Thursday, 16 July 2009

Papal Power, Pick a Farties and Bushshrike bonanza

Well I've finally decided to make this my last post on Cameroon and get back up to date with sightings in North Kent and elsewhere in Kent since early April this year!!! Better late than never! The trip to Cameroon had been a roaring success and we're all very grateful to Michael Mills of Birding Africa for achieving a massive 590 species, over 130 personal lifers, some much wanted birds I've always dreamed of seeing and an opportunity to travel in safe, friendly part of West Africa. Out stay at the ranch had been superb from start to finish and as we waited at the rain station in Ngaoundere for the overnight sleeper to Yaounde we kept hearing rumours of problems on the line further South the arrival of the Pope in Yaounde and road closures, none of which bode too well for the journey South and connecting with Simon's UK flight back home............Doom had descended upon the troops!!
An overnight stay in town and an early morning visit to the Adamawa plateau allowed us to see some good birds but there was still the constant nagging doubts that we we're losing time, birds and having to potentially review the plans! We did manage to see a few new species for the trip including House Martin, Black Cuckoo, some cracking views of Fox Kestrel and a colony of Red-th Bee eater.
Finally all was looking good, we had our tickets, our reserved cabins, paked lunches and as we bid farewell to our drivers and guide Victor, the train rolled out of town and started on it's 15 hour or so journey South! It was going to be a long night! Ian looking pretty chipper above as we move a few hundred metres nearer to the South and another bag full of Endems! The journey was tedious to say the least but an experinece in itself as we stopped at many stations throughout the night and saw typical West African life. The only near miss was as we neared Yaounde Ian was taking some touristy snaps and a local evidently knowing that typically there would be tourists on board took a swipe at Ian with a long plank of wood narrowly missing his camera but turning it of......evidently a regular event in the hope of getting some tourist valuables......BEWARE
Our visit to a Picathartes site a few hours out of Yaounde initially drew a blank as the birds refused to show despite a long long wait in a cave and sitting very still and quiet. Fortunately for Volkert he'd stayed lower down the mountain at another site and scored heavily with crippling views of the Picatharties. Still there was always tomorrow!
Next morning we approached the village once again but our efforts were curtailed briefly by heavy overnight rain and a muddy road that had become decidedly dodgy to drive along. Eventualkly the vehicles got out of the mud, we rebuilt the bridge and tracked down our guide once again for another assault on the mountain, out final shot! Did we see it though?
Our second attempt at the Picathartes knoll allowed a few of us to get reasonable tickable views, but following a rest in the forest and a sweat bee feeding session we had amazing, dare I say it incredible views of a pair of Picathartes, one of the World's most exciting and spectacular birds that entertained us for over 30 mins at a range of only a few metres. MEGA

Flushed with success we headed off to various other sites Mt Oku, Lake Awing and reached our final destination the legendary Mt Kupe and Bakossi Mts home to Mt Kupe Bushshrike, a highly endangered species along with Green-breasted BushShrike and other megas such as Crossley's Ground Thrush and White th Mountain Babbler
This Yellow-throated Bold eyed Tree Snake showed well in the canopy in the Bakossi Mts, a huge snake with glistening black scales.
Before we could access the Bakossi Mts home of the Bushshrikes we had to endure a ceremony with the local village to gain permission to enter the forests. This involved taking a swig of alcohol, buying a crate of beer for the locals and a bottle of whisky!!
One of the most amazing non-avian finds in the Bakossis was this frog, with a target on it's underside but the upper parts appear nothing special as below

Walk into the Mts and Mt Kupe, following a huge breakfast at Lucy's Guesthouse, a very friendly and welcoming place to stay in Nyasosso village home of the Bush Shrike
The birders and guides cover up from the sweat bee onslaught, one of the more annoying and endless experiences of birding at Kupe!
Bakossi Mts, home to Gren-breasted and Kupe Bush Shrike, two range restricted megas that most of us managed to set eyes on having made the pilgrimage to a bird I had wished to see for over 15 years!!
Banded wattle eye endemic to Cameroon and very rare, seen well at lake Awing, along with Cameroon Sunbird below

A mega trip, I passed the 6000 mark for species of birds in the world, so only 4000 or so to go now!! Great company, and I would recommend Birding Africa without hesitation if you're thinking of visiting Africa. Birding Africa

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Best of the rest, Northern Cameroon Part 2

To describe Northern Cameroon as dusty would be an under statement! Never before has a camera been cleaned so many times ridding the sensor of dust particles and general grot. The long drive to the ranch was made worse by the main highway 'we're driving on it in the photo above' being uneven, dusty, busy, and the main road South to Yaounde! As we were travelling in convoy the rear vehicle got the lions share of the dust and certainly made for an uncomfortable journey despite the A/C working overtime.
Atmospheric it may be but imagine living here it you had a dust allergy?
Finally, the entrance to Narnia, Ngaoundaba Ranch a wonderful name and worthy of a high score on scrabble. Only 3 more km! Fortunately the track to the ranch was bird heaven and once on site at the famous Ng............... ranch Andy announced our presence to the avian gods in order that we would be treated well and ticking like Bustards!

