Ghana: Picathartes and Egyptian Plover

Ghana offers a varied birding journey from lowland rainforest in the south to the savanna in the north. However, arguably, the main reason for visiting Ghana is the chance to see Yellow-headed Picathartes as this is the currently the most reliable place in the world to see it.

Day 1: Arrival day with afternoon visit to Sakumono lagoon After arrival in Accra we will head to the bird-packed Sakumono lagoon, where we’ll be greeted by the sight of thousands of shorebirds, herons, egrets, and terns.

Day 2: Morning at Shai Hills. Afternoon drive to Kakum N.P. Our first morning is spent in Shai Hils, a Guinea Savannah site with a dazzling array of colorful species including Double-toothed Barbet, Violet Turaco, and Blue-bellied Roller. From Accra, we strike out for the rich rain forests that lie in the southwestern sector of Ghana.

Days 3-4: Kakum N.P. One of the tour highlights is visiting Kakum’s canopy walkway, the finest example in Africa, which is often alive with birds right at eye-level, such as Yellow-billed Turaco, Fire-bellied Woodpecker, Red-vented Malimbe, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, and Rosy Bee-eater, along with six species of hornbill. On the ground, Kakum’s trails offer prized skulkers like Rufous-sided Broadbill and Fire-crested Alethe.

Day 5: Kakum N.P. to Ankasa. 

Day 6: Ankasa. Camping in AnkasaWe then make for Ankasa, an area of pristine rainforest on the border with Ivory Coast. Specialities here include Hartlaub’s Duck, White-bellied Kingfisher, the cartoonish Great Blue Turaco, and a good mix of scarce illadopses and greenbuls. The enigmatic and extremely rare White-breasted Guineafowl has also recently been sighted here, while nocturnal excursions will search for the rare Akun Eagle-Owl.

Day 7: Ankasa to Kakum N.P.

Day 8: Kakum N.P. morning, then visit the “picathartes site”, then an evening drive to Kumasi. Next, we’ll return to Kakum, where the Aboabo sector of the park offers easy roadside forest birding. Prime targets include the electric-blue-spangled Black Bee-eater, the irrepressible Blue Cuckooshrike, the spectacular Long-tailed Hawk, the bodacious Black-capped Apalis, and the strange nuthatch-like Preuss’s Weaver. In the afternoon it is full steam ahead for the Yellow-headed Picathartes. A short hike into some steamy jungle puts us into prime position. Here we will wait, scouring the rainforest vines and forest floor for the unimaginable “rockfowl”. Sure to be the tour highlight, picathartes are truly odd and bring birders to Ghana from all around the globe.

Day 9: Early morning visit to Bobiri Forest. Rest of day driving from Kumasi to Mole. On our way north we make a brief stop at Bobiri (near Kumasi), a small forest reserve that is a key site for the diminutive Red-billed Dwarf-Hornbill, as well as Africa’s smallest bird, Tit-hylia, and its smallest woodpecker, African Piculet. Continuing northwards, we emerge from the rainforest belt into the Guinea savanna. The habitat switch results in an eruption of new species that could include the manly Bearded Barbet or the elegant Abyssinian Roller. We finally arrive at Mole NP.

Days 10-11: Mole N.P. Large herds of elephants still roam the savannah in Mole, along with other big mammals such as Kob and Bushbuck. Checking the waterholes can be great for finches, with five firefinches, Red-winged Pytilia, and Lavender, Orange-cheeked, and Black-rumped Waxbills all possible. Mole is a spectacular site for nightbirds. Standard-winged and Long-tailed Nightjars, Grayish Eagle-Owl, African Scops-Owl, and sometimes even Pel’s Fishing-Owl can all be found here.

Egyptian Plover is now a regular feature of our Ghana tours
Egyptian Plover is now a regular feature of our Ghana tours (Ken Behrens)

Day 12: Mole N.P. to Bolgatanga. Late afternoon visit to Tongo Hills. Heading into the Burkina hinterlands in the dry Upper East region, we’ll check Tongo Hills for hill country specialists like Fox Kestrel and Rock-loving Cisticola, while savanna en-route may reveal Blue-bellied Roller and Grasshopper Buzzard.

Day 13: Bolgatanga. Tono Dam morning. Egyptian Plover site in the afternoon. Tono Dam’s savanna holds Four-banded Sandgrouse, Chestnut-bellied Starling, and Vieillot’s Barbet. An afternoon excursion to the Volta River will bring us face-to-face with another of Africa’s great birds, the one-of-a-kind Egyptian Plover.

