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inyathi

Day 11 afternoon

 

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Rainforest remnant by inyathi, on Flickr

 

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Timber yard 

 

At 15:00 I suppose, we arrived at Bonkro Village, to look for the yellow-headed Picathartes in Bonkro Forest.

 

Bonkro Forest Picathartes Site

 

For a while Côte d’Ivoire was the place to go to try and look for these birds, until all the problems there, it’s only quite recently that birders have come to Ghana to find it. This was for the simple reason that the bird was believed to be extinct in the country, the last birds had been seen in the 1960s, but then in 2003 Samson Aboagye (now a local guide) from Bonkro village was out in the forest hunting for bushmeat, when he saw a large group of these birds, moving through the forest on their way to roost. He could recognise all of the birds in the forest, although he didn’t know their names, but he’d never seen these birds before, he alerted someone from the Wildlife Division, they came out to see the birds and identified them as Picathartes. Since the rediscovery of the birds in Bonkro Forest, they have also been found at a few other locations and recently a second roost site was discovered in Bonkro, as a result the forest has become the most reliable place to see this bird. Until the discovery of these birds at Bonkro, Ghana had largely been overlooked as a birding country, picathartes effectively put Bonkro Forest on the map and this in turn put Ghana on the birding map. I say put Bonkro Forest on the map, but not actually in a literal sense, since Bonkro Village is not marked on the map of Ghana that I have or on Google Earth, hence I didn't add it to the maps I put in at the beginning, I don't know exactly where it is. The nearest location that is marked on the map, is New Edubiase which the Bradt Guide says is the jumping off point for Bonkro, essentially it is somewhere roughly halfway between Cape Coast and Ghana's second city Kumasi, capital of Ashanti.  

 

The Picathartes has become something of minor goldmine for Bonkro Village, virtually every single bird tour of Ghana visits Bonkro Forest. Ashanti using some of their profits and help from International conservation organisations like Tusk Trust have funded the construction of a village school, which has a nice mural of the Picathartes, pangolins and other wildlife. This is major benefit to the community, because once you have built a school and registered it with the government, they then have to provide teachers, so there is now a school where would never have been one before, all because one of Africa’s more strange looking birds. On our way in to the village, we picked up one local guide and then when we parked in the main village another guide.

 

Ecotourism in action Bonkro Village

 

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Mural Bonkro Village primary  school

 

I was pretty confident that we would at least see the picathartes, a couple of pangolins not so much, pangolins are sometimes seen in Kakum, but I had no such luck and have never seen one on any of my visits to Africa.

 

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We waited in the village for a little while before setting off for the forest

 

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Cooking pot

 

This large cooking pot is used for boiling oil palm fruits, prior to further processing to extract the oil.

 

In the absence of wild mammals to photograph I resorted to photographing some of the domestic sort.

 

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West African dwarf goat

 

All taxis in Ghana have different coloured panels like this car.   

 

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When David Attenborough was on his quest to find the picathartes, he as I explained in the intro, had to tell a few white-lies to keep viewers in suspense as to whether they would or would not catch the pica-bloody-fart-es, much as I might like to follow his example. I don't think in my case that would really work. Having shown you Bonkro Village, and having not looked for the bird at all, up until now, you might be just a little sceptical, if tried to keep you in suspense and suggest that I might not have seen the bird, the truth is that where as David Attenborough could not have known if they really would find the bird, I was almost certain that I would not leave here without having seen it. This being the age of the mobile phone earlier in the trip, James had had various reports from other guides informing him as to how many of the birds they had just seen, whilst here at Bonkro. I didn't decided to split this section in to two posts to keep you in suspense, I just thought it would be easier, it was my intention to post this and then follow it soon afterwards with another post on my time in the forest, having prepared most of this post earlier, I unwisely clicked on 'unread content' to see if there was anything new of interest, before going away to do something else, confident that ST would have saved this post. I was therefore very annoyed when I came back to my report, to find that it hadn't saved it, instead it produced my previous post. So I had to re-do this one entirely, I now don't have time to do the next post this evening, so you will have to wait until tomorrow for my pica-fart-es experience. 

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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 

I thought posting this next part might take quite a while as I wanted to put in a lot of photos, rather than pick out a handful first I decided to paste in the links to almost all my photos of the cas

Walking down to the forest it was very hot, because we were largely in the open amongst small cocoa trees and such like, along the way we found some of the ubiquitous beautiful butterflies that you fi

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inyathi

Walking down to the forest it was very hot, because we were largely in the open amongst small cocoa trees and such like, along the way we found some of the ubiquitous beautiful butterflies that you find in every Ghanaian forest and a pair of Gambian sun squirrels.

 

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Gambian sun squirrel

 

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There's evidently some logging going on.

 

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Logs

 

Before long we entered the forest, we didn’t really bother with any of the birds along the way, with any wildlife stakeout you always need to get there well ahead of the subject you are pursuing, otherwise if you arrive at just the wrong moment you could scare it away, and in then might not reappear.

 

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Soon the path having been fairly level, went up hill this was not too high or steep we could then see behind a fallen tree part of a huge rock. A few steps further on we reached the viewing site, this was just a bench comprised of a couple of planks a few paces back from the rock, there was no hide, this huge overhanging rock turned a right angle. As I was taking photos James asked if I wanted to photograph the nest, at which point I realised, that from where I was sitting on the end of the bench, I could already see a nest, just around the corner without having to move. Once you have arrived, it is a question of just sitting as still as possible and as quiet as church mice and waiting and waiting. When we sat down it was around 15:45.

 

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Yellow-headed picathartes nest site

 

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As the light started fading I was starting the think that either the birds would not come, or it would be too dark for photos when they did, before leaving for Ghana I’d looked at a few photos of the bird online and where possible the exif data, I was pleased to see that no one seemed to have used flash, for this reason I had left my flashgun in my camera bag in the bus, and not brought it with me to the viewing site, since I had no intention of using flash. However, I didn’t want to mess up my photos as I'd done with the anomalure. Having spent a lot of time birding in forests, I’ve always had a problem with the fact when I’m going into the forest, I think I’d better crank up the ISO to something really high, but then when I re-emerge into the sunlight, I forget to dial it back down until after I’ve taken at least a good few photos, resulting in horribly grainy images, in the end I did this once too often and decided I would just switch the camera to auto-ISO and forget about it. The trouble with this, is that it seems much too often to select a far higher ISO than I would do, if doing it manually, my EOS 70D has an ISO range from 100 - 128,000 but I realised of course, that you can customise this, and alter the maximum ISO, so throughout the trip I was constantly changing the maximum ISO up or down depending on where we were, I also hoped that I might as a result pay more attention to what the camera is telling me, rather than always just pointing and shooting, for fear that my subject will have gone, if I think too long. In this case I hoped it would give me a better chance of getting some acceptable shots of the picathartes, the big challenge would likely be having to switch to manual focus, as it's a struggle to know in the half-dark if something really is in focus. There were moments sat waiting, when I could have sworn, I’d seen a movement only for it to be my imagination, we'd been told that they can come in around 17:00, but there’s no set time, sometimes they come early, sometimes late, but they very rarely don’t come.

 

Suddenly I could hear movement in the leaf litter behind me and then James confirmed that he could see a bird, before long I’d spotted three of them, but could only really see two quite well, preening at more or less eye level through a gap in the foliage, after a bit I remembered that I had a camera, and didn’t need to wait for them to get closer before trying to take photos.

 

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Yellow-headed Picathartes

 

Although it was rather gloomy in the low late afternoon light, in the end four birds gave us a great display.

 

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We left very pleased with our sighting of these extraordinary birds, I'd seen my second pica-fart-es species, very close, extremely well and not quite as late as evidently can be the case as we’d been advised to carry torches, but didn’t need to use them. The one drawback to this experience is, we now had a long drive through the dark to our accommodation The Royal Basin Hotel in Kumasi, driving at night in Africa is never the best idea and it would mean going to bed quite late. Ashanti well aware of this problem which they don’t like any more than their clients do, have started building a lodge at Bonkro Village, this should mean the people benefit even further from the Picathartes.

