Arjan's Biggest Year

In 2016 I will attempt the ultimate in global birding, to break the world record in birdwatching, this involves observing more than 6000 species in a single year!
Like my predecessor Noah Strycker I will count heard-only birds, but I will differentiate between heard-only- and seen species to make sure my list stays comparable.

During my 'Biggest Year' I will raise money for the groundbreaking Birdlife Preventing Extinctions Programme in a collaboration with Vogelbescherming Nederland and the Dutch Birding Association. This programme aims to prevent the extinction of all globally threatened bird species by applying an active, innovative and highly effective methodology.

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June 24 - 28

30 juni 2016  ·  Arjan Dwarshuis  ·  6653 × bekeken


Last night we had arrived in the savannah-dominated Mole National Park, Ghana’s largest national park. So far our tour was all smooth sailing thanks to Ashanti African Tours fantastic logistics and Paul and William’s excellent guiding. For this part of the trip we momentarily said goodbye to William and were joined by a third guide, Victor.

If I managed to see 16 new species today I would pass 3500 species this year, exactly half of my aim of 7000 species in a single year. To reach this total we would have to push hard!

As expected the morning session was productive, since this was my first day birding the West African savannah this year. We saw some great birds like Black Scimitarbill, Bearded Barbet, White-crowned Robin-chat, Lavender Waxbill, Red-necked Buzzard and the neat-looking Forbes’s Plover. But the absolute highlight was a bathing and drinking group of Savannah Elephants, barely 20 meters from where we were standing. Michiel and John managed to take some breathtaking footage that will certainly be shown in the Biggest Year Film - imagine me busy with identifying some dull Cisticola while not even noticing the herd of Elephants standing in the background, does it have wings?! No!? Then what are we stopping for? ;-)

During the heat of the day my dad and I had a meeting with Mr Umaru Faruk, the park manager. Mr. Faruk told us a fascinating story about Mole’s history. It turned out that the Netherlands played an important part in it! The Netherlands had invested several millions of dollars in the park, an enormous benefit for it and in fact for the entire region. With the money, infrastructure was built and forest rangers were properly trained in anti-poaching and wildlife management. Nowadays there is much better control on poaching and the park receives good numbers of visitors every year.

After lunch I needed just 5 more species to reach 3500 and around 5 PM the moment was there! The highly charismatic (not) Rufous Cisticola went down as number 3500, a first milestone reached. Now on to the record and ultimately 7000 species.

Long-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus climacurus (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Patas Monkey Erythrocebus patas (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Forbe's Plover Charadrius forbesi (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Today was my 30th birthday, which I’d totally forgotten were it not for a text message from Camilla when I woke up this morning. I guess you kinda lose track of time and what’s happening in the world when doing a Big Year, for instance I just today found out that Great Britain left the EU – bad news – and that FC Twente was on the brink of being downgraded to the first division of the Dutch football league. I wonder how I’ll cope with normal everyday life when this crazy year is finished. Come to think about it, I’m not even half way there

Paul and Victor pushed extra hard to find me some nice lifers for my birthday, not an easy task since we did exceptionally well yesterday. Amazingly they managed to find me Black-faced Firefinch, Brown-rumped Bunting, Long-tailed Glossy-starling and Pied-winged Swallow, all tricky species to come by so all props to these guys.

After saying goodbye to Michiel and John we started our long drive back south. This part of shooting the Biggest Year Film has come to an end and I must say things went exceptionally smooth. By some miracle we haven’t come across a single drop of rain while June is the peak of the rainy season; I guess the birding gods are still smiling upon my Biggest Year.

Like three days ago we spent the night at Boberi Forest. Before dinner we did an owling session in the forest which produced two different calling Sandy Scops-owls. That evening we drank wine and ate cake to celebrate my birthday, two difficult things to obtain in the middle of the rainforest so Ashanti, thanks for making this years’ birthday extra special!


This morning saw us birding along the dirt road that runs through Boberi Forest. William had re-joined the team and Victor had other business to attend so we were back with our original posse.

By now there were only difficult targets left and finding new birds was challenging to say the least, but we still managed to scrape together five new birds: Bate’s Swift, Forest Woodhoopoe, Blue Cuckooshrike, Preus’s Weaver and Little Grey Flycatcher.

Boberi, to my opinion, is one of the nicest stretches of primary forest in Ghana, so it was an extra sad sight to see one logging truck after the other passing through the forest transporting huge 600 year old trees. Even though this is selective legal logging it is still a terrible sight to see these ‘forest giants’ disappearing. We as human beings are consuming the very planet we live on at an alarming rate. Unless we manage to change our level of consumption radically, we are spiralling towards a future wherein our children and grandchildren will only know our planets’ last remaining natural heavens from our stories and pictures.

'Selective' logging (Arjan Dwarshuis)

My dad and Loek enjoyed with a Blue-moustached Bee-eater Merops mentalis (Arjan Dwarshuis)

Last evening we had driven to Atewa Forest, Ghana’s only remaining stretch of Afro-tropical lower montane forest. At daybreak we started with the six km walk to the top. It is not a steep climb so we had time to enjoy the gradual shift in vegetation as we slowly made our way up.

We had barely covered a kilometre when there was a movement in the sub-canopy: a Blue-moustached Bee-eater! Our main target, which is usually only found at the top! We had fantastic views of three birds hawking for insects from an exposed perch.

With the main target out of the way, birding was relaxed, well, Paul nearly stepped on a huge Gabon Viper in the middle of the trail. Although an absolutely stunning animal it is highly venomous and Paul would have been in serious trouble if he had actually been bitten.

At the top we got very lucky with good views of the shy Forest Scrub-robin, but the highlight of the day was on our way down, when we encountered an antswarm. After waiting silentlyfor a while we had fantastic scope views of both White-tailed- and Brown-breasted Alethe and White-tailed Antthrush.

We ended the day in the savannah of Kalakpa Resource Reserve where we made short work of Black-shouldered Nightjar.

Blue-moustached Bee-eater Merops mentalis (Arjan Dwarshuis)

I felt a bit melancholy this morning since this was my last day birding on the continent of Africa. 83 Days have gone by in a flash, the first month I bagged more than 800 species, but the remaining 7 weeks was hard work and sometimes slow going. I saw some amazing birds and met some equally amazing people and even though the last two months were tough going, the quality was high.

This last morning before our drive back to Accra we birded the riverine forest of Kalakpa, chasing one special bird in particular, the charismatic Capuchin Babbler.

We slowly made our way through the forest when suddenly Paul and William recognized the call of our quarry! William began to whistle an imitation of the Capuchin’s call and moments later I had a brief but very good views of a Capuchin Babbler!

We managed to find two more new species that morning, both fittingly belonging to classic African families, the Spotted Honeyguide and the Guinea Turaco.

Special thanks goes out to Ashanti African Tours. For the entire African leg of my Biggest
Year I would like to thank Merid N. Gabremichael and Birding Abyssinia, Stratton Hatfield, Zarek Cockar, Joseph Aengwozizzi and African Birding Safaris, Madagscar Wildlife Tour Agency, Bouke Bijl and Gerjon Gelling, Ethan Kistler and Billi Krochuk, Callan Cohen and Birding Africa. 

I will miss you Africa, but I will pass your regards to South America :)

Arjan Dwarshuis

Me with Paul (left) and William (right)


Jurgen van der Meer  ·  1 juli 2016  12:30

Gefeliciteerd met de "half way mark" en je verjaardag!

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