Planning Your Birding Adventure In South-east Queensland

Now that you know how to use miles to get to Australia and use Brisbane as a gateway city, what you really want to know is how to get out in the bush where the birds are!  Fortunately, Australia is an amazingly easy country to travel around in.  It’s safe, everyone speaks English and the tourism infrastructure is excellent!  All you need is a well-researched plan and a car to get there.

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MAKE YOUR PLAN

1. Determine what species of birds you want to see. Bear in mind that no matter what species you are targeting, you will find many other species in the same location. In my case, although I was really keen to see wild Parrots, I was very happy to see that other species such as Fairy-wrens and Bowerbirds were also within reach.

2. Use guide books such as “Parrots of the World” by Joseph Forshaw and “The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia” by Graham Pizzey & Frank Knight to determine where these species can most easily be found. These books have maps to help you formulate an itinerary. Although I prefer Kindle/eBooks for casual reading, with a field guide you really need the hard copy to be able to compare the birds you see to the images in the book. Don’t worry if you don’t know all the species. As long as you get a decent photo, you can always look them up! You can buy these books on Amazon.com if you don’t have them already.

3. Use other internet resources to find out where the birds have been seen most recently. These may be Facebook or Twitter contacts, blogs like Miles to the Wild or trip reports on Surfbirds. Google the scientific name of the bird + “report”. For example if you Google “Lophochroa leadbeateri  sightings” you get this. If you have destinations in mind from researching the field guides, you can get better results by Googling “Lophochroa leadbeateri Bowra” such as this.

4.  Do an eBird search on the species to see where other people have reported them. Here’s an example of “eBird Major Mitchell Cockatoo“.  You can then click on the hotspot information to see what other species are found there.  This will help you allocate how many days you want to spend there. Spend more time if the destination has more of the species you are targeting.  From the above search, I zoomed in on Bowra Station and can see an impressive 224 species reported so I would want to spend at least a few days there!

This step can be very time consuming as you need to research each species you want to see individually but it is well worth it as you will save lots of time once you are traveling and you can travel independently which saves you lots of money and gives you more choices as to when, where & how you want your birding adventure to happen!

5.  EBird is integrated with Google maps so you can click on the hotspot (using Bowra Station as an example) and find out how far it is from you.  In this case, it’s in the bush so Google maps can’t find it exactly so I used the nearest town which is Cunnamulla to learn that it would be over 9 hours drive from Brisbane.  I’ve done it in one day but it’s a VERY long day!  You also need to make sure you arrive well before dusk to avoid adding to the roo road kill on the roadside!

Bowra mapI recommend breaking the journey at Lake Coolmunda on the outbound and Stanthorpe on the return.  See my road trip post for more details.  As we go through the SEQ (South-east QLD series, I will give more details about each location.

So there is a very basic idea of how to plan your itinerary.  Next, you will need a car, accommodation and a budget so stay tuned!

Lonely Planet’s Advice To Wildlife Watchers

I’ve been using Lonely Planet for over 30 years to help me plan my travels.  In the 80’s it was the “Shoestring” guidebooks, in the 90’s their first online Thorntree was born and now into the 2000’s they have streamlined the once heavy guidebooks into downloadable pages and have a great little weekly newsletter that I subscribe to.   I am really pleased to see them address eco-tourism and how to go about it in a responsible manner.  This is something I talk about often but I have no where near the reach Lonely Planet does!

Birdwatchers and other species of traveller with a passion for watching wildlife are a breed apart. Millions of them migrate across the globe every year in the hope of a sighting, spending serious money as they go.

The thrill of seeing an animal, however fleetingly, in its natural habitat has turned wildlife tourism into a multi-billion dollar division of the travel industry.

 

Braving The Rain To Bird Sentosa Villa Grounds

We knew we were on the cusp of the rainy season although we had been pretty lucky so far.  This time the luck ran out.  After a successful birding excursion to Taiping Lake Gardens and an afternoon siesta praying the rain would let up it finally did for a bit.  I grabbed my camera and a plastic bag to keep it dry and braved the grounds despite the still threatening clouds overhead.  The grounds of Sentosa Villa are quite extensive and potentially very birdy.  I had to stick near the shelters to stay as dry as possible as bursts of rain drove me undercover.  Below are the only shots I was able to get, ironically the best one is the dancing chicken!  The Racquet-tailed Drongo showed very nicely as well.  There were some monkeys running around to keep me amused while I waited under the shelters for the rain to let up so I could dash on to the next one.  I finally gave up after an hour and went back to the room.

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A “Godmother” Of All African Adventures?

Now that the Mother of all African Adventures is behind us, it seems my fascination with Africa isn’t over yet!  So what would I do for an encore?  If you’ve been reading this blog for the past several months, hopefully you enjoyed hearing how I planned the travel to South Africa, Mauritius, Madagascar, Ghana & Tanzania and saw most of my target birds.  But there is still so much more to see!