 

Yellow-headed picathartes distribution map

 

I may have succeeded in my quest to see these birds, but my Ghanaian safari was certainly not over, there were still plenty of other good birds and other wildlife to be found, during the rest of the trip as we carried on northwards.

 

 

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wilddog

Really good photos given the difficulties. Your patience was rewarded, even if you did have a very long day. So pleased for you. Sitting her looking at your post and sharing your delight with a smile on my face. Thanks Rob.

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Soukous

Another James Joyce like effort Rob. Thanks for all your hard work in sharing your adventure

 

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Peter Connan

Thank you, this is fascinating!

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michael-ibk

Love them, inyathi, a wonderful sighting and all captured. Very special. As always, I greatly enjoy your in - depth report. 

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inyathi

Thanks everyone

 

Seeing the picathartes had been one of the core reasons for visiting Ghana and the birds certainly hadn’t disappointed, while seeing these birds doesn’t perhaps compare to seeing gorillas for example, it is still a great wildlife experience because you are really only a few feet from them and besides being unusual looking they are quite large birds and they live in groups, it also was great to see the difference that these birds are making to the lives of the Bonkro villagers, it seems to be an almost perfect example of eco-tourism benefiting people and wildlife. Once Ashanti have opened their lodge, visitors will be able to look for other birds in Bonkro Forest in addition to the picathartes, there must be other good species in the forest.

 

Day 12

 

In the morning we set off early to spend the whole day at the Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary.

 

Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary

 

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Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary, Ghana by inyathi, on Flickr

 

As the sign says, this protected forest is home to some 400-butterfly species and was created to protect them, Ghana has lost 80 - 90 % of its original forest cover and not all of what’s left is that great, some forest reserves no longer have any forest in them. Forest dependant wildlife has been hard hit including obviously butterflies, hence the need for this Reserve, but the entire forest is not protected as there’s still logging going on, as elsewhere the other wildlife specifically mammals are not protected in the sense that there seems to be no enforcement of the law. I was very depressed to see on the road as soon as we started walking through the forest towards the reception yet another shotgun cartridge, in this case the brass was so polished it looked brand new. Needless to say, we saw nothing mammalian bigger than a green squirrel, what was particularly depressing was the forest reminded quite a lot of Budongo Forest in Uganda, where I’d seen lots of three different monkeys and common chimps. I presume chimps were hunted out in Bobiri a long time ago, I imagine that any monkeys are likewise gone.

 

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When you see something bright red in a rainforest, if it isn't a bird, it's likely to be either a flower or a fruit, so I came to think of these shotgun cartridges that I kept finding, as Ghana's poisonous fruit as they've killed so many monkeys, other mammals and I'm sure more than a few large birds.

 

However, Bobiri is still a great place for birding

 

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That's an impressive number of birds seen from just one road.

 

It looked like we had missed the largest rainforest hornbill species having failed to find them back in Ankasa and Kakum, but we still had two of the smallest to try and score and this was the right place to find them, James called them in giving us great views of the red-billed dwarf that I’d only glimpsed on previous safaris in Gabon and Uganda and black dwarf which I'd missed.

 

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Red-billed dwarf hornbill

 

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Black dwarf hornbill

 

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Although we had come to look for birds, the butterflies were as usual impossible to ignore, I hope that I have identified them correctly, but with 400 species to chose from, many of which look very similar, I may well not have done.  

 

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Common citrus swallowtail 

 

We carried on a good way past the reception buildings and on down the road, seeing more birds and gorgeous butterflies until it was getting too hot and was time to turn back.

 

Next to the reception area is an arboretum 

 

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Red-billed helmetshrike

 

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Crested malimbe

 

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Western long-tailed or white-crested hornbill

 

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Scarlet morning glory (Ipomoea hederifolia)

 

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Velvet-mantled drongos

 

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Loggers

 

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Uncertain nymph 

 

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Wide-banded commodore

 

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Soldier pansy

 

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Dragonfly 

 

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Monk butterfly

 

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African piculet

 

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White-banded palla

 

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Sophus forester

 

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Janetta forester

 

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Danaid eggfly

 

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Blue diadem

 

During the heat of the day we sat on the veranda of an old guesthouse building, near the reception and ate grilled chicken and rice, the high point of almost every meal was the fresh fruit we were given afterwards, the pineapples were some of the best I’ve ever eaten anywhere, it had become apparent quite early on, that wherever we were staying, the fruit had almost always been bought by James from the roadside and delivered to the kitchen, we were very grateful.

 

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After lunch our intention had been to go back down the road the same way and walk rather further to look for woodpeckers, but Nicholas couldn't really follow in the bus as the track was too wet and muddy in places and he would risk getting stuck. We set off to find two blue-throated rollers posing beautifully, however there was an ominous rumble of thunder from ahead of us, so we decided it would be prudent to turn around as we wouldn’t be able to make run for the bus if it rained. The road was better the other way, so Nicholas would be able to follow along behind, without fear of getting the minibus stuck, after a while we decided it was too quiet and we should go back to Kumasi as we had a long drive the next day.

 

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Dragonfly

 

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Dragonfly

 

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Blue-throated roller

 

The roller posed very nicely showing off its blue-throat, this distinguishes it from the otherwise very similar looking broad-billed roller, I'd seen this species before at Bigodi Swamp in Uganda but not as well as this.

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Zim Girl

Wow, fantastic sighting of the Picathartes - well worth the wait.

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inyathi

Day 13

 

Kumasi to Mole National Park

 

We didn’t have any time for sightseeing in Kumasi Ghana’s second city and still capital of the Ashanti Kingdom, but perhaps there’s not really that much to see, the impressive royal palace was blown up and almost all of the old town burnt to the ground, by one of our great Victorian generals, Sir Garnett Wolseley in 1873 during the Third Anglo - Ashanti War. The Royal Basin Hotel on the eastern side of Kumasi is nice enough for a mid-range hotel, it’s apparently quite a popular place to stay, although there didn’t seem to be anyone else there.  At the end of a day’s birding, a shower, a cold beer, a good meal and a comfortable bed is all you really need and the hotel provided all of those.  My only impression from what I did see of Kumasi is of a typically large modern city, with plenty of traffic and pollution, we were glad to get out of it, fortunately the traffic wasn’t too bad. However, Kumasi is still a major cultural centre and I’m sure there are in fact interesting things to be seen there.

 

On our way out of Kumasi we encountered a street preacher, standing on a street corner with a microphone giving it the full fire and brimstone, James said that people like him stand there with a hat to collect money, because they’re too lazy to get an actual job. A lot of Africa is very Christian, but I have never been anywhere quite like Ghana, where there are billboards everywhere covered in be-suited pastors, advertising their church or their prayer weekend, bible courses or whatever, quite a few with the message “Jesus is coming soon, be prepared”. My hotel room in Kumasi besides the familiar Gideon’s bible, had two slim paperbacks both by the same author, a Ghanaian pastor Dag Heward-Mills, one was called How to be Born Again and Avoid Hell, I don’t recall the other title but it was along similar lines. I knew that the south of Ghana would be majority Christian, although there were still a few mosques, but I hadn’t expected to find, so it seemed, just as many churches right up in the far north, when we got up there. Religion is one of many things I intensely dislike about the world, fortunately there doesn’t seem to be any religious trouble in Ghana that I’m aware of, although it can cause other problems as I would find out.

 

Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary

 

Our ultimate destination for today was the Mole Motel inside Mole National Park, however we had an important stop to make along the way. Besides wanting to see Ghana’s star bird the yellow-headed picathartes, one of my reasons for particularly wanting to visit this region of Africa was to see some West African monkeys. I wasn’t totally sure, but had a pretty good inkling during the planning of this trip, that monkeys would prove to be very rare and difficult to see in Ghana’s forests, and that while my chances would be quite good in Kakum from the walkway, they would be by no means guaranteed. I might well leave without seeing any at all or at least without getting good views of any, for that reason I’d decided that we had to include a visit to the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary, I was determined not to leave Ghana without seeing some monkeys properly, I was confident that a visit to this site, would provide guaranteed views of two species, Lowe’s monkey (Cercopithecus lowei) and white-thighed colobus (Colobus vellerosus).

