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Angola was for many years considered a no-go country, due to the brutal civil war that lasted nearly three decades, ending only as recently as the early 2000s and ultimately left the country crippled. Since the civil war ended, the country has experienced growing peace and stability, along with a massive surge in infrastructural advancements, opening the country up to tourism. During these early years, after Angola opened up, it was deemed to be a country only for the ‘hard-core’ tourists, and even the few birding tours available were typically overland camping adventures. Fortunately this has changed somewhat in the last few years, and while a sense of adventure is still required, an ever-improving road network, along with an increase in hotel/guesthouse accommodations for tourism, opens this truly spectacular country up to more and more birders.
Angola has a massive diversity of species, nearly 1000 species occurring within its borders, of which thirteen are true endemic species, while countless other near-endemics and highly localized species feature prominently. This is all a testament to the many habitats within the country and ultimately the fantastic birding Angola possesses, making it without a doubt one of the finest birding countries in Africa and a destination not to be missed by any world birder.
This comprehensive tour takes us through the western parts of the country and to all the key birding areas. Beginning in the capital Luanda our first foray sees us visiting the dry woodlands of the Kissama National Park before venturing north into the exciting and seldom-visited scarp forests, more consistent with Equatorial Africa. We then gradually begin working our way south, first taking in the spectacular Kalandula Falls and their exciting swamp forests before calling in at the famous Kumbira Forest, outside of Gabela – a town which has three endemic species named after it. We will seek out many endemic species here before transferring even further south to the highest mountain in the country, Mount Moco. We then journey to the coast and the town of Benguela, where we get our first sampling of the many more iconic Namibian specials, before reaching our end point in Lubango, from where we explore the spectacular Tundavala escarpment and the dry coastal plain to the Namibe Province.
This well-designed route gives us a chance for all the country’s endemics, near-endemics, and specials, including such rare and poorly known species as the spectacular Braun’s, Gabela, and Monteiro’s Bushshrikes, Gabela Helmetshrike, White-headed Robin-Chat, Swierstra’s and Grey-striped Francolins, Red-crested Turaco, White-fronted Wattle-eye, Pulitzer’s Longbill, Angolan Slaty Flycatcher, Angolan Cave Chat, Gabela Akalat, Bocage’s Sunbird, Bocage’s Weaver, and Angolan Waxbill. Many other more widespread species are also best sought within Angola and include the likes of Finsch’s Francolin, Anchieta’s Barbet, Margaret’s Batis, Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye, Angolan Lark, Black-and-rufous and Red-throated Cliff Swallows, Tit Hylia, Black-necked Eremomela, Black-collared Bulbul, Pale-olive and Falkenstein’s Greenbuls, Bubbling Cisticola, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, Bates’s and Bannerman’s Sunbirds, Woodhouse’s Antpecker, Landana Firefinch, and Dusky Twinspot. Almost all of the Namibian ‘specials’ feature on the route as well, including Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, Rüppell’s Korhaan, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rüppell’s Parrot, White-tailed Shrike, Benguela Long-billed Lark, Rockrunner, Carp’s Tit, Bare-cheeked Babbler and Cinderella Waxbill. On top of these mouthwatering species we should tally up an impressive species list and expect our total to exceed 500 species. We look forward to welcoming you on our Complete Angolan Birding Tour as we venture into one of Africa’s best-kept secrets!
Itinerary (19 days/18 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Luanda
Today is your arrival day, and you can arrive at your leisure into the Angolan capital, Luanda. We will transfer to the comfortable Kwanza Lodge, south of the city, where we will spend the night. The tour formally begins in the afternoon/evening with a group dinner.
