Day 177: Canopy Level

Birding the treetops gives a different perspective.

June 26, 2015 Cape Coast, Ghana — I spent the morning hanging out, so to speak, with Kalu and a park guide at an impressive canopy walkway at Kakum National Park. This walkway is constructed of sections of rope-and-cable bridges suspended between half a dozen treetops—so it’s like a trail in the top of the forest, with platforms at the anchor points. We spent more than four hours in the canopy before coming down for lunch and a rain squall, and we had the walkway to ourselves the whole time.

Last time I saw anything like the forest in southwest Ghana was in Central and South America—it’s good to be back in the tropics! Birding from the canopy gives a different perspective on life in the jungle; it’s easier to appreciate how many birds practically never see the ground (and, hence, are hard to spot from down there). We recorded more than 50 species from the walkway this morning, including a couple of Black-casqued Hornbills (huge birds with huge beaks), a Melancholy Woodpecker (one of the best bird names of the year), and a pair of Tit-hylias (the smallest bird in Africa). 

I must admit that it’s also nice to be back on a tropical-style birding schedule. For the past month in the U.S. and Europe, I’ve burned the days at each end—long summer daylight means not much sleep! Birding in the tropics is more deliberate; you get 12 hours of darkness to recover each night, and you have to spend more time at each location to find birds, which means less zipping around from one target to the next. Today I will sleep in the same place twice for the first time since I left the U.S. nearly three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, my introduction to African birds has been slightly overwhelming. In the first two days in Ghana I’ve seen 144 species, of which 132 were new ones! There are whole families of birds in Africa that I’d never even heard of before. In the Americas, I had at least a reasonable grasp of what to expect everywhere I went, but here I’m learning the birds from scratch, without having had much chance to study ahead. It’s like being a new birder all over again—daunting, humbling, and always exciting.

New birds today: 75 (!)

Year list: 3194

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