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GABON, SÃO TOMÉ & PRÍNCIPE

Birdquest's Gabon, São Tomé & Príncipe birding tour explores one of the richest countries in Western Africa for birds and some beautiful islands that hold no fewer than 30 endemic birds. Gabon would surely attract more birders were it not one of the most expensive countries for tourism in Africa, thanks to its oil and mineral wealth, but the upside here is fantastic forest and wetland birding in an under-populated country with a fairly good infrastructure and lots of superb habitat remaining. On São Tomé and Príncipe we have the potential to record all of the islands' endemic birds and you can enjoy all this while staying in comfortable resorts, apart from two nights of camping.

Thursday 30th August — Wednesday 12th September 2018
(14 days)


Loango National Park Extension: Wednesday 12th September — Monday 17th September (6 days)

São Tomé & Príncipe Extension: Thursday 23rd August — Thursday 30th August (8 days)

Leader: Pete Morris

Group Size Limit: 8

Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and mostly comfortable accommodations

The dapper Forbes's Plover is often found on short grass rather than by muddy pools and is a seasonal visitor to the la Lopé area (Nik Borrow)

The dapper Forbes's Plover is often found on short grass rather than by muddy pools and is a seasonal visitor to the la Lopé area (Nik Borrow)

Gabon, a small, unknown and under-birded Western African country sandwiched between Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and the Congo, has a human population of only one and a half million and a remarkable wealth of minerals that has given the country one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa (and probably the highest cost of living on the continent). Even more remarkably these days, it is still 70% covered by pristine, primeval rainforest. The Gabonese jungle belt, the biggest intact forest area in all of Africa and one of the biggest in the world, has the highest diversity of tree and bird species for a given area anywhere in the continent (with over 670 bird species recorded from the country). Just one small region that we will visit in the northeast, the Ivindo Basin, holds more than 430 bird species, mostly forest dwellers, and is probably the richest single forest locality for birds in Africa.

Approximately 250 kilometres off the coast of Gabon lie the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe. These two small, remote and almost forgotten islands in the Gulf of Guinea, the ‘armpit of Africa’, virtually straddling the equator, are the southern extension of a volcanic ridge which runs from Mount Cameroon in the north to Fernando Po (or Bioko as it is now known) and onwards to Príncipe, São Tomé and Annobon. These ex-Portuguese colonies closed their doors to the western world in 1975 and very little has been heard of them since, even though their politics have moved on and they have now opened up again, particularly as a result of oil being discovered offshore.

The once extensive cocoa and coffee plantations on both islands have been neglected for over 15 years and the jungle has reclaimed them, creating secondary growth which harbours a wealth of birds. (Although the recent rapid growth of oil palm plantations may well reverse this trend.) In the interior extensive tracts of rainforest, dripping from the constant rain at high altitudes, cover the steep, precipitous, uninhabited slopes of the towering volcanic mountains, which are often obscured from view by the clinging mist and cloud. These two islands are magnets for the moisture-laden monsoon winds and the annual rainfall here is measured not in millimetres but in metres! Our visit to the islands will be at the end of their short ‘dry season’ when climatic conditions are at their best. We will be endeavouring to find all the 28 (more or less, depending on which taxonomic decisions one favours) endemic bird species, many of which are listed in the Red Data Book (a few were even considered to be extinct until recently). With the knowledge we have accumulated over many visits, there is a high chance that we will succeed in seeing almost all of these very special birds.

This then is a special tour for those interested in seeing the little-known birds of a seldom-visited corner of west-central Africa and the exciting endemics of the Gulf of Guinea islands.

The main tour starts on the mainland African coast in Gabon, at the modern, ocean-side city of Libreville, from where we shall head eastwards, pausding to look for Grey Pratincole before leaving the tarmac behind as we follow the meandering Ogooué River (which virtually cuts Gabon in two) inland to the magnificent Lopé National Park. Here the many specialities include Violet-tailed Sunbird and the localized Dja River Warbler, whilst overhead we might admire the thrumming display flight of the Lyre-tailed Honeyguide.

In the Ivindo Basin in the northeast we will be birding in some magnificent rainforest, protected by the Ipassa reserve, part of the huge Ivindo National Park, that is home to Bates’s Nightjar, the diminutive African Piculet, the localized Gosling’s Apalis, the beautiful Rachel’s Malimbe and the rare Yellow-capped Weaver.

Although we will spend much of our time in Gabon in forest habitats, an area in the far southeast of the country near the Congo Highlands holds many grassland species in a mosaic habitat consisting of grassland, stunted heathland and woodland. Here, near the town of Lékoni, we will wander over the plains in search of Finsch’s Francolin, Congo Moor Chat and the localized Black-chinned Weaver, and check the forest edge for Black-headed Bee-eater. By the time we finally return to Libreville we will have seen a superb selection of Western African birds in one of the few countries in the region where pristine wilderness is not just a memory.

