BIRDING AROUND THE WORLD

Subtitle

GABON, São Tomé & Principe  9-29 November, 2003                                                           

by Nigel Wheatley, edited and expanded by Jon Hornbuckle

INTRODUCTION

Gabon is a small, sparsely populated, politically stable country, nearly three-quarters of which is forested. The areas of forest, some of the largest in Africa, support one of the most diverse avifaunas on the continent, and along with the many long rivers, huge areas of coastal mangroves and mudflats, and savannas, support such star birds as Congo Serpent Eagle, Long-tailed Hawk, Black Guineafowl, Forbes's Plover, Rosy and Black-headed Bee-eaters, African River Martin, Red-headed Picathartes and Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike.    

The Gulf of Guinea islands of São Tomé and Prìncipé may be depauperate in comparison but the 25+ endemics include the unique Dohrn's Thrush-Babbler and the impressive Giant Sunbird, while breeding seabirds include White-tailed Tropicbird.

Nigel Wheatley, c/o Tregarthen's Hotel, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly, TR21 0PP.

Information

We used the following:

Articles

All relevant articles published in the African Bird Club bulletins.

Saving Africa's Eden, Quammen D. National Geographic, September 2003.

Books

Birds of Western Africa. Borrow N and Demey R, 2001. Helm.

Birds of Africa: A Complete Illustrated Guide to the Birds South of the Sahara. Sinclair I and Ryan P, 2003.

Where to watch birds in Africa, 1995. Wheatley N. Helm.

Trip Reports

A Birders Guide to Gabon. Sargeant D, 1993.

Gabon, August-September 1993. Webb R, 1993.

Gabon and the Cameroon, February 1998. Taylor D, 1998.

Maps

The Map Shop, 15 High Street, Upton-upon-Severn, Worcs., WR8 0HJ (tel: 01684 593146; fax: 01684 594559; email: Themapshop@btinternet.com; website: www.themapshop.co.uk).

Stanfords, 12-14 Long Acre, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9LP (Shop tel: 0171 836 1915; Mail Order tel: 0171 836 1321; Mail Order fax: 0171 836 0189).

Additional Information

The Bradt Travel Guide to Gabon, São Tomé & Prìncipé. Warne S. Bradt.

The Costs of Organised Tours

Birdquest charge £4990 for a three-week trip to Gabon, São Tomé and Prìncipé (Sep 2004).

The Cost of Our Three-week Trip

The following cost is the average per person.

£  490  Air Gabon London-Libreville return flight.

£   80  Visas (Gabon (£50), São Tomé & Prìncipé (US$50)).

£ 2763  All other expenses incl. internal flights, return flights to São Tomé and Prìncipé, road and rail transport, accommodation, food, beer, guide fees etc.

£ 3330  Total

Money

Euros and `Seefas' (CFA - Central African Republic - Mille Francs) were the preferred currencies in Gabon, $US and Dobras in São Tomé and Prìncipé. There is a change machine at Libreville Airport but no bureau de change. Our guide changed money for us on Sao Tome, we know not where.

Flights, Visas etc

Visas for Gabon from The Gabonese Embassy, 27 Elvaston Place, London SW7 5NL (tel: 0207 823 9986; fax: 0207 584 0047). We applied for double entry visas as we were returning to Libreville after São Tomé and Principe. This got a mixed response from the embassy, eg Jon got one without any trouble but Martin was refused one and had to pay for another single entry visa. On returning to Libreville, Jon’s passport was confiscated by the immigration woman who claimed it wasn’t a double entry visa, even though it said it was, whereas everyone else was allowed though without problem! The reason for this may have been because J had written Transit on the entry form – she said that it was OK to be in transit for 24 hours without a visa if passports were retained by Immigration at the airport - they would be given back when returning for the flight out. Gaston, of Mistral Voyages, confirmed this was true. In the event, she relented and gave J his passport back when she had let everyone else through. So it does appear that a single entry visa would suffice in our situation.

Visas for São Tomé and Principe can be obtained once there. We got ours at the Mistral Voyages office in town. Gabon Airport Tax was included in the ticket price. São Tomé and Prìncipé Airport Tax ($US20.40) must be paid on departure.

Getting Around, Accommodation and Food

The Air Gabon overnight flight from London to Libreville, via Brussels, takes nine and a half hours. The direct London to Libreville leg takes seven hours. It takes 50 minutes to fly between Libreville and Sao Tome, and about 30 minutes between São Tomé and Prìncipé.

The international return flights to São Tomé and Prìncipé, all internal flights, road and rail transport (with drivers), accommodation (including camping) and food was organised and/or provided by our ground agents, Mistral Voyages   mistral.lbv@internetgabon.com

S.A. Immeuble Diamant, BP 2106, Libreville, Gabon (tel: 241/760421; fax: 241/747780; Patrice Pasquier, Director General). All arrangements worked well.

4WD is essential during the wet season which lasts from October to mid-December and mid-February to May, and even then the roads to Lope and Franceville/Lekoni are best avoided, hence we travelled by train to these destinations.

Health and Safety

Immunisation against several diseases is recommended, as are all precautions against Malaria although it is not especially common. Immunisation against Yellow Fever is compulsory for visiting Gabon and you have to show your Certificate on arrival. Acute Haemorrhagic Fever/Ebola outbreaks have occurred in the Zadie District in the northeast of Gabon near the border with the Republic of Congo. Otherwise, Gabon appeared to be one of the safest countries we have visited and there was no hassle from locals except when leaving Libreville airport.

According to the FCO, economic difficulties and political rows over the handling of investments in the development of São Tomé & Prìncipé occasionally lead to civil unrest (most recently in April 2003). According to John Vidal, the Environment Editor of The Guardian (Saturday Nov 1st 2003), São Tomé & Principe "is one of the poorest and most indebted countries in the world, with 70% of its income coming from aid ..... but all that will change from next year (2004) when it receives a US$100m down payment on the first deals it has struck on a gargantuan oil find ..... US oil companies, led by Exxon, are moving in ..... the place is already in political turmoil with people jostling for postion ahead of the oil ..... and since the oil find there has been a temporary bloodless coup (in July 2003)". The place seemed peaceful when we were there, everyone was friendly and at no time did we feel unsafe.  

Climate and Timing

Gabon, São Tomé and Prìncipé lie on the equator, hence the heat and humidity, and "Its a sweaty old place" was a familiar sound, especially when forest birding. The normally short dry season usually lasts from June to September. The wet season usually lasts from October to mid-December and mid-February to May. Birdquest etc. usually visit in August-September at the end of the dry season and catch up with African River Martin inland, when the species is migrating west to its breeding grounds along the coast, where it is present from September to November. Although we visited during the wet season we experienced surprisingly little rain and in total lost only three late afternoons birding. It did rain heavily some nights though and when it rains it rains so forget birding. Sao Tome and Principe are two of the wettest islands on earth with an annual rainfall of 7000 mm and rain is possible all year round on the high southern and interior slopes. We recommend taking an umbrella and possibly `wellies'. It’s too hot for complete wet-weather gear.  

Habitats

At 267,667 sq km Gabon is almost exactly twice the size of England and the size of Colorado. The small, volcanic islands of São Tomé (45 km by 25 km) and Principe (17 km by 8 km, 200 km northeast of São Tomé) are about 250 km west of the African coast.

Less than a million people inhabit Gabon and a remarkable 74% of the country is still forested, just part of the Gabonese jungle belt which is the largest intact area of rainforest in Africa and one of the largest remaining on earth. This extensive area of forest has the greatest diversity of tree and bird species (over 1000?) for a given area anywhere in Africa, as well as healthy populations of primates, including Lowland Gorillas and Chimpanzees.São Tomé and Prìncipé, in the Gulf of Guinea, form the southern extension of the volcanic ridge which runs from Mount Cameroon in the north to Bioko (Fernando Po), Prìncipé, São Tomé and Annobon in the south, with São Tomé rising to 2024 m (6640 ft). Huge, bare, black, basalt plugs, known locally as caos (dogs), and cliffs rise out of the forest. Much of the lowlands of São Tomé & Prìncipé were used by the Portuguese to grow cocoa, coffee and sugar but many of the big plantations were more or less abandoned after independence in 1975, with their former workers growing cassava and bananas on a much smaller scale instead. The secondary growth in the old plantations has been utilised by some birds but it is the natural habitats, the lowland and montane rainforests, which support the greatest diversity and the greatest densities of the highly endemic avifauna.

Conservation

In 2002 Gabon's president Omar Bongo made a bold and remarkable declaration, putting 11% of his country's land in to 13 National Parks, a total of 11,294 sq miles! Gabon now ranks alongside countries such as Costa Rica and Ecuador as far as the extent of `protected' land goes. Of course, drawing lines on a map is easy, especially in the least densely populated country in West Africa: it’s making sure the wildlife within the lines is actually protected which is difficult. The key is though that Gabon has decided to go down the ecotourism road rather than the logging track and this has already encouraged the establishment of projects such as Operation Loango at Petit Loango NP, a project, which in close collaboration with conservation organisations and local and national government institutions, aims to promote low-impact ecotourism in order to demonstrate the economic value of sustainable conservation, especially to the local community.

The same cannot be said of the isolated islands of São Tomé and Prìncipé, both of which are Endemic Bird Areas. There is still a lot of good forest on these islands but very little is `protected', despite the fact that many of the endemics are Red Data Book birds and eleven endemics on Sao Tome are listed as `Conservation Threatened' by the IUCN.

Bird Species

Over 670 bird species have been recorded in Gabon, including over 430 in the Ivindo Basin, a small region in the northeast, making this, arguably, the richest area for birds in the whole of Africa. Spectacular and speciality species (not including near-endemics listed below) include White-crested Bittern, Spot-breasted Ibis, Hartlaub's Duck, Congo Serpent-Eagle, Long-tailed Hawk, Black and Plumed Guineafowl, Grey Pratincole, Forbes's Plover, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Pel's and Vermiculated Fishing-Owls, Black-headed and Rosy Bee-eaters, White-crested Hornbill, Lyre-tailed Honeyguide, Blue Cuckoo-Shrike, Black-collared Bulbul, Congo Moorchat, Vanga Flycatcher, Red-headed Picathartes, Gorgeous and Fiery-breasted Bushshrikes, Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike, Yellow-capped Weaver and Black-bellied Seedcracker.

In addition to the endemics, São Tomé and Prìncipé support large numbers of breeding seabirds, including White-tailed Tropicbird.

Endemics

There are no endemics in Gabon but near-endemics include Finsch’s Francolin, Bates's Swift, African River Martin, Dja River Warbler, Angola Batis, Black-chinned and Loango Weavers, and Black-throated and Red-crowned Malimbes.

São Tomé (15) and Prìncipé (5) together support at least 25 endemics, as well as at least 11 endemic subspecies. The 25 endemics include four pigeons, a thrush, a paradise-flycatcher, two speirops and three sunbirds.

Expectations

Birdquest recorded 428 species on their three-week-long 2003 trip to Gabon, São Tomé and Prìncipé, in late August-early September. We recorded 424, including 35 heard-onlys and 6 introductions. Birdquest's itinerary includes Makokou, in the heavily forested, species-rich Ivindo Basin, but not Petit Loango. We gave Makokou a miss because many of the birds there also occur in Cameroon, as well as la Lopé, and we needed to visit Petit Loango to see African River Martin at the time of year we were in the country, a site where Rosy Bee-eater was also `guaranteed' and Vermiculated Fishing-Owl a major attraction. If time is not a serious constraint, it would be worth going to Makokou for say a week, and staying at the Research Station, which should be cheap, as no daily transport is required. There is a grid of trails, so a guide is unnecessary. Most of the Lope birds can be seen here, with the notable exception of the Picathartes and Dja River Warbler.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Patrice Pasquier, Gaston and Augusto, of Mistral Voyages, especially to Patrice Cristy for his expert guidance in the field in Gabon, and last but not least, to Dave Sargeant for providing major encouragement to go with his Birders Guide to Gabon published way back in 1993!

ITINERARY

8 November

2030 flight from Gatwick to Libreville, Gabon.

9

0630 arrival, transferred by Gaston to Hotel Tropicana. Patrice arrived 0830; 0930-18.00 pirogue trip to Moka. Night at Tropicana.