 

For this reason, I had requested a stop at the Boabeng - Fiema Monkey Sanctuary on the way to Mole. James hadn’t been too impressed by this idea when he’d seen the itinerary and asked if we might drop it, as it would save quite a lot of time, however I insisted that I had to go there, the sanctuary is located in the Nkoranza North District of Brong Ahafo and on the map it didn’t look at all far off our route. I’d assumed that we would just go via the main road from Kumasi northwards, but instead we took a more easterly route, this seemed slightly odd, when looking at the map, but they insisted this was the quickest way.

 

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Mampong Escarpment just north of Kumasi by inyathi, on Flickr

 

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King Solomon Spot

 

A bar or pub in Ghana is known as a spot

 

We were slightly concerned as to how long it was taking to get there, but eventually we saw a sign for the Monkey Sanctuary saying 20 Km’s and pointing left, only for us to immediately turn right, when we said “hang on, isn’t it that way….” James assured us that this was a better way. I was starting to wonder if they knew where we were going, because I presume almost no birders visit the monkey sanctuary, so it seems they seldom bring people here. However, I soon saw that we were going the right way, and that we had just taken a different route in.

 

I knew that we were headed for the right place, when I spotted a tree full of colobus close to the road, something you certainly wouldn’t see anywhere else in Ghana, it was to see these colobus monkeys in particular, that I had really insisted I had to visit Boabeng. in East Africa I’ve always loved to see the black and white guereza colobus and the Angolan colobus, now I was determined to see their West African cousin the white-thighed colobus also known as Geoffroy’s pied/black and white colobus, a species that while clearly similar, is noticeably different. I knew that this place was likely the only place in Ghana that I would be guaranteed to see the colobus in the wild. I’d thought that of the monkeys, that I might possibly see from the canopy walkway in Kakum, this colobus was the least likely, whereas I might very likely see Lowe’s there, of course as it turned out I didn’t see any Lowe’s monkeys there. I'd also known about the place for a long time, so it was already somewhere I' thought I'd want to visit if I ever went to Ghana.

 

 The Monkey Sanctuary around the villages of Boabeng and Fiema was started way back in the 19th century, the local guide who accompanied us gave us the story of how it came about, but I didn’t take it all in and according to the Bradt Guide there are different stories. However, B-FMS has a website and the story that they have there, is obviously pretty much the same as their guide told us.

 

Boabengfms

 

Quote

 

In about 1827 Nana Kwabena Panin, the Chief of Sesedom, a suburb of Boabeng was commissioned by Nana Damoah Kwaku, chief of Boabeng to give a portion of land to the people of Fiema who had then migrated from Kokofu in Ashanti and had traveled all the way to Nkoranza.

 

Nana Nkoranza manhene at the time asked his son Nana Damoah Kwaku the Chief of Boabeng to give a place to the people of Fiema for settlement. For security reasons, Nana Kwabena panin on the instructions of Nana Damoah Kwaku gave a portion of the land very close to Boabeng to the people of Fiema for settlement and to engage in farming

 

Before the settlement of the people of Fiema Nana Kwabena Amoah of Boabeng had found the Fetish Daworo, in a mysterious place and circumstances.

 

The Fetish DAWORO was surrounded by two Mona Monkeys “KWAKUO” and Black and White colobus monkeys “EFOO”. Nana Kwabena amoah brought the Fetish Daworo to the Village of Boabeng and the four Monkeys followed suit.

 

An oracle was consulted about the relationship between the fetish Daworo and the mysterious monkeys. The Oracle declared that the monkeys were the children of the fetish Daworo. The oracle also declared that the monkeys should not be killed or harmed because they were sacred.

 

 

Essentially the chief decided that the two communities, would live with the local monkeys rather than hunt them and eat them and if anyone did harm the monkeys. then their punishment would be to have the same harm done to them, so if you killed a monkey then you too would be killed. Over time the people came to revere the monkeys. There are just two species of monkeys in the Sanctuary the white-thighed colobus and the Lowe’s monkey, I'd said that I particularly wanted to see the former, because while I also wanted to see Lowe’s, I knew that would not be difficult. Colobus monkeys live on a diet almost exclusively of leaves, just like their close relatives the Asian leaf monkeys, they can eat a small amount of unripe fruit, but ripe fruit is liable to cause bloat, which can be fatal, so bananas are of no interest to them, therefore they’ve little reason to come down to the ground. When people are around they tend to stay up in the trees, around the edge of the village, the only thing the people have to offer them is protection. Lowe’s monkey can eat a much more varied diet, including most human foods and although still slightly nervous they are much bolder than the colobus, so they come down and roam around the villages, climbing all over the houses and interacting with visitors. As soon as you arrive at the reception, some of the local women descend on you, carrying bunches of bananas in bowls on their heads, which you are expected to buy, not of course for yourself, but to feed to the monkeys. I don’t as a rule approve of hand feeding wild animals, especially monkeys and desisted from doing so, but our guide did buy some bananas and I was amused to see him give one to a monkey, just a few paces away from this large sign that said do not feed the monkeys.

 

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Feeding these monkeys actually seemed fairly harmless, unlike some of the macaques in Asia that can become aggressive if fed and will sometimes mug people to steal food, these beautiful monkeys seemed pretty polite and would wait to be given a banana rather than try and grab it, but that's probably not always the case. Personally I was very glad just to see all these monkeys running around, without needing to feed them.

 

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Local guide feeding the Lowe's monkeys

 

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The guide then took us to some trees on the edge of the village where I could see there were some colobus and I was able to take plenty of photos. I was very glad to have seen this now very rare species, as it means there’s now only one black and white colobus species that I’ve not seen in the wild, the king colobus found in Sierra Leone. Whenever a monkey dies and villagers find the body, they give it a proper burial, conducted by the fetish priest, the guide would have taken us to see the graveyard, but we said we didn’t have enough time. He was also somewhat disappointed that I didn’t want to go into their gift shop, but we were keen to head off to our lunch stop.

 

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White-thighed colobus

 

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Lowe's monkey

 

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Gambian sun squirrel

 

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As well as seeing the monkeys, walking around Fiema Village we got to see something of how the people live.

 

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Preparing cassava

 

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I presume the cassava has been prepared much the same way for a very long time, however using a couple of mobile phones to hold down the corners of the sack is clearly a recent innovation.:D

 

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Old Catholic church, Fiema Village

 

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Walking around the village I’d noticed several churches, the people of the two villages, are despite maintaining many of their traditional beliefs predominantly Christian, their conversion to Christianity did not for the most part bring an end to their reverence for the monkeys. However, in the 1970s a more extreme sect the Saviour Church of Ghana arrived, they were determined that all pagan practices should be done away with and severely disapproved of people regarding monkeys as sacred, they started to preach that it was okay for people to kill the monkeys. Indeed they encouraged people to do so, as way of demonstrating their rejection of their past pagan beliefs, this was a disaster for the monkeys and significantly reduced the population from hundreds to just dozens, the community elders became so concerned about the erosion of their traditional beliefs and the hunting of the monkeys, that they asked the Wildlife Division to become involved and establish a formal sanctuary, then the monkeys would be protected by law and not just custom. This meant that all hunting monkeys was made completely illegal within a five-mile radius of the villages, the hunting then stopped almost entirely allowing the monkeys to recover. Local hunters still target other animals like squirrels, mongooses, duikers and royal antelopes for bushmeat, but as a rule they don’t hunt the monkeys or certainly not the colobus, people do sometimes kill Lowe’s monkeys because they will raid crops and can become a pest, but it’s not that common. In the past researchers studying the behaviour of the colobus at BFMS, have studied their reaction to the sound of gunshots, they found that when hearing a shotgun, they generally didn’t react at all, this along with the obvious significant increase in their population, is a clear indication that they are not being hunted and haven’t been for some time.

