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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Cameroon Trip Report; 8th-29th March 2008,
Cameroon is one of the primary birding destinations in West Africa with a wide variety of endemics, regional specialities and pan-African species and it remains a major destination for all serious West African birders (of which I’m not one !)
In August 2007 I visited the British Bird Fair and after long discussions with Callan Cohen (Birding Africa) & Christian Boix (Tropical Birding) the seed was well and truly sown………
Shortly afterwards it became apparent that Tropical Birding were not going to run a Cameroon trip in 2008 and therefore Birding Africa quickly took pole-position. A few quick enquiries about Birding Africa in general and Michael Mills (the tour leader) specifically and the deal was done – Picathartes here I come
Birding Africa normally sectionalise their Cameroon tours (“North”, “South” and “Picathartes”) to allow participants the flexibility to spend between one and three weeks on tour. This year proved to be slightly different in that two American birders (Garry George & Joseph Brookes) wanted to do a private 3 week tour covering all the key areas but were prepared to open it up to other birders ie Birding Africa advertised it as a standard tour. In the end the arrangement worked perfectly well.
The itinerary followed a fairly standard circuit and our paths crossed with a Birdquest group led by Nik Borrow on a couple of occasions (at Garoua and Mundemba). Rockjumpers were just starting a similar circuit as we were leaving the country
Sites / locations
8th March – Travel day. Manchester to Douala via Paris CDG. Night at the Foyer du Marin
9th March – Full day on Mount Cameroon. Night at the Foyer du Marin
10th March – Fantastic day sitting in Douala airport all day before finally getting a flight to Garoua. Bird of the day was Little Swift. Enough said ! Night in Garoua
11th March – Drove from Garoua to Maroua then Mora (Q-P site) and finally Waza. Bird stops along the way. Night at Waza camp (Campement de Waza)
12th March – Waza NP all day. Night at Waza camp
13th March – Waza to Maroua (via Mora Q-P site again). Night in Maroua
14th March – Maroua to Benoue birding along way. Night at Benoue camp. No electricity/water/toilet seats, leopards/lions hiding (allegedly) in every bush and warm beer. Hmmm.
15th March – Birding around Benoue area all day (dry guinea woodland, river bed, etc). Night birding. No sign of the aforementioned lions/leopards (or of electricity, etc). Night at Benoue
16th March – Birding along Benoue camp exit road and then drove to Ngaoundere and on to Ngaoundaba. Night at Ngaoudaba ranch. Very nice set-up (beer cold)
17th March – Around Ngaoundaba ranch all day (inc night drive). Night at the ranch again
18th March – Drive to Ngaoundere to catch overnight sleeper train
19th March – Arrived in Yaounde at lunchtime. Picathartes site just outside city. Happy birders. Night at the Tango Hotel
20th March – Drove to Douala with various stops including calling at the Sanaga River. Night at the intriguingly named Hotel La Falais. [Joseph admitted to hospital with a parasitic infection]
21st March – Wouri River and then drove to Bamenda via Lake Awing area. Night in the best hotel in Bamenda
22nd March – Ijum Ridge / Mount Oku area in Bamenda highlands. Night in Bamenda
23rd March – Bamenda to Baba 2 (Green-breasted Bush-Shrike site) and then on to Nyasoso. Libation ceremonies at Kodmin village followed by really good disturbed-habitat birding near village. Night at Lucy’s in Nyasoso (very homely)
24th March – Drive to Kodmin and then in Bakossi Mountains all day. Wet. Night at Lucy’s again [Joseph & Garry rejoined the group on this date]
25th March – Mount Kupe all day (Max’s trail). Night at Lucy’s again
26th March – Mount Kupe (nature trail). Looooong drive to Mundemba. Night in Mundemba at the Hotel Boseme. Nice accommodation.
27th March – All day in Korup NP. Night in Mundemba
28th March - All day in Korup NP and then trash-habitat birding near Mundemba. Night in Mundemba
29th March – Birded road out of Mundemba and then on to Douala. Quick visit to Limbe Botanical Gardens. Late night flight to Paris CDG
30th March – Landed CDG at 0700 ish, 1320 flight to Manchester (landed 1350 UK time)
A fine mix of human beings!! One South African leader, one South African participant, three Americans and two Brits. Karen left part way through the trip as she had already done the southern section in 2007. A keen birder (Mimi) tried to get a ride with us in Douala. This was certainly a great best people-watching trip ! Hope you all got home ok – it was a real pleasure.
Michael Mills was the main Birding Africa guide on the trip. The guides that are invariably imposed on groups by local organisations / villages generally didn’t help too much in birding which is a shame.
Michael is a great birder and was excellent in trying to get everyone onto each bird
I’ll be diplomatic and say that accommodation was perfectly adequate throughout. I’m sure the other participants may disagree ! Nothing was exceptionally bad (Yabello in Ethiopia springs to my mind as the benchmark for badness) but nothing was particularly great. Electricity, water and toilet seats should occasionally be viewed as luxuries !
Special mention should be made of the hotel in Yaoundé where a giant, half-dead rat (it’s ears were still twitching) was found under the dining table. Great joy.
Food and drink
I flew from Manchester to Douala (via Paris CDG) using Air France despite various bad comments about the level of service that Air France normally provide. I must say that Air France were punctual, efficient, provided free wine and gave me some of the best airline food that I’ve ever had. (Ok, I agree that the benchmark for airline food is not particularly high but relatively speaking it was better than the rest) The staff were friendly and legroom was good.
For every “ying” I guess there is a “yang” and in this case the big yang is Cameroon Airlines. They are, quite possibly, the most fantastic set of incompetents you will ever meet. The day of the 10th March 2008 will live long in my memory !
