A birdwatching travel report
25 February Ė 24 March 1999
I never really wrote this report until jan 2004 because I thought I had nothing really important to add except for some information which is actually already on the net. Nevertheless it seems that reports on Ivory Coast are scarce and
While I lived in the Gambia from 1998-2001, I spent a 4-week birding holiday in Ivory Coast.
The main reason to go to Ivory Coast was to try and find the "Yellow-headed Rockfowl" or White-necked Rockfowl (Picathartes gymnocephalus) which to me seemed to be the most amazing and bizarre bird in the world. This bird is only known from Ivory Coast and adjacent Liberia and was our target bird.
I went there without a proper preparatory research and only with the ominous information that the only known breeding site of this bird was destroyed and the bird was only seen incidentally.
What I didnít know was that a new site was discovered in 1984 more than a dayís hike in the middle of the fantastic rainforest of Tai National Park. I and my friend (Ronald Jansen) found out this while we were there and of course Tai NP was on our list of sites to be visited. During this trip I had probably the most spectacular sighting that I have ever had in 25 years of birdwatching and other numerous occasions of fantastic sightings of birds and animals made this a memorable trip.
On the other hand that I have to admit that although I have travelled quite a bit in Africa (8 different countries) relying on public transport, I found this not the most pleasant country to go backpacking. Probably partly due to the tension that was already building up that lead to the military coup less than a year later, we had a few instances where the going wasnít as smooth as one should expect in Africa. Roadblocks with long stops by corrupt policemen refusing to let a bus pass and rumours of gangs roaming around in areas where not making us feeling as free as we would like to.
Nevertheless we visited all the sites we wanted to visit and experienced nothing that made us regret going there in any way. I would say that a visit to the largest area of tropical rainforest of the "Upper-Guinea" area is a must for the international birder. And the newly arisen "Ecotel Touraco" lodge offers an excellent opportunity to see this natural treasure. So go there!
Getting there and around
You do need a visa for Ivory Coast (I got one at a consulate in the Gambia). To get there I flew Ghana Airways (but I had to come from the Gambia). Ghana airways is not very reliable they often overbook their flights and checking in can be very chaotic because people are all afraid of not getting a seat.
My luggage got lost on arrival. It continued to Accra (Ghana) because it wasnít offloaded together with luggage of other people who got off in Abidjan.
My friend flew in from Holland the same evening.
Abidjan is a dangerous city (arguably the most dangerous city in Africa!) so donít go around on your own on foot unless you know where you are going and certainly donít wander around at night. It is best to take taxis which are not too expensive.
Next day we awaited the flight from Accra got my luggage and we quickly made our way for Yapo.
Getting around in country by means of public transport can be a bit of a hassle in Ivory Coast.
There are usually buses to the locations but when we were there, there were numerous roadblocks probably because of the justified fear of rebels. You should carry your passport at all times and will find that it is frequently checked (also on you visa). Sometimes you may find that police take a bus off the road and prevent it from continuing for an hour until all passengers are getting angry and the bus finally can go. But things maybe quite different when you get there because we were there before the coup.
The roads are surprisingly good by African standards. As a result public transport goes very fast. You may have to wait a while to get the vehicle filled with passengers and the already mentioned roadblocks cause some delays.
Accommodation, health, safety, books, money and food
Accommodation is at the sites which are all reachable by public transport.
At Lamto we saved some money by camping. Also at the gate of Marahoué NP. we camped near the lodge which seemed a little overpriced.
Health: You need a valid yellow fever vaccination proof (10-years). There is a check for this on arrival. Do get the vaccination anyway because the disease is not one to risk!.
Malaria is prevalent and Lariam should be taken too.
Safety: No reason to get paranoid in this country but there is significant political unrest and as usual this causes also more criminality. Do get informed about recent developments and then determine if it is safe to go. One website that could be of help is this:
Books: We were unfortunately there before two great books on Western Africa came out.
We worked with:
Collins fieldguide Birds of Western Africa; W. Serle et al. Which does not describe all the species and certainly has not all the illustrations and two old Bulky Volumes on West-African Birds which helped us a lot but I shall not bother to give you the details because recently two much better guides have come out:
Birds of Western Africa: An Identification Guide; Nik Borrow and Ron Demey
Collins Illustrated Checklist: Birds of Western and Central Africa; Ber Van Perlo. To get more details about the sites visited you can use the Where to watch Birds in Africa. All sites visited are in it.
