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A Birding Trip to Gabon, São Tomé & Príncipe
9-29 November 2003
by Nigel Wheatley, edited and expanded by Jon Hornbuckle
Gabon [map] is a small, sparsely populated, politically stable country, nearly three-quarters of which is forested. The areas of forest, some of the largest in Africa, support one of the most diverse avifaunas on the continent, and along with the many long rivers, huge areas of coastal mangroves and mudflats, and savannas, support such star birds as Congo Serpent Eagle, Long-tailed Hawk, Black Guineafowl, Forbes's Plover, Rosy and Black-headed Bee-eaters, African River Martin, Red-headed Picathartes and Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike.
The Gulf of Guinea islands of São Tomé and Príncipe may be depauperate in comparison, but the 25+ endemics include the unique Dohrn's Thrush-Babbler and the impressive Giant Sunbird, while breeding seabirds include White-tailed Tropicbird.
Nigel Wheatley, c/o Tregarthen's Hotel, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly, TR21 0PP.
Jon Hornbuckle: kagu.at.blueyonder.co.uk.
We used the following:
All relevant articles published in the African Bird Club bulletins.
Saving Africa's Eden, Quammen D. National Geographic, September 2003.
Birds of Western Africa. Borrow N and Demey R, 2001. Helm.
Birds of Africa: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Birds South of the Sahara. Sinclair I and Ryan P, 2003.
Where to watch birds in Africa, 1995. Wheatley N. Helm.
A Birders Guide to Gabon. Sargeant D, 1993.
Gabon, August-September 1993. Webb R, 1993.
Gabon and the Cameroon, February 1998. Taylor D, 1998.
The Bradt Travel Guide to Gabon, São Tomé & Príncipe. Warne S. Bradt.
The following cost is the average per person.
£ 490 Air Gabon, London-Libreville return flight.
£ 80 Visas (Gabon (£50), São Tomé & Príncipe (US$50)).
£ 2763 All other expenses, including internal flights, return flights to São Tomé and Príncipe, road and rail transport, accommodation, food, beer, guide fees, etc.
£ 3330 Total
Euros and 'Seefas' (CFA - Central African Republic - Mille Francs) were the preferred currencies in Gabon, $US and Dobras in São Tomé and Príncipe. There is a change machine at Libreville Airport but no bureau de change. Our guide changed money for us on São Tomé, we know not where.
Flights, Visas, etc.
Visas for Gabon from The Gabonese Embassy, 27 Elvaston Place, London SW7 5NL (tel: 0207 823 9986; fax: 0207 584 0047). We applied for double entry visas as we were returning to Libreville after São Tomé and Príncipe. This got a mixed response from the embassy, eg Jon got one without any trouble but Martin was refused one and had to pay for another single entry visa. On returning to Libreville, Jon's passport was confiscated by the immigration woman who claimed it wasn't a double entry visa, even though it said it was, whereas everyone else was allowed though without problem! The reason for this may have been because J had written Transit on the entry form – she said that it was OK to be in transit for 24 hours without a visa if passports were retained by Immigration at the airport - they would be given back when returning for the flight out. Gaston, of Mistral Voyages, confirmed this was true. In the event, she relented and gave J his passport back when she had let everyone else through. So it does appear that a single entry visa would suffice in our situation.
Visas for São Tomé and Príncipe can be obtained once there. We got ours at the Mistral Voyages office in town. Gabon Airport Tax was included in the ticket price. São Tomé and Príncipe Airport Tax ($US20.40) must be paid on departure.
Getting Around, Accommodation and Food
The Air Gabon overnight flight from London to Libreville, via Brussels, takes nine and a half hours. The direct London to Libreville leg takes seven hours. It takes 50 minutes to fly between Libreville and São Tomé, and about 30 minutes between São Tomé and Príncipe.
The international return flights to São Tomé and Príncipe, all internal flights, road and rail transport (with drivers), accommodation (including camping) and food was organised and/or provided by our ground agents, Mistral Voyages mistral.lbv.at.internetgabon.com.
S.A. Immeuble Diamant, BP 2106, Libreville, Gabon (tel: 241/760421; fax: 241/747780; Patrice Pasquier, Director General). All arrangements worked well.
4WD is essential during the wet season, which lasts from October to mid-December and mid-February to May, and even then the roads to Lopé and Franceville/Lekoni are best avoided, hence we travelled by train to these destinations.
Health and Safety
Immunisation against several diseases is recommended, as are all precautions against malaria although it is not especially common. Immunisation against Yellow Fever is compulsory for visiting Gabon and you have to show your Certificate on arrival. Acute Haemorrhagic Fever/Ebola outbreaks have occurred in the Zadie District in the northeast of Gabon near the border with the Republic of Congo. Otherwise, Gabon appeared to be one of the safest countries we have visited, and there was no hassle from locals except when leaving Libreville airport.
According to the FCO, economic difficulties and political rows over the handling of investments in the development of São Tomé & Príncipe occasionally lead to civil unrest (most recently in April 2003). According to John Vidal, the Environment Editor of The Guardian (Saturday Nov 1st 2003), São Tomé & Príncipe "is one of the poorest and most indebted countries in the world, with 70% of its income coming from aid . . . but all that will change from next year (2004) when it receives a US$100m down payment on the first deals it has struck on a gargantuan oil find . . . . US oil companies, led by Exxon, are moving in . . . the place is already in political turmoil with people jostling for position ahead of the oil . . . and since the oil find there has been a temporary bloodless coup (in July 2003)". The place seemed peaceful when we were there, everyone was friendly and at no time did we feel unsafe.
Climate and Timing
Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe lie on the equator, hence the heat and humidity, and "It's a sweaty old place" was a familiar sound, especially when forest birding. The normally short dry season usually lasts from June to September. The wet season usually lasts from October to mid-December and mid-February to May. Birdquest etc. usually visit in August-September at the end of the dry season and catch up with African River Martin inland, when the species is migrating west to its breeding grounds along the coast, where it is present from September to November. Although we visited during the wet season, we experienced surprisingly little rain and in total lost only three late afternoons birding. It did rain heavily some nights though, and when it rains it rains, so forget birding. São Tomé and Príncipe are two of the wettest islands on earth with an annual rainfall of 7000 mm, and rain is possible all year round on the high southern and interior slopes. We recommend taking an umbrella and possibly 'wellies'. It's too hot for complete wet-weather gear.
At 267,667 sq km Gabon is almost exactly twice the size of England and the size of Colorado. The small, volcanic islands of São Tomé (45 km by 25 km) and Príncipe (17 km by 8 km, 200 km northeast of São Tomé) are about 250 km west of the African coast.
Less than a million people inhabit Gabon and a remarkable 74% of the country is still forested, just part of the Gabonese jungle belt which is the largest intact area of rainforest in Africa and one of the largest remaining on earth. This extensive area of forest has the greatest diversity of tree and bird species (over 1000?) for a given area anywhere in Africa, as well as healthy populations of primates, including Lowland Gorillas and Chimpanzees.
São Tomé and Príncipe, in the Gulf of Guinea, form the southern extension of the volcanic ridge which runs from Mount Cameroon in the north to Bioko (Fernando Po), Príncipe, São Tomé and Annobon in the south, with São Tomé rising to 2024 m (6640 ft). Huge, bare, black, basalt plugs, known locally as cãos (dogs), and cliffs rise out of the forest. Much of the lowlands of São Tomé & Príncipe were used by the Portuguese to grow cocoa, coffee and sugar. However, many of the big plantations were more or less abandoned after independence in 1975, with their former workers growing cassava and bananas on a much smaller scale instead. The secondary growth in the old plantations has been utilised by some birds but it is the natural habitats, the lowland and montane rainforests, which support the greatest diversity and the greatest densities of the highly endemic avifauna.
In 2002 Gabon's president Omar Bongo made a bold and remarkable declaration, putting 11% of his country's land in to 13 National Parks, a total of 11,294 sq miles! Gabon now ranks alongside countries such as Costa Rica and Ecuador as far as the extent of 'protected' land goes. Of course, drawing lines on a map is easy, especially in the least densely populated country in West Africa: it's making sure the wildlife within the lines is actually protected which is difficult. The key though is that Gabon has decided to go down the ecotourism road rather than the logging track, and this has already encouraged the establishment of projects such as Operation Loango at Petit Loango NP, a project, which in close collaboration with conservation organisations and local and national government institutions aims to promote low-impact ecotourism in order to demonstrate the economic value of sustainable conservation, especially to the local community.
The same cannot be said of the isolated islands of São Tomé and Príncipe, both of which are Endemic Bird Areas. There is still a lot of good forest on these islands but very little is 'protected', despite the fact that many of the endemics are Red Data Book birds and eleven endemics on São Tomé are listed as 'Conservation Threatened' by the IUCN.
Over 670 bird species have been recorded in Gabon, including over 430 in the Ivindo Basin, a small region in the northeast, making this, arguably, the richest area for birds in the whole of Africa. Spectacular and speciality species (not including near-endemics listed below) include White-crested Bittern, Spot-breasted Ibis, Hartlaub's Duck, Congo Serpent-Eagle, Long-tailed Hawk, Black and Plumed Guineafowl, Grey Pratincole, Forbes's Plover, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Pel's and Vermiculated Fishing-Owls, Black-headed and Rosy Bee-eaters, White-crested Hornbill, Lyre-tailed Honeyguide, Blue Cuckoo-Shrike, Black-collared Bulbul, Congo Moorchat, Vanga Flycatcher, Red-headed Picathartes, Gorgeous and Fiery-breasted Bushshrikes, Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike, Yellow-capped Weaver and Black-bellied Seedcracker.
In addition to the endemics, São Tomé and Príncipe support large numbers of breeding seabirds, including White-tailed Tropicbird.
There are no endemics in Gabon, but near-endemics include Finsch's Francolin, Bates's Swift, African River Martin, Dja River Warbler, Angola Batis, Black-chinned and Loango Weavers, and Black-throated and Red-crowned Malimbes.
São Tomé (15) and Príncipe (5) together support at least 25 endemics, as well as at least 11 endemic subspecies. The 25 endemics include four pigeons, a thrush, a paradise-flycatcher, two speirops and three sunbirds.
Birdquest [trip report] recorded 428 species on their three-week-long 2003 trip to Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe, in late August-early September. We recorded 424, including 35 heard-onlys and 6 introductions. Birdquest's itinerary included Makokou, in the heavily forested, species-rich Ivindo Basin, but not Petit Loango. We gave Makokou a miss because many of the birds there also occur in Cameroon, as well as La Lopé, and we needed to visit Petit Loango to see African River Martin at the time of year we were in the country, a site where Rosy Bee-eater was also 'guaranteed' and Vermiculated Fishing-Owl a major attraction. If time is not a serious constraint, it would be worth going to Makokou for say a week, and staying at the Research Station, which should be cheap, as no daily transport is required. There is a grid of trails, so a guide is unnecessary. Most of the Lopé birds can be seen there, with the notable exception of the Picathartes and Dja River Warbler.
Many thanks to Patrice Pasquier, Gaston and Augusto, of Mistral Voyages, especially to Patrice Cristy for his expert guidance in the field in Gabon, and last but not least, to Dave Sargeant for providing major encouragement to go with his Birders Guide to Gabon published way back in 1993!