10

0745 flight to Omboue, stopping in Port Gentil and Gamba, arrived 1015. Drove to Petit Loanga, arrived 1330. Afternoon in Loango NP, owling after dinner. 4 nights at Loanga Lodge. 

11

Morning in swamp forest and farmbush, afternoon in NP.

12

Morning along forest edge, afternoon in scrub at M’Pivie. 1530-2130 boat trip on river.

13

0620 drove to edge of M’Pivie, birded farmbush; lunch at Lodge. 1500-1730 local farmbush, then boat to Bird Island.

14

05.4506.45 swamp across lagoon. 0645-0800 drove to Omboue, birded at the jetty. 0930-1045 flight to Libreville, lunch at Tropicana. 1430-1900 Bolokoboue. To station at 2030, train to Lope 2200-04.30

15

Transfer to Hotel Lope, bed at 0530, breakfast at 0630. Drove to bridge beyond Lope village, then to Dja Warbler swamp. Hotel for lunch, birded grounds, then back to bridge till dark.

16

0730 drove to Mikongo, with stops. 1030-1800 Rockfowl trip in forest, or 1030-1620 birding along main track. Owling after dinner. Night at Mikongo Camp.

17

0600-1600 in forest, then drove back to farmbush, staying till dusk, drove back to camp then to Lope hotel, arriving 2030. Dinner at 2100.

18

0650 drove to forest near Dja swamp, and spent 3h there, then to forest island, bridge and back to hotel at 1230. Left for station at 1330, birded and beered till train came at 1540. 1600-2145 journey to Franceville, taxi to Hotel de Lekoni, arriving 2315, for 3 nights.

19

0600 drove to Old Canyon road, walked it then savanna, back to hotel for lunch. Returned to savanna at 1500, then to gallery forest till 1800.

20

0600 drove to grassland, walked till 1000, then drove to Lekoni Lake. Back to hotel at 1300; drove to Bongoville at 1500 but thwarted by rain so back to hotel before dusk.

21

Back to gallery forest 0600-0800, to hotel then Bongoville to bird forest along road for rest of morning. Drove to Franceville airport 40km beyond town, arriving 13.40. 14.30 flight cancelled so had to wait for 1630 which left at 1745. Reached Libreville 1845 where 1900 flight to Sao Tome had been rescheduled to 1930. Left 1945, arrived 2000 local time; transferred by Augusto to Hotel Phenicia

22

0620 to airport for 0715 flight to Principe which left at 0745, landed 0840. Pedro arrived 0915 and took us birding locally till midday when dropped down to Pensao Residencial Palhota in San Antonio. At 14.00 drove to Bon Bon Resort to book boat trip,  returned to woodland, then back to Bon Bon to watch World Cup Rugby Final till 2000. Night at Pensao Palhota.

23

0545-0700 JH birding around town, mainly by river. After breakfast, drove to Bon Bon for 3h boat trip, back to Pensao for lunch, then to airport at 1230. 1430-1500 flew to Sao Tome, back to Hotel Phenicia. Explored town and emailed. First and only pizza of trip!

24

0630-0720 drove up to Botanical Gardens at 1170m. Walked up to 1390m into Obo NP and back to Bot Gdns for lunch. Afternoon in secondary growth, returning to Phenicia at 1745.

25

0630-0800 drove along coast to old plantation in 2 vehicles, walked up mountain to camp-site at 430m, arriving 1230 in heavy rain. Afternoon above campsite, supper with beer!

26

Walked up to ridge for Fiscal, then tried below camp. After lunch, broke camp and walked down from 1400-1600 to Rio Io Grande. Drove for an hour and took fast ferry across to Ou das Rolas, 20 mins, where showered and ate dinner. Ferry back then another hour to Praia Jale where pitched camp by beach and looked for turtles from 2200.

27

Slow start, broke camp, drove to Roca San Joao for a slow breakfast, with views of Tropicbirds, then back to town. Good fish lunch at local restaurant, then to savanna and back to Phenicia for quick meal. 1830-2330 Praia das Conchas looking for turtles, night at Phenicia.

28

0815 drove to Botanic Gardens for more time with the endemics below Obo NP. Caught in downpour when leaving, talked to Ecofac researchers, reached Phenicia at 1330. Lengthy fish lunch and walkabout. To airport at 1800 for 1930 flight, left at 1945, to Libreville. Reached Tropicana at 2200.

29

Debrief with Patrice at 0830, then to Libreville airport at 1000 for 1215 flight to Gatwick. Left at 1300, landed at 1920, so JH just able to catch last St Pancras train back to Sheffield at 2125 (full of drunken Wednesday supporters!)

THE STORY

Nov 8th

The team gathered at Gatwick for an overnight flight: Neil Bostock, Simon Colenutt, Jon Hornbuckle, Martin Hunnybun, Philip Rostron and Nigel Wheatley. The flight left on time, surprisingly, but seat allocations were ignored by the central African passengers who just sat anywhere they fancied. Major turbulence over the Channel made for a rather disturbing introduction to no-frills Air Gabon but it was a smooth journey from Brussels south.

Nov 9th

The view from the windows of the Boeing 767 at dawn over the Gabon coast was of thick rain clouds and, where there were breaks in the cloud, plenty of water on the ground, which did not bode well. We knew we were taking a risk visiting Gabon during the wet season but hoped the downpours would be restricted to the late afternoons.  

 A few hours after dawn we, along with Patrice Christy, our expert guide in Gabon, and Gaston from Mistral Voyages, were drifting with the tide in a large pirogue on the Moka River, the outboard having spluttered to a halt. There were very few birds about and to cap it all an untickable Rosy Bee-eater drifted high over our heads. When we then reached the mangrove-lined channel where we hoped to see White-crested Bittern, the outboard packed up for good and the man at the tiller had no choice but to pole us back to the main river in the hope of a passing piroque coming to our rescue. We tied up to a mangrove and were informed that we may have to wait a few hours for any assistance since traffic was light on the Moka River on a Sunday.

Fortunately, we only had to wait about an hour before the next piroque came along and was persuaded to take us back into the White-crested Bittern channel. There were no bitterns and just before we reached the village of Moka, where we hoped to disembark and look for Loango Weaver, the outboard on our second piroque packed up! We were drifting again, away from the village, but there was no time to get depressed 'cus they managed to get the thing going again. We finally made it to Moka where a pair of Loango Weavers eventually showed very well and a good selection of waders and terns were seen at the nearby coast.

 We had arranged to leave Moka at 1530 in the pirogue we came on but there was no sign of it at the waterfront. It then started raining, big style, so we retired to a dry porch and waited, the first beers of the trip in hand. By 1630 there was still no sign of the pirogue so Patrice hired the third of the day and soon we were speeding back along the Moka River in the lashing rain, tucked up as tight as possible under our umbrellas pointed at the bow. We stopped twice, once to pick up Gaston and our driver from pirogue number one, now adrift in mid-river, and once to re-fuel, which involved shifting a huge drum of fuel from the bow to the stern alongside the violently rocking pirogue. We arrived back a couple of hours after leaving Moka, a little damp and more than a little disappointed with our first day in Gabon. 

Nov 10th

Day two in Gabon was a fantastique day: The Day of the Rosy Bee-eater in fact. Up at 0500 and off to the nearby airport for the 0700 flight south to Omboue, via two more untickable Rosy Bee-eaters at Port Gentil and Gamba. The view from the largely clear skies above the Gabon coast was enough to bring a smile to most birders’ faces; long beaches, loads of clean-looking lagoons and rivers, lots of good-looking forest, and very little evidence of human activity. This part of the `Dark Continent' looked far from `dark' to us.  

At Omboue we boarded an open-top landcruiser for the 60km drive to Iguela, which took 3 hours, thanks to bee-eaters and River Martins. We saw the first bee-eaters not far out of Omboue, in flight only but still stunning now they were up close enough to see the rosy underparts. Then there were more, sweeping and swooping and dashing and darting low over the ground and high in the air all around us, then there's one perched, then there's more, perched up by the side of the track, and so it went on for the rest of the drive, Rosy Bee-eaters, brilliant Rosy Bee-eaters, everywhere.

We really only forgot about the Rosies when we were watching the African River Martins, small numbers of which were bringing food to their colony in the sandy ground a short distance from the track. Great birds these, especially when seen shuffling across the sand to their burrows: black with bright red eyes and eye-rings, and broad red-and-yellow bills.

Roberta welcomed us to Loango Lodge. We had no idea what to expect as far as accommodation was concerned, so it was more than a pleasant surprise to find that here was a brand-new lodge, complete with a bar, restaurant and bungalows, beneath the palms alongside the long inlet/lagoon separating the lodge from Petit Loango NP. We were then served a three-course lunch, with snapper for the main course - things were really looking up, and so it was that in high spirits we headed across the lagoon for the afternoon.  Forbes's Plover, Senegal Lapwing, Blue-throated Roller, Black-chinned Quailfinch and yet more Rosies were added to the day's list of high-quality birds. We were welcomed back by the calls of Nkulenga Rail behind the Lodge but, of course, we couldn’t see it.

Nov 11th

One of the other factors which made the 10th such a special day was the total lack of cloud let alone rain, a fact we were reminded of this morning when rain stopped play, delaying our first foray into the nearby swamp forest by an hour or so. Once amongst it the birds came slowly but steadily: White-crested Hornbill ..... Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill ..... Red-chested Goshawk ..... Western Bluebill ..... Fire-crested Alethe.

We spent the long hot afternoon across the lagoon looking hard for Black-headed Bee-eater. Ed, our appointed guide at Loango, was made fully aware how important this bird was and having seen a few a couple of weeks ago, took us straight to the area, where we scoured the edges of the gallery forest, running in wide strips through the savanna grassland grazed by Buffalos, Elephants and Red River Hogs. We saw no bee-eaters, well, no bee-eaters with black heads, for there were plenty more Rosy Bee-eaters to watch, including a tight colony of about a hundred pairs which made a magnificent spectacle. At one moment the air was full of calling birds, the next the sandy ground where they were nesting lit up by their glorious colours as they landed before taking food to their young hidden in the burrows.

Thunder then rain then the African night and a cold beer. Life would only be better with Black-headed Bee-eater.... 

Nov 12th

 Bad day, good day, bad day, good day (all relatively of course) and so it proved with day four being potentially the best day of the trip. It didn't start too well. We were ready for breakfast at 0530 but the lovely Pamela, provider of breakfast, was nowhere to be seen. Still, had she not been late we wouldn't have seen the Fraser’s Forest-Flycatcher or the Shining-blue Kingfisher perched on top of an old oil drum underneath the restaurant. We headed for forest as soon as we could, seeing a splendid Chestnut Wattle-eye and fresh gorilla tracks. Then it was mid-morning and we were working some forest when we heard them. They didn't seem to be too far in so Ed, Martin and Nigel went in, through a thickish tangle, down a slope into a small heavily forested valley where we followed the stream as best we could. After much further than we had anticipated, the first ones came crashing down the tall trees, one dropping fifty feet or so in seconds, with the help of a liana, hitting the ground running, feet thumping the ground as they scampered away. Then a large one came walking towards us, less than fifty feet away, looked as surprised as us, and turned and ran. We walked up the ridge and another large one came tumbling down a trunk. We waited for more but there were none ..... until we moved on a little and two more landed in a blur behind us and ran. It was over. They were ugly, brutish, scrawny-looking animals: they were Chimpanzees, clearly our closest relatives.  

Next up was a party, a party of delightful Rufous-bellied Helmetshrikes, then a family of Black Bee-eaters, the two turquoise-spangled adults perched either side of the sooty juvenile on the outer branches of a large fallen tree, then a pair of Cassin's Malimbes, the male a real sizzler. We boarded another boat at 1530 and were glad to see not only that it wasn't a pirogue but a `Boston Whaler' with not one but two outboards!