Money: This is one of the more expensive countries in the region.
We had some difficulties changing traveller cheques in certain towns (for instance Daloa) in country. Get the details from a recent Lonely Planet guide and plan the number of bank visits to two or three (for a 4-week trip) to save time. Or better get informed (internet or Lonley Planet) about ATMís they may be operational as things are changing fast in communication technology.
Food was excellent at Lamto and Tai NP. Otherwise it can be very basic and just ok. Beers are of a decent size (0.65 L) and fair quality and obtainable everywhere to celebrate your lifers in the evening (donít take one for every lifer :-)). Of course you should not drink the tap water and use the readily available bottled water.
February 26 Ė March 2: Yapo
March 2 Ė 6: Lamto
March 7 Ė 8: Marahoué NP.
March 11: Tabou
March 12 Ė 18: Tai NP.
March 19: Dabou
March 21 Ė 24: Orstom.
If I were to plan this trip again I would spend a lot more time (9 or 10 days) in Tai NP (if it wasnít for the cost also).
A nice rainforest area about 40 km north of Abidjan along the road to Agboville. This is not a National Park but the forest was in quite good shape when we were there. The forest lies in between the fork of the road to Agboville and the road to Agou.
Access: This is a site where a car can be of some use to get around. We didnít have a car and took a bus to Agboville and got off along the highway to Agboville near the village of Yapo.
If you do this, pay attention when you drive there. You will notice where trails into the forest start. And in the morning you can take an early (7.00 am) small bus back for a few kilometers to a trail.
Accommodation: there is a very grotty place to stay in the village and it could be a wise idea to ask for the chief of the village and talk to him about the intentions of your visit. We found the people a little distressing here because they were not expecting strangers to go wandering around by themselves. We had someone following us all the time and at a nearby village we got stopped by a corrupt policeman who bothered us for half an hour asking our passports and some questions and letting us wait clearly hoping to get some money. We did the right thing here and kindly answered the questions, didnít pay any money and pretended we were not in hurry at all. We hitch hiked here once for a short stretch and got warned that this is not very safe to do in this area because of risk of robbery.
Spotted Greenbul; Blue-throated Brown Sunbird; Square-tailed Sawwing; Red-headed Malimbe; Grayís Malimbe; Red-vented Malimbe; White-spotted Flufftail; Buff-throated sunbird; Superb Sunbird; Green Sunbird; Little Green Sunbird; Olive sunbird; Collared Sunbird; Variable Sunbird; Tiny Sunbird; Yellow-billed Cuckoo; Black-throated Coucal; Senegal Coucal; Crowned Eagle; Verreauxís Touraco; African Green Pigeon; Tambourine Dove; Sabineís Spine-tail; Cassins Spine-tail; Black Bee-eater; Chestnut Wattle-eye; Dusky Grey Flycatcher; Uscherís Flycatcher; Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher; Yellow Spotted Barbet; Naked Faced Barbet; Speckled Tinkerbird; Piping Hornbill; African Pied Hornbill; Western Bluebill; Western Black-headed Oriole; Finchís Rusty Thrush; White-tailed Antthrush; Orange Cheeked Waxbill; Brown-crowned Eremomela; Red-capped Flycatcher; African Drongo; Square-tailed Drongo; Little Greenbul; Icterine Greenbul; Yellow-throated Olive Greenbul; Thick-billed Red-tailed Greenbul; Honeyguide Greenbul; Blue-throated Roller; Red-billed Helmet-shrike; White-thoated Bee-eater; Veillotís Black Weaver; Village Weaver; Tithylia; Green Hylia; Grey-headed Negro-finch; Chestnut-breasted Negro-finch; Bronze Manikin; Black-and-White Manikin; Palmnut Vulture; African Harrier-hawk; Woodland Kingfisher; Simple Greenbul; Yellow-throated Tinkerbird; African Dwarf Kingfisher; Green Crombec; White-tailed Alethe; African Pygmy Kingfisher; Mottled Spine-tail; Forest Flycatcher; Violet backed Starling; Pin-tailed Wydah; Allenís Gallinule.