Plan A (the expected plan) – 0800 flight from Douala to Maroua which would place us in prime Quail-Plover territory in the North of the country by mid-morning
Plan B (the Cameroon Airline alternative plan) – redirect the flight to Garoua (approx 3 hours south of Maroua) and leave 8 hours after the scheduled departure time. We were all fairly hacked-off at this general incompetency but it quickly paled into insignificance when we found out the reasons behind the problems, namely;-
1. The flight had been overbooked so Cameroon Airlines had put on a larger plane. This seemed a very sensible solution – except that large planes can’t actually land at Maroua and so had to be rerouted to a place that no-one actually wanted to go to.
2. Cameroon Airlines had no money to pay for fuel. The 8 hour delay simply allowed for one of their employees to “go and get some cash” to pay the oil company. Great.
On the way south we caught an overnight sleeper train which proved to be a real pleasure and a great experience.
Health and Safety
The run-up to the trip seemed to be going really well until Callan Cohen of Birding Africa e-mailed the participants to point out that there was serious civil unrest in parts of Cameroon (the parts that we would be going to) and that there was a risk of cancellation. Shit ! A quick look on the internet didn’t help matters but after a few days the situation seemed to have calmed down and it was most definitely game-on. We actually saw no trouble on the trip but there was clear evidence in Douala on arrival that the some serious trouble had occurred (burned-out buildings, cars, etc) In true birder fashion the general carnage and mayhem was ignored as we set out on our merry way……..
Foreign travel usually manages to cause illness in one or more of the participants. I was ok throughout this trip but a severe infection (Amoebiasis, apparently) unfortunately hospitalised Joseph for a few days and a couple of the other people were affected to a lesser extent.
As usual snakes, spiders and scorpions were unfortunately notable by their scarcity. A black snake seen in tree may have been a mamba but we kept a respectful distance.
Lions and leopards are rumoured to be found in Waza, Benoue, etc but none were seen / heard.
Sunburn is usually an issue on these trips and indeed it was for one individual who will remain nameless. Big hats, loads of slap and long trousers did the trick for me.
Some of the areas in Cameroon (no-one seems to know exactly which areas) have malarial mosquitoes and I took Malerone throughout with no dodgy side-effects. Mozzies were surprisingly scarce apart from the night at Waza when we stayed out after dark and my bare legs got chewed to bits (I still have the scars a month later) The mad, wild, killer biting flies at the Sanaga River were bloody nasty. Sitting on an ant’s nest in the woodland at Ngaoundaba ranch probably wasn’t a particularly clever idea (but the Spotted Thrush Babbler was worth it !).
On yet another trip the most potentially dangerous activity was caused by humans in general and car drivers in particular. Cameroonian drivers are absolutely bloody mental. The roads are awful which inevitably means that vehicles approach each other at speed along the same “good” bit of carriageway and swerve at the last minute. Long drives are inevitable in Cameroon. Sleeping on the move is difficult.
The Cameroonian People
Not withstanding my comments above concerning drivers, the people in Cameroon were invariably polite, helpful and general inquisitive. To have a group of “white men” pull up in the village, look through binoculars at the local river, ask to use toilets, buy some bananas, fart a bit and then leave must be a really good insight into western culture. We salute the people of Cameroon.
The expected corruption came to the fore at several police/army road blocks but this was always effectively managed by our superb ground staff reps (Victor in the North and Julie in the South)
Cameroonians have one big thing in common with British birders – they love drinking alcohol. They also like someone else to buy their drink for them and have invented the libation ceremony to meet their needs. In principle the ceremony gives birders good luck in the adjacent woodland / forest / mountain. In practice the gullible birders hand-over a wedge of money (equivalent to the Cameroon national debt), a bottle of whisky and a crate of beer. The villagers share a bit of the beer and then are left to get pissed on their own. The village of Kodmin at the base of the Bakossi mountains has taken this one step further and now has two ceremonies (a sort of House of Lords and House of Commons arrangement) which both require gifts of money / beer. Great fun
Footnote ;- it didn’t ******* work ! We got an absolute soaking in the Bakossi’s and missed the MK Bush-Shrike big style. And then repeated the trick on Mount Kupe
Very hot and dry in the North. Hot and occasionally very humid in the south.
Heavy rain in the Bakossi Mountains resulted in the most bedraggled set of birders I have ever seen. Then, just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, we got pelted with hale the size of marbles.
The main birding areas appear to be in reasonable condition but there is the usual general encroachment on habitat which is isolating these areas and, I guess, will ultimately destroy them totally unless local initiatives continue.
The two usual issues of slash-and-burn agriculture and palm oil plantations represent the most serious threat. The latter would appear to be the most onerous given that it is driven by foreign investors with little concern for the local environment
Nomenclature and taxonomy in my list below tries to follow Clement (2007)
The main reference book for the trip was the excellent Birds of Western Africa by Demmy and Borrow.
I also used certain elements of Birds of Africa South of the Sahara - Sinclair & Ryan (2003) This book contains numerous (often contentious) splits from Clement and these are noted where applicable below.
In a few cases, where I believe a split to be valid (or not valid), I’ve followed my own rules. I’m not a taxonomic expert and I’ve not outlined why I’ve overruled Clements, Borrow, Sinclair or any other birding luminary. Suffice to say that it’s my trip report so I can !
Note that this is a list of birds seen by me and not by the group and/or the leader. I am quite conservative about ticking birds on tour and would rather leave stuff for another day than include a bird seen very poorly.
Full Species Lists: