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inyathi

Larabanga Village

 

The village is right on the boundary of Mole National Park and most famous for the Larabanga Mosque, this is a Sudanese style mud mosque and the oldest mosque and indeed oldest surviving building in Ghana and is possibly the oldest mosques in West Africa. After the Muslim Arab conquest of North Africa, the Arabs established numerous trade routes across the Sahara introducing Islam to the Sahel region in the process, the mosque is believed to have been built in 1421. As soon as we parked various local guys arrived to offer their services, James warned us, that some of these people might ask for money to help them with this that and the other, just as happens at many tourist sites around the world and that we should ignore this, in fact this didn’t seem to happen. He picked one of the men as a guide and then we walked the short distance to the mosque, non-Muslims are not allowed inside the mosque, you are only allowed to walk around the outside but you may look in through the doors.

 

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Larabanga Mosque near Mole National Park, Ghana by inyathi, on Flickr

 

The mosque is built of entirely mudbrick ‘adobe’ the wooden poles that project from the walls, besides a form of decoration act as inbuilt scaffolding, making it easy to repair the external plaster, this must have been done countless times over the centuries.

 

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The doors were deliberately made very small so that worshippers have to bend down to go in. 

 

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Baobab tree

 

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Right next to the mosque a child had dropped this toy orca, it made for an incongruous sight up here in northern Ghana

 

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Larabanga Village

 

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The guide told us the history of the mosque or the legend of how it was founded, but I didn’t take in that much of it, he had a bit off an accent, but the main issue was he simply talked too fast. The mosque is very small so the tour doesn’t take long at all, despite its small size it is certainly tiny compared to the Great Mosque at Djenne in Mali, the largest adobe building in the world, (I've not visited Mali) but in my view, it is well worth seeing, and being only a couple of hundred yards or so off the main road to Mole NP, you have to drive past it, so it would be silly not to take a look. At the end of the tour you are handed a visitor’s book and asked to write a comment and then make a donation, this you record in the book, it apparently goes to the local school, whether it really does I don’t know, but I hope it does, as you do feel somewhat compelled to give something. There was one beggar at the Mosque, but we weren’t really hassled at all, the guide did ask for a tip and James did give him something. A short way down the road from the Mosque, is the so called Larabanga Mystic Stone or Mystery Stone, while the Mosque is fascinating and worth seeing, the stone isn’t really except out of curiosity. It is basically a nondescript rock balanced on a smaller piece of rock, it is claimed that when a road was being constructed the workers tried to remove the rock, but every time the stone was moved, they would find that the following day it was back in its original position. Exactly when the road was being built and by whom seems to vary from one version of the story to the next, it is only a relatively few yards from the current main road. Given that the rock isn’t exactly huge, I’m not sure why it would have been necessary for the road go directly through where the rock was lying.     

 

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Here’s a video explaining the history of the mosque rather more clearly than our guide did, and also talks about the Mystic Stone.

 

 

 

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From Larabanga we drove east to the town of Tamale, Ghana is divided into 16 regions and the large town of Tamale is the Capital of the Northern Region.

 

Some photos from the drive

 

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School kids by inyathi, on Flickr

 

The piles of burning rubbish just behind the children didn't look too healthy

 

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Firewood 

 

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Village pump

 

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This bus had obviously been involved in a bad accident, it seemed surprising it was still being driven in this bashed up state

 

 

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Shack 

 

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White Volta River 

 

 

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Food seller

 

 

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The road to Tamale

 

 

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Cattle 

 

What I presume is the best hotel in Tamale is Gariba Lodge, this was to be our lunch stop, we weren’t staying, our ultimate destination was to be the town of Bolgatanga close to the border with Burkina. The hotel is very popular hangout for expat aid-workers in northern Ghana. Next to the open-sided dining room is a nice square courtyard containing some large very shady trees, with tables and chairs beneath them, in the trees were a fair number of roosting Gambian epauletted fruit bats, a western plantain-eater was also perched in of the trees giving my best view of this bird.

 

 

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Gariba Lodge

 

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Gambian epauletted fruit bats

 

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Western plantain-eater 

 

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Laughing dove

 

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Gambian epauletted fruit bats

 

So far, I’d tended to avoid any of the dishes on the local page of the menu, however, having watched James most days eating ‘light soup’ usually with rice and sometimes thought that it looked better than what I’d ordered, I decided I would go for this option, the light soup was usually either meat or fish, although I think you could have beans or some such. I ordered the light soup with goat meat and jollof rice, goat meat consumption in the UK is slowly growing, as the amount of goat farming increases, but it is still I think almost entirely eaten by Muslims and people of Afro-Caribbean and African heritage, because some people it seems still have a bit of a prejudice about goat meat. Having I’m sure eaten it a couple of times before, I was very happy to do so again and it was, I have to say very good. It made a change from always having either chicken or fish, the latter while tasty was often overcooked and therefore pretty dry. We were nearing the end of the trip, in two days we would be back here at the Gariba Lodge to have lunch again, before going to Tamale Airport, knowing this, we decided that we might just well order that lunch now. Although, I was slightly concerned when I ordered red fish and chips that perhaps, I might not be feeling well when we got back or that I had just eaten fish and chips far too often.

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inyathi

Day 16 Afternoon

 

From Tamale we drove north

 

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On the road, northern Ghana by inyathi, on Flickr

 

 

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It was still quite a long drive to Bolgatanga and on the way there, we would be making a short detour to the Tongo Hills to look for a couple of birds, however, before that about halfway to Bolgatanga we stopped at a small wetland beside the road known as Nasia Pond.

 

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Nasia Pond 

 

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Black-rumped waxbill

 

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Red-billed firefinch

 

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Bridge Nasia Pond

 

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Directing traffic 

 

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Sunglasses/spectacles salesman

 

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Donkey cart

 

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Broken down bus

 

A lot of cooking is evidently still done using charcoal, I was seriously concerned at the amount that we saw being sold at the side of the road in the north, it's a wonder there are any trees left, I imagine the sacks may be from some US aid project, but I don't know.

