Visiting Kakum National Park, Ghana

Ghana’s Kakum National Park rates highly amongst birders for it’s impressive bird list and ease to access.  For people staying independently at the Rainforest Lodge, you can get there in a 15 minute ride in a tro-tro.  You don’t need to organize anything in advance, there are guides available at the gate.  If you want early access (before 8am) you do need to arrange it in advance.  Credit cards are not accepted for either entry or guide fees so be prepared with cash – Ghanaian Cedis.

The mini-bus/tro-tro will let you out by this sign and the one below.  Walk up the path to the guard and pay 1 Cedi per person entry.

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The first time we took a taxi not knowing how close the park actually was.  It cost 10 Cedis.

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As you enter, there are signs telling you what the park has to offer.  I didn’t really look at the camping side of things as at my age I want a roof over my head!

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The reception is where you pay your entry fee.

IMG_5926Here are the fees as of November 2014.  Take note that there are higher fees for birdwatching as opposed to just visiting the canopy walkway.  I can’t figure that one out.  Everyone walks up the same path.  Everyone enters the same canopy walkway and has access to the same platforms.  So I have no idea why “birdwatching” costs more!  These fees don’t include the guide, you can see the guide fees below.

In our situation, we arrived around 6:30 and the office hadn’t opened yet.  A couple of guides arrived around 7am and they arranged with the guard to let us in with the promise to pay all the fees after we came back so we could enter right away.  An international birding tour group was already inside, they had left the lodge around 5:30 and pre-arranged tickets and a guide.  When we got back, the guide told the reception we were birdwatchers and they charged accordingly.

While we were there, a few local tour groups came through, judging by their small cameras and lack of binoculars, they weren’t bird watchers but they walked the exact same bridges we did.  So it’s just strange they have higher prices, what do they do if you pay as a normal tourist and happen to see birds while you are up there?  The regular tourists were looking at the same birds we were looking at.  Other than lizards and scenic views, there is nothing to see BUT birds!

IMG_6016 IMG_6015The restrooms

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A snack bar

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Welcome sign

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Entry gate where you show your ticket and head off to the canopy walkway.

IMG_5930 IMG_5931And this is where I will leave you for now, bird pics to follow!

 

 

Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis)

The woodland kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis) is a tree kingfisher.  I was lucky enough to see this one at close range at the Rainforest Lodge near Kakum, Ghana.

IMG_5893 IMG_5888They have an extremely large range, basically two thirds of Africa so I am surprised I didn’t see them in more places.  I’ve found reliable reports that they can be seen in Kruger National Park, South Africa and several places in Uganda as well.

Red dot - Kakum, Ghana

Red dot – Kakum, Ghana

LEARN MORE ABOUT WOODLAND KINGFISHERS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Xeno-Canto

Beauty of Birds

VIDEO

Amazing close-up of a pair of Woodland Kingfishers having breakfast!

 

Birding The Rainforest Lodge, Kakum

Yesterday I reviewed the Rainforest Lodge but I saved the best for last – the birds!

These were all seen between 3:30-5:30pm-ish.  I will do my best to identify them from the guidebook.  There are a few I can’t find so if anyone is familiar with Ghanaian birds and wants to help, please do so in the comments.

Red-eyed Doves

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Typical Weaver Nest

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Black-necked Weaver

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Village Weaver

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Copper Sunbird

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Pied Crow

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Western Oriole

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Pied Flycatcher?

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And here’s my favourite – the Woodland Kingfisher!

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Somehow my husband lost interest in the birds and decided to make friends with the mechanics across the road.

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Lodge Review: Rainforest Lodge, Kakum National Park, Ghana

The Rainforest Lodge in the small village of Akrofrom, Ghana is about a 10 minute drive from Kakum National Park and is actually the closest lodge to the park.  Both individual birders like us and people on international organized birding trips stay here.

You can get here easily by tro-tro from Cape Coast.  Tell the driver where you are going, they should all know where it is but also keep an eye out on your left side as our driver forgot to stop and almost went past it!

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IMG_6099Even before we entered the reception, we loved the African artwork on the building!

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The rooms are in a circle with covered walkways to each one.  It does rain here sometimes!

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Here’s our room, it was gorgeous!  We really felt like we were in Ghana and not some cookie-cutter room that could be anywhere.

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If there was anything to complain about it would be the presence of a tv.  Who needs a tv when the grounds are full of birds?

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The restaurant has wonderful murals of birds and the rainforest on all the walls and windows overlooking the garden where you can watch birds while waiting for your food.

IMG_5864 IMG_5865 IMG_5866 IMG_5868 IMG_5869 IMG_5870I probably should have taken photos of the food but you’ll just have to trust me, the pizza was to die for!  Forget Dominoes, Pizza Hut or whatever, Rainforest Lodge Pizza rules!

