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Ghana is arguably the best and easiest country in which to start one’s West African birding career, as its huge range of habitats is easily accessible and all the special birds (including the charismatic White-necked Rockfowl (Yellow-headed Picathartes) are amazingly well staked-out. While a lot of birders start their West African birding with a visit to the tiny Gambia, the larger and more varied Ghana has a great deal more to offer, including 180 of the “Guinea-Congo Rainforest” birds (which will basically all be life-birds for anyone who has not yet been to West Africa) and 12 of the 15 Upper Guinea Forest endemics (which are restricted to a much smaller part of West Africa, i.e. part of the Bulge of Africa). These Upper Guinea endemics can be found in neighboring countries, but birding gen is lacking compared with Ghana, and travel for English-speakers is more difficult in the other countries.
Ghana certainly does have a wide range of different habitats, and we look not only for forest birds at sites including one of Africa’s most impressive canopy walkways, but we also look for some charismatic arid-area birds. Standard-winged Nightjar is almost guaranteed, as is the incomparable Egyptian Plover.
This tour can be combined with our Birding Tour São Tomé and Príncipe: 10-day Birding Adventure (18 – 27 February 2020) and, preceding that, our Birding Tour Gabon: 14-day Birding Adventure (3 – 16 February 2020).
Itinerary (22 days/21 nights)
Day 1. The birding starts around Accra
Most flights into Accra arrive in the late evening, but if you do arrive earlier, birding the hotel grounds can be quite productive. Either way, our guide will fetch you at the airport and transfer you to the hotel so you can check in.
Overnight: Tulip Inn near Kotoka International Airport, Accra
Days 2 – 4. Birding the fabulous Kakum National Park
After a probable late arrival on Day 1 and to avoid the notorious Accra rush hour traffic, we’ll fetch you at 9 a.m. today, after you’ve enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the hotel. We’ll accumulate a respectable bird list pretty fast, as we stop for new bird after new bird. But our focus this morning will be the Winneba lagoon, which usually has many species of migrant shorebirds and terns. We’ll be sure to arrive in Jukwa, where we’ll spend the next three nights, early enough for birding. Bar-breasted Firefinch, the extravagant Yellow-mantled Widowbird, Compact Weaver, Red-headed Quelea, Copper Sunbird, the aptly-named Splendid Sunbird, Whistling Cisticola, and Red-faced Cisticola are some of the many possibilities in the scrub and subsistence farmland around here.
We’ll spend a good amount of time birding the nearby canopy walkway of Kakum National Park, which makes some of the canopy birds much easier than usual! These often include the likes of Blue Cuckooshrike, Grey Parrot (it’s truly wonderful seeing this popular cage bird in the wild!), three Nigrita species (interesting West African finches), the truly magnificent Long-tailed Hawk, Congo Serpent Eagle, Violet-backed Hyliota, the beautiful Yellow-spotted Barbet and the strangely-named Hairy-breasted Barbet, Brown-cheeked Hornbill and the monstrous Black-casqued and Yellow-casqued Hornbills (it’s quite something to hear their amazingly heavy wingbeats), two different Wood Hoopoe species (White-headed and Forest), Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, and a host of other tantalizing West African birds.
We’ll also be sure to spend enough time at the Antwikwaa section of the national park. One of the biggest stars is always Rosy Bee-eater, the beauty of which almost defies belief. Once we’ve become desensitized to this gorgeous bird, we’ll be less blasé about two other marvels of the bird world, Black Bee-eater and White-throated Bee-eater. Blue-throated Roller, Forest Robin, Red-billed Helmetshrike, and Yellow-billed Turaco are also wonderfully colorful. It’s a paradise for hornbills, and we hope to get acquainted with Black Dwarf Hornbill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Piping Hornbill, and others. Two species of bristlebill (unusually good-looking greenbuls) are usually present. White-spotted Flufftail skulks on the forest floor but it not quite as elusive as most other flufftail species. Melancholy Woodpecker, Fire-bellied Woodpecker, and various cuckoos, including the brilliant Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo and the equally amazing (rather tiny) Yellow-throated Cuckoo, are quite possible. White-tailed Alethe is often seen on the forest floor. Two bat-like swift species, Sabine’s Spinetail and Cassin’s Spinetail, flutter over the forest. The list continues, though, as we might also see Purple-throated Cuckooshrike, Forest Penduline Tit, Black-bellied Seedcracker, Willcocks’s Honeyguide, and plenty more.
Night birding in this area can generate Long-tailed Nightjar, Brown Nightjar, and Fraser’s Eagle-Owl.
Overnight Rainforest Lodge, Jukwa
Day 5. Nsuta Forest
We continue westwards for some of Ghana’s trickiest, but most desirable, birds. A lot of luck is needed, but the possibilities include Spot-breasted Ibis, Akun Eagle-Owl, and Rufous Fishing Owl! Easier birds we’ll be looking for around here include some of the bright-red forest weavers called malimbes, Chestnut-winged Starling, Copper-tailed Starling, and Swamp Palm Bulbul.
Overnight D & A Guesthouse, Sekondi, which is a basic place but gives access to some of the most exciting possible birds of the tour
Days 6 – 8. Ankasa National Park
This is the most pristine forest of the trip, and it’s worthwhile for the star birds we find here. White-breasted Guineafowl might put in an appearance, but this is another extremely difficult bird to pin down. Nkulengu Rail will get a lot of attention from us, and hopefully we’ll manage to get decent visuals on this species. Grey-throated Rail is also possible. Very beautiful kingfishers abound. We might see Shining-blue Kingfisher beside a quiet pond, and we usually also find White-bellied Kingfisher and Chocolate-backed Kingfisher. We have stacks of greenbuls to find, including Red-tailed Greenbul, Plain Greenbul, Yellow-bearded Greenbul, Western Bearded Greenbul, and two bristlebill species. We might also see three illadopsis species with their pleasant, liquid calls, not to mention Black-throated Coucal, Yellow-billed Turaco, the truly huge Great Blue Turaco, Blue-headed and Dusky Crested Flycatchers, and Crowned Eagle. Red-fronted Antpecker is always one of the biggest stars, and Red-chested Owlet is sometimes seen. Near water, the interesting West African forest duck, Hartlaub’s Duck, is often found, along with Dwarf Bittern and the elusive African Finfoot.
Overnight: Frenchman’s Guest House, Ankasa
Day 9. Brenu Beach and other sites
We’ll likely spend the morning birding (depending on what we still “need”) before we start heading back eastwards. On our route back to the Kakum area we’ll be sure to stop for some mangrove specialists in the form of two Sunbirds (Blue-throated Brown and Reichenbach’s). We also look for the beautiful Orange Weaver. Naturally, we’re likely to find other more widespread water-associated birds as well, which at this site often includes the magnificent Giant Kingfisher. Next on the agenda are some desirable species such as Preuss’s Cliff Swallow, the brightly-colored, absolutely brilliant, rather strange Oriole Warbler, Red-winged Pytilia, Marsh Tchagra, and Vieillot’s Barbet.
Overnight Rainforest Lodge, Jukwa
Day 10. White-necked Rockfowl (Picathartes) – the most exciting day of the trip
The two species of charismatic, cave-roosting, and cave-nesting rockfowl (picathartes) are both West African endemics and both Vulnerable (partly due to their need for caves within rainforest, not a common combo). Needless to say, seeing either of the two representatives of this family is high on the wish list of many a birder. The site we visit is arguably the best place on earth to find White-necked Rockfowl – we’ve had a 100 % success rate so far.
Overnight: Royal Basin Resort, Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashanti_Empire)
Days 11 – 13. And now for something completely different: Mole National Park
En route to the savanna and dry woodlands of Mole National Park, a brilliant game reserve that has a whole new suite of birds awaiting us along with elephant, crocodiles, and a lot of other good animals, we stop at Offinsu Forest. Here Blue-moustached Bee-eater is always a real highlight, but other pickings include at least three possible bushshrikes, the names describing these fabulous birds well (e.g., Many-colored Bushshrike and Fiery-breasted Bushshrike). We might see Thick-billed Honeyguide or its smaller relative, Cassin’s Honeybird. Rufous-sided Broadbill and Capuchin Babbler are also possible.
The truly spectacular Standard-winged Nightjar is one of Mole’s most famous avian specials, which we look for around the airstrip at dusk. Pel’s Fishing Owl is also possible in the park. The West and Central African endemic Forbes’s Plover is also sought here, as are African Spotted Creeper (more of a miombo woodland bird in southern Africa), Pygmy Sunbird (a stunner with its incredible, long tail), Beautiful Sunbird, several woodpeckers, Senegal Batis, Red-throated Bee-eater, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, the interesting Stone Partridge, and some pretty Waxbills in the form of Orange-cheeked and Lavender.
