This was the first birding tour to the West African country of Benin, which has a fairly poorly known avifauna. Highlights included a pair of Black-bellied Seedcrackers, Purple-throated Cuckooshrike, Blue-billed Malimbe and Dusky Blue Flycatchers. Further north Pendjari National Park is the best area for birds and mammals and relatively free of any birdwatchers or tourists which is unusual in today's world. Unusual species here included a splendid male Togo Paradise Whydah, Wilson's Indigobird, Scaly-fronted Weaver, Brown-rumped Buntings and territorial Heuglin's Wheatears creating territories.
My thanks to Is Deene our guide and Michael who drove us around the country plus Joseph in the national park at Pendjari.
Our next visit to Benin is January 2017 although private and individual tours can be arranged through Birdwatching Breaks.
December 16th/17th: UK, Cotonou, Lac Nonque, Assoka.
Weather: In Benin rather warm with morning dust 36 C.
Members of the group made their way to Paris to connect with a direct flight down to Cotonou the largest city in Benin. On arrival we had to wait for our luggage to come through and then transfer to the city, our base for two nights. As dawn broke the next morning we recorded the common birds of the city including Yellow-billed Kite, Laughing Dove, Common Bulbul and Pied Crow. Our first destination was Lac Nonque a huge freshwater complex only accessed by boat. By the office we saw Woodland and Pied Kingfishers, Shikra, Senegal Coucal, Splendid Sunbird and a party of Slender-billed Weavers in their bright yellow plumage. A pirogue was ready to take us into Lac Nonque which is has shallow waters exposing huge areas of mud for wintering waders. We quickly located large numbers of Common Ringed Plover, Common Greenshank, a single Common Redshank, Wood, Curlew, Marsh and Common Sandpipers, Little Stint, a single Common Snipe, Spur-winged Lapwing, various egrets, the incredibly numerous Black Heron and dark phase Western Reef Egrets. Overhead parties of Barn and Ethiopian Swallows, Little and African Palm Swifts and House Martins. Passerines were few, apart from Western Yellow Wagtails, Winding Cisticola and Village Weavers. A bonus came in the form of a hunting Gabar Gowhawk showing its white rump well. We had a stop for drinks in the village of Ganvie, which is built on stilts. After this we headed along the lake a bit more observing African Jacana, White-throated Bee-eaters, Northern Fiscal with young and had fleeting views of a Black Crake. On the return journey birds were less due to the increasing heat. Next on the agenda was Assoka a small hotel complex adjacent to Lac Nonque. From the veranda we watched Scarlet-chested, Splendid and Variable Sunbirds, Grey-headed Sparrow and a pair of wintering Spotted Flycatchers catching insects on a brick wall. The heat subsided a little as we embarked on a walk around the hotel grounds. The African race of Eurasian Moorhen was noted along with a Grey-headed Kingfisher and a pair of Grey Woodpeckers nesting in a rotten palm tree. Walking by the cabins added a Striated Heron, Purple Glossy Starling and a Carmelite Sunbird the latter being a rather local bird along the African west coast. Returned to Cotonou adding Eurasian Kestrels by the national stadium and a pair of Speckled Pigeons on a roof.
December 18th: Cotonou, Oueme Valley, Oueme River, Abomey, Lama Forest.
Weather: Hot and sunny 35 C.
After checking out at Cotonou we headed east towards the capital of Porto Novo and then northwards into the Oueme Valley. On the way several Lesser Blue-eared Glossy Starlings were sitting on wires. Oueme Valley is mainly given over to agriculture. At our first stop we looked down on crop fields and patches of reeds and marsh. On the approach we saw the first of several Lizard Buzzards and a pair of Western Grey Plantain-eaters. We stayed in one spot and allowed the birds to come to us with the first being an adult Levaillant's Cuckoo, White-throated Bee-eaters, Northern Red Bishops and a surprise find in two Black-bellied Seedcrackers. Further along the road another scan added a Grey Kestrel, Rufous-chested and Ethiopian Swallows and a wintering Great Reed Warbler in the roadside grasses. Other species present included Western Yellow Wagtails, Slender-billed Weavers, African Thrush and Bronze Mannikins. A few kilometres up the road the Oueme River passes near the road. The marshes here held African Pygmy Geese and African Jacana and Northern Fiscals. Various bush fires attracted many Yellow-billed Kites before we headed west to the regional town of Abomey our base for two nights. At 1540 hours the group visited Lama Forest a relict patch of lowland forest. On entering the forest a Striated Heron was seen in a wet ditch. Along the road a flowering tree in a village was attracting Olive-bellied and Green-headed Sunbirds, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher and lots of White-throated Bee-eaters. The road starts to enter an area of mature forest which attracted African Pied Hornbills. A walk along the road added Yellow-throated Tinkerbirds and a pair of Red-billed Helmet Shrikes.
