Birding Tour Angola: Africa’s Best-kept Birding Secret
Dates and Costs:
15 June – 03 July 2022
Spaces Available: 1
Price: $7,500 / £5,809 / €6,942 per person sharing, based on 4 – 8 participants.
Single Supplement: $950 / £736 / €879.
* Please note that currency conversion is calculated in real-time, therefore is subject to slight change. Please refer back to base price when making final payments.
15 June – 03 July 2023
Price: $8,400 / £6,506 / €7,774 per person sharing, based on 4 – 8 participants.
Single Supplement: $1,040 / £805 / €963.
(Please also read our blogs about recommended field guides for the seven continents here)
Duration: 19 days
Group Size: 4 – 8
Tour Start: Luanda, Angola
Tour End: Lubango, Angola
All accommodation (no camping)
Meals (from lunch on day 1 until breakfast on day 19)
Unlimited bottled water
Expert tour leader
All entrance fees
All ground transport, including airport pick-up and drop-off
International flights (to Luanda, and from Lubango)
Items of a personal nature, e.g. gifts, laundry, internet access, phone calls, etc.
Any pre- or post-tour accommodation, meals, or birding excursions
Personal travel insurance
Gratuities (please see our tipping guidelines blog)
Featured Guide:Dylan Vasapolli
Birding Tour Angola: Africa’s Best-kept Birding Secret
Since Angola’s three-decade-long civil war ended in 2002, the country has enjoyed peace and stability, along with a massive surge in infrastructural advancements, opening the country up to tourism (much to the delight of birders who want to see it’s 1000+ bird species including 15 superb endemics and a suite of other localized birds). During the initial post-war years, Angola was deemed to be a country only for ‘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 makes this country easier to traverse, and with suitable accommodation options available along the entire route this tour has no overland camping.
The spectacular and highly localized Braun’s Bushshrike is one of the ultimate birds to be found in Angola.
Angola has a massive bird diversity, over 1000 species occurring within its borders, of which 15 are true endemics, 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 offers, making it without a doubt one of the finest birding countries in Africa and a destination not to be missed by any world birder.
Black-necked Eremomela will be searched for in miombo woodland.
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 birding 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 (2,620 meters or 8,600 feet). We then journey to the coast and the town of Benguela, where we get our first sampling of the many more iconic “Namibian” specials (which are now also accessible in Angola), 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.
Gabela Helmetshrike is one of the prized birds occurring in the Kissama National Park.
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.
Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush has a beautiful song and is widespread in coastal Angola.
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 Uige
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 Uige. 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 long journey to Uige, with a possible birding stop near the small village of Quibaxe, for our first taste of some of the northern scarp forest birds (see under Days 5-6 for an account of species in the area).
Days 5 – 6. Birding Quitexe and surroundings and the 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. 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. A great many species are to be sought in the area, including more Guinea-based species along with more central African species. 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. Some of the other more important specials to be sought include such rare and infrequently seen species as African Piculet, Tit Hylia, and White-collared Oliveback (nearly 1000 kilometers outside of its known range) although difficult, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, Yellow Longbill, and Black-bellied Seedcracker. 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. 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.
The stunning Black Bee-eater occurs in the northern scarp forests!
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. 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. Other species to be sought here include Tambourine Dove, African Emerald Cuckoo, Blue Malkoha, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Angolan Batis, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Bocage’s Bushshrike, Tropical Boubou, Pink-footed Puffback, Mackinnon’s Shrike, Black-winged Oriole, Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher, Petit’s and Purple-throated Cuckooshrikes, Velvet-mantled Drongo, Yellow-throated Nicator, Swamp Palm Bulbul, Simple, Slender-billed, Little, Plain, and Yellow-whiskered Greenbuls, Red-tailed Bristlebill, Black-throated Apalis, Banded and White-chinned Prinias, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Brown Illadopsis, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, Forest Scrub Robin, Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher, Vieillot’s Black and Yellow-mantled Weavers, and Crested and Red-headed Malimbes. 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 Warbler, African Yellow Warbler, Black-winged Red Bishop, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, Red-headed Quelea, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, Black-and-white Mannikin, Landana Firefinch, and the snazzy Brown Twinspot. We will also 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.
The strange Black-collared Bulbul is a sought-after species in south-central Africa.
Day 7. Transfer from Uige 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.
The Kalandula area is home to some superb birding, and the poorly known and recently rediscovered White-headed Robin-Chat is one of the hallmark species of the country!
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.
Angola is arguably the easiest place to see the scarce Anchieta’s Barbet.
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.
The national bird of Angola, Red-crested Turaco, is best found in the endemic-rich Kumbira Forest.
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.
The stunning Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye provides a bright splash of color in the forests.
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 Huambo, 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.
Mount Moco hosts many exciting species, and this Angolan Lark is one we hope to find!
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 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 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.
A denizen of the mountains, the Hartlaub’s Spurfowl is one of main targets near Benguela.
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.
Overnight: Casper Lodge, Lubango
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.
Angolan Cave Chat is a big target in the rocky mountains of the Tundavala escarpment.
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 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 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.
Overnight: Casper Lodge, Lubango
Day 19. Departure from Lubango
Today is our departure day, and the tour concludes after breakfast with a transfer to the airport in Lubango, from where we’ll fly back home.
The Kalandula falls are exquisite, and one of the major natural attractions of the country!
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. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.Download Itinerary
Angola Scouting Trip Report
30 MAY – 23 JUNE 2018
By Dylan Vasapoli and Jason Boyce
Angola’s national bird, Red-crested Turaco, is also a highly-prized endemic and showed well on this scouting tour.
A birding tour to Angola had been on Birding Ecotours’ radar for some time, and eventually in 2017 plans were put in place for a scouting trip the following year that would see both Jason and Dylan cover the country comprehensively in search of all the region’s birds in order to set up a trip for future years. Two clients, Bruce and Paul, would join on this exciting scouting trip, and in the end contributed greatly to the success of this trip with their easy-going personalities and positive attitudes in our daily quest for not only the country’s many prized birds but appropriate roadside ‘camping sites’ as well.
