CAMEROON – a birding trip to south-western Cameroon

HalsbandwürgerINTRODUCTION

Having participated in a Rockjumper Trip to Cameroon with a 3-week itinerary in April 2017 I knew that Cameroon is likely the number 1 birding destination in Western Africa with a big potential of seeing more but in a 3-week itinerary in a group of 11 participants. A trip list in April of 537 (of which 393 photographed) species for 3 weeks and an increase of my global bird list by as many as 319 species to 4.449 species was not a bad result. But overall, photography, an intensive feeling for nature and sometimes silence on the birding spot came short. Ok, no wonder with the many participants plus 2 leaders, guides, porters etc..

Right at the end of the trip to Cameroon in April 2017, I had considered making a second trip – but different. This time it should be a real photography trip. As a ground agent I realized, that Jean-Pierre Somon (jeanpierre.somon@yahoo.fr) might be able to arrange the trip. I wanted to focus on 3 locations:

 

  • Bakossi Mountains for the Mt. Kupe Bushshrike.
  • Sanaga River for African Skimmer and Grey Pratincole
  • Campo Ma’an NP for the Red-headed Picathartes or Grey-necked Rockfowl.

I opted for mainly camping in Campo-Ma’an-NP as well as in the Bakossi Mountains. For the birds of the Sanaga River I wanted definitely to take a boat in the early morning. Starting point: the good hotel Hostelries de la Sangha in Edea. Staff should be restricted to a minimum. A maximum of 4 persons in the forest (instead of 17 people in April 2017) should make the trip a naturalist dream.

Time schedule & itinerary

 

  1. February flight arrival; drive to Buea, accommodation Buea Hotel

 

  1. February birding in Mount Cameroon, accommodation Buea Hotel

 

  1. February birding Limbe Botanical Garden, drive to Bakossi Mountain, Camping

 

  1. February birding in Bakossi Mountain, Mountain, Camping

 

  1. February birding in Bakossi Mountain, Mountain, Camping

 

  1. February drive to Edea, overnight Hostelries de la Sangha (same hotel as 2017)

 

  1. February early morning Sanaga river banks, then drive Campo Maán national park overnight Nkoalong ( camping)

 

  1. February birding in Campo Maán NP

 

  1. February birding in Campo Maán NP

 

  1. February birding in Campo Maán NP

 

  1. February drive to Edea overnight hostelries de la Sangha

 

  1. February birding on the Sanaga River with boat, overnight hostelries de la Sangha

 

  1. February birding on the Sanaga River with boat, overnight hostelries de la Sangha

 

  1. February birding in the morning and transfer to the airport for flight back in late evening

During preparation we had some discussions, but in the end we agreed on an almost 2-week itinerary which would give me the opportunity to observe the best endemics and other specialties of south-western Cameroon.

VISA

You definitely need a visa for Cameroon. A visa costs 120 € and was arranged visiting the embassy in Berlin. It is possible to arrange it on the spot (waiting time approx. 4 hours). Necessary: an invitation letter – as from Central African Safaris (Owner: Jean-Pierre Somon) and a hotel confirmation; best from a well-known hotel like the Ibis hotel in Douala.

 

GETTING THERE – FLIGHT

This was the 2nd time I flew with Air France from Paris to Douala.

Fortunately, the baggage conditions to Africa at Air France are still quite generous. For example, on Africa flights, 1 piece of hand luggage + 1 additional item (such as a laptop bag) with a total weight of 12 kg is accepted. In addition, you may give up 2 pieces of luggage, which may weigh 2 x 23kg. My Tom Case suitcase meets the dimensions of 158cm exactly. In addition, I took a big black photo case. I packed a LowePro backpack into the TomCase. As a light hand luggage I only took the small photo backpack with a Canon 2,0/ 200.

As the connecting flight from Berlin was cancelled I had to fly a day later – unfortunately via Yaoundé with 3 more hours in the plane.

