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inyathi

Go West to Ghana

or

My Quest for the Pica-bloody-fart-es

 

February 2019

 

1024px-PicathartesKeulemans.jpg
PicathartesKeulemans
John Gerrard Keulemans
 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

 

 

Once I was committed to going to Ghana, I knew that I should write a report for ST when I got home, as I knew there weren’t that many Ghana reports, once out there early on in my trip I had a few thoughts about things I might say in my report, about Ghana generally and the places I was staying or visiting, I then decided that  perhaps I should type these thoughts in to my iPad so I don’t forget any of them. Typing a few thoughts inevitably evolved into starting to type my actual report, thinking that although I didn’t have too much spare time, it wouldn’t really take that long to produce a sort of draft report, this would then save me a lot of time back home. By the time my flight landed back in London I’d probably typed three quarters of the following, it was then just a case of using email to transfer the note from my iPad to my PC and then copying the text into Word, I then hoped I could quite quickly finish it off, type up the last part and fill in a few blanks with information from the internet, after failing to make the Wi-Fi password work at the first hotel I’d given up trying to access the web. I hope that I have found and corrected most of the mistakes I made typing this on an iPad, mostly caused by the auto-correct feature which is in equal measure brilliant and extremely annoying, as it regards every single word that’s not in its dictionary as a spelling mistake, if you are typing too fast and not paying attention it will change a word that you’ve typed correctly into some entirely different word that happens to have a vaguely similar spelling. I really should learn to switch it off, in any case I apologise in advance for all of the spelling mistakes, caused by either my iPad or my poor typing.

 

I think I will probably try not to get into the habit of writing reports during trips and of course while it did save me time at home, I couldn't post the report as soon as I'd finished writing because processing the photos still takes time and then of course soon after I got back ST went offline, so I couldn’t post anything anyway. However, I didn’t want to post this report straight away as I needed to upload a good number of photos to Flickr first, as I hope to put plenty in this report.  

 

When you have safaried and birded a lot all over Eastern and Southern Africa, taking in some fairly off the beaten track locations and off the beaten track countries like Ethiopia. There will come a point when you’ve seen almost all of relatively easy birds and a good few of the more difficult ones and almost all the easy diurnal mammals, there’s really only one direction left to go, in search of a good number of new species. For some years a little voice in the back of my head has been telling me to go west, eleven years ago I did go westward, to Gabon but this was as far west as I had been in Africa south of the Sahara. it did not sate my desire to go west, since, it’s not contrary to what some might think in West Africa, I know this because when I was there, I asked one of the guides at Loango Lodge in my best schoolboy French, “ici c’est Afrique l’Ouest ou Afrique Centrale” the emphatic reply was "Afrique Centrale ". I’ve also visited Chad twice but it is unquestionably in Central Africa and Zakouma NP is in the southeast corner of the country, so far east that even though the country is covered in the Field Guide to the Birds of Western Africa, there are only about six or so Sahelian birds in Zakouma that aren’t in Stephenson and Fanshawe’s Birds of East Africa. To find lots of lifers of the bird kind and I hoped at least a few of the furred-kind I needed to go further west, the destination of choice to deliver these new species seemed to be Ghana.

 

People who know you well enough and know you like to travel, often ask where you’re going next and if you say Kenya or Tanzania or perhaps Botswana or South Africa, they might likely be knowledgeable enough not to ask why. Even if they’ve not done it themselves, they’ll assume that you’re going on safari, say you’re going to Chad and then they’ll certainly ask why, if they don’t know you, they might ask if you have business there, because they never heard of anyone going there, never mind anyone going for a holiday. It’s probably changed a bit but even people who've safaried a lot will look surprised, if you say you’re going there on a safari. Ghana is a little bit the same, say you’re going there and people will ask why? (When I say people, I mean normal people not birders :lol:) They’re probably not aware of anyone going on holiday to Ghana, and thankfully it is seldom in the news so many people aren’t really that conscious of Ghana or at least know little if anything about the country or even where it is. A few years ago, when I went to Guyana in South America people didn’t know where it was and would ask if it was in Africa, because they’d presumably confused it with Ghana. My reply when asked why, was I’m going on safari predominantly to see birds and then I’d add half jokingly and any other animals that the Ghanaians haven’t eaten, I may have said it rather jokingly, but sadly I knew that it would likely prove not to be a joke at all.

 

For those unfamiliar with West Africa I'll start with a bit of geography, the region where the coast of West Africa meets the coast of Central Africa is known as the Gulf of Guinea or less politely, but perhaps aptly due to the climate, the armpit of Africa. Ghana lies roughly halfway along the West African coast, mid-way between Senegal and Guinea-Bissau in the west and Cameroon in the east, like all African countries its shape is entirely a product of colonialism, it is like a broad rectangle extending north from the Atlantic Ocean up towards the Sahel. It’s bordered to the west by Côte d’Ivoire to the east by Togo and to the north by Burkina Faso. All three neighbours are Francophone which explains why unusually for a commonwealth country they drive on the right side of the road. Within the political region of West Africa there 17 states, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, The Gambia and Togo.

 

 

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So why Ghana out of all these countries?

WA Map 1.jpg

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Go West to Ghana or My Quest for the Pica-bloody-fart-es   February 2019   PicathartesKeulemans John Gerrard Keulemans  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 

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michael-ibk

I'm looking forward to this @inyathi, always cool to get a spotlight on those unknown places. You did not go there with Inger Van Dyke's group by chance?

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Atravelynn

No sleeping on the flight home for you.  Looking forward to your reasons and photos for "why Ghana out of all these countries."

 

 

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Kitsafari

fabulous! another brilliant epic TR in the making from @inyathi . your TRs are always inspirational and informative, but i dread it too because it makes me want to add to an ever growing list of wild and intriguing places I want to explore. 

looking forward to more. 

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kittykat23uk

Looking forward to reading more. 

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lmSA84

Fantastic! Really looking forward to this. Reminds of an old B&W clip I saw of Attenborough searching for Picathartes in Sierra Leone

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inyathi
On 4/3/2019 at 8:43 PM, michael-ibk said:

I'm looking forward to this @inyathi, always cool to get a spotlight on those unknown places. You did not go there with Inger Van Dyke's group by chance?

@michael-ibk No I didn't, that trip which I'm sure was amazing, I see from her website was in March so a month later than mine.

 

In explaining why Ghana, I thought I should first answer a question that might occur to some members of ST, if going to West Africa then why not Benin? Bearing in mind that African Parks have just taken over Pendjari NP in Benin? The short one-word answer is birds, but here’s a more detailed explanation.

 

Pendjari NP is part of a group of national parks and hunting areas in Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger that make up the so called ‘WAP Complex’ the largest most important area of protected Sudano-Sahelian savanna in West Africa. It comprises the trinational Parc de W that surrounds a section of the Niger River where it’s meanders form a huge W shape, Arli NP in Burkina and Pendjari NP which adjoins it. Home to probably the last truly viable populations of west African lions and cheetahs and the region’s largest elephant population along with other large savanna game that’s largely gone from elsewhere like korrigum (the western topi). This is why the Benin government’s decision to invite AP to take on Pendjari is so important and it has the potential to come the major wildlife destination in this region. The country is certainly on my African bucket list, and AP’s involvement perhaps moved it up the list, but not to the top and ideally, I’d perhaps want to wait until AP have been there long enough to make a real difference to wildlife numbers. The reason for not choosing Benin is really down to a quirk of geography and climate, there is virtually no rainforest in the country. As a French colony Benin was known as Dahomey after the powerful Kingdom of Dahomey that occupied much of the country, the whole of the south of the country that you might expect to be (or have been) covered in rainforest is not, here the drier Guinean woodland - savanna mosaic, found north of the rainforest elsewhere in West Africa, extends south right down to the coast. As part of a broad belt of dry country that runs from Benin through Togo to eastern Ghana. that is known as the Dahomey Gap, this completely separates the Lower Guinea Rainforest that extends west from the Congo Basin Rainforest to the southwest corner of Nigeria, from the Upper Guinea Rainforest in the southwest of Ghana that extends from there west to Guinea. Benin is not in fact completely devoid of forest there are some little islands of forest, one such is the Lama Forest Reserve, this is home to a population of endangered red-throated guenons (monkeys) and black duikers, it would also have a few rainforest birds. Lamy forest is really the only other site in the country that I know of, of real interest to the visiting naturalist. The Benin section of Parc de W hasn’t really been opened up to tourism much and would in any case have the same wildlife as Pendjari. The country does have other things to interest the more general tourist, such as the old Royal Palaces of Dahomey, but they are I think interesting without being at all spectacular, then there is the fact that it is the birth place of Voodoo religion. In summary Benin has the savanna birds and wildlife, but not the rainforest species.