Angola truly is a birding destination that is set to feature on the world birding stage in the near future. One thing we could all agree on as a scouting team was the incredible avian diversity from one site to the next. We began the journey in the southern parts of the country, at Lubango. We had time to explore the plateaus that hold Swierstra’s Spurfowl and Angolan Cave Chat, the escarpment forests with Schalow’s Turaco, and the gravel plains complete with Ludwig’s Bustard and Namaqua Sandgrouse. The central sections of our route included the famous sites of Mount Moco and Kumbira Forest and held amazing miombo and forest species such as Black-necked Eremomela, Margaret’s Batis, Red-crested Turaco, and the sought-after Pulitzer’s Longbill. Up north time was spent at the beautiful Kalandula Falls, forested patches around the village of Kinjila, and then onward to the exciting northern scarp forest of Damengola. The birds were magnificent! We saw White-headed and Grey-winged Robin-Chats, Anchieta’s Barbet, Black-casqued Hornbill, Tit Hylia, Braun’s Bushshrike, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Black Bee-eater, and many, many more. The lowland scrub and Baobab woodlands around Kissama National Park and Luanda were also incredibly productive, giving us the last of our endemic targets such as Gabela Helmetshrike, Monteiro’s Bushshrike, and Grey-striped Francolin.
This scouting tour connected with a great number of species, including 13 of the 14 endemic species, and saw a total of 496 species on the trip, with an additional 18 species heard only. While Angola is not known for its mammals we also picked up seven mammal species, including the localized Southern Talapoin Monkey.
This once war-torn country is without a doubt one of Africa’s best-kept secrets!
Day 1, 1st June 2018. Arrival at Lubango
Following a long, three-day drive from Johannesburg, South Africa, together with Bruce, we arrived in the large city of Lubango in southern Angola in the late afternoon. We did the rounds preparing for the coming days, stocking up on some fresh food and (great) local beer before setting up our first camp in the grounds of the lodge. A few birds were moving through the grounds, with the undeniable highlight going to the desired Red-backed Mousebird – a species virtually confined to Angola. In the evening we met Paul at the airport, and with our entire group together settled in for the night.
The scouting ‘quattro’ at the scenic Tundavala Gap
Day 2, 2nd June 2018. Birding Tundavala
After getting up early we packed up our camp and headed into the hills surrounding Lubango toward the Tundavala Gap on the Serra Leba escarpment, where we would spend the day. We began birding the scrubby lower slopes and enjoyed our first spell of birding. In no time we had one of our main targets here, the endemic Angolan Waxbill. Although the birds kept their distance, we enjoyed multiple looks at this attractive bird. Also present were Red-backed Mousebird, Little Bee-eater, Black-collared Barbet, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Tinkling Cisticola, White-browed Scrub Robin, Brimstone Canary, and quite a few of the spectacular Violet-eared Waxbills. Some flowering plants had a few Sunbirds in attendance, giving us Amethyst, Scarlet-chested, and Variable, along with females of the sought Oustalet’s and the endemic Ludwig’s Double-collared. Overhead we enjoyed the elegant Augur Buzzard. The scrubby lower slopes gave way to rolling grassy hills dotted with impressive rocky gorges, and we spent a while working these areas. A covey of calling Finsch’s Francolins drew us firmly into the grassy hills, and we spent a while getting closer to the birds before they eventually fell silent. We waited a while and eventually gave up on diplomacy and took a walk through the zone where we thought they were. Right on cue we flushed the covey and enjoyed views as they flew across a gorge and landed on the opposite side. A species we hadn’t been expecting here, and definitely a great bonus! We also investigated the first large rocky area we came across, and although the birding was quite slow, we managed to get another endemic under our belt – an Angolan Slaty Flycatcher disappeared as quickly as it had appeared! We headed on towards Tundavala and were blown away by the sheer beauty of the view here – right on the edge of the escarpment before it dropped starkly to the drier plains below. While savoring the view we enjoyed our first encounter with the sought Angolan Cave Chat as it bounded around on the very precarious-looking rocks. Also present here were Ovambo Sparrowhawk, African Harrier-Hawk, many Bradfield’s Swifts, Alpine Swift, Rock Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, Rock Martin, Wailing Cisticola, Short-toed Rock Thrush, and a few more Angolan Waxbills, this time giving us some great views. We spent the remainder of the day working the various tracks, gorges, and small remnant tracts of forest in some of the gorges. We enjoyed a similar suite of species to what we had seen already, with new additions going to Red-capped Lark, Black Saw-wing, the prized Rockrunner, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Jameson’s Firefinch, Quailfinch, and numbers of African, Long-billed, and Buffy Pipits. We spent some time searching for the rare, endemic Swierstra’s Francolin, which is known from the area, but came away empty-handed. Our day was capped off by finally finding a male Ludwig’s Double-collared Sunbird. We selected an appropriate patch of ground to set up our camp and settled in for a cool evening after a great and successful first day.
Day 3, 3rd June 2018. Tundavala to Namibe and birding the surroundings
Up early once more, we packed and were off in no time. Today we were bound for the drier desert plains around Namibe on the coast. First we passed over the incredibly scenic Serra da Leba Pass and birded our way down through some of the densely-wooded areas. Vocal Schalow’s Turaco refused to show; however, we did a bit better with Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Cardinal Woodpecker, the sought-after Angolan Batis, Swamp Boubou, Black Cuckooshrike, African Golden Oriole, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, and Ashy Flycatcher. At the bottom of the pass the habitat changed to drier woodlands, and we spent a while working a few different spots. Here we did well with a few of the species shared with Namibia. Some of the taller trees in a riverine area held the vocal Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, and nearby more-open woodland hosted White-tailed Shrike, Carp’s Tit, Chestnut Weaver, and some brief views of the highly-prized Cinderella Waxbill, which, frustratingly, only Dylan managed to see. In addition we enjoyed a host of other species, including Shikra, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove and Namaqua Dove, Grey Go-away-bird, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Acacia Pied Barbet, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, White-crested Helmetshrike, African Paradise Flycatcher, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Meves’s Starling, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Groundscraper Thrush, and Marico and White-bellied Sunbirds, along with numbers of both White-browed Sparrow-Weavers and Red-billed Buffalo Weavers. We watched a pool for a while, where large numbers of seedeaters came in to drink, hoping for Cinderella Waxbill, but had to be content with Red-billed Firefinch, Blue Waxbill, and Bronze Mannikin. Here we also found our first mammal, Congo Rope (Striped Tree) Squirrel. We progressed onward to Namibe and watched as the surroundings rapidly changed into the dry Namib Desert. The roadside telephone poles and wires held Pale Chanting Goshawk, Cape Starling, Chat Flycatcher, and Mountain Wheatear, while the surrounding plains provided a number of larks, including Spike-heeled, Benguela Long-billed, and Stark’s Larks and huge numbers of Grey-backed Sparrow-Larks. We also found a few Namaqua Sandgrouse, along with Karoo Chat and Lark-like Bunting. On the outskirts of Namibe we worked a dry riverbed and stumbled onto the near-endemic Bubbling Cisticola, and many of them – another surprise species we hadn’t expected so early in the trip. Realizing that we were well behind schedule we turned around and began working our way back toward Lubango. We did well early on, finding the tricky Ludwig’s Bustard along with a few groups of Rüppell’s Korhaan before transitioning out of the desert and into acacia woodland – a habitat we wouldn’t encounter anywhere else on the trip. We enjoyed some spectacular birding here, with birds active and present everywhere we looked, and we were hardly able to cover any ground. Species seen were Red-faced Mousebird, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Common Scimitarbill, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Pririt Batis, Bokmakierie, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Brubru, Ashy Tit, Long-billed Crombec, Black-chested Prinia, Barred Wren-Warbler, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Scaly-feathered Weaver, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-headed Finch, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, and Yellow Canary. All too soon we ran out of time and headed off in search of our campsite. We went to an area we had visited earlier in the morning, found a suitable spot, and settled in for the evening after another highly successful day.