December 19th: Abomey, Lama Forest.
Weather: Early mist giving way to warm sunny weather 34 C.
We left at 0630 hours to visit another area of Lama Forest. Our first stop was in an area of maize fields dotted with large trees many of which were dead or dying. A scan of the trees yielded Black-shouldered Kite, Long-crested Eagle, Fork-tailed Drongo, African Green Pigeon and Grey Woodpecker. On the ground the distinctive calls of Double-spurred Francolins. Our journey continued deeper into Lama and a walk by older trees with hanging vines. Birding was slow at first but we eventually located Purple-throated Cuckooshrike, Blue-billed Malimbe, a calling Common Gonolek and Yellow-throated Tinkerbird. Further along the track White-throated Bee-eaters were numerous. A surprise find was a pair of Dusky Blue Flycatchers (probably the first record for Benin) which showed well sallying for insects. Near a timber cabin Jean located a Yellowbill in hanging vines. The heat was getting up as the group returned towards the main road and stopped at the 'sunbird' tree. Similar species to yesterday with the addition of Splendid, Superb and Variable Sunbirds. Above us a Yellow-billed Kite was having a duel with a Shikra. Scanning of the skies also produced reasonable numbers of Lesser Striped Swallows. Back to Abomey for lunch with a return to the forest at 1500 hours. On entering the forest we took another route to an area of mature trees and a teak plantation. African Pied Hornbills were noisy and conspicuous along with a family party of Red-billed Helmetshrikes. On the forest edge a Blue-spotted Wood Dove was seen in a bare tree. The thicker vines attracted Purple-throated Cuckooshrikes. On the exit route another stop added an African Cuckoo feeding on insects next to the road.
December 20th: Abomey, Dassa, Bassela Forest, Natitingou.
Weather: Hot and sunny 35 C.
Today was a travelling one from Abomey to Natitingou in the northeast of Benin. Checked out of the hotel and joined the road to Dassa where we observed African Grey Hornbill and Yellow-billed Shrikes. Our first stop was an area of inselbergs south of Dassa. A walk here added a party of Brown Babblers and several Whistling Cisticolas in the maize fields. Our journey north was along RN3 which borders Togo and is extremely rough in places with pot holes and poor maintenance. South of Bassela a walk into the savannah woodland was good for Rufous-crowned Roller, Senegal Batis, Senegal Eremomela and Fork-tailed Drongo. Further along the road a African Golden Oriole was noted sitting in the top of a tree opposite a petrol station. We eventually arrived in Natitingou a rather modern town and one of the main centres to enter Pendjari National Park.
December 21st: Natitingou, Pendjari National Park including Batia, Mare Bali, Hotel Pendjari, Mare Fogou Loop Track.
Weather: Hot and sunny 36 C.
From Natitingou to the national park is around 50km with a major road passing through areas of rocky slopes and farmland. Along the main road we located Black-headed Heron, African Golden Oriole, Piapiac and the highest number of Pied Crows on the tour. Turned off onto a dirt track towards Batia one of the entrance gates. Birding along this road was very good as we stopped for Fox Kestrel, Northern Carmine and Little Green Bee-eaters, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Bearded Barbet, Pygmy Sunbird and a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting perched in a tree. Another stop shortly afterwards allowed us to study a perched European Honey Buzzard in a dead tree before it was dislodged by a White Helmetshrike. Also in the area were Western Red-billed Hornbills, Abyssinian and Rufous-crowned Rollers, Bruce's Green Pigeon and Long-tailed Glossy Starlings. At the park entrance permits were obtained followed by a drive of 70km to the Hotel Pendjari on the border with Burkina Faso. A short distance along the road a party of Bush Petronias were noted plus Chestnut-crowned Sparrow Weaver and in the distance a pair of Northern Ground Hornbills. Next up was a perched Pale Flycatcher, Exclamatory Paradise Whydah, Black-billed Wood-doves and a