For a return ticket I paid 1.190 €, which included an Economy plus seat for the return flight in the night. Having arrived from the return flight in Berlin, I realized, that the 2nd bag was not part of the flight. It arrived 2 days later via courier.

 

GETTING AROUND

During the trip in the remote parts I had a battered, old but quite reliable 4×4 Minivan plus a driver at my disposal. This car performed well but had no AC (which is common). But it was rather comfortable given the small number of participants.

The last strip to the Bakossi Mountains you probably have to use an old Toyota Landcruiser, with slicks instead of tires. But the Landcruiser (and the driver) did it very well.

Road conditions were still well-remembered. They are often not good and that is the reason that travel times between sites are generally long and exhausting. If you have the impression that joking, talking or phoning distracts drivers/ guides, you should call for discipline. You are the client and you are not paying for a subsidized family event.

Some people are also far too optimistic about travel times. A trip of 6 hours announced can turn out to be more than 9 hours.

 

ACCOMMODATION

Accommodation varied from nice hotel in Edea, the Hostelries de la Sangha, to a standard but clean Eta Palace Hotel in Buea. As said, in the more remote areas like Bakossi Mountains and Campo Ma’an National Park I preferred camping.

 

FOOD & DRINKS

A clear advantage of a self-organized trip and a generous/ professional tour operator. No hassle with wet lunch packs almost in front of restaurants. During travelling, a cold beer and nice food is a real relief!

Food was basic but very tasty during camping (own cook) to very good excellent and at the various restaurants en route.  Very nice: the restaurant associated with Hostelries de la Sangha.

Jean-Pierre and Antoine had arrange for a large supply of mineral water at my disposal in advance; again a big difference to a tour operator which starts the trip with you visiting a supermarket first. Mineral water supply is really needed in this hot and humid climate. A personal specialty was beer for the evening. It was widely available but not cold of course.

 

LANGUAGE

Cameroon has two official languages: French in most of the country, English in the west (around Bamenda). My driver Antoine as well as the guides spoke basic English which is a basic requirement for successful birding.

 

MONEY

The currency used in Cameroon is the CFA. (BEAC). During my stay the exchange rate was: 1000 CFA = 1.50 €

I paid for the whole trip a deposit in advance via MoneyGram with high fees. An attempt to transfer via bank account was unsuccessful (and I almost thought of having lost the money in the worldwide finance system). The rest I paid after arrival and I was only charged 100 € at the airport on return flight to pay for drinks and give tips.

 

HEALTH & SAFETY

As malaria is prevalent in Cameroon, it is essential to take prophylaxis against this disease in Cameroon. I decided to stock up on chemoprophylaxis again. Due to recent experience I chose on a combination of atovaquone and proguanil as a prophylactic. This combination is now offered not only under the brand name Malarone but also as generics. The cost of Malarone’s substitute for the whole trip was only 70, – €; instead of 200,- €.

Insects could be a nuisance in some places. Maybe due to the season, in general it was not too bad. As an insect repellent I took AntiBrumm from at home. I took a small mosquito tent with me, which I used inside the huts in Campo Ma’an N.P. Excellent. You feel completely safe but are still airy enough to let in a fresh breeze in the night.

Please beware: There is often no possibility to attach your mosquito net!

A Yellow Fever certificate is a prerequisite to enter the country and to obtain a visa for Cameroon. It is said, that sometimes you have to show this certificate at a security check point.

During my stay I never suffered from stomach problems. Keep on drinking (mineral water) and do not forget to eat.

In Campo Ma’an N.P. you have to hire a ranger from the park office. There are some big animals as Buffalos in the park, but he is not armed. This might be of dubious help but hiring a ranger from the park office generates money for the local communities. This is extremely important, given the high pressure on forests and parks. The many check points along the roads cost me some time but the people in Cameroon in general are very friendly and I never felt unsafe.

