Welcome to Birdquest
Wednesday 6th September —
Monday 25th September 2017
Leader: Mark Van Beirs
Group Size Limit: 8
Tour Category: Easy to moderate walking, mostly basic camping
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.
Important Information for Pound Payers: Kindly note that the Pound prices shown here are based on post-EU-referendum exchange rate reality, unlike the website prices of most UK bird tour operators which are still based on outdated and hugely higher pre-referendum exchange rates. Consequently you can rest assured that we will not have to adjust these prices upwards at invoicing, unless the Pound falls significantly further, and if there is any recovery by the Pound you will receive the full benefit of the cost-saving by way of a price reduction at invoicing.
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.
Base prices for this tour are determined in US Dollars, the currency in which we pay for most tour services. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.110. For those not paying us in US Dollars, prices may be adjusted (either downwards or upwards) at the time of invoicing should there be a change in the exchange rate. See booking information.
Single Room Supplement: £200, €236, $262 (Kinshasa, Basankusu and Mbandaka only).
Deposit: £1000, €1350, $1500.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
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