Rüppell’s Korhaan was one of our targets on the coastal plains near Namibe.
Day 4, 4th June 2018. Lubango to Mount Moco
With a very long drive ahead of us, today would mostly be spent in the car. We started at dawn and birded our way to the main road. Here we enjoyed Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Striped Kingfisher, African Golden Oriole, and numbers of the prized Rüppell’s Parrot. We restocked on fresh food supplies in Lubango before fighting the traffic to get through the city – which took quite a bit longer than anticipated. Pretty much the rest of the day was spent driving on an ever-deteriorating road, which eventually became a terrible pothole-ridden dirt track, before we reached Caála and got onto a good tar road again. The rest of the trip to Mount Moco went by quickly, as the road was good, and we arrived at the turnoff to the mountain in the late afternoon with a bit of time before dark. It seemed that we were the first people to drive the track toward the mountain in a while, as it was basically limited to a footpath – long grass grew over the track. Progress was slow on the bumpy track, and not being able to see what lay ahead was somewhat challenging, but we slowly made ground and arrived on a grassy plateau, where the track improved and we could see once more. We reached the village of Kanjonde at the base of the mountain as the sun was setting and set up our camp on the outskirts. Jason and Dylan went into the village to arrange access to the forests at the top of the mountain for the following day, and with all arrangements made we headed back and enjoyed a good dinner, with a cold wind picking up and forcing us into our tents a bit early.
Day 5, 5th June 2018. Birding Mount Moco
Early in the morning we met up with a few of the locals, who would take us up the mountain, and started our hike. It was quite a grueling hike to get to the top of the mountain, but taking it easy with regular stops saw us progressing nicely, despite the near-gale-force winds hampering things. We passed through a few really small relict patches of forest before arriving at the first more substantial forest patch midway up the climb. We birded around here for a while, getting our first taste of some of the forest specials, namely Western Tinkerbird and Grey Apalis, while the forest edge held African Yellow Warbler and Angolan Waxbill. While we were working our way ahead a Swierstra’s Francolin began calling, and we tried for a while to get visuals on it, but eventually had to walk away without views, frustratingly. Bruce opted to return back to our camp due to the difficulty of the hike, while the rest of us pressed on. Higher up the wind only worsened and made birding almost impossible. We eventually reached the main forest patch and faced the next difficulty – getting down to the actual forest, which lay in the lower parts of a gorge, and we had to traverse an incredibly steep descent to get there. We took it slowly and soon reached the forest edge, where we were even a bit sheltered from the wind and could finally hear birds once more. A vocal Evergreen Forest Warbler played hide-and-seek but finally showed well very close to us before slinking away into the undergrowth. One of our main targets, Margaret’s Batis, began calling, and in no time we had a bird above us, giving us some good views, albeit quite briefly. Bocage’s Akalat was our next target, and we enjoyed good and prolonged views of this brightly-colored forest denizen. A small group of African Hill Babblers showed well but kept their distance, while noisy Cabanis’s Greenbuls showed only very briefly. An African Spotted Creeper working the trunks of trees was a bit of a surprise and seemed quite out of habitat. Other species seen here included Schalow’s Turaco, Olive Woodpecker (heard only), Tropical Boubou, Black Saw-wing, a small group of Angolan Slaty Flycatchers, African Dusky Flycatcher, Ludwig’s Double-collared and Oustalet’s Sunbirds (both females again), and Dusky Indigobird. We worked our way around the forest edge before we ran into another calling Swierstra’s Francolin, this time on the opposite side of the gorge. We again tried for a while but were left frustrated once more. We had lunch on the steep slopes before undertaking the grueling task of getting back out of the gorge. It took a while, but eventually we found ourselves overlooking the forest once more and continued with the trip back down to our camp, where we rested for a while after arrival. In the late afternoon we headed into the surrounding grasslands, looking primarily for Angolan Lark. We concentrated on a recently-burnt patch of grassland, and a comprehensive search eventually provided our target, and we were treated to stunning views of this localized species. Other birds seen included Finsch’s Francolin, African Marsh Harrier, Red-capped Lark, the prized Black-and-rufous Swallow, Grey-rumped Swallow, Capped Wheatear, and Plain-backed Pipit. We settled in for a good meal after a difficult day, with the wind unfortunately picking up.
We enjoyed great looks at the localized Angolan Lark.