 

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Charcoal

 

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The Tongo Hills is an interesting area that has become a popular tourist attraction, largely because of the chance to visit the Tengzug Shrine, and also because of the landscape and an opportunity to see something of north Ghanaian village life. I didn’t visit the shrine/s so I can’t personally say how interesting this is, not knowing much about the shrines, I found a video about them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Farmstead Tongo Hills 

 

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The landscape was in places quite spectacular, the jumbled rock formations were quite reminiscent of the Matopos Hills in Zimbabwe, although not quite as dramatic.

 

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Going birding 

 

Tragically in this case, some people of which there are too many in the world, who know the price of everything and the value of nothing decided that the rock formations, would be a perfect source of building stone, they brought in some heavy machines and started quarrying them. When the local villagers discovered what was going on in their hills, they were incensed, having not given permission for any quarrying and drove them away, some of the machines were just abandoned at the bottom of the hills. The result of this is lot of broken rocks, large chunks of rock with deep straight gouge marks left after one half of the rock was removed, causing irreparable damage to this beautiful landscape. We’d come here to look for the rock loving cisticola, not exactly the most exciting of African birds, I’m not usually that bothered about seeing cisticolas, but this one had brought me to a beautiful and interesting part of Ghana, that I would not have visited otherwise.

 

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Broken rocks 

 

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Rainbow skink

 

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Baobab tree

 

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Sunset

 

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As the Sun went down, we headed off to find the TAP Hotel in Bolgatanga, the Capital of the North East Region.

 

The outside wall of the hotel was decorated lions heads, sadly these I presume concrete lions are some of the only lions in Ghana. 

 

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I took the following shots on my final morning but have put them in here

 

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Tap Hotel

 

I hadn't actually realised the hotel had a pool until we were leaving, but then I wouldn't really have had time for a swim even if I had known.

 

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Swimming pool

 

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Having a fondness for African music I rather liked the mural behind the pool 

 

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Musical mural

 

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inyathi

Day 17 morning

 

The Tap Hotel was fine without being in any way great, but the breakfast distinctly poor, when it turned out that they couldn’t provide any jam, because it had been locked away by the manager who wasn’t around when we wanted breakfast at 05:30. They also didn’t have a proper toaster, so when we requested that the bread be toasted, they produced a sandwich toaster which did little except warm up the bread without really colouring or crisping it at all. But for the fresh fruit provided by James, breakfast would have consisted of a couple of pieces of bread with margarine and a couple of eggs and coffee.

 

When I first went into my room, I saw that it had a fridge with an icebox in it and decided to put my water bottle in the icebox without thinking to check how much water it had in it, I only discovered in the morning that it had been far too full and I’d turned it into a solid block of ice and couldn’t open it. I did eventually get the top some time later in the morning so that I could pour some actual liquid water in, cold water is very welcome but this was perhaps slightly too cold.

 

Our real objective in visiting Bolgatanga was to travel up to the village of Sapelinga and on to a nearby stretch the White Volta on the border with Burkina Faso, which is the one place in Ghana, where you can be confident of seeing the beautiful Egyptian plover, a bird I’d been fortunate to see well in Zakouma but was keen to see again, it’s a tricky African bird to find, although it is seen relatively often in The Gambia. This would prove to be another fascinating drive

 

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Sunrise baobab, northern Ghana by inyathi, on Flickr


Along the way we passed a lot of little villages and farmsteads with traditional adobe walls forming their compounds, plenty of majestic baobabs which are very common in this part of the Sahel region, significant herds of cattle and sometimes pretty large flocks of domestic guineafowls. We stopped for a view of some chestnut-bellied starlings and also surprisingly saw our first piapiacs of the trip.

 

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Farmstead 

 

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Hooded vulture 

 

On our way north we came to a police checkpoint, there are frequent police checkpoints on all of Ghana’s roads, normally they just take a quick glance through the window and wave you through, occasionally they would inspect Nicholas’s driving licence, but generally they didn’t give us any trouble. That was also the case here, they just took a quick look and waved us on, but I noticed they were perhaps rather better armed with AK-47s than most of the other police we’d seen, I wondered if this was due to some the recent terrorist incidents in Burkina and the potential for trouble coming from there. However, James said that was not the case, that it was because there had been some banditry along this road, he said that in the past they used to drive up to the plover site on the White Volta in the afternoon, but they stopped doing this because it meant driving back to Bolgatanga in the dark and this wasn’t that safe. We certainly encountered no problems.

 

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Onion fields 

 

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Cow with yellow-billed oxpecker

 

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Abyssinian roller

 

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Cyclist 

 

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Domesticated (helmeted) guineafowls 

 

While this was both an interesting and beautiful drive, I have to say that the litter problem in Ghana is absolutely awful, this was true in most places we went but it seemed to be far worse up here, there were plastic bags mostly black ones along with other plastic just absolutely everywhere, entire fields just completely strewn with plastic, much of this plastic just seems to blow around. In some places people did occasionally collect some of the plastic and burn it which is not a great answer, but I don’t otherwise know what they can do about it, apparently the idea of a ban on plastic bags was mooted but then rejected. Approaching the river, we passed quite substantial fields of onions and had seen people earlier selling bags of onions on the side of the road.

 

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White Volta floodplain, northern Ghana

 

Parking by the river we walked along the bank of the White Volta looking down on the sandbanks that are the preferred habitat of the Egyptian Plover and across at Burkina Faso on the other bank. Before long James spotted the birds and we saw something like four adults and two chicks as one pair had a nest, we watched them as they vigorously defended their chicks from pied crows.

 

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White Volta River, Ghana/Burkina Faso border

 

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View of Burkina Faso over the White Volta River

 

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Egyptian plover

 

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Egyptian plover pair with chick

 

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Whilst looking the other way we saw a very feisty pair of red-necked falcons that must also have had a nest, which they too were defending from the pied crows, there was what I would call a serious aerial dogfight going on between the falcon and the crows.

