After a long journey from Ankasa, we – a Birdquest-Group – stranded for an afternoon birding at Brenu Beach Grasslands near Cape Coast / Ghana. We had just seen a male Marsh Tchagra (Tchagra minuta) a bird in a spiny bush reminded me of an old friend from Germany. It looked like a Common Whitethroat (Sylvia communis). I called, but obviously nobody of the group was interested. So made some shots with my camera and had to rely on my photos to help me to identify the bird. Reviewing the photos, the bird in the bush look very much like this common European warbler. I consult birdforum.net. The experts confirmed ID to me. In the meanwhile, another Palearctic migrant was detected. It was a Great Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus). Attempts to get the Great Reed Warbler out of the bush failed. When excitement ceased, the Common Whitethroat had gone.
The bird reminded me of a young male already on the spot. The wing pattern seemed quite convincing to me at the time. On the images I saw a hint of a pale white eye ring. The “problem was, that books, as „Birds of Western Africa“ (Helm Identification Guides) von Nick Borrow und Ron Demey, mention this bird only as a vagrant in the south (pictured as a red cross) and see their wintering distribution more for the north. This in contrast to the Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin), which is shown for the north of Ghana and the coastal strip.
As the Common Whitethroat is a common warbler in the Western Palearctic, there seems to be a lack in information concerning its distribution in Western Africa. The same what happened in March 2019 in Ghana happened in the littoral province of southern Cameroon 2 years ago. On a way back from a successful hike on Mount Cameroon, we were lucky to observe this Western Palearctic visitor near the foothills of the highest mountain of Western Africa.
In the book “Birds of Western Africa” by Nik Borrow and Ron Demey in the 2nd edition of Helm Field Guides, it is said, that the bird would be staying during winter farther north. Only a few “crosses” are noted for the area south of the Sahel zone (Mount Cameroon showed a red cross in the book as well). Interesting is, that the basic habitat description – low, sparse vegetation and gardens – also fits very well to the observation area at Brenu Beach Grasslands.
At home, I did some more research in literature. The Common Whitethroat is a migratory bird that winters in West Africa from the southern edge of the Sahara to the rainforest bloc and in East Africa from about 15°North latitude south to Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Transvaal.
While the eastern subspecies of Common Whitethroat (volgensis and icierop) spend a small part of the winter in the Arabian Peninsula and Ethiopia, but mainly in East Africa south of the equator, the winter distribution of the nominate form is more in the thorny scrub savanna zone between the Sahara and the rainforest bloc, more or less from Mauritania, Senegal and Gambia in the West to Sudan and the Red Sea to the east. More southern observations from West Africa from the Ivory Coast and from the coast of today’s Ghana and the lower Congo are considered exceptions. In the north of Cameroon, the native subspecies Sylvia communis communis is widespread and is considered in the Sahel zone a particularly numerous wintering inhabitant. The bird likes to snuggle in dry, open bushes, often in gardens. In Africa, the bird is found during the winter mainly in thorny scrub, in thickets along watercourses, in oases, in acacia and tamarisk stocks of desert semi-deserts, at forest edges, more rarely in papyrus marshes. With the observation on the slope of Mount Cameroon, a far southern observation has been achieved.
To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find not only in the western Palearctic. As mentioned, I was not allowed to photograph near this sensitive installation. But the image shows the bird, I saw on the foothills of Mount Cameroon. A nice selection of birds are shown in the “Picture Shop”. But just give a message via contact form, if Bird-Lens could serve you with an image needed before more new pictures are online.