 

As we drove out through the forest, we passed a side track into the forest, and I said “stop!” to my amazement there was a whole troop of colobus either on the ground or just above the ground, so we backed up to see them, giving me an even better view than earlier. Of course, as always happens on these occasions, a taxi drove up behind us, so we couldn’t stay any longer.

 

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The white-thighed colobus is like the roloway monkey discussed earlier, now one of the world’s 25 most endangered primates, in 2007 the population of these monkeys in the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey sanctuary was put at 365, making this probably the most important population of this colobus species anywhere, it is thought to be the only stable population. How much further the population can grow is limited by the amount of remaining forest, if monkeys are able to cross open country to colonise other remnant patches of forest, they may then end up at risk from poachers if these forests are too far from Boabeng-Fiema.

 

Here's another link to the report Primates in Peril the World's 25 most endangered primates 2016-2018

 

There is another well known monkey sanctuary, in the Volta Region east of Lake Volta called Tafi Atome, this sanctuary is home to just one species, the mona monkey, sometimes referred to as the true or typical mona, because originally Lowe’s monkey (along with Campbell’s, Dent’s, Wolf’s and others) was considered to be a subspecies of the mona, but then quite recently they were split, but Lowe’s monkeys are often called Lowe’s mona and inevitably sometimes just mona. The two species Lowe’s and mona look very similar but the mona has brighter more chestnut back than Lowe’s, Tafi Atome didn’t fit in with our route and I have seen Monas before, albeit somewhere where they don’t belong, on the island of Principe, when I visited São Tomé e Principe in 2008, Portuguese slavers took them there likely from Nigeria, when they were taking slaves to these then uninhabited islands. Slavers also introduced mona monkeys to the Caribbean, it can be found there on the islands of Grenada. The green or calithrix monkey that I had seen back in Shai Hills at the start of my trip, was also introduced to the Caribbean around the same time, plenty of sailors I guess liked to keep monkeys as pets and then either they let them go or they escaped.     

 

I hadn't realised just how important Boabeng-Fiema is for the colobus, until I got back home, otherwise I would have gone into the gift shop to see what I could buy to give them a bit more money.

 

While some of our road journeys were fairly long, there was almost always something interesting to see on the road.

 

Boabeng-Fiema sits in what would have been a transition zone where the northern edge of the Upper Guinea Rainforest merged into Guinea woodland, so we would now be leaving the rainforest entirely behind and entering the savanna regions of Ghana.

 

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Transporting bicycles

 

We made it to our lunch stop back on the main road a restaurant in the town of Kintampo, there’s a nearby waterfall called Kintampo Falls, they may be worth visiting, but we didn’t have time. I was in any case more interested in something else, I’d brought the Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals with me on the trip and I recalled that in it, there is a Kintampo rope squirrel, which I now realised must live around these parts, when I enquired James said that Mole NP was crawling with them, or words to that effect.

 

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Yams for sale in Kintampo

 

After a fairly brief lunch stop it was back on the road north to Ghana's largest national park Mole. 

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TonyQ

Still catching up with your wonderful report. (Up to post 50) Very enjoyable writing and photography (if a little depressing in places). Very interesting to see non-wildlife aspects as well.

 

You talked about the pylon gap in the forest which monkeys will not cross. When we went to Belize,a long time ago, we visited the Community Baboon Sanctuary (baboon is the local name for Howler Monkeys). They had devised baboon bridges, made of rope which went from the top of a tree on one side of the road to the top of a tree on the other side. The local people had put up a number of these simple structures, and the baboons were happy to use these to move around (they don’t like to come to the ground either)

 

I look forward to the next sections

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inyathi

We carried on our way northwards

 

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Sacks of charcoal northern Ghana by inyathi, on Flickr

 

A major cause for concern was the quantity of charcoal for sale by the side of the road, we would see even more later on, it's remarkable that there are any trees left in northern Ghana.

 

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We saw more and more cattle as we went north.

 

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The road north

 

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The Black Volta River

 

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Crossing the Black Volta River

 

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Hunting laws

 

It was good to see signs asking people to obey the country's wildlife laws, I just wish I had more faith that people were actually doing so and that those that are breaking the law will be prosecuted. 

 

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Village

 

Soon after crossing the Black Volta River we stopped at a large pool for a leg stretch and to see what birds were there, which turned out to be huge numbers of cattle egrets and a good few grasshopper buzzards.

 

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Cattle egrets

 

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Termite mound 

 

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Djallonke sheep 

 

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Grasshopper buzzard 

 

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The road north

 

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Roadside saleswomen

 

Ghana like a lot of African countries has police check points on the roads everywhere, generally you just slow down and they wave you through, there are also toll booths in various places, anywhere where drivers have to stop or slow down, people mostly women congregate to sell mainly food and drink to motorists. It's common place in Africa for people to carry things on their heads, but I'd never seen so many people carrying all manner of things on their heads as I did in Ghana, but then I saw more people on this safari than would normally be the case, seeing people carrying quite large cabinets, that looked like they were glass containing samosas or the local equivalent, was quite remarkable.  

 

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The cleanest bike in Ghana

 

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Women carrying firewood

 

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Almost there

 

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Mole National Park entrance gate

 

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Despite our visit to the monkeys we seemed to have still made good time and reached the Mole National Park gate just before 17:00, it was then only a short drive from there to the Mole Motel. This lodge is built on an escarpment looking out over the park providing a fairly spectacular view, after check-in we had time enough to enjoy the view and do a spot of birding by the edge, and were delighted to see three bearded barbers, another of the birds I’d most wanted to find.

 

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View from the Mole Motel

 

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Bearded barbets

 

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White-shouldered black tit

 

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Bush petronia or Sahel bush sparrow

 

At the bottom of the escarpment are some large artificial waterholes, we could see over the other side of the water a few western kob, some common warthogs and lots of helmeted guineafowls and a family of bushbucks.

 

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Bushbucks

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Been following all along, but was so happy to see you finally found some monkeys. I was beginning to despair along with you. And I have to admit....that termite mound would put any cathedral architect to shame.....very impressive.

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Kitsafari

the picathartes are an amazing looking bird. the demarcations of colours on its head are so sharp and its apparent hunched back looks like a cape has been thrown over its shoulders. wikepedia calls it a bald crow, but it looks nothing like a crow - perhaps only the size? 

I'm also surprised to see that birders did not need a hide for those benches, so those picathartes can't be that shy and must be habituated to people. 

So glad you saw them and could share the photos with us. 

 

the colobus and lowe's monkeys are quite beautiful. 

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TonyQ

Glad you got such good views of the picathartes - beautiful birds.

The colobus monkeys are stunning with amazing faces. The sanctuary seemed like a positive visit

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inyathi

@TonyQ I know that conservationists in Kenya they do very much the same thing for the Angolan colobus that live on the southeast coast putting aerial ladders up across roads, thus allowing colobus and Sykes's monkeys to cross safely. I'm sure it could be possible to do something similar in Ankasa, but I'm not quite sure how, it's a wide gap and you'd have to ensure that the monkeys are well away from the powerlines, to avoid any danger of electrocution, as this I assume would be a major risk. Knowing about the Kenyan colobus, I looked up the Colobus Conservation website, they show how to build a colobridge, but it also says on another page on their website that 

 

Quote

   Electrocutions account for about 20% of the injury and morality statistics in the Diani area as a percentage of all our animal welfare call-outs.  

 

If it is such a major issue for Ankasa's monkeys, perhaps WAPCA or whoever can commission someone to try and devise a solution that will allow monkeys to cross the gap without getting electrocuted.  

 

As someone with a bit of a love of monkeys, BFMS was definitely a highlight, obviously, because it is on the way to and from Mole NP, it is a popular attraction for general tourists, I was therefore a bit concerned about the possibility that it might be a bit too ‘touristy’. I thought there might be a whole bunch of tourists there and lots of people having their photos taken with monkeys climbing about on them, such as I’ve seen online, my love of monkeys doesn’t go as far as needing to have them climb on me, I prefer my wildlife wild, so I was a bit concerned about the whole feeding wild animals thing. But actually, there weren’t lots of other tourists, although some may have arrived as we were leaving and the monkeys are all still wild, so yes definitely a positive visit.   