 

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Red-necked falcon 

 

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Onion fields White Volta River floodplain

 

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View of Burkina Faso

 

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Piapiacs

 

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Border crossing

 

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Red-necked falcon

 

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Herdboy, onions and cattle, White Volta floodplain

 

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Canoeing to Burkina Faso 

 

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Bull

 

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Having seen what, we came for we then headed back to Bolgatanga for lunch.

 

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goats and cattle in the shade

 

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Guineafowls being taken to market

 

As some might recall who've read my Ugandan trip report Where the Rainforest Meets the Savannah: Uganda February 2018, when birding in Uganda last year, I came across empty plastic alcohol sachets, dropped as litter and decided to photograph some of the different brands and stick the photos together to form a sort of collage. When I came across similar sachets in Ghana, I decided I should do the same thing and create a Ghanaian version. 

 

As you can see the sachets are 50 ml and the alcohol is between 40-43%, it's like a shot in a bag, alcohol is it seems sold this way in many parts of Africa, Uganda have sensibly now banned them. Not so Ghana, at the airport I saw huge billboards advertising various different spirits, these generally depicted, bottles, glasses and sachets. 
 

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Alcohol sachets 

 

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Livestock at a small dam in Sapelinga

 

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Village pump

 

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Women weaving

 

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Drink seller

 

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At one point on this drive I was surprised to see in a patch of dry woodland, some very distinctive rectangles of blue and black cloth, that were quite clearly tsetse fly traps something I’ve seen many times in Tanzania but hadn’t expected to see here. This perhaps suggested that there was or had been game animals in the area in recent years, James suggested that this was some sort of wildlife corridor for animals coming in from Burkina, I didn’t get the impression that there were many of these animals still around and that maybe this wildlife movement between the two countries doesn’t go on that much anymore, but I don’t know. The blue parts help to attract the tsetse flies to the trap, when they arrive they land on the black part this is impregnated with insecticide, and thus they are killed.  

 

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Old tsetse fly trap

 

As mentioned much earlier in the report the Volta River Ghana’s largest river has three tributaries the Black, Red and White Voltas and at various times in the north we had crossed all three of them.

 

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Red Volta River

 

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Transporting bicycles

 

Back to the hotel.

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TAP Hotel, Bolgatanga 

 

 

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Day 17 afternoon

 

We’d been told when we first arrived at the TAP Hotel that they didn’t have any chicken, only guineafowl which I didn’t want for fear that it would be too dry again and I didn’t want fish again, as I’d had it the night before, so I’d opted for a pizza Margherita. Most of the menus we were given had a selection of pizzas, generally these had no appeal in the Ghanaian climate, but in this case, I felt it was one of the few things I hadn’t had that had a least some appeal, fearing that a small one might be well, too small, I’d ordered medium which was really slightly too large, so I couldn’t finish it. It wasn’t the greatest pizza. it didn’t have a lot of tomato and was mostly just cheese with some dried herbs.

 

We weren’t given a lot of time to relax, as we needed to leave again at 14:30, for our final birding site the Tono Dam, it was very seriously hot when we got there, in the long grass by the water we were looking for another really exciting bird, the black-backed cisticola and managed to see them well.

 

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Black-backed cisticola, Tono Dam

 

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Chestnut-bellied starling

 

Then wandering off into the bush, we managed to track down an African (little) green bee-eater, this is the only area in Ghana where this bird has been seen, it has recently been split from the Asian little green. It’s real Sahel species and not really at all easy to find unless of course you go to Zakouma, where it’s really quite common. We also found quite a few northern red-billed hornbills a familiar bird from East Africa and a yellow penduline tit, this was certainly one of many lifers I'd seen on this safari.

 

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Yellow penduline tit

 

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West African shorthorn cattle 

 

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African green bee-eater

 

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Northern red-billed hornbill

 

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Motorcyclist

 

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Tono Dam

 

It was then back to TAP Hotel for what would sadly be my final night in Ghana. Having not had chicken when we arrived the Tap Hotel, had now acquired some chicken so dinner was chicken, chips and beer which was fine, the beer in Ghana really wasn’t bad. 

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Day 18 Departure

 

In the morning after we requested it, they managed to actually produce an entire jar of strawberry jam. However, for the first time on the trip I was slightly ill and not keen to eat that much. As the trip was all but done, we’d opted for a late breakfast, as it would just take a few hours to get back to the Gariba Lodge in Tamale, we would only stop, if we happened to find any birds along the way from the bus.

 

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Transporting firewood northern Ghana by inyathi, on Flickr

 

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On the road northern Ghana

 

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Food and drink sellers

 

There was one bird that we’d not yet found, the Beaudouin’s snake eagle or as I like to jokingly call it the Bedouin snake eagle, as was the case with a few of the special birds we were looking for I had seen it already on my second visit to Zakouma, we knew that if it was around it would likely be up in the sky or perched on a powerline, pylon or pole somewhere. Not too far from Tamale, I noticed James staring intently out of his window up at the sky, after a moment or two we stopped jumped out and flying a long way above us, was the snake eagle. Not the best shot but it had to do.

 

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Beaudouin's snake eagle 

 

We arrived back at Gariba Lodge mid-morning, so had several hours to wait for lunch, as mentioned earlier it’s a popular hangout for aid workers, we chatted to some of them briefly about the agricultural projects they were working on, I then read my book while they got on with typing reports on their laptops. As I’d feared, I didn’t really want the red fish and chips when it arrived as I didn’t feel much like eating, and the fish predictably was too dry, the portion of chips for once wasn’t huge which I would have been glad of, if I’d been feeling well.