Day 6, 6th June 2018. Birding the Mount Moco area
After a restless night with gale-force winds we packed at dawn and headed to the lower slopes to escape the relentless wind. In the grasslands we found Coppery-tailed Coucal, Yellow Bishop, and small groups of Fawn-breasted Waxbills. We finally arrived in an area where the wind had largely abated, and after enjoying our breakfast we set off to bird in some of the surrounding miombo woodland patches. Although these were incredibly fragmented we worked a few different patches of woodland and enjoyed some spectacular birding. Top rewards here went to a pair of the highly-prized Anchieta’s Barbet that we found perched quietly in the canopy, and we were able to enjoy them for a while before they moved on. We also did well with bouts of activity of numerous species, as is so characteristic of this habitat type. Boisterous Green-capped Eremomelas almost always gave away these bird parties, and regularly present were Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Cardinal Woodpecker, Chinspot Batis, Brubru, White-crested Helmetshrike, Black Cuckooshrike, Black-headed Oriole, Neddicky, Southern Black Flycatcher, Amethyst Sunbird, Yellow-throated Petronia, Streaky-headed Seedeater, and Golden-breasted Bunting. In addition to all these species we were able to enjoy many of the main miombo specials as well. A White-tailed Blue Flycatcher moved through the lower strata with such incredible speed that it was difficult to keep track of where the bird had moved to next, while cryptic African Spotted Creepers moved up and down the branches a bit more sedately, and tiny Red-capped Crombecs stuck to the canopy, blending in with leaves that were larger than they were. An unobtrusive Miombo Wren-Warbler disappeared almost as suddenly as it had appeared, while beautiful Yellow-bellied Hyliotas slowly moved through the leaves together with Western Violet-backed Sunbirds and Wood Pipits flushed from the ground into the trees. We also did well to find Dusky Twinspot, an incredibly sought-after bird with a somewhat-fragmented range, and enjoyed good views of it as it stuck to the grassy edges of the woodland. A number of Orange-winged Pytilias also frequented the grassy edges and showed well. We also flushed two different Fiery-necked Nightjars. Grassy riverine areas bisected a few of these patches and held further species, such as Little Bee-eater, Red-faced Cisticola, Variable Sunbird, Holub’s Golden Weaver, Red-collared Widowbird, and Brimstone Canary. We took a break over the midday period and only resumed birding later in the afternoon, when we were heading back to the higher grasslands, where we would try for a few different species. A stunning male Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah halted us on our way. One of our main targets was the localized Bocage’s Sunbird, and we initially thought we had this scarce bird early on, but on closer inspection it turned out to be an out-of-habitat Bronzy Sunbird, much to our dismay. This would be the closest we’d come to this bird. As we worked this area we picked up African Marsh Harrier, a calling Red-chested Flufftail, further looks at the spectacular Black-and-rufous Swallow, African Reed Warbler, Red-faced and Croaking Cisticolas, a lone Marsh Widowbird that left us wanting more, and Black-throated Canary along with numbers of Common and Orange-breasted Waxbills. With daylight running out and having to get back lower down to escape the wind we headed down, found a good camping spot, and settled in for a far more pleasant evening.
Day 7, 7th June 2018. Mount Moco to Kumbira Forest
With a long drive ahead of us, traveling further north to the endemic-laden Kumbira Forest, we had only a brief period in which to bird in the morning before having to set off. Sadly the wind had picked up down here, but we headed into the miombo woodland hoping for the best. We concentrated on a different section from where we had birded yesterday and did well, picking up a nearby calling Salvadori’s Eremomela. But we were not able to pin the bird down in the wind and were left frustrated without views. The birding was quite slow, although we did pick up a number of the more common species, similar to what we had seen yesterday. A Greater Honeyguide attended a few beehives we found in the miombo, and while investigating another small bout of activity we did well finding Red-headed Weaver and the highly-prized Anchieta’s Sunbird. We were able to spend a bit of time with the sunbird before pressing on. With time running out we quickly searched one more patch, and almost immediately managed to enjoy our main outstanding target here, Black-necked Eremomela. We had spectacular views of these lively and attractive birds for a while as they moved from tree to tree, but they were difficult to keep tabs on due to the wind. A curious Yellow-bellied Hyliota also came to investigate what the fuss was all about. With a smile on our faces we then settled in for the long drive to Kumbira Forest.
We were overjoyed at eventually finding Black-necked Eremomela!
We stocked up on a few things en route, and a roadside stop at a large wetland provided Purple Heron and Intermediate Egret, which were widely present, and some careful scanning revealed a few of the scarce Rufous-bellied Heron. The lily-covered portions hosted African Jacana along with African Swamphen and Allen’s Gallinule, while Pied and Malachite Kingfishers patrolled the edges. Sand Martin and Wire-tailed Swallow flitted by regularly, and some scrubby vegetation on the outskirts hosted Chirping Cisticola, Black-winged Red Bishop, and Brown Firefinch. The road was a bit better than expected, so we made good progress to Gabela and then onward to Kumbira. We birded at a few good-looking forest-edge patches en route, but the birding was incredibly slow, and so we pressed on toward Kumbira proper. At the village of Conda we turned off and headed along a bumpy track to the forest. This is arguably one of Angola’s best-known birding spots due to the large number of endemics that are present here. Shortly before arriving in the area we came to a grinding halt as we picked up on a calling Pulitzer’s Longbill, one of the trickier endemics. We enjoyed some good, albeit brief views of this excellent species as it stuck to the thickets, only popping out into the open for short periods. We couldn’t believe this excellent start after having feared that this would probably be the bird for which we’d struggle the most. We found a good campsite and unloaded a few things before going on a short walk to explore the surroundings in the late afternoon. This proved a good move, since quite a number of birds were out and about. The country’s national bird, Red-crested Turaco, began the proceedings by calling in the distance and would be one of our main targets over the next few days. We did manage to find other species, however, including Pink-footed Puffback, the sought-after Falkenstein’s Greenbul, the endemic Hartet’s Camaroptera, Violet-backed Starling, the shy Forest Scrub Robin, Collared, Olive, and Olive-bellied Sunbirds, Black-necked Weaver, cute Black-and-white Mannikins, and Black-faced Canary. As the sun went down an African Broadbill began displaying just behind our camp, and we settled in for a good night.