This place used to have a small colony of the White-necked Rockfowl but since 1994 the forest around the precise location of the colony was cleared for agricultural purposes (bananaplantation). This is a shame because the bird is rare and has very few suitable nesting places because it needs huge rockformations in rainforest, a combination that is found in very few places.
Birdwatchers still kept going to this site as for a long time it was the only reliable place to see this spectacular bird. Years after the sad destruction still single birds where seen near the site. Also there were rumours of freshly build nests and the possiblity of another location nearby could explain why still birds were seen. But sights are now very rare at this place. When I saw the state of the location I lost all hope of seeing this bird which was in the top 5 of my most wanted birds of the world to see.
Then I met a German Biologist in the area who told me that a new colony was discovered in the middle of the most extensive remains of the mighty West African rainforests: Tai National Park.
I regained hope to see this bird.
Access: Lamto is a hard to reach place for the backpacker without a car. There is a geological and ecological station where usually there are people who can make your stay comfortable.
It lies left of the road from Abidjan to Yamoussoukro, 2 km south of Aheremou. The non-tarmac road is of good quality and after 15 km the road ends near the ecological station and the savanah is replaced by riverine forest. It is worth exploring the savanah habitat too.
We where lucky to get a ride from the Director of the Geological station otherwise we had to walk the 15 km (not a good option in the Afternoon, very Hot!)
Accomodation: It is possible to stay at the resthouse but we camped to save some money. The food has to be ordered in advance and is not cheap but of excellent quality.
Long-tailed Cormorant; Grey and Black-headed Herons; Lanner Falcon; White-backed Vulture; Lizard Buzzard; African Hobby; Osprey; African Finfoot; African Jacana; Rock Pratincole; White-headed Lapwing; Wattled Lapwing; Western Bronze-naped Pigeon; Tambourine Dove; Blue-spotted and Black-billed Wooddoves; Afr. Green Pigeon; Red-eyed Dove; Grey Parrot; Senegal Parrot; Great Blue Touraco; Western Grey Plantain-eater; Green Touraco; Levaillantís Cuckoo; Yellowbill; Barn Owl; Long-tailed Nightjar; Standard-winged Nightjar; Woodland Kingfisher; Pygmy Kingfisher; Giant Kingfisher; Blue-breasted Kingfisher; White-throated Bee-eater; Rufous Crowned Roller; Abyssinian Roller; Broad-billed Roller; Green Wood-hoopoe; White-crested Hornbill; Piping Hornbill; African Pied Hornbill; Veillotís Barbet; Wahlbergs Eagle; Blue-bellied Roller; Greater Honeyguide; Puvellís Illadopsis; Fraserís Rusty Thrush; Spotted Greenbul; Little Grey Greenbul; White-throated Greenbul; Bearded Greenbul; Senegal Batis; Chestnut Wattle-eye; Afr. Paradise Flycatcher; Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher; Willow Warbler; Sharpeís Apalis; Green Crombec; Smaller Green-backed Eremomela; Black-headed Oriole; Splendid Glossy-Starling; Coppery Sunbird; Green Sunbird; Olive-bellied Sunbird; Splendid Sunbird; Forest Chestnut-winged Starling; Blue-throated Sunbird; Tithylia; Grayís Malimbe; Red-headed Malimbe; Bronze and Black-and White Manikins; Grey-headed Negro-finch.
Easy to get transport to Goazra where the Park office is located from there you have to walk for 6-8 km to the actual gate of the park where there is an expensive lodge but one can also camp and just enjoy the food (overpriced).
Guides are obligatory.
The main problem with this park is that you should have a car. On foot you have to cover quite a distance to get to a better part of forest for birds. We got a ride to the part with better forest and had to walk back in the afternoon.
Brown Cheeked Hornbill; Black and White Casqued Hornbill; Black Coucal; Common Fiscal; Grasshopper Buzzard; White-throated Bee-eater; Black-bellied Firefinch; White-shouldered Black tit; Splendid Sunbird; Buff-throated Sunbird; Senegal Batis; Black Wood-hoopoe; Croaking Cisticola; Spotted Flycatcher; Willow Warbler; Red-shouldered Cuckoo-shrike; Hamerkop; Hadada; White-backed Vulture; Levaillants Cuckoo; Blue-bellied Roller; Veillotís Barbet; Yellow-throated Longclaw; Black-headed Tchagra; Smaller Green-backed Eremomela; Tithylia (nesting); Olive-bellied Sunbird; Coppery Sunbird; Collared Sunbird; Orange Cheeked Waxbill; Magpie Manakin.
