Welcome to Birdquest


and the Realm of the Bonobo

Wednesday 6th September — Monday 25th September 2017
(20 days)

Leader: Mark Van Beirs

Group Size Limit: 8

Tour Category: Easy to moderate walking, mostly basic camping

Up until now, it seems that a mere 9 birders/ornithologists have ever seen a Congo Peafowl in the wild! Would you like to join this select band? (Mark Beaman)

Up until now, it seems that a mere 9 birders/ornithologists have ever seen a Congo Peafowl in the wild! Would you like to join this select band? (Mark Beaman)

The Congo Peacock, or Congo Peafowl, to use the current version of the name, is probably the most enigmatic and legendary surviving bird species on our planet. It is endemic to the remote lowland rainforests of central and east central Congo. Fewer than 10 birders/ornithologists have ever succeeded in seeing this Holy Grail of African birding in the wild, both because of the rather unstable political situation in Congo and also because of the major logistical issues involved in reaching its remote habitat.

In September 2015 our Birdquest group was the first Bird tour ever to see this highly wanted gamebird and we aim to repeat our success in 2017.

The Congo Peafowl was only described in 1936 and all world birders must have heard the amazing story of how ornithologist James Chapin of the New York Zoological Society and author of the four volume “The Birds of the Belgian Congo”, discovered it. In 1913, on an unsuccessful African expedition in search of the Okapi (that near-mythical Congolese mammal), Chapin had collected native headdresses containing long red-brown feathers with black stripes which could not be allocated to any bird known to science. These feathers remained a mystery for more than twenty years. In 1934, when Chapin visited the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren (near Brussels in Belgium), he found two stuffed birds with similar feathers labelled "Indian Peacocks" in a disused closet. Chapin realised they were actually specimens of a new species and this eventually led to the official description of Afropavo congensis. Finally, in 1935 Chapin was able to locate and bring back seven specimens of the "lutondo" or "mbulu" as the bird is called by the Congolese, although he never saw the bird in the wild himself.

The republic of Congo is a very costly country to travel around in. There is almost no road system, except around the capital Kinshasa and several other large cities and domestic flights are decidedly rare and undependable. To get to the remote Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve, deep in the ‘heart of darkness’ will involve chartering a phenomenally expensive airplane to take us to the town of Basankusu, deep into the province of Equateur. From there we will need to charter a boat to take us 150+ kilometres upstream to the reserve and because of safety issues our boat will stay at the trailhead until we leave the area 12 days later. This is a very costly but sensible precaution, since this is a very remote area. While it is unlikely a group member would suffer injury or illness necessitating evacuation, we want to be in a position to enable this should it be necessary. Once in the Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve, which covers 3625 km², we will have to walk a dozen kilometres to a remote clearing in the middle of this large chunk of undisturbed lowland rainforest. There is no accommodation, so camping is obviously the only option here.

For twelve days we will explore the primary forest surrounding our clearing and seeing the Congo Peafowl will have priority. We do have a high chance of seeing this iconic species, but Afropavo is easily one of the shyest and most difficult to see birds of our planet and only very, very few people have ever observed one! Several groups of Bonobos (or Pygmy Chimpanzees), man’s closest relative, roam the surroundings of our camp and our guides know the whereabouts and behaviour of these magnificent apes well, so we should have excellent encounters.

The area holds a good variety of widespread Congo basin forest birds belonging to typical African bird families and genera like turacos, hornbills, honeyguides, tinkerbirds, illadopsises, greenbuls, ant-thrushes, longbills, flycatchers, sunbirds, malimbes and nigritas. Most of these occur from Cameroon or even Ghana in the west to Uganda in the east, but we will target several more localized specialities like Latham’s Francolin, Spot-breasted Ibis, Congo Serpent Eagle, Bates’s Nightjar, White-bellied Kingfisher, Black Bee-eater, White-crested and Black-casqued Hornbills, Sladen’s Barbet, Willcocks’s Honeyguide, Black-collared Lovebird, Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike, Bates’s Paradise Flycatcher, Gosling’s Apalis, Cassin’s Malimbe, Woodhouse’s Antpecker and the gorgeous, localized Grant’s Bluebill. With a bit of luck we will also find the virtually unknown Shelley's Eagle Owl and the furtive Chestnut-flanked Sparrowhawk.

Mammals are not very obvious, but we should encounter Black Mangabey, Angolan Pied Colobus, the smart Wolf’s Monkey, Red River Hog, Western Blue and Peter’s Duikers and African Palm Civet.

Near Kinshasa we hope to see the little known Falkenstein’s (or Yellow-necked) Greenbul and on the way back to the capital we will stop at the town of Mbandaka on the Congo to look for two more special birds, Congo Martin and Congo Sunbird, both restricted to the immediate vicinity of this mighty river. Forbes’s Plover, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush and Bob-tailed Weaver are additional important specialities.

The area we are visiting is located far from the troubled distant eastern region of Congo, so there is no security issue.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotel at Kinshasa is of good standard, while the hotel at Mbandaka is of medium standard. At Basankusu we will stay in simple guesthouse accommodation. For the 14-nights camping section each participant will need to bring their own lightweight tent, camping mattress and sleeping bag as there is no accommodation available at the very simple research base in Lomako-Yokokala Faunal Reserve, but the base staff will provide our meals for us. There are bush shelters, tables and benches, a simple bucket washing facility, a pit toilet and solar-powered lighting (and battery charging facilities) available at the research base.

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy to moderate.

Climate: Typically it will be hot and humid with a mixture of dry and sunny or overcast weather. Some rain is very likely.

Bird Photography: Opportunities are worthwhile.

Congo Tour Prices: The huge Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the countries with the poorest transport infrastructure on earth, and travel here is astoundingly expensive. Scheduled flights are almost non-existent and most flights are on charter aircraft owned and operated by expatriate Europeans. While these are modern and safe aircraft, charters are massively expensive for the distances involved. Even river transport is very expensive because of the very high cost of getting fuel into remote areas, plus the high cost of imported outboard engines. In our case, in addition, we must keep our boat with us for some two weeks so that it is on hand to evacuate someone in the unlikely event of a medical emergency. Finally, even the simplest things in DRC are very pricey, whether hotels, food, road transport or reserve entrance fees.

Tour Price: £9150, €10800, $11990 Kinshasa/Kinshasa.

Price includes all transportation (including the hugely expensive private charter flights between Kinshasa and Basankusu), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.

Single Room Supplement: £200, €236, $262 (Kinshasa, Basankusu and Mbandaka only).

Deposit: £1000, €1350, $1500.

Base prices for this tour are in US Dollars. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.110.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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