GHANA 12-23 SEPTEMBER 2012, my first ever trip with Adrian Hoskins
Wednesday 12 September
Located Adrian and Emily airside at Heathrow in their orange tops who were already talking to Peter and Bill, the other members of the group.
The 6¼ hour flight arrived on time in Accra at 8.15pm in balmy conditions fanned by a soft breeze. For the first time ever I had to produce my Yellow Fever certificate prior to queuing for over an hour to get through Immigration, after which we met the local tour team and drove to our hotel east of the capital taking another 40 minutes - the Alexis was reached around 11pm. A quick beer and briefing from Isaac preceded a much needed kip.
Thursday 13 September
Breakfast was at 6.30am ahead of a departure for Bobiri at 7.15. Today's transit was scheduled to take most of the day so an impromptu stop at Atewa was most welcome. We only had time to walk about half a mile into the forest, much degraded since 2008 with crops replacing forest in the lower reaches. We arrived around 11am and stayed in overcast conditions until 12.45 when lunch at Linda D'Or beckoned. The restaurant was much better organised than previously and my spicy grouper with rice was OK.
It was good to be back at Bobiri around 4.45pm and having dumped bags in our rooms we all went straight out until dusk overtook events by 6pm. Great expectations for the next 4 days! I had a nice en-suite room with two double beds and after a cold shower met the others on the verandah for a Star beer and dinner at 7.30, chicken and rice but with loads of fruit to follow. Chatted with Adrian and Emily then went to check the moth trap/sheet for a while before hitting the sack by 9.30pm and quickly falling asleep.
Friday 14 September
Up 6.30, breakfast at 7 and in the field before 8. Initially quiet, not surprisingly. Walked east along the track to where it starts to descend accompanied by Andrews for the second half of the walk and on most of the return. Overcast. Although butterflies were on the increase the impression was of fewer species and numbers. The sun appeared for a short spell and then overcast was resumed. The morning had produced some good species nevertheless - Charaxes eupale, and protoclea, and Euphaedra perseis. Acraeas were scarce, seeing only one individual all morning. Enjoyed a plate of red-red for lunch at 1.15 and by 2pm was back out again, repeating the morning's stroll. Still not much sun, perhaps no more than an hour's worth all day. Returned to my room around 5pm finishing the day with shots of a male Papilio dardanus.
Another necessary cold shower and hair wash - very envigorating, though kind of an ordeal - then lolled on the bed until the generator kicked-in at 6pm. Same routine as for last night.
Saturday 15 September
Slept very well, another 9-hour stint, and same breakfast timings as yesterday. Started with photos of a crepuscular skipper that came to light last night. Decided to walk the track to the west this morning after making a lap of the garden in relatively cool and overcast conditions. Andrews turned up and as we were strolling back towards the lodge a taxi passed by and disturbed a Palla ussheri from the trackside vegetation between us, unseen by me but spotted by Andrews who was some 20 yards behind. It was in mint condition and eventually afforded some fine shots.
Nipped into the room around 10am to replenish my water before continuing down the track to the east. The great thing about Bobiri is that one can travel light, pretty much with camera only, leaving rucksacks and heavy water bottles at 'base'. For some reason I was unable to get closer than 10' to the Euphaedras but on the way back for lunch Bill waited ahead for me to catch up to show me a lovely Protogoniomorpha anacardii posing very kindly on a bush. Lunch at 12.15 was lighter than yesterday's, upon request, and by 1pm we were back out as the sun made its first appearance of the day. I walked the Three Sisters Trail behind the lodge - very quiet save for the occasional Catuna and Euphaedra. Taking on more water I then headed right along the track returning in sunshine to the room around 3pm to change my memory card. Hopefully the weather has now changed at last. The afternoon ended with shots of the lovely Papilio menestheus imbibing salts and for once, a papilio that was not revving like crazy.