 

After Lunch it was a short drive to Tamale Airport, at this point Nicholas left to drive the minibus on his own back to his home in Cape Coast, a very long drive, if he needed to, he might stop overnight in Kumasi, but if he made good time would go all the way. Thinking it might be best to empty my water bottle, so I could pack it in my main bag because of the familiar liquid ban, I took a couple of mouthfuls and then tipped the rest out, before we entered the terminal, I soon regretted this when we were told that the flight would be delayed for an hour, after a little while I was really parched. whenever leaving on any trip I always try remember to bring some what I call cold sweets, as it’s quite difficult when flying to avoid catching a cold and a few times I’ve arrived somewhere and developed a horrible blocked up nose or sore throat, so I like to have something to help clear my nose or help my sore throat if I do get a cold, I thought maybe a blackcurrant sweet to suck on, would make up for not having a drink and searched my camera bag but only found some lemon and honey Lockets, the blackcurrant ones were in my main bag.  At that point someone came to my rescue with a basket of drinks bottles and a basket of packets of biscuits/cookies, to make up for the delay, as I had been struggling to stay awake and kept nodding off, I thought a bottle of coke might help, not my favourite far too sweet although I do quite like it with a large amount of ice, it was actually Coke Zero which I don’t think I’ve had before, it did at least cure my thirst. I also took a packet of Munchee ginger biscuits made in Sri Lanka by the Ceylon Biscuit Company, which I would keep for later. On most days during the trip James would offer us a mid-morning snack of bananas and usually a packet of biscuits, (thankfully not milk chocolate hobnobs, given my slight rant about these biscuits at the start of the main report) it was almost always these ginger biscuits, they are small and thin, quite fiery and I have to say much nicer than any of the ginger nuts I’ve eaten in the UK. We were also offered chocolate flavoured biscuits, these were locally made and not bad and not being coated in chocolate did not melt.  

 

The flight was only short around 50 minutes and slightly bumpy at times, I had a window seat but was right over the wing and the reflection of the sun from the wing proved too much, so I pulled down the blind, but then there really wasn’t anything to see, because it was mostly pretty cloudy below us. As the flight was only short, we were just given a muffin/cake and a small bottle of juice.

 

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Flying in to Accra

 

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Accra from the air

 

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The Villagio Vista, aerial view of Accra

 

The huge new building above, the Villagio Vista was designed so that the exterior pattern would resemble Kente cloth a traditional Ghanaian fabric, that is worn by people from most Ghanaian tribes.

 

Once back in Accra we transferred to the Erata Hotel, where we had day rooms booked. For the few hours we were there the hotel was fine, although it’s laid out in a very confusing fashion and has a lot of rooms, so finding your way back to the reception or down to the dining room could be a challenge if you went down a different stair case, to the one you’d gone up. The food was good although I just had chicken kebabs without any accompaniment, it came with a salad but I left that. Because the flight to and from London is only short the return journey is not exactly friendly, as it’s a night flight and leaving around 23:00 you arrive back at sometime after 05:00 in the morning, still unlike the journey out, BA were actually on time and the flight was very good.     

 

It took me a while to post all of this, in part because I wanted to include a lot of detail as I thought Ghana would be a bit of an unknown country to most readers, but also because I wanted to put in a lot of photos. When I got home, as I often am I was a little disappointed by my photos and thought I hadn't got too many great shots, probably in part because for birds you really need a longer lens than my 100-400mm, however, I have in fact uploaded more photos to my Ghana album on Flickr, than any of my other albums from other trips. I guess that was just because of the wide range of different subjects I was photographing, taking a while over posting this, allowed me to upload my photos in small batches rather than all in one or several goes. I'm still uploading a few more, doubtless I will post some of those in other threads in due course. 

 

My aim when posting the report was that it should be like it says on the back of this truck

 

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Truck, northern Ghana

 

That's the main report done, I just have a couple more posts to wrap this up.

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JohnR

I can sympathise about dehydration at the airport. I got very sick on the last day of one of my trips to Namibia and didn't dare drink anything in the camp as I had no idea where the infection came from. At Windhoek airport there were queues everywhere so I just waited for the flight to Frankfurt and then sipped some water  and ate nothing until I got to London where I finally indulged in some peach drink and yoghurt. I had a thundering headache by the time I got home. Ever since my drink of choice is peach juice -- there's a commercial peach barley squash I really like.

 

Great trip report @inyathi by the way. Slow but sure is best. I'm starting to think I might begin my 2014 Namibia report before long.

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Peter Connan

Lovely trip report, thank you.

 

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inyathi

@JohnR @Peter Connan Thanks

 

This trip worked out pretty well on balance and I would say that Ashanti African Tours did a very good job, the quality of the accommodation was at times a bit variable, but that was to be expected, often hotel were chosen because they were in the most convenient location to allow us to get to birding sites as early as possible and perhaps most importantly could be persuaded to provide breakfast at 05:00 and I suspect to suit the budget of most birders. There may in some places have been better hotels, but if they weren’t willing to provide very early breakfast, then they would have been no good, as there was quite a long drive to the birding sites, so going out early and returning for breakfast wasn’t an option. This problem is often an issue on wildlife trips, where you end up staying at places that won’t offer breakfast early enough in the morning to have it before you go out.

 

Our guide as mentioned at the start was James Ntakor, when were at the camp in Ankasa another group came in and he introduced the guide as his first cousin, and then later birding around Kakum we saw a single birder and guide on the roadside and he said as we passed that’s my younger brother. When asking about his family it transpired that he was one of nine children and remarkably four of them are bird guides, it’s become a bit of a family business, so if you are headed to Ghana and you want a guide, any of the four Ntakor brothers would be a good choice or perhaps their cousin. I think that all of them started out working for Ashanti but I understand that two of his brothers left to set up their own company, I have seen their website I think, but I don’t recall the name, but they would likely be the best of the other Ghanaian operators, certainly when it comes to birding and wildlife.