Day 8, 8th June 2018. Birding Kumbira Forest Reserve
After being up early we started to explore the region. We were a bit taken aback to see how degraded the area was, with lots of agriculture strung right throughout the forest, leaving only small, degraded patches of secondary forest remaining. Still we had a great start, finding a wealth of birds in these remaining patches. Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Yellow-billed Barbet, Angolan Batis, Pink-footed Puffback, Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, Green Crombec, Buff-throated Apalis, the curious local race of Southern Hyliota, and Superb Sunbird all showed regularly, while some more special birds were the spectacular Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye, Pale-olive Greenbul, and the endemic Gabela Akalat, which showed exceptionally well from almost-within-touching distance. Deeper in the forest we explored a few footpaths, and this proved a good move, as we were enjoying further great birds. A denser patch of the forest produced an unobtrusive Brown-chested Alethe, while noisy Dusky Tits worked the canopy together with African Blue Flycatcher and the snazzy Black-throated Apalis, and some of the edges held African Broadbill, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Little Green Sunbird, and Black-necked Weaver. Red-crested Turaco frustrated us frequently by calling in the distance; but, try as we might, we couldn’t get close. After a break over the midday period we resumed birding in the afternoon and struck gold with a large fruiting tree. We worked this area for a while and were rewarded with some great birds, first and foremost Red-crested Turaco. Our persistence paid off as we enjoyed numbers of these elegant birds coming into the large fruiting tree to feed for some time. We also found Blue Malkoha, Klaas’s and African Emerald Cuckoos, a surprise Grey-headed Kingfisher, Crowned Hornbill, Hairy-breasted Barbet, a brief Cassin’s Honeybird, Yellow-throated Nicator, and Grey-headed Nigrita in the surrounding area while enjoying the turacos. With time moving on we explored one last area before returning to our camp, finding another Gabela Akalat along with Tambourine Dove and a few raptors, namely: African Harrier-Hawk, Brown Snake Eagle, and Lizard Buzzard. We settled in for the evening after a good, highly-successful day and were serenaded by a pair of African Wood Owls after dark.
Not as many birds are as striking as the Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye!
Day 9, 9th June 2018. Birding Kumbira Forest Reserve
We had another full day at our disposal and would be targeting our one major remaining target here, Gabela Bushshrike, known as a difficult special. We knew it would be challenging and began the day early with a displaying African Goshawk over our camp. We worked a different area from the previous day and initially began exploring some slightly-more-mature sections of the forest and forest edge. The activity was pretty good, and we enjoyed a wealth of species, although all fairly similar to what we had seen yesterday. A Red-crested Turaco bounded in the treetops, while a skulking Blue Malkoha stuck to the denser tangles and only offered glimpses for us. Then we greatly enjoyed the spectacular Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye once more, while our first major new species arrived in the form of a vocal Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher that eventually showed well, although briefly, as this super-active bird never sat still for long. Not much further along we noticed some strange birds moving about low to the ground, and it took us a little while to realize we were looking at the secretive Brown Illadopsis. Although the birds were also quite active, we enjoyed some good looks at them. The scrubby edges held a few different birds, and here we enjoyed Palm-nut Vulture, Long-crested Eagle, Lizard Buzzard, Petit’s Cuckooshrike, a vocal Gorgeous (Perrin’s) Bushshrike, Bubbling Cisticola, Landana Firefinch, and Village Weaver, while some flowering plants were alive with sunbirds and we enjoyed Little Green, Collared, Green-headed, Olive-bellied, Purple-banded and Superb Sunbirds. A massive fallen tree blocked the track and forced us to return to some of the areas we had already worked earlier in the day. Following our midday break the afternoon period was significantly quieter, and we battled for birds. With the bushshrike still our primary target we kept on trying but had to be content with adding species such as Trumpeter Hornbill and Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, while enjoying repeated views of species such as Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Crowned Hornbill, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Angolan Batis, Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher, African Blue Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Nicator, Falkenstein’s and Pale-olive Greenbuls, Southern Hyliota, Forest Scrub Robin, Gabela Akalat, Grey-headed Nigrita, and Black-faced Canary. A number of birds frustrated us by calling throughout the afternoon but remaining unseen despite our best efforts, including Grey-striped Francolin, Ross’s Turaco, Gabon Coucal, and Green Hylia. With the afternoon all but over we made our way back to camp after a mixed day, sadly missing, and not even hearing, our last remaining special here, Gabela Bushshrike.
Day 10, 10th June 2018. Kumbira Forest to N’dalatando
We had spent our last night in Kumbira Forest, and, after an hour or so of birding around the camp and on the way out, we started our journey to N’dalatando. During this last bit of birding at Kimbira we picked up an African Crake that was, rather curiously, sitting quietly in the middle of the road, along with Red-necked Spurfowl, White-winged Widowbird, Grey Waxbill, and the interesting Landana Firefinch. We also had absolutely beautiful visuals of Gorgeous Bushshrike. The road to our next destination, N’dalatando, was surprisingly good, and we made some good time while also picking up a few waterbirds, like Spur-winged Goose, Marabou Stork, African Darter, African Fish Eagle, African Swamphen, and Lesser Swamp Warbler, along the way. We stopped at Tombingo Forest just before N’dalatando, where we spent the afternoon to see what the forest was like and were quite pleasantly surprised. The forested sections near the road looked mature with good numbers of Baobabs and other taller trees. The bird activity picked up really nicely later in the afternoon, starting with fly-over Piping Hornbills and a vocal White-spotted Flufftail. We also picked up the likes of Black-winged Oriole, African Paradise Flycatcher, Green Crombec, Woodhouse’s Antpecker (a true cracker of a bird!), Chestnut Wattle-eye, Red-fronted Parrot, Yellow-crowned Woodpecker, Sooty Flycatcher, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, and Yellow-mantled Weaver. While we were making our way out of the forest we noticed a dark, brown shape flash across the road in front of us, and it landed in a dead tree and popped into a small cavity on the side of the tree. When it came out again we managed to identify it as Naked-faced Barbet, a nice breeding record for the area. White-breasted Nigrita was also found here before we headed into N’dalatando. We checked into a comfortable hotel, where we enjoyed an excellent dinner and some well-earned rest away from our cozy tents.