The team gathered at Gatwick for an overnight flight: Neil Bostock, Simon Colenutt, Jon Hornbuckle, Martin Hunnybun, Philip Rostron and Nigel Wheatley. The flight left on time, surprisingly, but seat allocations were ignored by the central African passengers who just sat anywhere they fancied. Major turbulence over the Channel made for a rather disturbing introduction to no-frills Air Gabon, but it was a smooth journey from Brussels south.
The view from the windows of the Boeing 767 at dawn over the Gabon coast was of thick rain clouds and, where there were breaks in the cloud, plenty of water on the ground, which did not bode well. We knew we were taking a risk visiting Gabon during the wet season but hoped the downpours would be restricted to the late afternoons.
A few hours after dawn we, along with Patrice Christy, our expert guide in Gabon, and Gaston from Mistral Voyages, were drifting with the tide in a large pirogue on the Moka River, the outboard having spluttered to a halt. There were very few birds about and to cap it all an untickable Rosy Bee-eater drifted high over our heads. When we then reached the mangrove-lined channel where we hoped to see White-crested Bittern, the outboard packed up for good and the man at the tiller had no choice but to pole us back to the main river in the hope of a passing piroque coming to our rescue. We tied up to a mangrove and were informed that we might have to wait a few hours for any assistance, since traffic was light on the Moka River on a Sunday.
Fortunately, we only had to wait about an hour before the next piroque came along and was persuaded to take us back into the White-crested Bittern channel. There were no bitterns, and just before we reached the village of Moka, where we hoped to disembark and look for Loango Weaver, the outboard on our second piroque packed up! We were drifting again, away from the village, but there was no time to get depressed because they managed to get the thing going again. We finally made it to Moka, where a pair of Loango Weavers eventually showed very well, and a good selection of waders and terns were seen at the nearby coast.
We had arranged to leave Moka at 1530 in the pirogue we came on, but there was no sign of it at the waterfront. It then started raining, big style, so we retired to a dry porch and waited, the first beers of the trip in hand. By 1630 there was still no sign of the pirogue, so Patrice hired the third of the day and soon we were speeding back along the Moka River in the lashing rain, tucked up as tight as possible under our umbrellas pointed at the bow. We stopped twice, once to pick up Gaston and our driver from pirogue number one, now adrift in mid-river, and once to re-fuel, which involved shifting a huge drum of fuel from the bow to the stern alongside the violently rocking pirogue. We arrived back a couple of hours after leaving Moka, a little damp and more than a little disappointed with our first day in Gabon.
Day two in Gabon was a fantastique day: The Day of the Rosy Bee-eater in fact. Up at 0500 and off to the nearby airport for the 0700 flight south to Omboué, via two more untickable Rosy Bee-eaters at Port Gentil and Gamba. The view from the largely clear skies above the Gabon coast was enough to bring a smile to most birders' faces: long beaches, loads of clean-looking lagoons and rivers, lots of good-looking forest, and very little evidence of human activity. This part of the 'Dark Continent' looked far from 'dark' to us.
At Omboué we boarded an open-top landcruiser for the 60km drive to Iguéla, which took 3 hours, thanks to bee-eaters and River Martins. We saw the first bee-eaters not far out of Omboué, in flight only but still stunning now they were up close enough to see the rosy underparts. Then there were more, sweeping and swooping and dashing and darting low over the ground and high in the air all around us, then there's one perched, then there's more, perched up by the side of the track, and so it went on for the rest of the drive, Rosy Bee-eaters, brilliant Rosy Bee-eaters, everywhere.
We really only forgot about the Rosies when we were watching the African River Martins, small numbers of which were bringing food to their colony in the sandy ground a short distance from the track. Great birds these, especially when seen shuffling across the sand to their burrows: black with bright red eyes and eye-rings, and broad red-and-yellow bills.
Roberta welcomed us to Loango Lodge. We had no idea what to expect as far as accommodation was concerned, so it was more than a pleasant surprise to find that here was a brand-new lodge, complete with a bar, restaurant and bungalows, beneath the palms alongside the long inlet/lagoon separating the lodge from Petit Loango NP. We were then served a three-course lunch, with snapper for the main course. Things were really looking up, and so it was that in high spirits we headed across the lagoon for the afternoon. Forbes's Plover, Senegal Lapwing, Blue-throated Roller, Black-chinned Quailfinch and yet more Rosies were added to the day's list of high-quality birds. We were welcomed back by the calls of Nkulenga Rail behind the Lodge but, of course, we couldn't see it.
One of the other factors that made the 10th such a special day was the total lack of cloud let alone rain, a fact we were reminded of this morning when rain stopped play, delaying our first foray into the nearby swamp forest by an hour or so. Once amongst it the birds came slowly but steadily: White-crested Hornbill ..... Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill ..... Red-chested Goshawk ..... Western Bluebill ..... Fire-crested Alethe.
We spent the long hot afternoon across the lagoon looking hard for Black-headed Bee-eater. Ed, our appointed guide at Loango, was made fully aware how important this bird was and having seen a few a couple of weeks ago, took us straight to the area, where we scoured the edges of the gallery forest, running in wide strips through the savanna grassland grazed by Buffalos, Elephants and Red River Hogs. We saw no bee-eaters, well, no bee-eaters with black heads, for there were plenty more Rosy Bee-eaters to watch, including a tight colony of about a hundred pairs which made a magnificent spectacle. At one moment the air was full of calling birds, the next the sandy ground where they were nesting lit up by their glorious colours as they landed before taking food to their young hidden in the burrows.
Thunder then rain then the African night and a cold beer. Life would only be better with Black-headed Bee-eater....
Bad day, good day, bad day, good day (all relatively of course) and so it proved with day four being potentially the best day of the trip. It didn't start too well. We were ready for breakfast at 0530 but the lovely Pamela, provider of breakfast, was nowhere to be seen. Still, had she not been late we wouldn't have seen the Fraser's Forest-Flycatcher or the Shining-blue Kingfisher perched on top of an old oil drum underneath the restaurant. We headed for forest as soon as we could, seeing a splendid Chestnut Wattle-eye and fresh gorilla tracks. Then it was mid-morning and we were working some forest when we heard them. They didn't seem to be too far in so Ed, Martin and Nigel went in, through a thickish tangle, down a slope into a small heavily forested valley, where we followed the stream as best we could. After much farther than we had anticipated, the first ones came crashing down the tall trees, one dropping fifty feet or so in seconds, with the help of a liana, hitting the ground running, feet thumping the ground as they scampered away. Then a large one came walking towards us, less than fifty feet away, looked as surprised as us, and turned and ran. We walked up the ridge and another large one came tumbling down a trunk. We waited for more but there were none ..... until we moved on a little and two more landed in a blur behind us and ran. It was over. They were ugly, brutish, scrawny-looking animals: they were Chimpanzees, clearly our closest relatives.
Next up was a party, a party of delightful Rufous-bellied Helmetshrikes, then a family of Black Bee-eaters, the two turquoise-spangled adults perched either side of the sooty juvenile on the outer branches of a large fallen tree, then a pair of Cassin's Malimbes, the male a real sizzler. We boarded another boat at 1530 and were glad to see not only that it wasn't a pirogue but a 'Boston Whaler' with not one but two outboards!
The M'Pivie River is a blackwater river, a fifty metre wide channel of black ink flowing through two green walls of tall thick forest. Shining-blue Kingfishers lit it up occasionally, Cassin's Flycatchers filled the niche filled by Torrent Tyrannulet on another continent, a mixed flock of spinetails low overhead included a back-flipping Black and several Silver-rumped Swift-like Sabine's, and the metallic blue bird perched on the next dead snag was not a hummer but a hirundine, a White-throated Blue Swallow. The main reason for cruising the M'Pivie River though was to look for fishing-owls and Martin soon spotted one, a Pel's perched in full view just inside the forest. We saw another three of these 'big old beasts' after dark and after them two Vermiculated Fishing-Owls, a bird rarely seen by anyone! Ed was almost more excited by spot-lighting a rarely seen Beecroft's Anomalure, a type of flying squirrel.
Up for 0530 breakfast as usual, then off to search for forest-edge species, but the best birds we saw were deep forest species: a large, colourful and ridiculously long-tailed Long-tailed Hawk that showed well for ages; a brilliant little White-bellied Kingfisher, 'scoped while perched minutes after Patrice said "This bird is very difficult to see perched", a smart pair of White-browed Forest-Flycatchers, and a Yellow-billed Turaco.
Venturing inside the forest after a long lunch we saw bugger-all squared. Mind you it rained rather heavily from mid-afternoon until dusk, when we visited the small Bird Island in the lagoon in a futile attempt to see Olive or perhaps even Spot-breasted Ibis (though we did hear the "song" of the Singing Bat).
At dinner the previous evening, Mike Fay, famous for walking 2000 miles across the Congo and Gabon, thence helping to persuade President Bongo to set aside 11% of the country as protected national parkland, described a bird he had seen that afternoon in a marsh just across the lagoon while trying to find a Black-headed Bee-eater for us (everyone was on the case now!). It sounded like a White-crested Bittern, so, although we had to leave just after dawn in order to make our flight back from Omboué to Libreville (or wait another three days), we decided a short, sharp sortie was in order. We were almost through the small patch of forest and within sight of the marsh when Ed beckoned us back one-by-one to look at a bird in the top of the tree he was pointing at. Expecting it to be the paradise-flycatcher Patrice had heard moments before, we were shocked to see a large but sleek-looking bee-eater with a burnt orange breast and black head! Still desperate to produce the one bird we most wanted to see, Ed had pulled it out of the bag at the death! Jon and Nigel had now seen every bee-eater on earth.
There was no time to look for the bittern, we were late and there was a very grumpy, very fat American sitting in the landcruiser when we got back. He was even grumpier, "really pissed" actually, in his words, after the breakneck drive along the pot-holed track to Omboué. "I could'a been killed" he complained. A slight exaggeration but we were travelling too fast to bird, which was a shame because it would have been nice to stop to watch the huge colony of River Martins we passed near Omboué. It was deemed too far away to go back, even though the plane was late (of course!) and we had at least an hour to spare, a rather productive hour as it turned out for on and around the nearby lagoon we saw at least a hundred Grey Pratincoles, many of which appeared to be fly-catching from the corrugated-iron roof of the food market, showing their snazzy upper- and under- wing patterns. There were even a couple on the runway as we took off.
Back at Libreville, after lunch at the Tropicana, we squeezed in a couple of hours at Bolokoboué, 25km to the north, seeing the brilliant Black-bellied Seedcracker, Superb Sunbird and two African Cuckoo-Hawks, before boarding our VIP coach on the train to Lopé in the evening.
We arrived at Lopé at 0430, lucky by all accounts to be just three hours late instead of the usual six, not that it made a fat lot of difference since by the time we had reached the lodge, another surprisingly lavish affair, and sorted ourselves out, it was time for breakfast. The customary jam and coffee was taken overlooking the tall trees by the Ogooué River, watching distant White-headed Lapwings and Rock Pratincoles, and, closer to, three little beauties: Violet-tailed, Johanna's and Superb Sunbirds.