 

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This map shows what was probably the original extent of the West African rainforest if you go to Google Earth and zoom in far enough you will sadly see just how little of this forest remains.

 

So that’s why I chose not to go Benin, now to why Ghana. For West African birding in recent years it has really been a choice of three main countries, The Gambia, Ghana or Cameroon, the way I see it, The Gambia is rather like the shallow end of the pool and Cameroon is the deep end and Ghana is sort of in the middle. In that while The Gambia has an amazing selection of birds for such a small country, it doesn’t have all the rainforest species, but it is very compact and easy to get around, so you can see a lot of species in a short time and certainly offers a great introduction to West African birds. Cameroon is not so easy to get around and I would think that a lot of the accommodation is still rather basic and there’s a lot of seriously intense rainforest birding, which is always difficult. Until a few years ago it was possible to do birding tours of the entire country combining the Lower Guinea Rainforest in the south with the savannas in the north, however a few years ago, the Boko Haram insurgency centred in Nigeria spread over the border, a family of French tourists were kidnapped on their way to Waza NP in the far north, that area is now off limits. So now really all that’s left is the real rainforest birding in the south. Some of the rainforest mammals that it might be possible to see appeal to me, but the birds not quite so much, because there’s a lot of overlap with Gabon, although having said that there are, I think a few forest endemics that I won’t have seen and I know there are birds that I missed in Gabon. Ghana is really the easier option and combines rainforest and savannas, is very easy to get around and is entirely English speaking, unlike Cameroon which is mainly francophone and it should give me a good list of lifers of the feathered kind and I hoped also a few of the furred kind, more than The Gambia would, certainly with regard to forest birds and mammals. In recent years Sierra Leone has started to emerge as another option for birds/wildlife having previously been off limits, I might have gone there in 2014, but a proposed trip didn’t work out, as the birding company we intended to go with didn’t have their specialist guide available, the ground operator could still have arranged the trip without a guide. but that didn’t seem a great idea in such an off the beaten track country, where tourism had only just resumed after their brutal civil war. Then having not gone there, that year the country was hit by Ebola, so then idea was shelved, the country is perfectly fine to visit now, there's no danger at all from Ebola and it's entirely peaceful and stable, but it seemed to make sense to visit Ghana first, before reconsidering SL. I should perhaps just add, that Senegal is also starting to emerge as a great birding destination, which it certainly should be, but as I understand it, there’s so far only one really great bird guide there. I’m slightly put off Senegal because of the awful state (I think) that Niokolo-Koba National Park is in, the few birding trip reports I’ve read, might suggest that there isn’t much game there, they all visit the park, but from the list of mammals at the end of the report they don’t see much game in NKNP.

 

Having said all of that, perhaps I didn’t really need to explain why I wanted to go to Ghana having decided to illustrate my first post with a large picture of a bird and its chick, I could simply have said, that really, I chose Ghana to see this one bird picathartes, or at least that was one of the main reasons, I'll finish this part of my intro in the next post, with a bit about this bird and a certain well known TV presenter who inspired the subtitle of this report.

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kittykat23uk

I can imagine which well-known tv presenter may have coined that phrase!

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inyathi

I thought of various titles for this report and having opted for Go West to Ghana, I decided to include one of the others as a subtitle, My Quest for the Pica-bloody-fart-es, having done so I thought I should explain this title.

 

Back in the 1950s a young zoology graduate David Attenborough was working as a TV producer for the BBC, in those days they didn’t make wildlife films like they do now, instead they made, what could better be called animal programs, where generally a keeper from London Zoo, would bring an animal into a studio, so that it could be shown off to the cameras. This was done in part, because the camera technology of the day, made filming animals in the wild quite difficult. These programs were pretty popular, if only because of the anticipation that the presenter would get bitten or peed on, or the animal would try to escape, no one then had really filmed animals in the wild. Until that is, a couple called Armand and Michaela Denis produced a film of East African big game, this was hugely popular, as very few people in the UK, had ever been on safari and were not likely to ever do so, viewers had never seen Africa’s wildlife before or seen a film like this before. David Attenborough was so impressed, that he commissioned the Denises to produce a whole TV series, they happily obliged having already filmed so much, that they had an entire series worth of additional footage, already in the can, the series ‘On Safari’ was a huge hit. He then had an idea for a new TV series, he thought that perhaps he could create a kind of hybrid program, that would combine the adventure and wildlife film making of ‘On Safari’, with the BBC’s familiar studio animal programs. He approached his friend Jack Lester from London Zoo with a proposal, that the zoo and the BBC should get together and organise an animal collecting expedition to some exotic location, suggesting you can catch or purchase any interesting animals, I’ll come along as producer/director and we’ll find a cameraman to film everything, and then back once in the UK, you can bring the animals we’ve collected, into the studio, so they can be filmed. He knew that his friend had spent many years out in Sierra Leone, which was British colony, knew lots of people there and was very keen to return to West Africa, so he suggested to Jack Lester, that for the first expedition they go to Sierra Leone, knowing this would seal the deal.

 

He then thought, that the trip should be focused on finding one particular very exotic species from the country, that had never been filmed before and could not be found in any zoo, that TV audiences in the UK, would therefore know nothing about. He asked Jack Lester to pick an animal, his choice was a very strange bird Picathartes gymnocephalus, the bare-headed rockfowl  or as it was then known rock-crow, generally now known as the yellow-headed picathartes or sometimes white-necked picathartes, that was known to live in the country, but had apparently never been seen alive by a European, never mind ever filmed by anyone. Thinking that since they were in effect, going on a quest to find this bird and to collect animals for the zoo, they should call the program Zoo Quest. After filming the first series, Jack Lester became seriously ill and couldn’t do the studio filming, so the BBC thought, rather than search for someone entirely new, it would be much easier and save money, by just getting someone already on their payroll to take his place, David Attenborough was the obvious choice, so he stepped in front of the camera and this launched his career as the world’s greatest natural history broadcaster.

 

Before going to Sierra Leone, they’d managed to find a Picathartes specimen, in the form of a skin in a museum and commissioned an artist to paint the bird as it should look alive, they then took the painting to Sierra Leone and showed it to people in every village they passed through, until they found one where people recognised the bird. The only trouble was this didn’t take as long as they had expected and they’d found a nest site, much earlier in the expedition than they’d anticipated, when they came to put together the actual series afterwards, it was six parts, so they couldn’t show them finding Picathartes halfway through, they had to tell a white lie and move the discovery of the bird to the end, so that in order to keep people watching, they could finished each episode with "but will we find Picathartes gymnocephalus? Find out next week... "

 

The point of this story, is that the series was very popular and sufficiently so, that when David Attenborough was driving down Oxford Street in London in an open-topped car, he stopped at some traffic lights, a bus pulled alongside, the driver recognised him, lent out of his window and said “Hello Dave, well are we, or are we not, going to catch pica-bloody-fart-es”, ever since hearing him tell this story I’ve referred to the birds  as pica-fart-es”.

 

It is this bird that is perhaps the biggest draw for birders in Ghana and is certainly one of the major reasons I wanted to visit.

