New Routes To Australia & Ghana From USA

Two new routes open up more exciting eco-travel opportunities for miles and points collectors!  The whole miles and points world is talking about the new routes from California to Sydney.  American Airlines will begin direct service on the busy LAX to SYD route 17 Dec 2015 – just in time for the peak season down under.  This will add more potential award seats which for AAdvantage members go for 37,000 in Y, 62,500 in J.  Since it does commence during peak season, I don’t expect there to be much award availability until perhaps Feb 2016.  At least AAdvantage members will have a fighting chance to get J awards since they will have the same access as any OneWorld member!

Qantas is re-launching SFO to SYD service from 20 Dec 2015.  Economy awards are generally easy to get but premium class award on QF have always been as rare as hen’s teeth.  At least it’s another connecting point and once you are in SYD you can use the same award to get anywhere in Australia you want.  I have a guide on planning a birding adventure using Western Australia as an example.

If you collect Star Alliance miles/United Mileage Plus, there’s good news for you too!  South African Airways is adding a stop in Accra, Ghana enroute to JNB.  This makes a nice birding itinerary similar to what I did last year.

Senegal Parrot (Poicephalus senegalus)

The Senegal parrot (Poicephalus senegalus) is a Poicephalus parrot which is a resident breeder across a wide range of west Africa.  It makes migrations within west Africa, according to the availability of the fruit, seeds and blossoms which make up its diet. It is considered a farm pest in Africa, often feeding on maize or millet.

I took these photos in Shai Hills, Ghana.

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Original shots show how far away the bird was.

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There are three subspecies.  They do not differ in behaviour, but only in the colour of the “vest”.  In the pet trade, the nominate subspecies is the most common though all three are raised and sold as pets.

  • P. s. senegalus (the nominate subspecies): this subspecies has a yellow vest; its native range includes Senegal, southern Mauritania, southern Mali to Guinea and Lobos Island.
  • P. s. mesotypus: this subspecies has an orange vest; its range is from eastern and northeastern Nigeria and Cameroon into southwest Chad.
  • P. s. versteri: this subspecies has a deep-orange/red vest; its range is from the Ivory Coast and Ghana east to western Nigeria.

The photos above are of the Ghanaian subspecies P.s. versteri.  For comparison, here are some photos I took of the nominate subspecies in Birds of Eden, South Africa.

IMG_3186 IMG_3187Senegal Parrots have a very large range throughout West Africa but the majority of sightings come from Ghana such as mine in Shai Hills, the Gambia and Senegal.

Sennie RangeLEARN MORE ABOUT SENEGAL PARROTS

Wikipedia

World Parrot Trust

Birdlife

Xeno-Canto (all 3 Subspecies)

Birds of Eden

National Geographic – A heartbreaking look at the abuse of these beautiful birds by wildlife poachers.

VIDEOS

It was hard to find wild Sennies amongst the hundreds of pet bird videos but here’s a couple from YouTube and IBC.

This guy starts out with birds flying overhead at a distance but he gets lucky and finds a perched parrot!

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!

Day Trip From Accra To Shai Hills Reserve

Since we made our home base in Accra at the Accra Airport Holiday Inn, it was easiest to use the car hire service in the lobby.  In Ghana, most car hires include the driver.  I don’t remember offhand the exact prices but since we only needed the car for the morning, we negotiated a 6 hour rate and had to have the car back by noon.  I also agreed to pay the petrol as we wouldn’t be using too much just to get to Shai Hills and back.

Shai Hills

We started out early and by the time we got to Shai Hills we were treated to a beautiful sunrise over the rock formations.

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Once again they had a rate for “bird watching” that was double the cost of general entry with no apparent extra service provided.  Since they only took cash, no credit cards and we only had a fixed amount until the next day when we were leaving, we could only afford 2 hours.  I paid the normal fee for us both while talking about baboons and wildlife.  We took one of their guides who turned out to be good a bird spotting and paid for 2 hours since I figured by 9am the birds would be resting.  I really hate the way they charge by the hour.  Once you are in the park, why not just let people stay as long as they want?  This is the first time I have seen this (meaning Ghana in general as Kakum also had it) and I think it’s ridiculous!  To be honest, if they had credit card facilities I wouldn’t have cared so much about the cost but being our last day, we were just low on cash and also had to pay for the car and petrol.

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There is a small display as you enter, then the first birds we saw were these ostriches.

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There weren’t a whole lot of birds around.  I had one mission – to find and hopefully photograph Senegal Parrots.  But that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to look for as many birds as possible!  This little guy was sunning himself on a rock.