 

WEATHER

As I thought I visited Cameroon right before the start of the rainy season I did not anticipated so much rain. They talked of a change in the rainy scheme – due to climate change or whatsoever.  Fact was, that on the arrival day, a thunderstorm was so heavy over Douala, that the plane to a 1 hour deviation.

It rained sometimes in the night. Luckily rain never really hampered birding. We had light rain for 1 hour at 2000 meters on Mount Cameroon, some rain in the night at Bakossi Mountains and two heavy downpours in the morning at Sanaga River. No rain was experienced at Campo Ma’an N.P.

The weather in the lowlands was hot to very hot and very humid. In the mountainous areas of Mount Cameroon and the Bakossi the temperatures were more pleasant – especially in the morning. In the night it was even cold in the silk sleeping bag inside the tent. At least during the day, you will still sweat a lot a result of the heavy and steep climbing in the mountains.

 

BIRDING

Despite the focus on photography and nature experience this trip showed excellent birding results which can be told spectacular.

As outlined in the itinerary, I visited the mountain areas of Mount Cameroon and the Bakossi Mountains and the lowland area of Campo Ma’an and around Edea and the Sanaga River.

Highlights were Red-headed Picathartes (or Grey-necked Picathartes), Bar-cheeked Trogon, Eastern Bearded Greenbul and Yellow-lored (or Lesser) Bristlebill at Campo Ma’an N.P.,

During my climb up Mount Cameroon I observed a nice flock of Cameroon Speirops at the treeline, a perfect Brown-chested Alethe and Mountain Robin Chats on a red ant trail. The highlight was an Cameroon Francolin well observed in the upper part of the trail when we reentered the forest from the grassy zone. A special was an out-of-area Common Whitethroat in the fields just above Buea town.

The highlight in the Bakossi Mountains was certainly the Mt. Kupe Bushshrike. But during my 3 days at Bakossi Mountains I saw several other excellent birds, the rare Green-breasted Bush-Shrike and several flocks of White-throated Mountain Babblers, Black-necked Wattle-eye, Grey-headed Bulbul, White-tailed Warbler and Bate’s Sunbird.

I shot excellent shots of Grey Pratincole and African Skimmer from a boat on the Sanaga river near Edea.

In fact this was a pretty tough trip because of the combination of the weather conditions, long drives, some long and demanding climbs and the restraints of the accommodations. So be reasonable fit and mentally prepared for these conditions.

My trip was specifically made earlier in the year than most birders visit Cameroon and I expected many species in display. As a result a lot of bird species should be vocal and responding well to playback. This did not happen in the extent expected. In comparison to April the bushes were by far not blooming as much in February. Sunbirds were far more concealed in the shades but open on the flowers. Having said so, I still saw great birds.

 

EQUIPMENT

I refrained from bringing my scope on this trip as the main focus was photography. But I realized how useful scoping birds in the canopy can be if you have an experienced tour leader/ guide.

I also collected an almost complete selection of bird songs on my MP3 player (and the telephone as well), which I use sometimes to attract species.

I did not brought rubber boots as I invested in special hiking shoes for the tropics. For hiking in the mountains, I congratulate myself several times to my decision to bring my extremely light and stiff trekking poles from Leki.

The hit for owl photography was the new flashlight Ledlenser MT18. The new rechargeable Ledlenser MT18 with its fabulous 3000 lumens made illuminating owls in the night a special experience. Negative are the pack of all the chargers you need; to charge the lamp, to charge the camera etc. Important are plug-in to charge in the car.

Be reluctant with expectation of guide´s equipment. E.g. Albert said, he had almost all bird songs/calls on a phone but actually forget it a home as the laser pointer. He lost his binoculars in an accident. Even Benjamin does not own a scope.

Thus bring all your gear with you. In doubt you should even bring your own tent and maybe even a spare binocular in case the guide trashed his bin in the trip before….

More hints ot equipment and logistics especially to the most demanding trip to the Mt. Kupe Bush-Shrike in the Bakossi Mountains you will find in a dedicated blog.

