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by Rod Cassidy
June 6, 2000
Having just returned from a trip to Gabon I would like to report on a little known area in the south of the country. The coast of Gabon is characterized by a Maze - huge lagoons and rivers. Access is limited to flying in and boat travel and accommodations are very basic. In the 5 days I had there I had little time for extensive birding. However, I still managed to tally more than 100 species of bird, 15 species of mammal and 3 species of crocodile.
I visited an area called Iguéla in the south of the country. I flew in to a place called Omboué and was met at the airport by a fisherman friend who has a camp at Iguéla. A two hour drive on an old Landrover through forest and savanna mosaic found us at his camp on the shores of a huge lagoon. Birds seen on route Included White-throated Blue-swallow, hundreds of Grey-rumped Swallows with hardly any grey on the rump, African Crakes, and Black-rumped Buttonquails.
Day 2: walked in the forest and savanna in the early morning and saw several species including thousands of African Grey Parrots, Yellow-billed Turaco, Great Blue Turaco, Blue-headed Coucal, Carmalite Sunbird, Red-rumped Tinkerbird. Departed up the lagoon by boat with 2 guides at around 10 AM. We traveled for about 90 minutes up the lagoon at speed, as I wanted to get into the river systems. The lagoons are surprisingly poor for birds, and very little was seen on this leg. Then we headed up a really interesting river. The first 20 or so KMs was mixed palm forest and papyrus swamp. We had great views of Sititunga and forest buffalo along this stretch. The next forty or so KMs the vegetation develops into great swamp with drier forests on the banks. We had great views of elephant there with one animal crossing the river right in front of the boat with just its trunk sticking out of the water. We also saw Manatee there. Birds on the river included Shining-blue kingfisher, Cassin's Grey Flycatcher Swamp-palm Bulbul, Lesser Gallinule, Pink-backed Pelican, and Black-casqued Wattled-hornbill.
We set camp about 40KM up this river. The next 3 days were spent doing a recce for some up coming trips. A lot of time was spent just hiking some very overgrown trails and following the small rivers by pirogue as far as we could. On one trail I walked through great rain forest for about 8 Kms, heard chimpanzees and found gorilla tracks, with good birding including: Blue-breasted and Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, White-crested and White-thighed Hornbills, Spotted Honeyguide, Congo Serpent-eagle, Black-headed and Rosy Bee-eaters, Blue-headed Wood-dove, and a number of greenbulls.
In the evenings I went out by pirogue with a spotlight looking for nocturnal animals. Gavial, African Dwarf Crocodile and Nile Crocodiles were seen in numbers, as well as roosts of Hornbills and African Grey Parrots, mammals like Sititunga and Elephant, but overall the night trips were disappointing as I believe the rivers were far too high and would be more productive in the height of the dry season.
On the last day I hiked a trail though rain forest for 6KMs to the beach. I had a Landrover there to meet me with ice cold beer. (It's a tough life.) This relatively unknown birding region is really worth more exploration, and I will be returning to it soon and will keep you informed.
CASSIDY'S BIRDING TOURS