. While this was going on I got a few odd looks from passersby as they would look to see what I was taking such an interest in. Several Square-tailed Saw-wings circled over, and a pair of Pied Crows joined in the noisy fray, with an African Thrush adding backup from somewhere deep inside the pines. Eventually the buntings flew off, and as I watched them go I caught sight of another Mackinnon’s Shrike moving through the orchard of the farm in front of me.
As the sun was beginning to dip towards the horizon I decided to make my way back to the hotel. Along the way I came across a small patch of forest, and as I crossed a small bridge I stopped to check out the birds I could hear. A Bangwa Forest Warbler was singing close, and with some patience I was able to find it. While looking for this bird a Bannerman’s Weaver popped down from the trees into the brush lining the creek below me. This was interrupted by the harsh calls of several Pied Crows, and with that I walked back to the hotel for the evening.
April 5th. Birding Lake Awing, transfer to Limbe
Today we left the Oku area and drove out of the highlands, stopping at Lake Awing. We arrived around 10:00am and began birding the road in. There were several African Dusky Flycatchers and a pair of Banded Wattle-eyes close by. A Long-crested Eagle called from a eucalyptus trees that grew in a grove, while Tree Pipits called and flew ahead of us as we spooked them off the trail.
We circled the grove of trees and headed into a forested area, where found another pair of Banded Wattle-eyes with a Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Northern Double-collared Sunbird, Cameroon Sunbird, and several Western Greenbuls.
Once out of the forest we headed along a cattle track in open grassland that ran in between the forest and the eucalyptus grove. Several Black-crowned Waxbills were at the edge in some tall grass, along with a singing African Stonechat.
Once at the edge of the lake we looked down a steep slope to the lake below. The forest here was full of birds, and we managed to see both African Dusky and White-bellied Crested Flycatchers, Bannerman’s Weaver, Grey Apalis, Yellow-breasted Boubou, a distant African Cuckoo calling from across the lake, and several Western Greenbuls.
From here we hiked up to an overlook, where we found several Pectoral-patch Cisticolas in the short grass overlooking the valley that streamed off into the distance. We made our way back, stopping in the forest again for a close singing Bannerman’s Weaver and Chubb’s Cisticola, Yellow Bishop, and several singing birds that stayed in the canopy and, once tracked down, were found to be singing Garden Warblers, not what I was expecting. Once I’d recorded them we headed back to the car and the long drive back to the coast. We arrived quite late in Limbe, and the moist heat was palpable even at this time of night compared to the cool of the highlands.
April 6th. Birding the Limbe Botanical Gardens, transfer to Douala, departure
We birded the Limbe Botanical Gardens this morning. There were plenty of Reichenbach’s Sunbirds around and a juvenile Grey-headed Nigrita begging food from two adults. Several Black-necked and Village Weavers were above us in the trees, and at one point near the river several Giant Kingfishers flew past, chasing each other.
We got great looks at Western Bluebill feeding on the ground and of another pair later on, feeding in some vine tangles. They were accompanied by several noisy Chattering Cisticolas. The loud calls of many Grey Parrots were heard farther up the trail, and we found a huge cage, where several were being raised for release after being taken from the illegal pet trade. Those that had already been released were close by and flying freely around the park. At one point we found a Black Sparrowhawk sitting in the river. At first we thought it had caught a fish, but it just sat in the water up to its chest. When it took flight it had nothing in its talons, so I can only think it needed to cool off or get some water.
From here we went over to the primate sanctuary, where we enjoyed the many primates that were being cared for at the facility. We managed to get through the whole park before it began to rain. Once it opened up we headed back to the hotel to pack. We drove to Douala later that afternoon to do some shopping and caught our flights later that night.
