Happiest of holidays from the Rockjumper team! We hope you are enjoying this festive season, and that you close out 2016 with great friends, family, holiday cheer and some time outside to enjoy nature.
Things are looking up (and festive?) for Cameroon in 2017. Some call it the best birding destination in Africa and we’re thrilled to have this fabulous tour back on our schedule. Exciting news is that Rockjumper’s Cameroon – Rainforest & Rockfowl 2017 tour is all set to go, with just a few spaces remaining, and two of the best Rockjumper guides, David Hoddinott and Heinz Ortmann, are geared up and ready to return.
Our route gives us excellent chances at all 26 regional endemics, including legendary birds like Bannerman’s Turaco, Mount Kupe Bushshrike, Banded Wattle-eye, Shelley’s Oliveback and Mount Cameroon Spierops while there are also quality chances at other sought after specialties too. Arabian Bustard, Quail-plover, Golden Nightjar and even the incomparable Egyptian Plover are all possible during this tour, which offers the best there is in West African birding. However, when one thinks of Cameroon, one bird lurks high on the list above all others, and that is an odd, enigmatic, and pre-historic passerine in the genus Picathartes.
Hopping about on strong legs amid closed-canopy rainforests, where rocky outcroppings called “inselbergs” sprout from the flat forest floor, the Grey-necked Rockfowl is a big target bird for world listers and those seeking representatives from each of the 230+ bird families. One of just two species in the family Picathartidae, Cameroon is the only country with a national law protecting this species. Both revered and feared by the native people in the region, that this Picathartes graces postage stamps in Cameroon, neighbouring Nigeria, and even a couple other countries where it does not even exist, speaks to its human interest. The genus name is a combination of terms that suggest a “magpie-vulture”, and its odd appearance, taxonomic uniqueness, and rarity, make it one of the great quest birds in the world. Despite being resident at their territories, they can be quite hard to find, which affords them yet more intrigue.
Here we have a rather social, large, leggy, long-tailed songbird with a crow-like bill and colourful bare patches of skin on the head. One might think it a pretty easy target for birders. Yet somehow, they skilfully slip away unnoticed from the unfamiliar sounds we produce while searching for them. Worse still they produce almost no sound themselves. Often nesting in small colonies, and even moving about the forest in small groups, it is hard to comprehend that they seldom ever emit any sounds whatsoever. But a perusal of Xeno-canto and Cornell’s Macaulay Library reveals a grand total of zero (!) recordings for this species (or its congener).
Given all this, it’s easy to see why so many of us are fascinated by the Grey-necked Rockfowl, and by Picathartes in general. And so far as we know, this is the only image ever known of one wearing a Santa hat!
Again, wishing you the very best from the Rockjumper team for an enjoyable festive break and a wonderful 2017 ahead.