A morning standing on a bridge across a creek running through a forest patch produced another gem in the form of Tiny Sunbird, and an undescribed species of swift (according to Patrice), but no Lyre-tailed Honeyguide, or Fiery-breasted Bushshrike (heard only). Patrice then took us to a small swamp 'in the middle of nowhere' and predicted that the bird we were about to look for, one of the rarest or at least most localised in the world, on hearing the tape would almost certainly perch only for a second before flying around a couple of times and disappearing back into the swamp for good. Martin picked it up perched high in a largely leafless bush next to the swamp, singing its head off, and we watched that Dja River Warbler for a minute or so before it dropped down. It showed again, a couple of times, and poor Patrice didn't know where to look or what to say.
After birding around the hotel, where excellent views were had of Forbes's Plover and Rock Pratincole, the afternoon plan, in Patrice's words was "to watch the birds go to bed" back at the bridge. However, it was foiled because they apparently already had gone by the time we got there, so we had to make do (!) with Finfoot, and Freckled Nightjar - in lieu of Bates's.
The morning drive to Mikongo was delayed till 0730 by our vehicle being highjacked by the hotel staff to take them to Lopé village. Our journey was enlivened by the likes of Great Blue Turacos and White-throated Bee-eaters. Once at Mikongo, the group split into two; those that needed Picathartes and those that didn't. Jon and Phil went off to look for forest specialities they needed while Neil, Simon, Martin and Nigel were led into the forest, in that order, by Aime (Amy), a pygmy Gorilla-tracker who glided smoothly through the forest along the maze of narrow elephant trails for two hours before reaching the only rock of any size seen, standing alone about twenty-feet tall. On one side was an old nest, and on the other a new nest with an egg!
Aime and Gistan, our other guide, hastily showed us where to sit and wait, screening us from the rock with some large-leaved shoots, but shortly after settling down we were told to vacate our spot immediately. Gistan thought there were elephants nearby but it turned out to be a Chimpanzee which looked back at us somewhat perplexed before moving off. Returning to our look-out we settled down again ..... but not for long. What looked like honey bees began to appear, apparently attracted by our sweat. There was plenty of that after the hike and there were soon plenty of them, covering the backs of our small day-sacks and then us in what seemed like our own individual swarms. The constant thrum was terrible, much worse than the stings those trapped under our shirts inflicted, and they were pretty bad, so terrible we could not help but keep moving about, hardly ideal behaviour from birders trying to see Picathartes.
Nevertheless, after an hour or so, Amie and then Martin saw one, albeit briefly. An hour or so later, Nigel got a brief view of one on the ground. Another hour then went by, during which only Amie saw one, and 1600, time to return, was rapidly approaching. We were rapidly approaching insanity, so many bees were there now, but we decided to sit or rather stand it out. Then Amie spotted one again and this time Martin, Nigel and Simon got on to the extraordinary thing which was perched in almost full view in a spindly tree near the nest. Neil was standing next to Amie but could not understand his directions and on finally moving to the side of the others just missed it! He was not happy! and neither were we, as we would have to try and block out the bees some more. Ten to fifteen minutes later though, Amie somehow spotted one through a labyrinth of trees, perched up and preening, and once everyone was on the right line we all enjoyed superb views of Red-headed Picathartes.
It was now gone 1600 and we not only had to go, we wanted to go. It was an absolute joy to leave the bees behind, the bird under-the-belt, and not even the torrential rain that began to fall shortly afterwards, instantly turning the trails into muddy streams, dampened our spirits. Rarely has a beer back at base been so welcome.
Meanwhile, Jon, Phil and Patrice birded back along the main track through tall primary forest for six hours. Activity was slow, except for the numerous sweat-bees, with only a couple of smallish parties, but a fair selection was eventually seen including White-thighed Hornbill, Brown-eared Woodpecker, Square-tailed Saw-wing, Forest Swallow, Blue Cuckoo-shrike, and best of all, a Black-billed Dwarf-Hornbill. The calls of a probable lowland gorilla were heard a few times.
The Fraser's Eagle-Owl present in Sept appeared to have left the camp, so after supper, we drove back along the track, looking for it and other owls and nightjars, but with no success.
Brilliant day, not so brilliant day, so it goes, the rollercoaster ride that is birding. Spent virtually the whole day deep in the bloody forest avoiding invisible elephants and seeing just nineteen species, the only one of note for the blisters being Red-bellied Malimbe - no Latham's Forest Francolin, Black Guineafowl nor Lowland Akalat. The low listers were also unimpressed, with the notable exception of the singing male Forest Robin. Outside the forest for the last hour or so of decent light, we fared little better although a whacky male Vanga Flycatcher on the nest was quite a sight. We drove back to the Lopé Hotel in the dark for a late dinner.
Another bash at Latham's Forest Francolin, Black Guineafowl and Fiery-breasted Bushshrike in a large tract of forest near Lopé once again ended in failure, with the bush-shrike giving untickable views. Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Red-tailed Ant-thrush and a large mixed troop of Grey-cheeked Mangabeys, and Crowned and Putty-nosed Monkeys, were some consolation.
At 1540, only an hour behind schedule, we boarded the train at Lopé and slowly trundled south alongside the Ogooué River; a huge, wild mass of water and black shiny rocks, almost overflowing in places, rushing through thickly forested country. It was soon lost to view though, not because we left it but because it was raining so heavily. Well behind schedule we arrived in Franceville after 2200, from where it was a 75 min drive to Lekoni, with hairy-tailed Porcupine and Side-striped Jackal for the first vehicle. This left just five hours to grab some zs before breakfast and birding in new terrain, always an exciting prospect.
In the field not long after 0600, walking the Old Canyon Track, along which we saw Luehder's Bushshrike, Salvadori's Eremomela and Black-headed Batis, and up on to the savanna where we flushed both Swamp and Long-tailed Nightjars, and saw the striking Black-collared Bulbul. It was sunny and very hot by midday, siesta conditions, so we returned refreshed in the afternoon, unblocking Black-chinned Weaver and Congo Moorchat in the bushy savanna before concentrating on gallery forest and adding Angola Batis and a pair of Vanga Flycatchers.
Into the big wide open of the Plateau Bateke under cloudy skies early morning, walking miles across the short-grass savanna before everyone had seen Finsch's Francolin. In the process we saw a small but quality selection of open-country birds - White-bellied and Black-bellied Bustards, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Coqui Francolin, Temminck's Courser, Short-tailed Pipit, etc - although what on paper appears to be an impressive list was somewhat unsatisfactory for all of the aforementioned species were seen in flight only. All then saw Great Snipe, the split Malbrant's Lark, the undescribed Teke Cisticola, Marsh Widowbird, and, except Jon, Red-thighed Sparrowhawk, on the way to or alongside Lekoni Lake, an improvement marred by the lack of Locust Finch. To cap it all, after lunch the very moment we arrived at the Black-headed Bee-eater site near Bongoville, the leaden skies poured forth their threatened deluge and ended the day's birding proceedings. Plenty of water falling from the sky but none back at the hotel, so no much-needed showers for us.
With only a morning left in Gabon, we were out and about early, and our reward was prolonged views of a singing male Gorgeous (Perrin's) Bushshrike, an apt name if ever there was one, and what at the time we thought to be a new species for Gabon, Olivaceous Warbler. Then it was back to Bongoville where White-fronted and Black Bee-eaters made it an incredible seven bee-eaters in six hours, but the seven did not include Black-headed, here at one of the most reliable sites for this bird on earth. Fortunately we could only imagine what a tragedy it would have been had Ed not squeezed that one out at Petit Loango, for our time in Gabon was up and we had to get to Franceville for our flight to Libreville and then make the connecting flight to São Tomé.
Our flight was cancelled but we were booked on to another, later one, the delay giving some of us the chance for another trip tick - Winding Cisticola. Back at Libreville, we grabbed our bags, passed smoothly through customs and stepped on to the São Tomé flight. The Dash 8 plopped down on to the tarmac at exactly the same time it left Gabon, due to the 1 hour time difference, at about 1945.
Up at the crack for the 0715 Twin Otter flight to Príncipe, where the five island endemics were in the bag before lunch and the endemic races sewn up just in time for the evening re-run of the Rugby World Cup Final, which we were kindly allowed to watch on TV at the refreshingly cooperative Bom Bom Island Resort. Cheered by England's magnificent victory, we returned to the Pensão under a rare starry sky for a splendid fish supper.
Some birded around town first thing, seeing both kingfishers well. We had wanted to visit the Tinhosas Islands, but were told by the staff at Bom Bom that we would not have enough time to make it there and back for our 1430 flight to São Tomé. We had to make do with a short sort-of-pelagic trip along the east side of Príncipe, to some small offshore rocks with Brown Boobies and Brown Noddies and Ilhéu Caroco, a large volcanic pinnacle graced by White-tailed Tropicbirds, the main target. We saw nothing except for a few flying-fish while zooming across the open water between the rocks and offshore island, but Príncipe looked impressive from the boat: a small, verdant volcanic island with plugs and peaks rising into the clouds. We were back in time for an octopus lunch before our flight to São Tomé.
A long old day: 0730 to 1700 on a narrow, slippery trail mainly through secondary montane forest below Parque Natural Obó in central São Tomé, but with some time in the primary forest of the PNO. We eventually saw 11 of the 15 island endemics and the three remaining inter-island endemics, including our first male São Tomé Paradise-Flycatcher, a beautiful bird done no justice by the books, plenty of the silky speirops, lots of the snazzy Newton's Sunbirds and one or two of the very tricky Giant Sunbird, a big old bird ..... for a sunbird. São Tomé's avifauna may be highly endemic but it is also depressingly depauperate as the day list of just 20 species testifies. Still, we were fortunate with the weather again, the afternoon deluge promised by intermittent morning rain failing to materialise.
Bread and jam, and, crucially, coffee, at 0600, then along the east coast road past plantation after plantation of bananas and oil palms. It was at one such palm plantation that we turned off the road and headed inland, seeing our first 'São Tomé ' Kingfisher before reaching the Rio Io Grande. From here we walked for a solid hour through damp knee-high vegetation, along an overgrown ride through the long-neglected palms, before reaching a forested ridge that we then began to climb. There was no trail as such and the going was hard, walking on small loose rocks up a steep ridgeline through thick forest. Then it started raining, then it started pouring, stair-rods pelting through the trees. Four (Dwarf) Olive Ibises flying up into the trees almost above our heads kept our minds off the rain for a while but by the time we arrived at the campsite we were all soaked from head to toe. It looked like being a wet afternoon but mercifully real rain died out and we were able to bird. We saw very little all afternoon, except for a 2m black cobra, although we were able to cross the Short-tail off the rapidly diminishing hit-list. It was nearly dusk and we were almost back at camp when we heard then saw not one but two São Tomé Scops-Owls, one rich rufous, one dull grey. Not the prettiest owl we had seen but nevertheless too good to knock.