Shower and the same evening routine through dinner. Paul located an enormous Akun Eagle Owl in the trees around the lodge and we took turns to view it through his scope. The moth trap had been set-up some 200 yards down the track to the east and the highlight was a large Saturnid that stumbled in along the ground like a drunkard before settling down. I walked back with Bill and was in my room by 9pm: climbed under the mozzie net soon after.
Sunday 16 September
Some blue sky at 6.30, though clouds too, but the most promising start so far. (It didn't last long - effectively no sun all day). Was in the field by 7.45am starting with a lap of the garden before walking east to the entrance gate, some 1.7km away. Overall the butterfly scene was fairly quiet. Returned to the room at 11am for water and then off again westwards as far as the nearby 'wet dip' where the others were assembled. Lunch at noon - this time chicken, veg sauce, yams - too much! - followed by papaya, pineapple and citrus. A very light shower fell as we ate but it didn't last long.
Went further west than ever before, going down the slope to where the track bifurcates, arriving there around 3pm. An Ariadne skulked in the grasses but I managed to winkle-out a shot as it took up a sheltered position. Ambled back, picking up the odd shot here and there. Reached my room around 4pm, replenished with water and banana, and walked about 300 yards east with Bill to check on his citrus baits before returning past the lodge to the 'hot spot' dip to finish off the day. An Acraea egina was spotted on the grass in front of the lodge affording Adrian, Em and I some good photo opportunities - the insect was very sleepy, and not in the best of nick. Picked up the 2 t-shirts that Edwards had kindly washed for me today.
Calculated over dinner with Bill that I'd probably walked about 10km today (but very slowly).
Monday 17 September
Awoke to light drizzle on an overcast and calm morning. Packed. After breakfast I oscillated east and west about 300 yards in each direction and although it was quiet the Euphaedras were quite obliging. The drizzle stopped around 9am for a 45 minute lull and at 10.30 'rain stopped play', but not for long. Lunch at noon, back out by 1pm. Continued oscillations interrupted by the occasional shower until our 3pm time limit, then it was time to shower and get ready to depart at 4pm for our next hotel near Kumasi.
The Royal Basin Hotel on the outskirts of Kumasi was reached by 5pm, quite a posh place, with electricity, air con, and a swimming pool (with green cloudy water). A minute humming-bird was seen hovering by one of the steps from the pool. Dinner had to be ordered in advance over a small Star beer consumed by the pool. Dinner at 7 was, for me, tomato soup, grouper with fries, and a large Star. Back in the room I made full use of the several sockets to charge everything I could before 'lights out' by 9pm.
Tuesday 18 September
Early start: up at 5am, breakfast at half-past, and off by 6.15. Hadn't slept as well as I'd have liked due to rock hard bed - like sleeping on a door. The drive to Baobeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary took 2½ hours including a roadside stop for bananas and carrots, the latter bought due to the impressive head-dress baskets on the womens' heads.
The Sanctuary reception huts were reached around 9am and having registered the party we walked into the woods with our guide. Cymothoe caenis males and females were common along the trails but monkeys were not seen or heard until lunchtime when they were seen coming out of the trees as we walked up to the bus. A mint Plain Tiger, Danaus chrysippus, was photo'd, the only one seen on the entire trip. Andrews distributed the rainbow-coloured biros I'd brought for the kids limiting them to one each.
The morning had been largely overcast, as was the afternoon. Butterflies were not plentiful but Neptis, Ariadne, and the unphotographable Eurytela dryope were around: most excitement came from the superb Pseudacraea semire resembling a White Admiral with turquoise replacing the white markings, the only wrinkle being its skittishness and perching positions. Most of the tracks were used by villagers, many on bikes, but quieter trails were to be found. We left around 4.50, all quiet by now, and arrived at our new accommodation, the Premier Palace Hotel in Techiman just after 6pm. Not a bad hotel and with an internet café too!
Before dinner I tended my sore elbows, rubbed raw on the gritty paths. The Champions League match Real Madrid v Man city was on the TV and we watched it during the meal. Got to the room around 9.15 and prepared for bed.
