The gardens also attract much of the city’s wildlife, particularly the avian kind. And so at 7.00am I took a taxi to the northern end of the campus to join the birdwatching walk run by BirdlifeInternational and the GhanaWildlife Society.
Confession time: I am something of a reluctant birdwatcher. Despite being a nature lover, I always considered watching tiny specks in the distance and making notes on them a rather geeky pastime, only one or two steps up from trainspotting. But before we moved to Ghana, a friend from TCV told me about the diversity of birds in West Africa (he had lived in Nigeria) and recommended a good field guide.
And I have become hooked. Sort of. I don’t take notes or make lists: no recording of the overhead conditions, or numbers of males and females. I am also a bit of snob. I have no interest in all the little brown ones, or pigeons or crows – I can see them back in the UK. Luckily Ghana many brightly coloured species with suitably tropical names; more than enough to occupy a fledgling twitcher.
Samuel, the walk leader, set us off at a lazy pace. Within a few steps we had found our first specimens: a couple of grey hornbills calling to each other. I had seen them before hopping between the trees in Accra, but this was a chance to admire them more closely. We stopped to watch their routine, some in the group taking notes, others photos.
|A grey hornbill|
Further along we saw green wood hoopoes, two handsome shikras, glossy purple starlings and a blue-bellied roller – brightly coloured, easy to spot and exotic-sounding, so instantly one of my favourites. I was impressed by the number of different species Samuel was picking out – far more than I had managed on my solo efforts here.
While he set up the telescope – or ‘scope’ to us birdwatchers (I was learning the lingo fast) – a bird moved through the trees further away. “Tim, can you have a look at what that was?”
The pressure was on – would my identification skills pass the test? I could sense a dozen pencils poised, waiting for my expert opinion. Sweat dribbled into my eyes, and the binoculars (or ‘bins’) trembled as my fingers fumbled on the focus.
“Er, I think it was another hornbill” I said, trying to sound authoritative.
“Great, thanks, mark that one down.”
Relief; I had passed the test. (I think the sage nodding of the head helped to convince people I was an old hand.)
|A cattle egret|
The highlight of the walk near the pond on the northern edge of the park. I already knew this place well for its large colony of cattle egrets, noisy white birds that nest in the trees, and whose toxic droppings make area fairly pungent. But ‘Uncle’, a senior member of the group, had spotted something far more exotic – a yellow-fronted tinkerbird, high up in the tree.
We took turns looking through the lens at this beautiful little creature, while Uncle smiled proudly at our admiration. I asked him how he had spotted such a small bird, so high up. “I heard its call, and knowing they like to sit high up, I managed to find it,” he replied.
His skills put my clumsy, ‘play it safe’ guess at a hornbill into perspective; I have a long way to go as a birdwatcher. Luckily the botanical gardens provide the perfect training ground.
Photos by Rene Mayorga