During the optional post-tour extension we will take a flight to Port Gentil and make our way to Loango National Park. This seldom visited park is a real gem, and gives us our best opportunity to see the strange-looking and highly-desired African River Martin. Whilst exploring the rivers and gallery forests we should also come across a number of other inviting species, including the rarely-seen White-crested Tiger Heron, both the rare Vermiculated Fishing Owl and the impressive Pel’s Fishing Owl, Hartlaub’s Duck, the scarce Forbes’s Plover, the superb Rosy Bee-eater and the localized Loango Weaver. The park is also good for mammals, with Forest Elephant, African Forest Buffalo, Hippopotamus, several species of monkeys and even the possibility of Chimpanzee and Western Lowland Gorilla.

Our pre-tour extension adventure starts far out in the Gulf of Guinea on the island of São Tomé. Here we will first traverse the coastal savanna regions looking for such endemics as São Tomé Spinetail, São Tomé Prinia, Newton’s Sunbird and the extraordinary Giant Weaver, as well as the localized but introduced Golden-backed Bishop.

The other endemics are to be found in the remaining areas of rainforest and we will travel along jungle paths festooned with vines and creepers in order to look for them. The more accessible areas of forest hold the São Tomé form of the Lemon Dove, São Tomé Olive Pigeon, Island Bronze-naped Pigeon and São Tomé Green Pigeon, São Tomé Scops Owl, the distinctive São Tomé form of the Malachite Kingfisher, São Tomé Thrush, São Tomé Oriole, São Tomé Paradise Flycatcher, São Tomé White-eye, São Tomé Speirops, São Tomé Weaver, the São Tomé form of the Príncipe Seedeater and the incredible Giant Sunbird.

By camping overnight in the forest, we shall have an opportunity to find the most sought-after birds on the island, including Dwarf Olive Ibis, the strange São Tomé Short-tail (now reclassified as an aberrant wagtail!) and the unusual black, white and yellow, rainforest-inhabiting São Tomé Fiscal. We even have a realistic chance of encountering the mysterious São Tomé Grosbeak, which was only rediscovered in 1991 after a gap of about a century.

Next we will take a flight across the Gulf of Guinea to the neighbouring island of Príncipe, which is home to as many as eight endemic bird species. Very similar in appearance to its larger sister, São Tomé, with lofty peaks covered in rainforest, all but two of the endemic birds are all readily accessible, including the Príncipe form of the Malachite Kingfisher, Príncipe Glossy Starling, Príncipe Drongo, Príncipe Sunbird, Príncipe Speirops and Príncipe Golden Weaver and the strange Dohrn’s Thrush-Babbler. Further afield, we will look for the rare Príncipe Thrush, Príncipe White-eye, the newly-discovered Príncipe Scops Owl and such seabirds as White-tailed Tropicbird, Sooty Tern and Brown and Black Noddies.

Birdquest has operated tours to Gabon, São Tomé & Príncipe since 1995.

São Tomé & Príncipe-only Option: You may opt to take just the islands section as a stand-alone tour.

Loango National Park-only Option: You may opt to take just the Loango section as a stand-alone tour.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are mostly of good or even very good standard. At Ipassa Reserve we stay at the simple research station, where some rooms have shared bathroom facilities. For one night on São Tomé and one night on Príncipe we will camp in tents set up in the forest by our local outfitters (with one or two people per tent). Road transport is by small coach and 4x4s. Road conditions vary from good to poor.

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, but there will be two moderate or fairly demanding strenuous walks up to the campsites on Príncipe and São Tomé.

Climate: Hot and humid, with dry and sunny weather interspersed with overcast and rainy spells (often heavy on the islands).

Bird Photography: Opportunities are worthwhile.

Gabon, São Tomé & Príncipe Tour Prices: Prices in Gabon and the islands are very high, but there are reasons for this. In the first place some accommodations in Gabon and the islands are surprisingly expensive, as is transport for tourism purposes. Prices are driven upwards here by there being only a very limited infrastructure of hotels and lodges. Secondly, and even more importantly, there are only a very limited number of local agents that specialize in eco-tourism, so they can effectively dictate price levels. This combination makes for very high prices.

Tour Price: £4990, €5890, $6540 Libreville/Libreville. Single Room Supplement: £390, €460, $511. Deposit: £600, €720, $780.

Loango National Park Extension: £2490, €2940, $3260. Single Room Supplement: £225, €266, $295. Deposit: £300, €360, $390.

São Tomé & Príncipe taken as an extension: £2950, €3250, $3480 São Tomé/Libreville. Single Room Supplement: £275, €325, $361. Deposit: £350, €420, $460.

São Tomé & Príncipe taken as a stand-alone tour: £2750, €3250, $3610 São Tomé/São Tomé. Single Room Supplement: £275, €325, $361. Deposit: £350, €420, $460.

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, water, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.

Also includes these flights: Franceville-Libreville, Libreville-Port Gentil-Libreville, São Tomé-Príncipe-São Tomé, São Tomé-Libreville.

The São Tomé & Príncipe single room supplement excludes the two camping nights, where it may or may not be necessary for two people to share a tent.

