GHANA PART ONE:

BACK

GENERAL INFO & SITE ACCOUNTS

PART TWO

 

PARTICIPANTS

Wilma & Jos Wanten; Reuver, The Netherlands – e-mail: jos.birds(at)hetnet.nl

Anne-Marie Kuijpers & Roland Holz; Otterstadt, Germany – e-mail: buddi-houtje(at)web.de

 

GENERAL

After a trip to The Gambia in 2002 this was our second visit to West Africa. Ghana has a tremendous potential for eco-tourism but it is not very developed in this field. We visited parks in the southern part of the country (as far north as Kumasi) which, with the exception of the coastal savannah zone, mainly consists of evergreen forests. In comparison to The Gambia this gave us the opportunity to see a lot of new forest species. We booked a tailor-made tour including hotels and car with driver at Akwaaba Tours in Maastricht. For info you can visit their website at http://www.akwaabatours.com/. Initially we planned a 15-day trip but Ghana Airways cancelled their flight from Duesseldorf, which forced us to book an alternative (expensive) flight with KLM from Amsterdam. This also meant that we had to shorten our trip from 15 to 13 days and therefore had to skip a planned visit to one of the coastal wetlands near Accra and to Lake Bosumtwi near Kumasi.

 

PREPARATIONS

Information on the web on bird watching in Ghana is very limited. The only trip report we found was at http://www.birdtours.co.uk/ produced by Mike Bowman in November/December 1996. We also bought a more detailed trip report at http://www.ecotouristservices.nl/ produced by Mindy & Sherif Baha El Din (again not very recent from February 1996), which is quite good with lots of general tips on bird watching in Ghana. The report also contains an annex with birding hints from an American birder named Tom Coles who visited the country several times. Hopefully this report can start to fill the gap. Additional information about conservation areas in Ghana is available at http://www.wildlife-ghana.org/ and http://www.ghanawildlifesociety.org/. We contacted both organisations via email – unfortunately we never got a reply. Travel guides we used were ‘The Travel Guide for Ghana’ (by Bradt) and ‘Reisefuehrer Ghana’ (by Peter Meyer Verlag), which is also available in English. Field guides we used were ‘Birds of Western Africa’ (by Helm Identification Guide), which is very good but quite heavy to use as a field guide and the ‘Collins Checklist of Birds of Western and Central Africa’ (by van Perlo).

 

GENERAL INFORMATION

Most nationalities are required to obtain a visa at the Ghanaian Embassy in their home country before arrival, which took in our case about 1 to 2 weeks. Take medical precautions before arriving in the country. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required (but was not checked) and hepatitis and malaria precautions are recommended. The unit of currency in Ghana is the Cedi. The exchange rate at the moment of our trip was Cedi 8400 for one US Dollar and Cedi 9600 for one Euro. The preferred foreign currency was US Dollar although sometimes Euros were also accepted. Some hotels also accepted Visa card or Traveller Cheques. Take a big(!) purse or money-belt with you. We changed Euro 300 at the airport and received such a pile of banknotes that it looked like we had robbed a bank. Ghana is a relatively safe country and the people are very friendly. Except for the occasional child asking for pens or money, we were not hassled or bothered while bird watching around the country.

 

GETTING THERE

Getting there was not as easy as we had expected/hoped. Our flight to Accra from Duesseldorf with Ghana Airways was part of a tailor made tour that we had arranged in advance. Unfortunately the flight was cancelled three days in a row (Tuesday-Thursday), which was very annoying to say the least. The employees from Ghana Airways told us every day that the flight would depart the next day, but somehow this information sounded unreliable. Even the airport was not informed about when they were going to depart. After 3 days of listening to their stories (lies) we finally decided to contact our tour-operator to look for an alternative. Because the Friday flight was already fully booked we finally left four days later with KLM from Amsterdam. Although flying with Ghana Airways is much cheaper we would recommend the following: DON’T DO IT!!!

 

GETTING AROUND

We arranged a car with driver in advance through Akwaaba Tours. It is possible to rent a car without driver but this is not recommended. Although the roads are fairly good for West African standards the signposting is very poor. You will probably get lost all the time. The traffic in and around cities like Accra and Kumasi is really disastrous.

 

WEATHER

When we arrived in Ghana the wet season (from April to October) had just come to an end. It was still quite humid at temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius (C). With the exception of a few afternoon rains we had fairly dry weather. Mornings were mostly sunny with clouds coming in after about 1.00PM.