It took us a lot of time to get to San Pedro and we also wasted a lot of time in San Pedro to try and arrange the trip and accomodation for Tai NP.
In San Pedro we walked back to the river and had a brief look at the birds there:
Rock Pratincole; Purple Swamphen; Allenís Gallinule; African Pygmy Goose; White-throated Blue Swallow; Squaco Heron; African Jacana; Palmnut Vulture; Pied and Malachite Kingfishers.
We could not make it to Tai from San Pedro directly and spend a night in Tabou.
The nearby seaside scrub produced: An Orange Weaver Colony;
When we were there we tried to arrange a permit in San Pedro to get into the Park from the Village of Tai. This we were told is not possible unless you have a special permit from the Ministry of Research.
We were told it is possible to visit the Park from the Village of Djiroutou 50 km below Tai village. With no arrangements beforehand we could just go there and stay at the Ecotel Touraco lodge.
The prices we paid for accomodation seem a little outdated so you better try to get information from the German owner Reiner Weissensee himself or try it throught this site:
For more info: http://www.parc-national-de-tai.org/angl/index_an.html
It is a long walk with all your gear to the Park Entrance from Djiroutou. But the lodge is a fantastic place to stay. It has excellent birding around the lodge itself and accomodation is exactly what you should expect for a place at the edge of the rainforest. It may actually be improved a lot in the meantime looking at the prices that you have to pay (see report of birdtours):
and comparing them with what we paid. The food was superb!
We took quite a lot of time just outside the national park because it was a little over out budget to spend all the time in there. We booked a three day hike with the guide Luque to Mt. Niénoukoué where a colony of Bare-headed (Yellow-headed) Rockfowl was discovered in 1984.
Luque seemed a bit impatient for two keen birdwatchers on their first visit to this fantastic place where we took our time when we encountered forest flocks.
This three days hike turned out very successful, but it almost turned into a disaster. We made an early start before dawn the first day. Still in the dark in the chalet I was packing the necessary gear to survive for three days in the rainforest. While I was moving around barefooted I stepped on something and felt a big thing moving under my foot. I quickly jumped aside and had a look with my torch: It turned out I stepped on a massive black scorpion (about 25 cm!) with my bare foot! I was lucky not to get stung. The second day when we were almost at the site we walked quickly and therefore gave not enough time for an enormous Black Spitting Cobra to avoid the encounter. It was the most impressive encounter with a snake I ever had. The snake lifted up to almost a meter high. Our guide who went ahead was suddenly behind us. The snake noticed that this warning was enough (it would be enough for an elephant I suppose) and held itís posture only briefly and then slid off. When we came at the big boulders near the foot of the mountain, our guide told us that we had to be absolutely silent and very patient. We sat down at a strategic place and waited for one hour while not making a sound and hardly moved. Then I saw a yellow patch moving. I lifted my binoculars and there it was! What a climax and what an amazing bird to see! Itís anatomy so striking enigmatic. The bright yellow bare head with the odd black spot behind the eye and a strange thick bill that seems to be stuck on the head with glue. After having seen the mud nests we were surprised to see the bird so much larger. The way it moves through the understore is also memorable. No sound whatsoever and with fairly large hops it could still be very inconspicuous. This truly was the most exciting experience I ever had in 25 years of birdwatching!