Day 11, 11th June 2018. N’dalatando to Kinjila Village via Kalandula
Armed with breakfast packs we left the hotel early and headed back to Tombingo Forest for round two. It was a great morning, and there was bird activity everywhere. Both Naked-faced and loads of Bristle-nosed Barbets were coming to a large fruiting tree hanging over the road. They were joined soon enough by Chestnut-winged Starling, Speckled Tinkerbird, and Honeyguide Greenbul, all showing extremely well. Piping and African Pied Hornbills both gave flybys, landed atop tall trees, and proceeded to ‘sing’ for us. Cassin’s Honeybird was one of the trickier species that we managed to connect with this morning. The calls of White-spotted Flufftail were never far away, but no matter what we tried, we were unable to get any visuals. We walked a nice-looking forest trail, and here we had great numbers of stunning butterflies and also managed to find Superb and Green-throated Sunbirds, Green Hylia, and Slender-billed Greenbul, as well as the call of Red-tailed Bristlebill. As we were heading out of the forest we were privileged to have an incredible sighting of a snake that seemed to take up the whole road in front of us. As we stopped to look we found ourselves observing a rare Jameson’s Mamba – a first for all of us and another reason that Angola really seems to be a gem of a country to travel to. We stocked up with supplies at the Shoprite in town and then headed for Kalandula Falls. The falls were spectacular, to say the least, but we had certainly expected a little more in terms of facilities and tourism as strangely there was nothing there besides a few kids wanting some money and food. We encountered Angolan Swallow and a couple other aerial feeders, including Little and African Palm Swifts. We stopped at a bridge en route to our final destination for today, Kinjila Village, and picked up Marsh Tchagra, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Yellow-throated Leaflove, and Yellow-mantled Widowbird. Soon we arrived in Kinjila, where we would spend the next few nights, and decided that we would head straight into a forest patch we had scouted on maps back in South Africa. We had only about one hour of good light left during which to track down our main target, which we fortunately managed to find in no time: White-headed Robin-Chat. This bird needs little introduction and has probably only been seen by a relatively small number of world birders, having been rediscovered to science only in the last few decades and being known from only three sites in the world. It was tricky to photograph, but we had absolutely stunning views of this highly-prized special! Grey-winged Robin-Chat was a brilliant supporting act as well – a great day all around!
It was a real privilege for all of us to enjoy great views of the rare White-headed Robin-Chat.
Day 12, 12th June 2018. Birding Kalandula and surroundings
Today we birded the greater Kalandula area, focusing on the various miombo patches dotted throughout this area. The morning birding yielded Striped Kingfisher, Lilac-breasted Roller, Meyer’s Parrot, Black-crowned Tchagra, White-winged Black Tit, Moustached Grass Warbler, Senegal Coucal, Red-necked Buzzard, Tawny-flanked Prinia, and, amazingly, another sighting of the sought-after Anchieta’s Barbet – this time a pair with a young bird that landed right in front of us – what a treat! Ross’s and Red-crested Turacos were both calling nearby, but unfortunately we had to be content with Ross’s Turaco remaining heard only. Later in the morning we headed back to the Lucala Bridge, where we were greeted by hundreds of Red-throated Cliff Swallows – among them also were the likes of Little Swift and Angolan Swallow as well as White-throated Swallow. But sadly we could not find the White-bibbed Swallows previously reported here. Another section of miombo woodland yielded one of our big targets for the area, Bates’s Sunbird – a special species, even if its appearance doesn’t allude to this. We also managed to eke out visuals of Miombo Wren-Warbler (another fairly arbitrary-looking bird), Western Violet-backed Sunbird, and Miombo Scrub Robin in the area. While we explored the backwaters of a river not too far from our camp around midday we managed to find a few interesting species, highlights being Shining-blue Kingfisher, Cabanis’s Greenbul, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, and a calling Fülleborn’s Longclaw that frustratingly remained out of sight. The forest patch where we had found White-headed Robin-Chat provided a few more goodies, this time (other than a calling White-headed Robin-Chat) we picked up Black-throated Wattle-eye and African Paradise Flycatcher, while the star of the afternoon, we all agreed, was the pair of White-spotted Flufftails that showed ever so well; we managed to get great looks at both a male and a female on the swampy forest floor. We ended the afternoon with a massive flock of Sharp-tailed Starlings as well as a couple of Gorgeous Bushshrikes. A night-time search delivered a fantastic African Scops Owl; however, African Barred Owlet remained heard only.
We enjoyed multiple views of the scarce Anchieta’s Barbet.
Day 13, 13th June 2018. Kalandula to the northern scarp forests
Today we planned to move to the somewhat-isolated Equatorial Guinea forests in the north of the country near Uíge, where we expected to encounter a wide range of West and Central African species. First, however, we did a bit more birding around our camping area at Kinjila. We went on foot into the miombo woodland surrounding our camp and enjoyed many species, notably Anchieta’s Barbet (once again), Western Violet-backed and Copper Sunbirds, Arrow-marked Babbler, Southern Black Flycatcher, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Lizard Buzzard, Cardinal Woodpecker, and after a long search a day-time African Barred Owlet. We once again didn’t manage to locate the Ross’s Turacos that were calling nearby; we have no idea why this pair proved so elusive. We did, however, finally manage to lay eyes on Black Scimitarbill – a species that had been giving us the runaround for much of the previous day. Eventually, though, we drew ourselves away and continued to the northern scarp forests of Damengola. During our lunch-time break we fortuitously came across a stunning Thick-billed Cuckoo. We had spectacular views when we were coming from the northeast and could see that the forested ridge lines were incredibly extensive and definitely made us excited as we thought about all the possible species they held. The densely-vegetated hillsides, rolling grasslands, and the forested/wooded stream crossings made the terrible road condition somewhat more bearable. We stopped at a bridge on the way, where we enjoyed Orange-cheeked Waxbill and Swamp Palm Bulbul and also heard Western Bronze-naped Pigeon. Two fly-by Black-casqued Hornbills ended our brilliant day very nicely indeed.