Day 14: Flight to Accra. Departures in late evening (most international flights leave around 10-11 pm

On our final day, we take a domestic flight to Accra to connect directly with our international departures, and to avoid repeating the very long drive to the north.

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EXTENSION OPTIONS

Atewa Hills Pre-trip

The Atewa Hills hold some of the richest and diverse forests in Ghana, and their higher elevation produces a slightly different mix of species. The prime target for the extension is Blue-headed Bee-eater, a real beauty that is scarce throughout its range. But nearly a full range of Upper Guinea rainforest birds occurs here, and the extension is likely to score several tough birds that are not seen on the main tour. These possibilities include Many-coloured Bushshrike, Nimba Flycatcher, Forest Scrub-Robin, Green-tailed Bristlebill, and Sooty Boubou. Scrub along the edge of the forest also has excellent, and very different birding, holding species like African Hobby, Blue-headed Coucal, Compact Weaver, and Western Bluebill.

The reason why Atewa is not included in the main tour, is that reaching the prime forest, on the top of the hills, requires a full-day hike up and back. The trail is good, and not very steep, and we make lots of stops for birds, but this will be a very long day in the field.

Day 1: Arrival in Accra. Afternoon visit to Sakumono Lagoon.
Day 2: Drive to Atewa area. Afternoon birding in secondary habitat.
Day 3: Atewa Hills. Full day’s hiking and birding.
Day 4: Drive to Accra in morning. Arrival day of main tour.

Blue-headed Bee-eater is highly local, found in Ghana only at Atewa
Blue-headed Bee-eater is highly local, found in Ghana only at Atewa (Ken Behrens)

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TRIP CONSIDERATIONS

PACE: Moderate to intense. This is a fast-paced tour in which most of the time is spent in the field. The sun rises at about 6:00am, and we often have a long drive to reach the birding sites from our accommodation, so there will be a lot of early mornings. The 12-hour days near the equator mean that days are not extremely long. Almost all of our meals are taken in restaurants, although in Ankassa National Park, we will be eating hot meals in the field. There are a couple of long drives on this tour, especially on days 9 and  12, when the drive may take as long as 10 hours. Most roads are good, but the roads in and around Mole NP are dusty and bump. There will be down time at the hotel in the middle of the day on a few days, but most days of this tour are spent entirely in the field.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY:  Birding will be done on foot throughout this trip, but the walking is mostly easy. There is one moderately demanding hike for the Picathartes that takes around 90 minutes at a slow pace. There is a long and fairly difficult walk on the Atewa Hills pre-trip, when the whole day will be spent hiking. The entire trip will be spent at low elevation.

CLIMATE: The toughest part of this trip is the climate, being hot and humid in the southern rainforest areas and dry and hot in the north of Ghana. Our bus and almost all of our lodges are air-conditioned. There is a chance of rain at this time of year, though usually it is concentrated in small heavy bursts that should not interrupt birding too much.

ACCOMMODATION: Mostly moderate to good. In general, the food and accommodations are of a high standard compared to most of the rest of West Africa. We will be camping for one night in Ankassa National Park. Each person or couple will have their own tent with a comfortable mattress. Buckets of hot water will be available for washing. Please note that elsewhere, hot water is not available at Mole NP or Bolgatanga, but the climate is hot and humid, so most people do not miss it. All accommodations have private en-suite facilities, and most have 24h electricity, though power cuts are common.

PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, and Ghana is a challenging place for photography, but there are some opportunities for photography. There is a lot of hunting, so birds are wary of humans. The rainforest, with a tall canopy, and thick understory, is an inherently difficult environment for photography. With that said, Ghana is among the best places in the challenging west African forest biome for photography, especially from the Kakum canopy walkway. Photography in the savannah of the north is much easier than in the southern rainforest.

OTHER INFO:

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. A visa is required. The cost is $50. You must obtain your visa from a Ghanain embassy or consulate well in advance of the tour. Our office staff will provide needed support documents for you to get your visa. Travel requirements are subject to change.

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips to local guides, drivers, and lodge/restaurant staff; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night of day 13, and from the night of day 1 to the night of day 4 for the Atewa extension; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 14, and dinner on day 1 to breakfast on day 4 of the Atewa extension; reasonable non-alcoholic beverages during meals; safe drinking water between meals; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio gear from the afternoon of day 1 to the evening of day 13, and the morning of day 1 to the evening of day 4 on the Atewa extension; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person (transfers may be shared with other participants of the same tour if they arrive at the same time); ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary in a suitable vehicle(s) with local driver(s); entrance fees and local guide fees for all the birding sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the Tropical Birding tour leader; tips for luggage porters (if you require their services); snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.