The M'Pivie River is a blackwater river, a fifty metre wide channel of black ink flowing through two green walls of tall thick forest. Shining-blue Kingfishers lit it up occasionally, Cassin's Flycatchers filled the niche filled by Torrent Tyrannulet on another continent, a mixed flock of spinetails low overhead included a back-flipping Black and several Silver-rumped Swift-like Sabine's, and the metallic blue bird perched on the next dead snag was not a hummer but a hirundine, a White-throated Blue Swallow. The main reason for cruising the M'Pivie River though was to look for fishing-owls and Martin soon spotted one, a Pel's perched in full view just inside the forest. We saw another three of these `big old beasts' after dark and after them two Vermiculated Fishing-Owls, a bird rarely seen by anyone! Ed was almost more excited by spot-lighting a rarely seen Beecroft’s Anomalure, a type of flying squirrel.

Nov 13th

Up for 0530 breakfast as usual, then off to search for forest-edge species, but the best birds we saw were deep forest species: a large, colourful and ridiculously long-tailed Long-tailed Hawk that showed well for ages; a brilliant little White-bellied Kingfisher, 'scoped while perched minutes after Patrice said "This bird is very difficult to see perched", a smart pair of White-browed Forest-Flycatchers, and a Yellow-billed Turaco.

Venturing inside the forest after a long lunch we saw bugger-all squared. Mind you it rained rather heavily from mid-afternoon until dusk, when we visited the small Bird Island in the lagoon in a futile attempt to see Olive or perhaps even Spot-breasted Ibis (though we did hear the “song” of the Singing Bat).

Nov 14th

At dinner the previous evening Mike Fay, famous for walking 2000 miles across the Congo and Gabon, thence helping to persuade President Bongo to set aside 11% of the country as protected national parkland, described a bird he had seen that afternoon in a marsh just across the lagoon while trying to find a Black-headed Bee-eater for us (everyone was on the case now!). It sounded like a White-crested Bittern, so, although we had to leave just after dawn in order to make our flight back from Omboue to Libreville (or wait another three days), we decided a short, sharp sortie was in order. We were almost through the small patch of forest and within sight of the marsh when Ed beckoned us back one-by-one to look at a bird in the top of the tree he was pointing at. Expecting it to be the paradise-flycatcher Patrice had heard moments before, we were shocked to see a large but sleek-looking bee-eater with a burnt orange breast and black head! Still desperate to produce the one bird we most wanted to see, Ed had pulled it out of the bag at the death! Jon and Nigel had now seen every bee-eater on earth.

 There was no time to look for the bittern, we were late and there was a very grumpy, very fat American sitting in the landcruiser when we got back. He was even grumpier, "really pissed" actually, in his words, after the breakneck drive along the pot-holed track to Omboue. "I could'a been killed" he complained. A slight exaggeration but we were travelling too fast to bird, which was a shame because it would have been nice to stop to watch the huge colony of River Martins we passed near Omboue. It was deemed too far away to go back, even though the plane was late (of course!) and we had at least an hour to spare, a rather productive hour as it turned out for on and around the nearby lagoon we saw at least a hundred Grey Pratincoles, many of which appeared to be fly-catching from the corrugated-iron roof of the food market, showing their snazzy upper- and under- wing patterns. There were even a couple on the runway as we took off.

 Back at Libreville, after lunch at the Tropicana, we squeezed in a couple of hours at Bolokoboué, 25km to the north, seeing the brilliant Black-bellied Seedcracker, Superb Sunbird and two African Cuckoo-Hawks, before boarding our VIP coach on the train to Lopé in the evening.

Nov 15th  

We arrived at Lopé at 0430, lucky by all accounts to be just three hours late instead of the usual six, not that it made a fat lot of difference 'cus by the time we had reached the lodge, another surprisingly lavish affair, and sorted ourselves out, it was time for breakfast. The customary jam and coffee was taken overlooking the tall trees by the Ogooue River, watching distant White-headed Lapwings and Rock Pratincoles, and, closer to, three little beauties: Violet-tailed, Johanna's and Superb Sunbirds.

 A morning standing on a bridge across a creek running through a forest patch produced another gem in the form of Tiny Sunbird, and an undescribed species of swift (according to Patrice), but no Lyre-tailed Honeyguide, or Fiery-breasted Bushshrike (heard only). Patrice then took us to a small swamp `in the middle of nowhere' and predicted that the bird we were about to look for, one of the rarest or at least most localised in the world, on hearing the tape would almost certainly perch only for a second before flying around a couple of times and disappearing back into the swamp for good. Martin picked it up perched high in a largely leafless bush next to the swamp, singing its head off, and we watched that Dja River Warbler for a minute or so before it dropped down. It showed again, a couple of times, and poor Patrice didn't know where to look or what to say.

 After birding around the hotel, where excellent views were had of Forbes’s Plover and Rock Pratincole, the afternoon plan, in Patrice's words was "to watch the birds go to bed" back at the bridge. However, it was foiled because they apparently already had gone by the time we got there, so we had to make do (!) with Finfoot, and Freckled Nightjar - in lieu of Bates’s.

Nov 16th

The morning drive to Mikongo was delayed till 0730 by our vehicle being highjacked by the Hotel staff to take them to Lope village. Our journey was enlivened by the likes of Great Blue Turacos and White-throated Bee-eaters. Once at Mikongo the group split into two; those that needed Picathartes and those that didn't. Jon and Phil went off to look for forest specialities they needed while Neil, Simon, Martin and Nigel were led into the forest, in that order, by Aime (Amy), a pygmy Gorilla-tracker who glided smoothly through the forest along the maze of narrow elephant trails for two hours before reaching the only rock of any size seen, standing alone about twenty-feet tall. On one side was an old nest, and on the other a new nest with an egg.

Aime and Gistan, our other guide, hastily showed us where to sit and wait, screening us from the rock with some large-leaved shoots, but shortly after settling down we were told to vacate our spot immediately. Gistan thought there were elephants nearby but it turned out to be a Chimpanzee which looked back at us somewhat perplexed before moving off. Returning to our look-out we settled down again ..... but not for long. What looked like honey bees began to appear, apparently attracted by our sweat. There was plenty of that after the hike and there were soon plenty of them, covering the backs of our small day-sacks and then us in what seemed like our own individual swarms. The constant thrum was terrible, much worse than the stings those trapped under our shirts inflicted and they were pretty bad, so terrible we could not help but keep moving about, hardly ideal behaviour from birders trying to see Picathartes.

  Nevertheless, after an hour or so, Amie and then Martin saw one, albeit briefly. An hour or so later, Nigel got a brief view of one on the ground. Another hour then went by, during which only Amie saw one, and 1600, time to return, was rapidly approaching. We were rapidly approaching insanity, so many bees were there now, but we decided to sit or rather stand it out. Then Amie spotted one again and this time Martin, Nigel and Simon got on to the extraordinary thing which was perched in almost full view in a spindly tree near the nest. Neil was standing next to Amie but could not understand his directions and on finally moving to the side of the others just missed it! He was not happy! and neither were we, as we would have to try and block out the bees some more. Ten to fifteen minutes later though, Amie somehow spotted one through a labyrinth of trees, perched up and preening, and once everyone was on the right line we all enjoyed superb views of Red-headed Picathartes.

  It was now gone 1600 and we not only had to go, we wanted to go. It was an absolute joy to leave the bees behind, the bird under-the-belt, and not even the torrential rain that began to fall shortly afterwards, instantly turning the trails into muddy streams, dampened our spirits. Rarely has a beer back at base been so welcome.     

  Meanwhile, Jon, Phil and Patrice birded back along the main track through tall primary forest for six hours. Activity was slow, except for the numerous sweat-bees, with only a couple of smallish parties, but a fair selection was eventually seen including White-thighed Hornbill, Brown-eared Woodpecker, Square-tailed Saw-wing, Forest Swallow, Blue Cuckoo-shrike, and best of all, a Black-billed Dwarf-Hornbill. The calls of a probable lowland gorilla were heard a few times.

  The Fraser’s Eagle-Owl present in Sept appeared to have left the camp, so after supper, we drove back along the track, looking for it and other owls and nightjars, but with no success.           

Nov 17th

Brilliant day, not so brilliant day, so it goes, the rollercoaster ride that is birding. Spent virtually the whole day deep in the bloody forest avoiding invisible elephants and seeing just nineteen species, the only one of note for the blisters being Red-bellied Malimbe - no Latham's Forest Francolin, Black Guineafowl nor Lowland Akalat. The low listers were also unimpressed, with the notable exception of the singing male Forest Robin. Outside the forest for the last hour or so of decent light, we fared little better although a whacky male Vanga Flycatcher on the nest was quite a sight. We drove back to the Lopé Hotel in the dark for a late dinner.

Nov 18th

Another bash at Latham's Forest Francolin, Black Guineafowl and Fiery-breasted Bushshrike in a large tract of forest near Lope once again ended in failure, with the bush-shrike giving untickable views. Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Red-tailed Ant-thrush and a large mixed troop of Grey-cheeked Mangabeys, and Crowned and Putty-nosed Monkeys, were some consolation.

  At 1540, only an hour behind schedule, we boarded the train at Lopé and slowly trundled south alongside the Ogooue River; a huge, wild mass of water and black shiny rocks, almost overflowing in places, rushing through thickly forested country. It was soon lost to view though, not because we left it but because it was raining so heavily. Well behind schedule we arrived in Franceville after 2200, from where it was a 75 min drive to Lekoni, with hairy-tailed Porcupine and Side-striped Jackal for the first vehicle. This left just five hours to grab some zs before breakfast and birding in new terrain, always an exciting prospect.  

Nov 19th

In the field not long after 0600, walking the Old Canyon Track, along which we saw Luehder's Bushshrike, Salvadori's Eremomela and Black-headed Batis, and up on to the savanna where we flushed both Swamp and Long-tailed Nightjars, and saw the striking Black-collared Bulbul. It was sunny and very hot by midday, siesta conditions, so we returned refreshed in the afternoon, unblocking Black-chinned Weaver and Congo Moorchat in the bushy savanna before concentrating on gallery forest and adding Angola Batis and a pair of Vanga Flycatchers.

Nov 20th

Into the big wide open of the Plateau Bateke under cloudy skies early morning, walking miles across the short-grass savanna before everyone had seen Finsch's Francolin. In the process we saw a small but quality selection of open-country birds - White-bellied and Black-bellied Bustards, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Coqui Francolin, Temminck's Courser, Short-tailed Pipit, etc - although what on paper appears to be an impressive list was somewhat unsatisfactory for all of the aforementioned species were seen in flight only. All then saw Great Snipe, the split Malbrant’s Lark, the undescribed Teke Cisticola, Marsh Widowbird, and, except Jon, Red-thighed Sparrowhawk, on the way to or alongside Lekoni Lake, an improvement marred by the lack of Locust Finch. To cap it all, after lunch the very moment we arrived at the Black-headed Bee-eater site near Bongoville, the leaden skies poured forth their threatened deluge and ended the day's birding proceedings. Plenty of water falling from the sky but none back at the hotel, so no much-needed showers for us.

Nov 21st

With only a morning left in Gabon we were out and about early and our reward was prolonged views of a singing male Gorgeous (Perrin’s) Bushshrike, an apt name if ever there was one, and what at the time we thought to be a new species for Gabon, Olivaceous Warbler. Then it was back to Bongoville where White-fronted and Black Bee-eaters made it an incredible seven bee-eaters in six hours, but the seven did not include Black-headed, here at one of the most reliable sites for this bird on earth. Fortunately we could only imagine what a tragedy it would have been had Ed not squeezed that one out at Petit Loango, for our time in Gabon was up and we had to get to Franceville for our flight to Libreville and then make the connecting flight to São Tomé.

  Our flight was cancelled but we were booked on to another, later one, the delay giving some of us the chance for another trip tick - Winding Cisticola. Back at Libreville, we grabbed our bags, passed smoothly through customs and stepped on to the São Tomé flight. The Dash 8 plopped down on to the tarmac at exactly the same time it left Gabon, due to the 1 hour time difference, at about 1945.

Nov 22nd

Up at the crack for the 0715 Twin Otter flight to Prìncipé, where the five island endemics were in the bag before lunch and the endemic races sewn up just in time for the evening re-run of the Rugby World Cup Final, which we were kindly allowed to watch on TV at the refreshingly cooperative Bom Bom Island Resort. Cheered by England's magnificent victory we returned to the Pensao under a rare starry sky for a splendid fish supper.