Birds seen near the lodge, near the river and near the clearing and the forest around:
Olive Ibis; Hadada; Palmnut Vulture; African Harrier-hawk; Crowned Eagle; African Cuckoo-hawk; African Finfoot; Grey Parrot; Great Blue Touraco; Green Touraco; Sabineís Spine-tail; Blue-breasted Kingfisher; Woodland Kingfisher; African Dwarf Kingfisher; White-thoated Bee-eater; Blue-throated Roller; Broad-billed Roller; Forest Wood-hoopoe; White-headed Wood-hoopoe; Yellow-tufted Woodpecker; Yellow Casqued Hornbill; Black Casqued Hornbill; Piping Hornbill; African Pied Hornbill; Black Dwarf Hornbill; White-crested Hornbill; Yellow-throated Tinkerbird; Little Green Woodpecker; Speckled Tinkerbird; Red-rumped Tinkerbird; Yellow Spotted Barbet; Naked Faced Barbet; Hairy-breasted Barbet; Square-tailed Sawwing; Little Grey Greenbul; Icterine Greenbul; Bearded Greenbul; White-tailed (Swamp Palm) Greenbul; Spotted Greenbul; Honeyguide Greenbul; Uscherís Flycatcher; Gambaga Flycatcher; Cassins Grey Flycatcher; Chestnut Wattle-eye; Shrike Flycatcher, Violet Backed Hyliota; Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher; Black-capped Illadopsis; Brown Illadopsis; Green Sunbird; Johannaís Sunbird; Black-headed Oriole; Fraserís Scarlet-tufted Sunbird; Olive Sunbird; Fraserís Rufous Thrush; Red-billed Helmet-shrike; Coppery-tailed Glossy Starling; African Drongo; Square-tailed Drongo; Maxwellís Black Weaver; Yellow-mantled Weaver; Crested Malimbe; Red-headed Malimbe; Grayís Malimbe; Grey-headed Negro-finch; Mouse-brown Sunbird; Buff-throated Sunbird; Sharpeís Apalis; Village Weaver.
Birds seen on only on the 3-day hike inside the National Park:
African Black Duck; Lathams (Forest) Francolin; White-breasted Guineafowl; White-headed Plover; Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo; Black (Red-chested) Cuckoo; Chocolate-backed Kingfisher; Shining Blue Kingfisher; Giant Kingfisher; Malachite Kingfisher; Narina Trogon; Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill; White-crested Hornbill; Spotted Honeyguide; Fire-bellied Woodpecker; Rufous-sided Broadbill; Blue Cuckoo-shrike; Bare-headed Rockfowl (1); Spotted Nicator; White-throated Greenbul; White-breasted Alethe; White-tailed Alethe; Finchís Rufous Thrush; White-browed Forest Flycatcher; Shining Drongo; Golden-backed Weaver; Red-fronted Antpecker; Afep Pigeon;
From Dabou we went for the Rice fields nearby by taxi (5 km) but they were dried up and did not produce anything that could not be seen in any particular piece of farmland.
We got off the bus from Dabou to Abidjan and found out we got off too soon. We took a taxi to the place which seems like a special kind of settlement in a neatly preserved park. We were told that we could not stay in the park but a hotel nearby (Hotel Aifen) was our accomodation which also had a restaurant.
Where to watch birds in Africa says that the speciality at this place is Tithylia. We believe this bird is quite common and saw it several times at different sites already. For us the birds to go for where:
Forbesí Plover and Nkulengu Rail.
Birds seen in the park around the buildings:
Ring-necked Parakeet; Speckled Tinkerbird; Red-vented and Red-headed Malimbes; Yellow-mantled Weaver; Chestnut-breasted Negro-finch; Grey-headed Negrofinch; Green Sunbird; Collared Sunbird; Buff-thoated Sunbird; Olive-bellied Sunbird; Blue-throated Sunbird; Coppery Sunbird; Tiny Sunbird; Suberb Sunbird; Tithylia (common); White-tailed Greenbul; Slender-billed Greenbul; Simple Greenbul; Palmnut Vulture; Pied Hornbill; White-crested Hornbill; Yellowbill; Fanti Roughwing Swallow; Black-throated Coucal; Nkulengu Rail (4)(to see this bird visit the lakeside in the evening. I found two of the birds to my great surprise, awkwardly postured, about 3-4 meters up in trees!, yet they were unmistakably this species); West-African Goshawk; Shikra; Cassinís Honeybird; Little Green Sunbird; Black-necked Weaver; Little Greenbul; Willow Warbler; Red-faced Cisticola; Brown-eared Woodpecker; Veillotís Black Weaver; Western Reefheron; Honeyguide Greenbul; Bearded Greenbul; Yellow-whiskered Greenbul.
Near the lagoon:
Moustached Warbler; Reed Warbler; Grey Heron; Green-backed Heron; Royal Tern; Sandwich Tern; Common Sandpiper
Agricultural fields nearby:
Red-breasted Swallow; African Crake; Little Button-Quail; Forbesí Plover (8); Ringed Plover; Little Bee-eater; Yellow-throated Longclaw; Yellow-mantled Widowbird; Marsh Harrier; Plain-backed Pipit; Winding Cisticola; Broad-billed Roller