 

@lmSA84 interestingly although Zoo Quest was filmed 10 years before the introduction of colour TV in the UK, David Attenborough had told the BBC that they would have to use 16mm cameras, because these were small and light and could be used handheld, whereas the normal 35mm BBC cameras were far too big and cumbersome for the African bush, so they reluctantly said OK, but on the proviso that the cameraman that he had recruited Charles Lagus, would have to shoot with colour film, as the picture quality would be far higher, even though it would still be broadcast in black and white. So, in fact most of the filming was done in colour, unfortunately this didn't work well in low light conditions, so the footage of picathartes was still shot entirely in black and white. Remarkably, back in 2016 an archivist at the BBC, discovered all of the colour film from Zoo Quest, so the BBC were able to broadcast the programs in colour for the first time. Here's a short video from the BBC about Zoo Quest in colour 

 

 

Here's a link to a fascinating full length documentary about Zoo Quest, that I found unfortunately it has a lot of ads, and it's only part 1, I haven't searched for a version without ads or for part 2.

 

BBC David Attenboroughs Zoo Quest in Colour Part I

 

While that illustration I included in post 1 is pretty good of the actual birds, it’s certainly not an accurate depiction of a nest.

 

There are in fact two species of picathartes or  rockfowls, so named because like the two very different looking and entirely unrelated cock of the rock species in South America, they build a cup nest out of mud. attached to the side of a large boulder under an overhang or in a cave in the rainforest. The other species is the red-headed or grey-necked picathartes, this one is Central African and I had in fact seen it in Lope NP in Gabon, when we staked out a nest there, but the birds were not habituated enough to perch in the open for long and I wasn’t quick enough to get any photos. My hope then was to see the yellow-headed and get reasonably decent photos. A very few birders used to go to Côte d’Ivoire to try and see the bird, but the recent political chaos and civil war put paid to that. It is now possible to see it once more where David Attenborough did in Sierra Leone, but otherwise Ghana is the only place to see it, or at least be pretty certain of seeing it, it must also occur in Liberia but I’m not aware of any birders going there to look for it.

  

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Red-headed or grey-necked picathartes nest, Mikongo Forest in Lope National Park Gabon

 

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Waiting for the red-headed picathartes

 

So, this would be a quest for my second pica-fart-es.

 

This was of course just one of many reasons for choosing Ghana, the country is certainly not somewhere for your typical big five type safari goer, who wants to see and photograph the big charismatic mammals (well, except elephants) and definitely not for anyone who wants to see cats. Instead it is a country for ‘bird nerds’, ‘mammal geeks’ ‘butterfly fanatics’ and general bug nuts, botanists and ‘history/culture buffs’ and I have at least to some degree a foot in all of those camps so to speak, well I would if I had that many feet.:D There is sadly a quite large caveat attached to Ghana for the serious mammal geeks, which I’m sure many will already be aware of, on paper if you for example, flick through the Kingdon Field Guide to the Mammals of Africa, there are some great species to be found in Ghana, suggesting that you could score a bunch of lifers, but you have to take in to account the bushmeat factor and realise that your chances of seeing some of them are slim at best and lower your expectations accordingly.

 

Ghana has grown in popularity as birding destination a great deal in the last few years, so as far as birders are concerned, it’s not really that off the beaten track anymore and I would be following a quite well trodden route. You will certainly find a good few birding trip reports online, as I don’t imagine that many here are familiar with Ghana, I thought I would add a detailed report here, that won't just be a bird report. So, this report will I hope prove interesting to the non-birders as well as the birders, it isn’t the first report on Ghana, there are already three from @Abena which I read with great interest, so the most I can claim is that mine will be the longest and cover some additional locations, not in her reports. 

 

I promise that I will get to the main report pretty soon, but in keeping with past reports I don't do short introductions, besides having a long intro gives me more time to ensure that I’ve uploaded enough photos to Flickr, to at least cover the major part of the report. It takes a lot a longer but, I prefer to upload small batches of photos, so that I can ensure that they are all properly labelled, rather upload them all in one go. Then I hope I should have about finished uploading my photos by the time I'm getting to the end of the report, or certainly all the ones I need to put in. 

 

In my Uganda report I included a whole lot of history, so I thought I would do the same again and write something about the origins of the country and an aspect of its history that is impossible to ignore, and is relevant to my report, inevitably of course, what was intended just to be a very brief history, has ended up as I should have predicted, not quite so brief. So there will be one more quite long history section, if it's a bit too long I may divide it into several posts, and then I will launch into the actual report.

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inyathi

As I thought, this next part is a little bit long for one post, so I'll split it in to two.

 

The origins of Ghana

 

Part 1

 

Before 1500 nothing that really corresponds in any way to modern Ghana existed, there was an ancient Ghana Empire but it was much further north and west of present-day Ghana, its only actual link to the modern country is that the first president Kwame Nkrumah, decided to name his country after this powerful ancient kingdom. The region was a collection of separate tribal states like Ashanti and Fante amongst others when Europeans arrived.

 

For as long as it had been possible to obtain them, spices like cloves, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg were hugely valuable and much coveted in Europe, they came from the East via Arab traders, they brought them by sea across the Indian Ocean from the Spice Islands. People in Europe, in particular the Portuguese, were determined to find out exactly where these islands were, that the spices came from, thinking that if they could sail there, they could buy them direct at source and cut-out the Arab middlemen and they would get all the profit. Given that Christian Europe had long been at war with Arab/Muslim world stealing this trade would be very satisfying, there was just one huge obstacle in the way, Africa. They knew that they had to get to the Indian Ocean, but in order to do that they would have to sail around Africa, this was a major challenge because no one in Europe at that time, knew where the southern end of Africa was.

 

European navigators new something of the west coast of Africa down as far as the mouth Congo River but beyond that was a complete mystery, the map was essentially blank, their knowledge of the African interior was very limited and likewise any knowledge of the Indian Ocean was pretty sketchy, coming from second-hand sources.

 

 

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So Portuguese navigators were sent south down the African coast to find out, in 1488 Bartolomeu Dias and his ships were sailing south past Angola, down what is now the Namibian coast, always trying to keep land in sight to their east, without getting too close to the dangerous shore. They were caught in a terrible storm and blown off course further out to sea, so far that they could no longer see land anywhere, they weren’t too worried, because they knew if they turned east and kept sailing they should find land again, when they did not, it dawned on them that they must have achieved their goal and past the end of Africa, and that to find land again they needed to go north and not east. Heading north they spotted land when they reached this land, they named it Cabo de Bom Esperanza - Cape of Good Hope, while Dias had found the end of Africa his plans to sail on and find the Spice Islands, were thwarted by his crew who mutinied and demanded that they return to Portugal.  Meanwhile, a few years later in 1492 a rather more famous navigator Christopher Columbus, figured that the best way to reach the Spice Islands and the land of Cathay - China, was simply to sail west, it seemed obvious the Earth is round, so if you sailed far enough west you should end up in the Far East, that was his thinking, but instead they of course ended up accidentally discovering the West Indies, not the East Indies that they’d been aiming for, this paved the way for the colonisation of the Americas.

 

The Portuguese back in 1415 had captured and taken over a little North African island called Ceuta, that now much to the chagrin of the Moroccans belongs to Spain. They’d discovered that significant quantities of very pure gold were passing through Ceuta, having been brought there by Arab traders, from somewhere south of the Sahara in West Africa, if they could pinpoint where the source of the gold was, then they could sail down there and steal this trade too or at least a portion of it. The Arabs had trade routes crisscrossing the Sahara that they used to bring gold, Ivory, salt and slaves north out of Sub-Saharan Africa, to the markets of North Africa and on to Europe. So besides finding the end of Africa, Portuguese navigators were tasked with finding out where the gold was produced. There were several areas in West Africa where gold was mined, but they discovered that the closest mines to the coast were in what’s now Ghana, conveniently but unfortunately for the people of this area this particular part of the coast had most of the best natural harbours. Soon Portuguese ships were mooring off the coast and loading up with large quantities of gold to take home.