Rooms are very reasonably priced at around $60 a night and includes breakfast and free wifi.  Since most of the clientele are birders, they are well accustomed to providing early breakfasts or will pack one up for you.  There is a swimming pool but since we got there late and then spent the whole next day at Kakum we didn’t use it.

If you are on your own, it is pretty easy to get either a taxi or tro-tro on the road in front of the lodge to Kakum.

Did I mention there were birds here?  Tune in tomorrow!

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!

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!

 

Did I Achieve My Birding Goals In Africa?

During the planning stages of “The Mother of all African Adventures“, I was targeting areas in which parrot species could be found along with many other bird and mammal species.  I will copy the targets here and give you the results to show how goal planning can affect your trip.  Of course the trip will be blogged in detail over the next few months.

I have copied below the parrot species I was targeting which represent 17 out of the 24 species that are found in Africa and the neighboring island nations.  Successes will be highlighted in lime green.

PARROT SPECIES FOUND IN AFRICA

1. Rose-ringed Parakeet – Psittacula krameri.  We have seen them in several places in India and feral populations in Europe.  Not a priority but may see them during the trip.

Result:  Not seen on this trip.

2. Mauritius Parakeet  – Psittacula echo.  Habitat in Black River Gorges National Park, easily driven from hotel in Mauritius.

Result:  Seen well in Black River Gorges National Park.

3. Gray Parrot – Psittacus erithacus.  Has large range but many places difficult, expensive or possible unsafe to travel to.  Easiest place to see them near Star Alliance airport is in Ghana at Kakum National Park.

Result: Only a pair seen flying at a distance in Kakum National Park.

4. Greater Vasa Parrot – Coracopsis vasa.  Madagascar endemic, easiest place to find them near Star Alliance airport is Andasibe National Park.

Result:  Seen well at Ankarafantsika National Park.

5. Lesser Vasa Parrot – Coracopsis nigra.  Madagascar endemic, easiest place to find them near Star Alliance airport is Andasibe National Park.

Result:  Seen well at Ankarafantsika National Park.

7. Black-winged Lovebird – Agapornis taranta.  Found in Ethiopia.  Slim chance to see them if there is a long layover at Addis Ababa.

Result:  We had a scant hour of early dawn light to try to find them on a brief layover and failed to find any.  Needed more time!

8.  Red-headed Lovebird – Agapornis pullarius.  Habitat not easily accessible, best chance is in Ghana.

 

Result:  Poorly seen in dense foliage at University of Ghana, Accra.

11. Fischer’s Lovebird – Agapornis fischeri.  Found in Tanzania, targeting them in Arusha, Tarangire and Serengeti.

Result:  Seen well near Ndutu Safari Lodge on Serengeti border.

12. Yellow-collared Lovebird (Masked Lovebird) – Agapornis personatus.  Found in Tanzania, targeting them in Arusha, Tarangire and Serengeti.

Result:  Seen well at Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.

14. Grey-headed Lovebird –  Agapornis canus.  Madagascar endemic, easiest place to find them near Star Alliance airport is Anatanarivo’s Tsimbazaza Park.

Result:  Seen at Ankarafantsika National Park.

15. Red-fronted (Jardine’s) Parrot – Poicephalus gulielmi.  Targeted in Arusha National Park and possible Ghana.

Result:  Seen at a distance at Arusha National Park, Tanzania

16. Cape Parrot – Poicephalus robustus.  Southern coast of South Africa.  Will try to find them as close as possible to Port Elizabeth.

Result:  Seen well in King William’s Town, South Africa.

17. Brown-necked Parrot –  Poicephalus fuscicollis.  Subspecies of Cape Parrot.  Have seen in Magoebaskloof, planning on return visit.

Result:  Seen well at Magoebaskloof, South Africa.

18. Brown-headed Parrot – Poicephalus cryptoxanthus. Easiest to find in northern Kruger National Park.

Result:  Seen well at Pretoriuskop Restcamp, Kruger National Park.

19. Red-bellied Parrot – Poicephalus rufiventris.  Found in Tanzania, targeting them in Tarangire.

Result:  Seen well at Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.

21. Meyer’s Parrot – Poicephalus meyeri.  Several subspecies spread out over southern and central Africa.  Best places to target them are northern South Africa and Tanzania’s Tarangire and Serengeti.

Result:  Seen well at Tarangire National Park, Tanzania.

24. Senegal Parrot  – Poicephalus senegalus.  Wide-spread in West Africa but easiest place to see using Star Alliance airports would be Shai Hills, Ghana near Accra.

Result:  Seen briefly at Shai Hills, Ghana.

By “seen well” I mean that the bird stuck around long enough to have a good look and get photos.  In some cases, all we could see were birds flying rapidly through the trees or scrambling through foliage.

FINAL TALLY

17 out of 24 parrot species targeted.

15 out of these 17 were seen.

11 out of these 15 were “seen well”

That’s actually not bad when you consider how unpredictable wild birds can be, and it only happened because I did TONS of research to give myself the best possible odds!