CAMEROON SYSTEMATIC LIST, MARCH/APRIL 2012
LOWLAND RAINFORESTS AND BAMENDA HIGHLANDS
1 Scaly Francolin Pternistis squamatus
2 Double-spurred Francolin Pternistis bicalcaratus
3 White-faced Whistling Duck Dendrocygna viduata
4 Hartlaub’s Duck Pteronetta hartlaubii
5 Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
6 Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides
7 Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
8 Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
9 Black-headed Heron Ardea melanocephala
10 Great Egret Ardea alba
11 Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia
12 Little Egret Egretta garzetta
13 Western Reef Heron Egretta gularis
14 Black Heron Egretta ardesiaca
15 Hamerkop Scopus umbretta
16 African Darter Anhinga rufa
17 Reed Cormorant Microcarbo africanus
18 Black Kite Milvus migrans
19 Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis
20 Long-crested Eagle Lophaetus occipitalis
21 Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle Aquila africana
22 Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
23 White-spotted Flufftail Sarothrura pulchra
24 Senegal Thick-knee Burhinus senegalensis
25 Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
26 Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus
27 Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
28 Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
29 Rock Pratincole Glareola nuchalis
30 Speckled Pigeon Columba guinea
31 Cameroon Olive Pigeon Columba sjostedti
32 Red-eyed Dove Streptopelia semitorquata
33 Laughing Dove Spilopelia senegalensis
34 Blue-spotted Wood Dove Turtur afer
35 Tambourine Dove Turtur tympanistria
36 Blue-headed Wood Dove Turtur brehmeri
37 African Green Pigeon Treron calvus
38 Grey Parrot Psittacus erithacus
39 Great Blue Turaco Corythaeola cristata
40 Guinea Turaco Tauraco persa
41 Yellow-billed Turaco Tauraco macrorhynchus
42 Bannerman’s Turaco Tauraco bannermani
43 Western Plantain-eater Crinifer piscator
44 Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensis
45 Blue-headed Coucal Centropus monachus
46 Blue Malkoha Ceuthmochares aereus
47 African Emerald Cuckoo Chrysococcyx cupreus
48 Black Cuckoo Cuculus clamosus
49 African Cuckoo Cuculus gularis
50 Sandy Scops Owl Otus icterorhynchus
51 Vermiculated Fishing Owl Scotopelia bouvieri
52 African Wood Owl Strix woodfordii
53 Sjöstedt’s Barred Owlet Glaucidium sjostedti
54 African Palm Swift Cypsiurus parvus
55 Bates’s Swift Apus batesi
56 Little Swift Apus affinis
57 Bare-cheeked Trogon Apaloderma aequatoriale
58 Bar-tailed Trogon Apaloderma vittatum
59 Grey-headed Kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala
60 Blue-breasted Kingfisher Halcyon malimbica
61 Woodland Kingfisher Halcyon senegalensis
62 African Dwarf Kingfisher Ispidina lecontei
63 African Pygmy Kingfisher Ispidina picta
64 Malachite Kingfisher Corythornis cristatus
65 Giant Kingfisher Megaceryle maxima
66 Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis
67 White-throated Bee-eater Merops albicollis
68 White-headed Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus bollei
69 Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill Tockus camurus
70 African Pied Hornbill Tockus facsiatus
71 Piping Hornbill Bycanistes fistulator
72 Black-casqued Wattled Hornbill Ceratogymna atrata
73 Yellow-casqued Wattled Hornbill Ceratogymna elata
74 White-crested Hornbill Tropicranus albocristatus
75 Naked-faced Barbet Gymnobucco calvus
76 Red-rumped Tinkerbird Pogoniulus atroflavus
77 Yellow-throated Tinkerbird Pogoniulus subsulphureus
78 Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird Pogoniulus bilineatus
79 Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird Pogoniulus chrysoconus
80 Hairy-breasted Barbet Tricholaema hirsuta
81 Yellow-billed Barbet Trachyphonus purpuratus
82 Thick-billed Honeyguide Indicator conirostris
83 Lyre-tailed Honeyguide Melichneutes robustus
84 Cardinal Woodpecker Dendropicos fuscescens
85 Gabon Woodpecker Dendropicos gabonensis
86 Elliot’s Woodpecker Dendropicos elliotii
87 Grey-headed Broadbill Smithornis sharpei
88 Chestnut Wattle-eye Platysteira castanea
89 Brown-throated Wattle-eye Platysteira cyanea
90 Brown-crowned Tchagra Tchagra australis
91 Red-eyed Puffback Dryoscopus senegalensis
92 Mountain Sooty Boubou Laniarius poensis
93 Lühder’s Bushshrike Laniarius luehderi
94 Tropical Boubou Laniarius major
95 Yellow-breasted Boubou Laniarius atroflavus
96 Mackinnon’s Shrike Lanius mackinnoni
97 Western Oriole Oriolus brachyrynchus
98 Black-winged Oriole Oriolus nigripennis
99 Shining Drongo Dicrurus atripennis
100 Velvet-mantled Drongo Dicrurus modestus
101 Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher Trochocercus nitens
102 Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone rufocinerea
103 Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone rufiventer
104 Pied Crow Corvus albus
105 African Blue Flycatcher Elminia longicauda
106 White-bellied Crested Flycatcher Elminia albiventris
107 Forest Penduline Tit Anthoscopus flavifrons
108 Western Nicator Nicator chloris
109 Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus
110 Cameroon Greenbul Arizelocichla montana
111 Western Greenbul Arizelocichla tephrolaema
112 Little Greenbul Eurillas virens
113 Little Grey Greenbul Eurillas gracilis
114 Ansorge’s Greenbul Eurillas ansorgei
115 Plain Greenbul Eurillas curvirostris
116 Yellow-whiskered Greenbul Eurillas latirostris
117 Spotted Greenbul Ixonotus guttatus
118 Swamp Palm Bulbul Thescelocichla leucopleura
119 Cameroon Olive Greenbul Phyllastrephus poensis
120 Icterine Greenbul Phyllastrephus icterinus
121 Xavier’s Greenbul Phyllastrephus xavieri
122 Yellow-lored Bristlebill Bleda notatus
123 Eastern Bearded Greenbul Criniger chloronotus
124 Red-tailed Greenbul Criniger calurus
125 Square-tailed Saw-wing Psalidoprocne nitens
126 Mountain Saw-wing Psalidoprocne fuliginosa
127 Black Saw-wing Psalidoprocne pristoptera
128 Lesser Striped Swallow Cecropis abyssinica
129 Mosque Swallow Cecropis senegalensis
130 Preuss’s Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon preussi
131 Forest Swallow Petrochelidon fuliginosa
132 Yellow Longbill Macrosphenus flavicans
133 Grey Longbill Macrosphenus concolor
134 Green Crombec Sylvietta virens
135 Lemon-bellied Crombec Sylvietta denti
136 Chestnut-capped Flycatcher Erythrocercus mccallii
Incertae Sedis 5
137 Green Hylia Hylia prasina
138 Black-capped Woodland Warbler Phylloscopus herberti
139 Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
140 Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix
141 Greater Swamp Warbler Acrocephalus rufescens
142 Eurasian Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
143 Singing Cisticola Cisticola cantans
144 Whistling Cisticola Cisticola lateralis
145 Chattering Cisticola Cisticola anonymus
146 Chubb’s Cisticola Cisticola chubbi
147 Pectoral-patch Cisticola Cisticola brunnescens
148 Tawny-flanked Prinia Prinia subflava
149 Banded Prinia Prinia bairdii
150 White-chinned Prinia Schistolais leucopogon
151 Green Longtail Urolais epichlorus
152 Black-collared Apalis Oreolais pulcher
153 Buff-throated Apalis Apalis rufogularis
154 Grey Apalis Apalis cinerea
155 Grey-backed Camaroptera Camaroptera brevicaudata
156 Olive-green Camaroptera Camaroptera chloronota
157 Black-faced Rufous Warbler Bathmocercus rufus
158 Blackcap Illadopsis Illadopsis cleaveri
159 Pale-breasted Illadopsis Illadopsis rufipennis
160 Brown Illadopsis Illadopsis fulvescens
161 African Hill Babbler Pseudoalcippe abyssinica
162 Garden Warbler Sylvia borin
163 Mount Cameroon Speirops Zosterops melanocephalus
164 African Yellow White-eye Zosterops senegalensis
165 Splendid Starling Lamprotornis splendidus
166 Waller’s Starling Onychognathus walleri
167 Red-tailed Rufous Thrush Neocossyphus rufus
168 Fraser’s Rufous Thrush Stizorhina fraseri
169 African Thrush Turdus pelios
170 Fire-crested Alethe Alethe castanea
170 Forest Robin Stiphrornis erythrothorax
172 Common Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos
173 Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat Cossypha niveicapilla
174 Whinchat Saxicola rubetra
175 African Stonechat Saxicola torquatus
176 White-browed Forest Flycatcher Fraseria cinerascens
177 Cassin’s Flycatcher Muscicapa cassini
178 African Dusky Flycatcher Muscicapa adusta
179 Little Grey Flycatcher Muscicapa epulata
180 Yellow-footed Flycatcher Muscicapa sethsmithi
181 Dusky-blue Flycatcher Muscicapa comitata
182 Sooty Flycatcher Muscicapa infuscata
183 Reichenbach’s Sunbird Anabathmis reichenbachii
184 Green-headed Sunbird Cyanomitra verticalis
185 Blue-throated Brown Sunbird Cyanomitra cyanolaema
186 Cameroon Sunbird Cyanomitra oritis
187 Olive Sunbird Cyanomitra olivacea
188 Carmelite Sunbird Chalcomitra fuliginosa
189 Green-throated Sunbird Chalcomitra rubescens
190 Northern Double-collared Sunbird Cinnyris reichenowi
191 Beautiful Sunbird Cinnyris pulchellus
192 Splendid Sunbird Cinnyris coccinigastrus
193 Johanna’s Sunbird Cinnyris johannae
194 Superb Sunbird Cinnyris superbus
195 Copper Sunbird Cinnyris cupreus
196 Bannerman’s Weaver Ploceus bannermani
197 Black-billed Weaver Ploceus melanogaster
198 Village Weaver Ploceus cucullatus
199 Vieillot’s Black Weaver Ploceus nigerrimus
200 Yellow-mantled Weaver Ploceus tricolor
201 Maxwell’s Black Weaver Ploceus albinucha
202 Red-vented Malimbe Malimbus scutatus
203 Blue-billed Malimbe Malimbus nitens
204 Crested Malimbe Malimbus malimbicus
205 Yellow Bishop Euplectes capensis
206 Chestnut-breasted Nigrita Nigrita bicolor
207 Grey-headed Nigrita Nigrita canicapillus
208 Shelley’s Oliveback Nesocharis shelleyi
209 Grey-headed Oliveback Nesocharis capistrata
210 Western Bluebill Spermophaga haematina
211 Black-crowned Waxbill Estrilda nonnula
212 Bronze Mannikin Lonchura cucullata
213 Black-and-white Mannikin Lonchura bicolor
214 Pin-tailed Whydah Vidua macroura
215 Western Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
216 White Wagtail Motacilla alba
217 African Pied Wagtail Motacilla aguimp
218 Yellow-throated Longclaw Macronyx croceus
219 African Pipit Anthus cinnamomeus
220 Long-legged Pipit Anthus pallidiventris
221 Yellow-fronted Canary Crithagra mozambica
222 Cabanis’s Bunting Emberiza cabanisi