Ten hours lying in hot tents on a 'mattress' composed of tree roots was not conducive to sleep, so we were all feeling pretty groggy and grumpy this morning. There were no surprises when we swopped thoughts on the birding plan, which went something like: 'Right, all we need is the fiscal and the grosbeak, then we can get out the hell out of here before the sky juice pours forth once more'. It didn't take long to find a fiscal, a very smart black, white and yellow bird, and it didn't take long after that for the team, even the blisters, to vote unanimously to forget the grosbeak and take our chances at seeing some Leatherback Turtles instead, a pretty pathetic effort bearing in mind we had experienced just one night of serious discomfort ..... on a trip to equatorial Africa! Mind you, the chances of seeing the grosbeak were virtually nil, whereas the likelihood of further downpours was very high.
So, we broke camp, legged it back down the ridge, and then carried on farther south to Praia Jalé, a beach at the south end of São Tomé where Leatherback Turtles lay their eggs. One did so just before we arrived but none did during the period we were told was the best. Our guides knew their birds but they didn't know their turtles. Still, it was better to be there than in the mountains where it looked like it was rather wet.
Another groggy morning after a long, thundery, wet, sweaty night in the tents, fully zipped up in order to keep the mozzies at bay. It started raining again as we drove slowly back north along the east coast of São Tomé. We were heading we knew not where for breakfast, somewhere close we hoped, but on and on and on we drove, our stomachs empty and aching, and our bloodstreams screaming out for caffeine. When we finally stopped, it stopped raining, which on reflection was remarkable, because as we waited and waited for breakfast to appear at the weird art gallery at Roca São João, a steady procession of eight tropicbirds came in off the nearby sea. They sailed over the forest, one bird circling a few times before dropping down into the gulley below the balcony where we were scanning, and provided our best views by far. Then breakfast was served, and it was raining again before we had finished. It rained all the way back to town too, but not during the late afternoon when we saw the smart but introduced Golden-backed Bishop in the northern savanna. A night of beach-bashing for turtles at Praia das Conchas on the north coast was unrewarded and left at least one group member wishing he had got off to join the party in a village on the way.
The adrenalin was running low now, but the hard-core half of the team returned to the forest below Parque Natural Obó for half a day, only seeing the same birds but with some in the hand. They also met the Portuguese researchers who showed pictures of the Grosbeak in the hand, the "Príncipe" Thrush and played recording of a possible owl on Príncipe. In the evening we all dashed back to Libreville on the Dash 8 and returned to the Hotel Tropicana, a few with enough energy left to enjoy a night of Afro-Cuban music at the Spocial Club in town.
After a de-brief with that top man Patrice, with croissants and coffee under the palm trees, we flew back to Gatwick and the overcrowded grey and grim London suburbs, a massive comedown from Gabon's sparsely populated, mainly sunlit, birdy expanses of forest and savanna. Gabon had been good to us, presenting such avian gifts as Rosy and Black-headed Bee-eaters, Red-headed Picathartes, African River Martin, Long-tailed Hawk, Vanga Flycatcher, White-throated Blue Swallow, Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike, Forest Robin, Shining-blue and White-bellied Kingfishers, Grey Pratincole, Forbes's Plover, Black-bellied Seedcracker, Pel's and Vermiculated Fishing-Owls, twenty sunbirds and that unforgettable Gorgeous Bushshrike. Throw in all but one of the São Tomé and Príncipe endemic species and subspecies, as well as tropicbirds sailing over the verdant volcanic slopes, and, all in all, it can only be described as a top trip.
The mangrove-lined rivers and creeks, and mudflats and sandbars, near/in Akanda NP, support White-crested Bittern, Rosy Bee-eater (mainly Apr-Oct), Loango Weaver and the largest number of wintering waterbirds in the country, including thousands of shorebirds and several species of tern.
Goodies we saw
African Skimmer, Carmelite Sunbird, Swamp Boubou, Loango Weaver (in scrub between Moka village and bay).
Goodies we didn't see
White-crested Bittern, Damara Tern (Apr-Oct), Yellow-crested Woodpecker, Rufous-vented Paradise-Flycatcher.
Birded by pirogue, organised by Mistral Voyages. A spare outboard would have been useful.
Accommodation and Food: Hotel Tropicana, Libreville.
An afternoon to spare was spent birding secondary growth at Bolokoboué, 25 km north of Libreville, where we saw such goodies as African Cuckoo Hawk, Grey-throated Barbet, Superb Sunbird and Black-bellied Seedcracker, but dipped on Bristle-nosed Barbet (which breeds there).
Petit Loango National Park (Parc National du Loango)
The lagoons, blackwater rivers, swamps, savanna, and primary and secondary gallery and rain forests in this park along Gabon's coastal belt support Long-tailed Hawk, Forbes's Plover, Vermiculated and Pel's Fishing-Owls, Rosy and Black-headed Bee-eaters, African River Martin and Loango Weaver, as well as Buffalos and Elephants. The bird list for Loango is still growing, and many more species are likely to occur, including several rarities, so this park is likely to become a major birding destination in the future.
Goodies we saw
Hartlaub's Duck, Long-tailed Hawk, Red-chested Goshawk, Cassin's Hawk-Eagle, Forbes's Plover, Senegal Lapwing, African Skimmer, Yellow-billed Turaco, Pel's and Vermiculated Fishing-Owls, Cassin's, Sabine's and Black Spinetails, Shining-blue, White-bellied and Blue-breasted Kingfishers, Rosy, Black-headed, Black and Blue-breasted Bee-eaters, Blue-throated Roller, White-crested, Red-billed Dwarf, Piping and Black-casqued Hornbills, Yellow-spotted Barbet, African River-Martin, White-throated Blue Swallow, Swamp Palm Bulbul, Fire-crested Alethe, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Cassin's Flycatcher, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Shrike Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike, Cassin's Malimbe, Black-chinned Quailfinch.
Goodies we didn't see
White-backed Night-Heron, Olive Ibis (heard), Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Rufous-tailed Palm-Thrush.
Some other wildlife we saw
'Forest' Buffalo, Chimpanzee, 'Forest' Elephant (some of the largest densities in the world gather in the scrub at the coast during the rains), Red River Hog.
Other wildlife we didn't see
Lowland Gorilla, Hippo, Leopard, with Humpback (large numbers on passage to and from their calving grounds in the Gulf of Guinea, July-Sept) and Killer Whales as well as dolphins offshore, and beaches where turtles lay their eggs.
It is 53 km from Omboué Airport to Iguéla on a pretty good dirt track. The NP is actually across the lagoon from Iguéla but there's plenty of good habitat between Omboué and there, and we spent much of our time actually outside the park, visiting selectively-logged forest, savanna grasslands, secondary growth and the M'Pivie River. It is 8 km along the lagoon from Iguéla to the Atlantic.
Accommodation and Food: Iguéla: Loango Lodge is a very nice lodge with 10 twin-bed bungalows and three suites overlooking the lagoon, boats, open-top landcruisers and guides. It's mainly geared towards fishing (for Tarpon etc.), but also runs 'game drives' and caters to birders and whale-watchers.
At Omboué, on and around the lagoon a few minutes walk opposite the airport, we saw Grey Pratincole, African Skimmer, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, African River Martin, White-throated Blue Swallow and Loango Weaver. We also looked for Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, which has been heard in the leafier gardens, but without success.
La Lopé NP
Established in 1982, the 1919 sq miles of rivers, creeks, savanna, gallery forest, isolated forest patches known as bosquets, and rainforest in and around this park support over 500 species of bird, including Black Guineafowl, Forbes's Plover (mainly Aug-Feb), Bates's Nightjar, Lyre-tailed Honeyguide, Dja River Warbler, Red-headed Picathartes, Bates's Sunbird and Fiery-breasted Bushshrike, as well as, alledgedly, the highest population of primates on earth.
Goodies we saw
African Finfoot, Rock Pratincole, Forbes's Plover, White-headed Lapwing, Afep Pigeon, Blue-headed Wood-Dove, Great Blue Turaco, Freckled Nightjar, Sabine's, Cassin's and Mottled Spinetails, Bates's Swift, Shining-blue Kingfisher, Black, Blue-breasted and White-throated Bee-eaters, White-crested, Piping and Black-casqued Hornbills, Blue Cuckoo-shrike, Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush, Brown-chested Alethe, Dja River Warbler, Green and Lemon-bellied Crombec, Violet-backed Hyliota, Forest Robin; Shrike, Vanga and Chestnut-capped Flycatchers, Red-headed Picathartes; Scarlet-tufted, Violet-tailed, Tiny, Johanna's and Superb Sunbirds, Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike, Orange and Yellow-mantled Weavers, Blue-billed and Red-bellied Malimbes, Black-faced Canary.
Goodies we didn't see
Long-tailed Hawk, Latham's Forest Francolin, Black Guineafowl, White-spotted Flufftail, Bronze-naped Pigeon, Gabon Coucal, Fraser's Eagle-Owl, Sjostedt's Barred and Red-chested Owlets, Bates's Nightjar, White-bellied, Chocolate-backed and African Dwarf Kingfishers, Spotted Honeyguide, African Piculet, Rufous-sided and Grey-headed Broadbills, Olivaceous Flycatcher, Banded Prinia, Lowland Akalat, Bates's Sunbird, Fiery-breasted Bushshrike, Cassin's, Crested and Red-headed Malimbes.
Other wildlife we saw
Chimpanzee, 'Forest' Buffalo, 'Forest' Elephant, Black Colobus, Grey-cheeked Mangabey, Crowned, Putty-nosed and Moustached Monkeys, Yellow-backed Duiker.
Other wildlife we didn't see
Lowland Gorilla (currently being habituated by the 'Gorilla Girls' who sadly lost them a couple of days before we turned up!), Mandrill (the largest troops on earth but virtually impossible to see without a prolonged stay).
Based at Lopé Lodge, we birded nearby savanna and forest blocks. Based at Mikongo Camp, 57 km along a pretty good dirt track from Lopé Lodge, we birded the adjacent contiguous forest.
Accommodation and Food: Lopé Lodge, overlooking the Ogooué River, is a very nice lodge with bungalows. Mikongo Camp, operated by ECOFAC, tel 732344, fax 732345, is more rustic but with more than adequate bungalows.
Lekoni (Plateaux Bateké NP)
The savanna grasslands, mixed stands of miombo and evergreens, and gallery forest in the far southeast of the country near the Congo Highlands, rising to 600 m, support several highly localised birds which are very difficult to see elsewhere, including Finsch's Francolin, Black-headed Bee-eater, Black-collared Bulbul, Congo Moor Chat, Angola Batis, Perrin's (Gorgeous) Bushshrike and Black-chinned Weaver.
Goodies we saw
Red-thighed Sparrowhawk, Red-necked Buzzard, White-bellied ('Barrow's') and Black-bellied Bustards, Black-rumped and Small Buttonquails, Coqui and Finsch's Francolins, African Crake, Temminck's Courser, Senegal Lapwing, Great Snipe (Nov-Mar), Swamp and Long-tailed Nightjars, White-fronted, White-throated, Blue-breasted, Black, Rosy and Little Bee-eaters, Black Woodhoopoe, Double-toothed Barbet, Rufous-naped (Malbrant's) Lark, Short-tailed Pipit, Black-collared Bulbul, Cloud-scraping and 'Teke' Cisticolas, Salvadori's Eremomela, Red-capped Crombec, Congo Moor Chat, Vanga Flycatcher, Black-headed and Angola Batises, Johanna's and Superb Sunbirds, Souza's Shrike, Luehder's and Gorgeous Bushshrikes, Black-chinned Weaver, Marsh Widowbird.