Day 14, 14th June 2018. Birding Damengola Forest (northern scarp forests)
Today our scouting quattro headed into the Damengola Forest area in the early morning, targeting Braun’s Bushshrike among others. Let’s just say that Braun’s Bushshrike was absolutely spectacular! We very fortunately found a pair rather easily and enjoyed watching them move about in the tangles, occasionally giving their frog-like ‘wrrrk’ call, in stark contrast to its close relative, Gabela Bushshrike, which we hadn’t even heard throughout the trip. While enjoying the bushshrikes we recorded nearly 50 species in the hour and twenty minutes we spent here. Some of the better birds were Red-headed Malimbe, Yellow-mantled Weaver, Bocage’s Bushshrike, Guinea and Great Blue Turacos, Honeyguide Greenbul, Vieillot’s Black Weaver, calling Afep and Western Bronze-naped Pigeons, and a party of White-chinned Prinias that entertained us for a while too. Slightly further down the track we found Blue Malkoha, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, White-breasted Nigrita, Narrow-tailed Starling, and an awesome fly-by adult Bat Hawk. We had been searching hard for the prized Black-collared Bulbul over the past few days and eventually heard a few calling in the open fields alongside the forest patch. We spent some time here and found no less than four individuals. We also picked up Brown-backed Scrub Robin here. The next forest patch yielded both Brown and Scaly-breasted Illadopsis calling from the depths of the forest, Yellow Longbill (a bogey bird for Jason!), the classy Black Bee-eater, and an absolutely brilliant Chocolate-backed Kingfisher. The forest edge and grassy sections held Yellow-mantled Widowbird, Black-winged Red Bishop, Common Waxbill, Chirping Cisticola, Blue-throated Roller, and Palm-nut Vulture. As far as raptors go, we had African Harrier Hawk and Black Sparrowhawk give some nice views. Last but not least that afternoon we managed to find Little Green and Grey-chinned Sunbirds and finally a single Broad-billed Roller back at our camping area. We arrived with still a bit of daylight left to allow us to search a nearby area for Vermiculated Fishing Owl, which we had heard calling the previous night, but sadly our search was fruitless.
The endemic Braun’s Bushshrike showed exceptionally well.
Day 15, 15th June 2018. Another full day exploring the Damengola Forest
We wanted to make sure that we had enough time exploring and scouting the many different birding areas in the north, so we set off for another good day’s birding in the scarp forests. The morning started fairly slowly due to some overcast, misty conditions but picked up as time went on. Although we enjoyed a largely similar suite of species as yesterday we also found Banded Prinia and had nice looks at Brown Illadopsis near the Braun’s Bushshrike stakeout (where they were still happily clambering around). We birded the area for most of the morning, chasing things like Gabon Coucal (of which we only managed a glimpse here), Afep Pigeon, and Chattering Cisticola. We also enjoyed the likes of Velvet-mantled Drongo, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, and another sighting of the scarce and poorly-known Woodhouse’s Antpecker. Then we headed to a forest we had birded yesterday; here we found a few similar species as well as Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher and the star of the morning, White-collared Oliveback. This species is known from the area with a few records but is a fairly-recent discovery, and we were thrilled to come across them, as here they are about 1000 kilometers outside of their known distribution. During the afternoon birding session we explored another section of forest, where we had lunch and birded some truly beautifully-looking forest, although for the most part the activity was on the slow side. It was nice to continue adding to our ever-growing triplist, recording more excellent birds such as Narrow-tailed Starling, Purple-throated and Petit’s Cuckooshrikes, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Mottled Spinetail, and Blue-throated Brown and Grey-chinned Sunbirds, as well as Black Crake crossing one of the forest streams.
Finding a pair of White-collared Olivebacks was one of the highlights of the northern scarp forests.
Day 16, 16th June 2018. Damengola Forest and south to Quibaxe and Pango Aluquém
A thick bank of mist had rolled in overnight and was a serious hindrance to any birding this morning. Luckily this was during our travel time, and by 8 a.m. the mist started to clear, just as we reached our first birding stop near Quibaxe. The forest was alive with bird song – we picked up a few more White-breasted Nigritas and African Pied Hornbills while the calls of both Tambourine Dove and the endemic Braun’s Bushshrike echoed in the valley. We took a walk down one of the village tracks, where we found a few real goodies, including Slender-billed Greenbul, Naked-faced Barbet, Black-winged Oriole, Pink-footed Puffback, Angolan Batis, Olive-bellied and Grey-chinned Sunbirds, Black Bee-eater, and Black-throated Apalis. The slightly-more-open areas yielded a few Red-headed Queleas. On the way back to the car we had a magical half hour of birding that started with an amazing pair of the highly-prized Tit Hylia, which were gleaning in some of the lower bushes in the forest. Black-bellied Seedcracker offered brief views, and we also found Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, and an active pair of Yellow Longbills – all crackers for the trip! African Shrike-flycatcher was the main highlight at our lunch-break site. We continued south and explored a few forest tracks in the dense forest, quite literally in the middle of nowhere. The afternoon’s walk was a little slow in terms of birding, but we added Brown-hooded Kingfisher, African Hoopoe, Pale-fronted Nigrita, and a few others previously-mentioned species. We settled in for a great evening meal deep in the heart of the forest.
The minuscule Tit Hylia gleaning for insects.
Day 17, 17th June 2018. Onward to Kissama National Park
While still in the comfort of our tents deep within primary forest we started to surface to the calls of both Scaly-breasted and Brown Illadopsis. Illadopsis are difficult-to-see species that love the early darkness of the forest floors. We birded a while in the general area of our camp, where we found Falkenstein’s Greenbul, among others. We then headed south to try and get to the main road that would lead us to Catete and then south to Muxima and the Kissama National Park. It was quite an adventure getting to the main road on a gorgeous forest track that gradually worsened, but on the way we picked up some great birds. Top of them were Common Buttonquail, Gabon Coucal, Great Blue Turaco, Piping and African Pied Hornbills, Olive bee-eater, Red-breasted and the scarce White-bibbed Swallows, Superb Sunbird, and Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher. Finally we made it through and then enjoyed a well-earned lunch break near some wetlands, where we added a whole variety of new and already-seen species. These included Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, Mourning Collared Dove, Striped and Woodland Kingfishers, Western Cattle, Great, and Little Egrets, Purple and Squacco Herons, Banded Martin, Collared Pratincole, Allen’s Gallinule, Scarlet-chested and Purple-banded Sunbirds, Village Weaver, and African Fish Eagle. We then descended into what must be the most incredible Baobab forest in Africa – somewhat reminiscent of some parts of Madagascar – a truly breathtaking sight! We started our birding in Kissama National Park with a few awesome Böhm’s Spinetails cruising around some of the Baobab trees along the main road. We did well to find a party of the rare, endemic Gabela Helmetshrike early on, and while enjoying them heard the call of Monteiro’s Bushshrike echo through the thickets. Sadly our efforts at pinning this endemic bushshrike down were thwarted, and we had to wait until the next morning to try again. Other birds in the area included White-crested Helmetshrike, Swamp Boubou, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Blue Waxbill, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Fork-tailed Drongo, and several of the near-endemic Golden-backed Bishops in their distinctive non-breeding plumage. That night we recorded both Western Barn Owl and Square-tailed Nightjar.