Nov 23rd

Some birded around town first thing, seeing both kingfishers well. We had wanted to visit the Tinhosas Islands but were told by the staff at Bom Bom that we would not have enough time to make it there and back for our 1430 flight to São Tomé, so we had to make do with a short sort-of-pelagic trip along the east side of Principe, to some small offshore rocks with Brown Boobies and Brown Noddies and Ilheu Caroco, a large volcanic pinnacle graced by White-tailed Tropicbirds, the main target. We saw nothing except for a few flying-fish while zooming across the open water between the rocks and offshore island, but Prìncipé looked impressive from the boat: a small, verdant volcanic island with plugs and peaks rising into the clouds. We were back in time for an octopus lunch before our flight to São Tomé.

Nov 24th

A long old day: 0730 to 1700 on a narrow, slippery trail mainly through secondary montane forest below Parque Natural Obo in central São Tomé, but with some time in the primary forest of the PNO. We eventually saw 11 of the 15 island endemics and the three remaining inter-island endemics, including our first male São Tomé Paradise-Flycatcher, a beautiful bird done no justice by the books, plenty of the silky speirops, lots of the snazzy Newton's Sunbirds and one or two of the very tricky Giant Sunbird, a big old bird ..... for a sunbird. São Tomé 's avifauna may be highly endemic but it is also depressingly depauperate as the day list of just 20 species testifies. Still, we were fortunate with the weather again, the afternoon deluge promised by intermittent morning rain failing to materialise.

Nov 25th

Bread and jam, and, crucially, coffee, at 0600, then along the east coast road past plantation after plantation of bananas and oil palms. It was at one such palm plantation that we turned off the road and headed inland, seeing our first `São Tomé ' Kingfisher before reaching the Rio Io Grande. From here we walked for a solid hour through damp knee-high vegetation, along an overgrown ride through the long-neglected palms, before reaching a forested ridge that we then began to climb. There was no trail as such and the going was hard, walking on small loose rocks up a steep ridgeline through thick forest. Then it started raining, then it started pouring, stair-rods pelting through the trees. Four (Dwarf) Olive Ibises flying up into the trees almost above our heads kept our minds off the rain for a while but by the time we arrived at the campsite we were all soaked from head to toe. It looked like being a wet afternoon but mercifully real rain died out and we were able to bird. We saw very little all afternoon, except for a 2m black Cobra, although we were able to cross the Short-tail off the rapidly diminishing hit-list. It was nearly dusk and we were almost back at camp when we heard then saw not one but two São Tomé Scops-Owls, one rich rufous, one dull grey. Not the prettiest owl we had seen but nevertheless too good to knock.   

Nov 26th

Ten hours lying in hot tents on a `mattress' composed of tree roots was not conducive to sleep, so we were all feeling pretty groggy and grumpy this morning. There were no surprises when we swapped thoughts on the birding plan, which went something like: `Right, all we need is the fiscal and the grosbeak, then we can get out the hell out of here before the sky juice pours forth once more'. It didn't take long to find a fiscal, a very smart black, white and yellow bird, and it didn't take long after that for the team, even the blisters, to vote unanimously to forget the grosbeak and take our chances at seeing some Leatherback Turtles instead, a pretty pathetic effort bearing in mind we had experienced just one night of serious discomfort ..... on a trip to equatorial Africa! Mind you, the chances of seeing the grosbeak were virtually nil, whereas the likelihood of further downpours was very high.

  So, we broke camp, legged it back down the ridge, and then carried on further south to Praia Jàlé, a beach at the south end of São Tomé where Leatherback Turtles lay their eggs. One did so just before we arrived but none did so during the period we were told was the best. Our guides knew their birds but they didn't know their turtles. Still, it was better to be there than in the mountains where it looked like it was rather wet.

Nov 27th

Another groggy morning after a long, thundery, wet, sweaty night in the tents, fully zipped up in order to keep the mozzies at bay. It started raining again as we drove slowly back north along the east coast of São Tomé. We were heading we knew not where for breakfast, somewhere close we hoped, but on and on and on we drove, our stomachs empty and aching, and our bloodstreams screaming out for caffeine. When we finally stopped it stopped raining which on reflection was remarkable because as we waited and waited for breakfast to appear at the weird art gallery at Roca San Joao, a steady procession of eight tropicbirds came in off the nearby sea. They sailed over the forest, one bird circling a few times before dropping down into the gulley below the balcony where we were scanning, and provided our best views by far. Then breakfast was served and it was raining again before we had finished. It rained all the way back to town too, but not during the late afternoon when we saw the smart but introduced Golden-backed Bishop in the northern savanna. A night of beach-bashing for turtles at Praia das Conchas on the north coast was unrewarded and left at least one group member wishing he had got off to join the party in a village on the way.  

Nov 28th

The adrenalin was running low now but the hard-core half of the team returned to the forest below Parque Natural Obo for half a day, only seeing the same birds but with some in the hand. They also met the Portuguese researchers who showed pictures of the Grosbeak in the hand, the “Principe” Thrush and played recording of a possible owl on Principe. In the evening we all dashed back to Libreville on the Dash 8 and returned to the Hotel Tropicana, a few with enough energy left to enjoy a night of Afro-Cuban music at the Social Club in town.

Nov 29th

After a de-brief with that top man Patrice, with croissants and coffee under the palm trees, we flew back to Gatwick and the overcrowded grey and grim London suburbs, a massive comedown from Gabon's sparsely populated, mainly sunlit, birdy expanses of forest and savanna. Gabon had been good to us, presenting such avian gifts as Rosy and Black-headed Bee-eaters, Red-headed Picathartes, African River Martin, Long-tailed Hawk, Vanga Flycatcher, White-throated Blue Swallow, Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike, Forest Robin, Shining-blue and White-bellied Kingfishers, Grey Pratincole, Forbes's Plover, Black-bellied Seedcracker, Pel's and Vermiculated Fishing-Owls, twenty sunbirds and that unforgetable Gorgeous Bushshrike. Throw in all but one of the São Tomé and Principe endemic species and subspecies, as well as tropicbirds sailing over the verdant volcanic slopes, and, all in all, it can only be described as a top trip.    

SITES WE VISITED

MOKA RIVER

The mangrove-lined rivers and creeks, and mudflats and sandbars, here near/in Akanda NP, support White-crested Bittern, Rosy Bee-eater (mainly Apr-Oct), Loango Weaver and the largest number of wintering waterbirds in the country, including thousands of shorebirds and several species of tern.   

Goodies we saw

African Skimmer, Carmelite Sunbird, Swamp Boubou, Loango Weaver (in scrub between Moka village and bay).

Goodies we didn't see

White-crested Bittern, Damara Tern (Apr-Oct), Yellow-crested Woodpecker, Rufous-vented Paradise-Flycatcher.

Birded by pirogue, organised by Mistral Voyages. A spare outboard would have been useful.

Accommodation and Food: Hotel Tropicana, Libreville.

An afternoon to spare was spent birding secondary growth at Bolokoboue, 25 km north of Libreville, where we saw such goodies as African Cuckoo Hawk, Grey-throated Barbet, Superb Sunbird and Black-bellied Seedcracker, but dipped Bristle-nosed Barbet (which breeds here). 

PETIT LOANGO NP (PARC NATIONAL DU LOANGO)

The lagoons, blackwater rivers, swamps, savanna, and primary and secondary gallery and rain forests in this park along Gabon's coastal belt support Long-tailed Hawk, Forbes's Plover, Vermiculated and Pel’s Fishing-Owls, Rosy and Black-headed Bee-eaters, African River Martin and Loango Weaver, as well as Buffalos and Elephants. The bird list for Loango is still growing and many more species are likely to occur, including several rarities, so this park is likely to become a major birding destination in the future.

Goodies we saw

Hartlaub's Duck, Long-tailed Hawk, Red-chested Goshawk, Cassin's Hawk-Eagle, Forbes's Plover, Senegal Lapwing, African Skimmer, Yellow-billed Turaco, Pel's and Vermiculated Fishing-Owls, Cassin's, Sabine's and Black Spinetails, Shining-blue, White-bellied and Blue-breasted Kingfishers, Rosy, Black-headed, Black and Blue-breasted Bee-eaters, Blue-throated Roller, White-crested, Red-billed Dwarf, Piping and Black-casqued Hornbills, Yellow-spotted Barbet, African River-Martin, White-throated Blue Swallow, Swamp Palm Bulbul, Fire-crested Alethe, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Cassin's Flycatcher, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Shrike Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike, Cassin's Malimbe, Black-chinned Quailfinch.  

Goodies we didn't see

White-backed Night-Heron, Olive Ibis (heard), Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Rufous-tailed Palm-Thrush.    

Some other wildlife we saw

`Forest' Buffalo, Chimpanzee, `Forest' Elephant (some of the largest densities in the world gather in the scrub at the coast during the rains), Red River Hog. 

Other wildlife we didn't see

Lowland Gorilla, Hippo, Leopard, with Humpback (large numbers on passage to and from their calving grounds in the Gulf of Guinea, July-Sept) and Killer Whales as well as dolphins offshore, and beaches where turtles lay their eggs.

It is 53 km from Omboue Airport to Iguela on a pretty good dirt track. The NP is actually across the lagoon from Iguela but there's plenty of good habitat between Omboue and there and we spent much of our time actually outside the park, visiting selectively-logged forest, savanna grasslands, secondary growth and the M'Pivie River. It is 8 km along the lagoon from Iguela to the Atlantic.

Accommodation and Food: Iguela: Loango Lodge (tel: +31 26 353 1700/+88 2165 110 1862; email: Iguela@uuplus.com; website: www.operation-loango.com) is a very nice lodge with 10 twin-bed bungalows and three suites overlooking the lagoon, boats, open-top landcruisers and guides. It’s mainly geared towards fishing (for Tarpon etc.) but also runs `game drives' and caters for birders and whale-watchers.

At Omboué, on and around the lagoon a few minutes walk opposite the airport, we saw Grey Pratincole, African Skimmer, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, African River Martin, White-throated Blue Swallow and Loango Weaver. We also looked for Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, which has been heard in the leafier gardens, but without success.

LA LOPE NP

Established in 1982, the 1919 sq miles of rivers, creeks, savanna, gallery forest, isolated forest patches known as bosquets, and rainforest in and around this park support over 500 species of bird, including Black Guineafowl, Forbes's Plover (mainly Aug-Feb), Bates's Nightjar, Lyre-tailed Honeyguide, Dja River Warbler, Red-headed Picathartes, Bates's Sunbird and Fiery-breasted Bushshrike, as well as, alledgedly, the highest population of primates on earth.

Goodies we saw

African Finfoot, Rock Pratincole, Forbes's Plover, White-headed Lapwing, Afep Pigeon, Blue-headed Wood-Dove, Great Blue Turaco, Freckled Nightjar, Sabine's, Cassin's and Mottled Spinetails, Bates's Swift, Shining-blue Kingfisher, Black, Blue-breasted and White-throated Bee-eaters, White-crested, Piping and Black-casqued Hornbills, Blue Cuckoo-shrike, Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush, Brown-chested Alethe, Dja River Warbler, Green and Lemon-bellied Crombec, Violet-backed Hyliota, Forest Robin; Shrike, Vanga and Chestnut-capped Flycatchers, Red-headed Picathartes; Scarlet-tufted, Violet-tailed, Tiny, Johanna's and Superb Sunbirds, Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike, Orange and Yellow-mantled Weavers, Blue-billed and Red-bellied Malimbes, Black-faced Canary.  

Goodies we didn't see

Long-tailed Hawk, Latham's Forest Francolin, Black Guineafowl, White-spotted Flufftail, Bronze-naped Pigeon, Gabon Coucal, Fraser's Eagle-Owl, Sjostedt's Barred and Red-chested Owlets, Bates's Nightjar, White-bellied, Chocolate-backed and African Dwarf Kingfishers, Spotted Honeyguide, African Piculet, Rufous-sided and Grey-headed Broadbills, Olivaceous Flycatcher, Banded Prinia, Lowland Akalat, Bates's Sunbird, Fiery-breasted Bushshrike, Cassin's, Crested and Red-headed Malimbes. 