Goodies we didn't see
Fiery-necked Nightjar, Black-headed Bee-eater (roadside forest above Bongoville), Black-backed Barbet, African Broadbill, Petit's Cuckoo-shrike, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush (has been heard here), Yellow-bellied Hyliota, White-winged Black Tit, Bocage's and Fiery-breasted (heard) Bushshrikes, Locustfinch (this species occurs at the marsh next to the lake. Nigel and Simon almost certainly flushed two there, but they were up and away too fast against the light).
Lekoni is about 100 km from Franceville. The forest near Bongoville is about halfway between Franceville and Lekoni. The best habitats near Lekoni are less than half an hour away from the hotel.
Accommodation and Food: Hotel Lekoni - a large, spacious hotel, tel 699003, was adequate (apart from having no water for half of our stay) but has seen better days.
The five endemics and four endemic subspecies on this 139 sq km volcanic island are readily seen near the airport.
Príncipe Endemics we saw
Dohrn's Thrush Babbler, P Sunbird, P Speirops, P Glossy-Starling, P Golden-Weaver.
Príncipe and São Tomé Endemics we saw
ST Pigeon, ST Spinetail.
Other goodies we saw
White-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, Brown Noddy (only a few but at least 10,000 pairs are estimated to breed on the Tinhosas Islands), Lemon Dove (endemic principalis race), Grey Parrot, Blue-breasted (endemic dryas race) and White-bellied (endemic nais race) Kingfishers, Western Olive-Sunbird, Velvet-mantled Drongo (endemic modestus race).
Goodies we didn't see
Bridled Tern (small numbers breed around São Tomé and presumably Príncipe), Sooty Tern (up to 200,000 pairs are estimated to breed on the Tinhosas Islands), Black Noddy (c.5000 pairs are estimated to breed on the Tinhosas Islands), Olivaceous Thrush (the endemic xanthorhynchus race had been recorded twice only, in 1901 and 1928, but in January 1995 Patrice discovered a thrush anvil in primary forest above the Rio Papagaio, and in 1996 ECOFAC workers found two more anvils at Oque Pipi in the southwest; we met two Portuguese researchers investigating the seedeaters who have seen the thrush in the remote south in 2003), ST (& P) White-eye (very rare on northern Príncipe), Príncipe Seedeater (very rare on northern Príncipe but we later discovered from the Portuguese researchers that they are common on Ilhéu Caroco ..... where we saw the White-tailed Tropicbirds! Just to rub it in, they also believe that the seedeaters on Príncipe are a different species to those on São Tomé).
On day one we met our guide, Pedro, at the airport and birded along a path through what appeared to be secondary growth surrounding small plots near the airport on the way to town, soon seeing all five endemics as well as Lemon Dove. Driving to town we saw Príncipe (White-bellied) Kingfisher along the roadside. After lunch at the Pensão in town we birded near the airport again, adding the drongo, then down through the much better-looking forest between the airport and Bom Bom Island Resort, adding Blue-breasted Kingfisher.
The second morning we took a pelagic, organised at Bom Bom Island Resort, from Ilhéu Bom Bom at the north end of the island to Ilhéu Caroco at the southeast end of the island via a few offshore rocks, seeing White-tailed Tropicbirds, Brown Boobies and Brown Noddies, but there was no sign of the large feeding flocks of birds reported on previous days and the Tinhosas Islands were beyond reach in the time available. Apparently it takes 2-3 hours in a fast boat to reach these islands. Huge numbers of terns and noddies nest on these islands; it is possible to land on one of them from a slower pirogue, but not the fast boat, and walk through the Sooty Tern colony.
Accommodation and Food: Pensão Residencial Palhota, Santa Antonio (tel: 251060; fax: 251079). Basic but great fish to eat and somewhat cheaper than Bom Bom Island Resort (US$175 per day!).
Seeing all of São Tomé 's (fifteen) endemics is not so easy, for it is necessary to organise a mini camping expedition in order to reach and bird the remnant lowland primary rainforest of the southeast, the only one of the three major forest types which supports all the endemics, including the big four; the 'Dwarf' bocagei race of Olive Ibis, Bocage's Longbill, Newton's Fiscal and ST Grosbeak.
There are two other major forest types on this 857 sq km island: mossy (above 1400 m), for example at Mesa de Pico/Estação Sousa; and montane (800-1400 m), as well as a rugged coastline with small estuaries, creeks, mangroves and some savanna, and dry woodland and fields. However, it is the old overgrown cocoa and coffee plantations, and forested deep valleys of the misty central highlands and south, which support most of the endemics.
Prepare for very wet weather and plenty of mud here.
São Tomé Endemics we saw
Maroon Pigeon, Forest Dove, ST Green-Pigeon, ST Scops-Owl (this or another taxon may also occur on Príncipe), ST Prinia, Bocage's Longbill, ST Paradise-Flycatcher, Newton's and Giant Sunbirds, Black-capped Speirops, ST Oriole, Newton's Fiscal, ST and Giant Weavers.
São Tomé and Príncipe Endemics we saw
ST Pigeon, ST Spinetail, Olivaceous Thrush, ST & P White-eye, ST & P Seedeater.
Other goodies we saw
White-tailed Tropicbird, Olive Ibis (endemic 'Dwarf' bocagei race), Malachite Kingfisher (endemic thomensis race), Chestnut-winged Starling (endemic fulgidus race), African Masked Weaver (endemic peixotoi race).
São Tomé Endemic we didn't see
São Tomé Grosbeak.
On day one we drove up Monte Café and birded the Lagoa Amélia Trail below Parque Natural Obó all day, seeing Maroon and São Tomé Green- Pigeons, Forest Dove, the thrush, the prinia, the paradise-flycatcher, Newton's and Giant Sunbirds, the white-eye, the speirops, the oriole, São Tomé and Giant Weavers, and the seedeater.
On day two we drove south and then walked up the ridge above the Rio Io Grande, adding (Dwarf) Olive Ibis, São Tomé Scops-Owl, São Tomé (Malachite) Kingfisher and Bocage's Longbill to those species seen yesterday, all of which except Forest Dove and the white-eye we also saw. The next morning we added Newton's Fiscal, leaving just one endemic to see: the grosbeak, which, according to most recent studies, is probably a rare, mainly canopy-dwelling, species which is best looked for in January-March when it has been seen feeding on the seeds of fruits well below the canopy.
We were told by the ECOFAC turtle wardens that the best times to look for turtles coming on to the beaches at Praia Jalé and Praia das Conchas is between 1900 and 2100. Use torches sparingly and do not scan the sea with them as this may deter any turtles on their way in.
Accommodation and Food: Hotel Phenícia, Rua de Angola, CP836, São Tomé, Republica Democratica de São Tomé e Príncipe (tel: (239-12) 224203; fax: (239-12) 224206; email: phenicia.at.sol.stome.telepac.net). Owned by a fairly accommodating Lebanese family. At Rio Io Grande and Praia Jalé we camped. Tents and food provided by Mistral Voyages.
Sites Not Visited
Makokou (Ipassa-Makokou Reserve)
Rainforest in the Ivindo Basin in the northeast, arguably the richest area for birds in the whole of Africa. The list is huge so only a short selection of the very best and most likely to be seen is given below.
Goodies present and not seen by us elsewhere in Gabon
Congo Serpent-Eagle, Black Guineafowl, Black-collared Lovebird, Bates's Nightjar, African Piculet, Rufous-sided Broadbill, Xavier's Greenbul (one of over 20 'greenbuls'), White-tailed Ant-Thrush, Masked and Gosling's Apalises, Yellow and Grey Longbills, Bioko/West African Batis, Blue-headed Crested-Flycatcher, Bates's Paradise-Flycatcher, Forest Penduline-Tit, Tit-Hylia, Rachel's Malimbe, Maxwell's Black, Preuss's Golden-backed and Yellow-capped Weavers, Red-headed Antpecker.
SYSTEMATIC LIST OF BIRDS
This list of 381 species follows the taxonomic sequence in the fifth edition of Birds of the World: A Check List (Clements 2000), with some revisions and name-changes.
Birds listed with scientific names were not seen by Nigel.
Taxa not recognised as full species by Clements are listed in parentheses.
Introductions and species heard only are listed at the end and not included in the species total above.
A full species list with scientific names (in Xcel), against locality, drawn up by JH, is appended. The English names are mostly those employed by Sinclair and Ryan (2003).
White-tailed Tropicbird. Brief distant views of singles over São Tomé town and airport, then 12+ pretty close around Ilhéu Caroco off southeast Príncipe, then seven, a few very close, at Roca São João on the southeast coast of São Tomé. The race ascensionis, some birds showed strong apricot washes to their tails and a few pale apricot washes on their underparts. A top bird.
Brown Booby. 50+ on pelagic off Príncipe and 3+ off Praia Jalé on south coast of São Tomé.
(African) Darter. Singles at Petit Loango and on the lagoon at Omboué.
Goliath Heron. One at Petit Loango.
Western Reef-Egret. Several dark and light phase birds on Príncipe and São Tomé.
(Dwarf) Olive Ibis. Two pairs were flushed and then perched high in trees in the rain on the way up the Rio Io Grande ridge, São Tomé.
Hartlaub's Duck. Single pairs seen in flight on 3 days at Petit Loango.
Osprey. Singles near Moka Village and at Bolokoboué.
African Cuckoo-Hawk. An adult and a juvenile perched up and 'scoped at Bolokoboué.
European Honey-buzzard. Two at Petit Loango on 11th.
Black-shouldered Kite. Two at Lekoni and one on Príncipe.
African Fish-Eagle. Three singles at Petit Loango.
Palm-nut Vulture. Widespread in Gabon, in good numbers except for Lekoni.
Black-breasted Snake-Eagle. Two singles at Lekoni.
[Congo Serpent-Eagle, Dryotriorchis spectabilis] A raptor that flew across the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango, appeared to be this sp. but was not seen well enough for definite identification.
African Harrier Hawk. Singles at Petit Loango and Lopé on 4 dates and 2 on 18th.
Lizard Buzzard. One at Lekoni.
Red-chested Goshawk. A superb adult perched at Petit Loango and one in flight another day.
Red-thighed Sparrowhawk. A smart adult flew over our heads at the marsh next to the lake at Lekoni and Phil had 2 sightings at Petit Loango.
Long-tailed Hawk. An amazing bird. One adult seen well for a long time near the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango: large, colourful, with a ridiculously long tail. One heard calling at Mikongo.
Red-necked Buzzard. Singles in flight at Petit Loango and Lekoni.
Ayres' Hawk-Eagle. One in flight at Petit Loango.
Cassin's Hawk-Eagle. One perched briefly at Petit Loango.
Kestrel. One hovering over the airfield at Omboué was apparently a rare migrant.
African Hobby, Falco cuvierii. A hobby in flight at Lekoni was almost certainly this species (SC).
