Cameroon: Central Africa’s Birding Odyssey

When most people think of Central Africa, they envision the vibrant culture and diverse ethnic groups that create the quintessential vibe and soul of Africa. Less well known are the fantastic birding and wildlife viewing opportunities. Cameroon supports over 900 bird species in towering mountain ranges, dense lowland forest, and Sahelian savannas. One of the main attractions of this tour is the incredible Red-headed Picathartes; a sighting of this bird is a milestone in anyone’s birding career. Terrestrial, extremely shy, gregarious, mud-cup nesting, and cave-dwelling, it doesn’t get much stranger than this.



The following is a suggested starting itinerary for a Cameroon birding trip. We can customize this to the needs of your group.

Day 1: Douala. Our flights arrive in Douala, where we spend two nights.

Day 2: Sanaga River. Starting at the city’s edge, a wholesome stretch of lowland forest is home to starlings, sunbirds, greenbuls, canopy hornbills, and Hartlaub’s Duck—a very scarce rainforest species. We also bird the Sanaga River for Preuss’s Cliff Swallow and Gray Pratincole, a dainty and desirable river-bank specialist.

Day 3: Douala to Waza NP. We catch an early morning flight to Maroua, gateway to the Sahel. Without delay, we make tracks for Waza, for a three-night stay, searching en-route for Sahelian specialties such as Scissor-tailed Kite and Fox Kestrel, and making a concerted effort to locate the rare and enigmatic Quail-plover and the cryptic Golden Nightjar.

Days 4–5: Waza NP. We explore Waza, home to the richest birdlife in the Sahel. Top targets are Arabian Bustard, River Prinia, and Sennar Penduline-Tit, while other treats include Clapperton’s Francolin, Black Crowned-Crane, Chestnut-bellied Starling, Black Scrub-Robin, and Sudan Golden-Sparrow. Waza’s grasslands and spectacular outcrops attract an astounding amount of raptors, with vultures, eagles, falcons, buzzards, and accipiters constantly milling overhead. Seasonal marshes host concentrations of Comb Duck, Saddle-billed Stork, and African Openbill. Mammals are scarce, but African Elephant, Giraffe, Red-fronted Gazelle, Roan Antelope, African Wild Cat, and Sand Fox are regularly sighted.

Day 6: Waza NP to Garoua. We head south to Garoua where we overnight near the Benoue River.

Day 7: Garoua to Benoue NP via Poli. En route to Benoue NP we take a small detour to locate Chad Firefinch and Emin’s Shrike. The beautiful broadleaf woodlands and river at our lodging hold Egyptian Plover, Oriole Warbler, Adamawa Turtle-Dove, and a bewildering assortment of firefinches and woodpeckers. Two nights will be spent in Benoue NP.

Day 8: Benoue NP. Fruiting figs lining the lush riverine forest attract a gamut of sought-after birds, such as Violet Turaco, Bruce’s Green-Pigeon, Senegal Parrot, Bearded Barbet, and Gray-headed Oliveback. Guinea savanna specialties include Blue-bellied Roller, Grasshopper Buzzard, Stone Partridge, Heuglin’s Wheatear, Senegal Batis, White-fronted Black-Chat, Senegal Eremomela, Red-winged Pytilia, and Pygmy Sunbird. Eclectic Guereza Colobus Monkeys are frequently seen around camp.

Day 9: Benoue NP to Ngaoundaba. After a late breakfast we leave for Ngaoundaba Ranch for a three-night stay.