Overnight: Kwanza Lodge, Luanda
Day 2. Transfer from Kwanza Lodge to Muxima
We will spend our first morning in the country birding around the grounds of the lodge, along with the nearby Kwanza River mouth, where we will primarily search for Royal and Damara Terns and Mangrove Sunbird. Many other species are possible, and we will likely also find our first waterbirds, including Woolly-necked Stork, Grey Heron, Little Egret, and Water Thick-knee. Palm-nut Vultures are regular around the lodge, and we will also be sure to keep an eye out for Blue-breasted Kingfisher, among the more common kingfisher species, such as Woodland, Malachite, and Pied Kingfishers. The sought-after Olive Bee-eater, along with Little Bee-eater, hawk insects over the river, while the surrounding scrub holds the near-endemic Bubbling Cisticola along with Spectacled Weaver. While searching for the unique Mangrove Sunbird we are also likely to come across other sunbird species, including Purple-banded, Collared, and Scarlet-chested. Long-legged Pipit also frequents the more open areas. We will also journey north toward the extensive mudflats of the Mussulo bay, arguably the country’s best wader/shorebird-watching site. Stately Greater Flamingos patrol the shallows here, with raptors such as African Fish Eagle and Western Osprey also regularly occurring here. The exposed tidal mudflats, however, will form our primary focal point, and we will search for a variety of species, including Grey, Kittlitz’s, and White-fronted Plovers, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Ruddy Turnstone, Curlew Sandpiper, and Sanderling. Collared Pratincole frequents the drier regions away from the mudflats, while tern/gull roosts will be searched for Kelp and Grey-headed Gulls along with other tern species such as Caspian and Sandwich Terns. The surrounding scrub plays host to species such as Red-faced Mousebird, Angolan Swallow, Bubbling Cisticola, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, and Red-headed Finch. Following our time here we will transfer to the south-eastern corner of the Kissama National Park to the Muxima area, where we will spend two nights. and begin our hunt for the first of the country’s true endemics. The vegetation will change to a much drier, open, baobab-dominated woodland, and the area hosts some more localized species for Angola, although widespread elsewhere in southern Africa, such as Purple Roller, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Southern White-crowned Shrike, and Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, among others. We will likely arrive in this area later in the day and begin birding in earnest the following morning.
Day 3. Birding Muxima and Kissama National Park.
We have a full day to explore this area and will take a few specific tracks, venturing deeper into the area. We again see a slight habitat change, heading into a lusher area, crisscrossed with dry riverbeds and dense thickets. It is these areas that hold the local major specials and where we will spend the bulk of our time. The dry riverbeds are home to large, mature, acacia-type trees, and we will search these areas for the highly prized and localized endemics, Monteiro’s Bushshrike and Gabela Helmetshrike, along with the more widespread, near-endemic Red-backed Mousebird. The denser thickets host one of the other endemic targets of the area, White-fronted Wattle-eye, and also support the endemic Hartet’s Camaroptera and the near-endemic Pale-olive Greenbul, although these latter two are more widespread and thus also possible elsewhere on the trip. This area also gives us our best chance for the difficult-to-see, endemic Grey-striped Francolin, and we will be sure to keep a beady eye on the tracks watching out for this scarce gamebird among its more common cousin, Red-necked Spurfowl. Also best sought in this area is the near-endemic Golden-backed Bishop, and although we will not be seeing these birds in their breeding plumage, their unique structure and plumage make them easy to identify. Aside from the above species, which will be our major targets, this area is rich in birdlife, and we’re like to come across many other species. Possible raptors include Palm-nut Vulture, Brown Snake Eagle, Bateleur, Lizard Buzzard, African Goshawk, and Yellow-billed Kite, while we will also be sure to watch the skies for the sought-after Böhm’s and Mottled Spinetails, along with Mosque Swallow, all of which breed in the many baobabs strung throughout the area. Emerald-spotted Wood Dove occurs alongside Namaqua Dove, and some of the larger species in the area include Grey Go-away-bird, Lilac-breasted Roller, Green Wood Hoopoe, and Crowned Hornbill. Colorful Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters frequent the tree tops, while a variety of Woodpeckers, including Bearded, Cardinal, and Golden-tailed, prefer the larger trees, and Brown-hooded and Striped Kingfishers sit quietly in the mid-strata. The larger riverine trees also host many other passerines, including Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Brubru, White-crested Helmetshrike, Black-headed Oriole, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Long-billed Crombec, Arrow-marked Babbler, Violet-backed Starling, and Grey Tit-Flycatcher, while the denser thickets play host to other sought-after species such as Angolan Batis, Swamp Boubou, Green Crombec, Forest Scrub Robin, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, and Dark-backed Weaver.
Day 4. Transfer from Muxima to Quibaxe
We have the morning available to further explore the Muxima area for any possible species we have yet to find before pressing onward to today’s ultimate destination at Quibaxe. Our route will see us head through the northern section of the Kissama National Park and arguably one of the finest baobab forests in the world – a truly spectacular sight to behold, before arriving in the Catete area, where we will explore the floodplains associated with the Kwanza River for some wetland birding. Here we will try for White-faced Whistling Duck, Yellow-billed Stork, African Openbill, Squacco, Striated, Rufous-bellied, and Purple Herons, Great Egret, Black Crake, Allen’s Gallinule, and African and Lesser Jacanas, among others. The open lands surrounding the floodplains host Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Diederik Cuckoo, Banded Martin, and Village and Slender-billed Weavers. From here we will complete our journey to the small town of Quibaxe, set in the northern scarp forests of Angola, where we will arrive in the late afternoon.
