Trip report: Gabon and São Tomé & Príncipe (Aug-Sept 2005) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Keith Barnes.

This trip report also includes São Tomé and Príncipe.

Gabon is a remarkable wilderness area. With a population of less than 1 million people and three-quarters of the country covered by pristine, primeval rainforest, it is unique in Africa. The areas of forest, along with the many long rivers, huge areas of coastal mangroves and mudflats, and savannas, support many star birds. This trip delivered cosmic views of several birds seen by very few birders, but nothing could eclipse the pre-breeding aerial ballet of the mixed flock of 100 000 African River Martins and Rosy Bee-eaters, Central Africa’s two most-desirable species that each night would wheel, stoop and dive over our boat, their numbers building constantly as dusk progressed, only to vanish into the palm trees just before dark! Their movements resembled something out of “Fantasia” – an unrivalled choreographed display – and ranks as one of the world’s major unknown ornithological spectacles. This was while we were absorbing Forest Buffalo and Forest Elephants, a phenomenal diversity of cercopithicine monkeys and bizarre reptiles such as the Slender-snouted Crocodile and Ornate Monitor Lizard.

African River Martins and Rosy Bee-eatersGabon also delivered wonderful views of both Vermiculated and Pel’s Fishing Owls, no less than eight White-crested Tiger Bittern (see photos!), oodles of African Finfoots, Gabon Coucal, Black Guineafowl, Forbes’s Plover, Fiery-breasted Bush-shrike, White-crested and Black Dwarf Hornbill, many greenbul species and the open savanna at Lekoni yielded a bunch of rare and threatened species that are seldom seen including Finsch’s Francolin, Black-chinned Weaver, Angola Batis and the spectacular Black-headed Bee-eater! We rounded of this epic tour by visiting Africa’s mini Galapagos – São Tomé & Príncipe. The team managed an impressive haul of the endemic species and sub-species of the islands, missing only the near-mythical Grosbeak and being skunked by the Olive Pigeon. We made sure we saw all remaining species and sub-species for all taxonomies, just in case of splits! We got great looks at the other Critically Threatened endemics the Dwarf Olive Ibis and Newton’s Fiscal. Other bizarre oddities included the tree-marching São Tomé Short-tail and Dohrn’s Thrush-babbler as well as the magnificent Giant Sunbird and Giant Weaver.

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