Cameroon 16th February - 13th March 2000

A birdwatching tripreport for packpackers

with link to sound of Sjösteds Honey-guide Greenbul

Michiel de Boer; January 2004


- Introduction
- Getting there and around
- Accommodation, health, safety, books, money and food
- Itinerary (summary)

- The Sites:
* Mount Cameroon
* Mount Kupé
* Bakossi Mountains
* Mount Oku
* Korup NP.
* Sanaga River
* Limbe Botanical Gardens
* Lake Debuncha Crater




While I lived in the Gambia from 1998-2001 I made several trips to some West-African countries. One to Ivory Coast, several to Senegal and one to Cameroon.

This is a report about a 4-week birding trip to Cameroon.

Beforehand I thought this to be the most interesting country in Africa because of it’s geographic features. It has rainforests; extreme high mountains (volcanoes); a coast; desert and of course everything in between.

Of course one can expect very diverse nature in such a country which is also fairly close to the equator. Bird life of course is also diverse. Cameroon is home to 8 of the 10 African bird families and has at least 874 species but probably quite a lot more as there are areas in Cameroon where just a handful of ornithologists have ever been. It is quite possible to see all 7 endemic species in a 4-week trip, although we only saw 4 of them this trip mainly because we did all the travelling by public transport which costs a lot of time, which is why we skipped a few sites and left some sites before finishing the ‘job’.

Cameroon is not a country that anyone would just go to, which makes it even more appealing. It is however infamous for being (arguably) the most corrupt country in the world. And I we had some experiences that support this reputation.

Nevertheless this was a good trip and with some unforgettable experiences. As usual I did not arrange anything in advance and did all the travelling by public transport. I met up with two friends in a tiny settlement on the foot of mighty mount Cameroon (the second highest mountain in Africa). My friends Rinke Krol and Ronald Jansen caught a plane one day earlier from Holland.


Getting there and around

You do need a visa for Cameroon and although it is obtainable at the border it is advisable to get one before going there. I flew in Cameroon from Senegal and there was no consulate and had to get one at the border. I went through some awkward moments where officials were behaving weird and because of a rip off at the official exchange bureau just before the border (they off course know you have no choice) I paid the same amount that it costs to get one in Holland. To get there I took the fast boat from Banjul (the Gambia) to Dakar. Had a quick but fantastic visit to the uninhabited Madeleine’s Island to admire the fantastic colony of Red-billed Tropic Birds and then flew Air Afrique via practically every capital in the whole of Western Africa. Not recommended but I didn’t fancy walking there and it seemed the only affordable airline company (still very expensive about the same price as from Holland to Cameroon) .

Travelling by public transport in Cameroon is tough. You can get practically anywhere but often have to wait a while for a driver of a vehicle (often a saloon car) to get enough passengers and enough means more then will fit in comfortably, to put it mildly. Roads are quite bad and can be very dusty so you will arrive at certain places covered under a thick layer of dust.

I found this trip to be one where quite a bit more time was spend getting to sites compared to other (African) countries. This could be one country where hiring a car really pays off. But it is reported by other people that it is also very expensive to rent a car in Cameroon.


Accommodation, health, safety, books, money and food


At the mountain sites (Mt Kupe; Mt Oku; Mt Cameroon) you can stay at basic accomodation close enough to walk to the best locations for birds.

At Mt. Cameroon you can also stay at very basic mountain huts when you climb the mountain (cold!).

At Bakossi Mountains you can take a guide; porter and cook from the village to take gear and hike into the mountain and then you should use a tent. The locals will build a "base camp" with a kitchen for you and prepare food after an exhausting day of birding.

At Korup NP. you need to arrange a guide and there are several basic camps with hammocks in the rainforest.