Base prices for this tour are in Euros. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = €1.180 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.

Black-chinned Quailfinches can be seen on the rolling grasslands in la Lopé National Park although it is usually not so easy to see them on the ground (Nik Borrow)

Black-chinned Quailfinches can be seen on the rolling grasslands in la Lopé National Park although it is usually not so easy to see them on the ground (Nik Borrow)

Endemic to São Tomé, we now regularly see the critically endangered Dwarf Olive Ibis on our tours (Nik Borrow)

Endemic to São Tomé, we now regularly see the critically endangered Dwarf Olive Ibis on our tours (Nik Borrow)

The charming São Tomé Speirops is especially numerous on the islands and we should have no trouble at all seeing this little beauty (Nik Borrow)

The charming São Tomé Speirops is especially numerous on the islands and we should have no trouble at all seeing this little beauty (Nik Borrow)

The view over the Ivindo River from Ipassa Reserve where we shall be on the look out for migrant African River Martins (Nik Borrow)

The view over the Ivindo River from Ipassa Reserve where we shall be on the look out for migrant African River Martins (Nik Borrow)

Sunset over Príncipe (Nik Borrow)

Sunset over Príncipe (Nik Borrow)

76 photos View Gallery Photos From GABON, SÃO TOMÉ & PRÍNCIPE
We shall be on the lookout for the unobtrusive Congo Serpent Eagle as we travel around Gabon (Nik Borrow)

We shall be on the lookout for the unobtrusive Congo Serpent Eagle as we travel around Gabon (Nik Borrow)

A sighting of a Sjöstedt’s Owlet is possible in Ipassa Reserve (Nik Borrow)

A sighting of a Sjöstedt’s Owlet is possible in Ipassa Reserve (Nik Borrow)

White-crested Hornbills are spectacular forest dwelling species often encountered following troops of monkeys (Nik Borrow)

White-crested Hornbills are spectacular forest dwelling species often encountered following troops of monkeys (Nik Borrow)

Stunning Black-bellied Seedcrackers favour the weedy roadside verges and can often be seen hurtling across the roads (Nik Borrow)

Stunning Black-bellied Seedcrackers favour the weedy roadside verges and can often be seen hurtling across the roads (Nik Borrow)

Perrin’s Bush-shrike was a recent addition to the Gabonese list and is one of a number of specialties to be looked for at Lékoni (Nik Borrow)

Perrin’s Bush-shrike was a recent addition to the Gabonese list and is one of a number of specialties to be looked for at Lékoni (Nik Borrow)

The glorious Black-headed Bee-eater is a somewhat sluggish species that all too easily blends in to the forest edge habitat that is its home (Nik Borrow)

The glorious Black-headed Bee-eater is a somewhat sluggish species that all too easily blends in to the forest edge habitat that is its home (Nik Borrow)

Blue-breasted Bee-eaters are common and easy to see at la Lopé and frequent the open grasslands around the hotel (Nik Borrow)

Blue-breasted Bee-eaters are common and easy to see at la Lopé and frequent the open grasslands around the hotel (Nik Borrow)

The piebald Congo Moorchat is a conspicuous species of the open grasslands at Lékoni (Nik Borrow)

The piebald Congo Moorchat is a conspicuous species of the open grasslands at Lékoni (Nik Borrow)

We should have little trouble seeing the Long-legged Pipit as it runs  across the lawns outside our hotel at la Lopé (Nik Borrow)

We should have little trouble seeing the Long-legged Pipit as it runs across the lawns outside our hotel at la Lopé (Nik Borrow)

The restricted range Gosling’s Apalis can be found along the waterways of interior Gabon (Nik Borrow)

The restricted range Gosling’s Apalis can be found along the waterways of interior Gabon (Nik Borrow)

An enjoyable boat trip along the waterways near Libreville leads us into good habitat for the rare and localized Loango Weaver (Nik Borrow)

An enjoyable boat trip along the waterways near Libreville leads us into good habitat for the rare and localized Loango Weaver (Nik Borrow)

The Giant Weaver endemic to São Tomé builds a nest the size of a football! (Nik Borrow)

The Giant Weaver endemic to São Tomé builds a nest the size of a football! (Nik Borrow)

Much debate has centred on the taxonomy of the island kingfishers and the Príncipe Kingfisher has historically been treated as races of both White-bellied and Malachite Kingfishers (Nik Borrow)

Much debate has centred on the taxonomy of the island kingfishers and the Príncipe Kingfisher has historically been treated as races of both White-bellied and Malachite Kingfishers (Nik Borrow)

Newton’s Sunbird is a common and easily seen endemic on São Tomé (Nik Borrow)

Newton’s Sunbird is a common and easily seen endemic on São Tomé (Nik Borrow)

The Príncipe Sunbird occurs in smaller numbers but is usually easy to see around our hotel (Nik Borrow)

The Príncipe Sunbird occurs in smaller numbers but is usually easy to see around our hotel (Nik Borrow)

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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