Wednesday 19 September
Up at 7am and a hot shower before breakfast! Luxury! The sea-fret that greeted us turned out to be short-lived though it remained overcast as we set off at 8.30 for another day at Boabeng-Fiema, stopping near the vast international market at Techiman for lunch supplies. Paul and Andrews seemed to be gone a rather long time. On the red dirt approach road to the Sanctuary Appia spotted a large grey caterpillar and stopped the bus. It measured 13½cm, around 5½", but nobody touched it for fear that its hairs would be an irritant.
We parked up in Boabeng village and set-off by 10.30 to explore the trails again (see attachment 2). A fresh Papilio dardanus flew around the start of the Mango Trail but wouldn't settle but my target for today is Euphaedra edwardsii photographed here yesterday by Adrian. Lunch was taken back at the bus at noon. Where Mango intersects with the Bentinsua Trail I spotted it, E.edwardsii, settling for a moment and then gone. It appeared again a couple of times flying fast up and down Bentinsua but offering no chance of a shot. I followed the path down to the stream stopping to photograph the feisty Charaxes etesippe feeding on a large splodge of bird lime and not caring about my presence at all. At the stream were various Papilios, Charaxes, Acraeas, Neptis and Amauris. I stayed at this spot a good while until a woman came down with her young son to wash clothes in the stream. Distant thunder was rumbling away and the sky was becoming darker so I decided to head for the bus joining up with Adrian and Emily en route. A large Acraea was seen heading for cover so I followed it in to the undergrowth to discover that it wasn't an Acraea but a tatty edwardsii! Photos taken nevertheless!
Reached the bus by 3pm just as the rain hit, a tropical downpour. It lasted about an hour giving the local kids an opportunity to dance and splash. Adrian had a discussion with the Warden about the degradation of the site and the amount of litter chucked out of the waste bins by the monkeys. Got back to the hotel at 6pm to discover that a power cut was happening, fortunately a short one.
Thursday 20 September
This morning we would transit to Bunso Arboretum via Kumasi so set off at 6am sans breakfast in light rain. Once through the vast sprawling urban jungle that is Kumasi we stopped for breakfast at a hospitality service academy, sponsored by some US organisation, but the staff on duty there still had a long way to go! Still, my bowl of 'oats' turned out to be a very acceptable bowl of porridge, as hoped. Through continuous rain our next stop was for lunch, once again at Linda D'Or, just gone noon, where I enjoyed an excellent vegetarian curry and chips.
Bunso Arboretum is only 10 minutes or so from Linda D'Or and by 1.45 we were alighting from the bus at the top of the drive, the rain now reduced to merely a light drizzle. With the others elsewhere, I spotted a Euphaedra sitting on a leaf at the edge of the track in deep shade and it allowed me to move in close. New to me was Euphaedra hebes, a stunning pink-underside member of the family. I don't think any of the others managed a shot as the arrival of more bodies spooked it and it was not to be seen again. Conditions remained overcast and humid with not too much activity although some Liptenid groups assembled on fine creepers were found. In fading light well gone 5pm there were still some butterflies engrossed on fallen fruit from the madrine tree, deep yellow flesh resembling mango. The short hop back to Linda D'Or was made at 6pm for dinner prior to returning to the Arboretum after dark for moth trapping.
So, at 7.30 we ventured back but apart from a crepuscular Acraea circeis there wasn't much happening (of interest to me). Bill and I retired to the bus after half an hour or so and the balance joined us a similar time later. The drive to our hotel took about 45 minutes and, very tired, I was in bed by 10pm.