Other wildlife we saw

Chimpanzee, `Forest' Buffalo, `Forest' Elephant, Black Colobus, Grey-cheeked Mangabey, Crowned, Putty-nosed and Moustached Monkeys, Yellow-backed Duiker.

Other wildlife we didn't see

Lowland Gorilla (currently being habituated by the `Gorilla Girls' who sadly lost them a couple of days before we turned up!), Mandrill (the largest troops on earth but virtually impossible to see without a prolonged stay).   

Based at Lope Lodge we birded nearby savanna and forest blocks. Based at Mikongo Camp, 57 km along a pretty good dirt track from Lope Lodge, we birded the adjacent contiguous forest.

Accommodation and Food: Lope Lodge, overlooking the Ogooue River, is a very nice lodge with bungalows. Mikongo Camp, operated by ECOFAC, tel 732344, fax 732345, is more rustic but with more than adequate bungalows.

LEKONI (PLATEAUX BATEKE NP)

The savanna grasslands, mixed stands of miombo and evergreens, and gallery forest in the far southeast of the country near the Congo Highlands, rising to 600 m, support several highly localised birds which are very difficult to see elsewhere, including Finsch's Francolin, Black-headed Bee-eater, Black-collared Bulbul, Congo Moor Chat, Angola Batis, Perrin’s (Gorgeous) Bushshrike and Black-chinned Weaver.

Goodies we saw

Red-thighed Sparrowhawk, Red-necked Buzzard, White-bellied (`Barrow's') and Black-bellied Bustards, Black-rumped and Small Buttonquails, Coqui and Finsch's Francolins, African Crake, Temminck's Courser, Senegal Lapwing, Great Snipe (Nov-Mar), Swamp and Long-tailed Nightjars, White-fronted, White-throated, Blue-breasted, Black, Rosy and Little Bee-eaters, Black Woodhoopoe, Double-toothed Barbet, Rufous-naped (Malbrant's) Lark, Short-tailed Pipit, Black-collared Bulbul, Cloud-scraping and `Teke' Cisticolas, Salvadori's Eremomela, Red-capped Crombec, Congo Moor Chat, Vanga Flycatcher, Black-headed and Angola Batises, Johanna's and Superb Sunbirds, Souza's Shrike, Luehder's and Gorgeous Bushshrikes, Black-chinned Weaver, Marsh Widowbird. 

Goodies we didn't see

Fiery-necked Nightjar, Black-headed Bee-eater (roadside forest above Bongoville), Black-backed Barbet, African Broadbill, Petit's Cuckoo-shrike, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush (has been heard here), Yellow-bellied Hyliota, White-winged Black Tit, Bocage's and Fiery-breasted (heard) Bushshrikes, Locustfinch (this species occurs at the marsh next to the lake. Nigel and Simon almost certainly flushed two there but they were up and away too fast against the light).

Lekoni is about 100 km from Franceville. The forest near Bongoville is about halfway between Franceville and Lekoni. The best habitats near Lekoni are less than half an hour away from the hotel. 

Accommodation and Food: Hotel Lekoni - a large, spacious hotel, tel 699003, was adequate (apart from having no water for half of our stay) but has seen better days.  

PRÌNCIPÉ

The five endemics and four endemic subspecies on this 139 sq km volcanic island are readily seen near the airport.

Prìncipé Endemics we saw

Dohrn's Thrush Babbler, P Sunbird, P Speirops, P Glossy-Starling, P Golden-Weaver.     

Prìncipé and São Tomé Endemics we saw

ST Pigeon, ST Spinetail.

Other goodies we saw

White-tailed Tropicbird, Brown Booby, Brown Noddy (only a few but at least 10,000 pairs are estimated to breed on the Tinhosas Islands), Lemon Dove (endemic principalis race), Grey Parrot, Blue-breasted (endemic dryas race) and White-bellied (endemic nais race) Kingfishers, Western Olive-Sunbird, Velvet-mantled Drongo (endemic modestus race).

Goodies we didn't see

Bridled Tern (small numbers breed around Sao Tome and presumably Principe), Sooty Tern (up to 200,000 pairs are estimated to breed on the Tinhosas Islands), Black Noddy (c.5000 pairs are estimated to breed on the Tinhosas Islands), Olivaceous Thrush (the endemic xanthorhynchus race had been recorded twice only, in 1901 and 1928, but in January 1995 Patrice discovered a thrush anvil in primary forest above the Rio Papagaio, and in 1996 ECOFAC workers found two more anvils at Oque Pipi in the southwest; we met two Portuguese researchers investigating the seedeaters who have seen the thrush in the remote south in 2003), ST (& P) White-eye (very rare on northern Principe), Principe Seedeater (very rare on northern Principe but we later discovered from the Portuguese researchers that they are common on Ilheu Caroco ..... where we saw the White-tailed Tropicbirds! Just to rub it in, they also believe that the seedeaters on Principe are a different species to those on Sao Tome).

On day one we met our guide, Pedro, at the airport and birded along a path through what appeared to be secondary growth surrounding small plots near the airport on the way to town, soon seeing all five endemics as well as Lemon Dove. Driving to town we saw Principe (White-bellied) Kingfisher along the roadside. After lunch at the Pensao in town we birded near the airport again, adding the drongo, then down through the much better-looking forest between the airport and Bom Bom Island Resort, adding Blue-breasted Kingfisher.

  The second morning we took a pelagic, organised at Bom Bom Island Resort, from Ilheu Bom Bom at the north end of the island to Ilheu Caroco at the southeast end of the island via a few offshore rocks, seeing White-tailed Tropicbirds, Brown Boobies and Brown Noddies, but there was no sign of the large feeding flocks of birds reported on previous days and the Tinhosas Islands were beyond reach in the time available. Apparently it takes 2-3 hours in a fast boat to reach these islands. Huge numbers of terns and noddies nest on these islands; it is possible to land on one of them from a slower pirogue, but not the fast boat, and walk through the Sooty Tern colony.

Accommodation and Food: Pensao Residencial Palhota, Santa Antonio (tel: 251060; fax: 251079). Basic but great fish to eat and somewhat cheaper than Bom Bom Island Resort (US$175 per day!).

SAO TOME

Seeing all of São Tomé 's (fifteen) endemics is not so easy, for it is necessary to organise a mini camping expedition in order to reach and bird the remnant lowland primary rainforest of the southeast, the only one of the three major forest types which supports all the endemics, including the big four; the `Dwarf' bocagei race of Olive Ibis, Bocage's Longbill, Newton's Fiscal and ST Grosbeak.

  There are two other major forest types on this 857 sq km island: mossy (above 1400 m), for example at Mesa de Pico/Estacao Sousa; and montane (800-1400 m), as well as a rugged coastline with small estuaries, creeks, mangroves and some savanna, and dry woodland and fields. However, it is the old overgrown cocoa and coffee plantations, and forested deep valleys of the misty central highlands and south, which support most of the endemics.

  Prepare for very wet weather and plenty of mud here.

São Tomé Endemics we saw

Maroon Pigeon, Forest Dove, ST Green-Pigeon, ST Scops-Owl (this or another taxon may also occur on Principe), ST Prinia, Bocage's Longbill, ST Paradise-Flycatcher, Newton's and Giant Sunbirds, Black-capped Speirops, ST Oriole, Newton's Fiscal, ST and Giant Weavers.   

São Tomé and Principe Endemics we saw

ST Pigeon, ST Spinetail, Olivaceous Thrush, ST & P White-eye, ST & P Seedeater. 

Other goodies we saw

White-tailed Tropicbird, Olive Ibis (endemic `Dwarf' bocagei race), Malachite Kingfisher (endemic thomensis race), Chestnut-winged Starling (endemic fulgidus race), African Masked Weaver (endemic peixotoi race). 

São Tomé Endemic we didn't see

São Tomé Grosbeak.

On day one we drove up Monte Cafe and birded the Lagoa Amelia Trail below Parque Natural Obo all day, seeing Maroon and São Tomé Green- Pigeons, Forest Dove, the thrush, the prinia, the paradise-flycatcher, Newton's and Giant Sunbirds, the white-eye, the speirops, the oriole, Sao Tome and Giant Weavers, and the seedeater.

  On day two we drove south and then walked up the ridge above the Rio Io Grande, adding (Dwarf) Olive Ibis, São Tomé Scops-Owl, São Tomé (Malachite) Kingfisher and Bocage's Longbill to those species seen yesterday, all of which except Forest Dove and the white-eye we also saw. The next morning we added Newton's Fiscal, leaving just one endemic to see: the grosbeak, which, according to most recent studies, is probably a rare, mainly canopy-dwelling, species which is best looked for in January-March when it has been seen feeding on the seeds of fruits well below the canopy. 

  We were told by the ECOFAC turtle wardens that the best times to look for turtles coming on to the beaches at Praia Jale and Praia das Conchas is between 1900 and 2100. Use torches sparingly and do not scan the sea with them as this may deter any turtles on their way in. 

Accommodation and Food: Hotel Phenicia, Rua de Angola, CP836, Sao Tome, Republica Democratica de São Tomé e Principe (tel: (239-12) 224203; fax: (239-12) 224206; email: phenicia@sol.stome.telepac.net). Owned by a fairly accommodating Lebanese family. At Rio Io Grande and Praia Jale we camped. Tents and food provided by Mistral Voyages. 

SITES WE DIDN'T VISIT

MAKOKOU (IPASSA RESERVE)

Rainforest in the Ivindo Basin in the northeast, arguably the richest area for birds in the whole of Africa. The list is huge so only a short selection of the very best and most likely to be seen is given below.

Goodies present and not seen by us elsewhere in Gabon

Congo Serpent-Eagle, Black Guineafowl, Black-collared Lovebird, Bates's Nightjar, African Piculet, Rufous-sided Broadbill, Xavier's Greenbul (one of over 20 `greenbuls'), White-tailed Ant-Thrush, Masked and Gosling's Apalises, Yellow and Grey Longbills, Bioko/West African Batis, Blue-headed Crested-Flycatcher, Bates's Paradise-Flycatcher, Forest Penduline-Tit, Tit-Hylia, Rachel's Malimbe, Maxwell's Black, Preuss's Golden-backed and Yellow-capped Weavers, Red-headed Antpecker.  

SYSTEMATIC LIST OF BIRDS

This list of 381 species follows the taxonomic sequence in the fifth edition of Birds of the World: A Check List (Clements 2000), with some revisions and name-changes.

Birds listed with scientific names were not seen by Nigel.

Nigel’s new birds are listed in bold.

Taxa not recognised as full species by Clements are listed in parentheses.

Introductions and species heard only are listed at the end and not included in the species total above.

A full species list with scientific names (in Xcel), against locality, drawn up by JH, is appended. The English names are mostly those employed by Sinclair and Ryan (2003).

Little Grebe                     

White-tailed Tropicbird  Brief distant views of singles over Sao Tome town and airport, then 12+ pretty close around Ilheu Caroco off southeast Principe, then seven, a few very close, at Roca San Joao on the southeast coast of Sao Tome. The race ascensionis, some birds showed strong apricot washes to their tails and a few pale apricot washes on their underparts. A top bird.

Pink-backed Pelican

Brown Booby                       50+ on pelagic off Principe and 3+ off Praia Jale on south coast of Sao Tome.

Long-tailed Cormorant

(African) Darter                            Singles at Petit Loango and on the lagoon at Omboue.

Grey Heron

Goliath Heron                                 One at Petit Loango.

Purple Heron

Great Egret

Little Egret

Western Reef-Egret          Several dark and light phase birds on Principe and Sao Tome.

Cattle Egret

Striated Heron

Hamerkop

Woolly-necked Stork

(Dwarf) Olive Ibis               Two pairs were flushed and then perched high in trees in the rain on the way up the Rio Io Grande ridge, Sao Tome.

Hadada Ibis

Hartlaub's Duck            Single pairs seen in flight on 3 days at Petit Loango.

Osprey                               Singles near Moka Village and at Bolokoboue.

African Cuckoo-Hawk     An adult and a juvenile perched up and 'scoped at Bolokoboue.

European Honey-buzzard    Two at Petit Loango on 11th.