 

The mines were so close to the coast, that a small band of well armed men could probably have ventured inland and quite easily captured them, the Portuguese may perhaps have considered this, but they certainly never attempted to do it, instead they were content to sit at the coast and buy the gold. They knew that their heavily laden gold ships would be vulnerable to attack on the journey home and would have ensured that they were well equipped with cannons. They also knew that while moored in the African harbours they would be vulnerable, they couldn’t just sail in to find a whole shipment of gold just waiting to be loaded, pick it up and sail away, they could be moored for some long time, while they purchased adequate quantities of gold to make up an entire shipment. Their partly laden ships were open to attack from any other European ships that might be passing, and once they’d left with the gold, other countries could sail in and use the harbour to buy gold. They had no intention of colonising the coast, but they realised that if they could defend all of these harbours, then they could monopolies the coastal gold trade and exclude other Europeans. So, they sent men ashore to negotiate with the various chiefs around the harbours, to acquire a plot of land next to each harbour that they could lease from them, they would then build a fortress, run up their flag and line the battlements with canons pointing out to sea. This meant that their ships no longer had to wait moored in the harbour, they could station their merchants inside the forts, with a small garrison for protection, then each time a consignment of gold arrived, it could be held securely inside the fort, once they had amassed enough for a shipment, their ships could come in and collect the gold. Probably the oldest of these forts is St George in Elmina built in 1482 and said to be the oldest surviving colonial building in Africa, however as it has been extensively rebuilt since then, arguably none of the original fort really remains.

 

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Fort Amsterdam near Cape Coast in Ghana by inyathi, on Flickr 

 

This fortress, Fort Amsterdam originally called Fort Courmantyne was one of the first English forts built on the Gold Coast, it was constructed between 1638 and 1645, but was then captured by the Dutch West India Company in 1665 and renamed Fort Amsterdam. 

 

Pretty soon, all of the other European maritime nations, were sending ships down to try and establish a presence and gain a slice of the action, even countries like Sweden and Denmark, that one doesn’t really associate with Africa were getting involved. The Dutch were more ambitious than their rivals, they didn’t just want a slice, they wanted the entire cake, they came up with a plan to drive the Portuguese off the coast. They found a suitable patch of land and secured a lease from the chief, back home in the Netherlands, all of the necessary building materials to put up a simple but easily defendable fort were loaded onto ships and taken down to West Africa, then while the Portuguese were napping, they hastily sailed in unloaded the construction materials and went to work, hoping to have the fort in position before the Portuguese woke up and saw what they were doing. The plan worked, they now had a secure base on the coast, from this base they proceeded to attack all of the Portuguese forts, at the time the Portuguese had growing colonies in South America in Nova Lusitania (now Brazil) a presence on various Caribbean Islands, trading post in Angola and Mozambique at Mombasa, on the coast of India and further east, with this expanding empire they were too stretched to properly defend the Coast of Gold Mines. The Dutch took their forts dominating the coast, until in 1665 the English decided to take what we called the Gold Coast. We had during that era, been involved in brutal fighting with the Dutch over access to the Spice Islands, in the peace treaty that ended that war, we agreed to give up any claim to the small Indonesian island of Palau Run, where nutmeg trees grew and in exchange, they would give us a small insignificant island on the American coast called Manhattan. Back in Africa we attempted to drive the Dutch out of the Gold Coast and take the forts for ourselves, like the Portuguese and Dutch, we had no intention of colonising the region, we just wanted to buy gold, the region would after all become known as ‘The White Man’s Grave’ and in reference to the coast a bit further east, they used to say “beware, beware the Bight of Benin, few come out though many go in”.

 

Besides gold, the region at the time must have still had a substantial population of both forest and savanna elephants, these animals were hunted in significant numbers to supply ivory to the European traders, such that the stretch of coast to the west and now country that it belongs to is still known as the Ivory Coast. It hadn’t gone unnoticed by the Portuguese that there was another commodity for sale in the local markets, human beings, they purchased a group of these slaves not for themselves, but simply to make profit by transporting them along the coast to sell to another group of Africans. There was clearly money to be made from trading slaves, but they’d come for gold and were still more interested in this trade, however their view soon changed thanks to another valuable commodity much prized in Europe, sugar. The Portuguese had already claimed some uninhabited islands off the Gabonese coast that they named São Tomé e Principe and started trying to grow sugar cane there and were also growing cane on some of their other Atlantic islands. They soon realised that their newly established colonies across the Atlantic, in Nova Lusitania would be much more suitable for growing cane, sugar cane is a crop that needs a sizeable workforce to grow and harvest it, harvesting cane in the hot tropical climate of Brazil, would involve very hard backbreaking manual labour that the Portuguese had no intention of doing themselves. They needed to find a suitably large workforce, this could not be adequately supplied by the native Amerindians because soon after first contact as also happened in the Caribbean and North America most of them succumbed to European diseases. Forcing those that survived to work in the cane fields could not provide the labour they needed, they would have to find workers from somewhere else, it didn’t take them long to realise the perfect answer lay in the slave markets of West Africa.

 

The Portuguese took the first shipment across the Atlantic in 1526 and were soon starting to ship significant numbers of Africans across to Brazil, the other European traders established on the coast then started buying slaves as well to ship to their own colonies to work in the cane fields or the tobacco and cotton plantations. Initially the slaves were essentially a by-product of war, African states would go to war with each other over territory and anyone captured and taken back as a captive would be sold in the local market, taking slaves wasn’t the objective. That would soon change as the demand increased, so the value of a slave increased, the local slave merchants then started to demand guns in exchange for slaves, they needed guns to defend themselves, their families, their own people and to procure more slaves, the European merchants were only too happy to oblige. This resulted in a major arms race, if one state was doing a roaring trade in slaves and amassing a large arsenal of guns in return, then all of their neighbours had to follow suit and ensure that they too had guns otherwise their people would be unprotected and at risk of being taken as slaves and the only way they could get guns was from the Europeans in exchange for slaves. This created a vicious circle, people had to launch slave raids or make war on their neighbours to acquire the guns necessary to protect themselves from being taken as slaves. The forts that had been built to defend the harbours and to store the gold were now being converted into temporary prisons for the slaves where they could keep them until the ships arrived. The conditions slaves were kept in before leaving Africa were appalling, the voyage across the so-called Middle Passage was horrendous with slaves packed into the ships like sardines in a tin, and the work and their treatment once they were in the fields was brutal, many died before they ever reached the Americas and for the lucky ones who did their life expectancy was not long. Thus, the European demand was insatiable they were constantly in need of new slaves, as a consequence the price kept rising to the point, that fit and able human beings became the most valuable trade-able commodity in the West African markets, far more valuable than gold. The result of this was that West Africa became an extremely dangerous place to live, with slave raiders roaming far and wide to snatch anyone they could, everyone was at risk, you could be out tending your fields one minute and the next being dragged off to the coast, and it really didn’t much matter who you were. The Portuguese and the Dutch were not too happy about this development, they wanted slaves, but they’d originally come to the Gold Coast to buy gold and the slave trade was making that difficult. Since slaves were so much for valuable than gold, miners and gold workers were being kidnapped, because the locals didn’t care about gold anymore. The Portuguese and the Dutch therefore refused to buy slaves from the Gold Coast instead they sailed further east to the Nigerian coast and in the case of the Portuguese they also went south down the west coast to the mouth of the Congo, to take slaves from the kingdoms of Kongo and Angola. Although Portugal agreed in an 1810 treaty with Britain, to stop shipping slaves to Brazil, illegal shipments to Brazil carried on until the 1860s when the Royal Navy finally stamped out the trade.

 

Ashanti which was the most powerful of the Gold Coast kingdoms/states had to pass a law that on pain of death no Ashanti could sell another Ashanti, no doubt sometimes they did, it would have been all too tempting to kidnap and sell people you didn’t like or even just complete strangers. Of course, they very happily sold non-Ashanti people the great power and wealth of their kingdom was built on the slave trade.

 

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Africa slave Regions
Africa_map_no_countries.svg: *Africa_map_blank.svg: Eric Gaba (Sting - fr:Sting)
derivative work: User:Zscout370 (Return fire)
derivative work: Grin20 [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons 

 

It should be noted that the awful conditions in which the slaves were kept and transported, was as much as anything down to ignorance rather than just inhumanity, after all there was no profit in dead slaves. Those involved in the trade had little understanding of disease and even less of tropical diseases and mortality amongst the crews of slave ships would also have been high, since they were at considerable risk from as well. The biggest danger was malaria and yellow fever, both of these disease were introduced to the Americas by the slave trade, the latter is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, when slave ships were sat in the harbours of West Africa, mosquitoes would inevitably find their way onto the ships and would then lay their eggs in any barrels or other containers of fresh water on board, that they could access and this way their larvae were taken across the Atlantic. At least that's the best theory as to how the species crossed to the Americas, because this species has evolved a preference for human blood and a tendency to live in an around human habitation and lay its eggs in any man-made water containers.   