Days 5 – 6. Transfer from Quibaxe to Quitexe and birding Damengola Forest
The northern scarp forest of Angola holds arguably some of the most exciting birds in the country, and, although the area doesn’t host many endemics, it is the chance of finding rare and somewhat unknown species within these relatively unexplored forests that is one of the major drawing cards to the area. We will start off in a small section of forest just outside the small town of Quibaxe and will spend the morning birding here before transferring further north, to the small village of Quitexe, where we will spend the remainder of the day, along with the following day, birding in the more extensive forests up there. A great many species are to be sought in the area, including more Guinea-based species along with more central African species. The more important specials to be found around Quibaxe include such rare and infrequently seen species as African Piculet, Tit Hylia, and White-collared Oliveback (nearly 1000km outside of its known range) although difficult, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, Yellow Longbill, and Black-bellied Seedcracker. The calls of Grey-headed and White-breasted Nigritas ring out regularly, while large and boisterous Guinea Turacos bound in the tree tops. Not to be outdone, the massive Great Blue Turaco occurs in the area as well and never fails to impress. Angola’s national bird, the endemic Red-crested Turaco, occurs as well but is uncommon here and best searched for elsewhere on the trip. Black Bee-eater flits overhead, and this spectacular bird is fortunately a regular sight in the area. However, the highly prized Chocolate-backed Kingfisher is more difficult to locate, but both will be targeted. Piping and African Pied Hornbills are often heard before being seen, as is true with the many Barbets occurring here, such as Naked-faced, the strange Bristle-nosed, Hairy-breasted, and Yellow-billed, along with Speckled and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds. Other species to be sought out here include Tambourine Dove, African Emerald Cuckoo, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Angolan Batis, Bocage’s Bushshrike, Pink-footed Puffback, Black-winged Oriole, Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Nicator, Slender-billed, Little, Plain, and Yellow-whiskered Greenbuls, Black-throated Apalis, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, Forest Scrub Robin, Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher, and Red-headed Malimbe. Open, grassy areas on the forest edges host various seedeaters, and we’ll be on the lookout for Black-winged Red Bishop, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, Red-headed Quelea, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, and Black-and-white Mannikin.
After transferring north to the Quitexe area our main focus will be on the Damengola Forest and surroundings, which gives us access to a far more extensive section of these northern scarp forests and a slightly different suite of species to boot. Foremost of our targets here will be the beautiful, but incredibly localized, endemic Braun’s Bushshrike. This rare and poorly known species is one of Angola’s most sought-after birds and will have the bulk of our time and effort being dedicated toward seeing it. While exploring these forests the mournful hoots of Afep and Western Bronze-naped Pigeons are never far away; however, as is customary, it takes some time and patience to track these species down. Blue-throated Rollers perch in the open above the canopy and the massive Black-casqued Hornbills flap noisily between perches, while Red-fronted Parrots commute overhead in the mornings and evenings and Yellow-crested Woodpeckers drum from the massive trees. A number of Starlings occur in these forests, and we’ll be on the lookout for Splendid, Chestnut-winged, and Narrow-tailed, all regularly attending fruiting trees. Sunbirds are also many and diverse. with Little Green, Grey-chinned, Collared, Green-headed, Blue-throated Brown, Olive, Olive-bellied, and the beautiful Superb all occurring. All of the species mentioned for the Quibaxe section above occur around Quitexe as well, and additional species that we will try and track down include Blue Malkoha, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Tropical Boubou, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Mackinnon’s Shrike, Petit’s and Purple-throated Cuckooshrikes, Velvet-mantled Drongo, Simple Greenbul, Swamp Greenbul, Red-tailed Bristlebill, Banded and White-chinned Prinias, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Brown Illadopsis, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Vieillot’s Black and Yellow-mantled Weavers, and Crested Malimbe. We will be on the lookout for some of the rarer and more uncommon species, including Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, African Shrike-flycatcher, Forest Swallow, Scaly-breasted Illadopsis, Pale-fronted Nigrita, and the poorly known Woodhouse’s Antpecker. Rolling grassy hills surround these scarp forests and play host to many other interesting species, top of them being the unique Black-collared Bulbul. Not to be forgotten are species such as Northern Fiscal, Brown-backed Scrub Robin, Chattering Cisticola, Moustached Grass and African Yellow Warblers, Landana Firefinch, and the snazzy Brown Twinspot.