 

@Kitsafari

 

I was slightly amazed that we were sat so close to the rock at the picathartes site in Bonkro Forest, without any kind of screen to make a hide, the birds are as you say habituated, but you still need to avoid doing anything that might spook them, hence my decision that it would be better to avoid using flash altogether. I don’t know when the first birders started visiting Bonkro and how long it took to get the birds so well habituated. When picathartes was first discovered, zoologists struggled to decide what sort of bird they were, so they’ve had lots of names bald crow or bald rock crow was one of the earlier ones. When David Attenborough was trying to think up a name for his TV series Zoo Quest, he’d rejected the idea of calling it Quest for Picathartes, so he asked Jack Lester who’d  chosen the bird to be the object of their quest, what it’s English name was and he said the bald-headed rock crow, understandably he decided not to go with Quest for the Bald-headed Rock Crow and came up with the name Zoo Quest.

 

I was keen to share my experience with the picathartes, because I was sure that there were no photos of it on ST, since returning I searched ST and found that one member @GreenEye mentions seeing picathartes and actually there is one small photo of one, in a post about the Gola Forest in Sierra Leone. I’m pleased that I could add my shots and show more people this extraordinary bird and perhaps inspire other birders to go and see it.

 

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inyathi

Mole National Park

Day 14-16

 

Mole (Mo-lay) is Ghana’s largest National Park and the country’s major savanna park, having known about the park for a long time I’d hoped that I might go there one day, but at the same time I was a little concerned that it would measure up so poorly to the other great parks that I’ve been to, that I might be disappointed.

 

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Mole National Park map, Ghana by inyathi, on Flickr

 

 

Then again as my expectations were quite low, I hoped that the park might exceed them and surprise me. That was really with regard to game viewing, Mole is the best non-forest birding site in Ghana so the birds should we hoped deliver for us.

 

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Mole National Park rules

 

For along time now I have chosen to wear sandals almost all of the time on safari, even on walking safaris and have never had a problem as a result of this, I only tend to wear shoes when walking in rainforest or woodland with a lot of leaf litter, so I would have very happily worn sandals in Mole, however as stated in the park rules at the entrance. 

 

Protective footwear preferably boots is a requirement for foot safari, tourists with exposed feet will not be permitted to go on foot safari.

 

The most popular activity for tourists visiting Mole NP is the guided walks that go from the park HQ next to the Mole Motel down to the bottom of the escarpment, according to the Bradt Guide if you turn up in sandals or flip flops, they will force you to rent a pair of bulky blister inducing rubber boots. We wouldn’t do this specific walk, but we would be walking looking for birds, so I wore shoes throughout, when not back at the Motel.

 

Day 14 morning

 

After an early breakfast we drove to the HQ area to pick up our park ranger John, for some reason he was a little late, while we waited some elephants appeared next to the lodge so we watched them for a little while, although the view wasn't great from our vantage point.

 

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Savanna elephant

 

When John did arrive, we drove onto an area of bush with some good-sized trees and some waterholes, as we got out of the minibus, we were greeted by a small welcoming committee of tsetse flies, but they weren’t too bad. Generally, it seemed that the plan with birding in Mole was to drive to a suitable area and then get out and walk to find the birds, accompanied by our armed ranger, I had hoped to do at least some game viewing while in the park, to get an idea of what animal numbers were like and just see how good or bad the game viewing is, and see some West African subspecies I'd not seen before, however, this birding strategy wasn’t really compatible with game viewing.  It did deliver good birding though, besides the bearded barbet seen the previous evening, one of the birds I most wanted to see, which graces the cover of the Field Guide to the Birds of Ghana by Nik Borrow and Ron Demey, is the violet turaco, this is the West African first cousin of Ross’s turaco and is a lovely dark blue/purple bird with a bright yellow bill red crest and white stripe behind the eye. Suddenly as we were walking around one came flying towards us, as the light was not good it took me a while to register that it wasn’t a plantain eater, so I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to get a photo, it perched in a tree not too far away, affording me a reasonable but very brief view of its head, before it disappeared. While we didn’t see any game, I was pleased to see a lot of elephant spoor and what I took to be kob spoor.

 

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Waterhole

 

Up here in the savanna there aren't the amazing number of butterflies that you see in the rainforest but I did see another plain tiger.

 

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Plain tiger

 

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Elephant footprint

 

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Black-bellied firefinch

 

Quite late in the morning, we had the extreme good fortune to find a whole bunch of birds feeding on an ant swarm, just in the one spot we had at least a couple of common gonoleks, a blue-breasted kingfisher, four oriole warblers, snowy-crowned robin chats, red-throated bee-eaters, northern black flycaychers, swamp flycatcher a Senegal coucal and long-tailed glossy starlings.

 

 

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Snowy-crowned robin chat

 

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Oriole warbler

 

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Senegal coucal, northern black flycatcher and snowy-crowned robin chat

 

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Long-tailed glossy starling

 

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Swamp flycatcher

 

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Snowy-crowned robin chat

 

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Long-tailed glossy starlings and snowy-crowned robin chat

 

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Yellow-crowned gonolek and northern black flycatcher

 

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Oriole warblers, blue-breasted kingfisher and snowy-crowned robin chat

 

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Yellow-crowned gonolek

 

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Blue-breasted kingfisher

 

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Oriole warbler

 

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Yellow-crowned gonolek

 

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Red-throated bee-eater and oriole warblers

 

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Oriole warblers and northern black flycatcher

 

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Northern black flycatchers

 

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Senegal coucal

 

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Northern black flycatcher

 

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Snowy-crowned robin chat

 

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Snowy-crowned robin chat

 

We finished the morning by driving around to the waterholes below the Motel, there we found a bunch of elephants feeding just the other side of a small pool only a very short distance from us, one of the bulls was really pretty close and John said that this bull wasn’t the friendliest of elephants.

 

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 Ranger John

 

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West African crocodile

 

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Lavender waxbill

 

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Red-throated bee-eater

 

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From this pool we walked to a hide overlooking a bigger waterhole and sat there for a while looking at birds, the only game visible was a few kob and common warthogs.

 

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The Mole Motel viewed from from below

 

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Common warthogs

 

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Female western kob

 

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Brown-throated wattle-eye

 

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Hide 

 

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Yellow-winged bat

 

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Grey heron 

 

We then returned to the Motel for lunch, on the way back in we saw bushbuck and common warthogs

 

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Bushbuck

 

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Common warthogs

 

 

On the edge of the escarpment directly overlooking the waterholes they’ve constructed a viewing area, this was a square of concrete down some steps which with a whole lot of benches on it.  We soon headed over to it, because there was a whole herd of some 14 elephants swimming down below.  

 

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This is the major reason why tourists come to Mole NP, these elephants are some of the closest wild elephants to Europe, the desert elephants of Mali would be closer but visiting them would I think still be very tricky with the ongoing war there, otherwise those in some of the parks and reserves in Burkina Faso would be closer, but perhaps not quite as easy to reach as Mole, and there have been a few terrorist incidents in Burkina, which is likely to put people off. Not only, are you all but guaranteed to see elephants in Mole, you will also likely enjoy a very close up view of them, as the rangers take people on walks to get close to the elephants. Seeing elephants in Mole is going to be a lot cheaper than perhaps going to somewhere like Ruaha NP in Tanzania. It was probably for this reason that the Motel was busy throughout our stay, most of the other guests seemed to be young student-aged Europeans from various parts of the continent, who were presumably on a low budget tour, when back at the Motel they were usually in or around the pool. There were three middle or late-middle aged Americans staying there, after one of them had been for a swim in the pool, his mates asked him if he’d enjoyed his swim with the mermaids.   

 

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Rainbow skink

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Treepol

@inyathi I've just caught up with your TR - thanks for this interesting and informative post on the wildlife and history of Ghana as well as the lives of some of the locals. The history lesson was great.  