 

One more history post to follow and then it's onto the main report.:)

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Zim Girl

Loving this and looking forward to more!!

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inyathi

Part 2

 

Eventually people in Britain woke up the full horrors of slavery, various abolitionist movements were formed campaigning to abolish the slave trade and not just the British trade but all international trade in slaves. The Royal Navy was given a mandate to end the Atlantic slave trade and permission to board any ship of any flag, they could base their ships in the Gold Coast harbours and use them and other sites and sail from there to hunt slave ships. As an illustration of the appalling nature of the trade, when a slaver spotted a British naval ship on the horizon the captain would give the order to dump the cargo, all of the shackled slaves would be dragged up on to the deck and then thrown over the side to drown. They could then pretend to be an innocent trading vessel, of course if was impossible to hide the awful stench of a slave ship but with no slaves on board there was nothing the Royal Navy could do. If they reached a ship in time, they would tow it into the nearest harbour and then disembark the slaves, they couldn’t return them to their respective homelands, so the colony of Sierra Leone was chosen as the place to send rescued slaves, which is why the capital was named Freetown.

 

It was really only after the end of slavery which Britain abolished in 1807 that we decided to start actually turning the Gold Coast into a colony of sorts, Britain might have been the most powerful presence on the coast or on its way to becoming so, but other countries still had a presence as well. The Danes still maintained two forts until the 1850s when Britain purchased them, the other country that still had the most forts was the Netherlands. Maintaining the forts was no longer proving profitable for either the Dutch or the British and it didn’t help that instead of the Dutch occupying one complete section of Coast and the British another the forts were all mixed in together. So eventually a treaty was agreed whereby forts would be exchanged, so that the Dutch would only occupy the West and the British the East, this would make administering the forts easier. The Fante people in the West were not pleased to see forts being given to the Dutch who they disliked intensely and tried to prevent them from occupying them. Difficulties with the Fante and the fact that they were no longer profiting from their presence led the Dutch to pull-out entirely in 1870. Britain purchased the Dutch forts and then had control of the entire coast but not the interior, immediately to the north lay the still independent and powerful Kingdom of Ashanti with its capital at Kumasi.

 

Conflict between Fante and Ashanti had already drawn in the British on the side of Fante resulting in first Anglo-Ashanti war in 1823, a war which Ashanti had effectively won, a second war in 1863-64 had proved inconclusive resulting in stalemate. The withdrawal of the Dutch precipitated an inevitable third Anglo-Ashanti War, the Ashanti had allied themselves with the Dutch giving them access to the coastal port of Elmina, this last coastal port open to Ashanti would now be handed over to the British excluding Ashanti from the coastal trade.  The king ‘the Asantehene’ decided to invade what had become a British protectorate and take Elmina, they regarded much of the surrounding territory which had been claimed by the Dutch, as part of Ashanti and that Britain had no right to take it over. Britain in response, concluded that they needed to attack and destroy Ashanti once and for all, since the Asantehene had made it very clear that Ashanti would never be ruled by Britain. A much more professional campaign than the previous ones would lead to the successful defeat of Ashanti in 1873-74., Ashanti might have been defeated but was not fully conquered, they were still determined that they would remain independent and not be ruled by the British (or by the French). Attempts to force Ashanti to become a British protectorate in 1895 failed, when Ashanti refused to cooperate this resulted in the fourth Anglo-Ashanti War, during which Ashanti was finally conquered and the then Asantehene Prempeh I, was sent into exile to the Seychelles. A fifth and final war occurred in 1900, known as the War of the Golden Stool, the Ashanti had started to rebel against British rule and refused to pay taxes, so the British Governor of the Gold Coast Sir Frederick Mitchell Hodgson, led a force of men to the Ashanti capital Kumasi to put down the rebellions. When he arrived, he demanded to know why the Ashanti had not brought the Golden Stool for him to sit on, he declared the stool now belonged to Queen Victoria and that it should have been presented to him, so that he could demonstrate that he was now ruled Ashanti on behalf of Queen Victoria. The Golden Stool was not just the royal throne but one of the most sacred objects in the Ashanti Kingdom believed to contain all of the souls of the Ashanti people, the idea that a foreigner should defile the stool by sitting on it was too much. The stool symbolised the unity of the Ashanti Kingdom, they feared that if anything happened to the stool, this would precipitate the demise of their Kingdom, so they refused to hand it over, Hodgson not understanding the importance of the stool ordered his men to search for it, this action provoked the final war. The Queen Mother of the Ashantis, Yaa Asantewaa gathered Ashanti warriors and led a valiant but ultimately futile campaign to restore Ashanti’s independence.

 

The flag of Ashanti 

 

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The Golden Stool has been so well hidden, that despite winning inevitable victory the British never found it, however, in 1920 a group of road builders stumbled upon it, they removed some of the gold ornaments, this caused great consternation amongst the Ashanti, they wanted the men sentenced to death, but the British Authorities exiled them instead. 

 

The flag of the Gold Coast 1877 - 1957

 

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One of the major reasons that Britain felt it was necessary to take Kumasi and crush the Ashanti, was to make sure that neither the French nor the Germans could try to make a move on Ashanti. The addition of the Ashanti Kingdom to the Gold Coast Colony in 1901 extended British territory north some 200 miles, there remained further unclaimed territory to the north of Ashanti, fearing that the French or Germans might try to lay claim to these ‘Northern Territories’ Britain grabbed them and made them a protectorate in 1902. The French had claimed Cote d’Ivoire to the West in the 1880s and what would become Haute Volta (now Burkina Faso) in 1896. The Germans had established a protectorate on the coast to the east of the Gold Coast in 1884 and then extended their territory north, eventually creating the German colony of Togoland in 1905. The last piece of territory that makes up modern Ghana would be added after the First World War. We sometimes forget that it really was a world war, the first naval battle of the war was fought far to the southeast on Lake Malawi and the first shot fired by a soldier of the British forces, was fired by a Ghanaian, Alhaji Grunshi of the Gold Coast Regiment during the invasion of neighbouring German Togoland. The last shots of WWI were fired in East Africa. After the war as punishment Germany was stripped of all its colonial possessions, under a League of Nations’ mandate their two West African colonies Kamerun (Cameroon) and Togoland were divided between Britain and France, the western part of Togoland roughly 40% of the territory went to Britain, the main eastern part to France. The British part was administered from the Gold Coast until independence in 1957, in the run up to independence Britain declared that it would no longer be able to administer British Togoland, after the Gold Coast became independent. The UN decided that the solution was to hold a referendum and ask the people if they want to join with French Togoland or with the Gold Coast soon to be Ghana, the majority chose the latter. Thus, the borders of Ghana were really only fixed after independence in 1957.

 

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Togoland

User:Nostrifikator [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

After independence under the leadership of Nkwame Nkrumah, The Gold Coast was renamed Ghana, unfortunately as was often the case he turned it into a failed socialist state. He was then deposed in a coup and died in exile, there were a total of 4 coups during the 80s after the last Ghana was ruled by the military dictator Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, he was eventually persuaded to relinquish power and restore democracy, having done so he was then elected president twice, before standing down. Ever since then the country has been peaceful and stable and seems relatively prosperous.

 

The flag of Ghana

 

In 1896 the Ethiopian army defeated an invading army of Italian and Eritrean troops at the Battle of Adwa, as a consequence of the battle, Ethiopia was never colonised, the only African country not colonised by a European power. Well that is except Liberia which wasn’t a European colony, but it was still in effect a colony, as it was created by freed slaves from America. The Ethiopians troops at Adwa carried a flag comprised of three pennants of red, gold and green. These three colours had always been the traditional colours of Ethiopia, in 1897 the emperor Menelik II decided that they should create a new rectangular flag, made up of three horizontal bands of red, gold and green, dispensing with the previous pennants. These three colours then essentially became the Pan-African colours, because so many African leaders looked up to Ethiopia because of the fact that they had defeated a European power and had never been a colony, (the Italians did return under Mussolini from 1936-41, but this is usually regarded as an occupation, it was too short to be considered a successful colonisation) Ghana was the first of many African countries, to adopt these three colours for its own flag at independence. In Ghana’s case the red band represents the blood shed fighting for freedom, the yellow fairly obviously represents gold and the green the forests, the single black star was chosen by Nkrumah, to commemorate the Black Star Shipping Line founded by the Jamaican born Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey, who intended that his ships would take African-Americans back to Africa.  