 

ACCOMMODATIONS & FOOD

Although we had arranged hotels in advance it should be no problem to find appropriate hotels on your own. Accra is surrounded by several beach resorts of middle to high standard, which are a perfect base to make daytrips from. Kumasi has no high standard resorts but there are enough places to stay in the middle range. In the southwestern part of the country there are two beach resorts near Axim and several near Takoradi. The area around Cape Coast has the best selection of accommodations. There is a choice of middle and high standard resorts. For visiting Kakum NP the best place to stay is Han’s Cottage Botel, about 12km north of Cape Coast on the way to Kakum. Hotel prices for a double room range between Euro 12-25 (middle range) and Euro 25-50 (high range). We had dinner most times in the respective hotels to avoid stomach problems. Although the food in Ghana is generally fairly basic we had several delicious meals. Especially fish (spicy snapper) and chicken dishes with fried plantains are quite good. The choice of soft drinks was mostly limited to Coke, Sprite and Fanta. The local beer was pretty good. There are a number of brands like Club, Star, Gulder and Guinness. Food and drink prices are pretty cheap compared to western standards. We paid about 70,000 Cedi (Euro 7) per person for a good meal with drinks in the hotel restaurants. A very large bottle of beer cost around 8,000 Cedi (Euro 0.8) and soft drinks 4,000 Cedi (Euro 0.40). 

 

HABITATS

Ghana is located in the heart of West Africa and has a wide range of different habitats. The coastline has a series of lagoons, saltpans and mangroves. The coastal strip (about 30km wide) consists of dense scrub with little grass and some scattered taller trees. The forest zone occupies most of the southern part of the country. Although much of the forest has been degraded due to logging and cultivation it still consists of patches of dense rainforest and evergreen understory vegetation. Savannah woodlands occupy the whole northern part of the country. This is an area of grasslands covered by scrub and scattered trees.

 

BIRD WATCHING

As a result of the wide range of habitats the country has a rich and diverse bird life. Ghana can be highly recommended as a bird watching holiday destination.  It is surprising that the country does not receive more birding tourism. During our trip we did not see any birdwatcher - neither foreign nor local. Some 745 species of birds have been recorded in the country. During our 11-day stay we saw 186 species, which is quite good for such a short visit. Despite the fact that this was our second visit to West Africa we were able to find quite a lot of lifers (Jos 104 and Roland 97). An extension of our trip with another 3 or 4 days (visiting one or two of the coastal wetlands and the northern savannah woodlands e.g. Mole National Park) would have easily expanded our trip list to some 250 species. Driving up to Mole NP takes about 2 days from the coast, 1 day from Kumasi. We also read a French report on a combined trip to Ghana and Ivory Coast which sounded quite good.

 

PARKS & CONSERVATION AREAS

There are 15 parks scattered throughout the country representing a range of ecosystems. In addition there are a few resource reserves and RAMSAR sites. Only two national parks have some visitor facilities (Mole in the north & Kakum). There are often no accommodations available in or close to the areas. They use a Ghanaian and non-Ghanaian (which is a tripled price) fee system. You have to pay an entrance fee per person (between Cedi 15 to 20,000) and a fee for the car (Cedi 10,000). You are not allowed to visit the parks without a “guide” which costs an extra fee of Cedi 10,000 per person per hour which makes a full day visit to a park quite expensive. In Kakum there is an additional fee of Cedi 90,000 per person for the canopy walk. The canopy walk opens at 8.00AM. An earlier start can be arranged in advance for an additional fee of Cedi 10,000 per person/per hour. The guides we used didn’t have any knowledge about birds with the exception of the guide in Owabi (who had some basic knowledge). He was also the only guide to possess binoculars. On asking for a birding guide in several parks we always received the same answer: “We have one but he is not in today”. So despite the fact that a guide accompanies you the whole day, you are totally on your own on finding your favourite birds.

 

SITES VISITED

 

v      Shai Hills Resource Reserve

Shai Hills is situated approximately 50km northeast of Accra. The reserve can be approached from the main Tema to Akosombo road. The hills with rocky outcrops of the reserve are covered by short grass savannah with scrubs and evergreen trees. It harbours typical savannah species of birds and other animals. The reserve has a northern and southern (main) entrance gate where a small visitor centre is located.  There is a circular dirt road through the park only accessible by 4WD.

 

v      Aburi Botanical Gardens

These gardens are situated in the hills overlooking the Accra plains at an altitude of about 400m. To reach the gardens follow the northern Accra to Koforidua road for about 35km. Aburi is a pleasant place to visit in combination with Shai Hills as a daytrip from Accra as we did. Although the site is reported as a not too exciting place for bird-watching we were pleasantly surprised by the presence of an array of beautiful starlings, barbets and sunbirds.

