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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Birding in Nigeria, July 2005,
Given that Nigeria has such a terrible reputation among travelers, I should share that I had an enjoyable visit and did some exciting birding while there for a business trip recently. The people I worked with and met were delightful and, though one has to be aware of crime, I never felt threatened, and would eagerly take any opportunity to return.
But that is not to say it is a routine place for a visit. Even people who love the country and insisted that “you shouldn’t believe everything you read” counseled against simply finding a taxi at the airport (instead, one should arrange to be picked up). And the experienced and intrepid people with whom I traveled would not travel highways after dark out of concerned for robbers. But with care, and with assistance, there are a number of great sites that can be visited.
All the sites I visited and will refer to are mentioned only briefly if at all in Nigel Wheatley’s book, but are described among others on the African Birding Club site: (http://www.africanbirdclub.org/countries/Nigeria/introduction.html) and in a trip report by Nick Athanas available on the Tropical Birding Web site: (http://www.tropicalbirding.com/tripReports/TR_Nigeria.html).
I spent most of three days at Okumu National Park, in primary lowland forest about 150 miles east of Lagos towards Benin City, and two half-days at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Ibadan. Visiting Okumu would be difficult to arrange on your own (more below) but IITA is fairly straightforward to visit, as apparently also would be the Lekki Conservation Centre just outside Lagos and the great Obudu/Cross River area in the southeast.
IITA is an oasis of order and green in the grim, sprawling city of Ibadan. It preserves a small area of tropical forest, mostly mature second-growth, and there are even good birds in the experimental agriculture plots (including Painted Snipe, Lesser Moorhen, and Allen’s Gallinule) and the reed-edged lake. A Bat Hawk family with a juvenile put on a show near the old road through the forest plot; there are lots of malimbes there of several species, but unfortunately the endemic Ibadan Malimbe has only rarely been recorded. The accommodations at the International House are excellent and reasonably-priced (7500 Naira, about US$50) for a “superior single room” with breakfast, which they held for us until 9:30 so we could go out birding at dawn. Reservations are required; I got mine by e-mail to email@example.com (or firstname.lastname@example.org). The institute is 5 km past the University of Ibadan on the road north to Oyo. It would be a long walk from the rooms to the forest reserve (it would be fine if they had bicycles for rent or borrowing), so having a car available is preferable.
Birders familiar with West Africa say Okumu is one the best remaining patches of Guinean lowland forest, and the best place for indicator species like hornbills; I saw six species, including three of the Ceratogymna / Bycanistes genera, so heavy that their wings make a loud roaring. The park’s best feature is two sturdy ladders and platforms 150 feet up in Ceiba (silk-cotton) trees, each overlooking a small vegetated pond (which have Hartlaub’s Ducks) and the forest canopy. Seeing birds was difficult in the heavy vegetation at the end of the rainy season, but sitting on the platform with Black Bee-eaters, Green (Guinea) Turaco, and a few gigantic hornbills in sight was blissful. (Well, except for the minor annoyance of sweat bees.) Speaking of insects, because of the presence of chloroquine-resistant malaria in much of Nigeria, I took Malarone tablets daily, but never encountered a mosquito, a surprise given the extensive swamp forest.) I also had good luck with barbets, seeing six species of barbets and tinkerbirds from the tower (a few aided by playing calls from the CDs of African Bird Sounds (volume 2) by Claude Chappuis from the British Library). There are a small number of adequate rooms, and a new lodge is under construction; meals are available with prior arrangement.
I don’t see how Okumu could be visited without help, and I was lucky to go there with Phil Hall, who has lived in Nigeria most of his life and is involved in many of the conservation activities in the country (central to the development of the national park at Okumu, organizer of the Leventis Ornithological Research Institute in Jos, etc.). Amazingly, given all the activities he's involved in, to encourage interest in Nigeria, Phil will help visiting birders make arrangements (e-mail: email@example.com).
I didn’t have time to get to the Obudu plateau in Cross River state in the southeast, but the Obudu Cattle Ranch (www.proteahotels.com) is supposed to be a great place stay, with unmatched, easy access to the avifauna of the Cameroon highlands endemic area. It adjoins the Becheve Nature Reserve and is near Bashu, where there is an accessible population of the unworldly, bare-headed Gray-necked Pithacartes or rockfowl.
Lekki is a major suburb of Lagos, and the Conservation Centre is not far from the city on the highway east to Epe (though there is so much growth on the Lekki peninsula, the road can get very crowded). It is a fenced reserve of swamp and savannah grassland. A large number of species, including some difficult ones like Carmelite Sunbird, are regularly reported there.
Aside from any dangers, which I gather are greatly reduced since the return of democratic elections, Nigeria is pathetically lacking in infrastructure, particularly for a country with so much income from petroleum. There is little provided for tourism, and no apparent ecotourism. Relatively few places take credit cards and I didn’t see any ATMs (and there is supposedly serious risk of fraud). Hotels in Lagos are shockingly expensive; I stayed in B-Jay’s (firstname.lastname@example.org), which is recommended in a number of books and Websites and which was fine, but elsewhere might cost half of the $230 charge. The few luxury class hotels are even more expensive… and still get equivocal reviews.
