The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Africa (excluding the North)

SÃO TOMÉ & PRÍNCIPE

Saturday 22nd August – Sunday 30th August 2020

Leaders: Mark Van Beirs and local bird guides

9 Days Group Size Limit 7
Saturday 21st August – Sunday 29th August 2021

Leader: Birdquest leader to be announced and local bird guides

9 Days Group Size Limit 7

Birdquest’s São Tomé & Príncipe birding tour explores two poorly-known yet very endemic-rich islands off the coast of West Africa. Our São Tomé & Príncipe birding tour has the potential to record all of the islands’ currently widely recognized 28 endemic bird species and you can enjoy all this while staying in comfortable resorts, apart from some nights of camping.

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 long since 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 many years and the jungle has reclaimed them, creating secondary growth which harbours a wealth of birds. 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 during one of their one of their short ‘dry seasons’ when birding opportunities 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 fair chance that we will succeed in seeing every one of these very special birds.

Our Sáo Tomé & Príncipe birding tour begins 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 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 São Tomé Lemon Dove, São Tomé Olive Pigeon, São Tomé Bronze-naped Pigeon and São Tomé Green Pigeon, São Tomé Scops Owl, the São Tomé form of the Malachite Kingfisher (sometimes split as Såo Tomé Kingfisher), Gulf of Guinea Thrush, São Tomé Oriole, São Tomé Paradise Flycatcher, São Tomé White-eye, São Tomé Speirops, São Tomé Weaver, Príncipe Seedeater and the incredible Giant Sunbird.

By camping for two nights in the forest, we shall have a really good opportunity to find all of the most sought-after yet most difficult endemic birds on the island, including Dwarf Ibis, São Tomé Short-tail, the unusual black, white and yellow, rainforest-inhabiting São Tomé Fiscal and 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 seven or eight endemic bird species. Very similar in appearance to its larger sister, with lofty peaks covered in rainforest, all but three of the endemic birds are readily accessible, including Príncipe Kingfisher, Príncipe Glossy Starling, Príncipe Sunbird, Príncipe Speirops and Príncipe Weaver and the strange Dohrn’s Thrush-Babbler. The local forms of the Malachite Kingfisher and particularly Velvet-mantled Drongo (Príncipe Kingfisher and Príncipe Drongo) may be generally accepted as splits in the future.

Again, by hiking up into a remote area of mountains, which we reach by boat, and then camping for two nights, we have a good chance of finding all the remaining endemics, including the newly-discovered Príncipe Scops Owl and the rare Príncipe Thrush and Príncipe White-eye, as well as seabirds such as White-tailed Tropicbird, Sooty Tern and Brown and Black Noddies.

Birdquest has operated São Tomé & Príncipe birding tours since 1995.

This tour can be taken together with: GABON

What make’s Birdquest’s São Tomé & Príncipe birding tour special? As of 2019 we have decided to extend the tour and have two nights of camping in the prime habitat on each island rather than one. At least four of the endemics are hard to find, and by having more time in the key habitat we have a high chance of seeing every endemic species in the islands.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are of good quality and very comfortable. We will camp for two nights on São Tomé and two nights on Príncipe (with arrangements made by our local outfitters and with one or two people per tent). Road transport is mostly by small coach. Road conditions vary from good to poor.

Walking: The walking effort during our São Tomé & Príncipe birding tour is easy to moderate, but there will be one fairly demanding walk of about two and a half hours up to the campsite on São Tomé (note that this moderate length hike only qualifies as fairly demanding because of the humidity).

Climate: The weather will be hot and humid, with dry and sunny weather interspersed with overcast and rainy spells (often heavy).

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our São Tomé & Príncipe birding tour are worthwhile.


SÃO TOMÉ & PRÍNCIPE BIRDING TOUR: PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees. Our tour prices also include all flight costs and all tipping, including tips for local guides and drivers. Some bird tour operators do not do this, yet for participants these costs are an unavoidable part of the tour. The value of these inclusions on this Birdquest tour amounts to approximately €450. Flights included are: São Tomé-Príncipe-São Tomé.

Deposit: £350, $450, €390.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2020: £3210, $4060, €3550. São Tomé/São Tomé.

Single Supplement: 2020: £220, $280, €250.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

During the camping nights, some single occupancy tents (as opposed to twin occupancy) will likely be available at no extra charge, but there may not be enough for everyone wanting one. Those booking earliest will get priority.

This tour is priced in Euros. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

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.

SÃO TOMÉ & PRÍNCIPE BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

São Tomé & Príncipe Birding Tour: Day 1  Our tour begins this evening at São Tomé airport. We will stay for five nights on São Tomé (three nights in a comfortable hotel and two nights camping).