 

Because we chose to fly back from Tamale to Accra rather than stay even longer and drive there is one birding site that most birders visit that we left out, the Atewa Forest Reserve, I somewhat regret this as I’m sure we missed a few birds by not going, notably the blue-headed bee-eater, which I think we heard but failed to spot in Bobiri, this bird has actually recently been split and is now called blue-moustached bee-eater and I think Atewa is the best place to see this western species. The eastern species which has retained the name blue-headed can be seen in Kakamega Forest in Kenya. My major regret though in not going is that the Atewa is said to be the finest area of upland forest within the Upper Guinea Rainforest and I may not get another chance, to go there, as unfortunately the forest is growing on top of a huge quantity of bauxite, the Ghanaian government is planning to allow Chinese companies (who else) to mine the bauxite and to do this they will have to effectively remove the entire forest. This would be a tragedy as it is very biodiverse, and just recently a camera trap captured images of the white-naped mangabey another of Ghana’s highly endangered monkeys. It is also very short-sighted because the mountains, the Atewa Range where the forest is located is the source for most of Accra’s fresh water, what the removal of this precious forest and no doubt much of the mountains underneath, will do to the capital's water supply cannot be good I would think.  

 

There is a petition to try and save the forest and have it made a national park as it should be,

            

Quote

 

The Government of Ghana must declare Atewa Forest a National Park, to protect it from bauxite mining.

Atewa Forest is the finest example of Upland Evergreen Forest in the Upper Guinean Forest region: its altitude causes a distinctive type of vegetation to grow that is extremely rare and very rich in species, including:

  • Over 70 species classified as Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable by the IUCN, such as the Togo Slippery Frog Conraua derooi;
  • At least 50 species of mammals, including the recently discovered White-naped MangabeyCercocebus lunulatus which is Critically Endangered;
  • Over 1,000 species of plants and 230 species of birds, including the Nimba FlycatcherMelaenornis annamarulae found nowhere else in Ghana;
  • Over 570 species of butterflies already recorded, out of potentially 700 species – which would make Atewa the richest forest for butterflies in West Africa.

 

 

 

I may start a separate thread for this as well but thought I would include it here.

 

Atewa Forest for National Park – not mining

 

Having opted to fly back from Tamale, Atewa just didn’t really fit in that well, but perhaps we should have tried to squeeze it in somewhere.

 

Would I return to Ghana, at the moment probably not, but that is really because I saw almost everything that the country has to offer and if I were to go in search of the mammals and birds that we missed, I'd want to go to Sierra Leone, for the rainforest species or Benin for the savanna game, perhaps if it wasn't for the dreadful situation with regard to bushmeat poaching and forest mammals especially primates, I might feel differently.  

 

Way back in the introduction, I explained why I had chosen Ghana over Benin, what I didn’t say of course is that you could actually visit both countries, by road from the capital Porto Novo in Benin across Togo to Accra is not too much over 200 miles or so. It is I would assume not that difficult to drive between the two countries, during our stay at Rainforest Lodge near Kakum, we met a large group of French birders and they had clearly driven to Ghana from Benin. As we could see from looking at the number plates of their cars.

 

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Republique du Benin

 

Rather than provide a complete list of the birds and mammals that I saw on this trip, I decided just to provide a list of my lifers, as this is a good illustration of why I wanted to go to Ghana, my list of birds, would I’m sure have been even longer, if I’d not already visited Gabon and Zakouma. If you are a keen birder and have never been to anywhere outside of the East or South of Africa, then you could certainly expect an even longer list of lifers. Compiling these lists was somewhat complicated by the fact that there have been so many very recent splits, I think I have certainly included four birds that are lifers, purely because they have been split, there are likely others that I have left off, as I wasn’t aware that they had been split. I also noticed that my list of lifers included black dwarf hornbill, so I had to go back and amend my report as I suggested incorrectly that I had seen this species before, I knew I’d missed it in Gabon, but evidently thought I’d seen it in Uganda, when I was writing the report, but checking my records I see I missed it there also, but then that would now have been a different species, if I had seen it. The one I saw in Bobiri Butterfly Sanctuary is now in fact called the western little hornbill.    

 

Mammals

 

Callithrix/green monkey

Lesser spot-nosed monkey

Lowe’s monkey

White-thighed colobus

Red-legged sun squirrel

Pel’s anomalure

Gambian epauletted fruit bat

Common cusimanse

Maxwell’s duiker

 

New subspecies Western hartebeest

 

 

Birds

 

White-throated francolin

Ahanta francolin

White-crested tiger-heron

Spot-breasted ibis

Red-chested goshawk

Red-thighed sparrowhawk

Black sparrowhawk

Red-necked buzzard

Nkulengu rail

Guinea turaco

Violet turaco

Western grey plantain-eater

Black-throated coucal

Fraser’s eagle owl

Akun eagle owl

Red-chested owlet

Brown nightjar

Black-shouldered nightjar

Sabine’s spinetail

Black spinetail

Bates’s swift

Blue-bellied roller

Western little hornbill (Black dwarf hornbill)

Western pied hornbill

Western long-tailed (white-crested) hornbill

Bristle-nosed barbet

Naked-faced barbet

Bearded barbet

African piculet

Melancholy woodpecker

Senegal parrot

Chestnut-bellied helmetshrike

Brown-throated wattle-eye

Red-cheeked wattle-eye

Senegal batis

Yellow-crowned gonolek

Blue cuckooshrike

Sun lark

Shining drongo

Black-winged oriole

Yellow-headed picathartes

Red-chested swallow

Pied-winged swallow

Preuss’s cliff swallow

West African swallow

Fanti saw-wing swallow

Yellow penduline tit

Tit hylia

Golden greenbul

Green-tailed bristlebill

Grey-headed bristlebil

Simple greenbul

Ansorge’s greenbul

Swamp palm bulbul

Sharpe’s apalis

Yellow-browed camaroptera

Red-faced cisticola

Singing cisticola

Whistling cisticola

Rock-loving cisticola

Dorst’s cisticola

Siffling cisticola

Rufous cisticola

Black-backed cisticola

Oriole warbler

Puvel’s illadopsis

Rufous-winged illadopsis

Blackcap babbler

Violet-backed hyliota

African forest flycatcher

Ussher’s flycatcher

Tessman’s flycatcher

Grey-throated tit flycatcher

White-crowned robin-chat

Finsch’s flycatcher thrush

Purple glossy starling

Chestnut-bellied starling

Chestnut-winged starling

Brown (mangrove) sunbird

Buff-throated sunbird

Splendid sunbird

Johanna’s sunbird

Gossling’s bunting

Crested malimbe

Red-vented malimbe

Black and chestnut weaver

Maxwell’s black weaver

Red-fronted antpecker

Lavender waxbill

Western bluebill

Red-winged pytillia

Black-faced firefinch

Bar-breasted firefinch

Togo paradise whydah

 

Assuming I haven’t miscounted, I added 94 lifers to my list, which should give other birders who read this, some indication of how many new birds they could add to their list on a visit to Ghana. While the yellow-headed picathartes is Ghana's star bird, I would suggest that the Egyptian plover is next on the list, just because it's a gorgeous bird, (the symbol of the African Bird Club) and not an easy bird to see and the White Volta River near Sapelinga, seems to be a very reliable site, as the birds breed there, for birders it is one of the most sought after African species.