 

v      Owabi Wildlife Sanctuary

The sanctuary is situated about 30km northwest of Kumasi and is rather hard to find. Be careful, if asking for directions, that you are looking for the wildlife sanctuary and not for the Owabi Dam (which leads you to the wrong main road, going north-east out of Kumasi). Coming from Kumasi take the main road to Sunyani and follow it for about 20 to 25km until you reach a sign Akropong. At the same spot there is another sign “Owabi Water Works”. Take this road to the right and follow it for about 400m until you reach a small roundabout in the village. Go to the right here. After a few hundred metres the tarmac ends. Follow the dirt road for about 3km until you reach the gate. The sanctuary surrounds an artificial lake which was formed after the construction of a dam in 1928. The area consists of disturbed secondary forests and small patches of riverine forest surrounded by plantations, scrubs and grasslands. There are several trails in the area (including one around the entire lake). Although we visited the site in the afternoon it was very rewarding and a very nice place to walk around.

 

v      Bobiri Forest & Butterfly Reserve

Bobiri is situated about 30 km east of Kumasi. To get there from Kumasi take the main road to Accra. About 30km outside Accra (at the village of Kubease) there is a sign to the left with the words Akwaaba (meaning welcome). Follow the dirt road for about 1.5km through a cultivated area (also good for birding) until you reach the Bobiri sign to the right. Follow this small dirt road for about 2.5km until you reach the entrance. Bobiri consists of secondary rainforest and has several clearly laid out trails through the forest. The best for birding is to follow the dirt road further into the park. You will reach several open spots with a high visibility on the canopy.

 

v      Amansuri Wetlands Reserve

This reserve is located about 35km west of Axim in the southwestern part of the country near the village of Beyin. It consists of a freshwater lagoon (including the village of Nzulezo which is built on stilts) and the flood plains of the Amansuri River. Amansuri Wetland is the largest stand of intact swamp forest in Ghana. From the visitor centre at the beach (managed by Ghana Wildlife Society and funded by the Dutch government) boat-trips can be arranged through the floodplains to the village of Nzulezo.

 

v      Ankasa Conservation Area

Ankasa is located in the extreme southwestern corner of Ghana, about 75km west from Axim and only 15km from the border with Ivory Coast. Large signs designate the turning point at Mpataba to the right. It is about 6km from here to the entrance gate of the park crossing the Ankasa River. The vegetation is classified as wet evergreen forest. The area has the richest biodiversity in Ghana. There is only one road in the area, which provides access to Nkwanta Camp. We birded a part of the dirt road from the entrance to Nkwanta, and some dirt roads surrounding the camp. The best spots for birds appeared to be a open spot in the forest behind the Nkwanta Conservation Education Centre and at the restaurant near the entrance overlooking the rapids of the Ankasa river. The dirt road from the restaurant towards Nkwanta camp was also pretty rewarding.

 

v      Kakum National Park

Kakum is located in the central region approximately 35km north of Cape Coast. It is best approached from Cape Coast on the Pedu Junction north towards the village of Abrafo. A few km after Abrafo you’ll see a large sign to the right that leads you to the headquarters. Kakum is the most recently gazetted wildlife protected area in Ghana and gets the highest number of visitors.  A series of trails start from the visitor centre into the forest. The major attraction of Kakum is Africa’s only canopy walkway. The vegetation is classified as moist evergreen rainforest with patches of swamp and riverine forest. There are 269 bird species whose presence has been confirmed, and an additional 56 species on the hypothetical list. The best spots for birding are the open area’s surrounding the visitor centre and top of the bill is the canopy walkway on an early morning visit. Other birding sites of interest are the approach to and the area at Antwikaa Camp that passes through secondary forest, cultivation and thickets. According to earlier reports this place has to be THE SPOT for the sought after Black Bee-eater. We visited the site but unfortunately had to skip it because of heavy afternoon rains. The place certainly looked very rewarding. Another spot that is reported as very good is Kruwa Camp. We did not visit it because of our limited time. Looking back to our visit to Kakum you will need at least 4 days to get a good impression of the bird life in this area.

 

v      Han’s Cottage Botel

Not really a site visited as meant above but a hotel where we stayed for 3 nights which is also a very rewarding birding site. The hotel (or Botel) is located about 12km north of Cape Coast, and only 20km from Kakum, which makes it the place to be for birding Kakum. The restaurant is built on a small pond with roosting Cattle Egrets, Long-tailed Cormorants and hundreds of nesting weavers. Besides that the pond is visited by several species of kingfishers, herons and crake. I must say I have never had dinner before accompanied by dozens of cattle egrets roosting in a tree just 4 metres in front of me. The area surrounding the hotel (especially at the back of the hotel rooms) where very productive – we saw 53 species in 3 days. Tom Coles, who apparently stayed there several times, saw over 100 species, including several owls.

 


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