 

1280px-Flag_of_Ghana.svg.png

 

That’s just a short and I hope not too inaccurate account of Ghana’s history, I didn’t want to go into too much detail regarding the slave trade, but I will revisit the horrors of slavery in the main report.

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offshorebirder

I am still in the process of catching up on this trip report @inyathi, but I wanted to thank you for spending the time to educate (and entertain) us.

 

And thanks for the funny Attenborough story. 

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inyathi

Going to Ghana

 

One of Ghana’s best and longest running tour operators, is Ashanti African Tours, I’ve seen their adverts for a good few years in various bird/wildlife publications. They have certainly been running birding tours for many years, if you book a Ghana trip with any of the international birding companies that offer Ghana tours, it will very likely be an Ashanti tour, so it seemed that there wasn’t really any good reason not to cut out the middleman and just book directly with Ashanti, if the tour would likely be run by them anyway. There was no need to have an additional expat guide, as might have been the case if we’d booked through a birding company, because Ashanti have excellent guides, so the following tour was booked directly with Ashanti African Tours, they organised everything. This was essentially a birding tour, but they do also do more general wildlife tours and history and culture tours and so on.

 

Coming from the UK you need to apply for a visa, this isn’t difficult but the process could perhaps have been just slightly better explained, rather than print out the visa application forms, from the Ghana High Commission website and fill them in with a pen, you have to fill them in online. During the process, you need to choose between applying by post or counter service, if you opt for the latter then you have to book an appointment, you have to choose a date and then select a time window for when you wish to deliver your application to the GHC. If you live a long way from either London or Glasgow where the two High Commissions are located, having to go in person at your chosen time might be a bit of an inconvenience, if it means having to get a train or whatever, so you might want to get a visa company to do it for you. You still have to book the appointment during the online application, then just send everything to the visa company and they will deliver it to the GHC at the allotted time, rather than you. The very slightly confusing part was that during the online application process it appears to suggest that you need to pay the visa fee at this point, but then when you get to the end you haven’t been offered an online payment page, you’re just give four pdfs of the completed documents, for you to download or print out, but then at the bottom of the page it has all of the credit card symbols. This led to some brief and entirely unnecessary head scratching, trying to work out if we were supposed to have paid or not and you can’t go back to see if you’ve missed anything. Of course, it was obvious that we didn’t need to pay online or it should have been, because if you select counter service then the idea is that once you’ve handed everything over to them, you then pay them then with your credit card over the counter.

 

It didn’t help that the visa company’s website (Star Visas) didn’t explain it that well, but obviously you just pay the visa company and then they pay the visa fee at the GHC. I assume that if you select the by post option on the GHC website, that you would then have an online payment page come up, so that you can pay online. You do need to be a little careful when you fill in the forms, if you make a mistake you can’t go back and correct it, you have to get in touch with the GHC and ask them to correct it. Then besides passport photos, you just need a copy of your yellow fever certificate and a letter of invitation from Ghana, I was a little surprised at having to ask Ashanti African Tours to send us the invitation letters, as I assumed, they would normally just send them to you once you’ve booked and paid for the trip, along with all the information they send you, someone evidently just forgot, but it wasn’t a problem. They won’t let you apply for the visa too far ahead, but you don’t want to leave it too last minute, this perhaps made it very slightly more stressful because starting the trip at the beginning of Feb, we decided to apply for the visas in December and post everything before Christmas not a great time to have your passport in the post. We needn’t have worried, as there was no problem getting the visas, obviously using a visa company does put the cost up quite a lot, but it does buy you a bit of peace of mind and saves you having to take a train to London to visit the GHC in person.

 

I mention this, really because for some reason applying for a visa to go to a new country always ends up being somewhat stressful and then as in this case, getting a bit stressed makes the process seem difficult when actually it really isn’t. It was actually pretty straightforward and obvious and if I hadn’t worried about it, I would have realised that.

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inyathi

Akwaaba to Ghana

 

Since I included a music video in both of my previous reports, I decided to add one here and this seemed appropriate as Akwaaba – welcome is a phrase you here all around Ghana, I have to say though while I don’t entirely dislike the song, this style of Afrobeat music isn’t really my thing, if this tune ends up in your head or you start doing the dance moves, I apologise. I’ll add a somewhat better song at the bottom of the page. 

 

 

Itinerary

 

Fly London to Accra first night Tema

Day 1 Tema, Shai Hills Resource Reserve and Sakumono Lagoon

Day 2 Leave Tema for Shama via Winneba Plains and Cape Coast

Day 3 Shama, birding Nsuta Forest Reserve

Day 4 Shama, morning birding Nsuta Forest Reserve, afternoon leave Shama for Ankasa Conservation Area

Day 5-6 birding in Ankasa

Day 7 morning birding Ankasa, afternoon leave Ankasa for Jukwa (Kakum NP)

Day 8-10 Birding in Kakum and surrounding area

Day 11 morning birding Kakum area, afternoon birding Bonkro Forest, night Kumasi

Day 12 Kumasi all day birding Bobiri Forest

Day 13 Leave Kumasi for Mole NP via Boabeng-Fiema

Day 14-15 Birding Mole National Park

Day 15 Leave Mole for Bolgatanga via Tongo Hills

Day 16 Bolgatanga birding White Volta River and Tono Dam

Day 17 Leave Bolgatanga for Tamale and afternoon flight to Accra, night flight to London

 

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These maps show our rough route around Ghana

 

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Kwame Nkrumah decided that his country's football team should be known as the Black Stars, having put a black star on the flag, this is a World Cup song by Wiyaala the lioness of Ghana, which I prefer to the song I posted above.

 

 

Edited by inyathi
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xelas

@inyathi your trip reports are so much more then usual description of one's travel. Although I was never good at history, reading your summaries brings me closer to those less known African countries. 

 

Trivia: a co-worker is teasing me constantly: You love Africa, you must go to Ghana. He has a good friend living there. Well, maybe your TR will nudge me in that direction.

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inyathi

@xelas Thanks, I can't claim that I was ever that great at history when I was at school or as interested in it as I am now and I'm not always very good at remembering dates, I like including the history parts because it means  I have to read up on the history of wherever I've been and in the process learn lots of things I didn't know, and correct the things I thought I knew but in fact had wrong. I wasn't aware that the Danes and the Swedes were both trading on the West African coast and had forts of their own, I suppose just because I hadn't really thought about it, after all why wouldn't they have done?  

 

Well, I said Akwaaba to Ghana but actually I still had to get there.

 

The great thing about going to Ghana from the UK is that it is essentially directly due south, so there’s no time difference and it’s not actually that far, so the flight is only around six to six and a half hours, in theory (depending on where home is) you can leave home at a reasonable hour and arrive at a reasonable hour in the evening on the same day.

 

Flight.jpg.58a90fbca085ad07ab90723499d4b20a.jpg

 

Normally given a choice there’s one airline that I try to avoid, one that I've come to refer to as B. Awful, at one time BA might have been a great airline, but more recently I’ve found that just about every other airline I’ve flown is better, and they have recently taken the decision to compete with the low budget airlines, not the high-quality ones. However, as they offer regular flights from London to Accra and it's so short, they seemed to be the most convenient choice, you leave Heathrow around 13:30 and get to Accra at about 20:00 perfect, at least I was hoping it would be, when I left home on the 6th of Feb. 