So a trip to Nigeria shouldn’t be done casually, but I found the challenges and risks manageable, and the rewards well worth it. I may write a full trip report, but feel free to contact me for more information.
Long-tailed Cormorant Phalacrocorax
Rank grass in Lekki suburb.
White-faced Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna viduata
Numerous in rice fields at IITA. Also from Lagos-Benin road.
Hartlaub's Duck Pteronetta hartlaubii
Okomu NP. Five on pond from first tree platform, one from second.
Intermediate Egret Egretta intermedia
Several at IITA lake.
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
2 immatures at IITA lake.
Great Egret Ardea alba
Okomu NP at ponds; also IITA
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides
Striated Heron Butorides striatus
IITA; Lagos-Benin road
Bat Hawk Macheiramphus alcinus
IITA. Pair with one juvenile.
Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax
A few at Okomu NP and IITA
Hooded Vulture Necrosyrtes monachus
Area in Lagos state, en route to Benin
African Harrier-Hawk Polyboroides
Several Lagos-Benin road
Lizard Buzzard Kaupifalco monogrammicus
A couple on wires, Lagos-Benin road
Black Goshawk Accipiter melanoleucos
One immature, washing (?) in swamp. Then flew up and perched low.
Eurasian Kestrel Falco
Gray Kestrel Falco ardosiaceus
Lagos-Benin road, on utility wires; also IITA
African Hobby Falco cuvieri
IITA; three in trees at lake shore, one catching dragonfly
Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus
Quite numerous on Lagos-Benin road road, even in Lagos
Forest Francolin Francolinus
Okomu NP. One running across path.
Ahanta Francolin Francolinus
IITA, two at forest edge.
Double-spurred FrancolinFrancolinus bicalcaratus
Lagos, airport runway. IITA, in fields.
Black Crake Amaurornis flavirostra
IITA, in rice fields.
Allen's Gallinule Porphyrio
IITA, several, in rice & on lake edge
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Lesser Moorhen Gallinula angulata
IITA, 2 or 3 in rice.
African Jacana Actophilornis africanus
Okomu. On pond from second tree platform, 7/18. IITA, numerous.
Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula
IITA, 5 including female with 2 young. Rice paddies.
Common Sandpiper Tringa hypoleucos
IITA, 4 on barrel at lake edge
Senegal Thick-knee Burhinus senegalensis
IITA, 5 on dock in lake.
Spur-winged Plover Vanellus spinosus
IITA, many on roads and fields.
White-headed Lapwing Vanellus albiceps
IITA, flock of a dozen on dirt road, far side of lake.
Bronze-naped Pigeon Columba
Okomu, female from tower 7/19. Pale tail tip.
Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis
Red-eyed Dove Streptopelia semitorquata
Ikoyi residential area, IITA.
Blue-spotted Wood-Dove Turtur afer
Okomu, twice flushed off track. Also IITA.
Blue-headed Wood-Dove Turtur brehmeri
Okomu, 2 on track.
African Green-Pigeon Treron
Okomu. 5, first tower
Gray Parrot Psittacus erithacus
Okomu. First tower, around rooms. Not many.
Guinea Turaco Tauraco persa
Okomu, called to first tree platform, 7/18. Also heard periodically. IITA, heard only
Western Gray Plantain-eater Crinifer piscator
Ikoyi; IITA, around main building
Great Blue Turaco Corythaeola cristata
Okomu, near rooms. Heard throughout.
Red-chested Cuckoo Cuculus solitarius
Okomu. Common by voice.
Black Cuckoo Cuculus clamosus
Okomu. A few, 7/19, first tower. More by voice.
African Emerald Cuckoo Chrysococcyx cupreus
Okomu, regular by voice
Dideric Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius
Yellowbill Ceuthmochares aereus
Black-throated Coucal Centropus
Okomu. Edge of 'iron bridge road', 7/18. Big.
Senegal Coucal Centropus senegalensis
IITA, both black and white-bellied phases.
Mottled Spinetail Telacanthura
Black Spinetail Telacanthura melanopygia
Okomu. 8, first tree tower. Not as common as Cassin's..
Cassin's Spinetail Neafrapus
Okomu. First tree. regular
Woodland KingfisherHalcyon senegalensis
Ikoyi; IITA, including one hawking over tennis courts at night.
Blue-breasted Kingfisher Halcyon malimbica
Okomu. In canopy, from first tower. Performing flight display.
Black Bee-eater Merops gularis
Okomu. 5 first day, 3 second, in canopy from first tree platform.
White-crested Hornbill Tockus albocristatus
Okomu. One crossing trail near buildings.
African Pied HornbillTockus fasciatus
Lagos-Benin road. Several, even cleared areas. Okomu, many; also IITA
Piping Hornbill Ceratogymna fistulator
Lagos-Benin road; also many at Okomu
White-thighed Hornbill Ceratogymna
Several at Okomu..