 

I am so pleased that you found the Picathartes - what a stunning bird. I enjoyed the photos of the pied colobus and the Lowe's monkeys and the bearded barbet, however the Yellow-crowned Gonolek is the show-stopper for me.

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inyathi

@Treepol Thanks, the yellow-crowned gonolek is certainly a gorgeous bird, one of the real West African specials, common across the region and thankfully not hard to see, unlike the similar looking papyrus species which I have failed to find in Uganda.  

 

Day 14 Afternoon

 

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Western kob, below the Mole Motel by inyathi, on Flickr

 

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Double-spurred francolins

 

In the afternoon we visited the Haraba Pool to look for birds, there is also a hide at the waterhole, but there seemed to be too much vegetation between it and the water for anyone to see anything, although I didn’t climb up it to take a look.

 

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Haraba Pool

 

 

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Hide 

 

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Haraba Pool

 

There appeared to be two separate pools but whether they are in fact linked or just at certain times I'm not sure.

 

John then explained that the hide had actually been put up to overlook a saltlick and that people could sit up there at night watching elephants and buffalos, but not anymore, the salt lick is no longer there.  We soon discovered as we birded by the waterholes that the sweat bees in Mole were much worse than on the canopy walkway in Kakum, we were quite glad to leave.

 

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Our bus

 

We then visited an open area where Forbes’s plovers often fly in in the late afternoon, we hadn’t really seen any game except occasional kob, but there were obviously other animals in the area because while walking around I noticed some hartebeest spoor. Soon a pair of plovers flew in and landed a fair distance away, I tried to get closer to take some photos, but there were still plenty of sweat bees about and they have an amazing ability to fly into your eyes just at the moment when you’re trying to take a photo, in the end I gave up.

 

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Forbes's plover 

 

We then tried to call in a northern white-faced owl but had no response, we did at least manage to find a standard-winged nightjar but alas only the female that doesn’t have the extraordinary standards on its wings that the male has. On the drive back to the motel after dark we were quite surprised to see a white-faced whistling duck sitting on the road.

 

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White-faced whistling duck

 

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inyathi

Day 15 Morning

 

After breakfast we drove and birded along a road that runs along the boundary of the park, or actually a short distance from the boundary, on the park side of the road is natural bush and on the other side is a mix of bush and cultivation.

 

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Gosling's bunting, Mole National Park, Ghana by inyathi, on Flickr

 

Gosling's bunting is a recent split from the cinnamon-breasted bunting.

 

We walked out into the cultivation to try and call in the white-throated francolin, whilst doing so we were set upon by swarms of sweat bees, the worst we had encountered, what I found most annoying was having a constant buzzing in each ear, making it a little difficult to hear anything said to you. As always, they would also fly into my eyes, even so we managed to get good views of the birds, but I was very glad when we left and returned to our bus.

 

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White-throated francolin

 

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Rufous cisticola

 

Driving further along the road we came across a herd of cattle that were on the wrong side of the road, I’d asked John previously if they had a problem with people taking cattle into the park and he had said no, I was bit sceptical about this reply, these animals weren’t technically in the park but were right on the boundary. We stopped and John opened the window to have a word with the herdsman, and told him in no uncertain terms that if his cattle went into the park, his colleagues would shoot them.  

 

We then drove on past the Mognori Eco-Village to the Mognori River stopping at the bridge, we hoped that the riverine forest here might produce another violet turaco but sadly not, the one bird we’d seen the previous morning would prove to be the only one we saw.

 

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Mognori Bridge 

 

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We did manage to find pied-winged swallows at the bridge and walking through the bush by the river we saw a couple of Callithrix (green) monkeys.

 

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Callithrix monkey

 

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Mognori area

 

Returning to the road we came across a group of stunning orchids.

 

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Eulophia cristata

 

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Woolly-necked stork

 

From the bridge we walked into the riverine forest to look for the turaco but mainly in the hope that we might find some Kintampo rope squirrels but likely it was much too hot, we certainly saw no sign of any squirrels, all we manged to find was a Eurasian pied flycatcher. Before heading back to the motel, we returned to the area we had birded the previous morning, where we had seen the turaco and had also heard squirrels but by now it was very hot, so there was little hope of finding them, I did though see another oriole warbler.

 

When I had asked James about the game in Mole and what animals they normally saw, he said that they almost always see roan and western hartebeest and usually buffaloes, I had really hoped that we would see all three of these. I wasn’t too convinced now that we would see any of them as we only had an afternoon left, however, he had almost promised that we would see roan, and had said that we would be going to an area, where they are always seen. I’d also expressed surprise that I had not seen a Defassa waterbuck yet, as I’d imagined that they would be very common in Mole, he assured me that we would see some and that they just weren’t in this area. Before I visited Zakouma National Park in Chad I’d never seen a wild patas monkey, but had always wanted to, to see one was one of the reasons I decided to go on my first trip to Zakouma. Before that opportunity came up, I expected that if I was ever to see one in the wild, then unless I returned to Uganda to look for them there, my first sighting might quite likely be in Mole, as I’d wanted to visit Mole for some time in large part to see patas monkeys and I’d intended to visit West Africa at some point and knew that it would very likely be a trip to Ghana. As it turned out I would first see patas in Zakouma, not well the first time, but very well the second time and would return to Uganda and see them well in Murchison Falls NP and in Kidepo NP, before making this trip to Ghana. I was very glad that I had seen them so well before, because I was expecting I might see some near the Motel, since I’d seen quite a few photos of them taken around the Mole Motel, I was therefore rather disappointed not to have seen any thus far. But then during lunch I spotted some way down below, much too far away to take decent photos, but I was happy to have seen them. If I hadn’t decided to take look at what was going on below the Motel, mainly because the elephants had returned as usual, and just seen the movement as they walked out in the open, then I would have left Ghana without seeing any patas.

 

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Patas monkeys 

 

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inyathi

Day 15 Afternoon

 

Our final afternoon in the park,  would really illustrate the drawbacks of coming to Mole on a birding tour of this kind, while other guests at the Motel would go out for game drives in some of the parks safari vehicles that I’d seen parked at the HQ, we were stuck with our minibus. Mind you I didn’t fancy some of the park vehicles which were a design of safari vehicle that I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen anywhere else; these cars of various makes had had a platform with bench seats attached to the roof accessed by a ladder up the side. It struck me that this really couldn’t be very safe, as once you were up there is no way to get down, to get inside the car when it is moving, as you might want to do, if say charged by an elephant, or just to avoid tree branches.

 

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Safari vehicles, Mole National Park, Ghana by inyathi, on Flickr

 

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Well, having said I didn’t fancy one of these vehicles, they would have been better than our minibus, which was a hopeless vehicle for game viewing and really just as hopeless for birding, but then we weren’t really expected to bird from the vehicle, it was purely a means of getting us from one birding site to the next, where we would then get out and bird on foot. Now unfortunately we would be using it go on a game drive, to try and find some antelopes, much of the habitat in Mole is Guinea woodland, it reminded me somewhat of Miombo woodland and observing animals in it proved just as difficult. Well actually it proved more difficult, but that was due to the limited visibility afforded by the minibus, rather than the habitat. Before we really started looking for game, we returned to the same open area where we’d seen the Forbes’s plovers to try and find a fine-spotted woodpecker in the surrounding woodland. I’d seen this bird before in Zakouma but was keen to see it again and hopefully rather better, eventually having given up hope of James calling one in, he suddenly spotted one in some different trees.

 

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Fine-spotted woodpecker

 

Carrying on our game drive we found our first waterbucks, I slightly regretted mentioning my surprise at not having seen any, because as the afternoon went on and our remaining time got shorter, we seemed to see nothing but waterbucks and a few kob.

 

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Defassa waterbuck

 

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Gymnogene

 

Where were the roans, hartebeest and buffaloes that I’d been virtually promised? Eventually as I was beginning to despair of seeing any of them, John saw some movement amongst the trees, it was at last a herd of western hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus major), it was difficult to see them through the trees and I struggled to take some photos, but I was glad to have seen this subspecies for the first time.

 

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Western hartebeest

 

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Cropped version

 

It seems if I want a proper view of these animals, then I will just have to go to Pendjari NP in Benin, there I would also be certain to see roan and West African savanna buffaloes because both of these species eluded us in Mole.

 

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Stone partridge

 

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inyathi

Overall our time in Mole had been somewhat disappointing, our game viewing was never going to be great, because much of the birding we were doing wasn’t really compatible with game viewing, the birds did make up for this to some degree (the yellow-crowned gonolek and oriole warblers), but not perhaps quite as much as we’d hoped. I guess though, it was really just down to bad luck that we only saw one violet turaco and not as well as we’d expected and either missed or didn’t see more of some other birds. If I were ever to return to Mole, I would certainly want to do some proper game drives, in a safari vehicle, but really there would be little point, when I could go to Pendjari instead. My impression from talking to John is that the animals are well protected in Mole, but it didn’t strike me that the game populations can be that large, (of course, one has to allow for the fact, that game densities are lower in West Africa than in Eastern or Southern Africa). Even so, I certainly felt that the park needed to be much better protected.

 

However, I certainly didn’t see enough of the park to really be sure and as explained didn’t do any really proper game drives, given our vehicle. I'm sure more game drives in a proper safari vehicle would have delivered more game, but that might have been at the cost of some of the birds, so then one would need to stay longer in order to do both proper game drives and birding. Even had we been doing proper game drives, the park would still not deliver what Pendjari has to offer, Mole’s greatest drawback is that it lost its lions, within the last 10 years or so. Even when there were definitely lions, I don’t think they were seen often by tourists, presumably the population was very low for a good while, until most likely the last lions were shot or poisoned by local herdsman. It’s not absolutely certain that lions are completely gone, but if they are, then there are no lions anywhere in Ghana, recent attempts to try and find out if any survive have found some evidence of lions, two Italian researchers Francesco M. Angelici & Lorenzo Rossi searched for lions in Mole in 2015. They reported that park rangers had seen a healthy male lion and believed that this sighting was reliable and then themselves saw a lioness cross the road in front of their car at night. They were also using camera traps to try and record lions, interestingly while they failed to film lions, they may have recorded the first serval seen in Mole since 1976. Leopards certainly do still occur, besides the fact that they have been filmed on camera traps, John actually found some leopard spoor when we were walking by the hide down below the Motel. Otherwise the only common large carnivore is the spotted hyena, the last wild dog was seen in 1978. Cheetahs are considered extinct in Ghana, so if they occurred in Mole in the past there are none now for certain.

 

Even if a few lions do survive in Mole, the population must be tiny, after all if there were more than just a very few individuals, even if they weren’t often seen, their roars would be heard and their spoor would be found. I suspect if there are any, there are too few for the population to recover, at one time Mole’s lions would have been part of a continuous population that included lions in Comoe NP in Cote d’Ivoire but it’s likely that lions are extinct there also, that is certainly considered to be the case. This means that the nearest surviving West African lion population is in the WAP complex, I hope that now that African Parks has taken on Pendjari this will give these lions a far better chance of long-term survival and will lead to an increase in numbers and maybe AP’s involvement will provide the impetus to ensure that the rest of the WAP is better protected and that measures will be taken to prevent livestock encroachment which is a significant threat to lions as they are generally killed to protect cattle. Even if Pendjari’s lion population grows in response to an increase in prey populations, it’s very unlikely that they would be able to naturally recolonise Mole from there as the distance must be over 200 miles. However, at some point in the future it could become possible to reintroduce lions taken from Pendjari to Mole, but I would only be in favour of such a move, if the Ghanaian Wildlife Division could absolutely guarantee their protection and I’m not entirely convinced of that.

 

The lion in Ghana its historical and current status

 

Besides close encounters with elephants and good birding, Mole in my view doesn’t have that much going for it, based purely on my experience there, I certainly wouldn’t describe it as an exciting safari destination. It’s therefore all the more remarkable that it has become the location for West Africa’s first luxury safari lodge, Zaina Lodge, that has huge tented rooms complete with ceiling fans, air-con and even flat screen TVs, and an infinity pool, its prices not surprisingly aren’t that cheap. We were told that one of the businessmen responsible for building the lodge is South African, so I assume they are or were involved in the safari business down there.  We saw their vehicles several times when driving around, Zaina’s vehicles are closed safari vehicles with a roof hatch and also saw them at the Motel because they bring guests to the Motel to enjoy the view from the escarpment and to walk. Clearly, they must have enough faith in Mole as a safari destination, even if it has no lions, it maybe that one reason that Mole isn’t that exciting, is that as it states in the Bradt Guide that the game driving circuit is pretty limited, so perhaps they could expand the road network, I wonder if Zaina might encourage them to do this. Whatever the case Zaina gets generally excellent reviews on Tripadvisor, and I didn’t notice many comments complaining about the quality of the game viewing.  I mentioned earlier that the most popular activity in Mole is the guided walks, these walks always leave from the Mole Motel/park HQ, so Zaina bring their guests to the Motel to do this walk.

 

I know that African Parks are looking to have 20 national parks under their management by 2020, which means securing another 5 national parks, they could potentially take on Mole, if they could persuade the Ghanaian government. However, while this would be great for Mole, the park is broadly pretty similar in terms of wildlife to Pendjari, a much greater priority would be to secure a park within the Upper Guinea rainforest and if they are able to secure any parks in Ghana then I would favour Ankasa over Mole. If not Ghana and Ankasa, then Tai Forest NP in Cote d’Ivoire and Comoe NP the latter is at the transition between the Upper Guinea forest and the savanna, if they took it on, they could reintroduce the locally extinct western giant eland as well as lions.

 

Back to Mole, the Mole Motel was in many ways one of the nicer places we stayed in Ghana, if only because, the room seemed to have everything it needed, such as actually having a wardrobe and everything generally worked more or less. Although in my en-suite bathroom there was a bath with a shower, but I clearly wasn’t expected to use the bath as there was no bath plug and the mechanism for switching from the shower to the bath tap had been removed, I didn’t mind as I was happy just to have a shower. It did also sometimes take several goes to get the loo to flush properly, but it usually did in the end, although likely it wouldn’t during the middle of the night as the water seemed to go off during the night. For this reason, they had provided two huge buckets of water and a small bucket as a scoop, so even when nothing came out of the tap there was always water. As with most of the places we stayed there was a fridge in the room, in my case it was set so cold that when I put my metal water bottle just in the main fridge overnight a small amount of ice had formed on the top. The next night, I left just a small amount of water in the bottle and put it in the ice box overnight, then filled it in the morning from a plastic bottle in the fridge, ensuring that I had cold water for much of the morning. Normally I carry my bottle in an old camera lens pouch strapped to my belt, but annoyingly I’d left it behind, as it offers sufficient insulation, that it would have kept my water colder for even longer. If I were using a backpack to carry my water, I could have wrapped it in my kikoi and that would have done a good job keeping it cold. 

 

My room was part of a large long block of rooms, the en-suite bathrooms at the back were quite narrow and separated from each other by the path to the door. At the front each room has a veranda/stoep with chairs next to the air-con unit, these are separated by a small wall and open out onto what was effectively a covered passage way with a wooden railing fence running along it, so they weren’t exactly that private. Some of the other rooms were spaced further apart with entirely separate verandas/stoeps. I didn’t sit outside preferring to be inside in the cool and because my view was of trees and bush on the escarpment edge, I couldn’t see down to the waterholes. In general, I would say, that the Mole Motel reminded of the sort of lodges you would have found in East Africa back in the 80s, although it could do with a bit of a refurb it was an entirely nice place to stay. The food was generally okay, I felt that I had eaten enough fish and chicken, as this was my main diet throughout the trip and had even had beef steak here, which wasn’t bad despite being well done, something I would never ask for given the choice, I prefer rare, so I decide to have the one thing I hadn’t had, guineafowl. So, I ordered grilled guineafowl and chips (domesticated guineafowls are very common in northern Ghana, so this wasn’t a wild bird) I suspected this would be a mistake because guineafowl has a reputation for being dry and sure enough it was a little like eating some kind of dried out poultry biltong. The chicken curry on the other hand was very good, on one occasion, I ordered yam chips as a change from potato chips or rice and decided that at first, they taste a lot like potato chips, but after a while you realise that they just aren’t quite as good.