 

The first thing that happened, was that after check-in at Heathrow, the board stated that the flight was delayed and would depart at 14:25, then once we boarded, we just sat on the ground not going anywhere, if there’s one thing I hate when flying, it’s sitting on a plane on the ground that’s not moving, with no one telling you why you not going anywhere, although I think in this case, they did actually say we were waiting for another plane to get out of the way, when we finally left we were seriously late. Why we were so late in the first place, I don’t know, but it was no doubt this initial delay, that then meant that we were having to wait for another plane to take off first. While we waited, I sat reading my book The Adventures of Young Naturalist by David Attenborough, describing his Zoo Quest expeditions, disappointingly the book doesn’t have very much to say about his time in Sierra Leone and his search for the Pica-bloody-fart-es. It concentrates on the expeditions that followed, to Guyana, Indonesia and Paraguay, I was very interested to read about his exploits in Guyana, as I visited there in 2014 and went to the Rupununi Savannas and Karanambu Ranch, where he had been on his Zoo Quest Guyana expedition (I wrote a report of my own adventures, Drinking Rum Punch in the Rupununi). Coincidentally, I then discovered David Attenborough’s World Music Compilation on the entertainment system, on his Zoo Quest and other early expeditions, he often encouraged some of the local people they met, to perform some music that they could record or sometimes they we would actively seek out local musicians. The recordings are interesting, because the music from all around the world, is very traditional and played by people who at the time, had had little or no exposure to Western music and culture, which would not likely be the case today. The flight otherwise was fine, the service was very good, the food was OK, the beer was excellent, and it was nice and short, but none of that made up for arriving so late.

 

Kotoka International Airport at least in its current form, is evidently very new, I was very impressed by the large shiny terminal, they even had someone there with a keyboard playing music and singing live, including a song welcoming the BA flight. Even without any hold ups, getting through airports takes time and passport control takes longer than in the past, because of having to have your fingerprints checked and so on.

 

Therefore, by the time we got through and outside to meet are guide James Ntakor and driver Nicholas, it was already pretty late, once we got ourselves loaded into the minibus, we were informed that it could take 45 minutes or more, to reach our hotel in Tema. I hadn’t really noticed when I exited the aeroplane, but out in the car park it was seriously hot, considering it was well after dark. I might have added to my earlier list of people who might want to visit Ghana, masochists who’ve always fancied spending a couple of weeks trapped in a sauna, the south unsurprisingly would be constantly very humid, even at times when it wasn’t that hot. Our first two nights would be in Tema this town/city might have started out as a separate entity, but is now really just an eastern extension of Accra, getting there inevitably takes time because of traffic. It must have been at least half past ten when we checked into the Alexis Hotel, unfortunately the restaurant was completely shut, so they could offer us no dinner at all, and even without having dinner we couldn’t hope to be in bed until after eleven, which was very annoying, since we had an early start in the morning. All thanks to B. Awful, I might have said, these things happen sometimes, if James hadn’t informed us that the BA flight is always late. While we checked-in, James went away and returned with a packet of biscuits, these turned out to be milk chocolate hobnobs, unlike most people in the UK (it seems), I’m not addicted to sugar, why you would take an already sweet biscuit and then slather it with some even sweeter brown substance, comprised primarily I suspect of sugar and palm oil, that is for some reason beyond my comprehension called chocolate, I don’t know. Needless to say, the entire packet was a sticky mess in the heat, but despite this and my dislike of overly sweet milk chocolate, it was at least food of a sort and a nice gesture, it meant we at least had something to eat before retiring.

 

It wasn't a great start to the safari, I hoped things would improve in the morning. 

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Peter Connan

Exceptionally interesting so far. I am looking forward to the rest!

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JohnR

@inyathi  I thought I was going to be able to skim this early part but there's so much interesting and detailed information I'm going to have to settle down and read it properly.

 

Edited by JohnR
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kittykat23uk

@inyathi how can you not like chocolate hobknobs?! :blink::o

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inyathi

@kittykat23uk I do like an occasional dark chocolate hobnob if offered one, I've just come to the conclusion as I've got older that milk chocolate isn't really chocolate, it's just sugar. Half the problem, which would have been just the same if they'd been dark chocolate, is that they were a sticky mess because of the climate, if I'd been in a cold country and they hadn't been totally melted, I might have been quite happy if there was nothing else. I have to confess, when I wrote that part I was still very annoyed at BA and did wonder if maybe there was a danger that it could turn into a bit of a rant, and that maybe I didn't need to rant about milk chocolate hobnobs in a trip report, but I decided to leave it in, I think perhaps the appropriate expression that seems to be used a lot these days, is First World problems:D so I'll leave the subject of biscuits/cookies for now and move on, to the subject of hotel coffee and other annoyances...... :lol: 

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inyathi

All photos in this report were taken with a Canon EOS 50D with 15-85mm lens or a 70D with 100-400 mm, videos were taken with the latter.

 

Day 1

 

Hotel Alexis Tema

 

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Breakfast at 05:30 consisted of a piece of omelette with a pile of mixed veg, with little slices of some kind of very red sausage, these had shrivelled up in the cooking so that I wasn’t sure what it was until I tasted it, then bread and jam or butter, but seldom both it seemed, and fresh fruit. As in many hotels in many countries, coffee was provided in the form of Nescafé sachets, if you like strong coffee then you need at least two of these to make a reasonable mug. While I'm not a fan of these sachets, they are understandable in a pretty ordinary hotel like this one, I would be slightly annoyed in a more fancy hotel or in a safari camp or lodge, especially one in a coffee growing country, Ghana isn't known for coffee but it does grow some, (but after the hobnobs, I'm not going to have another mini-rant:rolleyes: about coffee).

 

When I ventured outside into the car park to spot my first Ghanaian birds, I briefly encountered a problem that thankfully didn’t reoccur during the trip, this was that when I first tried to take a photo, I could barely see anything through my camera because it was completely steamed up.

 

When I first decided to photograph the mural on the front of the hotel seen above, the result looked like this.

 

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This was probably just because my camera was still packed until the morning, when I took it out of my camera bag in my air-conditioned room, taking it out into the humid outside world then caused it to steam up, as you can see from the first two photos, the problem was quickly sorted out.

 

Shai Hills Resource Reserve

 

From Tema to the Shai Hills Resource Reserve is about 45 minutes, on the drive I spotted a blue-bellied roller, my last African roller species, it was nice to score a full house of this family of birds, well in Africa that is, there are two Indonesian endemic roller species I've not seen.

 

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Blue-bellied roller in Ghana by inyathi, on Flickr

 

Once there we walked along some of the roads through the Reserve, birding while accompanied by a ranger. I presume we had to have a ranger, but we didn't really need one, however, it was interesting to talk to him and paying for a ranger in addition to the entrance fee, is I hope a good thing for conservation, I suppose also insisting you have a ranger, insures that tourists can't misbehave. Things got off to a good start when walking past a large fenced enclosure, we spotted a Maxwell’s duiker out in the open, of course when we appeared, it fairly quickly disappeared into a bush, so the only photo I got of it isn't great. 

 

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Maxwell's duiker 

 

This small wild antelope endemic to West Africa, had just wandered in through the fence, it wasn't a permanent resident, as we kept walking, I thought that these enclosures must surely have been built, to house some rather larger game animals of some sort and wondered if they might have herds of kob in them, as I knew that there are Western kob in the Reserve or maybe some other large antelopes. I was very surprised to be told that they contained a herd of zebras and an ostrich, sure enough a few minutes later I’d spotted half a dozen or so plains zebras and a female ostrich.

 

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A long way from home 

 

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If there’s one animal I never expected to see in Ghana or certainly not outside a zoo, it’s the plains zebra, I suggested that to get to Shai Hills, they had very likely travelled further than I had, or certainly as far. The nearest naturally occurring populations of these animals, measured as the crow flies should be in southern Angola or perhaps in the southeast corner of South Sudan, the area just north of kidepo NP in Uganda, where I’d seen zebras last year, they are certainly not native to Ghana, or anywhere in West Africa. I could see from the shadow stripes on their rumps that they were from Southern Africa, the ranger confirmed as I had suspected, that they had come from South Africa, he told me that the entire reserve had been fenced, but the fence had fallen into disrepair, however, they were intending to repair it and once they have done so, they will release the zebras, into the reserve. 