Day 7. Transfer from Quitexe to Kalandula
After some great birding in the northern scarp forests we depart this area, bound for another fantastic birding zone, the greater Kalandula area. This will likely be quite a long drive, as sections of the road are very slow, and we anticipate arrival in the afternoon, following a morning departure. This area is home to arguably one of Angola’s greatest natural wonders, the spectacular Kalandula Falls, and our afternoon will include a visit to the falls, where we’ll admire their beauty before retiring to our comfortable hotel within view of the falls.
Day 8. Birding around Kalandula and Kinjila
Today will be another exciting day, as we head into the swamp forests near Kalandula for, primarily, the sought-after White-headed Robin-Chat. This rare, localized, poorly known, yet spectacular bird is another one of the major avian drawing cards on this tour! Initially thought to be extinct, this species was only rediscovered as recently as in the 1990s, and it is now known only from three separate locations, with a very small number of birders fortunate enough to have seen it. This species’ ringing call echoes through the forest, but it is a shy species, and patience is required to obtain visuals. While this will be our main target, there are a host of other tantalizing species occurring in these swamp forests and their surroundings as well. The diminutive White-spotted Flufftail frequents these swampy areas, while the vocal Ross’s Turaco bounds through the tree tops. The upper reaches also play host to the shy Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Honeyguide Greenbul, and Brown-headed Apalis, while the denser reaches lower down host Grey-winged Robin-Chat, Cabanis’s Greenbul, and Black-throated Wattle-eye. Stands of miombo-type woodland surround the swamp forests, and we will be spending some time slowly working our way through these woodlands as well. This is arguably the best place in the world for the sought-after Anchieta’s Barbet, while some other key targets in these woodlands will be Thick-billed Cuckoo, Black Scimitarbill, Gorgeous Bushshrike, White-winged Black Tit, Miombo Wren-Warbler, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Sharp-tailed Starling, Miombo Scrub Robin, a trio of scarce Sunbirds, Anchieta’s, Bates’s, and Bannerman’s, Orange-winged Pytilia, and Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah. Miombo woodland birding isn’t always the easiest, as it is often quiet for long periods of time, as the birds frequent ‘feeding parties’ – large mixed groupings of birds moving through the woodland feeding – and there is usually only activity when you encounter one of these parties. Other species occurring in the area include Red-crested Turaco (uncommon), Meyer’s Parrot, Chinspot Batis, Black-crowned Tchagra, Retz’s Helmetshrike, African Golden Oriole, Whistling Cisticola, African Thrush, Pale Flycatcher, Western Violet-backed, Amethyst, Green-throated, Variable and Copper Sunbirds, Yellow-throated Petronia, and Golden-breasted Bunting. African Barred Owlet occurs in the area, but we will need some luck to find it during the day. Nearby rivers are host to a huge number of highly prized Red-throated Cliff Swallows, which breed under some of the larger bridges, and we will search through the throngs of cliff swallows for scarcer birds such as White-bibbed Swallow and even Brazza’s Martin. The quieter back-reaches of the rivers are home to Shining-blue and Malachite Kingfishers, while the surrounding reeds and damp grasslands host Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Marsh Tchagra, Moustached Grass Warbler, Compact Weaver, Fan-tailed, Yellow-mantled, and Red-collared Widowbirds, Red-headed Quelea, Orange-breasted Waxbill, and Fülleborn’s Longclaw. Even the smallest of bushes near these rivers host the noisy Yellow-throated Leaflove. African Scops Owl is easily found here at night, and we will try for Fiery-necked and the spectacular Pennant-winged Nightjars as well.
Day 9. Transfer from Kalandula to N’dalatando
We have the morning available for further birding in the greater Kalandula area to try for any birds we may have missed before departing this area with its scenic waterfalls bound for N’dalatando, where we will stay for a night. The drive is not too far, and with a birding stop or two, such as at the Lucala River for Rock Pratincole, we should arrive in the early afternoon, where we’ll check into our hotel before setting off for the nearby Tombingo Forest, where we’ll spend the rest of the afternoon. Essentially part of the far outlying reaches of the vast northern scarp forests, this area hosts many species similar to those we’re likely to have seen birding around Quibaxe and Quitexe, but also allows us a further opportunity to try for some of the species we may have missed. Flocks of Red-fronted Parrots commute overhead, while Trumpeter, Piping, African Pied, and Crowned Hornbills noisily move about. A large spectrum of barbets occurs, and we should encounter more of the strange Bristle-nosed and Naked-faced Barbets. We will also watch out for the scarce Cassin’s Honeybird here, along with Brown-eared Woodpecker, while the forest is a great place to catch up with Chestnut Wattle-eye, Black-winged Oriole, African Blue Flycatcher, Yellow-whiskered and Honeyguide Greenbuls, Red-tailed Bristlebill, and Rufous-crowned Eremomela. Green Hylia’s soft call rings out continuously, but the bird can be tricky to spot, while Sooty Flycatcher usually perches atop the highest branches of the canopy and is usually a bit easier to find. This is also a good area for the scarce Tit Hylia, we have another chance here at White-spotted Flufftail if we missed this bird around Kalandula, and rarer species such as Woodhouse’s Antpecker occur as well.