Lanner Falcon. An apparent migrant at Lekoni.
Coqui Francolin. One at Lekoni on 19th and two flushed on 20th.
Finsch's Francolin. Three flushed at Lekoni twice.
Red-necked Francolin. A few at Lekoni.
Harlequin Quail, Coturnix delegorguei. 2 at Príncipe airport on both visits and one in the savanna on São Tomé.
Small Buttonquail. One seen well on the track to Mikongo, Lopé, and one flushed at Lekoni.
Black-rumped Buttonquail. At least two flushed at Lekoni.
African Crake. 2-3 at Lekoni, on dirt tracks in front of vehicle.
Black Crake, Amaurornis flavirostris. 2 at Petit Loango.
African Finfoot. A female showed briefly but well at Lopé.
White-bellied Bustard. Four-six at Lekoni, mainly flight. The isolated race mackenziei, part of the 'Barrow's Bustard' complex.
Black-bellied Bustard. One male in flight at Lekoni.
Water Thick-knee. A few seen during night-drives at Petit Loango.
Temminck's Courser. 12+ at Lekoni, in flight only.
Rock Pratincole. 50+ on the Ogooué River at Lopé, of the white-collared nominate race nuchalis.
Grey Pratincole. Little beauties. 100+ at Omboué. Several very confiding birds on a jetty and many more on the roofs of the buildings alongside the lagoon, particularly the corrugated-iron roof of the food market where the birds were fly-catching.
White-headed Lapwing. 40+ on the Ogooué River at Lopé.
Senegal Lapwing. Up to 10+ on any single day at Petit Loango, one at Lopé and 6+ at Lekoni.
Kittlitz's Plover. Two singles at Petit Loango.
Forbes's Plover. An adult with two chicks at Petit Loango and up to 27 together (a record) at Lopé.
White-fronted Plover. Two in the bay by Moka Village.
Great Snipe. One flushed twice from the marsh by the lake at Lekoni.
Brown Noddy. 10+ on pelagic off Príncipe.
African Skimmer. 112 flew across the bay by Moka Village; several along the lagoon at Petit Loango and on the lagoon at Omboué.
Afep Pigeon. One at Petit Loango and a couple of fly-overs at Lopé.
Maroon Pigeon. 3+ below PN Obó and a couple above Rio Io Grande, São Tomé.
Bronze-naped Pigeon, Columba iriditorques. Two in flight at Petit Loango (JH), where also heard, and 2 –3 in flight at Lekoni and Bongoville.
São Tomé Pigeon. Several on Príncipe and a few on São Tomé.
(Príncipe) Lemon Dove. A few flushed, a couple seen well, on Príncipe, where the principalis race may be a full species.
Forest Dove. Several below PN Obó and above the Rio Io Grande, São Tomé.
Red-eyed Dove. The common Streptopelia in Gabon.
Ring-necked Dove. Only one or two at Lekoni.
Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Turtur chalcospilos. One at Petit Loango.
Blue-headed Wood-Dove. Superb views of one at Lopé and heard daily at Petit Loango.
São Tomé Green-Pigeon. A few below PN Obó and above the Rio Io Grande, São Tomé.
Grey Parrot. Widespread in Gabon, with 50+ at Lopé. Also 30+ on Príncipe.
Red-fronted Parrot. Four at Petit Loango and at Lopé.
Great Blue Turaco. Two showed well at Lopé and one at Petit Loango.
Guinea Turaco. Two singles at Petit Loango and heard at Lekoni.
Yellow-billed Turaco. One in swamp forest near the M'Pivie River in Petit Loango and heard elsewhere.
Pied/Levaillant's Cuckoo, Clamator jacobinus/levaillantii. One at Petit Loango.
Red-chested Cuckoo, Cuculus solitarius. One seen at Petit Loango and others heard there and at Lopé.
Black Cuckoo. Singles at Petit Loango and Lopé, and two at Lekoni.
Eurasian Cuckoo. Singles at Lopé and Lekoni.
Klaas' Cuckoo, Chrysococcyx klaas. Singles at Petit Loango and Lekoni.
Emerald Cuckoo. A very familiar bird by call throughout, including São Tomé and Príncipe, but rarely seen.
Yellowbill. Singles at Petit Loango, Lopé and Mikongo.
Black Coucal. One or two at Petit Loango.
Blue-headed Coucal. One near Moca village and two at Petit Loango.
Senegal Coucal. A couple at Petit Loango.
Barn Owl, Tyto alba. Singles perched on a roof and in a nearby Eucalypt, with another calling, near Hotel de Leconi (JH).
São Tomé Scops-Owl. Two birds, one rufous one grey, around campsite above Rio Io Grande, São Tomé, were seen very well in daylight.
Pel's Fishing-Owl. Four seen very well along the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango, one in full daylight, three by spotlight.
Vermiculated Fishing-Owl. One seen very well in spotlight, with another nearby, along the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango, the same night as the four Pel's!
Swamp Nightjar. Several flushed in daylight at Lekoni.
Freckled Nightjar. One on the deck at night at Lopé.
Long-tailed Nightjar. Two excellent males flushed during daylight at Lekoni.
Square-tailed Nightjar. A few flushed in daylight and at night at Petit Loango.
São Tomé Spinetail. A few on Príncipe, and 10+ below PN Obó and 5+ above Rio Io Grande, São Tomé.
Mottled Spinetail. Several at Lopé.
Black Spinetail. A superb back-flipping single along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango.
Sabine's Spinetail. A few along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango and at Lopé.
Cassin's Spinetail. 10 along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango and a few at Lopé.
(Undescribed apus sp.) c.10 high flying swifts at Lopé were of an undescribed species, according to Patrice. Looked like a cross between Common Swift and Bates's Swift, paler than C. Swift (NW), with a longer, more-forked tail and different flight action.
Horus Swift. A few near Bongoville.
Bates's Swift. A few at Lopé.
Shining-blue Kingfisher. A beautiful blue colour. Five at Petit Loango (one perched), two at Lopé and one perched in superb light by the river near Mikongo Camp.
Malachite Kingfisher. 5+ along the Moka River and singles at Petit Loango and Lopé.
(São Tomé Kingfisher). A few of the endemic race thomensis were seen very well along the east coast road (eg. at Roca São João) and on the way to Rio Io Grande ridge.
White-bellied Kingfisher. One 'scoped at close range in swamp forest near the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango.
(Príncipe Kingfisher). A few of the endemic subspecies nais were seen very well at the forest-edge and two fished on the wide open river at San Antonio. This bird is more like a Malachite than a White-bellied, in appearance and behaviour.
African Pygmy-Kingfisher. Two singles in flight at both Petit Loango and Lekoni.
Brown-hooded Kingfisher. A few at Lekoni.
Grey-headed Kingfisher. Two recently arrived migrants put on a superb display at Lopé.
Woodland Kingfisher. Widespread in Gabon, except Lekoni.
Blue-breasted Kingfisher. Two singles at Petit Loango, heard at Lopé and Lekoni.
(Príncipe Blue-breasted Kingfisher). One of the endemic race dryas on Príncipe was seen in flight at the forest edge and one perched, calling, in the open atop a broken palm trunk at San Antonio, with another calling near the river. A smaller bird with different behaviour and a shorter call than mainland birds.
Striped Kingfisher. One at Lekoni.
Giant Kingfisher. Singles twice at Petit Loango and one at Lopé.
Pied Kingfisher. Singles at Petit Loango and Lopé.
Black Bee-eater. A gem of a bee-eater. A pair with a juvenile nearby and an adult along the M'Pivie River at Petit Loango, one at Lopé, a pair at Mikongo, three near Mikongo and another stunning adult at Bongoville, making a total of 11. The race australis, which lacks the blue supercilium, although the bird at Bongoville did show some blue at the front of the supercilium (not a full adult?).
White-fronted Bee-eater. 10+ by a small colony near Bongoville.
Little Bee-eater. 10+ at Lekoni and 3+ at Bongoville.
Blue-breasted Bee-eater. 10+ at Petit Loango, 3+ at Omboué, 3+ at Lopé, and at least an adult and juvenile at Lekoni, a total of 20+. A surprisingly easy bird to i.d. when seen well, thanks to the white cheek stripe and the midnight blue in the breast band.
Black-headed Bee-eater. After much searching at Petit Loango, Ed pulled one out of the bag at the death when we were looking for a poss. White-crested Bittern on the final morning. Very fortunate, because we found none at Bongoville.
White-throated Bee-eater 50+ at Lopé and at Lekoni.
European Bee-eater 10+ at Lekoni.
Rosy Bee-eater Bird of the Trip! A stunning bird which was numerous at Petit Loango where we saw one breeding colony of about 100 pairs as well as many other birds. Also, smaller numbers at Moka River (1), Port Gentil (1), Gamba (1), Bolokoboué (3) and Lekoni (up to 5 per day), making a total of hundreds.
Broad-billed Roller One along the Moka River, and a single and two together at Lekoni.
Blue-throated Roller A few seen well at Petit Loango. Not a deep forest species, more of a forest-edge bird and the blue throat was easy to see even at long range.
(African) Hoopoe Just the one, at Lekoni.
Black Woodhoopoe Three at Lekoni. Sometimes placed in the genus Rhinopomastus, which is given family status by Sibley and Monroe.
White-crested Hornbill A great bird. A few singles were seen at Petit Loango and Lopé/ Mikongo.
Black Dwarf Hornbill, Tockus hartlaubi One perched up in full view at Mikongo (JH, PR)
Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill One very confiding individual at Petit Loango and a few others there and at Lopé/Mikongo.
African Pied Hornbill Widespread in good numbers in Gabon, except for Lekoni.
Piping Hornbill Widespread in good numbers in Gabon, except for Lekoni.
White-thighed Hornbill, Ceratogymna albotibialis One at Mikongo (JH, PR).
Black-casqued Hornbill This huge but elusive bird was seen at Petit Loango (4), Lopé (3+) and Mikongo (1), all in flight only.
Naked-faced Barbet 5+ at Lopé.
Grey-throated Barbet 5+ at Bolokoboué and two at Lopé and Mikongo.
Speckled Tinkerbird One at Petit Loango and a couple at Lopé.
Yellow-throated Tinkerbird A couple at Lopé.
Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird One at Petit Loango and three at Lekoni.
Yellow-spotted Barbet Two at Petit Loango and one at Mikongo.
Hairy-breasted Barbet One or two at Petit Loango and singles at Mikongo and Lekoni.
Double-toothed Barbet Two at Lekoni.
Yellow-billed Barbet One at Lopé.
Least Honeyguide, Indicator exilis One seen well along the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango.
Cassin's Honeyguide, Prodotiscus insignis One at Mikongo and a probable at Petit Loango.
Rufous-necked Wryneck, Jynx ruficollis One at Lekoni (SC).
Brown-eared Woodpecker, Campethera caroli One at Mikongo (JH, PR).
Green-backed Woodpecker Two at Moka and one at Lopé.
Cardinal Woodpecker Up to 6 at Lekoni.
Gabon Woodpecker One at Lopé.
