São Tomé & Príncipe: Gulf of Guinea Island Endemics
Rare endemics and island hopping.
São Tomé and Príncipe, two remote Gulf of Guinea islands, form an independent republic. They are situated on the equator and are the southern extension of a volcanic ridge which runs from Mount Cameroon farther north. In the interior, extensive tracts of rainforest, dripping from the constant rain, cover the steep, precipitous, uninhabited slopes of the towering volcanic mountains, often obscured by the clinging mist and cloud. Many of the endemics are globally threatened, and we will endeavour to locate as many as possible.
We will traverse the coastal regions looking for the most obvious endemics such as São Tomé Prinia and São Tomé Spinetail, and the localized Golden-backed Bishop (introduced from Angola). Others such as Giant Sunbird and Giant Weaver are best found in the rainforest and we will walk forest paths festooned with creepers in order to look for them. Amazingly, here in the mountains we are likely to see the magnificent White-tailed Tropicbird cruising along the precipice like cliffs where it nests. Príncipe holds as many as seven endemics of its own. Very similar in appearance São Tomé, with lofty peaks covered in rainforest, the endemic birds are readily accessible around a luxurious beach resort.
The following is a recommended itinerary. We can adjust this itinerary based on the needs of your group and the time you have available.
Day 1: Arrival day. All participants gather in Libreville.
Day 2: Libreville – São Tomé. Today we fly to São Tomé and begin our search for its endemic birds. The north eastern coastline comprises dry woodland and agriculture mixed with estuaries and mangroves. Endemics here include São Tomé Prinia and Newton’s Yellow-breasted Sunbird, and these should soon be found, perhaps followed by a São Tomé Spinetail emerging from a nest cavity in a tree.
Day 3: Príncipe Island. This morning we take a short flight across to the island of Príncipe for a one night stay. If the weather is clear, we will see the high, distinctly phallus-shaped mountains of the interior, formed from eroded volcanic plugs and craters, with their heavily forested slopes. The forest adjacent to our luxury lodge should find us in the thick of the islands’ bird life. The brightly coloured Príncipe Golden Weaver can be seen nest building in the trees near our rooms whilst Príncipe Sunbird, Príncipe Kingfisher, Príncipe Glossy Starling and Príncipe Drongo are common in the grounds. The subtle and beautiful Príncipe Speirops is rarer but we should find them gleaning in the canopy like white-eyes, their close relatives. The Dohrn’s Thrush-Babbler normally reveals itself with an explosive yet melodic song.
Day 4: Principe – São Tomé. The following day we fly back to Sao Tome where we spend the rest of the afternoon either mopping up specialities or enjoying the distinct island life of this former Portuguese colony. This evening we start preparing ourselves for the next two days of camping in the Sao Tomean Highlands, where our quest for Sao Tome’s most delectable endemics begins.
Days 5–7: Southern São Tomé- Cao Grande. We spend two nights on a camping expedition to the south of the island. After a 90 minute drive, we walk and bird up the hill for three hours. We set up a basic camp on top of the mountain, and from here seek out the rarest, most endangered, and scarcest endemics this island has in store, including the shy Dwarf Olive Ibis and the football-sized nests of the Giant Weaver. On the edge of old palm plantations we will look for São Tomé Olive Pigeon, São Tomé Bronze-naped Pigeon and São Tomé Green Pigeon feeding in the fruiting trees or perching high in the canopy and basking in the sun after the mist has cleared. Fortunately, São Tomé Scops Owl sometimes calls by day, which may enable us to locate this tiny and exquisite bird. Nearer to the campsite we’ll look for Bocage’s Longbill, and make special attempts to find the critically endangered Newton’s Fiscal as well as the once thought to be extinct São Tomé Grosbeak. After two nights, we return to São Tomé city for a welcome warm shower.
Day 8: São Tomé Island – Bom Successo. We spend this day exploring the island’s interior, particularly the botanical gardens at Bom Successo, where we shall be concentrating on the central highlands avifauna. Here, cocoa plantations and lush forests cover deep valleys replete with gorgeous streams and rivers. These paths should reveal the São Tomé race of the Malachite Kingfisher, Gulf of Guinea Thrush, São Tomé Oriole, São Tomé Paradise Flycatcher, Príncipe White-eye, São Tomé Speirops and Príncipe Seedeater. Parties should reveal small groups of São Tomé Weavers as they cling, nuthatch-like, to mossy tree trunks. The São Tomé Giant Sunbird generally gives his location away with its staccato piping call while feeding on hibiscus plants.
Day 9: São Tomé – Libreville. After some final birding on São Tomé we will catch an afternoon flight back to Libreville, where this extension tour draws to close.
Day 10: Departure. Today you connect with international departing flights.
CLIMATE: Hot and humid in the lowlands, cool and pleasant in the highlands of São Tomé and Príncipe. São Tomé is notoriously wet and rain can be expected.
DIFFICULTY: The tour is mostly easy. One moderately difficult hike and camping are necessary on São Tomé to see some of the rarer endemics.
ACCOMMODATION: Mostly very good, unless you choose to camp for a night or two on São Tomé.