Day 10. Birding Tombingo Forest and transfer to Kumbira Forest
We have the morning available for birding around Tombingo Forest, searching for the above-mentioned species, before beginning the drive to another of Angola’s more famous birding areas, Kumbira Forest. As is consistent with most of the drives between sites in Angola, this will take some time due to slow roads, and we will likely only arrive in the late afternoon, from where we will journey to Conda, where we will spend the night.
Days 11 – 12. Birding Kumbira Forest
We have two full days available to explore the extremely fragmented secondary forest patches that remain at Kumbira Forest. Despite this area being a recognized IBA (Important Bird Area), the entire region is still under pressure from slash-and-burn agriculture, and the forest will likely only become more fragmented, which doesn’t bode well for the area’s many specials. The early stages of the bumpy track heading towards the forest initially pass through more scrub/thicket-based habitat, which hosts one of the key targets of the area, the endemic Pulitzer’s Longbill. This rare and difficult-to-find species is always tricky to pin down as they skulk in thicker vegetation, making them difficult to see. While searching for this bird we’re likely to also come across other edge-based species, such as Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Red-backed Mousebird, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Bubbling Cisticola, the endemic Hartert’s Camaroptera, Carmelite, Olive-bellied, and Purple-banded Sunbirds, Holub’s Golden Weaver, Black-and-white Mannikin, the scarce Landana Firefinch, and Black-faced Canary.
We will also pass through more modified habitats, especially subsistence agricultural fields. These areas can also prove quite rewarding and host a similar suite of species as mentioned above, along with additional species such as Red-necked Spurfowl and a host of seedeaters, including Black-winged Red Bishop, Red-collared and White-winged Widowbirds, Blue, Grey, and Common Waxbills, and if we’re lucky, the scarce Red-headed Bluebill.
Before long we enter the first of the degraded ‘forest’ patches, and this is where the bulk of our time will be spent as we explore the roadside vegetation along with a few trails venturing deeper into the area. First up in the forested areas are usually some of the more common species such as Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Green-backed Woodpecker, Angolan Batis, Pink-footed Puffback, Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher, Green Crombec, Buff-throated Apalis, and Black-necked Weaver. We should also start encountering the first of the many specials of the area such as the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye, the snazzy African Broadbill, the boisterous Dusky Tits, the vocal Yellow-throated Nicator, and a trio of Greenbuls, Yellow-whiskered, the sought-after Falkenstein’s, and the near-endemic Pale-olive. The spectacular Black-throated Apalis keeps to the high canopies, while the unusual local subspecies of Southern Hyliota typically moves about a bit lower down, with Fraser’s Rufous Thrush sitting silently in the undergrowth. The deep booms of Gabon Coucal ring from the small clearings in the forest, while the soft, melodic calls of Forest Scrub Robin is never far away. Of the main specials, however, this is the best site for the country’s national bird, Red-crested Turaco, and their loud calls give away their presence as they clamber surprisingly agilely in the canopy. The dainty Gabela Akalat frequents the dense tangles lower down and requires a quick eye to pick up on its rapid movements in these low-light areas. Other specials to be found in the area are Brown-chested Alethe and Brown Illadopsis, and patience is the name of the game to see these reclusive species.
Arguably the trickiest special here is the rare, endemic Gabela Bushshrike. This incredibly localized species frequents dense vine tangles and associated thickets, a habitat type which is being cleared at an alarming rate, putting this species at further risk and making it even more difficult to find. Similar to its cousin further north in the country, Braun’s Bushshrike, this species has a distinctive ‘croaking’ call which carries some distance and for which we’ll be on high alert. The forest also hosts a number of raptors, and possible species include African Harrier-Hawk, Brown Snake Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Lizard Buzzard, African Goshawk, Augur Buzzard, and even the uncommon Crowned Eagle. African Wood Owl is regular after dark. Other species to be found here include Tambourine Dove, African Green Pigeon, African Emerald Cuckoo, Crowned Hornbill, Chestnut Wattle-eye, African Blue Flycatcher, Green Hylia, African Dusky Flycatcher, Little Green and Superb Sunbirds, and Grey-headed Nigrita.