Health: You need a valid yellow fever vaccination proof (10-years). (check for this on arrival). Do get the vaccination anyway because the disease is not one to risk! Hepatitis A is also recommended. There are usually other vaccinations recommended but the risk is not too high (I usually don’t bother and have never met anyone that caught something like cholera or typhoid). Tetanus is a probably not worth the risk. Do take Lariam! Malaria is prevalent and is certainly not worth the risk!
Safety: It is safe to travel in Cameroon. It is advisable to get information before or on arrival to find out what to expect from the local people. In certain areas (Bakossi Mountains and The Bamenda highlands) foreigners are not expected to just wander around on their own before speaking to the chief of a village or in case of Bamenda highlands a local King (Fon). To avoid unpleasant experiences you should politely make your intentions clear and you may be appointed a guide which will cost some money.

You never know if certain areas are subject to temparory rivalry between etnic groups or otherwise unsafe. The very north of Cameroon seemed unreachable in reasonable time by public transport but was also reported not very safe by the time we were travelling. It may be a good idea to gather information through the internet before you go. For instance:

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 still a cheap country but certain areas may cost you. Bakossi Mountains requires also some tact not to get into a hassle and/or being asked exorbitant prices. And Korup and Mount Cameroon are a bit costly. The price to climb the second most highest mountain in Africa is certainly nowhere near the exorbitant price to climb the higest (Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania).

The currency is CFA (Central African Franc) rate was 100 CFA to a French Franc (FF). French Francs are now obsolete but the rate to the Euro used to be 1 FF= 0.15 €

We used AMEX traveller cheques get the details from a recent Lonely Planet guide.

Food is basic and ok. At some places there are superb sausages available for a take away with bread. Beers are of a decent size (0.65 L) and fair quality, try Mützig (pronounced as Music). A very nice softdrink is Pamplemouse (grapefruit softdrink). Of course you should not drink the tap water and use the readily available bottled water.


(February 15th: Madeleines Island, Senegal)
February 16 – February 17: Mt. Cameroon
February 19 – February 22: Mt. Kupé
February 23 – February 25: Bakossi Mountains
February 26 : Mt. Kupé
February 29 – March 2: Mt. Oku
March 5 – March 9: Korup NP.
March 11: Sanaga River
March 12: Limbe Botanical Gardens
March 13: Lake Debuncha Crater

If I were to plan this trip again I would spend more time at Mt. Cameroon; and would skip Debuncha Crater and maybe a day less at Mt. Oku.

February 15th: Madeleines Island, Senegal

On my way from the Gambia to Cameroon it turned out much cheaper to fly from Dakar (Senegal) than directly from Banjul. So I took this opportunity to take a fast boat from Banjul to Dakar and visited Madeleines Island near Dakar before flying to Douala. This was a very wise decision as it was there that I saw my first Red-billed Tropicbirds. Very high on my list of most wanted birds of the world. A fantastic experience! As a bonus I saw a group of Sudan Golden Sparrows on the Island, another lifer that I did not expect at all.

The sites:

Mt. Cameroon

This is a great place that you should not miss. For me it was also great to meet up with my friends, who I had not seen in a long tim. The small settlement called Buea, at the foot of the slopes of the second highest mountain of Africa, seemed a great place to meet up with friends.

Access: easily reached from Douala

Accomodation: we stayed at the Presbyterian mission. Cheap but cold showers. It is easy to arrange a guide for the climb here.

We payed 10.000 CFA per person per day for the climb, including permit and camp fees.

We went up the first day and the second day we climbed up well above the tree line in the grasslands and went down all the way to Buea again.

Birds seen:

Mountain Roughwing; Grey Cuckoo-shrike (subspecies distinctive smaller and darker grey); Mountain Sooty Boubou; Yellow-breasted Boubou; Cameroon Blue-headed Sunbird; Cameroon Mountain Robinchat; Brown-backed Cisticola; Mackinon’s Fiscal; Abyssinian Hill-babbler; Cameroon Mountain Greenbul; Red-tip (Verreaux’s) Touraco; Naked-faced Barbet; Narrow-tailed starling; White-bellied Flycatcher; African Green Pigeon; Green Longtail; Oriole Finch; Fernando Po Oliveback; Bates's Swift; Black-capped (Cameroon) Speirops; Stonechat; Thick-billed Seedeater; Yellow Bishop (non-breeding) (latter three above tree-line); Black-billed Weaver; Common Wattle-eye; Yellow White-eye; African Paradise Flycatcher; Green-headed Sunbird; Willow Warbler; Orange-cheeked Waxbill; Black-capped Waxbill; Black-headed Waxbill; Olive-bellied Sunbird; Northern Double-collared Sunbird.