 

It's hard not to present a very depressing picture with regard to the bushmeat situation, the following although concerning mammals, is from a report on bird surveys conducted in Ghana by Francoise Dowsett-Lemaire and Robert Dowsett, unfortunately I can't seem to find the report again.

 

Quote

Interviews with hunters have produced a few surprises, notably the fact that a few Chimpanzees (categorized “Endangered” in the IUCN Red List) apparently survive in three of the biggest forest reserves (Subri River, Sui River and Tano Ofin), but their survival in the medium or longer term is very doubtful as the people we questioned continue to hunt them, and could not understand our concerns about this. J. Oppong has also found evidence of their presence in Bonsam Bepo F.R. (adjoining Ayum), and Oates (2006) found them in two other reserves, Mamiri and Boi Tano. A few remain in the south-east of Bia Resource Reserve, Krokosua Hills and probably Ankasa N.P. (Gatti 2009). We have similar concerns for other rare primates, especially Roloway (Diana) Monkeys (“Endangered”) and Red Colobus (“Endangered”), which are extinct or close to extinction (but both have been claimed from Subri River!). Extended surveys are needed to identify populations of primates that might be viable, and then determine how to go about protecting them. Bongo is one of several threatened antelopes, surviving in several places but only just.

 

I've also read a worrying report that the five largest hornbill species have disappeared from Bia National Park and have not been since the 90s, Hunters are wiping out hornbills in Ghana’s forests

 

I hope that what I said about bushmeat and the lack of forest mammals, (and in some places large birds) hasn't put people of entirely, because while eco-tourism can't unfortunately save what's already gone, one has to be optimistic and hope that it can perhaps slowdown and eventually stop the destruction of what's left, in those protected areas that have become popular tourist sites. If no one goes, then that will not help the situation.    

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inyathi

Besides the appalling situation with regard to bushmeat hunting, one of the other regrettable things about Ghana was the amount of litter everywhere this was particularly apparent in the north, where there was plastic blowing around all over the place.

 

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Litter northern Ghana by inyathi, on Flickr

 

Quite often during the trip we drove past military bases or military land and there would usually be a sign, saying do not drop litter here or words to that effect, but of course a sign won't stop the wind from blowing it in, so there would be just as much litter around the sign as elsewhere. 

 

One thing that contributed to this problem besides the alcohol sachets that I came across, was something else which I’d not seen before, but is evidently also common in various parts of Africa and seems designed to create litter and that’s water sachets/bags. Not everyone has access to clean drinking water, and not everyone can afford bottled water, so the answer someone came up with is water in a plastic bag, this is apparently much the cheapest way to provide people with clean water. Once you’ve opened the bag, you have to drink all of it, because you can’t reseal the bag and then the obvious tendency is just to chuck the bag, not great, but the manufacturers will doubtless claim, that they are still better for the environment than bottles, because they use less plastic. 

 

32485126187_c3052b7622_o.jpg 

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inyathi

Now for a few bits of practical advice, for anyone who is still tempted to visit Ghana

 

Electric sockets in Ghana are generally of the same design as in the UK, requiring a type G plug with three rectangular blades, according to the Bradt Guide you may come across some two pin sockets, I don’t recall doing so, but I had a travel adapter just in case. I never had a problem anywhere recharging.

 

Doing a tour like this, involves a lot of driving and some of the journeys are pretty long, inevitably during these road journeys, we would have to on occasion stop at filling stations to fill up, this obviously provided an opportunity to make use of their toilet facilities. These weren’t as bad as I might have feared, they were generally fairly clean, but you could almost guarantee that they would have no toilet paper, therefore if you don't normally do so, it is a good idea when packing for your trip, to put in a small supply for these occasions, I think generally restaurants did have paper, otherwise obviously in hotels it wasn’t an issue. I knew that it might be a good idea to bring a bit of loo roll, so I had packed some.

 

Ghana is a high-risk country for malaria, so malaria tablets are essential.

 

Having been a British colony, English is widely spoken everywhere, so language wasn’t an issue and everyone was very friendly and welcoming.  

   

Field guides

 

Thanks to the fact that Ghana has become in recent years a very popular birding destination, it now has its own field guide, (Helm Field Guides) Birds of Ghana by Nik Borrow and Ron Demey, they are also the authors of the Birds of Western Africa, their Ghanaian book is basically a slimmed down version of that book. There isn’t really any point in taking any other book, for Ghana it is obviously a better book, having so many fewer birds it’s much lighter and it has the advantage that the maps are just of Ghana and they are with the text opposite the plates, whereas in the birds of Western Africa, the maps are on separate pages. There is an e-book version of the Birds of Ghana, but it is just an e-book, it’s basically just the same as the actual book, it doesn’t have the calls as electronic bird books do. The Birds of Africa South of the Sahara, obviously of course covers Ghana, but it is a very heavy book, I left my copy at home for just that reason.

 

For mammals, I took the Kingdon Pocket Guide, the alternative would be Stuart’s Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa, this is a photographic guide, I’ve not looked at this book, so I don’t which species may not be in it, the description on Amazon says “ concentrates on the more visible and easily distinguished larger species, as well as some of the more frequently seen smaller mammals.” I'd really want to know which mammals are not covered in the book before recommending it for Ghana. 