Black-shouldered Kite                    Two at Lekoni and one on Principe.

Black Kite

African Fish-Eagle                         Three singles at Petit Loango.

Palm-nut Vulture                  Widespread in Gabon, in good numbers except for Lekoni.

Black-breasted Snake-Eagle      Two singles at Lekoni.

[Congo Serpent-Eagle, Dryotriorchis spectabilis]   A raptor that flew across the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango, appeared to be this sp. but was not seen well enough for definite identification.

African Harrier Hawk         Singles at Petit Loango and Lope on 4 dates and 2 on 18th

Lizard Buzzard                    One at Lekoni.

Red-chested Goshawk        A superb adult perched at Petit Loango and one in flight another day.

Red-thighed Sparrowhawk              A smart adult flew over our heads at the marsh next to the lake at Lekoni and Phil had 2 sightings at Petit Loango.

Long-tailed Hawk                  An amazing bird. One adult seen well for a long time near the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango: large, colourful, with a ridiculously long tail. One heard calling at Mikongo.

Red-necked Buzzard          Singles in flight at Petit Loango and Lekoni. 

Ayres' Hawk-Eagle              One in flight at Petit Loango.

Cassin's Hawk-Eagle       One perched briefly at Petit Loango.  

Kestrel                               One hovering over the airfield at Omboue was apparently a rare migrant.

African Hobby, Falco cuvierii   A hobby in flight at Lekoni was almost certainly this species (SC).

Lanner Falcon                                 An apparent migrant at Lekoni.

Coqui Francolin                    One at Lekoni on 19th and two flushed on 20th.                   

Finsch's Francolin                 Three flushed at Lekoni twice.

Red-necked Francolin                     A few at Lekoni.

Harlequin Quail, Coturnix delegorguei   2 at Principe airport on both visits and one in the savanna on Sao Tome.

Small Buttonquail           One seen well on the track to Mikongo, Lope, and one flushed at Lekoni.

Black-rumped Buttonquail  At least two flushed at Lekoni.

African Crake                                2-3 at Lekoni, on dirt tracks in front of vehicle.

Black Crake, Amaurornis flavirostris   2 at Petit Loango.

African Finfoot                              A female showed briefly but well at Lope.

White-bellied Bustard      Four-six at Lekoni, mainly flight. The isolated race mackenziei, part of the `Barrow's Bustard' complex.

Black-bellied Bustard          One male in flight at Lekoni.

Water Thick-knee               A few seen during night-drives at Petit Loango.

Temminck's Courser                       12+ at Lekoni, in flight only. 

Rock Pratincole                              50+ on the Ogooue River at Lope, of the white-collared nominate race nuchalis.

Grey Pratincole           Little beauties. 100+ at Omboue. Several very confiding birds on a jetty and many more on the roofs of the buildings alongside the lagoon, particularly the corrugated-iron roof of the food market where the birds were fly-catching.

White-headed Lapwing                   40+ on the Ogooue River at Lope.

Senegal Lapwing                             Up to 10+ on any single day at Petit Loango, one at Lope and 6+ at Lekoni.

Grey Plover

Ringed Plover

Kittlitz's Plover                 Two singles at Petit Loango.

Forbes's Plover            An adult with two chicks at Petit Loango and up to 27 together (a record) at Lope. 

White-fronted Plover                     Two in the bay by Moka Village.

Great Snipe                       One flushed twice from the marsh by the lake at Lekoni.

Bar-tailed Godwit

Whimbrel

Marsh Sandpiper

Greenshank

Green Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper

Terek Sandpiper

Common Sandpiper

Sanderling

Little Stint

Curlew Sandpiper

Caspian Tern

Royal Tern

Common Tern

Little Tern

Brown Noddy               10+ on pelagic off Principe.

African Skimmer                112 flew across the bay by Moka Village; several along the lagoon at Petit Loango and on the lagoon at Omboue.

Afep Pigeon               One at Petit Loango and a couple of fly-overs at Lope.

Maroon Pigeon            3+ below PN Obo and a couple above Rio Io Grande, Sao Tome.

Bronze-naped Pigeon, Columba iriditorques   Two in flight at Petit Loango (JH), where also heard, and 2 –3 in flight at Lekoni and Bongoville.

Sao Tome Pigeon           Several on Principe and a few on Sao Tome.

(Principe) Lemon Dove         A few flushed, a couple seen well, on Principe, where the principalis race may be a full species.

Forest Dove                                   Several below PN Obo and above the Rio Io Grande, Sao Tome.

Red-eyed Dove                    The common Streptopelia in Gabon.

Ring-necked Dove                Only one or two at Lekoni.

Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Turtur chalcospilos   One at Petit Loango.

Blue-spotted Wood-Dove    

Tambourine Dove

Blue-headed Wood-Dove  Superb views of one at Lope and heard daily at Petit Loango.

Sao Tome Green-Pigeon   A few below PN Obo and above the Rio Io Grande, Sao Tome.

African Green-Pigeon

Grey Parrot                       Widespread in Gabon, with 50+ at Lope. Also 30+ on Principe.

Red-fronted Parrot             Four at Petit Loango and at Lope.

Great Blue Turaco               Two showed well at Lope and one at Petit Loango.

Guinea Turaco                                Two singles at Petit Loango and heard at Lekoni.

Yellow-billed Turaco          One in swamp forest near the M'Pivie River in Petit Loango and heard elsewhere.

Pied/Levaillant's Cuckoo, Clamator jacobinus/levaillantii   One at Petit Loango.

Red-chested Cuckoo, Cuculus solitarius  One seen at Petit Loango and others heard there and at Lope.

Black Cuckoo                                  Singles at Petit Loango and Lope, and two at Lekoni.

Eurasian Cuckoo                  Singles at Lope and Lekoni.

Klaas' Cuckoo, Chrysococcyx klaas    Singles at Petit Loango and Lekoni.

Emerald Cuckoo                   A very familiar bird by call throughout, including Sao Tome and Principe, but rarely seen.

Dideric Cuckoo

Yellowbill                           Singles at Petit Loango, Lope and Mikongo.

Black Coucal                      One or two at Petit Loango.

Blue-headed Coucal           One near Moca village and two at Petit Loango.

Senegal Coucal                    A couple at Petit Loango.

Barn Owl, Tyto alba            Singles perched on a roof and in a nearby Eucalypt, with another calling, near Hotel de Leconi (JH).

Sao Tome Scops-Owl        Two birds, one rufous one grey, around campsite above Rio Io Grande, Sao Tome, were seen very well in daylight.

Pel's Fishing-Owl                            Four seen very well along the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango, one in full daylight, three by spotlight.

Vermiculated Fishing-Owl One seen very well in spotlight, with another nearby, along the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango, the same night as the four Pel's!

Swamp Nightjar                Several flushed in daylight at Lekoni.

Freckled Nightjar        One on the deck at night at Lope.

Long-tailed Nightjar     Two excellent males flushed during daylight at Lekoni.

Square-tailed Nightjar   A few flushed in daylight and at night at Petit Loango.  

Sao Tome Spinetail         A few on Principe, and 10+ below PN Obo and 5+ above Rio Io Grande, Sao Tome. 

Mottled Spinetail         Several at Lope.  

Black Spinetail            A superb back-flipping single along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango.

Sabine's Spinetail         A few along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango and at Lope. 

Cassin's Spinetail              10 along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango and a few at Lope. 

African Palm-Swift

Common Swift

(Undescribed apus sp.)       C.10 high flying swifts at Lope were of an undescribed species, according to Patrice. Looked like a cross between Common Swift and Bates's Swift, paler than C. Swift (NW), with a longer, more-forked tail and different flight action.

Little Swift

Horus Swift                                   A few near Bongoville.

Bates's Swift              A few at Lope.

Shining-blue Kingfisher   A beautiful blue colour. Five at Petit Loango (one perched), two at Lope and one perched in superb light by the river near Mikongo Camp.

Malachite Kingfisher          5+ along the Moka River and singles at Petit Loango and Lope.

(Sao Tome Kingfisher)        A few of the endemic race thomensis were seen very well along the east coast road (eg. at Roca San Joao) and on the way to Rio Io Grande ridge.

White-bellied Kingfisher  One 'scoped at close range in swamp forest near the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango.

(Principe Kingfisher)           A few of the endemic subspecies nais were seen very well at the forest-edge and two fished on the wide open river at San Antonio. This bird is more like a Malachite than a White-bellied, in appearance and behaviour.

African Pygmy-Kingfisher   Two singles in flight at both Petit Loango and Lekoni.

Brown-hooded Kingfisher   A few at Lekoni.

Grey-headed Kingfisher     Two recently arrived migrants put on a superb display at Lope.

Woodland Kingfisher          Widespread in Gabon, except Lekoni.

Blue-breasted Kingfisher   Two singles at Petit Loango, heard at Lope and Lekoni.

(Principe Bb Kingfisher)     One of the endemic race dryas on Principe was seen in flight at the forest edge and one perched, calling, in the open atop a broken palm trunk at San Antonio, with another calling near the river. A smaller bird with different behaviour and a shorter call than mainland birds.

Striped Kingfisher             One at Lekoni.

Giant Kingfisher                 Singles twice at Petit Loango and one at Lope. 

Pied Kingfisher                   Singles at Petit Loango and Lope.

Black Bee-eater                A gem of a bee-eater. A pair with a juv. nearby and an adult along the M'Pivie River at Petit Loango, one at Lope, a pair at Mikongo, three near Mikongo and another stunning adult at Bongoville, making a total of 11. The race australis, which lacks the blue supercilium, although the bird at Bongoville did show some blue at the front of the supercilium (not a full adult?).

White-fronted Bee-eater   10+ by a small colony near Bongoville.

Little Bee-eater                 10+ at Lekoni and 3+ at Bongoville.

Blue-breasted Bee-eater 10+ at Petit Loango, 3+ at Omboue, 3+ at Lope, and at least an adult and juvenile at Lekoni, a total of 20+. A surprisingly easy bird to i.d. when seen well, thanks to the white cheek stripe and the midnight blue in the breast band. 

Black-headed Bee-eater  After much searching at Petit Loango Ed pulled one out of the bag at the death when we were looking for a poss. White-crested Bittern on the final morning. Very fortunate, because we found none at Bongoville. 

White-throated Bee-eater  50+ at Lope and at Lekoni.    

European Bee-eater            10+ at Lekoni.

Rosy Bee-eater            Bird of the Trip! A stunning bird which was numerous at Petit Loango where we saw one breeding colony of about 100 pairs as well as many other birds. Also, smaller numbers at Moka River (1), Port Gentil (1), Gamba (1), Bolokoboue (3) and Lekoni (up to 5 per day), making a total of hundreds.

Broad-billed Roller                         One along the Moka River, and a single and two together at Lekoni.

Blue-throated Roller       A few seen well at Petit Loango. Not a deep forest species, more of a forest-edge bird and the blue throat was easy to see even at long range.

(African) Hoopoe                 Just the one, at Lekoni.

Black Woodhoopoe         Three at Lekoni. Sometimes placed in the genus Rhinopomastus, which is given family status by Sibley and Monroe.

White-crested Hornbill   A great bird. A few singles were seen at Petit Loango and Lope/ Mikongo.

Black Dwarf Hornbill, Tockus hartlaubi   One perched up in full view at Mikongo (JH, PR)

Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill One very confiding individual at Petit Loango and a few others there and at Lope/Mikongo.

African Pied Hornbill           Widespread in good numbers in Gabon, except for Lekoni.

Piping Hornbill              Widespread in good numbers in Gabon, except for Lekoni.

White-thighed Hornbill, Ceratogymna albotibialis   One at Mikongo (JH, PR).

Black-casqued Hornbill    This huge but elusive bird was seen at Petit Loango (4), Lope (3+) and Mikongo (1), all in flight only.

Naked-faced Barbet      5+ at Lope.

Grey-throated Barbet        5+ at Bolokoboue and two at Lope and Mikongo.

Speckled Tinkerbird       One at Petit Loango and a couple at Lope.

Yellow-throated Tinkerbird   A couple at Lope.

Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird  One at Petit Loango and three at Lekoni.

Yellow-spotted Barbet    Two at Petit Loango and one at Mikongo.