 

They had evidently in the past had a big problem with olive baboons and so have a guard who patrols with a catapult, and the roof of the main building is covered with razor wire, this certainly doesn’t improve its appearance at all, but evidently keeps the baboons off.

 

32695051647_ec3a2d3dc8_b.jpgThe Mole Motel by inyathi, on Flickr

 

I didn't actually take any photos of my room or the block of rooms that it was in, the rooms in the photo below are some rather nicer ones, in that they are separate bungalows and they haven't got trees in front of them, although, how much of the waterhole you can actually see from your veranda, I'm not sure, you might be just a bit too far back from the edge, but you'd get a great view otherwise. 

 

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Safaridude

@inyathi

 

The third elephant photo in post #67 (it's the first elephant photo where you can see the entire head/face)... that elephant sure looks a bit "forest-y".  You know what I mean?  Straight tusks and those ears...  The elephants in Pendjari have been positively identified as savanna/forest hybrids.  I wonder if there are some forest elephant genes running around in Mole.

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@Safaridude Yes, I thought that possibly some of the elephants looked different to the savanna elephants I’d seen on my last visit to East Africa, but I wasn’t completely sure if they looked significantly different or it was just my imagination, but I did though wonder about the question of forest x savanna hybrids. While I’d certainly left the rainforest behind, there is in fact a fair amount of riverine/gallery forest in Mole, this is one of the things that makes it a great place for birding, and there are actually a few white-thighed colobus in the park, but they’re pretty rare now. The colobus is primarily a forest monkey, so their presence is an indication of a past link to the rainforests of the south, certainly in the past the most of the area between the northern edge of the main Upper Guinea Rainforest block and where Mole NP is, would have been what’s known as Guinean forest-savanna mosaic. Shown on the following map which I found on Wikipedia, this ecoregion is actually just south of Mole, but narrow corridors of forests would have extended north along some of the rivers.

 

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Ecoregion AT0707
Terpsichores [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Guinean forest-savanna mosaic

 

I would certainly assume that when elephants were far more numerous in West Africa, that there would have been considerable overlap between forest and savanna elephants. I would also assume that in the past, the pink area shown on the map, would have expanded and contracted with changes in the climate, bearing in mind that the Sahara Desert was once well watered grassy savanna not too long ago. There must therefore have been a significant forest x savanna elephant hybrid zone, across this region of West Africa in the past, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are a fair few forest genes in Mole’s elephants. If it’s true of Pendjari then it must surely be the case in Mole given it’s quite a bit further south and closer to the rainforest, in the past there very likely would have been plenty of forest genes within the population of savanna elephants living in and immediately north of the area marked on the map as Guinea forest-savanna mosaic. There are few elephants left in West Africa now, a 2016 status report gives a figure of just under 11,500  with the largest number in the WAP Complex and this population is the only one that's actually growing, there only around 400 elephants in Mole and the following report from 2007, doesn't suggest that the corridors allowing elephants to move out of Mole into other protected areas and up into Burkina Faso are in a great state, I hope that they can perhaps restore these corridors and reduce human encroachment. 

 

Northern Ghana elephant survey

 

The following video about Mole's elephants is quite interesting, and in it you can see our ranger John at the waterhole with a group of tourists explaining about the elephants.

 

 

 

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Our time in Mole wasn't in fact quite over, we still had a last morning, before we needed to depart for our final accommodation of the safari the Tap Hotel in the town of Bolgatanga in the far north of Ghana.

 

Day 16 morning

 

Our plan for the morning, was to have a lie-in until it was light enough to see and then simply bird around the lodge, then have a later than usual breakfast and leave. We managed to find some quite good birds in front of the motel

 

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Senegal batis, Mole Motel, Mole National Park, Ghana by inyathi, on Flickr

 

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Lavender waxbil

 

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Senegal eremomela

 

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Pygmy sunbird

 

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Brubru 

 

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Bushbuck

 

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View of the hide we'd visited on the morning of day 14

 

Having really seen all of the birds on offer, we went to have breakfast. As everywhere in Ghana, breakfast generally consisted of a choice of eggs (no bacon), and bread not usually toasted, with Blue Band margarine and a choice of jam. The Blue Band usually came in a sachet, so you could rip the end off and squeeze it out, I would never normally eat margarine, but I guess maybe they can’t get butter or they think they can’t keep it in the climate. The jam usually came in those little plastic pots, not great for the environment but I guess it’s the easiest way to provide jam. We then almost always had fruit in the form of pineapple and sometimes mango or papaya, but this was always provided by James who’d bought it or on occasion asked his colleagues to buy it, if another Ashanti group was arriving. While Mole had been a little underwhelming in terms of wildlife viewing in general, it certainly delivered the one thing it is perhaps best known for elephants.

 

As I left breakfast to return to my room, in order to zip up my bags and prepare to leave, I noticed as I walked towards the end of the changing rooms, a few people standing by their back corner, when I approached it became clear that they were watching a group of elephants, that were just in front of them between the back of the changing rooms and the block of rooms, where my room was, another group of tourists accompanied by a an armed ranger, were standing a little further back, by the end of the main building watching, whilst the ranger talked about the elephants.

 

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The ranger did his best to make sure everyone behaved and didn’t try to get too close, and also that the elephants didn’t come too close to us either. After taking plenty of photos, I was thinking that I would get a great view of them from my veranda, as some were right in front of my room and I needed to go to my room in any case, as I started to walk the ranger looked at me, I thought he was going to tell me to stay where I was, so I held up my room key and indicated to the rooms and he nodded. Once in the room I went out onto the veranda, at the opposite end of the block, there was another group of tourists watching them, having taken quite a few shots from just by the front of my room, there is a very small step down between the veranda and the ‘passage’, I stepped down very slowly and carefully moved a little closer to the wooden railings, to take some wide-angle shots, you can see the wooden railings in the first two shots above and in some of the shots below.

 

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I then thought maybe I should take a short video.  Although the elephants were very close, I believed I was quite safe staying behind the railings and I was moving very slowly, having been close to elephants many times, often whilst in camps or lodges, however, I suddenly realised that one of the bulls had turned in my direction and was getting seriously close and while he certainly wasn’t charging, he was moving quite quickly enough and didn’t look too happy, I very hastily jumped backwards to get out of the way and retreated to my door, feeling slightly foolish.:rolleyes:

 

 

 

Very glad that I hadn’t tripped over the step in trying to get away, earlier with the ranger, I’d noticed that if an elephant started moving towards us, he would clap his hands loudly and this would usually dissuade it from getting closer, but I hadn’t thought to try this, the door to my room was only a few feet behind me, so just getting back to within reach of my door seemed the wisest choice. The bull had then moved back to the trees and had started to go over the edge and down the escarpment with some of the other elephants,

 

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so once I'd recovered my composure, I decided there was no more danger and took a short video of one of the remaining elephants, before heading back into my room to get ready to leave.

 

 

 

 

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Despite this being a slightly closer encounter than I might have wished for, it was certainly one of my most memorable encounters with elephants in Africa and something I will always remember about Mole National Park and my trip to Ghana.

 

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 This common warthog was a slightly smaller visitor to the motel

 

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Just before departing I had a last look at the elephants as they reached the bottom of the escarpment. 

 

And quickly went down to the viewing platform to look at the view.

 

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The small dark shapes in the water are bathing elephants.

 

We left the Mole Motel and stopped very briefly at the park’s old unused airstrip, to look for some birds we’d missed, but only found an African golden oriole, so we left the park and headed onto the village of Larabanga just outside the park.

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