 

Besides loads of birds and a few mammals, I included in this report, plenty of photos of butterflies, other insects and also a good few plants, except where my guide identified them, if they were new to me, as most were and therefore I didn’t know what they were, I tried to identify them at home using the internet.

 

In recent years I’ve become more interested in African butterflies, in the past I’ve taken the odd photo, but otherwise never seriously been into butterflies, in part because wherever I go in Africa I always have a bird book and a copy of the Kingdon Pocket Guide to Mammals and I just don’t want to bring a butterfly book as well, for places where there is one, but also you just don't see butterflies elsewhere quite like you do in the rainforest. There’s a book on the Butterflies of Ghana, I don’t have it, but there is a website based on this book, I have been consulting the website for IDs, it doesn’t have photos of all of the species but does have a good selection.

 

Butterflies of Ghana  

 

James could identify the majority of the butterfly species and if he wasn’t certain, he would look them up on his phone, where he had some photos, otherwise as I’ve found with the butterflies I’ve seen in Uganda or Tanzania, if you can get a good photo, it’s not usually too hard to ID them, if you search the web or consult websites like Tanzanian Birds and Butterflies. I have to say, that Ghanaian butterflies have proved slightly more difficult, just because there are so many more of them and many that look very similar. However, having identified most of the butterflies I saw in Uganda and some I’ve seen in Tanz and elsewhere, I did at least already know a good few of the common widespread forest butterfly species, this helped a lot. The butterflies in Ghana are just amazing, I hadn’t appreciated just how many there would be or until I got home again, that there are tourists who go to Ghana just for the butterflies.

 

Not being an entomologist, I really don’t know anything much about African dragonflies, however there is a great website African Dragonfly and Damselfly Online ADDO. I did try to look up the first species I photographed before uploading the photo, but decided I couldn’t be 100% certain, so then I gave up trying to ID dragonflies. If I was willing to devote enough time then I'm sure I could ID some of them.

 

When I’ve taken a photo of specific animal or plant, if it is clearly the main subject, if I don’t know what it is, I don’t if possible like to upload it to my Flickr site until I’ve positively identified it, but as I said in the case of dragonflies I gave up on IDs and I haven’t tried to ID all the grasshoppers I photographed. When it comes to plants, I often take shots of beautiful flowers when I see them, without knowing what they are, as I only know a handful of the most common widespread species found all over Sub-Saharan Africa, a while ago I found a brilliant website African Plants a Photo Guide, this has proved extremely useful, I think probably all of the flowers, I’ve posted in this report, barring one that I did know, were IDed using this website. Even the one I knew, I looked up just to check that I had the right species. Using the Browse & Search page, you can enter the various details that you know, like obviously the colour, number of petals and such like, then select the region of Africa to limit the results and hopefully your mystery flower will appear amongst the results. If after going through the results, you think you’ve found it, the entry for each plant has a list of links underneath the photos, if you click on to the African Plants Database you can see a distribution map. 

 

I think that pretty much wraps up my Ghana report.

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Kitsafari

@inyathi thank you once again for putting so much research and information on a little-travelled location.The birds are phenomenal. just encyclopedic! 

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Zim Girl

Wonderful report @inyathi, to another of Africa's lesser visited regions.  Thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

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michael-ibk

Thanks inyathi, thoroughly enjoyed this in-depth report, Ghana eco-tourism should thank you indeed. A seriously impressive lifer list, wow!

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xelas

As others, also I am impressed by the quantity and the quality of informations of Ghana. Thank you for showing us this part of Africa.

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TonyQ

Thank you @inyathi for a fascinating and very enjoyable report.

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Caracal

Have found this comprehensive report fascinating @inyathi. Always appreciate your detailed history ( found your description of the history and photos of Cape Coast Castle quite haunting ) - that Yellow-headed Picathartes is an amazing looking bird - unreal -and I enjoyed everything else from street scenes to those gorgeous butterflies. Many thanks.

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 4/29/2019 at 1:55 PM, inyathi said:

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

 

We were charged in Kidepo by a few elephants and we had a ranger in our vehicle who loudly clapped his hands a few times to stop each elephant that came at us. I've never come across this before but it seems to be somewhat effective, although I'm sure if it's a serious charge it's getting you nowhere.

 

Great report as usual @inyathi I seriously considered Ghana about 10 years ago so I"m appreciating this excellent look at the country.

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optig

@Inyathi I am without a doubt going to visit Ghana. I can hardly wait. I just purchased the Bradt guide to Ghana, and will pre order the new one which will come out in October this year.

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gatoratlarge

Thanks for the great TR---I love to read about these off the beaten track, rarely visited locations.  While I'm not a "birder" per se, I do love birds and my appreciation for the variety and exuberance of species continues to grow...I even saw a couple bloody grey necked pica-fart-es in CAR near Sangha Lodge! :D  I also appreciate all the village life and cultural shots you've included.  This site is such a treasure trove of smart, well-traveled people that really do their research and know their stuff...reminds me of how "by the seat of my pants" most of my trips are and inspires me to prepare a little more! :D  I was surprised to see such good lookin' elephants in Ghana---didn't know there were any left in West Africa except the ones I've seen on wildlife shows about in Mali....Thanks for sharing!!!

 

 

 

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inyathi

@gatoratlarge Since you mention it, I remember that you saw the grey-necked pica-fart-es, I've just had a re-read of your report, I commented on it at the time, it must have lodged in the back of mind, if you're tempted to head off to Ghana you could join, what I assume is a relatively select club of folks who've seen both species. After seeing lowland bongo tracks, I really to sort out my own visit to Sangha Lodge someday and see the actual animal in the wild as they are such beautiful animals.   