The nights out from the ranch on the approach road were simply mega and we were treated to mind boggling views of a corking fully standarded up Male Standard winged Nightjar...........What a bird! In flight these were superb.
Standard winged less Nightjar!
The icing on the proverbial birding cake............BROWN CHESTED LAPWING. Having missed out on them before in Africa I was over the dust covered moon with delight at seeing a pair of these sought after waders after 3 days of trying and an entire afternoon devoted to finding a pair we found them not more than 200m from whee we parked the car for our nocturnal foray.........where were they hiding all that time?
White collared Starling , aka Ousel Starling another speciality of the area.
African Palm Swift, enabled me to test my avian flight shots skills..... better than nothing anyway!
Another Brucie bonus at night, Temminck's Courser, a one shot wonder that didn't like the camera flash
White-crested Helmet Shrike, common but mega
A cattle rancher wanders the dusty landscape, a Lapwing free zone
Bamenda Apalis, a really rare bird and a little corker that sang away at the tops of the trees and showed well through the scope.Endangered and very localised
Another top bird and a great bird of spotting by Bionic eyed Kennewell, Brown-rumped Bunting another highly sought after bird for the list and a well deserved find after many hours wandering around.

The camouflaged ranch vehicle enabling one to approach Giraffes closely for that ultimate views, shame there's no Giraffes around! Note the dust covered tyres and carefully painted bodywork. With Northern Cameroon drawing to a close we had a long train journey ahead of us to Yaounde and Southern Cameroon, complete with new habitats, a new family 'we hope' and some truly mythical highly endangered avian beauties.

The best of the rest in Northern Cameroon.Part 1

And so the journey continued though as it's July now, March is but a distant memory and this will be on the last few posts on Cameroon for certain now as I'd like to get things posted from the spring in North Kent and then post loads of piccies of stunning cripplers from the autumn as the birds make land fall in Kent and ignore places like Scilly and Shetlands...................then I woke up.
Benoue NP in Cameroon is a superb reserve complete with dust, more dust, even more dust, swat bees, tsetse flies, searing heat, Lions and Leopards, Hippos, excellent food 'it really is very tasty' and of course a host of stunning birds that I've wanted to see for many years. The accommodation is either run down, falling down or excellent and we had a cracking stay here in the wonderful seeing and a very comfty room complete with A/C and good showers. To reach the HQ it's a long dusty drive including the opportunity to try your luck at swat the Tsetse fly whilst seeing some birds on route. Our arrival at Benoue was met with a cold Coke, Leopards!!! distantly in the riverbed as the sun went down and a brilliant little African Scops Owl calling to us from the compound. Sadly the Pel's Fishing Owl was too distant to be enticed in by a Radioshack speaker!!

African Scops Owl

Lunchtime spread, SUPERB
One of the big surprises of the trip and a much wanted bird by many of us, Bronze-winged Courser spotted by the driver who thought it was a Temminck's Courser we'd seen the day before. Great bit of work by the keen eyed driver.
The Hippo pools, complete with enormous hippos that could be heard at night from the rooms despite being a fair way from the camp.
Four-banded Sandgrouse a few feet away from the vehicle photographed whilst Tsetse swatting
Double- spurred Francolin, widespread and easier to see here than Morocco. We also saw White-throated Francolin but sadly my camera was taking a rest in the vehicle whilst I did all the hard work in the field!
An Ant Lion prised from it's burrow as seen below, ready to devour anything that is foolish enough to fall in it's pit. There is also a thriving colony of these at Minsmere, Suffolk!!

Egyptian Plover, words can not describe this species, they're just too good . Cameroon is a reasonably reliable place to see them and ample compensation for ,myself who missed them in Gambia a few years back as I was a few days too late !!! Schoolboy error there then ! they're around for over 3 months !!

Hippo, noisy, dangerous and a sight to see. You would not want to get too close to these boys !