Splendid Sunbird (Cinnyris coccinigastrus)

The Splendid Sunbird (Cinnyris coccinigastrus) is a sunbird. The sunbirds are a group of very small Old World passerine birds which feed largely on nectar, although they will also take insects, especially when feeding young.  Their flight is fast and direct on short wings. Most species can take nectar by hovering like a hummingbird, but usually perch to feed most of the time.

My photos taken at Legon University do not do this stunning bird justice.  Follow the links below for better photos.  I think the first one is a female and the 2nd one is a male.  The iridescent purple is stunning!

IMG_6230 Sunbird1 IMG_6231 Sunbird2Although their range is very large, many of these countries are not accessible for birding.  Ghana is safe and easy to travel in and by mine and other’s people’s experiences Legon University is the easiest place to find them.

SpSun RangeLEARN MORE ABOUT SPLENDID SUNBIRDS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Xeno-Canto

VIDEOS

This is where you can better appreciate the beauty of this bird!  I found one clip on YouTube and more on IBC.

The World’s Shyest Lovebirds In Accra

After leaving Shai Hills, we still had a couple hours to kill and the Ashanti Tour people in Cape Coast had recommended a couple places in Accra near our hotel where we might find Red-headed Lovebirds – Legon University & Achimota Forest.

Uni GhanaBy this time we were hitting traffic so it took longer to get back.  We had brought some breakfast so decided to head to the campus, have a picnic and look for the birds.

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Ghana is very concerned with keeping Ebola out of the country.

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Vendors in the traffic

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We finally arrived at Legon University and were running out of time.  I showed the photos in my bird book of the Lovebirds to some students and they said to try the trees in a certain area which they explained to the driver.

The lovebirds were indeed in the trees but by now it was around 10:30am and they weren’t interested in coming down.  I could hear them squawking and see them furtively moving around in the highest branches but they just refused to give a good showing.  It would have been better to come early in the morning when they were feeding but we couldn’t be 2 places at once!

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A few other birds weren’t quite so bashful so I snapped a few pics.

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This tree had a whole flock of Lovebirds in the top branches!

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African Grey Hornbill

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Seeing a Splendid Sunbird who was the coolest bird I managed to photograph at this location.

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This is our driver whose name I did write down but I can’t find the paper.  He was a really nice guy although not a bird guide.  Once our time was up, we had to full up the petrol and couldn’t find a station that took credit cards so used the last bit of cash we had.

IMG_6233He dropped us back at the Holiday Inn.  Now that we were officially broke, we wandered over to the shopping centre next door and found a cafe that took credit cards and had lunch there.  And so goes our last day in Ghana………………..now looking forward to Tanzania!

Accra Craft Market, Ghana

After such an amazing trip to Ghana, of course I wanted to buy some souvenirs!  We visited the Arts & Craft Market in Accra for some serious shopping!  The vendors here are very pushy and you do have to bargain pretty hard.  We came away with 2 paintings – Bee-eaters & Kingfishers, a kaftan for me and a t-shirt and baseball cap for my husband.

Take a look and see what YOU would buy here!

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My poor husband struggles to keep up and balance the backpacks and shopping!

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He decided against a hair cut.

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Even after exiting the market, they still chase after you!

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Furniture can be purchased on several street corners in Accra.

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Off We Go – In A Ghanaian Tro-Tro

One of the reasons birders on a budget will love Ghana is that public transport is readily available and very cheap!  After getting a good night’s sleep in the Holiday Inn, we were very keen the next morning to get to Kakum National Park, Ghana’s premier birding hotspot.

We paid around $10 for a hotel taxi (it would have been cheaper if we had gotten one in the street) to the Tema Station.  I had mistakenly believed that we could get a tro-tro to Cape Coast from there.  That was wrong, we needed to take one tro-tro to Kaneshie, then get another one to Cape Coast.

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Since we were the last to board, we had to go to the back of the mini-bus.

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The driver dropped us off at Kaneshie right in front of the section where the Cape Coast tro-tros departed.  We found Ghanaians to be very friendly and helpful whenever we needed directions.  The drivers of these tro-tros charged us the same as everyone else, no attempt at tourist prices.

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While you wait for the tro-tro to fill up, vendors will come around selling everything under the sun.  We just watched the people in the market and waited, it didn’t take more than 15 minutes or so to fill up.

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You can also get buses like this to Cape Coast but the tro-tros tend to fill up quicker.  Either way it’s a cheap trip, around $6-$8.

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Upon arrival in Cape Coast, the driver dropped us at the station where another tro-tro went to Kakum National Park.  You can actually go all the way to the park from here and hop out at the gate.

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This is where we hopped out – the Rainforest Lodge.  By this time it was around 2pm so we decided to just have lunch, relax and watch birds around the lodge and save Kakum for an early start in the morning.

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Hotel Review: Accra Holiday Inn

It was good enough for POTUS Barack Obama so I figured it would be good enough for us!

The Accra Holiday Inn near Ghana’s Kotoka Airport has the best meet & greet ever – a private lounge for their guests to relax and have coffee while they wait for the shuttle!  First we passed through the immigration which didn’t take long as we had obtained tourist visas at the Ghanaian Embassy in Canberra.

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Then we made our way to the lounge.  We didn’t have to wait long until the mini-bus showed up and took us to the hotel.

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It was getting late but the spotless lobby with African decor made a great first impression.

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The room was what you expect from a Holiday Inn – clean, basic and good free wifi.  By this time it was around 11pm so all we wanted was a shower and a good night’s sleep.

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I did find the placement of the glass screen a bit awkward, you can’t move it and it makes that shell-like thing on the bathtub hard to clamber over.

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The next morning we got a better look at the hotel – still a garden-variety Holiday Inn from the outside.  This first night was only a layover as we were keen to get to Kakum National Park.

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After visiting the park, we had 2 more nights here.  We spent one morning at Shai Hills Reserve, using a taxi to get out there.  There is a car booking service in the lobby, you can negotiate them down if they aren’t busy.

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The pool is huge, great for a refreshing swim after a birding day trip or going to the craft market.

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We had a few meals in La Cabana by the pool as the food was really good and it was nice to eat outdoors.

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As you can see, we really treated ourselves!

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The breakfast buffet was excellent with a nice variety of western and Ghanian items and omelets made to order.

IMG_6234 IMG_6235 IMG_6236This is a great hotel to use points on as it goes for 20k per night whereas a paid booking will run between $250-300!  Hotels do run on the expensive side in Ghana so you really do want to have enough points to cover your stay.  This is also one of the few places in the world where you can use points for a night and have a great place for birding within an easy day trip – Shai Hills Reserve!

Getting To Ghana & Other West African Countries With Airline Miles

I will be using Accra’s Kotoka International Airport as an example because that is where I went and also because Ghana is in my opinion the best country in West Africa to go birding.

The first step is to identify which airlines that participate in one of the 3 alliances serve the airport in question.  You can do this by looking the airport up in Wikipedia and making a note of which airlines fly there and cross referencing with my guides on Star Alliance, OneWorld Alliance and SkyTeam.  The main airports of interest to birders will be Accra, Dakar, Banjul, Abidjan & Freetown (if ebola crisis is over).  Lagos, Nigeria and Douala, Cameroun could also open up to birders if the security situation improves.

This is what you are looking for and I have highlighted all alliance members in yellow.

KotokaSTAR ALLIANCE

Star Alliance rules Africa in general and for most people, these are the miles you want if you are going anywhere in West Africa.  Egyptair, Ethiopian Airlines, Lufthansa, TAP Portugal, Turkish (which the Wiki forgot) and South African Airways all fly here.  Most people will be using United Airlines miles for their trip although Australians may be using Singapore Krisflyer miles.  I advise using United or possibly Avianca Lifemiles to avoid YQ fuel surcharges.  Here are some typical routes and costs with United, all are quoted as one-ways so double it for a round trip.

Traveling from the USA or Canada will cost 40k economy or 80k business class.

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From the UK or Europe you will pay 30k economy or 55k business class.  Watch the high airport tax from the UK!

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From Australia or New Zealand you will pay 50k economy or 85k business class.

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If you need intra-Africa flights, these are a bargain at  17.5k economy and 35k business class.

UA Ghana4If you are using Singapore Krisflyer, the miles are reasonable but the YQ surcharge is insane!

SQ Africa

Seriously?  Over $500 AUD for the YQ surcharge!!!

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Only 2 OneWorld Airlines serve Accra – British Airways and Iberia.  Both attract YQ surcharges (BA is higher than IB) so these routes will not be most people’s first choice.  Due to routing restrictions, you will need to redeem 2 awards if you are coming from Australia/New Zealand – Singapore/Bangkok – West Africa.

AA Ghana

If you are flush with Avios from a credit card bonus, they are an option but please note the YQ surcharges!

Avios Ghana1 Avios Ghana2SKYTEAM

Accra is served by 4 Skyteam partners – Delta, Kenya Airways, KLM and Middle East Airlines.

Delta has surprisingly good availability.  They no longer publish an award chart so I did a few examples.  From the USA/Canada mileage starts at 40k economy & 90k business class and goes up depending on saver availability.

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Notice how much higher the YQ surcharges are for these examples for Sydney and London!

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Using Flying Blue miles on Kenya Airways can be good for hopping around Africa and they do add certain destinations like Madagascar that Star Alliance can’t provide.  For more information on using Kenya Airways, see my Madagascar post.

BOTTOM LINE

If you want to go to West Africa, collect United Mileage Plus!  Chase is your friend!

Antananarivo Airport & Kenya Airways TNR-NBO-ACC

Antananarivo’s Ivato Int’l Airport is probably not going to top anyone’s list of favourite airports but it gets the job done.  There aren’t a lot of airlines serving this airport but I have already done a guide on how to get here using airline miles.

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The biggest tip is to beware of security guards weighing carry-on bags.  Even backpacks, which normally slide through at other airports if they look small.  If you have more than 7kgs, they will send you back, ostensibly to check your bag.  This is a case where Scottevest saved the day for us as we simply went out of sight, stuffed the heaviest items into our very deep pockets and returned to security.  Backpacks were weighed and passed, jackets were ignored except for the usual x-rays and we were inside and awaiting our flight.  We didn’t have any checked luggage so it wasn’t a money issue, it was more a concern with a tight connection and fear of the bags arriving at all.

We were in economy booked with Flying Blue miles so had no access to lounges.  There are a few shops but otherwise not much to do except read.  No wifi outside the lounge.

Kenya Airways was about half an hour late and I was getting nervous as we only had one hour to connect in NBO.  Luckily, the same aircraft that brought us to NBO remained at the gate and also took us to ACC.   The first flight wasn’t full and we had an empty middle seat to spread out in.  We weren’t so lucky on the NBO-ACC segment, the plane was completely full.

IMG_5813 IMG_5814 IMG_5816On arrival at Accra, we had the usual temperature security to pass, then we ran over to the immigration “other nationals” line which went smoothly since we already had the necessary visa obtained from their consulate in Canberra.  They do not give visas on arrival.

Our next birding adventure in Ghana was about to begin!

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