 

Elephants have been very hard hit in West Africa perhaps more so than in any other region, the population in Senegal for example is likely under ten all in Niokola-Koba National Park, and the situation isn’t really that much better in many of the other countries. Next door to Ghana in Togo the national parks have been very badly encroached, I suppose as a result of apathy on part of the government towards protecting their parks, now only one of them has elephants and only around a hundred. I’m not certain of the situation for forest elephants in West Africa, but I think really the only significant populations of savanna elephants left are in Mole NP, Nazinga Ranch in Burkina Faso and in the WAP complex, and then otherwise in Yankari NP in Nigeria and in some of Cameroon’s parks. I would hope that the Cameroonians have got on top of the poaching situation after the appalling situation in Bouba-Njida National Park on the Chad border, that was invaded by Arab horsemen who slaughtered hundreds of elephants, they had to send a detachment of special forces troops  in to the park to try and get them out, I think that was in 2012, I don't recall without looking it up, but it was the same bastards who on their way back to Sudan attacked Zakouma and murdered the park guards during morning prayers. Then of course the desert elephants in Mali that you mentioned, remarkably despite the ongoing conflict in Mali, the elephants seem to be surviving okay, thanks to the efforts of the Mali Elephant Project.

 

Long before I knew I was going to Ghana, I knew that rangers in Mole take tourists on walks to see the elephants there, but I hadn’t perhaps entirely appreciated how many elephants there are there or that some of them would have quite reasonable sized tusks. There are obviously camps elsewhere in Africa in the East and South where elephants hang around the camp and places like Mana Pools where you can be taken on walks close to elephants, but normally when I’ve stayed at places where there were elephants right in camp, it’s just been one or two bulls rather than a herd. Getting up close to elephants in a vehicle is great, although not always guaranteed on safari, but it doesn’t quite compare to (a safe) close encounter with elephants on foot, it is always really amazing to see them right up close. This is really the one great safari experience the Mole can offer that makes the park well worth visiting and I would hope that if the elephants keep bringing in the tourists, that this might encourage the Wildlife Division to really look after Mole and ensure that all of the wildlife is well protected and even consider trying to bring back lions someday. Without the elephants I’m not sure how many tourists would really go to Mole besides birders.

 

@dlo The elephants around the Motel obviously know that the tourists and rangers are no danger to them, but they still don’t like it if people get too close or you’re in the way of where they want to go, if they start approaching I think they’re really just trying it on, to intimidate, they don’t mean business, so a loud clap or maybe a shout does suffice to dissuade them. I’m sure lots of guides and rangers elsewhere do the same, so I’m not surprised about your ranger in Kidepo, it’s important to show elephants on occasion, that you’re not actually intimidated by them, especially when as is the case at the Mole Motel you know the elephants very well, but clearly you need to be able to read elephant body language, well enough to be totally sure that they aren’t just going to get more annoyed and charge for real, because then a hand clap certainly wouldn’t do much good.         

 

I’m glad that many here have enjoyed this report. Ghana should find its way on to the radar of most serious African birders, because almost all of the birding companies that offer trips around Africa now include Ghana, so anyone looking into birding trips to Africa or looking at trip reports would find tours to Ghana or reports on the country. Generally birding reports are for obvious reasons aimed at serious birders, so their purpose is really to say, if you visit this country, you can hope to see all of these birds and then if you are a lister you can take note of all the birds you’ve not seen yet. I wanted to show as much as possible of Ghana to put the country on the radar of the not so serious birder and the non-birder, who probably hasn’t ever really thought about going to Ghana.

 

@optigI hope you do make it to Ghana, I think the more people with an interest in wildlife who go the better.

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Galago

I've just caught up with your report, on an afternoon which really is an apology for summer! A really interesting report and a very helpful one as I'm toying with the idea of visiting Ghana. That's a very impressive life list, especially as you've been to Zakouma. I hadn't expected to see quite as many new birds there. 

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inyathi

@Galago Thanks,

 

Before I went to Zakouma for the first time, birding wise my only real expectation was that I should see big concentrations of water birds and black crowned cranes, I didn’t expect to see a lot of new birds, although I’d hoped to see a few. When I still knew relatively little about the park, I'd thought rather hopefully that it might have rather more western birds, I hadn’t really taken on board that Zakouma is right down in the southeast of the country and therefore actually still a long way from West Africa. I was somewhat disappointed, when I actually looked at a park list and saw that it wouldn’t offer as many new birds as I’d hoped, after my two visits though, I wasn’t so unimpressed, I think if one were going there with a group of keen birders and a serious bird guide, then one could expect to see a pretty good selection of birds and certainly would have picked up many I missed. On my two trips combined I saw 22 lifers, I suspect having birded in Kidepo NP in Uganda and now Ghana since then I’ve probably seen all of those birds again, even so that’s more new birds than I would have expected. I’m not sure if I counted little green bee-eater as new bird in Zakouma as the African little green is a recent split, so maybe it was really 23 lifers.

 

If you’ve not birded in Africa anywhere outside of the East or the South, then Ghana would be a great first choice, if you want to see a large number new species, I expected to score plenty of lifers, but I don’t think I imagined it would be close to 100, probably if we had included Atewa Forest, or just been a bit luckier with some of the birds we missed, it could well have been over 100. There are still I think a fair few local endemics that I’ve not seen in Eastern Africa, because I haven’t been to look and I’ve still not been to South Africa, but certainly I don’t think there’s country in the East or the South now, where I could hope to see many more than a twenty or so new birds in a trip, if as many as that. Certainly, nowhere I could hope to score anywhere even vaguely close to 100 new birds, in one country.

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Galago

@inyathi Thanks for this. I have been to Zakouma in 2018 but I got really ill so my bird count was way down and I only clocked 23 lifers there. However, I'm hoping to return in March next year - a chance to rectify that! Also I've been to Gambia and clocked around 40 or so lifers there but, even so, Ghana clearly has a lot of good stuff. I thought about going in November but decided the piggy bank couldn't manage it at the moment! I think one of the really interesting things about Zakouma is that the bird list is not yet thoroughly researched and so there's always the chance of finding something unexpected and adding to the park's list. But, I agree, very few places in Africa now would offer me such a large lifer list as Ghana.

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