Friday 21 September
Slept well under the ceiling fan, though the truck that started up right outside my window at 6 wasn't too welcome, so up at 6.15, breakfast at 7. And what was this? A sunny start?! Off at 8 arriving 45 minutes later at Bunso, patrolling the path up and down all morning. I was delighted to be rewarded with almost instant success when a madrine fruit taken from underneath its tree attracted a magnificent Euphaedra eleus a few minutes after being placed at the edge of the track. Several large male Cymothoe buzzed everything that came within range of their perches high above the track, too high to afford any chance of decent photos. Adrian arranged a take away from Linda D'Or - excellent idea - and I had another veggy curry, this time with boiled rice. The morning had been mostly sunny, and butterflying good, but thunder rumbled distantly around 2.30pm and the sun retreated behind clouds (actually, the clouds passed across the sun). A thunderstorm then developed all around us and we could see the lines of rain falling on the nearby hills. Light rain only reached us at 4.30.
Dinner at Linda D'Or was an interesting experience as the restaurant was packed with politicians, male and female, all flaunting their wealth and power through their wonderfully colourful clothes and gold bling. I'd like to have taken some photos of them but decided that my memory cards were too important to be confiscated! Got back to Bunso around 7.15 as the lads set up the moth trap in a more open position than last night but apart from a large moth that staggered in (and which was photographed for scale on Emily's nose) it was pretty quiet. What was of interest, however, were the butterflies, Epitola larva and pupa that became illuminated in the surrounding shrubbery, including a roosting Pierid. Light rain started to fall around 8.15, handily, so the trap was packed-up enabling us to get to the hotel for c9.20 and into bed about an hour later.
Saturday 22 September
Although today we head home, our late flight gave us effectively a full day in the field, and democratically we'd voted to spend the morning back at Bunso with a final afternoon stop at Aburi Botanical Gardens relatively close to Accra. So, duly packed and off at 7.45 we entered the Arboretum at 8.20 and spent the morning prowling up and down, as usual. Another takeaway curry was had for lunch, earlier today at 11.30, and perfectly timed to coincide with a tropical downpour.
Departed around 12.15 for the 90-minute drive to Aburi. The gardens were packed with people, large and small groups, courting couples, kids etc but it wasn't difficult to find quieter areas. The great finale for me was to find a perfect Euphaedra edwardsii specimen feeding contentedly under the shade of a large spreading tree, rendering my hurried shots from Boabeng-Fiema instantly redundant. But I wasn't pleased to be suddenly in the company of a young lad, probably late teens, who wanted money and offered to catch the butterfly for me. In the end I had to tell him quite forcibly that I needed to be alone and that no, he couldn't come to our bus for a hand-out.
We showered and got changed into our travel gear at a hotel right at the entrance to the Gardens and set-off for Accra, giving a lift to the impressive warden, Antoinette, who knows her butterflies, Safi and Torben. An impromptu stop at a row of roadside souvenir shacks enabled me to get a few trinkets for the girls and grandchildren followed by another quick stop in the dusk for group photos. We agreed that the razor wide on top of the backdrop wall could be photoshopped out!
We arrived at the airport at 7pm in plenty of time having made our way through chaotic and dusty roadworks on the outskirts of Accra - no way would I attempt to take a hire car through that lot! There was time for something to eat outside the terminal and a final dish of plantain and red-red was 'just right'. Service was slow so that we didn't get to the check-in desk until 8.20, some 35 minutes after it opened, and the queues at immigration and then security were long and slow-moving, but all was fine. The flight left on time and I was delighted to have been allocated a seat by the wing exit meaning I could stretch out. I also managed 3 or 4 hours of reasonable kip.
Sunday 23 September
We landed 10 minutes early at 6.20am and our bags arrived quickly. Purple Parking had my car waiting, excellent service, and the M25 was very quiet. Reached home at 7.45 - fantastic journey time from touch-down to door step.
This was one of the best trips I've ever been on with the total emphasis being on butterfly photography with maximum time in the field and with a small group. It augurs very well for next April's visit to Sikkim and Assam with Adrian.
A total of 166 species were photographed of which 67 were 'new' to me. Can recall missing shots of only 2 species - a giant black skipper and black and yellow swallowtail, both at Aburi.