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GABON, SÃO TOMÉ & PRÍNCIPE

Thursday 23rd July - Friday 14th August 2015

Pete Morris

Fraser's Eagle Owl (Pete Morris)

Fraser's Eagle Owl (Pete Morris)

Gabon is one of those countries that we’ve all heard about but do not necessarily know all that much about. And as a first time visitor, I too fitted into this category! What amazed me more than anything else, was how few people live in Gabon, and how much natural habitat still exists. There cannot be many other countries on our planet where one can drive from one end of the country to the other, along a narrow dirt road (the main road!), with almost solid forest along the roadsides! As a result, good birds can turn up almost anywhere. At any roadside stop the binoculars are quickly in use, birds the calibre of Long-tailed Hawk just popping up unexpectedly! The climate was somewhat surprising too. Cool and dry for the whole trip, with relatively few biting insects making for a pretty comfortable experience, though of course teasing the goodies out of the lush West African rainforests is never the easiest of tasks! The islands were pretty good too. Some great hotels and some very birdy sites and around 30 endemics to go at! Admittedly, the birding in the south of São Tomé was a little challenging, but rewarding, and overall our visit was a great success.

During the tour we recorded just over 410 species a respectable number for the tour, and these of course included a number of localized specialities as well as virtually all of the islands’ endemics. On the mainland, highlights included an amazing encounter with Latham’s Francolin, the fabulous Long-tailed Hawk, Grey Pratincole, attractive Rosy, Blue-headed and Black-headed Bee-eaters, a hard-to-get Vermiculated Fishing Owl, impressive Fraser’s and Akun Eagle Owls, the amazing Yellow-throated Cuckoo, the bizarre Lyre-tailed Honeyguide, the colourful Bare-cheeked Trogon, Ja River Scrub Warbler, Short-tailed Pipit, the rare Black-chinned and Loango Weavers, attractive Rachel’s, Red-capped, Red-bellied and Cassin’s Malimbes and Locust Finch, to name just a few! We also managed to add a species to the Gabon list, finding the first Ethiopian Swallows for the country (at two different sites!!). On the islands, the gorgeous São Tomé Scops Owl and rare Príncipe Thrush stole the show, but there were a number of other impressive endemics seen well including the critically endangered São Tomé Ibis, the rarely seen São Tomé Fiscal, the somewhat strange São Tomé Shorttail and the impressive Giant Weaver. During the tour we also saw a number of interesting mammal species including Forest Elephant, Forest Buffalo and Red River Hog.

Sao Tome Scops Owl (Pete Morris)

Sao Tome Scops Owl (Pete Morris)