fly-by Grasshopper Buzzard showing his rufous wing parts. Mare Bali was the next stop a large lake in an arid area which was bound to attract birds and mammals. Before reaching it a stop was made for Hooded Vulture, African Fish Eagle, Vinaceous and Namaqua Doves, Red-billed Quelea and Yellow-mantled Widowbirds the latter being in non-breeding plumage. The hide at Male Bari allowed us views of Saddle-billed and Woolly-necked Storks, Hamerkop, Hadada Ibis, African Wattled and Spur-winged Lapwings, Senegal Thick-knee, Chestnut-backed Sparrow Larks, Tawny-flanked Prinia and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleau. On the way towards Pendjari Hotel a White-fronted Black Chat was noted chasing insects a fitting finale to the mornings birding. After a late lunch we embarked on the Mare Fogou Loop Track which goes very close to the border with Burkina Faso. The first birding stop was Mare Fogou a large lake with lilies and extensive vegetation. White-faced Whistling Ducks and Spur-winged Geese were particularly abundant with African Jacanas. Overhead we were treated to great views of a Short-toed Eagle and a male Pallid Harrier. A bonus came in the form of a Wilson's Indigobird and a Fine-spotted Woodpecker searching for food in an acacia tree. Another stop produced a female Eurasian Marsh Harrier. On the border with Burkina Faso the older trees attracted Red-throated and Green Bee-eaters, African Blue Flycatcher, Scaly-fronted Weaver (a possible colonist from further north) and a Little Weaver. On arrival back at the camp a Senegal Parrot flew over to complete an excellent days birding.
December 22nd: Pendjari National Park including Mare Sacre, Fogou Loop Track.
Weather: Overcast then sunny 35 C.
A pre-breakfast walk around the grounds at 0700 hours produced a Pearl-spotted Owlet and a party of Helmeted Guineafowl. The commoner species were observed including a Pygmy Sunbird and both Wilson's and Village Indigobirds. After breakfast the group headed towards Mare Sacre with the track going through grassland and stands of mature trees. In the first section which had recently been burnt we found Blue-bellied, Rufous-crowned and Abyssinian Rollers, Green Woodhoopoe, Wattled Lapwing and a Heuglin's Wheatear. Near the ecological centre a group of three Black-crowned Cranes. Further along the track groups of vultures were gathering in trees, this included Lappet-faced, African White-backed, Ruppell's Griffon, White-headed and Hooded. Low bushes resounded with the songs of Singing Bush Larks. A small lagoon attracted Wood and Green Sandpipers plus a flock of Maribou Storks. Mare Sacre was reached where Giant and Pied Kingfishers, Senegal Thick-knee and Saddle-billed Stork were added to the day list. Our final stop by the Pendjari River produced Square and Fork-tailed Drongos, Beautiful and Splendid Sunbirds, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and the more widespread savannah birds. Back to the hotel for lunch and out again at 1600 hours on the Fogou Loop Track. No sooner had we left the hotel grounds a male Montagu's Harrier showed at close range hunting over the long grasses. A rarely used track was taken when Lorna found Red-billed Firefinches and its host species Village Indigobird. Back to the Fogou Loop Track and a stop at an elevated position overlooking the Pendjari River and Burkina Faso. The most amazing sight here was a Giant Kingfisher trying to consume a fish almost as large as itself, after a few minutes it succeeded in consuming its prey!! Birds were coming down to drink including Pin-tailed and Exclamatory Paradise Whydahs. In the river itself Common Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, African Wattled Lapwings and a Malachite Kingfisher. A party of Purple Glossy Starlings was noted followed by a Singing Cisticola perched in bushes surrounded by long grass. The light was starting to fade when a pair of Wahlberg's Eagles perched in the top of a bare tree. On the return to base Black-crowned Cranes roosting in the tops of a dead tree.
December 23rd: Pendjari National Park including Main Track, Mare Yangouali.
Weather: Hot and sunny 37 C.