Days 10–11: Ngaoundaba Ranch. Covered with excellent forest savanna, an ancient crater lake, and a maze of lush gallery forest, the ranch supports an outstanding cast of species hard to see elsewhere in Africa: Schlegel’s Francolin, Brown-chested Lapwing, Puvel’s Illadopsis, Thrush Babbler, White-collared Starling, Bamenda Apalis, and Dybowski’s Twinspot. We will bird the park-like open woodlands, home to White-breasted Cuckoo-Shrike, White-shouldered Black-Tit, Red-faced Pytilia, and Brown Twinspot. The gallery forests should reveal Gray-winged Robin-Chat, Grey-headed Oliveback, Violet-tailed Sunbird, and two of Africa’s star turacos: White-crested and Ross’s. Night drives here are excellent, often yielding two spectacular night birds at their display arenas: the remarkable Standard-winged and Pennant-winged Nightjars.

Day 12: Ngaoundaba to Garoua. We drive back to Garoua, where we overnight once more.

Day 13: Garoua to Yaounde. Today we fly to Yaounde, for a two-night stay, where we’ll bird some lowland forest close to town.

Day 14: Yaounde Forests. The trip’s highlight could very possibly be landed today, as no effort shall be spared to locate the strange and skittish Red-headed Picathartes.

Day 15: Departure. Those departing today may leave from Yaounde. The extension proceeds to explore the endemic-packed reaches of Mt Kupe, the Bakossis, and Bamenda Highlands.

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With more time, you could target the Southwest Montane endemics

The main reason many birders visit Cameroon is to see the stunning Red-headed Picathartes
The main reason many birders visit Cameroon is to see the stunning Red-headed Picathartes (Iain Campbell)

Near Bamenda, we will bird what’s left of the Bafut-Nguemba Forest Reserve in search of Bannerman’s Turaco, Banded Wattle-eye, and the near-endemic Bannerman’s Weaver. Other montane specialties include Cassin´s Hawk-Eagle, Yellow-breasted and Mountain Boubous, Neumann’s Red-winged Starling, Mountain Robin-Chat, Forest Swallow, Bangwa Scrub-Warbler, Cameroon Mountain Greenbul, Cameroon Sunbird, and the nuthatch-like Brown-capped Weaver.

Further south the mystical forests of Mt. Kupe and the Bakossis beckon. Here the birding becomes almost frantic, as we try to find such sought-after species as Mount Kupé Bushshrike, White-throated Mountain-Babbler, Green-breasted Bushshrike, Crossley’s Ground-Thrush, White-bellied Robin-Chat, Green Longtail, White-tailed Warbler, Black-capped Woodland-Warbler, Fernando Po Oliveback, and African Piculet. The area is remote, isolated, and fully immersed in traditional beliefs, so expect your guide to endure several bizarre ceremonies in order to gain access to the different forests, recruit the spirits’ blessings for a safe passage, and even obtain some luck for our quest’s success!

This extension ends in Douala, where those leaving may connect with their international flights. Exciting lowland birding awaits those continuing on to the Korup Forest Extension.

Korup Forest (6 extra days are recommended)

One of the oldest, richest, and most exciting forests in Africa, Korup is Cameroon’s cherry on top. To access it, we cross a suspension bridge over the Mana River, entering a cathedral-like ecosystem for a five-night camping sojourn. Assisted by a team of trackers, porters, and a cook, we shall reach and set camp near Rengo Rock, surrounded by thick forest and many trickling streams. We´ll visit several new Red-headed Picathartes colonies that the Tropical Birding/KREO project has located within the park. Besides the bewildering picathartes, this area teems with gems including Rachel’s Malimbe, Vermiculated Fishing-Owl, Sjostedt’s Owlet, Forest Francolin, Black Guineafowl, Black-throated Coucal, White-crested Tiger Heron, and Long-tailed Hawk. A plethora of massive casqued hornbills, skulking alethes, ant-thrushes, forest robins, broadbills, trogons, bee-eaters, bulbuls, greenbuls, bristlebills, and akalats can also be expected.

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

CLIMATE: Hot and dry in the Sahel. Cool and damp in the mountains. Hot and humid in Korup.

DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate in the north. Several hikes in the southwest are strenuous. Korup requires substantial fitness.

ACCOMMODATION: Basic to moderate with private bath. Basic hut accommodations in the Korup extension.