So what would be on my list if I do a “Godmother” of all African Adventures?  Here are a few places on my radar.

  1. Namibia – Peach-faced Lovebirds, Ruppells Parrots & more.  This would be a self-drive trip.
  2. Zambia/Botswana/Zimbabwe/Malawi – would choose the best of these for Brown-necked Parrots, Lillian’s Lovebirds, Black-cheeked Lovebirds, Meyers Parrots & more.  Most of these places might require using the car/driver option which is not my preferred method so I would be looking hard for national parks I can get to with public transport & taxis.  So far, these are looking like the most expensive for lodges so I need to do the most research here.
  3. Ethiopia – the layover wasn’t enough, I’d like to get to Menagesha NP for Yellow-faced Parrots, Black-winged Lovebirds & more.  Easy day trip from Addis Ababa or spend one night there.
  4. Uganda – I think my odds for African Grey Parrots are better here than in Ghana.  I’d use public transport to Fort Portal, then a taxi to Kibale.

IMG_3193WHAT DO I NEED?

Short answer – United miles as Star Alliance is by far the best alliance for Africa.  I could supplement with some Avios to get from Namibia to Livingstone, Zambia via JNB.  So looks like Chase will be my best friend for a while longer!

What It’s Really Like To Travel In Tanzania

Since I am an even worse videographer than photographer, I thought I would share this video posted on YouTube by Rigdon Currie.  He and his family visit several of the same places we did in northern Tanzania with Rockjumper Birding Tours and they spent more time in each place.  He got some great footage that really shows what it’s like to travel in the African bush.  They even got to do a hot-air balloon ride – I’m so jealous!  As for the birds, I’m sure they got more than we did but they stayed longer.  I did see a lot of familiar birds though so I think we did OK too!  So jealous of the leopards!

Birding The Grounds Of The Addis Ababa Hilton

We were given a pick-up time of 9:30am which pretty much killed any hope of going anywhere for birding so we had to do the best we could at the hotel.  Lucky for us the Addis Ababa Hilton has vast grounds with lots of birds!  We were up at 6am and birded for a couple hours.  Here are some of the birds and a nice look at the grounds of the Hilton.

I did my best to match them up with pics in the bird book – Birds of Africa South of the Sahara 2nd Edition by Ian Sinclair & Peter Ryan.

African Mourning Doves

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Heuglin’s Wheatear

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Hilton Swimming Pool

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Dusky Turtle Dove

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Typical arched hall linking the various wings of the Hilton

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I’d really like to get this Sunbird right.  I’m struggling to find one with the iridescent green head, purple breast, cream belly and yellow patch on the wing but without a red collar!  If anyone can help, please comment!

So far the most likely suspects are Violet-breasted Sunbird, White-bellied Sunbird, Oustalet’s Sunbird, Amani Sunbird, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird or Variable Sunbird.  Any of these birds’s pics in the bird book are close but none are spot on.

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Some kind of Bulbul?

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Who’s hiding in there?

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A little Speckled Mousebird!

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While we only saw a few birds, considering this is just 2 hours in a major hotel in the capital city, I’d say Ethiopia is worth a 2nd visit someday to see more birds!

The Birds Of Kakum, Ghana

Yesterday I blogged about how to visit the Kakum National Park in Ghana.  Now lets see some of the birds!

Firstly, we actually SAW a lot more than I could get photos of.  These birds are camera shy and they are fast!  The few bird pics I got are terrible to the point that I can’t match them to a pic in the bird book other than the red bird (Red-headed Malimbe) and the blue bird (Splendid Glossy Starling).   I will try to make up for it with photos of the actual canopy walkway.

Pied Crow

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Cattle Egret

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The trail leading up to the canopy walkway, see how dark it is?  We saw a Paradise Flycatcher along the way but the photo didn’t come out – too dark.

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These are our guides.  Only one was the real paid guide, the other one was his friend who just tagged along, I think he is in training.

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Some independent birders already there.

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The organized birding group who are also staying at the Rainforest Lodge.  I noticed they were watching something very intently so I followed their gaze but couldn’t see anything.  All of a sudden, a small bird flew out of the foliage very quickly and the group burst into applause.  What WAS that bird?  We caught up to them and found out it was a Rosy Bee-eater, one of the target birds in Kakum!  At least I caught a glimpse of him!

They are really beautiful, check out this video!

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Black Bee-eater

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Velvet-mantled Drongo

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Red-headed Malimbe

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IMG_5984IMG_5984aAt this point my husband is bored and just having fun with the walkways.

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Splendid Glossy Starling

IMG_5996 IMG_5997 IMG_5998See how beautiful he is!