 

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While I knew for certain that zebras were not native to the country at all, I wasn’t sure about ostriches, I assumed that they could possibly be native to the far north of the country. I had a quick look at my Ghana bird book and found no ostrich, looking at distribution maps in other books and online at home I saw that their West African range is much further north, entirely in the Sahel. They had brought in a male as well as the female, but for some reason he got sick and the vet they called in couldn’t save him and he died, leaving the female alone, why they’ve not acquired another male yet I don’t know, there may be no wild ostriches in Ghana, but there are it seems a number of ostrich farms, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find another male.

 

Our walk quickly produced a flock of a bird I was very pleased to see again Viellot’s barbet, this is a real West African and Sahel species that doesn’t quite make it into East Africa, I'd seen just one of these birds on my second safari to Zakouma and heard them but not seen them on my first safari there.

 

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Viellot's barbets 

 

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African grey hornbill

 

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Brown babblers 

 

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Senegal eremomela 

 

A walk along a different track produced entirely new birds like western plantain-eater. The Reserve is mostly wooded savannah with a range of hills or kopjes running through it, walking along the road towards some cliffs at the base of the hills we spotted a number of olive baboons.

 

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Olive baboon 

 

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Splendid sunbird 

 

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Once we were close to the cliff, we got good views of a cliff chat.

 

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White-crowned cliff chat

 

In West Africa the cliff chat has a white crown, whereas in Eastern and Southern Africa it does not, recently these birds were split into two species, so some regard this bird as being a distinct species (Thamnolea coronata) separate from the mocking cliff chat (Thamnloea cinnamomeiventris), while others inevitably disagree and still regard it as a mere subspecies, but that's always the way with taxonomy. 

 

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Grass 

 

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Commelina benghalensis (I think, I'm not a great botanist)

 

As we walked the ranger had told me that there are a few lesser spot-nosed monkeys in the Reserve, but they are very shy and not seen that often, I was pleased however when we caught sight of a callithrix or green monkey. This is the local variant of the vervet monkey, whether it’s a subspecies or a separate species, I’m not certain, I don’t know if this question has been fully resolved.

 

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Calithrix or green momkey

 

In a few places on the road I could see clear antelope spoor, likely western kob but perhaps also bush buck. Our walk was followed by a short drive along the edge of the open wooded grassland, almost every bird report I’d read included a photo of a male kob taken here, I was determined not to leave without seeing one, but was struggling to keep my eyes open. Despite being half asleep I did in the end see one, at the entrance to the reserve a signboard lists the activities on offer which includes game drives, well if I’d come just to go on a game drive, I would have left thinking that was the most disappointing game drive ever, with a score of just one male kob, maybe there were more and I missed them whilst asleep.

 

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Western kob

 

When we left, I could see why they had perhaps decided to introduce zebras, this should boost tourist numbers in the park, at least the number of Ghanaian visitors as Shai is the closest reserve to Accra. I don’t really approve of such extralimital introductions but I presume the zebras won’t do that much harm. On the Ghana Wildlife Division website, it says that with help from the private sector, they plan to replace the fence around the reserve, so that it can be restocked. Shai Hills falls within the Dahomey Gap, so at one time would have been home to the large game animals typical of Guinean savanna-woodland, a quick look at my Kingdon Field Guide, would suggest oribi, Bohor (or Nagor) reedbuck, Defassa waterbuck, western hartebeest, roan antelope and western savanna buffaloes, as far as I can see the reserve does not have any of these species now. I would hope that if they want to increase tourism and make the reserve more worthwhile, they will try to reintroduce some or all of these animals, I would have thought that this should be a much greater priority than establishing alien zebras and ostriches. The reserve is only 51 square kilometres, so would not have space for elephants or lions, but the other animals could be brought back and I would think obtained from within Ghana. I don’t suppose they have much expertise when it comes to capturing and moving large animals, so they would probably need help to do this. After I wrote that, I read in an IUCN book about Ghana’s parks and reserves that is reproduced online, that there was in fact a plan to do just this in the 1970s, and that they actually introduced four western hartebeest in 1975, brought down from Mole NP up in the north, but these antelopes escaped and were killed by local people. If there are enough hartebeest in Mole or anywhere else to spare a few, then I hope when the perimeter fence is sorted out that they will try again, this as I say should be a greater priority than trying to introduce alien zebras. I say that zebras won't do much harm, but if they do introduce other antelopes like perhaps roan, then the zebras might be unwelcome competition, as I understand that one of the possible reasons roan were particularly common in West Africa, is the absence of zebras. 

 

Besides some short hikes, where you can climb the hills to enjoy the apparently spectacular views, with so few visible large mammals, Shai Hills is of pretty limited interest to the non-birder. For birders it offers a good introduction to West African savanna species, which is why almost all birding tours start with a visit to Shai Hills.

 

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Even if Shai Hills isn't the most exciting place, this had been a pretty successful mornings birding and a good relaxed introduction to Ghana.

Edited by inyathi
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inyathi

We returned from Shai Hills to the Hotel Alexis for lunch of grilled chicken and rice, what was odd about the restaurant here, is that when your food was delivered the plate was always covered in cling film for some reason, however the food was fine. We'd ordered our lunch after breakfast and at the end of lunch we were presented with the menu again to order dinner, this was the system everywhere we stayed in Ghana, I'm sure it saved a fair bit of time.

 

33391746978_49d3cb8b77_o.jpgMural Alexis Hotel in Tema by inyathi, on Flickr

 

Sakumono Lagoon

 

In the afternoon we drove over to the Sakumono Lagoon, stopping first on the sea wall in between the Atlantic Ocean and the Lagoon.

 

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Tema Port 

 

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Black-winged stilts 

 

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Sakumono Lagoon and sea wall looking towards Tema

 

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Yellow-billed shrike 

 

We then drove on into Sakumono, this a small town in the Tema District a short distance west of Tema right on the edge of Accra, although it seemed to me that they all pretty much merge into one, forming Greater Accra. There’s certainly nothing separating Sakumono from Accra and the only thing separating it from Tema is the Lagoon. We parked next to the Celebrity Swimming Pool & Resort in Sakumono, at least I think that’s what it’s called, next to it is the Celebrity Golf Club where there’s a huge golf course, it is presumably all part of the same complex.  As we would sadly find in most of Ghana there was a serious litter problem, the ground under the tree where we had parked was strewn with plastic bottles.

 

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From the car park a fairly short path takes you out to the lagoon, despite the somewhat suburban surroundings the lagoon is one of Ghana’s Ramsar Wetland Sites and so very important for birds. We walked out to the lagoon through a little bit of woodland next a small open patch of grass, there were Senegal thick-knees everywhere, this was another bird I’d first seen in Zakouma and then again in Murchison Falls NP in Uganda. In the woodland I spotted some double-spurred francolins a bird I’d last seen many years ago in Morroco, but I wasn’t able to get any photos. The lagoon itself was a sufficiently popular birding site that some years ago a concrete hide had been put up, it had rather fallen into disrepair, there was no longer any sort of handrail on the stairs, so we didn’t make use of it. We just walked around seeing what we could find, it’s a nice little area with plenty of birds, how long it will remain so I’m not sure, with all the development going on around it, it is pretty much surrounded on three sides by urban development.

 

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Senegal thick-knee

 

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Senegal coucals 

 

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Sakumono Lagoon looking across to Tema 

 

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View of the Sea wall with cattle herd

 

Back by our minibus I spotted a beautiful purple glossy starling

 

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Purple glossy starling 

 

It was then back to the Alexis Hotel for the night, having had a late night when we arrived we didn't want another late night as we had an early start in the morning. 

Edited by inyathi
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Pamshelton3932

Oh dear, I’ve finished this fascinating report and it’s not yet bedtime.  I look forward to more and thourougly enjoyed a concise history of Ghana.

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xelas
On 4/8/2019 at 12:53 AM, inyathi said:

When I first decided to photograph the mural on the front of the hotel seen above, the result looked like this.

 

I know the effect well from Costa Rica! One of the possible options to avoid it is to leave the camera in the bathroom, with door closed. But it can happen also if A/C in the car is too cold, so it is good to keep the camera (and the lens) in a backpack and away from cold air stream.

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