Hairy-breasted Barbet   One or two at Petit Loango and singles at Mikongo and Lekoni.

Double-toothed Barbet      Two at Lekoni.

Yellow-billed Barbet           One at Lope.

Least Honeyguide, Indicator exilis   One seen well along the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango.

Cassin's Honeyguide, Prodotiscus insignis    One at Mikongo and a probable at Petit Loango.

Rufous-necked Wryneck, Jynx ruficollis    One at Lekoni (SC).

Brown-eared Woodpecker, Campethera caroli         One at Mikongo (JH, PR).

Green-backed Woodpecker   Two at Moka and one at Lope.

Cardinal Woodpecker         Up to 6 at Lekoni.

Gabon Woodpecker        One at Lope.  

Rufous-naped (Malbrant's) Lark    Several at Lekoni. This bird was originally described as a separate species, before being lumped, and looks ripe for splitting again.

Flappet Lark                      Plenty at Lekoni.

African River Martin          One of the Birds of the Trip. A small colony of about 20 pairs on the way to Petit Loango, a few elsewhere in Petit Loango, a huge colony of many hundreds, maybe thousands of pairs on the way out of Petit Loango (near Omboue), and two on wires at Omboue.

Banded Martin                    Widespread in small numbers at Petit Loango and Lekoni.

Grey-rumped Swallow         Plenty at Petit Loango.

Barn Swallow

Red-chested Swallow          Two were positively identified at Lope.

[White-throated Swallow]  A corpse picked up from the road near Bongoville was this intra-African migrant species, new for Gabon! Presumably an overshoot from Angola.

White-throated Blue Swallow A gem. No justice is done to this bird in the field guides. We saw four of these shiny stunners along the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango, and two on the lagoon at Omboue. Lesser Striped-Swallow      Widespread and common in Gabon.

Rufous-chested Swallow    Several over the Moka River and at Petit Loango.

Mosque Swallow                 Two at Bolokoboue.

Red-throated Swallow, Hirundo rufigula  2 near Bongoville.

Forest Swallow, Hirundo fuliginosa Up to 4 at Mikongo.

Square-tailed Sawwing    A few at Lope and Lekoni. 

Petit's Sawwing            A few at Lope and several at Lekoni. 

African Pied Wagtail         Several at Lope and Lekoni.

Yellow Wagtail                   A few at Lope.

Yellow-throated Longclaw   Several at Petit Loango, Lope and Lekoni.

Long-legged Pipit                  Widespread and common in Gabon. Aptly-named.

Long-billed (Woodland) Pipit A few at Lekoni.

Plain-backed Pipit, Anthus leucophrys  A few at Lekoni.

Short-tailed Pipit              A few at Lekoni, mainly flushed.

Tree Pipit                           One at Lekoni.

Blue Cuckoo-shrike                Single males seen by both groups at Mikongo.

Petit's Cuckoo-shrike, Campephaga petiti   One at Lekoni.

Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrike, Campephaga quiscalina   One at Petit Loango.

Common Bulbul

Little Greenbul

Grey Greenbul, Andropadus gracilis   Singles at Petit Loango and Mikongo.

Ansorge's Greenbul                One at Mikongo.

Plain/Cameroon Sombre Greenbul, Andropadus curvirostris   One at Mikongo (JH, PR).

Slender-billed Greenbul           A few at Petit Loango and singles at Bolokoboue and Lope.

Yellow-whiskered Greenbul             One seen in swamp forest near M'Pivie River, Petit Loango, with others heard elsewhere.. 

Golden Greenbul           Singles at Petit Loango, Bolokoboue and Lope.

Honeyguide Greenbul, Baeopogon indicator   One at Mikongo (PR).

Sjostedt's Greenbul       One or two at Mikongo. 

Spotted Greenbul          Two at Petit Loango, 3+ at Lope and four at Bongoville. 

Simple Leaflove            One at Petit Loango, 2 at Lope and heard at Lekoni.

Yellow-throated Leaflove               One at Mikongo and a few at Lekoni.

Yellow-necked Greenbul   Two C. falkensteini aka `Frankenstein's Greenbuls' were seen at Lope.

Swamp Palm Bulbul         A small group most mornings in the grounds of Loango Lodge.

Icterine Greenbul         Several at Mikongo and one at Bongoville.

Common (Red-tailed) Bristlebill    Two at Petit Loango and a few at Mikongo.

Lesser/Green-tailed Bristlebill, Bleda notata/eximia  Two at Petit Loango and heard at Mikongo.

Yellow-spotted (Western) Nicator  Singles at Petit Loango and heard at Mikongo.

Red-tailed Greenbul, Criniger calurus   Heard at Petit Loango and 5 at Mikongo.

Eastern Bearded-Greenbul        2+ at Mikongo, heard at Petit Loango.

White-bearded Greenbul          One by the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango and 2 at Mikongo (JH, PR).

Black-collared Bulbul                      A few of these striking bulbuls at Lekoni.

Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush        Two of these strange birds daily at Mikongo and Lope, heard at Petit Loango.

Red-tailed Ant-Thrush    One perched on a fallen trunk at Lope.

Olivaceous Thrush          5+ below PN Obo and 10+ above Rio Io Grande, Sao Tome. This thrush has a very large bill.

African Thrush

Brown-chested Alethe     One compsonota seen briefly at Mikongo.

Fire-crested Alethe               One-two castanea seen briefly but well at Petit Loango.

Whistling Cisticola                         Two at Lope and several at Lekoni.

Chattering Cisticola               A singing male by the lagoon at Omboue, one at Bolokoboue and several at Lope.

Grey Cisticola, Cisticola rufilatus               Two at Lekoni.

Winding Cisticola, Cisticola galactotes       Two at and Franceville airport.

Stout Cisticola, Cisticola robustus  A few at Lope.

Croaking Cisticola                           One at Lope and a few at Lekoni.

Tabora Cisticola            Patrice reckons the Piping Cisticola (Neddicky) at Lekoni is this species.

Siffling (Short-winged) Cisticola A few at Lekoni.

(Undescribed `Teke' Cisticola)    Two+ singing males at Lekoni. Looks like Siffling but whiter underneath and sounds different.

Zitting Cisticola                             Present in savanna grasslands at Petit Loango and Lekoni. 

Cloud-scraping (Dambo) Cisticola  A few at Lekoni. The best-looking cisticola of the trip by far, but its all relative of course.

Pectoral-patch Cisticola                 Present in savanna grasslands at Petit Loango and Lekoni.

Sao Tome Prinia                            A common bird on Sao Tome. Dig that wing-snapping display flight.

White-chinned Prinia         Several at Mikongo and heard at Lekoni.

Yellow-breasted Apalis       One at Moka village.

Buff-throated Apalis             A few at Lope.

Green-backed Camaroptera   Commonly heard but only a few singles seen.

Yellow-browed Camaroptera  A singing male at Petit Loango, heard at Mikongo.

Dja River Warbler                 A singing male showed very well in a tiny swamp at Lope, one of the few known sites for this apparently very rare and localized bird.

Sedge Warbler                   One at Lope station.

Salvadori's Eremomela    One at Lekoni.

Greencap Eremomela           Two at Lekoni.

Rufous-crowned Eremomela    One at Lope.

Red-capped Crombec           Two at Lekoni.

Green Crombec, Sylvietta virens   One at Mikongo, heard at Petit Loango.

Lemon-bellied Crombec            A singing male at Lope.

Grey Longbill, Macrosphenus concolor   One at Mikongo (MH).

Bocage's Longbill (Sao Tome Short-tail)  A pair seen well above Rio Io Grande, Sao Tome, and one seen briefly.

Green Hylia                       One seen well at Mikongo, heard at Petit Loango.

Willow Warbler                              Singles at Petit Loango and Lekoni.

Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Hyliota flavigaster   Two at Lekoni.

Violet-backed Hyliota             One male at Lope and 2 at Mikongo.

Garden Warbler                             At least one of this species was seen at Lekoni. Another 4 warblers seen well at the same locality appeared to be Olivaceous Warblers but as this is well out of range and would be a new record for Gabon, their identity is unresolved.

Pale Flycatcher                  Two at Lekoni.

African (Fraser's) Forest-Flycatcher  One at Petit Loango and two at Lope.

White-browed Forest-Flycatcher        A smart pair in swamp forest near the M'Pivie River at Petit Loango.

Spotted Flycatcher            A few at Lekoni and one on Principe.

Sooty Flycatcher                  Three at Petit Loango.  

Little Grey Flycatcher     Two at Mikongo.

Cassin's Flycatcher                Several along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango.

Grey Tit-Flycatcher                       One at Lope.

Forest Robin                A lovely little bird. A singing male was seen very well at Mikongo, and others heard.

Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat, Cossypha niveicapilla  One at Lekoni (SC), with others heard at Petit Loango and Lope.

White-browed Scrub-Robin            A singing male at Lekoni.

African Stonechat             A few at Petit Loango and Lekoni.

Congo Moorchat                   A few at Lekoni.

Sooty Chat                        Plenty at Lekoni.

Shrike Flycatcher          An elusive pair at Petit Loango and two equally elusive males at Mikongo, all high and highly active in the canopy.

Vanga Flycatcher          A top bird. Gabon is one of the easiest countries in Africa to see this unique bird and so it proved. We saw pairs at Lope, near Mikongo including a male at the nest, at Lekoni including a male in songflight, and at Bongoville.

Common Wattle-eye           Singles at Moka, Petit Loango and 2 at Lekoni.

Chestnut Wattle-eye         Singles at Petit Loango and Mikongo.

White-spotted Wattle-eye, Platysteira tonsa   A pair at Mikongo (JH, PR).

Black-headed Batis            Two at Lekoni.

Angola Batis                       A pair at Lekoni.

Chestnut-capped Flycatcher      Five at Mikongo (JH, PR) and 2 at Lope. Recent studies suggest that this is neither a monarch, a flycatcher nor a warbler.      

Red-bellied Para'-Flycatcher     1-2 along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango and 2 on both dates at Mikongo.

Rufous-vented Paradise-Flycatcher, Terpsiphone rufocinerea  A pair at Petit Loango (SC).

African Para'-Flycatcher               One at Petit Loango and several singles at Lope, mostly white males.

Sao Tome Para'-Flycatcher   A Bird for Paradise Indeed. Several below PN Obo and above Rio Io Grande, Sao Tome. Another very poorly illustrated bird. The male’s upperpart feathers are metallic blue and shimmer at most angles.

Red-headed Picathartes  Mega Bird! It’s rare, it’s weird, it’s good-looking, it’s big ..... but it’s also  incredibly elusive ..... until, eventually, it gave itself up, and we were able to watch one perched in a tree near its nest and then it or another also perched and preened nearby, at Mikongo!   

Dohrn's Thrush Babbler    An amazingly common Principe endemic which appears to be a cross between a babbler and a thrush, and looks nothing like a flycatcher (Dr Clements!). 

Dusky Tit, Melaniparus funereus   One at Mikongo (PR).

Scarlet-tufted (Fraser's) Sunbird One at Petit Loango and several at Mikongo. On first impression this atypical sunbird looks remarkably like an Icterine Warbler.

Mouse-brown Sunbird, Anthreptes gabonicus  One along the Moka River.

Violet-tailed Sunbird     A female at Moka and a couple of males at Lope.

Little Green Sunbird       A few at Petit Loango.

Green Sunbird              Two at Petit Loango and two at Bolokoboue.

Collared Sunbird

Reichenbach's Sunbird                  We only saw a few after the pair in the grounds of the Hotel Tropicana on the first morning, at Petit Loango.

Principe Sunbird                   Several on Principe.

Newton's Sunbird                 Several below PN Obo and above Rio Io Grande, Sao Tome. The males are little beauties.

Giant Sunbird              One, probably 2, seen very well below PN Obo and one or 2 briefly above Rio Io Grande, Sao Tome.

Green-headed Sunbird            Single males at Petit Loango and Omboue.

Blue-throated Brown Sunbird     Two along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango and one or 2 at Lope.

Western Olive-Sunbird      Widespread in small numbers throughout, including on Principe but not Sao Tome.

