The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Africa (and its islands)

SÃO TOMÉ & PRÍNCIPE – a feast of little-known endemic birds on two beautiful Atlantic islands

Friday 9th February – Friday 16th February 2024

Leaders: Pete Morris and local bird guides

8 Days Group Size Limit 8

SÃO TOMÉ & PRÍNCIPE: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s São Tomé & Príncipe birding tours explore two poorly-known yet remarkably 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 (an astonishing total for two relatively small islands!) and you can enjoy all this while staying in comfortable accommodations. No camping is necessary anymore!

Approximately 250 kilometres off the coast of Africa lie the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe. These two small, remote and almost forgotten islands in the Gulf of Guinea, virtually straddling the equator, are the southern extension of a volcanic ridge that 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 short ‘dry seasons’ when birding 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 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, Island (or São Tomé) Bronze-naped Pigeon, São Tomé Green Pigeon, São Tomé Scops Owl, 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, São Tomé Weaver, Príncipe Seedeater and the incredible Giant Sunbird.

We will also have a really good opportunity to see all four of the 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 perhaps 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. We have an excellent chance of seeing all three of the harder endemics, including the recently-discovered Príncipe Scops Owl, the rare Príncipe Thrush and the rare Príncipe White-eye. The boat trip turns up 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 GHANA. It is very easy to combine Ghana’s many West African specialities with the many island endemics of scenic São Tomé and Príncipe as all the flights from Portugal, the former colonial ruler of the islands, stop in Accra. Alternatively, if you do not wish to combine the islands with the full Birdquest tour, but have some particular specialities in Ghana that you wish to go for, we can easily arrange a private extension for you, either before or after the islands. Please get in touch with our office.

São Tomé & Príncipe without the need for camping: Recent changes in knowledge about birding sites and changes to available accommodations mean that there is no longer any need to camp on either island in order to see all the endemic birds.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are of good quality on both islands. 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 mostly easy, sometimes moderate grade.

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

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

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Exploring the ‘Galapagos of Africa’ with no fewer than 28 endemic birds, most of which are easy to see.
  • Other-worldly ‘paradise islands' with some amazing scenery.
  • The extrovert antics of the São Tomé Prinia.
  • São Tomé Speirops and Príncipe Speirops are Zosterops with a difference!
  • The amazing Giant Weaver that lives up to its name and which has nests as big as footballs!
  • Diminutive São Tomé Scops Owls can often be seen during the day.
  • Watching the odd little São Tomé Short-tail which is now thought to be an aberrant pipit.
  • The maximum chance tour for the trickiest endemics; Dwarf Ibis, São Tomé Fiscal and the hulking São Tomé Grosbeak.
  • The unique Dohrn’s Thrush Babbler is unlike any other African species.
  • Seeing the recently-described Príncipe Scops Owl and the rare Príncipe Thrush and Príncipe White-eye.

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Evening tour start at São Tomé airport.
  • Days 2-5: Exploring São Tomé.
  • Day 6: Flight to Príncipe.
  • Days 7: Exploring Príncipe.
  • Day 8: Príncipe, then flight to São Tomé and afternoon tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers, boatmen and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include these flights: São Tomé-Príncipe-São Tomé.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

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





2024: provisional £3020, $3560, €3490, AUD5090. São Tomé/São Tomé.

Single Supplement: 2024: £260, $310, €310, AUD450.

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.

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: Day 1  Our São Tomé & Príncipe birding tour begins this evening at São Tomé airport. We will stay for five nights on São Tomé.

(The shortest and easiest way to reach São Tomé is by the regular flights from Lisbon with TAP Air Portugal, but other flight routings are possible.)

São Tomé & Príncipe: 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, Island (or 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 spend much of our time in a remote area where we have a very 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: Day 6  Today we will take a morning flight across to the island of Príncipe for a two nights stay.

Following our arrival, we will commence our explorations on Príncipe.

São Tomé & Príncipe: Day 7  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’s endemic birdlife. 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. An explosive ringing 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. Of the non-endemics, Laughing and Lemon Doves and Common Waxbill can be found along the roadside and in the forests.

Príncipe also holds a healthy population of birds that look like African Grey Parrots, but which one genetic study has suggested are more closely related to the Timneh Parrot of the southwestern region of West Africa. Indeed, the IOC includes Príncipe in the species’ range following that study. However, as the birds on Príncipe look nothing like Timneh Parrots, and there are African Grey Parrots on the other Gulf of Guinea islands, this study is considered controversial.

Travelling further afield, we will explore mountain area where the recently-discovered Príncipe Scops Owl, the uncommon Príncipe Thrush and the rare Príncipe White-eye can all be found.

During a boat trip 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: Day 8  After some final birding on Príncipe we will catch a flight back to São Tomé airport, where our São Tomé & Príncipe birding tour ends this afternoon.

SAO TOME & PRINCIPE TOUR REPORT 2022

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SÃO TOMÉ & PRÍNCIPE TOUR REPORT 2018

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Other Western Africa birding tours by Birdquest include: