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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 29 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 very comfortable resorts (one is true luxury) for the entire time, apart from one night of camping.
Friday 24th August —
Wednesday 12th September 2018
Loango Extension: Wednesday 12th September — Monday 17th September (6 days)
Leader: Pete Morris
Group Size Limit: 8
Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and mostly comfortable accommodations
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. 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 29 (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.
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.
Our 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 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, São Tomé Kingfisher, Gulf of Guinea Thrush, São Tomé Oriole, São Tomé Paradise Flycatcher, Príncipe White-eye, São Tomé Speirops, São Tomé Weaver, 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, São Tomé Short-tail 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.
We will also visit the 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 one of the endemic birds are all readily accessible around a luxurious beach resort set up for scuba diving and Marlin fishing, including Príncipe 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 and seabirds, including White-tailed Tropicbird, Sooty Tern and Brown and Black Noddies.
After returning to the modern, ocean-side city of Libreville, we shall head eastwards, leaving the tarmac behind as we follow the meandering Ogooué River (which virtually cuts Gabon in two) inland to the magnificent Réserve de la Lopé. Here the many specialities include Violet-tailed Sunbird and the localized Dja River Warbler, whilst overhead we might hear the thrumming of the Lyre-tailed Honeyguide’s display flight.
In the Ivindo Basin in the northeast we will be birding in some magnificent rainforest, protected by the Ipassa reserve, 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 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.
Birdquest has operated tours to Gabon, São Tomé & Príncipe since 1995.
Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are mostly of good standard (luxurious on Príncipe). At Ipassa Reserve we stay at the simple research station, where some rooms have shared bathroom facilities. For one night on São Tomé 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 optional fairly strenuous walks 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 even by African standards, 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 remarkably high prices.
These are provisional prices
Tour Price: £8490, €10020, $11120 São Tomé/Libreville. Loango Extension: £2490, €2940, $3260.
Price includes all transportation (including the São Tomé-Príncipe-São Tomé-Libreville flights and all specified flights inside Gabon), 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: £684, €807, $896. Extension: £250, €295, $327.
Excludes the camping night on São Tomé, where it may or may not be necessary for two people to share a tent.
Deposit: £1050, €1260, $1370. Extension: £300, €360, $390.
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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