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A lizard walking in front of us.

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Back at the reception, the shop was finally open.

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Our two guides.  Sorry I can’t remember their names but they did know the birds quite well so if you see them there, I can recommend them!

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Back in the carp park a Little Bee-eater

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Lesser Honeyguide

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The private bus for the tour group.

IMG_6028While I usually do just fine as an independent birder with a local guide, I have to say that Ghana is the first place where I got real “tour-group envy”.  They got into the park much earlier, they have private transport so they can get to more remote places where I couldn’t go using tro-tros and their guide supplies them with a checklist of all the birds they saw.

I did get my guide to thumb through my book with me so I could highlight the birds we saw but I am a long way off from anything that resembles the nicely organized bird list the tour groups get.  Here is an example of one for all of Ghana but they do make notes on the exact place the bird was seen.

We had lunch at the small cafe just outside the park and hung around the rest of the day for birding in the car park and surrounding areas.  My cash reserves were down (when will I learn to change enough money) so we couldn’t make a second trip into the park, they charge by the hour, not the whole day!

Birding West Africa – What It Is Really Like

I recently discovered Mr Currie’s YT channel and really love his filming style as he shows the whole experience and what it is really like to go birding in various locations.  While it doesn’t seem  that he has been to Ghana, he has been to Sierra Leone which has many of the same birds you would expect to find in West Africa such as the Picathartes, Senegal Parrot, Pin-tailed Whydah and more!   The topography between the two countries is also very similar and it seems that Mr Currie also struggled to get clear shots of the birds. Sadly, Sierra Leone is off limits until the ebola crisis is over but Ghana remains a safe place to see many of these species.

West Africa is a location where you will SEE a lot more than you will be able to PHOTOGRAPH because the foliage is so thick and the birds are more shy of humans (for good reason).  The glimpses of the towns his Rockjumper group pass through are equally fascinating and familiar to me from my Ghana experience except for the money changer.  What I really loved was the enthusiasm of the local guide who genuinely cares about the birds.  I don’t know if he is a former poacher turned into a guide but I have seen this attitude many times all over the world, where the birds cease to be just a means of getting money and the person comes to genuinely appreciate them for the wonderful little creatures they are and cares about their welfare.

Enjoy the video!

Planning A Birding Trip To Ghana

The first thing you need to do when planning a birding trip to Ghana or anywhere is to identify your main goals.  Since I am a parrot nut, I was targeting habitats where I was likely to see parrots that are known to live in Ghana and of course any birds that also live in the same habitats.  Ghana has an extremely impressive bird list!

MY TARGETS

African Grey Parrot – best chance was Kakum National Park.

Brown-necked Parrot – has been reported in Kakum.

Senegal Parrot – good population in Shai Hills Reserve.

Red-headed Lovebird – can be found anywhere along the east coast of Ghana or in the north.

Red-fronted Parrot (Jardines) – has been seen in Kakum and in villages north of Kakum.

Black-collared Lovebird – seen in the far west of Ghana.

Ghana ParksVISAS

Everyone needs a tourist visa to Ghana and you cannot get it on arrival.  You will have to get it in advance from the Ghanaian Consulate in your country.

Australia

UK

USA

THE PLAN

Since we were on a tight budget and needed to go to places accessible by public transport with taxis to exact locations I chose two of Ghana’s national parks – Kakum and Shai Hills.  Group birding tours will usually hit all of the parks highlighted on the map above but organize tours were way out of our budget.

I kept costs down by using IHG Rewards points to stay at the Holiday Inn, Accra.  From there, we took a taxi out to Shai Hills for a day trip.  We used local minibuses called “Tro-tros” to get from Accra to Cape Coast and another one that took us to Kakum where I had booked the Rainforest Lodge on Booking.com using the American AAdvantage portal.  We used public transport to get from the lodge to the park each day.  At both parks, we hired official guides from the ticket office.

During our stay at Kakum, I met a guide from Ashanti African Tours who was very helpful even though he was escorting an organized birding group.  He gave me the best tip on where to see African Grey Parrots.  I went to their office in Cape Coast hoping to use them for the day trip to Shai Hills but they don’t keep guides in Accra, they base themselves in Cape Coast.  They also gave me a good tip on where to find the Red-headed Lovebirds near Accra (although the birds proved to be very shy).   I do recommend them if you want to be more organized than we were!

Ashanti African Tours – Birdwatching

Ghana is a great place to SEE birds but not so great for photography.  The birds are more timid than in South Africa or even Madagascar and the terrain is much more jungly so most of the time we just got fleeting glimpses of the birds.  I couldn’t get a parrot perched to save my soul!  Plenty of “Video game birds” which is what I call those birds who fly swiftly overhead and I have to try to shoot quickly with my camera.  It’s like playing “Space Invaders”, hence the name!