Day 13. Transfer from Kumbira Forest to Mount Moco
After two great days birding around Kumbira Forest we’ll get going early in the day to maximize our time around Mount Moco, the highest mountain in Angola. True to form, the drive will take us a while, and we anticipate arriving in the early afternoon. The habitat is extremely varied at Mount Moco, and the lower slopes see us transiting through grassy floodplains and fragmented miombo woodland patches before reaching a montane grassland plateau that then takes us to the actual base of the massif proper. We will likely concentrate our efforts this afternoon on the lower slopes, exploring the rank, grassy floodplains/depressions and miombo woodland patches. The area will likely be quite dry at this time of year, and we don’t expect much water to be around. Our main targets here will be the poorly known Brazza’s Martin and the incredibly localized Bocage’s Sunbird and Bocage’s Weaver. We will also search these areas for other sought-after species like Black-collared Bulbul, Marsh Widowbird, and the scarce Dusky Twinspot, while other species possible here include the likes of Coppery-tailed Coucal, Little Bee-eater, Croaking Cisticola, Fan-tailed Grassbird, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Sooty Chat, Brown Firefinch, Fawn-breasted and Orange-breasted Waxbills, and Fülleborn’s Longclaw. Venturing into the miombo, we will need to keep an ear open for the excited calls heralding the arrival of a bird party, and the stunted and fragmented woodland available here make this a bit easier, as we don’t have massive areas to explore. The birding can be incredibly exciting, and regular party members include Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Cardinal Woodpecker, Chinspot Batis, Brubru, White-crested Helmetshrike, Black Cuckooshrike, Green-capped Eremomela, Amethyst Sunbird, Yellow-throated Petronia, Red-headed Weaver, and Golden-breasted Bunting. As we follow these parties through the woodland we’ll also be searching for more specials, such as Anchieta’s Barbet, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Red-capped Crombec, Miombo Wren-Warbler, Rufous-bellied Tit, Salvadori’s and the spectacular Black-necked Eremomelas, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, African Spotted Creeper, Miombo Scrub Robin, Miombo Rock Thrush, Anchieta’s and Western Violet-backed Sunbirds, Orange-winged Pytilia, Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah, and Wood Pipit. Come evening we’ll transfer to the nearby small town of Balombo, where we’ll spend the night.
Day 14. Birding Mount Moco and surroundings
Looking forward to a full day of birding, we’ll make an early start to Mount Moco, bound for the small, relict patches of montane forest at the top of the mountain. Once we reach the village of Kanjonde right at the base of the massif we’ll begin the walk up to the top, where the main forest lies. Please note that this is a very challenging hike over difficult, rocky terrain (not level pathways), including navigating steep slopes to get to the edge of the forest, and only those who are fit will be able to complete this arduous hike. Once we have made our way to the main forest patch our effort will be rewarded, as a host of exciting species awaits. The forest edge is one of the best places to track down the rare and localized endemic Swierstra’s Francolin, although seeing this bird remains a difficult challenge. Within the forest itself, though, we’ll be targeting chiefly the scarce Margaret’s Batis, here at its type locality, along with Western Tinkerbird, Black-backed Barbet, Evergreen Forest Warbler, African Hill Babbler, Grey Apalis, Bocage’s Akalat, the rare and localized Black-chinned Weaver, the poorly known Dusky Twinspot, and the endemic Angolan Slaty Flycatcher and Angolan Waxbill. Other possible species here include Schalow’s Turaco, Olive Woodpecker, Red-throated Wryneck, Cabanis’s Greenbul, African Yellow Warbler, Bronzy Sunbird, Dusky Indigobird, Brimstone and Yellow-crowned Canaries, and the curious local population of Thick-billed Seedeater. Moving away from the forest, the rocky slopes of the mountain host interesting species such as Wailing Cisticola, Mountain Wheatear, Striped and Long-billed Pipits, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, and another curious local population, this time of Rock-loving Cisticola, which is believed by many authorities to be a separate species, Huambo Cisticola. The proteas here and other flowering plants host Oustalet’s and the endemic Ludwig’s Double-collared Sunbirds, while we must also keep an eye overhead for the likes of Augur and Red-necked Buzzards, Rock Kestrel, and Lanner Falcon, all of which frequent the area, along with for the poorly known Fernando Po Swift. Gradually we’ll begin descending the mountain, eventually arriving back to Kanjonde, where we’ll take a break before resuming our birding in the afternoon. For those who are unable to complete the full hike up to the main forest patch there are several small patches on the lower slopes of the mountain, not far from the village, where some of the species mentioned above can be found, such as Western Tinkerbird, Grey Apalis, Bocage’s Akalat, Dusky Twinspot, Angolan Waxbill, and Schalow’s Turaco. We’ll explore the montane grasslands lining the plateau once we clear the miombo woodland for the afternoon, searching here for prized species such as Finsch’s Francolin, the near-endemic Angolan Lark, and the stunning Black-and-rufous Swallow. Although vocal, the francolins remain as difficult to see as ever, while the lark with its fascinating song is usually more confiding and the swallows race up and down the valleys among more common cousins, including Grey-rumped, Lesser Striped, and Greater Striped Swallows. Burns in this area attract Capped Wheatears along with good numbers of Red-capped Larks and Plain-backed Pipits, while African Marsh Harrier is a frequent sight above the grasslands.