We spent the entire day away from the camp exploring some of the more remote areas of the national park. Along the main track our first stop produced a pair of Grasshopper Buzzards, Croaking Cisticola and a surprise find of three Blue-headed Coucals. We stopped for a perched Lappet-faced Vulture only to find a wide selection of birds in the savannah woodland. Interesting species included Eurasian Wryneck, Northern Black Flycatcher, Brown-rumped and Cinnamon-breasted Buntings and a pair of Little Bee-eaters. Back in the van for literally a few metres when a male Four-banded Sandgrouse appeared in front of us to show well at close range. Joseph our driver-guide turned off the main track to visit a recently constructed reservoir. In time this will be a good place for birds with this visit producing Red-necked Buzzard, Shikra, Pale Flycatcher, Senegal Eremomela, Northern Carmine Bee-eaters and Pygmy Sunbirds. We joined another track which eventually loops round in a wide circle. The recently burnt ground attracted Short-toed Eagle, Northern and Heuglin's Wheatears and a Woodchat Shrike. Lunch taken in the shade of a large tree with singing Yellow-fronted Canary, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and Bush Petronia for company. Our route took us to the rarely visited Mare Yangouali a large lake surrounded by trees and bushes. From the elevated hide the group recorded African Mourning Dove, Swamp Flycatcher, Common Redstart, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Red-billed Firefinch and Black-headed Weavers. Back in the bus for the drive to base. The drive was taken slowly with the first few kilometres yielding views of Collared Sunbird, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Whinchat and flocks of Northern Red Bishops. Jean then located a pair of Red-necked Falcons sitting in the top of an acacia looking for prey. Also in the area was a Long-crested Eagle and a group of Yellow-billed Oxpeckers feeding on the backs of Roan Antelope. Along the track things got even better as a Martial Eagle posed for us in a dead tree. This was rather upstaged when a Denham's Bustard started to walk down the road towards us before flying off into the bush. Another excellent day in Pendjari National Park.
December 24th: Pendjari National Park including Mare Fogou, Mare Tiabiga, Pont Arli, Fougou Track.
Weather: Hot and sunny although cooler in the first hour 37 C.
The usual birds were around the hotel grounds as we set off to Mare Fogou. I thought it was worth a second visit and we were rewarded with views of Comb Duck, African Spoonbill, Zitting Cisticola and a calling Eurasian Hoopoe. On the marsh itself high numbers of Eurasian Marsh Harriers and the commoner waterbirds. At the next stop we watched estrildid finches coming down to drink which included a few Black-rumped Waxbills. A noisy party of Yellow-billed Shrikes flew over and a Malachite Kingfisher showed well in the reeds. Our journey took us along very rough tracks which are only passable with a 4x4 to Mare Tiabiga. A very arid sector had a pair of Black-headed Lapwings, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Pale Flycatcher and Pygmy Sunbird. On arrival at the mare a scan of the wetland produced Grey, Purple and Squacco Herons and overhead a dark phase Booted Eagle. On the return journey Red-billed and Bar-breasted Firefinches, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleau and Village Indigobird feeding on the track. Black-crowned Tchagra was seen carrying food suggesting a nest with young was nearby. Back to base for a late lunch with a party of African Silverbills feeding in the grounds with Namaqua Doves. Back out again at 1600 hours. A few kilometres from the hotel we stopped for a Beaudouin's Snake Eagle perched in a dead tree. It was then onto Pont Arli which is literally a few metres from the border with Burkina Faso. The birding here was good with sightings of Senegal and Blue-headed Coucals, Grey-headed, Pied and Giant Kingfishers and a Togo Paradise Whydah perched in a dead tree. A return to the Fougou Track had similar birds to two days ago so we returned to base for our Christmas Eve dinner.
December 25th: Pendjari National Park, Natitingou, Djougou.
Weather: Overcast and hot 38 C.
Checked out of the hotel to start the journey back towards the park gate and onto Natitingou and Djougou. Overcast conditions had an effect on birdlife with species being either quiet or absent from familiar haunts. One stop did produce White-shouldered Tit which is a scarce resident species in West Africa. I decided to stop at Mare Bali again as it was en route to the park gate. Similar species to our first visit with the addition of a Dark Chanting Goshawk. On leaving the park three Cinnamon-breasted Buntings showed well on a culvert. The journey to Natitingou was fairly uneventful, and this was where we said goodbye to Joseph and reunited ourselves with Michael our other driver. The road to Djougou had a few species including a Grasshopper Buzzard with a small snake. A walk before entering the town yielded the commoner species so we headed to base for the night.
December 26th: Djougou, Oueme Superior Forest.
Weather: Overcast with some sunny spells 32 C.