We managed to find the endemic Gabela Helmetshrike in the woodlands of the Kissama National Park.
Day 18, 18th June 2018. Kissama National Park to the Kwanza River
We had an absolute cracker of a morning, picking up all three remaining endemic targets possible in the area in the first few hours of the day within the beautiful Kissama National Park. We birded the southeast of the park, where most of the remaining thicket habitat remains. White-fronted Wattle-eyes were surprisingly common – we heard about four or five different pairs and saw two of these pairs well. Monteiro’s Bushshrike proved more difficult, as they were vocal but not very confiding. We had to work fairly hard to get good views and eventually managed it when a single bird stayed within the thicker parts of a large tree. We also were lucky with Grey-striped Francolin, arguably the most tricky-to-see bird, moving about the road edge in front of us early in the day, and enjoyed some good, albeit brief views, and on our way out we watched a whole family crossing over the main tar road that runs through this area. We also added the likes of Mottled Swift, Mosque Swallow, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Green Wood Hoopoe, and Bearded Woodpecker. Last, before moving on, we also found a male breeding-plumage Golden-backed Bishop, like all widowbirds a fantastic sight when in breeding colors and unfortunately very drab-looking in non-breeding plumage. Moving north toward the Kwanza River we recorded Black-winged Stilt, White-fronted and Three-banded Plovers, Collared Pratincole, Water Thick-knee, and a few Long-legged Pipits at one of our previously-scouted Mangrove Sunbird points. Unfortunately the sunbird was nowhere to be found this morning. We then ventured to the Mussulo Bay peninsula south of Luanda, an IBA that offers excellent waterbirds and shorebirds. We did well to see Greater Flamingo and a host of shorebirds, including Pied Avocet, Eurasian Curlew, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, Kittlitz’s Plover, and Whimbrel. We also found a vagrant Franklin’s Gull, a first record for the country, which was a nice surprise. One of our last birds of the day came while we were sea watching: A single Cape Gannet was cruising south down the coastline about one hundred meters offshore. We had another comfortable night ahead of us today as we checked into the pleasant Kwanza River Lodge and enjoyed another welcome break from our tents.
Day 19, 19th June 2018. Kwanza River to Benguela via Lobito
This was another day filled with mostly coastal and wetland birding. The morning was overcast, and things seemed a little slow around the Kwanza River. We did manage to find Common Tern as well as what seemed to be a random record of Spectacled Weaver. We also picked up Woodland and Blue-breasted Kingfisher, but unfortunately no visuals of the latter were obtained. We headed south to Lobito, where we birded some salt pans and connected with Lesser Flamingo, Cape Cormorant, Yellow-billed Stork, Grey-headed Gull, Marsh Sandpiper, and Common Greenshank. Further south at the Benguela salt pans we finally found a stunning pair of Chestnut-banded Plovers with young in tow, along with a few Royal Terns. We were quite amazed at how the new species just kept piling themselves onto our trip list – affirming how worthwhile a birding trip to Angola can be. We departed the coast and headed inland until we reached our road-side campsite in the hills south-east of Benguela and were immediately greeted with an amazing pair of Verreaux’s Eagles. They soared effortlessly above us for some time, allowing us to get some great pictures and examine them in detail. Rosy-faced Lovebird was a nice addition, while later that evening when we were setting up camp a chorus of Hartlaub’s Spurfowl moved around us. There must have been about four coveys in the area; visuals were surprisingly easy, as this species can be quite tricky in the neighboring Namibian escarpment – this species also became our 500th for the trip. A great end to another fantastic day!
Verreaux’s Eagle is always a delight to see.
Day 20, 20th June 2018. Benguela to Lubango and departure
Well, before we knew it, our exciting scouting trip had just about come to an end, as today would mark our last full day. Waking up in these spectacular hills was a great way to start things, and our birding walk around the area was rather good, to say the least. Numerous Hartlaub’s Spurfowls were heard calling from all corners, and we were again treated to great views of them. Venturing a bit deeper, following a dry riverbed, we enjoyed species such as Acacia Pied Barbet, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Pririt Batis, and Carp’s Tit before finding one of our remaining targets, Bare-cheeked Babbler. We enjoyed some good looks at these smart birds before pressing on. A surprise Orange River Francolin started calling, and we headed off in search of this bird. After quite a walk we eventually pinpointed the bird, but it was extremely shy and only gave us brief views as it clambered around a small grass patch. We waited a while longer but were only rewarded with more brief views. We eventually gave up and back-tracked to our camp, enjoying the likes of a feisty Pearl-spotted Owlet, Green Wood Hoopoe, some interesting-looking Damara x Southern Red-billed Hornbills hybrids, Rüppell’s Parrot, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Bokmakierie, Long-billed Crombec, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Barred Wren-Warbler, and Green-winged Pytilia. We packed up camp and began the drive south to Lubango, where we had begun the tour about three weeks ago. The drive went smoothly, and stops were made for species such as Western Banded Snake Eagle, Booted Eagle, and both Mottled and Böhm’s Spinetails. After arriving in Lubango the afternoon we set up our camp before heading to the spectacular Tundavala Gap one last time. We slowly worked our way around, reconnecting with some of the area’s specials once more. Bradfield’s Swift wheeled about in numbers overhead, while dainty Angolan Waxbills flitted between bushes alongside Ludwig’s Double-collared Sunbirds and Wailing Cisticolas. The rocky areas held Short-toed Rock Thrush, and a quiet Angolan Cave Chat casually moved about. We tried our luck on the lower slopes but had to endure quite a strong wind and didn’t see much besides Red-backed Mousebird, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, and Lanner Falcon, before retiring to our campsite in the late afternoon. We settled in for our last group dinner before taking Paul to the airport in the evening, for his flight back home.
Together with Bruce we would depart early the following morning and begin the long three-day drive back to Johannesburg, South Africa, after an incredibly successful scouting tour to this fantastic birding country. We look forward to running a tour here in the future to showcase the immense potential of this overlooked country!
The spectacular Kalandula Falls are one of many scenic attractions Angola has to offer.
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.