Mt. Kupé

We travelled from Buea via Kumba; Tombel to Nyasoso.

In nyasoso you should go to the WWF office of the park. They will arrange for accomodation in the village. Good clean and adapted to western style. WWF certainly put in effords here to make tourists comfortable and teach locals how to improve their hospitality they way we seem to like it. Very nice prepared dinners and kind and hospitable people. If they keep this standard up they may get more money in the future.

Birds seen:

Pink-footed Puffback; White-tailed Warbler; Yellow-throated Tinkerbird; African Pied Hornbill; Wood Warbler; Levaillants Cuckoo; Gabon Woodpecker; Naked-faced Barbet; Spotted Greenbul; Yellow-spotted Barbet; Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher; Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye; African Piculet; Bar-tailed Trogon; Yellow-footed Flycatcher; Chestnut Wattle-eye; Black-capped Woodland Warbler; Common Wattle-eye; Yellowbill; Petit’s Cuckoo-shrike; Klaas’ Cuckoo; Little Olive Sunbird; Black-capped Apalis; Red-eyed Puffback; Western Bluebill; Square-tailed Sawwing; Shining Drongo; White-chinned Prinhia; Lühders Bushshrike; Long-crested Eagle; Red-necked Buzzard; African Harrierhawk; Velvet-mantled Drongo; White-backed Vulture; Grey-headed Broadbill; Western Green Tinkerbird; Grey-headed Greenbul; Gilbert’s (White-throated Mountian) Babbler; Cameroon Mountain Greenbul; Cameroon (Blue-headed) Sunbird; Ursula’s (mouse-coloured) Sunbird; Green-backed Twinspot; Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher; Ashy Flycatcher; Mountain Wagtail; African Shrike-flycatcher; Black-faced Rufous Warbler; Grey Longbill; Emerald Cuckoo; Black-throated Apalis; Brown-crowned Eremomela; Tit-hylia; White-spotted Flufftail; Spectacled Weaver; Great Blue Touraco; Yellow Rumped Tinkerbird; Honey-guide Greenbull; Red-chested Cuckoo; African Cuckoo; Black-winged Oriole; Klaas’ Cuckoo.

Others: Chimpansees (heard only).

Hence we dipped the local endemic…

We heard that the Mt. Kupé Bush-shrike had been seen on the Bakossi Mountains, this was our next destination.


Bakossi Mountains

Access: Ask at the Office of Mt. Kupé how to arrange your trip into this area. You may need a ride in their 4WD to the path to Baseng village on the Nyasoso-Bangem road, you may also need a guide to get to the village of Edib. We heard that a Team of explorers of Earth Watch had not been able to go up these mountains because they were asked to pay too much to the village. You have to be careful in negotiating with the villagers.

Bring a bottle of the local Whiskey for the chief of the village to lubricate the negotiations.

It is also great to see the rituals that are performed to make sure you are not bothered by evil spirits.

Then first of all tell them that you want to be a guest of the village and just want to look at birds on the mountain. Assure them that you are not doing research. They have the strange idea that researchers are making a lot of money by publishing articles. Don’t wave around camera’s and even better assure them you are not photographing either. They started asking us 100.000 CFA. When after some negotiating a kind of a quarrel started between the villagers and our guide whispered that he thought we would not stand a chance of getting up the mountain (likewise the Earth Watch team). Then I tried a different method: Knowing that in general as a stranger in Africa you should at least feel a welcome guest to any village. I told them that we were disappointed because we did not feel welcome to the village which was (partly) why we came. And also that we did not like to see people quarrelling over us and told them that we would like to leave. Then all of a sudden everything was OK. We were appointed a cook and a guide and two porters and off we went. (porter 1500 CFA per day and another 2000 per person per day).

Accommodation: We camped using our own tent. The villagers who joined us built a "base camp" with a kitchen and a shelter. It was a great way of exploring the area.