Carmelite Sunbird          A few along the Moka River, at Petit Loango and at Bolokoboue, including some splendid males.

Green-throated Sunbird   Two males at Bolokoboue, a pair nesting at Lope and a few at Lekoni.

Amethyst Sunbird               Several at Lekoni.

Olive-bellied Sunbird                     A few at Petit Loango, Bolokoboue, Lope and Bongoville.  

Tiny Sunbird                A pair including a nice male at Lope and at Bongoville.

Johanna's Sunbird                One or 2 nice males at Petit Loango, Lope and Bongoville.

Superb Sunbird                    A few lovely males at Bolokoboue, and Lekoni. 

Copper Sunbird                              A few at Lope and Lekoni. 

Black-capped Speirops            Plenty of these smart silky birds on Sao Tome.

Principe Speirops           Only a few on Principe.

Sao Tome (& Principe) White-eye   One and a party of 4, below PN Obo, Sao Tome.

Sao Tome Oriole                  Several below PN Obo and above Rio Io Grande, Sao Tome. Not the best-looking Old World oriole.

Black-winged Oriole, Oriolus nigripennis   Two singles at Lope.

Red-backed Shrike                         Two at Lekoni. 

Souza's Shrike                               One juvenile at Lekoni.

Common Fiscal                                Several at Lekoni.

Newton's Fiscal                   One superb singing bird at close range above Rio Io Grande, Sao Tome, with two others calling. The yellow is much brighter than shown in the book, almost lemon. 

Northern Puffback, Dryoscopus gambensis    Several at Lekoni.

Red-eyed Puffback                A couple near Mikongo and one at Lope station.

Large-billed/Sabine's Puffback, Dryoscopus sabini   Five at Petit Loango.

Black-crowned Tchagra                  One at Lekoni.

Brown-crowned Tchagra, Tchagra australis    One at Lekoni.

Luehder's Bushshrike                     A smart singing male at Lekoni, heard at Lope.

Gabon (Swamp) Boubou    Two along the Moka River.

Gorgeous Bushshrike               Gorgeous. Prolonged stunning views of a singing male at Lekoni and one at Bongoville. The isolated nominate race viridis, known as Perrin's Bushshrike, sometimes treated as a full species.

Fiery-breasted Bushshrike, Malaconotus cruentus   Heard at Lope and Bongoville, and a tape duel with one at Lekoni only gave fleeting glimpses of the bird in flight.

Rufous-bellied Helmetshrike   Bizarre. A group of 15+ at Petit Loango showed very well, and two small groups at Mikongo not so well.

Square-tailed Drongo     At least one at Lekoni.

Shining Drongo                    2 at Lope and Bongoville, heard at Petit Loango.

Fork-tailed Drongo             A few at Lekoni.

Velvet-mantled Drongo            Up to 4 at Lope.

(Principe Drongo)                Three on Principe were surprisingly silent and inactive. Birdlife International consider the endemic nominate race modestus to be a full and `Near Threatened' species.

Pied Crow                           One or 2 around Libreville and several at Lekoni

Splendid Glossy-Starling    Small numbers throughout except on Sao Tome.

Principe Glossy-Starling           Only a few on Principe where they seem to be well outnumbered by the above species. 

Purple-headed Glossy-Starling     4+ along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango, 2 at Bolokoboue and several at Lope.

Violet-backed Starling                   10+ at Lekoni.

Chestnut-winged Starling              10+ at Bolokoboue.          

(Sao Tome Starling)            At least 3 below PN Obo and near Rio Io Grande, Sao Tome. The larger nominate race fulgidus of Chestnut-winged Starling, endemic to Sao Tome, may be a full species.

Yellow-billed Oxpecker                   A couple on buffalo at Petit Loango and several on buffalo at Lope.

(Northern) Grey-headed Sparrow    Seen only at Libreville, eg in the grounds of the Hotel Tropicana, and at Lekoni town.

Black-chinned Weaver     Two pairs at Lekoni, where they are scarce in wide expanses of bushy savanna. Known only from the Plateau Bateke on the Gabon-Congo border and the Bailundu Highlands of   western Angola.

Slender-billed Weaver                   A few by the lagoon at Omboue.

Loango Weaver             A pair seen very well between Moka Village and the nearby bay, and a few alongside the lagoon at Omboue.

Black-necked Weaver         One by the lagoon at Omboue and several at Lope and Lekoni.

Holub's Golden-Weaver       An out-of-range male at Lekoni, possibly only the second record for Gabon.

Principe Golden-Weaver           Plenty on Principe.

Orange Weaver                    Small colonies at Petit Loango, in the grounds of the Hotel de Lope and at Lope station.

African Masked-Weaver                5+ below PN Obo and several in the grasslands of northern Sao Tome. The brightly coloured endemic race peixotoi.

Village Weaver

Giant Weaver              One rather disappointing female below PN Obo, then several pairs near Rio Io Grande with a few large-looking males but they don't look quite as bulky as portrayed in BOWA!

Vieillot's Weaver

Yellow-mantled Weaver           Two at Lope and one at Bongoville.

Forest Weaver                    Two at Lope.

Sao Tome Weaver                 Plenty of the `Sao Tome Nuthatches' below PN Obo and above Rio Io Grande.

Black-throated (Cassin's) Malimbe A pair at Petit Loango, the male a real flashy bird, and at Mikongo (JH, PR).

Red-bellied Malimbe              A male at Mikongo.  

Gray's (Blue-billed) Malimbe       A few singles at Lope.

Red-headed Quelea       Four at Omboue and several at Lekoni.

Yellow-mantled Widowbird   One or 2 throughout Gabon.

Marsh Widowbird                 Two males and a female at the marsh next to the lake at Lekoni.

White-breasted Negrofinch   One or 2 at Lope.

Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch      Two pairs at Petit Loango and singles at Lope and Lekoni. 

Grey-headed Negrofinch    One at Petit Loango and a couple at Lope.

Black-bellied Seedcracker        A stunning male, complete with shiny white eye-crescents, a family at Bolokoboue and one at Lekoni.

Western Bluebill                 Single males at Petit Loango and Mikongo (JH, PR).

Fawn-breasted Waxbill           Several at Lekoni.

Orange-cheeked Waxbill          Several at Petit Loango and Bolokoboue. 

Black-crowned Waxbill    Two at Lekoni (?)

Black-chinned (Red-billed) Quailfinch  Several flocks at Petit Loango but only one seen well on the deck, and two pairs at Lekoni.

Locustfinch                                    A pair was flushed at Lekoni, giving untickable views (SC, NW).

Bronze Mannikin                 Fairly common at Omboue, Bolokoboue, Lope, Lekone and Bongoville.

Black-and-white Mannikin               Two at Moka, several at Petit Loanda and one at Bolokoboue.

Pin-tailed Whydah             At least 2 at Lope and several at Lekoni.

Black-faced Canary        A few at Lope.

Black-throated Canary       Several at Lekoni.

Yellow-fronted Canary        A few at Lekoni.

Sao Tome & Principe Seedeater  Common on Sao Tome.

Cinnamon-breasted Bunting                        Two singles at Lekoni.

Cabanis' Bunting             Three at Lekoni.

Additional species (7), probably introduced, seen on Sao Tome

Laughing Dove, Red-headed Lovebird, Black-winged Red and Golden-backed Bishops, White-winged Widowbird, Common Waxbill and Southern Cordonbleu. The Mona Monkeys here and on Principe are also presumably introduced.

Additional species (35), heard only

Olive Ibis, Bostrychia olivacea

Forest Francolin, Francolinus lathami

Scaly Francolin, Francolinus squamatus

White-spotted Flufftail, Sarothrura pulchra

Buff-spotted Flufftail, Sarothrura elegans

Nkulengu Rail, Himantornis haematopus

Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, Cercococcyx mechowi

Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Cercococcyx olivinus

Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Chrysococcyx flavigularis

Gabon Coucal, Centropus anselli

African Wood-Owl, Strix woodfordii

Red-chested Owlet, Glaucidium tephronotum

Bates' Nightjar, Caprimulgus batesi

Narina Trogon, Apaloderma narina

Dwarf Kingfisher, Ispidina lecontei

Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Halcyon badia

Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Pogoniulus atroflavus

African Broadbill, Smithornis capensis

Leaf-love, Phyllastrephus scandens   

Yellow-throated Nicator, Nicator vireo

White-tailed Ant-Thrush, Neocossyphus poensis

Tawny-flanked Prinia, Prinia subflava

Banded Prinia, Prinia bairdii

Olive-green Camaroptera, Camaroptera chloronota

Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher, Myioparus griseigularis

Chinspot Batis, Batis molitor

West African/Bioko Batis, Batis occulta/poensis

Blackcap Illadopsis, Illadopsis cleaveri

Brown Illadopsis, Illadopsis fulvescens

White-winged Black-Tit, Melaniparus leucomelas

Forest (African Yellow) White-eye, Zosterops stenocricotus (senegalensis)

Western Black-headed Oriole, Oriolus brachyrhynchus

Sooty Boubou, Laniarius leucorhynchus

Grey-green/Bocage's Bushshrike, Telophorus bocagei

Red-crowned Malimbe, Malimbus coronatus

OTHER WILDLIFE 

Mammals

Chimpanzee                              A small group was seen well at Petit Loango and a large female spent a couple of minutes looking at us at Mikongo.

Black Colobus                           One-two at Mikongo.    

Grey-cheeked Mangabey          Several at Petit Loango and Lope.

Red-capped Mangabey              A few at Petit Loango.

Crowned Monkey                      A few at Lope.

Putty-nosed Monkey                 Several at Petit Loango and Lope.  

Moustached Monkey                 A few at Petit Loango and Lope. 

Straw-coloured Fruit Bat         10+ on Principe.

Leaf-nosed Bat                         One or two flying around between us well before dusk low in the forest above Rio Io Grande, Sao Tome.

Thomas’s Galago                       One at Petit Loango.

Squirrel sp.                               One at Petit Loango.

Beecroft's Anomalure              One A. b. fulgens alongside the M'Pivie River, Petit Loango.

Hairy-tailed Porcupine              One at night near Bongoville.

Side-striped Jackal                  One at night near Bongoville.

African `Forest' Elephant        A few small family groups each day at Petit Loango and Lope. 

African `Forest' Buffalo         Up to a hundred on any one day at Petit Loango, and 30+ at Lope.

Yellow-backed Duiker               Singles seen well at Petit Loango and Lope.

Red River Hog                           Up to fifty on any one day at Petit Loango. 

Reptiles

Long-snouted Crocodile            Three along M'Pivie River, Petit Loango.

Dwarf Crocodile                       One in swamp forest near the M'Pivie River at Petit Loango.

Nile Crocodile                          One very small individual on the lagoon at Petit Loango.

Black Cobra                              One above the camp on Sao Tome.

SAO TOME & PRINCIPE ENDEMICS  25

Both Islands  5

ST (Bronze-naped) Pigeon (also occurs on Pagalu)

ST Spinetail             

Olivaceous Thrush        

ST (P) White-eye                       

P Seedeater              

The last 3 species are almost certainly of different taxa on each island.

Principe  5

Dohrn's Flycatcher (Thrush Babbler)       

P Sunbird                

P Speirops               

P Glossy-Starling        

P Golden-Weaver

Endemic subspecies listed by Clements -

Lemon Dove (principalis).

Blue-breasted Kingfisher (dryas).

White-bellied Kingfisher (nais).

Velvet-mantled Drongo (modestus).          

Sao Tome  15

Maroon (ST Olive) Pigeon 

Forest (Lemon) Dove      

ST Green-Pigeon           

ST Scops-Owl (may also occur on Principe)             

ST Prinia                

Bocage's Longbill (ST Short-tail)         

ST Paradise-Flycatcher   

Newton's Sunbird         

ST (Giant) Sunbird       

Black-capped (ST) Speirops    

ST Oriole                

Newton's (ST) Fiscal               

Giant Weaver             

ST Weaver                

ST Grosbeak               

Endemic subspecies listed by Clements & BOWA -

(Dwarf) Olive Ibis (bocagei).

Malachite Kingfisher (thomensis).

Chestnut-winged Starling (fulgidus).

African Masked-Weaver (peixotoi).

 

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