Day 15. Transfer from Mount Moco to Benguela
We have the morning available to explore the lower slopes of Mount Moco, searching for any species that we may have missed, primarily within the miombo woodland or the rank, grassy depressions. Our drive today is quite a bit shorter than the last few we have undertaken, and our afternoon will be spent exploring the salt pans and lagoons around the coastal towns of Lobito and Benguela for a host of waterbirds. One of our primary targets here will be the sought-after Chestnut-banded Plover, while a good supporting cast of species will likely include Cape Teal, Black-necked Grebe, Greater and Lesser Flamingos, African Spoonbill, Great White Pelican, Reed, White-breasted, and Cape Cormorants, various other waders/shorebirds such as Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, White-fronted and Kittlitz’s Plovers, Whimbrel, and Common Greenshank, along with Kelp Gull and a host of Terns, including Caspian, Sandwich and Royal.
Day 16. Transfer from Benguela to Lubango
We will have an early start heading into the hills near Benguela, where we will get our first taste of the true ‘Namibian’ specials. The dry, rocky acacia habitat along with the barren Namib Desert are core Namibian habitats, and both follow the coastal plain and reach their northernmost point here. Our morning will see us focus on the dry, rocky acacia habitat. One of the primary targets here is the reclusive Hartlaub’s Spurfowl. This small gamebird frequents rocky hillsides, where their loud, duetting call rings out from all parts of the hills and persistent scanning of exposed rocks is usually rewarded. We will also explore some of the drier, acacia-lined riverbeds, which host our remaining targets. The larger trees play host to Rüppell’s Parrot, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Carp’s Tit, and Bare-cheeked Babbler, while the denser areas of bush within the riverbeds host Pearl-spotted Owlet, Pale-olive Greenbul, Swamp Boubou, and Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush. Grey Go-away-birds perch conspicuously, while noisy Damara Red-billed and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills are never far from sight. The surroundings are covered by typical dry acacia thornveld, which hosts a number of species including Acacia Pied Barbet, Pririt Batis, Bokmakierie, Brown-crowned Tchagra, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Long-billed Crombec, Cape Penduline Tit, Black-chested Prinia, Barred Wren-Warbler, Cape Starling, White-browed Scrub Robin, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-headed Finch, and Blue and Violet-eared Waxbills. Areas of open ground host Namaqua Dove and the stunning and unique White-tailed Shrike, and watching the latter ‘giant batises’ never fails to impress! We will also search overhead for Verreaux’s and Booted Eagles and Bateleur, while both Mottled and Böhm’s Spinetails frequent the skies above baobab trees. If we’re lucky, we may even find scarcer species such as Orange River Francolin in the area. We will eventually have to tear ourselves away from the fine birding here, as we transfer to the large city of Lubango. This is a long drive, and we will likely arrive in the late afternoon, from where we will check into our comfortable lodge.
Days 17 – 18. Birding Tundavala and Namibe
We have two full days to bird in the area. Our first day will be dedicated to birding the Tundavala Gap and the surrounding escarpment, located just outside Lubango. Another of Angola’s more famous natural sites, the Tundavala Gap affords spectacular views over the escarpment as it rapidly drops from the high plateau down to the coastal plain, more than 1000m below. While the core habitat up here is rocky grasslands, the valleys and gullies contain some forest-type habitat and the lower slopes just above Lubango town contain an interesting scrubby-woodland habitat. Working our way up from the bottom, the scrubby habitat is arguably the least interesting, even though it does hold many interesting species like Red-backed Mousebird, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Rattling and Tinkling Cisticolas, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Miombo Rock Thrush, a host of Sunbirds including Ludwig’s Double-collared and Oustalet’s, and various seedeaters such as Blue, Violet-eared, and the endemic Angolan Waxbills as well as Brimstone Canary. The grasslands too don’t have much interest, although top of the list here goes to the scarce Finsch’s Francolin, while other species to be sought include Red-capped Lark, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Buffy Pipit, and Quailfinch.