USEFUL CONTACTS & ADRESSES

 Jean-Pierre Somon

Central African Safaris

Douala, Littoral, Cameroun

Cell: +237/693 299 796

Email: jeanpierre.somon@yahoo.fr

Jean-Pierre is a Cameroonian, in the forties, and practicing Tourism Organization since 1998 in the sub-region of Central Africa, including Cameroon, CAR, Republic of Congo, DRC, Gabon in Chad, Sao Tome and Principe. I got to know him during the Rockjumper trip in April 2017. At that time, I was impressed how smooth organization was running. Jean-Pierre is an experienced tour operator and he organized the trip very well.

He is mainly oriented towards eco-tourism, especially in the Congo Basin where he contributed to the development of tourism in the remote National parks Dzanga sangha, Noubale Ndoki, Lobeke. Jean-Pierre had an excellent understanding of the needs of western Europeans interested in birds and photography. In preparation of the trip and in the early stages he successfully eliminated all obstacles for an excellent birding trip. Of course, this is Africa and almost everything is possible. E.g. instead of 3 tents, there were only 2 tents in Bakossi Mts., the driver changed car from 4×4 Van to sedan car, custom staff was irritated by clothing for birding etc. But the way how Jean-Pierre coped with these challenges on short notice, was outstanding. He is reliable and customer-oriented.

 

Benjamin Jayin Jomi

Birdingpal Tours Cameroon

Coordinator BIPAHET-CIG

P.O Box 1396 Limbe,Cameroon

Cell: 237/677 24 61 05.or 695 439 269

Email:benjijayin@yahoo.com

Email:bipahet_cig@yahoo.com

Website: http://www.birdingpal.org/cameroon.htm#BenjaminJayinJomi

Benjamin is a nice person and guided at Campo Ma’an and around Edea. During the trip he was a good companion not only guiding, but also carrying part of the heavy equipment. The early morning is not his preferred time; so you better get-up before.

I noticed that he knows the birds and their calls best in the forest. He had almost all bird songs/calls on his I-phone but actually the loudspeaker was insanely low. After a while, I mainly took over from him and did all of the taping and playback during the rest of the trip. Benjamin does not possess a scope.

Jean-Pierre also arranged for two local bird guides and porters; one for Mount Cameroon and one for the Bakossi Mountains, which were rather knowledgeable.

 

Alobwede Albert Ngade (Albert) – Bird Guide in Bakossi and Kupé Mountain Cameroon

AloAlbert15@yahoo.com or ngolengok@yahoo.com

Tel: +237 666 55 2756 (Nexttel)

Tel: +237 673404932 (MTN)

Facebook: Alobwede Albert

Albert is the local birdguide at Nyasoso, Mount Kupe. He speaks English quite good and can guide independent birders at Mount Kupe and Bakossi Mountains. He knows the birds and their calls really good; for the exact locations (e.g. for the Mount Kupe Bushshrike) in the Bakossi Mountains, the help of the local guide/ porter was invaluable. Albert said, he had almost all bird songs/calls on a phone but actually forget it a home as the laser pointer. He lost his binoculars in an accident.

Knowing the birds and guiding is a different story to organizing this kind of trip. Please rely on a reliable tour operator if you are not prepared to organize everything by yourself.

Ferdinand Wonganya: Mount Cameroon Bird guide / Mount Cameroon/ Buea

Mail: fikome2007@yahoo.com

Tel: + 237 675093284

Ferdinand is the local birdguide at Mount Cameroon. He speaks English quite good as well and can guide independent birders in the area. He knows the birds and their calls really good. A big advantage was that he knew the exact locations in Mount Cameroon as well. Ferdinand obviously has no other assets but his knowledge and his skills. But for an experienced birder with the right equipment, this is good enough.

 

DETAILED BIRDLIST

A total of 215 species were recorded; List is part of Tripreport Part II

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