Birds seen:

Grey headed Greenbul; Grey-green Bush-shrike; Bar-tailed Trogon; Red-necked Buzzard; Green Longtail; Common Waxbill; Yellow Breasted Boubou; Chocolate-backed Kingfisher (heard only); Grey-headed Broadbill; Gilbert’s (White-throated Mountain) Babbler; White-spotted Flufftail; White-bellied Flycatcher; Green Hylia; Yellow Longbill; Grey Cuckoo-shrike; Narina Trogon; Black-headed Oriole; House Martin; Little Grebe; Moorhen; Emerald Cuckoo; Black-throated Apalis; Red-eyed Puffback; Crowned Eagle; Forest Weaver; White-throated Bee-eater; Petit’s Sawwing; Mt. Kupé Bush-shrike; Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrike; Black-faced Rufous Warbler; Grey Parrot.

We saw an atypical bird in this area which still keeps me wondering. Because this area has been birded by very few people this could be very interesting information:

A Paradise Flycatcher with completely dark-grey to black plumage. Possibly a melanistic form? The sound (call) was exactly similar to African Paradise Flycatcher and this made me think this is not a new species.


Mt. Oku

Mt. Oku is situated in the Bamenda Highlands and reached via Kumbo to Elak-Oku.

In the village you should arrange your visit. There is a guesthouse which is basic and has only cold water (2500 CFA for a room). We paid 10.000 CFA per person the first day and 2000 for every following day. Guides are 2000 CFA per person and OK but not very good. Then one has to visit the Fon (local king). The Fon is honoured truly as a king and has throne and a palace and needs to know about your intentions otherwise local people will not assist you and they may be offended. It is custom to bring a small present for the Fon. We brought a bottle of wine. Explained our intentions and listened to what he had to say.

The forest is cut back to a fairly high up so you have to climb for about one hour though farmland to get to the forest.

Birds seen:

Mountain Wagtail; Bar-tailed Trogon; Lanner Falcon; Bannerman’s Weaver; White-backed Vulture; Abyssinian Hillbabbler (subspecies with a black head); Black-collared Apalis; Mountain Greenbul; Oriole Finch; Olive-bellied Sunbird; Short-eared Owl (fields); Common Fiscal; Stonechat; Cameroon Olive Pigeon; Dusky Flycatcher; Green Longtail; Yellow-breasted Boubou; Banded Wattle-eye; Bannerman’s Touraco; Thick-billed Seed-eater; Cameroon (Blue-headed) Sunbird; Grey Cuckoo-shrike; Red-footed Falcon; Red-necked Buzzard; Brown-capped Weaver; Kestrel; Barnswallow; Grey Apalis; Cinnamon Bracken Warbler; Black-throated Apalis; Tambourine Dove; Yellow White-eye; Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo; Hill Babbler; Grey Woodpecker; Western Green Tinkerbird; White-bellied Flycatcher; Willow Warbler.


Korup NP.

Access through Mundemba reached via Kumba. Permit and guide to be arranged in Mundemba.

We decided for Iriba Irene Camp about one hour walk from the entrance.

5000 CFA entrance fee; 500 per person per night campfee plus 500 for musquito-net; 100 per item for rent (kitchen material for cooking); Guide = 3500; porter = 3000 per day. The other park-head quarters in the north has a nice colony of the rare Red-headed Rockfowl. There is also a small colony near this side but the time did not seem right despite quite a few hours we did not get a glimpse.

Birds seen:

Red-tailed Greenbul; Green Hylia; Rock Pratincole; Pygmy Kingfisher; Pied Kingfisher; Red-bellied x Paradise Flycatcher hybrid; Yellow Longbill; Chestnut Wattle-eye; Chocolate-backed Kingfisher (heard); West-African Nicator; Rachel’s Malimbe; Gray’s Malimbe; Great-blue Touraco; Green-tailed Bristlebill; Hairy-breasted Barbet; Spotted Greenbul; White-throated Bee-eater; Black Guineafowl; Eastern Bearded Greenbul; Grey Parrot; Crested Malimbe; Red-rumped Tinkerbird (heard); Shining Blue Kingfisher; White-throated Blue Swallow; Barnswallow; Red-rumped Swallow; Cassin’s Flycatcher; African Harrierhawk; Common Sandpiper; Squacco Heron; Pied Hornbill; Wood Warbler; Piping Hornbill; Yellow-casqued Hornbill; Black-casqued Hornbill; Blue-headed Wooddove; Long-tailed Cormorant; Forest Robin; Square-tailed Drongo; Fire-crested Alethe; Black-capped Illadopsis; Dusky-crested Flycatcher; Fraser’s Scarlet-tufted Sunbird; Great Blue Turaco; White-crested Hornbill; Sjösteds Honey-guide Greenbul (this unknown species seemed quite vocal and sound was recorded; listen here); Malachite Kingfisher; Green-backed Heron; Blue-headed Bee-eater; African Harrierhawk.


Sanaga River

We rented a taxi from Edea for 10.000 CFA for 6 hours. We told the taxi to drive the road to Dizangue. Along this road we saw all of the birds. At a small bridge near the village we saw the Swallow. The taxi-driver then proposed to bring us to Lake Ossa nearby. But this turned into a disaster: A bunch of very drunk local people got the idea to ask for money to visit the lake which we didn't want to pay. This idea of having to pay money wherever you go even though there are no conservation activities seems to more common in Cameroon. To us it seemed extortion. We wanted to leave a minute or so after arriving still at a distance from the lake. But the people blocked the road behind us and demanded money. I told the taxi-driver that we were not going to pay. And the money we would have to pay would come from the amount appointed for his drive. A huge argument between the taxi-driver and the drunk people happened and with me also a growing feeling of detestation towards the locals who were already as pissed as they could be and were using the word "drinking money". At the end the taxi-driver made the price at least a bit reasonable. And off we went with only a glimpse of the lake and no birds. We felt a bit sorry for the driver who obviously made a mistake bringing us there and settled with deducting half of the money we lost on the drunk people.

Birds seen:

African Skimmer; Grey Pratincole; Preuss’ Cliff-Swallow; White-throated Blue Swallow; Woolly Necked Stork; Greenshank; Common Sandpiper; Yellow Wagtail; Pied Kingfisher; Blue-breasted Bee-eater; White-throated Bee-eater; Lizard Buzzard; Giant Kingfisher.


Limbe Botanical Gardens

This place is worth a visit. Easily reached and hotel nearby (ask for Bay Hotel).

Birds seen:

Grey-headed Negrofinch; Black-and-white Manikin; Green-headed Sunbird; Green-thoated Sunbird; Reichenbachs Sunbird; Northern Double Collared Sunbird; White-chinned Prinia; Carmelite Sunbird; Black-necked Weaver; Spectacled Weaver; Veillot’s Black Weaver; Yellow-fronted Canary; Common Wattle-eye; Pygmy Kingfisher; Western Bluebill; Cardinal Woodpecker; Pale-fronted Negro-finch; Woodland Kingfisher; Cassin’s grey Flycatcher; Western Reefheron; Malachite Kingfisher; Giant Kingfisher; Little Greenbul; Wood Warbler; Garden Warbler; Green Pigeon; Palmnut Vulture; Lizard Buzzard; Black-crowned Waxbill; Chattering Cisticola; Least Honeyguide; White-throated Bee-eater.


Lake Debuncha Crater

With one day left this wasn’t my favourite option but for the first time I could not get a reasonably priced taxi to other places. Some locals in Cameroon really leave you with no option to either get ripped off severely or not getting there. I decided there is a certain limit so I did not go.

Birds here are hardly mentionable although the place seemed quite suitable for birds and the crater lake looks nice. A local joined me for an agreed fee to get from the main road in the middle of nowhere to the site at which you may be stopped by locals to pay more money but I luckily I did not meet any.

Some stretch along the beach was interesting: the forest reaches up to the beach which is very narrow at high tide and Giant Kingfishers were numerous here (dozens).

Birds: Little Grebe; Verraux’ Turaco; Forest Chestnut-winged Starling; Chestnut brested Negro-finch; Little Greenbul; Peregrine; African Harrierhawk.