São Tomé & Príncipe Birding Tour: Days 2-5  The northeastern lowlands of São Tomé comprise a mixed habitat of dry woodland interspersed with agriculture, whilst along the rugged coastline are small estuaries, creeks and mangroves. As we stroll along the tracks through the drier woodland we should see a few Yellow-billed Kites overhead and flush some small flocks of Southern Cordon-bleus from the grass verges. Groups of African Palm and Little Swifts forage overhead and our first endemics, São Tomé Prinia and Newton’s Sunbird, should soon be found, perhaps followed by a São Tomé Spinetail fluttering low over the forest. Amongst the crops we should encounter Golden-backed and Black-winged Red Bishops, White-winged Widowbird, Southern Masked Weaver and Pin-tailed Whydah, and we may possibly flush a Harlequin Quail. The coastline of the island is dotted with small fishing villages surrounded by coconut palm plantations and it is here that we will look for the football-sized nests of the Giant Weaver, which is twice the size of any other African weaver. We should also find Long-tailed Cormorant, Cattle Egret and Common Moorhen.

We shall, however, be concentrating our efforts in the central highlands and in the southeastern portion of the island in order to find as many as possible of the endemic birds. Most of the low lying areas and coastal perimeter of the island have been settled except for the inaccessible southwest. Old overgrown cocoa plantations and lush forests covering deep valleys are cut through by rushing streams and are accessible along narrow tracks. It is along these paths, in a mysterious habitat that is so often wreathed in mist, that we shall look for the São Tomé form of the Malachite Kingfisher (sometimes split as São Tomé Kingfisher), Gulf of Guinea Thrush, São Tomé Oriole, São Tomé Paradise Flycatcher, São Tomé White-eye, São Tomé Speirops and Príncipe Seedeater. (The job of creating names for all these fabulous endemic birds must have proved no great task for the early ornithologists). In the denser tangles we should find small groups of São Tomé Weavers as they cling, woodpecker-fashion, to the moss-covered trunks. Examining any flowering tree, especially the beautiful wild yellow hibiscus or red Erythrina, should reward us with views of the rare Giant Sunbird. To see this huge sunbird as it probes its long, decurved bill into a flower is a truly incredible experience. In the more open stretches of rainforest, or on the edge of the old plantations where Red-headed Lovebirds are often to be seen, we will look for São Tomé Lemon Dove, São Tomé Olive Pigeon, São Tomé Bronze-naped Pigeon and São Tomé Green Pigeon feeding in the fruiting trees or perching high in the canopy and basking in the sun after the mist has cleared. Fortunately the São Tomé Scops Owl sometimes calls by day, which may enable us to locate this tiny and exquisite bird, but if not we will return one evening to find it with the help of a spotlight.

We will camp for two nights in a remote area where, because we will spend two nights here rather than the usual one, we have a good chance of seeing all four of the hardest São Tomé endemics to find: the shy Dwarf Olive Ibis that forages on the forest floor, the bizarre São Tomé Short-tail that favours rocky stream beds, the São Tomé Fiscal (no other fiscal in Africa is black, white and yellow or lives inside the rainforest) and even the rare São Tomé Grosbeak (rediscovered in 1991 after a gap of 100 years and since then only seen by a small number of people, including participants on recent Birdquest tours).

São Tomé & Príncipe Birding Tour: Day 6  Today we will take a flight across to the island of Príncipe for a three nights stay (one night in a comfortable resort and two nights camping). Depending on the timing of the flight, we will have some time for birding on São Tomé or on Príncipe.

São Tomé & Príncipe Birding Tour: Days 7-8  Providing the weather is clear during some of our time on Príncipe, we will see the high, distinctly rather tepui-shaped mountains of the interior, formed from eroded volcanic plugs and craters, with their heavily forested slopes.

A slow walk on the road towards the mist enshrouded mountains should find us in the thick of the island bird life. The brightly coloured Príncipe Golden Weaver can be seen nest building in the trees whilst the Príncipe Sunbird is fairly common and so too are the Príncipe Glossy Starling and Príncipe Drongo (sometimes split from Velvet-mantled Drongo). The delicate and beautifully marked Príncipe Speirops is thinly distributed but we should find them gleaning in the canopy or working the mid-stratum much like their close relatives the white-eyes. A ringing explosive song will reveal the presence of Dohrn’s Thrush-Babbler, a most unusual bird which is quite unlike any other African passerine and is nowadays thought to belong to the sylviid babblers The small family groups will come forward to investigate any ‘pishing’ noises we make. The Príncipe Kingfisher (sometimes split from Malachite Kingfisher) should be easy to find as it feeds along the beach. Laughing and Lemon Doves, and Common Waxbill are also found along the roadside and in the forests.

Travelling further afield by boat, we plan to explore a remote mountain area where the recently-discovered Príncipe Scops Owl, the uncommon Príncipe Thrush and the rare Príncipe White-eye can be found. We need to camp for two nights in this remote but beautiful area of primary forest in order to have a really good chance of encountering all three of these mega specialities.

During our boat journeys we should see White-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, Sooty Tern and Brown and Black Noddies, and possibly Madeiran (or Band-rumped) Storm-Petrel of one form or another (the latter ‘species’ is currently undergoing taxonomic review).

São Tomé & Príncipe Birding Tour: Day 9  After a last morning on Príncipe we will catch an afternoon flight back to São Tomé airport where our tour ends.

SÃO TOMÉ & PRÍNCIPE TOUR REPORT 2018

by Mark Van Beirs

View Report

Other Western Africa birding tours by Birdquest include:

Black-headed

Africa (excluding the North)

GABON

Golden

Africa (excluding the North)

SENEGAL

Rufous

Africa (excluding the North)

SIERRA LEONE