Once at the top, the various valleys and gullies and even the sheer escarpment drop-off itself host the area’s most exciting birds. While taking in the spectacular views of the Tundavala Gap we have a chance for several aerial species, of which Bradfield’s Swift should form the bulk of the numbers. Alpine Swift, Rock Martin, and Black Saw-wing should also feature, and we will keep an eye out for raptors, including Augur Buzzard, Rock Kestrel, and Booted Eagle. The open rocky areas are home to Short-toed Rock Thrush and Striped Pipit along with two of the main specials here, Rockrunner and Angolan Cave Chat. The latter two species typically require some work to track down as they slink through gaps in the rocks, and we will be sure to put in some time to track them down. The rare Swierstra’s Francolin occurs in these areas as well and will be another key target, should we have missed this bird earlier at Mount Moco. Where the forest-type habitat begins we’ll be on the lookout for Grey Apalis, Angolan Slaty Flycatcher, Ludwig’s Double-collared Sunbird, and Angolan Waxbill, while species such as Western Tinkerbird and even Bocage’s Akalat are possible as well.
For our second full day we will see us transfer down the escarpment to the dry coastal plain via the incredible Leba Pass. We will likely have a few birding stops as we descend this well-constructed and stunningly scenic pass, with the slopes featuring a forest-type zone. While we should have seen most of the possible species here on the tour already, we do have further chances for birds such as Schalow’s Turaco, Angolan Batis, African Golden Oriole, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Ashy Flycatcher, and the near-endemic Pale-olive Greenbul, among others. Our main birding, however, will only start once we have descended to the plains below, from where we will initially explore some of the dry, deciduous woodland, riverbeds, and acacia thornveld. Although a similar suite of species to what we sought around Benguela is possible here as well, arguably our biggest target is the localized and somewhat nomadic Cinderella Waxbill. Other specials to be searched for here are Rüppell’s Parrot, Monteiro’s Hornbill, White-tailed Shrike, Carp’s Tit, Meves’s Starling, and Chestnut Weaver. While searching for these birds we’re also likely to come across the many other species occurring in the area, including Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Grey Go-away-bird, Red-faced Mousebird, Black-collared Barbet, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, White-crested Helmetshrike, Black-headed Oriole, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Cape and Violet-backed Starlings, Yellow-billed Oxpecker (on local cattle), Groundscraper Thrush, and Long-tailed Paradise Whydah. Transferring further west toward the coast the habitat rapidly changes and becomes increasingly drier. Stands of acacia thornveld in these dry zones host many species more characteristic of further south, such as Common Scimitarbill, Pririt Batis, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Bokmakierie, Ashy Tit, Cape Penduline Tit, Black-chested Prinia, Barred Wren-Warbler, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Kalahari Scrub Robin, White-bellied and Dusky Sunbirds, Scaly-feathered Weaver, Red-headed Finch, and White-throated and Yellow Canaries.
Continuing further on we enter into the barren Namib Desert, and the dry gravel plains here host another suite of exciting species. The stately Ludwig’s Bustard and the sought-after Rüppell’s Korhaan stride through the open plains, while we will need to put in a concerted effort to track down the nomadic Namaqua Sandgrouse. Walking through the plains is also the best way to find the many lark species occurring here, of which we’ll be searching for Stark’s and Benguela Long-billed Larks along with more widespread species such as Spike-heeled Lark and Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark. Not to be outdone is the ghostly white Tractrac Chat, its close cousin, Karoo Chat, and the puzzling Chat Flycatcher. Lark-like Bunting can be present in large numbers, while we’ll need to keep an eye out for Pale-winged Starling as they roam the plains. Pale Chanting Goshawk is often easily seen perched atop roadside poles, as is the western race of Southern Fiscal. The coast at Namibe will be our end-point, from where we’ll retrace our steps back to Lubango after a great day trip and settle in for our last group dinner.
Day 19. Departure from Lubango
Today is our departure day, and the tour concludes after breakfast and transfer to the airport in Lubango, from where we’ll fly back home.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides, and other factors.