Rufous-naped (Malbrant's) Lark Several at Lekoni. This bird was originally described as a separate species, before being lumped, and looks ripe for splitting again.
Flappet Lark Plenty at Lekoni.
African River Martin One of the Birds of the Trip. A small colony of about 20 pairs on the way to Petit Loango, a few elsewhere in Petit Loango, a huge colony of many hundreds, maybe thousands of pairs on the way out of Petit Loango (near Omboué), and two on wires at Omboué.
Banded Martin Widespread in small numbers at Petit Loango and Lekoni.
Grey-rumped Swallow Plenty at Petit Loango.
Red-chested Swallow Two were positively identified at Lopé.
[White-throated Swallow] A corpse picked up from the road near Bongoville was this intra-African migrant species, new for Gabon! Presumably an overshoot from Angola.
White-throated Blue Swallow A gem. No justice is done to this bird in the field guides. We saw four of these shiny stunners along the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango, and two on the lagoon at Omboué. Lesser Striped-Swallow Widespread and common in Gabon.
Rufous-chested Swallow Several over the Moka River and at Petit Loango.
Mosque Swallow Two at Bolokoboué.
Red-throated Swallow, Hirundo rufigula 2 near Bongoville.
Forest Swallow, Hirundo fuliginosa Up to 4 at Mikongo.
Square-tailed Sawwing A few at Lopé and Lekoni.
Petit's Sawwing A few at Lopé and several at Lekoni.
African Pied Wagtail Several at Lopé and Lekoni.
Yellow Wagtail A few at Lopé.
Yellow-throated Longclaw Several at Petit Loango, Lopé and Lekoni.
Long-legged Pipit Widespread and common in Gabon. Aptly-named.
Long-billed (Woodland) Pipit A few at Lekoni.
Plain-backed Pipit, Anthus leucophrys A few at Lekoni.
Short-tailed Pipit A few at Lekoni, mainly flushed.
Tree Pipit One at Lekoni.
Blue Cuckoo-shrike Single males seen by both groups at Mikongo.
Petit's Cuckoo-shrike, Campephaga petiti One at Lekoni.
Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrike, Campephaga quiscalina One at Petit Loango.
Grey Greenbul, Andropadus gracilis Singles at Petit Loango and Mikongo.
Ansorge's Greenbul One at Mikongo.
Plain/Cameroon Sombre Greenbul, Andropadus curvirostris One at Mikongo (JH, PR).
Slender-billed Greenbul A few at Petit Loango and singles at Bolokoboué and Lopé.
Yellow-whiskered Greenbul One seen in swamp forest near M'Pivie River, Petit Loango, with others heard elsewhere..
Golden Greenbul Singles at Petit Loango, Bolokoboué and Lopé.
Honeyguide Greenbul, Baeopogon indicator One at Mikongo (PR).
Sjostedt's Greenbul One or two at Mikongo.
Spotted Greenbul Two at Petit Loango, 3+ at Lopé and four at Bongoville.
Simple Leaflove One at Petit Loango, 2 at Lopé and heard at Lekoni.
Yellow-throated Leaflove One at Mikongo and a few at Lekoni.
Yellow-necked Greenbul Two C. falkensteini aka 'Frankenstein's Greenbuls' were seen at Lopé.
Swamp Palm Bulbul A small group most mornings in the grounds of Loango Lodge.
Icterine Greenbul Several at Mikongo and one at Bongoville.
Common (Red-tailed) Bristlebill Two at Petit Loango and a few at Mikongo.
Lesser/Green-tailed Bristlebill, Bleda notata/eximia Two at Petit Loango and heard at Mikongo.
Yellow-spotted (Western) Nicator Singles at Petit Loango and heard at Mikongo.
Red-tailed Greenbul, Criniger calurus Heard at Petit Loango and 5 at Mikongo.
Eastern Bearded-Greenbul 2+ at Mikongo, heard at Petit Loango.
White-bearded Greenbul One by the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango and 2 at Mikongo (JH, PR).
Black-collared Bulbul A few of these striking bulbuls at Lekoni.
Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush Two of these strange birds daily at Mikongo and Lopé, heard at Petit Loango.
Red-tailed Ant-Thrush One perched on a fallen trunk at Lopé.
Olivaceous Thrush 5+ below PN Obó and 10+ above Rio Io Grande, São Tomé. This thrush has a very large bill.
Brown-chested Alethe One compsonota seen briefly at Mikongo.
Fire-crested Alethe One-two castanea seen briefly but well at Petit Loango.
Whistling Cisticola Two at Lopé and several at Lekoni.
Chattering Cisticola A singing male by the lagoon at Omboué, one at Bolokoboué and several at Lopé.
Grey Cisticola, Cisticola rufilatus Two at Lekoni.
Winding Cisticola, Cisticola galactotes Two at and Franceville airport.
Stout Cisticola, Cisticola robustus A few at Lopé.
Croaking Cisticola One at Lopé and a few at Lekoni.
Tabora Cisticola Patrice reckons the Piping Cisticola (Neddicky) at Lekoni is this species.
Siffling (Short-winged) Cisticola A few at Lekoni.
(Undescribed 'Teke' Cisticola) Two+ singing males at Lekoni. Looks like Siffling but whiter underneath and sounds different.
Zitting Cisticola Present in savanna grasslands at Petit Loango and Lekoni.
Cloud-scraping (Dambo) Cisticola A few at Lekoni. The best-looking cisticola of the trip by far, but its all relative of course.
Pectoral-patch Cisticola Present in savanna grasslands at Petit Loango and Lekoni.
São Tomé Prinia A common bird on São Tomé. Dig that wing-snapping display flight.
White-chinned Prinia Several at Mikongo and heard at Lekoni.
Yellow-breasted Apalis One at Moka village.
Buff-throated Apalis A few at Lopé.
Green-backed Camaroptera Commonly heard but only a few singles seen.
Yellow-browed Camaroptera A singing male at Petit Loango, heard at Mikongo.
Dja River Warbler A singing male showed very well in a tiny swamp at Lopé, one of the few known sites for this apparently very rare and localized bird.
Sedge Warbler One at Lopé station.
Salvadori's Eremomela One at Lekoni.
Greencap Eremomela Two at Lekoni.
Rufous-crowned Eremomela One at Lopé.
Red-capped Crombec Two at Lekoni.
Green Crombec, Sylvietta virens One at Mikongo, heard at Petit Loango.
Lemon-bellied Crombec A singing male at Lopé.
Grey Longbill, Macrosphenus concolor One at Mikongo (MH).
Bocage's Longbill (São Tomé Short-tail) A pair seen well above Rio Io Grande, São Tomé, and one seen briefly.
Green Hylia One seen well at Mikongo, heard at Petit Loango.
Willow Warbler Singles at Petit Loango and Lekoni.
Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Hyliota flavigaster Two at Lekoni.
Violet-backed Hyliota One male at Lopé and 2 at Mikongo.
Garden Warbler At least one of this species was seen at Lekoni. Another 4 warblers seen well at the same locality appeared to be Olivaceous Warblers but as this is well out of range and would be a new record for Gabon, their identity is unresolved.
Pale Flycatcher Two at Lekoni.
African (Fraser's) Forest-Flycatcher One at Petit Loango and two at Lopé.
White-browed Forest-Flycatcher A smart pair in swamp forest near the M'Pivie River at Petit Loango.
Spotted Flycatcher A few at Lekoni and one on Príncipe.
Sooty Flycatcher Three at Petit Loango.
Little Grey Flycatcher Two at Mikongo.
Cassin's Flycatcher Several along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango.
Grey Tit-Flycatcher One at Lopé.
Forest Robin A lovely little bird. A singing male was seen very well at Mikongo, and others heard.
Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Cossypha niveicapilla One at Lekoni (SC), with others heard at Petit Loango and Lopé.
White-browed Scrub-Robin A singing male at Lekoni.
African Stonechat A few at Petit Loango and Lekoni.
Congo Moorchat A few at Lekoni.
Sooty Chat Plenty at Lekoni.
Shrike Flycatcher An elusive pair at Petit Loango and two equally elusive males at Mikongo, all high and highly active in the canopy.
Vanga Flycatcher A top bird. Gabon is one of the easiest countries in Africa to see this unique bird and so it proved. We saw pairs at Lopé, near Mikongo including a male at the nest, at Lekoni including a male in songflight, and at Bongoville.
Common Wattle-eye Singles at Moka, Petit Loango and 2 at Lekoni.
Chestnut Wattle-eye Singles at Petit Loango and Mikongo.
White-spotted Wattle-eye, Platysteira tonsa A pair at Mikongo (JH, PR).
Black-headed Batis Two at Lekoni.
Angola Batis A pair at Lekoni.
Chestnut-capped Flycatcher Five at Mikongo (JH, PR) and 2 at Lopé. Recent studies suggest that this is neither a monarch, a flycatcher nor a warbler.
Red-bellied Para'-Flycatcher 1-2 along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango and 2 on both dates at Mikongo.
Rufous-vented Paradise-Flycatcher, Terpsiphone rufocinerea A pair at Petit Loango (SC).
African Para'-Flycatcher One at Petit Loango and several singles at Lopé, mostly white males.
São Tomé Para'-Flycatcher A Bird for Paradise Indeed. Several below PN Obó and above Rio Io Grande, São Tomé. Another very poorly illustrated bird. The male's upperpart feathers are metallic blue and shimmer at most angles.
Red-headed Picathartes Mega Bird! It's rare, it's weird, it's good-looking, it's big ..... but it's also incredibly elusive ..... until, eventually, it gave itself up, and we were able to watch one perched in a tree near its nest and then it or another also perched and preened nearby, at Mikongo!
Dohrn's Thrush Babbler An amazingly common Príncipe endemic which appears to be a cross between a babbler and a thrush, and looks nothing like a flycatcher (Dr Clements!).
Dusky Tit, Melaniparus funereus One at Mikongo (PR).
Scarlet-tufted (Fraser's) Sunbird One at Petit Loango and several at Mikongo. On first impression this atypical sunbird looks remarkably like an Icterine Warbler.
Mouse-brown Sunbird, Anthreptes gabonicus One along the Moka River.
Violet-tailed Sunbird A female at Moka and a couple of males at Lopé.
Little Green Sunbird A few at Petit Loango.
Green Sunbird Two at Petit Loango and two at Bolokoboué.
Reichenbach's Sunbird We only saw a few after the pair in the grounds of the Hotel Tropicana on the first morning, at Petit Loango.
Príncipe Sunbird Several on Príncipe.
Newton's Sunbird Several below PN Obó and above Rio Io Grande, São Tomé. The males are little beauties.
Giant Sunbird One, probably 2, seen very well below PN Obó and one or 2 briefly above Rio Io Grande, São Tomé.
Green-headed Sunbird Single males at Petit Loango and Omboué.
Blue-throated Brown Sunbird Two along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango and one or 2 at Lopé.
Western Olive-Sunbird Widespread in small numbers throughout, including on Príncipe but not São Tomé.
Carmelite Sunbird A few along the Moka River, at Petit Loango and at Bolokoboué, including some splendid males.
Green-throated Sunbird Two males at Bolokoboué, a pair nesting at Lopé and a few at Lekoni.
