We eventually arrived at the Badala Park Hotel just after 5pm – fortune had been on our side, since we were the first drop off point for the transfer bus. As we approached the hotel, some changes to the area could be seen in the form of new restaurants at the head of the road, but the hotel itself, which we had been in 11 years before, seemed little different. It took a little time to get under (birding) way, due mainly to an inefficient security safe system in the room which needed sorting out first.
The beauty of this location as a base is that there are a variety of habitats on the doorstep, in the form of rice paddies, the Kotu Creek, scattered woodland, and a nearby beach. This had changed a little since our last visit, with less water in the paddies, leaving fewer open pools for wading birds. The paddies themselves had overgrown to some extent, as had the vegetation along the creek path. It is sad to say that the main regression was in the intensity of the hassle from the locals, mainly from those purporting to be bird guides. There are undoubtedly some good ones there, but the numbers had swollen, and they were more persistent in trying to glean our services, despite being told that we had guides for the week, and didn’t want company this afternoon. There is a great danger that this behaviour could put individual birders off coming here – this is a view that I could not argue against.
Yet the birding remains fulfilling – we saw almost 50 species in the couple of hours we spent before dusk. There was a notable change in the mix of birds since our last visit. We saw no Glossy Starlings, only one Roller, and the large variety of wading birds which inhabited the now drier paddies has dwindled. And a lack of cows seems to have dispersed the Oxpeckers. On the converse, there were many more Senegal Coucals, as well as copious White-faced Whistling-Ducks, and the usual mix of waders on the creek (although the only Kingfisher here was a single Pied).
Pick of the day’s birds had to be the pair of Red-necked Falcons perched at the top of a tree next to the Kotu Creek bridge. Alongside them was a pair of equally showy Plantain-eaters, looking as prehistoric as ever. Many small birds were jumping about in the reeds – we picked out Tawny-flanked Prinia and Bronze Manakins from these. A big surprise was the almost total lack of Rollers in the area – a single Abyssinian was the sole representative.
The light was fading fast as we traversed the Cycle Track, but it was good to see a pair of Bearded Barbets and a Western Red-billed Hornbill in one tree. A small group of Yellow-billed Shrikes were silhouetted against the evening sky, with good numbers of African Palm Swifts passing overhead. With more Coucals seemingly constantly appearing, we finally found a Black Heron doing its stuff on a small marsh next to the Cycle Track, with an African Jacana on the adjacent pool.