The main area of interest today was the vast Oueme Forest of which much is inaccessible to the public. We set off in an eastwards direction from Djougou towards the town of Ndali. After passing through a village we turned onto a track into the forest. In around 400 metres we stopped and walked for around a kilometre recording Fork-tailed Drongo, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Blue-bellied Roller and a hunting Shikra. The track ends after a few kilometres where we embarked on the first of two walks. Birds were numerous with feeding flocks and singles being active in the canopy and in fruiting trees. In the first section of the trail we encountered African Grey and African Pied Hornbills, Violet Turaco, African Golden Orioles (several groups), Lesser Blue-eared Starlings, Pygmy, Copper and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds and calling Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds. A return to the bus for lunch at 1300 hours followed by a siesta and another walk at 1500 hours. On the afternoon walk birds were more active as a fruiting tree attracted starlings, pigeons including Bruce's Green, African Thrush, White Helmetshrike and Collared Sunbird. A distant dead tree proved to be attractive to Red-necked Buzzards. On the return walk the group were treated to great views of a female Fine-spotted Woodpecker and a Bearded Barbet.
December 27th: Djougou, Parakou, Atagara.
Weather: Overcast and foggy at times 33 C.
We left Djougou and travelled eastwards towards the rather run down town of Ndali where we turned south to Parakou. The road passed through areas of degraded forest and small villages where birdlife was rather limited to the common and widespread birds. Checked in at Parakou and arranged a visit to Atagara an experimental farm on the outskirts of the city. On arrival a walk along the main track produced the first of many Broad-billed Rollers sallying for insects from exposed branches. Near the bridge we encountered an African Paradise Flycatcher, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Bronze Mannikins and a Senegal Parrot perched in a mature tree. Further up the track we located an immature Grasshopper Buzzard, Green Woodhoopoe, Whinchat and Bush Petronia. The lake at the end of the cul-de-sac produced dozens of Rose-ringed Parakeets nesting in the old trees, Common Sandpiper, Western Yellow Wagtail and Lesser Blue-eared Starlings. On the way back to Parakou a recently lit fire attracted Broad-billed Rollers and Fork-tailed Drongos. Tomorrow we head south to Grand Popo on the border with Togo for the last two nights in Benin.
December 28th: Parakou, Save, Dassa, Grand Popo.
Weather: Hot and sunny 36 C.
Today was a travel one down to Grand Popo on the border with Togo. After leaving Parakou we travelled in a southerly direction and made a short stop at Save. The town is dominated by a large inselberg known locally at Mt Save. It is hard to access so I decided to inspect the lower slopes where African Grey Hornbill, Rock Martin and an African Cuckoo were located. Our journey took us to Dassa where lunch was taken and then another stop in a rocky area. Nothing new here apart from a pair of Bearded Barbets in a baobab tree. At around 1700 we were on the coast road running west to Lome in Togo. The marshes held hundreds of Long-tailed Cormorants and egrets going to roost. Eventually arrived at Grand Popo for the last two nights of the trip.
December 29th: Grand Popo, Kpetou, Bouche de Roi.
Weather: Hot and humid 37 C.
A later start today with a visit to the farmland and scrub at Kpetou. A stop at the toll bridge gave us great views of Village Weavers building their nests, Red-billed Firefinches and Black-shouldered Kites. At Kpetou we embarked on a walk through scrub and marsh recording among others Woodland and Pied Kingfishers, a juvenile Red-shouldered Cuckooshrike, Northern Fiscal, Yellow-billed Shrike, Splendid and Copper Sunbirds. Our next destination was a boat trip to Bouche de Roi a large inlet of the sea with islands and reeds. By the quay a Malachite Kingfisher and on the opposite side of the river a surprise find in Compact Weavers. The tide was slowly coning in covering muddy islets where we located Collared Pratincole, Whimbrel, Royal Tern and Common Greenshank. A newly formed rookery held Cattle and Little Egrets, African Openbill and Striated Heron. An Osprey was noted on a wooden pole as we approached a muddy bay. In the mud feeding Ruddy Turnstone, Common Ringed and White-fronted Plovers, Sanderling and Western Reef Egrets. On the return journey the group added Broad-billed Roller and Western Yellow Wagtail to the day list. Back at the dock we returned to the hotel for a late afternoon period of relaxation. Final bird of the day was a Leaflove which was located by Lorna from the balcony of her room.
December 30th: Grand Popo, Cotonou.
Final species total: 233.
Weather: Hot with overcast conditions 38 C.
A later start today after our travels further north in Benin. The commoner birds were around the hotel gardens. At 1050 we set off towards Cotonou taking the Fishermans Road which is literally a rough, sandy track traversing the ocean. Before joining the track a stop for lunch. Bird activity was low probably because of the heat and a public holiday within the country. Grassy areas held good numbers of Western Yellow Wagtails, Northern Fiscal and Yellow-billed Shrikes. Later in the day we checked into the Hotel Ibis to change and repack for the journey back to Europe.
For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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