Amethyst Sunbird Several at Lekoni.
Olive-bellied Sunbird A few at Petit Loango, Bolokoboué, Lopé and Bongoville.
Tiny Sunbird A pair including a nice male at Lopé and at Bongoville.
Johanna's Sunbird One or 2 nice males at Petit Loango, Lopé and Bongoville.
Superb Sunbird A few lovely males at Bolokoboué, and Lekoni.
Copper Sunbird A few at Lopé and Lekoni.
Black-capped Speirops Plenty of these smart silky birds on São Tomé.
Príncipe Speirops Only a few on Príncipe.
São Tomé (& Príncipe) White-eye One and a party of 4, below PN Obó, São Tomé.
São Tomé Oriole Several below PN Obó and above Rio Io Grande, São Tomé. Not the best-looking Old World oriole.
Black-winged Oriole, Oriolus nigripennis Two singles at Lopé.
Red-backed Shrike Two at Lekoni.
Souza's Shrike One juvenile at Lekoni.
Common Fiscal Several at Lekoni.
Newton's Fiscal One superb singing bird at close range above Rio Io Grande, São Tomé, with two others calling. The yellow is much brighter than shown in the book, almost lemon.
Northern Puffback, Dryoscopus gambensis Several at Lekoni.
Red-eyed Puffback A couple near Mikongo and one at Lopé station.
Large-billed/Sabine's Puffback, Dryoscopus sabini Five at Petit Loango.
Black-crowned Tchagra One at Lekoni.
Brown-crowned Tchagra, Tchagra australis One at Lekoni.
Luehder's Bushshrike A smart singing male at Lekoni, heard at Lopé.
Gabon (Swamp) Boubou Two along the Moka River.
Gorgeous Bushshrike Gorgeous. Prolonged stunning views of a singing male at Lekoni and one at Bongoville. The isolated nominate race viridis, known as Perrin's Bushshrike, sometimes treated as a full species.
Fiery-breasted Bushshrike, Malaconotus cruentus Heard at Lopé and Bongoville, and a tape duel with one at Lekoni only gave fleeting glimpses of the bird in flight.
Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike Bizarre. A group of 15+ at Petit Loango showed very well, and two small groups at Mikongo not so well.
Square-tailed Drongo At least one at Lekoni.
Shining Drongo 2 at Lopé and Bongoville, heard at Petit Loango.
Fork-tailed Drongo A few at Lekoni.
Velvet-mantled Drongo Up to 4 at Lopé.
(Príncipe Drongo) Three on Príncipe were surprisingly silent and inactive. Birdlife International consider the endemic nominate race modestus to be a full and 'Near Threatened' species.
Pied Crow One or 2 around Libreville and several at Lekoni
Splendid Glossy-Starling Small numbers throughout except on São Tomé.
Príncipe Glossy-Starling Only a few on Príncipe where they seem to be well outnumbered by the above species.
Purple-headed Glossy-Starling 4+ along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango, 2 at Bolokoboué and several at Lopé.
Violet-backed Starling 10+ at Lekoni.
Chestnut-winged Starling 10+ at Bolokoboué.
(São Tomé Starling) At least 3 below PN Obó and near Rio Io Grande, São Tomé. The larger nominate race fulgidus of Chestnut-winged Starling, endemic to São Tomé, may be a full species.
Yellow-billed Oxpecker A couple on buffalo at Petit Loango and several on buffalo at Lopé.
(Northern) Grey-headed Sparrow Seen only at Libreville, eg in the grounds of the Hotel Tropicana, and at Lekoni town.
Black-chinned Weaver Two pairs at Lekoni, where they are scarce in wide expanses of bushy savanna. Known only from the Plateau Bateke on the Gabon-Congo border and the Bailundu Highlands of western Angola.
Slender-billed Weaver A few by the lagoon at Omboué.
Loango Weaver A pair seen very well between Moka Village and the nearby bay, and a few alongside the lagoon at Omboué.
Black-necked Weaver One by the lagoon at Omboué and several at Lopé and Lekoni.
Holub's Golden-Weaver An out-of-range male at Lekoni, possibly only the second record for Gabon.
Príncipe Golden-Weaver Plenty on Príncipe.
Orange Weaver Small colonies at Petit Loango, in the grounds of the Hotel de Lopé and at Lopé station.
African Masked-Weaver 5+ below PN Obó and several in the grasslands of northern São Tomé. The brightly coloured endemic race peixotoi.
Giant Weaver One rather disappointing female below PN Obó, then several pairs near Rio Io Grande with a few large-looking males but they don't look quite as bulky as portrayed in BOWA!
Yellow-mantled Weaver Two at Lopé and one at Bongoville.
Forest Weaver Two at Lopé.
São Tomé Weaver Plenty of the 'São Tomé Nuthatches' below PN Obó and above Rio Io Grande.
Black-throated (Cassin's) Malimbe A pair at Petit Loango, the male a real flashy bird, and at Mikongo (JH, PR).
Red-bellied Malimbe A male at Mikongo.
Gray's (Blue-billed) Malimbe A few singles at Lopé.
Red-headed Quelea Four at Omboué and several at Lekoni.
Yellow-mantled Widowbird One or 2 throughout Gabon.
Marsh Widowbird Two males and a female at the marsh next to the lake at Lekoni.
White-breasted Negrofinch One or 2 at Lopé.
Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch Two pairs at Petit Loango and singles at Lopé and Lekoni.
Grey-headed Negrofinch One at Petit Loango and a couple at Lopé.
Black-bellied Seedcracker A stunning male, complete with shiny white eye-crescents, a family at Bolokoboué and one at Lekoni.
Western Bluebill Single males at Petit Loango and Mikongo (JH, PR).
Fawn-breasted Waxbill Several at Lekoni.
Orange-cheeked Waxbill Several at Petit Loango and Bolokoboué.
Black-crowned Waxbill Two at Lekoni (?)
Black-chinned (Red-billed) Quailfinch Several flocks at Petit Loango but only one seen well on the deck, and two pairs at Lekoni.
Locustfinch A pair was flushed at Lekoni, giving untickable views (SC, NW).
Bronze Mannikin Fairly common at Omboué, Bolokoboué, Lopé, Lekoni and Bongoville.
Black-and-white Mannikin Two at Moka, several at Petit Loanda and one at Bolokoboué.
Pin-tailed Whydah At least 2 at Lopé and several at Lekoni.
Black-faced Canary A few at Lopé.
Black-throated Canary Several at Lekoni.
Yellow-fronted Canary A few at Lekoni.
São Tomé & Príncipe Seedeater Common on São Tomé.
Cinnamon-breasted Bunting Two singles at Lekoni.
Cabanis' Bunting Three at Lekoni.
Additional species (7), probably introduced, seen on São Tomé
Laughing Dove, Red-headed Lovebird, Black-winged Red and Golden-backed Bishops, White-winged Widowbird, Common Waxbill and Southern Cordonbleu. The Mona Monkeys here and on Príncipe are also presumably introduced.
Additional species (35), heard only
Olive Ibis, Bostrychia olivacea
Forest Francolin, Francolinus lathami
Scaly Francolin, Francolinus squamatus
White-spotted Flufftail, Sarothrura pulchra
Buff-spotted Flufftail, Sarothrura elegans
Nkulengu Rail, Himantornis haematopus
Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, Cercococcyx mechowi
Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Cercococcyx olivinus
Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Chrysococcyx flavigularis
Gabon Coucal, Centropus anselli
African Wood-Owl, Strix woodfordii
Red-chested Owlet, Glaucidium tephronotum
Bates' Nightjar, Caprimulgus batesi
Narina Trogon, Apaloderma narina
Dwarf Kingfisher, Ispidina lecontei
Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Halcyon badia
Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Pogoniulus atroflavus
African Broadbill, Smithornis capensis
Leaf-love, Phyllastrephus scandens
Yellow-throated Nicator, Nicator vireo
White-tailed Ant-Thrush, Neocossyphus poensis
Tawny-flanked Prinia, Prinia subflava
Banded Prinia, Prinia bairdii
Olive-green Camaroptera, Camaroptera chloronota
Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher, Myioparus griseigularis
Chinspot Batis, Batis molitor
West African/Bioko Batis, Batis occulta/poensis
Blackcap Illadopsis, Illadopsis cleaveri
Brown Illadopsis, Illadopsis fulvescens
White-winged Black-Tit, Melaniparus leucomelas
Forest (African Yellow) White-eye, Zosterops stenocricotus (senegalensis)
Western Black-headed Oriole, Oriolus brachyrhynchus
Sooty Boubou, Laniarius leucorhynchus
Grey-green/Bocage's Bushshrike, Telophorus bocagei
Red-crowned Malimbe, Malimbus coronatus
Chimpanzee A small group was seen well at Petit Loango and a large female spent a couple of minutes looking at us at Mikongo.
Black Colobus One-two at Mikongo.
Grey-cheeked Mangabey Several at Petit Loango and Lopé.
Red-capped Mangabey A few at Petit Loango.
Crowned Monkey A few at Lopé.
Putty-nosed Monkey Several at Petit Loango and Lopé.
Moustached Monkey A few at Petit Loango and Lopé.
Straw-coloured Fruit Bat 10+ on Príncipe.
Leaf-nosed Bat One or two flying around between us well before dusk low in the forest above Rio Io Grande, São Tomé.
Thomas's Galago One at Petit Loango.
Squirrel sp. One at Petit Loango.
Beecroft's Anomalure One A. b. fulgens alongside the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango.
Hairy-tailed Porcupine One at night near Bongoville.
Side-striped Jackal One at night near Bongoville.
African 'Forest' Elephant A few small family groups each day at Petit Loango and Lopé.
African 'Forest' Buffalo Up to a hundred on any one day at Petit Loango, and 30+ at Lopé.
Yellow-backed Duiker Singles seen well at Petit Loango and Lopé.
Red River Hog Up to fifty on any one day at Petit Loango.
Long-snouted Crocodile Three along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango.
Dwarf Crocodile One in swamp forest near the M'Pivie River at Petit Loango.
Nile Crocodile One very small individual on the lagoon at Petit Loango.
Black Cobra One above the camp on São Tomé.
São Tomé & Príncipe ENDEMICS 25
Both Islands 5
ST (Bronze-naped) Pigeon (also occurs on Pagalu)
ST (P) White-eye
The last 3 species are almost certainly of different taxa on each island.
Dohrn's Flycatcher (Thrush Babbler)
Endemic subspecies listed by Clements -
Lemon Dove (principalis).
Blue-breasted Kingfisher (dryas).
White-bellied Kingfisher (nais).
Velvet-mantled Drongo (modestus).
São Tomé 15
Maroon (ST Olive) Pigeon
Forest (Lemon) Dove
ST Scops-Owl (may also occur on Príncipe)
Bocage's Longbill (ST Short-tail)
ST (Giant) Sunbird
Black-capped (ST) Speirops
Newton's (ST) Fiscal
Endemic subspecies listed by Clements & BOWA -
(Dwarf) Olive Ibis (bocagei).
Malachite Kingfisher (thomensis).
Chestnut-winged Starling (fulgidus).
African Masked-Weaver (peixotoi).