Overnight: Mole Motel with a view over Mole National Park’s savanna
Day 14. Tongo Hills via Bolgatanga
Targets today, as the vegetation becomes increasingly arid, include Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, the good-looking Fox Kestrel, the nicely named Rock-loving Cisticola, and the striking White-crowned Cliff Chat.
Overnight: Premier Lodge, Bolgatanga
Day 15. Egyptian Plover
Tono Dam on the northern border is where we look for what is usually regarded as one of the top two or three birds of our Ghana birding tour, the spectacularly-plumaged and quite localized Egyptian Plover. The habitat is different from anything we will have encountered so far, meaning we’re bound to add a lot of other birds to our growing list. The pickings include a number of seedeaters such as White-billed Buffalo Weaver, Black-bellied Firefinch, African Silverbill, the aptly-named Cut-throat Finch, etc. However, it is the stunning Abyssinian Roller with its spectacular tail streamers and bright colors and the even more dazzling Northern Carmine Bee-eater that are in general the most admired. Black-headed Lapwing and Four-banded Sandgrouse are also very popular, though.
Overnight: Premier Lodge, Bolgatanga
Day 16. Bobiri Forest Reserve
Here we’ll try for some owls and other night birds we might still be missing, and also for Latham’s Francolin.
Overnight: Royal Basin Resort, Kumasi
Days 17 – 18. Bobiri Butterfly Reserve to Atewa Range Forest Reserve
We’ll look at the amazing butterfly spectacle, but Bobiri Butterfly Reserve also happens to be one of the best places to find some forest birds we won’t have seen yet, including Yellow-footed Honeyguide, the wonderful, tiny woodpecker called African Piculet (a massively important West African endemic, despite its diminutive size), Tit Hylia (Africa’s smallest bird, and another fine West African endemic to see), Black-capped Apalis, Golden Greenbul, and Tessmann’s Flycatcher. Duetting pairs of Black-throated Coucal might also be seen.
Our afternoon birding will be at the Atewa Range Forest Reserve, where we might be able to acquaint ourselves with a different Coucal, Blue-headed, along with Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Baumann’s Olive Greenbul, and Red-cheeked Wattle-eye. There are many different sunbirds here, including Johanna’s Sunbird, Tiny Sunbird (even smaller than most sunbirds), and Fraser’s Sunbird. Forest Scrub Robin, Rufous-winged Illadopsis, and, importantly, Nimba Flycatcher are often around. Western Bronze-naped Pigeon and the gorgeous Narina Trogon will also likely entertain us.
Overnight: Nelsban Palace Hotel, Koforidua
Days 19 – 20. Atewa to Kalakpa Resource Reserve
The very large Thick-billed Cuckoo with its aerial display and the very small Yellow-throated Cuckoo (one of the many West and Central African endemics we’ll be seeking on this tour) are two of the targets today, if we have not already seen them. Puvel’s Illadopsis usually needs a bit of patience to be seen well, as does the skulking Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat. Pied-winged Swallow and Yellow-throated Leaflove are more conspicuous.
One of the evenings we plan to look for the tiny African Scops Owl (its incessant call is one of the characteristic sounds of the African savanna at night) as well as for Black-shouldered Nightjar.
Overnight: Chances Hotel, Ho
Day 21. Back to Accra via Shai Hills
We plan to clean up on any missing birds in the morning, then we usually have lunch along the lovely Volta River. Our final birding for the day, as well as for the next morning, is at Shai Hills Resource Reserve, which is good for Piapiac, the colorful, historic Violet Turaco, its very different cousin (one of the green turacos), Guinea Turaco, the dazzling Yellow-crowned Gonolek, Blue-bellied Roller, and, last but not least, yet another brightly-colored bird, Double-toothed Barbet. Two parrots are also likely to be seen, the tiny Red-headed Lovebird and Senegal Parrot. Stone Partridge often occurs here.
Overnight: Tulip Inn near Kotoka International Airport, Accra
Day 22. Final birding before departure from Accra
We’ll still bird today until your flight leaves.
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.