Black-casqued Hornbill Ceratogymna atrata
Okomu; common by voice. First tame one at creek near rooms.
Yellow-casqued Hornbill Ceratogymna elata
Okomu, a couple from first tree platform. Not as common as other large hornbills.
Naked-faced Barbet Gymnobucco calvus
Okomu, on dead trees, 7/18 and 19. We did well with this family.
Speckled Tinkerbird Pogoniulus scolopaceus
Okomu. 2, first tower, 7/18. Dull.
Red-rumped Tinkerbird Pogoniulus atroflavus
Okomu. 1 or 2, called in first tree. IITA, heard only (slow call).
Yellow-throated Tinkerbird Pogoniulus subsulphureus
Okomu. Several, fast call. First tree, 7/18
Yellow-spotted Barbet Buccanodon
Okomu. 1, first tree 7/18.
Hairy-breasted Barbet Tricholaema
Okomu. 1 from first tree, 7/19.
Fire-bellied Woodpecker Dendropicos pyrrhogaster
A few at Okomu and IITA,
Black-headed Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone rufiventer
A couple seen in Okomu and IITA.
Velvet-mantled Drongo Dicrurus modestus
Okomu. From first tree, 7/18
Pied Crow Corvus albus
Lagos-Benin road, common. Also IITA.
Western Black-headed Oriole Oriolus brachyrhynchus
Okomu, first tree, 7/19.
African Thrush Turdus pelios
IITA on lawn, etc.
Chestnut-winged Starling Onychognathus fulgidus
IITA, Many, including on palm trunks outside the International House.
Splendid Glossy-Starling Lamprotornis splendidus
Okomu. Canopy from first tree platform, 7/18
African Forest-FlycatcherFraseria ocreata
(Fraser's.) Okomu. Pair from first tree platform, 7/19
Ethiopian Swallow Hirundo aethiopica
Many, just outside Okomu.
Fanti Sawwing Psalidoprocne obscura
Several among Ethiopian Swallows, leaving Okomu. Deep forked tail.
Common Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus
Plain Greenbul Andropadus curvirostris
Okomu. = Cameroun Sombre! One in trees near rooms, one on nature trail. There are several other bulbuls in the area, and many were heard, but they were very secretive.
Spotted Greenbul Ixonotus guttatus
Okomu, from first tower
Swamp Greenbul Thescelocichla leucopleura
IITA, very vocal here and at Okomu, hard to see.
Yellow-spotted Nicator Nicator chloris
Western Bearded Greenbul Criniger barbatus
Okomu, 2 near rooms, 7/17
Red-tailed Greenbul Criniger calurus
Okomu, many by voice. Seen on nature trail.
Red-faced Cisticola Cisticola erythrops
Lagos-Benin road, on phone line in village
Tawny-flanked Prinia Prinia
Lekki suburb, rank reeds.
Buff-throated Apalis Apalis rufogularis
Okomu, several, canopy from first tree house
Gray-backed Camaroptera Camaroptera brevicaudata
Gray-headed Sparrow Passer
Lagos-Benin road, common
Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch Nigrita
Okomu, first tree, 7/18. Also near ground, several places.
Gray-headed Negrofinch Nigrita canicapilla
Okomu, first tree, 7/19
Orange-cheeked Waxbill Estrilda melpoda
Okomu. Flock, dense grass at village
Bronze Mannikin Lonchura cucullata
Lagos-Benin road; IITA, several flocks.
Black-and-white MannikinLonchura bicolor
Pin-tailed Whydah Vidua macroura
Okomu. Pair, settlement
Yellow-throated LongclawMacronyx croceus
Plain-backed Pipit Anthus leucophrys
IITA, at edge of cane.
Village Weaver Ploceus cucullatus
Lagos airport, etc. Also IITA.
Yellow-mantled Weaver Ploceus tricolor
IITA, 1 female, with malimbes
Red-vented Malimbe Malimbus scutatus
IITA, a few identified among the many malimbes high in trees.
Gray's Malimbe Malimbus nitens
Okomu, abundant on first pond. Also IITA.
Crested Malimbe Malimbus
IITA, not seen well. Black under-tail coverts, and Ibadan Malimbe unlikely
Red-headed MalimbeMalimbus rubricollis
Collared Sunbird Anthreptes
Okomu, several in canopy. Also IITA.
Little Green Sunbird Nectarinia seimundi
Okomu, second tree, 7/18.
Olive Sunbird Cyanomitra olivacea
Okomu. Around rooms.
Blue-throated Brown Sunbird Nectarinia cyanolaema
Okomu; tree top, from first tower, 7/19
Tiny Sunbird Nectarinia minulla
Splendid Sunbird Nectarinia coccinigastra
IITA, pair in large trees behind International House.
Johanna's Sunbird Nectarinia johannae
Okomu, 1 female. First tree, 7/18
Superb Sunbird Nectarinia superba
IITA, one seen around main buildings.