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African Grey Hornbill

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After driving around and spotting mostly LBJs (little brown jobs) and pigeons, I finally got my Senegal Parrots!  They were flying swiftly overhead as parrots tend to do but because it was open terrain, not thick forest I had time to grab a few shots.

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White-bellied EgyptAir bird!

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We also saw lots of Baboons, more Hornbills and more LBJs.

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Fruit & veggie stall just outside the park.

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Hitchhikers?

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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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Whirlwind Visit Of Cape Coast

After leaving Kakum for the journey back to Accra, we had to get a tro-tro back to Cape Coast.  We didn’t have much time as I wanted to have enough time to shop in Accra before going back to the hotel so we just hired a taxi to drive us around.  Here’s a pictorial of some of Cape Coast’s sights.

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Some villages enroute

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Hans Botel is another lodge people use for Kakum visits but it’s further away.

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Main shopping street in Cape Coast

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Cape Coast Castle, unfortunately no time to go inside and we didn’t have anywhere to leave our bags.

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Churches and forts

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Bus back to Accra drops you back at the Kaneshie Market from where we got a taxi to the craft market.

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African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus)

Seeing wild African Grey Parrots is a holy grail for many people.  They are not only popular as pets worldwide but famous for their intelligence due to Dr Irene Pepperberg’s work with Alex.  I had such high hopes for Kakum as they are commonly reported being seen there and Ghana is a very easy country to get to and travel in.  Many people see them from the Canopy Walkway but we didn’t.  I was really disappointed as they were the main reason to visit Ghana.  In the evening, back at the lodge, I spoke with the guide of the organized group who were staying there and he said they saw them around 7am-ish from the car park at Kakum.

The next day, we went back and staked out the car park.  At first we saw lots of hornbills flying past but no Grey Parrots.  Our guides from the previous day showed up for work and sat with us while waiting for their clients to arrive.  Around 7:30, I was ready to give up and go back to the lodge when one of the guys said “There”!   He was pointing at a clearing through the trees over the park.  Two Grey Parrots in flight!  I grabbed my camera, said a quick Hail Mary and took aim.

IMG_6090I missed!  They were flying towards the left side of the photo and had cleared the tall tree in the middle and were heading behind the thick clump of trees on the left.  A blink of an eye, they were gone!  That was all I was going to get for African Grey Parrots after traveling all this way.  That’s how birding is, sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t.  In a way I was lucky, at least I DID see them for a split second, but I had wanted more time to enjoy watching them and their behaviour.

The best I can do are these photos I took at Birds of Eden, South Africa.    Many more African Grey photos can be found in the links below.

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For birders, seeing wild African Grey Parrots has the same problem as most African birds.  A potentially large range but many areas difficult to get to or unsafe to travel in.  Independent birders should try Kakum but expect the sighting to be brief and far away.  Uganda has better possibilities now that World Parrot Trust has released some Grey Parrots who were rescued from a poacher, rehabilitated and released at Ngamba Island, a chimpanzee sanctuary located in Lake Victoria.  Kibale National Forest in Uganda is also a good place to see them.

AG RangeLEARN MORE ABOUT AFRICAN GREY PARROTS

Wikipedia

World Parrot Trust

Birdlife

Rainforest Alliance

African Geographic Magazine – This is a must read article about the tragedy of wild African Grey Parrots being captured by poachers and the horrible fate they suffer.  Eco-tourism encourages locals to leave the birds in the wild!

VIDEOS

There is no shortage of videos showing wild African Grey Parrots!  Many are filmed by researchers who can access areas that independent travelers would have trouble with.

These first two are what I was hoping to see in Kakum.  The videographer doesn’t say where he filmed them but this may be because he is protecting them from poachers.

World Parrot Trust Documentary – shows actual poaching technique which is horrible to see!

The journey to freedom of rescued African Grey Parrots.  They start out in such heartbreaking condition, the trapping methods and transportation by poachers is extremely cruel.

Kakum’s Car Park – Yes You Can See Birds Here

In Africa, even car parks have interesting birds to see!  Kakum National Park in Ghana is no different.  It was here that I got my only glimpse of 2 African Grey Parrots in flight.  I also saw some other birds much closer!

PART 1 – AFTER LUNCH, SAME DAY AS CANOPY FOREST WALK

African Pied Crow

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Grogeous butterfly in the sun

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Pin-tailed Whydah

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Ladies headed home, I love how she balances the water on her head!

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Weaverbird Colony at the front gate.

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PART 2 – EARLY MORNING, AROUND 6AM – 7:45 THE NEXT MORNING

Hornbill Central, they were everywhere!

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Vieillot’s Black Weaver

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Little Bee-eater

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Back to the Weaver Colony

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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!